[From "Frequently Asked Questions About NAMBLA and Man/Boy Love"]
Q: What do you seek to accomplish?
A: NAMBLA was formed in the belief that if people knew more about the actual nature of typical man/boy love relationships, that there would be less unjust scapegoating and persecution of boys and men who have such relationships.
Q: Why do you oppose age-of-consent laws?
A: Opposing age-of-consent laws is not our only focus; it is one part of our broader criticism of North American social and legal practices. We believe that these laws do great harm to people and relationships that do not deserve to feel the crushing weight of the heavy hand of the law. Just as important, age-of-consent laws do not adequately protect young people. They have often been applied arbitrarily and unjustly, and have long been used to terrorize gay males. Gay youth in particular have been targets of extreme persecution through the selective application of age-of-consent laws.
Q: What is this “ageism” you refer to?
A: Ageism refers to age-based discrimination, and includes the tendency to discount and devalue the feelings and opinions of children and youth. This tendency pervades our society and has implications in every area of a young person’s daily life: at home, at work, while shopping, hanging out with friends or going places, and especially at school. It has the socially corrosive -- and costly -- effect of breeding fear and distrust between the generations and isolating them from each other.
Q: What do you propose in place of age-of-consent laws?
A: Age-of-consent laws are those which say that if you are under a certain age, then what you say doesn’t matter. We believe young people would be much better protected by laws -- and social attitudes -- that take their opinions, feelings and decisions into consideration. We have never proposed specific laws, but in general we advocate changes in society and the law to include greater respect and consideration for children and youth -- not merely in the abstract, but in each individual case. We reject the cookie-cutter approach often used by authorities, moralists, and legislators who presume to know what someone wants without asking them, and who claim to know what is best for every person without having met them. Individualism -- the belief that each person is important and deserving of respect -- is one of the core founding values of North American society. We advocate for a society that lives up to this ideal, as it applies to people of all ages.
Q: How can society best protect vulnerable people?
A: The claim is made that age-of-consent laws protect the vulnerable. In practice, they give undue power to those who already have power -- police and prosecutors -- while removing power from some of society’s most vulnerable populations -- notably, gay youth. We believe that vulnerable people are better served by giving them more choices, not fewer. Children and youth can be made less vulnerable by giving them more options. Those who need to escape abusive family members or other abusive situations need more options than we as a society currently provide them with. Those who live in poverty, those who face racial, religious, and sexual prejudice -- all need more options, not fewer.
Q: You make this seem like such a noble cause, but isn’t it really just a selfish one?
A: There is a much bigger dimension to the issues we raise, with implications for everyone. The interest that all people share in widespread access to truthful information is more than just philosophical. Too often, politicians take advantage of gaps in public knowledge, and play on public fears to divert attention from their own actions. When they are allowed to do this, the result is bad government for everyone (something we’ve all seen plenty of in the last few decades). Our efforts to educate the public on the issues of man/boy love, ageism and anti-sexualism are intended to help bring about better informed public policy and an electorate less vulnerable to politicians who would use their fears against them.
Q: Do you believe it’s possible for a boy and a man to have a close, even sexual relationship, without any harm?
A: Yes it’s possible, and it happens every day. Many studies have confirmed that the large majority of sexual contacts between boys and older partners are both consensual and harmless. See below for a listing of some of these published, peer-reviewed studies.
Q: But aren’t these relationships always initiated by the adult?
A: No. We know from experience that some boys do initiate sexual contacts with adults. This is confirmed by several published studies, which have found that a substantial percentage of boys' sexual contacts with older partners were initiated by the boy (see references below for details).
Q: Do you believe there are actually boys who find men attractive that way?
A: It is well established that some boys do find men very attractive. Certainly, plenty of gay men have reported being infatuated during early- and middle-childhood (5 to 10 years of age) with masculine icons such as the “Marlboro Man” and even Peter Graves, the silver-haired leading man of Mission Impossible. Gay novels, biographies and autobiographies provide abundant examples. And not all boys who find men attractive identify as gay. It is very easy to underestimate the sheer scale of the multidimensional rainbow of human diversity -- and the strength of teenaged male sexuality.
Q: Ok, but if a boy does come on to you, wouldn’t it be better simply to refuse the advance?
A: If your concern is for the safety of the man (any man), in today’s climate, then the answer is probably, yes -- walk away, and stay away, and just don’t have anything to do with kids in general. But boys take rejection very hard, and they take isolation even harder. It has a deeply negative effect on their outlook, which can have lifelong implications -- and broad implications for society. Unfortunately, this kind of self-segregation of men from boys has become a major social problem in its own right -- a problem which will never be solved while man/boy love is stigmatized as harshly as it is now.
Q: So, does this mean you believe the relationship can benefit the boy?
A: We know it can; some of us have seen examples in person. And several peer-reviewed studies have shown that boys who have consenting relationships with men usually feel positively about their relationship and feel that the relationship has had a positive effect on them.
Q: Ok, so if sex is so great, why do educators and doctors tell us it's harmful to kids?
A: Well, people in very similar positions used to say with authority that masturbation would cause insanity and physical infirmity. They told us that gay men had mis-shapen penises and weak fathers, and that women who didn’t bear children would go crazy. They recommended clitoridectomy for girls who masturbated and circumcision for boys to prevent them from doing so. Few know that this is the sole reason why infant circumcision became a routine practice in Western Europe and the U.S. in the late 19th-century (of course, it didn’t work, and the practice was discontinued in Europe).1
Q: But isn’t the harmfulness of sex supported by scientific research?
A: Actually, no it isn’t. Peer-reviewed studies have shown clearly that there is nothing intrinsically harmful about sexual experiences between boys and men. For a full explanation, see: Outcomes: Can Science Shed Some Light?