Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Okay, One More Try

with 11 comments

Lymaree says:

>>And I don’t see a conflict between “all types of sex where consent is possible and given is okay” and “sex with the unconsenting is absolutely forbidden.”

My problem with that statement  is with the “is possible.”   It is an attempt to make it legitimate to condemn all kinds of consensual sex by declaring that the consent “really isn’t” consent, for one set of reasons or the other.

But the simple fact is that plenty of the people involved in those situations do in fa ct think they have consented and do in fact think they are fully capable of giving that consent. The distinctions look–and are–arbitrary. 

And they’ll fall apart sooner rather than later, because every time some consenting couple gets rapped because it “really isn’t” consent, their response will be to make a very public and angry case for people to mind their own business, and then to lobby for changes in the legal and social standard that will not penalize what they feel is central to their own lives.

And what results from that is–well, the Monica Lewinsky case.   Which had even the most ardent liberal proponent of sexual harassment laws complaining about the power standared inherent in sexual harassment laws.

And note that I’m not getting i nto the can of worms that is the tendency of lots of people–both on the stronger and on the weaker end of the relationship–to find power differentials between sex partners to be sexy as hell.  That’s the basis of virtually every category romance,  and the entire BDSM movement. 

But although I don’t think there are any more actual pedophiles in the pobupulation, I DO think a higher percentage of pedophiles act on their urges than did in more sexually conservative times.

Why would this NOT be the case?  We know from the literature, for instance, that many homosexuals did not act on their sexual desires in earlier periods, because of soxcial disapproval and isolation.  And we also know that many gay men, at least, never started a gay relationship until they found a group of people who accepted what they already felt as normal.

And it’s not just gay relationships we can look to–far fewer heterosexuals (especially heterosexual women) as long as they were living in a world where the act was both condemned and penalized, not by law but by social opprobrium.

I don’t see that pedophilia is any different in that respect than anything else.  True, nobody is going to stop somebody who s dedicated to getting what he wants, but most people are not dedicated to that extent.  Some homosexuals practice even in Tehran, where the penalty for being caught is death.  I’m willing to bet most homosexuals in Tehran decide just to go without sex rather than run the kind of risks they’d be subjecting themselves to.

I’m sure that most pedophiles feel that what they’re doing is wrong, and feel ashamed of it.  But the members of every single sexual minority o ut there hae felt the same as long as society at large condemned what they do.  That’s why such groups fight for social visibility and approval–because they hope that, once the larger society acccepts and no longer condemns what they are, they won’t feel ashamed of it anymore.

We now have an active and visible pedophilic community making just these kinds of arguments and efforts, with just that result in mind–to change social attitudes about pedophilia.

And you don’t think that such a climate, and the existence of such groups, has an effect on how man y of those people with a pedophilic sexual orientation will actually go out and act on it?

As to–can’t remember whose–comment that consent is obviously not given in the case of pedophilia, since the children so sexually abused cry out and protest and are n pain, so that the perpetrator cannot fool himself into believing there has been consent–I think that’s true enough for cases involving actual genital intercourse.

But a surprising number of these cases do not involve that.  There’s everything from fondling to–a biggie, and it completely mystifies me–taking sexually explicit pictures.  Meaning that the possibilities for self-delusion are considerably expanded. 

As for social norms, the reason I think that isn’t what I’m talking about is that every time I’ve seen it used, it seems to imply that the “norms” in uestion are socially constructed.  I don’t think our responses to sex and sexuality are at base socially constructed.  I think the incest taboo, for instance, probably has a good deal of evolutionary biology in it–what’s socially constructed is only the definiition of “family” we use to trigger it.

So, when Lymaree talked about her father marrying his first cousin, my brain went:  so what?  But then, I’m not close to my first cousins, and I don’t “feel” them as faimily in most cases.

Finally, I’d like to point something out.

I would think that what I’ve said in these posts is largely unexeptionable. 

I haven’t suggested that we go back to some Victorian standard of sexual propriety. 

I haven’t suggested that we make some forms of sex illegal.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I haven’t been talking about laws at all. 

I’ve said two things: 

First, that in a sexually liberated age, we’ll get more of the bad people acting on their desires as well as more of  the good ones.  And that this is especially the case in an era when the message is that sexual desires are impossible to control and anyway probably shouldn’t be, since when we do that we are “denying who we really are.”

Second, that the standard we’re using is inherently unstable, because it does not cover all the forms of sex we want to disapprove, and therefore forces us into rhetorical strategems that weren’t working all that well before the Anita Hill case, and by now aren’t really working at all. 

And third, that since the standard is inherently unstable, it will, in the next ten to twenty years, inevitably break down, and what will come in its stead will be EITHER a return to much stricter sexual mores, OR a wholesale capitulation to “do whatever you want,” even in cases we now find abhorent. 

I doubt if any of us finds either of those outcomes desirable, but it’s like the man said–you can’t always get what you want. 

And now, I’m going to go worry about Dr. Moriarity.

Written by janeh

November 9th, 2009 at 7:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

11 Responses to 'Okay, One More Try'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Okay, One More Try'.

  1. Sorry, I just can’t get what you mean, Jane. You seem to be working from a logical chain: pedophiles are like homosexuals, there are more open homosexuals now that it’s acceptable, therefore there must be more open pedophiles because of our broadening views on sex. But you have no proof that there are more active pedophiles today. Every old nurse and doctor will tell you what they saw 50 or 60 years ago. So will old cops. It seems like half the memoirs I read involve some parent/older sibling/relation/neighbor who did something awful way back when. Leave alone how many patients describe this to their shrinks.

    Yes, the internet associations where men (mostly) try to form a community in which “man boy” sex is great exist and are a new thing, and a terribly harmful thing. But that’s not part of your logical chain – it just mirrors what’s going on in the virtual world. What’s the difference between that and white supremacist sites, or right-wing lunatic sites, or left-wing lunatic sites? I suppose you could say that all of these fringe sites exist because we have free speech. But so what? There are some laws that determine where it crosses the line with political sites, and the same with sexual behaviors.

    I also don’t get what kind of criterion you are after. Yes, “consent” has some gray areas. But everything has gray areas. Almost everything has mitigating circumstances, either legally or morally. You seem to want some phrase or definition that will eliminate that, but that’s impossible.

    But I don’t think the impossibility of coming up with a definite line in the sand means that society is doomed. I think human beings, at least some of them and probably most of them, are capable of spending some time in the gray zones and coming up with more subtle limits.


    9 Nov 09 at 1:31 pm

  2. I did a little poking about online and, aside from one article that didn’t cite any sources but claimed that there was no increase in activity since 1960 (which isn’t really quite early enough to count), can’t find anyone willing to commit themselves one way or another. Papers *with* sources tend to go on irritatedly about the difficulty in figuring out just what other people mean when they write ‘pedophile’, lament the lack of really good data on how many there actually are (one claimed that only half of the criminal sexual offenses against children were committed by people who could be classified as pedophiles). I don’t have time to look further, but I think the answer is basically ‘no one knows’ if active pedophilia is increasing or not.

    Personally, I’m with Jane on this one, but I admit I don’t have evidence. Yes, it always happened. But how to get numbers on what happened 50 or 60 or 100 years ago, I just don’t know. The experts don’t seem to have really good solid numbers for how many there are today, active or inactive, – although some of the stuff I quickly skimmed states that there are people with such impulses who don’t act on them.


    9 Nov 09 at 3:02 pm

  3. As I wrote yesterday I lost the reasoning in these posts a long while back. However, I disagree that women now engage more in premarital sex because social attitudes have changed and are more permissive. It has to do with reliable birth control, the pill, which began to be used more and more frequently in the early ’60s.

    Sexual intercourse began
    In nineteen sixty-three
    (which was rather late for me) –
    Between the end of the Chatterley ban
    And the Beatles’ first LP
    —Philip Larkin, Annus Mirabilis


    9 Nov 09 at 3:06 pm

  4. The birth control pill had an big effect, yes.

    So did changes in attitudes about sex, and especially about women who had a lot of sex, especially outside marriage. That change in attitudes, just since my teenage days, has been absolutely enormous. I still tend to think that women and men have a profoundly different approach to sex, with women preferring to have it in the context of an ongoing relationship, and men, well, just liking to have sex. I don’t go as far as the widespread idea in my youth that this difference was found in every single women (except the, well, sluts and other nasty terms), OK, every single *decent* woman only had sex with the man she was truly, deeply and permanently in love with – and of course, if he was a decent man, they’d wait until marriage. In theory, anyway. In my old hometown, there were plenty of 7-month babies, which wasn’t really considered all that bad, as long as they came after the wedding.

    I can’t over-emphasize how different life was from today. Those ideas (of virginal females waiting for their True Love before having sex) were reinforced in everything from romance novels to movies to little girl’s bride dolls. You’d never find even the kind of serial monogamy practiced today among unmarried girls of the period, much less anything more permissive. You had the Bad Girls, and you had everyone else, the majority, who were looking for True Loves to marry. There was also an idea going around that no man wanted some other man’s seconds (shades of that nasty baseball player, was it? who said something even worse about his ex), so if a girl did have sex with someone she wanted to marry, but changed her mind, she might well expect that a new boyfriend would refuse to accept her because she wasn’t a virgin. Some did. Or they had sex with her and moved on to someone else, because she must surely be That Kind of Girl, since she’d previously had sex with Jack or Joe. None of this has anything to do with pregnancy or birth control, although the fear of pregnancy would also always have been there.

    You’d have to go back to the Middle Ages to get the idea of active (even rapacious!) female sexuality, especially among widows.

    Although now that I think about it, there were some pretty sexually active female aristocrats in early modern Europe, but I’m not sure how much such behaviour was accepted in the burgeoning middle classes.

    But the 1950s, 1960s, and even early 1970s in many places were very, very different, and it wasn’t just because we didn’t have the Pill.


    9 Nov 09 at 3:46 pm

  5. Okay, let me see if I can do this better.

    First, I am NOT assuming that pedophilia is “like homosexuality.”

    I’m assuming that pedophilia is like heteroxexuality–that is, that it’s a sexual orientation.

    And the reason I’m assuming that is that it shows all the signs of being one–it seems to exist in a fairly constant proportion of the population of all literate societies irrespective of race, creed, historical period, philosophical outlook, etc; it is consistently reported by those who exhibit it as something they experience from earliest childhood in one form or another; its resistance to change no matter what the method used to try to change it, from therapy to punishment; the fact that it is universally experienced as an identity (not just as an activity) by both its members (is that the word?) and the society at large. We say somebody “is” straight or “is” a pedophile, but only that he “likes” spanking, for instance.

    If pedophilia is a sexual orientation, then it is logical that it would behave like every other sexual orientation behaves–that is, that some people will be deterred from practicing what they feel because of social assumptions that such behavior is so awful and so wrong as to be nearly unspeakable, and that some people will be encouraged to practice who did not otherwise when they find they are not alone or isolated in their orientation.

    I’ve never seen anything anywhere to explain in what way pedophilia is different than any other sexual orientation, except that we don’t like it.

    If you’ve got some evidence that pedophilia is not a sexual orientation, or that there is something peculiar to it that would make it behave differently than all other sexual orientations, I’d be glad to hear it.

    Second, I do NOT think that the world is going to end or society is going to be destroyed.

    And I do NOT want to change the way we look at sex or sexuality. I do NOT want to bring in some kind of sexual morality. I do NOT want to pass laws.

    What I was doing was pointing out a problem with the consent standard.

    And the problem with the consent standard is not that there are “some grey areas,” but that there are some outright contradictions, because we don’t mean it.

    An actual consent standard would probably get us where we wanted to go–but there are plenty of kinds of consensual sex we don’t approve of, and we keep looking for ways to disapparove of them. And we come up with “it isn’t REALLY consensual” even though both parties insist it is.

    At that point, we’ve got two choices, and we’ve decided to accept neither of them.

    One is simply to accept reality–there is no such thing as the purely good, meaning some very good things can have some negative consequences, and we accept the consequences because we think that the good thing is good enough to override them.

    That’s what happens with free speech. Yes, of course speech can be enormously harmful or damaging. We allow it anyway, because any attempt to rein it in threatens things we value very highly.

    Consider just the subject we’re on–one of the things we know about all sexual orientaitons (and that includes pedophilia) is that exposure to pornographic work highlighting them makes it more likely that people attracted to that kind of sex to act on it.

    But the SCOTUS has declared that we cannot censor child pornography IF what we’re dealing with is either stories or pictures in which no actual child was harmed.

    So the Net is full of this stuff, animated movies of child sex, you name it–but since no actual children were used in the production of the works involved, we cannot shut those productions down.

    We are, in fact, close to an absolutist approach to free speech, and we don’t deny that this actually causes harm that might not be done if our rules for speech were tighter.

    We just think that the downside of tightening the rules is worse than any individual harm done because of their looseness.

    If we did that with sex–if we were upfront about the fact that wide toleration of sexualities does indeed empower some bad people to do some bad things that they might not do otherwise, if we accepted an actual consent standard (not “consent expect when I say that consent isn’t possible, even if you think you consented), I think we could pretty much go on like this forever.

    But we’re doing neither of those things. We’re doing the philosophical equivalent of balancing a stack of plates on our heads and pretending that they’re not wobbling.


    9 Nov 09 at 4:03 pm

  6. Oh, ack.

    I get so wrapped up in the details I forget the main point.

    The biggest symptom of the fact that we know, underneath, that there is something about our present approach to sex that leaves us vulnerable to the claims of pedophiles–that makes it difficult for us to protect ourselves against its normalization–is the hysterical overreactions of branding eighteen-year-olds who sleep with their fifteen year old girlfriends lifelong sex offenders, or insisting that Gerald Amirault stay in jail until he “admits” to crimes we’ve known for two decades never even occurred.

    And the long term projection for that kind of overreaction is not retreat to the sensible, but total collapse of the legitimacy of the standard.

    If you see what I mean.


    9 Nov 09 at 4:14 pm

  7. Robert Heinlein–an acute observer who actually lived through the period–said cars made the great sexual turning point, which the Pill only “ratified.” Mobility and privacy were the critical factors. It seems reasonable to me, especially if we’re talking middle class and lower urban environments, but I don’t know how you’d prove or disprove it.

    First cousins: can’t cite the studies from memory, but first cousins have a notably higher birth defect rate than second cousins–who are pretty much at the same rate as the population at large. But if there is a DNA-based aversion to sex with closer relationships–and I think there is–there seems to be none for first cousin sex. This is irritating from the point of view of evolutionary theory. Perhaps some coutervailing advantage the studies haven’t picked up on yet?


    9 Nov 09 at 6:05 pm

  8. Robert, I can tell you that culturally, at least in midwestern US, 1960s, cousins, whether 1st, 2nd or farther, were not considered marriage (or sex) material. I had some pretty hot 2nd cousins that I was actively discouraged from pursuing (by the same dad who later married *his* first cousin). Of course, when my dad remarried, children were not an issue. I still had a large ick factor over it.

    Culturally, most human societies have had pretty strong prohibitions against marrying inside the group, particularly where the group is small, isolated and/or closely related. This is variously configured…some places it was okay to marry a maternal cousin, but not a paternal one, or vice versa, or it was always preferred to go outside the clan or the tribe for a mate, just to keep the genes properly remote. I’m not sure it was DNA-based, but it certainly was based on observation that generations of inbreeding resulted in weak, deformed children.

    I’ve been thinking this over, and given the number of humans that do manage to overcome all sorts of prohibitions in the area of sex with children or other non-consenting entities, sexual prohibitions cannot honestly be said to be DNA-deep.

    The closest thing I can come up with as a cultural no-questions-asked revulsion over behavior is that over cannibalism. THAT is more likely to get an universal ICK than anything else. But even that has a venerable history in primitive cultures, so it wasn’t always so. Some people will starve to death rather than eat a companion, even if that person dies naturally. Some won’t.


    9 Nov 09 at 7:53 pm

  9. >>My problem with that statement is with the “is possible.” It is an attempt to make it legitimate to condemn all kinds of consensual sex by declaring that the consent “really isn’t” consent, for one set of reasons or the other.>>

    Ummm, actually, I think I’ve been pretty clear that I’m defining consent to allow the greatest possible freedom for most people, while at the same time protecting those who are unable to protect themselves. I’m not “condemning all kinds of consensual sex” at all. If two people in a power relationship each have no fear of reprisal in the case of refusal, then yes, they each can consent. Where fear enters into it, though, suddenly consent cannot happen. A fearful consent is not consent at all. The only other groups I’ve defined as not being able to consent are those too young (pre-pubescent) and animals.

    So point out where I’m “condemning all kinds of consensual sex.” I don’t think someone unconscious with drink or drugs or illness is able to consent, not even if they’re married to the other person. Given prosecution, I can see a wife not wanting to accuse her husband in that case, but if she *did* I’d allow the case.

    I don’t think dead people can consent, although there, harm is questionable. Can mentally handicapped people who are physically mature but mentally child-like give consent? I don’t know. That’s a tough one, a really really gray area. Not every situation can be covered with one simple elegant solution. Perhaps the test there is the ability to recognize and respect the concept of refusal by others. In seeking consent, and realizing one has not received it, one can demonstrate the maturity to give consent oneself. LIke I say, totally gray.

    But in every other case, whether the partners are underage (but post-pubescent) or one far older than the other, or indulging in activities I find personally repulsive, consent is the governing element. Both (or all) parties consent, go for it. Just try not to scare the mundanes.

    So apparently, what I mean by “consent” is not the same thing you mean by “consent” as you seem to think that it will always be used to eliminate socially undesireable types of consensual sex. I do not, and I don’t see any reason it needs to. People who seek not to harm others should be free to pursue whatever other impulses they have. Those whose actions by their very nature cannot avoid harming others should not pursue those actions.

    And no, I don’t mean BDSM, or scarification as an erotic activity or weirder shit I can’t even imagine. Those people on both sides give their consent to the physical harm done. I’m talking about children, animals, and those in fear. Period.


    10 Nov 09 at 1:11 am

  10. The no-cousin thing is really, really strong – so strong in my part of the world that a lot of people think it’s illegal to marry a first cousin, although it isn’t anywhere in Canada, AFAIK. Most people just don’t do it.

    I have a friend from the Middle East who is rather bemused by this, since in her culture cousin-marriage is preferred. Knowing that they also use ‘cousin’ very broadly, I asked specifically if she meant first cousins, do they marry the child of their mother or father’s brother or sister, and the answer was, yes, they do. NOT doing so is so ingrained in my culture I don’t even think of the possibility – or didn’t until one of my male cousins made some comment about how he really liked one of my sisters, and it’s too bad that would be incest.

    I think genetically healthy first cousins have only a very slightly elevated risk of unhealthy offspring, or maybe none at all. But of course, and lurking harmful recessive genes, or repeated cousin marriage in a lineage, and you can have problems. I think south Asian groups in the UK who have been practicing cousin marriage for generations sometimes have problems. And look at the Hapsburgs! But of course, they weren’t merely doing cousin marriages; they had uncle/niece marriages and who knows what else.

    I took an introductory anthropology course from a grad student who had been doing research on one of those incredibly isolated islands off Scotland or northern England. He said on this island, there were generally very few potential marriage partners (because of low numbers and consanguinity), but people still managed to find someone suitable to fall in love with and marry. I think he meant to imply that falling in love was culturally determined, which it probably is, to some extent. That and hormones.


    10 Nov 09 at 8:06 am

  11. Lymaree says:

    >>>Ummm, actually, I think I’ve been pretty clear that I’m defining consent to allow the greatest possible freedom for most people, while at the same time protecting those who are unable to protect themselves. I’m not “condemning all kinds of consensual sex” at all. If two people in a power relationship each have no fear of reprisal in the case of refusal, then yes, they each can consent. Where fear enters into it, though, suddenly consent cannot happen. A fearful consent is not consent at all. The only other groups I’ve defined as not being able to consent are those too young (pre-pubescent) and animals. >>>

    My problem is that Lymaree also said:

    <<<< 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. >>>

    That second thing cited–which came earlier than the first–implies that such relationships should be held to be inherently suspect, and at one point Lymaree said that maybe the boss should just keep it in his pants.

    But I disagree–I DON’T think that such relationships are inherently suspect. I think most of them are perfectly consensual. And I think there are a lot of them, the vast majority of the participants in which would strongly protest any claims that the “power relationship” somehow made it impossible for them to “really” consent.

    A CONSENT standard applied to such relationships would assume–as it does in the case of sexual relationships between any other two adults–that the sex was oonsensual unless proven otherwise, and the burden of proof would be on those who claimed no consent.

    This is what we have with rape, of course, and it does have the drawback of making rape difficult to prove and therefore making it impossible to get justice for at least some real rapes because of that.

    To hold such relationships inherently suspect and to therefore require that participants in them be assumed guilty of nonconsensual sexual contact until proven innocent is not a consent standard–it’s a social utility standard.

    Social utility standards assume that individual liberty may be circumscribed for the greater good–in order to be able to successfully prosecute the few real cases of quid pro quo forced sex, we will criminalize the larger number of entirely consensual sexual relationships, since we assume that the injustice done to the few in the forced sex situation overrides the injustice done to the many whose relationships, though perfectly legitimate, will henceforth be discouraged by law.

    You can do all kinds of things with a social utility standard–you could outlaw those child sex porn stories and digitally animated movies I talked about before, for instance.

    But social utility standards have a lot of drawbacks. For one thing, it would, on such a standard, be perfectly possible to outlaw a lot more than sex between bosses and subordinates or students and teachers, and to censor a lot more material than just child porn.

    But you’ve got to pick one–you can EITHER have a social utility standard OR a consent standard, attempting to meld the two destroys the legitimacy of both.


    10 Nov 09 at 9:42 am

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 571 access attempts in the last 7 days.