Saturday, July 26, 2014

How many pedophiles -- Wait, why do you ask?

Everyone wants to know how many pedophiles there are. Instead of starting with definitions and estimates, you should ask: What sort of discussion is it part of? How are you going to apply it? For instance: How many men are going to sexually abuse a child? How many are doomed to never having a satisfying sexual relationship with an adult? How unusual is it that a man feels a little stirring in his loins when he sees a naked 6-year-old? How many men think about their attraction to kids a lot?

The scientific definition of pedophilia is a strong and persistent sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Since self-report is often not accurate, the way scientists measure it is to stick a gauge on a guy's penis and show him pictures of naked people and see how much it swells when he's looking at children. The scientists will also collect data on how much it swells when looking at adults.

Those aren't of any direct relevance to real social issues. When the attraction to children is high enough relative to the attraction to adults, they call him a pedophile, and that isn't relevant either.

It's worth remembering both component pieces, though. Along with the "pedophile" and "teleiophile" patterns, a man can have a high attraction to both adults and children, or a low attraction to both. These two can vary independently.

1. How likely is a man to sexually abuse a child?

This deserves its own post, or several pots. It's very complicated because half or more of sexual abuse is not committed by men with a primary attraction to children, and because pedophiles are constrained by opportunity, fear of consequences, the likely reaction of the child, self-control, and moral beliefs.

That might be the only question of much interest to the ordinary person in society who sees pedophiles as nothing but potential or actual child molesters. But if you're interested in the real lives of real men, there are others.

2. Is a man doomed to never having a satisfying sexual relationship?

People understand the pain of lifelong celibacy. But if a pedophile can have satisfying relationships with legal partners, he'll get less sympathy. Pedophiles with a strong attraction to children and a very weak attraction to adults might be in the 1-3% range.

3. How unusual is it that a man feels a little stirring in his loins when he sees a naked 6-year-old?

There are studies showing a small but real bit of arousal to young girls in something like 40-80% of men. This is far from making them pedophiles, but they could find it disturbing. It would help to know it isn't that unusual. Men who aren't in that 40-80% and women also might try to really take in the significance of this number to question their belief that an attraction to children is totally absent in a normal man and its presence a hideous abnormality.

4. How important to a man is his sexual attraction to children?

Sarah Goode, in <Understanding and addressing adult sexual attraction to children...> surveyed some studies asking college men about their attraction to children. About 10% gave some indication that it was of some interest and was on their minds -- a much higher number than the 1-3% estimate.

The strength of an attraction to children is only one variable determining how a man experiences it.

At the one extreme we have those suffering from pedophile OCD. If they're in that 40-80% and are prone to anxiety, that's a problem. If those fleeting feelings were the start of a progressive condition, that would be worrisome to anyone. Society says that such an attraction would make them monsters who are doomed to abuse children. (Getting rid of that myth would reduce pedophile OCD and have great benefits to true pedophiles as well.)

At the other extreme are men with a powerful, exclusive attraction to children. Of course this is going to be very important to them.

Beyond this point I feel less sure of my intuitions (and note that I'm not considering man-boy attractions as I have poor intuitions about them):

If children are more attractive to a guy but he has low sexual interest in general, then he could perhaps suppress a stigmatized attraction and define himself as "asexual".

Some men may have a strong attraction to women even if the attraction to children is stronger. If relationships with women are fully satisfying, it might be possible to suppress an awareness of the interest in children. This is my best guess as to where I fit -- though when I passed 50, I became acutely aware that women anywhere near my age were just not very attractive at all.

The cases in the middle are of interest.

Consider a guy who has a stronger attraction to children, but is attracted enough to women to have a relationship with one. What's more, his morality and self-control are in order, so avoiding sexual activity with a child is not a problem. There are sub-cases to consider. If he isn't too reflective or doesn't worry much about weird thoughts, then he might live his whole life unaware of his pedophilia. Perhaps he is aware of his thoughts but doesn't let society's prejudices get him down too much.

If a guy thinks he might offend, then the attraction that supports that possibility will be upsetting.

If a guy is attracted to women but for whatever reason has trouble initiating or maintaining a relationship with one, then the attraction to children will loom in importance.

I suspect there are other possibilities too. Ideas from other people?


  1. Hi Ethan,

    "How important to a man is his sexual attraction to children?"

    I've been preferentially attracted to little girls since I was ten or eleven, however I have had successful relationships with women.

    I'm sorry to have split up with my long term partner some years ago. I find it difficult to initiate a new relationship because I'm seldom attracted to women my own age (mid 50's). I'd also like to keep the option of having children (altho it's fast closing). Surely I'm not the only middle aged guy in this situation.

    As an older single male without a family, I fit the usual prejudices, but I'm fit, active and socially engaged so I'm far from a misfit. Despite a high libido I experience little sexual frustration (being happily wedded to Rosie Palm and her five lovely daughters) but, without children, I do have to deal with a deeper kind of loneliness and the problem of finding meaning in my life.

    Perhaps, as you say, this has caused my attraction to children to "loom in importance", however I think it's more complex than that. Like many paedophiles, I've been through struggles and crises and resolving these has led to significant personal growth and development. I've been very deliberate in working through my problems and have sought professional help on occasions.

    An outcome of this has been my conscious determination to enjoy the company of children, girls in particular, and not to shrink from their companionship on account of my sexual feelings. For me this has included a very conscious commitment to observe the boundaries set by society at large and parents and primary caregivers in particular. I don't think of children as asexual or devoid of romantic interests, but I am very sensitive to their needs and welfare, so I don't challenge the received wisdom on sexual conduct with them (even if I think it might be misguided).

    Drawing all this together, my attraction to children, especially girls, is very important to me. I openly cultivate friendships with little girls and they enjoy my company. I don't spoil them, I just pay attention to them. My guiding principle is complete openness in everything I do with them, and that seems to work. Occasionally I can be relatively open about my orientation and I'm continually surprised by the acceptance I've found in unlikely quarters. Sometimes on these occasions I get the sense that the nature of my interest was already clear, and I think this is as it should be. It's a pity the demonizing of paedophilia has made it so difficult to be honest about these feelings because it makes things so much more difficult to manage.

    I've taken some cues from the lives of well known paedophiles, such as Charles Dodgson, T H White, Robert Baden-Powell and Samuel Clemens, who all made deliberate life choices to befriend children, without transgressing social mores. I'm also inspired by the lives and works of Graham Ovenden and William Mayne, two men who have been jailed for indecencies with girls but who also based their lives around artistic engagement with children and childhood and who were both strongly defended in court by women who, as little girls, had close friendships with them.


  2. Also,

    "How likely is a man to sexually abuse a child?"

    Another way of asking this question is: "how likely are the circumstances?"

    While many would like to limit these circumstances by introducing draconian punishments and restricting the natural rights of sex offenders and even non-offending paedophiles, this misses the point that the significant majority of sexual offenses against children are committed in their own homes, by people close to them, who have no previous record of sexual offending and who very often have no particular sexual interest in children (beyond that shared by most men and some women).

    So, since this blog is about paedophilia specifically, let's rephrase the question once more: "How likely is a paedophile to sexually abuse a child?"

    This important question is addressed by Cortney E. Lollar ("Child Pornography and the Restitution Revolution"; Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology Vol. 103, No. 2) who says:

    ==one of the primary risk factors for committing a hands-on sex offense is a characteristic shared with some other individuals regularly involved in the criminal justice system: antisocial orientation. Individuals with antisocial orientations exhibit several common characteristics, including impulsivity, a history of violating rules, a history of substance abuse, and unemployment. The other primary risk factor for hands-on abuse is a heightened, intense, and recurrent sexual interest in children, known as "pedophilic interest". These two risk factors are independent of one another but, when found in conjunction with each other, are strongly suggestive of the potential for actual child sexual abuse.==

    Sexual abuse most often happens to children who have no home to speak of or live in chaotic family environments, where poverty, substance abuse, unemployment and mental illness expose them to a variety of risks, including sexual ones. Perpetrators themselves emerge from precisely these same kinds of environments.

    Therefore, a primary strategy for safeguarding children should be progressive social policy, but this seems far from the minds of those who most stridently condemn 'paedophilia'. I suggest that an array of forces employ the demonizing narrative around paedophilia precisely to draw attention away from harms that flow from the extreme wealth gap, along with the absence of free health care and affordable housing. Paedophiles are a scapegoat designed to assauge the guilt society feels for sacrificing it's children to it's own greed.