Ernest Borneman

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  • In a paper presented to the World Congress of Sexology, entitled "Progress in Empirical Research on Children's Sexuality" (1983), Sexologist Ernest Borneman outlines his findings after his research team had spent 40 years collecting a large community sample of over 4,000 taped conversations where children and adolescents discussed their everyday sex lives, largely hidden from and unknown to their parents, during which the researchers were arrested multiple times before changing their research method. As Borneman explains:
"Sooner or later, of course, the adults intervened, called the police or the park attendants, and asked what in the world we were up to. Most of us were arrested at least once and got used to carrying thick wallets full of documents identifying us as members of a research team. Despite the fact that we were in no way conducting a participant observation study, and were merely attempting to understand children’s sexual thinking, it was very difficult to communicate this distinction to authorities. The experiences were painful, and so we began to train children in handling tape recorders. This worked extremely well…"
Borneman explained that "No field of sexology is beset with more objections [...] than research into children’s sex life. Such objections reach the height of absurdity with the denial that there is such a thing as children’s sexuality. [...] Of course, pedologists mean something else by children’s “sex life” than laypersons. We don’t limit the term to a connotation of “having intercourse.” In our vocabulary, children’s sex life encompasses the child’s entire existence as a sexual being. In this sense, it may even be permissible to speak of prenatal sex life" [Sexual behavior in utero, in the womb, has since been empirically verified - see our page on youth sexuality].
He concludes that "Human sexuality [...] consists less of bodily activities than of mental ones - desires, fantasies, disappointments, anxieties. In this specific sense, the child’s sex life resembles that of the adult human". As the majority of erotic / sex life resides in fantasy, the gulf between "adults" and "children" is much smaller than might usually be assumed.
Among other important findings, Borneman coined an initial phase of psychosexual development - "the cutaneous phase" - in which "the entire skin surface of the newly born is a single erogenous zone." The primacy of genitals has been inappropriately over-emphasized, "since we observed that the sexually mature person of our day is a cutaneously oriented person whose entire body surface is libidinally sensitive. Such people are not genitally fixated [...and the] embraces they seek are not exclusively of the genital kind." Despite the difficulties Borneman and his team endured, Borneman became the first ever recipient of the Magnus Hirschfeld Medal for sexual science, showing the German academic community of the time recognized Borneman and his team's unique and valuable contributions to the scientific study of children's normative sexuality. [For discussion, click here]