Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Are Pedophiles People Too?

Longtime readers know that nothing makes me angrier, faster, than pedophilia and sexualized child abuse. It’s something I try not to think about often, because I’ve come to understand myself well enough to be aware that I tend not to think about this issue; I rage. Don’t get me wrong, I think anger is an […]

Longtime readers know that nothing makes me angrier, faster, than pedophilia and sexualized child abuse. It’s something I try not to think about often, because I’ve come to understand myself well enough to be aware that I tend not to think about this issue; I rage. Don’t get me wrong, I think anger is an appropriate reaction to pedophilia, and that a healthy society is one in which we draw bright, clear, unbreachable lines between childhood and Eros (do you hear me, Honey Boo Boo Mama?). But I also know that it’s very, very hard for me to talk about this issue without getting overwhelmed by my disgust and anger — and finding it hard to understand why people aren’t as angry and disgusted by it as I am.

I’m saying this not to defend my point of view — I really do believe I should be somewhat more dispassionate about the subject, and wish I could be — but only to lay my cards on the table as a prelude to linking to this Cord Jefferson post in which he discusses the possibility that society should “normalize” pedophilia in the sense of seeing it as something that can, in a narrow sense, be managed:

[Scientist Hubert] Van Gjiseghem says what he and his colleagues mean by sexual orientation is a person’s inborn and unalterable sexual preference, irrespective of whether that preference is harmful to others or not. Currently, there is no significant longitudinal evidence that pedophiles can be made to not be attracted to children, and thus it can be defined as their orientation. And if pedophilia is a sexual orientation, that also means it’s futile to send pedophiles to prison in an effort to alter their attractions. Doing so is akin to sending a homosexual child off to a religious-based institution that claims it can “pray the gay away.”

“You are telling me that even if we were to impose a five-year minimum on people it would not solve the problem,” asked a concerned Marc Lemay, an MP from Quebec, during the February testimony. “Yes, the risk is high,” said Van Gijseghem. Lemay would later say, “What you are telling us today, with all due respect, is frightening.”

Something that might help mitigate Lemay’s fright is that viewing pedophilia as a sexual orientation might help us rationally deal with it. In his January 2012 paper “Is Pedophilia a Sexual Orientation?” published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, forensic psychologist Michael Seto writes, “Viewing pedophilia as a sexual orientation would suggest that treatment is more likely to be effective if it focuses on self-regulation skills (in order to effectively manage pedophilic urges, thoughts, etc.) than on trying to change sexual preferences.”

In other words, if you can’t beat pedophiles, it’s best to try and help them help themselves.

Jefferson’s essay begins with an account by “Terry,” a pederast who talks about how he lured his seven year old niece into a situation in which he nearly raped her. Jefferson ends his essay this way:

The old adage is that the true mark of a society is how it treats the weakest in its ranks. Blacks, women, Latinos, gays and lesbians, and others are still in no way on wholly equal footing in America. But they’re also not nearly as lowly and cursed as men attracted to children. One imagines that if Jesus ever came to Earth, he’d embrace the poor, the blind, the lepers, and, yes, the pedophiles. As a self-professed “progressive,” when I think of the world I’d like to live in, I like to imagine that one day I’d be OK with a man like Terry moving next door to me and my children. I like to think that I could welcome him in for dinner, break bread with him, and offer him the same blessings he’s offered me time and again. And what hurts to admit, even knowing all I know now, is that I’m not positive I could do that.

This “hurts” to admit? Really? I’d say Jefferson’s compassion and cultural politics are  swamping his common sense.

Let me share with you an e-mail I received a few weeks ago:

I want to let you know that reading your blog has helped me come to terms with being a pedophile.

This is probably something you don’t want to hear, though I ought to offer some clarification. I mean come to terms with myself as somebody primarily sexually attracted to children, not as somebody who pursues children sexually. Such people are grossly ignorant or willfully negligent of the wellbeing of others, and I have no words to put toward their defense.

I do not mean that reading your blog has broken the spell of this kind of ignorance or negligence over me. You have not persuaded me away from sexual predation, because I have never stepped onto that path in the first place.

But for me, to understand, to believe even, the reasons against pursuing sex with children, was hardly to be resigned to my lot in life. When the loudest, most morally clear voices in society are preaching that sexual desires lie at the core of a person’s identity, and that sexual fulfillment is some sort of axiomatic good, it is very hard not to feel, as a pedophile, that you are the object of some grave injustice.

There are two paths out of this feeling injustice. The first is to try the carry the sexual liberationist logic one step further. It is not at all difficult for a pedophile to look at the gay liberation movement and see the promise of a future where adult-child sex is no longer stigmatized. I do not doubt that in this frame of mind some people have brought evil upon the world with a clean conscience.

The second path out of this feeling of injustice is to come to understand how all those sexual liberationist voices are full of shit. That’s where reading your blog has come in.

Why, of all things, ought sexual fulfillment be the highest goal in life? Why of all things ought sexual desires make a person who he is? If we took the sexual liberationist logic to its fullest expression, would the society that came about be a place where I – as a person, and not as a bundle of sexual desires – would even want to live?

Reading your blog has helped me questions the assumptions I’d internalized about sex, identity, and the good in life. It has helped me see how hollow the sexual liberationist logic is on some issues, and how unsavory some of its results are. I understand more fully now that life can be structured with other values in mind, and that other values may make living with sexual desires incompatible with the world a somewhat less onerous burden. Thank you, Rod.

This email was inspired most immediately by your posts on the handling of child sexual abuse at Penn State, though I do not think there is a very direct connection between this email in those posts. (I’ll leave it to you to piece the connection together.)

I’d like to end on a particular note. While a push for the normalization of adult-child sex is folly and worse than folly, I do hold out hope for the humanization of pedophilia, the understanding of adult sexual attraction to children as part of the human condition, and not as something that automatically makes a person into a heartless, manipulative monster. It is easy for people to succumb to evil. It may be easier for pedophiles than most. But please don’t give up hope.


A Reader

What do you do with that? There’s a real, suffering human being there. You see, perhaps, why I recognize that the intense emotions the subject of pedophilia provokes in me are something to be handled with more care than I, in my weakness, can muster.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now