Many readers may have been surprised by -- and incredulous at -- the discovery that a significant percentage of adolescents, and above all, of preadolescents laying claim to their heterosexuality had indulged in exploratory behavior with other boys or envisioned doing so, principally propelled by their own curiosity and apparently also by their desire, intensified by the intense sexual drive of adolescence. But is there anything novel or surprising about such conduct? History teaches us that since time immemorial boys have acted on such impulses. Ever since the first centuries of the modern era, when the European monasteries were transformed into veritable boarding schools the "suspect contacts" between pupils, apparently not infrequent, were mildly denounced: in the 6th century, Saint Benoit de Nursie, in order to combat them, dictated that young boys must sleep in dormitories where surveillance was easier; a truly insufficient precaution, as three centuries later the Carolingian monk Hildemar instituted the rule that any young novices desiring to relieve themselves at night had to awaken a monk who was charged to accompany them with a lamp. The fixation with sexual relations between boys took hold of the Grand Chancellor of the University of Paris, Jean de Gerson, in the 14th century, just as later it would obsess the father of the Society of Jesus, who, starting in the 16th century, founded throughout Europe an extensive network of boarding schools for boys, as much for protecting their pupils from the temptations of the flesh as for inculcating the humanities. One of its most illustrious institutions, the Collège royal de La Flèche, founded in 1603, adopted a draconian rule: each student was assigned a private cell, and no student was permitted to enter that of another; if, under extraordinary circumstances, a master thought it fit to grant such authorization, the door to the room had to remain open, and the curtain drawn aside. All these measure seem to have produced no results, as a manual dating to the 17th century, intended for the use of the French bishops, enjoined them to forbid henceforth "boys from attending the privy in pairs, for reasons of such great importance, that the hideousness of the danger that they run forces me to remain silent."
Closer to our time, student relations in the secular institution of the English public schools were founded on the "fagging" system, in which upperclassmen made use of the services of younger pupils, services which not infrequently were of a sexual nature. The British historian Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy described the phenomenon in the following terms: "As far as I can tell based on my interviews and my readings, and taking into account the differences between the schools, more or less 25% of the students had sexual relations with others on a regular basis." Whence the epithet of "barbarian" employed by Matthew Arnold in his "Culture and Anarchy", in which the author explores the influence of the English private schools on the social elite of the country. This influence became a pattern for schools far beyond the borders of England itself, as the English public school served as model for educational institutions that shaped the youth of the social elite in countries as wide spread as Australia, The United States, Canada, France, and colonial Asia. Thus the schools for boys, and in particular the boarding schools, became for several hundred years and on a global basis crucibles of experience between boys, most often consensual and banal, under the indulgent oversight of the masters.
We would be remiss to imagine such habits restricted to educational establishments, where they may be more easily documented; they seem instead to have been widespread, if more informally, throughout the cities as well as the countryside, if we are to believe Edward Shorter, author of "The Birth of the Modern Family," which attests to the perennial practice of "circle jerks," which was nothing other than boys engaged in collective masturbation. The roster of autobiographical novels having appeared in the last hundred years with male authors from all over the world reminiscing about the intimacies which periodically took place between boys - especially in early adolescence - is endless. The extent of special friendships between boys has often been "explained" by their confinement in exclusively male organizations: monasteries, seminaries, boarding schools, youth movements, choirs . . . in the same fashion in which situational homosexuality in prisons or the armed forces has been explained by the absence of women. It is postulated as an instictive, compensatory alternative sexuality. Indeed, the few references I provide here do originate at a time in our history when segregation of the sexes was the rule, especially in the schools. But if coeducation is presently universal, why then do these experimentations between boys persist - if we are to believe the testimonials gathered here? In all likelihood, for two reasons:
1. This coeducational environment imposed by the adults is more superficial that it might seem, more suffered than lived. Coeducation does not necessarily imply merging. One only has to pay attention to the school yards to conclude that the mixing of the sexes, for the 12 to 14 yo, is only an outward appearance. And outside of school, the boys usually rush to gather with their peers around a game console, or a computer, or a ball field, or in the street with their skateboards and their skates.
2. The preference for these almost always unisex recreational activities demonstrates the instinctive need for boys this age to be with other boys. In fact, one of the main characteristics of early adolescence is precisely the predominance of male friendship over all other attachments. It is not implausible that this period of strong friendship, which can bring with it moments of sexual curiosity, constitutes for many an obligatory waystation, as if the love that springs from friendship was a necessary stage preceding love springing from desire, as if the experimentation between boys opened the path to the female body.
If we are to analyze the behavior of young internet users as described in this chapter, even if thereby restricting our historical perspective, we must admit that it integrates into a long tradition of fluidity which characterizes - almost as a norm, we might say - the behavior of boys at the dawn of their adolescence. A fluidity that currently specialists in adolescence treat with interest and above all, with understanding. Thus Walter Strauss, a recent education superintendent of the Swiss canton of Zurich, expressed himself on this topic in very original terms:
"It can happen, in the course of this period, that the adolescent has relations with another of the same sex. One must understand thereby that his focus on himself metamorphoses into an atraction for a partner of the same sex. . . That this attraction is directed, for a certain period, towards a partner of the same sex is not abnormal. During the period of adolescence we talk about a "developmental homosexuality." Adolescents feel closer to others of the same sex. The sentiment of fellowship and the search for a role model of the same sex share an importance beyond all doubt.