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Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex Paperback – August 27, 2003

4.1 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"In America today, it is nearly impossible to publish a book that says children and teenagers can have sexual pleasure and be safe too," writes journalist Levine (My Enemy, My Love). Levine has somehow pulled that off. Western European countries assume that "sexual expression is a healthy and happy part of growing up"; thus Levine argues that sex is not necessarily bad for minors, and that puritanical attitudes often backfire. According to her, as the age of sexual initiation drops in America, the age of consent is rising. She observes that most so-called pedophiles are attracted to teenagers rather than kids an important subtlety recently aired in the media. (Still, her call for common sense on pedophilia is marred by an inadequate acknowledgment of the extent of online child porn, as documented in Philip Jenkins's recent Beyond Tolerance.) She notes the disturbing trend toward pathologizing young children's eroticized play and criticizes mainstream America for letting the Christian right steer sex education toward an emphasis on abstinence. Compounding that, she says, the right wing has expunged abortion discussions. A Ms. and Nerve.com contributor, Levine argues, contra Mary Pipher (Reviving Ophelia), that love may ruin teenage girls more than sex. At one point, Levine cogently contends that the term "normal" is "subjective and protean"; she prefers "normative," which means "what most people do." It's a good start to confronting some vital questions.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Journalist and free-speech activist Levine (My Enemy, My Love: Women, Men, and the Dilemmas of Gender) here argues that trying to protect young people from sex can actually exacerbate or even create the much-feared sexual danger. Her well-documented horror stories of zealotry and incompetence are chilling; Levine is particularly good at showing that abstinence-based sex education leaves many teens without the information they need to make intelligent choices. Misrepresentations of fact, unfounded assumptions, the runaway media hype offered by so-called experts, conservative agendas, and simple conformity, she writes, largely determine our approaches to censorship, "the pedophile panic," youthful sexual behavior, sex education, abortion, and the suppression of information about sexual pleasure. These factors, she holds, predispose young people to have bad sex with unwanted outcomes. Instead of overreaction and overprotection, adults need to saturate their children's world with accurate, realistic information and images of love and sex, including sexual pleasure. Her book, which provoked considerable controversy even before its publication, provides no easy answers to a complex question but is highly recommended as a wake-up call. Martha Cornog, Philadelphia
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1 edition (August 27, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560255161
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560255161
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #994,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on May 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I appreciate a book that challenges my personal biases and makes me aware of research and information I didn't even know existed. As I read this book over three days, unable to put it down, I felt like it was giving me a serious education in American culture and human sexuality. I rather wish I'd taken a college course with this sort of information in it. Or better yet, a high school class. I found reading this that the author drove me to the desire to find out more. I want to read the other books she references, and look up the works listed in her notes. I wanted to be educated about things like sexual development in human beings, perceptions and repressions in the culture I live in, and all the points of view human beings have about sexuality. Even though I had a similar perspective to her on some things, I found she still challenged some old beliefs I was hanging on to, that I hadn't bothered to ever question or examine.
I'm female. I grew up in a conservative family and practiced abstinence in my teen years. I believed only in sex after marriage. I had never seen a condom, and I thought AIDS was something that promiscuous gays got. My parents kept me out of sex ed in high school, but never gave me "the talk." I got some basic information from books in the library, and that's all I had. I never masturbated and did not know how to have an orgasm until I was 18. When I finally did have sex, I used no protection, no birth control, and I didn't ask my partner if he had any STDs. It didn't even cross my mind. I hadn't been taught to think about these things. I was sure I was in love, and love made the sex right and "safe." When you think sex is love, you think nothing can possibly go wrong -- God will protect you.
Talk about naivete.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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It is readily apparent that most people who vote on these reviews vote according to the reviewer's perceived position on the subject discussed rather than on the quality of the book review and its helpfulness in a decision to purchase. With this in mind I expect to get very few positive votes and perhaps many scathing comments because of my position.

First, let me establish my credentials. I am a retired psychotherapist with many licensed years of private practice as a marriage, family, and child counselor in Texas, California, and Washington. I took graduate courses in the same classrooms with LCSW's, MFCC's, Clinical Psychologists, and in some cases M.D.'s with a specialty in psychiatry. Four semesters of grad school were in Switzerland. I did my internship in an outpatient clinic of a large psychiatric state hospital. I have worked with patients across the spectrum from students who were depressed because of grades to patients who had been lobotomized many years before, and many who were overmedicated with everything from Haldol to lithium carbonate.

In short, I consider myself well qualified to comment on Judith Levine's landmark book "Harmful to Minors."

A number of years ago a colleague and I were discussing the infamous McMartin Preschool case in Bakersfield, California. It involved an overzealous D.A., false charges filed against innocent teachers, an unqualified child behavior "expert" with no formal training, and a crazy mother who ultimately even charged the defense attorneys and the trial judge of child molestation. The woman had a history of mental problems and later killed herself. But with the help of a publicity hungry D.A.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Harmful to Minors by Judith Levine is an important title for educators on both sides of the sex ed issue. As a promoter of abstinence education, I was prepared to hate this book as a minor Pop-culture work that promotes sexual license and rooted in less-than scientific source materials. While my conclusion is that much of the books premise is flawed, I cannot fault her on her scientific sources or delivery of her ideas. In truth, she has done a grand job.
A WARNING: Sex ed advocates are like most others, they tend toward tunnel-vision. Levine is no exception. She labels those who promote abstaining as "right-wing" or "religious right" much too often, thereby hurting her case. Her style fluctuates somewhat from offering a scholarly approach and then slipping into "them-against-us" arguments that, quite frankly are tiresome. You can almost envision her get hopping mad as she types.
For those of us who care deeply that sex ed shouldn't promote sexual misconduct, Levine offers her argument- and those of her chums - very clearly. This is worth reading for yourself, even if you disagree with her conclusions.
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Format: Paperback
Levine's book, "Harmful to Minors", is obviously controversial. That's not surprising considering she is attempting to take down one of the biggest sacred cows in current society. Levine is positing something shocking- that children aren't aliens or angels or devils, that they are humans with all of the needs and desires and curiosities that entails. Her stats are well-researched, and have a tendency to knock your legs out from under you (she tells the truth about stats that are still in use, even by the so-called experts). Her understanding of our cultural biases is thorough. Sadly, her political views shine through here and there, and this is not helping the aim of the book any. This is the only reason I gave it 4 stars, rather than 5.

Let me be frank, Levine is trying to change the way people relate to children, even their own children, especially their own children. This will earn her a great deal of ire. Parents view their children as their most private possessions. Levine is trying to take away our favorite bogeymen. This is not easy either. The reason that Levine has so many detractors is because the work she does is so utterly noble and neccesary. I should add that I resent the implication by some of her readers that if she were a parent she would have written this book differently. I suppose if being a parent means that you are incapable of reason and logic, that may be the case. I prefer to think better of parents.

I think that every english-speaking person should read this book, parent or non. I think teenagers, teachers, psychologists, police officers, guidance counsellors, CPS employees, daycare workers, judges, doctors and politicians should read this book. I think that we could all stand to learn something, not just from this book, but from the conversations that come of rethinking our assumptions.
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