Should We Lift the Stigma on “Virtuous Pedophiles”?

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Posted in: Criminal Law

A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast called the “Savage Lovecast,” with Dan Savage, and he received an interesting call for advice. The woman on the other end of the line reported that her boyfriend, among other things, appeared to have a stash of photographs of adolescents in his pornography folder on his computer. She reported, however, that the photos were not themselves pornographic. She was nonetheless concerned about his apparent attraction to children.

To help offer the woman some advice, Dan and a guest expert on the subject considered the phenomenon of “virtuous pedophiles.” The name “virtuous pedophiles” refers to a group of people who are attracted to children but who do not act on that desire and who, through an anonymous website, provide support to one another so that all members can continue to refrain from offending. The idea of the “virtuous pedophile” struck me as a fascinating one, and I will here explore the concept and some of its potential implications.

Status Versus Conduct

Ordinarily, when we speak of pedophiles, we tend to refer to those people who not only feel the desire to have sexual relations with minors but who act on that desire as well. The notion of “virtuous pedophiles” might therefore at first glance seem like an oxymoron—there is nothing “virtuous” about sexually preying on defenseless children, and the title might even appear to be trying to justify immoral and harmful conduct (as some pedophile-oriented web sites apparently do). But it is at least conceptually coherent to distinguish between the conduct of pedophilia—acting sexually upon children—and the mere status of pedophilia—experiencing a desire for such sexual activity. While the former can and should be subject to criminal penalties, the latter, if criminalized, would be a sort of “thought crime” that is and should be anathema to our system of justice. So the real question may be this: Do we trust that there truly are “virtuous pedophiles,” this category of those whose conduct does not reflect their status? (And perhaps a close second question would be: Do we believe that all or most of the specific self-proclaimed “virtuous pedophiles” are in reality what they claim to be?).

Sexual Orientation

In the bad old days (not completely behind us), when our government (and private people) openly and proudly discriminated against gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender individuals, people would sometimes make the argument that there is a difference between “practicing” homosexuals and “non-practicing” homosexuals. This idea arose in particular in the context of our military policy, which in the past excluded people with a same-sex orientation while potentially admitting self-identified straight people who happened to have occasionally engaged in same-sex sexual conduct. Critics of this policy noted that even if one assumed that service members should not be engaged in same-sex sexual activity, the “appropriate” ban would look to conduct rather than to status. Citing Robinson v. California, critics noted that it is unconstitutional to punish a person for the status of being addicted to drugs (even though it is permissible to punish the person for acting on that addiction). Shouldn’t a prohibited sexual orientation similarly fail constitutional scrutiny?

A same-sex sexual orientation is obviously worlds away from a pedophilic sexual orientation. The former is part of the range of normal, healthy, adult, consensual sexual interactions, whereas the latter is pathological. Yet it may still be useful to think of people who are attracted to children as having a pedophilic sexual orientation, similar in some ways to straight or gay orientation. This allows us to understand both that pedophiles cannot help and do not “choose” how they feel, just as people who are sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex or the same sex do not choose how they feel, but that—like people who are straight or gay—pedophiles can make a choice about whether or not to act on their sexual orientation. A person can, for example, choose to be celibate (as a Catholic nun might choose to do), despite the fact that they have a sexual orientation of one sort or another.

Thinking about pedophilia as a sexual orientation, however, may not necessarily prove entirely helpful to those people who refer to themselves as “virtuous pedophiles.” When religions of various types encouraged people who had a same-sex sexual orientation to refrain from acting on that orientation, critics of these religions would object strenuously to this advice and regard it as abusive. One reason for the objection was that there is nothing wrong with acting on same-sex sexual attraction, but that was not the only reason for the objection. Another reason was that it is extremely difficult and, for many, perhaps impossible to have a sexual orientation that moves one toward a particular population of partners but nonetheless to refrain from acting on that orientation. In other words, critics of religions that told gay people to be “non-practicing” were critical not only of the objective of the project (to make gay people celibate or straight) but also of the process of trying to get people to stop themselves from doing what comes naturally to them.

When One’s Orientation Is Toward Harm

In the context of pedophiles, virtually no one would criticize the efforts of the pedophiles themselves or others to prevent people from acting on their orientation toward children. Even if it is difficult or soul-crushing to refrain from preying on children, that is exactly what a pedophile must do if he or she is to be worthy of being part of society. When pedophilia is at issue, it would be truly virtuous to act in a way that would spare children the trauma of being sexually abused. But the question remains: is this possible?

The people on the Virtuous Pedophiles web site maintain that it is possible, and they argue—somewhat convincingly—that if a pedophile is alone and lacking any support by others with similar feelings, then he or she is far more likely to act on a pedophilic orientation and actually harm a child than if there is a community of fellow sufferers with the united aim of preventing one another from offending against children. One can think about Alcoholics Anonymous as a model for people who are drawn to or addicted to (or otherwise oriented toward) conduct that is destructive, to oneself and/or to others. Rather than being forced to sit around alone and try to avoid drinking by sheer force of willpower, the alcoholic stands a much better chance of successfully avoiding the bottle if she has a sponsor and a meeting to attend and a community of likeminded people who can help her through the rough patches. Why wouldn’t the same be true of people oriented toward pedophilia? Being alone with one’s secret shame seems like a recipe for failure of abstinence.

One sobering answer to this analogy, though, is that Alcoholics Anonymous (“AA”) does not claim that it can successfully prevent all of its members from relapsing. Indeed, it is understood in the addiction community that relapse is a part of recovery for many people, and part of the acceptance that alcoholics find within AA is an acceptance of relapse and the possibility of starting over again (and once again proudly counting the days of sobriety). A similar acknowledgment of relapse in behavior, however, would seem unacceptable and even grotesque in the pedophilia context. Consider a group of pedophiles coming together for meetings and supporting each other notwithstanding “relapse,” which in this case would mean sexually molesting children. Imagine a member receiving a chip that says “10 days sober,” with the meaning that it has been a full 10 days since this proud member raped a child.

Unlike the AA context, then, a truly virtuous pedophile community would have to demand perfection in terms of behavior, and if we believe such a demand to be unrealistic (as many experts on this paraphilia believe), then allowing the “virtuous pedophile” community to survive (without legal intervention and without attempting to identify members and take measures to bar them from positions of responsibility over children) might seem too risky a proposition. A belief that pedophiles have little control over their behavior, in fact, is what drives the desire to have offender registries and the ability of communities in which such individuals reside to know who the pedophiles are. This belief does not sit comfortably with the premises of the virtuous pedophile community.

Ambivalence

As with so many such issues, I find myself very ambivalent. I agree with the idea that we should have empathy for people who have a pedophilic orientation, because I accept that people cannot help which populations of people they find sexually attractive. I also find persuasive the notion that people with a pedophilic orientation are much more likely to remain law-abiding citizens if they are motivated to do so (and those who join “Virtuous Pedophiles” are likely motivated that way) and if they have a community of others like them on whom to lean for support when they feel weak and find it difficult to maintain their commitment to ethical behavior. I am, in short, glad on the whole that there is a website dedicated to supporting the efforts of people with a pedophilic sexual orientation to refrain from harming children, and I would not want to do anything to harm the people who use that website.

At the same time, though, I am not sure I would want the stigma on pedophilic orientation lifted sufficiently to allow for in-person meetings and sponsors of the sort that one finds in Alcoholics Anonymous. Realizing as I say this that not having such in-person communities may result in more harm to children, I am not sanguine about my conclusion. But I worry that destigmatizing the orientation of pedophilia could have the negative effect of simultaneously destigmatizing the conduct of pedophilia as well.

Unlike drinking, which is not generally stigmatized anyway, molesting children is very much stigmatized, and one hopes that the stigma operates at least to some extent to prevent people from acting on the desire. To state this differently, I do not know that it is possible to divide stigma sufficiently to allow for us to welcome and treat pedophiles well (when it is only an orientation) while simultaneously condemning in no uncertain terms any conduct and any “relapse” to the behavior itself. And I am also skeptical of “abstinence only” approaches in other zones of sexual instruction, so I wonder how much faith I can put in such an approach in the pedophilia context.

I know this is not a very satisfying answer to the question of virtuous pedophiles, but I find myself both admiring of such people and fearful of them at the same time. Perhaps the Internet is the best safe space that they can hope for, a space that reduces the odds of their offending, that supports them and acknowledges the challenges they face, but that leaves them truly anonymous so that none of us is in a position of having to decide whether to “out” them as pedophiles and take measures to protect potential victims from them. Knowing who they are, it would be difficult to remain silent.

As to Dan Savage’s caller, I cannot help hoping that she remains with her boyfriend—despite and because of his pedophilic proclivities. Perhaps if he is with her and can express a side of his sexual orientation that is adult-oriented, he will be less likely to offend against a child. And perhaps too, she can keep an eye on him. That advice, of course, cannot pretend to be in her best interests but may be in those of the community of children that he stands to harm. And so I understand that I am not giving her advice so much as expressing a wish.

  • marie

    “…leaves them truly anonymous so that none of us is in a position of having to decide whether to “out” them as pedophiles and take measures to protect potential victims from them. Knowing who they are, it would be difficult to remain silent.”

    It would be difficult not to announce “he’s a pedophile” even though you have no knowledge of him committing a crime? No thought of the damage that would do? I suppose it is possible that you go around announcing “that guy is a burglar” when you know for a fact that statement is true–but most people do not do that. I am quite sure, assuming you aren’t some kind of nutcase, that you don’t announce “he fantasizes about life as a burglar”, though.

    You seem to be under the impression that pedophiles have a peculiar inability to control their behavior. I am attracted to adult men but there is no danger that I would do something illegal with that attraction, such as committing sexual assault. Why do you think pedos would be different?

    It is worth noting that MOST child sexual abuse is not perpetrated by pedophiles, and being listed on the sex offender registry does not automatically mean the registrant is a pedophile. People are on the registry for crimes against adults, as well. Also important is the fact that registrants rarely reoffend. Most arrests and convictions for sex crimes are of first-time offenders.

  • Ethan Edwards

    As one of the co-founders of Virtuous Pedopiles (VP), I commend you on grappling open-mindedly with a difficult issue. I will make separate replies to address different points.

    You ask if you can assume that virtuous pedophiles are really virtuous. The root of your doubt is understandable — since pedophilia has such stigma, pedophiles stay hidden, and the only ones you find out about are those are exposed for breaking the law. That doesn’t prove that VPs are actually virtuous, but it explains why you would question the norm, which is to assume that most people are telling the truth unless you can find a motivation they have for lying. Boards such as BoyChat and GirlChat existed long before VP, and on those boards arguing for legalization of adult-child sex is common. If a man was abusing a child, it’s hard to see why he would join VP when he could join communities that were much more sympathetic to what he was doing (secretly, as none of these boards allow admitting such illegal behavior).

  • Ethan Edwards

    You ask if VP will happily accept people who have relapsed the same way AA would. we are well aware of the difference between getting drunk and abusing a child. Sometimes ex-offenders ask if they can join. We require a period of months of celibacy, an explanation of what happened, convincing remorse and a commitment to do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again. With that in place, we don’t feel we can turn away someone who wants help in not reoffending. No existing member has ever admitted to a lapse and asked to rejoin but if they did, we would apply the same criteria. I’m pragmatic enough to suspect that a handful of the 1600 pedophiles who have joined VP probably have lapsed and just never returned to the group. But consider for comparison any group of 1600 people — it is likely a few of them have abused a child too.

  • Ethan Edwards

    You ask if it is possible to remain celibate. I’m glad you recognize that the danger is not created by joining a group but hopefully is lessened by having support. I can see why it makes someone nervous to be aware of a pedophile, anonymous but right there on the web making posts, and wonder what he might do. But he would still exist if you weren’t aware of him.

    “I worry that destigmatizing the orientation of pedophilia could have the negative effect of simultaneously destigmatizing the conduct of [child sexual abuse] as well.” I’m sympathetic. You’ve taken bold steps outside of the mainstream to get as far as you have. I hope that with more time to digest the subject, you’ll come to see there isn’t much fact to back up your worry.

    “I am also skeptical of “abstinence only” approaches in other zones of sexual instruction, so I wonder how much faith I can put in such an approach in the pedophilia context.”

    I’m not so worried. The gay and lesbian objection to religions demanding abstinence was implicitly bracketed by the assumption that “acting” is between consenting (often enthusiastic!) adults. When faced with a non-consenting partner, decent people desist. For most men, sex drive is not strong enough to make them rape someone, even if they can’t get a date. I realize that some men don’t desist, and it’s a terrible problem deserving serious attention, but the fact remains that the vast majority of men don’t. There’s no reason to think that pedophiles as a class are more sadistic than ordinary people.

  • Ethan Edwards

    You know very little about pedophilia. I’ll tell you how it typically begins. Remember when you were a teen, and (adjust for the sex you’re actually attracted to) you thought, “Wow, that girl is just amazing. She takes my breath away!” It’s not tied to any specific desire to do anything with sex organs. For pedophiles, it might be, “Wow, that 8-year-old girl is just amazing!” Crossing a line mentally might happen later, or not at all. But that’s where it starts, and aside from the different person who takes their breath away, there are no important differences between the pedophile and the ordinary person.

    “This person needs professional help.” Easy to say. In fact, it’s very difficult for pedophiles to get help confidentially. And if they do, the help offered today is not to make the attraction go away. It is how to live with it.

  • Ethan Edwards

    Your wish about Dan Savage’s caller fascinates me. Dozens of women have written privately to VP to ask exactly the same question. It has never occurred to me to recommend that a woman take on as her burden staying close to a pedophile to do what she can to keep him from abusing kids. Partly that’s because I have seen little evidence that a woman could be effective in that way. Mostly what is of concern is computer images, not abuse of children, and it sounds like that’s true of Dan’s caller too. But I always emphasize that she needs to figure out what’s right for her. I can suggest she overcome prejudice in making that decision, to consider that an attraction to adolescent girls does not negate a man’s good qualities. But ultimately it’s got to be about what’s best for her.

  • treetops

    That was… really interesting. I like the fact that you looked at the issue – especially such a controversial one – from many angles, instead of just choosing one side and then arguing forcibly for it (an apparent rarity, especially on the Internet). You definitely game me food for thought on the subject!

    (Also, I smiled when I read your bio and the title of your book. Some time ago I befriended a person who is a vegan and we are going on short trip together; I have to admit I thought about asking her whether she minds me eating non-vegan food in her presence (especially since I know she’s very passionate about animal rights). So, I guess I will check your book out! :)

  • Anthony Diaz

    Agreed about the need for professional help to help these people see they are not destined to offend.I don’t think she was trying to say it is the sole responsibility of the girlfriend to make sure of it, but rather that any support can help them in their efforts. The girlfriend is not, of course, bound to stay with him simply because of the fact that it might put a curb on his potential proclivities.

  • Holy Tent

    This whole article is SELFISH. Children are not mature enough to enter into a relationship with an adult. This is why U.S. laws do not allow children to enter into contracts because their minds have not finished developing. The pedophile wants this and the pedophile wants that. What about the child that is not ready to make such serious decisions. Why do you think once they are grown they want the PERVERT MANIPULATOR and CONTROLLER in JAIL? Because once their minds have the developed they realized how disgusting having a BIG ASS NAKED MAN on them was the most disgusting gross and nauseating feeling in the world. There is a special place God has created in HELL for evil wicked people who only want others to serve their desires and the world is all about them. Who cares if the child grows up and commits suicide because they feel totally DESTROYED.

    • What are you rambling on about? You’re making no sense. This article is never saying that any sexual act with children should ever be accepted. And this article is precisely about pedophiles that DO NOT have sex with children, *precisely* because we realize the child is not mature enough to provide meaningful consent and we have no desire to cause them harm.

      Who cares if the child grows up and commits suicide because they feel totally DESTROYED.

      Are you f**** kidding me? If you’re serious about this then you’re quite despicable.

    • Anthony Diaz

      Did you not read any of the article or any of the comments? Seriously, take a breather, and then look at them. Your misperceptions are showing.

    • simgiran

      Have you actually read the article? It doesn’t seem to me that you have.

    • Did you even read the article? Do you actually know anything about child sexual abuse? Because most people who sexually abuse children do not do so out of sexual desire, or even a sexual attraction to children. It is about control. The issue of child sexual abuse is very much separate from the issue of pedophilia and how to treat it. That you would equate the two when the article says to separate them, when experts recognize the difference between the two, shows that you really are writing in ignorance.

      I have taken the time to write 17 articles about pedophilia, and why it is separate from child sexual abuse. Here are three:

      https://preventsexoffense.blogspot.com/2016/05/what-is-pedophilia-and-those-other-hard.html
      https://preventsexoffense.blogspot.com/2016/03/what-you-need-to-know-about-map.html
      https://preventsexoffense.blogspot.com/2015/12/why-words-matter-pedophile.html

      Any one of these articles shows more insight into pedophilia than your rant here. I have also written 41 articles about child sexual abuse. Here are five:

      https://preventsexoffense.blogspot.com/2015/09/warning-signs-in-potential-abusers.html
      https://preventsexoffense.blogspot.com/2016/02/why-does-sorna-matter-to-primary.html
      https://preventsexoffense.blogspot.com/2016/06/primary-prevention-basics.html
      https://preventsexoffense.blogspot.com/2015/12/myths-brief-version.html
      https://preventsexoffense.blogspot.com/2016/04/defining-child-sexual-abuse-therapeutic.html

      I also link 14 studies, 16 articles, and 25 resources that people can use to find out more on the subject. I cannot even tell you how many hours I have put into my blog, my Tweets, and my comments on articles like these. That I never kept track of.

      You just spent maybe ten minutes writing a rant directed at people who sexually abuse children. I have spent countless hours advocating, writing, organizing resources, and networking to have a voice against child sexual abuse and to make sure it is heard. Oh, and by the way… I am a pedophile. I have sexual attractions to children. I also molested a child several years ago. I spent two years and three months in treatment to figure out why I made those decisions, and I spend about 6 hours every month talking with a therapist and other people about how my life is going, so I stay healthy.

      As a pedophile and a sexual abuser, I have contributed more to preventing child sexual abuse than you have. That should make you squirm in your seat. If you really want to make a difference, then first go learn the facts with an open mind. Then go talk about those facts with people.

  • It is obvious that you are ignoring the distinction she draws between pedophilia, which is not an addiction but a sexual orientation, and child sexual abuse. It is also obvious that your comment adds nothing useful to the discussion around how to prevent child sexual abuse, and instead implies that pedophilia is the same as sex addiction- which is a position thoroughly debunked by experts in the field. Where are your credentials? I have included a picture for you, straight from the DSM-5.

  • Speaking of drawing terrible analogies, why do you assume that all pedophiles are “people interested in molesting children”? What do you base that on? Are all men with sexual attraction at risk for raping people? Because that is what your assumption seems to imply.

    And how do you propose that pedophiles get professional help? Are you familiar with mandatory reporting laws? Are you familiar with the stigma against pedophilia? Perhaps you should delve a little more deeply into this issue. Here is a helpful video for you:
    https://youtu.be/ZJaanSlb08A

    Here are some articles and a study:
    http://www.sickboypodcast.com/episodes/2016/6/5/sickboy-pedophilia
    https://theconversation.com/we-need-to-support-paedophiles-to-prevent-child-sex-offending-44845
    http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/atsa/issues/2016-03-22/6.html
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/299657027_Non-Offending_Pedophiles
    http://www.flintmag.com/portfolio/beyond-choice-non-offending-paedophilia/

  • Lucas Pazzo Folle

    First of all, thanks for writing this article. I personally found it very interesting and there is a lot of level-headiness displayed here. Pedophilia is certainly a difficult topic to be approached but the mere fact that you done so in a more open minded way shows how far along we have come in regards to tolerance. I mean, I honestly don’t believe such an article could have even been written 5 years ago.

    There is one point I would like to address in specific as some of the others have already been commented upon.

    “…To state this differently, I do not know that it is possible to divide
    stigma sufficiently to allow for us to welcome and treat pedophiles well
    (when it is only an orientation) while simultaneously condemning in no
    uncertain terms any conduct and any “relapse” to the behavior itself…”

    I personally believe that this is possible and I can, at least in a personal experience level, attest that this can happen. I have a few friends who are aware of my sexual attraction, as does my family, and while they accept me for who I am they have made themselves perfectly clear that if I were ever to do something wrong they would be the first ones to call the police. The same is true for my therapist and psychiatrist. So in a way I think it is perfectly valid for people to want to support a pedophile while at the same time making it clear they abhor any crime whatsoever that involves a child.

    Also, what you described, the capability of having some empathy towards a pedophile condition while not supporting any wrong doings, is basically what COSA (Circle of Support and Accountability) are for. They are a way to facilitate the reinsertion of sex offenders in society while providing support for them from the community, through community representatives they can talk to — similar to AA’s sponsors, while being clear they will hold them (the sex offender) accountable for their behaviors.

    I am not conflating the terms pedophile and child sex offender here, but a similar approach to COSA can be accomplished at a society level, a family level and at a social level. People will need to change though and be able to rework some of their prejudice and preconceived notions about pedophilia, and pedophiles, in order for it to happen. And if they can accomplish that I think it is very possible for them to be able to support a pedophile, in whatever way they so require and the person feel comfortable with, in order to decrease the likelihood of them offending.

  • Hello Sherry, thank you very much for your article. My name is Ender Wiggin (not really) and I am not only a member but also a moderator and administrator of the Virtuous Pedophiles peer-support forum.

    I see you are open minded enough to consider the subject carefully, however I see that some of your reactions are brought upon by fear and misunderstanding of what pedophilia really is (and isn’t), so I’ll try to address those here.

    Ordinarily, when we speak of pedophiles, we tend to refer to those people who not only feel the desire to have sexual relations with minors but who act on that desire as well.

    Unfortunately you are not alone in this. The media has been conflating pedophilia with child molestation, and pedophiles with child molesters, for a very long time, and therefore the two have become synonyms in many people’s minds. However, this is not the case, and the first step towards protecting children is to understand this difference and therefore understand how virtuous pedophiles is not an oxymoron in any way, not any more than virtuous heterosexual. Of course there are heterosexual rapists, but that doesn’t characterize heterosexuality as a condition of being sexually attracted to people of the opposite gender. You can read more about the damage caused by this stigma-creating conflation in this article on my blog: https://medium.com/pedophiles-about-pedophilia/the-stigmatization-of-pedophilia-71e956dfed02

    Also, a key aspect of differentiating between attractions (pedophilia) and actions (child molestation) is understanding that the vast majority of child sexual abusers are not in fact pedophiles, but rather what’s called in criminology situational offenders (a term that, as a lawyer, you should be familiar with), meaning people that are not sexually attracted to children but that for a variety of reasons (mainly opportunity) commit acts of sexual abuse against vulnerable children in their care. This explains why most of the sexual abuse of children happens within the family: picture an abusive husband and (step)father who beats his wife and eventually turns to molesting his (step)daughter as a way of acting out his antisocial and violent personality. This is commonly accepted by law enforcement—it was former FBI agent Ken Lanning who first made the distinction between preferential child sex offenders (driven by sexual desire and attraction to children) and situational child sex offenders—researchers and child sexual abuse experts. If we really want to protect children, the first thing we need to understand is that being sexually attracted to children is not even the primary motivator for sexually abusing children, as the studies and statistics show when they demonstrate that about 80% of child sexual abusers are not in fact pedophiles and therefore are not driven to sexually abusing children by sexual attraction. You can read more about that, with multiple articles and scientific studies cited to support the facts in this article on my blog: https://medium.com/pedophiles-about-pedophilia/of-pedophilia-and-child-molestation-50fb042a46d

    While the former can and should be subject to criminal penalties, the latter, if criminalized, would be a sort of “thought crime” that is and should be anathema to our system of justice.

    No, it wouldn’t be a “sort of” thought crime, it would be the very definition of thought crime.

    So the real question may be this: Do we trust that there truly are “virtuous pedophiles,” this category of those whose conduct does not reflect their status? (And perhaps a close second question would be: Do we believe that all or most of the specific self-proclaimed “virtuous pedophiles” are in reality what they claim to be?).

    Ethan, co-founder of VirPed, has already addressed your question of whether we should believe that those of us that “self-proclaim” as “virtuous pedophiles” really are so in a very politically correct and polite way. I’ll be a little more cynic. Your use of quotation marks whenever you write “virtuous pedophiles” perhaps gives away that you have yourself some serious doubts as to whether we are truly “virtuous” or just lying to “further our twisted agenda to legalize child rape” (as those of our detractors that are less politically correct than you often claim). The reality is that assuming that the mere fact of being pedophiles somehow makes us less trustworthy and therefore our claim of being virtuous should be taken with skepticism is precisely part of the problem brought upon by the stigma resulting from conflating pedophiles witch child molesters (many of which, remember, are not even pedophiles). It’s the idea that an unchosen biological characteristic makes us—by nature—deceitful and manipulative, which if applied to a different unchosen biological trait like race would make anyone a racist bigot (or if applied to homosexuality would make one a homophobic bigot).

    A same-sex sexual orientation is obviously worlds away from a pedophilic sexual orientation. The former is part of the range of normal, healthy, adult, consensual sexual interactions, whereas the latter is pathological.

    I will just remind you here that being homosexual was considered pathological until not long ago, described as a paraphilia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the “bible of psychiatry” edited by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Therefore, unless homosexuality suddenly and magically stopped being a mental illness a few years ago, just because something is written in a book as such doesn’t mean it necessarily is.

    You also use the term “consensual sexual interaction”, and I have two comments to make about this. First, a sexual orientation is not an “interaction” of any sort. It’s just a definition of what sexually attracts someone. So using this kind of language automatically conflates the attraction with acting on the attraction, which is problematic since in this case it means conflating pedophilia with child molestation. Second, while consent is obviously fundamental in making acting on any sexual attraction legitimate, it has absolutely nothing to do with the attraction itself. No one asks permission to be attracted to other people, and everyone has been attracted to people who would never consent to a relationship with them. In the case of pedophiles, it’s not whether the child would or wouldn’t, but that the child simply cannot provide meaningful and valid consent, but the result is the same. Millions of people are attracted every day to non-consenting individuals they meet and come across in their lives and that doesn’t mean they are incapable of refraining from trying to act on that attraction.

    Yet it may still be useful to think of people who are attracted to children as having a pedophilic sexual orientation, similar in some ways to straight or gay orientation. This allows us to understand both that pedophiles cannot help and do not “choose” how they feel, just as people who are sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex or the same sex do not choose how they feel, but that—like people who are straight or gay—pedophiles can make a choice about whether or not to act on their
    sexual orientation. A person can, for example, choose to be celibate (as a Catholic nun might choose to do), despite the fact that they have a sexual orientation of one sort or another.

    That is correct, and very important to understand what pedophilia really is or isn’t. Whether it’s currently considered a sexual orientation or not is irrelevant. It is, for all intents and purposes, just like any other sexual orientation in that it is unchosen, discovered around puberty and “incurable”. It’s also important to realize that, like other orientations, it has one symptom and one symptom only: being sexually attracted to children. Being a pedophile doesn’t make one a degenerate, a socio/psychopath or someone unable to control his impulses in any way. We have the same moral compass, empathy and ability to control our actions than anyone else. Therefore, we can very easily choose to be celibate and not act on our attractions with children.

    When One’s Orientation Is Toward Harm

    I cannot help but to address this heading you used here. Believe it or not, pedophilia is not an “orientation towards harm”. We have no desire to harm anyone, not in any higher or lower degree than heterosexual men have desire to harm women. So thinking of pedophilia as an “orientation towards harm” is just contributing to the stigma by assume what turns us on is harming defenseless little children. Are feelings for children are very similar to those or a heterosexual man towards women or a homosexual man towards other men: we find them physically attractive and we can develop emotional/romantic feelings (fall in love) with children. Why on earth would we want to harm the people we love? It makes no sense, and all it does is paint us all as sociopaths that don’t care about the pain inflicted on children as long as we get to fulfill our desires.

    It is true that if we act on our orientation it would very likely result in harm, but that doesn’t mean that the orientation is to harm. And it is precisely because we realize acting on our attraction would cause harm that we choose not to. It is precisely because we have empathy and we do care about the people we love that we choose not to do something that could be damaging to them. You can read more about the true nature of sexual attraction to children in this article in my blog: https://medium.com/pedophiles-about-pedophilia/demystifying-sexual-attraction-to-children-4608092ec108

    I will now address your comparison of pedophilia to alcohol addiction (or any other form of addiction), which I believe is not only inaccurate but also damaging and ultimately counterproductive. It’s true that you can think of both as wanting to do something they know they can’t, but that’s where the comparison ends in my humble opinion. An addict is—by definition—someone who has already demonstrated an inability to resist a very destructive habit, to the point where they have to seek help in order to quit it and to stop from falling back into that behavior. A pedophile is not—by definition—defined by any such thing. A pedophile has not necessarily done anything wrong ever in his life, has not failed to control his or her behavior at any point and for the most part needs no help doing so—there’s nothing inherent in the condition of pedophilia that makes a pedophile less capable of controlling his or her behavior, and pedophilia is not a “compulsion” to inappropriately touch children that has to be actively fought against whenever the pedophile is in the company of children, which is what comparing pedophilia with addiction makes it seem like it is in people’s minds. Like I said before, pedophilia has ONE symptom, and nothing more: it defines who you’re sexually attracted to. That’s it. No more, and no less. But, more importantly, no more.

    Therefore, there is no such thing as “relapsing” when a pedophile has never done anything wrong or harmful in his or her entire life. That’s another reason why the analogy with addition breaks apart. That’s not to say that a pedophile can’t be an addict, but he or she can be addicted to anything, just like any other person, and pedophilia itself is not the addiction.

    A belief that pedophiles have little control over their behavior, in fact, is what drives the desire to have offender registries and the ability of communities in which such individuals reside to know who the pedophiles are. This belief does not sit comfortably with the premises of the virtuous pedophile community.

    Because, once again, this belief is not supported by any evidence and is only fruit of the stigma resulting from conflating pedophiles with child molesters. But the reality is that we have as much control over our behavior as any other person.

    But I worry that destigmatizing the orientation of pedophilia could have the negative effect of simultaneously destigmatizing the conduct of pedophilia as well.

    While I understand your concern, this is the typical fallacious slippery slope argument that some of our less politically correct detractors (many of which are anti-gay bigots as well) throw at us constantly. The reality is that homosexual sex was accepted not because the attraction was destigmatized, but because two adults can consent to any form of relationship between them without incurring any harm and without it being anyone else’s business. However when even many pedophiles (certainly all of us who subscribe to the Virtuous Pedophiles core beliefs) realize and actually agree with society that children are incapable of providing valid consent to a sexual relationship with an adult then there is very little risk that sex with children would ever be destigmatized. While I can see society eventually realizing that pedophilia is a sexual orientation and that it doesn’t make us inherently evil or dangerous, and offering support so that those of us who may need it can access it without fear, I just don’t see the majority suddenly accepting that sex with children is just OK because, hey, “they’re born that way”. When two people that are “born that way” (homosexuals) decide that it’s OK for them to have sex, it’s their decision and responsibility. When one of the parties is not in the “born that way” category (children), then it just doesn’t make sense.

    And I am also skeptical of “abstinence only” approaches in other zones of sexual instruction, so I wonder how much faith I can put in such an approach in the pedophilia context.

    The idea that “abstinence only” doesn’t work might be true when you’re talking about people who can easily find consenting, willing and eager partners to explore their sexuality with. So sure, abstinence only may not always work to keep a teenage boy from losing his virginity before marriage, but the fact is that it still does in many many cases. You forget that religious don’t only preach celibacy for homosexuals, but also for heterosexuals before marriage. That means that there are plenty of heterosexual men and women that refrain from having sex with another person until they’re married, or even for life if they can’t manage to find a partner. That doesn’t mean they never have sex, though, as fantasy, pornography and masturbation can be a great release valve for many.

    There are some problems for pedophiles though, of course. Using child pornography (defined a sexually explicit images with real underage children) is wrong (and illegal) and therefore there is one less possible outlet available. However fantasy and masturbation are available to all without harming anyone (and no, fantasizing about sex with children does NOT have to lead to action: https://medium.com/pedophiles-about-pedophilia/to-fantasize-or-not-to-fantasize-d4b9dcded8e7). The problem though is that the legal definition of child pornography keeps expanding to sometimes include images that do not depict sexual exploitation at all or even do not depict any real children at all. Things like virtual child pornography (drawn/written depictions of child pornograhy) where no child has ever been harmed or exploited to produce are being made illegal more and more in countries all over the world, little by little leaving pedophiles with less and less outlets for their sexuality. They think they are protecting children by banning this type of material, but there is no evidence that this is the case and the only real result is that they are persecuting the attraction to children itself. And this is actually thought crime (https://medium.com/pedophiles-about-pedophilia/thought-crime-f129cafb6bcd).

    I hope you take the time to read my comment (I realize it’s very long) and take what I say into consideration. Thanks again for being open minded.

  • Thanks for opening up this discussion and for the many excellent comments. I have been sexually attracted to little girls for more than 50 years and choose not to act on it. I am married and have three children and ten grandchildren and have spent a lot of time with children without abusing them. I see pedophilia manifesting on three levels–attraction, arousal, and action. I know I am attracted but very rarely am I aroused by fantasies of a child and am confident that I will not molest a child in the next 50 years. I was abandoned by a counselor without a referral and was dismissed from Walden University based solely on my sexual orientation.

    I am an active member of Virtuous Pedophiles and provide support and referrals for those who want in-person therapy. I have also started participating in other pedophile forums in order to help those who tend to be a little more pro-choice. My wife and I founded the Association for Sexual Abuse Prevention (ASAPinternational.org) and conduct workshops to help mental health professionals learn better ways to treat non-offending pedophiles. Helping people with pedophilia live a fulfilling, law-abiding life actually does help protect children.

  • wspackman

    You are not asking the right questions and have started with unfounded assumptions; thus the rational conundrum that you describe is the inevitable outcome. We need to take a scientific, not cuturally defined morality based approach to the issue. And we need to start with the children. What is, and is not, appropriate for children? The morality based approach that denies sexuality to children has also been fraught with problems. Take the teenager in NC who was charged with multiple felonies for possesssion of photographs of his own genetalia. He lost his spot on the football team and thus also lost a college scholarship opportunity before, almost a year later, the charges were finally dropped. Also note the accounts of the acceptable use teams at various social media companies and how difficult they find it to keep users from posting banned sexual content. Child neuropsychologist Dennis Fortenberry has written a seminal paper on adolescent sexuality where he points out the critical lacunae that exists with regard to adolescent sexuality. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3761219/) Fortenberry notes,

    “The sexuality of young people is a continuous fascination to the popular imagination as well as in sexuality research. The fascination contains a mixture of anxiety and nostalgia that clouds the self-evident observation that each adult – over a sexual lifetime spanning 50 years or more – extends the sexual adolescent that emerged with puberty. However, connecting the sexuality of early adolescence with elements of adult sexuality is difficult, despite a huge literature on adolescent sexuality. The sexuality of adolescents is not only seen as immature, but as being qualitatively distinct from the sexuality of adults. Exploration of the motivational and functional components of sexuality critical to understanding of adult sexuality – sexual desire, sexual arousal, and sexual function – is almost entirely missing. As a result, critical lacunae exist in understanding the continuum of sexuality development through the lifespan.”

    Science has also shown us that the adolescent brain undergoes substantial activational and organizational changes during puberty. And that stress has a lifelong affect on the processing of social cues and the assignment of emotional valiance to social experience. Surely shaming and in fact criminalizing the naturally occuring biological desires and behaviors associated with puberty can be agreed to be ill advised. Cheryl Sisk’s research in this area is instructive. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2720102/)

    “In addition, we present evidence that adolescence is part of a single protracted postnatal sensitive period for steroid-dependent organization of male mating behavior that begins perinatally and ends in late adolescence. These findings are consistent with the original formulation of the organizational/activational hypothesis, but extend our notions of what constitutes “early” development considerably. Finally, we present evidence that female behaviors also undergo steroid-dependent organization during adolescence, and that social experience modulates steroid-dependent adolescent brain and behavioral development. The implications for human adolescent development are also discussed, especially with respect to how animal models can help to elucidate the factors underlying the association between pubertal timing and adult psychopathology in humans.”

    Under the current morality defined approach to human sexuality, we have systematically developed a foundation based on shaming rather than supporting the the emerging sexuality of pubescent youth. We treat their biology as a “risk factor” and pathologize and even criminalize their naturally occuring biologically based behaviors and desires. Until we get past that delusional way of thinking we will remain unable to rationally sort out how the rest of us adults fit into the picture.

    • Fantastic comment, though entirely irrelevant to the discussion at hand, since pedophilia is defined as sexual attraction to *PRE*pubescent children. Additionally, no one has been denying that children (yes, even prepubertal children) are indeed sexual beings. I think everyone would agree that criminalizing their natural sexual exploration among themselves or their peers is ridiculous and counterproductive. I think society is (very slowly) starting to realize the absurdity of convicting a teenager for child porn production when sending nude selfies to his or her girlfriend and labeling him or her as a sex offender for life, and we’ll start seeing changes in that regard.

      None of it has anything to do with whether it is OK or not for adults to have sex with children. So I’m not quite sure what you were trying to convey here…

  • No, I haven’t been “influenced by Ethan”, I just happen to agree with him. I’m intelligent enough to come to my own conclusions, thanks. I am familiar with Rind et al too. I have seen the “different perspective” too, thank you. I have been around BoyChat enough. I just happen to disagree with the “different perspective”: When you say harm is “primarily” the result of social stigma it means that there’s clearly other sources of harm. There is also plenty of evidence that children are incapable of providing meaningful consent (and I realize the term “children” is very broad and a 3 year old is not the same as a 12 year old), therefore whether the pedophile assumed there was consent is pretty much irrelevant. The risk of harm involved in any sexual interaction between an adult and a child should be enough for any responsible (and moral) adult to refrain from engaging in such interaction, irrespective of where the harm comes from, since it is impossible for the pedophile to know beforehand what the consequences of the interaction will be.

    • Baldur_Odensen

      I am glad that you have looked a little further afield than VP, but that does not make you correct. We could say much the same about ANYTHING. Dihydrogen Monoxide has been known to kill people in its solid, liquid, and gaseous forms, but that does not mean we should ban it – it is, after all, essential to life. Often it is better to understand something and deal with it intelligently than to reflexively ban it. Perhaps you are aware of the study showing that when “sexual abuse” is added to other types of abuse, overall harm is diminished? We might find even stronger results if the researchers had not combined nonconsensual and consensual relationships under the same label.

  • Louis E.

    I strenuously reject Cobb’s obnoxious defense of homosexuality,the historical stigmatization of which is entirely deserved regardless of any religion’s teachings,but affirm that regulation needs to be based on conduct,with celibacy recognized as the universal default.Those who are prone to departing from celibacy for insufficient cause (i.e. not mutual attraction with an adult of the opposite sex) should be seen as having problems and judged on how well they deal with those problems.
    Both treating celibacy as unrealistic and treating same-sex sexual attraction as healthy are symptoms of treating sexual desire as too much of an entitlement,which is also a bad attitude when it comes to making sure pedophiles keep their trousers fastened.

    • Julian Delphiki Jr.

      Not all pedophiles, and in fact many pedophiles, do not have an attitude of entitlement in sexual matters. They desire to never offend and are well aware of the effects abuse could have on not only their lives but the lives of others.

  • Julian Delphiki Jr.

    One study is hardly substantial evidence, especially one from 98. There is however heaps of evidence both developmental, anectodal and otherwise as to the great damage that can be done by CSA even when it is under the guise of seemingly consensual (always from the perspective of the adult offender mind you) relationships. Developmentally, kids and teens just do not have the ability to understand the far reaching implications of a sexual relationship in the way an adult would. Also, the stance for it being “consensual” has always been propounded by the adult desiring to initiate such relationships and is inherently selfish and self-centered. It isn’t ever about what’s best for the child. It’s about fulfilling the sexual desires of an adult. Anyone who tries to argue otherwise is deluding themselves and not being honest. All of the scientific evidence we have so far goes against it being appropriately consensual, even if there may be a few cases here and there where it didn’t have any long-lasting effects on a child. But like Ender pointed out, as long as the risk is there (and it is in an overwhelming number of cases), it is your moral duty not to risk any hurt to children, especially if you truly “love” them as many claim. There are other ways to show love and human intimacy to children besides sexual contact.

    • Baldur_Odensen

      In one sense, Rind et al was a single study – but in fact it was a meta-analysis, or a study of studies. What it found was that EVERY study which was not hopelessly badly designed found little to no harm from consensual sexual relationships between adults and children.

      In fact, there’s a considerable amount of other data to the same effect, plus there is the simple fact that no one has ever indicated what the actual mechanism of harm might be. When I first looked into this question in depth, I was actually more influenced by the studies claiming harm than by claims of no harm – because all the studies claiming harm were so obviously flawed in design and execution, and the authors so obviously biased, that I had to conclude that if they couldn’t bring anything better it was because they didn’t have anything.

      Of course it is true that a child cannot predict all the consequences of their actions – neither can an adult. There are so many possibilities that an accurate prediction is simply impossible. At best we can predict what’s likely, and the one thing we DO know is that introducing harm is harmful – so maybe we should stop shaming children and hurting the people they love.

      For the present, of course, I keep in mind that one does not take children swimming in polluted waters – but I also am determined to clean up those waters. I keep in mind the study that accidentally discovered that when “sexual abuse” (including consensual relationships) is added to other forms of abuse such as physical abuse and verbal abuse, overall harm is DIMINISHED. Obviously the “experts” are wrong about SOMETHING – and if you have kept up with news on the replication crisis in psychology, you will know that about two-thirds of psychology experiments, including some that have been taught as the gospel truth for decades, fail to replicate. Those “experts” would get more accurate results flipping a coin, and having read some of their work it’s obvious why.