Minor-adult sex (often erroneously termed "adult-child sex") refers to sexual activity or intercourse between an adult (a person over the age of consent), and a minor, usually viewed as a person below the age of consent. In most industrialized western societies, minor-adult sex is considered child sexual abuse by a large majority of people. Societal views and legal ramifications have varied across cultures and throughout history. In a less strict definition, it may refer to a wider range of sexual activity. People often colloquially, though inaccurately, refer to all such activity as pedophilia.
The phenomenon of sex between juveniles and adults is observable throughout the animal kingdom and has served different functions during the recorded history of mankind. In the late 19th century, early industrialized Western societies discovered "youth" as a distinct period of life, and began criminalizing sexual interaction between children and adults. Modern Western cultures began to deem harmful all sexual relations between adults and youth, giving rise to the contemporary concept of child sexual abuse.
Very recently the topic of minor-adult sex has become a topic of serious research apart from assumptions of child sexual abuse, as well as entering mainstream entertainment and media as a serious area of debate and research.
While most Western societies condemn minor-adult sex as child sexual abuse, not all cultures do so.
According to the 2001 Human Rights Watch World Report, in Yemen in 1999 the minimum marriage age of fifteen for women, rarely enforced, was abolished; the onset of puberty, interpreted by conservatives to be at the age of nine, was set as a requirement for consummation of marriage.
It seems that sexual activity in many higher vertebrate species has evolved from simple procreation to additionally serve purposes of social nature, and thus many species engage in a variety of sexual activities beyond fertilization, or strict opposite-sex and adult-adult pairings. The displayal of sexual interest towards fellow specimen tends to instantly end intra-species conflicts and aggressive behavior, and to initiate sexual activity, however it is under dispute among academics whether these sexual displayals to end conflicts count as domination and submission or rather consensual restoration of group peace by mutually enjoyed behavior.
Naming the common forms of intimate juvenile-adult sexual interactions in animals, German psychologist, sociologist, ethnologist, Indo-European scholar, religious scholar, and philosopher Gisela Bleibtreu-Ehrenberg writes:
- The 'fondling' connected with the reaction to the infant model in non-human primates, and in those primitive peoples that have no taboos relating to this, includes caresses, smelling, licking, 'romping', and the well-known 'grooming'. Touching and manipulation of the genitals of children belong in this context among the acts of devotion, while in humans, as a result of the heightened mobility of the hand, manual actions can supplement many of the forms of devotion mentioned. Their own reaction to the encoded stimulus of the infant model brings to those reacting an intensive experience of satisfaction (the 'reward' of nature, so to speak, for the response to the encoded stimulus).
While also engaging in juvenile-adult sexual interactions, adult males "appear to limit penetration and ejaculation to contacts with mature females", that is to procreative sexual activities.
While it seems common for immature individuals to practice sexual interactions with mature ones and thus most juveniles within populations seem to go through a stage at one time or another with more or less frequent such behavior with adults, the percentage of mature individuals within a herd or pack to engage in this behavior appears more limited, and these adults often do so in a promiscious fashion.
Many individual members of higher vertebrate species do not exhibit nurturing behavior towards the young of their species independently of social factors, i. e. if they are separated from their group early in life, growing up and reaching adulthood in isolation; even highly violent and murderous behavior towards their own offspring is observed in, for instance, chimpanzee mothers that grew up in isolation. An unusually high correlation is however observed between adult desire for practicing consensual juvenile-adult sexual interactions and obviously instinctly triggered nurturing behavior towards juveniles even in case of prior isolation of the adult individual, a correlation so high that it appears that adult individuals desiring juvenile-adult sexual interactions could be the only individuals posessing a genetical nurturing instinct independent of social influence.
- For research on concrete outcomes, see e.g. Research: Prevalence of Harm and Negative Outcomes.
Sex within intergenerational marriages
Ibn Warraq writes that Muhammad's example encourages the practice of child marriage in Muslim communities: "child marriages continue to be practiced, and the fact that the Prophet himself married Aisha when she was only nine and he was fifty-three encourages Muslim society to continue with this iniquitous custom."
Sex as a form of abuse
The widely-accepted view of minor-adult sex among both legal experts and lay people is that it is an inherently abusive practice by the adult against the minor. Supported by evidence from several studies of child sexual abuse victims, psychologists argue that the inability of minors to provide full and informed consent to sexual acts necessarily makes all such acts abusive in regards to the minor (or child). 
The American Psychiatric Association maintains the position that "children cannot consent to sexual activity with adults", and condemns the action of the adult in strong terms: "An adult who engages in sexual activity with a child is performing a criminal and immoral act which never can be considered normal or socially acceptable behavior."
A paper by David Finkelhor argued for "the importance of a stronger ethical position" than the belief that sex with adults causes harm to children. In his paper, Finkelhor calls into question what he considers to be three common arguments relating to "intrinsic harm", "premature sexualization" and "unnaturalness" of the act, describing them as both inadequate and lacking in solid empirical footing. Instead, he draws a parallel between Adult-child sex and sex between a therapist and a patient, stating that while there may be cases where the patient benefits, it should still be considered wrong due to the fundamental asymmetry of the relationship.He wrote: "It is suggested that basing the prohibition of adult-child sex on the premise that children are incapable of full and informed consent will provide a more solid and consistent approach to the problem."
Sex as non-abusive
Those who have disagreed with the majority viewpoint include philosophers, academics, writers, and pro-pedophile activists. In the controversial 2002 book Harmful to Minors, the feminist writer Judith Levine wrote that some scholars challenge the idea that all sexual activity between adults and minors is necessarily harmful, and that in some cases, "quite young" people can have a positive sexual experience with an adult, referring specifically to "happy consensual sex among kids under 12."Psychologists Bruce Rind and Robert Bauserman argued in a 1998 study (Rind et al) that not all cases of minor-adult sex should be termed child sexual abuse. Authors of the study argued that "CSA does not cause intense harm on a pervasive basis regardless of gender.", and that "an important reason why the assumed properties of CSA failed to withstand empirical scrutiny in the current review is that the construct of CSA, as commonly conceptualized by researchers, is of questionable scientific validity." This study was officially "condemned" by the United States Congress, an event which marked the first time in U.S. history that Congress officially condemned a study published in a major scientific journal.
Strictly speaking, sex between a person just below the age of consent and a person just above it can be termed (and considered by some) to be a form of minor-adult sex. In these situations, legal defenses are often available when the age difference is small.
The American Psychiatric Association and the WHO both define pedophilia as attraction by adults and older youths toward "prepubescent" children (defined as less than 13 years of age), whether the attraction is acted upon or not. Researchers like Howard E. Barbaree have argued for a sharper focus on sexual activity over sexual attraction, asserting that the diagnosis of pedophilia only apply to those who have sexual relations with children, rather than to all who experience the desire.
Some research indicates that most perpetrators of child sexual abuse are not primarily interested in prepubescent youths. In two studies designed to measure sexual preferences using phallometric data, it was found that "30% of the [child sex] offenders tested did not show sufficient arousal [to children] to derive a usable score."  Sociology professor Rüdiger Lautmann, in his book on pedophilia, stated: "In this book I am concerned exclusively with the first type [the true pedophile who "has a general interest in social contact with children, including a sexual dimension"], which constitutes approximately 5% of all pedosexually active men." A survey of cases of father-daughter incest concluded that most involve fathers who are situational offenders, rather than pedophiles.
A sexual initiation or debut is a first experience of sexual intercourse by a minor, usually a teenager or late adolescent, and may or may not be with an adult. In Finland, girls are generally more likely to experience early debut than boys, particularly when an adult is involved.
In the interest of protecting minors, this practice is outlawed, along with other forms of child abuse and sexual assault, almost everywhere. Adults violating these laws are generally subject to severe criminal penalties, in some cases life imprisonment or even capital punishment in very rare cases. Production of child pornography by an adult also incurs strict punishment because it itself is considered child sexual abuse. The possession and distribution of child pornography is likewise punished with strict measures, due to the assumed possibility of these acts to facilitate further child sexual abuse.
The popular consensus in defining the appropriate age of consent has moved upwards in modern times, coincident with changes in scientific and moral views of human sexuality and the psychological and social nature of childhood. In England, the legal age of consent was 10 for three centuries, until the end of the 19th century. By the turn of the 20th century, 14 to 18 had become the norm in many places, particularly Western and Western-influenced countries. In the 21st century, sexual relationships between adults and minors aged 16 to 18 are now considered legal in most countries, but legal variations exist allowing for ages of consent as young as 12 or as old as 21. A minority of countries either do not have any enforceable legal age of consent regulations, or have abolished such regualtions entirely in favour of arbitrary societal judgement and local customs.. According to the 2001 Human Rights Watch World Report, in Yemen in 1999 the minimum marriage age of fifteen for women, rarely enforced, was abolished; the onset of puberty, interpreted by conservatives to be at the age of nine, was set as a requirement for consummation of marriage. 
While sexual intercourse without consent is considered rape, adult's intercourse with a person below the legal age of consent, either with or without consent, is punishable under law with varying severity. In case of statutory rape, consent by the minor is not considered as legal consent.
French petitions and letters
In 1977, a petition was addressed to the French Parliament calling for the repeal of several articles of the age-of-consent law and the decriminalization of all consented relations between adults and minors below the age of fifteen (the age of consent in France at the time). The document was signed by many philosophers and intellectuals who were, or have come to be, incredibly influential, including Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, René Schérer, novelist and gay activist Guy Hocquenghem, and by "people belonging to a wide range of political positions". Similar sentiments were expressed by 69 signers of an open letter published January 26, 1977 in Le Monde concerning two men accused of violating France's age of consent law.
Another open letter was published in Libération in March, 1979, this time signed by 63 prominent French intellectuals, supporting a Frenchman accused of sexual relations with girls aged 6 to 12. According to the letter, the girls' "blooming shows before the eyes of all, including their parents, the happiness that they found with him."
Difficulty in researching
Psychiatrist Jay R. Feierman, describing what he considers to be the most common shortcomings of literature on minor-adult sex, writes:
- ...most of the lay and professional literature, although voluminous, reflect a narrow anthropo-, ethno-, and chronocentrism that precludes any real understanding of the topic with anything more than the preconceptions of our times. The writing is anthropocentric because the topic often is discussed as though humans were the only species in which sexual behavior between adults and nonadults is found. The writing is ethnocentric because the behavior is discussed as though it were, somehow, peculiar to Western industrialized societies. The writing is chronocentric because the behavior is discussed as though it were a recent development in the history of the human species. All of these ‘-centrisms’ obscure the fact that the behavior is seen in other species, societies, and times and has to be understood within these broader contexts.
- Child marriage
- Child sexuality
- False allegation of child sexual abuse - example, satanic panic.
- Child sexual abuse
- Child pornography
- "Nicole Kidman's BIRTH: shocking double standards" from John Mark Ministries
- "Adult-Child Sex: Abuse or Misuse?" from Prevent Abuse Now
- "Mainstream Book Advocating Adult-Child Sex Draws Howls of Protest" from Fox News
- "Adult-child sex is wrong – always" from The Spokesman-Review
- "What’s wrong with sex between adults and children?" from Male Homosexual Attraction to Minors Information Center
- "'Nothing new' in book condoning child sex" from World Net Daily
- "Some in mainstream contend certain cases of adult-minor sex should be acceptable" from Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
- These academics seek to change the language, moving away from "pedophilia," which often evokes a charged negative response, particularly in light of the priest-pedophile cases challenging the Roman Catholic Church. In its place would be more neutral terms such as "intergenerational sex" or "adult-child sex."
- "What's Wrong with Adult-Child Sex?" by Claudia Card (2002) from the Journal of Social Philosophy 33 (2), 170–177.
- "Baptists criticize implication that adult-child sex may not be harmful" by Don Hinkle from Baptist Press
- "Study on Child Sex Abuse Provokes a Political Furor" by Erica Goode from the New York Times
- The authors also suggested that the term adult-adolescent sex or adult-child sex be substituted, in some cases, for child sexual abuse.
- "Is adult/child sex always abusive?" by Dale O'Leary from Fathers for Life
- "Push for adult-child sex threatens society's moral fabric, Land says" by Dwayne Hastings from the Baptist Press
- Richard Green. "Is Pedophilia a Mental Disorder?". Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 31, No. 6, December 2002, pp. 467–471.
Ms. Levine cites research about "happy consensual sex among kids under 12," and writes: "America's drive to protect kids from sex is protecting them from nothing. Instead, often it is harming them."
- But researchers and activists say the book is only the most recent in a series of academic arguments for "consensual" sex involving children
- In 2000, the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco published an article, "Sexual Rights of Children," saying there is "considerable evidence" that there is no "inherent harm in sexual expression in childhood."
- San Francisco State University professor Gilbert Herdt, co-author of the 1996 book "Children of Horizons: How Gay and Lesbian Teens Are Leading a New Way Out of the Closet," said in an interview with the Dutch pedophilia journal Paidika that "the category 'child' is a rhetorical device for inflaming what is really an irrational set of attitudes" against sex with children.
- John Money, professor emeritus of psychology at Johns Hopkins University, gave an interview to Paidika about "genuinely, totally mutual" sex between boys and men. In the introduction to a Dutch professor's 1987 book called, "Boys on their Contacts with Men: A Study of Sexually Expressed Friendships," Mr. Money wrote that opponents of pedophilia are motivated by "self-imposed, moralistic ignorance."
- Harris Mirkin, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, published a 1999 article in the Journal of Homosexuality complaining that boys who have sex with men "are never considered willing participants, even if they are hustlers." He has also written that "children are the last bastion of the old sexual morality."
- A 1998 "meta-analytic" study in an American Psychological Association (APA) journal argued, among other things, that "value-neutral" language such as "adult-child sex" should be used to describe child molestation if it was a "willing encounter."
- Ms. Levine's book favorably cites the Rind study and, in a telephone interview, she defended the study as "methodologically meticulous."
- Academic defenses of sex between adults and children are not new. Indiana University professor Alfred Kinsey claimed in his famous 1948 and 1952 reports on human sexuality that "children are sexual from birth" and included charts of "data" gathered by pedophiles about the children they molested.
- Robert Stacy McCain, Experts debate impact, gray areas of adult-child sex, USA Today, 2002-04-17
- Sex researchers and academics are tussling over a topic that most Americans don't even want to think about: sex between adults and children. Some of these experts are making the startling assertion that not all sexual activity between adults and minors is necessarily harmful.
- But some serious researchers and academics want to review the term "child sexual abuse," preferring a more neutral term such as "adult-child sex."
- Experts debate whether sex with an adult is more damaging for an adolescent girl than for a boy, as some research indicates.
- "I think the evidence has been clear for some time that child and adolescent sexual abuse does not always do harm in the long term," says David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire, one of the nation's foremost researchers on the sexual abuse of children. "That is the good news."
- Discussions about adult-child sex are appearing in professional journals, including a special issue last month of the AmericanPsychologist, a journal of the American Psychological Association (APA).
- The adult-child theme has been picked up on TV shows such as Boston Public, Once and Again and Dawson's Creek.
- Robert Stacy McCain - Endorsement of adult-child sex on rise, Washington Times, 2002-04-19
- Ms. Levine cites research about "happy consensual sex among kids under 12," and writes: "America's drive to protect kids from sex is protecting them from nothing. Instead, often it is harming them."
- Ames, A. & Houston, D. A. (1990). "Legal, social, and biological definitions of pedophilia." Archives of Sexual Behavior. 19 (4), 333-342.
- Most important, much of the research has accepted a legal definition of pedophilia, treating all offenders convicted of child molestation as pedophiles, regardless of the age or appearance of the victim. We argue that a distinction should be made between biological children and sociolegal children. Laws governing child molestation reflect sociolegal childhood, regardless of its discrepancy with biological childhood. True pedophiles should be identified by their preference for biological children. By using legal classifications, researchers may well be confusing two distinct types of offenders, child molesters and rapists, and confounding attempts to understand pedophilia.
- Rind, Bruce, & Yuill Richard. "Hebephilia as Mental Disorder?" Archives of Sexual Behavior, Jun 28 2012
- Killias, M, Dr., in Sandfort, Brongersma, Naerssen (ed.) 'Male Intergenerational Intimacy', Haworth Press, 1991, pp 41-46.
- The Sexual Exploitation of Children, Chart 1: Definitions of Terms Associated With the Sexual Exploitation (SEC) and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) (p. 4), University of Pennsylvania Center for Youth Policy Studies, U.S. National Institute of Justice, August 2001.
- Child Sexual Abuse (CSA): Sexual activity involving persons younger than 18 years of age. Most often perpetrated by an adult, such activities include rape and molestation, pornography, and exposure of children to the sexual acts of others
- Richard Green. "Is Pedophilia a Mental Disorder?". Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 31, No. 6, December 2002, pp. 467–471.
- Ford and Beach (1951) described cross-cultural examples of child–adult sex from the Human Relation Area files at Yale University.
- In the eighteenth century, Cook (1773) reported copulation in public in Hawaii between an adult male and a female estimated to be 11 or 12 "without the least sense of it being indecent or improper" (cited in Diamond, 1990). Sexual interactions between adult and child were seen as benefitting the child, rather than as gratifying the adult. The sexual desire by an adult for a nonadult, heterosexual or homosexual, was accepted (Pukui, Haertig, & Lee, 1972, cited in Diamond, 1990).
- Observations concern a near relative of Man, the bonobo, where these "pigmy chimps" are allowed free access to any other bonobo for sexual contact at the San Diego Zoo. Nonfertile combinations (same-sex or juvenile–adult combinations) were as frequent as potentially fertile, adult male–female combinations. Further, one third of sociosexual contacts by an adult with an infant were initiated by the infant (De Waal, 1990).
- How common is sexual interest or arousal in persons not known to be, or self-labeled as, pedophiles? In a sample of nearly 200 university males, 21%reported some sexual attraction to small children, 9% described sexual fantasies involving children, 5% admitted to having masturbated to sexual fantasies of children, and 7% indicated they might have sex with a child if not caught (Briere & Runtz, 1989). Briere and Runtz remarked that "given the probable social undesirability of such admissions, we may hypothesize that the actual rates were even higher" (p. 71). In another sample with 100 male and 180 female undergraduate students, 22% of males and 3% of females reported sexual attraction to a child (Smiljanich & Briere, 1996).
- Bleibtreu-Ehrenberg, Gisela: The Paedophile Impulse: Toward the Development of an Aetiology of Child-Adult Sexual Contacts from an Ethological and Ethnological Viewpoint, in: Paidika - Journal of Paedophilia, no. 3, 1988 (original German abridged publication in 1985 as Der pädophile Impuls - Wie lernt ein junger Mensch Sexualität? in the sociological and political journal Der Monat, founded and published by Melvin J. Lasky, editor-in-chief Michael Naumann, publisher emeritus of Die Zeit, former federal Minister of State, a SPD candidate for mayor in the 2008 Hamburg elections; second English edition published 1997 in: Joseph Geraci, Angelia R. Wilson (ed.): Dares to speak: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Boy-Love, Gay Men's Press: London)
- Waal, F.B.M. de, Sociosexual Behavior Used for Tension Regulation in All Age and Sex Combinations Among Bonobos, in Feierman, J. (ed.), Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990
- Grzimeks Tierleben ("Grzimek's zoology"), vol. 1, Säugetiere ("Mammals"), Munich/Germany, 1979, p. 533.
- Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not a Muslim, p. 320, Prometheus Books, 1995, 0879759844
- Comment on Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman (Rind et al), Steven J. Ondersma , Mark Chaffin, Lucy Berliner, Ingrid Cordon and Gail S. Goodman, and Douglas Barnett, Psychological Bulletin Vol. 127. No 6.707-714, 1998.
- Leadership Council - APA Statement on Child Sexual Abuse Quote: "...it is the position of the Association that children cannot consent to sexual activity with adults."
- APA Letter to the Honorable Rep. DeLay (R-Tx.)
- Finkelhor, David. Finkelhor, D. (1979). What’s wrong with sex between adults and children? Ethics and the problem of sexual abuse. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 49(4), 692–697.
- Levine, J. (2003). Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex, Thunder's Mouth Press
- Rind controversy
- American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fifth edition)
- World Health Organization, ICD 11.
- Barbaree, H. E., and Seto, M. C. (1997). Pedophilia: Assessment and Treatment. Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment. 175-193.
- Lanning, Kenneth (2001). Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis (Third Edition). National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
- Wogan, Michael (2002)
- Rüdiger Lautmann - Attraction to Children
- Quinsey, V. L. (1977). "The assessment and treatment of child molesters: A review." Canadian Psychological Review. 18, 204-220.
- Rind 2022 Summary
- What is sexual abuse?, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
- Waites, M. (2005). The Age of Consent: Young People, Sexuality and Citizenship, Palgrave Macmillan
- http://www.avert.org/aofconsent.htm Wordwide age of consent laws
- Foucault, Hocquenghem and Danet are referenced several times as petitioners in the Michel Foucault's text “Sexual Morality and the Law” (online version in English). The term “people belonging to a wide range of political positions” are mentioned on page 273.
- The names of philosophers Jacques Derrida, Louis Althusser and André Glucksmann come from the Dignaction.org website (in French). Finally, the names of philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Roland Barthes, as well as of the writers Alain Robbe-Grillet and Philippe Sollers, come from the Denistouret.net website (also in French).
- 1977-1979 petitions and signatures (in French), retrieved 4 April 2005
- Feierman, J. (ed.), Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990