About a boy
Student Magazine (www.critic.co.nz)
of the Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand,
The very word can evoke feelings of disgust and outrage. It ruins young lives,
experts claim; older men who have relationships with boys are scumbags, they
say. Indeed, a large number of such individuals are undeniably scumbags.
However, there is an emerging argument that not all man-boy relationships are
bad. Actually, claim some advocates, “boylove” can be highly beneficial to
Lycurgus, the ancient Spartan ruler, said that no boy could be a good citizen if he hadn’t slept with a man. In fact, he supposedly passed a law requiring all adult men to engage in a relationship with a young boy. Similarly, in ancient Greek, Roman, and Japanese societies, man-boy relationships were uncontroversial and even encouraged.
These days, things have certainly changed. The mere suggestion of age-inappropriate sexual conduct generates hysteria, usually fanned by frenzied reports in the tabloids. Witness the relatively recent Peter Ellis witch-hunt, in which several highly bizarre allegations of paedophilia were accepted in a Court of Law. The recent marches by Destiny Church also demonstrate, perhaps, an undercurrent of sexual intolerance in our society. It’s against this cultural backdrop that I’ll review paedophilia with a completely open mind, suppressing the instinctual reaction to condemn it. Actually, it’s strange that we have such a negative reaction, really, because our society has increasingly encouraged the sexualisation of youth.
a 14-year-old boy who has a relationship with an older man be treated any
differently than actress Anna Nicole Smith, who married a 90-year-old while
she was still in her 20s? Is there something morally wrong here, or is it just
that our society has taught us to uncritically condemn anyone who doesn’t
There’s considerable confusion about what words like “paedophile” and “pederast” actually mean. For instance, a “paedophile” is defined as an adult (over age 16) who has an intense, long-standing sexual attraction towards pre-pubescent children (generally under 13). However, a colloquial definition might involve youngsters over 13, and it is often associated with coercion and rape. Similarly, there is confusion over “pederast.” In some contexts, it means the same thing as “paedophile,” while in others it means a man who is only attracted to older adolescent boys.
To counter all this confusion, many prefer the less clinical term “boylover,” which simply refers to an older male in a consensual relationship with an adolescent male.
not often talked about, such intergenerational desires are actually fairly
common, as far as sexual “perversions” go. Heck, only a few days ago,
another self-described boylover was charged in Dunedin with possession of
child porn (although he pleaded guilty, he denied any wrongdoing). And there
have been plenty of famous paedophiles, including flamboyant musician Gary
Glitter and Nobel prize-winner Carleton Gajdusek. J.M. Barrie (author of Peter
Pan), and Lord Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts) have also been
labelled as boylovers. Oh, and Mohammed, founder of Islam, married a
six-year-old. I’m sure there’s a fucked up justification for that
You may have heard of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA). This controversial organisation, formed in 1978, is the public face of boylovers in the United States. It describes itself as a “civil rights and educational organisation,” and offers a periodical magazine with articles and poetry.
The organisation even has its own website (www.nambla.org [No. Click on the link]), where, amongst other things, you can read a 10,000 word essay on the topic of homosexuality in the Harry Potter books.
You might be surprised to learn that New Zealand has (or, rather, had) an equivalent organisation, the Australasian Man-Boy Love Association (AMBLA). It was chaired by Gerald Moonen, a Dutch immigrant now in his mid-60s, as an advocacy organisation similar to NAMBLA. However, he shut it down voluntarily a few years ago on advice from police. AMBLA always maintained they were
When I made contact with Moonen, he was charming and friendly. He even loaned me some of his rare books, including Theo Sandfort’s Boys on Their Contacts with Men and Dr Edward Brongersma’s Loving Boys. Brongersma’s two-volume work is hefty and authoritative, although one gets the feeling that his frequent “case histories” – there are over 600 of them – sometimes dwell a little too long, and a little too explicitly on some issues. (He was a boylover himself.)
Moonen was reluctant to be formally interviewed – it seems he has had negative experiences with the media in the past, so I can’t blame him – but he did offer Critic a written statement:
Moonen’s views about consent are mirrored consistently amongst boylovers and their supporters. They oppose coercion, and believe that youngsters are capable of giving full consent to a relationship.
Indeed, there is some evidence that consensual relationships can exist. Theo Sandfort offers this interview with a 10-year-old boy involved with an older man (Joop):
At first sight, it seems the relationship is actually consensual and pleasurable. However, there are several significant problems with such testimony. The youngster may be scared to voice resistance, and he may have been “coached” to give the right answers. Furthermore, it’s very difficult for researchers to contact young boys in such relationships, because obviously they are usually kept secret (or at least, not advertised). If contact is made, chances are that it’s with a relatively positive relationship, skewing any conclusions the researchers make.
The objections add up to a simple response: young people below a certain age are vulnerable to manipulation, and lack understanding of what they’re getting into: they are not competent to give consent. This is the basis for age-of-consent laws (currently 16 in New Zealand, although recently there was a short-lived attempt to lower it to 12 in specific circumstances).
Brongersma opposes the age of consent: it is inconsistent, he says, to allow
adolescents to consent to all sorts of other activities (he gives music
lessons and swimming classes as examples), but proscribe sexual activity. It
seems he is on thin ice here. There has to be a point, legally, at which a
youngster is protected – even if it’s set somewhat arbitrarily.
Another obvious objection is that the youngster will be traumatised. In fact, boylovers claim that Man-Boy relationships can be beneficial for all parties. For instance, a 2002 study by New York State University found 41% of children who had a homosexual relationship with an older man later said it “was not abuse”. Of course, that is not a majority, but it is a significant proportion. Furthermore, there were major confounding factors, such as lack of consent, and pain during sex, which influenced the responses. If the adult is careful and compassionate, advocates claim, the relationship can be excellent, or at least harmless.
In fact, in a letter obtained by Critic, Moonen wrote to the National Youth Suicide Prevention team in 1997, strongly implying that allowing man-boy relationships could help reduce youth suicide rates. You never know, there might be something in that.
An issue closely entwined with boylove is the question of child porn – although some would prefer to call it erotic art or other, more neutral terms. As US Judge Potter Stewart said, it is hard to draw a boundary between art and porn, but “I know it when I see it”.
It has been estimated that over 20,000 images of child porn are posted on the internet every week (although it’s really impossible to say with accuracy). They range from the sickeningly explicit to relatively innocent “artistic” nudes. These days, pictures are often shared in secret using internet chat rooms or file sharing networks. However, there are some public websites in operation, such as www.boyhoodparadise.com . The site creator claims, “You will find nothing obscene or pornographic here.” Well, that may be so, but there is something undeniably disturbing about dozens of frontal images of naked, prepubescent boys.
Many of these images may be genuinely innocent. However, others are undoubtedly produced for the sexual gratification of boylovers; they “use” the images to release their sexual tension (that’s a euphemism for wanking over them). This may actually be a good thing, if it prevents paedophiles from taking action to get sexual satisfaction elsewhere. If that’s true – and it certainly seems so – then perhaps possession of some level of child porn should be at least tolerated, if not condoned.
problem is that the production of child porn very often – if not necessarily
– involves the abuse of youngsters. If a child has been harmed in the
production of an image, then any further distribution is complicit in that
crime. There are other solutions, however, that involve no harm to anyone.
Some pornographers have developed sophisticated software to produce realistic,
computer-generated porn that contains no human subjects. Others prefer erotic
art such as sexually themed paintings. Provided people keep the images to
themselves, it’s hard to see who is being harmed. Yet, possession of these
can result in serious jail time (up to 30 years in the US). Where’s the
harm? Why should we care what people do in their own homes, provided it
genuinely hurts no one and doesn’t frighten the horses?
Before researching this article, my gut reaction to the words “paedophile” and “boylover” was revulsion. I can remember when I was a young boy – it wasn’t that long ago – and I know the thought of sex with anyone, let alone an older man, would have scared the living crap out of me. But maybe I had peers who saw things differently; there’s no accounting for taste, even in kids. Certainly, at one end of the spectrum things can be violent, abusive, and horrid. But it’s conceivable there may be another form of intergenerational relationship that isn’t so bad. Maybe, just maybe, there are times when it’s okay.
We should think very carefully about the age of consent. Nobody wants to see babies and toddlers getting a triple donkey punch smackdown (well, not me) but if a sensible young person consents to something, when should we intervene? Where do we draw the line? Is the current age of consent fair and reasonable?
The issue of erotic art is again fraught with difficulties. Explicit child porn should stay illegal, and penalties remain in place. However, erotic paintings, computer generated images and the like should be exempt, provided the users keep to themselves. It might be sick and pathetic, but, as I said, it’s hard to see who is being harmed.
We live in
a free society. People should be free to exchange ideas without fear of
reprisals. For instance, I utterly disagree with holocaust denier David
Irving, but I still think he should be allowed to enter New Zealand. Freedom
of speech means that sometimes we’ll be offended (indeed, the idea of child
porn and “boy-loving” is pretty offensive to me). But some issues are
difficult. They start out looking black-and-white, but when you look closer,
you start to see shades of grey.
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