Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex / Edition 1

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A radical, refreshing, and long overdue reassessment of how we think and act about children's and teens' sexuality.

Sex is a wonderful, crucial part of growing up, and children and teens can enjoy the pleasures of the body and be safe, too. In this important and controversial book, Judith Levine makes this argument and goes further, asserting that America's attempts to protect children from sex are worse than ineffectual. It is the assumption of danger and the exclusive focus on protection-what Levine terms "the sexual politics of fear"-that are themselves harmful to minors.

Through interviews with young people and their parents, stories drawn from today's headlines, visits to classrooms and clinics, and a look back at the ways sex among children and teenagers has been viewed throughout history, Judith Levine debunks some of the dominant myths of our society. She examines and challenges widespread anxieties (pedophilia, stranger kidnapping, Internet pornography) and sacred cows (abstinence-based sex education, statutory rape laws). Levine investigates the policies and practices that affect kids' sex lives-censorship, psychology, sex and AIDS education, family, criminal, and reproductive law, and the journalism that begs for "solutions" while inciting more fear.

Harmful to Minors offers fresh alternatives to fear and silence, describing sex-positive approaches that are ethically based and focus on common sense. Levine provides optimistic, though realistic, prescriptions for how we might do better in guiding children toward loving well-that is, safely, pleasurably, and with respect for others and themselves.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
Harmful to Minors is a fresh taste of truth, a surely needed wake-up call to common misconceptions of sexuality and youth.
Publishers Weekly
"In America today, it is nearly impossible to publish a book that says children and teenagers can have sexual pleasure and be safe too," writes journalist Levine (My Enemy, My Love). Levine has somehow pulled that off. Western European countries assume that "sexual expression is a healthy and happy part of growing up"; thus Levine argues that sex is not necessarily bad for minors, and that puritanical attitudes often backfire. According to her, as the age of sexual initiation drops in America, the age of consent is rising. She observes that most so-called pedophiles are attracted to teenagers rather than kids an important subtlety recently aired in the media. (Still, her call for common sense on pedophilia is marred by an inadequate acknowledgment of the extent of online child porn, as documented in Philip Jenkins's recent Beyond Tolerance.) She notes the disturbing trend toward pathologizing young children's eroticized play and criticizes mainstream America for letting the Christian right steer sex education toward an emphasis on abstinence. Compounding that, she says, the right wing has expunged abortion discussions. A Ms. and Nerve.com contributor, Levine argues, contra Mary Pipher (Reviving Ophelia), that love may ruin teenage girls more than sex. At one point, Levine cogently contends that the term "normal" is "subjective and protean"; she prefers "normative," which means "what most people do." It's a good start to confronting some vital questions. Agent, Joy Harris. (May) Forecast: Levine's book was bought by a trade publisher, then bounced around one editorial board called it "radioactive" until it found its current publisher. It's already drawn pre-pub fire from conservative groups for its content and an interview Levine gave, in which she said that sex between a priest and a youth could be positive a statement she later modified, noting that she disapproved of any sexual relationship between a youth and an authority figure. All this talk will only help sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Are some teens sleeping with adults? Are some teens and children actually harmed by being "protected" from useful information about sexuality? Is family hostility a leading cause of homelessness among gay youth? Yes-to all of the above. Teenagers need factual information about sexuality, and shying away from this controversial book would be a grave mistake, especially for librarians who should be committed to intellectual freedom and a balanced library collection. This groundbreaking book gives information that most people do not even want to think about but should want to learn about. Through news stories, historical information, visits to classrooms and clinics, and interviews with young people, Levine provides information about the sexuality of children and teenagers, especially in relation to mass media. She explores censorship, pedophiles, hebophiles (adults who have sexual relations with teenagers), pornography, Internet predators, crimes of passion, statutory rape laws, misinformation associated with sex education, homosexuality, sexual pleasure, teenage pregnancy, children who molest other children, and sex play between children. The tone here is extremely straightforward. Levine does not hesitate to be frank about sensitive topics such as violence against abortion clinic employees, the failure of abstinence-only sex education in relation to the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), and hysteria displayed by adults who learn that young children are naturally curious about sex and bodies. Levine presents a realistic, well-researched gem that is highly recommended and should be read by public and school librarians, health care workers, parents, andolder teens. Index. Source Notes. 2002, University of Minnesota Press, 299p,
— Sheila Anderson
Library Journal
Journalist and free-speech activist Levine (My Enemy, My Love: Women, Men, and the Dilemmas of Gender) here argues that trying to protect young people from sex can actually exacerbate or even create the much-feared sexual danger. Her well-documented horror stories of zealotry and incompetence are chilling; Levine is particularly good at showing that abstinence-based sex education leaves many teens without the information they need to make intelligent choices. Misrepresentations of fact, unfounded assumptions, the runaway media hype offered by so-called experts, conservative agendas, and simple conformity, she writes, largely determine our approaches to censorship, "the pedophile panic," youthful sexual behavior, sex education, abortion, and the suppression of information about sexual pleasure. These factors, she holds, predispose young people to have bad sex with unwanted outcomes. Instead of overreaction and overprotection, adults need to saturate their children's world with accurate, realistic information and images of love and sex, including sexual pleasure. Her book, which provoked considerable controversy even before its publication, provides no easy answers to a complex question but is highly recommended as a wake-up call. Martha Cornog, Philadelphia Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816640065
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 821,010
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Author's Note
Introduction: Peril and Pleasure, Parenting and Childhood
I Harmful Protection
1 Censorship: The Sexual Media and the Ambivalence of Knowing 3
2 Manhunt: The Pedophile Panic 20
3 Therapy: "Children Who Molest" and the Tyranny of the Normal 45
4 Crimes of Passion: Statutory Rape and the Denial of Female Desire 68
5 No-Sex Education: From "Chastity" to "Abstinence" 90
6 Compulsory Motherhood: The End of Abortion 117
7 The Expurgation of Pleasure 127
II Sense and Sexuality
8 The Facts: ... and Truthful Fictions 141
9 What Is Wanting?: Gender, Equality, and Desire 155
10 Good Touch: A Sensual Education 178
11 Community: Risk, Identity, and Love in the Age of AIDS 199
Epilogue: Morality 218
Notes 227
Index 277
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2003

    Intelligent and important!

    Oh, the uproar that accompanied the publication of this book! There was enough ignorant fuel piled on the fire of indignation to heat a good-sized city for a long, cold winter. In reality, this is a thoughtful, well-researched book that debunks a lot of popular mythology--about child abuse (and the recovered/repressed memory fad-hysteria), about who might or might not be a pedophile, and about the horrifying overreaction of those in the social services sector who 'protected' children, in some cases, literally to death. As a society, panic rises to the top like cream whenever the words 'sex' and 'children' are placed in close proximity. It would be a good thing if all professionals who come into contact with children were to read this book. It would help, too, if most parents would take the time to sit with Harmful to Minors. Alas, not enough people will make the effort to educate themselves in order to deal more effectively not only with their children but also with their own societally induced preconceived notions. Highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2002

    Indispensible book for parents

    Every parent should hope that his or her child will grow up to live happy and productive lives in every way and that includes their sexuality. Too many parents and teachers ignore adolescent sexuality by pretending it does not exist. No wonder the USA has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the world. As this book points out so well, 'abstinance until marriage' instruction does not guide our children to understand and accept their own unique sexuality. You owe it to your child to read this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2002

    Informative and Interesting

    As a teacher in sexual and child psychology, I had heard about this new book before hand. After reading it, I can say that the information and thought put into this book is fresh and enlightening. I did not agree with all of her ideas but many of them struck a chord with me. A good read for any rational parent or teacher, even a teenager.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2008

    A must read for anyone - parent or not!

    While I have chosen not to have children, I was still quite drawn to this book. Never before had I seen such a controversial - but LOGICAL - approach to talking to kids about sex. The author does NOT promote pedophilia like another reviewer states below...clearly that person didn't 'get' what the author was trying to say. (Pedophilia was covered in maybe 1 chapter.) The whole point of the book was to state that protecting your children from sex, as in protecting them from knowledge about their bodies and the world as a whole, is detrimental to their development. Respecting your children's sexuality, and recognizing them as sexual beings from childhood onward, creates a new narrative in the discourse of what your kids 'should' and 'shouldn't' know. Keeping quiet about sex during your child's formative years gives the impression that sexuality is dirty - a concept which clearly results in acting out in our culture today. If you give the book a chance and listen to the arguments made, your views on how to raise your children may very well change.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2003

    Courageous, well-researched, enlightening.

    This is probably one of the most enlightening and honest books on adolescent sexuality to be released in decades, and any loving parent should read it. The author relies on facts and research to dispel the currently trendy bogeymen too often encountered today as a tool of the puritanical minded in the USA. It will without question be unjustifiably vilified by the Religious Right for this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2002

    Good points

    Some points cross the line, but overall worth reading. I have wondered why otherwise sexually conservative people would think COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER is a great film. It's about country singer Loretta Lynn's marriage and career. She was 13 when she married her adult husband. Why do people love that film rather than hate it? This book addresses that kind of contradiction.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2002


    When I was a shy underage high-schooler, I thought at the time, and think now (in my 30's) that a romance with a beautiful adult woman would only have been good for my shy teen self. I still think that, and always wondered at the blank assumption that my soul would have been corrupted had such an encounter occurred. So this book is refreshing in that it acknowledges that sex is a more amorphous thing than some would like to think.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2002

    Everyone should read this book!

    The United States has adopted a totally unhealthy attitude towards sex, already causing great harm. This book does very well at explaining how we developed these problems and what should be done about them, backed up with scientific data and studies rather than the fear mongering tactics used by many opposed to this work. A must read for the whole family.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2002

    Uninformed AND Dangereous

    'Harmful' is correct in the title because, as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Educator, it is my complete conviction that if the advice on teaching and empowering children about sex as taught in this book is followed, minors and others will certainly be harmed. I agree that we should not 'protect' children from the subject of sex -- they need to be informed with the truth, both physical AND emotional. However, while the author tries to teach kids how to be sexual and safe, the truth of the catasrophic harm they will experience later in life, especially as husbands and wives and espcially in their psyche, is ignored. If you must read it, check it out at the library. Save your money -- and then save your kids.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2002

    I gave it one star because that's as low is the ratings go.

    I am shocked that a book like this ever got into print. Even in today's society where the value of family and children and protecting both has all but vanished, it still is amazing to me. How on earth could anyone except a perverted person write such a book. Maybe that explains it. She is certainly twisted in both her approach and her ideas. She has also done what too many others before her have done by making the fact say what she wants them to. Ask carefully selected groups what they think so you can twist the fact in your favor. This book should be banned from every responsible and thinking person's list. Let us hope it is. Just sign me: (A person who is picking up the pieces of such children's shattered lives every day.)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2002

    Prude Conservatives need to realize their ways are wrong

    This book intellectually explores the current thinking surrounding hiding sex and treating kids as if they are asexual creatures. They are not. Like with alcohol in Europe, if children grow up knowing about sex (even if diluted versions), and are not hidden away from it, they will grow up respecting the greatness and consequences of sex. It's the human body for God's sake, nothing evil. Just because it grosses us out, doesn't mean we shouldn't review our current thinking about children and what they know about sex. Read this book and open your mind. Keep in mind that traditional parents and the clergy won't like it, but realize they haven't opened their minds for hundreds of years. They thought Copernicus was wrong, too.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2002

    Gross misinformation

    Books like this are the downfall of a civilized society. Ms. Levie twists facts to suit her agenda.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2002

    The truth is right here!

    Although i don't agree with everything stated in this book, i most certainly agree that sexuality should be openly discussed instead of hidded away. Teens today are capable of making their own decisions and our society needs to learn that.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2002

    Good book for parents

    Parents should read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2002

    Harmful to Majors as well as minors

    This book harms the environment because a tree was waisted to produce the paper it was printed on. How disapointing in the day that we live with promiscuity, and perversion all around, that instead of challenging our youth to keep their bodies pure--we encourage them in that which is so degrading and and abominable. Sex is wonderful and we should inform our children about it's beauty and why it was given to us, sex was not given for our own gratification! The thinking in this book, is one of a sexal deviant herself. You save your money and take my word. I do not need to smell garbage to know that it is trash. Pastor Rod Bell, Jr. Virginia Beach, VA 23464

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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