Saturday, June 14, 2008

The failure of propedophile advocacy

In my salad days I began the studies that led to the trilogy by which I am best known: Homolexis; Homosexuality: A Research Guide; and the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. The first is available in a completely revised version at; the other two may be found at Various internet sites offer paper copies for sale.

In order to bring these works to fruition I cast as wide a net as possible. I made comparative studies of different societies, and looked into the evidence for same-sex behavor in past cultures. I looked into manifestations of gay and lesbian sensibility in novels and poems, in paintings and sculptures, music and film. And of course I recognized the three great templates: age-asymmetrical, gender-variant, and egalitarian. All three are “homosexual,” yet they are experienced quite differently.

This posting addresses the age-asymmetrical variant. As an adult, I have never experienced any sexual attraction to adolescents--and even those somewhat older. For this reason, as a college professor I never feel tempted to “hit on” my students.

Because of this very lack of personal response, I concluded that I needed better to understand the problem of pederasty. (In my view, pederasty means attraction to male adolescents, and is not to be equated with pedophilia in the strict sense, which involves children. Some observers of course conflate the two, and for convenience in the discussion below I will follow the convention of using pedophilia as the umbrella term.) In order to improve my knowledge I spoke to many boy lovers (as they generally prefer to be called) and agreed to be an advisory editor of Paidika, a serious quarterly on the subject published in the Netherlands (it ceased in 1995). These enquiries have led to several minor troubles, including false and malicious ascriptions of pedophilia on the Internet. No matter--one sometimes need to take risks in the interests of science.

Be that as it may, I am still mystified by some aspects of male-male intergenerational sex. That is only one part of the puzzle. As I will indicate below, I have come better to understand the reasons, whether valid or not, for the aversion of the general public to the phenomenon. What continues to perplex me, though, is the belief of articulate boy-love advocates that they can dispel opposition to the behavior by advancing rational arguments. These views are found at an increasing number of Internet sites.

The Internet sites themselves may promote shifts (distortions, if you will) in approach on the part of the subjects. For example, in August 2006, The New York Times published the results of a four-month investigation of online pedophile communications and activities. The newspaper described how “pedophiles view themselves as the vanguard of a nascent movement seeking legalization of child pornography and the loosening of age-of-consent laws.” And while "pedophiles often maintain that the discussion sites are little more than support groups,” the newspaper asserted that, “[r]epeatedly in these conversations, pedophiles said the discussions had helped them accept their attractions and had even allowed them to have sex with a child without guilt."

Twenty years ago the sociologist Mary de Young found that the pedophile organizations she studied used four main strategies to promote public acceptance of pedophilia or the legalization of adult-child sex:

1. In an effort to demonstrate the benefits of such relationships to children, the denial of injury strategy adduces anecdotal accounts obtained from children who appear to enjoy sex with adults. This material, highly selective, serves to displace culpability for any harm that occurs onto the reactions of others, such as the child's parents, and the criminal justice and mental health systems.

2. Then there is the strategy of condemning the condemners. Those who excoriate sex between adults and children are portrayed as engaging in even more victimizing or exploitative acts then those of which pedophiles are accused.

3. The advocates make an appeal to higher loyalties. They assert that they serve the interests of a higher principle: the liberation of children from the repressive bonds of society. Moreover, there is an attempt to align with other, less stigmatized trends for social change such as the woman's movement or the gay-rights movement.

4. Denial of victimization occurs through the conceptual transformation of children from victims of adult sexual behavior into willing partners. Here we touch, of course, on the contentious issue of consent. Going against popular opinion, the propedophile writers assert that the youngsters can indeed give informed consent--and in fact do so.

In addition to these four motifs identified by De Young, other strategies include:

* Value-neutral terminology is rcommended. According to Professor Gilbert Herdt, an anthropologist who has studied sex between adults and children in other cultures, pedophile advocates should replace "dull and reductionistic" terms like pedophilia and abuse when discussing sex between "a person who has not achieved adulthood and one who has." Moreover, words like "child" or "childhood", which have a psychologically developmental meaning, must be "resisted at all costs" This overall approach is sometimes termed framing, a procedure which places behaviors in a new context by shifting the terminology.

* A particular aspect of the previous admonition is the need to redefine or restrict the usage of the term "child sexual abuse," recommending a child's "willing encounter with positive reactions" be called "adult-child sex" instead of "abuse.” For example, Gerald Jones, an Affiliated Scholar at the Institute for the Study of Women and Men in Society at the University of Southern California, has suggested that "intergenerational intimacy" should not be equated with child sexual abuse. According to Jones, the "crucial difference has to do with mutuality and control." Jones holds that "[i]ntergenerational attraction on the part of some adults could constitute a lifestyle 'orientation,’ rather than a pathological maladjustment.”

* Children, it is held, can consent to sexual activity with adults. The reconceptualization of children as willing sexual participants along with the decriminalization of consensual sexual relations is perhaps the key change sought by pedophile advocates. In his book Paedophilia: The Radical Case, activist Tom O'Carroll claims "What there most definitely needs to be [in determining consent] is the child's willingness to take part in the activity in question; whatever social or legal rules are operated, they must not be such as to allow unwilling children to be subjected to sexual acts. But there is no need whatever for a child to know 'the consequences' of engaging in harmless sex play, simply because it is exactly that: harmless." Other pedophile activists, including David Riegel, Frans Gieles and Lindsay Ashford, argue that children are actually able to knowingly consent to sex.

* The assumption of harm is questioned. Numerous propedophile advocacy organizations have quoted the famous study by Bruce Rind et al. in support of their efforts to "lower or rescind age of consent laws," and defense attorneys have used the study to argue for minimizing harm in child sexual abuse cases. Some writers support their arguments by citing various studies that they argue have shown that the negative outcomes attributed to adult-child sexual relations can usually be better explained by other factors, such as a poor family environment or incest.

The following points extend these arguments:

* In 2000 David Riegel asserted: "The acts themselves harm no one, the emotional and psychological harm comes from the 'after the fact' interference, counseling, therapy, etc., that attempt to artificially create a 'victim' and a 'perpetrator' where neither exists."

* Similar arguments are made by SafeHaven Foundation, an organization for "responsible boylovers". On their website, they write, "The child abuse industry ... takes a boy who has enjoyed pleasurable and completely consensual sexual experiences with another boy or man, and traumatizes him in an attempt to convince him that what he did was 'wrong’.” In addition, SafeHaven argues that, "many of the supposed traumas elicited by psychotherapy turn out to be nothing more than the result of the False Memory Syndrome.”

* The proponents urge "objective" research. The Dutch pedophile advocate Edward Brongersma has argued that investigators of child sexual abuse have biased views[citation needed]. He has cited his countryman Theo Sandfort's research on boys' relationships with pedophiles, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Sex Research, as an example of what he considers consider "objective" research. However, critics suggest that the study was "politically motivated to 'reform' legislation," and that the sample of 25 boys used by Brongersma was unrepresentative.

* The classification of pedophilia as mental illness must be abandoned. Activists sometimes refer positively to academics who argue that pedophilia should be removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Such efforts seek to imitate the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses. However, it is a fallacy to assume that other minority sexual practices must inevitably benefit from the same declassification.

* Promoting understanding of "relationships" must be undertaken. Brongersma, in "Boy-Lovers and Their Influence on Boys," reported the result of interviews with participants in adult–child relationships, concluding that "within a relationship, sex is usually only a secondary element."

* Reference is made to experiences of situations where adult-child sex interactions are not illegal, both historical and anthropological. Edward Brongersma referred to ancient Greece, and nineteenth-century French Polynesia, where such conditions existed. And of course many other historical parallels can be adduced, including medieval Islam and the Samurai culture of premodern Japan. Yet this argument is a double-edged sword, for it acknowledges that for pedophilia and pederasty to flourish certain sociocultural conditions must exist. These appear to be lacking in Western industrialized societies.

* An attempt is made to assert continuity between pedophile and other minority activists. Some activists argue that pedophile activism, feminism, gay activism, and anti-racism all reflect the experiences of suppressed and misunderstood groups. This “solidarity argument” has been made by Harris Mirkin. Other writers, such as Camille Paglia, have asserted that gay rights (from which much of pedophile activism diverged) should never have rejected the pederastic themes which some activists claim were the tradeoffs required to make adult-adult homosexual behavior acceptable.

* Then there is the ploy of pointing to juvenile sexual activity in the animal kingdom and invoking evolutionary arguments. Other species are sometimes adduced as examples of beneficial or normalized sexual contact between grown animals and infants or adolescents. One popular case is that of a close relative to humans, the Bonobo, where sexual touching (described by activists as infant-initiated) is part of everyday life, and intercourse is sometimes initiated by the young. Setting aside the Bonobo, who are a special case, the problem with these comparisons is that most such activity is an assertion of dominance and humiliation--the very things that pedophile advocates seek to dispel in their idealization of human intergenerational arrangements.

* It is held that inequality does not necessarily mean abuse. Tom O'Carroll writes: "The disparity in size and power between parent and child creates a potential for abuse. But, on the basis that parent–child relationships are generally positive we accept that inequality is simply in the nature of the thing. I would like to see pedophilic relationships looked at in a similar light."

A controversial meta-analysis of studies using college students by Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch and Robert Bauserman published by the American Psychological Association in 1998 found a weak correlation between sex abuse in childhood and the later instability of the child's adult psyche. It noted that a significant percentage reported their reactions to sex abuse as positive in the short term and concludes that for research purposes some cases of child sex abuse would be better labeled "adult-child sex". The article stated in the addendum that "CSA does not cause intense harm on a pervasive basis regardless of gender in the college population"[citation needed] , but warns "The current findings are relevant to moral and legal positions only to the extent that these positions are based on the presumption of psychological harm.”

Respondents alleged many design defects in the study, including sample bias, non-standardization of variables, statistical errors, and researchers' personal bias. The article's authors have published replies to these claims.

In addition to academic criticism, in 1999 Congress unanimously passed a bill stating that "sexual relations between children and adults are abusive, exploitive, and reprehensible, and should never be considered or labeled as harmless or acceptable." It condemned the study specifically on the grounds that "pedophiles and organizations, such as the North American Man-Boy Love Association, that advocate laws to permit sex between adults and children are exploiting the study to promote and justify child sexual abuse."

Several pro-pedophile advocacy organizations have cited the Rind et al. study to buttress their efforts to "lower or rescind age of consent laws", and defense attorneys have used the study to argue for minimizing harm in child sexual abuse cases.

All in all, one cannot help but be impressed by the profusion and ingeniousness of the propedophile arguments. So far, though, these arguments have made scarcely a dent in the general disapprobation of intergenerational sex. It seems unlikely that this resistance is due solely to prejudice and hysteria. In fact a series of social realities decisively undergird the public’s resistance. In order for attitudes to change these realities would have to undergo fundamental alteration--and that does not seem to be in the offing.

The point has often been made that teenagers are not children. Fair enough, but our society has prolonged the period of adult supervision through the teenage years and beyond. Some young people continue to live with their parents through their college years and even afterwards. For a midldle-class couple to have a child is now to contemplate an enormous investment. Most parents do not wish to have this investment tainted (as they see it) by having their offspring lured into an inappropriate and possibly damaging relationship (again, as they see it). Even advocates of intergenerational sex agree that the harm can ensue because of society’s attitudes. Of course one can imagine an entirely different situation. If it came to the norm that young people, including middle-class ones, would become emancipated at the age of, say, thirteen--voting, driving, consuming alcohol, and maintaining separate residences--matters might be different. But modern-day economics and custom combine to make such an outcome unfeasible.

Several decades of feminist thinking and advocacy have had mixed results. One thing, though, that is generally agreed is that the more powerful partner in a relationship--generally the man--should not use force or coercion to achieve dominance. Rightly or wrongly, this model has been imposed on man-boy relationships. As long as these are seen as coercively uneqalitarian, they will seem suspect--even odious.

A central issue in the dispute between the pedophile activists and their antipedophile opponents is whether adolescents can give informed consent. One group says that they can; the other that they cannot. To be sure, our law makes a bright-line distinction between consensual and nonconsensual acts. Not so everyday life, which recognizes a range of intermediate situations in which an impressionable individual may be swayed by the intervention of a determined outsider to engage in behavior that he would not otherwise perform. We all know that teenagers have difficulty establishing and maintaining autonomy, as when they yield to peer pressure. Consequently, it is unrealistic to argue that adolescents can give full consent to sexual acts in the same way that adults do. Such at any rate is the conventional wisdom on this matter, one of several high hurdles that the propedophile writers do not seem equipped to surmount. Indeed, they shown an almost insouciant disregard for these basic issues and objections.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your admirable attempt to understand both parties to the debate about pederasty is too generous. These two warring camps have succeeded in polarizing the debate. All they want to hear from anyone is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, while they evade the real issues.

Here are a couple of real issues: (1) For the parents: Should (indeed, can) parents have the same authority and responsibilities for children at all ages? Today there are massive problems with runaways, street kids, gangs, thirty-year olds living with their parents, etc. which are mainly related to other issues besides sex (unemployment, race, peer pressure, drugs, etc.). The institution of the family is breaking down, and it is breaking down because of its own inadequacy for modern society, not because of any scapegoats (gay marriage, pederasty, communism). To use your metaphor, the panic over pederasty is not over a stable, reasonable parental “investment”, but rather over something like the subprime mortgage fiasco.

And (2) For the advocates: Why do so many adults insist on having only teenaged lovers in an age when attractive partners their own age are readily available? As a gay male, I have had plenty of opportunity to interact with this type of man. My experience has been that they are neither crazy nor completely wholesome, but simply ageist. Whenever I see a couple aged 25 years apart, regardless whether it is 15 and 40 or 35 and 60, I see the older one turning his nose up at suitors his own age who would be better matches. I met a man recently who is exactly my age and had much in common with me intellectually, but disdained me as too old. At the same time he moaned about his troubles with a much younger partner who is into drugs. Ageism is a kind of fetishism. They are obsessed with a certain physical type, without any desire to compromise on other serious factors in choosing a lover.

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting post, but the last few paragraphs regarding adolescents is problematic.

In terms of the definition of pedophilia, both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the International Classification of Diseases and Other Mental Disorders identify pedophilia as a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Hence, a sexual attraction to adolescents on par with that to other biological adults would simply be standard heterosexuality or homosexuality, and a sexual preference (not a mere attraction) to adolescents would be ephebophilia, which is not categorized as a mental disorder as pedophilia is.

The problem with pointing this out to those who lump the two together is that they will then accuse me of merely attempting to rationalize *my* own "pedophilia" by informing them of the accurate definition of a medical term.

Now, I am curious what you would say to those in favor of youth rights in general, and claim that for all intents and purposes, adolescents should be treated as legal adults currently are. (John Holt's Escape From Childhood and Richard Farson's Birthrights argue that age restrictions ought to be abolished altogether, and Robert Epstein's more recent The Case Against Adolescence argues that adolescents ought to be treated as legal adults currently are.)

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You use pedophile as an umbrella term...and you say this in the name of science.

# Hebephilia: Attraction to pubescent individuals, especially those in the early stages. Age range: 12-15. Some absurdly see it as a type of pedophilia since they regard anyone under 18 a “child”, without noting that many countries in the world, such as Spain or Japan, have 13 as the age of consent.

# Ephebophilia: Attraction to teenagers, especially those in their latter teenage years. Age range: 15-19. While its reputation is not as tarnished as hebephilia, the confusion between how a child is defined clinically and how a child is defined legally is still strong, to the point that the media will label anyone who has an intimate relationship with a minor (<18) as a “pedophile”.

# Teleiophilia: Attraction to adults (20-60 aprox). Also known as androphilia when dealing with homosexuality.

# Gerontophilia: Attraction to the elderly (>60).

9:39 PM  

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