The “virtuous” debate over the last few days (see latest two previous posts) has been a remarkably lively one, and genuinely virtuous as regards the courteous terms in which it has been conducted. My thanks to all who have taken part. Much was asserted from the self-styled virtuous side about the potential harmfulness of adult-child sexual contacts. It is very timely, then, that I have just received a piece submitted by Dave Riegel as a guest blog which addresses this issue based on information rather than speculation. A remarkable aspect of this piece which I have not seen formally set out before is that those who are so loud on the subject of harm have no explanation as to how harm could be intrinsic to non-coerced sexual contacts: hence the “missing mechanism” of the title.
Dave started his extensive researches and writing in retirement. He has had a number of articles published in peer-reviewed journals, including the prestigious Archives of Sexual Behavior. He has pioneered the use of internet surveys to reach minor-attracted persons, especially BLs, thus providing a valuable source of information not reached by research based on clinical and offender samples. As will be seen, his guest blog is formatted like an academic article, complete with Abstract and References. Dave tells me he may develop and refine it further for journal publication.
The Missing Mechanism of Harm
For decades there have been claims that all sexual interactions between children and older persons “. . . cause harm, [that] this harm is pervasive, . . . [is] likely to be intense, . . . [and] is an equivalent experience for boys and girls . . .” (Rind, Bauserman, and Tromovitch 1998, p. 22).  There is, however, no mechanism (anon, 2013) offered as to how these sexual interactions actually cause harm, and, as noted by Bailey, “a surprising . . . lack of scientific evidence” (2011, p. 3) for these claims. Clancy (2009) took the position that at least initial trauma is a “myth,” and as far back as 1981, Constantine described the effects of interference based on this assumed/assigned harmfulness as “psychonoxious” (p. 241). This paper reviews a sampling of the literature in this area, takes issue with these unsupported claims, and argues that, instead, much real damage is done by assuming the existence of intrinsic harm when the only harm that occurs apparently is extrinsic.
One of the earliest proposals for this assumed damage is to be found in Finkelhor (1979), where he presented his research data purporting to show intrinsic harm from boy/older male sexually expressed interactions. However, when this research was shown to have a “near-fatal skew” (Sandfort, 1987, p.9) and to have been based on “a loaded questionnaire . . . ” (Bauserman, 1990, p. 305), Finkelhor abandoned any pretext of scientific objectivity and fell back on subjective “moral issues” as the “final arbiter” of the question:
Ultimately, I do continue to believe that the prohibition on adult-child sexual contact is primarily a moral issue. While empirical findings have some relevance they are not the final arbiter. . . . . Some types of social relationships violate deeply held values and principles in our culture about equality and self-determination. Sex between adults and children is one of them (Finkelhor, 1990, p. 314).
Finkelhor did not extend his emphases on the above mentioned “equality and self-determination” to juveniles; he instead presumes to impose unilateral judgment on what they may or may not do with their own sexuality. “Victimology,” as his model came to be known, and his principal theme, “child sexual abuse” (CSA), dwell on unidirectional, assumedly traumatic “sex between adults and children.” Ondersma et al. (2001) also asserted that CSA is “a moral and legal term. . . with a sociological [i.e “opinion based”] rather than an empirical [i.e., “fact based”] foundation.” Victimology, which seems to be more concerned with the social control of juveniles than with understanding them as they really are, also largely ignores the documented examples of children willingly seeking out sexual encounters with older persons (e. g. Bender & Blau, 1937; Sandfort, 1987).
As for the significance of “deeply held values and principles in our culture,” it is well to remember that for over 200 years eminent “social scientists” like Finkelhor steadfastly “held” that young male masturbation resulted in everything from acne to lunacy, and it was only in the 1950s that this “masturbation insanity” finally was dismissed as the utter nonsense it had always been (e.g. Hare, 1962; Laqueur, 2003). Finkelhor and Brown (1985, 1986, etc.) have offered an elaborate scheme of “traumagenic dynamics,” but they still failed to provide a valid mechanism as to how a willing sexually expressed boy/older male interaction becomes harmful. Clancy also admitted that she “cannot offer a clear theoretical model as to exactly how and why sexual abuse damages victims” (2009, p. 142).
From a non-sociological and strictly physical point of view, it seems reasonable and likely that most boys would, apart from and prior to cultural negative brainwashing, find gentle stimulation of their penis pleasurable, whether they do it to/for themselves, or they willingly allow/encourage another person to participate. So why and how do such experiences become “harmful?” If the boy is coerced, or if some aspect of the experience becomes emotionally or physically distressing, then the potential for harm exists. But if a willing boy initially finds the incident pleasant and desirable, only iatrogenic outside influence would seem to be able to “reconceptualize” (Clancy, 2009, p. 121) it into “harm.” Kilpatrick also posed a very relevant question: “What has been harmed—the child or the moral code?” (1987, p.179).
Sex is basically simplistic and instinctive, especially for boys. Wilson noted “Priests, doctors, psychiatrists, and others have invested sex with magical powers . . . [but boys] . . . saw sex as being no more than just a game. . . ” (1981, pp. 129-130) whose principal purposes and motivations would seem to be the simple physical pleasures of arousal and orgasm. As such, any requirement for formalized “consent” is irrelevant; simple “willingness” is more than adequate for such initially uncluttered and essentially inconsequential experiences. However, denying this instinctual drive has the very real potential for emotional frustration and social maladjustment (Prescott, 1975).
While the sexophobia that is the basis and fundamental principle of victimology must be learned from an outside source before consensual sex can be twisted into something negative, any unwanted and unwilling sexual encounter has the potential for harm, not from the sex, but from the intrinsic infringement of the victim’s self-determination. This is true with males and females, with adults as well as children, and no attempt is made here to excuse or justify such violations.
It is unpleasant to be reminded, but the social sciences have a long history of getting things horribly wrong, from the hyper-behaviorism of Watson and Skinner through “repressed/recovered memories” (Loftus & Ketcham, 1994), “disassociative identity disorder” (Piper & Merskey, 2004), and “Satanic ritual abuse” (Nathan & Snedecker, 1995), to mention just a sampling. The decades-long gradual exorcism of homosexuality as a harm-based mental illness from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association is well known, as is the previously mentioned depathologization of masturbation insanity. The current victimological assumption of harm in regards to sexually expressed boy/older male relationships has neither objective foundations nor offers any rational mechanism of cause. It is not logically defensible, and needs to be superseded by fact based and empirically supported legitimate science.
anon. (2013) Mechanism of Harm. Internet posting by “shy guy” 22 January 2013: http://www.boychat.org/messages/1330899.htm
Bauserman, R. (1990). Objectivity and ideology: Criticism of Theo Sandfort’s research on man-boy sexual relations. In T. Sandfort, E. Brongersma, & A. van Naerssen (Eds.) Male Intergenerational Intimacy. Binghamton NY: Harrington Park. 297-312).
Bailey, J. M. (2011). Book Review: Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons. Archives of Sexual Behavior, DOI 10.1007/s10508-011-9842-1
Bender, L. & Blau, A. (1937). The reaction of children to sexual relations with adults. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 7, 500-518.
Clancy, S. (2009). The Trauma Myth. New York: Basic Books.
Constantine, L. (1981). The Effects of Early Sexual Experiences. In L. Constantine & F. Martinson (Eds.) Children and Sex: New Findings, New Perspectives. Boston: Little-Brown.
Finkelhor, D. (1979). Sexually victimized children. New York: Free Press.
Finkelhor, D. (1990). Response to Bauserman. In T. Sandfort, E. Brongersma, & A. van Naerssen (Eds.) Male Intergenerational Intimacy. Binghamton NY: Harrington Park 313-315.
Finkelhor, D. & Browne, A. (1985). The traumatic impact of child sexual abuse: A conceptualization. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 55(4), 530-541.
Finkelhor, D. & Browne, A. (1986). Initial and long-term effects: A conceptual framework. In D. Finkelhor; S. Araji; L. Baron; A. Browne; S. Peters; G. Wyatt(Eds.) A Sourcebook on Child Sexual Abuse. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. pp. 180-196.
Hare, E. (1962). Masturbatory insanity: the history of an idea. Journal of Mental Science, 108, 1-25
Janus, S., & Bess, B. (1981). Latency: fact or fiction? In L. Constantine & F. Martinson (Eds.) Children and sex. New findings, new perspectives.(pp. 75-82). Boston: Little Brown.
Kilpatrick, A. (1987) Childhood sexual experiences: Problems and issues in studying long-range effects, Journal of Sex Research, 23:2, 173-196
Laqueur, T. (2003). Solitary sex. A cultural history of masturbation. New York: Zone.
Loftus, E.F. & Ketcham, K. (1994) The Myth of Repressed Memory. NY: St. Martin’s.
Nathan, D. & Snedecker, M. (1995). Satan’s Silence. New York: Basic Books.
Ondersma, S., Chafin, M., Berliner, L., Cordon, I., Goodman, G., & Barnett, D. (2001) Sex with children is abuse. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 707-714.
Piper A., & Merskey H. (2004). The persistence of folly: a critical examination of dissociative identity disorder. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 49 (9): 592–600.
Prescott, J. (1975). Body pleasure and the origin of violence. The Futurist, IX, (2) 64-74.
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
Sandfort, T. (1987). Boys on their contacts with men. Elmhurst, NY: Global Academic.
Wilson, P. (1981). The man they called a monster. North Melbourne, Australia: Cassell.