Research: Activating Janssen

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Activating Janssen: The Layman’s summary of “Growing Up Sexually”

Built upon thousands of references and years of painstaking research, Diederik Janssen’s Corpus “Growing Up Sexually” presents by far the most comprehensive collection of ethnographic data on the sexual development of children and youth throughout the world, to date:

Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

There has been a pressing need to “summarize and activate” this work, allowing activists and laymen to use the most outstanding examples for general awareness raising and educational purposes. This is obviously somewhat different to the work's original function as an unbiased ethnographical study for reference in critical analysis. We highlight the most exuberant/striking examples in pink for quick reference.

Main take-aways

Janssen (2004) has highlighted both the non-universality of westernized conceptions of childhood sexual development, and the frequency of adult-child sex play throughout many parts of the non-western world. These behaviors range from manual/oral stimulation of infants, through to initiatory sex play in multiple cultures, and appear to be viewed as normal – often freely engaged in by both adults and children. Viewed within a western context, these same sexual behaviors would be deemed criminal and psychopathic on the part of the adult, leading most probably to mandatory therapeutic interventions for both parties. Janssen’s work causes us to question the “intrinsic and universal” nature of modern, post-feminist conceptions of the child, and child sexual abuse by calmly presenting an anthology of ethnographic data.

On models of sexual development

We can also pick up on differing models of childhood sexual development. Western, liberal democratic nations tend to double down on a “restrictive, pseudo-subjective” (our definition) model, where a denial of knowledge and free choice is presented as being in the best interests of the child. In other words, this is the “freedom” to say “no”, juxtaposed against the complete denial of a right to initiative, or affirmative consent. In the Islamic world, a “restrictive, objective” model is practiced, particularly on girls. Girls are protected and viewed as property, only becoming viable after menarche and marriage. Boys might occasionally engage in prostitution, or be masturbated by parents in early childhood, but this varies. In non-western cultures, we see primarily liberative philosophies, on a scale from “liberative, subjective” emancipatory ideals of child-child and inter-generational sex play, thru “liberative, adaptive” models that emphasize inter-generational sex behaviors congruent with a child’s level of development. In other non western cultures, children may be assigned roles, or initiated in part by the force of an adult – and we describe these as “part-objective” models of development – again, our own terminology. In many cultures there are taboos, however – tellingly, what those exact taboos are deviates wildly from culture to culture.

Geographical breakdown

A note about "anthology methodology".

Regional summaries and snippets are presented in a form that can be easily copy-pasted by activists and laymen. An average date (and range) will generally be given, owing to the much of this data's historical nature. We often point to the rough number of sources and their nature – citing the sources we have highlighted as being of particular use.

Pertinent examples are then given, and we tend to focus on the more striking and exuberant examples (highlighted in pink). We always link to Janssen’s archived website for further reading.

US America – Explosion of discourse and regulation

Our rating is “Restrictive-pseudo-subjective, with some objectifying tendencies”. See on GUS.

Janssen (2004) uses 175 sources from roughly the 70s/80s onward, to highlight a contemporary, rigid medicalization of child sexuality in the US that seems incongruous with the true diversity of childhood sexual experiences within its borders.

A number of hysterias have erupted over problematical childhood sexuality, with dolls being used as a mechanical means of obtaining disclosure from a child. The influence of traditional psychoanalysis has waned, and for Janssen, the literature points to a “rather extensive and in fact unparalleled sexologizing of childhood trajectories”.

Among children, preparatory schoolyard games center normative heterosexuality and pathologise/other homosexuality. Sibling (a small minority) and non-sibling (a large minority) experiences before 13 are identified, with casual genital contact particularly common. Janssen highlights sources pointing to a relatively advanced age of first sexual intercourse – nearly always above 13, and relatively lower levels of sexual activity among children when compared to Europeans. Behaviors between adults and children are meticulously categorized and pathologized within a CSBI, along with child behavioral indicators of abuse. Nevertheless, pioneering sexological studies such as Martinson’s demonstrate the true diversity of experiences not openly tolerated by American society.

There is a general refusal of parents to discuss sexual topics with their children. Abstinence is the familiar focus for those religious conservative parts of society. Late 20th century comparisons of parental/caregiver attitudes with those in Europe tended to show similar fundamental levels of moral discomfort towards sexual behaviors. However, Americans were more prone to hysterical reactions, while Europeans, such as the Swedes had developed coping strategies to identify behaviors as “sex play”, or ignore/deny the existence of childhood sexuality.

Away from the conservative mores of WASP American society, there are examples of tolerated diversity. Inter-generational sex with minors was accommodated in late 20th century hippie communes, for example, but for children, sex was a pleasant distraction and not central to their leisure time.[1][2] In gang (one assumes, African-American) culture, onset of first intercourse was younger than the norm. The pursuit of girls and exploitation – financial or otherwise, of gay men among male youth in gangs is seen as a means to ordering the masculine-dominant culture.[3][4][5] Berger observes of the communes:

"The virtual absence of any risk of pregnancy when prepubertal children engage in sexual intercourse permits a tolerant posture toward it (as the prevalence of birth control techniques has permitted an enormous growth in public toleration of premarital intercourse among adults). When life is rural and poor, there is always important work to be done that children are competent to do [...] One approach is to emphasize the irrationality of the straight world, the poor fit between means and ends: Smoking dope is intrinsically harmless, a danger to life and limb only if and when one is caught in the act; the dangers of sexual activity are similarly socially constructed by the punitive response to it. This distinction between straight and hip can be reasoned into a generational argument as well: There is an association between the “innocence” of childhood and a certain kind of elementary intelligence or wisdom, since children have not yet had the opportunity to learn the taboos in terms of which an adult perspective is defined. The degradation of the adult-straight world can in turn carry in its wake any strong association between competence and learning, thus strengthening the belief that it is necessary to unlearn much that we were taught in order to reacquire the “natural” competences to enjoy the highs of dope and sex and freedom."


Janssen's examples from Hawaii are particularly outstanding, all the more so when you go back in time. He observes:

"Karsch-Haack, (1901) stated that according to Richard Neuhauss, Hawai’ian “girls of 12 to 14 years are generally virgins no more and acts of impurity of father with daughter are no rarity[6] [...] For infant females in Hawai’i, “milk was squirted into her vagina, and the labia were pressed together (Diamond, 1990). The mons [veneris] was rubbed with kukui (candlenut) oil and pressed with the palm of the hand to flatten it and make it less prominent. The molding continued until the labia did not separate. This chore usually was done by the mother or by an “aunt” [...]”. The buttocks of infants, males more than females, were molded so that they became “rounded and not flat”, also clearly evolving from an aesthetic motive. A “blower” is designated for each male infant, ostensibly to prepare him for subincision of the foreskin: “the penis was blown into daily starting from birth. The blowing was said to loosen and balloon the foreskin [and] continued daily [...] until the young male was 6 or 7”, when penile subincision takes place. Diamond reports: “Individuals of both sexes were expected to initiate and participate in coitus at puberty, although sexual activity, play, instruction, and so forth occurred much earlier. For instance, as part of exploratory play, the young investigated each other’s genitals, and young males and females might masturbate each other heterosexually or homosexually. This activity occurred without adult disapproval, and it was considered to be an introduction to adulthood. Casual intercourse before adolescence was not an uncommon experience for males (Handy and Pukui, 1958) and females (Pukui, Haertig and Lee, 1972)”.[7]


  1. Berger, B. M. & Hackett, B. H. (1974) On the decline of age grading in rural hippie communes, J Social Issues 30,2:163-83; Berger, B. M. (1977) Child-rearing research in communes: the extension of adult sexual behavior to young children, in Oremland, E. K. & Oremland, J. D. (Eds.) The Sexual Gender and Young Children: The Role of the Educator. Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, p159-63; Berger, B. M. (1981) Liberating child sexuality: a commune experience, in Constantine, L. & Martinson, F. (Eds., 1981) Children and Sex: New Findings, New Perspectives. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., p247-54
  2. Johnston, C. M. & Deisher, R. W. (1973) Contemporary communal child rearing: a first analysis, Pediatrics 52,3:319-26
  3. Schneider, E. C. (2000) Performing Masculinity: Streetgangs in Postwar New York. Paper Presented at History of Childhood in America Conference, Washington, D.C., August 5 and 6.
  4. Morris, R. E., Harrison, E. A., Knox, G. W. & Tromanhauser, E. et al. (1995) Health risk behavioral survey from 39 juvenile correctional facilities in the United States, J Adolesc Health 17,6:334-44.
  5. Miller, W. B. (1973) Race, Sex, and Gangs: The Molls, Trans-Action 11,1:32-5.
  6. Karsch-Haack, F. (1901) Uranismus oder Päderastie und Tribadie bei den Naturvölkern, Jb Sex Zwischenst 3:72ff. Reprinted in 1983 (Schmidt, W. J. (Ed.), Vol.1:p229-96
  7. Diamond, M. (1990) Selected Cross-Generational Sexual Behavior in Traditional Hawai’i: A Sexological Ethnography, in Feierman, J. R. (Ed.) Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions. New York: Springer-Verlag, p422-43