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SEXUALITY IN THE INFANT AND NEONATE: MASTURBATION

In boys, masturbation is defined as genital self-touching associated with erection and increasing excitement moving rhythmically toward a climax. In girls, masturbation also comprises rhythmical self-stimulation with indications of pleasure and climax. It may begin as early as the first or second year, but more commonly occurs after the third year. Kinsey and his coworkers reported orgasm in both boy and girl infants in the first six months of life. They based their conclusions on adult observations of a sample of children being sexually stimulated and achieving a climax. Approximately half the sample of twenty-two boys achieved climax by age two, with gradual increases in successive years. Similar findings are reported for girls, but the data are based on both observation and adult recall. Orgasm is reported for twenty-three girls under age three, four of them less than one year of age. A composite account of climax in the infant male follows:

the behavior involves a series of gradual physiologic changes, the development of rhythmic body movements with distinct penis throbs and pelvic thrusts, an obvious change in sensory capacities, a final tension of muscles, especially the abdomen, hips, and back, a sudden release with convulsions, including rhythmic anal contractions—followed by the disappearance of all symptoms. A fretful babe quiets down under the initial sexual stimulation, is distracted from other activities, begins rhythmic pelvic thrusts, becomes tense as climax approaches, is thrown into convulsive action, often with violent arm and leg movements, sometimes with weeping at the moment of climax. After climax the child loses erection quickly and subsides into the calm and peace that typically follows adult orgasm. It may be some time before erection can be induced again after such an experience (Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin).

Masturbation to orgasm in a girl, age three, the youngest reported by Kinsey and his associates is described by the child’s mother:

Lying face down on the bed, with her knees drawn up, she started rhythmic pelvic thrusts, about one second or less apart. The thrusts were primarily pelvic, with the legs tensed in a fixed position. The forward components of the thrusts were in a smooth and perfect rhythm which was unbroken except for momentary pauses during which the genitalia were readjusted against the doll on which they were pressed; the return from each thrust was convulsive, jerky. There were 44 thrusts in unbroken rhythm, a slight momentary pause, 87 thrusts followed by a slight momentary pause, then 10 thrusts, and then a cessation of all movement. There was marked concentration and intense breathing with abrupt jerks as orgasm approached. She was completely oblivious to everything during these later stages of the activity. Her eyes were glassy and fixed in a vacant stare. There was noticeable relief and relaxation after orgasm. A second series of reactions began two minutes later with series of 48, 18, and 57 thrusts, with slight momentary pauses between each series. With the mounting tensions, there were audible gasps, but immediately following the cessation of pelvic thrusts there was complete relaxation and only desultory movements thereafter (Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin and Gebhard).

Masturbation to orgasm, by various techniques, was also reported in younger female infants (Bakwin). A seven-month-old girl masturbated by pressing her body against her rag doll:

“… from time to time would throw the doll on the floor, lie down on top of it, and rhythmically press her body against it . . .”. Another infant, at five months, “would press her legs together, lift them and bear down, and her face became flushed”. Still another, at fourteen months, “would cross her legs, grunt, and get red in the face. After some seconds or minutes she would relax, break out in perspiration, and appear exhausted”. The follow-up data on these girls indicated that masturbation in early infancy was not associated with behavioral disability later. In two of the infants, masturbation gradually diminished, but in the third who was routinely punished for self-stimulation, it continued and apparently increased.

Pelvic thrusting movements begin in the first year, mainly when the infant is held close and cuddled. The majority of infants respond reciprocally to holding and cuddling, sometimes with pelvic thrusting. Since sex play is rarely permitted in our society, the continuing occurrence of pelvic thrusting rehearsals is not known. In a society which permits sexual play in children, as the Yolunga of Arnhem Lane in Australia do, pelvic thrusting may occur as children are falling asleep together (Money and Ehrhardt).

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