This post has been a long time in coming. There is an ongoing debate about the status of pedophilia as a socio-cultural entity. Is it a sexual orientation, a fetish, or a mental illness? Is it like homosexuality or different? These questions are important, because the answers will determine how we as a society treat the issue going forward. While I am not a scientist, a sociologist or a political expert, I am a pedophile so this certainly has a direct impact on me, and I have some unique insight to offer here. Beyond that, I am fairly well-read on matters pertinent to pedophilia, including keeping up with the latest science from experts in the field.
Before I get started, I would like to point out that my friend and fellow virped Ender has already covered this topic pretty well, and I will no doubt be touching on some of the same points he made. I do want to go a bit beyond his article though and get a little more in-depth with the topic. Alright, so the title of this article should make it fairly obvious where I stand on this issue, and now I will spend some time explaining why I have come to this conclusion. I have discerned seven valid reasons why pedophilia should be regarded as a sexual orientation and will outline them all here. So let’s get to it.
(1) Experts mostly agree that pedophilia is a sexual orientation – It’s no accident that the majority of scientific experts who study pedophilia have come to the conclusion that it is a sexual orientation or something very close to it. In a 2011 Canadian parliamentary session, Dr. Vernon Quinsey and Dr. Hubert Van Gijseghem, when consulting lawmakers on the matter, both concluded that pedophilia was, like heterosexuality and homosexuality, something essentially immutable. And shortly after my Salon articles came out, an anonymous expert in criminal psychology made similar comments on Reddit. Among the most prominent of experts on pedophilia—people like Michael Seto, James Cantor and Klaus Beier—have also come out on record as describing pedophilia as a sexual orientation or tantamount to one. All of these experts did not come to this conclusion willy-nilly. I know it’s trendy for people of a certain political stripe to deny science that doesn’t accord with their beliefs, but unfortunately for them, that’s not how reality works. These are legitimate experts, and their opinions have merit.
(2) There are compelling genetic reasons for pedophilia – Setting aside the current lack of definitive genetic evidence for pedophilia (or homosexuality for that matter), there are some pretty solid reasons why a genetic mutation for pedophilia would almost certainly occur in some humans. In all societies up to about the late nineteenth century, children rarely survived into adulthood. If a child was orphaned, its chances of survival decreased even more. Thus, it would have been quite beneficial to those children for an unrelated adult to take them in. Given the costs of raising and caring for a child in societies where resources were scarce, it would’ve been unlikely for that to occur. Barring a desire to do good at their own expense, there are only three basic reasons why an adult would take on the costs of caring for a dependent child that was not their own. One, the adult wanted a surrogate for children they couldn’t have (the main reason people adopt children today), two, the adult wanted a cheap source of labor, and three, the adult wanted a youthful sexual partner.
Now, I am not suggesting that this justifies sex with children. But let’s be honest: genes are not compelled to behave according to human morality. Indeed, nature is, if anything, inherently amoral. Morality is a human invention, which helps explain why it varies from culture to culture and mutates over time. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that nature might have its own reasons for the development of pedophilia. Given what we know about the low chances of children making it to full adulthood in the past, it makes sense that a small percentage of pedophiles would appear in any society of a significant size. It also explains why sexual abuse was not much of a moral issue in past societies. In fact, their genes often had a better chance of being propagated if humans—girls especially—began to procreate early, because even if they survived into adulthood they tended to live much shorter lives on average than adults do today.
There is also another factor of relevance here: neoteny. This is the retention of juvenile traits in a species for a certain period of time. Humans maintain neotenic traits far longer than most other species. In fact, humans maintain some neotenic traits indefinitely (examples include smaller females compared to males and flattened facial features in both sexes), and these traits are often considered to enhance sexual desirability. There are a variety of reasons for this, but ultimately, with respect to pedophilia, it is really no wonder that sexual attraction to children would develop among some human adults. It’s likely a rather small mutation in a species prone to pedomorphism.
(3) Pedophilia has an emotional component – It is commonly understood that teleiophiles, straight or gay, frequently fall in love with their desired partner, but the same thing occurs with pedophiles as well. There is a grave misunderstanding amongst non-pedophiles that pedophilia is only about sex, but this is not true. Yes, there are pedophiles who don’t give a fig about children beyond their sexual attractiveness, just as there are adults who simply are out to get laid and have no emotional investment in their partners. But not all pedophiles are like this. Having encountered hundreds of pedophiles online over the twelve or so years I’ve been active on the internet, I can say that the vast majority of them have confessed to an emotional attraction as well as a sexual one.
I would even go so far as to say that it is the emotional connection more than anything else that keep virpeds like myself from acting on our desires. It may seem ironic, but it is nevertheless true that the presence of real children in their lives has the most desexualizing effect for many pedophiles. It’s much easier to romanticize and objectify kids when you only see the clean, groomed, snappily dressed, well-behaved, pleasant, quiet kids in advertisements and TV shows, but real kids tend to be messy, cranky, hyper, obstinate and so on. Also, forming a real-life relationship with a child assures that pedophiles are more invested in that child’s welfare and less likely to want to cause him or her harm.
(4) Pedophilia usually begins at the onset of adolescence – As with heterosexuality and homosexuality, pedophilia begins for most pedophiles when they hit puberty and first begin to experience sexual feelings. Some young pedophiles may not immediately notice anything unusual if they are attracted to same-aged peers, but they will begin to notice as they age and their preference does not age with them. In my case, I had the first uncomfortable taste of my sexuality at age twelve when a group of my sixth grade peers and I were talking about the girls in our class that we found attractive. The other boys pointed out how pretty the most developed girl in class was and I clammed up because the girl I happened to like was the least developed girl in class. But my real sexual awakening was about a year later when I saw a seven-year-old neighbor girl at my grandparents’ place and realized my preference was for significantly younger girls than I had first imagined.
(5) Pedophilia is not a choice – Like heterosexuals and homosexuals, pedophiles don’t choose to be attracted to children. It’s a truism with gays and lesbians that, given the stigma they face, no one would willingly choose that sexuality for themselves. Well, increase that stigma a hundred-fold at least for pedophilia. We are basically the least popular people in the world. Even serial killers have their fans, and they torture and murder people. You would have to be the worst sort of masochist to be 12 or 13 years old and say to yourself, “Hmm, I think I’m gonna choose to find 5-year-olds attractive. That will make me soooo cool with all my friends.”
Yeah, it doesn’t work that way. In fact, I spent a long time in denial of my sexuality. As a teen in the nineties I even modeled myself on a popular anti-child abuse activist, Andrew Vachss. To be sure, I was also pretty horrified by what I knew of sexual abuse, so it wasn’t really much of a stretch. In fact, I could’ve easily continued down that road if I had been better at self-denial, but I’ve never been much good at lying to myself for long. But that experience taught me something. It is my hunch that many of the most extreme anti-pedophile activists are really just insecure, self-hating pedophiles who hide their sexual insecurities by projecting them outward. I’m certain that some of them are, because I almost became one of those guys myself.
(6) Pedophilia is very likely immutable – The evidence isn’t quite definitive yet, but as the experts mentioned above have pointed out, pedophilia, as with other sexualities, tends to be fixed for life. So one cannot be cured of pedophilia since it is not a disease. Yes, in practice it is incompatible with laws and social mores, but the average pedophile is no more prone to attacking children than the average peer-attracted male is prone to attacking the adults he prefers. This myth has persisted for a long time, and it’s easy to understand why: the only time people really hear about pedophiles is when they have broken the law. So naturally there is an assumption that every pedophile can and will act out at some point. But this is nonsense. Most pedophiles can control themselves just fine and often do, which means they frequently go undetected for the entirety of their lives.
(7) Logic suggests pedophilia is a sexual orientation – Here’s where we get into the essence of the debate, I think. Bear with me because this segment will be long. When we consider what a sexual orientation is, there are at least two different factors that are at play, and where you come down on pedophilia’s designation likely depends on how you feel about those two factors. One of the factors is science; the other is politics. It’s important to recognize that homosexuals have fought a long, hard political battle to get the recognition, rights and respect they enjoy today. It’s remarkable that they have made such headway. Even so, their fight is not over by a long shot, and the critics of gays and lesbians, particularly on the political right, continue to try their damnedest to roll back everything the LGBT community has accomplished. One of the ways they do this is by linking the current fight by pedophiles for their own rights to the LGBT movement and to blame it for what the naysayers see as a future in which child sexual abuse has been “normalized”, to use their term.
To be sure, this fear is not an entirely invalid one. Given that homosexuals ultimately demanded and received the right to sex without legal interference, it is understandable that people might fear something similar happening in the future with pedophiles. However, there are some important distinctions to be made here. First and foremost, gays fought for the right to love each other. For those pedophiles who seek the lowering or removal of age of consent laws, the fight is entirely one-sided. Children are not organizing and demanding the right to love pedophiles in turn. If they were, this discussion would be a very different one. But that is never going to happen. Why? Because children, when they are even aware of it, by-and-large neither desire nor enjoy sex, and furthermore, they lack the psychological development to understand what such activism would even mean.
Which leads naturally to the other important distinction between the gay and pedophile movements: kids are unable to meaningfully consent to sex or romantic relationships. They cannot sign contracts, or vote, or drive either. These are not cruelties inflicted on kids (as pro-contacters will often argue), nor are these restrictions imposed for moral reasons the way laws against gay sex used to be. These laws and rules are in place to protect a highly vulnerable and naive segment of society from being manipulated by people who generally do not have their best interest at heart.
Thus, from a purely political standpoint, it makes sense that some would oppose the designation of pedophilia as a sexual orientation. But the term ‘sexual orientation’ is not merely a political distinction; it is also a medical/scientific one, and for me at least, science always trumps politics. Science has long been considered immune from politics, as it is a way of discerning reality as it is, not as we want it to be, and the scientific method has been perfected over time to be foolproof. It is only quite recently that well-established scientific truths have come under major attack from political factions, particularly from the right but also in some cases from the left. As the science of sexuality continues to be refined, it is important for all of us, no matter where we stand on these issues morally, that we use the correct terminology and understand the difference between a scientific designation and a political one.
Barring a definition which artificially restricts the concept of sexual orientation to refer only to gender preferences, pedophilia ticks off all the boxes that scientists have traditionally used to determine a long-term, fixed sexual preference. That this was initially limited to the single dimension of gender preference does not mean that that tradition is correct. Sexuality is a complex tapestry to which there are several dimensions, including age preferences (chronophilias), and age preference is not limited to pedophiles; it applies to all sexualities. It’s just that in the past, a preference for adults was assumed. But ask yourself this: does my sexual preference have an age dimension? The answer is, of course it does. Your preference for males and/or females, whichever it may be, does not begin at birth and end at death—your preference is almost certainly limited to a particular age range, say 20 to 40 or thereabouts. It may extend up or down a few years depending on the maturity/youthfulness of individuals, but it is not indefinite. For pedophiles it’s the same, only our preference tends to be fixed in the prepubescent years.
Logically speaking, a sexual orientation is best defined as who or what one is sexually oriented towards, and that preference is a multidimensional spectrum. Suggesting that one is simply gay or straight is not really enough information for a full picture of what one’s preferences are. You could be a gay or straight teleiophile (meaning you prefer adults in their prime), a gay or straight pedophile, or even a gay or straight gerontophile (meaning you prefer older people—yes, those do exist too). Ergo, it makes far more sense to recognize age preference as a dimension of sexual orientation since it is built into it anyway rather than designate it as something else. It may be politically inconvenient, but it is nevertheless scientifically accurate, and science trumps politics. Anyway, the moral issues surrounding sex with children are in no way impacted by recognizing pedophilia for what it is, and that is the most important point to take away from this.
Addressing Some of the Fallacies Used by Opponents of the Designation
Now that we’ve looked at the reasons why pedophilia should be labeled a sexual orientation, let’s examine some of the fallacious arguments used by opponents of the designation.
Pedophilia isn’t a sexual orientation because children are not a gender – This one goes right back to my last point, and it is ultimately a fallacy of irrelevance. (There are a lot of those in this debate.) Again, there is nothing inherent to the concept of sexual orientation which requires that it only apply to gender preferences, and there is a solid logical argument for designating sexual orientation as anyone or anything to which a person is sexually oriented.
Children cannot consent to sex, so pedophilia is not a sexual orientation – Yep, another fallacy of irrelevance. While it is relevant to the moral and legal aspects of adult-child sex, whether preferred partners can consent or not is irrelevant to the concept of sexual orientation. These are very distinct things. A sexual orientation is, or should be at any rate, a scientific/medical designation based on a number of criteria involving the person who experiences it. External moral, legal and political factors should have no impact on the accuracy of a medical diagnosis.
Pedophilia is not found in nature – Actually, this is quite untrue. In fact, our closest genetic cousins the bonobos have been observed engaging in all sorts of sexual practices, including with juvenile females. Another interesting species that has recently been observed engaging in pedophilic sex is the black widow spider. Adult male spiders have learned to mate with juvenile females in order to avoid being cannibalized. They engage in intercourse with the young spider, planting their seed in the juvenile female, where it will remain until the female reaches maturity, at which point the female will then become impregnated.
But even if it was true, setting aside the fact that humans are still part of nature, this would still be a fallacy of irrelevance, not to mention a naturalistic fallacy. It is wholly irrelevant whether other species practice behaviors that we wish to recognize as part of that designated spectrum of human sexuality.
Pedophilia is a fetish, not a sexual orientation – Um, no. The American Psychological Association defines fetishism as a sexual fixation on a nonliving object or nongenital body part (Wikipedia). Maybe you define children as objects or body parts (at which point I must ask, who is the sick one here?) but children are, in fact, a distinct class of people, just like men and women. And, as with males and females, children have appeared in every society since the beginning of our species, so there is every reason to see them as a dedicated group to which a sexual orientation would naturally develop, and that designation would apply and be understood in every society under the sun. Contrast that with, say, an attraction to people with pink hair. Pink hair is neither naturally occurring nor universal to human societies, and an attraction fixated on pink-haired people could be viewed as fetishistic, since it is a nongenital body part (pink hair) that is the turn-on there.
Pedophilia should not be normalized – This is one of the major criticisms used not only against the recognition of pedophilia as a sexual orientation but for pretty much any sort of discussion or research of the pertinent issues that is even remotely sympathetic to pedophiles, even the non-offending sort. It’s essentially a slippery slope argument based on fears of child sexual abuse somehow gaining the same protected status as gay and lesbian sex. While that fear is understandable on some level, once you take into account all the facts, it should be fairly clear that this is never going to happen. The points laid out in reason seven above for why pedophilia is different from homosexuality are quite sound and should be convincing enough to allay those fears.
The problem is, many people are quite cynical and believe that as soon as honest and open-minded discussion of these issues is allowed, it will fling open a Pandora’s Box and we will quickly slide into a society where anything goes, including the rape of children. But there’s a vast difference between presenting an issue fairly and accurately and condoning horrific behaviors. Recognizing pedophilia as a sexual orientation does not automatically imply allowing or excusing the abuse of children. It simply means viewing it in a way that can be understood and classified in an existing medico-scientific model. The criminal and moral status of adult-child sex still would remain quite separate from that.
Indeed, such a classification would likely contribute to the lessening of abuse in the long run, primarily by destigmatizing the concept of attraction itself and making it more likely for those who fit this sexuality to come forward and seek help if needed, or to seek out communities like VirPed where they will have companionship and support in living a legal and ethical lifestyle. Destigmatizing and accurately classifying pedophilic attraction does NOT mean legalizing sex with kids. I know in this current time of “alternate facts” it is easy to be skeptical about truth and accuracy even in the sciences, but society has never morally devolved from a better understanding of an issue. If anything, it is much easier to manipulate a society’s mores and values when fear, inaccuracy and suppression of honest debate take precedence over a clear and accurate attempt to understand a controversial issue.