In my last post I looked at attraction to different ages of children and stages of physical development.
I'd like to consider a different angle, which is the child's attitude towards sex. When I was 9, I developed a secret crush on a girl I'll call Linda. I imagined holding her hand, hugging and kissing her, and felt a certain wistfulness at being unable to do these things with her. When I was 12, I felt an urgency start to join the mix -- something more powerful. By the time I was 13, I still imagined hugging and kissing Linda, but I also wanted to have sex with her -- missionary position intercourse was the precise fantasy. If some attractive 18-year-old girl had shown up in my life and encouraged me, I would have had a desire to do that with her as well. At age 9 I would not have wanted to.
I was aware of how I felt about other people. I was much less attuned to the gradual physical Tanner Stage changes going on in my body -- they were less relevant.
Sexual activity without consent is a crime at any age. But sexual activity with children is a crime even if the child consents. The legal and moral justification is that the child's consent is not adequately informed. Unlike many pedophiles on the web, I support that distinction. However, I note the difference between the child who has no strong urge towards sexual activity and the one who does. The young child lacks information about the urges that the older partner brings to sexual activity. For kids learning the facts of life, the mechanics are one thing, but the idea that people would choose to have sex because they just want to is often the more shocking revelation. Even if he or she knows vaguely about adult lust, he or she doesn't know what it feels like inside. The young teen knows full well what it feels like and is likely to have a strong and passionate interest in having sex -- though often combined with anxiety and reluctance as well. He or she is better informed than the younger child. I still support an age of consent that prohibits adult sex with young teens even if they are physically mature and interested in sex -- though that deserves a post of its own.
When we are considering adult sex with a willing child, attitude towards sex is a separate dimension. At one pole is a child who reluctantly goes along with sexual activity as a favor to an adult who has been kind to them. At the other pole is a child who is very enthusiastic and pressures a reluctant adult partner into doing what she wants. We can easily imagine these radically different scenarios for children of the same age, and we can imagine them for children of the same level of physical development. We can even imagine the first child having profound affection for the adult and the second having none at all.
Where a sexual relationship falls on that continuum should naturally be a factor in gauging a proper punishment for an adult who has broken the law. Among the loudest voices for stronger penalties for child sex abuse are those who lump all such experiences together as the same unspeakable crime, and see any attempt to make distinctions as apology and excuse. But they are not all the same experience -- there is enormous variability, and this is one aspect of it. It is my position that if a young teen describes what happened as involving their enthusiastic participation and they do not deviate from that story, the adult should not be prosecuted -- though his participation in the activity was still wrong.
The distinction is clear when we are talking about actual adult-child sex. But this has a shadow in the fantasies of celibate pedophiles as well. Some may fantasize about sex with little concern for the child's level of interest, and a very few may find the child's unwillingness a part of their fantasy. But for many others an enthusiastic partner is a requirement for even engaging in a satisfying fantasy. For those willing to explore the uneasy ground of what pedophiles actually feel, this might ease the way.
There is also a possible practical implication. Especially if their attraction is to prepubescents, such pedophiles are protected from abusing children by the extreme unlikelihood that a child will respond with eagerness. There's no room for giving way to one's selfish desires in a moment of weakness if the activity would actually be a turn-off. Pedophiles should certainly use more direct methods to ensure their celibacy, but I suspect this would often arise as a fail-safe backup.