WHY BOY-LOVE? BY ARTHUR JOHNSON
The following article appeared in issue 14 of Pan, a magazine about boy-love, December 1982, pp. 13-18. Parts of it bear fascinating comparison with two papers published in 2012-13 by American psychologist Bruce Rind, which were to break ground by presenting massive cross-disciplinary evidence suggesting the evolutionary function of Greek love through the sort of academic studies Johnson suggested in his conclusion.
Because this article is only forty years old and the interesting questions it addresses continue to be debated with little change to the circumstances, footnotes are offered which are much less constrained in the giving of opinion than is usual for this website, which generally prefers to let the past speak for itself with only a little added information.
The purpose of this article is to set out a “zoological” hypothesis on why some men love boys, and to invite confirmation of it or otherwise, especially from those qualified in relevant disciplines.
Briefly, the hypothesis is that the human male animal has an inbuilt instinct to protect and love pubescent boys, important to the species because half-grown boys are endangered by the competitive instinct of adult males during the lengthy period of human pubescence.
Before stating this hypothesis more fully, let me define some assumptions.
The personality (or, if one prefers, behaviour) of an individual member of any advanced species is a permutation, specific to itself, of many instincts built into its species. It will have some of these instincts in stronger form than its fellows, some in weaker, some perhaps absent. In the human species, the individual’s personality is also modified by the exercise of intelligence, consciously controlling his instinctual inclinations.
One such instinct is competitive male behaviour. Human males, like those of many other species, are programmed to compete with one another, for power, sex, and other desiderata. Additional instincts relevant to my topic are the sex drive, the herding instinct (man is gregarious), and the wish to protect and encourage (small) children.
The physical and emotional development of animals to adulthood falls into a number of recognisable stages:
Infancy The infant is totally dependent, physically and emotionally.
Childhood The child is physically independent over short periods (hours not days), but remains emotionally totally dependent. It benefits from the pro-child instinct in adults, which it evokes by appealing “childhood indicators” (childish appearance and behaviour), and by manifestly not being a rival.
Pubescence The just pre- and just post-pubescent animal is acquiring a reasonable degree of physical independence, but is emotionally still largely dependent, though beginning to break away. It is starting to lose the childhood indicators (in the case of human boys, growing fast and losing bodily softness, the voice breaking, the pubic hair sprouting). It is beginning to become a rival in some respects (e.g. sexual capacity) to adults.
Young adulthood The young adult is physically and emotionally independent. It is adult in appearance, and an evident rival to other adults.
The hypothesis may now be elaborated as follows. The pubescence stage constitutes a problem in all species with the competitive male instinct, in that the pubescent male is at risk of being seen, and treated, as a competitor by adult males, without having the physical or emotional resources to cope. This problem is particularly acute for the human species, because with our slow physical development the pubescence stage lasts an unusually long time (say 3-4 years from being obviously a child to being a reasonably competitive adult), despite the growth spurt that, no doubt for this reason, accompanies it. In compensation for this peculiarly human problem, human males have an inbuilt, animal, pro-pubescent boy instinct, to mitigate the risk of destroying adolescents before they can mature.
This instinct is triggered by “adolescence indicators”, comparable to the “childhood indicators”, in the boys. These consist primarily of the pubescent boy’s distinctive tall, slim shape, his tender, blooming, almost hairless skin, and his sexiness. As the sexuality of adolescents is strong, the pro-pubescent boy instinct, unlike the pro-child instinct, tends to manifest itself in a sexual form. In most adults it is weaker than the sexual instinct towards women; in some it is stronger.
Correspondingly, the pubescent boy has inbuilt instincts of his own, to break away from emotional dependence on his parents, to seek relationships with other adults, and to respond to adult admiration and protection. These too have a tendency to operate sexually.
On achieving adulthood his body reaches competitive maturity; the tall, slim shape changes, coarse body and facial hair appear. The old instincts on both sides cease to act; the young man’s sexuality focusses on its long term objective (usually women).
This is an appealing theory, though objections leap to mind and will be discussed shortly. Two general observations first.
One is that the hypothesis is essentially zoological and in no way ethical. If it were valid it might explain boy-love but it would not justify it. There are plenty of zoologically programmed behaviours upon which society chooses to frown, like men’s instinct to have sex with every woman in sight, or the instinct to open the bowels for flight when frightened. This article is less concerned with ethics than with origins - but it would be nice to understand why some of us are attracted to boys rather than women.
The second observation is that any hypothesis worthy of the name must have a means, preferably of proof, or at least of weighing evidence for or against it. I shall suggest at the end of this article some kinds of evidence which would support the hypothesis, which appropriate experts might provide or deny.
Objections and Questions
I am setting a series of these out in question and answer form for clarity: I certainly don’t pretend to offer a full set of adequate answers. What seem to me the two most difficult questions are kept to last.
If boy-love is an inbuilt instinct, why is it so widely and passionately disapproved?
As the disapproval is in the sphere of ethics not zoology, it provides no evidence for or against the existence of the instinct.
But how did such disapproval arise?
Presumably from a mixture of general disapproval of sexuality, of the desire common in sophisticated societies to prolong childhood, and of the wish, conceivably based on insecurity, for clear-cut male/female role differentiation.
If boy-love is switched off by the physical signs of maturity, why does homosexuality exist between adult males?
Adult homosexuality is, I believe, a quite separate phenomenon from boy love, overlapping at the edges, but in general affecting different individuals and for different reasons.
You stress the risks of adult-adolescent competition. But much boy-love applies to pre-pubertal boys (choir boys and all that) who are not yet adult-like.
My suggestion is that boy-love is provoked by the adolescent indicators (shape, skin, sexiness), which start to develop shortly before puberty, before the competitive, and hence dangerous, stage of development is reached. There is obvious utility in a protective instinct getting to work before it is needed, rather than after and perhaps too late.
Why hypothesize a new instinct? Isn't the protection of adolescents just an extension of the instinct to protect children?
The indicators of childhood and pubescence are different. Children aren’t perceived as competitors. I don’t think most men react instinctively to adolescents in the same way as to children. I certainly don’t (quite apart from sex).
An instinct to protect doesn’t require sexual desire. We don’t desire kittens, say.
Perfectly true. I can only say that this particular protective instinct does seem to involve sexual desire - of another sexy human body.
Isn’t this the “Greek love” theory again?
Not as I understand it. I understand “Greek love” to be a sophisticated, essentially educational, justification for boy-love. What I am describing is primitive and instinctual. Greek love might perhaps have its roots in it.
If adolescent boys are supposed to depend for survival on adult admiration and protection, why aren’t all adolescent boys attractive?
Why aren’t all women attractive? It is worth noting that the stronger adolescents, those less in need of protection, tend to appeal less to boy-lovers than frailer ones.
If the boy-lover is the protector, the male type in the relationship, wouldn’t he always take the male part in sexual techniques? But boy-love doesn't work like that.
It doesn’t follow. Between lovers any physically possible embrace may be welcomed. Emotionally, all sexual activity is the same thing.
If the hypothesis were right, all primitive tribes should practise boy-love.
Perhaps, but how many truly primitive tribes, in the sense of having no social refinements of instinct, are there? How many, for example, go totally naked?
The age of puberty and the age of full maturity have been getting earlier. In some hypothetical ‘primitive state’; boy puberty would arrive at something like 16, and full maturity at 20. What does that do to the hypothesis?
Not much really. A 16-20 year old adolescent might be better able to look after himself intellectually than one of 13-17, but the physical problem of his competitiveness is not affected by absolute age.
How do puberty rites, circumcision and so on, relate to the hypothesis?
They go beyond instinctual behaviour, and cast light on the hypothesis only in that they confirm the special interest adults have in pubescence.
There are various theories attributing boy-love to narcissism, or to inability (or unwillingness) to sustain a mature relationship. How about these?
They may not be wrong in individual cases. Maybe such characteristics in a particular individual might make it easier for his boy-love to outweigh his woman-love instinct, although narcissism and immaturity are hardly unknown among woman-lovers. However, I find it impossible to believe these theories are general: boy-love is surely more widely and deeply rooted than they suggest.
Girls too can be tall and slim, have blooming skin, and be sexy. Indeed this is from time to time the fashionable look.
Yes. Such girls may, for many men, appeal to the woman-lover instinct and to the pro-pubescent boy instinct as well.
Why the North/South difference between attitudes to boy-love?
It seems to be as much a difference in attitudes to sex generally as in attitudes to boy-love. Climate, religion, immemorial custom all probably have something to do with it. Boy-love does seem to be “hereditary “in that it is accepted by generation after generation of boys (and men) in places where it is established.
If, as the hypothesis states, there is a widespread instinct among men to love boys and among boys to reciprocate, what effects does the suppression in practice of the behaviour prompted by these instincts have?
On most men, only that they have to be careful what forms they allow their relationships with boys to take. On boy lovers, frustration or danger. Too bad for them!
But what about the boys, for whose benefit the whole instinctual system is hypothesised?
In a civilised society they do get protected from the dangers of competing adults, though by other means: we simply don’t allow adolescents to compete with adults, either sexually or generally. But they probably lose out somewhat on adult companionship as a result of our taboos. And they don’t get the physical love. Is that a problem? Does it throw them back on to solitary masturbation, make them more inclined to sex with other boys, delay their sexual focussing? If so, are any of these consequences bad?
By now I have strayed from the scientific discussion of the hypothesis into the ethical and sociological. Which leads to the two final questions.
The Two Hardest Questions
Your hypothesis not only has men loving boys, but boys loving men. But they don’t. On the contrary, the first love object of an adolescent boy is frequently a younger boy.
My view in more detail about the development of boys’ sexuality (at least in sophisticated societies) runs as follows. Pre-puberty boys herd together, despise girls, are physically modest, aren’t for the most part spontaneously sexually active, and inhabit a solipsistic world (i.e. do not empathise with other people as having feelings and aspirations mirroring their own). With the intensifying sex drive of puberty all this changes, but slowly. They become “dirty-minded”. Sex activity is at first solitary, and only later does a desire develop to share it.
The point at which this last development occurs may be crucial. If it is while the boy is still in the herding stage (and the time at which he leaves this will depend on his personality and his environment as well as his physical development) the preferred partner is likely to be a boy of around his own age or younger. If it is later, individual circumstances are likely to determine whether the first partner is woman, man or boy. Subsequent choices of partner will similarly be influenced by circumstances, with an overall long term preference gradually emerging. In other words, generalised sexual desire precedes sexual preference.
All this produces quite a high probability that boys’ early choice for partners will be younger boys - and indeed that doesn’t make too much sense in relation to the protection hypothesis. It is I suppose to some extent a protection for the adolescent boy if he is not competing for the females that most males want.
In a society where man-boy relationships were regarded without disfavour, might there be a higher likelihood of a boy in his period of generalised desire choosing an adult male partner? Are we perhaps observing behaviour distorted by societal conventions and attaching too much weight to it?
What makes an individual a long-term boy-lover?
If the hypothesis is right, one would expect some kind of natural selection mechanism to produce a small but consistent proportion of adult males who are predominantly boy-lovers (just as a natural mechanism roughly equalizes the number of boys and girls born). This may happen, but it is difficult to prove and, if true, the mechanism is not easy to spot.
Is the early-maturing boy, because likely to form more sexual partnerships while still in the herding stage, more likely to become a long-term boy lover? Is the strongly-sexed boy, whose sex is a more absorbing concern to him, likely to focus his long term preference early, thus increasing the possibility that it will be for boys? Is the boy who is first attracted to younger boys but never manages to consummate this feeling more likely to be stuck with it than if he had? Is the boy who is not popular with his contemporaries at the herding stage likely to continue to long for a boy-companionship he never had?
These speculations are perhaps over-sophisticated. Many men have an element of the pro-pubescent boy instinct mixed into them: what makes this outweigh the pro-woman instinct in different individuals is not likely to be a question with one general, simple answer.
What evidence for the hypothesis could be sought?
Our discussion has turned a fairly simple hypothesis into a complex one with a host of trailing ends. This is hardly surprising: human behaviour does take complex and untidy shapes.
More to the point, it remains only a hypothesis, and a personal one at that. What could be done to take it further?
It seems to me that a number of disciplines may be able to help. For the hypothesis to be credible, one would need:
psychologists to confirm that many men admire, with a touch of sensuality, pubescent boys;
psychologists, again, to confirm that many pubescent boys respond to adult admiration and even physical desire;
anthropologists to give evidence from such “primitive” societies as can be observed;
zoologists to tell us whether there is any behaviour consistent with the hypothesis among relevant animals;
and, most expert of all, boy-lovers and maybe even boys to say whether the responses and emotions I have attributed to them make any sense.
Comment by Pan
The unidentified writer of this comment was presumably the executive editor of Pan, Frank Torey, but its effective author was perhaps his close associate, Dr. Edward Brongersma, the Dutch senator and advocate of boy-love, who also wrote regularly for Pan, and whose style of writing it resembles. Both, but especially the latter (then writing his greatest work, Loving Boys), were in touch with researchers working in anthropology and evolution concerning ritualised homosexuality pederasty in Melanesia, who had begun emphasizing just at that time the centrality of warring and hunting for pederasty’s cultural function.
The author of this article has proposed that at least one survival advantage of a “boy-love instinct” in men is that it would protect the male newly emerging from childhood from the threat of lethal destruction by older competing males. Boy-love is viewed as a kind of internal counterforce within adult men preventing them from destroying their own vulnerable young.
Another survival advantage might be that, manifesting itself actively in the behaviour of older males of his own tribe, it would help protect him from external aggression, especially where some dangerous activity was carried out by all-male groups away from the villages or tribal centres with their resident female populations. Two such situations immediately come to mind.
One is in some hunting cultures where males are on expeditions for many days at a time and bears, lions, elephants, buffalos, sharks or other dangerous creatures are encountered. Hunting skills must be acquired, through practice and imitation; chances must be enlarged for inexperienced males to survive a mistake.
The other is in war parties, where the dangers are much greater and separation from women of longer duration.
In both situations an adolescent boy under the guidance and watchful eye of a mentor is, all things being equal, more likely to survive than one left to his own (often awkward) devices. And here it is that a boy-love instinct could be important. The boy might sleep better through the long nights away from home if he lay in the arms of a strong man he trusted, liked, perhaps even loved. He might learn more quickly if they were emotionally close. The man’s guidance and protection would probably be better if their relationship were cemented by physical coupling, if he acted in love or at least gratitude for the sexual fulfilment the boy was giving him in moments of rest - and would continue to give him as long as the lad survived. One wonders how many pubertal warriors down through the ages have been saved by the spear or the sword or the rifle of the man who had spent his seed with him the night before.
Perhaps, even, this is one reason an adolescent boy’s sexual drive is so strong and so compliant with a large variety of sexual objects: it is one tool he instinctively tries to use to gain help from more experienced men in coping with a dangerous and imperfectly understood environment.
 “Hebephilia as Mental Disorder? A Historical, Cross-Cultural, Sociological, Cross-Species, Non-Clinical Empirical and Evolutionary Review” in Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41 (4), 2012, pp. 797-829, and the more specialist “Pederasty: An Integration of Empirical, Historical, Sociological, Cross-Cultural, Cross-Species and Evolutionary Evidence and Perspectives” in Censoring Sex Research; The Debate over Male Intergenerational Relations edited by Thomas K. Hubbard & Beert Verstraete, Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast, 2013.
 This is the most significant divergence between Johnson’s generally insightful hypothesis and the findings by Bruce Rind later published in the two essays already cited. A distinction must be drawn between the characteristics of a boy towards the end of his love relationship with a man, when he might be as old as his late teens, and his characteristics when he sparks the man’s desire and love. Johnson himself later points out that, for sound functional reasons, “boy-love is provoked […] before puberty, before the competitive, and hence dangerous, stage of development is reached.” Rind’s exhaustive studies nowhere suggest that the pubescent or slightly pre-pubescent boy could be a sexual rival to adults and, indeed, it is surely hard to see how a boy of around thirteen could function nearly as well as a man as a mate for a female in a primitive environment. Rather they confirm the extraordinarily prescient alternative explanation offered in the “Comment by Pan” given at the end of this article.
 Strong sexual feeling, like any human emotion, is surely emotionally infectious, and pubescent boys are more highly sexual in capacity and energy than anyone else. As, when culturally-induced disgust was not operating, they were often willing or eager to share that sexual energy with men, their capacity to arouse men sexually was hardly surprising.
As Paul Gebhard, director of the Kinsey Institute, observed of the boy aged 12 to 15, “he is still experimentally inclined and his prejudices and preferences have not become hardened. If such a boy can be persuaded to engage in sexual activity, he exhibits an intensity of response matching or frequently surpassing that of an adult. This fact is well known to many homosexual adults who are thereby subjected to temptation that the heterosexual adult is largely spared. If twelve- to fifteen-year-old girls had as well developed libidos as boys of the same age, our penal institutions would burst at the seams.” (P. H. Gebhard, J. H. Gagnon, W. B. Pomeroy, & C. V. Christenson,C.V. (1965), Sex offenders: An analysis of types (New York, 1965) p. 299.)
 While much that is natural is frowned upon for sound reasons, the comparison between pederasty and a man having sex with every woman in sight is a poor one. The latter would lead to conflict and lethal fighting, besides making marriage and fatherhood impossible. By contrast, modern society represses the former out of hyperbolic prejudice.
 There is truth in the first two of these, but the last is surely the sheerest bit of nonsense in this essay. One of the main functions of pederasty in every known society that institutionalised it was expressly to masculinise boys. Its recent elimination in favour of homosexuality between adults and transgenderism has been precisely to emasculate boys and maximally blur male-female role differentiation for the benefit of feminism, which seeks dominance by derogating and destroying masculinity. The author seems to have confused recent animosity to pederasty with the much older animosity to androphiles, who were indeed long seen as a threat to gender role-playing.
 A point so important it surely deserves explanation. Above all, the “indicators of pubescence”include boys’ readiness and eagerness to be part of men’s society and learn its ways, and fundamentally distinguish a boy of 13 from one of, say, 7.
 Surely, the sort of protection offered by men to either kittens or to unrelated children not yet approaching puberty is usually offered at very little cost? This is where the hypothesis presented in “Comment by Pan” at the end, and later substantiated by Rind, that pederasty existed to offer boys vital mentorship is much more credible: mentoring pubescent boys could involve considerable and prolonged cost and therefore need a special motivating mechanism, such as sex.
 The distinction would not be nearly as great if one accepts the proposition of the “Comment by Pan”at the end that primitive human pederasty involved prolonged mentorship in challenging tasks. The author’s statement would be much truer if he were comparing Greek pederasty with the much older pre-human pederasty that can be inferred from the behaviour of other primates. Numerous articles on this website show that immature male apes and monkeys regularly offer themselves for mounting by adult ones as a means of averting aggression and securing protection and food.
 This answer is strongly redolent of the most recent and historically freakish age in which pederasty has been vilified and relationships involving dominance and submission derided. Anthropologically and historically, men have played the dominant male role with boys, usually through pedicating them. In a society deeply antagonistic to pederasty, such as the one the author was already living in, when pederasty occurred at all, there were a lot of constraints (the conflict for boys teetering between taught disgust and contempt for homosexuality and tolerance or willingness to try it probably limited their willingness to play the passive role, while their frequently sex-starved lovers were eager to do whatever was available). Moreover, in a society which rests its case for vilifying pederasty largely on the idea that pederasts dominate their boys, pederasts are impelled to try to signal their own virtue by claiming that this is not true, especially sexually, and thus to denounce pedication.
“Emotionally, all sexual activity is the same thing” is surely nonsense. See, for example, Thorkil Vanggaard, Phallós: A Symbol and its History in the Male World (New York, 1972) on some of the emotional thrills uniquely associated with pedication: asserting dominance for the man (pp. 102 ff) and willing submission for the boy (p. 104) could be equally exciting without any kind of masochism being involved.
 The author’s answer is surely a cop-out. It was not the case, was it, that all naked tribes institutionalised pederasty in the way those of New Guinea did? Pederasty has been a facultative trait, becoming ubiquitous when found to be a mechanism favourable for a tribe’s functioning, but it was not the only such mechanism and if a tribe had a culture hostile to pederasty or homosex, then other mechanisms presumably came to the fore.
 This is a very dubious hypothesis which will be addressed in an essay on this website on the changing age of puberty. Briefly, that age can rise as well as fall due to nutrition and other causes, and it does not follow from its having fallen dramatically in the last century that it was higher in much earlier times. The lower age of puberty for primates closely related to humans surely suggests that early human puberty also came at a younger age.
 But what is “the special interest” men have in these rites? None of the many anthropological studies quoted on this website supports the idea that they betokened an undertaking to protect rather than compete against boys, as the author would have it. Rather, they signalled the boys’ breaking with maternal protection and joining adult male ways, aided in many societies by pederastic mentorships.
 The author’s answer is obvious here (the overall historical record shows, after all, that girls were most often married in pubescence to males several years older), but his idea that attraction to boys carries over into attraction to girls undermines his hypothesis that pederasty existed to avert rivalry between men and boys for females: girls were surely not such rivals, therefore their appeal must be a different phenomenon. Hence the “Comment by Pan”’s mentoring explanation offers a sounder explanation for the attraction to boys: it was no use getting excited about a girl when big-game hunting and warring with deadly neighboring tribes were at hand. Interest in boys paid off much more in helping the man and his group survive down the road.
 This old question was most famously discussed by Sir Richard Burton in his essay ”Pederasty” (1886). He posited a “Sotadic zone”, roughly corresponding to warm climates. It may well be that there is an association between harsh climates and more advanced technology leading to greater government control and repression, though the association is not ancient: the oldest civilisations across the globe arose in warm climates. Also, note that the Sotadic Zone by no means excluded some cold climates such as Japan (which for many centuries had perhaps the most pro-pederastic culture ever known) and North America (based of course on its natives rather than its immigrant-descended majority). Moreover, the late 2nd-century AD Book of the Laws of Countries makes the opposite point, contrasting the popularity of pederasty in the cold north (Gaul and Germany) with the horror of it in the hot east.
 Surely an understatement! Most men (known from the historical record to be capable of attraction to boys in encouraging cultures) will either never come to feel such attraction or will totally suppress or deny it.
 Because the author posits that pederasty has existed to protect boys from the rivalry of men in their own tribe rather than to offer mentorship (as suggested in “Comment by Pan” and later substantiated by Rind), he has missed out on the most blatant harm done to boys through the suppression of pederasty. Given the all-pervading suspicion that fear of pederasty has spread to all relations between men and boys, the latter have been almost entirely deprived of the traditional older male mentorship that used to sustain them. The consequences were hardly known in 1982, when this article was written, since the era of severe repression had only just begun then, but have since become very obviously dire in the most Americanised parts of the world where it has been most intense. The progressive decline of boys there academically (and, consequently, once they become men) as workers, leaders, husbands and fathers has become the subject of an anxious literature too extensive for summary here.
 Really?? No kind of evidence is offered for this and it would be interesting to know what it might be. Both question and answer seems to assume considerable subjective generalisation is possible.
 Psychologists are largely useless, limited as they are to subjects in their own peculiar cultures, and because most of them have dared or found it advantageous to report on only what is socially approved in those cultures. What is needed instead is the objective study of primary historical sources representing the full breadth of human experience of pederasty across all cultures and times. Providing that is the objective of this website.
 Considerable evidence from anthropology and zoology had already been published earlier in the 20th century and more was to follow. It was precisely the evidence from these, together with the critically important addition of historical studies, that Rind was to bring together in his two brilliant cited articles that were to substantiate some of Johnson’s ideas, while correcting and improving others.
 Actually boy-lovers and boys today, despite a very few useful reports of their views, are scarcely a much better source of sound understanding than psychologists. What they are willing to say can at least have the advantage of being first-hand and untwisted, but they are even more likely to be intimidated from speaking the truth and suffer just as much from representing only one peculiar culture. Moreover, “boy-lovers” today represent, as the author admits, only the most boy-oriented small fraction of men who have historically been attracted to boys and are misrepresentative of them in important respects.
 ON Brongersma's style of writing, see, for example, the sentence ”One wonders how many pubertal warriors down through the ages have been saved by the spear or the sword or the rifle of the man who had spent his seed with him the night before.” Brongersma was gifted at giving emotional resonance to what might otherwise be dry academic theory, and avoided the impoverished, clinical vocabulary and clumsy sentence structures common to modern academic writing.
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