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"Become big, and I'll give you something to eat": thoughts and notes on boyhood sexual health.

In the West, a long heritage of notions of healthy boyhood sexuality has come to inform its embodiment by boys. However, the applicability of a biomedical paradigm to boyhood sexuality is greatly restrictive if it is oblivious to the worldwide variety of indigenous customs and practices that inform boys' experience of their bodies and their sexual practices. This article presents a sample of the wide range of practices associated with boys' sexual bodies and argues in favor of an ethnohistorical (cartographic) approach to local boyhood sexualities, that is, a plurality of boy sexualities, to supplement or replace the prevailing biomedical perspective that prescribes a single version of healthy boyhood sexuality. It provides a review of selected ethnographic findings related to boys' experience of their bodies, puberty, virginity, and involvement in same-sex intimacies. The purpose of the paper is to reveal how the status of the Western boy's body and boyhood sexuality has been created by the biomedical paradigm and to suggest an alternative perspective based on ethnographic findings.

Keywords: boyhood sexuality, indigenous customs, ethnohistorical or cartographic perspective, biomedical perspective, healthy sexuality, puberty, virginity


What law cannot suppress, a fear of the supernatural does. As, for example, the current belief that self-abuse in a boy causes hair to grow on the palm of his hands. (Bonnerjea, 1931, p. 225)


I'll begin by offering some comments on the notion of boyhood sexuality and the health paradigm in terms of which this abstraction is routinely approached in the West. The concept of health is a conventional approach to the young male, his corporeality, and his comportment. Such a breakdown in terms of subject, body, and act is symptomatic of the way in which the approach to boyhood of the health sciences has been mediated by a large academic apparatus that needs to identify the patient before it can apply its model of health. A two-step process from identification of the patient to his symptoms and from symptoms to a diagnosis seriously affects the study of sexuality, since the body and a person's acts can be legitimately approached only via the person as a whole. It is especially problematic when discussing young males, where the person or subject is assumed to be still developing.

As a way of clarifying the health paradigm, I'll first explore how boyhood sexuality as such has become an object of study. As a field of research, it is a very recent phenomenon (Janssen, 2005; Pattman, Frosh, & Phoenix, 1998; Sorensen, 2000). As a new field of inquiry, boyhood studies is the intersection of men's studies, feminism, and health psychology. These approaches, which are all late 20th century Euro-American projects, have had tremendous impact on the current turn to the study of boys' sexuality. Its diverse origins converged on seeing the boy first as a prospective patient with boy-specific ailments and health risks. In turn, a model of what constitutes a healthy boy was envisioned. In post-1950 American sexology, boyhood disturbances were subjected to professionalized scrutiny. Indeed, the very notion of "the boy" may be understood as rooted in a politically motivated program to which boys were subjected by a form of social engineering, especially as they came of age. Throughout the 20th century, boyhood has been made the object of study by health professionals (Kidd, 2004; MacDonald, 1993; Macleod, 1983; Randall, 2001; Warren, 1986). This approach has been criticized (Sommers, 2000).

All of these projects have situated boyhood sexuality in terms of elaborate psychomedical or psychohygienic programs. Thus a long heritage of health notions concerning boyhood sexuality has informed its enactment in Euro-American settings. As is well known, the West has followed a remarkable path from Greek pederastic paideia politics (and centuries of its academic interpretation) (Percy, III, 1996), anti-masturbation crusades (Hall, 1991; Pryke, 2005), discussions of the Oedipal stage, the absent father, "developmentally expected" adolescent homosexuality (Spurlock, 2002), "gender disorder" (Sedgwick, 1993; compare Zucker & Spitzer, 2005), sissiness (Grant, 2004), and circumcision (e.g., Darby, 2005; Gollaher, 1994; Knights, 2004), to the survival of boys who were victims of what came to be called sexual abuse (Holmes & Slap, 1998).

During previous decades, boys' bodies have been described in terms of a wide range of approaches, including the cross-culturalism of "rituals of manhood" (e.g., Herdt, 1981), the related notion of "local boyhoods" (e.g., Gunn, 2004), the self-conscious antistructuralism of "queer boyhoods" as a contribution to "gay boyhoods" (Morrison, 2002) or "boy-on-boy sexualities" (Savin-Williams, 2004), postcolonial boyhood (consider Goldman, 2003), and cultural representations of boyhood sexualities (e.g., Dennis, forthcoming).

Conceptions of boyhood sexual health associated with these areas of inquiry are related: however, one does not find a simple dichotomy between the efforts of the interventionalists, who opt for education, protection, and correction of healthy boy bodies, and the deconstructionists, who opt for healthy irony, dissent, and anti-interventionalism. On the contrary, both sides of the debate seem to concur with respect to their terminology. Healthiness appears to be the master trope in Anglo-Saxon literature on boyhood sexuality. This can be traced to notions of developmental appropriateness and hegemonic, heteronormative, misogynist, homophobic, or violent masculinity (Dennis, 2002). In the United States this line of critique has become securely integrated in an expanding culture of therapy in which individual boys' psychosexual health is measured, contained, and assessed in unselfconscious ways. As an aspect of development, male psychosexuality has proven to be an extremely hospitable site for psychotherapeutic intervention as well as for ever-increasing media forums that inform and criticize the now highly politicized task of raising boys.


The current focus on mental phenomena such as minority sexual orientation, fragile or otherwise problematic sexual identity, and psychosexual trauma seems to have eclipsed legitimate attention to boys' bodies themselves, their performative nature, and their social context.

This marginalization of socialized bodies may be analyzed in connection with what Michel Foucault (1976) identified as the disciplinary society in which sovereignty over social bodies, their acts, and their transactions is replaced by what Foucault referred to as "technologies" of the normal subject (in this case, the boy), by means of which the boy polices his social performance of the abstraction "boyhood." A remarkable feature of the disciplined society is its elaborate investment in the regimentation of its members. According to Foucault, this is rooted historically in the invention, definition, delimitation, consolidation, and proliferation of society's objects and their transactions. Hence, a boy's body can only be understood as such, that is, as always already mediated by the ways of speaking about it and its embeddedness in a gendered subjectivity. Problems arise from this that are in certain ways peculiar to the Western academic study of the boy, including the masturbating boy, the Oedipal boy, the adolescent boy, the "sissy" boy, the pre-homosexual boy, the sexually abused boy, the sexually aggressive or hypersexual boy, and the sexually normal boy.

Health and more specifically sexual health can be examined as master tropes that came to be deployed in an attempt to handle, regulate, manage, and police boys' bodies. Taking into consideration the general history of the concept of sexual health (Giami, 2002; Edwards & Coleman 2004), we might specify for boys the question recently posed by Sandfort and Ehrhardt (2004) whether "sexual health" amounts to a useful paradigm or a moral imperative. For instance, how does sexual health function as a pedagogical paradigm or imperative? While applications of Foucault's genealogical method to the study of boys' bodies and boyhood sexualities have so far been sparse, non-Western case studies of boyhood have been even rarer.

A key theme of Foucault's work was the appropriation of social problems by medical routines. Medicalization, according to Foucault, served as a procedure "by which that will to knowledge regarding sex [scientia sexualis], which characterizes the modern Occident, caused the [former, Christian] rituals of confession to function within the norms of scientific regularity" (1976 [1981, p. 65, 67]), relocating sin, excess and transgression to new spaces under the rule of the concepts of the normal and the pathological, the "true discourse" of the medical scene. In recent debates, consensual sex in adolescence has also become increasingly medicalized (as well as criminalized) according to a way of speaking that focuses on adolescents' "best interests" and the role of the state as a parental institution (Sullivan, 1989).

To situate forms of medicalization in an anthropological framework requires an examination of their dramatis personae, their effects and exclusions, and the tacit assumptions they occasion about how bodies are operationalized. A test case is the DSM-IV-TR entity Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which invites a reflection on cultural and biomedical notions of what constitutes normal boyhood behavior (Hart, Grand, & Riley, forthcoming; Singh, 2005; Timimi, 2005).

Even considering the notion of the medicalized 20th century American boy, the therapeutization of preadult male sexuality is hardly unique in the West (see Janssen, 2003a, II) as a matter of prime concern to health workers and educators. This being the case, an anthropologically informed "cartography" or mapping of boyhood sexualities as local and situated "performances" could provide a contrasting perspective, even a corrective. Our current framework could be informed by an examination of localized performances of boys' bodies, their transformations, and experiential appearance in local sexual situations (cf. Herdt, 2004). Here I hasten to remark that bodily development, bodily transformations, and social rituals focused on the body are best appreciated as ethnic variables, not ontological constants around which cultural practices are organized. Any demarcation of our cartographic object should be understood in terms of a given culture's preoccupations.


In the remainder of this article I would like to explore four key ethnohistorical facets of sexual health as they relate to the operationalization of boys' bodies. By operationalization I mean (1) the culture-specific manipulation of the young sexual body with respect to its utility in active anticipation of its later culturally important performances and (2) analytic interventions to delimit it as an object of ethnographic observation and realization. A boy body's enculturation is a normalizing and political event. Anthropologists' representations of the boy's body are also affected by controlled encounters between boys and adult researchers, who are often enough interested primarily in modifying "risky behavior" to encourage "healthy behavior."

I will now provide a brief review of findings related to (1) boys' bodies, (2) male puberty, (3) male virginity, and (4) same-sex intimacies of boys. These findings are drawn from an ongoing review effort, which is available elsewhere (Janssen 2003, I). (1) I want to argue throughout that notions of healthy maleness are contingent on a variety of biomedical frameworks, which call for educational routines that rarely refer to evidence-based practices.

Boys' Bodies

The sexuality of boys' bodies is subject to a variety of practices worldwide (Janssen, 2003a, II, pp. 292-295, 367-369, 370; Janssen, 2003a, I). For instance, in more than 70 communities observers have documented adults handling infant male genitals other than in the course of routine medical, religious, or hygienic practices (Janssen, 2003a, I; Janssen, 2003a, II, pp. 228-252; Janssen, 2003b). They have reported seeing mothers eagerly awaiting and experimenting with a male baby's erections, for example, teasing a Puerto Rican machito's ("real little male") penis, fondly calling a Vietnamese infant a thang cu or "penis boy" (Rydstrom, 2002), and so on. In the case of Puerto Rican boys and among the Spanish gitanos, the practice of teasing boys seems to be firmly entrenched in the cultivation of machismo. This may be central in other places (e.g., Suriname) as well. The element of potency, mostly associated with African examples (e.g., Senegal, Zaire, Tanzania) and that of virility (e.g., Puerto Rico, Turkey, the Aritama of Colombia) often seems to reflect a concern about the boy's future. Erections have been shown to be a prenuptial requirement, since a marriage can be annulled on account of the apparent impotence of the marriage candidate, for example, among the Wolof, in Africa. According to one ethnographer, this "causes a good deal of anxiety among mothers on account of their boys, and it often happens that they will want to see that their little boys are capable of having an erection" (Falade, 1963, pp. 222, 220). Developmental potency is often identified as a focus of parental and peer concern, taboos, tests, and the use of certain medicines, both preventive and therapeutic. Schenkel (1971), for instance, notes that a Toucouleur (Senegal) mother typically appeared "obsessed with the virile potency of her infant" and was eager to observe his erection. According to Mushanga (1973, p. 181) Nkole (Uganda) mothers are "very anxious to observe penile erections of their sons to assure themselves that the little ones are potent. Should erections be absent on several mornings, not only the mother but also the father will begin to search for a remedy." At puberty a Shona (Zimbabwe) boy's urine and semen are examined to assess his potency, and the eventual necessity of special foods (Gelfand, 1979, 1985) is assessed. Shire (1994) elaborates:
 Certain fruits and pods signified potency and formed the basis for
 activities which centred on notions of sexual competence. For
 example, the mumveva (Kigelia pinnata) fruit was regarded as
 signifying this kind of masculinity. When the fruit was regarded in
 season, boys would bore a hole in the young fruit, into which they
 would insert their penises. They would then wait to see whether
 the fruit matured or died. If the fruit died or became deformed,
 this signified a threat to their sexual potency. If it grew into
 maturity, this was seen to result in sexual competence and an
 enlarged penis. (pp. 154-156)

Diagnosis and treatment are essential to Shona masculinity "whose discourse centred on giving pleasure to women." As might be expected, in many African communities early boyhood sexual activities are welcomed as a sign of potency (documented for the Bakongo, Tutsi, and Burundi).

Western commentaries on the these routines of parental penis-touching (which are likely to have been universal in pre-1800 Europe as well) can be summarized as follows: (1) these acts are classifiable as "sexual abuse," and the child suffers consequences of the acts; (2) these acts are psychopathological on the part of the person who carries them out; (3) the cultural domain of these acts is "incest"; or, conversely, (4) these acts connote a freedom from age-based hierarchies relating to intrafamilial physical intimacy. However, the indigenous status of the "abuse" inference has hardly ever been researched (Bali appears to be the sole exception; see Angulo, 1995, pp. 90-92). The pathologizing of the actor has been examined only very sporadically; likewise, incest is only rarely documented as a prevalent classification of the practice. With very few exceptions the inferences mentioned turn out to be unsubstantiated ethnocentrisms, especially as they try to classify, interpret, and diagnose. Here, then, we encounter four typical instances of 20th century Western "medicalization" of boyhood.

Boyhood sexuality has also been understood by generations of anthropologists in terms of narrow Reichean and Marxist formulations. Until recently, these paradigms and attitudes have hindered an ethnographic appreciation of the differences in degree by which boys' bodies are "worked up," celebrated, and literally teased into being as instruments of reproduction, pleasure-providing, and pleasure-receiving. However, this entailed a paradigm of upbringing that could not be fitted into the "sexual permissiveness" scales of generations of cross-culturalists (Janssen, 2003a, II, pp. 185-186).

Consider boyhood erections. While childhood impotence is thought by the Serer (Senegal) to be caused by the spilling of milk on the boy's penis (a fact also documented for the Fulani), in the West boyhood erections become an issue for clinical management within the framework of biomedical emergency and legal investigation (the lowest published age for diagnostic penile plethysmography known to me is 11), but not in terms of facilitation of performance. Outside the psychoanalytic framework, only one Norwegian sexologist has considered early adolescent impotence as a clinical entity (Langfeldt, 1981).

How male physiology has been socialized in Western studies is rarely addressed. For instance, in a 1993 Irish study (Deehan & Fitzpatrick, 1993), parents were reported as "having discussed erections" with a mere 11 percent of (mostly prepubertal) sons and five percent of daughters, and "wet dreams" were discussed with four percent of sons (versus three percent of daughters). Also, erections in boys have come to be "banned" worldwide, given the legal impossibility of their being depicted. This has led to an exclusive "cartoonization" of the prepubescent male organ in educational materials. (2) If not simply absent, modern Western reactions to erections in boys have been twofold: punishment, on the assumption that their occurrence implies or facilitates a "knowing sexuality," and apology, which connotes some substantial sexual nature that is already there. In his pre-Freud days, Wilhelm Stekel (1895) suggested that to preserve them for mankind, "at night we must look out for erections in boys." By contrast, the grande dame of sex education, Mary Calderone (1983), used fetal erection as an opportunity for arguing that "sexuality is a marvelous natural phenomenon." Although these attitudes may seem antithetical, both refer to a core male or even human sexuality that is in place prior to boyhood. Non-Western data suggest, however, that early erections are often thought of as the sine qua non of the eventual actualization of masculine reproductive performance. Here, not just behavior but even the body itself is seen as an instrument for sexual performance rather than only a sign of sexuality:
 During the process of masturbating with caustic plants, Nandi boys
 call out, "Suren suren, ce kwamon pek a metet" ["Become big and
 I'll give you something to eat"] (Bryk, 1928, pp. 117-119; cf. Bryk,
 1931/1934, p. 200). (3)

This finding is not unique. (4) At puberty, Baushi (Zaire) boys use numerous plants to prepare their genitals to ensure glandular function and erectile potency, to provoke spermarche, and to effect penile enlargement. Boys' preoccupation with function and size is much more concealed in the West where the imperatives of these tend to be officially downplayed by educators. This contrasts with adult erectile function which, if anything, has become a heavily commercialized consumer issue (e.g., Loe, 2004).

One might conclude that the phrase "boyhood sexual health" is a problematic entity considering that it refers to three abstractions (boyhood, sexuality, and healthiness), none of which is either a human universal or a historical constant. The boy's healthy body in the contemporary West does not so much matter to a community of stakeholders and potential beneficiaries as to a bureaucracy committed to a protectionist psychology, welfare entitlements, and a democratically secured sexual individuality. These commitments entail that the healthy Western boy is expected to actualize certain naturalized abstractions.


The anthropological record shows that male puberty is a cultural and methodological artefact defined by culturally specific tropes. Puberty can be thought of as an endocrinological process, yet the meaning of this process is based on cultural truths. Telling the tale of puberty has been a multifaceted cultural project during the late 20th century. This has produced a culture that heavily invests in what Morss (1990) terms the "biologizing" of life phases, chronometric age (Chudacoff, 1989), and "developmental" stages rather than the earlier medicohygienic regulation of behavior (Turmel, 2004).

A historical perspective shows the cultural associations with puberty and sexuality and its relation to a "healthy" upbringing. For instance, a Xhosa boy is a "bull" (unsocialized) rather than an "ox" (socialized sexuality) (Mayer & Mayer, 1990). Boys' bodies are sometimes thought of as objects that can be gendered. In some societies they are not assumed to be gendered as male until after the completion of complex and (to the novices) horrifying rituals meant to rid the boy's body of toxic maternal fluids and feminine influences. Vivid examples of this defeminization protocol are found in Papua New Guinea. The meaning of pubescence is also extremely varied in different cultures. However, partly due to an absence of feminist interest, male puberty has received far less social scientific coverage than menarche. (5) Sociological studies of the experience of male semenarche (first ejaculation) are few and augmented by only a few scattered ethnographic remarks. These remarks, however, are of interest in that they suggest that the event of first ejaculation may be socially reckoned as a milestone event. After a young Tongan's polluarche (first nocturnal emission), he is said to "have become an adult. Medicines may be administered to the boy that will prevent him from being overcome by them (the Custom of the Erotic Dream, Tilorela)." For a Nyasaland (Malawi) boy's coming of age, the "decisive sign is the erotic dream," which has to be reported and is followed by a small ceremony. Evans-Pritchard's (1932) account of Azande spermarche implies that, in the absence of a chronological age reckoning, a boy's developmental status was actually measured by the appearance of his ejaculate:
 A boy of about 12-14 years of age is said to have orgasms without
 emissions; from about 14 to 16 his emissions are 'merely like
 urine' and contain no mbisimo gude [soul of the child-reproductive
 capacity]; at about 17 years of age they contain mbisimo gude.
 A man considers himself capable of procreating children so long
 as he is able to ejaculate sperm" (p. 401).

Apart from differing attitudes to body transitions, events, physiology and gender status, one encounters recognition of a physiological possibility (prepubertal "dry" orgasm) that appears to have been silenced and problematized in Western sexology (see Janssen, 2003a, II, pp. 305-360). It is probably due to a lack of ethnographic interest or detail that this knowledge is not reported with greater frequency in studies of nonindustrial societies. The ethnopsychoanalyst Georges Devereux, for instance, documented a familiarity with early male orgasm in his remarkably extensive research on Mohave sexuality. What we can infer from this small sample of data is that puberty in its connection to sexuality and in its social significance has been acknowledged in widely disparate social settings, each of which rests on a moral position that gives sexuality a specific sense.


In Durban Area, South Africa, a "virginity test for boys involves looking for lines at the back of the knees, inspecting the foreskin (which should be hard), and testing whether boys can urinate over a wire suspended 1 m above the ground" (Watts, 1999). This kind of inspection seems to be rare, but it suggests that virginity may not always solely or simply be a patriarchal tool to control girls and privilege boys. While in the contemporary West a boy's virginity is subject to the pronouncements of experts and educationists, its resolution is not always left to an adult's advice, peer folklore, or the pervasive media culture.

Throughout the ethnographic record, boys are documented to have been offered genuine training in sexual proficiency, especially in Africa and Oceania (Janssen, 2003a, II, pp. 195-196). In these cases boys are sexually initiated by elder women-commonly widowed, pregnant, barren, divorced, or prostituting women or some related or unrelated older woman. Prostitute contacts are frequently arranged or take place with parental or at least peer group blessing, securing a "veritable initiation rite toward male maturity." For example, Stavans (1995) relates:
 The Hispanic family encourages a familiar double standard. Few
 societies prize female virginity with the conviction that we do. But
 while virginity is a prerequisite for a woman's safe arrival at the
 wedding canopy, men are encouraged to fool around, to test the
 waters, to partake of the pleasures of the flesh.... Like most of my
 friends, I lost my virginity to a prostitute at the age of 13. An
 older acquaintance was responsible for arranging the "date," when a
 small group of us would meet an experienced harlot at a whore
 house. It goes without saying that none of the girls in my class
 were similarly "tutored." ... Losing virginity was a dual mission:
 to ejaculate inside the hooker, and then, more importantly, to tell
 of the entire adventure afterwards. (p. 52)

The same was found by Espin (1984) and others. Thus male virginity seems to be a local matter, the management of which is organized in accordance with local discourses. Ernesto "Che" Guevara de la Serna Lynch's sexarche at age 14 was, according to Che's biographer Jon Lee Anderson (1997), typical:
 For sex, boys of Ernesto's social milieu either visited brothels or
 looked for conquest among girls of the lower class ... for many,
 the first sexual experience was with the family mucama, or servant
 girl, usually an Indian or poor mestiza from one of Argentina's
 Northern provinces. It was Calica Ferrer [the son of a doctor who
 treated Ernesto for his asthma attacks] who had provided Ernesto
 with his first introduction to sex ... in a liaison with his family
 mucama, a woman called "La Negra" Cabrera.

Many age-divergent experiences probably turn out to be awkward for some boys. Among the Nigerian Rukuba, for instance, a "ritual marriage" of males before initiation (sometimes before puberty) has been reported. The boy spends a night with a married, pregnant woman, who instructs him in sexual behavior, and whom he is to avoid sexually in the future (Muller, 1972):
 The ritual marriage teaches a boy what he can and cannot do
 although being so small at the time of the initiation, many Rukuba
 men later recall with laughter the one night spent with the
 pregnant woman. They insist on their bewilderment and inability to
 cope with the situation, the initiative resting with the woman who,
 apparently, means business however small the initiand might be.
 (pp. 293-294)

Male virginity is a cultural condition, the medical relevance of which is very much dependent on the cultural logic according to which it is experienced. For instance, in a number of societies boys are likely to experiment with coitus using cattle (Janssen, 2003a, II, pp. 213-214). Streiker (1993) details how Colombian boyhood sexuality is implicated in the virginity codes concerning women:
 Since women's virginity and monogamy are so jealously guarded,
 many boys' first sexual experience is with a marica
 ("faggot,"-passive homosexual] or a female donkey (burra).
 Though a large, rapidly growing city, Cartagena's anemic
 economy still has room for burros as transportation
 (especially in the scavenging and construction trades).
 Where there are burras, there are boys. The power dynamics
 of sex with donkeys are even clearer than in male-to-male
 sex: female consent, initiative, and pleasure are simply not
 issues. Boys/men exert an absolute power over the females, usually
 immobilizing the animals' hind legs with rope or a belt.... What
 determines proper sexuality for men is not necessarily
 heterosexuality, although this is the ideological norm, but rather
 requires that the man initiate relations, seek his own pleasure,
 and in doing so demonstrate his supremacy over inferiors.

From the above excerpts, one might argue that there is substantial cross-cultural divergence in the ways and the extent to which the young male body is thought to be in need of organization and patronage. Study is needed to see, for instance, whether or how traditional latino patterns might be challenged by new ones (e.g., Miranda-Ribeiro, 2003; Reyes, 2003). In any case, even if "male virginity has generally not been valued by most societies and cultures" (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004), its loss is not a value-free phenomenon.

Boy-Boy and Boy-Man Sexualities

Finally, a number of ethnographic reports address scenes with boy-specific occasions for medical interest. Parker (1995), for instance, describes that in Brazil
 Among rapazes (boys or young men), same-sex play and exploration is
 almost institutionalized through games such as troca-troca
 (turn-taking), in which two (or more) boys take turns, each
 inserting his penis in his partner's anus. It is perhaps even
 more obvious in the expression "Homem, para ser homem,
 tern que dar primeiro"--A man, to be a man, first has to
 give (in receptive anal inter course)--often used by older
 boys seeking to corner [lit., to eat, viz., to penetrate]
 their slightly younger playmates. (pp. 245-246)

Among Tanzanian street boys, anal sex (kunyenga) is often practiced as an "initiation rite" (Lockhart, 2002). According to Larsen (2005), a considerable number of Norwegian boys in their mid-teens visit men who take a sexual interest in them. It appears that some cultures that emphasize male heterosexual development are confronted with more than occasional boy-boy contacts, typically compounded by an age differential. Interesting case studies include Mexico (Carrier, 1976, pp. 368, 369, 370; 1980, p. 109; 1985) and Morocco (Eppink, 1974 [1976, p. 8], 1977, p. 111; 1992).

Sexual encounters of boys with male adults are routine ethnographic findings (Janssen, 2003a, I, passim; Herdt & Trumbach, Eds., forthcoming), yet details are sparse and it is not at all well documented to what extent these practices are currently engaged in. (6) Needless to say, we are encountering radical departures from hegemonic attitudes found in the United States. According to an unpublished late 1990s NGO report (Ismail, n.d.), 22.57% of 1,710 Pukhtun respondents residing in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province agreed that "adults having sex with boys" was considered "a matter of pride," although they generally condemned the practice, while another 14 percent stated it was seen as a "symbol of status." A further 10.76 percent argued it was "not considered bad." Eighty-three percent claimed to know that "some adults keep boys for sexual services in [their] area," of which 16 percent stated it was "very common" and 31 percent "common." For 80 percent, boys in their community would "sell sex for money."

The literature on this subject is rare and seldom offers a rich understanding beyond references to the protectionist educational agenda from which it originates. However, considering the above examples we might observe that pride and "goodness" are values that do not meet Western medico-legal ramifications of these behaviors. Obviously, to study young male sexuality other than through retrospective accounts by adults poses definite and in part field-specific problems to the researcher, including funding, access, ethics of disclosure, local jurisdiction, and the politics of publication. Although ethnographies have appeared on diverse male sexualities, boyhood sexuality sadly lacks a backbone ethnographic corpus that might legitimize academic interest in its cultural salience.


The purpose of this paper has been to illustrate ways in which the status of boys' bodies and boyhood sexuality has been fashioned according to biomedical paradigms and to suggest another way to approach the phenomena. The foregoing investigation suggests that while contemporary Western social science defines the education of the young male body according to principles of prevention, the avoidance of exploitation and traumatization, and the use of psychotherapy, in a wide variety of non-Western cultures one can identify very different paradigms. Male anatomy, physiology, and socialization are, we must conclude, situated projects through which diverse tales of the malleable male are told.

The practice of sexual health with young males should be fine-tuned to include such tales of the field, which may prompt taking a flesh look at how we define health in young and even older males. The study of young male sexuality so far has largely been deprived of a much needed anthropological perspective. The question of the medicalization of modern sexuality, as observed by Thomas Szasz, Michel Foucault, and John Money (among others), is of major importance to the topic. Clearly, it is also important to begin to involve young males themselves in discussions about how their health is being handled by professional health care providers.

We must inquire whether young males experience "sexual health" as a given structure, a norm, or a prescription for behavior, and we must do so without the blinders of ethnocentrism.

Editor's Note: While the International Journal of Men's Health is primarily concerned with issues of adult male physical and psychological health, males just past puberty are in many senses already men and deserve consideration in the journal's pages. The following contribution examines the lack of a broader context in which to view the emerging "healthy male" beyond the one traditional Western medicine, sociology, and psychology provide. It focuses on how the notion of "men's health" has developed in Europe and America and how the contributions of cultural anthropology can provide a broader context for considering the meaning of men's health by considering how we look at the young man.


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(1.) The backbone volumes of my project "Growing Up Sexually" are currently Web-hosted by the Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology, Berlin, under the auspices of Prof. Dr. Erwin J. Haeberle. Current URL:

(2.) As a modest content analysis of sex education materials (N = 88) suggests, photographic depictions of prepubertal erections are not seen after 1982 and only in three continental books intended for a preadult audience (all originally German).

(3.) Hargraves (1978) quotes Bryk's statement of this plant's use.

(4.) Examples are found in Paraguay, New Hebrides, New Guinea, Malukula Big Nambas, Morocco, and Africa (Riffian Ambo, Ndembu, Akan, Baushi, Batetela, Mongo, Lamba, and Warramunga).

(5.) I maintain bibliographies on sociocultural aspects of both female and male puberty in Volume III of my Internet project "Growing Up Sexually." In an interim assessment (May 6, 2005), I counted 20 publications on male puberty and 100 on menarche.

(6.) A valuable resource is Pukaar, a journal of South Asian male-male sexualities published by the international NGO (Naz Foundation International).


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Date:Mar 22, 2006
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