by Darlene Barriere - Webmaster
(Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada)
I'm often asked this question. Each time I attempt to answer it, or address the issue of spanking as an inappropriate form of discipline, I'm barraged by a flurry of comments from people who adamantly believe in spanking and who invariably use themselves as the reasoning behind their belief: "I was spanked as a child and I turned out just fine" is the typical statement offered for their belief.
"Just fine" is a subjective phrase. The fact that a person maintained a high grade-point average in school, excelled in sports, and/or holds a blue-collar job does not speak to the only issues at stake when this topic is broached.
I recently had one comment contributor who had the audacity to imply that because life itself is filled with pain, such as that in the workplace and in relationships, etc., that spanking a child in childhood will help them better deal with that kind of future pain. Absurd! This assertion has no basis in fact. Research into the emotional effects of spanking children continues to show that the negative far outweighs any positive (see What Spanking Really Teaches). But the overwhelming majority still defend this form of discipline as their right, even as their duty. If parents truly understood what the price of spanking can be for their child, they wouldn't even consider spanking an option.
Among professionals, it is generally understood that spanking CAN indeed create a fetish for it. I'm not suggesting that all children who are spanked will grow up wanting to be spanked for sexual purposes. Nor am I suggesting that only those who were spanked will grow up with this fetish; the issue is far more complex than to simply say one or the other. But spanking can definitely leave a child with sexual imprinting for a variety of reasons.
When a child experiences fear or anxiety, the physical sensations he or she feels during that time are very close to those of sexual feelings. The brain can easily confuse the two. When the child is a pubescent adolescent, this is even more pronounced. With young males, it is perfectly natural to experience an erection when they are scared, anxious or nervous. Young females can also experience what can be misinterpreted as arousal during such times. What can be even more confusing and disturbing to the young person is when their bodies betray them further by experiencing an involuntary orgasm. When a child grows up believing that love hurts or must be in some way painful for it to actually BE love, that child may enter into adulthood looking for painful relationships. In combination with the former, this is a recipe for creating a fetish.
An even more insidious assertion is that some parents—definitely not ALL parents-I would never suggest that-but certainly some—use ritualistic and ceremonious lead-ups to spankings, and then administer a spanking to their child in order to fulfill their own sexual desires, and then hide behind their right to use spanking for disciplinary purposes. I know this statement will outrage many, but allow me to elaborate using my own childhood as an example.
My mother not only made us pull down our pants before she took a belt to us kids, she often made us strip down bare. She also used bondage on at least one of my brother's. One particular incident that will be forever etched in my mind was when she was about to administer her version of discipline on my youngest brother. She pulled out a round end table and ordered him to strip down bare. She then tied his hands and legs to the legs of that table. She took the belt to his naked body, beating him till he was black and blue and had welts all over his back, legs and buttocks. She beat him until he was so hoarse from screaming, his screams were inaudible. My brother was 8, going on 9 years old. I was 11, going on 12. The emotional turmoil was overwhelming. I almost went crazy that day. I used a piece of clothing that I had just taken down from the outside clothesline to bite down on in order to stifle my own screams of helplessness and rage. Even today as I write this article, at 50 years of age, almost four decades after this affront took place, I can still hear my brother's screams. I can't even begin to go into the affects this, and other incidents of so-called discipline at the hands of my sick and twisted mother, had on my brother, indeed, on every one of us five kids. The information pages on this site are filled with those effects.
Less than a year after this insanely disturbing incident, I was making my parents' bed, as was my job during that particular week. As I slipped my hands under the mattress to tuck in the sheet on my mother's side of the bed, my fingertips felt what I knew were the pages of a magazine. I was curious about what my mother might hide under her side of the bed; and knowing that neither one of my parents would be home for hours yet, I decided it was safe to pull that magazine out from its place of refuge.
At first, I didn't know what to make of what was on the front cover. I had never before seen or even heard of pornography, let alone what was being depicted in the photograph I was ogling. It was a glossy photo of a woman crawling on all fours, clad only in a leather bodice and what appeared to be a spiked dog collar with a leash affixed to the top. Her facial expression revealed a woman experiencing something between agony and ecstasy. A man dressed in leather shorts, leather T-shirt and a leather mask that completely covered his face and head except for holes for him to see and breathe was leading this woman by the leash on her collar.
I flipped through the pages, and then let the magazine open naturally. I landed on a page that was dog-eared. Bile rose up into my throat. The photo on that page was depicting the same bondage scene that my mother had "played out" as discipline on my brother. My heart was racing. I quickly referred back to the front cover. The date of issue was the month before she had tied my brother to the round table. I was dizzy with confusion. Dizzy about what all this meant. But I was also gripped by a need to understand what it was I was really looking at.
As I read the accompanying article, I began to comprehend the magnitude of what I had in my hands: My mother had enacted what was depicted on that magazine page for her own sexual gratification, all under the guise of discipline. I wanted to be sick. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run. But the burning question that kept running through my mind kept me from fleeing from what I knew in my heart: Was that incident with my brother the only incident, or had she used all of us kids for her own demented sexual pleasure?
I knew that getting caught rummaging through any of my parents' personal belongings would have dire consequences, but I was struck with an overpowering urge to seek out more evidence. I didn't know what I would do with that evidence, but I had to know more.
I rifled through the clothes closet, being ever so careful to keep everything in its proper place so as not to draw suspicions. At the very back of the shelf, I could see a stack of magazines. I ran to the kitchen to get a chair, hoping on hope that my siblings wouldn't see me and want to know what I needed a chair for when I was supposed to be making my mother and father's bed. There was the very real danger of being tattled on. Luckily, the kitchen was deserted, but I still wanted a plan in case one of my brothers or sisters saw. I picked up a dust cloth to take with me to the bedroom, and made sure to dust that shelf before reaching up for more evidence. It now wouldn't be a lie when I told anyone that I needed the chair in order to dust all the surfaces in my parents' bedroom.
Playgirl seemed to be my mother's magazine of choice, but there were a couple of other titles, titles that pictured hard-core bondage and sexuality. Each issue had dog-eared pages, which is where I focused my attention. My whole body was shaking as I leafed through article after article, picture after picture that clearly illustrated my mother's sexual preferences, her fetishes, and mostly, that she had used all of us kids in one way or another to stage the very scenes portrayed among the pages of those magazines.
Yes, I recognize that my mother is perhaps an extreme example, but I do not believe hers is an uncommon one. When a parent uses rituals and ceremony, such as making a child bare themselves and thus inflict unbearable humiliation as part of a spanking, especially as the child gets older, I have to ask the true purpose behind such actions. I have to question if the actions are about discipline, or if they are about something far more sinister. Many child abuse stories on this site clearly point towards this disturbing assertion.
Discipline does not have to be synonymous with spanking. Discipline is teaching a child right from wrong. Effective discipline incorporates natural and logical consequences for inappropriate behaviour. It is a myth that parents must spank in order to discipline their child.
As long as society as a whole continues to accept that spanking is an appropriate form of discipline, children will continue to be put at risk for emotional abuse, physical abuse, and yes, even sexual abuse at the hands of the very people in charge of protecting them, including their mothers.
For another personal account on this controversial issue, read John's article Sexual Abuse Under the Guise of Spanking for Discipline on this site.
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