Addressing the ‘pedophile culture’ argument

Over on Feminist Current, Alicen Gray wrote a response to my first Salon article called You’ve heard of rape culture, but have you heard of pedophile culture? and I felt the urge to address it here.  I initially planned to just deal with Gray’s arguments there in the comments section, and I did manage to get a few comments in before the thread closed.  I usually ignore the discussions added to articles since they are often filled with irrational vitriol, and because they are usually from right-wingers who I have little hope of winning over anyway, but I feel some affinity with hardcore feminists because I believe they are marginalized like me, and because I think their goals are noble if sometimes bolstered by bad logic and wild conspiracies about the patriarchy.  But despite our disagreements, the discussion at FC—to the extent I was able to participate in it—remained civil and intellectually honest, I think.

That being said, Gray’s indictment of the ‘pedophile culture’ is a massive straw man.  I totally agree with her that a lot of things she claims are going on really are going on; I just disagree with her that there is some massive pedophile conspiracy behind it.  For the record, of the negative emails I received after publishing my articles, the most venomous and hateful were nearly all from men. Anyway, Gray suggests that I failed to address the fact that there is apparently some extensive pedophilic culture that fosters the maltreatment of girls and women, and she holds up as evidence for this the fact that many men prefer younger women or younger-looking women, with the implication being that what these men really want are young girls.

Her first piece of evidence for this is that most pedophiles are men, but this assessment is based on two major errors that I addressed in my articles, these being that pedophiles and sex offenders against children are one and the same thing, and that all child molesters are pedophilic.  Once again, a pedophile is, at base, just someone who is sexually attracted to children.  There should be no built-in assumptions about behavior there.  There is nothing new about ascribing negative traits and behaviors to an entire class of people, but history has shown over and over again that such prejudices are misinformed at best and bigoted at worst.  Every minority group seems to go through this phase of rejection and vilification; pedophiles are no different.  The conservatives love to bang their slippery slope drum, arguing that every new increment of tolerance leads us closer to the end of civilization, but they’ve been making this same claim for millennia and civilization has yet to collapse.

But back to Gray’s article.  Yes, child molesters are overwhelmingly male, but, as I pointed out in my second article, many studies have revealed that most child molesters aren’t actually pedophiles; they are situational offenders, people who abuse kids for reasons other than attraction.  Her second point is sort of a mirror image of the first: most victims are female.  Again, very true.  Why is it that female children are targeted more often than male children?  The answer is simple: girls are targeted because most offenders—indeed, most people—are straight, and there is still a stigma amongst masculine culture against homosexuality.  Add to this the fact that men are biologically more inclined to violence.  Meanwhile, a survey at our VirPed forum reveals that our numbers are about equally divided between those attracted to girls and those attracted to boys (with a good deal of overlap).  Hence, true pedophiles seem to break down about as you’d expect for a hardwired sexual orientation.  Very different from the statistics on actual abuse.

I know it’s hard for people to fathom that people would abuse kids if they weren’t sexually attracted to them, but we know that even adult rape is not necessarily motivated by attraction.  It can be a power trip for the rapist, and so too can the sexual abuse of children.  It’s awful, I know, but there you have it.  There are other reasons a child can be victimized though.  One of the main ones is that the child was a convenient vessel when an adult (the preferred partner) was physically or sexually unavailable.  This is often accompanied by a sense of entitlement.  It’s no accident that most victims are very close to their abuser, often living in the same household.  As the FBI’s Kenneth Lanning points out in his important paper Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis, this type of abuser (the majority) usually don’t victimize kids outside of their own family or inner circle.  This is because they aren’t operating from an attraction to kids but from other motivations.

One thing about true pedophilic child molesters—thankfully a rarity—is that they tend to have lots of victims, and most of them are acquaintances or children in their care who are not related to them at all.  Again, very different from the overall trend of abusers.  Pedophiles who abuse do so because they are genuinely attracted to children, and this is accompanied either by poor impulse control or lots of self-delusion about how much their victims wanted their sexual attentions, or both.  I have not seen an satisfying stats, but I’d be willing to wager that for pedophilic molesters, the overall number of male and female victims are probably about even.

This leads to Gray’s central premise: “That said, pedophilia may seem taboo and despised by the masses, but an honest appraisal of our culture at large reveals otherwise.”  Does it?  Does it really?  No, what an honest appraisal of our culture reveals is that there are still a lot of men who have entitlement issues when it comes to females, and that is attributable to the machismo culture, but pedophilia has little to do with it.

She goes on with, “In pedophile culture, women are expected to maintain a near-impossible level of thinness, prepubescent in their almost-androgynous lack of curvature and body fat. Due to this pressure, eating disorders abound in young girls, and women in particular are targeted throughout their lives by a multi-billion dollar weight loss industry.”

Again, pedophilia is an attraction to children, not childlike adults.  Whatever this is, it isn’t pedophilia.  No more than male rape in prison is about homosexuality or rape in general is about heterosexuality.  The infantilization of women by men, while a very real phenomenon, is more about the insecurities of those men than about desire for prepubescent bodies.  Besides, some overweight women look baby-like, so by that logic shouldn’t men desire overweight women just as much?  I pointed out in my reply to the article that the preference for youth is biological.  This is true and has much to do with the healthiness of a preferred mate for breeding.  I once saw a documentary on Discovery Channel (back when it was about real science) that said that there are only two universal factors across all cultures when it comes to sexual preferences.  One is symmetry, and the other is youth.  These are not confined to men; women prefer younger partners too, though maybe not as much.  Again, there is a biological basis there—men can reproduce until death, but women’s reproduction window is limited.  Moreover, younger women have a better chance of having healthy children than older ones do.  This is just a fact.  I wish it were otherwise, but biology is biology.

Gray next aims her barrel at the adult porn industry and porn consumers.  She says that the most preferred porn is that which flirts with notions of underage girls as partners: cheerleader porn, daddy-daughter incest porn, and “barely legal” porn.  My hunch is that these porn preferences have much more to do with the thrill of violating the underage taboo than with any actual attraction to little girls.  And I have looked at this porn myself.  What I see are full-grown adults pretending to be teenagers a few years below the age of consent.  I certainly have never seen someone I would mistake for, say, a 7-year-old.  Teleiophiles (those attracted to adult peers) are going to respond to secondary sexual characteristics, whether they belong to a 16-year-old or a 25-year-old; it’s built into them.  There is no magic age where pedophilia ends and teleiophilia begins—it doesn’t work that way.  This is because we don’t transition into adults instantly; its a gradual process, a continuum.  Age of consent is a legal marker, not a biological one.

And for all of us, whether male, female, gay, straight, bi, teleio or pedo, we like what we like first and foremost; cultural influences, to whatever extent they apply, are secondary, and they aren’t going to change someone’s sexual preferences.  You’d think feminists, who are often staunch defenders of gays and lesbians, would understand that.  Many people do like to experiment or play around with other sexualities, but ultimately they are not going to be changed fundamentally by the culture.  Otherwise, couldn’t we convert gays to straights by simply immersing them in straight culture and denying them gay culture?  Obviously that doesn’t work.  Why would it work in reverse for teleios?  No amount of “pedophile culture” is going to turn people into pedophiles who aren’t already inclined that way.

Unless Gray is arguing that pedophiles are far more prevalent than we know of.  In which case, I think it is even more critical that society engages in a dialogue with pedophiles like me.  But no, I don’t believe there is some massive pedophile culture that is influencing men towards developing a sexual interest in children.

Another point Gray brings up in defense of her argument is that women are undergoing surgeries to shrink their sex parts and shaving their body/pubic hair.  Once more, I shouldn’t have to remind people that youthful features are a sign of healthiness, and that (not to be crude) just because men might desire a tighter vagina doesn’t mean they naturally would prefer a child’s vagina.  This seems to me to just be the flip side of the slippery slope argument beloved by right-wingers.  It comes back to this belief that culture forms our identity, and that we are moving more and more toward full acceptance of bad behaviors, those behaviors being complete sexual hedonism for the right-wingers and the complete sexual control of females by males for feminists.

Gray also suggests the trend of females shaving their pubis and legs is inherently pedophilic.  I don’t buy this either.  I know many women who prefer their men to have a clean-shaven face.  Does that make them pedophiles too?  Clearly not.  I think in this case it’s just a matter of sanitation and general repulsion.  Body hair disgusts a lot of people, not just pedophiles.  And there’s an element of civility in it.  For some people, shaving indicates respectability and even humanity, since, let’s face it, hair is kind of animalistic.  I usually wear a goatee and a thin mustache because I think with my face shape I look better with them.  I have been known to wear a full beard on occasion, but I don’t like to do it often.  It just feels too uncivil and barbaric to me; that is not a judgment on those who prefer it, it’s just me.

I suspect there’s something similar going on with men who prefer their women shaved down below.  There is some sense of removing sex to a degree from its animalistic origins and elevating it to something more respectable and human.  I could be wrong there, I don’t know.  But one thing I am dead sure of is that men who like women to shave off their pubes aren’t all secretly longing for a little girl as a sex partner.  Maybe a few are, and if that’s the case, isn’t it better if they can make a relationship work with an adult with just a few minor modifications then actually abusing children?  Look, women, I understand it’s hard work to maintain a certain body image that men prefer and I respect the hell out of you for doing it, but be honest: you would certainly prefer your men to be in shape and healthy too, and to look presentable.  Men who shave do tend to look younger, but that doesn’t mean that those women who prefer it are all secretly longing for a young boy.  Why ascribe pedophilic motives to men who want their mates to look younger when there are women who have the same preferences and you know they aren’t pedophiles?

Could it be that you are knowingly manipulating men to some extent here by calling them pedophiles when they want a younger looking mate?  Very few men want to be labeled pedophiles and you know that, so your whole accusation of some widespread pedophilic culture is bound to get many men to come over to your viewpoint, or at least pretend to, in order to avoid the label.  Men can be insecure, as you are often wont to point out, so you’re not doing them or yourselves any favors by calling them pedophiles if they happen to like a shaved pubis or shaved legs, or they prefer ‘barely 18’ porn, or any of these other things that you claim are about pedophilia.  Many guys enjoy watching muscled up men wrestle or play action heroes, but that doesn’t make them gay.

Maybe—just maybe—it is offensive to make insinuations about other people’s sexuality based on larger social trends.  You wouldn’t do this with respect to whether someone is gay or straight, so don’t do it with this.  Besides, the last thing the world needs more of is a bunch of insecure men getting aggressive and violent.  These are the people who are most apt to attack people like me, and if you have any empathy at all with those of us who are stuck with this very real orientation but don’t abuse children, you won’t make things worse for us by riling up a bunch of insecure males with accusations that they are pedophiles.  They aren’t.  You know it and I know it.  Please, let’s not play that game.

I agree with you that girls are much more frequently targeted by abusers, but let’s make sure we are identifying the correct reasons and fix the problem instead of making vague insinuations about masculine culture, which helps no one.  I am on your side 100% when it comes to making sure girls are safe, happy and secure, but you lose me whenever you start slinging around concepts like mainstream pedophile culture, because as someone who is subject to all the bullcrap that comes with the most stigmatized sexuality in the world, I can assure that there is no such thing.

5 thoughts on “Addressing the ‘pedophile culture’ argument

  1. “But o thyng warne I yow, my freendes deere,
    I wol moon oold wyf han in no manere.
    She shal nat passe twenty yeer, certayn;
    Oold fissh and yong flessh wolde I have ful fayn.
    Bet is,” quod he, “a pyk than a pykerel,
    And bet than old boef is the tendre veel.
    I wol no womman thritty yeer of age;
    It is but bene-straw and greet forage.
    And eek thise olde wydwes, God it woot,
    They konne so muchel craft on Wade’s boot,
    So muchel broken harm, whan that hem leste,
    That with hem sholde I nevere lyve in reste.

    (January the Knight in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, explaining that his future wife must be no older than 20 and that starting with a woman of 30 is ‘bean straw and gross forage.’)

    This is a many-sided issue. When politicos in the late 80s began to include arousal by teens into pedophilia, they got into trouble, in that they were then openly antagonistic to basic human biology. In reaction to all the body-shaving and ‘baby baby’ calls that are mainstream in heterosexuality, I always joked that ‘heterosexuality is pedophilia,’ and I think that this overlap between bog-standard straightness and hebe-/ephebephilia is something people will eventually have to accept in good humor. As you point out, Todd, it applies to men as well as to women – I have a relative in her 80s that will countenance no man with a bearded face — which in practical terms means she makes her husband shave. Yet no biologist would deny for a moment that this is a juvenilizing move — mature males of the human ape have full beards, and that’s all there is to it. If you want full-blown teleiophile heterosexuals, join the Sikh community. I presume my relative would spent a secretly squeamish life if she had had to marry in that community.

    Biology doesn’t submit well to being railed at, and the extent to which it can be levered by trying to represent it as ‘culture’ is, in my estimation, relatively low. Surely we learned that much from LGBT liberation — every possible effort to suppress gay realities as culturally driven was made, and all were shown to be not only wrong, but also cruel.

    “So much broken harm,” as Geoff says in the poem, can be done by crafty politicos trying to flail biology with their idealizations that, if we don’t learn to take such efforts with many grains of salt, we truly shall ‘nevere lyve in reste.’


  2. I do have a, some people would say, very problematic opinion about onde of Grays arguments to what she calls “pedophile culture”. She talks about how young girls and even children are oftenly sexualized by the industry. My opinion, is that the problem is way beyond the industry, it begins at home with moms dreams of having a little miss princess whatever daughter, and when the poor kid is three years old they insist to put her into a little miss contest and use loads of make up and hair products that even I don’t use.

    It continues as they motivate these girls to use high heels and “look pretty” every freaking time they go to school just because there’s a society who says women should “look pretty” therefor this should begin at a very young age.

    My opinion as a feminist (not a hardcore one, I don’t think I am at least) is that if people what to blame someone (which, by the way, I think is just useless in matters of solving the problem) you should blame our sick society that treats children as if they were grown adults. Or even further they treat childhood as some kind “preparation” for adulthood, instead of a phase that is soposed to be a school for life through “instruments” such as playing and imagining.


    1. Yeah, I hate that nonsense too. Those little girl beauty pageants are problematic on several levels, but one thing I’ve gleaned from watching a couple of episodes of Toddlers & Tiaras (two episodes was all I could stand) was that many of those girls seem like they really don’t want to be there and are only there because their mothers are into it. Those mothers act like fascists, every bit as bad as the fathers who pressure their sons to do well at sports. But at least sports can be healthy for children (not that I’m defending that behavior from fathers, mind you–it’s still bad parenting). And then too, what of the girls who lose those contests? Are they receiving the message that they’re unattractive? What does that mean for them later? I really despise that whole industry, but especially the child pageants, which are just wrong all the way around.


    2. I sympathise with your sentiments – funnily enough as a paedophile I find this kind of sexualisation of children off-putting and troubling. But I think that the problem lies deeper than attitudes of mothers – these attitudes are really just a ‘symptom’.

      The marketeers of Consumer capitalism know that Sex is the strongest tool in the marketing box, and if you can get children locked into a consumer mind-set young you will have a generation of good consumers for life.

      However capitalism, with its demands of small and mobile family units and the devaluation of the community, has created the Nuclear Family, which can only function if children are considered innocent (it’s no coincidence that the ‘innocent child’ archetype first appeared at the start of the industrial era in England – you can read more about the relationship of capitalism and childhood innocence here – ).

      This results in an economic system that is trying to function with two opposed archetypes of what childhood should be – the ‘innocent child’, and the consumer child, who assumes the characteristics of adult sexuality – the ‘Toddlers in Tiaras’ child.

      Many parents, especially those of girls, are very confused – often it’s those parents who are most virulently anti-paedophile who dress their girls up the most provocatively – and many parents feel that their children are being taken away from them by popular culture and consumer culture.

      However since most parents are also eager participants in that culture they are not ready to recognise that the anxieties they experience about their children are products of a system (consumer capitalism) which they actively buy into and which we are all, by default, largely dependent on.

      The sum of this is that parents, and society are deeply screwed up about the nature of childhood since society is pushing two opposed paradigms of childhood.

      I suspect a lot of the willful misunderstanding and hatred of paedophiles (including celibate paedophiles) occurs because, with the anxiety and conflict being over children’s sexuality, the paedophile becomes a very convenient and appropriate embodiment of those fears – the fear that some dark force is taking possession of their children via their sexuality.

      A third archetype of childhood sexuality – one that is less and less present in 21st century consumer society – is that of the ‘Wild child’ or ‘nature child’ – she is embodied in the photos of Sally Mann, in Pippi Longstocking, in nudist children – a girl less likely to have her fingernails varnished than to have them broken from climbing trees. I find this archetype healthier and more appealing than either the innocent child or the ‘Toddler-in-Tiaras’ child, whose sexuality is one of display, not of love or intimacy.


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