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The Fear of Child Sexuality

Young People, Sex, and Agency

Continued public outcries over such issues as young models in sexually suggestive ads and intimate relationships between teachers and students speak to one of the most controversial fears of our time: the entanglement of children and sexuality. In this book, Steven Angelides confronts that fear, exploring how emotional vocabularies of anxiety, shame, and even contempt not only dominate discussions of youth sexuality but also allow adults to avoid acknowledging the sexual agency of young people. Introducing case studies and trends from Australia, the United Kingdom, and North America, he challenges assumptions on a variety of topics, including sex education, age-of-consent laws, and sexting. Angelides contends that an unwillingness to recognize children’s sexual agency results not in the protection of young people but in their marginalization.

Author Information

Steven Angelides is affiliated with the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health, and Society at La Trobe University and is an honorary senior research fellow in the Department of Modern History, Politics, and International Relations at Macquarie University. He is the author of A History of Bisexuality, also published by the University of Chicago Press.


“An amazing, provocative, and eloquent book. No one interested in the historical shape and affective force of sex panics can ignore The Fear of Child Sexuality. With critical rigor and political nuance, Angelides eschews the morality tales offered about child sexuality to detail instead the way cultural discourses on the right and the left work against both the sexual rights and sexual agencies of children.”
— Robyn Wiegman, Duke University

“An impressive, fearless account of how, in states of panic, we take sexual agency from adolescents. The Fear of Child Sexuality pushes feminist theories of power and consent out of their comfort zones, arguing that our attempts to protect have also been sources of harm. This is transformational scholarship on the pleasures and dangers of teenage desire.”
— Elizabeth Wilson, Emory University

“With forensic generosity and customary brilliance, Angelides performs a remarkable feat. The diversity of children’s sexual agency flowers in this book—strangely under the force of fear. Impeccably researched, evincing insight at every turn, The Fear of Child Sexuality is a wild and stunning ride.”
— Kathryn Bond Stockton, University of Utah

Audience: Professional and scholarly;