The Psychology of Sex
SEXUAL REHEARSAL PLAY. For both boys and girls, erotic/sexual development does not begin at puberty as one folk dogma would have us believe. It begins, in fact, in earliest infancy, in the relationship of clinging, hugging, and cuddling. The now famous Wisconsin studies demonstrate that if baby monkeys are deprived of these haptic or tactual experiences by being separated from their mothers and reared in total social isolation, then the entirety of their social behavior with other monkeys is impaired for life. The impairment affects adult sexual behavior. Males are even more susceptible than are females to impairment of the ultimate ability to perform coitus. In females, the impairment additionally affects parental behavior. If pregnancy is induced in an isolation-reared female, she becomes a mother unable to care for her baby. She is so neglectful and abusive, in fact, that the young one, especially the first-born, may not survive.
When not reared in isolation, but with others of their troop, monkey infants typically engage in play that is a form of sexual rehearsal. Developmentally, this sexual rehearsal play is absolutely imperative insofar as baby monkeys deprived of adequate opportunities to engage in it grow up unable to mate and reproduce their species.
Under naturalistic conditions of troop life, baby monkeys may begin mounting each other, and even displaying the mature foot-clasp mount, by two or three months of age (Goldfoot 1977). At first they climb on each other from all directions and are indiscriminate as to which sex does the presenting or the mounting and as to the sex of the partner. Eventually, their moves become sorted out so that males mount females, predominantly, and do so with their own feet off the ground, clasping the shanks of the female who presents in the four-legged position.
Rearing conditions pervasively influence the manifestations of sexual rehearsal play, and the age of its appearance. In an all-female group of juveniles, for example, there develops a hierarchy in which some females are dominant and others subordinant, and in which some mount others more often than they present and are mounted. Conversely, in an all-male group, there develops a hierarchy in which some males are subordinant and others dominant, and in which some present and are mounted more than they mount. In a mixed-sex group, males occupy the top of the dominance-subordinance hierarchy and establish a prevalence of mounting females who, reciprocally, become subordinant and present to be mounted.
To ensure sexual proficiency in adulthood, juvenile monkeys require not only sexual rehearsal play but also playmates of their own age with whom to engage in sexual rehearsals. A monkey male reared in isolation with an artificial, dummy mother may actually be observed going through the motor performance of mounting an appropriately positioned dummy, yet he remains forever incapable of mounting another live monkey. A baby reared in isolation not with a dummy, but with its real mother, also is not able to be a breeding partner as an adult.
Less severe conditions of socially restricted rearing produce less severe and sometimes partially reversible sexual defects. For example, when male infants were permanently separated from their mothers at 3 to 6 months of age, and allowed half an hour of peer-group play daily, about 30 percent of them developed foot-clasp mounting, but its appearance was delayed until they were 18 to 24 months of age. The remaining 70 percent tried to mount and were either wrongly oriented or, if correctly oriented, without success at foot-clasping, and their failures persisted as they were observed longitudinally over three years.
The absence of foot-clasp mounting in the yearling or juvenile male monkey is predictive of deficient sexual behavior in adulthood. Delayed development of foot-clasp mounting, as in the 30 percent above, is followed in adulthood by copulatory and breeding proficiency that is defective by comparison with animals reared in the wild. Males who do not ever develop foot-clasp mounting as infants or juveniles are incapable of copulating as adults.
The number of studies of the effects of depriving human infants and juveniles of sexual rehearsal play is exactly and precisely zero. Moreover, anyone who tried to conduct such a study would risk imprisonment for contributing to the delinquency of minors or for being obscene. Just imagine the headlines and the fate of a research grant application requesting funds to watch children play fucking games! Imagine, by contrast, headlines accusing parents, priests, and teachers of criminal neglect and abuse of children for depriving them of sexual rehearsal play or punishing them for it....
Children may learn, more or less by trial and error, from one another or from their slightly older age mates, or the learning may be from much older people. In our society, erotic/sexual play and knowledge are transmitted in all three ways. Thus, at the kindergarten age, one may observe daughters being socially rewarded for being coquettishly flirtatious with their fathers, and sons for being manly little escorts with their mothers. At the same age, kindergarten boys and girls rehearse romantic pair-bonding, complete with glamorous plans for a wedding in Baltimore, a honeymoon in the Caribbean, and a cowboy ranch in Texas. The same children, accepted into the play of older children, are ready learners of more grown-up information on how-to-do-it sexuality. As they become older, their erotic/sexual rehearsal play becomes more guarded, as they assimilate the mores of prohibition and taboo and the self-regulation of behavior that ensues. The middle childhood rears are not years of sexual latency, as a still popular doctrine asserts. They are years of sexual prudery in which sexual rehearsal play goes underground. Copulatory play is engaged in from time to time, as privacy permits, and the pair-bonding of a genuine love affair is occasionally encountered.
John Money, Love and Love Sickness: The Science of Sex, Gender Difference and Pair-bonding, pp. 51-53, 54. John Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, London) 1980.