Sexual innocence is something that people often associate with the period of childhood. We are bombarded daily with images of children portrayed in the media as being innocent; but to what extent does this concept imply sexual innocence? Some would argue that sexual innocence in childhood, in fact, does not exist.
Childhood InnocenceIdeas about childhood innocence have long been expressed throughout history. For example, in the late eighteenth century, William Blake wrote a poem entitled Infant Joy (Blake, 1789). In it, he portrays its subject (a baby) as innocent by using language such as happy and sweet (Blake, cited in chp. 6, p. 225). These terms have become synonymous with Western ideas about childhood, in particular, with relation to very young children. In stark contrast however, writing four years later, Blakes subsequent poem Infant Sorrow (1793) portrays babyhood as a dramatically different period of time. Language such as dangerous and fiend suggest that childhood can be troublesome not only for the child, but also for its parents. The poems, part of a series, seem to suggest that life experiences can, and indeed do, change as we grow, from a period of innocence to one which is quite different.
Writing some time later in the mid-nineteenth century, social commentator Henry Mayhew, documented his observations of the lives of working-class people living in London. He wrote of the dire conditions that these people had to contend with on a daily basis. In particular, he wrote a piece about a young girl, only 8 years old, whose life experiences were extremely limited (Mayhew, 1861). The girl spent her days walking the streets of London selling watercress. Mayhew talked to the girl, who expressed limited, if any, knowledge of what he took for granted as childhood pastimes. He remarked on how she had entirely...