Title: Pedophilia: Psychological consequences for the child
Author(s): Frits Bernard
Affiliation: Bernard Foundation, The Netherlands; Board of Directors, Association for Advancement of Social Scientific Sex Research, West Germany
Citation: Bernard, F., “Pedophilia: Psychological consequences for the child,” in Constantine, L.L. & Martinson, F.M. (eds.), Children and sex: New findings, new perspectives, Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1981, pp. 189-199.
This study was based on a convenience sample of 30 adults, mostly men, who had childhood sexual experiences with adults. They were referred to the author through his professional and personal contacts, and came from all strata of the population in Holland.
To understand the impact of the sexual contact, the author wanted to know how the child experienced it at the time, and how he or she eventually assimilated the experience into his or her life. Therefore, subjects were asked to write their life story, including details about how they experienced the sexual contact at the time and what their current attitude about it was. The Amsterdam Biographic Questionnaire was also administered to yield scores on four personality dimensions.
To capture the variety of experiences, the author described nine representative case studies.
A small group of men in the study at the time felt positively about their sexual experiences with men, later identified as heterosexual, and as adults had negative views of the experience. Case 1 was characteristic of these men. At the time of the contact, he was 14 and the man was 39.
At the time of the study, he was engaged. He said he felt negatively about the experience because “it was no normal situation” and he was not old enough or educated enough to make a wise judgment about the contact. He felt unable to refuse the man’s advances because he received pleasure from the relationship and was afraid of losing it.
A sizable group of men encouraged the sexual contact as boys, identified as heterosexual after a homosexual period, and looked back positively on the experience as adults. Case 2 was characteristic of this group. He was 14 years old when the sexual contact began with mutual masturbation. He then had other experiences with men until he was 17, involving sex but nothing more.
He said that as a boy he always initiated the contact by dressing attractively and allowing himself to be seduced when he found a man who seemed interested. As an adult, he said he had no regrets, except that he never found what he really wanted: an older friend to enjoy things with, including sex. None of his contacts developed into relationships because the men were afraid of being caught, until at 17 he fell in love with a man and had an 8-month relationship.
Case 3 was representative of a larger group of men. He was 13 when he began a relationship with a man, although he knew nothing about sex at the time. He said he felt “satisfied” and “wonderful,” but didn’t really understand what was happening until over a year later. As an adult, he remained in contact with the older man, calling him one of his dearest friends. He was engaged, and had what he described as a “fantastic” relationship with his fiancé.
Case 4 was representative of a smaller group of men whose parents discovered the relationship and intervened. He was 14 or 15 when his relationship with a 30-year old man began, and said he enjoyed the experience. Due to his parents’ reaction when they discovered it, he felt he had done something very wrong. As an adult, he said that the relationship was a part of his life that he would not want removed, and advocated that society accept men with “this inclination.” He was married with four children.
Case 5 was representative of a group of men who had sexual experiences with adults long before puberty. He was 7 when “a very nice man played with” him sexually. He described it as “very nice” and said he enjoyed it. He looked forward to their weekly time together, and the friendship lasted over a long period of time. He said he also had many contacts with other men, but not with peers. He regarded his experiences as positive, and said he wouldn’t want to have missed them. As an adult, he identified as a homosexual and was living with his partner of 20 years.
Case 6 was somewhat similar to case 5: he met a man when he was 8 and a strong emotional bond developed. When he was 10 or 11, they began to engage in sexual activity which lasted until he was 18 when he began dating girls. He felt the man filled a gap his parents were unable to, giving him an opportunity to discuss issues of sexuality—especially sexual orientation. As an adult, he said he had a good marriage with an “especially fine” sexual relationship, and one daughter.
Case 7 was a woman who at age 12 was “very much in love” with a 50 year old man. She wrote that “sex relaxed me wonderfully.” When the relationship was discovered, she said the police involvement and the examination she went through were “terrible.” She said she first denied the sexual activity, then gave a forced confession. The man was arrested. She said she could not forget what had happened, felt it was unjust, and said that it “could have been a beautiful memory.” As an adult, she was married with four children.
Cases 8 and 9 were unique. Case 8 was a boy whose first sexual contact occurred when he was 12 or 13. The man was about 20 years older, and the activity continued until the boy was 18. He didn’t find the contact normal, but he wanted a father figure so he resigned himself to the sexual activity. As an adult, he continued his friendship with the man, but was not happy about the sexual interaction.
Case 9 was a woman who said that at age 12, she experienced “sexual initiation” with a man. She said she had “fine memories” of the experience, suffered no trauma or negative consequences, and as an adult was sexually healthy.
The author concluded that in these cases, all of the children sought affection, love, and security—not just sex alone. Although the sample was not representative of the general population, these cases supported the following tentative conclusions: