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Dec 27 2011

Evidence on the Hebephilia Question

It’s funny how the best argument against allowing hebephiles to have sex with children is a hebephile arguing s/he should be allowed to do as s/he wishes. If you have a strong stomach for this sort of thing, feel free to read the comments on my prior post on the topic. If not, what you really need to know is that one showed up insisting that “Yes” was consent to be taken at face value and the harm of these relationships was an extraordinary claim. Also, consent is only an issue if there’s some demonstration of harm, and sex is healthy, so it’s always good.

So, time to shed a little science on the matter. Let’s start with a couple of definitions, since those are also in dispute in the comments.

Child: We are discussing the rights of a child and the responsibilities of a society toward children. By international treaty, a child is defined for these purposes as “Every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable under the child majority is attained earlier.”

Hebephilia: “sexual preference for individuals in the early years of puberty (generally ages 11–14, though onset of puberty may vary).”

Now for the documentation of harm. Wherever possible, sources are reviews of the literature available without special access.

An overview of research on the topic of adolescent cognitive development, discussing the uneven development of planning skills and the primacy of social pressure during adolescence: “Cognitive and affective development in adolescence,” Laurence Steinberg, 2005 (pdf available).

Questions about the nature of normative and atypical development in adolescence have taken on special significance in the last few years, as scientists have begun to recast old portraits of adolescent behavior in the light of new knowledge about brain development. Adolescence is often a period of especially heightened vulnerability as a consequence of potential disjunctions between developing brain, behavioral and cognitive systems that mature along different timetables and under the control of both common and independent biological processes. Taken together, these developments reinforce the emerging understanding of adolescence as a critical or sensitive period for a reorganization of regulatory systems, a reorganization that is fraught with both risks and opportunities.

Regarding an increase in sexual behavior considered a risk factor for STIs, including HIV, an overview that includes the criteria used to determine abuse: “Childhood and Adolescent Sexual Abuse and Subsequent Sexual Risk Behavior: Evidence from Controlled Studies, Methodological Critique, and Suggestions for Research,” Theresa E. Senn, Michael P. Carey, and Peter A. Vanable, 2008.

Childhood and adolescent sexual abuse (CSA) is associated with a wide variety of adverse psychological and health outcomes, including negative sexual health outcomes. In this paper, we review the literature investigating the relation between CSA and subsequent sexual risk behaviors among men and women. Previous research has found a relatively consistent association between CSA and higher rates of sexual risk behaviors, particularly sex trading, more sexual partners, and an earlier age of first intercourse. However, there are a number of limitations to this research, including lack of a consistent definition of CSA, failure to investigate gender as a moderator, and possible confounding of the CSA experience with some of the sexual behavior outcome variables. Further, although there appears to be an association between CSA and later sexual risk behavior, researchers have not established whether this association is causal. Suggestions for future research and implications for clinical practice are discussed.

The studies included in that article pertain to much more than just risky sexual behavior. If you have the access, it’s worth digging into the most applicable (treating large age differences in adolescent sexual relationships as a primary measure of childhood sexual abuse) individual studies to view the other negative outcomes associated with a large age difference in adolescent sexual activity.

Tying the risk of older consensual partners to unprotected sex: “Sexual Risk Behaviors Associated With Having Older Sex Partners: A Study Of Black Adolescent Females,” Ralph DiClemente et al., 2002.

Sixty-two percent of the adolescents reported their typical sex partners were at least 2 years older. These adolescents were more likely to report never using condoms during the most recent sexual encounter (AOR = 2.0), during the last five sexual encounters (AOR = 2.0), and during the past month (AOR = 2.2). Similarly, having older partners was associated with greater odds of reporting any unprotected vaginal sex in the past 30 days (AOR = 1.7) or the past 6 months (AOR = 1.5).

For an overview of the risk of domestic violence to a young (female) partner, including multiple studies that have found that older partners are a risk factor: “Risk Factors for Victimization in Romantic Relationships of Young Women” (pdf available), Johanne Vezina and Martine Hebert, 2007.

This article reviews the literature on risk factors for victimization in romantic relationships of adolescent girls and young adult women. The review includes 61 empirical studies published between 1986 and 2006 that have investigated risk factors for sustained psychological, sexual, and physical violence in romantic relationships of young women ages 12 to 24. An ecological approach is used as a conceptual model to review risk factors into four categories: sociodemographic factors, individual factors (personal and interpersonal), environmental factors (family, community, and peers), and contextual factors (linked to the romantic relationship). Methodological limitations of the studies in terms of measurement issues, samples studied, research designs, and underlying conceptual models are discussed. Finally, implications for prevention programming are considered. Recommendations are presented about which clientele should be targeted, which risk factors should be considered, and when programs should be implemented.

For discussion of power imbalances and the “wantedness” of sexual intercourse in adolescent girls with much older partners: “Young Women’s Degree of Control Over First Intercourse: An Exploratory Analysis” (full study), Joyce Abma, Anne Driscoll, and Kristin Moore, 1998.

Twenty-four percent of women aged 13 or younger at the time of their first premarital intercourse report the experience to have been nonvoluntary, compared with 10% of those aged 19-24 at first premarital intercourse. About one-quarter of respondents who reported their first intercourse as voluntary chose a low value (1-4) on the wantedness scale. Women whose first partner was seven or more years older than themselves were more than twice as likely as those whose first partner was the same age or younger to choose a low value (36% vs. 17%). Women whose partner had been seven or more years older were also less likely than other women to have used contraceptives at first intercourse. After the introduction of controls for demographic and background factors, partner age discrepancy and relationship status, wantedness of voluntary first intercourse was not independently related to the odds of contraceptive use at that intercourse.

Anybody need more information on why we prohibit these relationships?

17 comments

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  1. 1
    DLC

    Thanks for posting this, Stephanie. Of all sexual predators, I think ones who prey on children are the lowest, worst of them.

  2. 2
    Scott L Bleasdale

    I thought one of the good consequences of paedophilia being so overstated in the popular media was that in the light of the evidence that has been released in recent years nobody could possibly argue that a sexual relationship between an adult and a minor is OK. It takes a special kind of special pleading and double think to think it is acceptable to sleep with a child. I can’t believe that you even needed post this but I am very glad you did.

  3. 3
    Phledge

    Thanks for all the hard work on getting the evidence, Stephanie. I was having difficulty stomaching that douche on the other thread, so it’s nice to come back to find all these Facts.

  4. 4
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    Thank you for posting this.

  5. 5
    Hence

    Sex is guilt. It is hard to understand how anyone would need scientific data to point out that sensitive minds take a lot
    of damage from that. We need to make these people understand that guilt is the only acceptable outcome of sexual activity, because they really don’t.

  6. 6
    Stephanie Zvan

    Hence, if you can’t tell the difference between taking responsibility for the consequences to your partner in a joint activity and “Sex is guilt,” please don’t have any non-masturbatory sex until someone helps you sort it out.

  7. 7
    Hence

    No, I know first hand how much damage guilt can have. Not sure if we really need more of it.

  8. 8
    Stephanie Zvan

    If it keeps you from hurting kids, I’m willing to give it a try. However, your comments about guilt still have nothing to do with this post.

  9. 9
    Jason Thibeault

    We need to make these people understand that guilt is the only acceptable outcome of sexual activity, because they really don’t.

    Another acceptable outcome is when two people who are capable of consent have sex out of informed and enthusiastic consent and are happy as a result.

    The idea that people should lust after barely-pubescent girls who aren’t capable of informed consent because it’s good and healthy for them, is not actually diametrically opposed to Hence’s reductio ad absurdum. I strongly suspect Hence’s position is a strawman attempting to undermine the idea that it’s possible to be sex-positive at the same time as being against hebephilia.

  10. 10
    Kevin

    It’s quite simple, really.

    1. Menstruating females are biologically capable of bearing children, and therefore as soon as they start menstruating should be biologically capable of having intercourse.

    2. The reason older men shouldn’t have sex with females younger than age 18 is because it’s against the fucking law.

    There are a lot of things that are biologically possible but socially, culturally, and legally inappropriate.

    Men don’t have many wives and concubines, even though there’s no compelling biological reason not to.

    Heck, there’s nothing biological that impedes you from dropping your trousers and crapping on the sidewalk. Doesn’t make it advisable.

  11. 11
    Stephanie Zvan

    No, a law is never a good enough basic reason. Rules still have to be justified.

  12. 12
    Dan J

    No, a law is never a good enough basic reason. Rules still have to be justified.

    Exactly; and the justification for the rules in the US against adults having sex with minors are in place because of the harm it can cause, which is plainly evidenced by the information in your post.

    Thank you, Stephanie, for taking part in this discussion, and for providing the information in this post and others.

    Some hebephiles, like some pedophiles, will continue to justify their preferences (whether acted upon, or not) in any way they can, twisting logic and facts to suit their desired outcome. It won’t convince those of us who have a capacity for reason which helps us to realize that such behavior wrong. I also doubt it will convince any jury they happen to face when brought to trial because of acting on their preferences.

  13. 13
    Kevin

    …what Dan said…

    There’s more than enough evidence to justify making sex with minors illegal. And the legal penalties in and of themselves are reason enough to avoid the behavior. The justification of the law and the penalties under the law go hand-in-hand, they’re not mutually exclusive.

    And if you violate the law, even if you think it’s a “bad law”, expect the consequences to be not a change in the law, but quite possibly a change in your residence for the next 10-20 years, and a lifetime of wearing GPS tracking anklets after that.

    No, I think “it’s against the law” is quite sufficient a reason to not engage in a behavior.

    You want to look? Fine. Fantasize? Have at it. Play role games in your sex life with consenting adult partners? Please and thank you.

    But the “real thing”? No. Why? Because it’s against the law.

  14. 14
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    1. Menstruating females are biologically capable of bearing children, and therefore as soon as they start menstruating should be biologically capable of having intercourse.

    Well, actually no.
    Teen pregnancies are among the pregnancies with the highest rate of complications because the rest of the body isn’t mature enough. Their hips are simply not the right size, their organs haven’t fully developed.
    Maybe Greg Laden could tell you about the connection between having grown to your final size and onset of menstruation in foraging cultures, but in ours this definetly doesn’t match up.
    And I haven’t even spoken about psychological maturity.

  15. 15
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    As others have said, we should not use “it’s against the law” as an argument.
    Laws change and have changed and used to be quite ridiculous*.

    Laws should be based on the evidence we have and account for teenage (I’m talking about 14+) desire and ability to engage in sex with their peers, while keeping a close eye on abusive situations.
    German age of consent is 16, but it explicitly excludes adults who are in a position of trust and power like teachers, coaches and such.
    There was a case here a few years ago where a shop owner was convicted of sleeping with his 16 yo shop aid. He’d told her all the stuff about romantic love and the he’d leave his wife and marry her once she turned 18 yadda-yadda.
    Rightfully, the court found that he had abused his position of trust and authority and abused an inexperienced girl’s naive and romantic ideas about sex.

    *when my dad first slep at my mum’s, my grandparents commited a crime. Not because she was 17 and he 22, but because they weren’t married. When they got married a year later, my mother wasn’t legally an adult yet and my grandparents “signed her over” to my dad who then became her legal guardian for 3 more years. Fucking her was totally legal.

  16. 16
    Skepgineer

    Beware of touting statistics about harms of relationships between teens and older persons, since that could lead to the same error as xtians who tout higher suicide or HIV rates among homosexuals or women who get abortions. There are multiple factors at play:

    1. the harms inherent in the act
    2. the harms resulting from cultural demonization of the act.
    3. selection biases analogous to the sick user effect (teens who are already predisposed to certain problems may be more likely to engage in behavior that violates social norms).

    It’s important to make a distinction between mentally competent teens who consent to sexual activity but are pigeonholed by law and social norms into the “abused” category, and those who are violently raped, and the whole spectrum in between, including teens who incompetently consent and later regret their behavior. Since age of consent is based on the idea that *most* persons of a certain age are not competent to give their informed consent, and that that proportion decreases with age[1], there will always be some ratio of guilty persons going free on that basis to innocent persons being imprisoned on that basis. Higher AOC, higher false positive rate; lower AOC, higher false negative rate[2]. Also consider that on average it is worse to imprison an innocent person than to let a guilty person go free[3].

    On an orthogonal axis to that consequentialist consideration, I believe the right of competent young persons to make their own decisions unencumbered by paternalism trumps the regrets of people who did things they later regretted when they were 16. What age should the paternalism stop? We let 16 year olds choose to drop out of high school, which has far worse average consequences than a consensual and mutually pleasurable relationship with another person. The dropout age should be at least as high, and probably higher, than the age of consent.

    If one were to concern oneself primarily with statistical measures of health, then we should be ruled with an iron fist from cradle to grave to stop us from eating junk food, drinking soda, living a sedentary lifestyle, and doing other fun things we might regret later. Individual choice and freedom however are best served by lowering the age of consent to 16 or 15[4] so that persons who so choose can engage in relationships with older persons without the fear that their partner will be imprisoned against both’s will[5].

    [1]: But IMO it never reaches zero. It probably never dips below 20%. And it starts increasing when people get old.
    [2]: It’s essentially a linear classifier: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linear_classifier.
    [3]: Considering the prevalence of prison rape, and the harm of the false imprisonment itself, it is a certainty that false imprisonment for several years is worse than the average relationship between persons above and below the age of consent limits.
    [4]: As it already is in some US states.
    [5]: And face penury for life due to the sex offender registry showing up on employers’ background checks.

  17. 17
    Stephanie Zvan

    It’s always so much fun when the people commenting on this focus on those poor older people who apparently have no choice in their own behavior and insist that’s a reason not to protect the children who actually aren’t in a position to make a reasoned choice. It’s extra special when they elide the fact that predators particularly like the power imbalances involved. But hey, it’s really totally unreasonable of us to tell adults to restrict their choice of sexual partners to that majority of humanity over the local age of majority.

  1. 18
    Hebephilia, the “measurable penile response”, and psychological damage in children | Neurotic Physiology

    [...] me with a lot of discussion and helped me to outline this article, and particularly thankful to Stephanie Zvan, who’s original posts on this topic helped me begin my own source hunting and who provided excellent evidence and [...]

  2. 19
    Slowpoke.jpg: Did you see this Almost Diamonds post? « skepgineering

    [...] months late to the party, but this post by Stephanie Zvan kind of grinded my gears, so I wrote a reply: Beware of touting statistics about [...]

  3. 20
    Best of 2011: Ladybusiness Anthropology Edition | Kathryn B. H. Clancy, PhD

    […] Evidence on the Hebephilia question. I love this post by Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds because she compiles an impressive array of evidence to support her point about the nature of consent and power between children and adults. I’ve already linked to a number of other posts I like on the topic here, but this, more recent one lays out the evidence. […]

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