Saturday, August 16, 2014

The benign desires of the typical pedophile

Appearing on Monday in was <A very interesting piece> by Luke Malone. It's an excellent article that has made good waves. We at Virtuous Pedophiles put Luke in touch with Adam, so we've been eagerly awaiting this story.

I went looking for discussions, and found <this on Jezebel>. The sample of the lengthy discussion that I read was civil and thoughtful. Relatively few called for our violent demise. Most agreed with the idea that it's worth studying pedophiles and offering them help if it can protect children. If that came to pass, the world would be a better place.

But I am not happy. There is still so much misunderstanding.

A fitting analogy would be a call for the study of mosquitoes to help eradicate malaria. We are as insignificant as bugs. Except people feel better about mosquitoes than they do about pedophiles -- they know it is in the nature of a dumb bug to suck blood, but the pedophile -- his desire is evil.

What do pedophiles want from children? Pedophiles <cover the same range of morality and temperament> as anyone else.

You may know a few men whose main thought in relating to women is a desire to mount and copulate as soon as possible -- but they are surely a small minority. There is a corresponding minority of pedophiles with stark desires. But think about an average decent guy -- not the few who have problems understanding consent. His reaction on seeing a woman is not primarily how she would look naked and sexually aroused. He cares about her face, her personality, her laugh, her character, her interests and plans. His attraction is to the woman as person. An average pedophile feels the same way about children as people. The average decent guy who is attracted to a woman will get to know her and at some point he might explore some physical intimacy with a kiss or a hug or a roving hand (if she doesn't first). But vital to the man's desires is that the woman wants this intimacy as well. If she doesn't, he will stop.

The average pedophile will never get to that point. He may avoid children entirely because he doesn't want people to think he's a molester -- a fear and motivation he shares with ordinary men. He might avoid them because it is frustrating to never be able to have a full relationship. He might spend time with children and enjoy their company on a casual basis. Or it might be more consistent, resulting in a friendship that is rewarding to both. But he will not let anything sexual happen. He knows it is not OK. He knows the girl is not interested in sexual activity, and if by some chance it looked like she was, he knows it is not in her long-term interest at all.

A pedophile is sexually attracted to children. But the child who an average pedophile actually wants to have sex with is one who fully understands sex and what it means and is interested in it. And that child is a mythical creature! Knowing he will never find any such creatures, an average pedophile remains celibate for his entire life. Hardly any pedophiles fit the myth of wanting to harm a child or have power over her -- one way we know is the rarity and unpopularity of child pornography featuring such scenarios (according to Michael Seto). Far from having a fantasy of rape, the average pedophile's fantasy is of a mutually desired relationship. It may be disturbing to most people, but there is no negative intent in the fantasy. The average pedophile remains celibate and does not engage in actions with negative effect either.

So what can a person of goodwill do? A goal might be to construct a new image of 'pedophile' in your mind to sit alongside the monster you are familiar with. Fill out this new pedophile with compassion, self-control, understanding, and the firmest commitment to never abuse a child. Fill him out with a sexual attraction to children that stays entirely in his head. When you hear someone is a pedophile, bring to mind both images and keep an open mind as to which one fits him better.

Abuse survivors have experience with the worst pedophiles. They may not have been abused by a pedophile at all, but in any case they were abused by a man who lacked some combination of self-control, compassion, and understanding. Often these are fathers, step-fathers and brothers -- people intimately involved in a child's life -- and the betrayal of trust is a huge element of harm. When it goes on for a long time, when there is secrecy, when there is no escape, when mothers angrily reject a child's frightened recounting of the truth -- these all make things worse. Survivors' groups are full of women who have suffered the most devastating abuse. People in the broader society who haven't been abused derive their own picture of abusers from these stories. And these images are light years away from the average celibate pedophile. They are even far away from the pedophile who crosses the line into improper behavior -- starting with perhaps letting a hand linger in the wrong place for too long on one occasion.

One way of knowing about pedophiles is from the perpetrators of serious, harmful abuse. Another way is from the stories of 16-year-old teens who realize with terror and agony that they are attracted to children. The path from the latter to the former is not direct or at all inevitable -- there is a vast space of possibilities, including the lifelong celibate pedophile. And even the fantasies of such men are benign.


  1. I was pretty much on board with the Jezebel comments until I got to the part about "I don't care what he claims about the age range of his proclivities or how much his friends (who by the way are also pedophiles) believe he won't hurt the kids. He should absolutely not be working with children, now matter how 'low' his chances of hurting those specific kids are".

    Sorry ladies, but many paedophiles love working with kids and many do. The vast majority would rather gouge their eyes out than harm those kids. Your benighted attitudes reveal exactly why most paedophiles will -never- discuss their feelings openly and honestly .. -especially- if they happen to be child care workers or teachers.


    1. I hear you, Bloom. But I try to look at it from the point of view of the public. This woman doesn't want to shoot him or lock him up -- she's just asking him to stay away from kids. It's reasonably liberal, all considered. These folks have never grokked the idea of a pedophile who doesn't offend, and our task is patient education. So if it was me, I'd skip the "benighted" part and smile as I said the same thing.

  2. Yeah, I don't like to be critical, but I do get impatient.

    To underscore my ambivalence, even toward genuinely open hearted comments, I was struck by this one from lumenatrix:

    "From having dealt with other compulsive behaviors that people in my family have I do know that removing yourself completely from the object of obsession is sometimes more hurtful than helpful there is a big difference between, say, working at store where there are kids around but almost all of your interactions are with adults and working at a preschool where the situation is basically reversed."

    All credit to lumenatrix for her even handed response. She makes an important point that I happen to agree with: that making an issue around an object of desire only serves to intensify it's desirability. Personally, I think contact with children is a normalizing influence for paedophiles, and a very positive thing. However, she echoes the general sentiment that working with children is somehow beyond the rightful scope of this normalizing contact. She bases this opinion on the wrong assumption that paedophilia is a) compulsive and b) obsessive.

    Were "Mike" the child care worker having compulsive or obsessive thoughts about children, I'd agree his career choice would problematic (at least while his obsessive thoughts persisted), but there's no suggestion he does have these emotions. Nor is there any evidence that paedophiles are any more susceptible to compulsion or obsession than anybody else. Most paedophiles, like most people, have had sexual or romantic obsessions at some time in their lives. Part of our emotional development as human beings is recognizing and managing these destabilizing emotional states. For many paedophiles, such events can be crisis points that trigger a cry for help.

    For most paedophiles who work with children, obsessive love for a child is understood to be problematic and is taken seriously as something that must be managed. However, there will always be men struggling to manage, so what are we going to do? In my country (unlike the US presumably) it is -not- uncommon for teachers to actually seek help in this, and the reason they do is to safeguard a career they love.

    So full credit to Jezebel for airing this article on the site and for the generous tone of many of the comments. Benighted is the the wrong word, but can we call it a dawn yet?