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So NOW I Know What You All Like To Talk About…

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Well, let me start with an aside, to jem–I wasn’t saying the  Catholic Church should get off scot free on the pedophilia scandal, I was wondering why clincial psychology got to make mistakes like that, over and over and over again, and still be heralded as “experts” practicing “science.”  

I’m sure there were one or two people out there bucking the conventional wisdom, but the conventional expert wisdom of the time was that pedophiles could be cured, the aggressor in an adult-adolescent sexual relationship was always the adolescent (especially if she were female), and homosexuality was a form of mental illness.

Those ideas changed not because new research discovered new facts, but because attitudes in the wider society changed first.   This is not science, and it should not be privileged to decide court cases, parole hearings and public policy as science.

But let me get to the suggestion–by  Gail, I think–that there’s no reason why society whouldn’t be able to be accepting of homosexuality and teen-aged sex and other things, and still erect strong social norms against pedophilia.

First, social norms are not nearly enough.   Climate is much more than that–it’s the emotional baggage around such norms.  The supposed basis for such norms is almost never what people say it is.

Smoking really is a good example, because the same people who tell you that smoking is wrong because it’s bad for you will quite happily take a hit or two of Ecstacy on the week-end or spend their Thursday nights getting wasted. 

The climate around smoking is causd by the fact that we have managed to make it, well, yucky–the response is visceral and non-rational.   In places where that visceral response has not taken hold, smoking laws–even when they get passed–are about as effective as trying to put out a house fire with a sippy cup.  People just ignore them, and trying to enforce them isn’t really worth the effort.

It’s this need for a visceral response that makes me think that it may be the case–notice the hedging–that we can’t approve teen-aged nonmarital sex, homosexuality and a host of other things while also erecting a strong enough climate around pedophilia and adult-adolescent sex to actually deter any activity in the latter two.

For one thing, it’s not just that we declare these things to be okay because they’re “natural.”  It’s also because the climate at the moment strongly militates against being “judgmental” of other people’s tastes in sex, even when we find those tastes “icky.”  We also push a line that says that being a “minority” is a good thing and that other people have the obligation to understand (and not be “judgmental” of) minority lifestyles.

I hate the word “lifestyle.”

My point is however that any society in which many relatively unusual sexual tastes are accepted will also have to have something like this set of assumptions.  Only something like this set of assumptions can stop something else that is perfectly “natural,” and that our tendency to act on our visceral response to such activity (icky!) by condemning it.

Sex evokes far more violent visceral responses than smoking ever will, because sex is far more central to the human condition, although probably not as central as this present social climate likes to make it.

We’ve done a good job of making society safe for sexual minorities–I just don’t think we can do that without also making life far more comfortable for pedophiles, who are, after all, a sexual minority.  And my guess is that it’s virtually impossible to contain an explosion of adult-adolescent sexual activity in the present climate. 

I am, I’ll say it again, not talking about laws.

Laws that buck a prevailing climate are not entirely useless, but they’re not really effective, either.  We needed fewer laws with  less stringent penalties to keep pedophilia in check in the Fifties than we do now.  Fewer natural pedophiles became active, none of them knew of a shadow clture that approved their activities or desires, and there was no rationale for the things they did.

I’m not suggestinbg, by the way, that we go back to condemning homosexuality or non-marital sex.

I am suggesting that as long as we want to live in a world where individual sexual tastes are considered private, nobody else’s business, and important to  our personal identity and autonomy–then we have to accept the fact that more of the pedophiles among us will become active.

And the laws will not only not help, in the long run, they’ll hurt.  People  have a limited capacity to accept injustice, and the kind of laws now on the books–the kind that put that eighteen year old who has sex with his fifteen year old girlfriend behind bars for ten years and then on a lifelong sex offender registry that funcationally destroys any chance he will have for a normal life–invite a backlash.

The backlash won’t take the form of a stronger climate against pedophilia, but of one more likely to minimized the damage done by pedophilia.  And strictures against adult sex with adolescents will just disappear.

The only other option, I think, is for us to become less accepting,  more judgmental, and more traditional in what we (again, viscerally, not by law) accept as “not icky” sex. 

And that does not seem to be the direction in which we’re going.

Written by janeh

November 6th, 2009 at 6:56 am

Posted in Uncategorized

9 Responses to 'So NOW I Know What You All Like To Talk About…'

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  1. “The backlash won’t take the form of a stronger climate against pedophilia, but of one more likely to minimized the damage done by pedophilia. And strictures against adult sex with adolescents will just disappear.”

    I believe there used to be a saying “Older men teach younger women, older women teach younger men.”

    There is probably a good deal of truth to that.

    For myself, I object when the younger person is under puberty or has reached puberty but doesn’t consent.

    If the boy can get it up or the girl has reached the age of menstruation, I really don’t care as long as they said Yes.


    6 Nov 09 at 4:15 pm

  2. Girls are reaching puberty at younger ages, without, I think, reaching mental or emotional maturity earlier.

    I think Jane is unduly optimistic if she thinks that either we’ll minimize the damage from pedophilia or open up adult-teen sex.

    We won’t do the first, because we won’t reduce the aceeptability of ‘minority sexualities’ and we don’t
    really know all the damage pedophilia does, much less how to fix it.

    And we won’t do the second because we’re so stuck on infantilizing our adolescents.

    I don’t know what will happen. I’d suspect increasing openess to minority sexualities – first with polygamy and mid-teen marriages – until we have another big sea change back to some form of conservatism, but I can’t guess what form that new conservatism will take – what types of sexual behaviour will first be re-marginalized on what basis.


    6 Nov 09 at 5:15 pm

  3. What you are saying, I think, is that strict laws and legal penalties against pedophilia aren’t doing a great deal to curtail it but neither is a climate of acceptance of almost any other form of sexuality. But social disapproval of pedophilia and other forms of sexuality that victimize will help? I’m confused. I can’t see that someone who is influenced by his/her urges to engage in sex with minors is going to be stopped by much of anything.


    6 Nov 09 at 5:57 pm

  4. I think this, from today’s Spiked On Line is on point, and in line with what Jane has been saying in the last couple of posts:


    I must admit that I’d never seen the term “evidence-based government” recently, but having at last noticed it, I can’t get away from it. It’s being bandied about among my leftist acquaintances as if it’s something entirely brilliant and unprecedented.

    Ya gotta worry about kidz these dayz.


    6 Nov 09 at 6:18 pm

  5. I can’t see that someone who is influenced by his/her urges to engage in sex with minors is going to be stopped by much of anything.

    Why not? People who want to engage in sex with any other group manage to do so. How easy they find it and how successful they are varies, of course. There have been – and probably still are – people who have perfectly ordinary sexual urges who manage to live celibate all their lives – sometimes for religious reasons; sometimes because for other reasons. There are a lot more who manage to restrict their sexual activity to what they have with their spouse, even though they are terribly tempted by the sexy neigbour or store clerk or co-worker. And whether they fall into temptation is only partly due to their own self-control. Someone who knows his spouse and kids will leave and even his mother will think the worse of him for treating his wife badly will have more social support in restricting his sexual activity than someone who is told by everyone around him that of course he can’t be expected to stay with X if he now feels more attracted to Y; these things just happen and they’re beyond anyone’s control. Both personal choices and social forces act to suppress or allow the expression of sexual urges as strong as those of any pedophile.

    Think of another strong urge – rage. A lot of people who lose their temper easily claim that they just lost control. They couldn’t help themselves. But if you watch them, you’ll see that they often do have some control. They choose their targets. They generally don’t lose it with policemen, say, or their boss. They do it at home, with their spouse, or in a store with some low-level employee who can’t fight back.

    Some people have more trouble controlling themselves than others, certainly. But I don’t think there’s anything about pedophilia that makes it harder to control than, say, ordinary heterosexual attraction, hones through the millenia to get us to reproduce and keep the species going. And a lot of the time, we manage that just fine.


    6 Nov 09 at 6:43 pm

  6. If pedophiles are capable of or are willing to exercize that much self control then why is sexual abuse of children (within families and from strangers) still so widespread? Maybe they’ve not yet been made aware that: “I don’t think there’s anything about pedophilia that makes it harder to control than, say, ordinary heterosexual attraction, hones through the millenia to get us to reproduce and keep the species going. And a lot of the time, we manage that just fine.”


    6 Nov 09 at 7:27 pm

  7. Okay. Let me see if I can be clearer.

    1) I don’t think child sexual abuse is “still” so widespread.

    2) I think it is MUCH MORE WIDESPREAD than it was even just a few decades ago.

    3) I do NOT think that pedophiles are any different than vanilla heterosexuals, or anybody else, in their ability to control (or inability to control) their urges.

    4) I DO think that we live in a society now that says that sexual urges are mostly impossible to control–tell teenagers it’s wrong to have sex? Don’t be ridiculous. Teenagers are going to have sex and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

    5) But the simple fact is that when out of wedlock sex was widely viewed in society as being unacceptable, far fewer teenagers had ses.

    6) It’s NOT a matter of laws–laws aren’t really very effective.

    7) It IS a matter of attitudes–we say that what “Two consenting adults” do is just their business, and for that matter what two consenting minors do is their business, and we shouldn’t judge, and besides, sexual orientation is central to personal identity and you can’t control it anyway.

    8) Then we turn around and say–oh, THAT sexual idenity is different. It doesn’t count. That’s wrong.

    9) Pedophiles logically reason that a) a lot of sexual orientations that were taboo yesterday are okay now today and there fore b) their sexual orientation will probably be okay tomorrow, once they get through to these bigotted intolerant people that they shouldn’t judge and c) besides, sex isn’t controlable anyway, so they can’t be EXPECTED to control themselves.

    8) This society gives the same message to everybody–sex is outside our control, none of us can help ourselves, and telling people that they should control themselves because their sexual orientation is wrong is intolerant, bigotted and evil.

    9) A society that says: sex is a matter of morals. Some things are just right, some things are just wrong, and we have every right to judge your behavior if it is outside the norm, because you are able to control yourself and we expect you to do it–THAT kind of a society has fewer active pedophiles (pedophiles who act on their urges).

    10) But it’s also a society that probably disapproves of a lot of sex we now want to accept.

    11) So you take your pick–a society that strictly limits sexual behavior because the social climate expects all people to control themselves and limits the tolerated expressions of sexuality (and therefore fewer active pedophiles), or a society that accepts lots of different sexual orientations, and thinks it is wrong to judge other people’s preferences in sex (which therefore has more active pedophiles).

    13) Pedophiles these days are getting the same message we’re sending to everybody else–they shouldn’t expect to be able to control themselves, it’s wrong for other people to judge them, and someday what they do will be just as accepted as homosexuality is now. After all, homosexuality used to be considered “deviance,” too.

    And, as an aside–when I said that in the backlash we’ll minimize the damage caused by pedophilia, I didn’t mean we’d actually make it less.

    I think in another decade or so, what you’ll see is an attitude of “well, it doesn’t REALLY harm kids that much, and sometimes it’s even beneficial!”

    And if you think I’m making that up, there’s at least one perfectly mainstream PhD in psych saying that right this minute.


    6 Nov 09 at 7:44 pm

  8. I do think it is possible to isolate and limit an entire class of sexual behavior by defining it properly, and then by discouraging it extensively. And that class is sexual behavior involving the non-consenting. This covers child abuse, bestiality (I’m sorry, I don’t think your dog or your cow is capable of giving consent, even if they don’t turn around and bite your winkie off), and sex involving any sort of power-relationship that conflicts with free consent , such as parent/child (even where the child is not a minor any longer), boss/employee, officer/enlisted, teacher/student…you finish that list yourself.

    If the emphasis on society is not on sex-is-good, but on sex-is-good-if-and-only-if-both (or all) parties-consent, then we’re part way there. Jane is right that the other part is “I couldn’t help myself,” which is a huge bogosity. There are some people who would get a wild thrill having sex in the middle of the stage at the Super Bowl halftime show, but somehow they manage to control themselves. We all manage to control ourselves, even those pedophiles, except when they think they’re not going to get caught. I think point #11 above may be a little too simplified, there are more social choices than that.

    And as for much more actual pedophilic activity these days, I doubt it. It just used to be hushed up, disbelieved and hidden more than it is now. I’ll buy some increase (what with internet sharing) but not orders of magnitude more.

    The message needs to be “yes, you CAN control yourself, until those you choose for partners can freely consent.” Deviance needs to be defined as performing actions, sexual or non-sexual, on non-consenting partners. That could be sticky too, as you get into parental relationships, but substantially, that would do the trick. I don’t see anything equivocal about requiring consent, and defining pre-pubescent children, animals, and anyone in a subordinate relationship to you as unable to consent freely.


    6 Nov 09 at 9:17 pm

  9. “well, it doesn’t REALLY harm kids that much, and sometimes it’s even beneficial!”

    Oh, yes, a variation on the old idea that it was totally beneficial for a young girl to have her first sexual experience with an older, experienced man! After all, no one would want her to have her first experience with a clumsy boy near her own age, would they? Some of those men had rather peculiar ideas about the age at which girls should start having sex and considered coaxing and persuading and manipulating her in order to get ‘consent’ perfectly acceptable.

    There have even been fathers who claimed the same view about their own daughters, except they kept it in the family.

    Incest is another taboo that’s shrinking. I read a call for brother-sister sex quite recently in which the author claimed that this situation avoided the power differential in parent-child incest. It was in something mainstream, too, like BBC.

    I suspect the expression of pedophilia is increasing in spite of the hysteria about it because access to and therefore use of related items such as pornography, fiction, and trips to areas where it is reputed to be available are so widely available and so well-known. Why shouldn’t active pedophiles be more commonplace today? Sure, if they get caught, they’ll be vilified, but they can do much more without much chance of getting caught than some middle-manager in Victorian England in some small community without access to the more specialized brothels and pornography dealers of the major cities.

    The equivalent pedophile today can easily access all the pornography he wants, link up with like-minded people who will encourage him, and travel to larger centres. Or look around his own, if he feels like it, thinking that if he’s clever enough, like his friends online, he can do what he wants and get away with it.

    Or she. There was a case in the UK recently in which a female nursery worker took indecent photos of children too young to talk and circulated them by email with like-minded online friends. While she might have offended in a similar way 50 or 100 years ago, her fellow-criminals would have been unable to participate – and didn’t have access to lots of babies. It would have made it a lot easier for them to exert self-control if they only had access to one baby at a time, and that baby would have been under the care and control of a parent at almost all times.


    7 Nov 09 at 7:12 am

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