Research: Intergenerational Relationships in History

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There have existed a wide range of western and non-western societies that have tolerated or encouraged intergenerational sexuality. More recent examples are generally subcultures which run counter to modern sexual morality.

Ancient Greece

Greek Love: Pederasty throughout the ages, gives a historical context on Ancient Greece and many other cultures

Much has been written about the Ancient Greeks and their age-structured pederastic relationships. So much in fact, that we can cite Wikipedia and Truthtree as accurate sources of information in this area. To certain parts of Greek society, relationships between men and adolescent boys were not only acceptable, but a desirable form of mentorship and (military) training towards the masculine ideal. As accounts reveal, rules and regulations within this model were particularly strict - arguably more so than in modern societies that condemn pederasty as pathological.

Many Greek men waited until they were about 30 years of age to marry. When they did marry, their partner would often be a girl of 12 or 14.[1]

10th to 20th Century China

An act similar to the "Age of Consent" was seen in ancient China. The punishment was quite severe, exile for misdemeanors, and hanged or beheaded for serious crimes. In the Song Dynasty, the legal clause that "intercourse with young women is regarded as rape" began to appear.[2]

One historical study [3] of male same-sex love in China from the Zhou dynasty (start date of 1045/6 BC) to the Qing dynasty in the early twentieth century, dated as starting around 249 BC. Quoting a 1993 review thereof[4]:

"Hinsch found that, before 1900, the dominant social construction for males in China was bisexual. Most Chinese men did not see themselves as being divided into strict categories of "homosexuals" and "heterosexuals" but evidenced a relaxed erotic attraction to both sexes. Wealthy married men or unmarried scholars often had a boy (ranging in age from as young as 9 to as old as 25 years) as a concubine, or they patronized boy prostitutes. Chinese philosophers wrote that it was better for a boy to sell his body, as a favorite or a prostitute, than to languish in poverty. Prostitution/concubinage represented one of the few opportunities for lower class boys to raise their economic status and to support their parents comfortably. If a boy became a beloved of a wealthy older man, he was some times offered material wealth or political office when he matured. His patron/lover might even arrange a heterosexual marriage for him and serve as best man at his wedding. Individuals who enjoyed male-male sex were not seen as distinct personality types but merely partook of certain "passions." These passions were termed "passions of the cut sleeve," after the devotion shown by Emperor Ai (ruler 6 B.C.E.-l C.E.), who cut the sleeve off his shirt rather than disturb the sleep of his beloved boy lover Dong Xian."


From a summary of historical research, Edward Brongersma identified sadomasochistic trends and a dominant model of concubinage in pre-communist China. Some men were also invested in the boy achieving pleasure, and climax.

15th Century Florence

Florence was famed for its widespread homosexual culture, which manifested as a normative pederasty involving boys between the ages of thirteen and eighteen in relationship with adult men.[5] This reputation was so much that in 1432 the city established "Gli Ufficiali di Notte" (The Officers of the Night) to root out the practice of sodomy. From that year until 1502, the number of men charged with sodomy numbered greater than 17,000, of which 3,000 were convicted. However this number also includes heterosexual sodomy. This also gave rise to a number of proverbs illuminating the views of the common people towards the practice. Among them are If you crave joys, tumble some boys. [6] This reputation is also reflected in the fact that the Germans adopted the word Florenzer, when they were talking about a pederast.[7][8] The Neapolitans on the other hand when speaking of pederasty, called it Il vizio inglese, "the English vice".[9]

14th-16th Century Japan

In medieval Japan (14th–16th centuries), it was customary for elite families to entrust their young sons to the care of renowned Buddhist priests from whom they received a premier education in Buddhist scriptures, poetry, music, and dance. When the boys reached adolescence, some underwent coming-of-age rites, others entered the priesthood, and several extended their education, becoming chigo, or Buddhist acolytes. Chigo served their masters as personal attendants and as sexual partners. During religious ceremonies—adorned in colorful robes, their faces made up and hair styled in long ponytails—they entertained local donors and pilgrims with music and dance.[10]

Nanshoku is the Japanese word for eroticism between adolescent and adult males during this time period and after, and such relationships are well-documented amongst the samurai and in literature. For example, Ihara Saikaku's collection of stories Nanshoku ōkagami: honchō waka fūzoku (The Great Mirror of Male Love: the Custom of Boy Love in Our Land). Nanshoku was depicted in erotica known as shunga (spring pictures). Kitagawa Utamaro produced shunga artwork, and although the government took relaxed attitude toward regulating visual art, one image earned Utamaro 50 days in manacles. Machiba Hisayoshi (c.1803-4) is a colored woodblock print of the ruler Hideyoshi leaning toward a pageboy, caressing the youth's wrist, with Utamaro being punished not because of the late shōgun's conduct but because representations of high nobility were forbidden. One of Japanese literature's great lovers was Ariwara no Narihira, protagonist of the classic Ise monogatari. As a boy he was the subject of what became a well-known love poem, 'Iwatsutsuji' (Azaleas on the Cliffs), written by an unknown priest in the 9th century. Seven hundred and fifty years later, the shōgunate's poetry tutor, Kitamura Kigin, compiled an anthology intended to show this long tradition of idealized relations between male youths and men, naming it after the poem.[11]

Other scholarly sources for this time period include.[12] Another notable book is The Love of the Samurai: A Thousand Years of Japanese Homosexuality (1989), which details the institutionalized boy-love/pederasty of the Japanese samurai.[13] As one scholar summarized:

Each samurai took a pubescent boy as a page and assistant, and many of these wakashu youths became the lovers of their adult samurai sponsors. Since the samurai trained his wakashu to become a samurai (by about age 23), this homosexual relationship also fulfilled an educative function similar to the teacher-student Buddhist tradition.

Under the shoguns a new art form emerged which celebrated male beauty. In 1374 an eleven year old boy dancer [Zeami Motokiyo][14] became the lover of the shogun, and under the shogun’s loving patronage he became a genius playwright and founder of the No theater for the shogun’s court.[15]

18th Century England

Girls as young as 12 were highly-valued for their attractiveness as prostitutes in England during the 18th century. Young, pubescent boys were also popular. The Age of Consent was not raised from 10 until the 19th century.[1]

19th Century Russia

The Chuckchee in Northern Siberia - sex with boys was considered normal and in no way kept secret.

Young, handsome boys adorn themselves and flirt openly with their admirers. This is all the more striking because nothing impedes sex with girls and the boys themselves start to have heterosexual intercourse from ten years on.” (Wrangel, quoted by Erman 1871, 164).[16]

America (Mid 19th-20th) Century

The Huffington Post wrote about Thomas Lowry's "The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell: Sex in the Civil War":

"Chapter 11 of Lowry's book opens the closet door on gender-bending and same-sex trysts. And Lowry reveals that during the Civil War conventional gender roles and sexual behavior could not be strictly tethered to a heterosexual paradigm. With men outnumbering women, especially at social events like balls, "Drummer Boys" -- children as young as 9 and 10 years old -- dressed in drag. And in some occasions, the intimacy between soldiers and Drummer boys reached beyond just a public waltz. For example, Lowry references a ball put on by a Massachusetts regiment stationed in Virginia in 1864 about young drummer boys dressed as women. One man wrote to his wife: "Some of the real women went, but the boy girls were so much better looking that they left. ...We had some little Drummer Boys dressed up and I'll bet you could not tell them from girls if you did not know them. ...Some of [the Drummer Boys] looked good enough to lay with and I guess some of them did get laid with. ...I know I slept with mine.""[17]

Native America, 1930s and prior

George Devreux wrote in 1937:

"Casual homosexual relations in childhood were frequent in the past, and according to my informants, seem to be on the increase [...] Complete nudity and any lack of supervision, especially for boys, who remained naked until they reached puberty, combined with incessant sexual talk on the part of adults, must have furthered the desire for sex experience. [...] Adults seldom had sexual intercourse with children of their own sex, although betrothal of young girls to old men or seduction of very young boys by adult women was not rare."[18]

Prewar (and postwar) Siwa, Egypt

"In 1937 the anthropologist Walter Cline wrote the first detailed ethnography of the Siwans in which he noted: "All normal Siwan men and boys practice sodomy...among themselves the natives are not ashamed of this; they talk about it as openly as they talk about love of women, and many if not most of their fights arise from homosexual competition....Prominent men lend their sons to each other. All Siwans know the matings which have taken place among their sheiks and their sheiks' sons....Most of the boys used in sodomy are between twelve and eighteen years of age." After an expedition to Siwa, the archaeologist Count Byron de Prorok reported in 1937 "an enthusiasm [that] could not have been approached even in Sodom... Homosexuality was not merely rampant, it was raging...Every dancer had his boyfriend...[and] chiefs had harems of boys"."[19][20][21]

The socialist Gay/BL activist and independent scholar David Thorstad, wrote of his experience of Siwa for Gayme Magazine.[22] He wrote:

"Probably the most stricking feature of Siwan sexuality is the traditional practice of men lending their sons to other men. Prior to 1928, this was sometimes accompanied by a written aggreement (known as a "marriage contract"), a dowry (much greater than the dowry for a girl), banquets and celebrations. [...] One investigator earlier in the century claimed that male children were preferred because they cost less to raise than girls, and that the boy was "a very fruitful source of profit for the father, not for the work he does, but because he is hired by his father to another man to be used as a catamite [i.e. a boy who has sex with men]. Sometimes two men exchange their sons. If they are asked about this, they are not ashamed to mention it".

For this quote, Thorstad cites a source which is now used on Wikipedia's Siwa page: Mahmud Mohammad Abd Allah, (1917).[23]

Traditional Islam, and present Afghanistan

As detailed in Pederasty in Islam, Afghanistan is one of many Islamic cultures in which pederasty is practised with feminized boys. This derives from the strict gender segregation in Afghan society, and gives rise to the famous saying "women are for children, boys are for pleasure".[24]

1960s, 1970s, Baltimore

During these decades there were notable gay subcultures in America where young boys were allowed to have sexual interactions with men with little fear of ostracism or psychological trauma. Baltimore is one often recalled example of this.

1960s, 1970s, Hippie Communes

Inter- and intra-generational sex with minors was accommodated in late 20th century American hippie communes, but for children, sex was a pleasant distraction and not central to their leisure time. Details on these subcultures are covered by researchers such as Berger, Constantine and Johnston, cited in our review project of Janssen's Growing Up Sexually.

1960s, 1970s England

As is common, when the sources of scandalous allegations are further investigated at a later date, the banality of the situation reveals itself. For example, with reference to Duncroft (Girls School), Mark Smith and Ros Burnett note "Accounts of the girls’ sexual experience and behaviour indicate a degree of agency in sexual activity, which challenges the current orthodoxy of them as victims of predatory adults. The former residents we spoke to did not regard themselves as victims and any sexual activity they might have entered into was considered to have been consensual and in some cases initiated by the girls (although none claimed to have any knowledge of Savile being involved sexually with girls at Duncroft)."[25]

Girls' (12-15) relationships with older boys and men were a cause for concern in the 70s, but were in most cases chalked off as cautions when they came to the attention of police. This was because the relationships were seen as normative/traditional or otherwise willingly engaged in by the girls.[26]

1970s, 1980s, Netherlands

The Netherlands is a fairly recent example of a culture in which intergenerational sexual relationships were partially tolerated during a particularly liberal period of history. For some time, sexual relationships between a child above the age of 12 and an adult would remain legally immune to prosecution for as long as the younger partner, their parents or a welfare entity did not complain. Such authorities were much less inclined to lodge complaints during this period, leading to a markedly non-hysterical climate in which many such relationships succeeded. One writer to document such positive relationships was Theo Sandfort, whose most famous study [27] remains an outstanding example of this unique period in time.

1980s, 1990s, Thailand

Professor Vicharn Vitiyasai of Chang Mai University emphasizes that, 'In Thai society, boys begin to buy women when they are around 13 years old; 50 per cent of 16-year-old boys and 90 per cent of university students go to brothels. Married men also think it natural to entertain business clients and friends by taking them to brothels, and they visit brothels themselves as a part of the joy of travel.'"[28]

1980s, 1990s, Mexico

In a 1988 Christopher Street Feature, David Thorstad immerses himself in a rural Mexican community and finds that homosexuality is very much part of everyday life for younger men and boys. Sex work is also engaged in, but this is peripheral.


  • Haeberle, Erwin J. (1983). The Sex Atlas. The Continuum Publishing Company.
    "As mentioned earlier, our Western civilization has not always believed that children should be protected from all sexual contact. In medieval Europe, children were still freely touched, caressed, and fondled by every member of the household. Particularly in rural areas, parents, nurses, or servants were accustomed to masturbating small children to please them or to keep them quiet. (This practice is also found in many non-European societies. In the United States today, it is still alive among the Hopi Indians.)"

Excerpt Graphic Library

The EGL on Broader Perspectives has some relevant information. Just right click/save and reproduce by uploading in short-form media to bypass character limits.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bullough, Vern L. (2004). "Children and adolescents as sexual beings: a historical overview," Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 13(3), 447-459.
  2. Chinese Wikipedia
  3. Hinsch, Bret. (1990). Passions of the Cut Sleeve: The Male Homosexual Tradition in China (Berkeley: University of California Press).
  4. Review of 'Passions of the Cut Sleeve
  5. At the margins: minority groups in premodern Italy By Stephen J. Milner; p62
  6. Florentine proverb, ca. 1480. After Sabadino degli Arienti in Le Porretane.Michael Rocke, Forbidden friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence, Oxford, 1996; p.87
  7. Rocke, Michael, (1996), Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and male Culture in Renaissance Florence, ISBN 978-0195122923
  8. Ruggiero, Guido, (1985), The Boundaries of Eros, ISBN 978-0195056969
  9. R. F. Burton, Terminal Essay
  10. See the original and the William Percy Foundation's review of: Tales of Idolized Boys: Male-Male Love in Medieval Japanese Buddhist Narratives, by Sachi Schmidt-Hori
  11. Nanshoku, Male-Male Eroticism in Japan. Koinos Magazine #40 (2003/4) and #41 (2004/1).
  12. Gary Leupp. Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan. Gregory Pflugfelder. Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600-1950.
  13. The Love of the Samurai: A Thousand Years of Japanese Homosexuality. By Tsuneo Watanabe and Jun'ichi Iwata. Translated by D. R. Roberts. Gay Men's Press, London, 1989.
  14. Wiki page for Motokiyo
  15. Walter L. Williams, 'From Samurai to Capitalist: Male Love, Men’s Roles, and the Rise Of Homophobia in Japan', Men's Studies, Vol. 1, Issue 1 (1992), p. 73.
  16. 'Loving Boys I' by Edward Brongersma; 1986
  17. HuffPo - American Civil War
  18. Devereux, George. (1937). Institutionalized homosexuality of the Mohave Indians. Human Biology, 9, pp. 498–527.
  19. De Porok, Count Byron (1936). In Quest of Lost Worlds. New York: Dutton. p. 64.
  22. Siwa Today - David Thorstad
  23. Mahmud Mohammad Abd Allah, (1917). Siwan Customs. In Harvard African Studies, 7, p. 7.
  24. Women are for children, boys are for pleasure
  25. The origins of the Jimmy Savile scandal
  26. Mawby, R. I. (1979). Policing the age of consent. Journal of Adolescence, 2(1), 41–49
  27. Sandfort Study
  28. Yayori Matsui, Women in the New Asia, 1999
  29. 29.0 29.1 Bruce Rind - Pederasty: An Integration of Empirical, Historical, Sociological, Cross-Cultural, Cross-Species, and Evolutionary Evidence and Perspectives in eds Hubbard and Verstraete