Ken Plummer

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Ken Plummer

Ken Plummer (Born in Palmers Green, London, April 4, 1946; Died November 2022, Essex) was a British sociologist and humanist academic who pioneered the sociological study of human sexuality, including teleiophilic and paedophilic homosexuality. He worked as an academic at the University of Essex from 1975 to 2005, where he took early retirement because of the need for a liver transplant. Plummer challenged misconceptions about MAPs and of young people as inherently asexual beings, and was heavily influenced by symbolic interactionism[1] and social constructionism.[2] Especially influenced by Kinsey researchers John Gagnon and William Simon,[3] Plummer declared their now-classic 1973 book Sexual Conduct to be "quite probably the single most important general sociological study of sexuality that has ever been published," and came to emphasize sexuality as a product more of social and cultural forces, shifting meanings and publicly permissible stories/narratives, than of biology. Plummer founded and edited the scholarly journal Sexualities, for which Plummer included the study of "Cross-generational Sexualities" as a topic in his 1995 proposal for the journal,[4] accepted by the publisher Sage.

As part of his early research, Plummer joined PIE (The Paedophile Information Exchange) as a member in order to interview self-identifying paedophiles, and his writings on intergenerational sexuality are notable for their non-sensationalist and non-hostile approach. Plummer attempted to set a research agenda on the topic by constructing “a sociological baseline” for future research, and reviewed many relevant publications such as Wilson & Cox’s study of PIE members, “Childlovers: A Study of Paedophiles in Society”, and Edward Brongersma’s magnum opus on Boy-Love, Loving Boys: A Multidiciplinary Study. Plummer was part of the 1st wave of the MAP Movement, though he was not a MAP activist and came to feel ambivalence and partial regret over his early (1970's) work on MAPs (see "Plummer's Regret?" below).

Below we selectively quote/summarize Plummer's scholarship, with links to archives/pdf files in footnotes. See the end of this article for a full list of Plummer's relevant publications.

Excerpts and summaries of relevant publications (1979-2010)

  • Plummer, Ken. (1979). Images of Paedophilia. in M. Cook and G. Wilson, eds. Love and Attraction (Pergamon Press: London), pp. 537-540.[5]

Newgon: Extending a conference paper orginally titled "Myths about Paedophilia", Plummer's chapter reports on what he calls "the first public meeting to discuss pedophilia", organized by the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) and held on 19th September, 1977. Plummer contrasts the assumptions of protestors he spoke to outside the meeting, with research available at the time. Plummer contests the assumptions that pedophiles are "dirty old men", strangers, and interested in young children (PIE's own internal survey showed peak attraction from ages 10-13). He overtly compares the view that pedophiles are "sick", "inhuman monsters" with the fact that gay men were once viewed and spoken of in the same terms, and finds this view unhelpful and misleading, overshadowing a wealth of human experience behind the label. He then cites research to contest the "sexual innocence" myth and that view that cross-generational relationships commonly involve the use of force or are traumatic in-themselves, with "studies suggest[ing] that children's problems often flow from "the reactions of parents who respond to the event with such horror that it elevates the significance of the experience" (p. 539). Plummer qualifies his statements throughout, and ends by expressing the view that paedophilia should at least be allowed to be discussed:

"Pedophilia is a sensitive issue, especially at present. It is capable of evoking the most extreme and violent reactions amongst "ordinary" and sincere people. But I have tried to suggest in this article that many of the public conceptions of pedophilia are at odds with reality. : Given this, the most interesting question to ask now should focus on why people should feel so angry about pedophilia. Why should a university principal ban a pedophiliac from a conference; why should trade unions threaten strike action over pedophilia; and why should a hundred people charge along a street screaming, kicking and punching people simply because they wanted to talk about pedophilia?" (p. 539).

Newgon: We believe this interview represents Plummer's most considered reflections on the topic of cross-generational sexualities. As a social constructonist, Plummer resists and challenges fixed sexual and identity categories, including pedophilia. Plummer describes 3 stages to sexualities (p. 3), the 1st being the pre-history before a given behavior is categorized and marks subjects out as distinct kinds of people (i.e. homosexuals, pedophiles, sadists, etc.), and the 2nd being the creation of the category (i.e. "paedophilia erotica" by Kraft-Ebbing) which is used to regulate behavior. The 3rd stage, for Plummer:

"which is the future in some ways, where - and I would see the same thing for homosexuality and all the other types of sexuality [...] - there comes a period when you could live a life engaging in various forms of paedophilias that don't lead you to organize your life essentially as dominated by them. The culture begins to see paedophiles and paedophile relationships in a broader context and can come to terms with some of them. At present it certainly can't. It loathes them but that only hardens the identity." (p. 3).

Plummer identifies 4 discourses at play: the "almost taboo" discourse of "paedophilia" as used by a small minority to focus on love, positivity, and complexity in relationships; the "dominant" discourse of "child sexual abuse"[6] which sees youth as asexual and renders their erotic experiences as "abuse"; the discourse of "child sexuality" which Plummer is most interested in; and the discourse of "intergenerational sexuality" which considers sexuality across the age-spectrum. Plummer criticizes the "child sexual abuse" discourse as "itself abusive":

"in the main, the child sexual abuse lobby doesn't see the child as sexual at all. By denying the child's sexuality they constuct an image which is in itself, I think, abusive, namely that children have no sensual needs [... and] they cannot make any decisions about their erotic lives. Yes, the child sexual abuse lobby abuses children by denying them any kind of sexuality, and in the process causes them a lot of suffering. [...] The abuse lobby brought out the fact that real abuse was going on, but they overstated their case and created an hysteria" (pp. 5-6).

Plummer wants to find a middle-ground between the largely negative perspectives of feminists (for context, see U.S. historian Beryl Satter as quoted in our page on feminism), with the more positive perspective of the "paedophile lobby", which Plummer feels he was "in a sense decieved by" (p. 8). Plummer rejects the essentialism of claims that cross-generational relationships are inherantly abusive or positive, and "cringe[s] when I hear [...] revolutionary paedophiles, or revolutionary feminists, defend one position to the exclusion of another" (p. 10). Overall, Plummer dislikes "adult imposition of [sexual] meaning on the child", and wishes he "could develop a better language to talk about this [...] trying to recognize [...] good and bad" (p. 9).

  • Plummer, Ken. (1991). Understanding Childhood Sexualities. in Male Intergenerational Intimacy: Historical, Socio-Psychological, and Legal Perspectives, ed. by Theo Sandfort, Edward Brongersma, Alex van Naerssen (New York: Routledge), pp. 231-249.

Abstract: Contemporary concern over paedophilia and child sexual abuse usually rests upon uncritical and under-theorized conceptions of childhood sexualities. This article examines some of these assumptions and then outlines the social 'constructionist' alternative. Focusing upon the processes by which a child comes to script its sexual world, a number of central dimensions are posed: the scripting of absences, of values, of secrecy, of utility, of gender and of generation. By analyzing the complexity of childhood sexualities, the implications for cross-generational sexuality may be clarified.

  • Plummer, Ken. (2010). Review of Sarah D. Goode, Understanding and addressing adult sexual attraction to children: a study of paedophiles in contemporary society (London: Routledge, 2010), in International Journal of Research & Method in Education, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp. 318-319.[7]

In his review of Sarah Goode, Plummer felt safe to declare as late as 2010 that we live in “a moral panic over paedophilia”, but also that such panic “shows no signs of abating any time soon.” He wrote:

"Sarah Goode concludes that we must be clear: paedophiles exist, demonizing them makes the situation worse, and current interventions do not work. [...] The final chapter is more speculative and discusses the way 'abuse harms children' and offending can be prevented. She claims that while children are often interested in sex this is usually out of curiosity and exploration. At one point, she takes a stance that I find hard to grasp. She seems to argue that child sex abuse (CSA) is firmly rooted in the neurophysiological and essential nature of the act and that the harm which inevitably arises is intrinsic and has nothing to do with the social context. There is a big jump around here: I became perplexed and simply do not get it. [...] Overall, this is a much needed and very down to earth study which should be read by all working in this field. But the book is only a start." (p. 319).

The Pedophile's story cannot be told

In 1995, Plummer contended that "the pedophile’s story is one that cannot be told because there is no willing audience."[8] Sociologist Richard Yuill explains and criticized Plummer's thought as follows:

"Plummer criticises previous approaches [to intergenerational sexual encounters] for excluding [them] from the social and emotional contexts in which they take place (Plummer 1981b: 228). He identifies the conflict between paedophilia and classical liberalism over the tenet that a child cannot give consent (Ibid: 238). Plummer argues for the '[n]eed to relativize it [Editors: "it" = consent], humanize it, normalize it, and politicize it' (Ibid: 244), whilst connecting the accounts of both the paedophile and the child 'to wider matters of historical and social structure' (Ibid: 245). Plummer also recognises sexual stigma and ageism as crucial barriers for the acceptance of paedophilia in society (Plummer 1981 a: 115). He states that the 'paedophile ... lives in a fundamentally alien world where the truths projected in the dominant culture seem strikingly at odds with his or her own experience' (Ibid: 122). He outlines four reasons for the failure of paedophilia: a weak sub-cultural identity; legal sanctions; widespread publicly despised sexual persona; and a problematic paternalistic ideology which tends to produce an 'unequal, objectifying relationship', motivated by 'emotional and sexual control over children' (Ibid: 130, 131). Plummer's recognition of the disjuncture between the "truths" of the dominant culture and the paedophile's own experience is particularly important [...]. However, missing from his account is the multi-faceted ways young peoples' sexuality has been problematised in late modernity. Plummer's characterisation of paedophilic justifications is also contestable."[9]

Plummer's regret?

Plummer's most unsympathetic comments on minor-attraction relate to his ostensible regret over his early (unspecified) publications, in a public apology posted on his blog in 2014.[10] On his paedophilia research, Plummer wrote:

"These early papers from the 1970’s are of some historical interest, but given the changes in the wider world, I believe their conclusions are no longer tenable. I am saddened to think they might have been used to justify child abuse. [...] Given the upsetting nature of this material, I have now removed it from my web site. [...] I would never want any of my work to be used as a rationale for doing ‘bad things’ – and I regard all coercive, abusive, violent and exploitative sexuality as a ‘bad thing’."

In his apology, Plummer notably does not disavow his work on child sexuality, his book reviews addressing age-disparate eroticism, and his use of moral panic to frame the discussion of minor-attraction. He writes of his 1970's research into paedophiles that the "conclusions are no longer tenable”, implying he now believes relationships between MAPs and pre-pubescent minors are a "bad thing". Given Plummer's past statements and the fact he knew of research like Theo Sandfort's (1987)[11], which examined positively experienced man-boy sexual relationships with self-identified paedophiles from the minor's perspective - with Plummer contributing in a book co-edited by Sandfort (1991 above) - we are doubtful this statement reflects Plummer's considered view on the topic. Plummer's statement may have been motivated by "changes in the wider world" (i.e. bigotry towards MAPs and AAMs), the lack of research similar to Sandfort's, and the fact that Plummer's university had "investigated this issue", eventually concluding that his "academic work did not express support for pedophilia, and was conducted in a way that was consistent with the University’s Charter".[12]

Newgon: We find it unsurprising that Plummer would have sympathy and empathy for MAPs during the 1970s and thereafter privately into the 2010s. Plummer had lived through the partial decriminalization of (adult) homosexuality, and his interview research involved meeting self-identified paedophiles and homosexuals during a time when both were unlawful and widely condemned. During the 1970s, Plummer would have met homosexual/gay MAPs such as author and PIE chairman Tom O'Carroll (see our pages on O'Carroll and PIE) who, (according to O'Carroll), Plummer at least once hosted at his Essex home.[13] Plummer (in 1979) compared MAPs and homosexuals, and his statements about homosexuals in the 1970s could easily be substituted for statements in the 2010's-2020's about MAPs and anyone who is pejoritively labelled a "pedophile" for allegedy (or actually) engaging in lawful (i.e. stigmatized)[14], or unlawful (i.e. taboo/illegal) age-disparate homosexual/same-sex behavior. In his first article "Awareness of Homosexuality" (1973), for example, Plummer began with the following:

"In both England and America, homosexuality is a stigma symbol. To be called a homosexual is to be degraded, rendered as morally dubious, or treated as different. To be publicly known as a homosexual is to invite your employer to sack you, your parents to reject you, the law to imprison you, the doctor to cure you, the moralist to denounce you, the priest to pity you, the liberal to patronise you and the queer basher to kill you. [...] Given such costs it is little wonder that most homosexuals elect to conceal their identity from public gaze."[15]

Reflections on a life of telling sexual stories

Plummer attributes his scholarship partly to what he saw as a "radical" university culture of the 1970s. In 2014, Plummer was quoted as saying that “all radical universities have been tamed” and that “sociology is now in crisis”. [...] Essex’s original interdisciplinary ideals have been watered down [...] “where university life is increasingly shaped by money, mass markets, measurement and managers”.[16]

Plummer can be heard speaking on youtube, where he was interviewed in 2015 about such topics as the Kinsey institute[17], and how he self-censored his own interviews with paedophiles, sadomasochist, and other “sexual variations” which have never been published in full.[18]. We have documented many similar cases of academic self-censorship.

Upon death, Essex University posted tributes to Plummer on its website.[19]

All relevant publications

  • Plummer, Ken. (1979). 'Images of Paedophilia'. in M. Cook and G. Wilson, eds. Love and Attraction (Pergamon Press: London), pp. 537-540.
  • Plummer, Ken. (1980). Self help groups for sexual minorities: The case of the Paedophile. in D.J. West, ed. Sex Offenders in the Criminal Justice System (Cambridge), pp. 6-19.
  • Plummer, Ken. (1981). Paedophilia: Constructing a Sociological Baseline. in M. Cook and K. Howells ed. Adult Sexual Interest in Children (Academic Press), pp. 221-250. [Newgon: Reviews available research and argues for an assessment of MAPs free from prejudice and stereotyping].
  • Plummer, Ken. (1981). The Paedophile’s Progress: A View From Below. in B. Taylor ed. Perspectives on Paedophilia (Batsford: London), pp. 113-132. [Newgon: Assessed early history of MAP organizing via PIE and the reactions it received].
  • Plummer, Ken. (1985). Review of Child Pornography and Sex Rings, ed. by Ann Wolbert Burgess and Marieanne L. Clark (Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books, D. C. Heath. 1984).
  • Plummer, Ken. (Feburary 1990). Interview with Kenneth Plummer, in Paidika: The Journal of Paedophilia, volume 2: Number 2 (Issue 6), pp. 2-10.
  • Plummer, Ken. (1991). Review of Brongersma, Loving Boys: A Multidiciplinary Study of Sexual Relations Between Adults and Minor Males (Volume 1, 1986). in Journal of Homosexuality, Volume 20, Issue 1-2, pp. 320-323.
  • Plummer, Ken. (1991). 'Understanding Childhood Sexualities'. in Male Intergenerational Intimacy: Historical, Socio-Psychological, and Legal Perspectives, ed. by Theo Sandfort, Edward Brongersma, Alex van Naerssen (New York: Routledge), pp. 231-249.
  • Plummer, Ken. (2010). Review of Sarah D. Goode, Understanding and addressing adult sexual attraction to children: a study of paedophiles in contemporary society (London: Routledge, 2010), in International Journal of Research & Method in Education, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp. 318-319.

See also


  5. Link to PDF of Love and Attraction book:
  6. Cf. Teguh Wijaya Mulya (2018) - 'Contesting the Dominant Discourse of Child Sexual Abuse: Sexual Subjects, Agency, and Ethics', in Sexuality & Culture.
  7. Plummer, Ken. (2010). Review of Sarah D. Goode, Understanding and addressing adult sexual attraction to children: a study of paedophiles in contemporary society (London: Routledge, 2010), in International Journal of Research & Method in Education, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp. 318-319:
  8. Plummer, K. (1995). Telling sexual stories: Power, change and social worlds. London: Routledge, p. 118. Quoted in Richard Yuill, 'Intergenerational Sexualities: A Case Study on the Colonization of Late Modern Sexual Subjects and Researcher Agendas', in Censoring Sex Research (2013), p. 118. PDF Available online at:
  9. Yuill, Richard Alexander. (2004). Male age-discrepant intergenerational sexualities and relationships. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow. p. 33. Available at:
  14. On the stigmatization and pathologization of legal age-disparate relationships, see: Jessa Crispin, 'Pathologizing Desire', in The Boston Review (September, 2020),
  19. Tributes to Ken Plummer: