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Historicizing affect, psychoanalyzing history: pedophilia and the discourse of child sexuality



Within the last two decades in Australia, Britain, and the United States, we have seen a veritable explosion of cultural panic regarding the problem of pedophilia. Scarcely a day passes without some mention in the media of predatory pedophiles or organized pedophile networks. Many social constructionist historians and sociologists have described this incitement to discourse as indicative of a moral panic. The question that concerns me in this article is: If this incitement to discourse is indicative of a moral panic, to what does the panic refer? I begin by detailing, first, how social constructionism requires psychoanalytic categories in order to understand the notion of panic, and second, how a psychoanalytic reading of history might reveal important unconscious forces at work in the current pedophilia "crisis" that our culture refuses to confront. Here, I will suggest a repressed discourse of child sexuality is writ large. I will argue that the hegemonic discourse of pedophilia is contained largely within a neurotic structure and that many of our prevailing responses to pedophilia function as a way to avoid tackling crucial issues about the reality and trauma of childhood sexuality.
Historicizing Affect,
Psychoanalyzing History:
Pedophilia and the Discourse
of Child Sexuality
Steven Angelides, PhD
University of Melbourne
ABSTRACT. Within the last two decades in Australia, Britain, and the
United States, we have seen a veritable explosion of cultural panic re-
garding the problem of pedophilia. Scarcely a day passes without some
mention in the media of predatory pedophiles or organized pedophile
networks. Many social constructionist historians and sociologists have
described this incitement to discourse as indicative of a moral panic. The
question that concerns me in this article is: If this incitement to discourse is
indicative of a moral panic, to what does the panic refer? I begin by detail-
ing, first, how social constructionism requires psychoanalytic categories
in order to understand the notion of panic, and second, how a psychoana-
lytic reading of history might reveal important unconscious forces at work
in the current pedophilia “crisis” that our culture refuses to confront. Here,
I will suggest a repressed discourse of child sexuality is writ large. I will
argue that the hegemonic discourse of pedophilia is contained largely
within a neurotic structure and that many of our prevailing responses to
pedophilia function as a way to avoid tackling crucial issues about the real
ity and trauma of childhood sexuality.
[Article copies available for a fee from
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Steven Angelides is a research fellow in the Australian Centre at the University of
Melbourne, Australia 3010.
Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 46(1/2) 2003
© 2003 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
10.1300/J082v46n01_02 79
KEYWORDS. Pedophilia, child sexuality, moral panic, psychoanaly
sis, neurosis, childhood, repression
If the development of civilization has such a far-reaching similar
ity to the development of the individual and if it employs the same
methods, may we not be justified in reaching the diagnosis that,
under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations, or some
epochs of civilization–possibly the whole of mankind–have be
come ‘neurotic’?
–Sigmund Freud
Within the last two decades in the United States, Britain, and Austra
lia, we have seen a veritable explosion of cultural panic and alarming
media reportage regarding an apparent “crisis” of pedophilia. In 1998,
police in 14 countries raided the homes of about 200 suspected
pedophiles, in what has been described as “one of the largest interna-
tional efforts” to crack a pedophile ring. Two years later, in “name and
shame” campaigns to “out” child sex offenders, two British newspapers
published photographs of convicted pedophiles, which led to a number
of violent vigilante attacks. In one particularly frightening instance, a
mob of 300 people were reported to have gone on a rampage outside the
home of a man suspected to be a pedophile because he had worn a neck
brace similar to one worn in one of the published photos. The group was
mistaken. But is the fear mistaken? Not according to the mass media,
where scarcely a day passes without some mention in the press or on
television news and current affairs programs of predatory pedophiles or
organized pedophile networks. Nor according to many men who have
decided to forego careers in primary and secondary teaching. Australian
research has indicated that one factor in the critically declining rates of
men entering the teaching profession is a fear of being accused of sexual
abuse or being branded a pedophile. And neither is the fear misplaced
according to the Australian Federal Police and US Federal Bureau of In
vestigation, it would seem, who would have us believe that pedophiles
are indeed “a growing threat.”
To even raise the question of an irratio
nal fear of pedophilia is abhorrent to many. For instance, in the United
States, the Missouri State Legislature voted in April 2002 to cut
$100,000 from the University of Missouri’s budget, merely because
Harris Mirkin, a senior academic, had published an article in 1999, ar
guing that there is a moral panic surrounding pedophilia and that all dis
cussion on the matter is unduly stifled.
What is happening in many western societies right now? Are pedophiles
really “a growing threat”? Or is the recent frenzy of pedophilia newspaper
reporting a form of media sensationalism? Are pedophiles, as some me
dia critics contend, the latest in a series of cultural scapegoats? Is the al
most rabid pursuit of them akin to a crusade or witch hunt? Do we live
in a climate of hysteria? Or are we in fact being made more aware of this
thing called pedophilia as the discourse of child sexual abuse, and thus
our knowledge of the problem, grows? Have we been ignorant in the
past to the numbers of pedophiles in our populations and to the depth
and breadth of pedophile activity? Or are our criteria expanding, such
that many more behaviors are being pulled into the definitional fields of
child sexual abuse and pedophilia? Are we inventing more and more
pedophiles? It is doubtless impossible to adjudicate the question of
whether or not the cultural incidence of pedophilia has increased.
it is possible to conclude at a minimum is that within the last decade in
particular there has been an immensely intense cultural cathexis of the
object pedophilia, and thus to borrow Foucault’s terms, a veritable in-
citement to discourse.
Pedophilia has become a highly explosive and
emotive key cultural term. The question that concerns me in this article
is: If this incitement to discourse is indicative of a moral panic, to what
does the panic refer?
The theory of moral panic occupies a pivotal place in the sociology of
collective behavior and social deviance. British sociologist Jock Young
pioneered the application of the term in 1971, to refer to public concern
over apparent increases in drug abuse in Britain. He suggested not only
that a moral panic ensued, but also that the panic itself led to increased
drug-related arrests, thereby amplifying the “deviance” under examina
Stanley Cohen furthered this model, with his analysis of youth dis
turbances between the Mods and Rockers in Britain in the 1960s.
Together, Young and Cohen described moral panics as the escalating ef
fects created by the mobilization of the media, public opinion, and vari
ous agents of social control around a perceived social problem. As
Cohen put it:
Steven Angelides 81
Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of
moral panic. A condition, episode, person or group of persons
emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and inter
ests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion
by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors,
bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially ac
credited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of
coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then
disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible.
The use of highly emotive terms such as “folk devils,” “scapegoats,”
“delusions,” “irrational fear,” “anxiety,” and “hysteria” are common in
the sociological literature when describing moral panics.
The underly-
ing assumption of moral panic theory is that the concern at hand is in-
flated or unwarranted, that it is disproportionate to the actual threat
posed. Under this model, it might be possible to see the apparent in-
crease in pedophile statistics as resulting not from an actual rise in num-
bers of pedophiles, but rather as part of the interactive, cumulative
processes by which societies construct social problems. Indeed, many
authors have already applied these terms and this kind of analysis to the
nascent child sexual abuse and pedophilia “crisis.”
Vern Bullough has
described the pedophile as the latest scapegoat “for everything that
seems to be wrong with American society and the family.”
He has
also, along with many others, equated the intensity of concern about
pedophilia with moral panics and hysteria.
Still, others have described
the overzealous tracking of suspected pedophiles by law enforcement
bodies as witch-hunts, and those subjected to such witch-hunts as
On the whole, there is agreement among moral panic
theorists that the danger represented by pedophiles has been altogether
exaggerated. For the most part, the concept of moral panic and its asso
ciated terms have been applied to the phenomenon of pedophilia as
loose and descriptive metaphors. On this rather superficial level, I
would agree that many cultural and community responses to pedophilia
certainly resemble aspects of (at least) popular understandings of each
of the psychological formations such as delusional thinking, anxiety, ir
rational fear, panic, and hysteria. However, unaccompanied by psycho
logical analyses, these terms tell us very little about the psychodynamics
of individuals or groups. Short of some tacit moral presumption, we are
left with no explanation of exactly why anxiety, panic, and hysteria
emerge around the issue of pedophilia.
In my view, this reaches to the very heart of the problem with moral
panic theory. Based largely on social constructionist history and sociol
ogy, moral panic theory seeks to explain the emergence of social panic
responses by isolating the various social trends and changes that place
stresses on populations. For instance, in his book on moral panics in
Britain, Philip Jenkins lists sociopolitical and economic factors such as
demographic changes and immigration, unemployment, Thatcherism,
feminism, gay liberation, and so on, as providing the basis for social un
rest and anxiety. These anxieties are then publicly disseminated by the
media and various interest groups, leading often to fully-fledged moral
The term moral panic thus describes the end product of an ar
ray of social processes and actors taking part in the identification and
regulation of a particular social problem. Although the theory of moral
panics is more descriptive than it is explanatory, if we take a closer look,
it is clear that there is an implicit causal chain operating: Social
change–anxiety–interest group agitation. Priority is accorded to social
and material changes; these changes generate anxiety in individuals and
groups; and this anxiety stimulates interest groups to make claims to ar-
ticulate and/or solve the particular problem. The media is seen as a
prime agent and conduit for expressing and arousing social anxieties.
While I do not doubt that in many instances social changes and media
publicity arouse anxiety, this is not an a priori or universal fact. That
many sociologists, historians, and journalists use the phrase moral
panic to describe what they evaluate as irrational or exaggerated re-
sponses to a social issue is itself testimony to this fact. What remains to
be determined is precisely why certain groups and individuals react with
anxiety and panic and others do not. Nothing in the theory of moral
panic enables us to understand the relationship between social, material
and discursive change and the psychology of affect, or emotion. The
reason for this is that many social constructionist theorists frequently
assume, wittingly or otherwise, that individual and group psychology is
the one-way effect of material and discursive conditions.
epistemological space is made for examining the force exerted by psy
chological dynamics, and the ways these shape the social and material
contexts within which people are situated. The contemporary ‘crisis’
surrounding pedophilia, in my opinion, provides an instructive, indeed
exemplary, case study for interrogating the theory of moral panics and
for historicizing and theorizing the place of affect in social and discur
sive relations.
Steven Angelides 83
Unfortunately, very few sustained historical and theoretical treat
ments of the issue of pedophilia have been produced. Philip Jenkins’s
book, Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Mod
ern America, is one of the few exceptions, although it deals with child
molestation more generally.
Employing the concept of “moral panic,”
Jenkins attempts to ground it in a constructionist historical analysis of
American responses to sex crimes against children. Following the work
of Stanley Cohen and Stuart Hall, Jenkins describes a moral panic as a
“wave of irrational public fear,” a reaction to a person or group that is
“wildly exaggerated and wrongly directed.”
The fear, in short, is alto-
gether disproportionate to the actual threat posed. According to Jenkins,
and other constructionist historians, child molestation panics of the
twentieth century have occurred around the 1910s, 1940s, and 1980s.
Despite arguing that “panic responses” have been “repeatedly produced”
(7) throughout the last century or so, Jenkins is quick to underscore the
point that this has not been the only response to child molestation. There
have been historical periods of relative complacency or indifference to
the problem of child sexual abuse, such as the 1920s and 1960s. He
demonstrates that panic responses can be explained by “changes in the
audience to whom activists are seeking to appeal” in the context of shift-
ing social trends: the demographic balance of the population, sexual rev-
olutions and the attitudes toward sexual experimentation, diseases such
as HIV/AIDS, feminism, changes in family structure, gender roles and
the workplace, economic factors, marriage and divorce rates, increases in
child care outside the home, expansion of psychotherapeutic industry,
globalization, and so on. “Why has the public been so fickle in its
fears?” Jenkins asks: “The lesson seems to be the one so often found in
studies of social problems: that claims about danger are rather like com
modities in a competitive marketplace, items that gain or lose a follow
ing depending on how well retailers strike a chord among the
consumers whom they wish to attract” (216). But exactly how and why
do claims-makers “strike a chord” with particular groups of people?
Jenkins’s constructionist account has certainly enhanced our under
standing of the various forces contributing to moral panics. Yet it is lim
ited, I argue, by its prioritization of social determination and by the
concept of panic itself. That the concept of panic has clear allusions to a
psychological formation–for Jenkins, it is a wildly exaggerated and ir
rational fear–suggests that its formulation must be situated at the nexus
of the social and the psychical registers. However, for all its pretensions
to explaining the (psychological) concept of moral panic, Jenkins’s
analysis ultimately refuses a discussion of psychical dimensions. (Nor
has anyone else to my knowledge yet offered an adequate account of
psychodynamics in relation to pedophilia and child sexual abuse.) Panic
amounts to little more than a vague metaphor for identifying a set of so
cial responses (discourses) that reflect or represent a certain state of
community or cultural affairs. Without an analysis of psychodynamics,
it would seem impossible to place the individual or group within this so
cial or symbolic structure, except as its mere reflection or mouthpiece.
It would be impossible, therefore, to explain why certain interest groups
are in fact able to “strike a chord” among various publics and what this
chord is. Identifying changing material and sociopolitical conditions is
not sufficient to answer this question, as these tell us nothing about the
dynamics of human psychology. Nor is there any uniform subjective re-
sponse to these phenomena; not everyone exhibits panic responses. If
there were uniform responses, there would be no place for the concept
of moral panic, no way of recognizing a discrepancy between actual and
perceived danger.
In continuing the economic metaphor, Jenkins implies just this when
he concludes that the inexplicable vagaries of individual subjectivity
are ultimately responsible for whether or not a chord has been struck.
“The products themselves [e.g., child protection], although they may be
packaged with greater or less sophistication, remain fairly constant,” he
says, “their success in gaining market share depends on the composition
and tastes of the consumers, which change over time” (216; emphasis
added). Jenkins is thus unable to account for the effect of shifting social
and historical conditions on individuals, or the mobilization and inten-
sity of subjective responses to child molestation, or the ways these re-
sponses shape, and are shaped by, various discourses and social practices.
Individual subjects instead emerge in Jenkins’s history as rather two-di
mensional figures, which are interpellated and spat out, in rather crude
structuralist-like terms, by social discourses. Remaining unexplained is the
dynamic two-way relationship between the interlocking structures of psy
che and society. As Tim Dean argues, these two structures are mutually in
forming, even though “never directly or homologously.”
Neither can
assume the position of first cause, and nor can one be seen as a mirror
image of the other. The question of how individual subjects affect dis
course, how discourse affects subjectivity, and why within this dynamic
certain subjects take up particular (dis)positions is pivotal to any ac
count of moral panic; especially, it might be said, when sex is at issue.
Steven Angelides 85
There is an abundance of insightful historical material and analysis in
Jenkins’s book upon which to draw and to which I am indebted. What I
would like to do is not jettison this constructionist research, but supple
ment it by exploring the dynamic interface between the social and the
psychic conditioning discourses of pedophilia. Worth noting here is
how the impressive archive of constructionist scholarship on sexuality
has been unmistakably indifferent or ambivalent, if not often resistant
or overtly hostile, to psychoanalytic categories.
I, too, have shared all
of these responses, not least because of psychoanalysis’s apparent uni
versalism and heteronormativity. I have grown increasingly dissatisfied
with the pictures emanating from many historicist accounts however.
The omission of the psychic dimension flattens out both the subject and
history, leaving each devoid of affect (feelings and emotions)–the very
things denoting psychic events such as hysteria and panic.
Other vital
subjective elements such as ideals, values, fantasies, and desires are
also discounted, as Mark Bracher points out, as are the “interpellative
forces ...ofdiscourse that cannot be reduced to a function of represen-
This is an impoverished notion of history and sociology that
begins with the “death of the author” but that ends with the annihilation
of the subject. It is a form of historical sociology that might also be seen
as the effect of a mighty act of repression. For repression, as both Freud
and Lacan describe it, is the process whereby thought and affect are de-
tached, the thought being that which is repressed or pushed out of con-
Like a host of other scholars, I cannot disregard, and indeed find
much of value in, psychoanalytic theory, particularly in view of the in-
tensity of affect aroused by the issues of sexuality and pedophilia. Here
I would have to agree with Dean’s suggestion that the volatility of an is-
sue is often indicative of “its proximity to something psychically funda-
The appeal to psychological terms such as hysteria, panic,and
irrational fear to describe the responses to pedophilia is doubtless sug
gestive of a deeper, unconscious level of psychosocial functioning. I
would certainly argue that, at present, these terms capture much of the sen
timent of dominant cultural responses to the phenomenon of pedophilia.
However, when sociopsychic terminology is employed only descrip
tively or metaphorically without the aid of psychoanalytic categories, a
vast gulf is opened up between the social and the psychical realms. The
two are detached, and the psychic is effectively erased from the social.
An analysis of their inevitable inter-implication is thus foreclosed. One
of the reasons for this is that “irrational,” or perhaps nonrational, psy
chical responses, cannot adequately be examined by a rationalist analy
sis at the level of conscious thought or representation. I have spent
much of the past four years researching the entire archive of social sci
ence, psychiatric, criminological, and popular media literature on the
subject of pedophilia. In that time, it has become evident that, in addi
tion to ostensible concerns, something rather profound, albeit largely
unrecognized, is animating the contemporary “crisis,” and that a con
structionist analysis of changing social trends and moral panics is insuf
ficient by itself to explain it. In order to understand the relationship
between changing social trends and anxiety, it is necessary to analyze
how anxiety is working at the level of the individual and the group. The
unmistakably high level of affect or emotion associated with almost any
pedophilia discussion, in my view, clearly points to the work of power-
ful unconscious forces. What I would like to do now is foreground this
accent on the sociopsychic, but give it a more precise psychoanalytic in-
flection. I will be suggesting that not until we are able to grapple with
history at the level of subjectivity will we be able to understand the his-
tory of the present.
Why it is that responses to pedophilia that are anything but disparag-
ing so often provoke such intensely emotional and often extremely vio-
lent reactions? Why does the very mention of pedophilia evoke such fear,
anxiety, and panic among so many people? And what unconscious forces
might be at work? I suggest that one way the dominant panic response to
pedophilia might be usefully rethought is through the psychoanalytic
concept of neurosis. I propose that the discursive field of pedophilia is
contained largely within a neurotic structure and that many of the pre-
vailing cultural responses to this phenomenon are neurotic. In what fol
lows, I do not claim to have unearthed some buried psychosocial truth
for each and every individual, and I do not speak with the empirical
weight of clinical psychoanalysis. Nor do I regard psychoanalysis as the
only useful paradigm for approaching these questions, although in my
opinion, it goes further than any of the other social sciences in penetrat
ing the dynamics of sexuality and the unconscious. My aim is merely to
stimulate discussion and debate, and to resuscitate and reformulate
what I think are some useful psychoanalytic concepts that are being in
creasingly disregarded in recent years when examining subjectivity and
I firmly believe that the social sciences and humanities
must foster a truly interdisciplinary practice, and to this end I offer an
Steven Angelides 87
historicist and poststructuralist engagement with Freudian theory and some
of its post-Freudian reformulations as a potentially productive and impor
tant interdisciplinary exchange, and one which has yet to be staged in the
quest to apprehend the cultural phenomenon of pedophilia.
I do not argue
that all concern about pedophilia is misplaced and neurotic, only that
the way in which this concern is often articulated reveals much more
than surface representations would indicate. Along with very real and
legitimate anxieties about child safety and protection are also deeper,
unconscious dynamics that our culture remains unwilling to confront.
Here, I suggest, the figure of child sexuality is writ large.
I want to begin this discussion of neurosis with a standard Freudian
reading. In classical psychoanalytic terms, anxiety is the “nodal point”
of neurosis, and repression the ego’s primary defense against it.
disturbing or forbidden ideas threaten to emerge into consciousness,
anxiety acts as the danger signal to the ego. The ego attempts to defend it-
self against these intrusive thoughts, and employs the defense mechanism
of repression.
When an individual is unable to mount a successful de-
fense against the forbidden thoughts, symptoms develop. As conflict solu-
tions, neurotic symptoms are both signs of and substitutes for unconscious
desires; they are a return of the repressed. Elements of the discourse of
pedophilia are, in my view, indicative of neurotic symptomatology.
They have both manifest and latent meaning. One of the benefits of em-
ploying a psychoanalytic understanding of neurosis is that it accounts
not only for pathological processes. That which we call “normal” is also
subsumed within the neurotic structure. As Freud points out, “If you
take up a theoretical point of view and disregard the matter of quantity,
you may quite well say that we are all ill–that is neurotic–since the pre-
conditions for the formation of symptoms can also be observed in nor
mal people.”
This enables me to locate both the so-called justifiable
and the seemingly irrational responses to pedophilia within the same
(psycho)analytic framework. I should point out that in drawing on ele
ments of classical psychoanalysis, I will not be conforming to a strict
Freudian model. Although I will be employing some key Freudian in
sights with regard to neurosis and infantile sexuality, these will be recast
through the post-Freudian theories of Jean Laplanche and discursive psy
If our responses to pedophilia are neurotic, to what does the anxiety
about pedophilia refer, and what has been repressed? Again, classical
psychoanalysis provides us with some useful resources with which to
begin tackling these questions. Classical psychoanalysis understands
childhood sexuality, and more specifically, childhood sexual conflict,
to be the root cause of neurosis.
What anxiety is signaling is an earlier
(childhood) event that entailed the threat of danger, the basis of which is
a traumatic moment “when the ego meets with an excessively great
libidinal demand.”
What “a person is afraid of in neurotic anxiety . . .
is evidently his own libido” (116). Thus, Freud concludes, “the com
monest cause of anxiety neurosis is unconsummated [libidinal] excita
tion” (114-15). Despite the influence of Freudian theory, one of the
prevailing phantasies of most contemporary western cultures is that
childhood is, or ought to be, a developmental space free from sexuality.
Adults, so the narrative goes, are those who have crossed over into sex
uality. Of course, parents today are often among the first people to ac
knowledge the erotic strivings of children. However, they also often
consider this as a kind of “innocent” experimentation or exploration.
The transition from childhood through adolescence to adulthood is
thought to proceed via linear stages of sexual maturation. Children are
thus routinely viewed as asexual, latent, or proto-sexual beings, await-
ing adolescent pubertal development before the emergence of suppos-
edly “mature” or “real” adult genital sexuality.
Such a linear,
developmental narrative makes the subject of child sexuality an espe-
cially controversial one. I want to argue, first, that infantile sexuality is
a reality that must be substantively acknowledged, in order to argue,
second, that it is the traumatic origins of infantile sexuality
that is at
the heart of our neurosis about pedophilia.
Espousing a concept of infantile sexuality is certainly not new. Vari-
ous sociological, psychoanalytic, anthropological, and legal discourses
have acknowledged this fact for a good part of the twentieth century.
However, as I have argued elsewhere, with the advent of the feminist
discourse of child sexual abuse in the 1980s, there has been a monumen-
tal historical shift in which there has been a steady repudiation of any sub
stantive concept or discourse of child sexuality.
The notion of
childhood sexual innocence became paramount in the 1980s, in large part
through the confluence of feminist anti-rape and anti-pornography
movements and the New Right backlash against the sexual excesses of
the sexual and gay revolutions. The child sexual abuse movement drew
directly from the language and rhetoric of feminist anti-rape and
anti-pornography movements. Feminist critiques worked hard to ex
pose the widespread problem of incest in the patriarchal family, and
they were vigorous in contesting legal definitions of abuse that ignored
or downplayed non-penetrative sexual acts. A new approach to abuse
emerged, which, as Jenkins reveals, made it “a matter of subjective defi
nition and eroded distinctions between violent or incestuous assaults
Steven Angelides 89
and acts like exhibitionism.”
Feminists were also concerned to chal
lenge notions that women and children subjected to rape and sexual
abuse were somehow complicit in the crime (by “asking for it” or fabri
cating charges), or that child prostitutes and children in child pornogra
phy could willingly consent to commercial sex. Concepts of the
innocent, blameless, and unconsenting “victim” and the “survivor” of
rape and sexual abuse became key cultural terms.
In earlier decades, it
was easy to find representations of child sexuality and of sexually “se
ductive” and “flirtatious” children in a range of sociological, psycho
logical, and legal discourses.
Indeed, these ideas were commonplace
in all earlier decades of the century, even during the height of the sex
crime panics in the 1910s and 1940s.
As late as the mid-1970s, psy-
chiatric theories continued to cite evidence that young children are ca-
pable of seduction, and commonly do so. In canvassing psychiatric
literature in his 1974 Guide to Psychiatry, Myre Sim found it “surpris-
ing” how “little promiscuous children are affected by their experiences
[of sex with adults], and how most settle down to become demure
housewives. It is of interest that Henriques lists two categories–the un-
affected and the guilty–and that seems to put the matter in a nutshell.”
Or consider this quotation from a 1970 sex education text, The Facts of
There is the incontrovertible fact, very hard for some of us to ac-
cept, that in certain cases it is not the man who inaugurates the
trouble. The novel Lolita . . . describes what may well happen. A
girl of twelve or so, is already endowed with a good deal of sexual
desire and also can take pride in her “conquests.” Perhaps, in all
innocence, she is the temptress and not the man.
From the Victorian period until the 1980s, children have been repre
sented simultaneously as sexual and innocent.
However, from the
mid-1980s to the present day, the idea that children can sexually seduce
adults or that they are able truly to consent to sex with an adult is pretty
much abhorrent. This is in large part due to important and rigorous femi
nist critiques of simplistic notions of “seductive” and “flirtatious” chil
dren and their reinterpretation of power relations between adults and
children. In no way do I wish to imply that we should return to pre-1980s
notions of sexually seductive and flirtatious children. I am merely regis
tering the fact that, however problematic, the use of such concepts none
theless served as an articulation of a signifier of child sexuality, and that
along with the rejection of the notions of child seductiveness and flirta
tiousness has been a rejection of almost any notion of child sexuality. As
adolescent psychiatrist Lynn Ponton points out, although there is a good
deal of “noise” surrounding childhood and sexuality, there is little, if any,
open and direct discussion and intra-cultural debate on the issue.
course, children are often described as pre- or proto- or latent sexual be
ings, and it is commonplace to recognize forms of childhood sensual eroti
cism. However, I argue that such representations are typically reduced to a
form of childhood exploration that is seen to be distinct from, and to pre
cede the onset of, “real” adult sexuality. Childhood and adulthood are thus
disconnected by sexuality, rather than bound together by it, and the (psy
choanalytic) concept of childhood sexuality as inextricably informing adult
sexuality is repudiated. It is in this way that I am arguing that the dominant
post-1980s figuration of children is one of innocence without sexuality, in
a way different from earlier decades of the twentieth century.
This is also
reflected in the shift to a more identity-based construction of sexuality in
the latter part of the twentieth century, a construction within which children
are generally excluded.
Child sexuality has thus been repudiated, or, as I
will argue shortly, intra-psychically and dialogically repressed.
Ours has become a culture of denial and silence with regard to child
sexuality. This is in stark contrast to the “polymorphous incitement to
discourse” on matters of adult sex.
As much as Foucault strove to de-
bunk the repressive hypothesis and psychoanalytic notions of repres-
sion, I suggest that any notion of a polymorphous incitement to
discourse is dependent upon forms of discursive repression.
The time
has come to reopen dialogue on the topic of repression and childhood
That psychoanalysis is possibly the only discourse of the
human sciences to have consistently and rigorously demanded a
signifier for child sexuality–not to mention formulated coherent theo-
ries of repression–makes it an essential starting point for any analysis of
human intersubjective relations, particularly so in the case of
Infantile, or, childhood sexuality is arguably the core tenet of classi
cal psychoanalysis. While there are divergent models for understanding
the intricacies of its development, one of which I will outline shortly, I
consider the simple existence of childhood sexuality to be a grounding
axiom. By this I mean, firstly, that human sexuality is prefigured by the
Steven Angelides 91
intense physical and emotional relations between parents and children,
and secondly, that these relations are not simply erotic but also psycho
logically enduring. As Melanie Klein describes it: “Because our mother
first satisfied all our self-preservative needs and sensual desires and
gave us security, the part she plays in our minds is a lasting one, al
though the various ways in which this influence is effected and the
forms it takes may not be at all obvious in later life.”
What Klein is re
ferring to is the idea that, though not determinative, such parent-child
relations at the very least inflect all subsequent sexual object-choices.
Freud, of course, pioneered this idea a century ago, and it was revolu
tionary for his time. As he famously put it, “a child’s first object-choice
is an incestuous one.”
In other words, a specific form of incestuous
desire underpins parent-child relations. “There can be no doubt,” he
stated in Three Essays, “that every object-choice whatever is based,
though less closely, on these prototypes [of the mother or father].”
However, psychoanalysis has focused primarily on this incestuous de-
sire from the perspective of the child. I wish to extend this, and by incor-
porating the perspective of the parent, suggest that a specific form of
pedophilic desire also structures this parent-child relationship. Jean
Laplanche’s general theory of primal seduction and the enigmatic
signifier is useful here.
In his rewriting of Freudian theory, Laplanche
holds that “seduction is not primarily a fantasy but a ‘real’ situation.”
Although this is not to be confused, he points out, with “an event-based
realism” (663), namely, the thesis of actual seduction that Freud aban-
doned and that many feminists have reclaimed. Rather, seduction is
conceived of as a universal or primal situation ...inwhich” a
new-born child, an infant in the etymological sense of the word (in-fans:
speechless), is faced with the adult world.”
This universal situation in-
volves the child’s inevitable confrontation with the other, which
Laplanche calls a “communication situation.”
The child is “ad
dressed” by the other in this confrontation with the adult world, which is
a mode of communication where the (m)other transmits messages to the
child through her caring, nourishing, and stimulating of the child. As the
(m)other is a sexual being that cares for her child with her whole person
ality, this mode of address and communication intrinsically entails the
transmission of elements of the (m)other’s unconscious sexuality to the
child. “So even the slightest gesture for the infant will carry something
enigmatic,” Laplanche suggests.
He describes this as “the intrusion of
the adult sexual universe” into the child’s world, whereby sexuality is
implanted in the child from the parental universe: from its structures,
meanings, and fantasies.”
In turn, the child is invited, enticed, and in
cited to respond to the mother’s communication. The child, in other
words, is seduced by the mother, and thus by her sexuality.
This com
munication or message to the child is what Laplanche refers to as the
“enigmatic signifier” or the compromised message. It is a very different
conceptualization of seduction than either the feminist or classical psy
choanalytic notions. And it is enigmatic and compromised primarily for
two reasons. First, there is a clear asymmetry between child and adult
and child and adult psychic universes, such that the child is unable to
understand and integrate the questions and enigmas of the adult world.
Second, the messages communicated to the child embody elements of
the parent’s unconscious. It is in this way that the compromised mes
sage, the enigma, “is in itself a seduction and its mechanisms are uncon-
Furthermore, this “implantation of an erotic message in the
infant which he or she does not understand” is, as Laplanche stresses,
also not symmetrical. “It is not an interaction. It is a one-way action.”
Importantly, he goes on to qualify and elaborate this statement:
It is only one-way on the sexual level. I do not deny the interaction
on the self-preservation level: in feeding the infant, for example,
one feeds and the other is fed, hence there is an interaction. But
when the feeding message relays the sexual, it is one-way, if fol-
lows one direction from the feeder to the fed. From the beginning,
one is active and other is passive. But very quickly, the little hu-
man tries to turn this passivity into activity, that is, to make some-
thing of this message from the other. Still, there is a dissymmetry.
This comes from the fact that the active one has more “knowl
edge,” more unconscious fantasies than the passive infant. The
adult has more, because he or she has an unconscious.
The enigmatic signifier (of adult desire) is first inscribed in the infant’s
bodily, or, erotogenic zones.
In a second phase, because the child can
not fully or successfully integrate the excessive libidinal excitation, or,
unintelligible erotic messages from the parent, this enigmatic signifier
undergoes a primal repression.
The repressed, residual elements there
after ensure a permanent conflictual relationship with the ego, producing
a subjective core of irreducible otherness. The child is thus split unto him-
or herself, and sexuality is ever after inflected by an enigmatic otherness.
This universal theory of primal seduction and the enigmatic signifier is
therefore the foundational structure for the constitution of the primordial
unconscious, and thus sexuality, in the child.
Steven Angelides 93
As the flipside to the psychoanalytic notion of incestuous desire,
then, I see the scene of primal seduction described by Laplanche as in
volving a form of pedophilic desire. Indeed, pedophilic desire precedes
and produces incestuous desire. Although pedophilic desire is not the
same as the desire of an adult to sexually abuse a child, as Freud pointed
out, this primordial scenario nevertheless involves a form of adult sexual
desire for the child. As he reminds us in Three Essays, the mother regards
her child “with feelings that are derived from her own sexual life: she
strokes him, kisses him, rocks him and quite clearly treats him as a substi
tute for a complete sexual object.”
Childhood sexuality is thus consti
tuted through the production–and as we will see shortly, also through the
simultaneous prohibition–of both incestuous and pedophilic desire.
We live in an era in which child abuse, especially child sexual abuse,
is deemed the ultimate evil. One of the regrettable corollaries, or per-
haps consequences, of this is the widespread belief that almost any form
of childhood psychological conflict and trauma can, and should, be
Childhood is increasingly represented as a period of bliss-
ful innocence that is, or at least ought to be, free of conflict and trauma.
Childhood psychological conflicts and traumas are often seen as signs
of bad parenting, of child maltreatment. Most psychoanalysts have re-
sisted such optimistic views of human development. Instead, multiple
psychological conflicts and traumas are considered an inevitable aspect
of child development, especially so in the case of sexuality.
analysis has cogently demonstrated, for a century now, that the emerg-
ing sexuality of a child is experienced as inevitably traumatic. To
continue my discussion of parental seduction, while mysteriously entic-
ing, the inexplicable desire or sexuality of the (m)other–the enigmatic
signifier–is also traumatic, as it overtaxes the infant’s immature psychi-
cal apparatus. The (m)other’s sexualized messages are thereby experi-
enced by the child as both attractive and threatening. In addition to this,
there is that second momentous sexual trauma that goes by the name of
the Oedipus complex.
The experience and exploration of these erotic
relations between parents and children–or between children and chil
dren for that matter–have strict cultural limits (incest taboo). The child
becomes sexualized through parent-child interactions, but the child’s
emergent sexuality must not be realized or played out with one’s par
ents. The child must confront the fact that s/he is not the sole bearer of
his or her parent’s affections but that s/he must compete with others for
them. Not only must s/he then redirect any sexual desires away from the
parents, s/he must strictly circumscribe the expression of almost all
signs of overt sexual desire. As psychoanalysis has stressed, both the
loss of parents as love objects and the severe circumscription of child
sexual expression are two of the more significant and formative traumas
in a child’s development.
The trauma of childhood sexuality–or what
I call the simultaneous production and prohibition of incestuous and
pedophilic desire (and thus of sexual desire in general)–frustrates and
enrages the child intensely, and these emotional events in turn produce
profound grief, guilt, and shame for both the child and the parent.
The problem is that our culture demands that any eroticized par
ent-child emotions and any overt childhood sexual desire remain unex
pressed. We simply do not have a language to speak childhood sexuality,
let alone a language to articulate the erotic bond between children and
These topics are taboo. We are not even expected to talk about
them, let alone admit to having such desires. But without a language to
work through these prohibited desires, the grief, guilt, and shame they
engender remain unresolved. And this only intensifies the original
trauma of infantile sexuality. How do we then deal with these highly in-
tense and inarticulable incestuous and pedophilic desires? The answer,
which might in these post-Foucauldian, post-repressive hypothesis
times appear somewhat outdated, is, I suggest, repression.
According to psychoanalysis, at the level of individual psychology
we rely on repression to ward off prohibited desires. As Anna Freud re-
minds us with regard to neurosis, “repression is not only the most effica-
cious, it is also the most dangerous, mechanism.”
Any reminder of the
original conflict easily reactivates the repressed material, which has been
pushing relentlessly throughout our entire life toward release. In other
words, the intra-psychically repressed elements of childhood sexuality
remain in permanent conflict with the ego, attracting metonymically as
sociated ideas that are similarly discordant with the ego or super-ego,
such as pedophilia. These metonyms act as dangerous reminders of the
original sexual conflict. As intra-psychic repression is not a singular
event but a permanent process, ever more expenditures of psychic en
ergy are required to keep the repressed material at bay.
If successful in
its struggle for release–and it should be kept in mind that neurosis is the
norm rather then the exception–the repressed returns in the form of neu
rotic symptoms. As unfashionable as it may be to employ aspects of
classical psychoanalysis, I argue that pedophilia stirs up reminders of the
traumatic origins of sexuality (return of the repressed) and that the irratio
Steven Angelides 95
nal social response to the threat pedophilia is seen to pose is in part an at
tempt to avoid confronting the production and prohibition of incestuous
and pedophilic desires. In this way, the category of the pedophile might, in
part, be seen as a convenient scapegoat that acts as a poison container for
the restaging and projection of traumas.
Social hysteria about
pedophilia might also, in part, be seen as an attempt to express the very
incestuous and pedophilic desires that are prohibited, as well as the dis
placed articulation of the erotics of childhood sexuality.
However, the classical psychoanalytic emphasis on intra-psychic dy
namics is insufficient in explaining the relationship between psyche and
society. An intra-psychic reading of repression presumes a prior cul
tural prohibition, or rather, an interactive theory of the discursive re-
pression of child sexuality. In order to elaborate this relationship, I draw
on the work of discursive psychologists, who have provided useful tools
for rethinking repression and situating it at the intersection of the indi-
vidual and society. In forging fruitful links between psychoanalysis and
forms of poststructuralist discourse theory, Michael Billig argues that it
would be wrong to understand repression as simply an internal psychi-
cal phenomenon, and that there is no “sharp distinction between internal
mental life and external social life” (56).
His point is that we cast away
or repel distressing thoughts in a similar manner to which we evade dis-
turbing topics of conversation. According to Billig, therefore, the very
tools essential for repression are contained in discourse and the broader
skills of language use (46).
“What is customarily said may also rou-
tinely create the unsaid, and, thus, may provide ways for accomplishing
repression . . . language, or rather dialogue, provides the means of re-
pression” (67). This is the idea of discursive, or, dialogic repression.
Discourse and language-use provide historically specific symbolic
frameworks and normative ground rules for what can and should be said
or left unsaid. Repression is thus not simply an intra-psychic but an
“interpsychic” and relational process, whereby subjective identifica
tions and investments are made possible by intersubjective dialogue
and discursive subject positions.
A discursive psychoanalysis is uniquely positioned to explore the in
extricable relationship between the individual and the social, or, be
tween individual subjective investments/identifications and social
discourses. Despite its apparent emphasis on a depth psychology of the
individual, as an analytic paradigm psychoanalysis has always been
preoccupied with highlighting the irreducible and mutually constituting
nature of the individual and society. The founding psychoanalytic con
cepts such as the unconscious, fantasy, superego, ego ideal, and repres
sion, among others, demonstrate clearly the processes by which social
formations are internalized by, and indeed constitutive of, the individ
ual subject. In other words, one is an individual subject only to the ex
tent that s/he is a social subject. Freud was quick to point this out in
Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, arguing that “from the
very first individual psychology ...isatthesame time social psychol
ogy as well.”
As he went on to note, this is because:
Each individual is a component part of numerous groups, he is
bound by ties of identification in many directions, and he has built
up his ego ideal upon the most various models. Each individual
therefore has a share in numerous group minds–those of his race,
of his class, of his creed, of his nationality, etc. (161)
Such a radical blurring of the lines between the individual and the social
opens up a space, in my view, for understanding certain cultural forma-
tions as types of collective or discursive neurosis. As we have seen, Freud
stressed that neuroses most often emerge out of a clash between forbid-
den unconscious wishes and unsuccessful repressions, or, defenses.
Such defensive efforts, moreover, represent the mediating function be-
tween desire and the external world. Because unconscious wishes are
routinely forbidden by discursive prohibitions and because individual
identifications and ego ideals have been internalized from discourse,it
is easy to see how there might thus be a “convergence of individual
‘ego-ideals,’” as Laplanche and Pontalis put it, and thus, I suggest, a
convergence of neurosis.
That is to say, through discourse and discur-
sive subject positions, neuroses might very well emerge both as individ-
ual and social, or, collective phenomena.
On this discursive psychoanalytic model identification, projection,
and repression are largely inseparable. Almost any psychic identifica
tion or any acceptable and normative identity claim requires deviant be
haviors, desires, or identities to be expelled, or rather repressed, from its
terms. The act of disidentification (“I am not this”) thus has as its condi
tion of possibility a simultaneous identification (“I am that”), and vice
versa. This means that each and every speech act or identity claim inevi
tably entails a simultaneous introjection and repression within the self
and a defensive projection onto others: “I am heterosexual/I am not ho
mosexual,” “We are Christian/We are not Muslim.”
Even though an
utterance or speech act may not seem on the surface to entail a con
scious or deliberate process of disidentification, at the levels of lan
guage and the unconscious, these two processes are indissociable. The
Steven Angelides 97
“said” and the “unsaid,” the avowed and the disavowed, go hand in
hand. It is for this reason that I prefer to specify this process with the
term dis/identification. To take an over-simplified example more perti
nent to this discussion, the socially constructed value and power con
ferred to the subject position of the “ideal parent” provides particular
kinds of identificatory desire for a mother or father. In a cultural and
historical context in which adult/child eroticism is strictly taboo, a
mother’s or father’s identification as a parent is likely to be made possi
ble by concomitant disidentifications: not pedophile, not child sex
abuser, not sexually desirous of children. Normative desires and beliefs
are introjected and inappropriate desires and beliefs are projected. This
process of dis/identification thus depends upon interpsychic–that is,
both intra-psychic and dialogic–repressions. With this notion of
dialogic repression, a different picture of the unconscious emerges, and
it is one in which, again, there is no easy distinction between psyche and
society, or unconscious intra-psychic processes and collective dis-
courses. Neither is there a one-way correspondence between discourse
and subjectivity, or a timeless concept of the unconscious. Individual
investments and identifications (desire) cannot merely be reduced to the
various subject positions made possible by discourse. Instead, individ-
ual investments and identifications in particular discursive positionings
must be seen as the complicated and interactive effect of personal his-
tory (intersubjective relationships) and power-knowledge relations in a
given society.
The point I wish to underscore is that interpsychic re-
pression is an inevitable function of this process.
I argue that the cultural prohibition, or, dialogic repression of child
sexuality since the 1980s encourages, above and beyond the first major
intra-psychic repression (of infantile sexual trauma), further unnecessary
and harmful repressions. Without a language to express childhood sexu
ality, we deny human beings the capacity to symbolize the erotic and
traumatic child/adult encounter, and it is this capacity to symbolize expe
rience that is essential for coping with desire, loss, guilt, shame, and grief.
Furthermore, in psychoanalytic terms, the more extreme the repression,
the more intense is the neurotic symptomatology. This might well explain
many of the exaggerated emotional responses to pedophilia. Although in
extricable from individual subjectivity, as I have just argued, we can
also see an intensified neurosis at work at the level of cultural representa
tion. The dialogic repression of child sexuality has, in my view, resulted in
issues of child sexuality being endlessly distorted into, metonymically
displaced onto, and substituted by, a range of other issues. This is be
cause the action of repression or silencing is not a singular event but a
dialogic and intersubjective process. In order to repress or silence a subj
ect, it is also necessary simultaneously to avow or articulate something in
its place. The more we dialogically repress, silence or deny child sexual
ity, the more steadfastly do we express, avow or affirm other issues, such
as those pertaining to adult sexuality and other normative (“nonsexual”)
aspects of childhood. Hence, the media obsession not just with
pedophilia, but with a generalized disappearance of childhood narrative
in which anything from the Internet to child murderers to youth
drug-taking to faulty parenting to the earlier arrival of female puberty is
seen to be threatening children and blurring the boundaries between
child- and adulthood. I consider these symptomatic of collective neuro
sis. Scratch the surface and it is not difficult to see the dreaded “child
sexuality” as punctuating these representations.
Historians too frequently assume the discourses of psychoanalysis
and historicism to be diametrically opposed adversaries. Disciplinary
adversaries they may be, but diametrically opposed they are not.
Whether or not acknowledged by historians, what both psychoanalysis
and historicism have in common are theories of subjectivity. Psycho-
analysis relies upon historically specific social relations to elucidate
inter/subjective dynamics, and historicism relies on a theory of the hu-
man subject to elucidate social and historical determination. In short,
psychoanalysis and historicism depend on one another for their own
disciplinary and methodological identities. In this article, I have at-
tempted to think psychoanalysis and historicism together, as neither
discourse is alone sufficient to explain the current pedophilia panic. I
have argued that the primal trauma of childhood sexuality and its
intra-psychic repression are at the heart of our neurotic responses to
pedophilia. My argument is that the intra-psychic repression of infantile
sexuality (desire, loss, rage, guilt, shame, and grief) is reactivated by
pedophilia, because the signifier of pedophilia is situated in such close
proximity, associatively and metonymically, to the repressed elements
of childhood sexuality. Pedophilia, in other words, is the closest re
minder we have of the trauma of childhood sexuality. According to my
model, however, this would also be the case of child molestation in the
earlier panics of the twentieth century. That is, in the 1910s and 1940s,
the signifier of child molestation would also act as a reminder of the
trauma of childhood sexuality. However, what is different now, and
Steven Angelides 99
this is the second part of my argument, is the interaction between indi
vidual and discursive meanings of child sexuality. Although this child
hood trauma and a degree of neurosis are inevitable psychologically, it
is the peculiar configuration of post-1980 sociohistorical and political
conditions that interact with this individual subjective phenomenon to
produce heightened anxiety and mass pathological neuroses. Among a
range of sociohistorical and political conditions, what distinguishes the
post-1980 historical milieu, in particular, is the absence, prohibition,
and dialogic repression of any signifier of child sexuality.
Intra-psychically childhood sexuality is writ large, yet discursively
or dialogically child sexuality is disavowed. As I argue elsewhere, in
stark contrast to the pre-1980 coexistence of competing notions of
childhood–as sexual and innocent–the post-1980s have been character-
ized by a conscientious effort to resolve this contradiction. In this way,
the dominant post-1980s figuration of children is one of innocence
without sexuality, in a way different from earlier decades of the twen-
tieth century.
What this means is that the intra-psychic repression of
childhood sexuality is redoubled by the cultural, or, dialogic repression
of child sexuality. Child sexual molestation, the dominant signifier of
which is now pedophilia, has had heightened emotional significance
in the last twenty years precisely because of this erasure of child sexu-
ality and intensification of (dialogic) repression. Pedophilia stands as
symbolic of both a return of the intra-psychically repressed and are-
turn of the dialogically repressed. Heightened panic and cultural neu-
rosis can therefore be seen as an effect of the ever-increasing efforts
demanded to sustain the intra-psychic and dialogic repression of child
sexuality. Of course, coincident with the feminist erasure of child sex-
uality has been the feminist exposure of the fact that it is primarily fa
thers, male relatives, and male family friends who perpetrate child
sexual abuse. We thus have a contradictory scenario whereby, on the
one hand male sexual desire for children has been pathologized, yet
on the other it has been shown by feminists to be congruent with the
construction of normative male sexuality. This contradictory dy
namic–made possible by the erasure of child sexuality–has con
tributed to a profound crisis of masculinity. In turn this crisis of
masculinity has contributed to an intensification of cultural panic
and neurosis, as ever-increasing efforts are demanded to reassert
normative masculinities free of the stain of pedophilia. The endless
projections of normative masculine desires onto the scapegoated de
viant masculinities such as the “pedophile” and the “homosexual”
are indicative of this.
What this means is that the sites of pedophilia and child sexuality have
become saturated, more than ever before in the twentieth century, with re
pressed desire, anger, guilt, shame, and grief.
It is thus not so much that
changing social trends and shifting discourses cause pedophilia anxiety,
as moral panic theorists propose–although these changes certainly con
tribute to its intensity–but rather that changing social trends and shifting
discourses are dredging up and reactivating more deep- seated and uncon
scious anxieties about child sexuality and adult sexual desire for children,
the expression of which is not just emotionally distressing, but also highly
circumscribed in most western cultures. In other words, anxiety is rigor
ously attached to the signifier of pedophilia and not created anew by it.
Adults are subjected in ever more stringent ways and for a good deal
longer to the individual and dialogic repression of the signifier of child
sexuality. However, adults are also situated very differently than chil-
dren in relation to sexuality, repression, and pedophilia. As adults, the
signifier of pedophilia compels us, consciously or unconsciously, to
identify simultaneously as adults and children. That is, we are com-
pelled to identify with ourselves as children (or with our child selves)
and as ourselves with children. In conjunction with the dialogic re-
pression of child sexuality, this dual identification means that the neu-
rotic panic over pedophilia is an adult phenomenon. Such panic is
usually rationalized away not just as an acceptable response but, in-
deed, as the proper response befitting anyone concerned with child
protection. Often, however, panic responses and the rhetoric of “child
protection” function less as a way of protecting children from the
world of adult knowledge, experience, and deviance, than as a way of
protecting adults from the more deep-seated anxieties about child-
hood sexuality we are loathe to revisit. Above and beyond genuine
fears of child abuse, I submit that pedophilia also activates adult mem
ory traces of: our own incestuous desires as children; our own desires
for children; our role in awakening the sexuality of children; our com
plicity in the cultural sexualization of children (thus the undermining
our conscious investment in child protection); and our part in the de
nial of a signifier, or, discourse of child sexuality.
In an era when
child sexuality is so thoroughly repudiated and parenting subject to
such microscopic examination, I can only conclude that this return of
the repressed is even more disturbing for adult parents. My concerns
are therefore not so much about a culture of pedophiles and the risks
they pose for children as they are about the ways in which we are pro
ducing a culture of neurotic parents and the damaging effects they have
on children.
Steven Angelides 101
1. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents (1930 [1929]), Pelican Freud
Library (PFL) 12 (Harmondsworth: Penguin), p. 338.
2. “FBI: Internet pedophiles a growing threat,” CNN News, 8/4/97, http://cnn.
com/US/9704/08/; “1800 names on secret paedophile data
base,” Age, 3 April 1998, p. 6.
3. Jodi Wilgoren, “Scholar’s Pedophilia Essay Stirs Outrage and Revenge,” New
York Times, 30 April 2002.
4. For a useful discussion of the question of the shifting conceptual boundaries of
‘child abuse’ and the effect of this on how we quantify child abusers and victims, see
Ian Hacking, “The Making and Molding of Child Abuse,” Critical Inquiry, 17 (Winter
1991): 253-88.
5. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1: An Introduction, trans. by
Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1980).
6. Jock Young, The Drugtakers: The Social Meaning of Drug Use (London: Paladin,
7. Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and
Rockers (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1972), p. 9.
8. Kenneth Thompson, Moral Panics (Routledge: New York, 1998).
9. Joel Best, Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern About Child-Victims
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990); Philip Jenkins, Moral Panic: Changing
Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1998); J. Richardson et al. (Eds.), The Satanism Scare (New York: Aldine de
Gruyter, 1991); Chris Atmore, “Towards Rethinking Moral Panic: Child Sexual Abuse
Conflicts and Social Constructionist Responses,” in Christopher Bagley & Kanka
Mallick (Eds.), Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Offenders: New Theory and Research
(Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999).
10. Vern Bullough, “Boy-Love and Pedophilia–The Contemporary Storm,” Inter-
view by Joseph Geraci, in Joseph Geraci (Ed.), Dares to Speak: Historical and Con-
temporary Perspectives on Boy-Love (Swaffham: The Gay Men’s Press, 1997), p.172.
See also Best, Threatened Children, pp. 180-181.
11. Interview with Gilbert Herdt, conducted by Joseph Geraci, in Geraci (Ed.),
Dares to Speak, p. 31; Lawrence A. Stanley, “The Hysteria over Child Pornography
and Paedophilia,” in Geraci (Ed.), Dares to Speak, pp.179-206; David T. Evans, Sexual
Citizenship: The Material Construction of Sexualities (London: Routledge, 1993);
Harris Mirkin, “The Pattern of Sexual Politics: Feminism, Homosexuality and
Pedophilia,” Journal of Homosexuality, 37 (1999), pp. 1-24.
12. Henry Jenkins, “Introduction: Childhood Innocence and Other Modern Myths,”
in Henry Jenkins (Ed.), The Children’s Culture Reader (New York: New York Univer
sity Press, 1998), p. 24; Lea Redfern, “The Paedophile as ‘Folk Devil,’” Media Inter
national Australia, 85 (1997), pp. 47-55; Simon Watney, Policing Desire:
Pornography, AIDS and the Media (London: Methuen, 1987).
13. Philip Jenkins, Intimate Enemies: Moral Panics in Contemporary Great Britain
(New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1992).
14. The problem with this kind of explanation, as Lloyd de Mause points out, in
“The Psychogenic Theory of History,” The Journal of Psychohistory, 25 (1997),
p. 113, is that “the explanation that ‘culture determines social behavior’ is simply a tau
tology. Since ‘culture’ only means ‘the total pattern of human behavior’...tosay‘Cul
ture is what makes a group do such and such’ is merely stating that a group’s behavior
causes its behavior.”
15. See also Philip Jenkins, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Crisis (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1996; and Judith Levine, Harmful to Minors: The
Perils of Protecting Children from Sex (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
16. P. Jenkins, Moral Panic, pp. 6, 7.
17. Tim Dean, Beyond Sexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 96.
18. I have borrowed this formulation of “(dis)positions” from Mark Bracher, Lacan,
Discourse, and Social Change: A Psychoanalytic Cultural Criticism (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press,1993) p. 19.
19. See Tim Dean & Christopher Lane, “Homosexuality and Psychoanalysis: An
Introduction,” in Homosexuality and Psychoanalysis, edited by Tim Dean & Christo
pher Lane, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2001, pp. 3-42; David M. Halperin,
“Homosexuality’s Closet,” Michigan Quarterly Review, 41 (2002), pp. 21-54.
20. Elements of the child sexual abuse and protection movement have responded to
the moral panic theorization by arguing that it is part of a “backlash” against acknowl
edging the severity of child sexual abuse. Interestingly, ‘backlash’ theorists also at
tempt to explain the highly emotive nature of child sexual abuse, but similarly offer no
adequate psychical analysis, other than to presume as self-evident certain tenuous as-
sumptions about human subjectivity. In one particularly absurd example, which I feel
compelled to quote at length, John E.B. Meyers, “Definition and Origins of the Back-
lash Against Child Protection,” in John E.B. Meyers (Ed.), The Backlash: Child Pro-
tection Under Fire (London: Sage, 1994), offers the following explanation:
“To appreciate why child sexual abuse evokes such strong emotions in adults, it is
helpful to engage in a simple mental exercise. First, put any thought of child abuse
completely out of mind. Shift your thoughts entirely away from child abuse. This done,
ask the following question: What do adults feel strongly about? Children come imme-
diately to mind. Normal, healthy, non-abused children evoke strong emotions in adults.
Now put children to one side and ask the same question: What else do adults feel
strongly about? Victimization. Few subjects evoke stronger emotions than victimiza
tion. Most of us are victims at some point, and the anger and helplessness that accom
pany victimization are strong emotions indeed.
Finally, put children and victimization aside, and ask once more: What do adults
feel strongly about? Sex! Few subjects evoke stronger or more varied emotions than
sex and sexuality.
Now, put the three together–children, victimization, and sex–to form child sexual
abuse, and the stage is set for emotional fireworks. Few events evoke stronger feelings
of outrage, scandal, and pity than the sexual victimization of helpless children. Thus
one element of the backlash movement is the sheer strength of emotion the subject stirs
up in adults” (19-20).
This is nothing short of baffling to me, and unfortunately I don’t have the space to
offer a critique. I share no such responses to those questions. I see this not as analysis or
explanation but as an exercise in normative pedagogy.
21. Bracher, Lacan, p. 10.
22. Sigmund Freud, “Negation” (1925), PFL 11; Bruce Fink, A Clinical Introduc
tion to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique (Cambridge: Harvard Uni
versity Press, 1999), pp. 112-113.
23. Dean, Beyond Sexuality, p. 159.
Steven Angelides 103
24. As unlikely as my analysis might seem to many readers, the fact that any discus
sion of sexuality appealing to psychoanalysis tends to elicit extremely passionate, if
not hostile, responses, leads me to believe that at the very least this might be an effec
tive strategy for kick-starting debate.
25. It seems to me that too often rigid disciplinary boundaries function to foreclose
interdisciplinary exchanges; exchanges that may very well lead to productive theoreti
cal debates and conceptual innovation.
26. Freud, Inhibitions (1926), PFL 10.
27. In his earlier work, Freud often used repression interchangeably with defense,
suggesting anxiety, and thus neurosis, to be the result of repression and the damming
up of instinctual impulses. The introduction of his structural model of mental functions
in The Ego and the Id (1923), PFL 11, led to a revision of the theory of anxiety. In Inhi
bitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926 [1925]), PFL 10, Freud reversed his earlier for
mulation, arguing not that repression causes anxiety but anxiety repression (Freud,
1926). See Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933), PFL
2, p. 118, where he reiterates this view. I would argue that neurosis is dependent upon
both of these formulations of anxiety.
28. Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1917 [1916-1917]),
PFL 1, p. 404.
29. Sigmund Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis (1940 [1938]), PFL 15, p. 420.
30. Freud, New Introductory Lectures, p. 127. According to Freud, the typical de-
velopmental events identified by psychoanalysis as most likely to give rise to traumatic
situations for every child are birth, separation anxiety, castration anxiety, loss of love
objects, and loss of super-ego love (Inhibitions, 1926 [1925]).
31. See Evans, Sexual Citizenship; Alice Miller, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Soci-
ety’s Betrayal of the Child (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1984); Vikki Bell, Inter-
rogating Incest: Feminism, Foucault and the Law (London: Routledge, 1993). In a
footnote appended to Three Essays (1905), PFL 7, in 1920, Freud argued that “There
is, of course, no need to expect that anatomical growth and psychical development
must be exactly simultaneous” (93). Moreover, as he stated in “The Sexual Enlighten
ment of Children” (1907), PFL 7, “except for his reproductive power, a child has a fully
developed capacity for love long before puberty; and it may be asserted that the ‘mys
tery-making’ [i.e., dialogic repression of child sexuality] merely prevents him from be
ing able to gain an intellectual grasp of activities for which he is psychically prepared
and physically adjusted” (176). After summarizing more recent research on child sexu
ality, L.L. Constantine, “Child Sexuality: Recent Developments and Implications for
Treatment, Prevention, and Social Policy,” Medicine and Law, 2 (1983), argues “noth
ing in the preceding summary supports the notion that child sexuality is in any funda
mental way different from adult sexuality” (61). Ronald and Juliet Goldman, Show Me
Yours! Understanding Children’s Sexuality (Penguin: Ringwood, 1988), claim that the
“evidence is that earlier experience and understanding of sexuality is well within the
moral competence of children” (226).
32. Christopher Bollas also argues that sexuality is inherently traumatic for all chil
dren. For a different reading of this than the one offered here, see his Hysteria
(Routledge: New York, 2000).
33. See Steven Angelides, “Feminism, Child Sexual Abuse, and the Erasure of
Child Sexuality, GLQ, 10.2, 2004” (unpublished manuscript).
34. P. Jenkins, Moral Panic, p. 130.
35. Among exemplary feminist texts are: Gladys Shultz, How Many More Victims?
(Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1965); Diana E.H. Russell, The Politics of Rape: The
Victim’s Perspective (New York: Stein & Day, 1975); Diana E.H. Russell, The Sexual
Trauma (New York: Basic Books, 1986); Susan Griffin, Rape: The Politics of Con
sciousness, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986); Florence Rush, “The Sexual
Abuse of Children,” in Noreen Connell & Cassandra Wilson (Eds.), Rape: The First
Sourcebook for Women (New York: New American Library, 1974), pp. 65-75; Flor
ence Rush, The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall, 1980); Judith L. Herman & Lisa Hirschman, Father-Daughter Incest
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981); Ann W. Burgess et al., The Sexual As
sault of Children and Adolescents (Lexington: D.C. Health, 1978); David Finkelhor,
Sexually Victimized Children (New York: Free Press, 1979); Susan Forward & Craig
Buck, Betrayal of Innocence (New York: Penguin, 1979).
36. Angelides, “Feminism, Child Sexual Abuse”; P. Jenkins, Moral Panic.
37. For a summary of research on child sexuality until 1983, see Constantine,
“Child Sexuality” (1983), pp. 55-67. For discussion and references to child sexuality in
decades prior to the 1980s, see P. Jenkins (1998); Sterling Fishman, “The History of
Childhood Sexuality,” Journal of Contemporary History, 17 (1982), pp. 269-283;
Angelides, “Feminism, Child Sexual Abuse.”
38. Myre Sim, Guide to Psychiatry, 3rd ed., (London: Churchill Livingstone,
1974), p. 778.
39. Quoted in Rush, The Best Kept Secret, p. 98. See also Lindy Burton, Vulnerable
Children (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968), pp. 87-98 for an account of around
thirty studies on child sexual assault between the 1930s and 1960s that recognized
child sexuality.
40. James R. Kincaid, Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture (New
York: Routledge, 1992); James R. Kincaid, Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child
Molesting (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998); Fishman, “The History of Child-
hood Sexuality.”
41. Lynn Ponton, The Sex Lives of Teenagers (New York: Plume, 2001).
42. See Angelides, “Feminism, Child Sexual Abuse.”
43. For instance, it is very rare to describe a young child as being gay or lesbian,
even within biologically determinist discourses.
44. Foucault, History of Sexuality, p. 34. It seems that throughout the last two de
cades we have spent immense effort evacuating sexuality from the conceptual field of
childhood at the same time as we have evacuated asexuality from the conceptual field
of adulthood. This might be seen as one way of securing the distinction between child-
and adulthood.
45. I will detail this argument below.
46. In fact, I argue that it is negligent to continue to avoid the subject; in my mind,
we are morally and ethically obliged to address child sexuality.
47. Anthropology has also often incorporated discussions of child sexuality; unlike
psychoanalysis, though, it has not been a central organizing concept. In “Has Sexuality
Anything to do with Psychoanalysis,” International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 76
(1996), André Green laments the fact that within the last ten years or so there has been a
waning of interest in the concept of sexuality within psychoanalysis. He puts this down
to the “contemporary fashionable focus on object relations” within the United States
(871). As I have been suggesting, I would see this development as also bound up with
the feminist discourse of child sexual abuse and the fear of pedophilia.
Steven Angelides 105
48. Melanie Klein, “Love, Guilt and Reparation” (1937), in Love, Guilt and Repa
ration and Other Works 1921-1945 (Virago Press, London, 1988), p. 307. For an ex
cellent attempt to revive this psychoanalytic insight into a popular book, see Noelle
Oxenhandler, The Eros of Parenthood (St. Martin’s Press: New York, 2001). “The lan
guage of Eros is the language of touch,” she says, “and we learn this language as in
fants, in the arms of those who first care for us. As we grow into adult sexuality, we
alter this language, extending its range sand our own fluency. But its deep structure, the
grammar of how we experience touch, is absorbed in the context of our earliest rela
tionships” (6).
49. Sigmund Freud, An Autobiographical Study, PFL 15, p. 220.
50. Freud, Three Essays, pp. 151-152.
51. For a comprehensive reading of Laplanche’s theory of seduction and the enig
matic signifier, see John Fletcher, “The Letter in the Unconscious: The Enigmatic
Signifier in the work of Jean Laplanche,” in Jean Laplanche: Seduction, Translation
and the Drives, edited by John Fletcher & Martin Stanton (Institute of Contemporary
Arts, London, 1992), pp. 93-120.
52. Jean Laplanche, “Seduction, Persecution, Revelation,” International Journal of
Psycho-Analysis, 76 (1995), p. 663.
53. Jean Laplanche, New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, David Macey (trans.)
(New York: Basil Blackwell, 1989), pp. 89-90.
54. Jean Laplanche, Interview by Martin Stanton, in Jean Laplanche, p. 10.
55. Laplanche, Interview, p. 10.
56. Jean Laplanche, Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, Jeffrey Mehlman (trans.)
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976 [1970]), p. 48.
57. Laplanche is attempting to draw out what is already there in Freud’s work, but
which remains mired by the limitations of his time and discourse. For instance, in An
Outline of Psychoanalysis (1940 [1938]), PFL 15, Freud says “By her care of the
child’s body she [the mother] becomes its first seducer” (423).
58. Laplanche, New Foundations, p. 128.
59. Laplanche, Interview, p. 10.
60. Freud certainly recognized the sexually stimulating, or seductive, nature of the
parent-child relation. See, for example, Three Essays (1905), PFL 7, where he notes
that: “A child’s intercourse with anyone responsible for his care affords him an unend
ing source of sexual excitation and satisfaction from his erotogenic zones. This is espe
cially so since the person in charge of him, who, after all, is as a rule his mother, herself
regards him with feelings that are derived from her own sexual life: she strokes him,
kisses him, rocks him and quite clearly treats him as a substitute for a complete sexual
object” (145).
61. See also Jean Laplanche, “The Drive and Its Object-Source: Its Fate in the
Transference,” in John Fletcher & Martin Stanton (Eds.), Jean Laplanche: Seduction,
Translation, Drives (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1992), pp. 190-191;
Jean Laplanche, “The Theory of Seduction and the Problem of the Other,” Interna
tional Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 78 (1997), pp. 653-666.
62. Laplanche rejects the Lacanian idea that the unconscious is structured like a lan
63. Freud, Three Essays, 145. Or as he noted in Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of
his Childhood (1910), PFL 14: “A mother’s love for the infant she suckles and cares for
is something far more profound than her later affection for the growing child. It is in the
nature of a completely satisfying love-relation, which not only fulfill every mental
wish but also every physical need; and if it represents one of the forms of attainable hu
man happiness, that is in no little measure due to the possibility it offers of satisfying,
without reproach, wishful impulses which have long been repressed and which must be
called perverse” (209-210).
64. At the same time as our culture desperately attempts to purge childhood of the
stains of sexuality, it also attempts to construct the normative child as one who is free
from forms of psychological conflict and trauma. The recently invented conditions of
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder
(ODD) are examples of the increasing medicalization and pathologization of child
hood conflict and anxiety. In psychoanalytic terms, it would not be unlikely that, in
many instances, there might well be childhood sexual conflicts at the heart of such con
ditions as ADHD and ODD. The more we essentialize seemingly ‘deviant’ child be
haviors and continue to confuse psychological symptoms with diseases or medical
conditions, the further away we are from understanding childhood psychological dy
namics. The end result of attempts to eradicate conflict, anxiety, and trauma from
childhood psychology is often more insidious forms of child abuse. Recent deaths of
children medicated for ADHD in the US with such stimulant drugs as Ritalin and
Dexedrine is a tragic case in point. See John Merson, “The Wild Ones,” Good Week
end, 11 May 2002, pp. 20-25.
65. In An Outline of Psycho-Analysis (1940 [1938]), PFL 15, Freud says, “No hu-
man individual is spared such traumatic experiences” (419).
66. I am not here suggesting that we must accept the entire Freudian theory of the
Oedipus complex. At a minimum, however, I accept the notion of oedipal desire. In
other words, we do not have to jettison the notion of oedipal desire entirely just because
we may not agree with Freud’s formulation of the Oedipus complex. Unfortunately,
however, the feminist discourse of child sexual abuse has done just that, ostensibly on
the grounds that Freud covered up the reality of child sexual abuse when he abandoned
his seduction theory. See Miller (1984).
67. Sandor Ferenczi, in “Confusion of Tongues Between Adults and the Child”
(1933), Final Contributions to the Problems and Methods of Psycho-analysis (Lon-
don: Hogarth, 1955), pp. 156-167, describes as inevitably traumatic the imposition of
the adult’s language of passion onto the child. “If more love or love of a different kind
from that which they need, is forced upon the children in the stage of tenderness, it may
lead to pathological consequences in the same way as the frustration or withdrawal of
love” (164).
68. The psychoanalytic literature on love and guilt is enormous. For a classic exam
ple, see Melanie Klein, Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works 1921-1945 (Lon
don: Virago Press, 1988).
69. Oxenandler’s The Eros of Parenthood is a superb attempt at initiating just such
a language.
70. As we will see, however, this is an expanded and reformulated notion of repres
71. Anna Freud, in The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (London: Hogarth
Press, 1948 [1936]), p. 54.
72. Freud argues that repression proper requires a repressing agency, the ego or
super-ego. On after-pressure, see Inhibitions (1926 [1925], PFL 10, p. 245; “Repres
sion” (1915), PFL 11.
73. On “scapegoats as poison containers for traumas,” see Lloyd de Mause, “The
Psychogenic Theory of History,” p. 154.
Steven Angelides 107
74. Michael Billig, Freudian Repression: Conversation Creating the Unconscious
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 56.
75. One of the problems with Billig’s approach, however, is that he evades the ques
tion of intra-psychical dynamics. In his attempts to broaden the concept of repression
and avoid some of the shortcomings of the Freudian over-emphasis on intra-psychical
functions, Billig leaves unspecified the relationship between dialogic repression and
intra-psychic repression. We are therefore left with an account that privileges repres
sion as a function of language/discourse and leaves unanswered the question of what
happens within the actual psyche to the discursively repressed (or the unsaid).
76. Somewhat like Lacanian theorists, Billig elevates the role of language as consti
tutive of the un/conscious (although he does not specify what the structure of the un
conscious might be). In following Laplanche, I resist the idea that the unconscious is
structured like a language, just as I resist the idea that the unconscious is solely a func
tion of language. Of course, language acquisition and use must entail retroactive and
ongoing effects on the formation and action of the unconscious, but I think it is not nec
essary, and is indeed unproductive, to attempt to specify any precise contents or struc
ture of the unconscious. In specifying this, one cannot fail, on some level, to posit an
ahistorical notion of language and discourse relations. While I have argued that a form
of primal repression is achieved without the preverbal infant having attained the
broader skills of language use, it is a repression that is still situated within–and thus can
be viewed as an effect of–language/discourse. By this, I mean that because the
(m)other is a language user, her subject position is situated firmly within relations of
signification. As such, her unconscious messages (enigmatic signifier) are also inextri-
cably bound up with language/discourse. Therefore, while it is possible to argue that
language/discourse does not directly constitute the child’s primordial uncon-
scious–thus implying a one-way transposition of language into the child’s psychic
structure–a certain relation to (the world of adult) signification does constitute the
child’s primordial unconscious.
77. Wendy Hollway, “Gender Difference and the Production of Subjectivity,” in
Julian Henriques et al. (Eds.), Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation
and Subjectivity (London & New York: Methuen, 1984), p. 258.
78. Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), PFL 12,
p. 95.
79. In Studies on Hysteria (1893-1895), PFL 3, and “Repression” (1915), PFL 11,
Freud used the term repression as a general category to refer to the different ways of
pushing aside certain desires. A. Freud, in Ego, reformulated this to argue that the term
defense mechanisms should be used as the general category, within which repression is
but one of its forms. Within this category, she included such things as regression, reac
tion formation, isolation, undoing, projection, introjection, turning against the self, re
versal, sublimation, or displacement. In order to stress the interpsychic (dialogic)
rather than primarily intra-psychic nature of repression, I am using repression as the
general umbrella category. In other words, I consider the nine defense mechanisms
Anna Freud identified as different forms of repression.
80. Jean Laplanche and J.B. Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis, D. Nichol
son-Smith (trans.) (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1973), p. 144. Or as Freud put it,
in Group Psychology (1921), PFL 12, this is when “a number of individuals who have
put one and the same object in the place of their ego ideal and have consequently iden
tified themselves with one another in their ego” (147).
81. Elaine Showalter employs a more generalized psychoanalytic framework to ar
gue that phenomena such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Gulf War Syndrome, Re
covered Memory, Multiple Personality Syndrome, Satanic Ritual Abuse, and Alien
Abduction are modern forms of hysteria. See Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and
Modern Culture (London: Picador, 1998 [1997]).
82. Psychoanalyst Jeanne Lampl-de Groot notes, in “Symptom Formation and
Character Formation,” International Journal of Psycho-analysis, 44 (1963), “projec
tion . . . promotes the distinction between self and outer world” (6).
83. Hollway, “Gender Difference,” p. 256; Cathy Urwin, “Power Relations and the
Emergence of Language,” in Henriques et al., Changing the Subject.
84. See Angelides, “Feminism, Child Sexual Abuse.”
85. See Steven Angelides, “Child Sexuality and the Culture of Melancholia” (un
published manuscript) for a discussion of the way these unresolved and unsymbolized
affects are producing melancholic cultures of considerable proportions.
86. Although referring to abusive sexual encounters between adults and children, in
“Confusion of Tongues” Ferenczi comments on the way in which children identify
with adults and easily introject “the guilt feelings of the adult” (162).
87. See Angelides, “Feminism, Child Sexual Abuse” for a discussion of some of the
social and psychological problems this erasure of child sexuality creates.
Steven Angelides 109
... In the words ofPaul,amanconvictedofchildsexualabuse,''FromwhatIheard in the news about people like me, it sounds like we're these ticking time bombs and then suddenly there's this switch that's tripped and we just metamorphis [sic] into horrible werewolf creatures'' (CBC Radio One, 2014). Political and social leaders often use this stereotype to inflame''moral panic''and to support reactive solutions lacking in empirical support (Angelides, 2004), rather than exploring more complicated but constructive, proactive, and preventative solutions. The stigma associated with pedophilic interests may serve as a social control that dissuades these individuals from engaging in sexual abuse behaviors involving children (Scruton, 2000). ...
... In addition,these concerns are often concurrently used by public figures to motivate public fear and apprehension (Angelides, 2004;Quinn, Forsyth, & Mullen-Quinn, 2004). Negative media coverage against individuals with pedophilic interests skews public opinion against providing resources for such persons (Adams, 2001). ...
... The American public is gaining exposure to the personal stories of non-offending individuals with pedophilic interests (CBC Radio One, 2014;Glass, 2014;Virtuous Pedophiles, 2015) in direct contrast to standard messages that instigate fear and moral panic regarding such individuals (e.g., Angelides, 2004;Quinn et al., 2004). Significantly less research has focused on those with pedophilic interests who have not engaged in child sexual abuse behaviors (e.g., Beier et al., 2009;Freimond, 2013;Goode, 2010;Långströmetal.,2013;Vanhoecketal.,2014) when compared to the attention paid to those who engage in child sexual abuse (e.g., Hall & Hall, 2007;Seto, 2008). ...
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Adults with pedophilic interests are often viewed by the public as a homogenous subgroup based on what we know from those who sexually offend against children. The stigma associated with child sexual abuse may serve to deter such behaviors but may also interfere with the person’s stability and willingness to seek assistance in managing pedophilic interests. This article contrasts the sex offender response and prevention efforts typically employed in the U.S. (i.e., containment, registration, and notification policies and public education programs) with treatment programs aimed at preventing child sexual abuse in Germany, Belgium, and Canada. Five major areas are identified that should be further examined with regard to implementing preventative outreach and treatment programs in the U.S.: barriers to outreach and treatment programs, how to expand or reframe current preventative educational programs, implementation of such programs in light of current mandating reporting policies, promising treatment approaches for pedophilic interests among non-offenders, and ethical concerns relevant to preventative psychological interventions.
... This attitude creates an overwhelming weight on individuals who identify as pedophiles, as they seem to be targeted from a variety of angles -this is without even considering other areas of oppression they may be submitted to such as race, class, gender, religion, and culture. Since individuals who are pedophiles represent a minority of child sex offenders, and being a pedophile does not determine whether someone will sexually victimize a child, it is unclear why there is such profound blame on pedophiles (Angelides, 2008). ...
... As mentioned by Angelides (2008), the real issue with pedophilia is not pedophilia, but how society frames the issue of pedophilia. Society has created a moral panic surrounding pedophilia which has overridden the reality of child sexual abuse occurring more frequently among non-pedophiles and among non-strangers (Chenier, 2012). ...
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In order for communities to be strong, families need to strong and strong families are based on strong parent-child relationships but parents need support in order to be effective parents. This article describes a parenting programme based on strengthening relationships by introducing basic skills and knowledge and establishing networks within communities. Proud2bME® is a unique model developed in South Africa focusing on creating agents of change within a community to drive an agenda once the active intervention period is over. Ultimately, communities are trained to be responsible for the development and strengthening of their families to build communities.
... Si certaines périodes dans les derniers siècles se caractérisent par une quasi-indifférence généralisée envers les actes de déviance sexuelle, d'autres se démarquent par la peur et le dégoût envers les mêmes comportements (Angelides, 2003 ;Zgoba, 2007 ;Jenkins, 1998). Ceci ne veut pas dire pour autant que certaines conduites sexuelles déviantes comme l'agression sexuelle par exemple ont déjà été jugées complètement acceptables. ...
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On July 29th, 1994, Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old girl from Hamilton Township in New Jersey is kidnapped, sexually molested and killed by what will prove to be the Kankas’ front door neighbor, Jesse Timmendequas. At the time, Megan’s assailant had already been twice convicted of sex crimes. Following this tragedy, Megan’s parents fought to obtain a law that would notify the public on the identity as well as the residency of sex offenders. Less than three months later, "Megan’s Law" was ratified. A state-wide sex offender registry was thus created, for which public notification was partly available. Our study focuses on this case, as we try to understand how the construction of sexual offending as a social problem led to the specific penal response that was Megan’s Law. To accomplish this, we analyzed the political discourse and arguments inherent to the case. Eight interviews with different political actors involved in the political debate leading to the implementation of Megan’s Law were conducted. Over 150 newspaper articles and some pieces of legislation were also analyzed. Our results highlight the essential role that the sociopolitical context had on the construction of sex offending as a social problem as well as the solution to which it was linked. Analysis of this case also indicates that the problem-solution dyad was constructed in conjunction, in a uniform time frame, for which the only detectable stages were those of the narrative concerning the death of Megan and the actual development of the law. In other words, Megan’s death was only a focal point that allowed certain political actors to turn into action already widely shared concepts. The study concludes by linking Canada’s sociopolitical context to the one found in our case study, and suggests that a similar construction of the sex offender problem can easily be considered. Though nobody wishes for the occurrence of an event comparable to that experienced by Megan Kanka and her family, this element appears to us as one that would propel this construction to a public arena, provided of course that a person or a group of people make the issue the topic of public debate. Le 29 juillet 1994, Megan Kanka, une jeune fille de sept ans de la municipalité de Hamilton au New Jersey, est enlevée, agressée sexuellement et tuée par ce qui se révélera être son voisin d’en face, Jesse Timmendequas. À l’époque, l’assaillant de Megan avait déjà fait l’objet de deux condamnations pour agression sexuelle. Suite à cette tragédie, les parents de Megan luttèrent pour la création d’une loi qui révélerait automatiquement au public l’identité et le lieu de résidence des délinquants sexuels. Moins de trois mois plus tard, la « Loi de Megan » était ratifiée. Ainsi un répertoire étatique centralisé de délinquants sexuels en partie disponible au public fut créé. Notre étude se centre sur ce cas et tente de comprendre comment une construction particulière de la délinquance sexuelle comme problème social mena à la réponse pénale spécifique qu’était la Loi de Megan. Pour ce faire, nous analysons les discours et argumentaires politiques en lien avec l’affaire. Huit entretiens avec différents acteurs impliqués dans le débat politique menant à la création de la loi de Megan furent effectués. Une analyse de plus de 150 articles de journaux et de quelques projets et textes de lois fut également effectuée. Nos résultats soulignent d’abord le rôle primordial qu’avait le contexte sociopolitique autant sur la construction du problème social de la délinquance sexuelle que sur la solution qui lui était liée. L’analyse du cas nous indique également que la dyade problème-solution s’élabora en conjonction, dans un cadre temporel uniforme, dont les seules étapes détectables sont celles du narratif de la mort de Megan et de l’élaboration concrète de la loi. En d’autres mots, la mort de Megan ne constituait qu’un point focal qui permit à des acteurs de mettre en pratique des concepts déjà largement partagés. L’étude conclue en liant le contexte sociopolitique du Canada à celui retrouvé dans notre étude de cas et suggère qu’une construction similaire de la délinquance sexuelle comme problème peut facilement être envisageable chez nous. Si personne ne souhaite l’occurrence d’une situation comparable à celle vécue par Megan Kanka et sa famille, cet élément nous apparaît comme étant celui qui propulserait réellement cette construction sur la place publique, à condition bien évidemment qu’une personne ou un groupe de personnes en fassent une question à débattre.
... Das, was wir als Pädophilie bezeichnen, zwingt uns dazu, uns gleichzeitig als Erwachsene und Kinder zu identifizieren (vgl. auch Angelides 2003). Das heißt, wir sind gezwungen, uns mit unserer eigenen kindlichen Sexualität und der unserer Kinder zu beschäftigen -auch mit den bewussten und unbewussten inzestuösen Wünschen von Kindern und Eltern. ...
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De vraag die centraal staat in deze thesis is: “Waarom zien mensen die ‘pedojagen’ zichzelf als een goede burger?”. Het opsporen, vernederen en beschadigen van (vermeende) pedofielen en pedoseksuelen zijn namelijk – net als pedoseksuele handelingen – gedragingen die strafbaar gesteld zijn bij wet. Waarom neutraliseren en idealiseren pedojagers hun strafbare handelingen terwijl ze tegelijkertijd pedofilie en pedoseksualiteit verafschuwen? En wat maakt hun acties tot moreel juiste handelingen? In deze thesis wordt beargumenteerd dat pedojagers zichzelf identificeren als goede burger omdat ze pedofilie – een fenomeen dat inherent gelinkt wordt aan ‘monsterachtigheid’ – proberen uit te bannen middels een ‘nobele’ jacht. Eerst wordt kort weergegeven wat pedojagers zijn en hoe het verschil tussen de begrippen ‘pedofilie’ en ‘pedoseksualiteit’ in de volksmond systematisch verkeerd wordt begrepen. Vervolgens wordt geanalyseerd waarom er een diepgewortelde maatschappelijke weerzin jegens pedofilie bestaat en hoe deze voortkomt uit motieven ter bescherming van het kwetsbare kind en uit onzekerheid over de eigen seksualiteit. Tot slot wordt geanalyseerd hoe deze weerzin daadwerkelijk kan leiden tot (soms gewelddadige) burgeracties waarin pedojagers zich moreel verheffen boven de (inhumane) jagende pedofiel.
Vorliegende Dissertation greift in zeitgenössische Debatten queerer und feministischer Politiken durch die Analyse von Gegenwartsliteratur ein. Hatte die zweiten Frauenbewegung vertreten, dass im Zentrum politischer Veränderungen stets persönliche Veränderungen stehen, nutzt die Arbeit mit diesem Ausgangspunkt ein scheinbar anachronistisches Paradigma, um solche Narrative zu kritisieren, die Queerness sowie queere Politik und Theorie im Präsens, lesbischen Feminismus dagegen in der Vergangenheit positionieren wollen. These ist dagegen, dass die utopischen Impulse des lesbischen Feminismus der zweiten Frauenbewegung sich mit aktueller queerer Politik überschneiden und dass beide auf zu differenzierende Art Praktiken und Konzepte von Intimität in den Vordergrund stellen, die auf soziale Transformationen in größerem Maßstab verweisen. Die Erkundung der komplexen Weisen, in denen Politik durch Intimität praktiziert wird, erfolgt hier am Beispiel der Figur der Lesbe in der zeitgenössischen Anglo-Amerikanischen Literatur, speziell in Auseinandersetzung mit der Literatur der kanadischen Schriftstellerin Ann-Marie MacDonald. Mit Figur oder Trope der Lesbe im Zentrum der Analyse ist ein spezifischer historischer und politischer Kontext signalisiert. Die Lesbe sowie lesbian existence als eine feministische Praxis bieten einen produktiven Ausgangspunkt, weil beide im Lauf der Zeit oft und teils simultan als das Abjekt oder das idealisierte Objekt von sexueller und Genderpolitik konstruiert worden sind. Darüber hinaus markiert lesbischer Feminismus einen bestimmten zeitlichen Ort sowie eine politische Funktion und besetzt einen bestimmten Platz im feministischen und queeren Imaginären. Aufgabe der Dissertation ist es, die Potentiale herauszuarbeiten, die heute noch immer von der Figur der Lesbe und vom lesbischem Feminismus ausgehen, ohne dabei deren teils unbequeme Beziehung zum beachtlichen Einfluss der Queer Theory aus den Augen zu verlieren.
Zusammenfassung Einleitung Mediale Darstellungen der Pädophilie ändern sich. Im Kontext von therapeutischen und Selbsthilfeangeboten entstehen seit Ende der 2000er-Jahre Repräsentationen kontrollierter Sexualität, die sich von Verwerfungen als „Monster“ und als „Bandenkrimineller“ unterscheiden. Forschungsziele Der Beitrag untersucht die Struktur und rekonstruiert die Bedingungen und Effekte des medialen Diskurses. Er fragt erstens nach Rhetoriken, die eine andere Repräsentation möglich erscheinen lassen. Zweitens diskutiert er, wie vor dem Hintergrund der historischen Abwertungen und Verwerfungen ein pädophiles Subjekt medial neu bzw. anders konstituiert werden kann. Methoden Untersuchungsgegenstand sind 33 Print- und audio(-visuelle) Reportagen, die pädophile Teilnehmende an therapeutischen und/oder Selbsthilfeangeboten porträtieren. Diese werden innerhalb der Phänomenstruktur der Grounded Theory analysiert. Ergebnisse In den medialen Repräsentationen wird Pädophilie ursächlich als Gefahr entworfen und zugleich negiert: Das Potential des sexuellen Kindesmissbrauchs wird ausgewiesen, erscheint aber als nicht zwingende Folge der sexuellen Disposition. Intervenierende Bedingung dafür ist die medizinische Rahmung als überzeitliche, unveränderbare Sexualität, mit der eine prekäre Patho-Normalisierung ebenso wie die Möglichkeit der Kontrolle auf der Handlungsebene einhergeht. Die Problemlösung der sexuellen Kontrolle wird in den Reportagen anhand von drei Subjektpositionen nachgezeichnet: der leidenden Seele auf dem Weg zur Therapie, dem vom eigenen Gewissen verfolgten Empathiker und dem herausgeforderten, sich aber aufopfernden Helden. Gesellschaftlich ergibt sich aus Mitgefühl und rationaler Abwägung eine Aufforderung zur Entstigmatisierung. Schlussfolgerung Der Beitrag rekonstruiert eine Gegen-Emotionalisierung und technokratische Kontrollversprechen als Entstehungsbedingungen eines neuen legitimen pädophilen Subjekts. Dieses konstituiert ein Gegenbild zu vorherigen Darstellungen, unternimmt eine teilweise Normalisierung und deutet in Teilen Idealisierungen des Pädophilen als Kindern besonders zugewandtem Subjekt an.
The introduction situates the historiography on queer intergenerational sex in the realm of scholarship on queer history, the history of childhood, and the literature on the significance of chronological age. It lays out three broad schemas that have organized queer intergenerational sex—looking at it as a phallic economy where boys submitted to older men in ways that were akin to women; as a function of pederastic or pedophilic desires; and as abuse—and also explores the overlap and permutations among these categories. It then introduces the six articles in this forum, elucidating their central arguments and the contributions that they make to this dynamic field.
The history of sexual relations between children or youth and adults in the United States has received limited attention in part because of the strong taboos against discussion of the topic. The growing moral panic about pedophilia in the 1980s, which coincided with the first wave of American historiography of sexuality, had a silencing effect. Historians of the family first broke the silence by researching the history of incest within the family, focusing on father–daughter relations. Later, in the 1990s, historians of childhood argued that age should be considered as a category of analysis within the history of sexuality. Many scholars have explored the role that age played in structuring same-sex male encounters, especially at the turn of the twentieth century. Others working in a range of disciplines have historicized the rhetoric of the “sexual psychopath” or the “pedophile,” and its effects. Much work remains to be done on multiple aspects of this topic.
Recent articulations emerging from the media unequivocally position paedophilia as a contemporary moral panic. Concurrently, a continuing collapse of 'the paedophile' and 'the homosexual' in representations of paedophilia operates to reinforce the construction of paedophilia as occurring outside of the home and family. By applying a Foucauldian analysis to articles in the Sydney Morning Herald, this paper problemarises the construction of the paedophile as a 'personage, a past, a case history and a childhood' and excoriates the discourses which construct the paedophile as the folk devil par excellence.
This enthralling and provocative book provides a new grounding for the understanding of sexual rights. It argues that all varieties of sexuality under capitalism are materially constructed out of the complex interrelationship between the market and the state. The examples of different sexual rights and lack of rights that it examines include the experience of male homosexuals, bisexuals, transvestites, transsexualists and children. Meticulous, focused and challenging, it will be required reading for anyone interested in modern human sexualities.