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Child corporal punishment: Spanking

Correlations between childhood
spanking and adult sexual behavior

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2008: University of New Hampshire: studies linking spanking & sex:

Murray Straus, 81, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire analyzed four studies that attempted to correlate corporal punishment during childhood with sexual problems during teen years and adulthood.

He presented his findings at the American Psychological Association?s "Summit on Violence and Abuse in Relationships: Connecting Agendas and Forging New Directions" held on 2008-FEB-28 & 29.

He found evidence that linked corporal punishment (e.g. spanking, slapping, hitting, throwing objects at children) with a number of sexual behaviors during adulthood, including:

bullet Physically or verbally coercing another person to have sex.
bullet Engaging in risky sexual behavior, with potentially serious consequences in the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
bullet Engaging in masochistic sex, including becoming sexually aroused by receiving a spanking.

In all four studies, researchers found that those who had experienced corporal punishment had an increased probability of engaging in at least one of these behaviors.

Straus said:

"These results, together with the results of more than 100 other studies, suggest that spanking is one of the roots of relationship violence and mental health problems. Because there is 93 percent agreement between [sic] studies that investigated harmful side effects of spanking, and because over 90 percent of U.S. parents spank toddlers, the potential benefits for prevention of sexual and relationship violence is large."

"Furthermore, because other research shows spanking is not more effective than other discipline methods, there is no need to expose children to the harmful effects of spanking. We can help prevent mental health problems and relationship violence from happening by a national health policy recommending never spanking." 3

The Associated Press reports:

"Straus said he would like more pediatricians and child-rearing experts to warn against spanking. He'd also like lawmakers to take a stand by dedicating state money to teaching parents about the dangers of corporal punishment."

" 'The best-kept secret in child psychology is that children who were never spanked are among the best behaved,' Straus said." 2

Correlation of childhood spanking & adult sexual coercion:

Elizabeth Gershoff, assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, has reviewed spanking studies extending over eight decades. She commented that children may develop problems depending on how they process the spankings that they have received. She said:

"They may internalize that to mean that in loving relationships sometimes there's pain or physical aggression. [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." 1

Correlation of childhood spanking with risky sex during adulthood:

In one of the four studies examined, Straus surveyed 14,252 students at 68 universities in 32 countries between 2001 and 2006. The results were:

bullet 12.5% of the students who had never been hit by parents were likely to insist that their sexual partner have unprotected sex.
bullet 25% of the students who had received the most corporal punishment were likely to insist on unprotected sex. 1

Correlation of childhood spanking with masochism during adulthood:

Straus surveyed 207 students at three colleges and asked them whether they had ever been sexually aroused during masochistic sex. 2

He found that:

bullet 40% percent of students who had never been spanked were interested in masochistic sex.
bullet 75% of students who had been spanked a lot by their parents were sexually aroused by masochistic sex. 3

Straus said:

"The core idea of this study is that being spanked by loving parents confuses love with violence, which increases the probability that violence will be part of making love. ...

What is new about this study is a scientific test of the idea that being spanked as a child inclines people [as adults] to want to be spanked when having sex, and that this is especially likely to be true when there is a combination of lots of spanking and lots of love." 3

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Sharon Jayson, "Study: Spanking may lead to sexual problems later," USA Today, 2008-FEB-28, at:
  2. "Study: Spanking children affects their sex lives as adults," Associated Press, 2008-FEB-29, at:
  3. "Spanking Kids Increases Risk of Sexual Problems as Adults," Science Blog, 2008-FEB-29, at:

Copyright 2004 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2009-MAY-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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