Childhood Influences On Adult Adjustment

Lewis and Janda (1988) examined the relationship between adult sexual adjustment and childhood exposure to nudity, sleeping in the parental bed, and parental attitudes toward sexuality. They pointed out that prior studies had presented conflicting findings: Some researchers had warned of dire consequences for children viewing nudity, while others had reported benefits.

A common theme was that if parents "forced" themselves to be nude in front of the child (in order to educate the child about basic anatomical differences), and the parents were not: comfortable with this nudity, the experience would likely be neutral or negative. It seems that the issue, then, is not nudity per se, but family attitudes toward acceptable and comfortable behavior.

Lewis and Janda recruited 210 undergraduate university students as subjects for their study. All subjects completed an extensive questionnaire measuring three basic experiences during childhood (defined as the period from birth to eleven years): sleeping in bed with the parents; parental attitudes toward and comfort with sexuality; and viewing parents, siblings, and friends nude. Information on current sexual comfort and adjustment was also obtained using an extensive questionnaire.

The study found a positive correlation between childhood exposure to nudity and adult sexual comfort. The authors point out, however, that some would see this as a reason to prevent childhood exposure to nudity, as their measures on comfort included acceptance of lifestyles that some would consider immoral or undesirable (such as premarital sex, or acceptance of homosexuality).

The other factors (sleeping in the parental bed and parental comfort/acceptance of sexuality), while not germane to the narrow scope of this discussion, also demonstrated a positive correlation with childhood exposure and adult sexual adjustment and comfort.

For males aged 0-5 nudity was inversely related to reported discomfort about affection and physical contact; in other words, increased exposure to nudity was related to less discomfort regarding affection and physical contact. Nudity during 0-5 was not significantly related to any other adjustment variables. Nudity during ages 6-11 was positively related to increased self-esteem and knowledge about sex.

For females, nudity during ages 0-5 was related only to increased frequency of sex related to others (i.e., more frequent sexual encounters). Nudity during 0-5 was not related to any other adjustment variables. Nudity during 6-11 was positively related to an increased tendency to engage in casual sexual relationships.

These results suggest that children's exposure to sleeping in the parental bed and exposure to nudity are not related to sexual maladjustment. In fact, exposure to these events was correlated to higher self-esteem and comfort with sexuality. In addition, children whose parents were comfortable and accepting of sexuality had even higher levels of self-esteem and comfort.

These results would suggest that the anecdotal reports of "damage" caused by these childhood events are exceptions to the rule, and that commonly held beliefs and societal taboos need to be re-examined.