I have seen several places that insist on viewing children as sexual beings, though I haven’t seen any that explicitly argued for it. Sometimes this is done without explicitly mentioning children—for example, in the Planned Parenthood quote at the start of this series: “All people are sexual beings from birth to death.” By emphasizing that people are sexual beings from birth, the implication is clearly that children are sexual beings. In other places, it is clearly stated that children are sexual beings or that they're aren't asexual (contrary to how many people, apparently, view them.)
From what I can tell, there seem to be about four main reasons for saying that children aren't asexual. The first is that when it is claimed that all people are sexual beings, one of the main purposes is often to encourage readers to think of sexuality in broad terms rather than in narrowly defined ones. Thus, rather than thinking of sexuality merely as a matter of a few behaviors and desires to engage in those behaviors (thus equating sexuality with sex and sexual desire) it is conceived of in broader terms. In these terms, sexuality includes things that do exist before puberty, and thus it makes sense to think of children as sexual beings before sexual desire begins. (Actually, evidence suggests that the average first experience of sexual attraction is a couple years before average onset of puberty.) Sexual attraction does not occur ex nihilo around the age of ten.
The second reason for insisting that children are not asexual is that many children engage in sex play. (Figures vary quite a bit. I've seen some but don't remember them. As I recall, it's around half, give or take a lot. However, many of these involve only one or two brief experiences.) Parents (it is claimed) view their children as asexual, often deluding themselves into thinking that their children would never do anything like that with other kids, when in fact they do. The third motivation is (at least sometimes) to call into question the prohibition in many modern cultures against any kind of child-adult sexual interaction . (For an example of how this fact is used to criticize the claim that all people are sexual, John Leo is a conservative columnist with a less-than-positive view of Kinsey.)
Take as an example an except from this article on childhood sex play.
As mentioned earlier, our Western civilization has not always believed that children should be protected from all sexual contact. In medieval Europe, children were still freely touched, caressed, and fondled by every member of the household. Particularly in rural areas, parents, nurses, or servants were accustomed to masturbating small children to please them or to keep them quiet. (This practice is also found in many non-European societies. In the United States today, it is still alive among the Hopi Indians.) However, in modern times there has been a growing tendency to view children as asexual beings. Only in this century, under the influence of Freud and his followers, has the sexuality of children regained at least partial acceptance. Nevertheless, most people continue to believe that there cannot possibly be any harmless sexual contact between children and adults.(Note: In the following paragraph, they go on to talk about how damaging sexually abusing children is and in the end recommend that whatever sexual behaviors children do should probably only be done with peers. I'm not sure if this claim represents their actual views or rather is more of an attempt to protect themselves against the charge that they support pedophilia. A little bit of googling will find you similar examples.)
If we look at this quote, "asexual" has a considerably different meaning than it did in the claim that 19th century white, middle class Americans thought women were asexual. There, "asexual" meant a lack of sexual desire. By that definition of asexual, it would be appropriate to call children asexual, which would be a problem if you want to say that all people are sexual beings. Rather, in insisting that children aren't asexual, a different meaning of "asexual" is used. What that meaning is, I really don't know. The argument seems to be that since some children can enjoy some "sexual" activities, children aren't asexual, and since some children engage in sex play, children aren't asexual.
In trying to understand the claim that children are sexual beings propositionally, I can't really get anywhere. (It might mean the potential to enjoy sexual activities, but I don't think that's quite right. If this were the case, then the claim would be one of potentiality rather than actuality. And also some people don't enjoy sexual activities, so if that is what it meant to be sexual, then some poeple would be asexual.) There doesn't seem to be any particular attribute in mind such that having that attribute makes a person sexual; children have that, therefore children are sexual beings. It seems that in claiming that children are sexual beings rather than asexual ones, the main function of the claim is not to assert any fact about children. Rather, it seems to function to tell the reader how to think about sexuality as it relates to childhood--children, just as adults, stand in relationship to this thing called "sexuality." Their relationship to this complex of desires, behaviors, ways of relating to people, the organization of society, etc. does not begin with the onset of sexual attraction at around ten. Rather, people stand in relationship to this thing "sexuality" since the time they are born (or before.) Insisting that children are not asexual seems to be a matter of telling the reader to think of the relationship between children and sexuality. Thus, if people think of children as asexual (not standing in relationship to sexuality,) it is difficult to account for the facts that are used to argue that children aren't asexual. This fits well with what seems to be the fourth purpose of claiming that children aren't asexual. Sometimes people claim that others want to shield children from (all?) information about sexuality. This is then said to be because those who want to thus shield children are assuming them to be asexual. This way of insisting that children aren't asexual fits well with the idea that being sexual means standing in relationship with sexuality. If children do not stand is such a relationship, then there is no purpose of providing them information of the subject. If, on the other hand, they do stand in such a relationship, then it makes sense to provide them with (age appropriate) information.
This, however, is not without difficulties. Even the "sexual" things that some children do, are these really sexual? Is this the meaning ascribed to the acts by the actors themselves? Or are they only sexual because they are perceived as being so by adults? Or because they would be perceived as such if they knew about them?
Viewing children as sexual beings has some important consequences for defending the claim that asexual people are sexual people too. In particular, they form a group of people who do not experience sexual desire but are considered sexual beings. However, I have a nagging suspicion that this has something to do with a belief that children are teleologically oriented towards developing sexual desire later on, assuming that all of them will, given "normal" development.
In my next post, I will finish No and start exploring Huh?