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Argument: Sexual abuse is insufficient to ban corporal punishment

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Parent debate

Supporting quotations

David Benatar. "Corporal Punishment Social Theory and Practice". Social Theory and Practice. Summer 1998: "d. Corporal punishment stems from and causes sexual deviance

Those who want to outlaw corporal punishment often argue that there are disturbing sexual undercurrents in the practice.(15) This objection is, in part, a special instance of the argument about adverse psychological effects. In part it is a separate, but related objection. The argument is that corporal punishment stems from some sexual perversity (on the part of the person inflicting the punishment) and can in turn cause sexual deviance (in the person punished). In some versions of this argument, it is claimed that sadomasochistic relationships can develop between the beater and the beaten. In other versions, only one party--usually but not always the beater--may experience sexual excitement through the beating. The beaten person may become sexually repressed. It is no accident, the argument goes, that the buttocks are often chosen as the site on the body to which the punishment is administered.

Those who advance the objection that corporal punishment fosters masochism are rarely clear about the nature of the masochistic inclinations that they say are produced. Yet, it is crucial to be clear about this. Studies show that most people have been sexually aroused, either in fantasy or in practice, by at least some mild masochistic activity, such as restraint or play fights.(16) Thus, some masochistic tendencies seem to be statistically normal. That does not preclude their being undesirable, but it is hard to see how, in an era of increased tolerance of diversity in sexual orientation and practice, we can consistently label mild masochism as perverse. If such inclinations increase opportunities for sexual pleasure without concomitant harms, then there is at least a prima facie case for the view that such inclinations are not to be regretted. And if one objects to those masochistic inclinations that seek gratification in more serious pain, injury, and bondage, there is no evidence of which I am aware that mild and infrequent corporal punishment fosters such inclinations. The available evidence linking corporal punishment and masochism makes the connection only with milder forms of masochistic fantasy and practice.

It is, of course, a concern that some parents or teachers might derive sexual gratification from beating children, but is it a reason to eliminate or ban the practice? Someone might suggest that it is, if the anticipated sexual pleasure led to beatings that were inappropriate--either because children were beaten when they should not have been, or if the punishment were administered in an improper manner. However, if this is the concern, surely the fitting response would be to place limitations on the use of the punishment and, at least in schools, to monitor and enforce compliance. Here we are not without examples to follow. For example, given the intimacy of a medical examination, the doctor-patient relationship is one that is prone to sexual undercurrents. Needless to say, it is a disturbing thought that doctors may be sexually aroused while examining patients, but we cannot (easily) monitor that. Our response then, is to lay down guidelines to curb any abuses that might ensue. I am aware that medical examinations are necessary in a way in which corporal punishment is not, but corporal punishment might nonetheless fulfill an important function."

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