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Title: Man-Boy Lovers: Assessment, Counseling, and Psychotherapy
Author(s): Alex Van Naerssen
Affiliation: Research Coordinator of Social Sexology, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands
Citation: Van Naerssen, A., “Man-Boy Lovers: Assessment, Counseling, and Psychotherapy,” Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 20, nos. 1-2, 1990, pp. 175-188.


Clinical experiences with 36 males, between the ages of 21 and 60 are described. All of them felt an enduring sexual attraction for boys. Sixteen males were treated for sexual identity conflicts. For eight of them this ended in a positive self-labeling as pedophile, the others had severe problems with accepting sexuality as positive and lustful. Twenty males were treated for identity management problems and counseled how to handle their relationships with boys. Several modalities of interpersonal interaction in man-boy relationships are proposed and the ways conflicts can arise within these frames of reference are explored in counseling and psychotherapy.


This article describes the author’s approach to therapy with men who are preferentially attracted to underage boys. Many of the men he saw in his practice were referred to him for counseling by the police, who recognized that in many cases involving sexual contact, the youths were consenting participants. Other men not involved in court cases came for counseling on their own.

The author writes that it is important for the therapist to understand the psychological meaning of sexual relationships, whether they involve adults, minors, or both. He also stresses an understanding of psychosexual development; that is, the process of developing a sexual identity in order to make sense of one’s sexual feelings, fantasies, behavior, and emotional attachments. This process can result in either acceptance of that identity or conflict over it.

Twenty of the men in the sample considered themselves pedophiles, although none of them felt attracted to prepubescent boys. They all desired intimate relationships with adolescent boys. [In North American usage, these men would be called ephebophiles rather than pedophiles. –R.K.] Many had had sexual experiences with adults, but found them unsatisfying. They felt a need to talk about their relationships with boys, as well as a need for social support.

The author counseled these men for identity management problems. He approached problems of self-concept that resulted from being arrested or fear of arrest, the lack of role models, and the lack of societal acceptance for adult men in even non-sexual affectionate relationships with boys. He also counseled them in their relationships with boys.

Eight of the men concentrated on the playful and sexual aspects of their relationships to the exclusion of attachment, and found long-term relationships difficult. The author counseled them to develop emotional commitment, but was successful with only three of the eight men.

The other twelve men had almost the opposite problem—they expected more from their relationships with respect to emotional attachment than the boys could give. The author successfully counseled ten of them to develop more appropriate expectations for the relationships.

Fourteen other men were hesitant to label their sexuality. They were more heterosexual, some were married, and ten of them were attracted to both adolescent and prepubescent boys. The two remaining men strongly condemned their sexual feelings for boys and wanted conversion therapy.

These sixteen men were confused about their sexuality and wanted to know how to structure it in their lives. They reported feelings of fear, guilt, low self-esteem, and depression. Many saw sex as sinful, feared touching or being touched, or exhibited fetishism.

The author diagnosed these sixteen men as suffering from identity conflict and discussed with them affirmative models of man-boy love. He said this led to positive self-labeling as pedophiles for half of them.

The others continued to feel confused and to express negative feelings about sexuality. They had all experienced a sex-negative upbringing and saw sex as dirty and degrading—not as a possible part of love. Continued therapy with them was only partially successful.

The author concludes:

I believed that with the procedures described it is possible to help a person get a coherent sense of personal identity and to realize interactions with adolescent boys that are satisfactory to both...Counseling and psychotherapy with pedophiles are severely restricted by society’s legal and moral views that positive relationships between men and boys are not possible. This, of course, is not a very pleasant conclusion for one who tries to help a person understand and manage problems experienced as the most intense expression of their personal being…Man-boy relationships exist. They exist in many societies, in some severely tabooed, in others freely admitted. Why do they continue to exist in our society despite legal, moral, and ethical sanctions?...The boys are fascinated by the idea of what it is to be a man and the man’s fascination is over what he lost in becoming an adult. This can function as a trigger for an emotional relationship that eventually is expressed sexually…If this line of reasoning is correct, sex researchers should not only concentrate on the possible damage of a “pedophile” relationship, but should also take into account the (non-sexual) profits for both partners involved. (pp. 185-187)
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