Sunday, January 29, 2017

Review of "Erotic Innocence" by James Kincaid

I first read this 1998 book a few years ago, and have just finished reading it a second time. The first time, I was very impressed and figured he was right about everything. This time my reactions are mixed.

When he documents how our society is obsessed with sexual harm to children and argues that our concern goes way too far, I am with him.

When he posits this as part of grand social currents running back into the 19th century and beyond, it doesn't ring true. When he argues that our society has transformed children so that just about everyone finds them erotic, and the hysteria against pedophilia is in part a fierce reaction to horror at the prospect of recognizing it in themselves, I am puzzled. He proceeds to list a variety of movies where we can see this eroticism, including Shirley Temple movies and Macaulay Culkin. I rented the original Home Alone to check, and I just didn't see the erotic aspects of the portrayal of the kid.

He describes the long battle between those who claim to have recovered memories of sexual abuse and those who claim they are false memories. He describes them as both locked in a common narrative from which they cannot escape and urges a different narrative. But this conflict doesn't seem unsolvable in the way a religious debate is. The camps are arguing about what actually happened in the real world. If we found that every interaction between the parties had been captured on hidden video cameras, we could resolve the issue. One party was right and the other was wrong. Actual incestuous rape over the course of years is a huge deal to the people involved.

Now, I am convinced that very few of those video cameras would have captured the abuse that is alleged. So therapists should not go looking for it and it would become a serious problem for the few people who have it, much like, say, auto-immune diseases.

In the end (pp284-285) Kincaid has a list of bad habits we need to lose. The first is to "stop looking for monsters and their victims". I support that, but would broaden it to say, "stop sensational reporting about very rare people doing horrible things". I would include stories of gruesome nonsexual murders, very strange diseases and bizarre accidents.

He also says, "Stop tracing everything backward, looking always to the past for sources, explanations, and excuses." That is a reasonable approach to therapy and mental health. It is behind the move 50 years or so ago to give up on Freudian analysis and move more towards present-centered therapies such as cognitive-behavioral. But its relationship to the purported erotic innocence of kids is far from clear.

Why did I accept all his arguments the first time? I have a hole in my understanding of grand assertions about the hidden structure of society -- what feels like a blind spot. Foucault's claims comes to mind, as do patriarchy and postmodernism. (Hopefully I'm conveying a basic idea, even if those things are different). Maybe those who do feel comfortable understanding such theories and evaluating them could weigh in on how Kincaid's claims stack up.

When at the end Kincaid briefly touches on how we should actually view children if we erased this erotic innocence, he emphasizes that they have agency -- opinions and beliefs, and we should listen to them. They may also have some sexual feelings of their own. This all seems straightforward to me. When I was raising my three girls, I put a high priority on listening to them and relating to them as they saw the world, and above all respecting them. I wasn't attracted to any of them, but I didn't feel hampered in seeking to understand and respecting their attractive friends the same way on the rare occasions when that made sense.

If Kincaid is wrong about the grand societal forces that have made us all see children as erotic, why did he go astray?

He has admitted elsewhere that he is a "theoretical pedophile". Our sexual preferences are largely immutable. A straight man can't really explain why he finds women hot, and a gay man can't really explain why he finds men hot. And to some pedophiles who find children sexually attractive, maybe they can't remove that filter and see the kids the way most people see them.

He thinks we should go back to hugging kids and playing with them without worrying obsessively about the chance for some contact that might be construed as sexual. I'm all in favor of that. But he then adds, curiously, "if you find yourself getting too excited, going too far, wanting to incite or not to stop -- then stop. If you are hard-pressed, then indulge in voyeurism, which is child abuse only by elastic standards". This is good advice for pedophiles, especially ones who like him (I'm speculating) cannot see children as not erotic. But I honestly don't see how it is relevant to most people.

Given my tastes, I don't find any boys erotic, but I also don't see that girls in movies are presented as particularly erotic either. They're often adorable, and sometimes they have an erotic effect on me, but I think that is inside me and not an aspect of them. I suspect the vast majority of the world who are not pedophiles would be even less likely to see erotic children. Whose reaction is more common? It should be a question that's easy enough to answer empirically. Among people who would not be horrified to find they had a forbidden attraction, do they find children as portrayed in the West today erotic or don't they?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Framing Effect as applied to pedophile mental health

A well-studied cognitive bias is the <Framing Effect>.

If the usual price of something is presented as $10 and it's on sale for $9, people will feel good. If the usual price of the same thing is perceived as $8 and it goes up to $9, people will feel bad. This is behind the common marketing practice of setting a high list price for something, so that the actual price can be framed as a discount.

If you are healthy face the prospect of months of debilitating treatments and hospital visits, that is pretty terrible. If you have been diagnosed with a potentially fatal cancer, finding that you will endure those months of treatments and then be cured will sound very good. The first frame is, "my life with its usual ups and downs", the second frame is "am I going to live or die?".

Now let's consider a psychotherapist hearing a man's complaint. He doesn't have much interest in opposite-sex partners, his dates do not go well, and he's never had satisfying sex. He despairs of ever knowing love or of being partnered or becoming a father. What's more, he has a terrible secret he can't tell anyone. The therapist will agree that most people who see their lives that way would be very unhappy. On an imaginary scale of outcomes the question is whether he would stay at -2 happiness or with therapy progress to +2 happiness.

It looks highly likely to the therapist that the man is gay but doesn't want to accept it. A plan of therapy comes to mind. Get the patient to feel comfortable sharing his secret with the therapist, help him get comfortable with his identity, and help him live as a proud gay man. His prognosis is excellent. If he can't progress that far, the therapist will continue to feel bad for him.

But let's suppose that the therapist is in for a surprise when she coaxes the terrible secret out of him. It's actually 10-year old boys that attract this man, and he has no interest in other adult men. The therapist will be shocked. Hopefully she will not just terminate the man without a referral, but will struggle through her own preconceptions to try to help him.

Her immediate concern is (rightly) whether he is a danger to children. The problem has been reframed to include something much more serious. Hopefully her probing reveals that he hasn't abused any boys, does not think he ever will, and does not have ongoing contact with any boys that age.

We initially set the client's private happiness range at -2 to +2. Of course the happiness of other people comes into "net world happiness". Let's say his abusing children would add a -100 (whereas if he won't it remains zero). The -100 has been averted, but what has happened to the frame? If we're in a framework that accommodates a -100, a pedophile's private happiness going up or down a point will likely seem insignificant.

That's true unless you're the pedophile himself. To you, it still matters a lot whether you're at -2 or at zero. No, you can't make it to +2 because you have to leave the 10-year-old boys alone. You might possibly make it to zero if you accept your attractions and feel at peace with them.

Some pedophiles in sharing their experience with therapy will say that as soon as they revealed their pedophilia, the therapist viewed them as nothing but a molester, potential or actual. We can condemn that attitude on the grounds of plain prejudice, but the framing perspective allows us to make sense of it without assuming prejudice. From that perspective it is just the natural cognitive biases that we are all subject to, and we can combat it by pointing it out.

This framing effect is not specific to therapists. Others too who discover a man's pedophilia should be willing to look at how life looks to the pedophile himself, to reframe a second time from the -100/0 back to the -2/+2 framework.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Libby Purves' "More Lives Than One"

Reviewing a book that is 19 years old may seem strange. But this is not a blog about current events. If there's something important that's not widely known, I figure it's worth writing about it, even if it is 30 years old or 3,000 years old.

Ideally you'd read More Lives Than One with no foreknowledge at all. If you stop reading this post and read the book first I'd be delighted. This review has spoilers.

The central character is the handsome young "Kit" of high social class and educational attainment. He's a banker by day, and a serious outdoorsman in his free time. Girls and women are drawn to him but he gently rebuffs them, until he makes a connection to the beautiful 20-year-old Anna. They marry, and he changes career paths to enter teaching with Anna in a school for a British underclass population. The book has significant similarities to To Sir, With Love. He is a brilliant teacher whose students like him, and they respond with modest improvements -- and some catch a glimpse of a more poetic side of life. But his unorthodox methods annoy the hidebound traditionalists in the school where he teaches.

The plot thickens when the 12-year-old precocious Marianne falls in love with him, arranges to get lost on a school trip so he will find her and they can spend some time alone. She throws herself at him, and he does his best to deftly extricate himself and not humiliate her. Still, she writes in her diary about their love and sexual experiences. Her mother finds the diaries and confronts her daughter, and a full-blown police investigation ensues, spurred on with glee by Kit's hidebound colleagues at the school who hate him. The book shows how an accusation of sexual activity with a student can ruin a man's life. Kids do sometimes lie, but no malice is required, as in this case. Marianne didn't set out to hurt Kit -- she got trapped when her written fantasies fell into her mother's hands. It's not even clear they would have believed her or kept the matter quiet if she had immediately said it was all made up. In any case, to say out loud that they were fiction would require giving up the fantasy that she and Kit really would marry and live happily ever after. So Kit is suspended, and weeks go by when the accusations fester and do their corrosive work. Finally, confronted by a couple of her peers, Marianne is convinced to come clean. But before Kit is notified that the investigation will be closed, the story takes its most dramatic turn.

In his despair, Kit admits to Anna that in fact he has always been attracted to boys on the cusp of puberty. He turns out to be one variety of the textbook Virtuous Pedophile. I can't imagine that Libby Purves could have written this story unless she herself knew a person very much like the fictional Kit. Details seem too perfect to be the product of the writer's imagination. Here's the key passage:

-----

"Nobody with any brains at all could possibly think that you could molest a child."

"Oh, but I could," said Kit, still flat and expressionless. "But that's why it's absurd. It wouldn't have been a girl, though, would it?"

Anna switched on her own bedside lamp, as a motorist will hopelessly flick his lights to full beam in the illogical hope of piercing the advancing wall of fog. She stared at him: pale, dishevelled, unhappy, and with an edge of anger she had never seen.

"What?"

"I mean that it would be a boy, wouldn't it? Good public-school chap like me. We molest boys, don't we? Not girls."

Anna fell back against her pillow with a wave of relief, not daring even to register it as relief. Not daring to acknowledge what she had momentarily thought.

"Oh, that's rubbish," she said. "People aren't that cliche-minded about public schoolboys any more. Don't be paranoid. I know people gossip, but they'd never say that about you."

Kit shifted, still staring ahead at the uncurtained widow, the marsh and the faint lights of the distant dockyard.

"More fool them," he said. "I'm telling you, if I wanted to kiss a twelve-year-old in a Venetian alleyway, it wouldn't be a girl. You might as well know. Everyone might as well know. Safer that way."

Anna drew her knees up and fought to control her breathing. "Kit, don't joke. Don't make awful jokes. It's been horrible ever since half-term, but it will be over."

"Never," said Kit. "Not till I die. I have to live with it. I always have had to."

For a time neither said anything. Then Anna, with an effort she felt would almost cost her her sanity, asked in a low, steady voice, "Are you telling me that you ARE attracted to children? To little boys? I mean, like that?"

"You mean sexually," said Kit. "Yes. It is a sexual disorder. The only one left these days, really. All the others are sexual orientations, to be proud of. You can have marches and rallies and magazines about them. Paedophilia, on the other hand, is not even to be hinted at without hissing and cursing."

Anna was silent, plucking at the sheet, looking down at her fingers with studied concentration. She could not speak.

Kit continued, flat, unemotional, weary. "If the human creature you instinctively desire is a boy of eleven, you do not deserve to live. Anybody can tell you that. I agree," he added. "I don't deserve to live. But here I am. A paedophile, what they call a fixated preferential paedophile, and not even a sensible one. Sensible ones jump off high buildings or drive into trees as soon as they understand what they are." ...

"Why are you telling me these horrible things? What have I done? Why do you want to upset me?"

"I don't. You've done nothing. I can't live like this any more, that's all. I can't bear all this indignant defending of my purity. You're too good and sweet and decent to be deceived. I want to speak the truth, and when that's done, whatever happens will happen. Anna, I am attracted to boys. Young ones. Physically. I dream about them."

"How long has it been?"

"Probably all my life. I think I first knew at school. But it never mattered. I could pack it away. Sweat it off. This last year has been the worst."

"Why?"

"Because it just came back, that's all. Stronger, worse than ever. More directed. More personal."

Anna did not yet have the strength to ask which child. Blindly, she battled on towards understanding.

"Why did you marry me?"

"Because I loved you. I will always love you."

"Do I -- disgust you? Physically?"

Kit sighed, and pulled aside the duvet for her to return to her place beside him. Cautiously, avoiding touch, she did so.

"No. You know you don't. You're pure warm goodness and I adore you. It's more complicated than that."

She stared at him, her eyes wide, a rabbit in a car's headlights. "When we make love, do you think about -- do you pretend -- "

"No! No, no, no!" He was vehement now, almost angry, and she found this easier to bear than his previous defeated listlessness. "For God's sake, no. Of course not. I never think, or pretend, or indulge, or fantasise. Ever. I fight it off. All day sometimes, every day and half the night."

"Is it because you're ill that you're in trouble with it now?" Anna grasped at straws. "Perhaps it's part of the illness."

"No. It was there before. When I'm ill it's worse in one way because it's harder to fight, and harder to hide from you. But in another way it's better. I don't have the strength or the desire in me to do anybody any harm."

"You know it would be harm, then? You know it's ... impossible?"

"I do."

"Then why do you want it?"

"It doesn't work like that, does it? People don't only want good things. If they did there would be no need for laws. But sweet Anna," he looked at her now more like his old self, "sweet girl, you might not understand that. I really think that it's possible that you only want good things. Just naturally."

Anna sat upright, pulling her hair back with both hands. "No," she said. "I do see the difference." She reached over and switched the lamp off on her side. Directing her gaze into the darkest part of the room she said, "Kit will you tell me the most important thing. Have you ever? Have you ever ... oh God. Have you ever done anything about the feeling? Involving a child?"

"Never. If I had I think I would have killed myself."

A long silence fell between them. ...

Then Anna asked, steadily, "Never? Not even in a small way?"

Kit sighed. "Whenever I have felt confusion about the way I am with a child, I have moved further away. Never a grope, never a leer, never an unchaste brush past in a lift. All in the mind. And I fight my mind, Anna. Like I said, all day, every day, half the night. Never done harm. So far. Does that answer the question?"

"So far?"

"I told you. I'm at the end of my rope. I'm so tired. I don't know what could happen. I've got to the bit where sensible perverts jump off the high building. That's why I'm telling you."

"So that I can help?" said Anna incredulously. "You think I can help?"

"I don't know," said Kit.

-----

We can further specify what subtype of celibate pedophile Kit is.

Some pedophiles are non-exclusive, meaning they also feel an attraction to adults. Kit is one -- barely. The story has made his sexual relationship with Anna clear while at the same time hinting that his sexual appetite is not very strong. And within the above is this insightful exchange:

Question: "Do I -- disgust you? Physically?"
Answer: "No. You know you don't. You're pure warm goodness and I adore you. It's more complicated than that."

She doesn't disgust him, but she doesn't really attract him. He transforms his love and her pure warm goodness into sexual arousal and performance at times, but it's more a construction than the primal lust that most ordinary men would feel with an indisputably sexy woman.

Later the question arises as to why Kit loves teaching. The answer is that he loves children in the socially accepted way and loves helping them grow and learn. It's independent of his attraction to boys -- a sort of complexity and subtlety that very few non-pedophiles can comprehend.

Those are comparatively subtle points. But on the more basic questions, Kit is portrayed as the most sympathetic pedophile imaginable.

He's celibate and has never strayed. He's anti-legalization. He doesn't even entertain the idea that sexual activity might not harm a boy.

He's socially adept. He's against fantasizing and has never given in to a fantasy. It goes without saying that he's never seen any child porn. He also hates himself, or at least hates the part that's attracted to boys.

If you set out to create the most sympathetic pedophile you could, you would get Kit. Libby Purves has brought him to life and he is mostly believable. He lacks a moral blemish, hates his attraction, and never gives in to fantasies that ordinary people find revolting -- even during sex with his wife, when thoughts might arise unbidden.

For ordinary people who struggle so hard to accept pedophilia in any form, Kit is a good "starter pedophile". Real pedophiles -- even celibate ones -- are more complicated. But accepting them is a later step.


Friday, November 18, 2016

J.D. Salinger, Celibate Pedophile

Here are some things we know about J.D. Salinger, author of the classic "Catcher in the Rye".

In World War II he fought across France with American forces. Although proud of his service, it also had a lasting traumatic effect. Today we'd say he had PTSD.

He wrote compelling stories where his young characters were portrayed with uncommon insight and affection.

In real life as an adult he was attracted to a series of barely legal girls and had relationships with several of them. One famous one was Joyce Maynard at a very young-looking age 19, who describes it as part of her memoir, "At Home in the World". He tended to drop these girls from his life as they matured. His girlfriends are discussed too in <this article>. There are further hints about his attractions in his daughter's memoir, "Dream Catcher".

Some people have called him a pedophile for having relationships with 16-year-old girls. Society frowns heavily on such relationships, especially these days. But physically the girls/women were sexually mature. Calling them pedophile relationships is incorrect.

There is no evidence that he forced or blackmailed or intimidated any girls or women into sex. He was if anything more interested in love than sex.

He did not treat his lovers very well, being controlling and emotionally abusive. And yet this had little to do with age, and sadly a great many people do not treat their adult lovers very well. Perhaps there is something worse about having lovers of barely legal age if you are going to mistreat them, but it has nothing to do with pedophilia.

So, if we stop here, what do we make of Salinger? A maker of great art, but also eccentric, self-involved and unkind to lovers. The youth of his lovers attracted criticism in his day and would attract much more now, but they were legal and willing.

Now, stage two.

I feel there is pretty good evidence Salinger was actually a celibate pedophile, most attracted to girls of age 10 or so -- Phoebe's age in Catcher in the Rye. A big part of my conclusion comes from reading his stories. His description of men and girls fits how a lot of us pedophiles think. Holden Caulfield was a pedophile too.

How can I claim he was a pedophile if he never had sex with small girls and only dated women of legal age? Like most pedophiles he had a range of attractions. His barely extended to fully grown women at all, and he naturally chose from among the few who were both attractive and legal. What we see in his life is the right tail of a bell curve.

How a person evaluates my claim depends on assumptions.

If you think pedophiles are monsters, then you see my claim as a vile accusation and character assassination. As such, it should require very strong evidence and be assumed false until proven true. (With this in mind, it is no surprise that his Wikipedia entry doesn't match any search terms related to pedophilia.) I would be sympathetic if my claim was that he was a child sex abuser, but I don't believe he was -- he was child-celibate.

But if you think of pedophilia as just a condition that is not chosen and cannot be changed, then it is just an observation, not an accusation.

If you put emotion aside and entertain the idea that Salinger was a pedophile, how should we think about him differently? Our previous evaluation of him as a complicated person stands -- nothing disappears. What is added?

We can feel grateful that he did not abuse any 10-year-old girls. I think this is worth more a nod than a rousing cheer -- we expect everyone to not take advantage of partners who cannot consent.

We can sympathize more with his pursuit of barely legal teens. It was not some perversion of an attraction to adults -- no desire to dominate, no avoidance of emotional maturity in his partners that might threaten him. It was a noble compromise made against his gut-level desire for even younger girls who were far less appropriate.

I don't know to what extent he was aware of his attraction or whether he named it to himself. But to the extent he was, it could be a partial explanation for why he was so reclusive and private. Society certainly did not want to hear about such an attraction.

That's all I can think of right off that changes.

Instead of adding "pedophile" as a headline, we can add it as one more aspect to a complicated man. Like most people, the strengths and weaknesses of his life were primarily about things other than his sexual attractions and actions.

If we were to enter a debate on whether Salinger was a pedophile, we might talk as much about what it means to be a pedophile as we might about Salinger himself.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

What if ordinary porn was illegal?

Looking at child porn is illegal and can incur stiff penalties, and I would urge everyone to not look at it, for that reason if nothing else. Setting that aside, I think looking at child porn is morally questionable. It would certainly make me personally uncomfortable. (I have never seen any).

Yet I feel compassion for those who break the law or fall short of their own moral standards. Among the many posts I've written on CP, <Compassion for CP Viewers> is one that keeps coming back to me.

Today I offer an analogy, in the service of suggesting to others why they should also feel compassionate.

Suppose you were a man living in a society where females covered up and you never got to see their bodies. You couldn't see their bodies on TV or the legal web either. When you get married some day -- that's when you get to see your wife naked. However, with a few clicks of your mouse, you could find adult pornography involving naked women having sex -- but in this society it is illegal. Suppose the women are all sullen or have wooden facial expressions, and you know that they are having sex against their will. How many young men would seek out this material anyway? I say: a lot. Now suppose that instead, the women look reasonably happy, aroused, and like they're enjoying the sex. Yet you still know that they are doing this against their will and are just doing a decent job acting. How many would seek it out? I say: even more. Yet there is presumably shame in taking sexual pleasure in someone else's suffering. Why would they do it? Because sexual desire is very strong, and because they know that their looking is not causing the women direct harm. In contrast, raping or even sexually harassing real women in person does cause obvious harm and is something they do successfully resist. I'm sure many people in today's actual society would agree that looking at what we might term "genuine rape porn" is morally wrong, though I think most of them would balk at the idea of making just looking a crime with severe penalties.

Now let's change things a bit. Suppose you are a gay man. In your society gay sex could bring the death penalty. What's more, you never get to see other men naked -- they cover up and you see only hands, feet and faces. There is similarly illegal porn available to look at of men doing it against their will. Once again, I think many gay men would look. Here I suspect a divide in public reaction: those who think gay sexual desire is all right would be compassionate, but those who think that the gay attraction itself is morally wrong might support severe criminal penalties.

I think the analogy to child porn is clear. Sex with real children is illegal (and rightly so), and we assume that the children in child porn are doing it against their will, however they may look in the videos. The justification most commonly offered for stiff penalties is that men are getting arousal out of girls and boys suffering. But for those who don't support stiff penalties in my imaginary worlds of adult hetero or gay videos being illegal, you can see it's not really true. The real force behind it is that the sexual interest in children is itself considered morally wrong. And yet that interest arises in men through no choice of their own, and is likely set in place before birth. The interest is not something they can make disappear. And the sex drive is as strong for pedophiles as for everyone else. They are duty-bound to never express that with a real child, and many succeed. Most do not purchase child pornography or otherwise encourage its production. But many look at the vast amounts of free material that occupy the dark web. Compassion suggests -- nay, demands -- that these men not face long prison sentences for this activity.

And to repeat, I urge people in the strongest terms not to look at child pornography -- if nothing else, the legal consequences can be very severe.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Should pedophiles talk online?

This post was inspired by a quote in the Virtuous Pedophiles support group:

"I've hear MANY people (who didn't know they were talking to a pedophile at the time) say that pedophiles being able to talk about their attractions among one another will only lead to us all feeding into each other's desires. They think it will snowball more and more if pedophiles have a space where we can anonymously talk to each other, and will make us certain to offend because it'll normalize the thoughts and behaviors for us."

I've heard this argument many times myself, and I'm not sure if I've addressed it directly in this blog (and if I have, perhaps there's little harm in doing so again -- imagine a blogger raising the same issue twice!)

The argument is remarkably similar to the idea that providing sex education to young people will make them go out and have sex. The idea that teenagers live in a state of purity where they know to resist any urges they may feel and finding out more about sex in practical terms will only encourage them to act on them. I believe the actual results are that those without sex education have sex just as often but not safe sex so the rates of unintended pregnancy and STIs are higher. The progressive policies of the Netherlands are contrasted with those of other countries such as the US, for instance.

On the other hand, you could argue that going to meetings of white supremacists and seeking out the ideology does make a person more likely to accept those beliefs and perhaps even do bad things. There is a legitimate reason to discourage people from attending such meetings.

So which is pedophilia more like, white supremacism (?) or ordinary vanilla sexuality?

Those who post in Virtuous Pedophiles overwhelmingly believe that it is far more like ordinary sexuality -- the desires are there, the thoughts will not be suppressed by force of will, and the question is how to deal with them appropriately. A thoughtful defense of the "by talking they will enable each other" relies on the idea that in fact pedophilic desires are just chosen and if we don't talk about them with each other they will not grow. Allegedly it is just like white supremacism, which is not a force within us dying to find expression. Feeding that ideology is likely to make it grow.

Drawing a parallel between pedophilia and ordinary sex education may strike people as alarming. But you can calm your alarm. In ordinary sex education, people learn of the absolute requirement to find partners who are conscious and willing and not subject to coercion -- and legal. We learn the same in a VP-style group, it's just that the set of partners available to us is -- the empty set. There are none.

In progressive sex education there is a pro-sex part -- how to do sex safely if you decide to do it. There is also a negative part. People should feel free to abstain if their own religious or moral code requires it. And people learn to honor the strength of their desires but to make sure not to coerce partners and not engage in sex if either party is drunk or otherwise impaired in judgement. We in VP-style groups can learn the same negative messages. We learn that minors and especially prepubescents are always impaired in judgement on such matters.

The effect of pedophiles talking to each other in groups where pro-legalization opinions -- maybe even pro-contact opinions -- are common is not clear. I'm not aware of any studies. On the one hand they should feel less alone and more supported and so less likely to do things they know are illegal -- and avoid coercive relationships that they also believe are wrong. On the other I suppose some might be emboldened to act with willing children -- you hear stories. Yet the control group there is those who aren't in any such group -- did the group embolden them to act or would they have acted anyway? In any case, such groups where pro-legalization opinions are common have been with us for 15 years or more and are not going away.

The answer to the question regarding the Virtuous Pedophiles group is clear to me: when we talk online it is a way to keep children safe as well as to make pedophiles more content with their lives.



Sunday, August 28, 2016

Gay lust for straight men -- implications for pedophilia

Adult sex with children is wrong. Making child pornography as we classically think of it is wrong.

Yet pedophilic sexual desire for children is not wrong. Many people think it is. Some think so based on religious beliefs -- the concept is similar to how lusting in your heart after a woman is a sin. In any case, it's just plain wrong, as a matter of values, and there is no productive discussion to be had.

Yet there are others who are socially liberal and inclined to believe that people should be free to do what they like if it doesn't harm others. They might even allow that pedophile sexual fantasies that remain undetectable by anyone else are OK. Yet, many such people believe that if children find out (sooner or later) that a man had sexual thoughts about them, this is a violation of the child. That is the subject of this post.

This is an argument raised against relatively innocent child modeling sites. A girl with the permission of her parents meets a photographer, who gives her a variety of outfits to wear. She then strikes various poses that the photographer suggests while he takes pictures, including sexy poses. The family then earns money in proportion to how many people buy the rights to view these pictures. Let's assume what I am led to believe is the typical case, that the girl looks forward to these sessions -- to the attention and the chance to wear fancy clothes. Many girls strike sexy poses naturally for fun anyway sometimes. Discomfort is mild and infrequent, along the same lines as how some children could feel exasperated in posing for ordinary portraits.

As the girl gets older, she is likely to realize that the money would come from pedophiles who had sexual thoughts about her. To those who think this is a violation of the child, the girl's willingness at the time is irrelevant. Parental consent is also irrelevant, the same as it would be if a parent pimped out their child for sex.

I see little reason to think that if a child discovered while still a child what the pictures are used for, she would be inherently upset. Childhood typically has some rough times. Parents make you do things you don't want to do. Your siblings and peers are likely to be mean to you sometimes. A few people will tell you you're worthless. You'll learn about the icky method for making babies. Your beloved grandparents will die. And you'll learn the cold, dread truth that you too will die some day. (Obviously children who face famine, war, and disease will suffer far more, but I set that aside. Just because some children suffer a lot doesn't mean we should ignore lesser suffering.) If you live on a farm, you'll also get used to seeing appealing animals slaughtered on a regular basis -- and it's hard to label that as abnormal or cruel to children.

In this context, finding out that men do things with their penises while looking at your pictures just doesn't seem like a big deal.

Labeling this child exploitation is very much an adult construct. The basic injury comes from an adult knowing that men think sexual thoughts while looking at pictures of them as children. It's a cultural choice. That doesn't mean it's necessarily a bad choice. I think that a prohibition on people having sex or masturbating in plain view in public is also a cultural choice, and at a gut level it feels right to me.

Yet when it comes to sexual thoughts about children, I think we should look at the role of prejudice. And for comparison I'd like to consider gay male lust for straight men. Let's assume that the straight men have absolutely no interest in gay sex -- this surely is true for a great many straight men. If we roll the clock back 50 years in the US, a straight man finding out that a gay man had sexual fantasies about him would likely have been very upset. Many thoughts might be involved. He might fear that he will be raped. He will likely think that gay sex is gross and disgusting, and that being the object of such desire also contaminates him. He may fear that this gay sickness lurks within him and the gay man has detected it. If the gay man knows he is straight and not actually interested, this makes the gay man's fantasy a fantasy of rape -- a sadistic impulse. This in turn reinforces the fear of actual rape.

The reasonably enlightened person today knows that those fears are misplaced if not laughable. My argument is that a pedophile's sexual fantasy about a prepubescent child is exactly parallel. There is one way it is not -- there are of course gay men who eagerly welcome the sexual interest of other gay men, and the consummation of that mutual interest is part of the good life. This is not however a relevant difference. We are comparing gay male lust for known straight men with pedophilic lust for prepubescents. How does the existence of reciprocated gay male lust bear on that question?

Consider the straight man's fears from the era of prejudice translated to pedophilic interest today. Images of a child are almost entirely distributed far away. If there are cases of men tracking down children from such images to rape them, they are extraordinarily rare and not a rational fear. As for gay sex being gross and disgusting, it would indeed be both disgusting and a serious crime if it involved a straight man who was not willing. Nonetheless the gay man's fantasy is not disgusting -- the gay man transforms him in imagination into an enthusiastic partner. The pedophile does the same thing with a child. As for some implicit accusation of latent gayness, we know now that gay men are simply attracted to men as men, and often to more masculine men, who on average are more likely to be straight. Pedophiles are attracted to children as children, not children with some defect that makes them of interest to pedophiles.

If we set aside the prejudice, we can imagine a society where learning of a pedophile's attraction to a child is treated the same as a gay man's interest in a straight man by enlightened people today. A shrug of the shoulders. Maybe even a touch of sympathy for the gay man who pines after someone he can never have.