John Leo
Back in 1981, an astute writer at Time magazine (that would be me) noticed that pro-pedophilia arguments were catching on among some sex researchers and counselors. Larry Constantine, a Massachusetts family therapist and sex-book writer, said children "have the right to express themselves sexually, which means they may or may not have contact with people older than themselves." Wardell Pomeroy, co-author of the original Kinsey reports, said incest "can sometimes be beneficial." A Minnesota sociologist included pedophile sex among "intimate human relations (that) are important and precious." There were more.

My article caused some commotion, so the budding apologists for child molesters' lib ran for cover. Since then, frank endorsements of adult-child sex have become rare. But the pro-pedophilia (or anti-anti-pedophilia) rationalizations of the early 1980s are still in play. Among them are these: Children are sexual beings with the right to pick their own partners; the quality of relationships, not age, determines the value of sex; most pedophiles are gentle and harmless; the damage of pedophilia comes mostly from the shocked horror communicated by parents, not from the sex itself.

For example, take the controversy over the new sex book "Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex." The mini-uproar comes from the fact that the author, a journalist named Judith Levine, recycles some of the old arguments that play down the dangers of pedophilia. (The book has an introduction by Jocelyn Elders, so don't say you weren't warned.) Levine says pedophiles are rare and often harmless. The real danger, she thinks, is not the pedophile, but parents and parental figures who project their fears and their own lust for young flesh onto the mythically dangerous child molester. One section carries the headline "The enemy is us."

Levine opposes incest and adult-child sex that involves authorities with power over kids. That would seem to include predatory priests, but Levine thought this was a good time to endorse some priest-boy sex. She told Mark O'Keefe of the Newhouse papers that "yes, conceivably, absolutely" a boy's sexual relationship with a priest could be positive. As you may have gathered already, Levine is wildly wrong about pedophilia and child-molesting. Her book is just terrible.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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