Friday, July 18, 2014

Who is it OK for pedophiles to fantasize about?

In previous posts I've argued that we pedophiles don't choose our attraction and can't change it. I've argued that a lot of pedophiles never abuse children. And I've argued that pedophiles deserve civil liberties and the right to seek happiness like anyone else. Given that we are for moral reasons totally unable to express our sexuality with children, our right to private sexual fantasy would seem if anything a bit more important than for ordinary folks. I've argued that fantasizing about children does not in the general case increase the danger to children and might decrease it.

The sex-positive view would suggest that there be no restrictions on the kinds of sexual activities a pedophile fantasizes about. In fact, most pedophile fantasies seem to be gentle, but in the sex-positive view anything between consenting adults is just fine. Here there's only one person involved -- a consenting adult all by himself.

Some feminists take a dramatically different position. The feminist demand that men treat women fairly regardless of their sexual feelings is one I support wholeheartedly. Quite different is the demand that men should not 'objectify' women sexually, because while it is intended to promote that worthy goal, it is a demand to rearrange the internal furniture of the male mind, not how he behaves. The demand would seem to have no boundaries to it, and would extend to disapproval of fantasizing about friends, coworkers, former lovers and even current lovers -- perhaps masturbation would be OK if there were no fantasies involving another body at all? If sex is only appropriate with very particular kinds of feelings as part of a loving, long-term relationship, that is far too restrictive.

I subscribe to the view that you can't harm someone by any private action if you know they will never discover indirectly or directly what you did. An individual fantasizer's own moral beliefs sometimes guide his own actions, and he would limit his fantasies. That's as it should be. But with regard to the "do no harm" morality that governs a society run on the basis of civil liberties, there is no cause for an objection. You may think it is immoral for me to fantasize privately about you, but society's laws should not be crafted to take account of your belief.

For a dramatic example, if a man sees me during the day and later fantasizes privately about sex with me, and then torturing me and cooking me for dinner, it's none of my business. There is no harm to me in his train of thought.

Here are some facts: If your 14-year-old daughter goes out jogging, any ordinary man who sees her might fantasize about her later. If a pedophile sees a 6-year-old girl playing on the swings, her image might come to his mind later during masturbation. If there's a web picture of a boys' swim team or a pool party, one of those boys might end up in a pedophile's daydream. If you have a video of your daughter's ballet class posted, a pedophile might watch it repeatedly. You should in fact be prepared for these eventualities regardless of anything I say. But I gently suggest that those private thoughts really aren't your proper concern.

I realize that many people will have a gut reaction to this -- perhaps screaming in horror and revulsion. A man fantasizing about sexual activity with children? It's gross! It's disgusting! It's sick! It's wrong! I understand those feelings and I don't judge them. No argument I make is going to make them go away (and if they ever do change it will be on their own terms and timetable). I will note that a great many celibate pedophiles share your reaction and avoid such fantasizing -- we pedophiles are a diverse lot.

However, part of the civil liberties position is that you only support legal restrictions if a person's fantasy is harmful to someone else.

One additional issue to consider is that perhaps despite a pedophile's best intentions, fantasizing about a particular child would lead him to later abuse that child.

I noted in an earlier post that the availability of child pornography in society is likely to decrease child sex abuse. But there typically the children are far away and a man could never locate them even if he wanted to.

But when a man is fantasizing about children he has seen with his own eyes (or pictures of children he knows), could this pose a specific danger to that specific child? A celibate pedophile should constantly be on the alert for any signs that he is becoming more likely to offend. I know from Virtuous Pedophiles discussions that many draw a line and will not fantasize about children they know personally -- rarely to keep from offending, which is usually a non-issue, but to help them keep thinking about that particular child the way any other friendly adult would. Others simply think it's immoral. But I think a fair society must trust celibate pedophiles to make those judgments for themselves.

Consider the analogous case with adults. Suppose a college student has the hots for the young woman in the room across the hall and fantasizes about her during his masturbation. Does this make him more likely to rape her? Conceivably, if he's the sort of man who might rape someone. Would any remotely sex-positive person fault the average college student for having such fantasies? I don't think so. They recognize his value as a human being, the strength of his sexual desires and the benefits of his getting some pleasure and relief from the fantasy. Why wouldn't we extend the same consideration to a celibate pedophile?

If you find pedophile fantasies revolting, that's understandable. But if you are inclined to support restrictions on a celibate pedophile's private activities, that is close to recognizing a thought crime. Are there some thoughts that are so bad they must be punished? People who defend civil liberties answer with an emphatic "No!"


  1. This is good, Ethan. When you recognize that some people would find a pedophile's fantasies revolting, I'd like to point out that fantasies of non-pedophiles can be just as revolting. Rape is a very common sexual fantasy and yet most people don't want to rape or be raped in their real life. So if someone is appalled that a pedophile fantasizes about a crime (sex with a child), that someone needs to remember that non-pedophiles fantasize about crimes, too.

  2. Good point, Marie. There are fantasies of bestiality, and sadism and necrophilia too. Maybe there's a little extra something when people think of a child being in danger, and the idea that it's just in the pedophile's head somehow doesn't "stick".

  3. Hi Ethan, good post.

    I've been very pleased to discover over the years that I seem to have a very low inclination to fantasize about children I'm close to. I've had quite a few friendships with children, mostly girls, and it seems that even if I fall in love with them (in itself something I keep to myself and downplay) I think of them in terms of friendship and/or as a caregiver, and not at all in the way I would think of a child in an imaginary sexual situation. Children in my fantasies seem to be constructed entirely from fragments of memory and lack any particular identity.

    I'd be worried if I started fantasizing about a child friend, and I would do something to change the situation. I don't consider it immoral in itself, but for me and probably many others it would be a sign that lines were getting blurred, so I think it would be immoral to go on with that.

    I think 'child porn' is a complex question because it covers so many unrelated genres. I wouldn't like to see children involved in the production of explicit material or doing erotic modelling, however I see no problem with fictional representations. I'm happy to admire the scantily clad kids I find on youtube or in clothing catalogues, but I can imagine enjoying more risque material if it weren't so mired in controversy.

    I do feel there is a problem when paedophiles are prevented from processing their feelings through art, because that is one of the functions of art. Also, I think one of the things that makes paedophilia a difficult condition to integrate in a healthy way is the absence of any positive culture providing cues as to how to be a 'good' paedophile. Such a culture must necessarily have an erotic aspect, but this is exactly the kind of thing that's suppressed by the over zealous policing of child pornography.

    For example, there are cases of men being prosecuted for fantasies they have written down and have kept completely private. That's a gross breach of natural rights and only encourages people to give the finger to the law and go their own way.