Pederastic kissing on an Attic kylix (5th century BC)

Pederasty or paederasty (US: /ˈpɛdəræsti/ or UK: /ˈpdəræsti/) is a sexual relationship between an adult man and a boy. It was a socially acknowledged practice in Ancient Greece and Rome and elsewhere in the world, such as Pre-Meiji Japan.

In most countries today, the local age of consent determines whether a person is considered legally competent to consent to sexual acts, and whether such contact is child sexual abuse or statutory rape. An adult engaging in sexual activity with a minor is considered abusive by authorities for a variety of reasons, including the age of the minor and the psychological and physical harm they may endure.

Etymology and usage

Pederasty derives from the combination of Ancient Greek: παίδ-, romanizedpaid-, lit.'boy, child (stem)'[1][2] with ἐραστής, erastēs, 'lover' (cf. eros). Late Latin pæderasta was borrowed in the 16th century directly from Plato's classical Greek in The Symposium. (Latin transliterates αί as æ.) The word first appeared in the English language during the Renaissance, as pæderastie (e.g. in Samuel Purchas' Pilgrimes), in the sense of sexual relations between men and boys.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "Homosexual relations between a man and a boy; homosexual anal intercourse, usually with a boy or younger man as the passive partner".[3]


The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. You may improve this section, discuss the issue on the talk page, or create a new section, as appropriate. (December 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Ancient Greece

Main article: Pederasty in ancient Greece

Further information: Homosexuality in ancient Greece

Pederasty in ancient Greece was a socially acknowledged romantic relationship between an adult male (the erastes) and a younger male (the eromenos), usually in his teens.[4] This age difference between a socially powerful and socially less-powerful partner was characteristic of the Archaic and Classical periods, in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships.[5] The influence of pederasty on Greek culture of these periods was so pervasive that it has been called "the principal cultural model for free relationships between citizens."[6] The practice was viewed with concerns and disapproval by certain social groups.[7] In some Greek cities, such as Sparta, pederastic relationships were explicitly accepted; in other locations, such as Athens, laws were eventually enacted to limit such relationships, though not explicitly prohibit all instances of them.[8]

In the writings of Xenophon, Socrates condemned such practice without further qualification; however, in the writings of Plato, he considered pederasty as a superior form of love compared to the love of women. Such conflicting statements could have resulted from each author using Socrates as a spokesman for their own viewpoints. The Socratic writings of the two authors were one of the main texts that led to Kenneth Dover's and Michel Foucault's understanding of pederasty as a matter of debate in Ancient Greece.[7]

Some scholars locate its origin in initiation ritual, particularly rites of passage on Crete, where it was associated with entrance into military life and the religion of Zeus.[9] It has no formal existence in the Homeric epics, and seems to have developed in the late 7th century BC as an aspect of Greek homosocial culture,[10] which was characterized also by athletic and artistic nudity, delayed marriage for aristocrats, symposia, and the social seclusion of women.[11] Pederasty was both idealized and criticized in ancient literature and philosophy.[12] The argument has recently been made that idealization was universal in the Archaic period; criticism began in Athens as part of the general Classical Athenian reassessment of Archaic culture.[13]

Scholars have debated the role or extent of pederasty, which is likely to have varied according to local custom and individual inclination.[14] Athenian law, for instance, recognized both consent and age as factors in regulating sexual behavior.[15]

Enid Bloch argues that many Greek boys in these relationships may have been traumatized by knowing that they were violating social customs, since the "most shameful thing that could happen to any Greek male was penetration by another male." She further argues that vases showing "a boy standing perfectly still as a man reaches out for his genitals" indicate the boy may have been "psychologically immobilized, unable to move or run away."[16] One vase shows a young man or boy running away from Eros, the Greek god of desire.[17]

Ancient Rome

Main article: Homosexuality in ancient Rome

Further information: Sexuality in ancient Rome

Zeus (or Jupiter) in the form of an eagle abducting Ganymede; 1st-century AD Roman bas-relief

In Latin, mos Graeciae or mos Graecorum ("Greek custom" or "the way of the Greeks") refers to a variety of behaviors the ancient Romans regarded as Greek, including but not confined to sexual practice.[18]: 72  Homosexual behaviors at Rome were acceptable only within an inherently unequal relationship; male Roman citizens retained their masculinity as long as they took the active, penetrating role, and the appropriate male sexual partner was a prostitute or slave, who would nearly always be non-Roman.[19] In Archaic and classical Greece, paiderasteia had been a formal social relationship between freeborn males; taken out of context and refashioned as the luxury product of a conquered people, pederasty came to express roles based on domination and exploitation.[20]: 37, 40–41 et passim Slaves often were given, and prostitutes sometimes assumed Greek names regardless of their ethnic origin; the boys (pueri) to whom the poet Martial is attracted have Greek names.[21][22] The use of slaves defined Roman pederasty; sexual practices were "somehow 'Greek'" when they were directed at "freeborn boys openly courted in accordance with the Hellenic tradition of pederasty".[18]: 17 

Effeminacy or a lack of discipline in managing one's sexual attraction to another male threatened a man's "Roman-ness" and thus might be disparaged as "Eastern" or "Greek". Fears that Greek models might "corrupt" traditional Roman social codes (the mos maiorum) seem to have prompted a vaguely documented law (Lex Scantinia) that attempted to regulate aspects of homosexual relationships between freeborn males and to protect Roman youth from older men emulating Greek customs of pederasty.[20]: 27 [23]

Theologian Edith Humphrey commented that "the Graeco-Roman 'ideal' regarding homosexuality entailed erotic love, not of children, but of young (teenage) males of the same age that a young woman would be given in marriage, and that frequently the more mature male was only slightly older than the partner."[24]

Pre-Meiji Japan

Main article: Homosexuality in Japan § Pre-Meiji Japan

Pederasty in Japan prior to the Meiji Restoration was present in similar forms across different societal contexts. Accounts of Buddhist monasteries, samurai circles, and kabuki theatres all commonly noted the presence of relationships between adolescent or pre-pubescent boys (sometimes classified as wakashū) and older male mentor figures.[25][26] Art and literature of these relationships was common, with perhaps the most well-known collection being ukiyo-zōshi poet Ihara Saikaku's The Great Mirror of Male Love.

Modern view

In the modern world, an adult engaging in sexual activity with a underage person may be considered child sexual abuse or statutory rape, depending upon the local age of consent. In the case of underage heterosexual relationships, which were also practiced by the Greeks, it may also be considered child marriage. Age of consent laws exist because minors are considered incapable of meaningfully consenting to sexual activity until they reach a certain age.[27][28] Prepubescent and adolescent children are not socially equal to adults, and abusers emotionally manipulate the children they victimize.[29]: 65–66  These laws aim to give the minor some protection against predatory or exploitative sexual interaction with adults.[28][30]

Child sexual abuse has been correlated with depression,[31] post-traumatic stress disorder[32] and anxiety.[33][34][35][non-primary source needed]

Contemporary homosexual pedophiles may describe themselves as "boy lovers",[36][37] and sometimes appeal to practices in Ancient Greece as a justification of sexual relationships between adults and minors.[38][39]

Though outlawed, bacha bazi is still practiced in certain regions of Afghanistan.[40][41]

See also


  1. ^ Marguerite Johnson, Terry Ryan. Sexuality in Greek and Roman Society and Literature: A Sourcebook p. 110.
  2. ^ Liddell and Scott, 1968 p. 585.
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, "pederasty".
  4. ^ C.D.C. Reeve, Plato on Love: Lysis, Symposium, Phaedrus, Alcibiades with Selections from Republic and Laws (Hackett, 2006), p. xxi online; Martti Nissinen, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective, translated by Kirsi Stjerna (Augsburg Fortress, 1998, 2004), p. 57 online; Nigel Blake et al., Education in an Age of Nihilism (Routledge, 2000), p. 183 online.
  5. ^ Nissinen, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, p. 57; William Armstrong Percy III, "Reconsiderations about Greek Homosexualities," in Same–Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West (Binghamton: Haworth, 2005), p. 17. Sexual variety, not excluding paiderastia, was characteristic of the Hellenistic era; see Peter Green, "Sex and Classical Literature," in Classical Bearings: Interpreting Ancient Culture and History (University of California Press, 1989, 1998), p. 146 online.
  6. ^ Dawson, Cities of the Gods, p. 193. See also George Boys-Stones, "Eros in Government: Zeno and the Virtuous City," Classical Quarterly 48 (1998), 168–174: "there is a certain kind of sexual relationship which was considered by many Greeks to be very important for the cohesion of the city: sexual relations between men and youths. Such relationships were taken to play such an important role in fostering cohesion where it mattered — among the male population — that Lycurgus even gave them official recognition in his constitution for Sparta" (p. 169).
  7. ^ a b Lear, Andrew (15 November 2013), Hubbard, Thomas K. (ed.), "Ancient Pederasty: An Introduction", A Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities, Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, pp. 102–127, doi:10.1002/9781118610657.ch7, ISBN 978-1-118-61065-7, retrieved 13 June 2023
  8. ^ "How the ancient Greeks viewed pederasty and homosexuality". Big Think. 13 January 2023. Retrieved 13 June 2023.
  9. ^ Robert B. Koehl, "The Chieftain Cup and a Minoan Rite of Passage," Journal of Hellenic Studies 106 (1986) 99–110, with a survey of the relevant scholarship including that of Arthur Evans (p. 100) and others such as H. Jeanmaire and R.F. Willetts (pp. 104–105); Deborah Kamen, "The Life Cycle in Archaic Greece," in The Cambridge Companion to Archaic Greece (Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 91–92. Kenneth Dover, a pioneer in the study of Greek homosexuality, rejects the initiation theory of origin; see "Greek Homosexuality and Initiation," in Que(e)rying Religion: A Critical Anthology (Continuum, 1997), pp. 19–38. For Dover, it seems, the argument that Greek paiderastia as a social custom was related to rites of passage constitutes a denial of homosexuality as natural or innate; this may be to overstate or misrepresent what the initiatory theorists have said. The initiatory theory claims to account not for the existence of ancient Greek homosexuality in general but rather for that of formal paiderastia.
  10. ^ Thomas Hubbard, "Pindar's Tenth Olympian and Athlete-Trainer Pederasty," in Same–Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity, pp. 143 and 163 (note 37), with cautions about the term "homosocial" from Percy, p. 49, note 5.
  11. ^ Percy, "Reconsiderations about Greek Homosexualities," p. 17 online et passim.
  12. ^ For examples, see Kenneth Dover, Greek Homosexuality (Harvard University Press, 1978, 1989), p. 165, note 18, where the eschatological value of paiderastia for the soul in Plato is noted. For a more cynical view of the custom, see the comedies of Aristophanes, e.g. Wealth 149-59. Paul Gilabert Barberà, "John Addington Symonds. A Problem in Greek Ethics. Plutarch's Eroticus Quoted Only in Some Footnotes? Why?" in The Statesman in Plutarch's Works (Brill, 2004), p. 303 online; and the pioneering view of Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex (Philadelphia: F.A. Davis, 1921, 3rd ed.), vol. 2, p. 12 online. For Stoic "utopian" views of paiderastia, see Doyne Dawson, Cities of the Gods: Communist Utopias in Greek Thought (Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 192 online.
  13. ^ See Andrew Lear, 'Was pederasty problematized? A diachronic view' in Sex in Antiquity: exploring gender and sexuality in the ancient world, eds. Mark Masterson, Nancy Rabinowitz, and James Robson (Routledge, 2014).
  14. ^ Michael Lambert, "Athens," in Gay Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia (Taylor & Francis, 2000), p. 122.
  15. ^ Gloria Ferrari notes that there were conventions of age pertaining to sexual activity, and if a man violated these by seducing a boy who was too young to consent to becoming an eromenos, the predator might be subject to prosecution under the law of hubris; Figures of Speech: Men and Maidens in Ancient Greece (University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 139–140.
  16. ^ Enid Bloch (21 March 2007). "Sex between Men and Boys in Classical Greece: Was It Education for Citizenship or Child Abuse?". The Journal of Men's Studies. Men's Studies Press. 9, Number 2 / Winter 2001 (2): 183–204. doi:10.3149/jms.0902.183. S2CID 143726937.
  17. ^ "Like the depiction of Eros pursuing a young man... for this lust is not entirely free of violence, and there can be something slightly frightening about it (after all, the boy in Ill. 19 is running away)" Glenn W. Most "The Athlete's Body in Ancient Greece" in Stanford Humanities Review V.6.2 1998
  18. ^ a b Williams, Craig Arthur (10 June 1999). Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity. Oxford University Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-19-511300-6. Greek love is a modern phrase.
  19. ^ King, Helen, "Sowing the Field: Greek and Roman Sexology", in Sexual Knowledge, Sexual Science: The History of Attitudes to Sexuality (Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 30.
  20. ^ a b Pollini, John, "The Warren Cup: Homoerotic Love and Symposial Rhetoric in Silver", in Art Bulletin 81.1 (1999)
  21. ^ Joshel, Sandra R., Slavery in the Roman World (Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 78 and 95
  22. ^ Younger, John G. Sex in the Ancient World from A to Z (Routledge, 2005), p. 38.
  23. ^ Bremmer, Jan, "An Enigmatic Indo-European Rite: Paederasty", in Arethusa 13.2 (1980), p. 288.
  24. ^ Humphrey, Edith M. "How Is Homosexuality Understood in Scripture, Tradition, and in Contemporary Theology?". Dialogue on Same-Sex Unions. Archived from the original on 30 June 2002. Retrieved 28 October 2008.
  25. ^ Schmidt-Hori, Sachi (2021). TALES OF IDOLIZED BOYS: MALE-MALE LOVE IN MEDIEVAL JAPANESE BUDDHIST NARRATIVES. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824886790.
  26. ^ Pflugfelder, Gregory M. (1997). Cartographies of desire: male–male sexuality in Japanese discourse, 1600–1950. University of California Press.
  27. ^ "Can Statutory Rape Laws Be Effective in Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy?". Guttmacher Institute. 15 June 2005. Retrieved 24 March 2008. Statutory rape laws are based on the premise that until a person reaches a certain age, that individual is legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse.
  28. ^ a b Sutherland, Kate. "From Jailbird to Jailbait: Age of Consent Law and the Construction of Teenage Sexualities". William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice. 9 (3): 313–349. Retrieved 13 September 2019. age of consent laws render teenagers below a certain age incapable of consent to sexual activity...The justification usually put forward for age of consent laws is the protection of young persons from sexual exploitation by adults.
  29. ^ Salter, Anna (2018). Predators: pedophiles, rapists, and other sex offenders. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-1-541-67382-3.
  30. ^ "State Legislators' Handbook for Statutory Rape Issues" (PDF). U.S. Department of Justice – Office for Victims of Crime. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 March 2008. Retrieved 24 March 2008. a number of different motivations were observed on the part of State legislators, including:...Desire to protect minors below a certain age from predatory, exploitative sexual relationships—for example, with much older partners.
  31. ^ Roosa MW, Reinholtz C, Angelini PJ (February 1999). "The relation of child sexual abuse and depression in young women: comparisons across four ethnic groups". Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 27 (1): 65–76. PMID 10197407.
  32. ^ Widom, Cathy Spatz (August 1999). "Posttraumatic stress disorder in abused and neglected children grown up". The American Journal of Psychiatry. 156 (8): 1223–1229. doi:10.1176/ajp.156.8.1223. PMID 10450264. S2CID 7339542.
  33. ^ Levitan RD, Rector NA, Sheldon T, Goering P (2003). "Childhood adversities associated with major depression and/or anxiety disorders in a community sample of Ontario: issues of co-morbidity and specificity". Depression and Anxiety. 17 (1): 34–42. doi:10.1002/da.10077. PMID 12577276. S2CID 26031006.
  34. ^ Dinwiddie S, Heath AC, Dunne MP, et al. (January 2000). "Early sexual abuse and lifetime psychopathology: a co-twin-control study". Psychological Medicine. 30 (1): 41–52. doi:10.1017/S0033291799001373. PMID 10722174. S2CID 15270464.
  35. ^ Kendall-Tackett, K. A.; Williams, L. M.; Finkelhor, D. (January 1993). "Impact of sexual abuse on children: a review and synthesis of recent empirical studies". Psychological Bulletin. 113 (1): 164–80. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.113.1.164. ISSN 0033-2909. PMID 8426874. page 170
  36. ^ Lynch, Virginia A.; Duval, Janet Barber (2010). Forensic Nursing Science - E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 424. ISBN 9780323066389. There are child sex offenders who willingly describe themselves as boy lovers, girl lovers, child lovers, and pedophiles but will adamantly argue that they are not predators.
  37. ^ Thio, Alex; Calhoun, Thomas C. (2004). Readings in Deviant Behavior. Allyn and Bacon. p. 274. ISBN 9780205389155.
  38. ^ Durkin, KF; Clifton DB (1999). "Propagandizing pederasty: A thematic analysis of the on-line exculpatory accounts of unrepentant pedophiles". Deviant Behavior. 20 (2): 103–127. doi:10.1080/016396299266524. The use of the BIRGing [basking in reflected glory] account allows them to feel a connection to noteworthy men such as...many of the ancient Greek poets and philosophers.
  39. ^ Nardi, Peter M.; Schneider, Beth E. (2013). Social Perspectives in Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Reader. Routledge. p. 320. ISBN 9781136219382. Paedophile activists themselves...have found it necessary to adopt...legitimation. The first, the 'Greek love', legitimation basically argues for the pedagogic value of adult-child relations, between males. It suggests – relying on a mythologized version of ancient Greek practices – that in the passage from childhood dependence to adult responsibilities the guidance, sexual and moral, of a caring man is invaluable.
  40. ^ Qobil, Rustam (7 September 2010). "The sexually abused dancing boys of Afghanistan". BBC News. Retrieved 9 May 2016. I'm at a wedding party in a remote village in northern Afghanistan.
  41. ^ Mondloch, Chris (28 October 2013). "Bacha Bazi: An Afghan Tragedy". Foreign Policy Magazine. Retrieved 23 April 2015.