Males and females alike consider sexuality to be a natural, healthy, and unpolluting human attribute, but its expression must be confined to relationships not categorized as incestuous. Women are more susceptible than men to punishment for infractions of kinship rules, because they are accorded greater responsibility than men for sexual propriety. Men and women as categories show no major attitudinal difference regarding premarital and extramarital sex, both of which are tolerated as long as the couple concerned are not in an improper kin relationship and their behavior is not interpreted as threatening a marriage bond. Uncircumcised boys are strongly discouraged from sexual activity with young girls lest their uncircumcised penises cause damage to female reproductive organs. Men are more prudish than women and are reluctant to discuss things physiological; they much prefer to couch discussion of reproductive matters, if it occurs at all, in strongly spiritual terms. It is impossible to say definitively whether Mardu were ignorant of or in denial about the role of semen in human reproduction, but there is evidence that both paternity and prenatal maternity were downplayed in favor of spiritual agency (Tonkinson, 1984). Both male and female sexuality are regarded as inborn. Traditionally, men went naked and women wore pubic coverings, and norms of female modesty were signaled by ways that women sat, and by the fact that sexual intercourse was considered a private act. Children of both genders went naked. There was very little expression of cross-sex identification, and no cross-dressing, though in certain rituals male dancers impersonated female creative beings. Male and female homosexuality seems to have been either minimal or nonexistent in Mardu society—again, apart from occasional dance depictions.

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