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Negotiating Stigma: Approaches to Intergenerational Sex

Terry Leahy

PhD thesis presented to the University of New South Wales, 1991.
First published in January 2002 by Books Reborn.

[In Booksreborn:] PDF File 

[In Library 3:]



[Part 1 - Chapter 6 - Conclusions 1] 

[Part 2 - Chapter 10 - Conclusions 2]


Negotiating Stigma: Approaches to Intergenerational Sex deals with the experience of younger parties involved in intergenerational sexual relationships with adults. 

The study is based upon a set of interviews (nineteen in all) with people who, while they were under sixteen, were voluntarily involved in such relationships. They all described relationships that they regarded as positive experiences. Frank and intriguing verbatim material from the interviews provides the background and the basis for the analysis.

The thesis examines the way in which these interviewees validated, explained, and understood their activities in the light of a dominant view that prohibits intergenerational sexual contacts and that casts the younger party as necessarily the victim of sexual abuse by an adult. Presenting their relationships as positive and voluntary experiences, these people could not take up positions as victims of sexual abuse.

How did they interpret what had happened?

A major discovery of the study is that there were a number of ways in which interviewees could minimize the extent to which they had transgressed against the prohibition of intergenerational sex. 

For example, a common claim was that they were not really children; although they were under sixteen years of age, they were in all essential respects adults at the time. Alternatively, interviewees made the point that various aspects of full 'adult' sexuality were not a part of the relationship.

Interviewees were also conscious of the fact that they had transgressed against the prohibition of intergenerational sex, but there were ways in which they directly validated their transgressions. Some claimed a right to sexual expression. Alternatively, interviewees indicated that they had regarded the experience as an adventurous escapade.

I also looked at the way that interviewees understood what they had done in terms of dominant discourses about the family, gender, sexuality, and age categorization. 

For example, female interviewees were aware that intergenerational relationships with adult men are seen as transgressive in terms of dominant views of appropriate femininity. The double standard requires that girls in adolescence should be sexually reticent, taking part in romantic dating relationships as a preparation for marriage. 

The interviewees acknowledged the relevance of these issues, but they indicated quite different approaches to them. 

Some said that their relationships were romantic, that they in fact embodied popular ideals of femininity. 

Other interviewees saw their intergenerational contacts specifically, and their adolescence more generally, as a rejection of dominant ideals of femininity.

There are two major conclusions arising from the study.

The first is that the most common way in which interviewees validate their transgression is to minimize it. 

The second is that the experience of intergenerational sex cannot be disentangled from the way it is positioned within discourses of the family, gender, sexuality, and age categorization.

In reference to the current literature on positive experiences of intergenerational sex, my thesis covers quite new areas and uses a new approach to this topic. All existing studies of positively experienced intergenerational sex deal exclusively with relations between men and boys. To my knowledge, my thesis is the first to additionally describe and consider relations between boys and women, between girls and men, and between girls and women. 

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