"Sexual Enlightenment of Children, The"

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This short text by Freud was written in the form of an open letter addressed to Dr. Fürst for publication in a journal on social medicine and hygiene. "The Sexual Enlightenment of Children" is contemporaneous with the Three Essays on Sexuality (1905d) and "Little Hans" (1909b), in both of which this same question of infantile sexual curiosity is developed. However, in this essay Freud discusses the ethical and epidemiological (with regard to the prevention of neuroses) aspects of a question he will examine from a more relativist perspective thirty years later in "Analysis Terminable and Interminable" (1937c).

Freud's question has three components: "Can we, in general, supply explanations to children about sexual activity? At what age and how?" Freud strongly rejects the relevance of the first question, arguing that any possible refusal will only lead the child to obtain the withheld information from a different source and consider sexuality as something dirty. His principal argument is related to the existence of infantile sexuality as revealed in the Three Essays and he concludes that "'refusal' only deprives the child of the ability to intellectually overcome the exploits for which he is psychically prepared and somatically 'adjusted' except with respect to reproduction."

Freud addressed the two major problems that preoccupy the child: the difference between the sexes and the origin of children, and he refers to infantile sexual theories, which are first discussed in a short essay that would be published later on ("On the Sexual Theories of Children," 1908c). He concluded with these words: "What is most important is that children never develop the idea that we prefer to hide from them the facts of sexual life rather than other facts that are not yet accessible to their understanding." The question of how to express this is resolved in the suggestion of adapting knowledge of sexual matters to knowledge of animal life in general, depending on the age and aptitude of the child.

This short essay is a precious example of how concepts in ethics and pedagogy can be spontaneously generated by the process of psychoanalytic discovery.

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Sexual theories of children; Technique with children, psychoanalytic.

Source Citation

Freud, Sigmund. (1907c). Zur sexuellen Aufklärung der Kinder (Offener Brief an Dr M. Fürst). Soz. Med. Hyg., 2, 360-367; GW, 7, 19-27; The sexual enlightenment of children. SE, 9: 131-139.

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"Sexual Enlightenment of Children, The"