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Dale's Web Pages

Is adult/child sex always abusive?

The radio host Dr. Laura started a firestorm of controversy by challenging an article on child sexual abuse published in the APA's Psychological Bulletin. The article suggested that not all adult-child sex had negative consequences. The following report discusses the negative consequences of sexual child abuse.


by Dale O'Leary



April, 1999

A report published in the APA's Pychological Bulletin entitled "A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples," challenges the assumption that sex between adults and children is always damaging to the child. The article, written by Bruce Rind, a psychology professor at Temple University in Pennsylvania, Philip Tromovitch of the University of Pennsylvania graduate school of education and Robert Bauserman, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. analyzed the results 59 studies on how college students cope with child sexual abuse According to the authors the "negative potential" of sexual abuse has "been overstated." The study found that up to 37 percent of the boys who were abused and 11 percent of the girls reported "positive" childhood sexual experiences with an adult. According to the report, "the vast majority of both men and women reported no negative sexual effects from their child sexual-abuse experiences."

The authors are probably correct in saying that a certain percentage of young adults who were sexually abused as children "report" no negative effects, but this is not necessarily because there were no negative effects, but because those children who are most seriously abused often rationalize severe and prolonged abuse as positive, identify with the abuser, and/or become involved in compulsive and self-destructive sexual behaviors which they defend as normal.

According to the leading expert on sexual child abuse David Finkelhor author of A Sourcebook on Child Sexual Abuse. (Sage Publication: Newbury Park, 1986) children who are sexually abused experience serious and long term side effects, which may not be recognized as effects of the abuse. One of these is Traumatic sexualization. which Finkelhor describes as:

"... a process in which a child's sexuality (including sexual feelings and sexual attitudes) is shaped in a developmentally and interpersonally dysfunctional fashion as a result of the sexual abuse... Traumatic sexualization can occur when a child is repeatedly rewarded by an offender for sexual behavior that is inappropriate to his or her level of development. It occurs through the exchange of affection, attention, privileges, and gifts for sexual behavior that a child learns sexual behavior as a strategy for manipulating others to get his or her other developmentally appropriate needs met. It occurs when certain parts of a child's anatomy are fetishized and given distorted importance and meaning. It occurs through the misconceptions and confusion about sexual behavior and sexual morality that are transmitted to the child from the offender... Children who have been traumatically sexualized emerge from their experiences with inappropriate repertories of sexual behaviors, with confusions and misconceptions about their sexual self-concepts, and with unusual emotional associations to sexual activities."

In other words, young adults abused as children may engage in a wide range of self-destructive behaviors, sexual and non-sexual, which they don't realize are directly related to the earlier abuse. These could include: promiscuity, compulsive masturbation, sadomasochism, pedophilia, prostitution, drug addiction, masochist body piercing and tattooing, sexual risk taking leading to infection with STDs and pregnancy, and suicidal ideation.

Inappropriate early sexualization may cause the child to be over concerned with sexual matters or to abuse other children. Finkelhor explains that:

"Some children display knowledge and interests that are inappropriate to their age, such as wanting to engage school-age playmates in sexual intercourse or oral genital contact. Some children who have been victimized, especially adolescent boys but sometimes even younger children, become sexually aggressive and victimize their peers or younger children. At older ages, clinicians remark about promiscuous and compulsive sexual behavior that sometimes characterizes victims when they become adolescents or young adults."

Once a child has been inappropriately sexualized, the child may see offering sex as an appropriate way to get attention or affection. Finkelhor writes:

"If child victims have traded sex for affection from the abuser over a period of time, this may become their normal way to give and obtain affection...Some of the apparent sexualization in the behavior of victimized children may stem from this confusion."

In addition, "Victimized boys, for example, may wonder whether or not they are homosexuals."

Mr. Robert Bauserman, one of the authors of the study, has defended man-boy sexual contacts and adult-juvenile sex in general. In particular, he defended Theo Sandfort's research on man-boy sexual relationships. (Male Intergenerational Intimacy: Historical, Socio-Psychological and Legal Perspectives, Haworth Press: NY, 1990). In 1981, Sandfort published a study of 25 boys age 10 to 16 who were involved in ongoing pederastic relationships with adult males. According to Sandfort, "For virtually all the boys... the sexual contact itself was experienced positively and had no negative effect on how the youngster felt in general." That they boys would claim this is not surprising since the 25 boys were contacted through the pedophile who was abusing them, interviewed in the pedophile's home, and the abuse was on-going.

Finkelhor reviewed the same article and concluded: "The public policy to protect children from unwanted and coercive sexual approaches by adults seems justified given the evidence of its wide prevalence and high risk for serious effects. The (now grown) children who have had such experiences are very active in lobbying for such protection." Finkelhor points out that the documented negative effects of adult-child sexual contact include: "later depression, suicidal behavior, dissociative disorders, alcohol and drug abuse and sexual problems."  


The term "sexual child abuse" covers a wide range of experiences. In evaluating the impact of abuse, the following questions need to be asked:

Was the abuse a single incident or a prolonged abusive relationship?

Was the child molested by one person or several different persons?

What was the relationship between the child and abuser?

Was the child forced, seduced, bribed, threatened, or tricked into the behavior?

What behaviors were involved?

How old was the child when the abuse occurred?

Was the child happy and stable before the abuse or a victim of family disorder, neglect, or abuse?

Was the abuse discovered or reported at the time and what was the reaction of the adults who learned about the abuse?

A child, who is otherwise happy and well adjusted and whose molestation is immediately uncovered and treated, has a good chance of avoiding negative outcomes. On the other hand, a child who is emotionally at risk is more likely to be targeted by a pedophile and also more likely to experience serious negative consequences. At the same time, the at risk child is more likely to see the abuse as a positive or pleasurable experience. A number of victims said that the abuse was the first "positive" interaction they had had with an adult. There is evidence that some pedophiles are experts at identifying vulnerable children.

According to George Rekers, author of Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexual Problems (NY: Lexington Books, 1995):

"Much of the psychological injury derived from the exploitation can be linked back to the manner of entrapment, the length of time of encapsulation, and the nature of the sexual activity. Children are confused over the use of power and authority, with resulting disorganizing impact on their thinking. As the abuse continues, their belief about sex between adults and children shifts from This is wrong to This is right."

"A Review of the Short-Terms Effects of Child Sexual Abuse" by Beitchman, Zucker, Hood, DaCosta, and Akman, (Child Abuse & Neglect. 1991) summarizes the consequences of child sexual abuse:

1. Victims of child sexual abuse are more likely than nonvictims to develop some type of inappropriate sexual (or sexualized) behavior. In children this tendency is observed in a heightened interest in, and a preoccupation with, sexuality which is manifested in a number of ways including sexual play, masturbation, seductive or sexually aggressive behavior, and age-inappropriate sexual knowledge. In adolescents, there is evidence of sexual acting out, such as promiscuity and a possibly higher rate of homosexual contact.

2. The frequency and duration of sexual abuse is associated with more severe outcome.

3. Childhood sexual abuse which involves force and/or penetration is associated with greater trauma in the victim.

4. Sexual abuse perpetrated by the child's biological or stepfather is associated with greater trauma in the victim.

5. Victims of child sexual abuse are more likely than nonvictims to come from disturbed families, with a high incidence of marital separation/divorce, parental substance abuse, and psychiatric disturbance.

Beverly Engel, herself a victim of sexual abuse, in her book The Right to Innocence (Los Angeles: Jeremy Tarcher, 1982) lists the following among the long-term effects of sexual child abuse:

  • Problems with sexual identity. 
  • Promiscuity; continuing to be a sexual object.
  • Attraction to "illicit" sexual activity such as pornography and prostitution.
  • Sexual manipulation. This includes using seductiveness or other forms of sexual manipulation to get what you want ...
  • Sexual addiction, wherein victims, sexualized early, often become addicted to daily sex and masturbation as a way of alleviating anxiety and comforting themselves.

She also disputes the assertion that some children are naturally over-sexed:

"Children who have already been victimized often act in provocative ways in order to get attention... A so-called precocious, provocative, or seductive child appears so because of prior sexual abuse. This behavior reveals that the child has already been sexualized, that he or she has already been introduced to sex and has `learned' that acting seductive can be an effective way to get the affection, attention, and approval that are so badly needed."


An article by Doll, Joy, Batholow, Harrison, Bolan, Douglas, Saltzman, Moss and Delgado, entitled "Self-reported childhood and adolescent sexual abuse among adult homosexual and bisexual men." (Child Abuse & Neglect,1992).found that over 40% of the 1,001 homosexual and bisexual men in their study reported sexual experiences that met the definition of child abuse, although some of the most seriously sexually abused did not identify their experience as abuse. According to the report, of the 1,001 men 47 reported sexual experience before they were 6 years old and of these 47, 54% "recalled having a negative response to the experience, although by adulthood 70% evaluated the experience negatively." The fact that, of homosexual and bisexual men in the study who admitted they were sexually abused before the age of six, 30% did not viewed the sexual abuse as a negative experiences cannot be taken as "proof" that the experience had no negative consequences. Indeed, the most obvious negative consequence is that these men fail to view the misuse of a child as abusive.

Doll et al also noted that: "A positive response at the time of the contact was correlated with greater number of months contact between the two partners." This suggests that the more prolong the abuse, the more likely the child is to view the abuse positively.

Given this research, it is certainly possible that a number of college students who were abused as children view the experience as positive. It is also probable that in many cases this is because they were more seriously abused and because they are currently involved in self-destructive behaviors directly related to the abuse.

Renaming sexual child abuse as "adult-child sex" if it is a "willing encounter" will undoubtedly put children at risk, since it is the "willing encounters" that have potentially the most devastating effects.  


The question that needs to be asked is: What were the childhood experiences of those who want to normalize adult-child sex and what are their current behaviors? Is this an attempt by sexually abused and sexually compulsive adults to rationalize their own dysfunctional experiences?

Much of the research on child sexuality has been influenced by the work of Alfred Kinsey. A recent biography by James Jones Alfred C. Kinsey: A Private Public Life

(NY: WW Norton & Co. 1997) reveals that Kinsey used material collected by a pedophilia to draw conclusions about child sexuality. Jones who defends Kinsey's research, had access to previously unavailable records and was able to interview many of the people who worked with Kinsey.

Jones, in spite of his praise for Kinsey's work, has to admit that Kinsey had a blind spot when it came to child sexual abuse. In his report on the sexual experiences of women Kinsey dismissed the negative consequences of childhood sexual abuse. According to Jones:

"Kinsey opened with a discussion of childhood and adolescent female sexual development. As always, his goal was to show that sexual activity was socially beneficial and sexual abstinence socially harmful. Females, he reported, displayed the ability to respond to sexual stimuli early in life, in some cases at three months... Then Kinsey abruptly veered off into a discussion of adult-child contacts... His focus was not at all on little girls, but on the misunderstood and much maligned adult males who abused them.... He attempted to put child molesters in a benign light. Blaming the victims, Kinsey reported that in many incest situations children often initiated additional contacts after the first incident, and he noted that sexual contacts between children and adults who were not family members, `often involved considerable affection.' " Kinsey also observed that `some of the older females in the sample felt that their pre-adolescent experience {with adults} had contributed favorably to their later socio-sexual development.' And while he admitted that `some 80 percent of children had been emotionally upset or frightened by their contacts with adults,' he likened the level of their fright to how youngsters typically reacted to `insects, spiders , or other objects against which they have been adversely conditioned.' ... To Kinsey's mind, the conclusion was obvious. `If a child were not culturally conditioned,' he observed, `it is doubtful if it would be disturbed by sexual approaches of the sort which had usually been involved in these histories... Characteristically, Kinsey scolded the public for failing to distinguish between sexual contacts that caused harm and those that caused no harm. His definition of harm in young girls, however, was narrow enough to exclude `a very few cases of vaginal bleeding,' which he insisted `did not appear to do any appreciable damage.' "

Jones also recounts how Kinsey used material provided by pedophile:

"... a man we shall call Mr. X. His bizarre sexual behavior, it seems, was a family legacy. The product of a home poisoned by cross-generational incest, he had sex with his grandmother when he was still a young child, as well as with his father. In the years that followed, the boy had sexual relations with seventeen of the thirty-three relatives with whom he had contact...`This man had had homosexual relations with 600 preadolescent males, heterosexual relations with 200 preadolescent females, intercourse with countless adults of both sexes, with animals of many species, and besides had employed elaborate techniques of masturbation. Mr. X had also complied a sizable collection of erotic photographs, and he had made extensive notes on all his sexual activities, chronicling not only his behavior and reactions but those of his partners and victims... Over the course of his [Mr. X] long career as a child molester, he masturbated infants, penetrated children, and performed a variety of other sexual acts of preadolescent boys and girls alike. Betraying a huge moral blind spot, Kinsey took the records of Mr. X's criminal acts and transformed them into scientific data... Kinsey's debt to Mr. X was indeed great. Chapter 5 of the finished book, `Early Sexual Growth and Activity,' offered a finely graded discussion of preadolescent male sexuality, and much of this chapter was based on materials Mr. X had provided."

Kinsey's contacts with Mr. X led him to take a non-judgmental view of adult-child sex. According to Jones:

"Informants like Mr. X may have convinced Kinsey that their victims derived `definite pleasure from the situation'... As Kinsey moved deeper and deeper into his research, most sex offenses, like most sexual taboos , struck him as arbitrary and harmful.... He even questioned society's condemnation of pedophilia.... Kinsey was prepared to believe, continued Gebhard, `that some child-adult contacts were not harmful and possibly even beneficial'.... Kinsey looked upon Mr. X as 'a hero' because `the guy had the courage an ingenuity and the sexual energy and the curiosity to have this fantastic multi-year odyssey through the Southwest and never get caught.' "

How could an objective researcher fail to see Mr. X for the criminal he was? It appears from Jones' biography that Kinsey could in no way be considered objective. According to those Jones interviewed, Kinsey was addicted to masochistic masturbation, engaged in sexual contact with subjects of his research, and filmed himself, his wife, and his staff engaging in sexual acts alone and with one another.

Jones reports the remembrances of one of Kinsey's subjects:

"Mr. Y, a handsome young professional with a diverse sexual history that included sadomasochism and extensive homosexual contacts. When Kinsey took his history, Mr. Y was awed by Kinsey's gift for putting people at ease... `I told him I had a fantasy of having sex with him... he sort of said `take off your clothes.' So I did and we started right there. So every time we met from then on, we had sexual contact.' ... Mr. Y declared, `I also had sex with everyone else around there too.' That included members of both sexes. Mr. Y had fond memories of copulating with Clara [Kinsey's wife] and Martha (Pomeroy's wife) and equally warm recollections of his contacts with their husbands... Kinsey, of course, was an eager participant in these sessions, but not at the expense of ignoring the women. `{Kinsey} had sex with the wives, too,' stressed Mr. Y. `It wasn't all H{omosexual}.'"

According to Jones, Kinsey believed children should engage in sex:

"Kinsey's histories revealed that most boys had sexual experiences before reaching adolescence. His only regret was that children did not have more, and he blamed society for making it hard for youngsters to explore their sexuality. He even went so far as to argue that `half or more of the boys in an uninhibited society could reach climax by the time they were three or four years of age, that nearly all of them could experience such a climax three to five years before onset of adolescence.'"

Kinsey influence on sex research and sex education can not be underestimated. His works are constantly quoted and Kinsey trained sex-experts have had wide influence. Members of the Kinsey Institute, in particular Wardell Pomeroy and Paul Gebhard, were among the founding board members of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex and the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States, groups which exercised tremendous influence over the development of sex education.

Normalization of adult-child sex continues to a long-term goal for those who follow Kinsey's ideology. This should be keep in mind when one evaluates research on the subject.

For more information on NARTH see their Website

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From Dale's Disk, pedophil.rtf - Sept. 1999
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