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[1] The Research Context: 
[1a] Negative Experiences —The Study of Intergenerational Sex in the Context of Child Abuse 
[1b] Positive Experiences 

[2] The Theoretical Context: 
[2a] Deviance Theory and Pluralism 
[2b] The Impasse in Deviance Studies and the Poststructuralist Position 
[2c] Discourses and Positioning 

[3] The Methodological Context 
[3a - General
[3b] The Validity of Memory and Subjective Accounts of Past Events  

[4] Plan of the Thesis 


This is a thesis about intergenerational sex and the experiences of those who were the younger party in a voluntary intergenerational relationship that they identified as a positive experience. 

It is concerned with the ways in which these younger parties responded to their experiences and made sense of them by reference to a variety of discourses. Interviewees referred to dominant discourses that stigmatized their intergenerational experiences, and also made use of dominant discourses to validate these experiences. Some resistant discourses were also employed by interviewees to validate their experiences. 

My empirical data specifically relate to sexual interactions between people under sixteen — the heterosexual age of consent in New South Wales, Australia — and those over sixteen. Any of the usual ways of describing such age groups carry with them a theoretical freight; they take part in one or more discourses about age in the society. 

Different sociological analyses and different ethical positions are inevitably joined to words like 

“adult”, and 
“young person”, 

as well to terms for such relationships such as 

“under-age sex”, 
“child sexual abuse”, and 

In an attempt to construct as neutral a framework as possible to consider these discourses, I will make use of the covering phrase “intergenerational sex”. 

A generation is most usually considered to be a cohort of peers within an age bracket. Consequently, a relationship between a fifty-year-old and a thirty-year- old could be considered “intergenerational”. However, the almost universal use of the term to refer to relationships between someone over the age of consent and someone under that age reflects the social force and reality of the age categories “adult” and “non-adult”. 

More specifically, the data of this study come from nineteen interviews with the younger partners of intergenerational sexual relationships who defined their experiences as positive at the time they were interviewed. All the interviewees also identified themselves as willing participants in these sexual contacts. 

The study has two main aims. 
One is 

to review the empirical data, particularly from the standpoint of some of the insights and meta-theoretical concepts of poststructuralist writing. 

This form of analysis will be adopted to come to some conclusions about the ways in which social actors validate and make sense of transgressions against significant and dominant discourses. 

The study is also contextualized within another meta-theoretical perspective — that of symbolic interactionist writings on deviance and social stigma. Accordingly, the study considers the ways in which the interviewees negotiated the stigma associated with their involvement in these socially prohibited and stigmatized sexual contacts. 

In each section of the thesis, I review the dominant social discourses that stigmatize these sexual experiences and I examine the ways in which the interviewees negotiated these stigmatizing discourses. 

A second aim of the thesis is 

to uncover and consider a range of social discourses that bear on the issue of intergenerational sex. 

In examining the interview data, it became apparent that experiences of intergenerational sex are positioned in reference to a great variety of dominant and marginalized discourses. It is possible to consider the extent to which the positive experiences of the interviewees can be understood in terms of their location in reference to dominant and resistant discourses concerning the family, age, gender, and sexuality. 

The thesis argues that these experiences are not well conceptualized as random and aberrant, as examples of pathologically deviant behavior. They can be much better understood in terms of their consistency with popular discourses of gender, sexuality, age, and the family, 

whether these discourses are dominant and hegemonic 
(e.g. emphasized femininity, hegemonic masculinity) 
or resistant 
(e.g. feminism, homosexual identity). 

The material has been divided into two parts in reference to the stigmatizing discourses that provide the framework for the analysis. 

In the first part, Negotiating the Prohibition on Intergenerational Sex, I look at the ways in which interviewees negotiate the dominant discourse on intergenerational sex — the discourse that characterizes all such contacts as an abuse of the younger party. 

In the second part of the thesis, Approaches to Intergenerational Sex, I argue that various other discourses are also implicated in the prohibition of intergenerational sex. I suggest that dominant discourses concerning the family and gender also imply prohibitions on specific types of intergenerational relationships. 

I am specifically interested in 

the extent to which interviewees took note of these stigmatizing discourses, 
the ways in which they negotiated these discourses, and 
the alternative discourses through which they validated their participation in intergenerational sexual contacts.

Interviews were semi-structured and recorded on audiotape. As I shall indicate, this approach is appropriate in the context of research that deals with a new field of sociological investigation, and in which it is important that interviewees felt free to direct the discussion to areas with which they were particularly concerned. 

The sample was obtained by a snowballing technique in which initial interviewees were acquaintances of the researchers and further interviewees were obtained through other referrals from acquaintances. The people who were interviewed were aware that the research concerned positively experienced intergenerational relationships, and volunteered their interviews in that context. 

One interviewee was included in the study through placing an advertisement in a gay newspaper calling for people who were willing to speak to us about sexual experiences with adults that they had had when they were under the age of sixteen. 

This strategy turned out to be particularly useful since the interviewee, Arnold, was much older than the other interviewees. 

Ten of the interviewees were women. At the time when they were interviewed, they ranged in age from sixteen to the early forties, with most being in their late twenties. 

The positive experiences they describe involved relationships that occurred between the ages of eight and sixteen, and the adult parties that are described ranged between seventeen years old and forty-eight years old. 

Eight of these interviewees talk about relationships with men, and 
three of them talk about relationships with women. 
One had had relationships with both a man and a woman. 

The nine male interviewees ranged in age between ten years old and more than fifty years old at the time they were interviewed. At the time of the positive experiences they describe, they were between eight and sixteen years old. The adults referred to were between twenty and fifty years old. All but one of the male interviewees described sexual contacts and relationships with men. 

At the time they were interviewed, most of the interviewees (thirteen cases) were in occupations that would usually be characterized as middle-class. For example, one interviewee was a teacher, another worked as an executive for a Government body concerned with the Arts, another was a Research Officer in a Science Faculty at a University, one was a single parent with part time work as a Health Educator, several were self-employed in small businesses, and several were tertiary students. Six of the interviewees were in social positions normally characterized as working-class. 

For example, one was an unemployed resident at a youth refuge, one was living at home with a father who was a factory worker, one was a hairdresser, one was training to become a plumber, one was employed as a shop assistant. 

Of the interviewees whose occupations were middle-class at the time when they were interviewed, nine had had parents whose occupations were also middle-class at the time when their intergenerational sexual contacts had occurred. 

For example, the parents of one person were both dentists, another’s father was a shop owner while his mother had no paid work, the father of another was a mining engineer, and so on. Four of these middle-class interviewees had parents who would have been classified working-class at the time when the relevant events occurred. The father of one interviewee was a traveling salesperson and her mother was not a paid employee, the father of another was a house painter and the mother worked part time as a shop assistant, another was living with his widowed mother who was employed as a nurse’s aide, the father of another was a gardener. 

All the interviewees whose occupations were working-class when they were interviewed also had parents whose occupations fit the classification of working-class. 

For example, the father of one interviewee was mostly unemployed and his mother worked as a cleaner; the mother of another interviewee was unemployed and living on sickness benefits as a single parent. 

Two researchers, myself and one other person, conducted the interviews. The interviewees and others referred to in the interviews have been given pseudonyms to protect their anonymity, and some other details have been altered for the same reason. 

This introduction, which sets the scene for the following discussion of the ways in which interviewees negotiated discourses relating to intergenerational sex, has four [main] sections

[1] In the first, I shall examine the research context within which this study can be located. I describe and consider the existing sociological literature on the topic of intergenerational sex, both in terms of research into negative experiences, and in terms of research that deals with the issue of positive experiences. 
[2] In the second section, I consider the theoretical context, looking first at interactionist and Marxist approaches to the topic of “deviance” and stigmatization, and second at insights and concepts that may be drawn from poststructuralist writings to deal with such issues. 
[3] The third section of the introduction considers the methodological context of the study and some of the advantages and disadvantages of a small-scale interview study of this type. 
[4] Finally, I present a plan of the topics that are covered in rest of this thesis.

[1] The Research Context: 

[1a] Negative Experiences —The Study of Intergenerational Sex in the Context of Child Abuse 

Existing sociological research on intergenerational sex falls into two broad areas. 

[1] There is a small body of research that deals with voluntary relationships and with instances of intergenerational sex that were experienced positively by the younger parties. This will be considered in the next section of the introduction. 
[2] However, most research on the topic can be said to take the sexual abuse of children as its topic of concern.

This literature [# 2] treats all cases of intergenerational sex as the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and adolescents. 

When this literature takes note of positive experiences, these are also argued to be instances of abuse and exploitation 

(for example, Finkelhor 1984, pp. 16-18). 

The concentration on the issue of sexual abuse also takes another form in this literature. Although positive experiences have been discovered within the anonymous questionnaire research of child abuse 

(Finkelhor 1981, Goldman & Goldman 1988b), 

such experiences are almost never actually described in this literature. 

For example, Finkelhor, who acknowledges that existence of positive experiences is revealed in his survey data, fails to include any concrete examples of positive experiences in his appendix 

(Finkelhor 1981, pp. 185-214) 

or, for that matter, anywhere else in either that or his next study

(Finkelhor 1984). 

The effect is to suggest that the positive experiences revealed in the survey are of little importance in understanding the topic. 

Within other studies based on interviews, written biographical accounts, or phone-in surveys, the same picture is drawn. 

All these studies claim to give 

an overview of the topic of intergenerational sex as a whole 
(Bass & Thornton 1983; Rush 1980; Ward 1984), 
or, in some cases, narrow the field to the topic of incestuous intergenerational sex 
(Armstrong 1979; Cronshaw, Low, Rozensteins & Clarkin 1980; Herman & Hirschman 1981).

However, only four cases of positively experienced intergenerational sex are mentioned in this whole literature, and all four cases are dismissed as inauthentic in some way 

(Rush 1980, pp. 176-181; Armstrong 1979, pp. 132- 157; Cronshaw, Low, Rozensteins & Clarkin 1980, pp. 42-43). 

This literature is, therefore, almost exclusively concerned with describing and understanding negative experiences. Although the survey data suggest that experiences of intergenerational sex are mixed (see the next section of this introduction), this is not the picture drawn in those studies. 

Consequently, within the framework set by this thesis — a study of positive experiences — this abuse literature is best seen as research into negatively experienced intergenerational sex. 

The following review will describe some of the findings of this literature from that point of view, and will consider what I take to be some of its limitations. I shall also be concerned to consider what this literature may indicate about positive experiences, and some of the important contrasts between positive experiences of the kind revealed in my study and the negative experiences revealed in the abuse literature. 

The interview studies within this literature indicate that in almost all cases the younger parties were unwilling participants. The interviewees describe experiences that were felt to be negative at the time they occurred. 

Although it is perfectly possible that someone might be willingly involved, have a good or ambivalent experience, and later come to the conclusion that they were abused, almost none of the interviewees described in this literature give accounts of that type. 

They almost universally report that they were not willingly involved at the time, and had experienced these events as an abuse. At the very most, some of them acquiesced without making it blatantly obvious that they were unwilling. 

In almost all cases, the adults involved must have been perfectly aware that the younger parties were not willing. In the few cases where apparent acquiescence did not indicate willingness, it is fair to say that the adults involved did not try too hard to find out the true feelings of the younger party. 

(For interview case study examples, see Armstrong 1979; Bass & Thornton 1983; Cronshaw, Low, Rozensteins & Clarkin 1980; Herman & Hirschman 1981; Nava 1984; Rush 1980; Ward 1984.)

If the events described in these interviews had happened to adults, they would unhesitatingly have been described as rapes . That these events were experienced as very damaging to self-confidence and esteem, and as a breach of trust when the adult was a known friend or family member, is surely related to this fact. 

Within this literature, the attempt to prove that intergenerational sex is necessarily an abuse leads to a certain amount of neglect of this obvious point. 

For example, in Finkelhor’s questionnaire study (1981), which is quite comprehensive on a great range of relevant data, the question of whether the participants were willing parties is never asked. Although he correlates the degree of trauma with a great range of other factors, his data allow him no way to correlate trauma with unwillingness 

(see also the discussion of Russell 1984 later in this chapter). 

In most of the interview studies, the lack of willingness is either revealed in the descriptions or assumed to characterize intergenerational sex in general — but it is rarely called into account as an independent factor in understanding the origins of the trauma that the interviews describe. 

This failure to look at unwillingness as a key cause of the negative experiences that these studies describe is related to the ethical argument that is central to the studies. 

When Ward argues that intergenerational sex is in fact  “Father-Daughter Rape”, she maintains that the use of a child’s body by an adult is always rape because of the difference of power between the two parties. The ambiguity of this approach is revealed in the following passage: 

I use ‘rape’ because I believe that the sexual use of a child’s body/being is the same as the phenomenon of adult rape. Terms like ‘sexual abuse’, ‘molestation’ and ‘interference’ are diminutions of ‘rape’: they imply that something less than rape occurred. 
In the process of counseling hundreds of victims of father rape, the Sydney Rape Crisis Centre found that the women (of all ages) universally described the experience as ‘feeling like rape’, no matter what specific form the abuse took. The same is true of the victims with whom I talked. (Ward 1984, p. 79) 

What this passage does is firstly to equate “rape” with the mere fact of a sexual connection between an adult and a child. Any “use” of a child’s body by an adult is rape. In terms of that definition, all the positive experiences described in this thesis are also rapes. 

To convey something more than this bald definition, Ward indicates that the women she spoke to described the experience as “feeling like rape”. Why this might be so is left unsaid. In fact, there is ample evidence in this and the other interview studies to indicate that these experiences were felt to be “like rape” because they were rapes in the narrowest and most conventional sense of the term — they were unwanted sexual contacts. 

In other parts of her study, Ward makes this quite apparent, and she describes this unwillingness in detail. However, here, instead of coming out and saying this directly, Ward is reduced to creating this impression indirectly. This may be because she does not want to allow a space in her conceptual framework for intergenerational sexual contacts that are not experienced as rapes. 

In fact, although all intergenerational sexual contacts involve the “use” of a child’s body, they are not all unwanted. What is sacrificed in Ward’s maneuver is a clear sense of the actual nature of negative experiences. 

(For a similar critique, see Califia 1981, pp. 137- 138.) 

All of these studies take the issue of informed consent as crucial in understanding why it is that intergenerational sex is harmful and necessarily so. 

It is the fact that a child cannot give or withhold consent freely that makes all intergenerational sex harmful. The paradigm case for this position is the child who appears to consent, but is really overawed by the power and influence of the adult 

(Finkelhor 1981, p. 51; Nava 1984, p. 90). 

[Consent and  willingness]

In other words, they consent — in fact, they acquiesce — but they are not willing. Their apparent consent is not real

Although Phil cared for Mr Smith and was grateful to him for his support and interest … he insisted that he had not wanted to have sex. However he had agreed to it finally because he had not wanted to jeopardize the friendship … (Nava 1984, p. 90).

However, the argument on informed consent goes further than this. It also applies to younger parties who really are willing and give consent. Here their consent is taken as invalid because the power of the adult creates a context of choice in which they are not free to make an independent decision: 

In this case, the child found the activity unpleasant. But even if she had enjoyed it, it is still impossible to see how she could have truly consented to sexual activity with such a powerful authority in her life [her uncle].

(Finkelhor 1981, p. 51; see also for example Herman & Hirschman 1981, p. 27; Nava 1984, p. 102)

Given the fact that this argument constitutes a central part of the case for the prohibition of intergenerational sex, it is of course relevant to the experience of my interviewees, and it will be considered in more detail later in the thesis. 

The political issues raised by this argument are also crucial, and they will be considered subsequently in the thesis. 

Here, to begin this discussion, I want to look at the effect that this centrality has on discussions of negative experiences. 

Firstly, as indicated above, it leads to a lack of clarity about the extent to which negative experiences of intergenerational sex occur in the context of rape in its most explicit definition as unwanted sexual contact. If intergenerational sex is always and necessarily “rape”, the actual question of willingness is not given sufficient weight in an understanding of the nature of negative experiences. 

Secondly, there comes to be confusion between the moral issue of consent and causal explanations of negative experiences. 

In looking at the latter, it can be reasonably argued that the strategic relationship between an adult and a child in a particular context is of the greatest importance in understanding how negative experiences occur. 

For example, within modern patriarchy, fathers and stepfathers have an important monopoly of adult power over children in their families. This means that if they are disposed to harm their child, they are well placed to do so 

(Herman & Hirschman 1981, p. 4; Ward 1984, p. 95. 
See also accounts from this study; Part 1, Chapter 1, and Part 2, Chapter 4). 

Explanations of this kind are a key part of any understanding of how it is that sexual abuse of children occurs. In other words, they have an essential role in the causal explanation of negative experiences. 

However, within the abuse literature, the strategic relationship between the adult and the child is also called upon to serve another function within the account. As I have indicated, the central moral argument of this literature is framed in terms of the issue of consent

Because an adult has more power than a child, it is argued, the child cannot freely give consent to a sexual relationship with an adult. Even if there is a genuine willingness and a declaration of willingness, there is no valid consent. The inequality of power between the two parties constitutes the relationship as an exploitation of the younger party regardless of any other consideration

In this argument, the same fact that is a central part of the causal explanation of negative experiences becomes also a central part of the moral claim that all intergenerational experiences are abusive. It becomes difficult to separate out this moral issue from the causal explanation that revolves around the same point. The causal explanation of negative experiences in terms of the strategic power of the adult comes to serve as evidence for the moral claim that all intergenerational experiences are necessarily harmful. 

In fact, these two references to the power of adults in intergenerational relationships can be seen as quite separate issues. My view is that a particular position of strategic advantage allows an adult to harm a child; it makes this possible. This is how negative experiences of intergenerational sex can (and do) occur. 

However, the harm itself comes from a constellation of other factors — 

the experience of rape, 
the breach of trust, 
the breakdown of other supportive family relationships, 
the experience of stigma associated with incestuous abuse,
and so on. 

I have indicated that the central moral position of this literature on intergenerational sex revolves around two points. 

First, it is claimed that intergenerational sex is necessarily harmful, and that it always constitutes an abuse of the younger party. 

Secondly, this position is defended by arguing that the inequality of power between an adult and a child means that a child cannot give valid consent to a relationship with an adult.

Given the very clear evidence of the extent of harmful experiences of intergenerational sex, it is understandable that writers on this topic have looked to moral arguments that condemn intergenerational sex in all cases. At least it would seem that these positions might serve to protect young people from the real danger of sexual abuse by adults. It may well be believed that any dilution of this moral position might merely serve as an ideological prop for adults who seek to abuse children. 

Nevertheless, I suggest that this moral argument actually places fetters on the clear understanding of the nature of negative experiences. 

In what follows, I will summarize what I take to be some of the most important findings of this research into child sexual abuse. 

Intergenerational sex is a lot more common than people had thought prior to Finkelhor’s 1981 publication and prior to the feminist exposure of child sexual abuse (Rush 1980), although in fact there had been many previous studies that had come to similar conclusions 

(Herman & Hirschman 1981, p. 12). 

Finkelhor’s detailed survey found that 

19% of his adult sample of women had experienced “sexual victimization” (Finkelhor’s term) by an adult by the age of 16. 
Of the men in his sample, 8.6% had had such an experience (Finkelhor 1981, p. 53). 

The proportions of positive experiences in the male and female samples were quite different. 

Nine per cent of the women’s intergenerational experiences were reported as positive as compared to 
19% of the men’s 
(Finkelhor 1981, p. 52). 
There was a gray area within which experiences were reported as neutral. 

Outside of this gray area, 

66% of women reported their experiences as negative compared with 
38% of the men (Finkelhor 1981, p. 70). 

In other words, fully 62% of his male sample had had a positive or neutral experience. 

In Finkelhor’s sample, 

only 6% of the adult parties were women when girls were involved, 
but the figure increased to 16% for boys 
(Finkelhor 1981, p. 78). 

The central conclusion that can be drawn from Finkelhor’s study is that most negative intergenerational experiences involve sex between adult men and girls. 

Russell’s more recent study (1984) deals only with women, and only includes unwanted sexual contacts, except in the case of incest (see below). 

The methodology is superior to Finkelhor’s in that anonymous interviews were conducted with a random sample of women, whereas Finkelhor’s study is based on questionnaires handed out to tertiary students. 

Russell found even higher proportions of intergenerational sex involving girls than Finkelhor, although the figures are hard to compare because she included all experiences to the age of 18. 

Looking at what these surveys reveal about the sexual abuse of girls, it is apparent that a feminist explanation relating sexual abuse to patriarchy in modern society fits the data well

 (Armstrong 1979; Bass & Thornton 1983; Cronshaw, Low, Rozensteins & Clarkin 1980; Herman & Hirschman 1981; Rush 1980; Ward 1984). 

Men’s power over women within patriarchy is rationalized and enabled by a widespread misogyny. This makes it possible for men to abuse women and girls without concern for the damage they do 

(Ward 1984, p. 81; Herman & Hirschman 1981, pp. 55-57). 

Rape of girls within the family occurs as a type of sexual ownership of women, and the threat and reality of rape outside the family contributes to the imprisonment of women within patriarchal family structures 

(Ward 1984, pp. 5, 81, 87-88, 94, 97; Herman & Hirschman 1981, pp. 59-63). 

The sexual interest that most men take in adolescent girls or in younger women can be seen as having its point of social origin in an attempt to construct sexual relationships in which there is no danger of a challenge to male power through the authority and wisdom possessed by a female peer

(Ward 1984, p. 177; Herman & Hirschman 1981, p. 56). 

Within this thesis, I will be arguing that this sexual cathexis does not necessarily and inevitably cause trouble for the younger women and girls that are the objects of such desire. However, it is the combination of this sexual cathexis with misogyny and patriarchal ownership of girls within kinship structures that is revealed within the abuse literature. 

The rape of girls differs in some significant ways from rape of adult women in its social distribution. Most adults who rape girls are known to their victims as friends or relatives. 

Finkelhor found that 76% of the older parties who had had sexual experiences with girls were known to the girls. This compares with 67% of the men involved in rape of adult women (recent UK study—Lumby 1991). Forty-three per cent of adult males involved with girls were family members (Finkelhor 1981, p. 73). 

This differs substantially from the figures for rapes of adult women. Family members committed only 11% of the rapes of adult women reported in Lumby’s UK study (1991). 

The finding that a large proportion of family members are involved in child sexual abuse supports the feminist emphasis on the powerlessness of girls within family structures. 

However, Finkelhor’s research also suggests that fathers and stepfathers are in a small minority — 1% of the women in his sample had experienced incestuous abuse of this type (Finkelhor 1981, p. 88). 

Looking at these figures in the light of the positive experiences revealed in this study, it is possible to suggest that positive experiences are much more likely to involve adults who are not family members. Within the nineteen positive experiences described in this study, only two were with family members, and both of these were with uncles. 

The degree of trauma experienced by the younger party was found by Finkelhor to be proportional to 

the age difference between the parties 
(the more age difference, the more trauma), 
the absolute age of the younger party 
(younger children suffered more trauma), and 
the closeness of family ties 
(father-daughter incest was by far the most traumatic) 
(Finkelhor 1981, pp. 98-102). 
The factor that correlated most closely with trauma was the use of force by the adult partner (Finkelhor 1981, pp. 104). 

Since no questions were asked about the willingness of younger parties, one can only speculate about whether these statistics reflect a patterned distribution of willing and unwilling relationships. Certainly the presence of force is a key indication of unwillingness. 

It may also be that girls are more likely to be willingly involved with someone outside of their family, and hence more likely to report a less traumatic or positive experience in that context. 

It may be that adult men are most likely to commit rape on girls who are vulnerable because of being placed under their control within family networks. 

In either case, these patterns would tie together particular types of relationship and degrees of trauma through a mediating link in the willingness or unwillingness of the younger party. 

The interview data of the feminist studies of child abuse also provide information on these issues. 

The great majority of these interview data concern fathers and stepfathers and, to a lesser extent, other male relatives. Episodes involving acquaintances outside the family or involving strangers are much more rare. 

In comparison with the survey data, the interview material is skewed in the direction of close family relationships. This makes sense in terms of Finkelhor’s correlations of degrees of trauma and family ties. 

The interview data represent narratives that were volunteered by women in the context of feminist concerns about child sexual abuse. The interviews are most likely to have come from women who felt seriously traumatized by these events and who, before this, felt unable to discuss their experiences with other people. The distribution of interview narratives suggests that such people are primarily the victims of incestuous abuse. 

Ward’s and Herman and Hirschman’s analyses give convincing explanations of the traumatizing effects of these incidents. The adult family member betrays the daughter. The dominant discourse of the family points to these men as the ones who are expected to protect the daughter from the harm which can come from outside the family 

(Ward 1984, pp. 83, 97, 143). 

The sense of betrayal, together with the experience of rape, creates the injury 

(Ward 1984, pp. 149-161; Herman & Hirschman 1981, p. 99). 

This is compounded by the way these events interfere with relationships between daughters and their mothers. Herman and Hirschman and Ward refer to two patterns. 

[1] Daughters may feel they have been let down by mothers who were not able to effectively protect them from sexual abuse. Their expectation of being able to go to their mother for emotional support is undermined in this context. However inappropriately, they may blame their mother 

(Ward 1984, pp. 161, 179; Herman & Hirschman 1981, pp. 88-89). 

[2] Alternatively, they can have an uncomfortable sense of being placed in the position of a rival to their own mother and come to feel contempt on account of her failure as a wife 

(Herman and Hirschman 1981, pp. 80-83). 

These explanations indicate that the harmfulness of the experiences that are described in these studies can be understood without resorting to a moral position in which intergenerational sex is harmful merely on account of the power and position of the adult as an adult. 

Feminist analysis of child sexual abuse examines events that have been most frequently conceptualized in terms of a medical model of deviance and pathology. 

For example, a recent Sydney Morning Herald piece on child abuse was entitled “The Mind of a Molester” (Juan 1988). Rejecting the sort of explanations such a title implies, feminist analysis suggests that child sexual abuse is best understood in terms of quite dominant and indeed hegemonic aspects of the construction of the family and sexuality within modern patriarchy. 

My thesis attempts to extend and complement this approach through the study of positive experiences. I have been interested to look at the ways in which interviewees validated their experiences within common and popular discourses of gender, sexuality, and age categorization. I also consider the extent to which they conceived their transgressions as transgressions against dominant discourses of gender and the family. 

[1b] Positive Experiences 

Having looked at the relevant studies in terms of the way that they analyze negative experiences, it is pertinent to consider these studies in terms of the information that they provide in reference to positive experiences. 

Following this, I shall consider other sociological studies that directly address the issue of positive experiences. Two of the questionnaire surveys of intergenerational sex are a good point to start considering what we do and do not know about the extent of positive experiences of intergenerational sex.

Finkelhor’s 1979 study 

is the major attempt to document the ratio between positive and negative experiences for both boys and girls. 

(For a similar study, see Goldman & Goldman 1988b.) 

The difficulty in taking his results at face value is that his questionnaire has the effect of excluding many voluntary experiences from his data. However, this is never acknowledged when he considers the ratio between positive and negative experiences or, for that matter, when other writers use his data in this way 

(e.g. Herman & Hirschman 1981, pp. 28, 33, 263). 

The following analysis of his data only becomes available through a careful reading of the questionnaire that he places in the appendix. 

Concerning experiences before the age of 12, Finkelhor asked his respondents to describe sexual experiences with an adult (over 16) including strangers, friends, or family members (Finkelhor 1981, p. 172). In other words, sexual contacts with an adult of any type are included. 

Concerning experiences after the age of 12, he asked his respondents to describe experiences with family members or relatives. He also asked them to include experiences with guardians or close friends of their parents (Finkelhor 1981, p. 175). 

This form of question is designed to include in his data all cases of incestuous and near incestuous experiences, both where the younger parties were willing and where they were unwilling.

What are left out are contacts after the age of 12 with adults who were not friends of the parents and who were primarily acquaintances of the child. However, it turns out that these contacts were included if they were unwilling experiences. 

The final question that is used to find out whether the respondent experienced sexual contacts with an adult is as follows: 

Finally, we would like you to think of any sexual experience that occurred to you after the age of 12 , which you did not consent to. That is, a sexual experience which was forced on you, or done against your will, or which you didn’t want to happen. (Finkelhor 1981, p. 177) 

So there is nothing in Finkelhor’s questionnaire that asks respondents to mention intergenerational sexual contacts that they were voluntarily involved in after the age of 12 years old, unless they were with family members or close friends of parents. 

However, it seems likely that most voluntary and positively experienced intergenerational sexual contacts occur after 12 and with people outside the family circle. This is definitely suggested by my study. 

One can envisage a number of reasons why this might be the case. Younger children are more thoroughly supervised by their parents. The prohibition on intergenerational sex is much more marked the younger the age of the child, and this must mean that younger children are less likely to be willing to be involved in such contacts with adults. More could be said on this topic but relevant points are made elsewhere in the thesis. 

The effect of the form of Finkelhor’s questionnaire is to seriously compromise all of his statistics that involve a comparison of positive and negative experiences of intergenerational sex. 

In other words, Finkelhor’s total sample of intergenerational incidents is interrogated in terms of the question, “What percentage were positive experiences?” But in collecting this sample, he had already excluded what must be a very large number of the positive experiences in which members of his research population were involved. 

Another problem in Finkelhor’s study compounds this failing in the questionnaire. It seems highly probable that the nature of the questionnaire situation might itself have led to an under-reporting of positive experiences

As Taylor points out, it is not easy to get people to talk about intergenerational sex in mass anonymous surveys since they do not trust guarantees of confidentiality (Taylor 1981, p. xi). 

I suggest this is a particular problem with Finkelhor’s work since his questionnaires were handed out to students in classes in sociology, psychology, and social work, and were filled in during class time. As he points out, it was considered important that the professors handing out the questionnaire could give it a positive endorsement and show the connection between the questionnaire research and the topics the students were studying at the time (Finkelhor 1981, p. 40). 

One could have some doubts, however, about whether students would really feel sure that their confidentiality would be maintained. More importantly, it is possible that students studying these very same topics — the problem of child sexual abuse and the sociology of the family — would have already been exposed to academic endorsement of the view that intergenerational sexual contacts were always abusive to children. 

In the light of this, it is quite feasible that students whose experiences did not fit this framework may not have recalled them in this context, or may not have reported them if they had

(see Part 1, Chapter 4 for relevant information on this point).

Despite these major problems, Finkelhor’s study is still the best available data on the extent of positively experienced intergenerational sex and its ratio to negative experiences. 

As I have indicated, he found that 

nineteen per cent of boys’ intergenerational experiences were positive but only 
nine per cent of girls’ 
(Finkelhor 1981, p. 52). 

The gender difference was also apparent when neutral experiences are added. 

Sixty-two per cent of boys’ experiences were positive or neutral compared with 
34% of girls’ experiences 
(Finkelhor 1981, p. 70). 

Within my study, a very different picture emerges on the issue of gender difference and positive intergenerational sex. This study does not suggest that positive intergenerational sexual experiences mainly occur to boys. The study includes 10 interviews with women/girls and 9 with men/boys. 

Clearly one cannot use 19 interviews to make inferences about the population as a whole. However, it is worth noting that during the data-gathering phase of this study, I found it quite easy to discover cases of positive and voluntary relationships involving girls. Many other cases have come to my notice since. 

Another finding of my study also suggests a reason why Finkelhor’s methodology may have led to the exclusion of most positive experiences involving girls but not worked in the same way in reference to boys

In the case of the women/girls interviewed for this study, all but two of the experiences of positive intergenerational relationships began when the interviewees were 12 or older. The exclusion from Finkelhor’s data of voluntary relationships involving girls “after the age of 12” is, therefore, an important omission.

Moreover, my study found that five out of the nine boys and men that we interviewed had begun these contacts before they were twelve years old. It may well be that in the population at large, the same pattern occurs. If boys who are involved in positive experiences are beginning at a younger age than girls, then a larger number of positive experiences involving boys would be included in Finkelhor’s data. 

Finkelhor’s conclusions about the extent and distribution of positive experiences have been supported by an Australian replication of his study that, unfortunately, also repeats his errors

(Goldman & Goldman 1988b). 

Russell’s study 

is the most recent US attempt to provide survey data on intergenerational sex. 

Unlike Finkelhor, who includes voluntary experiences before 12, Russell avoids the attendant problems in dealing with positive experiences by eliminating such experiences altogether from most of her data. 

Her questions ask the respondents to reveal cases of unwanted sexual contact; for example, they were asked if, before the age of 14, anyone had tried or succeeded in touching their breasts or genitals “against your wishes”. 

Another question asked them if in this period they had had any other “upsetting sexual experiences” (Russell 1984, p. 182). 

In other words, extra-familial child sexual abuse was defined in the study as “unwanted sexual experiences” (Russell 1984, p.180). 

In relationship to family members, Russell decided to include all cases where a family member had had a sexual contact and there was at least a five-year age gap between the parties (Russell 1984, p. 181). 

Accordingly, incestuous intergenerational contacts were defined as exploitive without questioning whether they were wanted or unwanted. 

In one sense, this survey is an improvement on Finkelhor’s in that the exclusion of most voluntary and positive experiences from the data is quite explicit rather than disguised and misrepresented. On the other hand, Russell’s definition of sexual abuse ignores the issue of positively experienced intergenerational sex. 

In addition to the above studies 

that provide information on positive experiences within the context of broader investigations into intergenerational sex, there are also some studies that deal directly with this issue. 

There are three major empirical studies of positively experienced intergenerational sex. All involve relationships between men and boys. 

Rossman (1985) 

accounts for incidences of man-boy sex in terms of two general principles. 

[1] Adolescent delinquent subcultures are composed of boys looking for adult guidance and adult acceptance of their sexuality. This assistance is not forthcoming from sources that are more conventional, and such boys may turn to an adult who is open to sexual contact. Sexual contacts can grow out of sexual banter, sexual discussions, and horseplay

(Rossman 1985, pp. 79-82). 

[2] Secondly, he argues, men and boys have an innate predisposition to man-boy sex which is related to the needs of the adolescent male for guidance in this difficult period (Rossman 1985, p. 17). 

Rossman’s book is based on a huge range of interview data and gives a variety of interesting examples of voluntary man-boy relationships. 

I see the main problem of the book being that the elements of his explanatory framework (adolescence, male sexual desire) are conceived as eternal innate aspects of human growth and sexuality rather than being placed in a specific social context and understood in terms of that context. His approach leads to a false universalism that assimilates the quite different social contexts in which man-boy sex occurs. 

Wilson’s study,

 The Man they Called a Monster (1981), is based on the life of Brisbane pedophile Clarence Osborne. The main point of Wilson’s book is to demonstrate that stereotyped portrayals of pedophiles as monsters do not do justice to the moral complexities of voluntary relationships between men and boys.

Wilson was able to interview a number of Osborne’s sexual contacts (who, by then, were adults), and without exception they spoke positively of their interactions with Osborne. 

Like Rossman, Wilson is keen to indicate that he does not support pedophilic relationships. However, he believes that people need to be made aware that pedophilic relationships are not always experienced negatively. 

In addition, like Rossman he sees the adolescents involved in these relationships as people looking for sexual guidance and emotional support, and not finding it in any of the more conventional adult-child relationships. He lays particular blame on the inadequacy of parents in failing to create meaningful emotional connections with their sons 

(Wilson 1981, pp. 58, 86-88, 130). 

Sandfort’s book (1982) [*] 

[* See also Sandfort 1984 & Sandfort 1987 - Ipce]

is the only major piece of research of this kind that does not explicitly endorse the usual moral objections to pedophilic relationships. 

His study was based on interviews with 25 adolescent boys (11-16 years) involved with adults from a pedophile group in the Netherlands. His careful and often statistical analysis of the interview data deals with issues of willingness and consent in these relationships, and has provided an important source of ideas for this study. 

He explores the feelings of the younger parties about the positive and negative aspects of the sexual contacts. 
He considers the extent to which the younger parties felt that they were under sexual pressure from their adult partners. 
He investigates the feelings of the interviewees about the social stigmatization and prohibition of these types of relationship. 
He shows that the sexual contacts were generally experienced positively despite some of the problems that the study reveals 
(Sandfort 1982, pp. 80-83). 

Sandfort’s study suffers to some extent from his failure to examine any of his interviews in detail in its own right. He provides statistical comparison but does not give any thorough understanding of how and why the relationships he found came about or how the individuals involved experienced them. 

In addition to the interview studies of voluntary man-boy sex, there are a number of works that present a sociological and moral defense of voluntary intergenerational relationships

 (Tsang 1981, O’Carroll 1982). 


Paedophilia: The Radical Case (1982), for example, was written by a member of Britain’s pedophile group, the Paedophile Information Exchange. 

O’Carroll provides a thoughtful and complex discussion of the ethical questions that are relevant to intergenerational sex. His book also includes a number of revealing case studies of positive and voluntary relationships. 

O’Carroll’s book is least satisfactory when he comes to deal with the issue of the effects of intergenerational sexual contacts. In his eagerness to prove that pedophile sex can be morally acceptable, he uncritically accepts studies of the effects of intergenerational sex that are based on abstract psychological questionnaire tests of social adjustment. 

His optimistic conclusions are 

that the absence of force means that most intergenerational sex is consensual 
(O’Carroll 1982, p. 57) 
and that there is rarely any lasting psychological damage from intergenerational sex 
(O’Carroll 1982, p. 64). 

These results may be accurate representations of his sources.

However, as I have indicated, the in-depth interviews presented in the feminist literature on child abuse massively contradict any such reassuring picture. 

Another problem with O’Carroll’s position is the way he defends pedophilia in terms of a model of sexuality as an instinctual urge seeking expression in every person (O’Carroll 1982, p. 93-105). 

He argues for pedophilia in terms of the harm done by childhood sexual repression. 

As I shall argue in later chapters, the concept of an innate sexual urge, breaking free in pedophile relationships and festering with anti-social consequences when it is repressed, is very problematic.

[2] The Theoretical Context: 

[2a] Deviance Theory and Pluralism 

In considering the theoretical context of this thesis, I shall begin by discussing sociological studies of deviance. Following this I shall go on to look at how some persistent issues within these studies can be addressed by making use of insights drawn from poststructuralist approaches to social analysis. 

As I have indicated, a central focus of this study is to understand how the interviewees conceptualized and dealt with their voluntary participation in transgressions against a number of dominant discourses. In this context, a discussion of the existing literature on deviance and stigmatization is of obvious relevance. 

Much recent deviance theory begins with a demolition of an older absolutist position and goes on to espouse a pluralist or relativist position. However, this recognition of pluralism can often be followed up by a partial return to elements of the discredited absolutist position. 

A way out of these problems has been to drop, or at least de-emphasize, the concept of deviance. Instead, dominant ideas that define behavior as deviant are regarded as “hegemonic” and the people who would formerly have been seen as deviants are now regarded as “in resistance” to hegemonic cultural norms. 

It is interactionist-labeling theory that is generally credited with undermining absolutist notions of deviance. 

An important work was Becker’s Outsiders (1966). Criticizing the functionalist theory that sees deviance in analogy to pathology, he argues as follows: 

… it is harder in practice than it appears to be in theory to specify what is functional and what dysfunctional for a society or social group. The question of what the purpose or goal (function) of a group is and, consequently, what things will help or hinder the achievement of that purpose, is very often a political question. Factions within the group disagree and maneuver to have their own definitions of the group’s functions accepted. (Becker 1966, p. 6) 

He goes on to endorse what he refers to as a “more relativistic” theory of deviance. This theory sees deviance as that which conflicts with the rules of a particular group. He also argues that we must look at the ways in which groups actually apply rules in practice. Finally, he points out: 

… a society has many groups, each with its own set of rules, and people belonging to many groups simultaneously. A person may break the rules of one group by the very act of abiding by the rules of another group. (Becker 1966, p. 8) 

This conception of deviance can be aptly tied to a pluralistic conception of modern society according to which society is made up of a “mosaic” (Hills 1980, p. 9) of groups with different interests and values. 

Becker uses it very consistently, arguing, for example, that musicians as a group constitute the rest of the population as deviants to their set of values, as “outsiders” from their perspective. 

Matza (1968) expresses a similar commitment to a pluralist perspective. Although working-class delinquents are deviants within the framework of puritanism and middle-class morality, that framework is but one perspective within American life, and

“no one has documented its continued dominance” (Matza 1968, p. 223). 

Moreover, he argues, these delinquents receive validation from a variety of conventional sources — 

“moral traditions in a pluralistic America” 
(Matza 1968, p. 223). 

Such a consistently relativist conception of deviance and its political mapping of modern societies as “pluralist” has rarely been thoroughly adhered to. Frequently, authors celebrate the achievements of this relativist overturning of absolutism but go on to acknowledge that “society”— taken as a whole — does set down various moral principles and categorize offenders as deviants accordingly. 

For example, Plummer, in an analysis of the stigmatization of homosexuality, begins with a defense of the interactionist model of deviance, but goes on to say that extreme relativism can lead to absurdity. Instead, he suggests: 

… a simple distinction must be made between ‘societal deviance’ and ‘situational deviance’. The former is that conduct described as deviant in the public, abstract and reified value systems which all societies must have — even though individual actors may dissent from them, and even though such systems need not be clear, non-contradictory, or without competition. The latter is that conduct which emerges as deviant in interpersonal encounters. (Plummer 1975, p. 26) 

He argues that societal deviance sets constraints on what may be called deviance in any society. In the case of homosexuality, he suggests that individuals may like to act as though they see homosexuality as the norm and heterosexuality as deviant. This is their “situational” definition of deviance. However, they also know that the societal definition of homosexuality as deviant exists and that they have to take this into account: 

“In this sense societal deviance remains absolute” (Plummer 1975, p. 26).

Recent attacks on pluralism have been more political. 

For example, Braithwaite and Wilson point out that the term “deviance” is in fact used by sociologists to refer to moral rules that are broken by the less powerful members of society. Nixon was never referred to as a “deviant” after Watergate, whatever a formal adherence to relativism might imply. 

They argue that the de facto sociological use of the term “deviant” is itself implicated in the control of ideology that is achieved by the rich and powerful 

(Braithwaite & Wilson 1978; pp. 1-5; see also Hills 1980). 

This critique is acknowledged in recent Marxist studies of topics formerly addressed within the discourse of deviance. 

In a new introduction to Folk Devils and Moral Panics , Cohen compares the old functionalist subcultural theory of deviance to new Marxist versions. The frustrated social climber of Merton’s functionalist analysis has become the member of a resistant working-class subculture within the new analysis (Cohen 1982, p. iv). 

As he points out, both theories take it that there is a dominant cultural order and that working-class adolescents are in opposition to it (Cohen 1982, pp. v, vi). 

As I have been suggesting, the Marxist analysis of “deviance” in terms of hegemony and resistance shares a rejection of pluralism with the older absolutist and functionalist theories. Like them, it addresses the issue of groups or types of behavior that are seen as deviant within the context of a dominant moral and cultural consensus. The difference is that Marxists see this hegemony as socially constructed to serve the interests of the powerful, while earlier functionalists and absolutists view these dominant cultural positions less critically. 

This thesis is situated in the midst of these debates and necessarily deals with many of the issues raised by these differing perspectives. 

In another context, such as working-class adolescence and schooling, one might have no hesitation in making use of a Marxist model of hegemony and resistance. Here this does not readily apply for a number of reasons. 

There is no doubt that the prohibition on intergenerational sex is part of the dominant culture of modern Western societies. However, apart from a miniscule minority subculture of pedophile organizations, one cannot speak of a “subcultural” resistance to this social norm. 

More importantly, within this research the interviewees were not, at the time of their experiences, members of any such resistant subculture of those opposed to the prohibition. Nor, with a few exceptions, were they aware, at the time, of any articulated opposition to this dominant social norm.

The other problem lies in the concept of hegemony

As Connell remarks in reference to hegemonic masculinity, hegemony is defined in terms of aspects of cultural practice that go to support the rule of a dominant group (Connell 1987, pp. 183-185). 

Here, one may wonder what powerful group in society the prohibition on intergenerational sex supports. 

In one way, the prohibition is part of a social structure in which adults define and control the lives of children and adolescents. The “protection” of children from intergenerational sex is partly a restriction on children’s choices by adults. 
Yet at the same time, opposition to the prohibition is not necessarily any different. It may merely represent the interests of a different set of adults with a different idea about how children’s lives should be organized. In particular, it can be the case that some adults who find themselves in opposition to the prohibition are in fact motivated by a desire to sexually assault children and exercise power over them. 

Support for the prohibition on intergenerational sex undoubtedly comes from some people who believe that it is advisable to support the prohibition as the most likely way of protecting children from abuse within the current context. 

Many children and adolescents undoubtedly take this view, and this thesis does not intend to suggest that they are all victims of a hegemonic plot by a powerful section of the adult community. Nor do I want to argue the opposite. 

In order to leave these issues open, I would like to suggest that the prohibition on intergenerational sex is best seen as a dominant discourse, and that support for this discourse is fed from a variety of sources. It cannot be simply seen as “hegemonic” with the interested party identified and the oppressed party equally obvious. 

To identify the prohibition on intergenerational sex as “dominant” in this sense gives the thesis some affinities to older theories of deviance in which deviance is defined as the infringement of moral rules laid down by society as a whole. Certainly it will be argued that most of the respondents were aware that their actions contravened the dominant discourse on intergenerational sex and that they could be regarded as victims of sexual exploitation by an adult. In that sense, they saw themselves as stigmatized within the terms of the dominant discourse. 

However, the thesis also works from within various insights that I have characterized as “relativist” or “pluralist”. Like Becker and Matza, I have been concerned to look at the way the individuals involved in “deviant” activities themselves define and give meaning to their deviance. I have not wanted to assume that individuals involved in deviant activities necessarily give pre-eminence to the fact that a particular activity is deviant when they present it in terms of the way that they understand it themselves. Nor have I found this to be the case. 

I have also been concerned with the way individuals explain and create a moral place for their actions that is an alternative to that created for them within the dominant discourse. Whereas many studies of deviance have used the term “rationalization” or “neutralization” for these points of view 

(e.g. Becker 1966, p. 74; Sykes & Matza 1968), 

I have declined to use these terms. 

To begin with, they suggest that the points of view implicit in a rationalization are false and merely serve to justify behavior that the rest of society condemns. 
More importantly, they foreground the rationalization as a response to the norm which establishes the deviance. They imply that the rationalization or neutralization occurs because the deviant has the dominant norm in mind and is thinking of a reply. 

Within this thesis I would like to argue that the pluralist position, in which there are in fact alternative value standpoints, is also useful. Consequently, the term “validate” is used. I look at the discourses that stigmatize and negate the conduct of the interviewees and the discourses that were available to validate their conduct. 

The concept of a moral career comes from within the framework of the symbolic interactionist approach to deviance, and it has been found useful in explicating the processes by which the interviewees validated their participation in these stigmatized relationships. 

It makes explicit some of the ideas that are present in Becker’s and Matza’s analyses of deviance. Marsh, Rosser and Harre (1978) explicate the use of this term, which they attribute to Goffman. 

An individual’s life in society can be described in a variety of ways, economic, ecological etc. For our purposes the most apposite is the description of a course of life in terms of the growth of reputation or the loss of public standing undergone by an individual as he or she meets this or that social hazard. A hazard is an occasion on which an individual can gain the respect or risk the contempt of his fellows. 
(Marsh, Rosser & Harre 1978, 18-19) 

It is possible to examine interview material with this in mind, seeing accounts as reconstructions in which people present a defense of their actions, and, in so doing, construct a moral career for themselves within the interview situation. 

In addition, it is frequently the case that the events are themselves described in terms of their relevance to the individual’s moral career at the time when they happened.

[2b] The Impasse in Deviance Studies and the Poststructuralist Position 

I have suggested in the preceding discussion that pluralist accounts of deviance fail to adequately represent cases in which moral positions have achieved a dominant or hegemonic status. On the other hand, pluralist interactionist approaches are useful in focusing on the way that individuals make sense of their own actions in the context of broader social norms. To achieve a synthesis of an absolutist/Marxist conception of dominant moral values and a pluralist conception of a mosaic of situationally determined value positions, I have made use of some insights available within poststructuralist approaches. Although the term “stigma” occurs within the thesis, I rarely make use of the concept of deviance explicitly. This is because all these issues can very well be addressed within a framework inspired by a poststructuralist approach, which does not deny agency to social actors. 

Poststructuralists argue that we make sense of our lives and take action within the frameworks laid down by various socially constructed and socially available discourses. This form of social analysis has been pioneered in Foucault’s historical writings

(esp. Foucault 1975; 1977a; 1977b; 1980). 

Within these writings the term “discourse” refers to a linked set of meanings and interpretations; a field of terms and explanatory hypotheses established both in written texts and localized in conversations and self-understanding (see also Smith 1988a).

According to poststructuralist theory, we take up subject positions within discourses. A discursive field offers various possible subject positions, and people take up these positions.

More importantly, we are not consistent in our use of discourses; we take up different and often contradictory discourses on different occasions 

(Foucault 1980; Weedon 1988; Smith 1988a; Davies 1989; Davies and Harre 1990).

It is this feature of poststructuralism that allows the kind of reconciliation of absolutism and pluralism that is attempted in the thesis. 

I show that the interviewees were both aware of a dominant discourse on intergenerational sex, and that they also often ignored it. They did not have just one position in relation to that discourse. Frequently they validated their behavior from within alternative discourses that were quite independent of discourses concerning intergenerational sex. At different points in the interview and in the interviewees’ experiences, different discourses were salient. 

A second feature of poststructuralist thinking has also been useful in this project. Poststructuralists have often made it clear that discourses and their political meanings are not fixed and immutable 

(e.g. Foucault 1980; Smith 1988a; Davies and Harre 1990). 

They are also available to be altered by people in their daily life. They restrict the likely options that people have available to them, but they also offer various possibilities for change and adaptation. 

One example is that a discourse may be “reversed”. 
Another example is that a discourse can be wrested from its original context and made to do duty in an unfamiliar and novel context.

An understanding of the mutability of discourse helps us to theorize some of the familiar problems of deviance theory in a new way. It can be taken that a dominant stigmatizing discourse is both 

a central tool of understanding for the social actor and also 
a discourse that can be reversed to suggest less stigmatizing conclusions — 

hence both 

an absolutist faith in the relevance of dominant norms and 
a pluralist recognition of their circumstantial adaptation in different situational contexts.

Similarly, a deviant act within one discourse can be interpreted from within another popular discourse wrested from its usual context. The alternative appropriated discourse may be as much a part of the dominant cultural order as the ignored stigmatizing discourse. 

Hence a real pluralism of conduct may be validated by selective appropriations from within a range of dominant systems of evaluation. Nor does this approach rule out the insights of Marxist theories of hegemony and resistance. Interviewees were also seen as taking up subject positions within available marginalized discourses working in resistance to hegemonic value systems. 

[2c] The Theoretical Context: Discourses and Positioning 

I have outlined in general the way in which poststructuralist insights are made use of in this thesis. I shall now go on to explicate some key concepts in more detail. 

[1 - Discourse] 

In Foucault’s historical writing 

(e.g. 1975, 1977a; 1977b; 1980), 

the term “discourse” is used to refer to a socially constructed system of thought; a linked set of terms, interpretations, meanings, evaluations, and causal analyses. There is no clear and automatic relationship between a discourse and social practices. 

On the one hand, it is clear that Foucault suggests that all social practices are informed by discourses. 
However, the relationship is not one in which a social practice implements the ideas contained theoretically in the discourse 
(Smart 1983, pp. 96, 115-116). 

In fact, a key argument of Foucault’s historical writing is that there is often a contradictory relationship between discourse and practices. 

For example, in The History of Sexuality he argues that the discourse of sexual repression and sexual liberation acts as a prop for systems of surveillance and social power over the body (Foucault 1980). 

Within this study I have been interested in the relationships between discourses and social practice quite directly. In examining the interview data, I have traced the discourses that were available to interviewees and the ways in which they made use of these discourses to validate specific social practices. 

Using the term “discourse”, one intentionally makes fewer claims than are made in using the term “ideology”. To speak of something as an ideology implies that the set of ideas in question stands as a rationale for the interests of a specific social group. Capitalist ideology is a set of ideas that supports the rule of the capitalist class. 

These implications are not present in the use of the term “discourse”. One can speak of a “medical discourse” and the practices “informed” by it without at any time implying that a specific group — capitalists, doctors, or whatever — promotes these ideas and these practices in terms of their interests. This does not preclude a discussion of the interests involved, but these are not a necessary aspect of discourse analysis. 

[2 - Positioning]

A second relevant concept from poststructuralist approaches is the concept of positioning

This concept has often been related to Althusser’s understanding of the “appellation” of subjects within ideology 

(Althusser 1971, pp. 162-163; see also Williamson 1978, pp. 50-55; Weedon 1988, pp. 29-32; Bonney & Wilson 1983, pp. 163-172; Silverman 1985, pp. 36-39). 

Althusser argues that ideologies operate by a process of appellation or “hailing”. An individual recognizes herself/himself as the kind of subject that is taken for granted in the ideology, and in doing so becomes subjected to the constraints of the system of meaning laid down in the ideology

 (Althusser 1971, pp. 162-163). 

Within poststructuralist approaches, this concept is taken up and enunciated as the positioning of subjects within discourses. 

For example, Weedon argues that when we think, we inevitably place ourselves within one or other of a number of possible historically created discourses. Furthermore, in doing this we take on a “subject position”, and this subject position is offered to us within a discourse as part of the overall discursive field. Our sense of ourselves, our subjectivity, is in fact constituted through the adoption of these subject positions within discourses (Weedon 1988, p. 32). 

These subject positions are tied to particular discourses: 

Language, in the form of an historically specific range of ways of giving meaning to social reality, offers us various discursive positions, including modes of femininity and masculinity, through which we consciously live our lives. (Weedon 1988, pp. 25-26) 

A key difference between Althusser’s concept of appellation and the concept of positioning in much poststructuralist writing revolves around the issue of agency. Althusser treats the subjection of individuals to ideology as an inevitable and uncontrollable process 

(Silverman 1985, pp. 36-37). 

Subjection to ideology takes place; it is a mistake to think that individuals have any role or agency in relation to these social structures. Many writers who make use of some aspects of a broadly poststructuralist framework reject this denial of agency 

(e.g. Weedon 1988; Smith 1988a; Silverman 1985; Davies and Harre 1990). 

Instead they suggest that people as agents take up subject positions within discourses. A discourse constrains the range of subject positions that are available, but individuals can also choose between discourses and choose from a variety of possible subject positions within a particular discourse. It is this approach to the concept of positioning that is followed in this thesis. 

This concept of positioning makes reference to many of the insights developed by Foucault in his historical studies. There is not just one way of approaching a discourse, and discourses continually change and develop. 

Weedon, writing within this approach, suggests that individuals are the “site” for “conflicting forms of subjectivity” 

(Weedon 1988, p. 33; see also Silverman 1985, 37). 

In other words: 

… poststructuralism proposes a subjectivity which is precarious, contradictory and in process, constantly being reconstituted in discourse each time we think or speak. (Weedon 1988, p. 33)

Individuals are both the site and subjects of discursive struggle for their identity. Yet the interpellation of individuals as subjects within particular discourses is never final. It is always open to challenge. The individual is constantly subjected to discourse. In thought, speech or writing individuals of necessity commit themselves to specific subject positions and embrace quite contradictory modes of subjectivity at different moments. (Weedon, 1988, p. 97) 

As I have indicated, it has been this meta-theoretical position that has informed the analysis of the interview data in this thesis. 

I have been concerned to look firstly at the socially created discourses that define intergenerational sex as improper. These are both 

the dominant discourse on intergenerational sex (Part 1), and also 
various discourses concerning age, the family, gender, and sexuality (Parts 1 and 2). 

I have also [secondly] been concerned to look at the subject positions that were taken up by the interviewees in relation to these stigmatizing discourses. 

Did they express any awareness of these discourses and, if so, how did they respond to them? 

This has led to my third question

Through what discursive frameworks did the interviewees validate these relationships? 

As indicated above, this question is concerned with the ways in which interviewees constructed a “moral career” for themselves.

As I have indicated, this thesis makes use of poststructuralist meta-theoretical concepts in the context of the view that individuals are agentic subjects who create their lives continually, taking into account the possibilities which their personal history and, more generally, social history allows them. 

While Weedon says that a poststructuralist approach implies 

that there is no “essence at the heart of the individual” and
that we are “constituted” by discourses 
(Weedon 1988, p. 33), 

this is not the position taken in this thesis. 

Nor, in fact, does it seem consistent with Weedon’s own view that individuals can choose between discourses (Weedon 1988, p. 33). The agentic subject making choices is postulated in this thesis as an inner essence of individuality. 

On the other hand, the social actor is also constrained by discourses in the sense that they must make use of socially available discourses to understand and think their lives and every experience within their lives. An apt summary of the relationship between agency and social structure is suggested by Connell, and can readily be applied to the relationship between discourses and positioning: 

Since human action involves free invention (if ‘invention within limits’, to use Bourdieu’s phrase) and human knowledge is reflexive, practice can be turned against what constrains it; so structure can deliberately be the object of practice. 
But practice cannot escape structure, float free from its circumstances (any more than social actors are simply ‘bearers’ of the structure). It is always obliged to reckon with the constraints that are the precipitate of history. (Connell 1987 p. 95; see also Davies 1989, pp. 12-13)

[3] The Methodological Context 

[3a - General]

In this section of the introduction, I shall briefly indicate the methodological approach that was employed in the study, and I will situate this approach within the more general context of social investigation. In addition, I shall consider the problem of the factual reliability of interview accounts of past events. 

As I have indicated in the sections on sociological research on intergenerational sex, there is a paucity of sociological study of positively experienced intergenerational sex. 

On the one hand, existing survey studies give a glimpse of the extent of this phenomenon, but have given very little sense of the nature of the phenomenon as those involved experience it. 
At the same time, interview data is extremely patchy. 
The studies of Wilson (1981) and Rossman (1985) are quite unsystematic. 
Sandfort’s study (1982) is more rigorous, but his population is restricted to young people involved with adults that identify as pedophiles, and cannot be taken as a guide to other situations. 
Further, existing research on positive experiences involves man-boy relationships. To gain any intellectual purchase on the topic, it was deemed necessary to embark on a broad exploratory study of the field. What was needed was an examination of a variety of different types of positive relationship if a beginning was to be made in the task of understanding the ways in which these relationships are experienced. 

As I was considering how to approach this research task and discussing the issue with acquaintances, a number of people began to reveal experiences of positively experienced intergenerational sex in which they had been involved. They indicated their willingness to be interviewed for a study of the topic. 

It became clear that the method of snowballing could be used to increase the number of people prepared to offer interviews and so to generate a sample of interviewees, albeit a sample that is small, self-selected and, therefore, unrepresentative. 

However, in the context of an introductory study, it did seem that this sample would provide a useful starting point, and I believe that this has proved to be the case.

The interviews were semi-structured and recorded on audiotape. This methodology has often been seen as appropriate in the context of an exploratory study of this type 

(Haralambos 1986, pp. 507-508). 

To begin with, such an approach is considered appropriate when interviewees are likely to reveal a complex range of responses to a situation. Opening up the range of possible responses prevents the complexity of response from being narrowed by the preconceptions of the researcher. 
Secondly, such an approach is considered appropriate when the issues to be investigated are heavily invested with emotion. Again, interviewees are more likely to be open about their emotional responses if they feel they have a considerable degree of control over the interview situation, and that a wide range of possible opinions and responses will be validated in the interview (see also Dowsett 1986).
Finally, such an interview approach is considered particularly appropriate in cases where social research is breaking new ground and it is not possible to readily schematize a priori the most likely responses that will be offered. 

The interviews were designed to elicit the fullest possible account of the positive intergenerational sexual experiences of the interviewees and also to allow for frank discussion of negative aspects of these events. The aim was also to gather additional information that might provide a context for these events. 

Within this broad format there were some structured elements.

Typically the interview was initiated by asking interviewees about their social location in their childhood and going on to ask them to talk about any sexual experiences or feelings that they could remember from the period prior to their intergenerational sexual contacts. 
After this they were invited to give an account of their intergenerational sexual contacts and the relationships in which they took place. Questions were asked to clarify points and to keep the narrative going. 
Finally, most of the interviewees were asked a number of questions that were designed to find out how they viewed their own experiences in light of some common objections to intergenerational sex. 

Usually the material in this last section was a summary and reflection on what had been presented in the narrative. 

As has been indicated, the interviewees were drawn from within a circle of acquaintances. Both myself and the other researcher were either directly or indirectly known to the interviewees. This conferred certain advantages in a study of this type. 

The methodology partakes of some of the benefits frequently claimed for participant observation studies. Cusick describes some of these features as follows: 

As one lives close to a situation, his [sic] description and explanation of it have a first-person quality which other methodologies lack. As he [sic] continues to live close to and moves deeper into that situation his perceptions have a validity that is simply unapproachable by any so-called standardized method. (Cusick 1973, p. 232) 

These advantages were achieved very readily in most of our interviews where the interviewer and interviewee were known to each other directly or indirectly as acquaintances. 

In short, the interview situation did not put the researchers in the position of ethic anthropologists, wondering whether accounts were accurate, or merely a front to confuse outsiders. Since much of the data are quite startling and certainly break new ground, this reassurance is of considerable value.

The second advantage of this methodology is that the context of a shared social space and the intimacy that can be achieved between members of a linked social network allow for a considerable degree of openness about matters that are more usually kept hidden.

Making an argument of this kind, Gary Dowsett reports about a study of AIDS at Macquarie University in which a decision had been made to use gay men as the interviewers

“on the grounds that only in that kind of interaction that takes place within a fairly clear sub-culture are you going to get sexual practices exposed and talked about” (Dowsett 1986, p. 52).

This research is quite analogous. By working through a network of acquaintances, it was possible for the interview situation to allow a degree of frankness in discussing events that are more usually concealed.

[3b] The Validity of Memory and Subjective Accounts of Past Events

One of the thorniest problems of the methodology of this study concerns the link I am making between the subjective accounts of these events and the events themselves. In particular, since I am interested in looking at the way these experiences are presented as “positive”, the issue arises as to whether these events have been merely reconstructed as positive despite being perceived as negative at the time.

Or even more problematically, it may be felt that a third person, perhaps someone with psychoanalytic training, would regard the events in question as an expression of a negative self-image on the part of the younger party, and would see their positive re-interpretation in the interview as a psychic defense mechanism.

The most general answer to this question is to point out that this study is situated within a tradition of sociological research in which the key topic of the research project is to come to understand the meanings that social actors bring to their participation in society.

This approach was first represented in Weber’s verstehende sociology

(Cuff & Payne 1984, p.113)

and since then many schools of sociological understanding have emphasized these issues:

the symbolic interactionists (e.g. Becker 1966),
ethnomethodology (e.g. Garfinkel 1967), and
recent feminist writing on social research
(e.g. Smith 1988b).

In all such meta-theoretical contexts, it is imperative that the researcher examines the subjective understandings that people bring to social interaction.

A variety of methods of analysis may be used to investigate the social meanings that inform social action (e.g. participant observation, textual analysis etc). Interview studies, in which interviewees produce their own interpretations of remembered social events, is a key methodology within all such approaches.

Lyn Davies presents some arguments relevant to this. Looking at various methodologies for examining deviance in schools, she defends a combination of participant observation with interviews in which pupils interpret and give meaning to what happened.

From a symbolic interactionist point of view, she makes the case that events in themselves do not have significance unless one can understand the meanings and motivations of the participants. Yet inevitably this allows the possibility of them reconstructing situations in a way that is favorable to themselves.

Nevertheless, she argues that the commentaries are

“authentic, if revisable reports of phenomena”
(Davies 1984, p. 236).

This applies to the interviewees of this study. They undoubtedly give a version of events interpreted in such a way as to present and confirm a particular self-image. On another occasion they might present a different version.

Yet I am fairly confident that the events are described more or less as they happened. The reports are also authentic in that the interviewees bring to them the most privileged access that there can be to their own feelings at the time.

As Marsh, Rosser and Harre remark in a similar context:

A further corollary which has figured largely in our studies is the idea that the best, though not necessarily the ultimate, authorities as to what the action ‘actually’ is, are the actors themselves. In their accounts are to be found, prima facie, the best interpretations of what went on, from the standpoint of the problem of the interpretation of action.

This follows almost directly from the fact that the actors were the ones who intended the action in the first place … we take it as axiomatic that unless it can be established to the contrary, the best authorities as to what went on are the actors themselves. Their meanings and their rules have priority in the scientific analysis of the phenomena. To say that they have priority is not to say that they have absolute hegemony over all other accounts at all other times, but rather that as a practical technique they are the accounts from which one’s initial hypotheses as to what is happening must be taken. (Marsh, Rosser, Harre 1978, pp. 21-22)

As Davies goes on to say, an ethogenic method of this kind, in making use of subjective accounts, restores humanity to the subjects under discussion. In other words, this study does not presume a professional clinical position from which to dismiss the views people have of their own experiences.

At the same time, it is not denied that people construct and present a version of themselves that fits their needs at the time of speaking.

Furthermore, this study clearly intends to analyze and comment upon the versions of experience and the meanings that are given to those experiences by the participants.

The main research question posed by this thesis is the question of the way in which the interviewees validated and gave meaning to their own experiences. Within this framework, the question of whether their interpretations are accurate is frequently beside the point.

Although I have been concerned to present an account of the nature of positively experienced intergenerational sex that is as accurate as possible according to the empirical data, the primary task of the investigation is not to produce an accurate account per se.

Its primary task is to explain the meanings that these events have and had for participants.

At the same time, although the former may be apparent and manifest in the interview, my knowledge of the latter is dependent upon the memory and accuracy of the interviewee’s accounts. However, they are not being examined primarily in terms of what really happened to them, but in terms of how they in fact interpreted what they thought was happening at the time.

[4] Plan of the Thesis

The thesis is organized into two parts.

In the first part, Negotiating the Prohibition on Intergenerational Sex,

 I shall argue that there is a socially constructed prohibition on intergenerational sex and that this is an aspect of dominant discourses of age and sexuality. Looking at my sample of interviews, I shall examine the various ways in which this prohibition is approached — the subject positions that the interviewees took up in relation to the prohibition.

The first chapter introduces Part 1 of the thesis and considers the way in which the interviewees distinguish their positive experiences from other experiences that are more readily fitted within the framework of the discourse of child sexual abuse.

The second chapter looks at the main strategy that was employed by the interviewees in validating their experiences.

I have called this a strategy of “minimization” of age category difference. The interviewees denied the significance of the age difference within their relationships, and suggested that their relationships did not embody a serious transgression against the discourse of intergenerational sex.

The third chapter considers another strategy of minimization common in the interviews; interviewees minimized the sexual aspect of their intergenerational contacts and suggested that the events that occurred were not appropriately seen as sexual.

The fourth chapter examines three minor strategies within the interviews; each was taken up by two interviewees.

One is a strategy of ambivalence in which interviewees partially embraced a subject position as victim of intergenerational sex.
Another is a subject position that denies the relevance of the discourse of intergenerational sex to their experiences. The last involves a challenge to the dominant discourse of intergenerational sex by a “reversal” of that discourse.

The final chapter of Part 1 looks at those subject positions through which interviewees acknowledged and defended transgression against the dominant discourse.

I identify two common positions;

a subject position as the individual claiming rights to sexual expression, and
a subject position as an adventurer, overturning and undermining a variety of dominant discourses and social authorities.

[Chapter 6 gives the conclusions of Part 1]

In Part 2 of the thesis, Approaches to Intergenerational Sex,

I argue [Part 2, Chapter 1] that the prohibition on intergenerational sex cannot be considered to operate as a monolithic entity. Instead, when the stories of my interviewees are examined, it becomes clear that there are various dominant discourses that imply this prohibition almost independently of each other, and that the real content of the prohibition is quite different in relation to these specific implying discourses. In this context I examine the ways in which interviewees validated their transgressions against these implying discourses.

This second part of the thesis begins with an analysis of the relevance of the discourse of the nuclear family to the issue of intergenerational sex (Part 2, Chapter 2).

I suggest that intergenerational sex is socially constituted as a challenge to the privacy of the nuclear family and parental control over children within the family. I examine the way this discourse leads to certain common treatments of voluntary intergenerational sex in the media and social analysis, and also look at some of the ways in which interviewees responded to this discourse of family life.

The third chapter argues that the discourse of the moral mother, of mothers as guardians of their children’s sexual socialization, is relevant to the experiences of all the interviewees in my sample. All understand their voluntary participation in an intergenerational relationship in reference to this discourse, and it is possible to examine a variety of discursive strategies that address this issue.

The fourth chapter looks at the way voluntary participation in intergenerational sex on the part of girls is constituted as a challenge to the discourse of the protective father and the dutiful daughter, and as a challenge to the discourse of girlhood purity. I consider some specific conflicts between fathers and daughters that were related to these events, and I go on to look at the different ways in which the female interviewees positioned themselves in reference to the discourse of girlhood purity.

In the fifth chapter I take up the issue of the relationship between femininity and intergenerational sex in a different way, looking at the discursive positions that were available to the female interviewees to validate man-girl relationships, both within and in opposition to dominant discourses of emphasized femininity.

The sixth chapter is the first of two on man-boy relationships. It addresses the discourse that stigmatizes these relationships as seduction into homosexuality, and examines the ways in which the interviewees who identified as gay validated their relationships. I look at the ways that they replied to the discourse of seduction and also, more generally, at the way they validated their relationships in the context of the stigmatization of homosexuality.

The seventh chapter addresses these issues from the point of view of the male interviewees who identified as heterosexual. Again, they are placed in the position of having to account for their sexual activities in the context of the discourse of seduction and the stigmatization of homosexuality. Unable to draw upon a discourse of gay identity, they validate their relationships in terms of other available discourses of gender and age.

The eighth chapter considers the lesbian relationships. I identify two discourses that were perceived as stigmatizing and opposing these relationships;

the discourse of women as moral guardians, and
the discourse of emphasized femininity and compulsory heterosexuality.

The discourses through which the interviewees validated these relationships are also discussed.

The ninth chapter in this part of the thesis examines the one relationship of this study that involved a boy and a woman. I suggest that such relationships are problematic within the terms of dominant discourses of hegemonic masculinity and heterosexual romance, and examine the discursive positions that the interviewee took up in relation to these discourses.

The final chapter [10] of the thesis draws out the key conclusions of this study and sketches a framework through which positive experiences of intergenerational sex may be understood.

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