Man/boy love: some questions & answers

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By: NAMBLA

The following text was developed to serve as part of a "frequently asked questions" resource (FAQ) for visitors to the NAMBLA web site. It may also be printed as a handout for distribution where appropriate. It is not carved in stone; comments and suggestions are welcome.

What do you seek to accomplish?

NAMBLA was formed in the belief that if people knew more about the actual nature of actual man/boy love relationships, that scapegoating and persecution of boys and men who have such relationships would decrease in frequency.

Why do you oppose age-of-consent laws?

Opposing age-of-consent laws is not our focus; it is only one small part of our broader critique of North American social and legal practices. We believe that these laws do not adequately protect the rights of young people. They have often been applied unjustly, and have long been used to terrorize gay males. Gay youth in particular have been targets of extreme persecution through the selective application of age-of-consent laws.

What do you mean by "unjust application of age-of-consent laws?"

An example would be when both parties in a relationship feel it is positive and beneficial to them, but the authorities prosecute the man anyway, and send him to prison for upwards of ten years over the boy's objections. This has happened hundreds if not thousands of times across North America, and is generally very disruptive and traumatic for the boys who experience it. If they object to the prosecution of their older friend, they are treated as criminals themselves and subject to harsh, homophobic abuses of all manner.

What is this "ageism" you refer to?

Ageism refers to the tendency on the part of some people, especially in North America, to discount and devalue the feelings and opinions of children and youth. This tendency pervades our society and has implications in every area of a young person's daily life: at home, at work, while shopping, hanging out with friends or going places, and especially at school. It has the socially corrosive - and costly - effect of breeding fear and distrust between the generations and isolating them from each other.

What do you propose in place of age-of-consent laws?

Age-of-consent laws are those which say that if you are under an arbitrary age, then what you say doesn't matter. We believe young people would be much better protected by laws - and social attitudes - that take their opinions and feelings into consideration. We have never proposed specific laws, but in general we advocate changes in society and the law to include greater respect and consideration for children and youth - not merely in the abstract, but in each individual case. We reject the cookie-cutter approach often used by authorities, moralists, and legislators who presume to know what someone wants without asking them, and who claim to know what is best for every person without having met them. Individualism - the belief that each person is important and deserving of respect - is one of the core founding values of North American society. We advocate for a society that lives up to this ideal, as it applies to people of all ages.

How can society best protect vulnerable people?

The claim is made that age-of-consent laws protect the vulnerable. In practice, they give undue power to those who already have power - police and prosecutors - while removing power from some of society's most vulnerable populations - notably, gay youth. We believe that vulnerable people are better served by giving them more choices, not fewer. Children and youth can be made less vulnerable by giving them more options. Those who need to escape abusive family members need more options than we currently provide them with. Those who live in poverty, those who face racial, religious, and sexual prejudice - all need more options, not fewer.

Do you believe it's possible for a boy and a man to have a close, even sexual relationship, without any harm?

Yes it's possible, and it happens all the time. Many studies have confirmed that a large majority of sexual contacts between boys and older partners are both consensual and harmless. See below for a listing of some of these published, peer-reviewed studies.

But aren't these relationships always initiated by the adult? Do you believe there are actually boys who find men attractive that way?

No, and Yes. We know from experience that some boys do initiate sexual contacts with adults, and some do find men very attractive. This is confirmed by several published studies, which have found that a substantial percentage of boy's sexual contacts with older partners were initiated by the boy (see below for details). It is very easy to underestimate the sheer scale of the multidemensional rainbow of human diversity - and the strength of teenaged male sexuality. But if you're an adult, and you start paying close attention to how boys react when you enter their presence, you might be very surprised at what you encounter. It is well known to sex researchers that sexual preference for a certain sex, and attraction to people of that sex, is commonly felt very strongly by puberty and often long before that. But we are aware of no research on the question of the development of sexual attraction to particular age ranges, so it is an open question how many people maintain a preference for those of a certain fixed age range all their lives, and how many experience a dramatic change in the ages of the objects of their desire as they themselves grow older (and if so, in what direction). Certainly, plenty of gay men have reported being infatuated during early- and middle-childhood (5 to 10 years of age) with masculine icons such as the Marlboro Man and even Peter Graves, the silver-haired leading man of Mission Impossible.

Ok, but if a boy does come on to you, wouldn't it be better simply to refuse the advance?

If your concern is for the safety of the man, in today's climate, then the answer is probably, yes - walk away, and stay away, and just don't have anything to do with kids in general. But boys take rejection very hard, and they take isolation even harder. It has a deeply negative effect on their outlook, which can have lifelong implications - and broad implications for society. So it's not really that simple.

So, does this mean you believe the relationship can benefit the boy?

We know it can. Some of us have seen examples in person. And published studies have confirmed what should be obvious: that boys who choose freely to participate in long-term relationships with men feel positively about their relationship - both at the time and later in life - and some boys view the relationship as a very important and beneficial part of their life. (see references below)

But we hear so much about the harmfulness of sex. Where does the idea of sex being harmful come from?

Well, there are historical and cultural origins for this idea that could take volumes to fully detail. In 19th century North America, anti-sexualism was so deeply ingrained that the leading medical doctors actually believed that every ejaculation permanently weakened the body, and repeated masturbation or intercourse could lead to virtually every kind of grave illness and even death. These ideas lingered in medicine until the 1940s. In more recent times, a handful of influential publications have helped to congeal the specific, and very new, idea that while ordinary sexual contacts might be positive and harmless for an adult, they are somehow psychologically harmful to those who are under the legal age of consent. Originally, the claim was pure conjecture - leveled by critics of the social revolution of the 1960s. In the 1980s, a series of studies were published that found an association between "sexual abuse" and scores on certain measures of adult adjustment and functioning. These findings were summarized in a very influential article in the journal Psychological Bulletin by Angela Browne and David Finkelhor, which was in turn cited by countless textbooks and training manuals.
There were several major problems with the research and the way it was cited. First, the studies cited by Browne & Finkelhor did not include any boys. Second, most of the studies were based at rape treatment centers, hospitals, and other official ("clinical") settings where one would expect to find victims of non-consenting sexual experiences that had been reported to authorities (treatment by authorities in these cases is often considered traumatizing in itself). The few studies which had less skewed samples did not separately evaluate consenting and non-consenting experiences, but lumped them together so that the elevated scores of rape victims could skew the average result for all (this is called aggregation bias). So the findings of this research can only be legitimately applied to girls who have been forced or coerced into sexual contacts.
In 1990, Anthony Urquiza and Maria Capra published a summary of several studies of boys' experiences. These studies found much smaller, marginal, associations between sexual contact and adjustment, but they also suffered from the same problems of skewed sampling and aggregation bias, and thus applied primarily to victims of coerced or forced contacts. In 1992, Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Linda Meyer Williams, and David Finkelhor published a much better quality summary, in Psychological Bulletin, of several studies, this time including girls and a few boys. Although more deftly written and drawing more nuanced conclusions than its predecessors, this review included only "clinical" samples, mostly from sexual abuse treatment centers, where the subjects would likely be immersed in an environment of expectation that they present symptoms; thus the findings of the summarized studies cannot even be legitimately applied to girls or boys who have been coerced or fored into sex - unless they have been to one of these centers. This summary, like the other two, was cited in countless college texts and professional manuals as providing peer-reviewed empirical support for the claim that "sexual abuse" was harmful. None of the findings reported in these literature reviews or others sharing the same flaws applies to consensual relationships not reported to authorities. (see below for a list of findings from studies relevant to consensual man/boy relationships)

OK, so sex might not be harmful, and maybe some boys are into men. But isn't there something wrong with men who like boys?

The largest and most comprehensive review of studies of adults who have become sexually involved with minors has found no difference on psychological tests between them and the rest of the population (see Okami & Goldberg, 1992, below). In fact, when tests were conducted to evaluate machines which detect when a man has a physical response to photos of nude children, it was discovered that about 20% of the "normal" control group had such a response.

You make this seem like such a noble cause, but isn't it really just a selfish one?

There is a much bigger dimension to the issues we raise, with implications for everyone. The interest that all people share in widespread access to truthful information is more than just philosophical. Too often, politicians take advantage of gaps in public knowlegde, and play on public fears to divert attention from their own actions. When they are allowed to do this, the result is bad government for everyone. Our efforts to educate the public on the issues of man/boy love, ageism and anti-sexualism are intended to help bring about better informed public policy and an electorate less vulnerable to politicians who would use their fears against them.

What makes you think you can change a whole society to be more respectful of youth?

The movement for women's rights began with a now-famous convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. With half the population as their aggrieved constituency, and the brilliant advocacy of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her colleagues, it still took them 72 years just to get the right to vote and own property. But by 1981, when Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court, the society had changed so much that a vistor travelling from a hundred years earlier would find it difficult to believe it was the same country. We are a mere 27 years on from our own landmark convention. Our issues are really extensions of the issues that the women's movement has already struggled with. Change is inevitable. We are here to give our contribution toward that change and to press it forward as quickly as possible, because many people's lives depend on it.

Bibliography, sorted by subject

As noted above, a lot of research into child sexual abuse has no relevance to experiences that were not considered by the younger partner to be coercive. But there are many studies that do address these experiences. Below is a list of published studies relevant to questions frequently asked of NAMBLA. For convenience, the list is grouped into particular points of interest and the studies relevant to each point (some studies apply to more than one point). The list of studies supporting each point is hardly exhaustive, but taken together, these studies provide a good overview of the best available research. An effort has been made to focus on the most relevant studies for each question.
To those who are inclined toward further study of this subject, the bibliographies that may be found at the back of each of these articles or books will serve as invaluable research tools.

The available research supports the following conclusions:

1. Most sexual contacts between boys and older partners are not forced or coerced.

Baurmann, M. C. (1983). Sexualität, gewalt und psychische folgen (Sexuality, Violence and Psychological After-Effects) Wiesbaden: Bundeskriminalamt.
Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.
Finkelhor, D. (1979a). Sexually victimized children. New York: Free Press.

2. Boys who have sexual contacts with older partners usually feel the experience was harmless or beneficial.

Baker, A. W. & Duncan, S. P. (1985). Child sexual abuse: A study of prevalence in Great Britain. Child Abuse & Neglect, 9, 457-467.
Li, C. K., West, D. J., and Woodhouse, T. P. (1993). Children's sexual encounters with adults. Buffalo: Prometheus.

3. Boys who have sexual contacts with older partners usually do not feel negatively about the experience.

Finkelhor, D. (1979a). Sexually victimized children. New York: Free Press.
Fromuth, M. E., & Burkhart, B. R. (1987). Sexual victimization among college men: Definitional and methodological issues. Violence Victims, 2, 241-253.
Goldman, R. J., & Goldman, J. D. G., (1988). The prevalence and nature of child sexual abuse in Australia. Australian Journal of Sex, Marriage, and Family, 9, 94-106.
Li, C. K., West, D. J., and Woodhouse, T. P. (1993). Children's sexual encounters with adults. Buffalo: Prometheus.
Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.
Schultz, L., & Jones, P. (1983). Sexual abuse of children: Issues for social service and health professionals. Child Welfare, 62, 99-108.

4. Many boys who have sexual contacts with older partners report strongly positive feelings about the experience.

Okami, P. (1991). Self-reports of "positive" childhood and adolescent sexual contacts with older persons: An exploratory study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 20, 437-457.
Sandfort, T. G. M. (1982). The sexual aspect of paedophile relations. Amsterdam: Pan/Spartacus.
Sandfort, T. G. M. (1984). Sex in pedophiliac relationships: An empirical investigation among a non-representative group of boys. The Journal of Sex Research, 20, 123-142.
Sandfort, T. G. M. (1987). Boys on their contacts with men. Elmhurst, New York: Global Academic Publishers.
Tindall, R. H. (1978). The male adolescent involved with a pederast becomes an adult. Journal of Homosexuality, 3, 373-382.

5. Boys who have willing sexual contacts with older partners are not psychologically less adjusted than other males.

Bauserman, R., & Rind, B. (1997). Psychological correlates of male child and adolescent sexual experience with adults: A review of the nonclinical literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26, 105-141.
Coxell, A., King, M., Mezey, G., & Gordon, D. (1999). Lifetime prevalence, characteristics, and associated problems of non-consensual sex in men: Cross sectional survey. British Medical Journal, 318, pp. 846-850.
Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.

6. The degree to which a boy feels free to guide or to end the contacts, i.e. the degree of consent, is the single largest determining factor in whether he will feel negatively about the experience and whether it will affect his psychological adjustment.

Bauserman, R., & Rind, B. (1997). Psychological correlates of male child and adolescent sexual experience with adults: A review of the nonclinical literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26, 105-141.
Constantine, L. L. (1981). The effects of early sexual experience: A review and synthesis of research. In L. L. Constantine & F.M. Martinson (Eds.), Children and sex (pp. 217-244). Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Constantine, L. L. (1983). Child sexuality: Recent developments and implications for treatment, prevention, and social policy. International Journal of Medicine and Law, 1983, #2, 55-67.
Coxell, A., King, M., Mezey, G., & Gordon, D. (1999). Lifetime prevalence, characteristics, and associated problems of non-consensual sex in men: Cross sectional survey. British Medical Journal, 318, pp. 846-850.
Finkelhor, D. (1979a). Sexually victimized children. New York: Free Press.
Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.

7. The age at which someone has a sexual experience is not a useful predictor of their later psychological adjustment.

Bauserman, R., & Rind, B. (1997). Psychological correlates of male child and adolescent sexual experience with adults: A review of the nonclinical literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26, 105-141.
Kendall-Tackett, K. A., Williams, L. M., & Finkelhor, D. (1993). Impact of sexual abuse on children: A review and synthesis of recent empirical studies. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 164-180.

8. The particular physical act that occurs during consensual sexual contacts between a boy and an older partner is not a useful predictor of his later psychological adjustment.

Bauserman, R., & Rind, B. (1997). Psychological correlates of male child and adolescent sexual experience with adults: A review of the nonclinical literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26, 105-141.
Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.

9. In cases of sexual abuse (i.e. unwanted sex) of a child or adolescent where the victim shows symptoms that seem to be associated with the unwanted sexual contacts, other variables, notably family background and family dynamics, are found to be much more strongly correlated to outcomes. When the effect of these variables is accounted for, the unwanted sexual experience is no longer found to be a useful predictor of adjustment.

Higgins, D., & McCabe, M. (1994). The relationship of child sexual abuse and family violence to adult adjustment: Toward an integrated risk-sequelae model. Journal of Sex Research, 31, 255-266.
Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.

10. Men who love boys (or girls) cannot be distinguished from other men on standard personality inventories and other psychological tests.

Okami, P. & Goldberg, A. (1992). Personality correlates of pedophilia: Are they reliable indicators? The Journal of Sex Research, 29, 297-328.

11. Most research into childhood and adolescent sexual experiences exhibits a strongly negative and prejudicial bias on the part of the researchers toward these experiences, and incorporates methodological flaws that either carry a high likelihood of skewing the findings toward more negative outcomes (this includes several of the studies cited here), or render the study irrelevant to boys' consensual, non-coerced experiences. The following are a few excellent literature reviews which highlight these and other problems:

Constantine, L. L. (1981). The effects of early sexual experience: A review and synthesis of research. In L. L. Constantine & F.M. Martinson (Eds.), Children and sex (pp. 217-244). Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Constantine, L. L. (1983). Child sexuality: Recent developments and implications for treatment, prevention, and social policy. International Journal of Medicine and Law, 1983, #2, 55-67.
Haugaard, J. J., & Emery, R. E. (1989). Methodological issues in child sexual abuse research. Child Abuse and Neglect, 13, 89-100.
Kilpatrick, A. C. (1987). Childhood sexual experiences: Problems and issues in studying long-range effects. The Journal of Sex Research, 23, 173-196.
Kilpatrick, A. C. (1992). Long-range effects of child and adolescent sexual experiences: myths, mores, and menaces. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Nelson, J. A. (1989). Intergenerational sexual contact: A continuum model of participants and experiences. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 15, 3-12.
Okami, P. (1990). Sociopolitical biases in the contemporary scientific literature on adult human sexual behavior with children and adolescents. In J.R. Feierman (Ed.), Pedophilia: Biosocial dimensions (pp. 91-121). New York: Springer-Verlag.
Pope, H. G., & Hudson, J. I. (1995). Does childhood sexual abuse cause adult psychiatric disorders? Essentials of methodology. Journal of Psychiatry and Law, Fall, 363-381.
Powell, G. E., & Chalkley, A. J. (1981). Effects of paedophile attention on the child. In B. Taylor (Ed.), Perspectives on paedophilia (pp. 59-76).
Rind, B. (1995). An analysis of human sexuality textbook coverage of the psychological correlates of adult-nonadult sex. The Journal of Sex Research, 32, 219-233.
Rind, B., & Bauserman, R. (1993). Biased terminology effects and biased information processing in research on adult-nonadult sexual interactions: An empirical investigation. The Journal of Sex Research, 30, 260-269.
Rind, B., & Tromovitch, P. (1997). A meta-analytic review of findings from national samples on psychological correlates of child sexual abuse. The Journal of Sex Research, 34, 237-255.
Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.

source: 'Man/boy love: some questions & answers'; Article written by NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Association; 2005