Science and Social Research / Psychology

Outcomes of Man/Boy Sexual Relationships
Can Science Shed Some Light?


 by David Miller

Sexual intimacy is such a wonderful way to share mutual feelings of affection and caring.  A good sexual relationship with one's partner has been positively linked, in popular reports, to various measures of health and well-being.  Where married couples in the "missionary position" are concerned, even many strict religious fundamentalists are agreed that sexual intimacy is a good thing.

So how is it that something so wonderful for the "right" people is so terrible as it is made out to be for others?  Can sex really transform from a damaging experience (for young people) into a perfectly wholesome experience (for adults) in the course of a couple of years, as official attitudes would have us believe?  And if so, how does this happen?

The fact is no one has proposed a coherent theory to explain how the same physical act can be transformed from traumatic to wonderful, based solely -- like our harshest laws -- on the ages of the participants.

Not only is there no such theory, there is also no body of evidence to indicate that such an age-based transformation occurs.  Firstly, most sexual experiences of boys are not viewed by them as negative experiences, much less "traumatic" (see bibliography below for extensive references).  Secondly, where an experience is viewed negatively, or as a source of trauma, the evidence overwhelmingly points to (lack of) consent as the factor that explains why the experience was not positive.  This passes Occam's test of simplicity of explanation, and is remarkably consistent with common sense -- i.e., willing sex = good ;  unwilling sex = bad.

The purpose of this article is to look at what the scientific literature on the sexual experiences of boys actually can tell us about the sexual aspect of man/boy love -- it's nature and outcomes.  First, I will review some reasons why some studies appear to show harm resulting from man/boy relationships.  Then I will list the actual finding of research point by point, with references.  In a later work, I hope to elaborate on these points.


What About All Those Studies?

If you think man/boy sexual relationships are likely to be harmful, you are not alone.  Many are convinced that science confirms popular condemnations of man/boy love.  Most often, harm is taken for granted as an inevitable or at least a likely outcome of any sexual contact between a legal minor and someone older.  In some cases, referances are cited.  And there is a large body of published studies to draw upon which tend to reinforce this view.  But we must be careful when research is cited, to observe not only the methods used, but also the actual findings of the study.

Most of the many studies that find sex is harmful do so by systematically excluding consensual (“willing”) relationships from their samples, by a wide variety of creative means.  In some cases, they simply pose the question, “did the experience involve force or coercion?” and those who answer No are excluded from the final result (for example, Finkelhor, 1979 -- one of the most widely cited books in the entire field of social science).  In other cases they sample only from clinical settings such as rape crisis centers (e.g. Browne & Finkelhor, 1986; Kendall-Tackett, Williams, and Finkelhor, 1992 -- also very widely cited).

And still other studies include both consensual and non-consensual experiences, then find correlations with harm that are predictably much weaker than those found by studies of only non-consensual experiences -- yet these weak correlations, entirely explainable by the inclusion of non-consensual experiences in the sample (called aggregation bias) are used as a basis to claim or at least imply that the consensual experiences were responsible for the correlation with later life problems, with the extreme weakness of the association being glossed over (e.g. Urquiza and Capra, 1990).

In fact, while hundreds of studies have shown a weak correlation between non-consensual sex and later life problems (stronger correlations are found when the window of circumstances is narrowed to include only the most abusive cases), no study of any statistically useable sample size has ever looked at boys’ consensual sexual experiences and found them to be harmful.

The question was essentially put to rest by two important meta-analyses (Rind and Tromovitch, 1997; Rind, Tromovitch and Bauserman, 1998).  These studies, using the most rigorous of all scientific methods, found that correlations between boys’ sexual experiences and later life problems dissappeared when non-consensual experiences were excluded.  One of these studies, by virtue of its higher-profile publication, received a great deal of public criticism -- but importantly, no author of any of the original research that these authors analyzed has joined this criticism.


The Actual Findings

Below is a list of published studies relevant to questions frequently asked of NAMBLA.   For convenience, the list is grouped into particular points of interest and the studies relevant to that point.  The list of studies supporting each point is hardly exhaustive, but taken together, this list fully and accurately represents the range of actual research findings available relevant to these questions.  To those who are inclined to further study of this subject, the bibliographies that may be found at the back of each of these articles or books will serve as invaluable research tools.

The available research supports the following conclusions:

1. Most sexual contacts between boys and older partners are consensual -- in academic terms, they are not forced or coerced.

Baurmann, M. C. (1983). Sexualitat, gewalt und psychische folgen. Wiesbaden: Bundeskriminalamt. 

Sponsored by the German Ministry of Justice, this is probably the largest study of sexual violence against minors ever conducted.  The researchers reviewed every reported case of rape against a person under 21 and every reported case of illegal sexual contacts with a person under 14.  The sample included approx. 8,000 girls and approx. 800 boys.  A subset of the cases, including 114 boys, were closely examined using two objective psychological tests and two different methods of subjective evaluation in each case.  While half of the girls had reported being coerced or forced (this group was primarily teenaged girls raped by males in their twenties), none of the boys in the sample reported coercion in their experience.


Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.

A “meta-analysis” is a study of multiple studies, in which samples are statistically combined to achieve a more statistically powerful result.   The method has been used in many fields of study and is highly regarded among researchers.   This meta-analysis included 59 different studies of “child sexual abuse.”


Finkelhor, D. (1979). Sexually victimized children. New York: Free Press.

Finkelhor is a masterful spin-doctor, but in this book he makes two mistakes: It seems evident here that his career is based on a desire to discredit the social movements of the 1960s, but more importantly, the text tells several bald-faced lies about the data he collected.  He reports that among his non-clinical sample of 84 boys who had sexual contacts with older partners, 33%


2. Boys who have sexual contacts with older partners usually feel the experience was harmless or beneficial.

Baker, A. W. & Duncan, S. P. (1985). Child sexual abuse: A study of prevalence in Great Britain. Child Abuse & Neglect, 9, 457-467.

This study of a nationally representative population sample, is among the largest and best-sampled studies ever conducted on sexual experiences of the general population.  The actual findings of this study are extremely eye-opening, despite the authors' apparently strong sex-negative bias.

Li, C. K., West, D. J., and Woodhouse, T. P. (1993). Children’s sexual encounters with adults. Buffalo: Prometheus.

West was the Director of the Institute of Criminology, and Professor of Clinical Criminology at the University of Cambridge, where he was a Fellow of Darwin College.


3. Boys who have sexual contacts with older partners usually do not feel negatively about the experience.

Finkelhor, D. (1979). Sexually victimized children. New York: Free Press.

Fromuth, M. E., & Burkhart, B. R. (1987). Sexual victimization among college men: Definitional and methodological issues. Violence Victims, 2, 241-253.

Goldman, R. J., & Goldman, J. D. G., (1988). The prevalence and nature of child sexual abuse in Australia. Australian Journal of Sex, Marriage, and Family, 9, 94-106.

Li, C. K., West, D. J., and Woodhouse, T. P. (1993). Children’s sexual encounters with adults. Buffalo: Prometheus.

Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.

Schultz, L., & Jones, P. (1983). Sexual abuse of children: Issues for social service and health professionals. Child Welfare, 62, 99-108.

4. Many boys who have sexual contacts with older partners report strongly positive feelings about the experience.

Okami, P. (1991). Self-reports of “positive” childhood and adolescent sexual contacts with older persons: An exploratory study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 20, 437-457.

Sandfort, T. G. M. (1982). The sexual aspect of paedophile relations.  Amsterdam:  Pan/Spartacus.

Sandfort, T. G. M. (1984). Sex in pedophiliac relationships: An empirical investigation among a non-representative group of boys. The Journal of Sex Research, 20, 123-142.

Sandfort, T. G. M. (1987). Boys on their contacts with men. Elmhurst, New York: Global Academic Publishers.

Tindall, R. H. (1978). The male adolescent involved with a pederast becomes an adult. Journal of Homosexuality, 3, 373-382.

5. Boys who have non-coerced sexual contacts with older partners are not psychologically less adjusted than other males.

Bauserman, R., & Rind, B. (1997). Psychological correlates of male child and adolescent sexual experience with adults: A review of the nonclinical literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26, 105-141.

Coxell, A., King, M., Mezey, G., & Gordon, D. (1999).  Lifetime prevalence, characteristics, and associated problems of non-consensual sex in men: Cross sectional survey.  British Medical Journal, 318, pp. 846-850.

Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.


6.  The degree to which a boy feels free to guide or to end the contacts, i.e. the degree of consent, is the single largest determining factor in whether he will feel negatively about the experience and whether it will affect his psychological adjustment.

Bauserman, R., & Rind, B. (1997). Psychological correlates of male child and adolescent sexual experience with adults: A review of the nonclinical literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26, 105-141.

Constantine, L. L. (1981). The effects of early sexual experience: A review and synthesis of research. In L. L. Constantine & F.M. Martinson (Eds.), Children and sex (pp. 217-244). Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Constantine, L. L. (1983). Child sexuality: Recent developments and implications for treatment, prevention, and social policy. International Journal of Medicine and Law, 1983, #2, 55-67.

Coxell, A., King, M., Mezey, G., & Gordon, D. (1999).  Lifetime prevalence, characteristics, and associated problems of non-consensual sex in men: Cross sectional survey.  British Medical Journal, 318, pp. 846-850.

Finkelhor, D. (1979). Sexually victimized children. New York: Free Press.

7. The age at which someone has a sexual experience is not a useful predictor of their later psychological adjustment.

Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.


8. The particular physical act that occurs during consensual sexual contacts between a boy and an older partner is not a useful predictor of his later psychological adjustment.

Bauserman, R., & Rind, B. (1997). Psychological correlates of male child and adolescent sexual experience with adults: A review of the nonclinical literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 26, 105-141.

Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., & Bauserman, R. (1998). A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53.


9.  Men who love boys cannot be distinguished from other men on standard personality inventories and other psychological tests.


Okami, Paul and Goldberg, Amy  "Personality Correlates of Pedophilia: Are They Reliable Indicators?" Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 297-328, August, 1992.



Here are some of the most widely cited publications finding a correlation between non-consensual sex and negative outcomes, often mis-used to condemn consensual sex:

Finkelhor, D. (1979). Sexually victimized children. New York: Free Press.

Browne, A., & Finkelhor, D. (1986). Impact of child sexual abuse: A review of the research. Psychological Bulletin, 99, 66-77.

Kendall-Tackett, K. A., Williams, L. M., & Finkelhor, D. (1993). Impact of sexual abuse on children: A review and synthesis of recent empirical studies. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 164-180.

Urquiza, A. J., & Capra, M. (1990). “The Impact of Sexual Abuse: Initial and Long-Term Effects.” In M. Hunter (Ed.) The Sexually Abused Male: Prevalence, Impact, and Treatment - Volume 1. (pp. 105-135).  Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.


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