From pederasty to pedophilia: Sex between children or youth and adults in U.S. history

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"The history of sexual relations between children or youth and adults in the United States has received limited attention in part because of the strong taboos against discussion of the topic. The growing moral panic about pedophilia in the 1980s, which coincided with the first wave of American historiography of sexuality, had a silencing effect. Historians of the family first broke the silence by researching the history of incest within the family, focusing on father–daughter relations. Later, in the 1990s, historians of childhood argued that age should be considered as a category of analysis within the history of sexuality. Many scholars have explored the role that age played in structuring same-sex male encounters, especially at the turn of the twentieth century. Others working in a range of disciplines have historicized the rhetoric of the "sexual psychopath" or the "pedophile," and its effects. Much work remains to be done on multiple aspects of this topic." [...]

"NAMBLA's complaint that pederasts were being expunged from the past and the present was not without grounds. To this day, the history of sexual relations between children and adults remains understudied in relation to the frequency of the practice, its prominence in the cultural imagination, and its significance in contemporary politics. Although American popular culture is overrun with the latest exposés of child abuse scandals in the nation's schools and churches, historians have hardly begun to provide the much-needed context for making sense of these narratives. I know from private conversations that some scholars remain worried that any efforts to historicize the topic of sex between children and adults will imperil their careers. They have good reason for these fears, considering the backlash that has been directed at scholars who have tackled the subject in the past (Levine, 2002). As Elise Chenier observed in a recent essay on pedophilia, "For most people, the whole topic is either best avoided, or it arouses such a strong emotional reaction that careful contemplation is quite simply not possible" (Chenier, 2012, p.173). Much remains unknown. Although the handful of historians who have worked on intergenerational sexuality, and especially intergenerational male same-sex relations, have paid close attention to class and gender, they have had less to say about the operations of race. The subject of intergenerational sexuality involving women and girls outside the family circle has also received little attention. There are many unanswered questions, for example, about the intergenerational dynamics present within lesbian bars in American cities during the twentieth century. Any student of the history of sexuality looking to make an original mark in the field will find plenty of opportunity within this historiography, if they are willing to risk the consequences. But that is a risk they should consider carefully."

source: Article 'From pederasty to pedophilia: Sex between children or youth and adults in U.S. history' by Rachel Hope Cleves (Professor of History at the University of Victoria);;; History Compass, Volume 16, Issue 1; January 2018; First published: 12 December 2017