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.


Benjamin Britten: both ‘gay’ and a boy lover


Benjamin Britten, as a boy lover, will need little introduction to many heretics here, especially after a new biography in this centennial year of the great composer’s birth, and all the other razzmatazz that attends celebrity.

So is there anything more to be said about him, as the year draws to its close? There’s the usual exclusion principle to note, of course, which makes it impossible to be simultaneously both an esteemed figure and a paedophile, or not an active one at least. Britten still just about makes the cut in this regard: his hebephilic, rather than truly paedophilic, preference for barely pubescent boys was always highly visible, but he was never metaphorically caught with his pants down (or theirs) even though he hugged them, kissed them on the lips, declared his love, swam naked in their company and even – shades of Michael Jackson – shared his bed with them.

No doubt he has been cut some slack because some of his most important works, especially the operas Peter Grimes, The Turn of the Screw and Death in Venice, all strongly feature the theme of childhood innocence and appear to abhor its “corruption”. In this, too, his career is strongly reminiscent of Jackson’s. The pop megastar was a very different musician and personality but both artists surrounded themselves constantly with children, especially boys, who were featured extensively in their work. Both took boys to bed with them and both insisted – or had others insist for them – that it was all entirely “pure”, and they were protective, not predatory. The comparison is at times uncannily close: Here’s Michael’s little friend Brett Barnes: “I was on one side and he was on the other, and it’s a big bed.” And Ben’s beloved David Hemmings: “It was a very big bed.” Or what about the first time Michael slept with young Jordie Chandler? They had been watching a video of The Exorcist and the boy said been so frightened he had not wanted to sleep alone. Hemmings again: “I have slept in his bed, yes, only because I was scared at night…” No videos in those days: he had been scared, so it was claimed, by the crashing of waves on the seashore near Ben’s house!

Unlike Chandler, though, who very credibly testified that his relationship with Jackson became overtly sexual, Hemmings, who was decidedly not an innocent child, always protected Ben’s reputation. Young David, who played the role of the “corrupted” boy Miles in The Turn of the Screw, later went on record saying he flirted with Ben. A sexual advance would not have shocked him as he had already been sexually involved with a couple of boys and began a long heterosexual career as early as age seven, when he was getting his hands in naughty places with little girls – something it would be ill-advised for even a child to confess these days! But Ben, if we are to believe Hemmings, kept himself on a tight rein, so nothing illegal happened between them.

Britten’s close, but possibly unconsummated, relationships with many boys has long been uncontested, following Humphrey Carpenter’s candid biography in 1992 and John Bridcut’s even more comprehensively revealing one in 2007, Britten’s Children. The new biography by Paul Kildea, Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century, adds little to the story of his sexuality except a sensational and almost certainly false claim that the maestro contracted syphilis, probably from his long-term adult partner, the singer Peter Pears. This claim “fell apart within about four days”, according to reviewer Philip Hensher, when a doctor who cared for Britten in his final illness went public to say that the diagnosis “does not fit with everything else … there is no serological, bacteriological, pathological or histological support for the diagnosis.”

The pox, mercifully, need not detain us, but Pears should. Bridcut writes that 13-year-old boys were Britten’s ideal, but he apparently also gained some sort of sexual satisfaction from his relationship with Pears, who was less complicatedly gay, having no apparent interest in youngsters. According to Carpenter, Pears described Britten as more masculine than himself in every way, except in bed, where the composer preferred the passive role. The biographer’s informant was John Evans, who later edited Britten’s letters, for a volume that would appear in 2009. After Britten’s death, Pears confided to Evans that Britten had “needed the active figure (Peter) to his passive, but he also needed to be active to a boy’s passive. And I’ve always had the impression that Peter meant that both types of relationship had been consummated – which left me absolutely thunderstruck.”

As well it might! One possibility that appears to have been overlooked by all the biographers is that Britten’s inhibitions, fostered in the cultural and climatic frigidity of his native England, might have melted quickly away in sunnier and sexually hotter spots abroad, as has happened to many a frustrated Brit. He spent a lot of time in the East, touring in, notably, India, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Ceylon. He wrote of seeing “the most beautiful people, of a lovely dark brown colour…wearing strange clothes, and sometimes wearing nothing at all.” He even notes that he became accustomed to boys “attaching” themselves to him.

Be that as it may, the revelation that Britten appears to have experienced two distinct sorts of homosexual attraction, passive in relation to the adult Pears, and active (psychologically at least) towards young boys, is surely worthy of thought and comment, especially as regards the current “politically correct” claim that gay men are no more likely to “molest” underage boys than straight men are likely to “molest” underage girls. It depends how you define “gay”, of course: the term tends to be used to describe adolescents who are attracted to physically mature males, but less often the other way around, when the preferred words usually change to “hebephile”, “paedophile” or just “child molester”. The language has now largely abandoned the older words “pederasty” and “sodomy” (no great loss in the latter case), which in the days of Oscar Wilde a century ago were applied almost indiscriminately to man-man contacts and man-boy ones.

What Britten’s case exposes is the falsity of the new language, which obscures an extensive “cross-over” phenomenon: “gay” men, such as he undoubtedly was, do sometimes like boys. In fact, whether we call it “gay” or not, men show a disproportionately higher homosexual interest in children than heterosexual. Research suggests that about a third of male paedophiles prefer boys, about a third prefer girls, and a third are attracted to both. The one third preferring boys is a very high figure given that only about 5% of all men in society are preferentially homosexual. Consider, too, Ray Blanchard’s experimental work: he has demonstrated that men typically have a significant degree of sexual response to their second age category preferences as well as their first: the erectile response of teleiophilic men (i.e. “gay” ones, preferentially attracted to adult males) to erotic images of pubescent boys is on average well over 60% of their response to such images of grown men. A key implication is that the gay men who loudly insist there is no connection whatever between gayness and boy love are making a politically expedient but factually flawed claim.

Enough with the technical stuff already! Let’s get back to Britten in this festive season (for which Heretic TOC wishes all readers well!) with a rousing operatic finale. Admittedly his opera Death in Venice is not that cheerful, but if his librettist Myfanwy Piper had had her way it would surely have cheered us up. The opera features child dancers taking part in “the Games of Apollo”. Bearing in mind that these children were meant to represent athletes, she suggested they should be attired just like the competitors in the games of Ancient Greece, which had inspired the theme – in other words, naked! Britten loved the idea but turned it down because, in Bridcut’s words, it might have attracted “unwelcome publicity”. One suspects that these days, alas, he would have more to worry about than sniggering reviewers!

Stifling but stimulating in sunny Cambridge


Summer is here at last in England after a long, cold Spring so where better to enjoy the belated sunshine than in the, err, stifling atmosphere of a conference centre with no air conditioning?

Well, call me a masochist but I had a great time last week at Classifying Sex: Debating DSM-5, a two-day conference at Cambridge University. DSM, for the uninitiated, is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, routinely dubbed the bible of psychiatry, a description often criticised but one which captures the intensity of the religious warfare its various versions and interpretations provoke worldwide, not just in the United States. A quasi-religious aspect is evident, too, not just in the ferocity of debate but also in its labyrinthine theology: grasping what is at stake in all the rhetorical cut and thrust demands close attention to decades of scriptural exegesis since the first edition in 1952 up until the fifth edition launched in May this year. Hence the conference: nothing less than days of lectures from experts will suffice to get one’s head around it.

Speaking of mental disorders, the sanest response might be, why bother? Don’t the shrinks give minor-attracted people a tough enough time as it is, without breaking our heads trying to unravel their precise modes of oppression? Possibly, but that would be to miss an important point: psychiatry is not monolithic; not every oppressive initiative succeeds. A clear example of this is the defeat of the DSM-5 Paraphilias Subworkgroup’s proposal to include hebephilia as a mental disorder, an outcome with potentially huge implications for the lives of sex offenders in the U.S. diagnosed with hebephilia[i]. It could mean the difference between being released at the end of a sentence on the one hand and being confined in a “civil commitment” gulag on the other, with little prospect of ever being freed. The latter fate has increasingly been the desperate lot of those offenders designated paedophiles in recent times: they are supposed to stay behind bars until treatment renders them “safe”, with the Catch 22 that no current treatment can guarantee they will not reoffend, so they cannot get out.

A separate diagnosis along similar lines for hebephiles i.e. those preferentially attracted to early adolescents, as opposed to paedophiles with a pre-pubertal preference, would have drawn in a substantial proportion of the adult population and would have had the strange effect in the case of man-girl and woman-boy love of calling it a mental disorder to be preferentially attracted to a reproductively viable (after menarche or semenarche) early adolescent partner of the opposite sex. It is one thing to criminalise behaviours deemed socially undesirable, but quite another to say a person whose sexual desires are consistent with nature’s imperative to go forth and multiply is mentally disordered. Surely only an idiot would make such a proposal?

Wrong! Try genius instead. Ray Blanchard, perhaps best known for his brilliant and well supported theory that male sexual orientation is affected by fraternal birth order, was described at the conference by another DSM big cheese as “the smartest guy I know”. And one of Blanchard’s smart answers is that it may be true that a high proportion of men (OK, let’s say nearly all of them) find freshly nubile girls a turn-on (and the remainder get hot for young boys!) but the preference, for most, is a more fully mature physique: the truly curvaceous adult female form, with big breasts and butts, is what really does it for them, or the filled-out, muscular frame of a grown man. By contrast, those men whose preference is for pubescent girls (typically aged 11-14) are unlikely to have much reproductive success compared to those whose preference includes women in their twenties and beyond. Therefore, so the reasoning goes, the hebophile’s preference for 11-14 year olds is not what nature intended and accordingly in biological terms it points to a mental disorder.

Coming from Blanchard, of all people, the audacity of this argument is staggering. He is gay! And he has the nerve to pass judgment on people’s mental health based not only on whether their sexual preferences are reproductively viable but whether they are reproductively maximal! On that basis homosexuality should never have ceased to be classified as a mental disorder, but I haven’t seen him campaigning to have gayness restored to the DSM as a psychiatric condition! Nor should this happen: with overpopulation a huge threat these days, not extinction, it makes little sense to define sexual health in crudely reproductive terms, as several speakers at Cambridge noted.

To many minor-attracted people it seems as though all of Blanchard’s research on minor-attraction is hell-bent on dehumanising  paedophiles and hebephiles, making us seem an inferior sub-species: according to his work we are less intelligent, shorter, and are more likely to have suffered head injuries than others.  His research could in theory be used to argue for social policies aimed at helping the minor-attracted overcome any such difficulties if they really exist. But as philosopher of science Patrick Singy eloquently argued in a presentation at Cambridge titled Danger and difference: the stakes of hebephilia, the strategy may be rather less worthy.

Not Blanchard’s personal strategy that is. His motives may be entirely benign as an individual. No, what Singy had discerned is, rather, an unconscious strategy adopted by modern society.  In the liberal democracies that have developed from the 19th century onwards, Singy points out, there is a tension between security and liberty: creating a safe society for the majority can only be achieved by restricting the rights and freedoms of those who present a threat. This cannot be done without a bad conscience by liberally-minded policy makers unless they can first dehumanize offenders, emphasizing their supposedly radical difference from normal people in every possible way: they must be called inferior, or monsters or predators (as in America’s “sexually violent predator” laws), which then enables them (us) to be treated like animals. It is a strategy which preserves as much liberty as possible for the majority by according a radically different, much lower, status, to just a few – with the language of mental disorder coming in very handy for the purpose.

[Added 19 July: The significance in a liberal democracy of claiming supposedly animalistic “predators” are mentally ill is that the individuals thus labelled can be oppressed in ways which superficially appear to be humane: in theory, they are held in civil confinement not as punishment but so they may be treated. The Nazis rhetorically dehumanized their victims before committing acts of genocide, but mass exterminations would obviously be inconsistent with liberal democracy. Such democracies pride themselves on being tolerant and respectful of diversity as far as possible; when there are exceptions, as with “predators” who supposedly must be caged like animals to protect society, the conscience and ethos of liberalism are salved thanks to the availability of medical rather than penal language.]      

Blanchard, bless him, may not be in love with hebephiles but he does appear to adore hebephilia as a theoretical construct and has done elegant work on the relationship (in terms of preferential and lesser levels of attraction) between paedophilia, hebephilia and teleiophilia (attraction to adults). Perhaps that is why, as chair of the Paraphilias Subworkgroup, he fought a long, bitter, and ultimately losing battle for hebephilia to take its place in DSM: victory would have given hebephilia a higher profile and provided DSM with a diagnosis underpinned by a significant element of scientific research.

Indeed, it is precisely the lack of good research behind most of the DSM’s diagnoses that has been a major and growing cause of embarrassment to the APA and the profession of psychiatry in recent years: the latest edition runs to around a thousand pages, but like earlier efforts it has been criticized as just a rag-bag of symptoms to which labels of often highly dubious medical validity have been attached, with too little attention paid to the underlying nature and causes of the conditions described. As several conference speakers pointed out, what gets labeled as sexually pathological is pretty much all down to politics of one sort or another: if it is not the moralists (who traditionally valorize reproductive sex and pathologize everything else) who are calling the tune, it is insurance companies who need diagnoses in support of legal claims, or big pharma, whose pill-peddling also needs a range of named, medically approved,  dysfunctions, diseases and disorders which they can claim their drugs address, thereby justifying an artificially generated market among  “the worried well”.

The radical psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, who died last year, looms large behind all this. His books The Myth of Mental Illness (1960) and The Manufacture of Madness (1970) argued that mental illnesses are not real in the sense that cancers are real: there are no objective methods for detecting the presence or absence of mental disease. That may change, as medicine becomes more sophisticated. A straw in the wind to this effect came in April, just before the launch of DSM-5, when the American National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) announced that in future it would be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories. The institute’s director, Thomas Insel, issued a statement titled Transforming Diagnosis. NIMH, he said, “has launched the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project to transform diagnosis by incorporating genetics, imaging, cognitive science, and other levels of information to lay the foundation for a new classification system.”

Remarkably, unless I was nodding off in the sweltering heat and missed it, not a single word was said in Cambridge about this landmark development. Not that the switched-on, hi-tech new approach by NIMH will take the politics out of sexual psychiatry: it might even give our oppressors more opportunities to blind us with science; but this futuristic ambition to ground mental health diagnosis more deeply in biology (without, one hopes, harking back to reproductive fitness) should at least offer scope for the rational interrogation of any assertions that may be made.

Back to Singy. He contended in his platform speech that whether hebephilia is a mental disorder or not is completely irrelevant to society’s concern about it. What really matters is whether it is dangerous and, if so, how such danger can be assessed reliably. I think he is right, and the same applies to paedophilia. Several speakers from the floor, asking questions, appeared to conflate the harm/danger issue, which at least in theory could be measured objectively, with consent i.e. non-consensual sex is ipso facto harmful. Again, I agree, but the issue of harm is then prejudged by the legalistic fiction that those below a certain age cannot consent. After I pointed out this confusing conflation in a question of my own, Singy approached me in the lunch break for further discussion. I found it an interesting exchange, so I might come back to that and further Cambridge stuff in another post.

[i] It has been claimed that a diagnosis of hebephilia would not in practice necessarily have led to more sex offenders being snared in civil commitment, because it has long been possible to diagnose “Paraphilia NOS” (Not Otherwise Specified), a catch-all category, as an alternative. The NOS diagnosis, which also covers necrophilia and zoophilia, has been used to help label an offender as a “sexual violent predator” in the U.S., thereby providing the legal justification for civil commitment. However, this has only ever been applicable in certain cases, at least in theory, because “the essential features of a paraphilia are recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors generally involving nonhuman objects, the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, or children or other nonconsenting persons…” (Kafka, 2010). Absent any evidence that the paraphilic (or “perverted”, as would once have been said) offender had any desire to hurt or humiliate a young partner, such a diagnosis would appear to be unjustified. In other words the NOS diagnosis should not ensnare the hebephile who has sex with a willing young partner (statutory rape) but a diagnosis of hebephilia would. However (I warned you this stuff gets complicated!), a simple but bogus (i.e. purely legalistic) diagnosis of “paraphilia nonconsent” has been used frequently in the American courts in support of civil commitment (Frances, 2011).

Frances A, First MB, Paraphilia NOS, nonconsent: not ready for the courtroom, J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 39(4):555-61 (2011)

Kafka MP, The DSM diagnostic criteria for paraphilia not otherwise specified, Arch Sex Behav. 39(2):373-6 (2010)

On Sex and Love, Child Attraction, and Contemporary Word Politics


Welcome to this, the first guest blog to be hosted by Heretic TOC. Others have been submitted and will appear in due course: many thanks to those who have taken the trouble to write. The standard has been excellent, giving me confidence that guest blogs will have a continuing role here as an occasional feature. This first blog is by Gil Hardwick. As a frequent contributor of comments on the regular blog, Gil needs little introduction, except to say that he is an anthropologist and writer whose work is better described on his website than I can manage. See also Sniffer Dog for “Hardwick and Trinder Investigations”.     

I decided for this guest blog to address recent hysteria over so-called ‘paedophilia’ rather from a broadly philological perspective than my customary ethnographic. No apologies for appearing pedantic, that’s entirely my purpose.First, we have the word sex. The word is from L. sexus, referring to the two parts of society, to the state of being male or female; etymologically related to section. Associating sex with genitalia and copulation did not arise until the late eighteenth century, and did not emerge into common use until D. H. Lawrence in 1929.

Next we have the contemporary suffix –philia, which in neither classical nor modern Greek refers to sex or sexual attraction but to special friendship; philology (as above), or love of learning, is a case in point. Eros for comparison refers to sexual and romantic love, and agapē to detached, spiritual love. The closest I can find to classical philia in modern times is the Chinese guanxi, which in Pin-yin means special closeness allowing the parties to prevail upon one another for favours, no matter how asymmetrical the relationship may be.

Another ostensibly suggestive word that I like is catamite, a somewhat more joyfully sensual rendering of acolyte; a cup-bearer or attendant, here torch-bearer, corrupted and sexualised in modern times in order to purify liturgy and expunge suggestion of corruption in the Christian church. Until the mid-seventeenth century all such words merely pertained to serving boys in differentiated Pagan, Christian, Protestant, Nonconformist and Dissenting denominations.

Catamite itself is an early corruption of the classical Ganymede, torch-bearer of Zeus, which means joyful counsel, named after Medea the sorceress, wife of Jason, of Argonaut fame.

The second word love is not classical but Germanic via Old English lufu, where in Greek special love for a male child is rendered as agoriphilia. In modern German by contrast the word is knabenliebe. Knaben, in English knaves, were originally young male attendants. There is no equivalent word here for boy as a male child but as a slave, from L. boia, which is a leg iron or yoke. Traditional and early modern catamites were invariably lower class boys attending scholars and professors, as distinct from priests, and by doing so became well educated, and elevated in society.

Child is also Germanic via Old English cild, an infant, entirely unrelated to the idea of a boy; still present in certain North Country dialects, generally referring to those emergent from the womb with an implied, Christianised ‘innocence’ to them. It is only very recently, following the Victorian invention of the child, and especially since the 1990s and under feminist insistence, that boys are included legally among children, whereas girl is likewise traditionally part of a broad range of very old Germanic diminutives, meaning any young and immature animal as distinct from human children as such. Even today an immature, effeminate boy is called a girl, whereas a forthright and capable female child is rightly considered boyish, and as such called a tomboy.

Adoption of the enslaved L. boy for a male child and the merely diminutive OE. girl for a female, underpins pervasive gender asymmetries and distortions in the contemporary Anglophone West. Plainly boys generally have not for a very long time been uniformly considered children, but as often persons of quite distinct status. A child in the process of becoming an adult within the safe confines of the modern nuclear family is recognised and anticipated by adult society, but not those considered to be ‘at risk’; those deviant, dissociated, detached boys on the road to delinquency or elsewhere. I wrote an Honours thesis in Literature on this theme in 2010, specifically entitled Reimagining the Rascal.

The clear meaning emerging from all this still has nothing to do with perverts attracted to minors in order to exploit them sexually, but patterns of reciprocal personal relationships especially between boys and men, and the effects of absence or failure of such relationships. Ethnographically these can be in the form of catamite, or more commonly fosterage and adoption; with nationalised bureaucracy now superseded somewhat by the idea of the state ward. Apart from only a very few of the more notorious cases there is no material evidence of sexual activity among any of them (being nobody else’s business anyway) beyond that implied by images of mutual erotic fondling found occasionally on ancient Greek vases.

Once we release words from this bureaucratic late modern obsession with abusive sex and its deployment in discrediting those who sceptically review and critique public policy, and place them back into their autochthonous social and cultural context, we find such closely interrelated expressions as agoriphilia, love of male children; androphilia, love of men; aretephilia, love of excellence, of virtue, of being the best you can be; ephebophilia, love of youth; gymnophilia, love of nudity, nakedness; gynephilia, love of women; hebephilia, love of pubescents; kalophilia, love of beauty; koritsiphilia (or korephiliakore being the genitive form), love of girls; paedophilia, love of children; somaphilia, love of the body; taliphilia, love of marriageable girls; teleiophilia, love of adults. You can add into this mix kalos kagathos, beautiful and good; and sophos kagathos, wise and good.

What emerges here is not at all some depraved, orgiastic wad of sodomites but a civilisation paying high regard to beauty, scholarship and erudition, goodness and wisdom. By contrast, contemporary debate throughout the Anglophone common law countries is dominated by bastardised, hybrid neologisms like sociology, criminology, and worse sexology. These words have been cobbled indiscriminately together from Latin and Greek by academics seeking to compile whole new dictionaries of aberrant sex and sexuality in an effort to focus public policy not on beauty and wisdom, but on deviance and abnormality.

As the sci-fi writer James Nicoll wrote in 1990, however; the problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.

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