A stage, not an age, underpins BL desire


Heretic TOC is delighted to present a guest blog today by Edmund, author of the BL novel Alexander’s Choice, set at Eton College and somewhat improbably hailed in the Daily Mail as “the Etonian version of Fifty Shades Of Grey”. The book was being “feverishly read by as many Etonians, past and present, as can get their hands on it”, enthused columnist Richard Kay. And who better to write about hot lust and love between man and boy at Britain’s fabled hothouse for future leaders than an Old Etonian such as Edmund himself? More relevant today, though, as will be seen below, is another observation I once made about the author: “I think he must … be some sort of time traveller, a former citizen of ancient Athens, judging by his amazing evocation of pederasty’s golden age and the ideals of pedogogic eros and mentorship.” Edmund now has his own fledgling website, hatched only a few days ago and in a very preliminary stage of development, called Greek Love Through the Ages.


On the lowering of the usual age at which boys have attracted men

A few years ago, when I wrote a novel about a love affair between a fourteen-year-old boy and a young schoolmaster, I was already aware from long study of ancient Greece, the best-known pederastic culture ever, that my protagonist was a little below the average age of boys to which Greek men were attracted.  However, it was only through extensive correspondence resulting from my novel that it was first impressed on me that most men today identifying themselves as boy-lovers are more attracted to younger boys.  Put together, this suggested a serious discrepancy between Greek and modern preferences. This both surprised me and struck me as having important implications, so I have done some investigation which I am now reporting.

I firmly believe that attraction to boys is a natural impulse which has survived millions of years of evolution because of its benefits to the species. The evidence for this was best summed up by Bruce Rind in his Hebephilia as a Mental Disorder? (2011), showing that pederasty has been so widely practised not only throughout recorded human history, but also by other primates, as to indicate that it is an “evolutionary heritage” for which “most mature males have a capacity” (pp. 20-1). Moreover, one indication of its evolutionary function is “that mature male erotic interest in boys, when expressed, is generally coordinated with the ages at which mentorship and enculturation are most useful and efficiently effected, from peripubescence through mid-adolescence” (p. 24).  But how can it be thus co-ordinated if boy-lovers today are drawn to significantly younger boys than were the Greeks?

Much the strongest evidence for the age of boys with whom men chose to become sexually involved in any era comes from Renaissance Florence, thanks to Michael Rocke’s exhaustive study of the copious records of the Office of the Night Watch set up to police pederasty there.  In Statistical Table B.2 of his book Forbidden Friendships (1996), he gives the “ages of partners in the passive role, 1478-1502” in 475 cases recorded by the Office of the Night.  They range from six to twenty-six, but 90% (428) were aged twelve to nineteen, while only 16 were under twelve, and only 31 were aged twenty or more.  At 82 cases, sixteen was the peak as well as the mean.  A smaller sample of 58 passive partners whose ages were found in a tax record of 1480 yielded a mean age of fifteen.

The best evidence for the youngest age at which Greek boys receive amorous attention is poem 205 of Straton of Sardis’s Musa Puerilis:

My neighbour’s quite tender young boy provokes me not a little, and laughs in no novice manner to show me that he is willing. But he is not more than twelve years old. Now the unripe grapes are unguarded; when he ripens there will be watchmen and stakes.

This implies that at twelve or a little less, a boy had not quite reached the expected age.   In his poem 4, Straton says he delights in the prime of a boy in his twelfth year (ie. aged eleven).  I believe this is the sole reference in Greek literature to boys under twelve being sexually attractive.  Plutarch, in his Life of Lycurgus, says that Spartan boys “were introduced to the society of lovers” at twelve.

Straton considered seventeen beyond bounds and there are copious references in Greek literature to boys losing their desirability with the appearance of body and facial hair.  However, an eighteen year-old could still be referred to as a pais (boy) in an amorous context and fully-grown but still unbearded youths are commonly depicted as men’s beloveds on vases.  Aristotle says beard growth occurs some time before twenty-one (History of Animals 582a).

According to P. G. Schalow, translator into English of Ihara Saikaku’s The Great Mirror of Male Love, the most important source of our knowledge of the pederasty ubiquitous in Japan for a thousand years, the age of the passive partners usually corresponded to the age of the wakashu (adolescent boy), defined by hair-shaving ceremonies performed at the ages of eleven or twelve and eighteen or nineteen.

Khaled El-Rouayheb in his Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World 1500-1800, also describing a society where men’s attraction to boys was taken for granted, quotes the opinions of numerous primary sources on the age of boys’ attractiveness. He concludes that the range was wide, at seven or eight to twenty, but “that the boy’s attractiveness was usually supposed to peak around halfway through, at fourteen or fifteen.”

To determine the ages to which today’s self-identified boy-lovers are attracted, I consulted two of their forums. In a poll held this year on one called boymoment, seventy-six voters replied to the question “What ages do you like?” 8% opted for under eight, 81% for eight to fifteen and 10% for 16+.  The ages brackets of 10-11 and 12-13 were most popular and virtually equal choices, confirming what an old hand there told me that the many polls of this sort conducted in the past had consistently shown 11-12 as the most preferred age, in other words towards the end of Tanner stage two of pubescence.  A poll of 88 voters on a forum called boylandonline ongoing since 2011 showed 10, 11 and 12 as the roughly equal most popular choices.

Based on the foregoing, I think it is fair to postulate twelve to nineteen as the typical age range of boys to whom men were attracted historically, with fifteen the likely average and peak, and eight to fifteen as the age most online boy-lovers are now attracted to, with eleven to twelve the average and most liked.  How can one explain the discrepancy of three or four years?  Here follow three hypotheses in order of importance.


Watch a film with boys from the 1930s and look up the actors’ ages. Those who look like today’s 13-year-olds with voices that have not begun to break are more likely to have been 16. The handsome Jürgen Ohlsen in the Nazi propaganda film Hitlerjunge Quex (1933) is a good example of one presumably chosen partly for his pederastic appeal, since the Nazis were not averse to exploiting such imagery.  It has happened again and again that the 14-year-old I thought I was looking at in a Victorian photo turned out to be 18.  Necessarily subjective judgements of this sort are useful as expressions of visual response to a substantial drop in the age of puberty that has been going on for well over a century.  Abundant but complicated evidence and supporting anecdotes have already been discussed in Tom’s blog of 25 September 2014, so I shall only point out the one I think best for accurate comparison over a very long period.  The voices of Bach’s choirboys in the years 1727-48 began breaking on average at 17.25, whereas those of London schoolboys in 1959 did so at 13.25 (studies cited in Politics and Life Sciences 20 (1) p.48).

This has far-reaching implications.  For example, the debate on whether historical individuals like Oscar Wilde were pederasts or gay should end.  Seen in the light of the age at which Victorians started looking like men, Wilde, with his lovers’ age range of 14-21, was unambiguously a pederast in the Greek tradition he claimed.


Sexuality is heavily influenced by culture.  I cannot see how else it is possible to explain the wild variations in degree of sexual interest in boys implied by cultures like Renaissance Florence where Rocke found (p. 115) “at least two of every three men were incriminated” over it despite religious denunciation, state persecution and the provision of women in brothels to lure them away.  The antagonism of the Florentine state failed mostly because the culture of pederasty was too strong.  By contrast, fierce opposition to sex between children and anyone significantly older pervades the entire culture of the Anglophone countries and, to some extent,  most countries. It follows then that in a culture such as today’s that is deeply antagonistic to pederasty only those innately least capable of attraction to adults will become boy-lovers, the others either shunning boys in favour of adults or never awakening to their latent capacity for attraction to boys. Tom has said in one of his blogs that hebephiles are far more likely than paedophiles to be capable of attraction to adults. This is bound to cause under-representation of potential hebephiles in boy-love forums.

Also, in several populous countries the age of consent is fourteen, and in most it is no more than sixteen, which must have the effect of disincentivising some men attracted most to boys of fourteen or more from participating in forums defined by longings for the forbidden.


Much of what is considered sex today was ignored as insignificant by pre-modern societies. Greek men sought intercrural or anal intercourse with boys, and not, as far we know, to be masturbated. Japanese men sought anal intercourse.  Masturbation only interested Florence’s Office of the Night if done with a view to seducing a boy into being sodomized.  If, as has been frequently asserted on this blog, paedophiles are much less inclined to penetrative acts than hebephiles, then more of them will have passed under the radar in pre-modern societies, while being represented in the boy-forum statistics.  However, this is only a minor point.  Excluding masturbation may have raised the mean age of the boys in the Florentine records, but cannot explain why Florentine men preferred to sodomise 15-16 year-olds rather than 14-year-olds.



In conclusion, I suggest it has been shown that if one were to allow that the age of attraction expressed by online boy-lovers has been skewed a little downwards by my second and third hypotheses, men today can be said to be responsive to roughly the same state of physical development in boys that they always have been, in harmony with their evolutionary heritage.  That the age at which this development is attained has gone down is at the heart of the modern boy-lover’s unhappy predicament.


It’s no accident we’re getting the hump


The size of a boy’s testicles, according to Dr. Laura Bachrach, is the gold standard for assessing the arrival of male puberty. What you do – for strictly scientific purposes, of course – is use an orchidometer, a string of oval wooden or plastic beads of increasing size. To use the device, you gently pull the testicle to the bottom of a boy’s scrotum and use touch and sight to find the bead that matches it in volume. Be careful not to squeeze*!

Pubic hair, by contrast is “very very misleading” because it is a later, less predictable indicator. You can try urine analysis (testing for the presence of sperm in urine), but that’s expensive. And you can just ask boys whether they ejaculate, but researchers understandably tend to be nervous about that these days, especially in the US, where a recent study confirmed a trend in recent times, long noted in girls, towards earlier puberty. It seems you can still just about get away with measuring testicles, though, if you slip the procedure into scheduled “well-child” health examinations.

What you definitely can’t do, if you want to determine the age of puberty hundreds of years ago, is jump aboard your Time Machine to go back in history and measure the testicles of boys in the Olden Days.

We can read about what ancient scholars thought, but it’s hardly science. Aristotle, well over two millennia ago had this to say on the subject:

When twice seven years old, in the most of cases, the male begins to engender seed; and at the same time hair appears upon the pubes, in like manner, so Alcmaeon of Croton remarks, as plants first blossom and then seed. About the same time, the voice begins to alter, getting harsher and more uneven, neither shrill as formerly nor deep as afterward, nor yet of any even tone, but like an instrument whose strings are frayed and out of tune; and it is called, by way of by-word, the bleat of the billy-goat. Now this breaking of the voice is the more apparent in those who are making trial of their sexual powers; for in those who are prone to lustfulness the voice turns into the voice of a man, but not so in the continent. [The History of Animals, Book VII, Part 1]

Armed with the modern knowledge that pubic hair is prone to give dodgy data, we need not be overly respectful of the great sage’s opinion, although we might be more so if his Method had been written up – especially on how he could tell the “lustful” boys from the “continent” ones, and what his sample size was.

My theory is that Aristotle and some medical authorities of classical times put the age of male puberty in those days too low. Only the wealthiest class could afford the services of a doctor: these boys would have been exceptionally well fed, and it is now known that a rich diet leads to puberty several years earlier than typically experienced by impoverished children of either sex. Likewise, Aristotle would surely have known less about the bodies of street ragamuffins than those of the athletic young lads whose naked bodies he saw regularly at the gymnasium – boys from prosperous families, whose fathers could afford to send them for training.

But we can do better than Aristotle. An ingenious recent study by Dr Joshua R. Goldstein gives us evidence of a steady long-term decline in age of male sexual maturity since at least the mid-eighteenth century using, believe it or not, mortality data from meticulous records kept in several countries.

In girls, the so-called “secular trend” toward younger menarche can be documented because individual health records recording first menstruation can be compared over time. For males, no comparable medical evidence exists. Goldstein’s study takes an indirect approach making use of the fact that all human populations studied show a rise in mortality among males toward the end of adolescence. This rise, caused by increases in violent, accidental, and disease mortality, is known as the “accident hump” and it coincides broadly with peak male hormone production. So if you can show a change in the age of the accident hump you have a strong indication of a changing age of sexual maturity. Clever, no?

The records for this purpose go back to 1751 in Sweden and the mid-nineteenth century in Denmark, Norway, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

For all countries, the timing of the accident hump fell steadily downward from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. “Improved nutrition and disease environments, both of which have been shown to influence the production of testosterone, appear more plausible explanations for such long-term secular change than changing risk environment,” wrote Goldstein.

Goldstein and Aristotle appear to agree on one point: the significance of voice change. As Goldstein wrote:

An additional piece of evidence in favour of a biological explanation for the secular trend in the accident hump is that another correlate of male sexual maturity, age at voice change, has also shown secular change. Daw reports that age at voice change in the boys’ choir lead by J.S. Bach in Leipzig in the mid-eighteenth century averaged around 18 years, but that in twentieth century London age at voice change was closer to 13 years.

Now that is a whopping change, is it not? And this brings me to a key reason for Heretic TOC’s deliberations on the matter: there is a huge irony in the fact that the sexuality of the young is being ever more drastically denied and suppressed at a time when they have never been more sexually mature in physical terms.

Formal research confirms the picture. Studies give a range of outcomes depending on the method and the population surveyed, with racial differences being a factor. To take just one set of results over a lengthy time period up to the present in a single country, German researchers found that in 1860, the average age of the onset of puberty in girls was 16.6 years. In 1920, it was 14.6; in 1950, 13.1; 1980, 12.5; and in 2010, it had dropped to 10.5. A similarly declining age been reported for boys, albeit with their puberty occurring about one year later in each set of investigations.

It might have been expected that the trend to earlier puberty would have halted half a century ago in the developed countries, once children reliably began to experience the relative rich diet of modern times. But that has not happened, and ever-earlier puberty is now being linked to growing levels of childhood obesity.

Obesity is bad news for kids, of course, and ever-earlier puberty is terrible news for paedophiles too. As if things were not already bad enough for us, we now face the alarming possibility that real kids will disappear altogether. As soon as they stop being babies we’ll just be left with fat adolescents! Aaarrrgh! It’s every paedo’s worst nightmare! Maybe, with no children around, true paedos as opposed to hebephiles will also become extinct, thereby presenting the world with a fortuitously bloodless Final Solution to the paedo problem. But at what a price: grotesquely ugly fat kids, largely housebound, barely able to waddle around, and many of them suffering from obesity-related diseases such as diabetes. O brave new world!

Keep calm, though, we aren’t there yet. Unlike climate change, the problem is undeniable and there is a strong motivation to tackle it.

So let’s consider what puberty means in terms of a child’s awakening sexuality. The first point to note is vital and often overlooked: while there is certainly a correlation between the approach of puberty and increasing libido, it is nowhere near a one-to-one match. Some kids, for whatever reason, become highly sexual in early childhood, many years before puberty. Any number of examples could be given from sexual episodes observed between kindergarten kids (see Mickey and Maria make out in kindergarten) but my favourite of recent times is “queer kid” Noah Michelson’s personal account of his childhood lusts and longings in “Dancing In His Underwear for the Garbage Man”.

As for what is more “normal”, or usual, too little research has been undertaken. One recent study (Ostovich & Sabini) puts first recalled sexual arousal in men on average at 1.9 years before puberty. This study relies, unreliably, on asking men to think backwards from when they first noticed having pubic hair. Even allowing for inaccuracy, though, it is plain there is usually a substantial period of around two years during which boys are significantly sexual not just as preteens but even before they hit double figures. Thus they will typically still be prepubescent (Stage 1 on the Tanner Scale: small genitals and no pubic hair at all) at the age when typically they have already experienced sexual arousal. In my case it was definitely three years. How about you?

It is often incorrectly assumed that all the major developments of sexual maturation take place during pubescence (typically from 11-14): enlargement of the genitals, pubic hair, breast growth and menstruation in girls, sperm secretion and ejaculation in boys. But there are major changes going on beforehand, beginning with a “mini-puberty” known as adrenarche around ages 6-8, as Heretic TOC noted last year in The magical age of 10?

In that blog I was reporting on a paper published in 2000. Another study, just out, is “Middle childhood: An evolutionary-developmental synthesis”, by Marco del Giudice, a researcher known to me through Sexnet. Free full-text download. Those with a particular interest in the evolutionary aspect can read about it from the man himself.

Briefly, adrenarche is when the adrenal glands begin to secrete increasing amounts of androgens. These can convert to the sex hormones oestrogen or testosterone in the brain, where they have powerful effects on sexual brain development and functioning. Adrenarche provides the brain’s framework for the different sexual psychology of boys and girls, which is then followed by gonadarche, when boys’ testes and girls’ ovaries are awakened at the beginning of puberty.

Thus there is lots going on inside sexually before it becomes visibly apparent outside.

“It is no coincidence,” we are told, “that the first sexual and romantic attractions typically develop in middle childhood, in tandem with the intensification of sexual play.”

Now, here’s a thing no one seems to have focused on: if the age of puberty is falling, then presumably so is the age of adrenarche that leads to it. If so, then the “sexual and romantic attractions” of prepubertal children are being experienced and undergoing “intensification” earlier.

I leave heretics here to ponder the implications.


*Legal disclaimer: this is a JOKE. Heretic TOC is not advocating unauthorized examinations.

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