Excerpted from Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, Third Edition, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1986. (pp. 224-28)
The Harlows, in a well known experiment, reported on the adult behavior of a group of live rhesus female monkeys who had never known a real mother of their own. As mothers these monkeys were utterly hopeless - two were essentially indifferent to their young, and three were so violently abusive to their infants they had frequently to be separated. Normally appropriate cues offered by the infants for eliciting maternal behavior resulted in repulsion and rejection, and otherwise brutal behavior. The Harlows suggest that "failure of normal gratification of contact-clinging in infancy may make it impossible for the adult female to show normal contact relationships with her own infant," would be an oversimplified explanation for such behavior, and we would agree. They believe, on the contrary, that "maternal affection in the monkey is a highly integrated, global system, not a series of isolated components that vary independently ... depending more upon general social experiences than upon specific experiences." Tactile experience is fundamental, but it is not the only experience necessary for the adequate social development of animals and humans. Be that as it may, there is a striking parallel between the motherless monkey's behavior toward her young, and that of the human mother who has been massively failed in mothering experience during her own infancy. As Drs. Brandt F. Steele and C. B. Pollock of the University of Colorado found when they studied the parents of abused children in three generations of families, such parents were invariably deprived of physical affection themselves during their childhood. In addition, their adult sex life was extremely poor. The women never experienced orgasm, and the men's sex life was unsatisfying.
The parallel between the motherless monkey's adult behavior and that of the parental disasters suffered by the adult child batterers as children is deadly. Dr. James H. Prescott, a developmental neuropsychologist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, at Bethesda, Maryland, believes that a principal cause of human violence stems from a lack of bodily pleasure during the formative periods of life. "Recent research," he writes, "supports the view that the deprivation of physical pleasure is a major ingredient in the expression of physical violence. The common association of sex with violence provides a clue to understanding physical violence in terms of deprivation of physical pleasure." He goes on to point out that unlike violence, people cannot seem to get enough of pleasure, for which they are constantly in search of new forms that ultimately seem to be substitutes for the natural sensory pleasures of touching. Laboratory experiments have convinced Dr. Prescott that deprivation of sensory pleasure is the principal root cause of violence. There is a reciprocal relationship between them; the presence of one inhibits the other. Rage is not possible in the presence of pleasure. A raging, violent animal will calm down when electrodes stimulate the pleasure centers of its brain. Dr. Prescott suggests that during development certain sensory experiences will create a neuropsychological disposition for either violence-seeking or pleasure-seeking behavior later in life. Writes Dr. Prescott:I am convinced that various abnormal social and emotional behaviors resulting from what psychologists call "maternal-social" deprivation, that is, a lack of tender, loving care, are caused by a unique type of sensory deprivation, somatosensory deprivation. Derived from the Greek word for "body," the term refers to the sensations of touch and body movement which differ from the senses of sight, hearing, smell, and taste. I believe that the deprivation of body touch, contact, and movement are the basic causes of a number of emotional disturbances which include depressive and autistic behaviors, hyperactivity, sexual aberration, drug abuse, violence, and aggression.Dr. Prescott may be claiming a bit too much for the effects of somatosensory deprivation, but if his claims are in the least excessive they are in the right direction and for the most part, as the evidence abundantly testifies, worthy of more attention than they have thus far received. As Prescott has said, numerous studies of juvenile delinquents and criminals have revealed a background of broken homes, neglectful or abusive parents. Take almost any violent individual and inquire into his history as a child, and it can be predicted with confidence that he will be discovered to have had a lacklove childhood, to have suffered a failure of tender, loving care. 1 It should, however, be made quite clear that there are a number of cases on record of persons who suffered a lacklove infancy and who somehow emerged mentally quite healthy. 2
In passing it may be observed that many rapists, who are almost invariably men, are not so much driven by the need for sex, as by the need to commit brutal acts against women. It may be that, among other things, the child equates tactual deprivation with maternal rejection, an experience which in later life will cause him to resort to sexual violence against women. It may also be that a similar mechanism is involved in the general oppression that women have suffered at the hands of men.
There is some evidence that in incest the driving force is rarely the need for sex, but rather a need for closeness, warmth, and caring.
To be roughly handled has been considered by many women, especially women of the working classes, an incontestable token of love. There is, for example, the well-known feminine Cockney supplication to her man: "If yer loves us, chuck us abaht." The sexual element was very evident in the flagellation epidemics of medieval times, as a penance which the church at first approved and then forbade, when it realized the sensuality involved. That the participants in such flagellation episodes were more than anxious to receive the caresses of the whip suggests that a great many infants in medieval times received an inadequate amount and quality of tactile stimulation.
Slapping children, with whatever intention, as a form of discipline or for any other reason, turns the skin into an organ of pain rather than pleasure. For reasons which are not too difficult to discern, the buttocks have constituted a preferred locus for spanking the child. This region is closely related to the sexual organs, and supplied by sensory nerves which form part of the nervous plexus associated with the sexual functions. Hence spanking on the buttocks may produce distinctively erotic sensations in children, including sexual orgasm. Children have been known to misbehave deliberately in order to receive such desired "punishment," pretending to be distressed while experiencing it.
Rousseau relates that when he was eight (he was actually ten) he learned to know sexual pleasure from the spankings administered by his governess, who used to lay him over her knees in order to attend to him a posteriori. Far from being distressed by these assaults upon his integrity, he tells how he welcomed them, and how finally his bed was removed from his governess's room when she became aware of the effects her punishments were having upon her charge.
Whether or not some element of perverted sadism is present in the personality of a particular discipliner, the early conditioning of the association between pain and sexual pleasure produced by spanking may result in a permanent pathology,3 the disorder known as algolagnia. Algolagnia is a condition in which pain and cruelty provoke voluptuous sexual pleasure. It may be either active or passive. Masochistic algolagnia renders the experience of pain, disgust, or humiliation one which produces sexual excitement. Sadistic algolagnia is the opposite, making the infliction of pain, discomfort, fear, or humiliation upon others the source of sexual pleasure in oneself.
Spanking and slapping with the open hand in order to punish children is still too often indulged. Inflicting pain upon them in this manner deprives children of the comfort the skin usually communicates to them; as a result, they may come to associate their own skin and that of others with fear of contact and pain, and thus may avoid skin contacts in later life.
1. For a detailed discussion of this see A. Montagu, The Direction of Human Development (revised edition, New York: Hawthorne books, 1970).
2. For the most striking case on record see A. Montagu, The Elephant Man (New York: Dutton Books, 1979). See also D. Beres and S. J. Obers, "The Effects of Extreme Deprivation in Infancy on Psychic Structure in Adolescence: A Study in Ego Development," The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, vol. 5 (New York: International Universities Press, 1950), pp. 212-235; A. M. Clarke and A. D. B. Clarke, Early Experience: Myth and Evidence (New York: Free Press, 1976).
3. For a good discussion of the pathological effects of spanking see J. F. Oliver, Sexual Hygiene and Pathology, (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1965), pp. 63-67.