An interesting chart named “Rebels with a Cause” demonstrates how greatly the freedom of “minors” – that is, children and adolescents – has diminished for the past 200 years. The chart is a part of Robert Epstein’s informative and provocative article “The Myth of the Teen Brain.” <> (Once you get to the article, you will be able to scroll down the the chart). Before 19th century, there were hardly any laws enforcing age restrictions. Since the beginning of the 19th century, such laws began to appear – initially one by one; then they were created faster, and became more multiple. Since post-World-War-Two era, legal initiatives, designed to take away virtually any freedom from “minors,” turned into a true avalanche, which led us to the current situation of a fundamentally separated society, where adults are allowed to enjoy the liberties of modern democratic countries, yet kids are locked into a virtually totalitarian world, where they are forbidden, not only to act on their own wills and desires, but even to access information about these desires, since even information is presumed to be “harmful for minors” and therefore “adults only”.

As Epstein puts it:

Laws restricting the behavior of young people (under age 18) have grown rapidly in the past century, according to a survey by the author. He found that U.S. teens have 10 times as many restrictions as adults, twice as many as active-duty U.S. marines, and twice as many as incarcerated felons.

An adult prisoner has more liberties under law than a child. As for child convicts put into “juvenile detention centers,” they lose even the last minuscule drops of freedom left for kids and are simply treated like slaves. Yet it wasn’t always this way. The modern notion of “childhood”, is centered on the notions of “innocence” and “protection” – protection from everything around, including knowledge. In fact, especially knowledge. According to modern ideas, even theory or information on some subjects should not be allowed to kids. As for experiential knowledge, God forbid!!!

Before modernity, no one cared much about “protecting” children from anything. According to some data, the very concept of “childhood” was largely unknown. The idea of childhood has emerged in a very specific cultural milieu: the sex-negative, body-hating, life-rejecting culture of Christian society. This culture was dominated by ideals which, while ferociously castigating “lust” as the source of evil, was obsessed by it – fixated on it. It was from these ideals that the concept of “childhood innocence” was born. But let’s start from the beginning of the long and painful road that led to our culture's myth of the innocent (ie. asexual) child.

Before the advent of the religious vision of reality based on salvationism – primarily Christianity and Abrahamic religions, but also Zoroastrianism, Platonic and Neo-Platonic ascetic philosophies, and arguably Hinduismspirit was understood to be immanent: it is in-worldly, not out-of-orldly; it is life, not death; it can be directly experienced. The apparent chasm between flesh and soul, the seeming rupture between body and mind, was not yet proposed – our bodies were manifestations of our spirit, not shells in which our souls are contained. And, therefore, bodily desires were good and acceptable – not only in adults, but also in children. So why should we, wishing good to our kids, deprive them of the sexual gratification which they evidently seek from birth? Why should we try to “shield” them from something which is their natural need and drive?

So, in the pre-salvationist world, child – and, importantly, intergenerational – sexuality was usually accepted. Sexual relations between adults and children were as normal as between children themselves. Kids and grown-ups, shared the same life, the same society, and the same culture, so there was no reason why they should be strictly separated in sexual matters. Of course, not all cultures were equally sex-positive. Some were more restricted than others. But these restrictions usually were related to the matter of mating and forming familial units. The idea of sex as something fundamentally evil and thus deserving repression, is an invention of salvationist religions and philosophies.

In the initial stages of its development, the sex-negative, ascetic ideals of Christianity has little to do with age restrictions and separation between kids and adults. Children were not yet seen as different from adults; they were inexperienced, of course, in need of some teaching, but pedagogy as a specific specialty, and child-rearing as a discrete, identifiable area of life had not yet arisen.

Things changed in the modern epoch. This change is well described by the highly controversial, yet very interesting historian Philippe Aries in his book “Centuries of Childhood”.Centuries of Childhood”. The Christian ideal that formed the Western culture, is purity – the separation of man from “dirty”, tainted earthly reality, and the achievement of the perfect, unearthly clarity of heaven. Such transcendence required a turning away from of simple, natural liveliness. Seekers of the celestial needed reason and a community to will provide them with moral discipline and development, and with refinement of manner and performance. So, earthy talk and acts – especially sexual talk and acts – were forbidden in polite adult society. Yet – which may sound shocking to most modern people – such talk and acts were allowed in dealing with children. As Philippe Aries describes:

One of the unwritten laws of contemporary morality, the strictest and best respected of all, requires adults to avoid any reference, above all any humorous reference, to sexual matters in the presence of children. This notion was entirely foreign to the society of old. The modem reader of the diary in which Henri IV's physician, Heroard, recorded the details of the young Louis XIII's life is astonished by the liberties which people took with children, by the coarseness of the jokes they made, and by the indecency of gestures made in public which shocked nobody and which were regarded as perfectly natural. No other document can give us a better idea of the non-existence of the modern idea of childhood at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

I highly recommend the reading the Chapter V of Aries’ book, “From Immodesty to Innocence,” but prepare to be shocked. Some casual interactions with children described in the Heroard’s diary – for example, an adult woman showing the child her “private parts” – if performed nowadays would easily qualify as “child molestation” and would cost the performer a long prison term and a life on a “Sex Offender Registry.” However, in the era described by Heroard and reconstructed by Aries, it was an everyday norm, since it was considered that children, who have not yet achieved adult moral refinement and religious elevation, would not be harmed or offended by such demonstrations. Kids, unlike adults, were still creatures of natural simplicity; only later, with severe acts of discipline, might they become divinely touched, cleansed from the earthly dirtiness of sin, and allowed to enter heaven.

In the epoch of modernity, with the giving up of belief in fundamental vileness of human nature and the rise of humanism, the Christian idea of earthly life as dirty and sinful was not given up; but was paradoxically inverted. Now it was assumed that all children are born innocent, devoid of any sinfulness – especially, of any sexuality; yet later they are tainted by the sinful world, depraved and corrupted by it, and have to cleanse themselves and to return to their original innocence to deserve salvation.

This idea of the asexual pure child had its appeal, but it was smashed by the reality of child sexuality, in its most visible form – masturbation. The view of a presumably sexually pure child committing such a sinful act was a prime horror for the people of 18th and 19th centuries – a horror strong enough to turn off their reasoning abilities, which led to an unrestrained hysteria. This hysteria took a social form that mixed therapeutic practice, scientific theories, moralistic ideation and punitive justifications – the infamous “masturbation insanity”. According to nearly all scientific, medical and social authorities of the 18th – and even more so of the 19th century child masturbation was a cause of nearly all physical and mental maladies possible, from bodily frailty to dementia, so, it had to be fought without restraint or mercy. And it was fought – by methods which they sound insanely cruel to 21st century people, such as putting pain-inflicting anti-masturbation devices on children’s genitalia, or even burning these genitalia with hot irons, permanently damaging them and thus eradicating sexual pleasure and masturbatory habits. Yet no cruelty was excessive for anti-masturbation crusaders who were defending children from the mortal perils of “self-abuse”.

Here we must stop to reflect a bit on this use of the term, “abuse,” which probably reminds us of current “child sexual abuse”. Its genealogy leads us to the Latin word “abusus”, that means “to damage” and “to destroy”. Nowadays, people use this expression to interpret sexual acts between adults and children – which are, in the majority’s view, invariably harmful. Yet, the masturbating child of the 19th century was performing an act of self-destruction; he was, simultaneously, a sexual offender and the offender’s victim. He didn’t need a “paedophile” adult to be molested; his own “auto-molesting” efforts were enough. The torture which was inflicted on a masturbating kid by concerned adults were, in this sense, both “therapeutic” prevention of assumed damage and a penance for willful transgression. The absurdity of the situation – that was invisible to the anti-masturbation crusaders – was exactly in this contradictory coexistence of offense and victim-hood in a single child person: if a child was intrinsically asexual, then why did he have an urge to masturbate in the first place? Nobody had any consistent answer; and nobody cared to find one. A moral panic – and the “masturbation insanity” was the one of many such panics in history – feeds on its own irrationality and perpetuates itself by passionate and emotionally appealing, yet incoherent, slogans. As I will show later, the modern “child sexual abuse” panic is as devoid of rational foundation as “masturbation insanity” ever had been.

During the panic of masturbation, other panics arose: for example, the fear of children being “molested” by immoral, world-tainted adults, as if their cherished “innocence” hadn’t already been threatened by their own “self-abuse” impulses! The fear of kids' losing their otherworldly purity led to the creation of the “age of consent” laws, which, were touted as the means to “defend” children from adults. In fact, such laws defended adult prejudices and fears at the expense of kids' sexual freedom and justified the punishment of adults who were caught “molesting” them. Initially, the “age of consent” was pretty low by modern standards – around ten or eleven years old. But later, feeding from the recurrent waves of adults’ moralistic hysteria, it was raised higher and higher. By 20th century it was usually around 16.

The central – but not only – theme of these hysterias usually was “underage” prostitution and pornography. Some topics raised by them were more-or-less separated from age-centered ideas and turned into fear of sex work as such. In the early 20th century, it lead to a “white slavery” moral panic, which provided an archetypical basis for later sex-work-related panics, such as the modern “human trafficking” one.

The ideas about molestation prevalent in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th had a crucial difference from their current forms. The “molested” child wasn’t always a passive victim; he or she might well be a participatory victim – that is, a paradoxical combination of victim and accomplice. The acceptance of such a combination was based on the understanding – which was lost in later redactions of the hysteria – that children quite often do consent to the sexual actions of adults, and enjoy them; even more, sometimes – which is utterly unthinkable to modern “child protectors” – children actually initiate sex with adults. Sadly, even such initiatory behavior was not accepted as justification of intergenerational sex by most people. They still insisted, contrary to factual evidence, that children are innocent (asexual) and therefore such sensual seeking must be pathological and transgressive for them. Yet, it is still telling that a child entering an intergenerational sexual relationship was as pathologised and criminalised as the adult. Only later were children turned into passive “groomed” victims, hypnotized by the vile charms of the devilish “pedophile” and thus devoid of any responsibility. The rebirth of “child sexual abuse” hysteria in its most intense and absurd form – the modern form which we are now witnessing – happened only in the late 1970s.

The mid-to-late 1960s to the early 1980s were a truly exceptional period in modern history. It was the period of child liberation, when many highly intelligent adults suddenly rediscovered children’s agency, and defended providing children with all the rights and liberties adults have – including sexual rights and liberties. It was a time when proposals to legalize and normalize paedophilia were vocalized by researchers of high standing and activists of high eminence. For example, a 1977 French petition to abolish “age of consent” was signed by leading French intellectuals, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault (the latter was an especially staunch advocate of intergenerational sexuality). Similar petitions, being presented to state authorities in Netherlands in 1979, were supported by many organizations, including feminist and gay ones. Child-adult sex was approved by leading feminist thinker Camille Paglia, by the famous poet Allen Ginsberg, and by the legendary mystical anarchist Hakim Bey (Peter Lamborn Wilson). Most importantly, it became a topic for a non-hostile, non-condemnatory research by scientists like Larry Constantine, Gayle Rubin, Steven Angelides, Harris Mirkin, Vern Bullough, Paul Okami, Terry Leahy, Agustin Malon, Bruce Rind, Daniel Tsang, Floyd Martinson, Horst Vogt, Glenn Wilson, Frits Bernard, Richard Yuill, Theo Sandfort and many others. In this delightfully liberated epoch, even some Christians gave up their ancient sex-negativity and supported free sexuality, including for children and intergenerational pairs. For example, the Protestant Foundation for Sex Education distributed booklets with a non-hostile portrayal of paedophilia and child-adult sex in Dutch elementary schools, to keep children informed and prepared to make social and sexual choices of their own.

This blissful freedom did not last for long. After a few years of public advocacy of child and intergenerational sexuality, the general public was horrified enough by prospects of liberated childhood to experience a total meltdown – which, in turn, ignited a punitive fury. In 1977, a “kiddie porn” hysteria started in the USA, which lead to the first laws specifically targeting and forbidding “child pornography.” About a year later, this wave of fervor and persecution hit British shores; around 1984, it reached Continental Europe, even the highly liberated Netherlands, accompanied by Anglo-phones’ accusations of producing “child porn”; by the early 1990s, even Japan was affected, and erotic anime cartoons featuring “underage” characters turned into targets of repression.

But the center of this reborn anti-sexual witch-hunt was not on “pornography,” but on children themselves. The old moralistic clichés were mixed with the new ideological invention which was produced by the counter-culture period and now became its undoing: victimology. The new, victimological edition of the child-sex moral panic was even more blind and unthinking than the old ones, since, according to the new dogma, children were absolute victims, completely passive and unresponsive, who never consented to the adults’ sexual acts, let alone initiated them. And if children themselves actively disagreed with their victim-status, and insisted that the sexual relations were voluntary (which in fact was often the case), they were at best simply dismissed, or, at worst, assumed to be “brainwashed” by the paedophile’s “grooming”. The cruel humor of the situation was this: while victimologists were crying about “sexual objectification” of children, they actually “objectified” kids themselves, and in the most extreme form possible. In their models, a child was completely deprived of any agency – sexual, social or even intellectual; he or she had no desires, thoughts or acts of his or her own, but was just a passive object of evil adult schemes, totally devoid of any initiative or responsibility. . . as long as some “paedophile” adult was nearby to blame.

Yet, a new problem arose: what should one do when no adult “sex offender” is present, and children are just having sex between themselves? The answer: invent “juvenile sex offenders” – children, who, as in the “masturbating insanity” and “participatory victim” epochs, were victims and criminals at the same time. And, as in the older times, their criminality evidently outweighs their victimhood, since they are subjected to treatment as atrocious as adult “sex offenders” are. The draconian punishments to which these children are subjected make no distinction as to whether participants consented or not, since, according to dogma, children are unable to consent even when children themselves think they do! These sadistic, inhuman “treatments” and “therapies” mentally devastate “patients” in order to eradicate their “deviant” desires and thoughts. And most cruelly, they are subject to an indelible stigmatisation by being put on “sex offender registry”, which leads to a life-long ostracism in all social areas. So, child sexual games nowadays are lethally dangerous to their participants: they may lead kids to death – not a physical one, but a social one, a modern version of medieval anathema, a virtual banishment from community: a “sex offender” status.

So, this is the situation which we are facing here and now: a barrage of baseless repressions of children and children-loving adults based on the hidden fears and anxieties of the majority of modern western (and westernised) adult population. Moral panics about “child sexual abuse”, “child porn” etc. are manifestations of an irrational rejection of child sexuality – and child agency. If you doubt this, look again at the high-quality research mentioned above, and search for other authors. Google Scholar, which allows one to find other papers quoting the original one and papers similar in their content, are especially useful in this regard. These papers demonstrate quite unequivocally that most children are not harmed by sexual experiences that were perceived by them as consensual.

Now you will probably ask, “But what about all the other works that claim that children are harmed?” Well, like the most pre-gay liberation works that evaluated homosexuality as pathology and mental disorder, they suffer from persistent, recurrent and debilitating flaws.

The first flaw is the automatic rejection of any dissimilarities between consensual and non-consensual relationships. All child-adult sexual contacts are assumed to be “sexual abuse” by definition, and are analyzed as a single pool of data. And, since non-consensual sex is indeed hurtful and usually traumatic, for kids as well as for adults, it is no surprise that children who had sex with adults would be, in taken as a whole, more mentally disturbed than the ones who had not. Yet, if we do separate consensual encounters from non-consensual ones, we will see an entirely different picture: most kids who participated in sexual acts voluntarily are not more disturbed than children in general. But the very idea that child-adult sex might be consensual is the ultimate thought-crime nowadays. So only a few researchers dared to conduct studies which accept and analyze such differentiations.

The second flaw is over-reliance on clinical and forensic samples. Most inquiries into child-adult sex are based on psychiatric and legal cases, and people who are found in mental asylums and criminal courts tend to have more problems than the general population. But working with people engaged in child-adult sexual contacts who are not under criminal prosecution or therapy (or both) has produced much more positive results – and there are a lot of such people around.

The third flaw is underestimation of iatrogenic effects of “child abuse” therapies, and prosecutions. There are many cases when children felt themselves free and happy in their sexual relationships with adults (and other children) until these relationships were discovered by society. Then, all hell broke loose: kids were forcefully separated from their adult lovers and put under constant severe pressure by family, therapists, prosecutors, social workers etc., all of whom treated them as “abused” and “damaged” and insisted that their disagreement was a sign of “brainwashing.” Under such constant mental assault, many kids broke emotionally and experienced trauma – not by the initial relationships, but by furious condemnation and enforced victimisation by “child-helping” adults. After a long period of such intense pressure, some children even start believing that they were “abused” and “brainwashed” – just as many kids forcefully interrogated by overzealous therapists during “satanic panic” started believing that they were kidnapped, raped and tortured by Satanic cabals, while initially they had never complained about it, and had denied therapists’ suggestions. And, of course, we know they were right in their initial statements since “Satanic ritual abuse” accusations were later refuted.

The fourth flaw is the exceptionally widespread and powerful prejudice itself, which may easily distort the perception of people supporting it: if something is utterly unthinkable to someone, it may become entirely unperceivable as well. In the case of child-adult sex, even calm neutrality is a rarity; most people who study this phenomenon are completely and unshakably certain that it is always harmful and never consensual, which puts them at risk of severely biased assessment.

The insistence that children cannot consent is actually based on confusions and inconsistencies. First and foremost, all neutral-to-positive researchers agree that child’s consent is usually a simple one, not an informed one. In the case of simple consent, children may have no previous detailed knowledge of sexual acts, or expectations as to what such acts might lead to, but they are eager and willing to learn; they like what is being done with them, and want to proceed further. Simple consent to sex – a child’s desire and willingness to participate in sexual activities – is, I think, enough to allow them to happen. If we insist upon demanding informed consent, we must ask ourselves why we’re doing so. After all, children, especially young ones, cannot give an informed consent virtually to anything – say, to swimming in a lake. But does it mean that they should not be allowed to swim in it with an able adult being nearby to insure safety? Or will we demand that children should be allowed near water only after they have taken an extensive theoretical “Lake Swimming: Dangers and Possibilities” course, and passed an exam? No, we won’t. We understand that children learn swimming, in the process of actual experience, with the help of adults and other children. What is important for the adults accompanying children during lake swimming is that they not push kids forcefully into water; such coercion may frighten and emotionally hurt kids. They should learn to swim with adults and other kids being their supporters, companions and gentle instructors in this process, not their commanders. The same is true in the case of sex: children can and should learn about the sexual side of life by direct experience of sexual play and acts with adults and with other children. Of course adults who participate in intergenerational sex should understand and accept their ethical responsibility for the mental and physical well-being of their younger lovers: they should not do anything to them that is against their will. And it is obvious that they would not lead the child into any acrtivity that would be harmful or dangerous. As long as these principles are followed, it is difficult to see anything unethical in a sexual relationship between a child and an adult.

What is most important to understand here is that sex, as such, does not harm kids, since they are fully sexual beings from birth. The presumption of child’s asexuality is nothing but a persistent myth, a hangover of salvationist theological theories of decisive separation between flesh and spirit, which, in turn, gave birth to the notion of children as innocent, nearly celestial beings not yet tainted by earthly sin; beings that have to be constantly shielded from adult dirtiness, and especially sexual dirtiness.

When we, at last, accept both the sexuality and agency in children, we will see through the veil of the centuries-old recurrent moral panic. I sincerely hope that the day of such acceptance will come.




Comments (1)

  1. Edmund

This was very interesting.

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