Because of negative connotations, and in order to include the points of view of both younger and older partners as equally important, we substitute the idea of "intimate intergenerational relationship" for pedophilia, regardless of the etymological accuracy of the latter. We consider the possibility that such contacts may be more than just coincidental to the developmental health of humans approaching and experiencing adolescence, referred to herein as "developing persons" and including individuals from about 6 to 16 years of age in Western culture. We propose that the biological maturation of the brain beginning in late childhood (prepuberty) facilitates and even perhaps encourages realistic contacts with the more challenging adult world, and that the social realities of interpersonal interaction and functional adult behavior are best learned gradually through direct contact with actual adults -- current "inhabitants" of the society into which the developing person is about to be integrated -- with whom the developing person feels connected.
Pedophilia, sexuality and sexual contact. Sexuality, or more precisely sexual contact, is the great problem in any discussion of pedophilia. Perhaps because of Western society's virulent antipathy to the notion of sexual children, pedophilia often is reduced to sexual perversion and other aspects of the attraction are ignored. In reality, explicit sexual contact is optional in pedophilia, just as it is in "hero worship", and the focus instead should be on those aspects that are essential. Sexuality, on the other hand, can be considered to be present in any intimate human relationship, if it is considered in the broadest possible context as physical involvement with and response to another person.
Using the term sexuality naturally is misleading to those whose only definition of the term is intercourse with penetration, but even a simple embrace or the sharing of an emotional secret can be a stimulus for physical response. Orgasm, then, is just a matter of degree and locality, and the strict distinction of genital responses from other bodily reactions to interpersonal closeness becomes tiresome and useless, except in situations where legal definitions are needed to prosecute selected behaviors. This compartmentalization of human responses, however necessary for social control and maipulation, has no place in the scientific study of broadly- defined behavior patterns. It ultimately blocks our understanding of reality and must be resisted.
Since the question of sexuality is so volatile, capable of being misunderstood both by critics and by supporters of intimate intergenerational relationships, a clear definition of terms is crucial to this presentation. "Explicit sexual contact" is defined as touching or viewing the genitals of a partner for the purpose of sexual arousal, embracing with pelvic thrusts (hugging with humping), intercourse with penetration, and kissing that goes beyond brief touching of lips to face. "Relationship" refers to contact between human beings that is desired, conscious, mutual, freely consensual, and in which each participant receives and gives energy, if you will, without substantial dominance of one person over the other. (Other terms such as "contact" or "interaction" in the following pages are used for variety, but are generally synonymous when qualified as "close" or "intimate".) "Intergenerational" here assumes one partner is developmentally mature, and the other is a "developing person", specifically a prepubescent child over six or seven years old, or an adolescent within three or four years of puberty.
"Intimate" perhaps is the most difficult of these terms to define. In general, it is emotional and physical closeness and commitment that is not shared routinely with acquaintances or associates. Descriptions of the specific nature or form of intimate relationships, however, are elusive. The interaction of persons is the creative force behind intimate behavior, and as such it varies infinitely as do individual natures themselves.
Likely the most important point for the following discussion is that "intimate intergenerational relationship" neither excludes nor automatically includes explicit sexual contact. When an adult feels good interacting with a child or adolescent in a loving, caring, affectionate way, this is pedophilia, with or without explicit sex. Similarly, when a child or adolescent seeks out adults with whom to experience satisfying and broadening interactions, the absence or presence of genital sexual contact does not in itself define what is or is not "hero worship". Explicit sexual contact, moreover, need not even be considered qualitatively different from the affectionate touching that characterizes non-sexual interactions, except when social contexts require that it be defined as different. Touching is touching, and touch elicits physical response in both participants. What is touched, how it responds, and what is the significance of either, is a matter of concern to the participants and, it appears, to society, but the obsessive focus on some organs over others does little to advance a discussion of intergenerational intimacy.
Historical background. Adults and children interact with one another in every society. There is no question about this. The question becomes whether such interactions may occur outside the family, and with whom, and for what reason. Even in the last century individuals were considered adults when they were mentally and physically capable of contributing in some measure to the work of the extended family or community (see Haeberle, 1978). Certainly by the time of puberty most youngsters were interacting regularly, if not with total equality, in the company of mature adults. The socialization of children into full adulthood was gradual, began quite early, and almost always involved interaction with adults other than one's parents.
In this century, by contrast, contact between developing persons and the society outside their homes and schools appears restricted in favor of interactions between peers and within a largely idealized nuclear family unit (Coleman, et al., 1973). Until they do emerge from school into recognized societal status, young people are generally considered to be different fundamentally from "real" adults, even when years have passed since sexual maturity, and their physical dimensions approximate or match those of the adults around them. In addition to being seen as different, pre-adults often are regarded as inferior to adults. They typically are seen as passive objects rather than active participants, entities that one day will become human beings but who in the meantime must be protected, even sheltered from the ugly realities of the "real" world. Children come to behave as if contact with the "right" adults would be anathema, and with the "wrong" adults inevitably harmful. They are expected to form their own (mildly) rebellious subculture without any models, and are likewise expected to abandon this teenage lifestyle when they are through the "stage". They are regarded often as the property of their parents, almost never given the legal or social individual rights characteristic of older persons, and then when grown are expected to function as fully prepared adults, as if genetic material were latent in each that would flower only when they reached legal adulthood.
While this view of children may be useful in some situations, it may also result in an underestimation of whatever ability children have to understand their environment and make some choices for themselves. It also tends to deny the potential developmental benefits of children's interaction with older persons outside the nuclear family. Such people could facilitate the youngster's transition into the larger society by providing real links with the larger world; they could impart a sense of realistic self-worth to the typically self-deprecating pre-adult (Simmons, Rosenberg & Rosenberg, 1973); and they could offer youngsters a model for interpersonal interaction which is an alternative to socially-scripted heterosexual romance or the limitations of peer friendships.
The present paper. Without discounting the potential value of cross-sex relationships during these stages, this paper focuses on same-sex interactions between children or adolescents and adults, under the assumption that same-sex interaction at least is more frequent at these stages of life, and perhaps more functional as well. There is a growing feminist literature which celebrates not only the important and frequent mother/daughter bonds, but also the intimate relationships formed between young, developing women and their mentors (Hunter College Collective, 1983: 223 et passim; Walker, 1982). The man/boy relationship is more problematic, perhaps, given the cultural prescription that boys must be "strong", aloof and unfettered by emotion, but it is no less a part of our cultural history. While fathers and sons are nowhere close to emulating their counterparts in mothers and daughters, and homophobia often prevents even nonsexual close relationships from being discussed openly, images of boys and men caring for each other are particularly poignant, as seen for example in Hollywood films like "Captains Courageous" (1938) or more recently "A Thousand Clowns" (1964) and "Popi" (1969) (Jones, 1974).
This paper examines the proposition that there exists a critical period for the development of interpersonal skills and self awareness as a member of the society beyond the family, that this period exists in late childhood and early adolescence, and that contact with ideal and real adult models (other than parents) is the activity that satisfies the needs of this period. The lack of such contact, at least for some individuals, is seen as a potential developmental deficit.
Touching is another aspect of interpersonal behavior that is ubiquitous in discussions of the development of infants and young children, and all but absent in discussions of the later stages. The intimacy literature deals with touching often, but as subjects get older, the focus shifts almost exclusively to touching only in (hetero-)sexual contexts. The lack of discussion of non-sexual touching seems to parallel the phenomenon that in American society, as individuals get older, they touch and are touched less and less (Willis & Reeves, 1976). The importance of touching, on the other hand, is theorized to continue throughout life (Montagu, 1971). At least one author (Prescott, 1971; 1975) sees a direct connection between the lack of touching and the development of violence in society.
Critical periods and imprinting. One of the important theories of human learning and development is that of the imprinting of important information during "critical periods" of development (Lorenz, 1965; Sluckin, 1965; Sluckin & Salzen, 1961). This process can serve as a point of departure in building a theory of developmental socialization that includes close relationships between pre-adults and non-family adults as an important interaction for some individuals. Imprinting is the process by which some basic behaviors such as species- characteristic mannerisms and speech patterns are optimally acquired during very early stages of life, during short periods when the organism is most receptive and may, in fact, be "waiting" for just such input. If these so-called "critical periods" pass without the expected learning taking place, the behaviors may never be acquired fully.
The later stages of development prior to adulthood have not been as well studied with regard to critical periods as have the early stages, though it seems likely that each acquired behavior might have more-or-less a critical period beginning at the point when that behavior first becomes possible for the growing person. The development of language, for example, begins when the brain has developed sufficient complexity to support it, and declines with the termination of the brain's ability to modify lateralization of language functions (Lenneberg, 1975). Other types of processes, also, appear to develop during critical periods. Hampson (1965), for example, has suggested that critical periods may exist in gender-role establishment and identification with role models. Like the development of language and the various "imprinted" behaviors, the development of intimacy and interpersonal skills also may follow an analogous process, with the critical period "waiting" for the organism's supporting structures to appear or reach sufficient maturity. Selman (1981), for example, explains that intimate friendships become possible when the individual (typically an early adolescent) develops the ability mentally to take the role of another.
With regard to intimacy and love, Sullivan (1953ab) observed that true reciprocal, mutual relationship first becomes possible around age eight, and flowers during the next few years in what he regarded as life's first love experience: the same-sex relationships which he called "chumships". He believed that this period, which he called preadolescence, was crucial to later development of the ability to relate to others, and if the child passed through preadolescence without quality relationships, that later relationships would likely be unsuccessful. This theory strongly implies the existence of a critical period for intimacy in preadolescence.
Timing of intimacy development. Intimacy does seem to become salient during preadolescence. My study (Jones, 1985) of 212 eight to 14-year-olds showed initial low levels of intimate feelings about "best" friends in the youngest subjects, increasing until about the age of puberty, then leveling off, a pattern comparable to that found by Sharabany, Gershoni and Hofman (1981). Youniss (1980) regarded age 9 as a turning point in terms of relationships with others, after which peer intimacy increases with age between 9 and 14.
Same-sex focus during preadolescence and adolescence. The focus of children and adolescents on persons and issues relating to their own sex is widely documented. Slaby and Frey (1975) found that this selective focus is already present during the preschool years and increases as the child's understanding of gender constancy -- the awareness that one's gender isn't going to change -- increases. As friendship and intimacy develop in late childhood and adolescence, the vast majority of such chumships are with members of one's same sex. My own study found that 90.3% of the subjects named same-sex individuals as both first and second best friend. It is also likely that the intergenerational contacts sought by children or adolescents typically are with same-sex adults, in line with the general trend of findings (Marcia, 1980) that the same-sexed parent is the more important one for identity development.
The child may prefer same-sex friends during these times of life because they seem more familiar and predictable than the rest of their fast-changing environment. The child moves from the egocentrism characteristic of infants and toddlers into an awareness and acceptance of the importance of others, first within the home and family, then in the larger world of school and beyond. While friendships might give rise to some anxieties not present in relationships with family members, such anxieties are preferable to the loneliness of leaving the protective home (Sullivan, 1953b). Apparently, the transition to forming close relationships outside the family happens most easily with those the child perceives as being most like herself or himself, those of the same sex.
Relationships during adolescence. The next task of the developing person is the one largely ignored in child-development theories. Once the child enters adolescence, having developed the ability to relate to family and nearby peers, she or he is faced with the prospect of entering the larger, complex society as a woman or a man, however that concept is self-defined. In less-developed societies it may have been possible to emulate one's parent, though this is problematic due to the fact that parents often represent the very childhood home from which the child must eventually emerge. This is where the hero worship, the role modeling of admired adults outside the family apparently becomes important to many youngsters. It is not unlikely that a major part of the young person's ultimate self-image as an adult is formed -- imprinted, if you will -- at the stage when understanding the adult world begins to be possible. Piaget (1965) referred to this as the stage of "formal reasoning" (p. 47 et passim), the beginning of which coincides roughly with puberty. This is a time when awareness that one will soon become an adult becomes inevitable, as physical changes of puberty make this fact more and more obvious. If such imprinting does take place, the interactions and role models available to the growing person become quite important indeed.
This is the point where knowledge begins to blend into folk "wisdom". Riley and Cochran (1987) have shown that 6-year-old boys who have men involved in their lives do better in school, but such studies are limited in scope and few in number, as even Riley and Cochran point out in their literature review. Though there is little empirical evidence that youngsters need or even benefit from close association with adults considered as "role models", there is also virtually no evidence that role models are unnecessary; moreover, the common perception seems to be that children, especially boys, are at a distinct disadvantage if they lack an adult of the same sex in their lives (Big Brothers of America Annual Meeting Reports, 1953-1968; Meltz, 1988; Pleck, 1985, who reports the common perception but, as a psychologist, partially disagrees with it). This adult need not be the child's parent, though probably because of the prevailing belief in the importance of the nuclear family the parent is usually considered to be preferable. In reality, for optimum development as a functioning adult it may be that many children and adolescents need parents as well as adults outside the family as role models and mentors. Research so far available has not clarified this issue.
Of course, much of the feeling that boys need male models -- indeed, the derivation of the very term "role model" -- stems from an obsolescent notion that there is a "correct" male role for boys to emulate. Pleck (1985) affirms that boys have much to gain from close relationships with men, but argues convincingly that the traditional male role may not be the most desirable in terms of overall healthy functioning, and that some boys can become happy, functional adults without traditional male roles. To date, it appears that there are no studies that look at overall healthy development while simultaneously avoiding culturally-stereotyped definitions of male role development.
The cultural belief in the importance of role models is so strong that most American cities support Big Sister and Big Brother programs to supply same-sex adults for at least some children who lack them, and youth organizations similar to the British/American Boy and Girl Scouts exist in many Western countries. The goals of these organizations go beyond role modeling, of course, but healthy interaction between boys and men, or girls and women, is usually one important objective. A few small studies have shown that such agency programs can result in positive outcomes from this interaction between boys and men, as well as between girls and women (Seidl, 1982), but these report only short-term outcomes; none of these studies contains a developmental perspective.
Douvan and Adelson (1966) feel that friendship prepares adolescents for adult love and friendship, and offers a chance for growth and self knowledge that the family is not prepared to offer. They note that friendships in the adolescent years are quite important and intense, and in many cases there is a notable regression of intimate intensity in adulthood. It is usually the first interpersonal experience outside the family and, as such, is often the first egalitarian relationship known to the child, one in which she or he builds a foundation for egalitarian relationships in adulthood (Piaget, 1932/1965; Youniss, 1980). Shadish (1978) found that performance of intimate behaviors provides tools that enhance both intrapersonal functioning and interpersonal relationships. The effect of close friendship in preadolescence perhaps is most clearly shown in the longitudinal study of Maas (1968), who found that the early friendships of males who as adults were "warm" were characterized by fewer, but more stable friendships as compared with "aloof" male adults. Maas also noted the interesting finding that "warm" adults reported significantly more friendships in their childhoods with persons three or more years older than themselves.
Intergenerational intimacy and development. Studies showing the benefits of peer friendship have not been matched with studies of friendships between children and adults, though it is not unreasonable to assume that any true friendship during late childhood and early adolescent development could provide learning experiences that will enhance later relationship formation and self-esteem. It may be that the relationship itself is the medium through which benefits accrue, not the specific qualities or status of the "significant other". Of course, peer friendships may well provide different types of benefits than intergenerational relationships, and whether the findings reported above also apply to close intergenerational relationships is not clear, as the research remains to be done. It seems logical, however, to assume that if friendships with others similar in age are valuable, comparable friendships with older persons also would have value to the developing person, even if in different ways. Eglinton (1964), in his comprehensive review of the historical and contemporary experience of man/boy love, theorized that a close intergenerational relationship (not necessarily sexual) "helps tide an adolescent boy over an essentially difficult period in his life, when his relationship with the adult world hangs in the balance" (p. 78).
Cross-cultural patterns. The direct involvement of adults in the social development of the young is seen in many non- Western societies, and the adult-child interactions characteristic of children past middle childhood are usually same-sex. In many societies, during early childhood women raise children of both sexes together, but as puberty approaches boys are taken to live with the men, and girls stay with females. Often they remain sequestered to one degree or another in same- sex communal arrangements until early adulthood and marriage, sometimes even thereafter (Mead, 1949). In other societies, such as those found in many parts of Mexico, same-sex intergenerational intimacy is an important and accepted outlet for young adult males who are not yet married (Carrier, 1985). In societies where gender redefinition creates new categories for biological males such as the American Indian berdache or traditional Hawaiian mahu, individuals in these categories often begin their lifelong patterns of relationships with adult males during or prior to adolescence (Williams, 1986). Corresponding female patterns have not been systematically studied.
In some societies, of course, sexual activity between adults and pre-adults is forbidden; in others it occurs, at least between men and boys, on an occasional basis (data on girls and women are lacking); in still others, however, sexual interaction between men and boys who are roughly between 8 and 20 years of age not only occurs, but is believed to be a requirement for every boy's proper growth into manhood (Herdt, 1984).
Western culture. In a review of the sparse literature dealing with intergenerational intimacy in Western culture, it appears that most of the studies involving actual human subjects focus on overt sexual behavior, and often omit any discussion of friendship or other non-sexual interactions. The subjects in such studies, moreover, almost always are males. For purposes of the present discussion of the full range of intergenerational intimate friendship, this unbalanced focus is unfortunate. For nonsexual intergenerational intimacy between males and corresponding information regarding females the only sources seem to be anecdotal accounts in nonfiction and popular literature. Nonetheless, the existing literature does provide a starting point. Given the sex-negativity of Western industrialized society, if positive outcomes are occasionally present in relationships containing explicitly sexual behavior then it is not unreasonable to assume that benefits are possible also in relationships that do not include explicit sexual contact.
Many of the studies of intergenerational sexual contact stress the negative aspects of early sexual encounters with adults, but their methodologies rarely, if ever, include evaluation of aspects such as relationship, intimacy, committment, and the like. When these aspects are studied, often a different picture emerges. Nelson (1986), in her overview of studies on sexual contact within families, found outcomes ranging from negative to positive, for both males and females. Studies of boys and men while they are involved in ongoing relationships often note short-term positive outcomes. Ingram (1981) found that there existed instances of a "meaningful relationship between a loving man and an unhappy child" (p. 184), and found no evidence that the child was "worse off for the activity; many, no doubt, may be better off for a relationship with a loving adult outside the family" (p. 186). Sandfort (1981, 1983), studying 25 boys and their adult partners in the Netherlands, found no harmful effect on the boys' sense of well-being. He found that the sexual contact was experienced by the boys generally as a positive experience, and that the relationships typically consisted of more than just sexual contact.
Several retrospective studies have provided detailed looks into the early relationships of boys who were strongly attracted to men as they began to recognize they were homosexual. While man/boy relationships are by no means restricted to gay boys, or for that matter to gay men, studies involving heterosexuals rarely deal with this topic in any meaningful way, even though there is evidence that many "straight" boys are so involved (Tindall, 1978). As usual, similar accounts of girls and their sexual relationships with older women are quite rare, perhaps because "sexual" is differently defined between women than it is between men.
Silverstein (1981) didn't originally plan to include in his study of gay couples a chapter on intergenerational relationships, but found as he reviewed the data that "there were too many boy/man experiences reported for the issue to be ignored" (p. 199). He found from his respondents who recalled being the younger partner in a man/boy relationship a remarkably consistent similarity in the sense of loyalty and appreciation expressed for the man. Spada (1979) interviewed just over 1,000 gay men, finding that a number answered his question about first homosexual awareness by stating they remembered being attracted to men sexually during their preadolescent years. He fails to give specific numbers on this aspect of the question, but of the 17 illustrative quotes from respondents describing their first homosexual awareness, 11 spoke of strong attraction to adult males, ranging from an uncle or a telephone lineman, to Errol Flynn or Tarzan. When asked about their first actual experience, here too some recalled that it was with a significantly older partner, often with the boy seeking the contact before it took place. These recollections were predominantly positive, with occasional evaluative comments such as, "It was beneficial to have an older man take an interest in me and help me deal with myself at that tender age" (p. 36), or "This was my first orgasm with another person and this is what made me seek love and affection rather than mere sex in my later life" (p. 37).
Apparently not only gay boys are attracted to intergenerational relationships and benefit from them, even when they are sexual. Tindall (1978) interviewed nine adults who, as boys, were clients in his counseling practice. The longitudinal nature of this study makes it particularly valuable despite the low number of subjects. He found that the previous sexual experience typically was regarded by these subjects as a mutual experience, part of a deep friendship involving modeling behavior on the part of the boy and a fatherly attitude on the part of the man. At least three of the nine boys reportedly were seeking just such a relationship. None of the boys was self-identified homosexual, and most at the time of the more recent interviews were involved in heterosexual living arrangements.
Adults' needs. It is reasonable to assume, also, that some adults need intergenerational intimacy. If we include the so- called "parenting instinct", then we might even speculate that the need to be intimate with children is the experience of a majority of humans, but the subject of this presentation is relationships outside the family. Adults who enjoy spending much of their time with children are not well understood, which may account for the ambivalent reactions of society. Those whose careers are dedicated to service to youth in schools, community or service organizations are praised and honored by a public who appreciates their efforts, but wouldn't think of similar careers themselves. This adulation often turns to the most bitter accusation and vengeance when any sort of sexual contact becomes known or suspected.
What might make an adult commit himself or herself to associations with growing persons? The quick, simplistic, and probably incorrect answer is that the adult is developmentally immature, deficient in relationships with other adults, and finds the company of children less of a threat. This view derives from Freudian-Victorian notions of sexual adjustment, and from assumptions about the rightness of age segregation, the essential difference between adults and pre-adults, and the innate drive toward "normal" heterosexuality -- notions which are questionable, to say the least.
These and other assumptions have directed popular opinion and scientific inquiry in many areas for generations, ignoring and occasionally even arbitrarily suppressing alternative hypotheses. It is possible, for example, that some adults emerge from their own development with highly-charged emotional experiences which have sensitized them to particular deficits or potentialities of the child or adolescent periods. Perhaps these adults in fact need to interact with new generations of young people, so that they can feel they are doing their part to help these future adults avoid the deficits or reach the potentialities.
If a sexual attraction toward children or adolescents is involved, perhaps it is not the result of a developmental deficit or mental defect, but a sexual orientation analogous to lesbianism, androphile homosexuality, or heterosexuality. In the absence of empirical evidence on how these more common orientations develop, it is impossible to evaluate an erotic orientation toward developing persons, except on the basis of culture-specific taboos and popular biases. The recent memory of how similar taboos and biases have affected our evaluation of the nature of women, blacks, homosexuals and other "minority" groups should warn us to suspend judgment pending further scientific inquiry.
Benefits of this model. Intergenerational intimacy could contribute to the development of those who need the interaction in many ways, adding to the potential benefits of interactions with family members and intimate peer friendships. It could provide children with a link to the possibilities of adulthood through real people, rather than media images or cultural stereotypes. It could provide adolescents with a chance to practice and develop egalitarian relationships with individuals previously classified as authority figures or adversaries. It could give youngsters additional opportunities to develop newly- acquired intimacy skills, adding to the skills developed through chumships. It could also allow adults who develop needs for interaction with younger people to contribute to society and develop their potential.
Future research. Intergenerational intimacy can be studied by researchers in many disciplines. Cross-disciplinary approaches, such as psychobiology, ethology and comparative anthropological psychology would be particularly well-suited. The all-inclusive model is recommended, with specific behaviors such as pederasty, parent-child bonds, child sexual abuse, mentoring, and so forth studied only after their position in the larger context of adult/ pre-adult relationships and human development in general has been considered.
It seems particularly important, as intergenerational relationships are explored, to study the effects of non-sexual touching, and more importantly, the lack of touching, where adolescents and preadolescents are involved. It is even conceivable that much of the intergenerational sexual contact that is reported in the literature and popular press is as much an indication of a basic need on the part of growing individuals to touch and be touched by adults as it is a willingness to become involved in sexual experimentation.
In general, studies are needed which investigate the non- sexual aspects of intimate intergenerational relationships, even in studies that include or focus on sexual partners. We must learn to resist our impulse to study the peripheral and sensationalistic, and focus instead on more central and constructive issues.