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Sexual Contact between Children and Adults: A Life Course Perspective

Christopher R. Browning and Edward O. Laumann
American Sociological Review
Vol. 62, No. 4 (Aug., 1997), pp. 540-560
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2657425
Page Count: 21
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Sexual Contact between Children and Adults: A Life Course Perspective
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Abstract

We adjudicate between two competing models of the long-term effects on women of sexual contact in childhood. The psychogenic perspective conceptualizes adult-child sexual contact as a traumatic event generating intense affect that must be resolved. Behavioral attempts to deal with the trauma of adult-child sexual contact can take opposing forms-some victims will engage in compulsive sexual behavior while others withdraw from sexual activity. The more severe the sexual contact, the more adverse the long-term effects (including sexual dysfunction and diminished well-being). From our alternative life course perspective, sexual contact with an adult during childhood provides a culturally inappropriate model of sexual behavior that increases the child's likelihood of engaging in an active and risky sexual career in adolescence and adulthood. These behaviors, in turn, create long-term adverse outcomes. Using data from the National Health and Social Life Survey, we find evidence of heightened sexual activity in the aftermath of adult-child sex (predicted by both perspectives), but we find no evidence of a tendency to avoid sexual activity (predicted by the psychogenic perspective). Moreover, we find little evidence to support the hypothesis that the severity of the sexual contact increases the likelihood of long-term adverse outcomes. In contrast, we find strong evidence that sexual trajectories account for the association between adult-child sex and adult outcomes.

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