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three pairs of lovers with space



Elements of Cognition” is the first of the two parts of “Psychosexual Development”, the second section of “Boys and their Sexuality”, the third chapter of Loving Boys, the encyclopaedic study of Greek love by the eminent Dutch lawyer, Edward Brongersma, of which the first volume (including this) was published by Global Academic Publishers in New York in 1986.

The black-and-white illustrations are taken from Pan Magazine, to which Dr. Brongersma was an important contributor while he was working on Loving Boys.


Now we must briefly examine the psychosexual phenomena which accompany the evolution of an infant into a young man – an evolution far more complicated than the physical one. Writers – scientific, political, philosophical and artistic – hardly speak with a unified voice on this subject. In the opinion of some, the difference between the sexuality of the child and the sexuality of the adult is so great that a full-fledged relationship is quite impossible. Others, however, reject just as strongly any reference to “child sexuality”, asserting that there is no difference between it and adult sexuality. According to the Gay Left collective[1] both are wrong. Certainly each extreme can be confronted with annoyingly conflicting evidence: the first that all natural processes are gradual and cannot be broken by boundaries – transitions are not abrupt and the final form already lies hidden in the immature; the second that if you play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, for example, to a five-year-old and a twenty-five-year-old, they will both hear the same sounds but their emotional reactions will be quite different.

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This is equally applicable to sex. The little boy and the large adult man may both rub their penises and obtain a sexual climax, but this is no proof that the act has the same significance for both of them.

Let us examine the exposition of this subject made by the Dutch psychologist Theo Sandfort who has delved deeply into this theme in connection with sex contacts between adults and children.

Child and adult differ in “elements of cognition”, i.e. what an individual knows and thinks. Emotion (how an individual feels) and elements of cognition interact with one another fundamentally and significantly.

A boy, let us call him Ben, is staying overnight at the home of a friend. It happens there is a neighbourhood fireworks display. His friend John says to him, “Let’s go upstairs,” because there they will have a better view.

Chris has a love relationship with his young friend Dennis. Their finest and most passionate meetings take place at Chris’ home, in his upstairs bedroom. When Chris wants to make love with Dennis he simply tells him so. Dennis, on the other hand, prefers circumlocution: he makes the same point by saying, “Let’s go upstairs.”

The same phrase, then, laden as it is with elements of cognition, carries a quite different emotional charge for Chris, because of his relationship with Dennis, than it does for Ben.

From the moment of our birth we begin to acquire elements of cognition. For example, the reader of this book will be convinced that men and objects do exist, even where we cannot observe them directly. To the newly-born this is not clear at all, and it will take him two years to learn this. Gradually he acquires knowledge of reality, also of social reality. Part of social reality is that there are people distinct from his own self. At first this isn’t clear, either. The baby sucking his mother’s breast feels himself a single unit with her; only very slowly does the mother emerge as something distinct from the “ego”.

Much later the realisation dawns that another person has his own feelings, thoughts and motives, all of which may differ from that of the child. The element of cognition implies the ability to see oneself through the eyes of another, to put oneself in the skin of someone else, to understand a different person’s point of view.

Only then can a child say, “I like to touch your penis because you find it pleasant.”

This brings us to the elements of cognition of sexual life, and these, too are only gradually acquired and integrated with one another.

The newborn baby knows nothing. As he explores his own body he will inevitably play with his genitals and so discover – first element of cognition! – that this elicits very pleasurable sensations. And so sexuality begins. As soon as he has acquired this element of cognition he will touch his genitals more frequently. If someone else plays with the baby’s genitals, this person is not yet recognised as distinct from the “ego”. A sexual relation to this person is therefore excluded and there is no element of shared sexuality.

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If the little child now progresses to discover that a prolonged rubbing of his penis brings on intensely lustful sensations he has made another step forward, but he still remains entirely related, sexually, to himself. Even if his overt actions are precisely the same as those of a fourteen-year-old masturbating to fantasies of naked girls, the emotional context of the act is quite different. That another individual may be the object of the child’s lust is an element of cognition which it will take years to acquire.

Perhaps, before reaching this point, the child has already taken on another element of cognition, to wit that another person is able to stimulate his penis pleasantly by touching it, as in childhood sex-play. At first these games are entirely centered on oneself, but they may lead to the discovery of another element of cognition: “If I touch John, John will touch me, and that is pleasant.”

The following half-step brings a new element of cognition: “Something that makes me feel nice can also make another person feel nice.”

The child is still a long way from feeling, “John is an object of my lust; his fine body turns me on; it makes me feel nice to give him pleasure with my body and watch him respond with lust, knowing that he realises how his lust makes me feel happy and excites, in turn, my own.” All of these elements of cognition are indispensable to an “adult” sexual relationship, to make of sexuality an escape from loneliness and more than just a rubbing of one naked body on another. “It appears that a necessary component of rational premeditated sex is that the adolescent be well on the way to developing an identity of his own, separate from that of his parents.[2] Borneman, speaking about “the capacity to love another human being selflessly, and this in a sexual sense as well as in the sense of agape” adds, “The whole process of human psychosexual development with its cutaneous, oral and genital phase gives birth to this capacity.”[3]

This evolution is in itself already complex enough, but it is made enormously more complicated by the fact that Western society and its teachers refuse to accept the reality of human sexual evolution, in fact, interfere with it, hamper and obstruct it. There are no good reasons for doing so, reasons, that is, based on objective scientific knowledge; it is done simply out of obedience to a moral system which is strongly at variance with our human nature.[4] The unhappy child is told that his genitals are dirty and disgusting and that he is naughty if he touches them. Can one conceive of advice which is more perverting? He may have to suffer the consequences for the rest of his life. Many men were so effectively instilled with this idea that it is impossible for them to unite the love they may feel for an idealised woman with the supposed sordidness of sex, and so find themselves impotent with the venerated woman and only able to be sexually active with the despised whore.

An upbringing in harmony with human nature, on the other hand, will not only further the gradual development and acquisition of elements of cognition in the area of sex, but will also teach the child the vocabulary he needs to talk about his new experiences. We will come back to these matters in more detail in the Fifth Chapter.

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Along with an increase in the elements of cognition goes an increase in appreciation, value judgements, opinions about what is agreeable or painful, beautiful or ugly, good or bad, permitted or forbidden. All of these, coloured by social opinions and private experiences, will shape the ultimate sexuality of the adult.

There is a moment in life where the evolving individual links his personal experiences with what he has been taught about sexuality. This is the moment when he becomes sexually conscious. From now on he sees his own feelings as “sexual” and calls them so. He begins to apply the judgements he has internalised about sexuality to his own behaviour.

The foregoing exposition may now serve as background for the following data from youth psychological literature.

The child perceives his relation to others in an essentially different way than does the adolescent.[5] Real friendship only becomes possible with puberty. At first moral perceptions are entirely exterior, imposed upon one by authority; only sometime between the years of 12 and 15 do they become internalised and conscious.[6]

The sexual play of the child is entirely directed upon himself: “It is nice for me”. The first wish to have some kind of sexual experience may take place at an early age: 4.5% at age six or earlier, 32% at seven or eight, 35% at nine or ten, 24% at eleven or twelve. This means, therefore, that at nine years of age half of all boys are already randy. Human nature drives the child toward sexual experimentation of some kind: 4.5% at age six or earlier, 12% at seven or eight, 29% at nine or ten, 48% at eleven or twelve.[7] A desire to touch attractive persons may manifest itself even earlier, when the child is three.[8] Towards an adult partner a child usually behaves passively: he wants to be caressed, and the adult must comply. The adult has to respect the wishes of the child and only do with him what the child himself finds pleasing.[9]

Freud believed he had discovered a latency period, coinciding, roughly, with the years of elementary school, but in his later writings he came to doubt whether this temporary dormancy of sex was really a natural phenomenon or an artificial one caused by the strictures of our culture. Molt investigators today feel that it would be wrong to propose a latency period as a general phase of childhood, for no trace of it is found in cultures where children are allowed to express their sexuality openly.[10] Recent research has revealed that in our culture, too, “progressive psychosexual development continues during years five through twelve.[11]

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Only at puberty does sex acquire a whole new dimension; it is no longer merely a matter of “pleasure for me” but also of “my relating to someone else”, and so becoming an integral part of such a relationship.[12] Now the sexual behaviour of the boy becomes more active.[13]

At the same time the penis becomes much more sensitive than it was in childhood, more excitable, and this makes the boy more passionate.[14] The boy’s sexual appetite increases sharply and is chiefly directed upon obtaining pleasure. Love is no prerequisite for intimacy: relations are easily established if the boy thinks they will give him sexual pleasure.[15] Once he has passed the threshold of puberty, if he is not timid, human nature will push him into experimentation and he now enters the most sexually active period of his life.

In so doing he will make important discoveries. He will begin to reflect upon his own sexuality. Girls may, on average, reach physical maturity earlier than boys, but boys, being more experimentally active, are sooner conscious of their sexual identity, i.e. their heterophile and homophile tendencies. The boy discovers homosexual sensations at a mean age of 13 (a girl at 16); his being a homophile (if he is a homophile) becomes conscious at a mean age of 15 (a girl at 18).[16] 

A second discovery is the difference between sex partaken of purely for pleasure and sex as the expression of a personal relationship

35:  The special issue of Recherches entitled “Fous d’Enfance” contains an interview with a young man from Abidjan (Ivory Coast).

“Could you say something about how it was different during the time when you still couldn’t ejaculate?”

“There was a lot I didn’t know yet. I didn’t know you had much more pleasure if you caressed a girl at the same time, but now I know. Ever since I’ve been able to come, I’ve known. Now when I see a pretty girl on the street I get a hard-on. When I was little that didn’t happen. I saw no difference between one girl and another – I could have fucked any girl – the only thing that mattered was that thing between her legs. But since then I have discovered that there are pretty girls and ugly girls – and with a girl you love your pleasure is stronger than with one you don’t love.”[17]

14s playing cards 1970 d1

36:  Ben had a moving and deeply thought-provoking experience. When he was in grammar school he was a member of a club with some of his fourteen- and fifteen-year-old comrades. Their leader was the son of a local real estate agent, and occasionally this boy would “borrow” the key of an empty house from his father’s desk and the little gang would go there on a free afternoon. It was their pleasure to slowly strip off their clothes and then play and rough-house with each other stark naked. Finally they would pair off in couples and go to separate rooms in order to masturbate each other.

Actually, Ben didn’t find this all that much fun. Masturbating alone in his bedroom, where he could abandon himself to his own lusty fantasies, was much more exciting and satisfying than having a comrade rub him off. Nevertheless he joined in the sessions, for at that age a spoil-sport is liable to find himself socially ostracised.

For some years Ben had had a bosom friend, Charles, who lived on his street but went to a different school. One day he told Charles, in strictest confidence, about what went on in his sex club. To his amazement, Charles was enthralled with this information; he pleaded with Ben to let him join the club. Ben dutifully presented his friend’s request to the club members, and they agreed, providing Charles would put himself to the test by stripping naked while they remained clothed and watched. This he did without any hesitation, and then took part in their naked games. When it came time for the boys to go off in couples, Charles paired off with Ben, of course. Now, the moment Ben felt the hand of Charles, his closest friend, upon his penis, he was swept by the most intense feelings of sexual delight he had ever experienced, and a short time later came to an exquisite climax.

So Ben acquired one more element of cognition: sex with love, all things being equal, is more pleasurable than sex with someone you don’t care for. And this increment in his knowledge came about through the best simplest learning process of all – personal experience. (Personal communication)


Continue to Psychosexual Development: Importance of Puberty


[1] GAY LEFT COLLECTIVE, Happy Families? Pedophilia Examined. In: Tsang (Ed.) The Age Taboo. Boston: Alyson, 1981, 55. [Author’s reference]

[2] Martinson, F. M., Eroticism in Infancy and Childhood. Preadolescent Sexuality. Childhood and the Institutionalization of Sexuality. In: Constantine & Martinson (Eds.), Children and Sex. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1981, 33. [Author’s reference]

[3] E. Borneman, Lexikon der Liebe. Frankfurt: Ullstein, 1978, 927. [Author’s reference]

[4] Hart de Ruyter, Th. et al, De seksuele ontwikkeling van kind tot volwassene. Leiden: Stafleu, 1976, 63-4 [Author’s reference]

[5] Hanry, P., Les enfants, le sexe et nous. Toulouse: Privat, 1977, 91. [Author’s reference]

[6] Straver, C. J. & Geeraert, A., De seksuele en relationele ontwikkeling als leerproces. In: Frenken (Ed.), Seksuologie. Deventer: Van Loghum Slaterus, 1980, 84. [Author’s reference]

[7] Yankowski, J. S., Sex vor der Ehe. München: Lichtenberg, 1965, 72. [Author’s reference]

[8] Freud, S., Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie. Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1920, 49. [Author’s reference]

[9] Léonetti, P.-F., Je suis un homo… comme ils disent. Paris: Lefeuvre, 1978, 164 & 169. [Author’s reference]

[10] Hanry, P., Les enfants, le sexe et nous. Toulouse: Privat, 1977, 32, 80, 82 & 84. [Author’s reference]

[11] S. S. Janus & B. E. Bess, Latency: Fact or Fiction? In: Constantine & Martinson (Eds.), Children and Sex. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1981, 75 & 81, [Author’s reference]

[12] Straver, C. J. & Geeraert, A., De seksuele en relationele ontwikkeling als leerproces. In: Frenken (Ed.), Seksuologie. Deventer: Van Loghum Slaterus, 1980, 87. [Author’s reference]

[13] Hanry, P., Les enfants, le sexe et nous. Toulouse: Privat, 1977, 97;   Léonetti, P.-F., Je suis un homo… comme ils disent. Paris: Lefeuvre, 1978, 169. [Author’s reference]

[14] Pieterse, M., Pedofielen over pedofilie. Zeist: NISSO, 1982, II 87. [Author’s reference]

[15] Everaerd, W., Seks—En als dat nu eens niet lukt… In: Frenken (Ed.), Seksuologie, Deventer: Van Loghum Slaterus, 1980, 253. [Author’s reference]

[16] Sanders, G. J. E. M., Het gewone en het bijzondere van de homoseksuele leefsituatie. In: 258 Frenken (Ed.), Seksuologie. Deventer: Van Loghum Slaterus, 1980, 179. [Author’s reference]

[17] “1979, 119” [Author’s reference, not relating to anything in his bibliography]