Issue 73, Spring 1999

At an NCAC panel in New York, author and critic Judith Levine, artist and writer Barbara Pollack, and clinical psychologist and professor Leonore Tiefer explored some of the tensions and contradictions in adult responses to children’s sexuality and the ways in which these responses are socially constructed. Levine called the notion of children as innocent and passive, yet at the same time sexually desirable, a nineteenth century creation, and discussed the historical context for current social and political conflicts centering on children’s bodies. Today, the visual depiction of young bodies has become a viable marketing device, but, as Pollack emphasized, in the context of private, non-commercial expression, these same images are flashpoints for censorship. Yet, according to Tiefer there is no objective evidence that such images spur sexual abuse of children or that all sexual experiences in childhood are necessarily harmful. Indeed, Tiefer noted, the same anxieties and assumptions that underlie censorship have inhibited meaningful research on children’s sexuality.

For general information on this topic, see Sex and Censorship: Dangers to Minors and Others?