March 14, 2008
Why you shouldn't spank your kids


Researchers have uncovered another damaging consequence of spanking: risky sexual behaviors, or even sexual deviancy, when the child grows up.

"This adds one more harmful side effect to spanking," said Murray Straus, a spanking expert who was expected to present the findings of four studies at the American Psychological Association's Summit on Violence and Abuse in Relationships in Bethesda, Md., on Thursday.

"I think that it's pretty powerful," said Elizabeth Gershoff, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan's School of Social Work. "It's across several studies and across different forms of either risky or deviant sexual behavior."


A meta-analysis of spanking studies conducted by Gershoff found 93 percent agreement among studies that spanking can lead to such problems as delinquent and anti-social behavior in childhood along with aggression, criminal and anti-social behavior and spousal or child abuse as an adult.

"There's probably nothing else in child development that has 93 percent agreement in results," Straus said.

I confess, I've never been particularly tempted to use corporal punishment on Olivia (Audrey is too young for punishment in any meaningful sense; correction, yes, punishment, no). It's not my style (or Tiffany's), and she responds quite well to things like timeouts. But if the temptation ever presents itself, I'm going to think about this article before I act.

Having said that, I found the tone a tad bit off-putting.

The review being presented at the meeting are the first to look at the relationship of spanking to sexual behavior.

They found that spanking and other corporal punishment is associated with an increased probability of verbally and physically coercing a dating partner to have sex; risky sex such as premarital sex without using a condom; and masochistic sex such as spanking during sex.

There is a "dose response" at work here. "The more parents spank, the higher the probability of harmful side effects," Straus noted.

Of course, there's a similar dose response for smokers. But if someone reaches the age of 65 without developing lung cancer, it doesn't mean that smoking isn't harmful. It means the person was one of the lucky ones.

It's the same with spanking, Straus said. "If a person says, 'I was spanked, and I don't have any interest in bondage and discipline sex, that's correct, but it's not because spanking is OK, it's because they're one of the lucky ones."

I'm uncomfortable with equating cigarettes with B&D. The former is unquestionably unhealthy; the latter, if consensual, seems perfectly harmless. I'm not sure if this is a careless characterization, or if they really do intend to lump B&D with other, clearly more risky, behaviors, but this strikes me as fearmongering to some degree. I don't think it detracts from the overall conclusion, but a little tightening of the message might be in order here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 14, 2008 to Society and cultcha

Wow...what a fascinating study. My wife and I have no plans to spank our children, as we simply don't see the need. And frankly, the parents that I see who are willing to hit their children do so mostly out of unwillingness to take the time or effort to discipline them in a more appropriate or effective manner. I'm glad to see though that science is on our side.

Posted by: Xanthippas on March 14, 2008 11:28 AM

"and masochistic sex such as spanking during sex."

Because that's such a terrible thing! Seriously, how do they define "deviant" sexual behaviour? Anything other than man/woman missionary style? And I'm curious as to how being spanked as a child relates to having unprotected oremarital sex as an adult. HOW do they make that connection?

I agree that it's fearmongering. I don't deny that some parents may go too far in their discipline - spanking for every infraction, spanking too much, too hard, while too angry, etc - but I still don't see a problem with using spanks/smacks sparingly, as a last resort, when a child refuses to mind. It doesn't have to be over-the-knee, bare-butt, smacks that leave bruises or red hand prints. It's not black and white, in my opinion. And of course, disciplines vary by child. Where a spanking may work on one child, time-outs or standing in the corner may work just as well for another, without having to resort to spanking.

Posted by: LK on March 14, 2008 12:32 PM

Hmm - if spanking is going to make children more open minded about sex, I may have to rethink my position on corporal punishment.

Posted by: Danil on March 14, 2008 9:44 PM

Correlation does not equal causality! Pseudo science fluff.

Posted by: el_longhorn on March 17, 2008 5:11 PM