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three pairs of lovers with space



The following is the introduction to “The Consenting Boys”, the eleventh chapter of Dr. Parker Rossman’s Sexual Experience Between Men and Boys (originally published in 1976), one of the only three book-length general studies of Greek love in English.

Following this introduction, Rossman went on to tackle different aspects of the subject of consenting boys in seven sub-chapters:

Characteristics of Consenting Boys
Types of Pederast Relationships
Why Do Boys Do It?
Types of Sexual Activity
Enabling Climate: Statistics
Attitudes Towards Arrest
The Actual Seduction    

These sub-chapters were followed by “Some Concluding Observations”.

“The Consenting Boys” is one the chapters in Sexual Experience Between Men and Boys, of relatively great enduring value, since it is based on interviews with boys involved in Greek love affairs and can therefore be regarded as a primary source.

However, the character and behaviour of such boys is something that has obviously varied considerably according to the cultural beliefs and social circumstances under which they have been brought up. It is clear from everything Rossman reports being told by the boys he interviewed that they were living in the U.S.A. and that their experiences were recent.  Hence this chapter is best considered as pertaining directly only to that place and time.[1] Its broader value rests on the growing impossibility that arose of addressing the subject in American academic discourse thereafter: a dogma took hold in the 1980s which insisted on the pretence that boys were incapable of consent and thus made it taboo to acknowledge those that did, less still to study them.


The Consenting Boys

The pederast underground is inhabited by boys as well as men, and the boys are there by choice, despite the public’s view — largely held but incorrect — that pederasts solicit and molest innocent and unwilling boys. No doubt some do, for human behavior is almost unbelievably varied, and the world is full of all kinds of people. Of the three hundred boys we interviewed, however, who were sexually involved with men, the majority took an aggressive initiative in seeking the relationship; while most of the rest had role-played in their imaginations the sort of erotic play that might be possible to the point of consent and readiness. When one asks which comes first: presumably there would be no consenting boys if there were not men seeking them and vice versa, the evidence leads to the conclusion that men and boys are equally responsible, at least in present-day society. This may be puzzling and difficult to understand, partly because adolescent behaviour varies so much from region to region and from class to class. It is also true that boys have varied sexual experiences, and many more than is commonly realized are one way or another erotically, emotionally, and/or sexually involved with men.

When placed on Chapter 1’s continuum or scale, the vast majority of normal boys are in the center, where their homosexual experience is largely innocent, limited to jokes, horseplay, and fantasy. Most of the sexual activity of younger adolescents is playful, and the first step into mid-adolescence is the first experience of passionate, emotional, serious, or loving sex. If such a first experience is homosexual, and especially if there are several such experiences with other boys, it may be a step toward affirming a gay identity. This is especially true if the adolescent is scorned, punished, or scolded for the homosexual activity in such a way as to drive him into a homosexual group for support and friendship, or if it incites him to flaunt his gayness as an expression of rebellion. The dynamics of homosexual commitment are far more complex than that, but it is apparent that society fails many youngsters at crucial points in their adolescence, by failing to understand and properly interpret their erotic experiences. Society wrongly assumes that through a process of normal development all youngsters will move in healthy ways from young adolescent playfulness to responsible heterosexual courtship and finally into marriage. In feet, however, the structures of society which support such a normal process are crumbling, and they have never, in any case, functioned adequately for a large minority of youngsters. From the center of the scale, depending upon their experience and opportunities, many boys move left on the scale into loving relationships, but many others move to the right on the scale into sexual adventurism, affirming and elaborating a playful style of sex relationship which may persist into adulthood. The boy who becomes a pederast is an example.

Our concern here is not with the boys who become pederast or gay, but with the wide range of youngsters who become involved with pederasts. It is a mistake to assume they are gay, neurotic, from impoverished or broken homes, or neurotically delinquent. Like the men they are involved with, they come from all races, classes, social groups, rich and poor, urban and rural — and most of them can be characterized as normal, healthy boys who will marry and have families. Perhaps they are a bit more sexy than the average and more sexually sophisticated and experienced than other boys of the same age, but one is surprised to find that they do not seem to be problem boys. Logic and theory seem to collapse under the evidence of rebellion, secrecy, adventurism and cultural confusion. It does seem to be true that the boys least likely to be sexually involved with men are those who are strictly chaperoned and sheltered, who are highly job- and goal-oriented, who are passionately caught up in sports and hobbies, who spend a great deal of time with their fathers, and who are shy and slow developing. What such a statement implies is immediately overturned by the evidence from the boys themselves.


[1] There are very occasional references to European literature to support some of his points, but the U.S.A. in the present is clearly the assumed context for what he describes.




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