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The OED offers: "Homosexual relations between a man and a boy; homosexual anal intercourse, usually with a boy or younger man as the passive partner." Academic and social studies sources propose more expansive definitions of the term.

The Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer Culture defines the term as: "The erotic relationship between an adult male and a youth, generally one between the ages of twelve and seventeen, in which the older partner is attracted to the younger one who returns his affection." The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality suggests "Pederasty is the erotic relationship between an adult male and a boy, generally one between the ages of twelve and seventeen, in which the older partner is attracted to the younger one who returns his affection, whether or not the liaison leads to overt sexual contact." In Athens, the slaves were expressly forbidden from entering into pederastic relations with the free-born boys. Attic red-figure crater, 500–490 BC; Painter of Berlin; Louvre, Paris.

This model is judged by Gorer as socially viable, i.e.

not likely to give rise to psychological discomfort or neuroses for all or most males.

Geoffrey Gorer and others distinguish pederasty from pedophilia, which he defined as a separate, fourth type that he described as "grossly pathological in all societies of which we have record." According to Gorer, the main characteristic of homosexual pederasty is the age difference (either of generation or age-group) between the partners.

In his study of native cultures pederasty appears typically as a passing stage in which the adolescent is the beloved of an older male, remains as such until he reaches a certain developmental threshold, after which he in turn takes on an adolescent beloved of his own.

In Greek art, a cockerel was a conventional gift from an erastes to an eromenos; see J. While copulation with boys was often criticized and seen as shameful and brutish, Pederastic art shows seduction scenes as well as sexual relations.

The status of pederasty has changed over the course of history, at times considered an ideal and at other times a crime.

In the history of Europe, its most structured cultural manifestation was Athenian pederasty, and became most prominent in the 6th century BC.

Beside its use in the classical sense, the term has also been used as a synonym for anal sex, irrespective of the nature of the partner.

A 19th-century sexological treatise discusses men practicing the "insertion of the penis into the anus of women," as "pederasty with their wives." Additionally, the term has been used to refer to any homosexual activity, regardless of the participants' ages.

Jeremy Bentham used the term in this broader sense in an essay dating from the 18th century.

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