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Is Spanking Your Children Sexual Assault?

It's a provocative question, but it's one that needs to be addressed.

The child abuse allegations against Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson continue to raise important, unanswered questions, and Slate columnist Jillian Keenan asks an interesting one, albeit indirectly: Is spanking your children a form of sexual assault? Her Slate article makes the case that spanking is sexual, just a day after I made the case that it's assault.

In Keenan's column, entitled "Spanking Is Great for Sex; Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting," she courageously shares her own spanking fetish, and relates surprisingly vociferous and frequent condemnation by others, who, she says, refer to her sexual preference as "pedophilic," among other things. I say it's surprising because I've always been under the impression, based on what I've heard, that spanking is a fairly pedestrian expression of kink even for people who just want to feel kinky. I'd be willing to bet that attached to many of those wagging fingers are quite a few bodies with redder keisters than they'd care to admit.

That descriptor, though, led Keenan to wonder what those same people think of performing the same act on a non-consenting (by definition) child. "I realize that many well-meaning parents will disagree with me, but spanking kids is gross" she writes, because, among other reasons, "Butts are sexual. That’s why the area is one of the few “private” parts that, along with breasts and genitals, we feel the need to cover with a swimsuit."

That's a cute equivalency, to be sure, but what elevates Keenan's argument beyond mere cleverness is this:

And butts aren’t just culturally sexualized; they’re biologically sexual, too. Nerve tracts that pass through the lower spine carry sensory information to and from both the butt and genitals. Some scientists speculate that these nerves can stimulate one region when the other is provoked. There’s also a blood vessel in the pelvic region called the common iliac artery. When blood rushes to a child’s butt—because, say, you’re spanking him—blood rushes down that artery. But the artery splits. Some of it directs blood to the genitals. So when you cause blood to rush to a child’s butt, you’re also causing it to rush to his or her other sex organs. The other time this kind of genital blood engorgement happens is during erection or arousal.

This sort of muddies up the whole chicken-or-egg question that child-spanking apologists might rely on to assert that spanking itself isn't sexual, it's just twisted perverts like Jillian Keenan (and pretty much everyone else who actually has sex for fun) who make it that way. This suggests that even without the taboo psychological allure of spanking, the act itself would still be arousing.

Keenan also points to research showing increased levels of oxytocin as a response to stress in kids who have been spanked regularly. The hormone is normally associated with, among other things, sexual arousal.

All of this puts Roy Lessin, whom Keenan calls out in her article, and his 8 Step Spanking Plan, in a whole new light (excerpted):

1) Use the Right Instrument: "God has instructed parents to use a stick, not a hand, when they need lovingly correct their children with a spanking. (A rod is a flexible branch or twig or stick.) The hand is a part of the parent and should be used for purposes of expressing affection and loving service..."

2) Spank Promptly: "A spanking should be given as soon as possible after a child has done something that needs correction. A spanking shouldn't be put off by a mother 'until Daddy gets home.'..."

3) Find a Private Place: "...Before a spanking is given a parent should take the child to a place where privacy can be insured."

4) Clarify the Issue: "Before a spanking is given, it is important to make sure the child understands the reason for the spanking..."

5) Get Into a Good Position: " is better to have older children simply bend over a chair or a bed."

6) Spank The Proper Area: "God has given parents the perfect area on which to administer a spanking - the child's bottom. It is a safe place because it is well cushioned, yet it is highly sensitive area. In order for a spanking to be effective, good contact is important. Parents, however, need to use practical wisdom regarding how much clothing to remove when spanking an older child."

7) Wait For The Proper Cry: "...A parent will be able to discern in a child's cry when he or she has broken and come to repentance over an issue. A repentant cry is different from a cry of anger or protest, which usually occurs at the beginning of a spanking. Exactly how long and how hard a spanking needs to be in order to bring a repentant cry is a matter for the parent to determine. It can vary, depending on the sensitivity of the child's will."

8) Have A Period Of Reconciliation: "...The period of reconciliation after a spanking provides a special time of love and intimacy to take place between a parent and a child."

Then again, maybe it was already pretty creepy in the old light.

Keenan's article is provocative, and obviously intended to get people to stop hitting their kids. Unfortunately, Keenan doesn't know how these idiots think. Another study on corporal punishment found that many parents share Lessin's belief that hitting children with their hands sends the wrong message, that "hitting with hands (i)s an acceptable way to solve problems," but their genius solution to this is to hit them with a weapon, instead. If Keenan succeeds in persuading parents not to hit children on the ass, they're likely to just find some other spot to go to town on. Spanking isn't just gross, it's an assault, or it would be if it were performed on any person other than a child.

The exception, as Keenan noted in pointed fashion on Twitter, is consenting adults. If spanking is a sex act, and children are by definition unable to consent to such an act, then what does that mean for spanking?