Preventing Child Abuse
Society reaps what it sows in the way it nurtures its children. . . . Through this chain of events, violence and abuse pass from generation to generation as well as from one society to the next. Our stark conclusion is that we see the need to do much more to ensure that child abuse does not happen in the first place, because once these key brain alterations occur, there may be no going back.
-- Martin H. Teicher, "Scars That Won't Heal: The neurobiology of child abuse," Scientific American, March 2002

First and foremost, incestuous sexual abuse rarely happens within healthy, stable, drug and alcohol free, families.  Having healthy, secure, stable, close relationships is the first and most important step to abuse proof your children.  What this article will focus on is aspects of a healthy, secure home directly related to providing children resistance to any sexual abuse.  With that said…

Little kids often love to get free of the constricting, confining feel of clothing.  Sometimes it can be hard to keep little ones in clothes, especially when it’s hot.  Many parents would love to simply let their children enjoy that freedom, envy it, and may even want to enjoy it themselves.   However, they may have also heard or believe that nudity is wrong and isn’t good for children.  Because of this, many parents are confused.  It may not seem logical that an unclothed body should be any more harmful than a clothed one, yet that’s what they were taught and it is what many “experts” say, so what is a parent to do?  Is nudity really harmful or could it even be helpful for children?

Many of these “experts” warnings are based on Freudian theory, not reality.  Cultures that are accepting of nudity are so free of sexual neuroses that one wonders how different Freud’s theories would have been had his background and culture been different. “Experts" such as Dear Abby, and Dr. Spock speak out against family nudity without any empirical evidence to back them up, just a dysfunctional theory. When research is actually done, it contradicts their dire warnings.  A look at cultures and families, which do NOT restrict nudity, to sex alone shows these “experts” warnings to be dangerously wrong.  Restricting nudity to sex results in more sexual immorality, addiction, and abuse NOT less!

Other warnings stem from false, but very strongly held, religious beliefs rather then scriptural truth.  Scripture says: "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." (Gen 1:31),  "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14),  "For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,” (1 Tim. 4:4) and much more that speaks to the goodness of God’s creation.  In addition it says: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.  (Isaiah 5:20),  "Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker"  (Isaiah 45:9) and “To those that are pure, all things are pure, but to those who are full of sin and do not believe, nothing is pure.  Both their minds and their consciences have been ruined.” (Titus 1:15).  Jesus clearly said: that evil thoughts such as sexual immorality come from inside the human heart, not from outside sources such as what someone sees (see Mark Chapter 7) Yet, unfortunately beliefs can be more powerful than truth, even when they are wrong, harmful, and unscriptural.

While hammers can be used to break and destroy things, they are usually used more positively for building and construction.  Nudity and sex are no different; it depends context (how they are used) as to whether they positive and constructive, or unhealthy and destructive.  Even in this culture nudity does not always equal sex, such as in the doctors office or gym showers.  In other cultures nudity is so commonly associated with swimming, sunbathing, relaxation, recreation, sports, and everyday life that people associate it with a great many things other then sex. (As is the case with many families in this culture as well.) These cultures also have lower percentages of sexual problems including sexual abuse, rape, and teen pregnancy.  Research conducted at the University of Northern Iowa found that nudist children had body self-concepts that were significantly more positive than those of non-nudist children and that the "nudity classification" of a family was one of the most significant factors associated with positive body self-concept. Furthermore, nudist children showed a significantly higher acceptance of their bodies as a whole, rather than feeling ashamed of certain parts. 2.

A positive body/self-concept is extremely important in helping to make children more resistant to sexual abuse as well as just feeling good about themselves.  In a school “Body Safety” program a thirty-year police veteran said that child molesters have found that parents have taught their children that their bodies and sex are shameful and not to be talked about.  Children are taught this to such a degree that they are usually too embarrassed to tell anyone about being abused so most molesters don’t have to threaten the children to keep quite.  This detective emphasizes that the extreme body-shame most people have and teach their children is the biggest factor in allowing child molestation to continue to go unreported. 3.

While not about prevention the following shows that comfort with nudity is beneficial even to those who have been abused.  "This study examined the effect of a presentation about the holistic nature of body image and self-esteem, as held by those who practice social nudism, on the self-concept of abused women. A total of 126 subjects completed a two-part, pre-post survey to assess their body image, self-esteem, and overall self-concept. They were also given a series of questions designed to identify women with a history of conjugal abuse. There were four groups. Two groups were control groups separated as abused and non-abused women. The other two were experimental groups, also separated as abused and non-abused women. The experimental groups had significantly improved body image, self-esteem, and overall self-concept. This indicates that education about the unified nature of body image and self-esteem can be efficacious as a treatment alternative for body image, self-esteem, or overall self-concept.  Implications and further research possibilities are discussed." 4.

The book "Growing Up Without Shame," by Dennis Craig Smith and psychologist Dr. William Sparks was the result of a five-year study on social nudity and it's effect on children. It concludes with the following: 
"This book and the five-year study it represents, looked at the families who found a way to overcome the fear of exposing themselves, both physically and intellectually, to each other. We asked questions which today's society faces, and we sought answers among those who have personally reached solutions to our social dichotomy. The authors questioned many nudist boys, girls, men, and women in search of the secret that made them comfortable in circumstances that upset so many of us. What we learned was that viewing the unclothed human body, far from being destructive to the psyche, seems to be either benign and totally harmless, or to actually provide positive benefits to those individuals involved." 
"We look forward to seeing more research that will delve deeper into this discovery which, to say the least, is in opposition to all that the popular 'experts', unconcerned with facts, continue to tell us." 5.

Open communication is essential to protect children from abuse. Comfort with nudity and sexuality can be a vital aspect of that protection. What comfort with nudity does is communicate that every part of human body is good, decent, and acceptable. What shame regarding nudity communicates is that the body is bad, indecent, and not to be talked about. Comfort with sexuality also communicates that sex is good and created by God.  Comfort about sex does not in any way mean the acceptance of immorality.  There are many things which children are taught are good and wonderful when used the right way, but can be dangerous (even deadly) if used the wrong way.  Many of these things kids are taught are good, they are also taught they are too young to handle now, that does not make them bad or shameful.  Sex should be handled the same way, from the beginning of a child’s life.  Parents must communicate that sex is good, not shameful.  When shame is communicated to children, it doesn't make them any less curious, if anything it makes them more interested and causes them to seek out information to satisfy their interest in secret.  That is human nature.

In the book “Real Solutions for Abuse Proofing Your Child” Christian child psychologist Dr. Grace Ketterman  talks about the great delight parents have when babies discover their ears, toes, hands etc. then she says “But what happens when baby discovers his or her genitalia?  I’ve seen parents slap a baby’s hands for exploring this area of the body.  This tells the child, “This part of you is bad.  Don’t touch.  Deny that you have sexual parts.”  This increases the possibility that your toddler will grow to explore his penis (or her clitoris) secretly and perhaps excessively or will try to repress normal, healthy sexuality.  Such children may be vulnerable to “exploring parties” with more overt kids.  Almost always they will be afraid to ask or talk about sexual matters with their forbidding parents.” 1.  Such children are also likely to be far more vulnerable to sexual abuse AND not tell their parents about it.

Childhood exploration of nudity in secret (because of forbidding parental attitudes) is very common.  EXCEPT for children who are comfortable with family and social nudity.  Such children have no need for such “secret” activities.  These secret activities can leave a child feeling dirty, guilty, shamed, and strongly associating nudity (their and others bodies) with those feelings.  This is the one area where I strongly disagree with Dr. Ketterman in her otherwise absolutely outstanding book.  When a mother came to her with concern about discovering her daughter and a neighbor boy playing naked, while she was glad the mother refrained from scolding the children, she said she should have a talk with them.  In this talk the mother should explain that she understands why the children are curious, but that sometimes curiosity can get us in trouble.  That “some things are supposed to be private, including the body parts we cover, so even if a person asks if they can see those body parts, tell them no, and don’t let them show theirs, either.” 1.

A very important message of Dr. Ketterman’s book is to not shame your children or communicate that any part of their body is bad, here she directly contradicts that by telling a mother to tell children that simple curiosity about their bodies can get them into trouble.  It would have been far better to tell the mother that this is a great opportunity to tell the children how wonderful their bodies are.  She could have also told the mother that it was unfortunate that she had to “discover” the children playing like this. It would be better to encourage the children to play naked where she can observe their play.  This would reinforce with the children that their bodies are good and acceptable, and help prevent such play from becoming “secretive” (as this apparently was) or getting out of hand with too much genital touching.

Most children who are allowed this kind of open, unashamed play spend very little if any time touching genitals as they have too many other interests and there is no focus on the genitals.  However, when nudity is explored secretly by kids the focus of their attention is often on the genitals because this is what they must always cover so, it is what they want to know about.  Many psychologists argue that the implicit message conveyed by a lack of nudity in the home is that the body is basically unacceptable or shameful – an attitude which may carry over into body shame and discomfort in adulthood. 6.  Most any play with water or messy things allows great opportunities for playing nude.  It also makes much more since, as skin dries much faster and is far more comfortable than wet, cold, clingy clothing (including bathing suits) and skin is also much easier to clean than clothes with most messy things like finger paints, dirt, or the makings of cookies or cakes.

Dr Ketterman did tell this mother that had she scolded or shamed the children, she could have dumped needless guilt on them with far-reaching damage.  I agree with this, but feel that is what is exactly what would be done if the mother followed her advice!  I certainly agree with Dr. Ketterman that if a person (apart from a doctor) “asks” a child to see/touch his/her genitals that the child should say no and tell their parents about it.  If nudity is a common and approved experience for a child someone asking to see or touch them in secret should set off internal alarms.  Especially if children are taught that being naked is NOT a secret thing it’s a very accepted thing around their parents, family, friends.  So if someone wants it to be secret, there is something wrong going on that mom and dad need to know about.

If you want your child to come to you if someone does abuse them and/or you want to reduce the damage caused by abuse (if they are abused) comfort with sexuality and nudity is of vital importance.  As Dr. Ketterman rightly says if you in any way slam the door to communication about sex with your children you need an attitude adjustment.  If you act horrified, ashamed, and embarrassed regarding a child’s curiosity about the body, your child will NOT feel comfortable talking with you about these issues.  If a child has no confident with these issues when young they may have sexual problems as an adult. 1.

Children of "primitive" tribes, surrounded by nudity of all forms, suffer no ill effects. Neither do children who grow up in other societies that are more open about nudity than our own.  Presumptions that exposure to nudity will lead to problems for children grow out of the preconceptions of our culture. 7.

Paul Ableman writes: "It is interesting to speculate as to what kind of model of the human mind Sigmund Freud would have constructed if he had based it not on clothed Europeans but on, say, a study of the naked Nuer of the Sudan. Almost all the processes which he discerns as formative for the adult mind would have been lacking. Freud assumes that children will not normally see each other naked and that, if they do happen to, the result will be traumatic. This is not true of naked cultures. . . . Thus great provinces of Freud's mind-empire would simply be missing. There would be no Oedipus complex (or not much, anyway), no penis envy or castration complex, probably no clear-cut phases of sexual development. We are emerging rapidly from the era of Freudian gospel . . . and can now perceive the extent to which he himself was the victim of prevailing ideas and prejudices." 8.

In “Deceived by Shame Desired by God” Christian therapist Cynthia Spell Humbert says:  “Sexual abuse brings up a wealth of different emotions.  Many clients have explained that – to their dismay – they experienced physical pleasure.  Feeling terror and pleasure at the same time makes for an especially intense confusion, which often causes the victim to feel shame and self-blame.  God created our bodies to enjoy sexual arousal.  Arousal is normal.  The abuse of these feelings makes victims feel that their own body betrayed them.” 9. It is absolutely essential for Parent’s to create an atmosphere of openness and comfortableness about sex and the body so that if their children are ever sexually abused, they are more likely turn to their parents for help, comfort, and healing.  Comfort with nudity can be an important part of this.  At least that is the experience of those who have grown up in families, which are open, accepting of, and comfortable with nudity.

While the experiences of children who grew up seeing only the nudity of other family members are generally positive, the more children see non-sexual nudity, not just amongst their family, but of many people, of both sexes and all ages, the more resistant they seem to be of this culture’s negative attitudes toward nudity. Unfortunately, nudity is not commonly seen on our media (in a non-sexual context at least), accepted at the neighborhood park, pool, gym, sports fields, playgrounds at school, or on most beaches, in our society; so, often the best way to enable children to see that many other people are also comfortable with nudity (beyond the immediate family) is to join a family-oriented nudist club, and/or visit them while traveling.

Adults, who are nude around children, should NEVER in any way sexualize their nudity.  Nudity is far too sexualized in the media, children need something to offset that and show that nudity is not just about sex.  Also, while it is good to set an example of comfort with nudity, a child (or anyone) should never be forced to be nude. That can be perceived as an invasion of privacy.  With a good example of comfort set most children (and adults for that matter) quickly become comfortable with being nude themselves.  Nudist clubs do set rules requiring nudity for activities such as swimming; this is fine (for home as well) as long as no one is forced to participate in that activity. Remember, the context is important, for nudity to be beneficial for children (especially in the context of the culture we live in) it must be comfortable, not forced, and never sexualized.

Comfort with sexuality and nudity can clearly help prevent or reduce child sexual abuse. Body-shame however, in addition to shutting off communication, can cause as much, or more, fear, guilt, pain, and scarring as abuse itself.  My hope is that you will work to prevent sexual child abuse by making sexuality and nudity comfortable for your family and teaching your children that the human body is created by God and as such is good, pure, decent, and acceptable. The best way is by example, the best time is now.  What is planted in our lives is what we will harvest, what attitudes about the body and sex do you want planted in your children’s lives?

Nate Dekan
Founder -
If this article has been helpful to you and your family, please share it with others.  It could help them as well.
Copyright © 2002

1. Source: Real Solutions for Abuse Proofing Your Child: Dr. Grace Ketterman, Vine Books, Ann Arbor, MI - 2001
2. Source: Factors Associated With More Positive Body Self-Concepts in Preschool Children: Marilyn D. Story, Journal of Social Psychology – June 1979
3. Source:  Fig Leaf Forum, Winnipeg MB, CANADA for full text of letter from a father about this “Body Safety” program.
4. Source: Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences & Engineering Vol 59(9-B), Mar 1999, 5104. Standard No: ISSN: 0419-4217 Abstract from a dissertation on treatment for body image and self-esteem with abused women, by Richard Eugene Pearl Sr. at Tennessee State University
5. Source: The Naked Child, Growing Up Without Shame: Dennis Craig Smith with Dr. William Sparks, Elysium Growth Press, Los Angeles, CA – 1986
6. Source: Richard A. Gardner: Exposing Children to Parental Nudity, Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality, June 1975
7. Source: 205 Arguments and Observations in Support of Naturism: K. Bacher, N Magazine, Oshkosh, WI – Vol 16.1
8. Source: The Anatomy of Nakedness: Paul Ableman, Elysium Growth Press, Los Angeles, CA – 1982
9. Source: Deceived by Shame Desired by God: Cynthia Spell Humbert, Navpress, Colorado Springs, CO, 2001


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