Ladyrebecca's Musings and Ramblings

The Increasingly Political Thoughts of Rebecca (Becky) Walker

Does Spanking Lead to Sexual Dysfuntion? February 29, 2008

*Five years after writing this (it’s currently April 2013), my husband, our co-parent, and myself no longer spank any of our children. This was, however, genuinely what we thought in 2008 so I leave it as it is.*

A friend pointed this USA Today article out to me and in light of my most recent blog, I’d like to share my thoughts on it.

Israel and I talked at length last night and this morning about spanking and it’s place in our methods of discipline. We read the wikipedia articles on corporal punishment and spanking. We decided that the subject is complicated and worthy of deep thought. Here’s what I’ve got so far.

We do spank our daughter. We spank her for disobedience and lying. We do not spank because we are angry. How we feel about a behavior does not (or should not) affect the punishment she may or may not receive. We punish, not because we are mad at her, but because she has disobeyed and her disobedience is deserving of punishment. Our goal in doing so is to teach her through a non-damaging process that there are consequences for behavior. We reward her when she does good and punish, sometime with a spanking, sometime with loss of privilege (toys or playing), when she does wrong, thus teaching that actions have consequences, for good and bad.

But when reading articles such as this, I question our decision to spank and we rethink it a couple of times a year to make certain it still has a place in our disciplinary methods. I’m going to take you through this article the way I read it. My thoughts and comments are in blue.

Study: Spanking may lead to sexual problems later

Children whose parents spank them or otherwise inflict (You’ve gotta love the use of the word “inflict.” Nice work presenting spanking as bad in the first sentence.) physical punishment may (the word “may” here is what’s called a ‘weasel’ word; a word used to avoid making a straightforward statement. Notice the article’s author is not actually saying anything. They may also grow up to be lima beans. He’s not saying anything.) be more likely to have sexual problems later, according to research to be presented Thursday to the American Psychological Association.

The analysis of four studies by Murray Straus, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire-Durham, suggests (but doesn’t actually prove) that children whose parents spanked, slapped, hit or threw objects at them may have a greater chance of physically or verbally coercing a sexual partner, engaging in risky sexual behavior or engaging in masochistic sex, including sexual arousal by spanking. (Notice how ‘spanked’ is listed with ‘slapped, hit, or threw objects at’? Not every parent who spanks automatically does these other things, which I think most people would agree are abusive and Strauss lumps them all together. Also notice how it is just assumed that erotic spanking is a bad thing. If it’s consensual and enjoyable to both parties, what’s the problem, especially if a safe word is used and respected )

“It increases the chances of sexual problems,” though “it’s not a one-to-one causation,” Straus says. (To what degree does it increase the chance of sexual problems? Are they four times more likely to have sexual problems? Half a percent more likely? Which sexual problems?)

Elizabeth Gershoff, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, who reviewed 80 years of spanking research in 2002 in the APA’s Psychological Bulletin, says Straus’ work appears to be the first to link spanking with sexual problems.

Gershoff says that though many children have been spanked (85% in one 2007 survey), problems may depend on how they process the spanking. (Again with the weasel words…which suggests there is not sufficient research to say for sure what, if any, connection there is.)

“They may internalize that to mean that in loving relationships sometimes there’s pain or physical aggression,” she says. Another possible lesson is that “whoever is stronger and has more power can overpower the other person and use physical aggression to control the other person’s behavior.” (If you are spanking your child simply because you are bigger and therefore have the “right” to control your child, you are probably abusing them. Spanking should not be used to control behavior but as a punishment after the fact. Of course, the hope is that the spanking was painful enough to deter future disobedience but that is a side effect of the punishment.)

But linking sexual problems with spanking is a “big leap,” says human-sexuality researcher John DeLamater of the University of Wisconsin. “It’s probably one of many elements that might contribute to sex problems or risky sex, but it’s a long leap.”

Most children who are spanked escape from long-term harm, says Straus, 81, a sociology professor who says he occasionally spanked his own children but later became a staunch critic of spanking. His work on violence in families is regarded as landmark research. (Notice how, without saying spanking causes violence in families, it is alluded to by mentioning this unrelated work in the context of spanking?)

He is scheduled to present the studies today at the psychological association’s Summit on Violence and Abuse in Relationships in Bethesda, Md. Three are yet unpublished; one has been submitted to a journal. He plans to include two in a book this year. The fourth was included in a 1994 book. (Oooooo…not much peer review. Not a good sign for the legitimacy of his studies)

The two most recent studies examine sexual coercion and risky practices among 14,252 college students between 2001 and 2006. The third study, of 440 (not nearly enough to draw any realistic conclusions) high school students from New Hampshire, examined risky sex, such as premarital sex without a condom. The fourth study, of 207 (again, not nearly enough) students from the Northeast, focused on masochistic sex.

In each case, Straus found that those who had experienced corporal punishment had increased probability of coercing sex, risky sex or masochistic sex. (If he’s referring to abuse, ei. hitting, throwing things at, etc, who’s surprised? But because he’s not studied ‘spanking’ and has only studied all forms of corporal punishment, the abused kids are included in the stats of the un-abused, but spanked, kids. Again, he’s lumped masochistic sex with inherently negative things, coerced sex and risky sex. Enjoying masochistic sex is not necessarily indicative of a sexual problem.)

The literature on effectiveness of spanking to correct behavior is still “very mixed,” says Robert Larzelere of Oklahoma State University, who has studied parents’ disciplinary methods.

“Like any discipline tactic, it depends on how it’s used,” he says.

The End

So, my conclusion is that if you are spanking your child in a manner that is abusive, your child is more likely to be abusive, just like every study on abusive situations has proven time and time again. What this article does not prove is that healthy, responsible spanking, causes sex problems.

I hope you all enjoyed this little trip into Becky’s brain. And I hope no one’s too scared.

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12 Responses to “Does Spanking Lead to Sexual Dysfuntion?”

  1. […] talked on the phone with a friend for about an hour about discipline and spanking and general parenting. I would like to write about theory of parenting; each family must find the […]

  2. CC Says:

    I posted the same article about spankings leading to sexual dysfunction on another blog site. Ridiculous!

  3. ladyrebecca Says:

    What blog site, CC? I’d be interested to read what you had to say.

  4. Cindy Says:

    You should read a few research books, then you would have a better understanding of the termonology.

  5. Christina G Says:

    My parents spanked (also occasionally in anger), but we all turned out to be calm, reasonable, well-adjusted adults. I don’t know about my brothers, but I at least have no sexual dysfunction issues (although I guess if I did, I wouldn’t admit it, or maybe I would, who knows?).

    Also, as a statistician, I can tell you that MOST of the statistics presented in popular media is bologna. If it’s a respected, peer-reviewed journal, believe it (unless it gets refuted by readers in the next issue – that happens sometimes), but USA Today? My students used to have a field day tearing apart the crap presented in that rag.

  6. Cindy Says:

    Murray Straus is well-known for his research on child abuse. I haven’t seen the study that’s being discussed (I assume it’s either under review or in press) but I highly doubt it is crap.

  7. Christina G Says:

    A few things, Cindy. First, just because he is a well-known researcher, does not necessarily mean he uses statistics properly. If you want to study whether spankings CAUSE sexual dysfunction, you would need to perform a double blind study (which is impossible and would be unethical if it was possible) and you would also need to eliminate all the other factors that might cause sexual dysfunction. An observational study can only show ASSOCIATION, not CAUSATION (you should read a few research books, then you would have a better understanding of the terminology). So maybe it’s the other way around, maybe parents of children with sexual dysfunctions are more likely to spank their kids, maybe these two things are caused by something completely different, maybe there is no relation at all.

    Second, his study isn’t under review or in press, it’s on his website.

    Third, I said what is presented in USA Today and other popular press is crap. I did not say that his research is necessarily crap. He does have articles in peer-reviewed journals. Those articles are worth reading and discussing. Letting some reporter at USA Today, who maybe had an intro class to statistics and an intro class to sociology in college interpret that article for you is just not using your brain. I’ve even found that the majority of statistics in respected news sources like Newsweek, Der Spiegel and Washington Post are manipulated to make the story more sensational. So in the end, I stand by my original statement.

  8. […] Straus’s study as reported in USA Today, is nearly as out of whack as I thought it was when I blogged about it a while back. I now think that since most people who spank are also the kind of people who […]

  9. anonymous Says:

    As to the comments about the validity of Dr. Straus’ work – Rebecca, your analysis suggests that you have a very poor understanding of the scientific process. The fact that a report uses words like “may” or “suggests” instead of “proves” doesn’t impugn the findings – it’s just the author being fair and honest and realistic about the fact that no single study proves anything. That’s not how science works. But if multiple studies suggest something, you’d better at least take that into account, especially if it affects the well-being of children.

    And as far as Cindy’s comments – you may be a statistician, but you’re also very ignorant in many aspects of the scientific process. Of course you can’t do a double-blind study on this, but that’s only one kind of study. Many types of research, especially in the medical field, have similar limitations. But valuable data can be learned from repeatedly observed associations.

    Finally, on a more personal note – I was the victim the frequent spankings growing up, and I have developed an intense fetish surrounding this topic. I can’t have an orgasm without thinking about spanking, and the things about spanking that turn me on were the same things that were done to me as a child. I’m convinced that there’s a connection, and I also feel that I’m seriously messed up. PLEASE DON’T SPANK YOUR CHILDREN!!! Not everyone develops masochistic tendencies, but you never know who will until it’s too late. I am deeply ashamed of this, but I can’t change it – I’ve been thinking about spankings and masturbating to these fantasies since childhood.

    If you don’t believe the studies, believe me. Spanking is cruel and humiliating and a violation of a child by the person she is supposed to be able to trust the most.

  10. ladyrebecca Says:

    Been a while since I blogged this but I just wanted to add something. We’ve stopped using spanking as our primary form of punishment. While this study and the reporting of it was, in fact, pretty bad, other studies, other research, and other things we’ve read about and thought about have led us to the conclusion that not only are other forms of punishment/discipline/training more effective, they are also more moral and less barbaric.

    And my daughter is responding well to it. She’s wonderful and she’s not turned into a little hellion since we quite spanking. So, while I still think it’s possible to spank without it being abusive, I no longer believe that spanking is a necessary tool in the parenting tool belt.

  11. TLW Says:

    As someone who lives everyday with the sexual side effects of childhood spanking, and actually found this blog looking for help to figure out why I am so screwed up, I just wanted to say, I hope for your daughters sake that she doesn’t grow up like me. And most people don’t, so chances are you will be fine.

    But spanking *is* hitting. When spanking parents describe how to spank, without actually using the word “spank” they *have* to use words like slap, hit, whack etc, because that’s what it is. It’s actually known in the UK as “smacking” because spanking is only sexual over there.

    So to compare one type of hitting to other types of hitting is very fair. In my opinion.

    Also, while an adult might not intend to spank a child simply because they are bigger and able to do so, that doesn’t guarantee that the child won’t feel intimidated, dominated and controlled by a big person through pain. In fact, it’s the only logical conclusion to make. If we assumed you had the reasoning skills of the average 3 year old, which is totally cause and effect, and then we introduce mega humans that were the same percentage bigger than you than the average adult is to a kid, and then we have that person hold you down and spank you, tell me honestly that there is no way conceivable that you would interpret that a bigger person can physically hurt you to get you to comply. Even if at all other times they were loving and rational.

    So, each parent has to make a judgement call. I personally can never, ever hit my child, regardless of if you call it hitting, slapping, whacking, beating, spanking, smacking, whipping or caning.

    • Don’t know if you read my comment above but we’ve largely come to the same conclusion as you. Regardless of whether a parent is spanking their child simply because they can or because they have, what they perceive to be, very good reasons, the child is still being hit by someone who outweighs them by a LOT and it is scary. I also think it creates some confusion combining “I love you” and “I get to hit you to teach you a lesson” and I think that’s a really shitty combo.


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