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The Pedophile as a Folk Devil

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It is very hard to persuade people that this is the true state of affairs. Most people have an initial reaction of "It can't be so!" Therefore it is important to emphasize that the data here is based on a number of studies using physiological measures of sexual arousal that are seen as the gold-standard of sexual age preference diagnoses by the leading scientists . Also it is worth noting that there are studies that rely on self-reports rather then plethysmographic techniques (physiological measures of the penis circumference) that yield similar results. See for example here and here.

A Wikipedia article tells us that the population of the US is about 329 million people. About half of these, or 164.5 million people are males. The Wikipedia article tells us that about 40 million of these males are children, which leaves about 124.5 million adult males. If 22% of these men are pedophiles defined as sexually aroused as much or more by people under thirteen than by adults this yields about 27 million pedophiles. Clearly the vast majority of these men are not taking children out into the woods where they rape and kill them. We have no reason to think that they even wish to do such things. In fact, the vast majority of these 27 million men are very ordinary people, who have no more in common with each other than any other group of 27 million men do, and who pose no threat whatsoever to children. The same situation obtains here that we find with men who are attracted primarily to adult men or women. Only a tiny fraction of them rape or kill anybody. If we read a newspaper article about a man who has raped a woman most of us do not say, "See. That's how men who are attracted to adults are." Yet that is precisely what we do when we read about a man who has actually harmed a child. We conclude that all "pedophiles" which would have to mean all 27 million men who are strongly attracted to children are would-be rapists and serial killers.

The 22% estimate in Schuster's article, although almost certainly accurate as stated, is misleading in one way, as is the whole practice of categorizing people as pedophiles, hebephiles, ephebophiles, and teleiophiles on the basis of the age of the people they can respond to sexually. Real people do not fit into these neat categories. Most men probably feel some degree of attraction to more than one age-category and to both sexes. Attraction to children will almost certainly fall out on a bell shaped curve, just as most other human attributes do. It's not an all or nothing sort of thing. Some will feel an attraction to children that is much stronger than their attraction to adults and some will experience a less strong attraction, but certainly more than 22% will feel at least some attraction to children.

The scientific evidence is overwhelming. The pedophile monster who is perhaps the most feared person in our society is a quasi-mythical figure. He is the product of a massive moral panic. The vast majority of men whether they feel some degree of attraction to children or not are not monsters who will do terrible harm to others and especially to children whenever the opportunity presents itself.

For various reasons related to the complexity of interpreting research finding, it is impossible to know the exact prevalence and intensity of male attraction to children, but any reasonable interpretation of existing research shows that some degree of sexual interest in children is characteristic of most if not all. Philip Tromovitch, a well respected scholar in the field, prepared a couple of charts that present a lot of the relevant data in a brief and accessible manner here and here.

It is my speculation that, in reality, some degree of mutual sexual attraction between children and adults is a universal aspect of human nature, and that the moral panic is precisely about that fact.

Real damage is being done to individuals and to society as a whole because of this moral panic. The time for a fact-based discussion of the topic is long overdue.

The Need To End This Moral Panic

Would Cory's sexual behavior with his girlfriend have been harmful to either of them had no videos been taken? Would it have been harmful had he been 22 and she 16? What if the girlfriend was a boyfriend? Or suppose a 32-year-old man took a shower with an 11-year-old boy, and they both enjoyed it? If a boy enjoys cuddling with, and being caressed by, a man, is he being harmed? Is that what we mean by "rape"? Our society appears to be committed to not engaging in a discussion about what kinds of mutually desired sexual and quasi-sexual activities are actually harmful, and why, and how harmful, and what should be done about it. We need an honest and realistic discussion a fact-based discussion not just screaming about how the pedophiles are at the gate.

Why is it so difficult to have a reasoned discussion about this issue?

Let me give a brief example of the kind of situation that would need to be thought about:

Heinz Kohut, the founder of "Self Psychology" and one of the most important psychological theorists of the 20th Century reported that "I had this private tutor, who was a very important person in my life. He would take me to museums and swimming and concerts and we had endless intellectual conversations and played complicated intellectual games and played chess together." They also did sexual things together, which they both enjoyed, but Kohut felt the sex was more or less incidental. The important thing for him was the relationship. He said "I was an only child. So it was in some way psychologically life-saving for me. I was very fond of this fellow." Heinz was about 10 or 11 at the time. He describes his years with his tutor as being perhaps the happiest ones in his life. (Strozier, 2001. "Heinz Kohut: The making of a Psychoanalyst." PP. 95 and 9

Is this what we are in a panic about? What would have been the consequences for Kohut and his friend had they been discovered and had his friend been sentenced to 30 or 40 years in prison after being publicly vilified, and then condemned to be on the registry our modern pillory for life after being released?

The moral panic that began as the Satanic panic and which continues in full force as the pedophile panic is clearly the cause of the sex-offender registry, and all of the draconian laws and procedures to which Cory feared he would be subjected. It was those laws and procedures that led to his suicide.

Imagine for a moment that you are a 16- or 17-year-old boy, and you suddenly come to the realization that you are one of those 22% of males who will always find people under 13 as attractive or more attractive than adults. You are one of those men who people say are pieces of sh*t who should be killed, or hung up by their balls etc. etc. etc. You can hide this fact about yourself, and never be able to acknowledge who you really are in any of your relationships. Or you can come out of the closet and face a societal reaction many times more severe than any gay person faces. Given this dilemma, would the possibility of suicide not cross your mind? How many suicides that happen for unknown reasons have this causality? There is no way to know. But certainly some of them do.

So long as that the issue of the moral panic is not addressed, suicides will continue to happen again. . . and again. . . and again, despite comforting affirmations to the contrary. Minor tinkering with the draconian legal apparatus that is in place will not help.

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Write for Politics of Health and work with David Werner on issues of health. Worked in the field of "Mental Health" all my life. Am now retired. Jim
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