Adult-child sex

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Adult-child sex is a term referring to sexual activity or sexual intercourse between an adult and a child. In most industrialized societies, adult-child sex is considered as child sexual abuse by a large majority of people. Societal views and legal ramifications have varied across cultures and throughout history.[1] In a less strict definition, it may refer to a wider range of sexual activity.[2] People often colloquially, though inaccurately, refer to all such activity as pedophilia.[3]

Historical views

The phenomenon of adult-child sex is observable throughout the animal kingdom and has served different functions during the recorded history of mankind. In the late 19th century, early industrialized Western societies discovered "youth" as a distinct period of life, and began criminalizing sexual interaction between children and adults.[4] Modern Western cultures began to deem harmful all sexual relations between adults and children, giving rise to the contemporary concept of child sexual abuse.[5]

Very recently the topic of adult-child sex has become a topic of serious research apart from assumptions of child sexual abuse, as well as entering mainstream entertainment and media as a serious area of debate and research.[1]

Across cultures

While most Western societies condemn adult-child sex as child sexual abuse, not all cultures do so.[6]

According to the 2001 Human Rights Watch World Report, in Yemen in 1999 the minimum marriage age of fifteen for women, rarely enforced, was abolished; the onset of puberty, interpreted by conservatives to be at the age of nine, was set as a requirement for consummation of marriage.[7]


Nonhuman comparisons

It seems that sexual activity in many higher vertebrate species has evolved from simple procreation to additionally serve purposes of social nature, and thus many species engage in a variety of sexual activities beyond fertilization, or strict opposite-sex and adult-adult pairings. The displayal of sexual interest towards fellow specimen tends to instantly end intra-species conflicts and aggressive behavior, and to initiate sexual activity, however it is under dispute among academics[8] whether these sexual displayals to end conflicts count as domination and submission or rather consensual restoration of group peace by mutually enjoyed behavior.

Naming the common forms of intimate juvenile-adult sexual interactions in animals, German psychologist, sociologist, ethnologist, Indo-European scholar, religious scholar, and philosopher Gisela Bleibtreu-Ehrenberg writes[8]:

The 'fondling' connected with the reaction to the infant model in non-human primates, and in those primitive peoples that have no taboos relating to this, includes caresses, smelling, licking, 'romping', and the well-known 'grooming'. Touching and manipulation of the genitals of children belong in this context among the acts of devotion, while in humans, as a result of the heightened mobility of the hand, manual actions can supplement many of the forms of devotion mentioned. Their own reaction to the encoded stimulus of the infant model brings to those reacting an intensive experience of satisfaction (the 'reward' of nature, so to speak, for the response to the encoded stimulus).

While also engaging in juvenile-adult sexual interactions, adult males "appear to limit penetration and ejaculation to contacts with mature females", that is to procreative sexual activities.[9]

While it seems common for immature individuals to practice sexual interactions with mature ones and thus most juveniles within populations seem to go through a stage at one time or another with more or less frequent such behavior with adults, the percentage of mature individuals within a herd or pack to engage in this behavior appears more limited, and these adults often do so in a promiscious fashion.[8]

Many individual members of higher vertebrate species do not exhibit nurturing behavior towards the young of their species independently of social factors, i. e. if they are separated from their group early in life, growing up and reaching adulthood in isolation; even highly violent and murderous behavior towards their own offspring is observed in, for instance, chimpanzee mothers that grew up in isolation.[10] An unusually high correlation is however observed between adult desire for practicing consensual juvenile-adult sexual interactions and obviously instinctly triggered nurturing behavior towards juveniles even in case of prior isolation of the adult individual, a correlation so high that it appears that adult individuals desiring juvenile-adult sexual interactions could be the only individuals posessing a genetical nurturing instinct independent of social influence.[8]

Ethical considerations

Sex within adult-child marriage

Ibn Warraq writes that Muhammad's example encourages the practice of child marriage in Muslim communities: "child marriages continue to be practiced, and the fact that the Prophet himself married Aisha when she was only nine and he was fifty-three encourages Muslim society to continue with this iniquitous custom."[11]

Sex as form of abuse

The widely-accepted view of adult-child sex among both legal experts and lay people is that it is an inherently abusive practice by the adult against the child.[3] Supported by evidence from several studies of child sexual abuse victims, psychologists argue that the inability of children to provide full and informed consent to sexual acts necessarily makes all such acts abusive in regards to the child. [12]

The American Psychiatric Association maintains the position that "children cannot consent to sexual activity with adults",[13][14] and condemns the action of the adult in strong terms: "An adult who engages in sexual activity with a child is performing a criminal and immoral act which never can be considered normal or socially acceptable behavior."[13]

A paper by David Finkelhor argued for "the importance of a stronger ethical position" than the belief that sex with adults causes harm to children. In his paper, Finkelhor calls into question what he considers to be three common arguments relating to "intrinsic harm", "premature sexualization" and "unnaturalness" of the act, describing them as both inadequate and lacking in solid empirical footing. Instead, he draws a parallel between Adult-child sex and sex between a therapist and a patient, stating that while there may be cases where the patient benefits, it should still be considered wrong due to the fundamental asymmetry of the relationship. He wrote: "It is suggested that basing the prohibition of adult-child sex on the premise that children are incapable of full and informed consent will provide a more solid and consistent approach to the problem."[15]

Sex as non-abusive

Those who have disagreed with the majority viewpoint include philosophers, academics, writers, and pro-pedophile activists.[16][2] In the controversial 2002 book Harmful to Minors, the feminist writer Judith Levine wrote that some scholars challenge the idea that all sexual activity between adults and minors is necessarily harmful,[17] and that in some cases, "quite young" people can have a positive sexual experience with an adult, referring specifically to "happy consensual sex among kids under 12."[2]Psychologists Bruce Rind and Robert Bauserman argued in a 1998 study (Rind et al.) that not all cases of adult-child sex should be termed child sexual abuse. Authors of the study argued that "CSA does not cause intense harm on a pervasive basis regardless of gender.", and that "an important reason why the assumed properties of CSA failed to withstand empirical scrutiny in the current review is that the construct of CSA, as commonly conceptualized by researchers, is of questionable scientific validity." This study was officially "condemned" by the United States Congress, an event which marked the first time in U.S. history that Congress officially condemned a study published in a major scientific journal.[18]



Strictly speaking, sex between a person just below the age of consent and a person just above it can be termed (and considered by some) to be a form of adult-child sex. In these situations, legal defenses are often available when the age difference is small.


The American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization both define pedophilia as attraction by adults and older youths toward prepubescent children (less than 13 years of age), whether the attraction is acted upon or not.[19][20] Researchers like Howard E. Barbaree have argued for a sharper focus on sexual activity over sexual attraction, asserting that the diagnosis of pedophilia only apply to those who have sexual relations with children, rather than to all who experience the desire.[21]

Some research indicates that most perpetrators of child sexual abuse are not primarily interested in prepubescent youths.[22] In two studies designed to measure sexual preferences using phallometric data, it was found that "30% of the [child sex] offenders tested did not show sufficient arousal [to children] to derive a usable score." [23] Sociology professor Rüdiger Lautmann, in his book on pedophilia, stated: "In this book I am concerned exclusively with the first type [the true pedophile who "has a general interest in social contact with children, including a sexual dimension"], which constitutes approximately 5% of all pedosexually active men."[24] A survey of cases of father-daughter incest concluded that most involve fathers who are situational offenders, rather than pedophiles.[25]




A sexual initiation is a first experience of sexual intercourse by a child, usually a teenager or late adolescent, with an adult, and is more common among boys and women than girls and men.


See child prostitution

Legal implications


Sexual relations between adults and children are widely outlawed, although the definition of child varies greatly between different cultures and jurisdictions, and various cultures find different sexual acts more or less offensive. (For example, some cultures find homosexual adult-child sex to be more offensive than the same acts committed heterosexually.) Adults violating these laws are generally subject to severe criminal penalties, in some cases life imprisonment or capital punishment.

In the interest of child protection, this practice is outlawed, along with other forms of child abuse and sexual assault,[26] almost everywhere. Adults violating these laws are generally subject to severe criminal penalties, in some cases life imprisonment or capital punishment. Production of child pornography also incurs strict punishment because it itself constitutes child sexual abuse. The possession and distribution of child pornography is likewise punished with strict measures, due to the assumed possibility of these acts to facilitate further child sexual abuse.

The popular consensus in defining the appropriate age of consent has moved upwards in modern times, coincident with changes in scientific and moral views of human sexuality and the psychological and social nature of childhood. In England, the legal age of consent was 10 for three centuries, until the end of the 19th century.[27] By the turn of the 20th century, 14 to 18 had become the norm in many places, particularly Western and Western-influenced countries.[28] In the 21st century, sexual relationships between adults and minors aged 16 to 18 are now considered legal in most countries, but legal variations exist allowing for ages of consent as young as 12 or as old as 21. A minority of countries either do not have any enforceable legal age of consent regulations, or have abolished such regulations entirely in favour of arbitrary societal judgement and local customs.[29]. According to the 2001 Human Rights Watch World Report, in Yemen in 1999 the minimum marriage age of fifteen for women, rarely enforced, was abolished; the onset of puberty, interpreted by conservatives to be at the age of nine, was set as a requirement for consummation of marriage. [30]

While sexual intercourse without consent is considered rape, adult's intercourse with a child below the legal age of consent, either with or without consent, is punishable under law with varying severity. In case of statutory rape, consent by the child is not considered as legal consent.

French petitions and letters

In 1977, a petition was addressed to the French Parliament calling for the repeal of several articles of the age-of-consent law and the decriminalization of all consented relations between adults and minors below the age of fifteen (the age of consent in France at the time). The document was signed by the philosophers Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir, as well as by novelist and gay activist Guy Hocquenghem, and by "people belonging to a wide range of political positions".[31][32] Similar sentiments were expressed by 69 signers of an open letter published January 26, 1977 in Le Monde concerning two men accused of violating France's age of consent law.

Another open letter was published in Libération in March, 1979, this time signed by 63 prominent French intellectuals, supporting a Frenchman accused of sexual relations with girls aged 6 to 12. According to the letter, the girls' "blooming shows before the eyes of all, including their parents, the happiness that they found with him."[33]

Academic research

Difficulty in researching

Psychiatrist Jay R. Feierman, describing what he considers to be the most common shortcomings of literature on Adult-child sex, writes:

...most of the lay and professional literature, although voluminous, reflect a narrow anthropo-, ethno-, and chronocentrism that precludes any real understanding of the topic with anything more than the preconceptions of our times. The writing is anthropocentric because the topic often is discussed as though humans were the only species in which sexual behavior between adults and nonadults is found. The writing is ethnocentric because the behavior is discussed as though it were, somehow, peculiar to Western industrialized societies. The writing is chronocentric because the behavior is discussed as though it were a recent development in the history of the human species. All of these ‘-centrisms’ obscure the fact that the behavior is seen in other species, societies, and times and has to be understood within these broader contexts.[34]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Robert Stacy McCain (2002-04-17). Experts debate impact, gray areas of adult-child sex. 'USA Today'.
    (Link/source last verified 10 January 2008)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Robert Stacy McCain (2002-04-19). Endorsement of adult-child sex on rise. The Washington Times'.
    (Link/source last verified 10 January 2008)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ames, A. & Houston, D. A. (1990). "Legal, social, and biological definitions of pedophilia." Archives of Sexual Behavior. 19 (4), 333-342.
    (Link/source last verified 09 January 2008)
  4. Killias, M, Dr., in Sandfort, Brongersma, Naerssen (ed.) 'Male Intergenerational Intimacy', Haworth Press, 1991, pp 41-46.
  5. The Sexual Exploitation of Children, Chart 1: Definitions of Terms Associated With the Sexual Exploitation (SEC) and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) (p. 4), University of Pennsylvania Center for Youth Policy Studies, U.S. National Institute of Justice, August 2001.
    Child Sexual Abuse (CSA): Sexual activity involving persons younger than 18 years of age. Most often perpetrated by an adult, such activities include rape and molestation, pornography, and exposure of children to the sexual acts of others
    (Link/source last verified 09 January 2008)
  6. Richard Green. "Is Pedophilia a Mental Disorder?". Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 31, No. 6, December 2002, pp. 467–471.
    (Link/source last verified 09 January 2008)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Bleibtreu-Ehrenberg, Gisela: The Paedophile Impulse: Toward the Development of an Aetiology of Child-Adult Sexual Contacts from an Ethological and Ethnological Viewpoint, in: Paidika - Journal of Paedophilia, no. 3, 1988 (original German abridged publication in 1985 as Der pädophile Impuls - Wie lernt ein junger Mensch Sexualität? in the sociological and political journal Der Monat, founded and published by Melvin J. Lasky, editor-in-chief Michael Naumann, publisher emeritus of Die Zeit, former federal Minister of State, a SPD candidate for mayor in the 2008 Hamburg elections; second English edition published 1997 in: Joseph Geraci, Angelia R. Wilson (ed.): Dares to speak: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Boy-Love, Gay Men's Press: London)
  9. Waal, F.B.M. de, Sociosexual Behavior Used for Tension Regulation in All Age and Sex Combinations Among Bonobos, in Feierman, J. (ed.), Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990
  10. Grzimeks Tierleben ("Grzimek's zoology"), vol. 1, Säugetiere ("Mammals"), Munich/Germany, 1979, p. 533.
  11. Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not a Muslim, p. 320, Prometheus Books, 1995, 0879759844
  12. Comment on Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman (Rind et al. (1998)), Steven J. Ondersma , Mark Chaffin, Lucy Berliner, Ingrid Cordon and Gail S. Goodman, and Douglas Barnett, Psychological Bulletin Vol. 127. No 6.707-714, 1998.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Leadership Council - APA Statement on Child Sexual Abuse Quote: " is the position of the Association that children cannot consent to sexual activity with adults."
  14. APA Letter to the Honorable Rep. DeLay (R-Tx.)
  15. Finkelhor, David. What's wrong with sex between adults and children? Ethics and the problem of sexual abuse.
  17. Levine, J. (2003). Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex, Thunder's Mouth Press
  18. Rind controversy
  19. American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fourth edition text revision), § 302.2
  20. World Health Organization, International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10. § F65.4
  21. Barbaree, H. E., and Seto, M. C. (1997). Pedophilia: Assessment and Treatment. Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment. 175-193.
  22. Lanning, Kenneth (2001). Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis (Third Edition). National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
  23. Wogan, Michael (2002). [1]Wogan, Michael (2002)
  24. Rüdiger Lautmann [] Rüdiger Lautmann
  25. Quinsey, V. L. (1977). "The assessment and treatment of child molesters: A review." Canadian Psychological Review. 18, 204-220.
  26. What is sexual abuse?, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
  28. Waites, M. (2005). The Age of Consent: Young People, Sexuality and Citizenship, Palgrave Macmillan
  29. Wordwide age of consent laws
  31. Foucault, Hocquenghem and Danet are referenced several times as petitioners in the Michel Foucault's text “Sexual Morality and the Law” (online version in English). The term “people belonging to a wide range of political positions” are mentioned on page 273.
  32. The names of philosophers Jacques Derrida, Louis Althusser and André Glucksmann come from the website (in French). Finally, the names of philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Roland Barthes, as well as of the writers Alain Robbe-Grillet and Philippe Sollers, come from the website (also in French).
  33. 1977-1979 petitions and signatures (in French), retrieved 4 April 2005
  34. Feierman, J. (ed.), Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990

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