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Fraiberg, S. (1951). Enlightenment and Confusion. Psychoanal. St. Child, 6:325-335.

(1951). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 6:325-335

Enlightenment and Confusion

Selma Fraiberg

In 1937 in his paper "Analysis Terminable and Interminable" Freud remarked incidentally about the effects of enlightenment on the sexual theories of children:

I am far from maintaining that this [enlightenment] is a harmful or unnecessary thing to do, but it is clear that the prophylactic effect of this liberal measure has been vastly over-estimated. After such enlightenment the children know something that they did not know before but they make no use of the new knowledge imparted to them. We come to the conclusion that they are by no means ready to sacrifice those sexual theories which may be said to be a natural growth and which they have constructed in harmony with and in dependence on their undeveloped libidinal organization—theories about the part played by the stork, about the nature of sexual intercourse and about the ways in which children are born. For a long time after they have been enlightened on these subjects they behave like primitive races who have had Christianity thrust upon them and continue in secret to worship their old idols (6p. 336).

It is a common experience in analytic treatment of children to see how the child makes use of the enlightenment which his parents have painstakingly prepared for him. Almost all of our child patients come to us with a fund of knowledge at their disposal, a vocabulary of "eggs," "seed," "fertilization," and scientific terms for parts of the body. Frequently the modern parent responds to the child's first questions with a full and prepared account of the process from conception to birth. Often, too, the parent brings out a book which has been bought and saved against this day and the child is invited to listen to a story about how babies are made.

Yet we are impressed to find that such children who "know everything" will, in the course of their treatment, bring out bizarre and distorted ideas of procreation which are no less strange than those of our less sophisticated patients, but with the added complication that these theories of the "educated" child are often more obscure. The analogies of animals, birds, fish, and humans, which the parents and books have painstakingly drawn, may give rise to startling deductions on the child's part.

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