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An Ephebe Kisses A Man
Tondo from an Attic kylix, 5th c. BCE by the Briseis painter. Louvre

Ephebophilia has been defined as a sexual preference in which an adult is primarily or exclusively sexually attracted to late pubescent adolescents(15-19). It comes from the Greek: έφηβος

(ephebos) variously defined as "one arrived at puberty", "a youth of 18 who underwent his dokimasia and was registered as a citizen (Athens)", and "arriving at man's estate"; and φιλία (-philia) "love".[1] Despite this classical etymology it is a term of modern coinage, having been attributed to German scientist Magnus Hirschfeld several times, often giving a date between 1906-08. [How to reference and link to summary or text] It has been used by Dutch psychologist and pedophile activist Frits Bernard as far back as 1960 in the gay support magazine Vriendschap under the pseudonym Victor Servatius[2], also crediting it to Hirschfeld though giving no exact date.[3] It has also been used by the Frenchman Felix Buffiere in 1980 and described at length by Tariq Rahman in 1988 who argues that it should be used in preference to 'homosexuality' for describing grown men's aesthetic and erotic interest in adolescent boys when classical literatures in Persian, Turkish or Urdu are under discussion.

In that ephebophilia involves biological, fertile adults, it is not considered a pathological paraphilia, unlike pedophilia which involves pre-pubescent children.


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The nature of ephebophilia is unresolved, and a variety of beliefs about it are held. Some people wrongfully regard ephebophilia as a milder form of pedophilia, in which the object of attraction is closer to the normal age of a sexual partner than with a true pedophile.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Other people regard ephebophilia as resulting from chronophilia, wherein the chronophile's sexual/erotic age is discordant with his or her actual chronological age but concordant with the age of the partner. Yet another theory characterizes ephebophilia by a refusal to age psychologically, and a desire to reconnect with one's youth.

The Lover, Marguerite Duras's autobiographical novel of her teenage affair with an older Chinese man.

Attraction to adolescents is not generally regarded by psychologists as pathological except when it interferes with other relationships, becomes an obsession which adversely affects other areas of life, or causes distress to the subject.

Sexual desire that includes adolescents as well as older individuals is common among adults with many sexual orientations;[How to reference and link to summary or text] this is not labeled "ephebophilia" because the attraction to adolescents is not exclusive. In some cultures, such as those in which adolescent girls are routinely married to older men, it is considered normal for adults to include adolescents among their sexual interests. In these cultures an attraction to adolescents is not necessarily thought to require an essentialist classification in terms of abnormality, deviancy or mental health, but is seen as a possibility or a taste. In certain Middle-Eastern cultures, as reflected in literature written in Turkish, Persian and Urdu, the expression of love for attractive adolescent boys is found in classical literature.[How to reference and link to summary or text] In Urdu, for instance, it may be a metaphor for the mystic's quest for an immanent deity; a lover's desire for a woman who, being a veiled lady or a courtesan, is impossible to own; or in some cases, boys who take the place of women in gender-segregated societies (Rahman 1989). This attraction of men to adolescent males is not seen as effeminate or regarded as homosexuality, per se, but is usually considered sinful (Rahman 1988). Nonetheless, an open attraction to adolescents may still be ridiculed or disparaged as inappropriate or unhealthy; an attraction to adolescents is something one is expected to "grow out of". These cultural assumptions have come into contention with the advent of modernity and the resultant exposure to cultures with different norms. In Japanese society, the attraction of men towards teenage girls (high-school students) is a visible cultural phenomenon, with manifestations such as lolicon art, and school uniform fetishes. Sexual relations with teenage girls (e.g. enjo kōsai) are tolerated more so than in much of the western world.

In fairytales, adolescent girls are sometimes made the object of limerence from older men. While suggesting it, this is not ephebophilia since the males do not have exclusive sexual preference for young girls. Some fairytales that are alleged to contain ephebophilia are Rimsky-Korsakov's opera version of the Snow Maiden, Vasilissa the Beautiful, and Sadko.[How to reference and link to summary or text] These themes are sometimes correlated with gerontophobia.


While ephebophilic desire is not regulated by any statute, aspects of sexually expressed ephebophilia may be against some laws. Depending on the age of consent in a given jurisdiction, an adolescent may be capable of giving legally-recognised consent to sexual activity. If the younger partner is below that age, it is commonly criminalised as statutory rape, regardless of whether the younger partner agrees to - or even initiates - the activity. Reasons given for this include:

  • Some adolescents are unable to understand the physical, emotional, and social consequences of sexual activity. According to the August 2006 issue of Scientific American, the neurological development of late adolescents is not yet complete, leading to deficits in their higher cognitive functions including judgement, attention, and response to crisis situations. However, late adolescence also includes people over 18, since neurological development is still not complete at this age.
  • Adult sexual relations with adolescents can be an abuse of power, using psychological coercion.
  • Sexual relations with adolescent girls can lead to pregnancy and parenthood, for which adolescents may not be prepared emotionally and/or financially.

Relationships between adults and adolescents that do not include sexual activity are generally legal, assuming no other laws regarding child welfare are violated. For example, a romantic relationship with an adolescent below the age of consent is generally legal, especially when the adolescent's age is above the age at which their parents could consent to marriage. In other jurisdictions, this may be illegal.

See also


  1. Rahman, Tariq (1988). "Ephebophilia: the case for the use of a new word," Forum for Modern Language Studies, 24(2), 126-141.
  2. Selected publications of Dr. Frits Bernard - An international bibliography
  3. Dr. Victor Servatius (1960). Ephebophilie en wetenschap ("Ephebophilia and science"), Vriendschap, vol. 15, March 1960, pp. 35-35
  • Ames, A. & Houston, D.A. "Legal, social, and biological definitions of pedophilia." Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 19, 1990, pp. 333-342.
  • Dynes, Wayne R. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. New York and London, Garland Publishing, 1990.
  • Percy, William A. Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
  • Rahman, Tariq. "Boy-Love in the Urdu Ghazal", Annual of Urdu Studies, Vol. 7 (1990), pp. 1-20.

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