Before we conducted the two quantitative literature reviews that we just discussed, we conducted our own qualitative literature review. We gathered together all the studies published on boys' sexual experiences with adults based on nonclinical samples. The rationale for this research was twofold. First, previous reviewers of the literature had generally either neglected boys' sexual experiences with adults, focusing instead on those of girls, or they had just assumed that boys' experiences were the same as girls. And second, previous reviewers, when they did pay attention to boy-adult sexual experiences, focused on clinical samples. These shortcomings indicated the need to focus on boy-adult experiences, particularly in the nonclinical population. We want to emphasize once again that, to reach a valid understanding of this kind of sex, or any other kind for that matter, we cannot rely on clinical samples because of a host of problems that we discussed earlier in this presentation.
Altogether, we located 35 usable studies for analysis. Sixteen of them were based on college samples and four were based on national samples. These studies were also included in our two meta-analyses. The remaining 15 studies used samples that were obtained in a variety of ways. A few were based on community samples; others were based on responses to print advertisements; still others were based on personal contacts or referrals; one was based on responses to a computer bulletin board. These latter samples are what we call "convenience samples"--the researcher obtains whom he can through whatever means are available to him. These samples cannot be considered to be representative of the population, just as clinical samples cannot be. Nevertheless, they offer yet another opportunity to examine boy-adult sexual experiences apart from the traditional approach, which has been to focus on the clinical population.
We have already exhaustively reviewed reactions and psychological correlates from national and college samples in the meta-analyses. Here, let's move on and talk about the results from the convenience samples. The study based on a computer bulletin board revealed that 58% of males regarded their boy-adult sexual experience to have been positive, while 27% regarded it as negative. In a convenience sample from Knoxville, Tennessee, 36% of males regarded this experience as positive, 24% neutral, and 40% as negative. Sixty-six percent saw the experience as not having a negative effect on their current sex lives, while 34% did see it as having a negative effect. Another study, consisting of homosexual males recruited from sexually transmitted disease clinics, found that 58% experienced their boy-adult sexual experiences as negative. In this study, a large percent (50%) were forced in their encounter, which may account for this higher than typical figure.
In these three studies, the first and third had higher and lower rates, respectively, of positive encounters, while the second study had a profile very similar to the college samples discussed earlier. Other convenience samples have shown predominantly positive reactions. Sandfort in the Netherlands found that 24 of the 25 boys he interviewed reported predominantly positive emotions about the sexual aspects of their relationships with men.
Critics have tended to reject this study as invalid for a variety of reasons, one being that the boys were recruited into the study by their adult partners who may have had an agenda. Many of these critics have assumed the relationships had to be negative, arguing that the boys were pressured to provide positive reports. Our review of the college studies, as well as data from the other convenience samples just presented, suggests clearly that a sizable minority of boys do experience these contacts positively, which argues for the validity of Sandford's findings. The unusually high percent of positive reactions in his study probably has to do with the fact that these sexual contacts occurred within the context of a friendship. Other convenience samples on boys experiencing sex with adults in friendship relationships have yielded generally the same results. One such study was reported in England by Father Ingram; another was reported in the U.S. by the psychologist Tindall.
Child abuse researchers often provide anecdotes from case studies to vividly illustrate the "horrors of child-adult sex". For example, in the case of boys, Finkelhor in his 1979 report of his study based on a college sample noted that 38% of his boys reacted negatively, meaning that the majority, 62%, reacted positively or neutrally. Parenthetically, for experiences occurring between ages 12 and 15, Finkelhor only inquired about unwanted episodes, which undoubtedly inflated the percent of negative experiences. Finkelhor gave us no insight into the nonnegative cases, but did provide several examples of negative experiences. In one, the interviewer asked a male student to compare his boy-adult encounter with other life experiences. The student remarked: "Much more traumatic at the time. Very anxiety-producing. Probably there wasn't anything in my life as anxiety-producing." The interviewer then asked if this was the biggest trauma of his life. The student answered:
This anecdote vividly conveys what most child abuse researchers believe is a boy's typical reaction. But the numbers, even in Finkelhor's own study, show that this is not the typical reaction. In fact, there is a range of reactions.
It is important to present anecdotes that represent the other types of reactions as well to get a full picture of boy-adult experiences. Unfortunately, child abuse researchers seldom, if ever, provide us with neutral or positive anecdotes. The effect is that the noncritical reader may see that a majority reacts nonnegatively, but the vividness of the negative example sticks in their memory, biasing their perception of these relationships.
In psychology, this biasing influence is a well established phenomenon and is referred to as the vividness effect. The vividness of this memory in turn creates an illusory correlation, which means, in the present case, an exaggerated impression of the association between boy-adult sex and harm. To provide balance, we will now present a positive anecdote that comes from the nonclinical literature to give a fuller picture of how boys may react. This example comes from Tindall in 1978, who gathered 200 case studies of boy-man relations based on his interviews as a school psychologist over many decades of work. Tindall also followed up on many of these cases well into the boys' adulthood.
This anecdote stands in sharp contrast to that of Finkelhor's. It shows a willing, long-lasting sexual relationship that was part of a friendship. Rather than fearing the man, as in Finkelhor's anecdote, the boy in this case study thrived on the relationship. He modeled after the man, and successfully moved into his profession. The anecdote also shows that the boy was delinquent before meeting the man. This fits with our previous remarks that family environment, which contributes to delinquency, predisposes young persons to a host of counternormative activities, such as sex with adults.
Both of these anecdotes represent real experiences. Some boys react with fear, as in the first case. Others react with pleasure, as in the second. Many other examples of the second type could be presented coming from the other convenience samples included in our review. What is problematic is that child abuse researchers, the media, and the lay public seem to be willing to acknowledge the validity only of the former type--the negative case study. They may think this way because they feel that positive examples are so rare that either they are not genuine or, if there is some truth to them, then they can be summarily dismissed as irrelevant. But our data from a large number of samples demonstrate that positive occurrences are just as frequent as negative ones, and so both types should be acknowledged. To do otherwise is a distortion of reality. Having acknowledged that both positive and negative relations occur, the question shifts to what makes one relationship positive and the other negative.
In 1981 Constantine presented a useful model to account for these positive and negative reactions. This model holds that two key elements are critical. First is the child's or adolescent's perceived willingness in the sexual encounter. Perceived willingness means freedom to participate or to say no. Constantine concluded from his own review of the literature available at that time that this perception of willingness to participate was strongly tied to reactions: positive reactions were associated with willing encounters, negative reactions followed being forced or coerced or tricked into sex. Second is the young person's knowledge about sex. Complete ignorance could lead to anxiety during or after the episode; also, having absorbed the "conventional moral negatives" about sex -- that is, that it is bad or dirty -- could also lead to guilt or shame and other negative reactions. The results of our review of boy-adult sex based on the nonclinical literature are consistent with this model. Force and coercion in the studies we reviewed were invariably associated with negative reactions, but willing participation was not. Ignorance and a sense of shame about sex were also associated with negative reactions; but knowing about sex and not feeling ashamed about it were not.
Child's or Adolescent's Consent Response to Sexual Encounters with Male
Guilt and Anxiety as a Function of Consent and Knowledge in Childhood
This issue of consent--by which we mean willingness to participate as opposed to informed consent--is important for understanding the sex differences in reactions we have described. Child abuse researchers often insist that consent is not a possibility and therefore ignore this variable. But their insistence is based on sociolegal definitions and on a focus on "informed consent," which is different. It is simple consent--the ability to say yes or no--that reliably predicts reactions, and so this is the variable that scientists should be focusing on. Before the child abuse industry developed, some researchers, however, did consider the different gradations of simple consent.
In Table 13 we see the results from a large scale study performed by the Kinsey Institute in the early 1960s. Based on court records, the researchers classified level of consent by boys and girls in sexual encounters with men as either encouraging, passive, or resistant. As you can see, there is a big sex difference for children under 12: a small majority (52%) of boys were encouraging, while very few girls (13%) were. On the other hand, twice as many girls resisted (80% vs. 40%). For minors (aged 12 to 15), a majority of male and female adolescents were encouraging (70%), but again twice as many females resisted as males (30% vs. 16%). These numbers from this legal sample are consistent with the greater willingness of boys to participate and their generally more neutral or positive reactions that have been repeatedly presented in the nonclinical literature.