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three pairs of lovers with space



This is the seventh chapter of Secret Love: Eros between Boy and Man (2022), an anonymous translation of Wolf Vogel’s  Heimliche Liebe: Eros zwischen Knabe und Mann (Hamburg: John & Ernst, 1997). Dr. Edward Brongersma (1911-98), the author of this chapter was a Dutch senator, lawyer and knight, the author of Loving Boys (1986-90), and the pre-eminent boysexual activist of the day.


Strangely enough, it was children themselves who made it more difficult for me to get the words for this text down on paper. They played outside in front of my window, constantly making an awful racket, thereby often making it impossible for me to work. From time to time, I was so at my wits’ end that I felt the urge to face-slap one of these little rowdies.

12s playing in street Oveveen 1990 d1

Most readers will be able to understand my anger, and laugh. But if I would have said something different, the laughing would have given way to an expression of indignation. If, for example, I had written: Children were playing in front of my window, which was really distracting me. Because there was a pretty little girl—or a lovely little boy—out there, whom I felt a desire to call over to me, in order—in the event he or she was up for it—to caress his or her naked body and have a really good time.

If I had written something like that, I would have been branded by public opinion as a disgusting criminal, a sex fiend. Although one can speak freely about inflicting pain on children, the urge to let a child enjoy sexual pleasure is scandalous. What is it about sex? Or about children?

Showing that other people and other times did not find erotic relations with children to be strange or repulsive should be sufficient. The fact that, nowadays, we Europeans would have rendered children coming into contact with sexuality completely taboo is, therefore, neither neutral (i.e., part of human nature) nor self-evident. Among the ancient Greeks, Romans, Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Persians, and Arabs, boy-love was an entirely customary practice, a universal pleasure, or even a highly-regarded institution.[1]

The Siwa in Egypt as well as the Australasian Aranda always considered sexual relations between a man and a boy indispensable to the latter’s upbringing.[2]

The Lepcha of India believed that, though a person may be too old for sex, no one is too young for it.[3]

In the case of the Muria of Central Egypt, the entire youth population of the village—from about the age of six until marriage—lives in a house of their own, the entry way of which is decorated with male and female figures sporting over-sized genitalia. There, the older boys and girls mold, respectively, the younger girls and boys into experienced sexual partners. A missionary describes the Muria youth as healthy, strong, happy, and kind.[4]

But we do not welcome the notion that we could learn something from these primitive peoples. Our Western culture has, of course, brought us so wonderfully far, and something like that would just no longer be suitable for us. Our culture is too elevated for such things. To us, a child is just a child.

At the same time, however, we forget that the contemporary character of the child—i.e., its asexual nature, clearly distinct from that of the adult—constitutes a recent phenomenon even within our own Western culture.

Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet in the only agewise nearly-accurate depiction of them in cinema (Zeffirelli, 1968)

Now let’s look back a few centuries: Romeo and Juliet, our famous lovers, were children. In earlier eras, children didn’t need any sex education—they had almost daily visual instruction in it. In order to calm children down, you stroked their genitals, and adults appeared amused when the little boy got an erection from it. The little ones were also invited to play with the adults’ genitalia.[5] Around 1600, the Dutch author Karel von Mander wrote about how 12—16-year-old boys, as is well-known, are in the habit of being absolutely possessed by horniness, which is why he advises them to practice sexual intercourse, lest they be plagued by headaches.[6]

The rich English girl[7] Grace de Saleby only became acquainted with full sexual pleasure in her third marriage; she was eleven years old at the time.

Another English girl[8], Elisabeth Bridge, didn’t get married until age thirteen, and was quite disappointed when her 11-year-old husband did not consummate the marriage straight away.[9] The principal of a grammar school in Holland allowed eleven-year-old boys to be publicly whipped because of their visit to a brothel.[10]

The Ulm city council decided to prohibit persons under nineteen years of age from going to brothels because the great influx of 12—14-year-olds was annoying the older customers.[11]

Ulm was stricter than London, where, around 1800, at least 30,000 boys in this age-group were still being apprehended in brothels every year.[12]

In the year 1506, just as Louise von Savoyen[13] was lamenting the fact that, after being married for a year, she still had not gotten pregnant, the 16-year-old Charles de Montpensier, who had already been married to his beloved for some time, had a child on the way.[14]

At age 15, the son of the French King François I married the same-age Catherine de Medici; the chronicle recounts that the King himself would come to the bedroom at night, in order to watch the young people engage in sexual union. One person said of this King that he thought all boys over fourteen who still were not accustomed to sexual intercourse were wet blankets.[15]

Two centuries later, a similar view was held by a French nobleman, who was unhappy because he’d never caught his 15-year-old son in affairs. The concerned father hired a prostitute in order to furnish the son with the necessary experience. He listened behind the door so that he could learn how things turned out, and when his son proved himself to be a man three times within the space of an hour, the father weeped with joy.[16]

The French National Legislative Assembly 1792
The French National Legislative Assembly which in 1791 scrapped the laws against sodomy that had been universal to Europe since the triumph of Christianity

In the wake of the French revolution, the key principles of the criminal law got an overhaul. Prior to that, the relationship between the spiritual and the secular authorities was so close that everyone took it as a matter of course when the preacher preached the morality and the prince—with the aid of the police and the courts—defended this morality and enforced its observance. The French revolution made a distinction between morality and law. From then on, as far as the temporal authorities were concerned, only that which did harm to the citizen or the society was punishable. For example, although sexual intercourse between unmarried persons might be regarded as immoral and condemned by the church, it was no longer of any import to the judge presiding over criminal matters, so long as the partners consented and no violence was employed. This freedom also applied to young people.

The Netherlands adopted French law during the Napoleonic occupation, remaining in force there until 1886, when the modern criminal code went into effect. Up until 1886, any voluntary sexual intercourse with a boy or girl—no matter how young—was permitted under the law, be it heterosexual or homosexual.[17] But then, with the new criminal code, a so-called protection-age [i.e., age of consent] was introduced (as if sexuality were something evil, from which people needed to be protected!), and set at sixteen years of age.[18]

It is instructive that the Dutch legislature, in its introduction of an age of protection, never referred to any scandals that might result from this heretofore excessive liberality. The conversation really wasn’t about that. The government merely stated that because the surrounding countries recognized such a protection age, the Netherlands should join them.[19]

In more recent times, there have been repeated attempts to change the so-called protection-age-limits. In 1970 the Dutch Minister of Justice convened an expert commission which, a year later, undertook a survey of a large number of authorities and organizations with regard to morals legislation.

The responses were quite progressive by European standards: The Catholic Youth Council of the Netherlands proposed lowering the protection-age-limits from 16 to 14, and the rest suggested making an offense prosecutable only upon the filing of a complaint by the parents, and even then, in the case of children 12 and up, only if the child consented to the filing. The Dutch Youth Association also expressed the wish that there be no prosecutions of sexual acts willingly engaged in when the child concerned was between 12 and 16 years of age. Presiding judge Dr. van Houtenwrote, in the name of the Evangelical Association for Child Protection, that punishment of sexual contacts must be limited to cases of violence, the threat of violence, deception, abuse of power, and being confronted with hard-core sexuality—in the form of acts or images—against one’s will.

Brongersma Edward 1987 02
Edward Brongersma in 1987

The Public Association for Child Protection declared that, in this offense area, only the abuse of power, harassment, and the infliction of harm should be regarded as punishable. The Society for Medical Sexology and the Dutch Institute for Social-Sexological Research advocated that, irrespective of age, unless the child has been forced to do something against his or her will, there should be no prosecution. Even the Public Law Professional Association of Lawers endorsed the complete abolition of the protection-age.[20]

(This contribution comes from Edward Brongersma, J.D., Dutch attorney, parliamentarian and long-time Chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the Upper House (retd.). I would like to sincerely thank him for allowing this to be reprinted.)


[1] Raymond de Becker, “L’érotisme d’en face” (Paris 1964); Joachim Fernau, “Roseh fur Apoll” [Roses for Apollo] (Berlin1963); Robert Flaceliere, “L’amour en Grece” (Paris 1960); Rolf Italiaander “Ueder Krankheit noch Verbrechen” [Neither Illness Nor Crime] (Hamburg 1969); F. Karsch-Haack, “Das gleichgeschechtliche Leben der Naturvolker” [The Same-Sex Lives of Primitive Peoples] (Munich 1911); “Das gleichgeschechtliche Leben der Ostasiaten: Chinesen, Japaner, Koreer” [The Same-Sex Lives of Eastern Asiatics: Chinese, Japanese, Koreans] (Munich, 1906); Hans Licht, “Beitrgge zur antiken Erotik” [Contributions onAncient Eroticism] (Dresden 1924); M. Meierig L. de Poley-Castries, “Histoire de l’amour dans l’antiquité” (Paris 1930); “Phallos” (Copenhagen 1969), Gaston Verberg, “Glossarium eroticum” (Stuttgart 1932). [Author’s footnote 1]

[2] Walter Cline, “Notes on the People of Siwah and El Garah in the Libyan Desert” (Menasha, 1936); Peter von Eeten et al., “Sex met kinderen” (Den Haag 1972) [Author’s footnote 2].

[3] Peter van Eeeten (ed.), “Sex met kinderen” (Den Haag 1972) [Author’s footnote 3].

[4] Verrier Elwin, “The Muria and Their Ghotul” (Bombay 1947) [Author’s footnote 4].

[5] Lea Dasber, ‘Grootbrengen door kleinhouden als historisch verschijnsel’ (Meppel, 1976) [Author’s footnote 5].

[6] Lea Dasber, ‘Grootbrengen door kleinhouden als historisch verschijnsel’ (Meppel, 1976) [Author’s footnote 6].

[7] The translator’s mistranslation of “Engländerin” as “Briton” has been corrected.  Apparently, he is unaware there was no such nationality as Briton in the 13th century [Website footnote].

[8] The translator’s mistranslation of “Engländerin” as “Briton” has been corrected.  Apparently, he is unaware there was no such nationality as Briton in the 16th century [Website footnote].

[9] Lea Dasber, ‘Grootbrengen door kleinhouden als historisch verschijnsel’ (Meppel, 1976) [Author’s footnote 7]. As so often, when modern non-historians write citing other moderns as their historical sources, this has been grossly distorted. It was the groom, John Bridge, who was 13. His bride’s age is unrecorded, but according to witnesses she was “a bigge woman”. The real source is John Bridge v. Elizabeth Bridge, case printed in Frederick Furnivall, ed., Child Marriages, Divorces, and Ratifications in the Diocese of Chester, A.D. 1561–6 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Co., for Early English Text Society, 1897), 6–9, and it is recorded there because Bridge pleaded for the annullment of his marriage three years later on the grounds that he had been under the age of consent for boys (14) and had never consummated it. [Website footnote}

[10] Lea Dasber, “Grootbrengen door kleinhouden als historisch verschijnsel” (Meppel, 1976) [Author’s footnote 8].

[11] Frank Arnau, “Das Ange des Gesetzes” [The Eye of the Law] (Dusseldorf 1962) [Author’s footnote 9]

[12] Eduard Fuchs, “Illustrierte Sittengeschichte—Erganzungsband: Die Galante Zeit” [Illustrated History of Life and Customs—Supplementary Volume: The Era of Gallantry] (Munich, 1911) [Author’s footnote 10]. The editor of this webpage would be grateful to any reader who can provide a primary source for this highly improbable-sounding claim.

[13] Presumably the famous Louise of Savoy, mother of the soon-to-be-King François I. It is not clear why the translator thinks this Frenchwoman’s name should be left in German. [Website footnote]

[14] Guy Breton, “Histoires d’amour de l’histoire de France” (Paris, 1956) [Author’s footnote 11] It is unclear what the author thinks is supposed to be remarkable about this, when 14 was the age of consent for boys in France (founded on the belief that that was when they reached spermarche).

[15] Guy Breton, “Histoires d’amour de l’histoire de France” (Paris, 1956) [Author’s footnote 12].

[16] Eduard Fuchs, “Illustrierte Sittengeschichte—Erganzungsband: Die Galante Zeit” [Illustrated History of Life and Customs—Supplementary Volume: The Era of Gallantry] (Munich, 1911) [Author’s footnote 13].

[17] Given the tendency to exaggeration in the account so far and the quite extraordinary liberality of Dutch law between 1811 and 1886 from a 21st-century perspective, it is worth noting that this paragraph is accurate. [Website footnote]

[18] Mr. H.J. Smidt, “Geschiedenis van het wetboek van Strafrecht” (Haarlem, 1891) [Author’s footnote 14]

[19] Edward Brongersma, “De betekenis von ‘ontucht’ bijfedenmisdrijven met kinderen,” in: “Delikt en Delinkwent” (1978) [Author’s footnote 15].

[20] Edward Brongersma, “De hervorming von dezedelijkheidswetgeving,” in: “Socialisme en Democratie,” Vol. 35(1978) [Author’s footnote 16]