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Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex Paperback – 6 Aug 2003


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Thunder's Mouth Press; 1st Thunder's Mouth Press Ed edition (6 Aug 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560255161
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560255161
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.1 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 164,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Harmful to Minors shouldn't have to be labeled a courageous book, but it is, and anyone who prefers truth to hysterical anti-sex propaganda should find it illuminating."

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Krul on 11 May 2009
Format: Hardcover
Judith Levine's popular compilation of modern studies on sexuality is an important wake-up call for people to resist the power of social conservatism in the area of sexuality as much as anywhere else. In "Harmful to Minors", she convincingly lays out the case for a positive, non-moralistic and non-puritan approach to sexuality and in particular children's sexuality. Ever since Freud and Kinsey broke the silence regarding this subject in their respective societies, the idea of children having, wanting and even enjoying sex and sexuality has been an absolute taboo in the nations where social conservatives rule. Yet nevertheless all modern studies of sexuality point out that it is true, and not only that, but that trying to stymy this development is actively bad for the mental health of the kid and his/her social development.

Levine's book has of course caused an uproar, but this is more proof of the hysteria surrounding the subject and the degree to which the idea of sexuality as a positive and pleasurable thing, even for younger people, has been repressed than proof of its untruth. It is therefore unfortunate that a big part of the book discusses the political and social issues surrounding this repression itself; while this is important and interesting, the amount of text spent on scientifically proving the need for nonrepression of sexuality is relatively little (though still easily sufficient to prove the case). This makes it easier for people to dismiss it than if it had had a more thoroughly scholarly tone.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Che Rex on 30 April 2002
Format: Hardcover
I just finished the book, 'Harmful to Minors' by Judith Levine and all I can say is WOW!, is this book long overdue. It is sensible, concise and intelligent from cover to cover, and is a must read for any parent suffering anxiety over raising a child in the current alarmist atmosphere surrounding child sexuality. There has been plenty of controversy in the US over the publication of this book, mostly from the right-wing x-tian conservative faction. After reading this book it has become glaringly obvious that they have not read it. Perhaps a few have skimmed it looking for choice morsels which they can extract from the surrounding context and infuse with their own meaning (you know, much like they do the bible), so let me set a few things straight. Not once in 'Harmful to Minors' does Ms. Levine excuse or advocate abusive coercive or violent sexual behavior with children (or anyone else for that matter). On the contrary it seems that Ms. Levine cares very deeply for children. What the book does do is research the origins of our current alarmist attitudes and examines how this prevailing hysteria about child sexuality can do children more harm than good. (just one example among many, parents may become increasingly afraid to show physical affection to children, thus depriving them of much needed loving contact.) The book also examines present US laws, policies and trends in sex education and how they fail children on almost every level. (another example:the age of consent laws which protect an 8 year old from unwanted sex also 'protect' a 17 year old from sex with her 18 year-old boyfriend.Read more ›
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Poe Bird on 17 July 2013
Format: Hardcover
I completely disagree. As a rape victim subjected to grooming I'm very well versed in it's effects. Labelling concern for children as 'hysteria' is ridiculous. What's happening to children is hypersexualization, and it is grooming children for sex. What's worrying is the attempt at making children seem less vulnerable than they actually are; and almost amounts to victim blaming. Quite frankly, the cover alone is disturbing, nice shock tactics.

If you want real information, try reading The Sexualisation of Young People by Dr Linda Papadopolous, a report commissioned in London by the British govenment earlier this year, or The World Health Organization's report on violence against women and children published last month.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 67 reviews
393 of 444 people found the following review helpful
This book disturbed me. 26 May 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I appreciate a book that challenges my personal biases and makes me aware of research and information I didn't even know existed. As I read this book over three days, unable to put it down, I felt like it was giving me a serious education in American culture and human sexuality. I rather wish I'd taken a college course with this sort of information in it. Or better yet, a high school class. I found reading this that the author drove me to the desire to find out more. I want to read the other books she references, and look up the works listed in her notes. I wanted to be educated about things like sexual development in human beings, perceptions and repressions in the culture I live in, and all the points of view human beings have about sexuality. Even though I had a similar perspective to her on some things, I found she still challenged some old beliefs I was hanging on to, that I hadn't bothered to ever question or examine.
I'm female. I grew up in a conservative family and practiced abstinence in my teen years. I believed only in sex after marriage. I had never seen a condom, and I thought AIDS was something that promiscuous gays got. My parents kept me out of sex ed in high school, but never gave me "the talk." I got some basic information from books in the library, and that's all I had. I never masturbated and did not know how to have an orgasm until I was 18. When I finally did have sex, I used no protection, no birth control, and I didn't ask my partner if he had any STDs. It didn't even cross my mind. I hadn't been taught to think about these things. I was sure I was in love, and love made the sex right and "safe." When you think sex is love, you think nothing can possibly go wrong -- God will protect you.
Talk about naivete.
In the end, I changed everything I believed about sex and relationships. I changed because my life experiences contradicted what I'd been taught growing up. I found out that sex wasn't evil or even negative just because it was outside of marriage. Neither was it love just because it felt good. I discovered that AIDS kills everyone, and that there are easy ways to protect against it and still have sex. I discovered that I prefer safe sex to abstinence because safe sex protects me, whereas abstinence flees the moment it is faced with passion. I also discovered that abstinence leaves me with hunger, and hunger can lead to a sense of starvation. Which isn't to say I'd die without sex; it's to say that as long as I felt like having sex was forbidden, I was desperate for it...I'd see sex everywhere I went. I'm not talking about in the media -- I'm talking about in the boys in my classes, in the glances between students, in the conversations at lunch, in the seemingly brilliant older male drama teacher. I had hormones, only I didn't even know enough to call them hormones. And my hormones were driven mad by the thunderous command not to exist, and not to feel. Now that I have sex any time I want to (whether it's intercourse, masturbation, or otherwise), it isn't such a big deal and I don't feel desperate when I go without it. For me, "abstinence only" led to an unhappy obsession with the sex I couldn't have. If only I'd known about masturbation. If only I'd heard of different ways to look at sex. If only I'd had an education!
Because of my roots, and my change of perspective, reading this book has been an amazing experience for me. It was a chance for me to see my childhood from the outside-in, which is something I've never done. It opened my eyes to just how rigid my upbringing was, and how it made me feel. It got me in contact with very old, buried feelings. Some of those feeling hurt, but I don't regret having found them.
As I read the book, there were several moments where I felt myself being reminded of something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Then on page 27, I found my answer in the first paragraph. The author wrote:
"Our culture fears the pedophile, say some social critics, not because he is deviant, but because he is ordinary. And I don't mean because he is the ice-cream man or Father Patrick. No, we fear him because he is us. In his elegant study of 'the culture of child-molesting,' the literary critic James Kincaid traced this terror back to the middle of the nineteenth century. Then, he said, Anglo-American culture conjured childhood innocence, defining it as a desireless subjectivity," at the same time as it constructed a new ideal of the sexually desireable object. The two had identical attributes--softness, cuteness, docility, passivity--and this simultaneous cultural invention has presented us with a wicked psychosocial problem ever since. We relish our erotic attraction to children, says Kincaid (witness the child beauty pageants in which JonBenet Ramsey was entered). But we also find that attraction abhorrent (witness the public shock and disgust at JonBenet's 'sexualization' in those pageants). So we project that eroticized desire outward, creating a monster to hate, hunt down, and punish."
When I read that excerpt, I realized that the author's comments on how the conservative part of our American culture views sexuality made me think of an old sci-fi movie called, "Forbidden Planet." I began to wonder, is it possible that fear of sexuality can lead to sex that hurts, rather than just the other way around? Likewise, can fear that our children have sexual natures lead us to hurt those sexual natures?
I don't feel like I have all the answers after reading this book. I don't feel like the author does. But I feel like the questions she brings up, no matter how disturbing or scary, NEED TO BE ASKED.
Please ask them.
116 of 130 people found the following review helpful
Refreshing reality at last, not Politically Correct theory 10 Jun 2003
By Sherman A. Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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It is readily apparent that most people who vote on these reviews vote according to the reviewer's perceived position on the subject discussed rather than on the quality of the book review and its helpfulness in a decision to purchase. With this in mind I expect to get very few positive votes and perhaps many scathing comments because of my position.

First, let me establish my credentials. I am a retired psychotherapist with many licensed years of private practice as a marriage, family, and child counselor in Texas, California, and Washington. I took graduate courses in the same classrooms with LCSW's, MFCC's, Clinical Psychologists, and in some cases M.D.'s with a specialty in psychiatry. Four semesters of grad school were in Switzerland. I did my internship in an outpatient clinic of a large psychiatric state hospital. I have worked with patients across the spectrum from students who were depressed because of grades to patients who had been lobotomized many years before, and many who were overmedicated with everything from Haldol to lithium carbonate.

In short, I consider myself well qualified to comment on Judith Levine's landmark book "Harmful to Minors."

A number of years ago a colleague and I were discussing the infamous McMartin Preschool case in Bakersfield, California. It involved an overzealous D.A., false charges filed against innocent teachers, an unqualified child behavior "expert" with no formal training, and a crazy mother who ultimately even charged the defense attorneys and the trial judge of child molestation. The woman had a history of mental problems and later killed herself. But with the help of a publicity hungry D.A. the system was successful in destroying several professional teaching careers closing down a well functioning preschool, and probably bringing about an early death of its elderly founder. The public ate up the titillating case details during the months-long farcical trial.

With McMartin and similar cases in mind my colleague and I agreed that a book like Levine's needed to be written but neither of us were willing to risk our careers by being the first to write it. Levine had the courage to say what many experienced therapists have thought and said privately for years. Sexual experiences of children, either with peers or in some instances with adults, tend to be harmful to the child more because of the hysterical displays of adult care givers on discovery of the event than from the event itself. When an adolescent sees an adult having a panic attack on discovery of what is usually an exploratory exercise to satisfy curiosity, the child may suddenly feel he/she has participated in an act comparable to an axe murder. Then some misguided child counselor or Child Protective Service (CPS) self-proclaimed expert validates to the child the seriousness of the event in therapy, even though there is rarely any physical or mental harm. The pseudo-therapy establishes in the mind of the child that they have been damaged for life. This belief often persists for life.

Levine points out the plethora of new laws that, though well intended, are founded on terribly flawed evidence and pushed into enactment by highly neurotic people who understand nothing of what constitutes real harm in the real world. The present set of laws can cause more harm to families than the so-called abuses they are addressing.

One can make a compelling case that pedophiles are created by society's prohibition against children satisfying their natural adolescent curiosity during adolescence, the pedophile being a product of arrested sexual curiosity. That could be why virtually all pedophiles cannot change, even with therapy. About the best they can hope for is to learn not act on their urges.

A far greater threat is a nationwide, out-of-control, runaway Child Protective Services (CPS) network that frequently uproots children and destroys functional families for no valid reason. Anyone unfamiliar with CPS should read the case histories cited in Chapter 3 of Levine's book. I witnessed many similar abuses of power when I was in a position to know the details. CPS is a law unto themselves, defying municipal judges and Supreme Court decisions with impunity. Levine points out that toddlers as young as two years old have been charged with felony molestation after innocently touching a sibling to satisfy curiosity. What is wrong with this picture? Clearly, the entire educational approach for Social Science education must be challenged. CPS can be legally challenged but the victim families often haven't the financial resources to hire lawyers and do battle in court. "Harmful to Minors" is a step back toward social sanity.

Consider this:---- Humans, in one form or another, have been on this earth for several million years. As a species we have been imminently successful and are threatening to overwhelm all other life forms. During these millions of years children have been satisfying their sexual curiosities and urges unfettered by overprotective adults, do-good agencies, and well meaning but sometimes misguided laws, with unintended consequences. Pedophiles may actually be a product of modern well-meaning restrictions on satisfaction during childhood of the natural curiosity all children have. CPS may have been founded with good intentions but CPS policies may actually be producing the very pedophiles they are trying to identify, punish, and/or control.

"Harmful to Minors" is well researched, well written in language anyone can understand, and tells it like is, no matter whose toes get stepped on. The only way things can change for the better is for more books like "Harmful to Minors" to be written and used in undergraduate and graduate classrooms to displace the largely unrealistic and sometimes idiotic PC texts currently used. I don't expect to see it in my lifetime.

Those critical of Levine's well-researched book probably haven't actually read it. I suspect that those who are reacting negatively to Levines book scanned a few paragraphs in a book store, then considered themselves qualified to review it.

Now I will await the inevitable neurotic attacks on my honest opinion of Levine's excellent work. (By the way, I am a Christian, far right Conservative, like the ones Levine takes aim at.)
61 of 70 people found the following review helpful
Intelligent, Provacative and Dead-on 25 Oct 2005
By S. Seaman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Levine's book, "Harmful to Minors", is obviously controversial. That's not surprising considering she is attempting to take down one of the biggest sacred cows in current society. Levine is positing something shocking- that children aren't aliens or angels or devils, that they are humans with all of the needs and desires and curiosities that entails. Her stats are well-researched, and have a tendency to knock your legs out from under you (she tells the truth about stats that are still in use, even by the so-called experts). Her understanding of our cultural biases is thorough. Sadly, her political views shine through here and there, and this is not helping the aim of the book any. This is the only reason I gave it 4 stars, rather than 5.

Let me be frank, Levine is trying to change the way people relate to children, even their own children, especially their own children. This will earn her a great deal of ire. Parents view their children as their most private possessions. Levine is trying to take away our favorite bogeymen. This is not easy either. The reason that Levine has so many detractors is because the work she does is so utterly noble and neccesary. I should add that I resent the implication by some of her readers that if she were a parent she would have written this book differently. I suppose if being a parent means that you are incapable of reason and logic, that may be the case. I prefer to think better of parents.

I think that every english-speaking person should read this book, parent or non. I think teenagers, teachers, psychologists, police officers, guidance counsellors, CPS employees, daycare workers, judges, doctors and politicians should read this book. I think that we could all stand to learn something, not just from this book, but from the conversations that come of rethinking our assumptions.
54 of 64 people found the following review helpful
Wanted to hate this, but..... 6 Jun 2002
By Thor's Hammer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Harmful to Minors by Judith Levine is an important title for educators on both sides of the sex ed issue. As a promoter of abstinence education, I was prepared to hate this book as a minor Pop-culture work that promotes sexual license and rooted in less-than scientific source materials. While my conclusion is that much of the books premise is flawed, I cannot fault her on her scientific sources or delivery of her ideas. In truth, she has done a grand job.
A WARNING: Sex ed advocates are like most others, they tend toward tunnel-vision. Levine is no exception. She labels those who promote abstaining as "right-wing" or "religious right" much too often, thereby hurting her case. Her style fluctuates somewhat from offering a scholarly approach and then slipping into "them-against-us" arguments that, quite frankly are tiresome. You can almost envision her get hopping mad as she types.
For those of us who care deeply that sex ed shouldn't promote sexual misconduct, Levine offers her argument- and those of her chums - very clearly. This is worth reading for yourself, even if you disagree with her conclusions.
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
A wonderful and important book 10 Mar 2005
By Eolake - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Judith Levine asks the important questions that have lurked in my mind for a long time. Where is the proof of this that "everybody knows" that sex or porn is harmful to minors? There is none, but there is plenty proof that making a great mystery out of it is very harmful indeed.

There is no doubt that writing and publishing a book like this puts one's career in jeopardy in the current political climate. My hat is off to the author and the publisher!
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