Childhood Sexual Experiences: 

Problems and Issues in Studying Long-Range Effects

Allie C. Kilpatrick [* note] 

The Journal of Sex Research Vol,23, No.2, pp.173-196, May, 1987 


Problems in Studying Long-Range Effects 

Definition of Terms 
Child-adult contact 

Sampling Problems 
Lack of control groups 
Small number of cases 
Clinical and offender populations 
Combining age groups 
Combining socio-economic groups 

Measures of Consequences 

Review of the Literature 

Hypothesis 1: 
Childhood Sexual Experiences Inevitably Lead to Long-Term Harmful Effects

Table 1 
Long-Range Effects of Childhood Sexual Experiences 
Table 2 
Studies Supporting Hypothesis 1 by Scientific Criteria

Hypothesis 2: 
Childhood Sexual Experiences Inevitably Lead to Long-Term Neutral Effects

Table 3 
Studies Supporting Hypothesis 2 by Scientific Criteria

Hypothesis 3: 
Childhood Sexual Experiences Inevitably Lead to Long-Term Beneficial Effects


Conclusions and Recommendations 



Existing studies of the long-range consequences of childhood sexual experiences are marred by problems which render many of their findings useless. A review of the literature reveals the methodological problems ~ of the definition of terms, sampling methods, and measures of consequences. 
In this review, scientific criteria are used to evaluate each of 34 studies which attempted to account for long-range effects of childhood sexual experiences. Ten studies were found which met the scientific criteria, The findings of these 10 studies do not support the three different hypotheses that childhood sexual experiences inevitably lead to either long-term harmful effects, neutral effects, or beneficial effects.


Until recently, little emphasis had been placed on the study of long-range effects of childhood sexual experiences. With the current high level of societal interest in incest and sexual abuse of children, it is important that more attention be given to researching the implications of various childhood sexual experiences.

In order to identify problems and issues in the study of long-range effects of childhood sexual experiences, I reviewed 34 research studies which report on or attempt to account for long-range effects. These 34 studies do not constitute a comprehensive review of all studies on childhood sexual experiences. The review is selective in that it only deals with research concerned with the long-range outcome of such experiences. Also, single case reports, and literature reviews, which dealt primarily with offenders, epidemiology , or treatment are not included. Methodological problems in studying long-range effects are presented first, followed by a review and analysis of the literature.

* Note

Allie C, Kilpatrick, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Georgia.
Requests for reprints should be sent to Allie Kilpatrick, PhD, School of Social Work, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 3060, [USA].