February 28, 2008
DURHAM, N.H. -– Children who are spanked or
victims of other corporal punishment are more likely to have sexual
problems as a teen or adult, according to new research presented
today by Murray Straus, co-director of the Family Research
Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire.
Widely considered the foremost researcher in
his field, Straus presented his new research findings at the
American Psychological Association’s Summit on Violence and Abuse
in Relationships: Connecting Agendas and Forging New Directions held
Feb. 28 and 29 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Bethesda, MD.
Straus analyzed the results of four studies
and found that spanking and other corporal punishment by parents is
associated with an increased probability of three sexual problems as
a teen or adult:
• Verbally and physically coercing a dating partner to have sex.
• Risky sex such as premarital sex without a condom.
• Masochistic sex such as being aroused by being spanked when
“These results, together with the results of
more than 100 other studies, suggest that spanking is one of the
roots of relationship violence and mental health problems. Because
there is 93 percent agreement between studies that investigated
harmful side effects of spanking, and because over 90 percent of
U.S. parents spank toddlers, the potential benefits for prevention
of sexual and relationship violence is large,” Straus says.
“Furthermore, because other research shows
spanking is not more effective than other discipline methods, there
is no need to expose children to the harmful effects of spanking. We
can help prevent mental health problems and relationship violence
from happening by a national health policy recommending never
spanking,” he says.
A survey of more than 14,000 university
students in 32 nations found that 29 percent of the male and 21
percent of the female students had verbally coerced sex from another
person. Coerced sex involves insisting on sex when the partner does
not want to, or threatening to end the relationship if the partner
does not have sex.
The percentages of those who physically forced
sex were much lower: 1.7 percent of the men and 1.2 percent of the
women said they had used physical force, such as holding down the
partner or hitting a partner to make them have sex.
“The most important finding of this study is
that each increase of one step on a four-step measure of corporal
punishment was associated with a 10 percent increase in the
probability of verbal sexual coercion by men and a 12 percent
increase in sexual coercion by women,” Straus says. “The
relation of corporal punishment to physically forcing sex was even
stronger. Each increase of one step in corporal punishment was
associated with a 33 percent increase in the probability of men
forcing sex and a 27 percent increase in the probability of women
In the second study, Straus analyzed the same
sample of university students, but focused on whether they had
insisted on sex without using a condom. Straus found that 15 percent
of the men and 13 percent of the women had insisted on sex without a
condom at least once in the past year.
Using the four-step corporal punishment scale,
Straus found that of the group with the lowest score on the corporal
punishment scale, 12.5 percent had insisted on unprotected sex. In
contrast, 25 percent of students in the highest corporal punishment
group engaged in this type of risky sex.
The third study analyzed data on 440 students
in a New Hampshire high school. The students were divided into five
groups, ranging from those who were never spanked to those whose
parents used corporal punishment even when they were 13 years old
and older. The study evaluated eight indicators of risky sex, such
as more than one sex partner.
Straus found that students who had experienced
corporal punishment had engaged in more risky sexual behavior than
students who had not been spanked. From this study, Straus concludes
that corporal punishment weakens the bond between the child and the
parents. He believes that this alienation from parents may make
teenagers less likely to avoid sex and less likely to follow safe
In the fourth study, Straus asked 207 students
at three colleges about whether they had ever been sexually aroused
by masochistic sex: imagining that they were being tied up when
having sex, engaging in rough sex, or by spanking, and if they had
been sexually aroused by actually doing these three things.
"The core idea of this study is that
being spanked by loving parents confuses love with violence, which
increases the probability that violence will be part of making
love,” Straus says.
The study found that 75 percent of students
who had been spanked a lot by their parents were sexually aroused by
masochistic sex. In contrast, 40 percent of students who had never
been spanked were interested in masochistic sex.
"What is new about this study is a
scientific test of the idea that being spanked as a child inclines
people to want to be spanked when having sex, and that this is
especially likely to be true when there is a combination of lots of
spanking and lots of love," Straus says.
To reduce the use of corporal punishment,
Straus recommends that the American Psychological Association, the
U.S. Children's Bureau, and other organizations publicize a
recommendation that parents should never spank.
“However, to make this work, we need to
start by informing professionals who advise parents about the
evidence-base for that policy. They need this information to be able
to give appropriate information and help to parents about replacing
spanking with positive discipline to correct misbehavior,” he
Since 1975, the Family Research Laboratory
has devoted itself primarily to understanding family violence and
the impact of violence in families. As public and professional
interest in family violence has grown, so has the need for more
reliable knowledge. The lab has tried to fill that need in a variety
of ways: through comprehensive literature reviews, new theories, and
methodologically sound studies. Researchers at the lab pioneered
many of the techniques that have enabled social scientists to
estimate directly the scope of family violence.
Straus is the co-director of the Family
Research Laboratory and professor of sociology at the University of
New Hampshire. He has studied spanking by large and representative
samples of American parents since 1969. He is the author of
“Beating The Devil Out Of Them: Corporal Punishment In American
Families And Its Effects On Children.” He has been president of
three scientific societies including the National Council On Family
Relations, and an advisor to the National Institutes of Health and
the National Science Foundation. Much of his research on spanking
can be downloaded from http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mas2.
Contact: Lori Wright
UNH Media Relations