Psychological Adjustment 
Sexual Identity Development  
Reactions and Consent 
The Incest Model: A Procrustean Bed 


Psychological Adjustment

In the current study, ADSRs between gay or bisexual boys and men were examined. Contrary to conventional assumptions, derived in part from the influential incest model, these relations were not associated with damaged self -esteem or sexual identity development. The self -esteem of subjects who experienced ADSRs was as high as those who did not. ADSR subjects were not delayed in achieving a positive sexual identity; to the contrary, in the two samples combined, ADSR subjects actually reached this milestone earlier than did control subjects. 

Given Hershberger and D' Augelli's research (Hershberger and D' Augelli, 1995) on middle-class college-aged gay and bisexual men, which showed that self -esteem and comfort with being gay are strong predictors of mental health, results of the current study imply that ADSRs were not associated with psychological maladjustment. 

This finding is inconsistent with conventional professional and lay views, which reflect the incest model, but is consistent with empirical findings on willing boy-adult sex based on college samples (Rind et at. , 1998). Given that willing ADSRs predominated in the current sample and that the current sample was composed mostly of college students, this consistency is not surprising. 

Sexual Identity Development 

Before gay liberation, professionals frequently expressed concern that man- boy sex was pathogenic, because they believed it was likely to cause boys to become homosexual (Rind, 1998). A number of child abuse researchers and other professionals continue to express this concern (e.g., Bartholow et at., 1994; Mendel, 1995; http://www.narth.com; Urquiza and Capra, 1990), despite well-grounded empirical evidence to the contrary (e.g., Bell et at., 1981). 

Data from the current study are relevant to this continuing debate. Consistent with a growing literature (see Savin-Williams, 1997, for a review), subjects in the current study became aware of their sexual attraction to other males years before puberty on average- in the case of ADSR subjects, 3.5 years before. All but one ADSR subject became aware of these attractions prior to having their first ADSR. Three quarters of these subjects labeled their attractions as "gay" or "homosexual" before their ADSR, whereas another 16% labeled their attractions at the same age of their ADSR (leaving in doubt for these latter subjects which event occurred first). 

The timeline suggested by these events is, for most of these subjects, as follows: becoming aware of same-sex attractions, labeling these interests as gay, then experiencing ADSRs. This timeline contradicts the seduction hypothesis. 

Clinical findings of sexual confusion and homophobia among gay and bisexual men who experienced ADSRs (e.g., Dimock, 1988; Myers, 1989) do not extend to the current sample. This is evidenced not only by the positive sexual identity data already discussed, but also by subjects' narratives. Only a few subjects showed adverse reactions (see Appendix for Cases 9, 11, 16, and 19). Two of these subjects explicitly commented that their ADSR made it difficult to accept their homosexuality (Cases 11 and 16). Importantly, these cases constituted a small minority. The vast majority of narratives provide no evidence of harm to sexual identity formation. Contrary to stereotypes of harm, Savin-Williams (1997) concluded from his interviews that many of the ADSRs helped "the adolescent more readily identify as gay, feel better being gay, and learn much about himself"

Reactions and Consent 

The incest model offers the image of a frightened child, powerless to resist, coerced into a traumatizing sex act. This image fits some case studies presented in clinical research on gay boys' ADSRs (e.g., Myers, 1989), but does not fit the typical ADSR in the current sample. To be sure, several cases were quite negative (Cases 9, 11, 16, and 19). In three of these cases, however, the narratives indicate that the circumstances were important in affecting subjects' reactions. One subject initially felt accomplishment in having experienced the sex, but later felt the circumstances cheapened the event (Case 11). Another felt the sex was unclean because it was anonymous (Case 16), and the third one felt unclean about sex in a cemetery with a stranger to whom he was not attracted (Case 19). 

It was positive and very positive reactions that predominated (77% of the cases ). These narratives are reminiscent of those found in other nonclinical research on gay youths' sexual experiences (e. g., Jay and Young, 1977; Spada, 1979) and in cross-cultural research (Williams, 1996). 

One 12-year-old said he "practically had to force sex" on the man, which he thought was great when if finally occurred (Case 1). Another 12-year-old thought the sex was physically great, fell in love with the man, and continued the relationship for 10 years (Case 2). A 13-year-old, who had a sexual relationship with his adult brother, said he liked it and wanted to do it again and again (Case 3). Another 13-year-old was glad to have engaged in mutual masturbation with a man he met in a shopping mall, and tried unsuccessfully to meet the man again for a repeat (Case 4). Still another 13-year-old found the sex to be incredibly erotic, a tremendous release, and very pleasurable (Case 5). A 14-year-old felt excitement, love, and affection in his relationship (Case 7). A 16-year-old reacted to his ADSR by asking himself, "Is this what it is? Is this what it is? Do I like it? Do I like it?" He answered with, "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" (Case 14). Another 16-year-old described his ADSR as the best sex he had ever had (Case 15). 

This predominance of positive ADSRs is strongly at odds with the image forwarded by most feminists, child abuse professionals, and media commentators. The boys in these cases were not frightened, powerless to resist, or coerced into traumatizing sex acts. Instead, the vast majority either mutually consented to the relations or actually initiated them. In contrast to the clinical and clinic-based samples discussed previously, force and coercion played no role in the current  sample, the boys were not involved in ADSRs before puberty, and incest was rare (just one case -- Case 3 was brother-brother incest). These differences in coercion, childhood versus adolescent contacts, and incest may reflect differences in socioeconomic status and family stability, which were both more favorable In the current sample.

Noteworthy is the finding that age difference, the sine qua non of the power abuse perspective, was not associated with type of reaction and was positively rather than negatively, associated with level of consent. The boys were more willing to be sexually involved as the difference in ages between them and the men increased. Moreover, the younger boys (aged 12-14) did not react more negatively than the older ones-to the contrary, they all reacted positively. This contradicts the conventional wisdom that younger participants would be vulnerable to negative outcomes because they are too naive sexually. Contrary to this presumption of naiveté or "innocence," however, almost every boy in the current sample had already become aware of his sexual attractions to other males prior to his ADSR. Additionally, these sexual attractions, whether felt by boys who experienced ADSRs or not, often involved significantly older males. As Savin-Williams (1997) noted

Those who monopolized their attention were occasionally same-age boys, but were more often older teenagers and adults-male teachers, coaches, cousins, or friends of the family. Public male figures were also sources of fantasies -- Superman, Scott Baio, Duran Duran, John Ritter, Bobby Ewing, and Hulk Hogan. Others turned pages in magazines and catalogs to find male models in various stages of undress; especially popular were underwear advertisements (p. 24).

Savin-Williams (1997) provided several examples of these early age-discrepant attractions. One subject remembered his kindergarten naps: "Dreams of naked men and curious about them. Really wanting to look at them" (p. 21). Another subject at age 7 shared a room one night with a 21-year-old athlete, who was nude in his sleeping bag. The subject commented: "... I kept wondering ... I just knew I wanted to get in with him ... I didn't sleep the whole night" (p. 24 ). Still another remembered: "As a child I knew I was attracted to males. I was caught ... looking at nude photographs of men ...[I] enjoyed my keen curiosity to see male bodies" (p. 26). Rather than seeing older males as a threat to abuse them, these boys often regarded them with "excitement, euphoria, mystery" (p. 24 ).

This favorable predisposition may account for the receptivity, and hence generally positive reactions, to the ADSRs that occurred in this sample. It also suggests that the reports of positive ADSRs were generally valid, rather than artifacts of psychological or social pressure to present their homosexual history in a favorable light.

The Incest Model: A Procrustean Bed

The discrepancy between findings in the current study and expectations based on the incest model is so great as to warrant further consideration.

Summit (1983) wrote an influential paper based on clinical incest cases, in which he described the  "child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome." He cautioned that his syndrome "should not be viewed as a procrustean bed which defines and dictates a narrow perception of something as complex as child sexual abuse" (p. 180). Despite this warning, in the very next paragraph, even though his syndrome was built almost entirely on cases of father-daughter incest, he asserted that "male victims are at least as frequent, [and] just as helpless" (p. 180).

This sort of extrapolation has become commonplace since the early 1980s. Sexual phenomena that have only age-discrepancy in common with incest are reshaped in a narrow, rigid manner to fit the demands of the incest model. Media commentators conclude that willing sexual relations between adolescent boys and unrelated men are invariably profoundly damaging (e.g., Philadelphia Inquirer, September 13, 1984, p. 22A). Professionals reject or distort data regarding these relations that are inconsistent with the incest stereotype, reaching instead the obligatory conclusion of pervasive harm (e.g., Bartholow et at., 1994; Masters et at., 1985).

A 1993 case in London, Ontario, illustrates paradigmatically the procrustean influence of the incest model when applied too broadly. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) documented on its premier informational show IDEAS (1994, 1995, 1999) what it termed the biggest sex scandal in North America. About 60 men sexually involved with adolescent boys were arrested in the midst of a "moral, panic ... generated by the police, with the help of therapists and social workers, and ... fueled by the media" (IDEAS, 1994, p. 29).

CBC interviews with the boys indicated that they generally were gay or bisexual, were "sexually active teenagers who were having sex for fun or for profit" (IDEAS, 1994, p. 31 ), engaged willingly, had reached Canada's age of consent of 14 when the sex occurred, and were treated well by the men. For example, one teen commented:

I knew what I was doing. ... I wanted it. ... [I]t's not a recruitment thing, it's not that you 're forced into it. ... [W]hen you're 14 and gay it's as natural to want to be with a man as it is when you're 14 and straight and want to be with a girl ... I was doing it when I was 14. I was picking up the guys. It wasn't them picking me up. And you can't be a victim unless you're forced into something. (IDEAS, 1995, pp. 55,56)

The teens' willing participation and their predominantly positive perceptions of the experience are completely consistent with the findings of the current study, as well as the other nonclinical research reviewed previously. Nevertheless, as the CBC series documented, the London media, social workers, and police treated the affair following the dictates of the incest model, with serious distortion and iatrogenic harm ensuing.

The media consistently and repeatedly exaggerated and misrepresented the affair from the start, presenting it as a child pornography ring victimizing children as young as eight, when in fact almost none of the men knew each other, 95% of the cases did not involve pornography, and teenagers were involved, not young children.

Social workers proceeded from the premise that the relations were coerced and non-consenting -- even though most boys were above the age of consent -- because of a "power differential;" they also tended to believe that men and boys get their "power needs" met through sex. The CBC series documented further that the social workers involved in the cases, were distressed that the boys did not see themselves as victims, and many had a declared agenda to make the boys see themselves as victims. They wrote "victim impact statements" for the courts, in which they interpreted the boys' refusal to talk with them about the sex as a traumatic reaction to the sex itself.

 Finally, the CBC series documented how the police, operating under the premise that the boys were victims and were being "ruined" by the sex, used threats, bribes, deception, and harassment to coerce them into providing state' s evidence. Teens interviewed for the series recounted how the police pressured them to claim in court that they felt victimized when in fact they did not.

The CBC series was critical of the actions taken by the three London institutions just discussed, pointing out examples of harm imposed on the individuals brought "into a system of interrogation and confession and squealing, a system of punishment and therapy, humiliation and incarceration" (IDEAS, 1995, p. 61).

The series presented an interview with a gay spokesman, who argued that "it was the whole criminal proceedings that caused them to feel victimized or caused damage to their lives, not the sex trade" (IDEAS, 1995, p. 57).

Another London commentator opined that the police and social workers should stop treating these teens as if they were "damaged heterosexuals"; the president of a Detroit group organized to protect homosexuals against violence and discrimination added that "they're damaged now because of heterosexuals, in this case the police" (IDEAS, 1995, p. 53). The producer of the series summed up the procrustean influence of the incest model when applied to teenage males involved in willing relations with unrelated adults:

... the modern and useful feminist analysis of the reasons young women suffer in horrible incest cases -- that analysis has been inappropriately used in an attempt to understand an entirely different set of circumstances. A blurring of motives and psychological effects has taken place, which has created a powerful and misleading narrative that produces neither justice nor happiness. (IDEAS, 1999)


Findings in the current study are limited in a number of ways. The sample of gay and bisexual males was mostly middle-class, college-educated, and White. Generalizations to other populations cannot be safely made without further investgation. The ADSRs all involved adolescents rather than preadolescents; inferences to how preadolescents respond to such relationships cannot be safely made without further study. The ADSRs were predominantly of a willing nature; inferences to unwanted relations are thus unwarranted. The control group in the second sample likely consisted of some subjects who experienced ADSRs, rendering inferences about self-esteem and positive sexual identity tentative in that sample. Consistency with the findings in the first sample, however, suggests its value in assessing adjustment. Finally, the mostly positive nature of these ADSRs cannot be assumed to extend to those of heterosexual adolescent boys with men, where reactions are more mixed, tending to be negative to neutral for unexpected or casual encounters and neutral to positive for encounters occurring within the context of a friendship (see Bauserman and Rind, .1997, for a review).

These caveats aside, the current findings are consistent with those of other nonclinical research in demonstrating that adolescent boys' willing sexual experiences with older persons are very poorly described by victimological models (i.e., rape and incest) that evolved in the early 1970s to describe women's and girls' unwanted sexual experiences. Alternative models should be sought that incorporate the consistent finding that adolescent boys generally react neutrally or positively to ADSRs that are willingly engaged in and involve adults of the gender consistent with the adolescent's sexual orientation.