How common was pedophilia in the past?

Lets say in the dark ages or the roman empire. What about different ancient societies like China, native American, or African tribes?

I have never heard anything either way - is this something that was always taboo or is in something once considered normal that we have since ‘lifted’ ourselves out of?

Define pedophilia.

Many of your female ancestors were getting married in their early teens. IIRC, in ancient China it was common for (nobility) girls to be betrothed as infants and then given as brides after their first menstruation.

I think it was almost certainly more common in the past.

I’m pretty sure that k2dave is talking about sexual molestation of pre-pubescent children, and not the issue of arranged marriage.

I’ve heard quite often that pedophelia was an accepted norm in ancient Greece. I couldn’t really say how true that is, I’m kind of hesitant to do a web search…

What we call “pedophilia” today doesn’t usually make puberty an issue; I think more often people are thinking of age-of-consent laws, which are significantly higher than puberty.

(Unless you think I’m not a perv for lusting after my 13-year old neighbor… the Japanese don’t and they’re not alone)

And “molestation” … does that mean non-consensual? Or are we making the (modern) assumption that pre-teens cannot give assent? The “age of accountability” (ability to discern right and wrong) was once 7 or so. 11-year olds were hung as thieves. For some purposes, it is now 18.

I’m not being a pain. I’m suggesting that to some extent, the question is anachronistic, like asking if Caesar was sexist. In the context of his time and place, what is ‘sexist’? Or do we judge him by our current standards?

To the extent that we can ask the question, we need to nail down what we mean exactly. Pre-pubescent works. And let’s assume that pre-pubes are held to retroactively be unable to grant consent. I’d bet that there were still some arranged marriages that fit the bill, but we’ll exclude them too.

Well, there’s no need to go back to Rome or Greece:

The Roman dictator, Sulla, enjoyed it. Kept a staff of young boys to “swim with”.

Ancient Grecians did indeed practice it, especialy in Sparta.

ok for a definition lets say someone in his late teens (17,18,19) or older haveing sex with someone yrs away from puberity lets say 6 or younger.

Hmm… if we go for a definition of pedophile as “person indisputably in early or full adulthood actively seeking to have sex with people undisputably children, because that’s what turns him/her on or because it’s more convenient to him/her…” then the answer is, possibly not that much more common than nowadays. Think of it, this way… sex being a reproductive activity, the intuitive thing would be to seek out actual intercourse with those who are at least potentially capable of begetting children. And most humans, pathological cases excepted, would get no pleasure out of intercourse with someone to whom it’s causing severe pain and possibly grievious injury.

IIRC even with arranged child-marriage, the bride and groom would usually not cohabitate until she reached the age of puberty (besides, often the “groom” would be a child or early teen himself). Which is not to discount that in some situations it may have been acceptable to engage the child-bride in some sort of “low impact” non-penetrative intimacy pending puberty, but hey, in that case that would have been the husband’s marital duty, to prepare her for hers. We can speculate that in such a culture, 12 year olds could be considered by adults (and even consider themselves) fair game for recreational sex (the charmingly stated “old enough to bleed, old enough to breed” rule). This is sometimes called hebephilia, if the person has a distinct preference for the early-teen partner over any other sexually developed age group. (IOW Jerry Lee Lewis marrying a 13-year-old would be trashy, but not perverted, since he has no problem with partners of older ages)

*Ephebophilic pederasty * (adult male + pubescent boy) OTOH seems to have been more openly practiced among the old Greeks and Romans and present in many cultures (or subcultures – think Boys’ Prep Schools) all the way down to our time. In this case, of course, reproduction is not involved, but even then we have sources that seem to indicate that most of the sexual contact happened, again, in physically less-traumatic forms; plus, of course, if there’s a desire for reciprocity, a partner physically capable of giving as good as he takes would be preferred. (I have no idea if the fem/fem version of this has a name of its own, other than “JRD’s lurid fantasy about Girls’ Boarding Schools”). In many cases, the adult male was in any case virtually obligated to have a wife (married in her teens, natch) in order to beget children and pass on property. whether he liked her or not; while he was free and even expected to have mistresses or toy boys if he could afford to.

I would disagree with you here: I think that there exisits mounds of evidence that people don’t seem to have any inherent distaste for causeing pain and suffering in others, especially if the other is of a different group than yourself: all of your ancient armies depopulated whole areas–that means putting little kids, old people, and babies to the sword. Spanish conquistadores cut entire villages into little pieces, and we know about it because they wrote home telling the story wihtout shame. In more modern times, I have no doubt that the “comfort women” of the Japanese imperial army in WWII were caused “severe pain and grievious injury” (the stories are certainly chilling) and I don’t think the you can write that off as a result off all the Japanese soldiers being pathological. (Note: the being Japanese part here is irrelevant: it’s just the first recent, well-orgainized example of this sort of behavoir that I thought off.)

Having your own sexual pleasure linked to the pleasure-or even consent-- of your partner is learned behavoir. On the other hand, when depopulating villages there are presumably women off all ages avalible for raping, and presumably most of your Knights/Legionaires/Mongols/Spainiards preferred the ones with developed secondary sex charecteristics, since that is what secondary sex charecteristics are for. But I doubt many people thought it through to the feasibility of reproduction…

I am not familiar with any modern or historical culture in which sex with pre-pubescent children was common or even widely considered to be acceptable. In many cultures pubescent girls are/were considered of prime marrying age and when there was money or politics involved arranged marriages sometimes took place with pre-pubescent children, but I doubt you will find many cases of consumated marriages involving pre-pubescent children.

One should also remember that the average age for onset of menstruation has dropped considerably in the last century. When my school was founded a little more than a hundred years ago, it wasn’t unusual for the college health staff to be the ones to have to help girls through their first period.

I read that the Greek men did not have anal sex with the pubescent boys they took as lovers, that they instead inserted their penis between their thighs. There is even a term for that kind of sexual contact, though I can’t remember what it is.

As far as people having sex with prepubescent children, I doubt it was much more common as the frequency is going to be limited by the number of people who can be sexually aroused by someone who doesn’t show secondary sexual characteristics. Even if having sex with 8 year olds was accepted and even expected I seriously doubt I would be able to - it’s not societies rules that are holding me back, it’s the nature of my sex drive and what makes it kick in.

To get an idea about how much more or less common pedophilia was we need to understand what prevents the portion of the population that wants to have sex with children from doing so, and decide how those factors have changed over the years. I think there are three things that stop pedophiles from acting upon their desires:

  1. Societies view of such acts and the potential for punishment

  2. The pedophile’s internal morality

  3. The availability of victims

Number 1 is a big factor in modern times. Child molestation is seen as one of the worst crimes imaginable in modern times - most people would rank it above murder and forcible rape as far as heinousness goes. The punishment meted out by our legal system is not the worst there is but the probability of getting caught is probably higher now than it has ever been since most people teach our children enough about the dangers of sexual predators that they would tell someone, and even in cases where the child’s family is passively or even actively condoning the molestation children are generally required by law to spend time with adults outside the family who are trained to see signs of abuse and report it.

Number 2 is a difficult factor to measure. Are pedophiles of today more or less likely to think of what they want to do as wrong and/or recognize the harmful effects acting out their fantasies would have on the victim? One might argue that since we are living in a less religious society that the pedophile would be less likely to fear divine retribution for their acts, but on the other hand a modern man also has a better understanding of the harmful effects of child molestation and the subject is talked about in the open as opposed to being something that you just don’t talk about, so a modern pedophile may have a greater understanding of the wrongness of said acts. This one is a toss-up in my opinion.

Number 3 is a factor where I’m fairly sure modern society is doing a better job of limiting molestation. We are much more protective of our children these days, it’s a lot less common for people to allow their children to spend time alone with adults they do not know well. This doesn’t stop molestation by family members or trusted family friends, but it does cut back on other forms of molestation.

So on two out of three of these factors I think we are doing a better job of stopping child molestation. I think that child molestation is probably a lot less common than it was in the past, and not just the distant past. Since people who were molested as children seem to be more likely to molest as adults there was probably also a larger pool of potential pedophiles in the past before you take into account the limiting factors.

While I agree with everything else in your post, Badtz, I can’t with this. I see no reason to assume that the number of those aroused by children should be constant.

The average member of a developed economy lives a very different lifestyle than his great grandparents. He is less attached to his extended family, his expectations from a marriage partner are different and greater than his ggfather’s was, gender roles have changed dramatically, he is exposed to mass media that (arguably) promotes instant gratification of all desires. All these and many others go into an individual’s psychosexual formation.

Don’t have a cite, but I remember reading one psych who argued that some pedophiles were men who were not able to adjust to new gender roles and expectations; unable to deal with self-confident women taking over “male” roles, they turned to girls as an nonthreatening alternative.

Much like “Was Caesar gay?”, this is one of those questions that doesn’t make sense outside of our context. I can only speak to Roman and Greek culture (Roman more so than Greek), but I would say that there’s no real way to tell because the question doesn’t really apply. In both societies we’re talking about a sexuality that is premised on dominance/submission. It was a given that no normal person (meaning free, citizen male) wanted to submit to another, but if that was your position as prostitute, child, woman, or slave, well that was too bad and you had no say in the matter. Sexual activity wasn’t taboo because of any ideas about age difference or consent, but because of social status. Any sexual contact with slaves, male or female, young or old, was primarily unremarked upon since it was an assumed privilege of ownership.

On to the Greek issue, about which I am far less than expert, so forgive me. Young, prepubescent males were held as the ideal of beauty. Prepubescent is stressed because the smoothness and the youth of the boys are part of their charm. There was tension in this because as soon to be “men” the young boys should not enjoy being the object of desire, but on the other hand it was natural that the should be desired by older men. (Poorly recalled from Before Sexuality: The Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World by Zietlin et al.)
It has been argued that these relationships were institutionalized in Sparta as part of the training as homoioi. From what I remember, the boys in question were around 8-12 and their lovers/teachers were in the 17-18 range. I believe the ostensible reason was to encourage bravery in battle to impress your lover, but I could be confusing stories. There’s a myth about a troop of lovers that preferred to be slaughters to the man rather than shame themselves in front of their lovers. (I think it’s in Thucydides, but I’m sketchy on the details, especially where the troop of lovers was from.) Would this fall under our idea of pedophilia? Yes, but they had no way of looking at as such.

The term is intercrural and I’m of the school that this is a contested issue. I’ve read the articles (I’d cite but they’re lost in depths of my storage) and I’ve looked at the art (Looking at Ancient Love Making by John Clarke is a good source). I don’t think the answer can be so conclusive as to rule out anal sex. The illustrations and descriptions these arguments are based on just aren’t so clear as to allow a solid conclusion. My other issue was that these were the same scholars that look at men and women having sex and decided that it was “clear” that it was also anal sex because the woman wasn’t on her back. Sketchy conclusions at best, much as those in this whole debate. Our evidence for ancient sexual practices is scant and contested.

What’s the source for that? I hadn’t heard of that for Sulla, but I do remember that anecdote about Tiberius being passed around (Tacitus I think). The Tacitean reference was condemnatory not because they were young boys, but because they were the young children of citizens and as such supposedly sacrosanct from sexual violation. Making Tiberius a sick, sick man for violating a cultural taboo.

While this wouldn’t be the distant past, and it is fiction, did anyone here read Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? The main character is a girl named Francie Nolan, living in Brooklyn before the first World War. When she’s thirteen, there’s a big uproar in the neighborhood about a “sex pervert”, and how evil he is, and the horrid things he will do to young girls. (And children in general, I suppose.)
And didn’t the Victorians have a fascination with “devients”, perverts, and men who would “destroy a young girl/child’s innocence?” So it seems they were aware of it…

Alciabiades – welcome to the SDMB

furt, thanks.

As far as I know, this is one of the only pedophilia jokes in medieval literature. Walter Map (c. 1140 – c. 1210) wrote in his “Courtiers’ Trifles” about the death of Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux:

"In like manner two white aboots were conversing about the aforesaid man in the presence of Gilbert Foliot, Bishop of London, praising him for his mighty miracles. After unfolding many of them, one of the abbots remarked: ‘Although these tales which are told of Bernard are true, yet I was present on one occasion when his miraculous power failed him: a certain man from the borders of Burgundy asked him to come and heal his son; we came, and came upon him dead; Master Bernard bade the body be carried into a private room and “shutting every one out he lay upon the boy,” and after a prayer arose; but the boy did not arise, for he lay there dead.’ Thereupon I remarked, ‘He was surely the most unlucky of monks; for never have I heard of a monk lying down upon a boy without the boy arising immediately after the monk.’ The abbot blushed, and most of the company went out for a laugh.” (pg. 49)
(note – the term “white abbots” refers to the color of the robes of the order – not skin tone)

argh… abbots not aboots

what the heck is an aboot anyway?:slight_smile:

A Canadian approximation.