Ah, childhood. A time of youthful innocence, and the glory of first experiences. Your first day of school, your first BFFs, and your first schoolyard blow job. Record scratch.
Parents can get understandably wigged out about their 4- and 5-year-olds rubbing genitals together. Shock, anger, and disgust are typical reactions. But is this just the classic exploring and experimentation — remember "playing doctor"? — that many adults have forgotten about? Does nobody else remember the delights of rubbing one out on a Teddy Ruxpin? Anyone?
A preschool in Carson, CA. is under fire because a 5-year-old girl was caught with her mouth on the genitals of a 4-year-old boy. The school has since shuttered — although they're saying it's because their director is leaving — and the community is baffled and outraged.
ABC News calls the allegations at Carson "shocking". But is it really so shocking when young kids "play doctor"? You may or may not remember doing it, but there's a good chance you did. Sex educator Joani Blank told us, "As far as I know, kids between the ages of four and preteen are exploring their bodies and the bodies of other kids. We have no idea to what extent, because most of them are smart enough to do it in private," She says. "However, if they're younger, they might not know enough to not do it publicly, and they need to be told to do so."
Everyone's angry at someone — the teachers, administrators, parents — everyone's looking for someone to blame. Who was this terrible absentee teacher, and why weren't they paying enough attention? What is happening in these kids' homes that their children are so sexualized?
While neglectful teachers and abuse at home are definite possibilities in some situations, that's not always the case. Often it's just kids being kids, and not knowing it's important to not play with themselves and others in public. They're figuring things out for the first time. What feels good, bad, weird, wonderful — it's all brand new. The children's behavior isn't deviant or freaky, it's totally appropriate and natural.
Blank's convinced that, in the situation in Carson, the person who's acting the most inappropriately is Richard McCarthy, the father who claims his four-year-old son received oral sex from a 5-year-old girl.
"He told me about all the bad things that girl had been doing to him," McCarthy said. "It went down in the classroom, it went down in the bathroom and it went down out on the playground."
At least one other boy at the First Lutheran Church of Carson School says he also received oral sex from the same girl.
"The two boys that have been introduced to this feeling that they don't know how to process are still looking for it, and trying to make it happen," McCarthy said.
He goes on:
"I just had to keep yelling in his ear, 'You're not in trouble, you're not in trouble!' And I just told him, 'You're never coming back here again for these people to do this to you,'" McCarthy said, fighting back tears.
But now, he doesn't know where to send his son.
"There's no way I can just take him to another school and be that parent that just lets a predator loose," McCarthy said. "How else do you explain it?"
It's easy to understand why a parent might react harshly to the news that their son is experimenting in this way at school. In a culture that thrusts adult sexuality onto children — ones who are often too young to understand it — it makes sense that people are freaked out by one child putting their mouth on another's genitals. Yes, it's more intimate than the basic poke-n-touch. Do preschoolers know that? Not really. They're just fumbling around.
Blank calls McCarthy's reaction "really tragic."
"His assumption is that his four-year-old son is a predator because he played doctor with a little girl in preschool," she says. "We have this really unfortunate habit of attributing adult sex stuff to children. We imagine these kids are doing it with the same motive, energy, and desire to be sexual that adults have."
Blank says they're not. "Kids don't know the difference between the pleasure of kicking a kick ball or a hug from their parents, and the pleasure of touching their genitals. They're all just physical things that feel good."
Why are we so disgusted by what is essentially just natural exploration? Is it because we project adult sexiness onto childhood experimentation?
And how would Blank have handled the situation at school? A gentle scolding, and telling the kids to not do it again in public. "I'd say, 'It's not a really good idea for us to do this in school, it's something to do in private,'" she said. "Kinda like what I would say if a kid was masturbating in the living room. That's something you do in your room, not out here amongst others."
That sounds about right; kids aren't gonna stop rubbing themselves, each other, and tetherball poles, so what's the point of making it a scary, bad thing? Besides, this isn't really about sex, so let's not make it about sex. It's learning about our bodies and the bodies of other kids, and doing things that feel good.
You have to wonder how a big hubbub over truly normal shit can affect a kid in the long run. Will they eventually develop a sex-negative attitude? Will developing a happy, healthy sexuality be more difficult for them? As many of us know, childhood scars run deep.
All I'm saying is, I've never been happier that I wasn't caught rubbing up against a Miss Piggy pillow.
If kids are taught shame and embarrassment about what's essentially a normal part of development, who knows what the repercussions might be. And if a child becomes deeply afraid to talk about these things with trusted adults, who knows what else they won't feel comfortable sharing? Kids need to feel there's an environment of love and communication, not shame, so they can talk openly about other "weird" body stuff — think periods and sex — down the road, if they want to. Also, so they're not scared to speak honestly if they're ever put in situations where they're being violated or taken advantage of. Because that's the truly awful stuff, and significantly more shocking, angering, and disgusting than any typical childhood development.
Image via Sunny studio-Igor Yaruta / Shutterstock.