Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pedophilia isn't chosen and can't be changed

Many people hostile to celibate pedophilia can't think of any innocent explanation for a sexual attraction to kids. Since kids aren't interested in sex and it's bad for them, why would a man even consider the possibility? When the idea pops into a decent man's head, the harm to children should pop into his head at the same time, and unless he's a bad man -- a sadistic man! -- that ought to be the end of the story, right? If an ordinary guy has a momentary thought of trying to seduce someone totally inappropriate -- his mother, perhaps? -- he puts it right out of his mind. He certainly doesn't dwell on it or make it a part of his identity.

But pedophilia is entirely different from thoughts of sex with a particular person. It is a sexual orientation. That term is of course most often associated with gays and lesbians, and it has important political connotations. Pedophilia is very different from homosexuality in some key respects, most importantly that sex between gays or lesbians is perfectly OK, while adult-child sex is not at all OK.

Social conservatives sometimes speak cavalierly of the "gay lifestyle". It is true that individual men can decide whether or not to engage in sexual activity. But what the mainstream in the West has come to accept is that the attraction to other men is a fundamental part of who these men are. Even if they believe deeply that sex with other men is wrong, conversion therapy does not work. They can choose to be celibate or they can choose to have sex with men, but they will always find men sexually attractive. That is what defines a homosexual orientation, and it is exactly the same with pedophilia. Celibate pedophiles know not to act sexually with children (and all pedophiles can learn to be celibate) but they will always find children sexually attractive.

While the cause of a homosexual orientation is not known, the most promising investigations concern effects on the brain of the fetus in utero. The same is true of pedophilia.

"Sexual orientation" has "sex" in its name, but typically the attraction is far broader than that -- it is an attraction to an entire person..

Consider ordinary boys and girls at puberty. Their feelings towards the other gender change markedly. Some might notice a direct physical desire to have sex. But just about everyone feels an attraction to the entire person. Everything about the other is fascinating -- voice, hair, face, laugh, sense of humor, how they move. To see the distinction unmistakably, consider the sizable numbers of boys and girls in the not so distant past who reached puberty without having any idea what sex was. They were still strongly attracted to the other gender.

For pedophiles it is usually the totality of the child that is attractive. Thinking about consummating that attraction sexually is a later step -- a place where celibate pedophiles come to a screeching halt. But this conclusion doesn't work backward and nullify the attraction. Consider cultures where sex before marriage is prohibited, and then focus specifically on ordinary boys and girls who earnestly accept that teaching. They are still fully aware of the girls and boys they find attractive. It's not a switch they suddenly turn on when it's time to choose a marriage partner. A man might be completely clear on not trying to seduce his boss's wife, but it won't stop him from finding her hot. A determination not to act sexually doesn't make the attraction disappear.

When all that is considered, we know that pedophilic attraction is not, as some opponents would have it, a desire to rape children.

Tragically, of course, it sometimes does lead to sexual abuse. But that shouldn't make us lose sight of the bigger picture. Many pedophiles are unshakably celibate, but they are still romantically and sexually attracted to children. They can't make it go away. It is an important part of who they are.


  1. Seriously inquiries never seen a blog like this before. I would like to be a clinical psychologist and I am thinking of working with sexual disorders. I been wanting to ask questions to a pedophiles directly because there is a lot of misconceptions (even from other psychologists). I have talked (rather emailed) other pedophiles with an open (non-judgmental) mind. Hopefully I'm not asking for too much. Thank you for your time.

    What happens when the child grows older and is no longer "attractive" does that mean the relationship is over (and replaced with a new child) or a change in relationship?

    How do pedophiles deal with the relationship inequality between adult and child? (Being adult does have legal, delvelopment, etc advantages).

    Would pedophiles get permission with the parent to have a relationship with the child? Does the pedophile ask what is allowed from the parents? (For example, if the 11 year old wants to spend the night will the adult ask her parents?)

    Do you feel if more people (children and adults) interacted with known pedophiles that would destroy the myths and make the world better for pedophiles, kids, adults?

    What would you say to a pedophile actvist who believes that sexual contact (not penetration but touching) is allowed to happen if the child consents and parents allow?

    In your opinion, do you think that their are differences between how female and male pedophiles are viewed?

    Thank you for your time! If you have additional resources for me to check out I'd love that too! Trying to educate people about the misconceptions, much harder than I imagined.

  2. If you write to virpeds@gmail.com, or use the "contact" button at virped.org I can reply to your directly. There are resources at the virped.org site as well.

    Most of what you are asking is not about pedophilia per se, but about possible adult-child sexual relationships. I am strongly opposed to such relationships. I'm sure that when they occur they play out in a variety of ways.

    Ultimately it's important that ordinary people get to meet non-offending pedophiles and learn about them. It's hard to do at this point because the stigma is so great that "coming out" can ruin the life of a pedophile even if he has never committed a crime.

  3. Hi Ethan,
    Thanks for your brave advocacy for pedophiles who choose not to harm children. So many people are unaware that pedophilia is not chosen, and that the majority of pedophiles never harm a child.

    I only have one issue with your position. You say that sexual orientation - what I would call arousal patterns - cannot be changed. This is not true.

    I am not a pedophile, but I struggled with fantasies about raping women for decades. After attempting a rape, I engaged in a behavioral treatment called satiation therapy which eliminated my arousal to rape (shared, incidentally, by a surprisingly large number of men, and potentially just as genetic as pedophilia.)

    Satiation treatment even gave me NEGATIVE arousal to rape; that is, if I am aroused and begin to visualize a rape, I lose my arousal.

    Satiation treatment has been successfully used with pedophiles, as has ammonia therapy (although I can't personally endorse the latter, because I consider ammonia treatment a "punishment" type of therapy, as opposed to a reward therapy like satiation treatment). Behavioral conditioning has been used with more or less effect in the treatment of convicted sex offenders for decades.

    I think this is an important point because the "incurable demon" dogma of sexual "deviancy" is a contributing factor in the demonization of pedophiles like you and of former sex offenders like me, as I discuss at more length in my well-documented power point:


    I hope I don't come across as a self promoter here; I simply feel as passionately about my cause (helping former sex offenders who were sexually abused ourselves) as you do about yours. I just would like pedophiles to know that there is hope. Just as masturbating to child pornography will increase one's arousal to child sex acts, other behavioral steps can reduce or even eliminate this arousal.

    (I am NOT saying you are a "deviant" who needs to be "fixed." I am saying it is an established fact that sexual arousal patterns, while not initially chosen, are not immutable. I concede that in particular cases arousal patterns CAN be resistant to change. But the blanket statement that they "can't be changed" is demonstrably false).

    In spite of our differences, I hope we can support each other in providing resources to people at relatively high risk of becoming offenders so they can get help before they harm someone. I also support your efforts to introduce an evidence-based rather than a hysteria-based atmosphere into discussions of these sensitive subjects.

    Paul Hanley,

    1. My impression is that the methods you speak of are variants of shutting down sexuality -- which may be worthwhile if there is a high risk of offending. Attraction to same-sex people or children may be different from arousal to rape, too, as it is directed to a person, not an action. What has been impossible with gay men is to produce a natural, heartfelt opposite-sex attraction, and the same is true of pedophiles. So-called chemical castration can be effective in reducing temptation to offend, but those who have it report that they still think the children are sexy -- they just aren't strongly compelled to act on it.

  4. Ethan I don't agree that behavioral conditioning always involves shutting down sexuality (though I concede that it can shut down arousal to certain classes of stimulants, and conceivably could shut down sexuality completely if it were applied indiscriminately enough.)

    What I mean is that sexual responses can also be stimulated via these methods. This is something else I have experienced firsthand.

    If a person stimulates his or her genitalia in the presence of a person s/he wasn't previously attracted to, his or her body will learn to be attracted to that person. When I first began to be sexually abused at the age of ten, I did not find my abuser attractive (though I loved him). I even resisted him to a large extent when it came to the sex. But he made a point of rubbing my body erotically, which aroused me. Over the course of the next ten years of abuse, I gained attraction to him. The smells which had previously repulsed me, for example, now turned me on.

    (Whether consciously or just instinctively, many child molesters take advantage of this, as you may know, to get the child to feel responsible for the abuse; it happens to adult rape victims too. It is assumed by everyone that if you were aroused by the abuse, you "wanted" it. I didn't want it, but my physiology learned to want it - that is the point I'm making to you).

    However, after reading your response a certain phrasing stuck out: "heartfelt ... attraction." I must admit I always felt there was something wrong about my "relationship" with the man who abused me. Often I internalized this by thinking there was something wrong with me; I deserved the abuse, I was secretly homosexual (which at that time I thought was "wrong" ... etc). In short, I was confused about my "sexual orientation." I put that in quotes because it's not inclusive enough. I was confused about my sexuality in general. Furthermore, because every time I asked for affection I was actually getting abuse and sex, I learned to associate affection with abuse and with sex and with abusive sex.

    The fact that many sexual abuse researchers call confusion about sexual orientation "almost universal" among male survivors seems like evidence for your assertion that perhaps behaviorally conditioned arousal patterns are not "heartfelt." Your position certainly seems reasonable in light of my own and many other survivors' experience.

    However, I also think of the fact that sexual abuse researchers are generally in agreement that the long-term psychological harm of sexual abuse mainly comes from the intimate betrayal involved. So I don't know whether this sense of betrayal was undermining a genuine heartfelt physiological attraction to my abuser. I genuinely believe I loved him, even though he obviously didn't genuinely value me or my needs.

    Anyway, whatever the physiology and psychological aspects, I feel compelled to agree with you that to the extent sexuality is spiritual and perhaps in a romantic/emotional sense as well, conditioned sexual responses are not always heartfelt.

    I do think they CAN be heartfelt, however, because I don't believe all sexuality is innate; I think a great deal of it is learned. Most credible scientists recognize pretty much all behavior, including very physical reactions like the response of people to tastes, as originating in a complex interaction of genes and adaptation to environment (learning) - I see no reason that sexuality should be an exception to this situation.

    In short, I think sexuality is at least in part learned. And there are as many categories of pedophilia as there are pedophiles. This is not just due to genetic variation but also to learned (and chosen-to-attempt) responses to stimuli.

  5. PS: I'm not dissing your other points about attraction to a person as opposed to attraction to an action, etc. I was presenting my own point of view, not trying to dismantle yours. I honestly haven't given much thought to some of the perspectives and evidence you talk about, so I'm going to need to digest them and/or look into them more.

    And I see that I may have unwittingly and incorrectly ascribed to you the belief that behaviorally conditioned responses are never heartfelt. Again, I was just trying to put my own views in the strongest possible light. I tend to see false black and white dogma everywhere I look. I am constantly astounded at the number of people who refuse on principle to accept that reality is particular, not general. They all want neat formulas (like "all pedophiles are child molesters," or "All sex offenders are incurable.") This is something I expect to come into almost constant conflict with because I have so far. Generalizations are handy rules of thumb for managing our manifold experiences, but they are (almost) all more or less false on an ultimate level. Sorry to lump you into that absolutist camp if the shoe doesn't fit.

    So I think I didn't give due credit to some key elements of your reasoning. I'll have to think about those more.

    Thanks for making me think.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful consideration of various sides of these issues. I should also say that if someone says they've made their pedophilia or other attraction go away, I'm not going to say they are wrong. I'll say, "Great!" That honors their experience. But if they say, "It could work for you too!" then you need to look at how many people have tried and what results they have had. For something like attraction to children, as long as you're clear you won't act on it, you may well be happier just getting used to it than trying very hard to make it go away, with low chances of partial success.

  6. Thanks Ethan I agree that I should not say, "It could work for you too!" since I have not walked a mile or even and inch in your shoes. Or at least I shouldn't say "It WILL work for you too!"

    I'd also like to share an unrelated thought that just occurred to me: How is it that I, as a former sex offender, am equated with a pedophile, which ostensibly makes me worse, even though if I had not harmed anyone I would have no earned guilt? Isn't it crazy how stigmatizing is irrational on so many levels?

    As someone who has suffered from psychosis from schizoaffective disorder and whose top priority is staying sane, I'm always disheartened at how quickly people are willing to dispense with reason and just react as they have been conditioned. Of course I do it too often myself, and that disheartens me even more. None of us are perfect, I just wish the unreason weren't so self-righteous so much.

    It's really the stigma that is at the heart of what I'm against. I challenge anyone to say that they've never done anything wrong, or that they are free of urges to do wrong. People actually kidnap someone without remorse and then have the nerve to look down on a person who either hasn't hurt a soul or who has rehabilitated him/herself.

    But I think it's counterproductive to think the situation could not change. I'm hopeful it will.