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Harmful To Minors: The Perils Of Protecting Children From Sex

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  499 ratings  ·  69 reviews

Now available in paperback, Judith Levine's controversial book challenges American attitudes towards child and adolescent sexuality-especially attitudes promulgated by a Christian right that has effectively seized control of how sex is taught in public schools. The author-a thoughtful and persuasive journalist and essayist-examines the consequences of "abstinence" only edu

Hardcover, 344 pages
Published March 26th 2002 by Univ Of Minnesota Press
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Malvina This is a good point and honestly I agree with it, I think that this book was a little imbalanced in who it shifts blame on. It could have been better…moreThis is a good point and honestly I agree with it, I think that this book was a little imbalanced in who it shifts blame on. It could have been better if it talked more about the influence of the Left on public education. Certain groups of feminists did team up with the "Christian Right" to bring about sex-negative change, though Levine makes little mention of that.(less)

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Start your review of Harmful To Minors: The Perils Of Protecting Children From Sex
I’ve been pushing this book at pretty much everyone I saw this past weekend, so a lot of you have already gotten an earful. For the rest of you: find this book, read this book, give it a long hard mull. For it is awesome.

Right, so. The first half of this book deals with the way American law and culture addresses – and mostly fails to address – sex and children. From the unsurprising indictment of sex-ed to the discussions of the misogyny and powerlessness perpetuated by statutory rape laws, it’s
Feb 10, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Angela by: Jessika of feminist book group fame
Shelves: sd-fem-bookclub
Harmful to Minors is a unique book advocating a different approach to sex education and children's sexuality. The work is well-researched and I agree with many of the author's theses, though it doesn't attempt or pretend to be unbiased. Levine braves some very controversial waters by asserting that children should be, for the most part, left alone to explore their sexualities and that traumatizing children about sex and intruding on their privacy is ultimately harmful. She makes a convincing cas ...more
Jul 03, 2007 rated it liked it
If anyone doesn't quite see how the ultra-conservative Christian Fundamentalist agenda is and has been effecting the most intimate decisions we make, including how we raise children, this book will break much of it down for you. It took me a little while to process some of the things that Levine was arguing, because it goes against so much of what I was raised with, and you'll see what I mean if you read the book. Once I situated what she was writing within the right frame of mind, I found mysel ...more
Lauren Deland
Jun 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I find myself constantly returning to this excellent indictment of the ways in which American culture psychically terrorizes its youth in its misbegotten efforts to protect children from sexual knowledge. Judith Levine is bold, brave, and right on- an excellent antidote for what passes for sex education these days. Read it!
3.5 stars. I really enjoyed reading this book and it led me to question and/or rethink many of my assumptions regarding children/youth and sex. Some important and interesting points:
- As a therapist, I found the "therapy" chapter really interesting. I had some disagreements (see below) but found it refreshing to hear someone challenging some sacred cows of the therapy field.
- It can be really damaging when we pathologize children's normative sexual behavior as abuse, molestation, or trauma react
Dec 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm very glad to see a book of this kind out on the market. I've thought for most of my adolescent (and now young adult) years that adults were just silly when it comes to sex and children. A lot of the research presented in this book backs that up. We can often do more harm to our children trying to protect them from sex and sexuality than we do them good.

I think this book is the kind of thing every parent needs to be exposed to before having a child so that they can make informed and healthy
Adrian Colesberry
Brilliant and brave analysis of the incompetent and harmful efforts made to protect children and youth in this country from "harmful sexuality." In an age where nothing gains political capital like an effort to track and punish child molesters, Levine asks the tough questions such as, "Who exactly are these child molesters?" The answers will shock: Some of the so-called child molesters on the maps that parents scrutinize in paralyzed fear are flashers or a guy who got into an ill-advised relatio ...more
Dec 24, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This country is obsessed with children and sex. A great deal of effort is expended on censorship in the name of making sexually explicit material inaccessible to children, even though there is no evidence whatsoever that children are harmed in any way after viewing it. I once made a presentation in the elementary school where my wife's son went; I wanted to point the browser on the classroom computer at my homepage, but I couldn't: as far as the school was concerned, the entire Internet except f ...more
A brilliant attack on right-wing (and left-wing) prudishness, abstinence education, and the evil homegrown American Nazi types who invented the myth of "child porn." However, in this book--published a few years ago, when the Internet may have seemed to hold more promise for creating a freer society than it does now--Levine tends to overrate the Web's potential ability to help youths become more sexually aware. By now, our native agents of repression have found ways to use THAT to ruin innocent p ...more
Lisa Jahn
Apr 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Levine critiques societal norms and laws concerning minors and sexual relationships.
Using historical and legal data she presents a strong argument in
favor of reforming laws and norms that supposedly protect children from harm.
She covers a range of topics from the effects of abstinence only education and why this form of education does not provide minors with the tools to make informed choices to statutory rape laws
that are in serious need of reform.
Overall it is a great read, just be open mi
Jul 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just re-read this about five years after first buying and reading it. Levine lays out her work in two halves -- the first laying out (and debunking) the anti-sex hysteria of contemporary America, and the second offering a considered sex-positive vision for kids and young adults. She's not afraid of the P-word -- pleasure.

Five stars for a thorough and serious (and heavily footnoted) look at a difficult and important phenomenon. Four stars for still falling prey to some stereotypes about teens.
Feb 24, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ah, no. This is a very misguided book. The research that is cited is misinterpreted or twisted. I am not sure of the author’s intention- why would she argue that pedophilia does not exist? She continues to state that even if it does exist, it is curable. The author does not back this statement up with any research. She offers dangerous advice to parents. Please read with caution.
May 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The overarching message of this book is not merely important to the adolescent development but imperative. Simply put, we must provide teens and preteens with better sexual education. Chapter after chapter, Levine details sad stories of children having to face real physical and emotional consequences due to their sexual ignorance. Instead of conveniently pointing the finger at one source (say, the saturation of the media's portrayal and framing of sexual images and sexuality in ONLY hetero-norma ...more
May 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Should be absolutely mandatory reading. It questions so very many of the assumptions that we have about sexuality and how it pertains to children.

You don't necessarily need to be convinced by some of the arguments, but they will (or should!) at the very least provide a lot of food for thought. I found myself being horrified at certain claims, only to later come around to the author's way of thinking by reflecting in the abstract and on some pretty relevant personal experiences.

It's one of those
We live in a society where fear and ideology are the basis for many of the decisions made regarding children and sexuality, from the ever present panic about sexual abuse to the prevalence of abstinence only education despite the predominance of evidence that it does not work. This is underlying message Judith Levine describes in Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex, a thought-provoking and intense work chronicling how we got to the place we are today and how these attit ...more
Jun 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Still halfway through this, after two years. Which is not to say it's not excellent. I am totally on board with Levine's pragmatism and general take on the subject, and she writes well. But you know how sometimes reading something you agree with is very fascinating and invigorating and sometimes it's just, yeah, duh? I'm getting the latter, I guess, because I keep putting it down and not picking it up again. Still, this is stuff I think about a lot and she's really laid in out comprehensively an ...more
Aug 07, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: teenagers, rhetoric students, ballsy publishers
I taught this book to college freshman, not realizing that it had the added boon of sneaking in some of the sex education that abstinence-only classes had denied them (so, um, do be prepared to answer questions that are about more than the rhetoric). The writing is clear, and her case for our misplaced fears of strangers lurking with candy is quite compelling, although I do think she down plays risk from family members. The fact that Americans are so afraid of pleasure that her publisher got sca ...more
Jun 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lefty-parents, sex educators, anyone who works with children
Shelves: parenting

The first half of this book is an excellent deconstruction of the 'abstinence only' program of sexual education and how farcical and damaging it is. This was, of course, preaching to my own personal choir. I found the second half the truly brilliant part - where Levine lays out what a truly progressive sexual education for children would be. I adored the focus on community and communal participation - as well as the emphasis on both romantic and physical want, for boys and girls both. Wonderful
Jul 31, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of the stuff in here is kinda boilerplate unreflective liberalism (esp. the stuff about gender and androgyny) but overall it's a scorching and in my anecdotal experience totally justified attack on the way that children in America are made to fear their own bodies and their sexuality and love the conformity and violence that is basically fucking us over all the time.
Not particularly useful for teachers looking for tips on how to talk about sexuality with older teenagers without getting fir
Jul 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: parents of teenagers
Recommended to Kristin by: Laura
Shelves: psychology
An uncomfortable review for me to write, because the book is about kids' sexuality. But that's just the author's point: Levine sets out to neutralize harmful cultural assumptions about children and sex. Some of her arguments swung a bit too liberal for me; of course, I am a confirmed fence-sitter. All in all, a well-thought out book that provides a much-needed different perspective on the topic. ...more
Philip Naw
Aug 01, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The author cites Lawrence A. Stanley, who was convicted of child pornography, as a valid source. In particular, she cites Stanley's playboy article, "The Child-Porn Myth." You can write in a academic style but sources like these do not support the author's claims.

This is not scholarship. I don't know what the motivations behind this book were, but the scholarship is by no means convincing.
Jun 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this shorty after it came out, and recently decided to reread it. It's message remains timely. We've allowed the health and education of our children to be politized, and it has been to their detriment. ...more
Rachel Smith
Nov 21, 2017 rated it liked it
This is not a typical book, in some ways, and in others, it very much is.

Harmful to Minors makes many fair points about infantilizing children, pathologizing normal behavior, and using people's protectiveness of children to pass censorship laws. On that note, I could recommend the book.

Unfortunately, the ways in which it is typical far outweigh the valid points the author makes. I understand that many are in favor of birth control and abortion, but Ms. Levine seems to practically salivate at the
I really like the first half of this book. Levine challenges all our Puritanican notions about protecting children from sex. She forces us to ask "What IS the harm to minors?" when it comes to sex. We think we just instinctively know what kids should and shouldn't know, see, or do but where do these ideas come from? (Hint: The Christian Right.)

To me, the most interesting theme that runs throughout this book is agency. At what point does a child have control and say so over his or her own body a
Nov 20, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has a lot of good points and is super interesting. But it must be read with a highly critical eye. I recommend reading it only after you have read Szaz's book The Myth of Psychotherapy (because otherwise you might buy in to the idea that there is such a thing as "healthy" and "unhealthy" sexuality, you might fail to see academia for what it is - a church, here to save your soul and mold you into their ideal).

For me, Levine's greatest failure is her myopic academic views. I love freedom
Cat Noe
The low rating is not for the content or points made in this book; it's because I was, frankly, bored half to death in the reading. It's a little on the alarmist side for an anti-hysteria book, and despite the wealth of relevant scientific data available on the topic, this seems to focus almost entirely on the problems (and anecdotes) specific to American culture. That's fair, I guess. All the same, I'm finding Ellis to have a much more balanced and open-minded approach to the subject. Plus, he ...more
Mar 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: health, sexuality
Very thought provoking. Sees sexuality as a continuum from birth through sexual maturity. And tells us to light up when young children explore their physical feelings and body parts. Points out that true pedophilia is very rare, and most criminal cases involve a teenager and a young adult. She implies that if a young person's first lover is 10 years older that's not necessarily a bad thing (boy, girl, gay or straight). I don't think a man could write a book like this without being accused of all ...more
May 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I saw this book in my university's library and skimmed through it, needing something to read on the bus that day. I took it home and could not put it down for the next 14 hours. It's an interesting exploration of many issues that a lot of people find too shocking or improper to talk about. I commend the author for not only daring to approach this subject but also for doing it with such a compassionate and educated stance. ...more
Feb 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-own-it
I read this book solely due to the huge controversy that surrounded it. Mainly, it argues that children are sexual beings and that denying this fact is dangerous. One interesting part is her take on the ways in which the media uses incidents of child sexual abuse to drum up fear about sexuality in general.
Mar 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The discussion of abortion in the US, Levine writes, has resulted in "resurrected 'jailbait' laws [that are often used to target gay men]." Levine complains that "the political center has shifted so far rightward and the symbolic time frame so far backward that even mainstream organizations are adopting anachronism and calling it innovation." ...more
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