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Jany Rademakers about children's  sexuality

'Sexual Experience Makes Youths More  Liberal'

By Martijn P.N. van Kerkhof, 
translated from  0-25, oktober 1999

Dutch young people usually start with sex if they are ripe for it.
'They learn that partners have to negotiate with each other', 
says developmental psychologist Jany Rademakers.
On September 29, she received during the congress Children, Youths and their Sexuality, the Van Emde Boas - Van Ussel Price 1999 for her research in the field of the sexual development of children and youths. 


Parents have much influence on the development of sexual feelings, positively as well as negatively.

Reseracher Jany Rademakers:
'I think that boys strongly need to talk with a man about the filling in of their masculinity.'

Dutch youngsters have fourteen year time to experience with their sexuality.

'I do not exclude that boys are from nature more directed to sex.'

'Unquestionably, children have sexual feelings. People refuse to believe it. But the three basic elements of sexuality - gender, intimacy, and having a body - appear to be of great importance in children's lives,'

says Rademakers, researcher at the Nederlands Instituut voor Sociaal Seksuologisch Onderzoek (NISSO) [Dutch Institute for Social-Sexological Research]. 

'Quite early in life, children look for the differences between boys and girls. They invent all kinds of games concerning that theme. This is the first element.'

'We all know that intimacy is essentially important for children. Being hugged is for them as important as eating and drinking. By doing so, the first bonding with their caregivers comes to life. These first bonding has an enormous impact on the rest of their lives.'

'The third element is having a body. Children like very much to touch themselves. I can see this happen with my six-year-old son. He knows very well what he likes.'

'However, the point is that their sexuality is far more diffuse than it is in adults. Their emotions blow to everywhere like the wind. In a study I have performed, it appeared that many children are in love with a boy or a girl friend. But yet this does means they always kiss each other. Not until later in their lives they connect the one to the other. Contrarily to children, adults easily make such connections.'

'Parents have a lot of influence on the development of these emotions, positively as well as negatively. If a child continually hears it should not touch itself, we should be not astonished to observe later inhibited and withdrawing behavior.'

'The fact that I impute sexuality to children, does not mean that adults might bolt with it. On the contrary, they are not allowed to have sexual contacts with children. Not only the possible harm is the reason. Children and adults give a so greatly different meaning to sexuality, that both worlds must remain separated.'

'Children among each other - that's another story. Then, it depends on the context. As long as a young and an older child play sexual games, usually there is no problem. However, if force or manipulation are at hand, we have to be attentive. Particularly if it goes on for a long time, it might have - just like pestering - have traumatic effects.'

Acquiring experience

originally, Jany Rademakers is a developmental psychologist. In her work, studying the sexual development of young people has a prominent place. Already in her first research projects, she discovered that this process does not run automatically. Young people must muddle through trial and error to grow to adulthood.

'In general, one may say that youth become more liberal as according to they acquire more sexual and relational experiences. As long as they are around the age of ten, they mostly have traditional ideas about sexuality, marriage, and the positions of the gender in it. They receive a blueprint from their environment, including television and peers. In their head, they have all sorts of blueprints about reality should be. E.g., how boys have to behave, and which rules hold true for girls. A kind of theoretical knowledge.'

'In practice, the discover that life is more complex. By acting and doing, boys and girls discover that there are different ways to establish contact with each boyfriend or girlfriend. By having relationships with different partners - even if it are short relationships - they learn in real life the level of reality of their prefixed blueprints. Young people who miss these experiences - often the oddballs - stagnate with their development. There is a good chance that they later still might have expectations which never might become true.'

In the Netherlands, the period in which young people may experiment has become quite long.

'Roughly speaking, young people get about 14 years to try out everything. At the low ages, we see that the age of first sexual activity has become lower. Partly, this is due to nutrition and better life circumstances, thus a physiological process. At the higher ages, people establish a permanent relationship on a higher age. If I take as a measure the age on which women nowadays get their first child, we see an average of the age of 28 - and 31 if we dismiss women from other countries or cultures.'

Swimming pool affaires

The cultural environment highly influences this developmental process. Concerning sexual intercourse, Dutch youngsters greatly differ from the same age group in [North-]America. In international contacts, Rademakers uses to mention this comparison. 

'In the view of a many [North-]American people, we are living here in Sodom and Gomorra. Anything would be permitted and anyone would do what he or she wants. There, one preaches abstinence before marriage and there is scarcely any sex education at schools. The results are an effect of it. In the US, youngsters have earlier sexual intercourse; teenage pregnancy is ten times higher than here, and more teenagers suffer from sexually transmitted disorders.'

By doing so, the repressive climate in [North-]America exactly causes that what it pretends to prevent.

'In the [North-]American culture, the traditional vision on sexuality dominates. Also about the gender, the way of thinking is stereotype. For young people, sex is still a forbidden fruit. Nevertheless, this fruit is frequently consumed under pressure of the peer group. 
Dutch youngsters are far more sober and start sex not until they feel ripe for it. They also have the opinion that boys and girls are equal and that they have to respect each others' integrity. They learn that partners have to negotiate with each other.'

Nevertheless, the gape between the genders is here not at all closed. Girls have far more social abilities than boys. 

'For boys it is more difficult to speak about their feelings. The want to present themselves as soft and understanding, but they do not ant to throw overboard their sturdy pose and their idea that they must have the initiative. Boys are often locked up in this contradiction. In addition, tendency plays a role. 
I don't exclude that boys are by nature more focused on sex. In any case, they masturbate more and they touch their genitals more often than girls. This is obvious, also literally. The female genitals are more hidden. The vagina seems to be the most unnamed part of the body in all cultures.

'Rademakers contently observes that sex education more than before addresses boys. 

'Boys have a lot to learn. Adaptation to the code of negotiating is for them most difficult. 

This seems also have been the case in the swimming pool affaires that occurred in several cities last summer. After girls had been troubled or even molested, the directors of several swimming pools decided to create separate hours for boys an girls. Rademakers does not believe in it.

'Of course it depends on how far the boys have been gone and however much their misbehavior has been. But one of the greatest attraction of swimming pools is that young people may meet each other there. The are able to horse around and to romp. Usually, there is nothing wrong. If there is really molestation or rape, that's another situation. But even in that case, a split does not resolve anything, except that the swimming pool is more quiet. The problem is not resolved, but moved to other places. I my opinion, one should raise the matter with schools and club houses in the neighborhood. They should raise the matter of that behavior in the sex education classes or in the context of teaching to respect each other's limits.'

Rademakers observes another problem in the sex education of boys: the lack of male educators.

'I think that boys strongly need to talk with a man about the filling in of their masculinity. The problem is that are just men - including male teachers - who have difficulties to talk about their role.'

A double standard

An actual topic in which Rademakers is engaged is the virginity code. In the Islamite culture, this principle means that boys as well as girls may have no intercourse before marriage. 

'What heavily irritates me concerning that code is that in practice their is a double standard. All attention is directed to girls, and boys van factually do what they want. In addition my opinion is that nobody, including helpers to whom the girls go with their questions, may give a moral judgment. This would show a lack of respect for their cultural background. One must be careful not to condemn a girl who already have enough troubles.'

'Some Islamite girls have a reasonable permissive style of living. Their parents are also quite liberal. In these cases, virginity is usually not a great problem. However, others are wedged between their parents and their norms on one hand, and on the other hand their peers with whom they mix in their free time.
These girls haven't kept the rules, they have had sex with one or more boys. The latter might have used excuses like 'I will put it in only a bit'.
These girls are afraid they make a clean breast of it in their traditional home background. They go to helping institutions. Sometimes, thay want a declaration of virginity, or they want their hymen repaired.'


'At NISSO, we have performed research on this topic and we have mapped out the problem. We have written a practical guide for helpers who meet this kind of questions. In my opinion, the needs of these girls must be the central point, as should be the needs of all youngsters and children. Their necessity, and how they experience this, ought to be the starting point of the helping process.



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