Freud’s Discovery of Children’s Spanking Fantasy: Reading “A child is being beaten” (1919)


This is an attempt to roughly interpret Freud’s work “A Child Is Being Beaten” (“Ein Kind wir geshlagen”, 1919).The childhood spanking fantasies confessed by some Freud’s patients. Freud begined to delve into the meaning behind these fantasies.

Please note that this paper is over 100 years old and may not align with contemporary perspectives. Additionally, I’m not an expert on Freud, so there may be misinterpretations.


Hi, it’s Yurina Yoshikawa.

This article will proceed in a dialogue format between Dr. Freud and me. So, Doctor, let’s dive in, shall we?


Sure thing. I’m Sigmund Freud, the psychiatrist. Let’s get this conversation started, folks.


Freud’s discovery of childhood fantasies involving buttock spanking

Patients who came to me for treatment of hysteria or obsessive neurosis often confessed to having fantasies of “a child is being beaten“. I believe that even those who don’t suffer from any apparent mental illness might harbor similar fantasies.

This fantasy of “a child is being beaten” is often linked to a kind of pleasure, hence it repeats itself in the mind over and over again. However, due to the significant shame and guilt associated with this fantasy, people are often hesitant to talk about it with others.


However, when patients mention childhood fantasies… How old are you talking about?

These kinds of fantasies typically start appearing before children enter school. Then, once they start attending school and witness other children being hit by teachers as punishment, it gives a clear shape to these “fantasies”.

Hence, many of my patients believed that the origin of these fantasies is from when they entered school. However, I believe they were formed even earlier than that.

As they progress to higher grades, the energy feeding into the “a child is being beaten” fantasy transitions from witnessing real punishments scene to fictional creations. It could be novels like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” or punishments in children’s pretend play.


Earlier, you mentioned that the fantasy of “a child is being beaten” is linked to pleasure, right?

So, does that mean witnessing other children being punished at school also involves pleasure?

At first, I thought so too, but upon further reserch, it wasn’t the case. In reality, witnessing someone being punished can often evoke negative feelings. Also, the imaginary punishments created by children were typically assumed to be mild.

Here’s where I pondered: What are the differences and connections between children’s “punishments in their fantasies” and “punishments they experience in reality”?

In considering these two relationships, there was a missing piece. My patients mostly had rare experiences of physical punishment during childhood, so data from the “reality of punishment” side was lacking.


Well, in 1919 society, those seeking treatment from psychiatrists would likely be from the upper class…

so it’s hard to imagine they were raised with physical abuse

Indeed. Therefore, I decided to focus on the truly pure fantasy of “A child is being beaten” in early childhood, before being influenced by actual observations or experiences, as well as external creations like novels.

So, I asked my patients who had fantasies of “A child is being beaten” various questions. For example…

  • Is the one being beaten in the fantasy oneself? Or another child?
  • Is it always the same child being beaten in the fantasy? Or different each time?
  • Is the one being beaten in the fantasy a boy? Or a girl?
  • Is the one bating an adult? Or another child?

However, from the answers to these questions, I couldn’t derive any clear patterns. In other words, the responses were often vague, like “I don’t remember well” or “Either one was fine”.


Not clearly distinguishing whether they’re the one beating or being beaten in the fantasy…

That means it’s not clear whether this is childhood sadism or masochism.

Ah! The reason for the paper’s weird title “A child is being beaten”, which is in the passive voice, is that the subject is not clear!

Hey, don’t say weird!

The only common point I found in my patients’ childhood fantasies of “a child is being beaten” was that

a small child’s bare buttocks are being spanked.


So, in children’s fantasies, while the roles of who is spanking whom varied, the common thread was spanking.

Quite intriguing!

Perversion in Infancy

Based on my research so far, these fantasies of “A child is being beaten” could simply be manifestations of childhood “sexual perversions” surfacing inadvertently.

Such childhood sexual perversions tend to fade away as adolescence approaches, but under certain circumstances, they may become fixed, similar to fetishes.


Hey, are you guys listening?

【Sexual Perversions】
According to Freud, during infancy, various desires emerge, and these elements are gradually integrated into “normal” sexuality as one grows.

However, if for some reason one of these desires, for example anal desires during the anal stage, remains firmly fixed into adulthood, it can manifest as an adult “sexual perversion” —like anal fetishism… he says.

These desires, which persist without being integrated into adulthood and assert themselves prominently towards others, vary from person to person and can include exhibitionism, desires for other body parts, sadism, or masochism… he says.

The Fantasy develops in 3 Stages

What I consider crucial is the effort to analyze things from infancy that one has covered up and hidden as an adult. After all, what happens after one becomes conscious is something the patient can explain for themselves.

And so, I believed that the “A child is being beaten” fantasy might have emerged as a result of something that had ended in infancy rather than developing from something that existed prior to that. To simplify hypothesis testing, I decided to limit the study subjects to “women”. Also, there were more female patients, making data collection easier.

I meticulously interviewed female patients about the “A child is being beaten” fantasies they had as children. Based on the results, I noticed that the fantasies girls had developed through three stages progressively from a young age.

first stage of fantasy

her father is spanking younger siblings such as brothers or sisters

second stage of fantasy

her father is spanking the girl herself

third stage of fantasy

An adult who is not her father spanking an unidentified boy

The First Stage of “A child is being beaten”: Fulfilling Jealousy

In the first stage of the “A child is being beaten” fantasy that girls have, they often arrive at the fantasy of their own father hitting someone else, mainly younger siblings. This could also be seen as satisfying the child’s feelings of jealousy.

The girl has siblings. Whether slightly older or slightly younger, they are a kind of rival to the girl herself, competing for the limited affection of their parents.


Especially since parents tend to be more focused on the youngest child, feelings of jealousy towards younger siblings can be particularly strong

Yes, so in the fantasy, the girl has her father praise her siblings. It’s not necessarily related to whether she actually witnessed her siblings being punished.

It’s just a desire within oneself to believe “I am the only one Dad loves”, and for the sake of pleasure, imagining a situation where only oneself isn’t being punished.

The second stage of “A child is being beaten”: Arise from repression

At that stage, the fantasy of “A child is being beaten” was expressing the idea that “Dad loves only me and doesn’t love the other children”. Although the person themselves is a bystander rather than the executor of punishment, since it’s a fantasy where others are being scolded, we could say it’s a sadistic fantasy.

However, when transitioning to the second stage, the target being hit by the father becomes the person herself.


So, does that mean the sadistic fantasy transforms into a masochistic one…? Why did it change?

The catalyst for the transformation from sadism to masochism is always “guilt”. This guilt stems from incestuous desires, namely “Oedipus complex”.

Oedipus complex
The idea proposed by Freud that boys desire to eliminate the father and have the mother give birth to their children, while girls desire to bear the father’s child. These impulses are suppressed in the mind to avoid incest (the tragedy of Oedipus).


When considering the Oedipus complex, the fantasy of “A child is being beaten” within a girl might follow the following progression, perhaps

  • The father loves me, so he only scolds the other children【Pleasure from jealousy】
  • I want to bear my father’s child【Oedipus complex】
  • Desires are suppressed to prevent incest, leading to a sense of guilt【Guilt】
  • Guilt is transformed into masochism (pleasure) by becoming the person being punished

Here, the conversion of fantasy into masochism means that an element of masturbation emerges, which is different from the first stage, where you are satisfied by fantasizing about your younger brother or sister being beaten.

Relationship between “sadistic-anal oganization” and spanking


In the end, did the girl change the content of her fantasies because she couldn’t fulfill her desires?

In other words, I guess it means that instead of directly fulfilling her sexual desires, she compromised on a way to get some indirect pleasure

I have named the period of sexual love in infancy, when sex does not involve the genitals, the “pregenital oganization”. This pregenital oganization mainly consists of several stages.

There is the “oral stage,” obtained by sucking on a pacifier, and the “sadistic-anal stage”, where the patient feels pleasure from the pain endured during defecation and the stimulation of evacuation.

【pregenital organization】
Freud’s concept of pregenital organization refers to the early developmental stages before the genital stage in psychosexual development. According to Freud, these stages include the oral stage, anal stage, and phallic stage.

In each stage, the focus of pleasure and gratification is on different erogenous zones of the body: the mouth, anus, and genitals, respectively.


Wait a moment, doctor

we are talking about a 5 or 6-year-old girl who’s having the “A child is being beaten”, correct?

Feeling pleasure from sucking on a pacifier or pooping… Isn’t that more of a baby?

Yes. That’s why we can find “regression here. In other words, the girl finds sexual pleasure in her “love from her father.”

However, this incestuous sexual love is never achieved and is therefore suppressed. This repression causes a girl’s sexuality to revert to infantile regression, that is, to sadistic-anal oganization.

Of course, the fantasy of “A child is being beaten” by the girl is distinct from the stimulation of pain or pleasure related to the anus.

But… you know?


Yes, she is using the fantasy of “A child is being beaten” as a substitute for the pleasure in the anal stage

In order for this fantasy to be masochistic, there is another thing that needs to be involved: love excitement. The reason it may not be immediately obvious is because it is not a genital relationship.

That satisfaction is obtained in a form that has regressed to a pregenital sadistic -anal organisation, namely <spanking / being spanked>. Being spanked is “an encounter between guilt and sexuality”, which is “the essence of masochism”.

“Modern Freud Reader vol.2” p.468 Osamu Fukumoto, published by Misuzu-Shobo

However, this second stage is all suppressed beneath the surface of consciousness and never emerges outwardly.

The third stage of the “A child is being beaten”: Finding resolution

In the final stage of the “A child is being beaten”, the girl returns to being a bystander once again.

In the interviews with my female patients, at this stage, the “person who is beating” is no longer the father for the first time.

It becomes an unidentified adult or a figure acting as a substitute for the father, such as a teacher. Additionally, while it is overwhelmingly boys who are being punished, unlike before, they are not specific individuals. They are unidentified boys.


Well… the situation has suddenly become ambiguous

But the idea of someone making someone else get beaten implies a return from masochism to sadism, doesn’t it?

It may appear as sadism on the surface, but I believe it’s not necessarily so. In other words, the boys being punished here are proxies for the girl herself, essentially masochism.

Please remember, what was the content of the first stage’s “A child is being beaten”?



Wasn’t it something like, “Dad is beating another child, not me, and he only loves me, the one who isn’t being beaten”…?

Like that. However, when the latter part of “Dad only loves me, the one who isn’t being beaten” is not fulfilled in the second stage, it becomes repressed and transforms into masochism from guilt, as I said. But at this point, the girl’s fantasy manages to bypass repression and finds a way to manifest itself consciously.

That is to say, by making use of the first half’s statement, “My father is hitting another child who is not me”, and having him hit an unspecified boy on his behalf, she indirectly achieves masochistic pleasure.


This represents the three stages of the fantasy of “A child is being beaten” that I propose. As mentioned earlier, I have focused on the childhood fantasies of female patients up to this point. However, I have also conducted interviews with male patients. Nevertheless, due to insufficient data, I was unable to produce significant results.

It goes something like this.


Thank you, Dr. Freud.

While there is some discussion from the perspective of male children in “A child is being beaten”, it seems that you yourself haven’t come to a clear conclusion…

So, I’ll just leave it at introducing the three stages of the “A child is being beaten” as mentioned above for now.


What personally interests me is that the subjects of Freud’s research are fundamentally detached from actual corporal punishment.

Despite being almost completely untouched by corporal punishment, they develop the imagery of being spanked in their minds during childhood. That aspect struck me as somewhat mysterious and intriguing, which is also why I chose to introduce this work today.

What do you guys all think about this?

Thank you for reading. Until next time, bye!

Reference books for this article

ジークムント・フロイト『子供が叩かれる』高田淑 訳(『フロイト著作集 第十一巻』1984、人文書院)