We may worry that the younger boy might be exploited in such a relationship, but the ancients did not. Many of them felt like Pausanius in Plato’s Symposium, who frets that pederastic arrangements are unfair to older men because young boys, once they have received their mentoring, casually move on to other partners their own age. We can admire the great achievements of classical philosophy, drama, and statesmanship, but when we rhapsodize about “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,” we should keep in mind that the sexual practices of these civilizations live on today only in prisons and in the ideology of marginal groups like the North American Man/Boy Love Association.

In the Christian era, pederasty and homosexuality were considered sinful. Instead, Christianity exalted heterosexual monogamous love, which would provide the basis for a lasting and exclusive relationship between husband and wife, oriented toward the rearing of children. We take the family so much for granted—it remains such a powerful ideal in our society, even when actual family life falls short—that we forget the central premises on which it is based. Those premises were introduced by Christianity into a society to which they were completely foreign.

First, Christianity made family life important in a way that it wasn’t before. No longer was family life subordinated to the life of the city, as both Plato and Aristotle thought it should be. Indeed, the family came to be viewed for the first time as the central venue for the fulfillment of life’s main satisfactions. This change began with the elevation of marriage to a Catholic sacrament, giving it religious prestige beyond its social necessity. An equally significant shift was wrought by the Protestant Reformation. The Catholics had revered the celibate priest, modeled on a celibate Christ, as the exemplar of virtue, but Martin Luther disputed this interpretation, insisting that the ordinary Christian who took a wife and had children by her was also fulfilling a vocation or “calling” from God.