[Start]     [Articles & Essays]

When You Change the Gender, Reality Changes Too

From Paidika, The Journal of Paedophilia,
Issue 8, Special Women's Issue

By Marjan  Sax and Sjuul Deckwitz

Some feminists may still feel that it would be easier to attain their goals without the liability of perceived “sexual deviance” of any sort. In the current sex debates, some fear that the women's movement will come to be identified with issues even more stigmatized and threatening than female homosexuality. Thus, feminists' fear of sexual difference manifests itself as a concern with public relations, an attempt to keep the women's movement respectable and free of pollution. 1

Sex and the erotic between women and boys and women and girls is virgin territory for scientific research. When Paidika Editor Joseph Geraci asked us to edit a special issue on women and paedophilia we were rather surprised. Women and paedophilia? Never heard of it. None of the discussions we had participated in had touched upon the adult woman as the partner of a child. The contribution of women to the dialogue on paedophilia has been to argue that it is harmful for the child, 2 or guardedly to describe childhood sexuality. 3 Female “paedophiles” have been conspicuous by their absence. Alice Schwarzer questioned whether there could even be such a thing as a female paedophile. Her theory was that a woman was incapable of expressing power through her sexuality. 4 The reason most often cited for the supposed nonexistence of female paedophiles is that women in their social roles of mother and guardian have developed a special bond with children which is non-sexually caring, loving, and protecting. It is argued that these qualities simply do not mix with the erotic.

It is surprising that contacts between women and boys and women and girls are certainly dealt with in novels and films. Helene Pemn described in De nauwe weg (The Narrow Path) the increasingly erotic attraction a women in her twenties felt for a boy of ten in her care. 5 Twee vorstinnen en een vorst (Two Countesses and a Count) by Peskens is about the erotic feelings of a 15-year-old boy for his aunt. 6 This theme recurs in the same author's Man tante Coleta. 7 Olivia, written by “Olivia” (the pseudonym of Dorothy Strachey Bussy), deals with the love of a 16-year-old girl for the female director of a French boarding school. 8 The films Mourir d'aimer by André Cayette 9 and Kung Fu Master by Agnes Varda 10 show the love of adult women for respectively 17-year-old and 15-year-old boys. The well-known movie Mädchen in Uniform (1931) by Leontine Sagans tells of a mutual, intense love between a boarding school girl and one of her female teachers. 11

In spite of its occurrence as a literary theme, women and paedophilia as a phenomenon is hardly ever noted, and even when it is, it is seldom considered “paedophilia.”

Several questions presented themselves when we began to examine the subject. Are such contacts and relationships limited to films and novels? Do they exist in real life? If they do, why are they not labeled paedophile? Are the sexual contacts between the (usually) male young person and women regarded as healthy and thus outside most people's understanding of paedophilia? Is the sexual behavior of women in these situations so motherly and non-threatening that it attracts no attention?

As we dug more deeply into our subject we discovered that erotic and sexual contacts between women and children under the age of consent do indeed occur. In speaking with female friends, once the shock of embarking on a discussion of the concept of paedophilia wore off, countless stories came out: love for male and female teachers, early lesbian experiences with older women, adult women's fantasies about having sexual escapades with innocent boys. The mutual attraction between women and minors was certainly not only an academic matter; but neither was it a subject much discussed.

Sex is a difficult issue and female sexuality only became a topic of general discussion among women after the second “feminist wave” in the '70s. Child sexuality is a taboo subject for many, and paedophilia is a forbidden subject in some circles. Perhaps these combined factors help to explain the general lack of attention paid to the phenomenon we are discussing in this volume. A search of the scientific literature yielded very little. With the exception of studies of sexual abuse where female perpetrators were cited (e.g., Finkelhor, Wakefield et al), 12 it seems that not much exists about women's sexual relationships with minors.

The Concept of Paedophilia

One thing quickly became clear to us — paedophilia was not generally associated with women. Most people who identify themselves as paedophiles are men. Nearly all research into paedophile experience is about males; the eroticism and sexuality described is male. Perhaps more importantly, although in the '70s in the Netherlands, and among certain experts today, the term has simply meant sexual relations between an adult and someone under the age of consent, paedophilia has everywhere gradually taken on more negative connotations. 13 For many people, and the media too, it has also become synonymous with incest and/or the sexual abuse of small children.

As we have come to understand the subject from a female perspective, we have found it irrelevant, even counter-productive, to label the similar eroto-sexual experiences of women “female paedophilia.” This would only place it in that frame of reference defined and described by the male perspective. The fact that we were unable to find many traces of so-called “female paedophilia” strengthened our feeling that we should reject the use of the term. Women make up virtually no percentage of the membership of existing paedophile groups, possibly because there are indeed very few women who call themselves paedophiles, or, more probably, because women who engage in adult/minor sexual relations seldom see their experiences reflected in the way that men with comparable experiences describe them. In addition, most paedophile groups consist largely of homosexual men, and it may be that women having heterosexual adult-minor relations do not feel comfortable in such groups.

In the course of our interviews, speaking with many women, it became evident that, as a concept, paedophilia was alienating, and prevented women from recognizing their own experiences. Another drawback we felt was that the term favors the position of the older person who feels attracted to the younger. The perspective of the minor is not implied by the term and sometimes in the discussion seems irrelevant. The study of the paedophile phenomenon is almost always centered on the adult.

The negative connotations of the term, the fact that it is largely associated with men, the fact that it usually connotes only the adult, have convinced us to avoid its use. We especially do not want to place the experiences of women in a frame of reference almost universally described in terms of male sexuality. We will thus speak about “erotic and sexual experiences between women and boys or girls, and vice versa.” That is hardly a pithy phrase, but we would rather use it than a word that would automatically create misunderstandings.


What experiences are described in this book? As we sat down to define them we found ourselves in a mine field. There were the different definitions of paedophilia: the majority involved sexual attraction which the older person feels for children. Brongersma describes someone with paedophile feelings as “an adult with a clear, conscious sexual preference for boys and/or girls.” 14 As a simple rendering of the law, there is also the more formal definition of “sexual contact with a young person under the age of consent.” Bleibtreu-Ehrenberg defines paedophilia as “sexual contact with preadolescent children who have not yet reached biological sexual maturity.” 15 The trouble for us with these definitions is that they are all explicitly sexual.

Without wanting to over-simplify male sexuality, even male researchers propose that mature male sexual experience is chiefly directed towards orgasm through either masturbation or penetration. 16 When we consider the contacts women have with minors, and vice-versa, some of which are described in the following interviews and articles, we see immediately that this genital description is inadequate. For many women, sexuality does not imply orgasm per se; sexuality for women and girls is a much less clear — cut thing; it is open to question. Are caressing or affection “sexual”?

We suspect that many contacts women have with boys and girls, and vice versa, are erotic; that is, although there might be an obvious attraction, it might not result in sexual acts. Perhaps nothing actually “happens”; perhaps those involved put their arms around and hug one another. We wanted, nonetheless, to include this kind of behavior in our study, and we did not wish to set limits as to what counted as a sexual or erotic act and what did not. We have therefore kept our concept as broad as possible: erotic and sexual relations of women with girls or boys and vice versa.


Age limits are a recurrent issue in discussions about paedophilia. At what age do adult Dutch people find it acceptable for a young person to have sexual relations with someone older? The lower the age of the youth the greater the objection to a sexual relation. Sexual maturity and age of consent are the most frequently cited criteria for judging the acceptability of a sexual relationship. There is a considerable difference between the two, although they are sometimes confused with the discussion of the child's ability to consent. One objection to using age of consent as a standard is that it varies so widely from country to country. It is further complicated by the fact that there are usually different consent ages for homosexual and heterosexual acts. In The Netherlands the legal age of consent for both is 16; in the United States it varies from state to state; in Japan it is 13; and in England it is 16 for heterosexual and 21 for homosexual acts.

In determining the contents of this Special Issue we decided not to use age of consent as a criterion for inclusion or exclusion. The whole discussion about the age at which the age of consent should be fixed did not strike us as a very useful discussion. The more relevant questions for women/minor relations is whether they were occurring at all, and, if so, what form they were taking. We set neither an upper nor a lower limit to the age of the younger partner. Most reports and interviews, however, concern adolescents older than 12. We also have more concerns about intergenerational relationships when the children involved are very young, but we have not, at this stage in our research, come across experiences between women and pre-pubescent children. Our sentiment, finally, was that if all experiences were to be examined, age boundaries seemed too limiting.

Concepts of Female Sexuality

Sex and eroticism, it is now generally accepted, are not the same for women as for men. Male needs and male experience of sexuality have commonly been used as the standard of sexuality. Dyer says, “Male sexuality is a bit like air: you are breathing it all the time but you are not conscious of it.” 17

In the last 20 years a new idea has gained ground: that the male norm for sexual behavior is inappropriate for women. Women may wish to deal with sex in a different way — not necessarily a better way — and want the latitude to experiment with their own wishes and ideas.

In sexual politics, female sexuality is less and less frequently depicted as the shadow side, mirror image, or extension of male sexuality. What the forms of female sexuality are is not so easily described. Certainly we can at least state that because of the different socialization processes and upbringing of women, they have learned to deal with sexuality in a different manner.

One aspect of sexuality which has received a great deal of attention in the last few years is sexual violence against women and girls. The women's movement has continuously complained about, and given examples of, incest and sexual abuse. It is one of the visible changes which feminism has brought about: thinking about sexuality is impossible without recognition of that violent side of (male) sexual behavior.

The campaign against pornography, which directly linked it to sexual violence against women, 18 was in the 1980s an important focus of feminism and received a lot of attention both inside and outside the women's movement. In the United States, attempts by MacKinnon and Dworkin to have pornography banned forged a monstrous bond between feminists and the New Right. Faithful to reactionary thought, MacKinnon and Dworkin targeted not just pornography but also all forms of sexual activity other than monogamous, loving sexual relations between lesbian women. Other forms of sexual behavior were condemned as phallocentric and demeaning. In most European countries the anti-porn campaign was milder, but the link between it and the struggle against sexual violence certainly existed.

Pornography and sexual violence have dominated much of the discussion about women and sexuality, to such a degree that for many people outside the women's movement this segment of the discussion appears to comprise the entire feminist view of sexuality.

There was, however, another current of thought which, influenced by ideas about women's right to sexual self-determination, placed more emphasis upon the positive aspects of sexuality. It included lesbian groups experimenting in sado-masochism, prostitutes who were advocating their own “workers' rights,” women from the butch-fern world, and feminists in the academic world. in the United States these groups coalesced into an effective lobby against the anti-pornography efforts of MacKinnon and Dworkin. 19 The starting point for these “pro-sex” groups was the insistence that the fight against sexual violence revealed only one side of the coin. They emphasized that women must also pay attention to what they did want; what experiences were they having with their own sexuality and eroticism; what longings did they cherish? 20

Unfortunately, these two approaches to female sexuality have in the last years become polarized. Feminists have been preoccupied either with sexual violence and their sexual repression by men, or with the fight for sexual freedom and sexual self-determination. In The Netherlands, certainly, many feminists feel that a more nuanced approach has been abandoned.

We do not intend here to support one side or the other in this disastrous division of opinion and effort. An analysis which leads to the exclusion of certain groups, because their viewpoints on the issue of sex differ radically from the mainstream, is one-sided and counter-productive. Patriarchal mechanisms, sexism, and abuse do exist, but so do desires and pleasure.

Positive Experiences

In assembling the articles for this Special Issue we wished to do justice to diversity. We were certainly aware that sexual violence and sexual abuse occurred in relationships between adults and young people, and such violence must never be denied nor covered up.

When we embarked on this study we were also surprised that so little consideration had been given to the positive, fruitful side of relationships between adult women and minors. In conversations with female friends, we heard so many happy stories, related with genuine pleasure, that our feeling was strengthened that presenting a positive view of relationships between women and young people was indeed justified. Some of these stories we have included here as personal interviews. They are good memories of a kind one seldom hears. That is not to say that we closed our eyes to the negative side which such relationships can have, but an even-handed discussion is only possible when both kinds of experience can be examined.

One of the objections made by opponents of adult child relations is that, because of the difference in ages, a relationship between a minor and an adult is necessarily characterized by too great a power imbalance. The basis of this objection is that young people cannot always foresee the consequences of their actions, and that creates an opportunity for adults to use, or abuse, them. The wishes of the child are subordinated to those of the adult. 21 A counter—argument is that there is a power differential in every relationship. With children, great power differences play a role in their relationships with their parents, teachers, and even sometimes with their peers. We are dissatisfied with condemnations based on power imbalances.

In our minds, to demand of a relationship an equality of needs and desires is chasing after an illusion. In the majority of relationships one person is usually more dependent upon the other. What is important is that the partners create a formula which they both find sufficiently satisfactory. Under what circumstances this happens, or does not happen, differs from case to case. There is no lack of information about the extent to which there are power differences in these relationships between women and minors. In our interviews we discovered differences in ages and life experience, differences in sums of money available to the women or child, differences in circles of friends, and differences in social position, as for example between teacher and student. Each relationship seemed to ascribe its own degree of importance to any one or all of these differences. In our view it is much more fruitful to examine a particular relationship as it really is rather than to make generalizations about power.

We have not examined the experiences of girls with adult men. We suspect that in many of these relationships male sexuality determines the character of the relationship. In traditional heterosexual relationships, the man's behavior usually determines what sexually takes place, unless the female partner consciously sets herself against it. We question whether young girls, with very little experience, are in any condition to oppose a man's wishes. There is little research on the subject, however, to confirm either a negative or a positive view. We fervently hope that further research will shed light on the nature of these relationships.

These are the parameters for the discussion in the articles that follow. Adult-minor relations do not play themselves out in a vacuum. In the following paragraphs we will sketch our understanding of the social setting in which such relationships must be placed. We are, for the most part, speaking from a Dutch perspective, but we maintain that this is a sound basis for an international, if Western, discussion.

Social Images

Sexual contacts between women and boys are generally less condemned than those between men and boys. “It's better to learn on an old bicycle” is a cheerful old Dutch saying often applied to contacts between an adult woman and a boy. It does not imply real approval, but neither is it malicious.

Indeed, the initiation of boys into sexual love by women is often seen as a loving, and certainly not aggressive, act. The cliché of the experienced older woman teaching a boy how to perform the love act is non—threatening because such an initiation serves the purposes of male sexuality: the sexual sculpting of a boy into a man. The attention here is primarily focussed on the boy. The loving behavior, inherent in the woman, is seen as a sufficient guarantee of a responsible initiation without damaging side effects.

There is less social approval of relations between a woman and a girl, mostly because of prejudices against lesbianism. Erotic contacts between women imply a sort of sexual autonomy and are still not well regarded. People fear that the sexual feelings of the girl will be so misdirected that she will become lesbian herself.

Despite grudging tolerance verging on mild disapproval, erotic and sexual feelings in women for minors are not much considered. The bonding that goes on between women and children (and even adolescents) is generally regarded as natural. The image of motherhood rubs off onto all women, even those who aren't mothers. Women have such constant contact with children that people seldom stop to consider that there might be a sexual element in it. Women and children are a normal combination. But normal here means non-erotic and non-sexual. The erotic side of motherhood may reveal itself to a certain limited extent, as can be seen in a mother's letter to the Dutch women's magazine Libelle in which she gives a lyrical description of how in love she is with her baby. 22 Women can express erotic feelings for children by hugging them. But there are limits on the discussion of this expression. For example, there is a taboo on the discussion of the eroticism of breast feeding. Is it because the physical sensations stimulate unmentionable sexual feelings?

“Female Perpetrators”

Recently, some attention has been directed to adult-minor relations involving women, but unfortunately it involves only abuse. Some articles have been published about the old mother son incest taboo. 23

It seems, from research on the sexual abuse of children, that female perpetrators do exist. In The Netherlands, until recently, that fact was not reflected in available statistics; thus it is remarkable that in these studies one does come across women perpetrators. A 1989 Dutch study found 12% of the perpetrators were women. 24 A number of explanations have been offered for the appearance of women in recent sexual violence studies. One is that sexual abuse reveals itself in stages: first one sees abuse carried out by men; later, once people's eyes have been opened to the fact that sexual abuse is more common than is realized, attention turns to women. In contrast, Gianotten attributes the increase in female perpetrators to the growing emancipation of women, through which they have gained more power and along with it the potential for abusing that power. 25

The purpose of this Special Issue is to bring to light positive experiences, and for that reason, no tales of sexual abuse are included, and no forms of parent-child incest are examined.

The Sexuality of Children

Ambivalence about sexuality can often be observed when the subject of the sexuality and sexual education of children comes up. It cannot be denied that children have sexual feelings, but this is such a delicate subject to most people that they would rather leave it alone. Certainly the Western world has a great deal of difficulty dealing with it. Plummer describes how the sexual experiences of children are molded by the adult's reactions to them. 26 Children have a fine appreciation of other people's feelings; they quickly pick up an adult's uneasiness about sex. They perceive that adults don't know how they should talk about it, don't even know the right words to use; they see how awkward adults become. They notice that many adults find sex unpleasant and dirty, are secretive about it, talk around it, or quickly change the subject. And so children learn, without adults being aware of it, that sex is not a “normal” thing. The child learns to avoid the subject, learns that talking about sex is something you just don't do. Sex becomes categorized as something “done on the sly.”

To some extent there is a general, ill-defined attitude — more a feeling than an idea — that the sexual feelings and longings of children may be allowed some expression with age-mates, but within what limits these acts may take place is not clear. Anxiety about abuse in recent years has sharply increased and sometimes reaches bizarre proportions. Instances of real or assumed sexual abuse have made it difficult to examine the sexual behavior of children in a positive manner.

A case recently came to light in which a 12-year-old Dutch boy was supposed to have “abused” more than 200 children over an 18 month period. 27 The extent to which the children were really victims remains unclear. Experts expressed doubts about the alarming tales which the police told; it was calculated that during those 18 months the boy must have approached three different children every week in order for the total to top 200, a statistic that seems quite impossible. Questions were raised about official examination methods which often give children ample opportunity, by means of suggestive questioning, to tell their examiners what they wish to hear. This was discussed in an article by Benjamin Rossen and Jan Schuijer in the Volkskrant. 28 The furious reaction against this article by one mother whose children were supposed to have been abused by the 12-year-old “perpetrator” shows how clouded discussions of children and sex can become. 29 That is highly unfortunate, for very often in these so-called juvenile sex cases something other than the sexual is going on, something that can better be handled in a way that does not criminalize the child. This boy seems to have been a bully who frightened and forced other children to do what he wanted. But in the media he was labeled a “mini-pervert,” and painted exclusively as a “sexually disturbed” individual.

In the United States there have been frequent panic reactions where children were thought to have sexually abused other children. In 1989 in Santa Cruz, California, a teenage boy was arrested because he was supposed to have had sex with playmates 4 to 10 years of age. 30 At Children's Institute International in Los Angeles, there is a special treatment program for children who have sexually abused other children. 31 It may be true that such children have acted violently but it is questionable whether arresting them, taking them out of their homes and branding them as criminals is an effective way to correc power games which are out of hand. Adult panic reactions give rise to irresponsible prosecutions of invented sexual abuse. The discussion about protecting children from abuse is not only about protecting children; it is also about adults' ignorance about their own sexuality and the sexuality of children. Adults can transmit their anxieties and projections about sex to children.

To the question of how the sexual behavior of children can develop most positively, there is no easy answer. Experiments in communes with free sexuality are isolated occurrences. Few in the feminist movement have given much thought to the position of children and only a handful of feminist visionaries have also pleaded strongly for the freedom of children. They link the repressed position of children in their homes, at school, and in society as a whole, to their lack of sexual freedom. In 1970 Shulamith Firestone called attention to the dependent position of children in modem Western society. 32 Kate Millet in an interview in 1980 (reprinted here) pleaded for children's rights. Her argument was that children, too, have a right to sexual freedom. Some argue that in fact children should have control, not just of their own sexuality, but of their lives.

A more recent complaint comes from the Kanalratten group, whose “manifesto” we include here. They see the authoritarian structure of the family as suppressing children. Despite its ideological rigidity and not very subtle formulation, we decided to include a part of their document. The Kanalratten, as well as Firestone and Millet, are among the few feminist women who have argued for the right of children to decide for themselves their own sexual lives and sexual behavior.

Childhood Innocence

In our society we view the years of childhood as a time of innocence. Innocence here has a double meaning: on the one hand it is taken to mean that children can not yet be held responsible for their (at times bad) behavior because they cannot foresee its consequences; on the other hand it implies a state of virginity, an absence of sexual impulses and desires, or at least, an absence of sexual knowledge or experience.

This view of innocence, we believe, can be interpreted as an attestation of sexual guilt. Sexuality and sexual behavior are perceived in Western societies as among the most symbolic of all human activities. In a not-so-innocent world we have a strong need for symbols of innocence. In former times we projected this onto women; today it is onto children. The notion of the “inborn” chastity of women in the 19th century is equivalent to the notion of the innocence of the child today. The symbolic, “unsullied by experience,” child figure is regularly used in campaigns for the New Right. As the American historian John D'Emilio said in an interview:

Anxiety about the sexuality of the young is the binding factor which unites the various right—wing morality campaigns. If you examine the rhetoric of the campaigns against abortion, pornography, gay rights, sex education and other such issues, you'll find fears about the autonomous expression of sexuality among the young as a motif that runs through all of them. Anita Bryant, for instance, called her anti-gay campaign “Save our children.” The right— wing, anti-pornography campaign in the 1970s began with the issue of kiddie porn. In the Nineteenth Century, conservative moralists focused on the purity of women as their key symbolic concern.. . . So now, the line that is being defended is the “innocence of youth". 33

We certainly do not disagree with the protection of children from sexual abuse or any other kind of abuse. But it is inexcusable that the innocence of youth is used as a means to achieve other ends, such as denying homosexuals or lesbians equal rights. The innocence of children appears to be the sacred symbol for a moral battle which is being fought not just over children but over the territory and social position of sexuality itself.

Moral Panic

We think it is important to examine the ideology and tactics of some of those who have fostered these moral panics, because the discussion of child sexuality does not take place in a vacuum. It s a loaded subject, dressed up in monster clothes, and subject to all kinds of insinuations.

Gayle Rubin stated that sexuality is more than a frivolous pastime when problems of poverty, hunger, racism, and war assail us:

Contemporary conflicts over sexual values and erotic conduct have much in common with the religious disputes of earlier centuries. They acquire immense symbolic weight. Disputes over sexual behaviour often become the vehicles for displacing social anxieties, and discharging their attendant emotional intensity. Consequently, sexuality should be treated with special respect in times of great social stress. 34

In times of social uncertainty, excitement about sex serves as a kind of lightning rod. We have known such “moral panics” here in The Netherlands. “Oude Pekela,” a Dutch town, has become symbolic as the Dutch example of child sexual abuse hysteria, in which not a single shred of evidence came to light. 35 It is not just children who are caught up in these panics; adults who are falsely accused of abuse, kidnapping, and abduction are stigmatized for the rest of their lives. It is remarkable that now women are starting to be accused of the most gruesome crimes against children. In the last years there have been numerous trials of female day—care center workers and kindergarten teachers in the United States accused of raping and torturing children and carrying out Satanic rituals. 36 The pogroms which are carried out in the name of child protection have still more in common with “moral panic” as defined by Jeffrey Weeks:

Moral panics are flurries of social anxiety, usually focusing on a condition or person, or group of persons, who become defined as a threat to accepted social values and assumptions. They arise generally in situations of confusion and ambiguity, in periods when the boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate behaviours seem to need redefining or classification. Classic moral panics in the past have often produced drastic results, in the form of moral witch—hunts, physical assault and legislative action.” 37

Sexuality as a Social Construction

Until the second half of the 19th Century, sexuality was the concern of the courts and the church. They determined the boundaries between permitted and forbidden conduct, and they carried out corrective actions. With the standardization and professionalization of medicine, operating from the assumption that prevention was always better than cure, sex came more and more into the domain of doctors. Doctors separated sexuality from other aspects of the person, set up categories of deviant or disparaged behavior, and provided explanations of them. Homosexuality was defined as moral madness caused by degeneration. According to such writers on sexuality as Jeffrey Weeks, Gayle Rubin, and the philosopher Michel Foucault, “created” sexuality and especially homosexuality. Medical science created sexual identities to conform to the sexualities they had created. The identity of individuals depended upon their sexual preference rather than on other things of importance, such as the work they did or the social classes to which they belonged.

Sexuality, supposedly a unity of conduct, bodily reactions, desires, and emotions, is, according to these writers, not inborn; it is a cultural, social construction. It is the result of political activity, different power positions, and the oppression of stigmatized groups and peoples excluded from conventional society, and their opposition to this oppression. No single bodily action, nor desire is in itself sexual, but becomes so in its historical and cultural context. Plummer said:

The central point really is that there is nothing intrinsically given in sexuality, or we now call them, sexualities. Or gender for that matter. And that children aren't fixed either, nor are men and women fixed. The whole thing is basically a flux which we encode, on which we put whole sets of categorizations in order to regulate lives and control them and our experiences. It allows society to function. 38

Women also are punished for stepping over the boundaries of permitted sexual behavior, but their deviant sexual activities are less well recorded and taken less seriously than is the case with men. Lesbian acts, for example, are not so frequently reported, and thus not so frequently punished, as male homosexual behavior. Because of its greater invisibility, part of the sexual behavior of women remains undescribed, and so it has, to a certain extent, escaped medicalization. The sexual activities of women with children have for this reason also remained hidden. We can argue that, at least in the popular mind, female paedophilia does not exist.

This is more of an advantage than a disadvantage. On the one hand little is known about sex and the erotic between women and boys or girls; on the other hand it may obviate the need to deconstruct a dangerous medical stereotype. We certainly do not wish in this Special Issue to create a new category for women who form sexual bonds with minors. We do want to investigate a forgotten aspect of female sexuality, so we decided simply to set down a description of experiences. We offer no presupposed descriptions or definitions.

Women and Sexuality

When examining erotic and sexual experiences between women and minors, the question arises as to the nature of women's sexual behavior and to what extent it differs from men's. There is no simple answer, but we can look at the findings of recent years. Because of the dominant position of male sexuality and associated research (which mostly utilizes male definitions of sexual activity), the experiences of women have been neglected. Women until recently have conformed to the male norm.

This is not surprising. A bit of the inheritance of the Victorian era falls upon female sexuality. Women are still somewhat burdened with the 19th Century image of the “pure” woman who has no sexual needs. Women were thought to be passive, patient; male lust, on the other hand, was insatiable, a natural force which man could not resist. On women fell the thankless task of taming the beast of male lust.

The reward for the “good” woman was male protection. If a woman did not conform to the norms of decency, she was thought dissolute, and if she made a misstep, she “got what she asked for.” The price of “indecency” for women was the risk of sexual violence and rape. 39

Although these 19th century concepts of  “good” and “bad” women seem now rather old fashioned, they are still held, consciously or unconsciously, by many women. Fear of sexual violence is an effective means of denying women their right to sexual self-determination. But what sexual wishes women do have is still rather unclear. They have not yet learned to separate their own sexual needs from those of their (male) partners, let alone formulate them and make them known. If, during the course of making love, one asks one's female partner what she wishes to do, she will often say, “Do what you like — I'll like it too.” Many women are better at saying what they don't want than in revealing what they do want; expressing their own sexual wishes is thought of as shameless or embarrassing.

In the last decades, however, much has happened within the women's movement regarding female sexuality: publications about the clitoral orgasm, sexual experiences, investigations into sexual fantasies, critical evaluations of psychological and sexological research, studies about existing stereotypes, erotic literature and pornography produced by lesbians, female S&M clubs, etc. From both a theoretical and a practical perspective, the search for the grail of female sexuality is in full swing, but the search has not generally produced clear results. The sexuality does not exist for women; what has come to the fore is different preferences and sexual diversity. It can be seen that differences in class, ethnic background, and milieu act to influence the sexual opinions and lives of women, just as they do men.

An increasing amount of statistical research is being done. A fairly consistent picture of female sexuality emerges from such investigations. For most (heterosexual) women, sex and love belong together. According to Shere Hite, 83% of women want a kind of sex where they feel emotionally bonded to their partners. 40 This is not surprising in a society which teaches girls from their very early years that a woman who wants pure sex is a slut. The idea that coitus leads directly to orgasm in women has been relegated by modem research to the realm of myth. This means that women can and ought to be open to varied forms of sexual activity, such as masturbation, clitoral stimulation by a partner, and the use of vibrators. But “coming” is not the most important thing. The idea that you may have an orgasm and utilize these techniques to achieve it is in and of itself fine, but orgasm does not mean total satisfaction. According to de Bruijn, one out of five women say that orgasm is the finest thing that happens in love-making; the other four find such factors as intimacy and emotional closeness at least as important. 41 From an investigation by Scheurs of lesbians, it emerged that for them, too, the most important thing was physical and emotional closeness; sexual lust played a lesser role. 42

The image which emerges from these statistical studies confirms something everybody already knew: for many women, sexuality expresses an emotional bond and is not primarily directed towards coitus and orgasm. The sexual feelings of women are directed more towards intimacy and physicality than at orgasm per se.

This research reflects, not surprisingly, the social conditioning of women. Since women carry out many nurturing and caring activities, this colors their sexual feelings as well. We suspect that the steps which women take on the path towards sexual autonomy will have consequences for intimacy and nurturing. Although prediction is risky, the existence of lesbian S&M groups and experiments with female-oriented erotica and pornography point to a growing diversity in women s sexual behavior. We hope that this growth will bring with it the chance for women to expand their sexual feelings beyond the traditional role women have had to play. We might hope that achieving greater freedom for themselves will also lead to greater tolerance towards the sexual behavior of others.

Girls and Romance

Little investigation has been done on girls. Researchers have usually devoted their energy to the broader area of the problems of youth.

In practice, most research is done on boys, boys who are criminal and who behave badly, boys who make trouble for the world about them. For this kind of research there is usually more money made available than for studies of something so ordinary as the normal schoolgirl who, if she is unhappy, just goes and lies down in bed where she disturbs no one, or who refuses to eat as she normally does. Girls have to be heroin prostitutes at the very least, or victims of incest rape, in order to become “interesting.” 43

Romance fills a special place in the experiential world of girls. Between ten and fifteen years of age, girls create a culture of their own, full of crushes and fantasies, played out in their own bedrooms and those of their friends.

When women look back upon their teen years, they remember the hours and days in which they sat in their rooms dreaming; they don't think of that time of their lives as a period of sexual development. To them, their sexual history began when outright sexual contact entered their lives. The disregard of this romantic phase by themselves and by the world around them is related to the problem mentioned above: erotic and sexual experiences of women have always been viewed from the male perspective, from which the differences between men and women are neglected. The sexual development of boys is different from that of girls. The research suggests that, from puberty onwards, boys are usually more sexually oriented; they secretly buy porno magazines, talk about their sexual experiences, and masturbate, alone or with each other. Boys dream and fantasize, too, but the preponderance of their fantasies are unmistakably sexual. Plummen describes the difference in this way:

Girls are led to connect their sexual meanings much more readily to a complex set of relationships and emotions, whereas boys are led into a much more specific concern with the doing of limited acts often divorced from the complexities of emotional life. Boys seem more prone, for instance, to create their own exploratory masturbatory circles, and to develop an interest in pornography and specific fetishistic sex acts. 44

Anatomic differences are important. A boy's sexual arousal is a visible act; the urge is to do something about it. Girls on the other hand can much more easily hide their sexual feelings—and that is what they have been brought up to do. It is very difficult for girls to express their sexuality.

That girls transfer their erotic and sexual feelings to romance must be taken as an important phenomenon in the adolescent world. 45 They experiment with their own appearance and that of their friends, trying on clothes and make-up. They write letters to one another and swoon over teen idols. The dream-world of girls consists of romantic love for horses, boys, pop stars, teachers of both sexes.

Love of horses scores high, for that majestic animal radiates a powerful kind of sensuality. Horses smell nice and it is wonderful to be able to control them. Stables are primarily populated with teenage girls who hang around hour after hour doing odd jobs. It is not surprising that there are impressive numbers of girls' magazines exclusively devoted to horses and ponies, stables, exchanges of pony pins, and posters. There are horse comic books in which the poor but talented horse-loving girl wins over her snobbish contemporaries from a higher social class.

Pop and film stars cause an enormous romantic commotion; girls sit in giggling ecstasy at concerts by New Kids On The Block (NKOTB), George Michael, or Gloria Estefan. One girl wrote about a NKOTB concert, “Then a man from the band stepped up on the podium and I immediately started to cry. I cried for a total of 2 hours and 40 minutes!” 46

Women remember dreaming about or falling in love with their teachers. Tales of adoring one's female gym teacher are common in lesbian circles, but girls who later become heterosexual are likewise prone to fall in love with a woman teacher. In girls' boarding schools in England around the turn of the century it was thought normal for the students to adore their teachers; it was regarded as a kind of rehearsal for dealing with emotions and the erotic, a kind of preparation for the demands marriage would one day make upon them. Being in love with a teacher was openly discussed. The girls gave their beloved teachers little gifts, such as a flower, competed to show the adored one who loved her the most, and studied harder in order to impress her. In Germany, in the girls' movement, pedagogical Eros was used to lead the girls towards a “healthy” (hetero) sexuality.

Nowadays girlhood romance — love for a horse, weeping for hours while a pop idol sings — is not recognized as a way girls define their emotional and sexual feelings. It is a serious oversight to neglect this aspect of their lives and not consider it a subject worthy of sexological research.


We make no plea for erotic and sexual relations between women and minors. We do plead for a realistic appraisal of every form of sexual behavior. Sexual relationships between people are vulnerable; that is certainly true of adult/minor relations which all too often are met with a lack of understanding, even aggression. Every relationship is unique and deserves to be accorded respect.

This is a collection of personal stories and reflective articles. We have tried to investigate the subject from many different points of view. The emphasis is on Western women. The observations of Gloria Weldcer about Surinam Creole culture Is a ground-breaking attempt to describe adult/minor non-Western relationships from a Woman', perspective.

The women whom we have interviewed about their personal experiences came in part from our own circle of acquaintances and partly from those of friends and colleagues. It was not so difficult to find women who had something to say about such relationships; it certainly was difficult to persuade them to give us an interview. Without exception, they would not allow us to use their real names.

The interviews were very tense sessions: all of those being interviewed found it difficult to tell their tales. They were not accustomed to talking about such matters often the interview was the first opportunity they had had to analyze their experiences. By the second or third session they were remembering incidents which they had thought they had forgotten.

We would like to thank those interviewed for their trust in us. Our thanks also goes to the one male and many female writers of the various articles, and for the very fact that they were willing to participate in the creation of this Special Issue.

Without Joseph Geraci, whose idea it was to devote an issue of Paidika to the theme of women and their sexual and erotic relationships with minors, this would never have happened. His patience, tenacity, and constructive criticism were a great support. We would also like to thank the Editor of the Schorer Imprint, Robertine Romeny, for the work she has put into the creation of the Dutch book version. Pattie Slegers has our gratitude for her critical reading of this introduction. Theo van der Meer has stood beside us through thick and thin and deserves very special thanks for so generously making his special knowledge and insight available to us.

This volume does not pretend to be more than a reconnoitering of new terrain. We surely hope it will stimulate discussions about erotic and sexual relations between women and boys or girls. As such, it raises more questions than it provides answers. It is an invitation to further study.

Editors' Note:

Marjan Sax, feminist sex activist, political scientist, and writer, is a co-founder of the Mama Cash Foundation and a member of the governing board of Rode Draad. She has edited with others thefollowing books: Voor zover plaats aan de perstafel, over vrouwen in de dagbladjoumalistiek, and Zand erover? Afscheid en uitvaart naar eigen inzicht.

Sjuul Deckwitz, author and journalist, writes regularly for the Dutch magazines Lust & Gratie and Opzij. Two anthologies of her own work have been published: Niet wachten op ontsparming and De zegenrijke staat van sherry.

Translated by Frank Torey.

Copyright © 1992 by Marjan Sax and Sjuul Deckwitz.


[Start]     [Articles & Essays]