The Sexual Activity of Male Children and Adolescents
The Sexual Activity of Male Children and Adolescents
The Clarence Osborne case forces us to recognise what we do not like recognising — that male children and adolescents are sexually active and sexually curious. Time and time again, Clarence Osborne’s writings emphasise the sexual drive and curiosity of young males. In one short conversation with me Osborne boastfully but correctly reflected on the reasons for his ‘success’ with his youthful partners:
The relationships that Clarence Osborne developed with thousands of boys over a twenty-year period were sufficiently diverse to allow some generalisations to be made about the objects of the young males’ sexual attention. The first type of sexual awakening to be found amongst youths is essentially auto-erotic. Auto-erotic awakening takes place when a child is aware of the capacity to tactually stimulate himself and has the volition to do so. The second type — hetero-erotic sexuality — is essentially socio-sexual in nature which means that rather than stimulating oneself, the child is stimulated, and stimulates another, through the senses of touch, sight, taste or thought.
Both types of sexual awakening are illustrated by the conversations recorded in Osborne’s manuscript. [*1] For example, hundreds of examples are given by Osborne of the intense pleasure young people experienced when touching their genitals. Whether it be in a bed, in a shower or just by clothing rubbing against their penises the recollections of the youths who spoke to Osborne were carefully recorded. One boy said:
Another boy recalled:
Osborne was a master at evoking sexual memories from his partners about their first hetero-erotic desires. Hundreds of boys told Osborne about their interest when very young — perhaps as young as four or five — in their younger sisters and their desire to have their sister handle their own penises or alternately, to touch their sister’s vagina. The same sort of sexual recollections were given to Osborne by the youths concerning their wishes to cuddle and kiss parents, relatives and other adults in sexually stimulating ways. One youth said:
The material that Osborne left for posterity might well be considered by some as immoral or even depraved, but it does at least allow us to see a number of specific features concerning male sexuality. In the following pages an attempt is made to outline the salient features of this activity and, at the risk of repetition, to emphasise the importance of each feature in fully understanding man-youth relationships.
1 Young Male Sexual Stages
If we reconstruct the stages of male childhood sexuality using Osborne’s material the following phases in sexual development become quite apparent. In the first phase, boys from the time of their birth to the age of two years watch and play with their penis in a variety of situations, ranging from the bath through to stimulating themselves in their bed or in an infinite variety of other settings. [*2] Infants in this period are not generally capable of the direct voluntary action which we call masturbation, but occasionally they do specifically stimulate themselves — an observation Kinsey noted in his famous research.
Controversially, the American psychologist James Prescott argues that infants who receive large amounts of affection display high levels of genital play. [*3] Indeed, Prescott suggests that societies which promote physical pleasure among children are peaceful while those that punish pleasure are violent. He contends that a society can reduce future levels of war and crime by providing more physical affection between parents and children and more sexual pleasure for children. Regardless of whether Prescott is right or wrong it is quite apparent that between birth and two years of age children do take an interest in and receive enjoyment from their genital region.
Between the ages of three and seven an explosion of sexual interest follows the hazy sensuality of infancy.[*4] Children not only actively experiment sexually but often seek physical intimacy that is manifested in hugging and kissing parents, relatives or other adults. Osborne’s notes also make it very clear that many young males during this period are introduced to more advanced sexual play by slightly older children in the context of those familiar games of ‘You show me yours and I’ll show you mine’ and ‘doctors and nurses’.
But often much more than these activities are involved. Young males often get involved in cuddling, handling, and occasionally, sucking each other’s sex organs, and attempts at intercourse — both anal and genital — of a homosexual and heterosexual nature take place. Indeed, homosexuality is a normal part of growing up for male children during this period and is often a preliminary step to hetero-sexual behaviour displayed by the majority of adult males.
Between the ages of eight and thirteen Osborne’s material identifies a third stage of child and adolescent male sexuality. Contrary to past folklore this period is not a time of sexual quiescence or a time when sexual interest takes a break before the big push that occurs at puberty. [*5] Clarence Osborne documented endless examples of young males exploring every possible source of sexual pleasure during this period. The explicit techniques of sexual gratification are liberally illustrated throughout Osborne’s manuscript and include such well-known practices as the ‘circle jerk’ as well as one-to-one sexual exploratory sessions with others of the same age in showers, clubhouses, homes or equivalent settings.
The obvious nature of child sexuality and the attempts by society to deny any expression of that sexuality has led to the emergence of a number of small and unpopular social movements which have advocated the lifting of legal and social taboos surrounding children’s sexuality. The United States in particular has produced several semi-secret societies which foster sexual freedom between children and occasionally between children and adults. One which has thrown caution to the wind and made public announcements on the subject is the Rene Guyon Society, an organisation with three thousand correspondents in forty-five states. Public opinion has been shocked by society spokespersons advocating child-to-child and child-to-adult intimacy, even to the point of sexual intercourse if contraceptives are used. The organisation is based in California and a specific goal it unsuccessfully attempted to achieve in the late 1970s was to repeal all California’s legislation that was repressive of child sexuality. Based on some ideas they have taken from developmental psychology, the society has won little public sympathy for its position by the slogan, ‘Sex by age eight or else it’s too late!’
The Sexual Freedom League, another organisation advocating sexual activity between children, differs from the Rene Guyon Society in condemning transgenerational sex. Similarly yet another group, the San Diego-based Child Sensuality Circle, adopts a middle position between the other two groups, advocating child-to-child sex and child-adult encounters in specific circumstances. Many individual professional men and women in medicine and psychiatry have suggested similar heresies and the reaction against them is as vitriolic as it is against the child sexuality liberation groups. [*6]
The objections of the community are not so much against their expression in any shape or form. Clearly Clarence Osborne was able to capitalise on these objections and barriers by providing a setting in which child and adolescent sexuality could be expressed.
2 Male Adolescents are Intensely Concerned about Their Sexual Potential
In past chapters we have emphasised the fact that Osborne capitalised on the sexual ignorance that young males have concerning their genitals. Time and time again Osborne was able to achieve a deeper level of intimacy with his partners by answering questions about the size of their penis or the growth of their body generally. Indeed, one of Osborne’s favourite pastimes was to measure the boys’ penises and to reassure them that they were ‘normal’. And Osborne had the ability to do this in such a way that the boys thought that they were receiving a favour. The proof of this assertion can be seen in the fact that so many of the boys considered Osborne to be a saviour of their masculinity. Osborne was adept at reassuring his youthful partners that they were normal and just like other boys’ and had no need to worry about the size of their penises or thinness of their pubic hair.
This concern about genital growth and body development is not an isolated phenomenon. Osborne’s records demonstrate that its predominance is widespread and affects young males from a variety of different social backgrounds. The ignorance that the boys demonstrated about their own bodies often overlapped with concerns about their sexual performances. Whether it be auto-erotic or hetero-erotic sexual matters, Osborne was able to assure the boys that they were no different from anybody else. His reassurances took many forms. One common way was to show the boys photographs of other boys with erections or who were masturbating and to indicate that these boys were no different in their sexual interests and body development from the boy he was with. Equally importantly, however, Osborne acted as a mentor for some of the youths when it came to their sexual and emotional relationships with the opposite sex.
It was not uncommon for Osborne to take the boy through a ‘dry run’ in order to anticipate sexual intercourse with a. girl. The boy would ask Osborne a number of questions about how he should insert his penis, what he should do after the insertion, and when he should ejaculate. The older man would either verbally or by demonstration show the boy what he should do. Clearly Osborne was acting as a teacher or guardian even though he obtained intense sexual pleasure from doing so. And there is no doubt that many boys felt that they had learned to have relationships with girls without unnecessary guilt and with sufficient expertise because of what they had learned from Osborne. One male put it like this:
Let us explore these issues in more detail. The concern by the boys in our culture about their own physical development and their sexual performance has, to some extent at least, arisen because of morphological differences between boys and girls. For example, parents give a name to the boy’s penis and this is one of the first words the child is taught. Since the penis is also the pleasure organ and produces sexual arousal, it might be considered that the boy has some social advantages compared to the girl who has no common name attached to her pleasure organ, the clitoris. A girl is therefore dependent on being told by someone who has learned about the connection between clitoral stimulation and orgasm or sexual arousal. This difference, it has been argued, could make sexual communication in boys easier than amongst girls.
This line of argument also suggests that sexual arousal in young males is physical and thereby communicated visually while this is not true for girls. Boys are therefore sexually aroused by watching an erect penis whereas between girls, such manifest evidence of sexual excitement is lacking.
But while boys may seem to have some advantages in terms of sexual maturation, the very advantages bring in their wake a whole host of problems to do with male sexuality. As a variety of researchers have indicated, problems in sexual development in children such as exhibitionism or sadistic, aggressive sexual desires as well as concern about genital size, seem to occur predominantly in young males. [*7] Boys also have a strong guilt feeling about normal erotic fantasies and about their desire to relate sexually with other boys — the threat of being called a poofter rests uneasily with their same-sex preoccupations. [*8]
Osborne was well aware of the inhibitions and guilt feelings that boys have about sex and one of the messages that he was able to give to the boys was very simple. That message was, ‘It is normal to masturbate and most boys do it.’ An even more forceful version of the message was often imparted to some youths, ‘I masturbate, I like it, and I am normal.’
Despite the length of the relationship, Osborne was able to convey to nearly all boys he interacted with a comforting message about their genital development and heterosexual concerns. That message was very simply, ‘Your penis is all right and it is normal to be worried about sexual relations with girls. I can help you to learn how to have sex with girls.’ He told the boys what no one else wanted to tell them and he did it at a point in their development when they sought such information.
3 Male Adolescents are Commonly Bisexually Orientated
In my book Intimacy I pointed out that bisexuality has often been confused by some writers who invoke the term to refer not only to sexual preferences but also to the characteristics of both sexes found in a particular person. [*9] What these writers often do is to confuse bisexuality with androgyny. Some unravelling of basic terminology is necessary. Bisexuality refers to a sexual orientation or preference while androgyny refers to qualities that are seen as conventionally masculine and feminine. Despite the semantic difficulties of defining precisely what the term ‘bisexual’ means, it is quite clear that when it is used to refer to sexual orientation, the majority of the adolescent boys Osborne related to could be subsumed under the bisexual label. Of course the boys might not see themselves in that light but their manifest behaviour showed an interest in both sexes.
With many of the boys Clarence Osborne interacted with bisexual behaviour was the rule rather than the exception. The opposite sex was available to the boys and they often engaged in physical relations with them during the periods when they were away from Osborne. But even during these periods emotional bonds were formed between the youths and the older man. Even here though, there is no evidence to suggest that the boys were necessarily more ‘feminine’ in their psychological or social mannerisms than other adolescents of the same age who never met Osborne. Certainly, the number of boys involved in the Clarence Osborne affair and the time over which many of the relationships developed, suggests that the example of boys and youths relating to both older men and young women is not one peculiar to the Osborne case.
It is true, however, that most of the boys did not conceive themselves as being bisexual. As we have seen, the majority of the young males that Osborne related to went to great length to explain to Osborne that they were ‘real men’ and had a primary interest in women. Osborne understood this point well and went to considerable lengths to reassure the boys that they were ‘really’ males and to neutralise any feelings of guilt that might have arisen in their minds as a result of engaging in sex with him. Thus, with many boys the initial encounters were essentially sexual in nature and it was only after a period of time that some degree of emotional bonding between Osborne and them developed. It was rare for the boys to be anally penetrated and when Osborne began stimulating their genitals, he generally did so within a context of saying that it was normal for boys to get erections. There was also, of course, the sex researcher role that Osborne used with effect allowing the youths to rationalise their behaviour.
We cannot assume that Clarence Osborne ‘made’ the boys bisexual. Contrary to police hyperbole one person does not have the power to direct another person’s sexual orientation. All the Osborne case has done in this respect is to demonstrate that boys do have a bisexual orientation and that they had this orientation well before they met him. It appears that most of the boys developed either a primary hetero-sexual or homo-sexual orientation in late adolescence or early adulthood and the available evidence suggests that Osborne had little effect on their particular sexual interests later on in life. Nevertheless, Clarence Osborne’s extraordinary life does demonstrate that we can no longer divide the world simply into heterosexuals and homosexuals and consequently must recognise the polymorphs potential of human beings when it comes to their sexuality. At different times in our lives we will exhibit a whole range of sexual behaviours — some will exhibit these behaviours in fantasy, some in reality, and some will change their orientations according to particular psychological and social pressures operating at particular moments in their life. [*10]
4 Adolescent Males will Seek Older Men for Non-monetary reasons
It is worth reiterating that the boys who saw Osborne did so for non-monetary reasons. We have explored some of the motivations for the relationships that developed between Osborne and his partners but these need to be re-emphasised again. To begin with, some of the boys were craving for affection — an emotion which they singularly lacked in their homes and peer environments. Secondly, some were searching for new experiences — for what they commonly refer to as ‘kicks’ of a sexual and non-sexual kind. These boys saw Osborne as providing these ‘kicks’ until they were sufficiently emotionally mature to relate to girls. Thirdly and very importantly, the boys indulged in sexual activities with men because they greatly enjoy being fellated, touched and physically caressed. They were highly aroused by sexually stimulating situations and wanted to further their sexual experiences and sexual partners. The older male allowed them to fulfil their ambitions because pederasts enjoy giving the boys pleasure in the same sense of ‘enjoying the pleasure of the other’ which Sartre writes about in Saint Genet. [*11] Pederasts do not generally kiss boys, usually because boys do not want to be kissed, so they tend to content themselves with teasing, wrestling and caressing which boys appear to enjoy. [*12] Because men such as Clarence Osborne truly want a boy’s affection, they follow the boy’s sexual lead rather passively, becoming sexually active only as affection grows and as the boy wishes. Osborne once said to me, ‘You never really have to sexually seduce a lad. If you give him time, he will seduce you.’ As Parker Rossman puts it in his paper of pederasts ‘The ones who fall into the hands of the police are the ones who have forgotten that rule.’ [*13]
No one denies that there are boys who seek men for other reasons besides the ones I have given. These young men are generally motivated by mercenary considerations, born not so much out of poverty but because in their inner world material goods are important to them. But the boy prostitute is often in a very different situation from the boy who seeks older men for the non-monetary reasons I have outlined. In nearly all cases boy prostitutes are extremely sexually experienced and often take the initiative in proposing sexual relations. While they might well enjoy the sexual games that occur between themselves and a man, their prime objective for entering into the relationship is, in most cases, monetary. [*14] And while some boys may not be motivated by the push of poverty to charge money for sex, substantial numbers of them enter into the trade because they come from social areas and climates where prostitution is a common way of overcoming the economic deprivations of birth. In this regard they are no different from the majority of females who enter into prostitution.
It is therefore dangerous to confuse the dynamics of boys who enter into relationships with men and expect no monetary rewards with those of boys who enter into relationships with a prime objective of e obtaining money or gifts. This confusion has arisen for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that in our culture there is a very strong taboo with respect to sexual arousal in children. If any as type of sexual arousal should occur, regardless of the reason for it, as children, and the adults who stimulate them are the objects of re extreme social sanctions. In other cultures, however, the situation is in very different. Among Cobeo Indians in the North West Amazon, A, body contact is very pronounced and according to anthropologists by such as Goldman, this explains their receptiveness to sexual arousal in both childhood and adolescent masturbatory and homosexual to activity. [*15] In several cultures, moreover, mothers caress the child’s genitals during nursing, often with the objective of ‘quietening’ down the body. While the developmental significance of these experiences is not yet fully known, no anthropologist suggests that societies which not engage in the sexual stimulation of their children suffer adverse cons equences. [*16] This does not mean that, in our society, adverse consequences would not follow from such stimulation. After all, our culture and history is very different from the less developed areas that as anthropologists have studied. But at least we know that some human communities do not view childhood sexuality with the same abhorrence that characterises the industrialised world.
5 Most Males Remember Their Adolescent Sexual Experiences with Pleasure
To say that males remember their childhood and adolescent experiences with pleasure seems to be stating the obvious. The point is though that regardless of whether the experiences are with girls, women, boys or men, most of them do not lead to the guilt-ridden traumatised memories that popular mythology would assume. Time and time again men I interviewed who had relationships with Clarence Osborne told me that they were enormously aroused and excited by these relationships. Nowhere is this better illustrated than by one man who, with explicit honesty, summed up his experiences with Osborne in this way:
One of the reasons why many people cannot understand that a boy would thoroughly enjoy a relationship with an older man not only because they do not fully appreciate the interest male and (female) children and adolescents have for sexual exploration, but also because, in the case of the young male, they are ignorant about the exact sexual relationship that exists between men and boys. We have seen in a previous chapter that in the Osborne case , the nature of the sexual experience was determined by rules worked out conjointly by both Osborne and the particular boy involved. Most of the boys were very careful not to define themselves as homosexuals and Osborne went to great lengths to ensure that they did not see themselves in that way. For that very reason the nature of the sexual activity was often limited. Consequently, contrary to public opinion, the amount of anal intercourse and fellation that went on in this case (and I would argue in most interactions between men and boys) was very limited and rare. Instead, physical contact often took place in the context of ‘having a bit of fun’ or ‘playing a bit of sport’.
When discussing male-youth sexual activities Rossman perceptively suggests that instead of discussing the extent to which pederasts and boys are indulging in oral intercourse, anal inter-course or mutual masturbation, it might make much more sense to study the type of sexual games that are played, in which oral and anal intercourse are sometimes the penalty for the loser or the reward for the victor. [*17] He points out that most studies of sexual behaviour between men and boys point to the fact that the sex takes place in the context of playing games. Regardless of whether the games are gambling or sporting activities, such as wrestling together, sexual competitions and contests are intertwined with them. In ‘playing around’ together there is the hunt and the chase element with sexual prizes and punishments. In this way, of course, a boy does not have to think of himself as homosexual or as engaging in sexual perversions, but rather simply as engaging in ‘fun and games’, As Rossman puts it:
The pederast also determines the limitations of the sexual relations that occur between him and a boy simply by adopting certain standards of behaviour. With Clarence Osborne we find patterns occurring that ensured the boys would find the sexual experiences pleasurable rather than traumatic. Osborne would generally only touch a boy’s genitals once the boy had an erection and was therefore ready to be stimulated. It was very rare that he would engage in anal intercourse, not only because it was not ‘his thing’ as he put it, but also because he knew that this would threaten the boy’s self-image. He was also very careful to limit the nature of the physical contact that he had with his partners so that while he might hug and caress a boy, he would rarely kiss that boy as that too would threaten the boy’s self-identity. Most importantly of all though, it is clear that Osborne would make the decisions about the nature of the sexual interactions that occurred between him and the boys on the basis of, and in accordance with, the wishes of that particular boy. He would simply do what the boy desired and no more.
It is precisely because sexual contacts between men and boys take place within parameters that are worked out between the two partners and which are mutually agreed upon, that most males remember text their sexual experiences with older men with pleasure. One may well argue about the effect of these contacts on the boy’s psychological and sexual development, or the morality of an older man engaging in these sexual contacts. But it is an undeniable fact that, except in the case of intervention by the police and the courts or non-consenting participation by the boys, these experiences are remembered as sensuous and sexually gratifying even if there is a residue of guilt in some cases. [*19]
It is now time to place what we have learned about male sexuality through an analysis of the Osborne case into a wider perspective. In chapter four we looked at the affectionate needs of adolescent youths. There are, however, some lessons to be learnt about male sexuality generally from the experiences of Osborne and the boys and youths he had relations with.
The behaviour of the adolescents who were entangled both sexually and emotionally with Clarence Osborne reveals a substantial amount of information about male sexuality generally. A common view in our culture is that male sexuality, in contrast with female sexuality, is simple, straightforward, emotionless and problem free. Men, it is assumed, are always ready and willing to engage in sexual encounters and in contrast with women they can do this because their genital equipment is basically simple. The myth also assumes that a man’s sexual desires are easily fulfilled — most men, it is reported, simply want to ‘stick it in anywhere’ and engage in what the Americans popularly call the ‘wham bam thank you ma’am’ syndrome. Support for this view is reinforced by the popular belief that men have little interest in receiving or giving affection and that, in their relationships with women, they treat them purely and simply as sex objects.
If the behaviour of adult men is seen as reflecting these sexual traits then society generally considers that young men spotlight them. Most of us, when describing male adolescent sexuality, for example, admit that young males will get ‘crushes’ on members of the opposite sex. However, few people consider that adolescents are capable of, yet alone seek, a close and intimate relationship with another person where physical attraction and love for that person are closely entwined. Young men are also seen as epitomising the ‘wham bam thank you ma’am’ syndrome that is thought to characterise their older brothers. Young men, it is assumed, have no need for the sophistications and subtleties of close body touching, caressing and other forms of physical contact outside straight sexual intercourse.
It is only recently that some of the myths about male adult sexuality are being exposed. Bernie Zilbergeld, in his recent book Men and Sex, points out that vast numbers of normal, healthy men without any psychological impairment have quite severe sexual difficulties. [*20] He found that most men were not satisfied with their sexuality and wanted to learn more about it. The problems were many: a great number of men were unable to obtain erections, ejaculated prematurely, lost interest in sex at a very early age, and wanted a different sort of sex than the type they were receiving. In my book intimacy I outlined similar problems to those that Zilbergeld found. [*21] Most importantly of all though, recent studies clearly demonstrate that males of all ages are enormously ignorant about sex in terms of both its social and physical parameters. [*22] Men are very hesitant to ask for a different type of sexual contact with a partner than what they have been receiving. Consequently while penetration is, in hetero-sexual relations, typically asked for and received, body contact and touching is rarely requested and therefore obtained. Men are constantly preoccupied with how they are faring sexually in comparison with other men and are often obsessed with comparing their sexual performances with the performances of other men. Almost every man tends to think that all other men are having a better time sexually than he is, and he cannot shatter this illusion because of the taboo among men about honestly and openly talking about these matters. Men, in fact, are extremely secretive about their sexuality. They certainly joke about sex and talk a great deal about it with other men, but the talk that they engage in is of a trivial type which centres on the physical attributes of their female partners.
Perhaps the most important part of the male myth centres around the set of rigid sexual rules that dictate the way men think and act sexually and emotionally with the opposite sex and with their own sex. These rules propel men towards a sexual history that they often neither wish nor enjoy. Regardless of age, the rules seem to be the same: I know all about sex; nobody (particularly a woman) can tell me about sex; the more sex I get, the more I know I’m truly masculine; sex will give me a real ‘high’; sex is always fun. [*23]
Young males work under these rules and at times appear as though nothing else seems to matter as much as sex does — thinking about it, learning about it, talking about it and fantasising about it. Male adolescent popular culture reinforces this obsession on sexual matters which is also reinforced by the external nature of the male genitals. In his superb and sensitive account, ‘Being a Boy’ Julius Lestor tells of his experience in this way:
While young men might well be obsessed with their penile characteristics and with sexual matters, I would suggest that the obsessions often hide a complexity of emotions and feelings about these topics that are not really fully understood. Adolescent males are the slaves of the masculine culture of sex that they cannot escape from. Bernie Zilbergeld put it succinctly:
Clarence Osborne’s life and experiences help us to slip behind the ‘dominant model’ of male sexuality and understand the real sexual and emotional needs of young male adolescents. The boys who related to him came from diverse social backgrounds and exhibited, in their diversity, a complexity of sexual attitudes and behaviour. To begin with, it is clear that boys experience and deal with their sexuality in different ways. Some rely on masturbation for their major sexual outlets while others, because of social situations or psychological makeup, quickly turn to another sex partner. Some appear to be unconcerned with sexual matters either because their parents sufficiently repressed their interests in it or because other interests predominate. Yet others appear to be so guilt-ridden or unsure about their sexuality that the conflicts about the subject rage inside their minds.
Behind these diverse experiences though, there lies a commonality of sexual problems that young males share together. These problems are exemplified by Clarence Osborne’s life and writings and are an indictment of the prevailing masculine ethos operating in contemporary society. To start with, young and old males fake sex in the same way that they fake their reactions to women in a face to face situation. Clearly they do not fake sex physically — erections are still erections — but they fake the emotions and cognitions that go with sexual activity. Adolescents are not confident about sexual matters and are very uneasy about their own sexuality and bodily desires. Many of them are grossly ignorant about their genitals and their physical development and this ignorance often leads them on a sexual journey of self-discovery. The Clarence Osbornes of this world and the innumerable sexual contacts of both a homosexual and heterosexual nature that adolescents experience are a part of this voyage for sexual and social self-discovery.
In this search young males often neglect aspects of their personality that are not considered part of the masculine ethos. For example, some adolescent boys have a great need for emotion and affection, particularly if such emotions are missing from their immediate home environments. Clarence Osborne knew this very well and was able to provide, in part at least, an outlet for those emotions, in a variety of sexual and non-sexual ways.
Other young males exhibit a totally emotionless drive for sexual fulfilment, preferring impersonal detailed sex without commitment or passion. In this respect though they are simply mirroring what many of their adult counterparts exhibit constantly. In recent times we have seen the emergence of what Rollo May has called ‘the cult of technique’ where bodies constantly meet but minds rarely do. [*26] Osborne was fully aware of the interest that boys and adolescents have in the ‘cult of technique’ and was able to provide impersonal sex in private places without risk or unnecessary commitment.
We should not, however, trivialise such impersonal sex. Like their adult counterparts, young males use such sex in order to fulfil gaps in their life. It may be used to prove their masculinity, to raise their sense of self or identity, or to act out their fantasies. But regardless of how it is used, it is of psychological importance to the youth.
Before we condemn young males we should also consider that heterosexuals and homosexuals use singles bars and sauna baths in the very same way. And, as with the bars and baths, young males find that impersonal sex can serve, at an important point in their lives, a psychological function that no other person or institution fulfils. [*27] The impersonal sex that occurred between some of the boys and Osborne may well, for example, have relieved the loneliness that envelopes some young males. It might as well be perceived by a boy as an intense sexual experience rounding out an existing imbalance in his life. In short, what to some can look like an utterly superficial contact, can to the participant be a richly motivated act of tremendous significance and meaning.
To summarise then, the case of Clarence Osborne helps observers of male sexuality get beyond the masculine ethos. Sex may not be the most important part of life either for a young or an old male, but it is certainly a major part and as good an indicator of the quality of their lives as any other. The hopes, worries, fears and problems that affect adolescents crystallised themselves in the physical and emotional relationships that the boys had with Osborne. And these fears and hopes are really quite understandable: the fears of not being considered a male; the fears of not receiving affection or love; the fears that one is ignorant about one’s own body and genitalia and the emptiness that is felt because one is not able to talk with anyone else about this ignorance.
In the future we can expect that the position of adolescent males in regard to sexual matters will become even more difficult and they are likely to become the first battle casualties in the new war on sexual standards. It is obvious to most observers that traditional values concerning sex and sex roles are falling apart. [*28] High divorce rates and the difficulties that men and women have in achieving intimacy bear testimony to this assertion. Both sexes suffer from this confusion but males might well be suffering more than they are willing to admit.
Men might want affection, love and emotional closeness but they are still bound by a masculine strait-jacket that negates them from giving or receiving this closeness. The assertiveness of women both sexually and socially often threatens male self-esteem and self-image and does little to validate the view men have of themselves as being ‘masculine’. Adolescents are reflecting and will continue to reflect, this social and sexual uncertainty but will, because they are bound to a masculine strait-jacket, often be propelled towards a direction in sexual matters that they do not wish and do not enjoy.
No matter how harmful the old sex roles and other societal institutions were, they at least provided young and old males alike with the guidelines for social and sexual action that gave a predict-ability and orderliness to their world. Such predictability and orderliness, as well as a sense of identity, cannot be taken for granted in these uncertain sexual times.
Older men will either use this uncertainty in order to sustain their sexual interest in adolescent boys or alternatively, boys will seek out older men in order to reduce the psychological tensions that this uncertainty leads to. No matter what the reason, we can be sure that the Clarence Osbornes of this world will continue to thrive and will have no difficulty in finding youthful partners. For Greek love, as it is called, is as old as mankind itself. Its history has always been controversial and it is to that controversy that we turn in the next chapter.