The fear of child sexuality - Young people, sex, and agency

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Continued public outcries over such issues as young models in sexually suggestive ads and intimate relationships between teachers and students speak to one of the most controversial fears of our time: the entanglement of children and sexuality. In this book, Steven Angelides confronts that fear, exploring how emotional vocabularies of anxiety, shame, and even contempt not only dominate discussions of youth sexuality but also allow adults to avoid acknowledging the sexual agency of young people. Introducing case studies and trends from Australia, the United Kingdom, and North America, he challenges assumptions on a variety of topics, including sex education, age-of-consent laws, and sexting. Angelides contends that an unwillingness to recognize children's sexual agency results not in the protection of young people but in their marginalization.

Robyn Wiegman, Duke University
"An amazing, provocative, and eloquent book. No one interested in the historical shape and affective force of sex panics can ignore The Fear of Child Sexuality. With critical rigor and political nuance, Angelides eschews the morality tales offered about child sexuality to detail instead the way cultural discourses on the right and the left work against both the sexual rights and sexual agencies of children."

Elizabeth Wilson, Emory University
"An impressive, fearless account of how, in states of panic, we take sexual agency from adolescents. The Fear of Child Sexuality pushes feminist theories of power and consent out of their comfort zones, arguing that our attempts to protect have also been sources of harm. This is transformational scholarship on the pleasures and dangers of teenage desire."

Kathryn Bond Stockton, University of Utah
"With forensic generosity and customary brilliance, Angelides performs a remarkable feat. The diversity of children's sexual agency flowers in this book - strangely under the force of fear. Impeccably researched, evincing insight at every turn, The Fear of Child Sexuality is a wild and stunning ride."

source: About the book 'The Fear of Child Sexuality - Young People, Sex, and Agency' by Steven Angelides; www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/F/bo41210461.html; Book available: August 2019



According to the discourse of child sexual abuse, the traumatic kernel of a child's sexual experience with an adult is formed, at least in part, by the child's premature introduction into adult sexuality. This conceptualization depends on the installation of sexuality as the dividing line between childhood and adulthood. Child sexuality is conceived of as premature (play, experimentation, imitation), whereas adult sexuality is conceived of as mature (developed, fully realized, authentic). Therefore it is no longer socially acceptable to view forms of childhood behavior through the lens of adult sexual meanings. Although we may recognize childhood behavioral erotics in adult-child interactions, it is no longer appropriate to take these erotics as evidence of either a child's desire to have sex with an adult or a child's capacity to understand adult sexuality. A child's ability to consent to sex or to be held partly responsible for a sexual encounter with an adult is no longer at issue. In short, hegemonic norms ensure that childhood erotics are not read as a sign of (adult) sexuality or (adult) sexual capacity. I want to suggest that to trivialize child sexuality as premature, as play, and as imitative of adult reality is socially irresponsible. I do not wish to deny that there are important differences between child and adult forms of sexual expression, or that adults must be accountable for their behavior toward children. But along with any psychological and developmental differences, there are important similarities and continuities between "child" and "adult" sexualities that only psychoanalysis has analyzed rigorously, and these similarities and continuities give the lie to simple oppositions between premature and mature sexualities, between childhood and adulthood. Far from protecting and empowering children, the feminist evasion of child sexuality may have disempowered some children and made some abused children more vulnerable to psychological trauma. [...]

One of the unfortunate outcomes has been vicious online harassment and abuse by those who have sought to discredit me by either misquoting my words or quoting them so wildly out of context that they appear to suggest the very opposite of their original meaning. Merely writing on these topics has been enough for some people unwilling to properly read my work to presume falsely that I am an apologist for pedophilia. Nothing could be further from the truth. From my very early involvement in the emergence of queer theory in Australia, I am on the published record denouncing any attempt to normalize pedophilia by way of transgressive queer theories. It ought to be possible to ask important intellectual questions about the historical, biopsychosocial, and political realities of childhood sexuality without accusations of perversion.

source: From the book 'The Fear of Child Sexuality - Young People, Sex, and Agency' by Steven Angelides; The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London; 2019