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 Gay and Bisexual Adolescent Boys' Sexual Experiences With Men: 
An Empirical Examination of Psychological Correlates in a Nonclinical Sample

Bruce Rind, PhD

Department of Psychology, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19122.

In: Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 30, No.4, 2001

Over the last quarter century the incest model, with its image of helpless victims exploited and traumatized by powerful perpetrators, has come to dominate perceptions of virtually all forms of adult-minor sex. Thus, even willing sexual relations between gay or bisexual adolescent boys and adult men, which differ from father-daughter incest in many important ways, are generally seen by the lay public and professionals as traumatizing and psychologically injurious. This study assessed this common perception by examining a nonclinical, mostly college sample of gay and bisexual men. 

Of the 129 men in the study, 26 were identified as having had age-discrepant sexual relations (ADSRs) as adolescents between 12 and 17 years of age with adult males. Men with ADSR experiences were as well adjusted as controls in terms of self-esteem and having achieved a positive sexual identity.

 Reactions to the ADSRs were predominantly positive, and most ADSRs were willingly engaged in. Younger adolescents were just as willing and reacted at least as positively as older adolescents.

 Data on sexual identity development indicated that ADSRs played no role in creating same-sex sexual interests, contrary to the "seduction" hypothesis. Findings were inconsistent with the incest model. The incest model has come to act as a procrustean bed, narrowly dictating how adult-minor sexual relations quite different from incest are perceived.

KEY WORDS: gay and bisexual boys; man-boy sex; incest model; psychological correlates; homosexual development.


A quarter century ago, attention to the issue of sexual encounters between adults and minors increased markedly in the United States (Jenkins, 1998). This increased attention was an outgrowth of initiatives taken by the women's movement, which first focused on the problem of rape and shortly thereafter the problem of incest (Finkelhor, 1984). Rape served as a model for understanding father-daughter incest (Okami, 1990), and incest in turn quickly became the dominant model for understanding sexual encounters in general between men and girls , (Finkelhor, 1984). Based on the rape and incest models, these encounters came to be seen as a form of power abuse and violence that exploited unwilling and powerless victims, inflicting lasting psychological trauma in the process (Okami, 1990). The burgeoning child abuse profession, given a major boost in 1974 by passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, rapidly spread this view, across society, where it has remained well-entrenched ever since (Gardner, 1993;  Jenkins 1998)

As chi1d abuse researchers expanded their domain of inquiry in the early 1980s, research began to include sexual encounters between men and boys, and eventually between women and boys (West, 1998). The incest model also strongly influenced how researchers, other professionals, and the lay public attempted to understand these encounters, inc1uding those between adolescent boys and unrelated adu1ts (Jenkins, 1998; Rind, 1998). For example, Masters et al. (1985) rejected the findings of Sandfort (1983) who concluded that a mostly adolescent sample of Dutch boys experienced their sexual relationships with men predominantly positively. They argued, consistent with the incest model, that these relationships were inherently abusive and exploitative and therefore necessarily negative, regardless of contrary claims by the boys themselves. In rejecting the boys' reports of positive reactions, Masters et al. speculated that they made them up because they were intimidated by the men. Similarly, the media have frequently also exhibited the influence of the incest model. In one typical example, an editorial in a major U.S. newspaper asserted that sexual encounters between adolescent boys and men are "profoundly damaging," because they "invariably involve the imposition of power and exploitation, in the most fearfully private of all ways ... [which leaves] emotional scars, distrusts, [and] self-contempt that last through lifetimes". (Philadelphia Inquirer, 1984, p. 22A).

Recent reviews of the nonclinical literature suggest that the incest model, along with its assumptions of intimidation, violence, and pathogenicity, is not valid for boys in the general population who participate willingly in sexual relations with adults -- "willing" indicates simple as opposed to informed consent (see Rind et al. , 2000, for a complete discussion). Bauserman and Rind (1997), in a review of the nonclinical literature on boy-adult sex, found that willing relations were associated with neutral or positive reactions. Rind et al. (1998), in their meta-analytic review of college samples, found that boy-adult sex was not associated with symptoms when the boys were willing participants. In these samples, most boys with experiences labeled child sexual abuse reacted positively or neutrally (66% ), whereas most girls reacted negatively (72%). These gender differences, which appeared to an equal degree in the national probability samples meta-analytically reviewed by Rind and Tromovitch (1997), imply that it is generally not valid to extrapolate from girls' experiences, especially father-daughter incest, to those of boys.

Nonclinical studies reporting data on woman-boy sex (e.g., Condy et al., 1987; Promuth and Hurkhart, 1987; West and Woodhouse, 1993; Woods and Dean, 1984) have generally found that boys react predominantly positively to these encounters, especially if they are adolescents at the time. Presumably, most of the boys in these studies were heterosexual, given the predominance of heterosexuality in the general population. It follows that, if adolescent heterosexual boys respond predominantly positively to sexual relations with older females, then adolescent gay or bisexual boys may respond similarly to such relations with older males. This inference differs markedly from expectations that follow from the incest model. It was the purpose of this study to examine these competing predictions.

Background: Research on Gay and Bisexual Boy-Man Sex

Relatively little research has directly examined age-discrepant sexual experiences of gay or bisexual boys (Doll et al. , 1992). A brief review of research that has been done is presented next. Clinical, clinic-based, nonclinical, and cross-cultural data are examined.

Myers (1989) reported on 14 men (eight of whom were gay) from his clinical practice who experienced sexual abuse as adults or boys. Half the gay patients as boys had sexual contacts with men. One, at age 11, was abused on a camping trip by his teacher, who attempted fellatio and sodomy. He felt "dirty" from the experience and felt "frozen and scared stiff" for several weeks, reacting with hyperalertness and insomnia. Another reported that, at age 13, he was raped repeatedly for hours by two men after he was drugged, gagged, and tied down by all four extremities. For the next half year, he had flashbacks of the rapes and nightmares of suffocation and death. Both of these patients currently suffered from depression. Half the gay patients were intensely homophobic. Dimock (1988) reported on 25 patients who experienced overt sexual contact as boys that they felt powerless to resist and that they or he believed had produced harmful results. He found that 64% of his sample, including both homosexual and heterosexual patients, exhibited some confusion about their sexual preference. 

Doll et al. (1992) examined 1,001 homosexual or bisexual men attending sexually transmitted disease clinics. Thirty five percent were encouraged or forced by an older or more powerful male to have sex before age 19 (their median age was 10; their partners' was 21). Reactions at the time were 27% positive, 15% neutral, and 58% negative. Half the episodes involved some form of force, and 43% were incestuous. Force was the strongest predictor of negative reactions. Positive reactions were associated with lengthier relationships. Bartholow et al. (1994), using the same data set, reported that this early sex was associated with more mental health counseling/hospitalization and drug abuse, less social support, and an altered process of sexual identity development (e.g. , less comfort regarding sexual attractions). These associations, however, were all small.

Many other researchers have also expressed concern that man-boy sex may interfere with sexual development. Finkelhor (1984) reported that college males who had sex as boys with older males were four times more likely to be currently engaging in homosexual activity. He attributed this to a stigma effect, in which boys with such experiences label themselves homosexual and thereby become one. Various researchers have used this result along with others (e.g., Johnson and Shrier, 1985) to argue that homosexuality is an adverse outcome of man-boy sex (e.g., Mendel, 1995; Urquiza and Capra, 1990). "Seduction" as an important contributor to homosexual development is a staple of some schools of psychoanalytic thought, reflected in the opinion expressed by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization of Psychoanalysts and psychoanalytically oriented psychologists committed to treating, curing, and preventing homosexuality (  ).

In contrast to clinical or clinic-based studies, a number of studies based on convenience samples consisting of gay or bisexual men obtained through advertisements placed in gay magazines, bars, bookstores, or conferences have frequently yielded a predominantly positive profile of gay and bisexual boys' sexual experiences with men (e.g., Fellows, 1996; Hart, 1995; Jay and Young, 1977; Spada, 1979). They also have generally pointed out the commonness of early sexual attractions to and desires for older adolescent and adult males. For example, Spada (1979), who examined 1,038 male homosexuals aged 16-77 across the United States through mail questionnaires, reported that

In the case of a respondent's first youthful experience taking place with an adult, it is usually stressed by the respondent that it was he who made the first advance, he who desired and initiated the encounter, and that no coercion or seduction by the adult took place. Several dozen did describe their first experience as a seduction, but just three reported the use of force (p. 30).

In an illustrative case of the generally positive reactions reported, a respondent recalled that, when he was 12, his scoutmaster fellated him. He commented, "1 liked it. It felt good and I think it made us closer as friends and someone I could turn to when I had problems." West and Woodhouse (1993), based on a college sample, reported similar findings in terms of homosexually oriented boys' initiation of and positive reactions to sex with adult males.

Jay and Young (1977) obtained data from 4,239 gay or bisexual male respondents aged 14-82. They found that boyhood crushes and fantasies regarding older males were common. One respondent, who looked at men's underwear models in catalogs when he was 9 or 10 years old, remembered that "[I] prayed very sincerely and faithfully that God would put those men in a locked room that only I had a key to, and would obey me like robots" (p. 83). Sexual experiences with older males were often positive. One respondent recalled that, at age 11, he was seduced by a man in his 20s living in his house. He remembered that it "was a little shaky at first but after it began I realized I liked it" (p. 90). Only a few experiences involved force or violence. The authors provided a sampling of 16 opinions to the , question "whether sexual contacts with adults were helpful or not" (p. 97): most were positive (69%) or neutral (12%). 

In March 1999 the Rind et al. (1998) meta-analysis came under intense attack by social conservatives (see Rind et al., 2000, for details). The Philadelphia radio talk show host who initiated the nationwide attacks pressured the Philadelphia gay and lesbian bookstore to remove all materials on intergenerational sex (e.g., books, newsletters). The owner yielded, but protested that "I have thought it interesting, that so many gay men I know report having had positive sexual experiences with adults when they were boys" (Giovanni's Room press release, March 24, 1999).

Reacting to this comment and the controversy surrounding the meta-analysis, two journalists for a Phi1adelphia gay publication conducted interviews at various gay youth centers with male teen volunteers who had had sexual re1ations with men (Nickels and Hocker, 1999). Results supported the bookstore owner's observation: most of the nine volunteers reacted positively and none reacted negatively. Rejecting the notion that they had been abused, the teens instead identified various psycho1ogical, emotional, and educational benefits that the relationships conferred.

The research just reviewed has focused on the age-discrepant sexua1 experiences of gay and bisexual boys in a society that has traditionally condemned homosexuality and currently anathematizes man-boy sex. It is thus instructive to examine how homosexua1ly oriented boys in other cultures that do not share these attitudes react to such experiences. 

Williams (1996) has provided relevant data based upon field research among Native Americans and Po1ynesians, in which he interviewed "two-spirit" persons (i.e., Native American berdaches and Polynesian mahus). Two-spirit men are differently gendered and are accepted and appreciated in their societies for their unique contributions. They are usually homosexually oriented and play the passive role in sexual relations with masculine ma1es; these relations are socially sanctioned and generally begin before puberty. Wi1liams found that the vast majority of his interviewees expressed pleasant memories of their boyhood sexual experiences with older males. For example, one man had a re1ation with a 40-year-old man when he was eight. He commented: "Since he was good to me and for me, it was considered by my family to be okay and my own business-no one else's" (p. 428). Williams came across only one interviewee who felt traumatized by an age-discrepant experience, which involved being raped by his alcoholic grandfather. He also found that masculine-oriented males who had sexual relations with older males as boys found them to be predominantly positive. He concluded that culture is an important factor in determining how boys perceive these relations; when it is accepting, these relations tend not to be problematic and may even help a boy's maturation.

Current Study

The review of research on gay and bisexual boys' sexual encounters with older males shows a wide range of reactions. Clinical case studies, consistent with the incest model in their findings, appear to be highly unrepresentative of this population. Causal attributions regarding symptoms are problematic, because clinical subjects often come from disorganized family environments -- Dimock (1988) described all of his subjects as coming from chaotic homes. 

The clinic-based research of Bartholow el al. (1994) and Doll el al. (1992) was not especially supportive of this model, because psychological correlates of these sexual encounters were all small and comfort regarding sexual attractions was high on average among subjects with these experiences (M = 1.6, where 1 = very comfortable, 5 = very uncomfortable), contrary to Bartholow el al.'s erroneous description of "lack of comfort" (Bartho1ow el al., 1994, p. 755). The generalizability of this sample is limited because men of low socioeconomic status were over represented -- which could account for the high percentage of force and incest cases relative to national samples (cf: Rind el al., 1998). Its relevance to gay and bisexual adolescent males is limited because most subjects in this study had their sexual encounters with older males when they were preadolescent. The nonclinical and cross-cultural data were completely inconsistent with the incest model. An important shortcoming of this research, however, is that no data based on standard measures of Psychological adjustment were gathered.

The purpose of the current study was to add to scientific knowledge in this area by presenting research that avoided the shortcomings just discussed. A nonclinical, mostly middle class sample of young adult gay and bisexual males was examined. Both adjustment and reaction data were analyzed, as were data concerning sexual orientation development. Consistent with the nonclinical and cross-cultural research just reviewed, and contrary to predictions from the incest model, it was expected that age-discrepant sexual relations (ADSRs) between gay or bisexual males and adult men would be experienced predominantly non negatively and would not be associated with adjustment problems. Furthermore, contrary to psychoanalytic theorizing and labeling theory, it was not expected that homosexual interests would be the "adverse" outcome of ADSRs. In the current study, ADSR was defined as a sexual encounter or relationship involving at least genital contact between a gay or bisexual boy aged less than 18 with a man aged at least 18 and at least 5 years older than the boy.



This study drew its data from research conducted by Savin-Williams (1997), a Cornell University psychologist who interviewed two samples of young adult gay and bisexual males to examine gay /bisexual identity development. Some of the data were obtained directly from Savin- Williams; other data were obtained from his 1997 report summarizing this research. Savin- Williams employed an interpretive interview approach, in which he requested his subjects to ground their memories in specific details during face-to-face interviews and to tell "their own story" (p. 11). He argued, citing supporting methodological research (Kessler and Wethington, 1991; Ross, 1984), that this technique, along with the fact that subjects were genera1ly only several years or months removed from important developmental sexual experiences or milestones, added to the validity of the results.

Savin-Williams' focus when examining the first sample was exploring the role that sexual behavior during childhood and adolescence plays in forming a gay or bisexual identity. In accordance, he asked subjects about all sexual relations they had prior to graduating from high school. Thus, it was possible to divide this sample into a control and an ADSR group. For his second sample, his goa1s changed in that sexua1 behavior per se was not a chief focus. Accordingly, he asked these subjects only about their first sexua1 experience and their first romantic experience. As such, although Sample 2 can be divided into a control and an ADSR group, the control group cannot be considered as pure in that it likely contained a small subset of subjects who experienced ADSR.

In the current study, Sample 1, because of its clear separation of control and ADSR subjects, was used as the primary basis for assessing the relationship between ADSR and psychological adjustment. As a secondary means of assessing this relationship, Sample 2 was employed, with the caveat that interpretation of its results must be seen as tentative because its control group likely contained several ADSR subjects. ADSR subjects from both samples were used to evaluate how gay/bisexual boys react to ADSRs.


Subjects were recruited through announcements made in appropriate classes at Cornell University and other local colleges, posters and flyers put on campus bulletin boards and distributed at relevant local establishments (e.g., local bar, bookstore, cafe ), and advertisements placed in local gay newsletters and Internet list-serves. Many subjects volunteered based on word-of-mouth information from subjects who had already participated. The study was described to prospective it subjects as an attempt to understand the ways gay and bisexua1 men come to recognize their sexual identity during childhood and adolescence.

Sample 1

The first sample consisted of 43 male subjects, with a mean age of 21 (SD = 1.4) and a range from 17 yo 23. Most of these subjects were white (91%). Their religions were (a) 27% Protestant, (b) 22% Jewish, (c) 17% Catholic, and (d) 34% none. Only 16% came from urban settings; 38% came from small cities, medium towns, or suburbs; nearly half (47%) came from small towns, rural communities, or farms. Subjects' mean Kinsey rating (on a scale from 0 to 6, where 6 indicates exclusively homosexual) was 5.49 (SD = .94): 70% were exclusively homosexual, 16% were mainly homosexual with a small degree of heterosexual interest, and the remaining 14% had substantial interest in both sexes. Thirteen (30%) of the 43 subjects had ADSR experiences, all of which occurred between ages 12 and 17.

Sample 2

The second sample consisted of 86 subjects, with a mean age of 21.3 (SD = 2.2) and a range from 17 to 25. Most subjects were White (72%). Their religions were (a) 13% Protestant, (b) 21% Jewish, (c) 24% Catholic, (d) 4% other, and (e) 37% none. Twenty nine percent came from urban settings; 37% came from smal1 cities, medium towns, or suburbs; 35% came from sma11 towns, rura1 communities, or farms. Their mean Kinsey rating was 5.45 (SD = .90): 66% were exclusively homosexual, 19% were mainly homosexual with a small degree of heterosexual interest, and the remaining 13% had substantial interest in both sexes. The only demographic variable that differed significantly between samples 1 and 2 was ethnicity: the first sample was less ethnically diverse, containing a greater proportion of wh1tes (91% ) than did the second sample (72%), X2 (1, N = 129) = 5.84, p < .02, effect size r = .21. Thirteen of 86 subjects were identified as having experienced ADSR, all of which occurred between ages 12 and 17, as in Sample 1. 

ADSR-Identified Sample

No statistically significant differences emerged between ADSR and control subjects in their demographics. The 26 ADSR-identified subjects from the two samples had a mean age of 20.8 (SD = 2.6) and a range from 17 to 25. Most were White (85% ); 8% were Black and 4% each were Latino and Asian. Fifteen percent were Protestant, 19% Jewish, 27% Catholic, and 38% had no religious affiliation. Almost a third each came from urban communities (31% ) or small cities, medium towns, or suburbs (31%); 38% came from small towns, rura1 communities, or farms. Their mean Kinsey rating was 5.46 (SD = 1.03), with 69% exclusively homosexual, 19% mainly homosexual with a small degree of heterosexual interest, and 12% with substantia1 interest in both sexes.

Measures and Procedure

In their study on the mental health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths, Hershberger and D' Augelli (1995) found that the single largest predictor of the youths' mental health was self -acceptance, as measured by the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Inventory (Rosenberg, 1965) and an item on comfort, which asked how comfortable subjects currently felt about being gay or lesbian. Savin- Williams (1997) also assessed self-esteem, using the Rosenberg scale; scores could range from 0 to 30, where 30 indicated high self-esteem. Additionally, Savin-Williams (1997) reported the age at which subjects first developed a positive sexual identity. This construct is analogous to Hershberger and D' Augelli's construct of comfort (Hershberger and D' Augelli, 1995) in that it assesses self-acceptance; it fol1ows therefore that it is an indicator of psychological adjustment. In the current study, the self-esteem and positive sexual identity data obtained from Savin- Wil1iams were used to assess the relationship between ADSRs and adjustment.

Reaction data for ADSR subjects were also ana1yzed. In conducting his interviews, Savin- Williams (1997) took notes on subjects' feelings about their sexual experiences, including the ADSR experiences. ADSR narratives were obtained for the current study from Savin- Wil1iams as well as from his book. For each of the 26 narratives, one for each ADSR subject, the author of the current study and two other sex researchers coded each subject's reaction to the ADSR and his level of consent. Specifically, reactions were coded as fol1ows: 1 = very negative, 2 = negative, 3 = neutral or mixed, 4 = positive, and 5 = very positive. 

Level of consent was coded as fol1ows: 1 = forced (partner used threat or force to get subject to participate); 2 = obligated (subject not forced, but subject felt unable to say no); 3 = acquiesced (subject participated without rea1 interest; he did it to accommodate partner); 4 = mutual (subject wanted to do it, but didn't necessarily initiate it; it was two-way mutual); 5 = encouraged (subject actively initiated and wanted it). 

Cronbach's alphas computed on the coders' ratings indicated good inter-coder re1iability: alphas = .97 and .87 for reactions and consent, respectively. Reaction and consent scores for each subject were computed as the mean of the three coders' corresponding ratings.

Additionally, the author and one other rater coded several characteristics of the ADSRs. One was the relationship between the boy and the man: 1 = stranger (ADSR on first meeting); 2 = acquaintance (ADSR after first meeting, but before becoming friends ); 3 = friend. Another was frequency of sexual contact: 1 = once only; 2 = more than once. A third was duration: 1 = less than a month; 2 = 1-6 months; 3 = 6 months to one year; 4 = more than 1 year. A fourth was type of sex (coded as the most intensive type that occurred): 1 = masturbation; 2 = oral; 3 = anal. Percent agreements ranged from 81% to 96%. Discrepancies were resolved by discussion.

Finally, Savin-Williams (1997) collected data on subjects' age of puberty, age of first awareness of sexual attractions to other males, and age at which they first labeled their attractions "gay" or "homosexual." The latter two variables, in conjunction with subjects' beginning age of ADSR experiences, were used to evaluate claims that early sex with older males causes homosexuality. 



Psychological Adjustment 

If ADSRs have adverse effects on the adjustment of gay /bisexual males, it would be expected that, in comparison with controls, ADSR subjects should have lower self-esteem and greater difficulty in attaining a positive sexual identify (i.e., the age of achieving this milestone should be delayed).

In Sample 1, self-esteem scores were not lower for ADSR subjects (M = 23.82) than for control subjects (M = 23.46), t(37) = -.17, p > .10 (all tests reported here are two-tailed), with effect size r = -.03 (positive effect sizes indicate better adjustment for controls; negative effect sizes indicate better adjustment for ADSR subjects). 

Attainment of a positive sexual identity was not delayed for ADSR subjects (M = 18.00) compared to controls (M = 18.35), t(23) = -.43, p > .10, r = -.09. Assessment of this attribute commenced a third of the way into the interviews; data are missing for nearly equal proportions of ADSR (31% ) and control (33% ) subjects. Of those who were asked about achieving a positive sexual identity, the proportion of ADSR subjects (89% ) and control (85% ) subjects who had achieved this milestone did not differ, z = -.28, p > .10, r = -.05. Table I provides adjustment statistics for both samples.

Table I. 
Self-Esteem and Age of Attainment of Positive Sexual Identity as a Function of Having Experienced ADSR

Adjustment measure

Sample 1

Sample 2





Rosenberg self-esteem

M 23.82 23.46 21.00 21.96
SD 5.47 6.24 4.74 5.25
n 11 28 13 73

Positive sexual identity

M 18.00 18.35 16.80 19.10
SD 2.14 1.77 3.05 2.21
n 8 17 10 62
% archieved 89 85 77 85


In Sample 2, self-esteem scores were not lower for ADSR-identified subjects (M = 21.00) than for control subjects (M = 21.96), t(84) = .62, p > .10, r = .07. Attainment of a positive sexual identity occurred earlier rather than later for ADSR-identified subjects (M = 16.80) relative to controls (M = 19.10), t(70) = -2.89, p < .01, r = -.33. The proportion of ADSR-identified subjects (77%) and control subjects (85% ) achieving a positive sexual identity did not differ, z = .72, p > .10, r = .08.

Sample 1 results provide no evidence for adverse effects of ADSR. Sample 2 results, although in need of qualification because the control sample was likely to be impure, are consistent with those of Sample 1, reinforcing the conclusion of no evidence for adverse effects. 

Combining results from the two samples meta-analytically (Rosenthal, 1984) yielded a very small and statistically non-significant effect size for self-esteem (r = .04, N = 125,95% confidence interval = -.14 to +.21), a medium and statistically significant effect size for age of positive sexual identity (r = -.27, N = 97,95% confidence interval = -.45 to -.07), and a small and statistically non-significant effect size for proportion having achieved a positive sexual identity (r = .05, N = 115,95% confidence interval = -.14 to +.23). All of these results are inconsistent with the traumagenic view (e.g., incest model) of ADSR, particularly the negative effect size for age of achieving a positive sexual identity, which is consistent instead with a beneficial effect. 

The ADSR Experiences

The Appendix contains narratives from all 26 ADSR subjects, which are ordered according to subjects' and partners' ages. The narratives generally provide information on the context in which the ADSRs occurred, the level of familiaity between the partners, the frequency and duration of the sexual relationships, the types of sex involved, subjects' reactions, and their level of consent. Savin-Williams took more notes on first sexual or romantic experiences; as such, these narratives contain more details.


The mean age at which subjects had their first ADSR experience was 15.31 (SD = 1.67), with a range from 12 to 17. The mean age of their older partner was 28.62 (SD = 7.66), with a range from 20 to 46. Thus, on average, there was a 13.31 (SD = 7.83) year age difference between the boys and their older partners, with a range from 5 to 30 years. Forty two percent of the cases involved contacts with strangers; 35% involved contacts with acquaintances; and 23% involved friends (one of these involved an older brother). About two thirds (68%) of the cases involved multiple sexual contacts.  Nearly half of the sexual relationships, (42%) lasted less than a month, whereas a quarter (25%) lasted more than a year. 

Of the 19 cases for which type of sex could be identified, 21% involved masturbation as the most intense form, 42% involved oral sex, and 37% involved anal intercourse. 

Almost all subjects (96% ) were aware of their sexual attraction to males before their ADSR experience-mean age of awareness was 7.92 (SD = 4.10), with a range from 3 to 17. Ninety-six percent had reached puberty at an earlier I age (one reached puberty in the same year as his ADSR experience) -- mean age of puberty was 11.46 (SD = 1.21), with a range from 10 to 14. Three quarters (76%) had already labeled their interests "homosexual" or "gay" before the ADSR occurred (16% labeled their interests in the same year as the ADSR) -- mean age of labeling was 12.52 (SD = 3.02), with a range from 7 to 18. These results regarding age of awareness of attractions and labeling call into question the role of ADSRs in causing same-sex interests.


Subjects' mean reaction was positive (M = 3.94, SD = 1.25), although individual reactions ranged from very negative to very positive. Overall, reactions were as follows: 38.5% very positive, 38.5% positive, 7.7% neutral/mixed, 3.8% negative, and 11.5% very negative. Combining categories and rounding, 77% were positive, 8% were neutral, and 15% were negative.


Overall, subjects were mutually consenting (M = 4.15, SD = .51); consent ranged from acquiescing to encouraging. Thus, forced or coerced contact was not a factor in this sample. To the contrary, nearly a quarter (23.1 %) encouraged the contacts and about two-thirds (69.2%) mutually consented; 7.7% acquiesced. Thus, 92% evidenced positive desire for the sexual involvement.


Table II presents correlations among the various ADSR characteristics; statistical significance is based on two-tailed tests. Doll et al. (1992) reported that greater age difference was associated with more negative reactions at time of interview in their sample of gay /bisexual men. In the current sample, this association was not found, r(24) = .12, p > .10. Moreover, younger boys did not react more negatively (or less positively) than older ones, r(24) = -.23, p > .10, and they were just as consenting as older boys, r(24) = -.01, p > .10. Further, contrary to age difference posing a problem for the boys, their willingness and interest in participating in sexual relations increased as the difference in ages between them and the men increased, r(24) = .39, p < .05, and as the ages of their partners increased, r(24) = .40, p < .05. 

Positivity of reactions increased with a greater degree of familiarity with the men, r(24) = .56, p < .01, multiple as opposed to single sexual encounters, r(23) = .60, p < .01, longer lasting sexual relationships, r(22) = .52, p < .01, and greater willingness and interest in participation, r(24) = .43, p < .05. Greater familiarity was associated with more frequent sexual encounters, r(23) = .47, p < .05, and longer lasting sexual relationships, r(22) = .69, p < .01. Younger boys tended to be more familiar or friendly with their partners, r(24) = -.43, p < .05. Finally, two one-way ANOVAs were performed to examine whether reactions and consent were related to type of sex experienced. Results were non-sigificant in both cases: F(2, 16) = .25, p > .10, and F(2, 16) = .36, p > .10,  respectively. 

Table II. Correlations Among ADSR Characteristics

  Men's age Diff Relat Freq Dur React Consent
Boy's age .01 -.20 -.43* .01 -.22 -.23 -.01
Men's age   .98** -.06 .18 .23 .07 .40*
Age difference     .03 .17 .27 .12 .39*
Relationship       .47* .69** .56** .30
Frequency         .64** .60** .29
Duration           .52** .36
Reaction             .43*

Boys' age = boys' ages when ADSR began; 
men's age = men's ages when ADSR began; 
age difference = difference between partners' ages; 
relationship = familiarity between the partners; 
frequency = single vs. multiple sexual contacts; 
duration = length of sexual relations;
reaction ranges from very negative to very positive; 
consent ranges from forced to encouraging (see text for exact definitions). 
Correlations based on N = 26, except for those involving frequency or duration, which involve N = 25 and N = 24, respectively.
* p < .05 two-tailed; 
** p < .01 two-tailed.


Psychological Adjustment

In the current study, ADSRs between gay or bisexual boys and men were examined. Contrary to conventional assumptions, derived in part from the influential incest model, these relations were not associated with damaged self -esteem or sexual identity development. The self -esteem of subjects who experienced ADSRs was as high as those who did not. ADSR subjects were not delayed in achieving a positive sexual identity; to the contrary, in the two samples combined, ADSR subjects actually reached this milestone earlier than did control subjects. 

Given Hershberger and D' Augelli's research (Hershberger and D' Augelli, 1995) on middle-class college-aged gay and bisexual men, which showed that self -esteem and comfort with being gay are strong predictors of mental health, results of the current study imply that ADSRs were not associated with psychological maladjustment. 

This finding is inconsistent with conventional professional and lay views, which reflect the incest model, but is consistent with empirical findings on willing boy-adult sex based on college samples (Rind et at. , 1998). Given that willing ADSRs predominated in the current sample and that the current sample was composed mostly of college students, this consistency is not surprising. 

Sexual Identity Development 

Before gay liberation, professionals frequently expressed concern that man- boy sex was pathogenic, because they believed it was likely to cause boys to become homosexual (Rind, 1998). A number of child abuse researchers and other professionals continue to express this concern (e.g., Bartholow et at., 1994; Mendel, 1995;; Urquiza and Capra, 1990), despite well-grounded empirical evidence to the contrary (e.g., Bell et at., 1981). 

Data from the current study are relevant to this continuing debate. Consistent with a growing literature (see Savin-Williams, 1997, for a review), subjects in the current study became aware of their sexual attraction to other males years before puberty on average- in the case of ADSR subjects, 3.5 years before. All but one ADSR subject became aware of these attractions prior to having their first ADSR. Three quarters of these subjects labeled their attractions as "gay" or "homosexual" before their ADSR, whereas another 16% labeled their attractions at the same age of their ADSR (leaving in doubt for these latter subjects which event occurred first). 

The timeline suggested by these events is, for most of these subjects, as follows: becoming aware of same-sex attractions, labeling these interests as gay, then experiencing ADSRs. This timeline contradicts the seduction hypothesis. 

Clinical findings of sexual confusion and homophobia among gay and bisexual men who experienced ADSRs (e.g., Dimock, 1988; Myers, 1989) do not extend to the current sample. This is evidenced not only by the positive sexual identity data already discussed, but also by subjects' narratives. Only a few subjects showed adverse reactions (see Appendix for Cases 9, 11, 16, and 19). Two of these subjects explicitly commented that their ADSR made it difficult to accept their homosexuality (Cases 11 and 16). Importantly, these cases constituted a small minority. The vast majority of narratives provide no evidence of harm to sexual identity formation. Contrary to stereotypes of harm, Savin-Williams (1997) concluded from his interviews that many of the ADSRs helped "the adolescent more readily identify as gay, feel better being gay, and learn much about himself"

Reactions and Consent

The incest model offers the image of a frightened child, powerless to resist, coerced into a traumatizing sex act. This image fits some case studies presented in clinical research on gay boys' ADSRs (e.g., Myers, 1989), but does not fit the typical ADSR in the current sample. To be sure, several cases were quite negative (Cases 9, 11, 16, and 19). In three of these cases, however, the narratives indicate that the circumstances were important in affecting subjects' reactions. One subject initially felt accomplishment in having experienced the sex, but later felt the circumstances cheapened the event (Case 11). Another felt the sex was unclean because it was anonymous (Case 16), and the third one felt unclean about sex in a cemetery with a stranger to whom he was not attracted (Case 19). 

It was positive and very positive reactions that predominated (77% of the cases ). These narratives are reminiscent of those found in other nonclinical research on gay youths' sexual experiences (e. g., Jay and Young, 1977; Spada, 1979) and in cross-cultural research (Williams, 1996). 

One 12-year-old said he "practically had to force sex" on the man, which he thought was great when if finally occurred (Case 1). Another 12-year-old thought the sex was physically great, fell in love with the man, and continued the relationship for 10 years (Case 2). A 13-year-old, who had a sexual relationship with his adult brother, said he liked it and wanted to do it again and again (Case 3). Another 13-year-old was glad to have engaged in mutual masturbation with a man he met in a shopping mall, and tried unsuccessfully to meet the man again for a repeat (Case 4). Still another 13-year-old found the sex to be incredibly erotic, a tremendous release, and very pleasurable (Case 5). A 14-year-old felt excitement, love, and affection in his relationship (Case 7). A 16-year-old reacted to his ADSR by asking himself, "Is this what it is? Is this what it is? Do I like it? Do I like it?" He answered with, "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" (Case 14). Another 16-year-old described his ADSR as the best sex he had ever had (Case 15). 

This predominance of positive ADSRs is strongly at odds with the image forwarded by most feminists, child abuse professionals, and media commentators. The boys in these cases were not frightened, powerless to resist, or coerced into traumatizing sex acts. Instead, the vast majority either mutually consented to the relations or actually initiated them. In contrast to the clinical and clinic-based samples discussed previously, force and coercion played no role in the current  sample, the boys were not involved in ADSRs before puberty, and incest was rare (just one case -- Case 3 was brother-brother incest). These differences in coercion, childhood versus adolescent contacts, and incest may reflect differences in socioeconomic status and family stability, which were both more favorable In the current sample.

Noteworthy is the finding that age difference, the sine qua non of the power abuse perspective, was not associated with type of reaction and was positively rather than negatively, associated with level of consent. The boys were more willing to be sexually involved as the difference in ages between them and the men increased. Moreover, the younger boys (aged 12-14) did not react more negatively than the older ones-to the contrary, they all reacted positively. This contradicts the conventional wisdom that younger participants would be vulnerable to negative outcomes because they are too naive sexually. Contrary to this presumption of naiveté or "innocence," however, almost every boy in the current sample had already become aware of his sexual attractions to other males prior to his ADSR. Additionally, these sexual attractions, whether felt by boys who experienced ADSRs or not, often involved significantly older males. As Savin-Williams (1997) noted

Those who monopolized their attention were occasionally same-age boys, but were more often older teenagers and adults-male teachers, coaches, cousins, or friends of the family. Public male figures were also sources of fantasies -- Superman, Scott Baio, Duran Duran, John Ritter, Bobby Ewing, and Hulk Hogan. Others turned pages in magazines and catalogs to find male models in various stages of undress; especially popular were underwear advertisements (p. 24).

Savin-Williams (1997) provided several examples of these early age-discrepant attractions. One subject remembered his kindergarten naps: "Dreams of naked men and curious about them. Really wanting to look at them" (p. 21). Another subject at age 7 shared a room one night with a 21-year-old athlete, who was nude in his sleeping bag. The subject commented: "... I kept wondering ... I just knew I wanted to get in with him ... I didn't sleep the whole night" (p. 24 ). Still another remembered: "As a child I knew I was attracted to males. I was caught ... looking at nude photographs of men ...[I] enjoyed my keen curiosity to see male bodies" (p. 26). Rather than seeing older males as a threat to abuse them, these boys often regarded them with "excitement, euphoria, mystery" (p. 24 ).

This favorable predisposition may account for the receptivity, and hence generally positive reactions, to the ADSRs that occurred in this sample. It also suggests that the reports of positive ADSRs were generally valid, rather than artifacts of psychological or social pressure to present their homosexual history in a favorable light.

The Incest Model: A Procrustean Bed

The discrepancy between findings in the current study and expectations based on the incest model is so great as to warrant further consideration.

Summit (1983) wrote an influential paper based on clinical incest cases, in which he described the  "child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome." He cautioned that his syndrome "should not be viewed as a procrustean bed which defines and dictates a narrow perception of something as complex as child sexual abuse" (p. 180). Despite this warning, in the very next paragraph, even though his syndrome was built almost entirely on cases of father-daughter incest, he asserted that "male victims are at least as frequent, [and] just as helpless" (p. 180).

This sort of extrapolation has become commonplace since the early 1980s. Sexual phenomena that have only age-discrepancy in common with incest are reshaped in a narrow, rigid manner to fit the demands of the incest model. Media commentators conclude that willing sexual relations between adolescent boys and unrelated men are invariably profoundly damaging (e.g., Philadelphia Inquirer, September 13, 1984, p. 22A). Professionals reject or distort data regarding these relations that are inconsistent with the incest stereotype, reaching instead the obligatory conclusion of pervasive harm (e.g., Bartholow et at., 1994; Masters et at., 1985).

A 1993 case in London, Ontario, illustrates paradigmatically the procrustean influence of the incest model when applied too broadly. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) documented on its premier informational show IDEAS (1994, 1995, 1999) what it termed the biggest sex scandal in North America. About 60 men sexually involved with adolescent boys were arrested in the midst of a "moral, panic ... generated by the police, with the help of therapists and social workers, and ... fueled by the media" (IDEAS, 1994, p. 29).

CBC interviews with the boys indicated that they generally were gay or bisexual, were "sexually active teenagers who were having sex for fun or for profit" (IDEAS, 1994, p. 31 ), engaged willingly, had reached Canada's age of consent of 14 when the sex occurred, and were treated well by the men. For example, one teen commented:

I knew what I was doing. ... I wanted it. ... [I]t's not a recruitment thing, it's not that you 're forced into it. ... [W]hen you're 14 and gay it's as natural to want to be with a man as it is when you're 14 and straight and want to be with a girl ... I was doing it when I was 14. I was picking up the guys. It wasn't them picking me up. And you can't be a victim unless you're forced into something. (IDEAS, 1995, pp. 55,56)

The teens' willing participation and their predominantly positive perceptions of the experience are completely consistent with the findings of the current study, as well as the other nonclinical research reviewed previously. Nevertheless, as the CBC series documented, the London media, social workers, and police treated the affair following the dictates of the incest model, with serious distortion and iatrogenic harm ensuing.

The media consistently and repeatedly exaggerated and misrepresented the affair from the start, presenting it as a child pornography ring victimizing children as young as eight, when in fact almost none of the men knew each other, 95% of the cases did not involve pornography, and teenagers were involved, not young children.

Social workers proceeded from the premise that the relations were coerced and non-consenting -- even though most boys were above the age of consent -- because of a "power differential;" they also tended to believe that men and boys get their "power needs" met through sex. The CBC series documented further that the social workers involved in the cases, were distressed that the boys did not see themselves as victims, and many had a declared agenda to make the boys see themselves as victims. They wrote "victim impact statements" for the courts, in which they interpreted the boys' refusal to talk with them about the sex as a traumatic reaction to the sex itself.

 Finally, the CBC series documented how the police, operating under the premise that the boys were victims and were being "ruined" by the sex, used threats, bribes, deception, and harassment to coerce them into providing state' s evidence. Teens interviewed for the series recounted how the police pressured them to claim in court that they felt victimized when in fact they did not.

The CBC series was critical of the actions taken by the three London institutions just discussed, pointing out examples of harm imposed on the individuals brought "into a system of interrogation and confession and squealing, a system of punishment and therapy, humiliation and incarceration" (IDEAS, 1995, p. 61).

The series presented an interview with a gay spokesman, who argued that "it was the whole criminal proceedings that caused them to feel victimized or caused damage to their lives, not the sex trade" (IDEAS, 1995, p. 57).

Another London commentator opined that the police and social workers should stop treating these teens as if they were "damaged heterosexuals"; the president of a Detroit group organized to protect homosexuals against violence and discrimination added that "they're damaged now because of heterosexuals, in this case the police" (IDEAS, 1995, p. 53). The producer of the series summed up the procrustean influence of the incest model when applied to teenage males involved in willing relations with unrelated adults:

... the modern and useful feminist analysis of the reasons young women suffer in horrible incest cases -- that analysis has been inappropriately used in an attempt to understand an entirely different set of circumstances. A blurring of motives and psychological effects has taken place, which has created a powerful and misleading narrative that produces neither justice nor happiness. (IDEAS, 1999)


Findings in the current study are limited in a number of ways. The sample of gay and bisexual males was mostly middle-class, college-educated, and White. Generalizations to other populations cannot be safely made without further investgation. The ADSRs all involved adolescents rather than preadolescents; inferences to how preadolescents respond to such relationships cannot be safely made without further study. The ADSRs were predominantly of a willing nature; inferences to unwanted relations are thus unwarranted. The control group in the second sample likely consisted of some subjects who experienced ADSRs, rendering inferences about self-esteem and positive sexual identity tentative in that sample. Consistency with the findings in the first sample, however, suggests its value in assessing adjustment. Finally, the mostly positive nature of these ADSRs cannot be assumed to extend to those of heterosexual adolescent boys with men, where reactions are more mixed, tending to be negative to neutral for unexpected or casual encounters and neutral to positive for encounters occurring within the context of a friendship (see Bauserman and Rind, .1997, for a review).

These caveats aside, the current findings are consistent with those of other nonclinical research in demonstrating that adolescent boys' willing sexual experiences with older persons are very poorly described by victimological models (i.e., rape and incest) that evolved in the early 1970s to describe women's and girls' unwanted sexual experiences. Alternative models should be sought that incorporate the consistent finding that adolescent boys generally react neutrally or positively to ADSRs that are willingly engaged in and involve adults of the gender consistent with the adolescent's sexual orientation.


Narratives of 26 Cases of Sexual Relations Between Gay/Bisexual Adolescent Boys and Men