Review of Judith Levine

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Minors Harmed by Abstinence: Have No Sex, See No Sex, Do No Sex -- Don't Even Think About It

Before 1948, the annus mirabilis of the Homophile Movement, you could publish nothing favorable or even neutral about homosexuality in the good ole USA. In that year came Kinsey, Vidal, and the Bachelors for Wallace, out of which grew Mattachine. It organized the first ever petition, demonstration, parade, case that dismissed charges of lewd behavior, college level courses, and our first ever magazine. One, which after a two year struggle won in 1958 from the U.S. Supreme Court the right to be distributed by the U.S. Post Office, and thus blazed the way.

Today, just as about homosexuality before 1948, you can't publish anything even neutral, much less positive, about pederasty -- now conflated with pedophilia, and demonized (as witchcraft was by the Inquisition and communism by Joe McCarthy). At long last, the Roman Catholics, traumatized by the priest sex scandal, which just now even penumbrating His Holiness the Pope himself, are trying to distinguish the two: pederasty being with adolescents and pedophilia, supposedly much more damnable, with prepubescents. Three brave but demonized women have succeeded in publishing studies of intergenerational sex which are not so extremely negative: Harmful to Minors by Judith Levine (University of Minnesota Press, 2002), The Trauma Myth by Susan Clancy (Basic Books, 2009), and Understanding and Addressing Adult Sexual Attraction To Children: A Study of Paedophiles In Contemporary Society by Sarah Goode (Routledge, 2009).

Having herself been “abused”, the journalist Judith Levine uses her own and other narratives as well as some sociological and psychological data in Harmful to Minors (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) to denounce and deconstruct the dogma of the sex-abuse industry. Levine’s probing work incorporates information from a variety of sources, including interviews with young people and adults, newspaper articles, internet sites, visits to schools, and more, in concluding that it is okay, normal, and natural for children to have sex. The only real harm in childhood sexuality, as the subtitle suggests, is the peril that results from our modern cultural obsession for “protecting children from sex.” To date, the book has received much attention on Amazon Books, with some 56 reviews, of which nearly 2/3 two-thirds(36) are favorable, giving the book a full 5 stars (and on Google books where it has received 5 stars from 28 out of 42 readers)---- . The majority praise Levine, for trying to shed light on an important and sensitive issue and for noting the frivolity/paranoia in our modern approach to childhood sexuality in the US. One reader commends Levine for pointing out “the plethora of new laws that, though well intended, are founded on terribly flawed evidence and pushed into enactment by highly neurotic people who understand nothing of what constitutes real harm in the real world,” while another suggests “one can make a compelling case that pedophiles are created by society's prohibition against children satisfying their natural adolescent curiosity during adolescence, the pedophile being a product of arrested sexual curiosity.”

As might be expected, however, Levine’s bold work also still occasions shrieking denunciations and scathing reprobation, for example, from supporters of abstinence-only education programs. She is criticized for using pseudo-science, discredited for not being a parent, and scolded for being “unwilling to understand those who don't think the way she does.” One reader advises us to “Read the book--ponder it--but have a few grains of salt handy.” Another objects to Levine’s work on the grounds that the “book is no more than postmodernist claptrap, masquerading as science.” “The positive attention it's garnered,” this same reader tells us, “is due more to the desire of academics and pseudo-intellectuals (too often synonymous) to appear au courant and grab a ride on the PC bandwagon than to any redeeming social value or merit contained within its covers.”Another reader -suggests “Thanks to this book, more teenagers and children are going to have so-called "protected" sex and end up with STDs…This book is another effort to sexualize children at younger and younger ages. The people who make fun of abstinence make ME laugh. I didn't have to have an AIDS test before my wedding.”

However we choose to interpret Levine’s book, or whatever side we might take in the debate about childhood sexuality, one thing is for certain, Harmful to Minors has opened up a “Pandora’s Box” around an already extremely sensitive issue, and we should expect it to be read, debated, and referred to for many more years to come.

Levine's analysis emphasized that it was not exposure to sexual activity at a young age that harms, but rather the opposite, a later realization that such activity was wrong that caused the majority of the lasting emotional distress as Goode and Clancy imply.

Other major studies, but only in of male-to-male intergenerational sex, which actually tried to justify it in most cases, still remain unpublished. Bruce Rind et. al., "A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse (CSA) using college samples," in Psychological Bulletin (1998) was, after a hysterical media outrage, unamimously condemned by both houses of Congress, but he since has written a far longer and deeper comprehensive defense and, independently, Richard Yuill’s Ph.D. thesis, Male Age Discrepant Intergenerational Sexualities and Relationships (2005), a dissertation carefully supervised at the University of Glasgow, is also yet to be published. Rind's is a more nuanced work (with attached appraisals by other and his own rejoinders to them) is, in my opinion, a masterpiece. Another gripping and very well written pertinent study that some fans are desperately trying to suppress is the in press book Michael Jackson's Dangerous Liaisons by Carl Toms. Male-to-male is still the most condemned type of intergenerational sex, (as in the priest "scandal"), a holdover from homophobia, but less than half as frequent as male-female intergenerational sex, and both are less frequent than female-to-female (which often just amounts to cuddling or petting without penetration or climax, which therefore makes it hard to assess or enumerate) and female-to-male, which was formally praised as making a man out of the boy until not so long ago!

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