Title: The Dilemma of the Male Pedophile
Author(s): Gunter Schmidt
Affiliation: Abteilung fur Sexualforschung, Universitat Hamburg, Germany
Citation: Schmidt, G., “The Dilemma of the Male Pedophile,” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 31, no. 6, 2002, pp. 473-477.
This article addresses the moral issues regarding pedosexuality as separate from clinical issues. The author begins by explaining the need for this distinction:
We find ourselves involved in a difficult balancing act that demands utmost care if we are to avoid, on the one hand, playing down the gravity of adult-child sexual acts and, on the other hand, overdramatizing its catastrophic potential...It seems to me that one of the prerequisites for a more reasonable discussion is to disentangle the confusion of moral and clinical discourses. This requires that we argue, from a moral standpoint, where morals are at issue and, from a clinical point of view, when it comes to traumatizing effects. Above all, we should not clothe moral judgments in the garb of clinical "expertocratic" language.
I shall preface my attempt to disentangle the confusion of these two levels of discourse with my own definition of a pedophile...Pedophiles are men whose sexual wishes and desires for relationship bonds and love are focused either primarily or exclusively on children who have not reached puberty, whereby the relative importance of each of these three areas--sexuality, relationship, and love--may vary, as it does with other people as well. The group is very heterogeneous in terms of what its members desire and what they acutally do...some have fleeting contacts with a series of children while others look for long-term relationships...Many are considerate in their behavior toward children; others use force...Some pedophiles take advantage of the offerings of the free market, with its Mafia-style structures that brutalize forbidden forms of sexuality...Others, a group whose number is unknown but which may actually include a large proportion of pedophiles, remain abstinent for extended periods of time, many even throughout their lifetimes, expressing their desires in fantasy and leading a life of self-denial at a significant emotional cost. (p. 473)
The author then addresses the moral perspective. He writes that the central problem with pedosexuality is the lack of equality between partners: "It is this imbalance of power that endangers the child's capacity for sexual self-determination, threatening to overpower it completely."
He then describes two separate "moral discourses" found in society today. The first is the "traditional child molester discourse," which arose about a century ago. He describes it as "blunt, highly emotional, overgeneralized, full of prejudices." It has stood the test of time; only the perceived nature of the harm caused by child molesters has changed: whereas it was originally "moral disorientation and devastation," it is now seen as "psychological disaster and emotional death."
The second discourse represents "a broad social consensus." He sees it as a more enlightened view--the one that is dominant today. It is based on sexual self-determination and equal rights. Holding this view, society no longer condemns specific acts, such as extramarital sex or oral sex, but rather accepts a "consensual morality." It regards as morally acceptable anything that is agreed upon by two (or even more) people capable of negotiating on an equal footing. Diversity in lifestyles is accepted, and respect for the autonomy of the other is an indispensable principle. Thus, most unconventional sexual behavior, such as sadomasochism, is viewed with much less alarm than it was in the past. However, because the inherent imbalance in power between adult and child conflicts with consensual morality, pedophiles are now sought out and pursued much more than before.
So the central question is whether there can ever be sexual consensus between adults and children. Many pedophiles say there can be, that they want what the child wants, and that they can enjoy it only when the child enjoys it. Although the author says he does not doubt the subjective truth of such statements from the pedophile's perspective, he severely doubts that it is the child's subjective truth.
He gives as illustration a situation in which a man shows a 10 year old boy whom he has known for some time his model train. After the two play with the trains for a while, the man asks the boy to give him a back rub. The boy does as requested, having done it for his father before. Then the man asks the boy if he would like a back rub, too, and the boy says no. The boy plays with the trains a bit more, then goes home.
Although nothing has apparently happened against the boy's will, the author writes,
if we examine the social context, considering as well the meaning of the actions of each protagonist, we quickly realize that the two people are operating within two distinctly different scenarios. In other words, the issue on which they ostensibly agree means something very different for each of them. There is actually no true agreement at all. Consensus can only be achieved if everyone involved is acting in the same play and is, so to speak, "on the same page." The boy wants to play with the electric trains. The man seeks physical tenderness and sex with the boy. An adult man who is asked by an adult woman in a discotheque if he would like to have a drink with her at her place knows very well that this can be a sexual advance, but for the boy, trains are just rains, plain and simple...Thus, the problem of sexual consensus between the adult and the child lies in the disparity of scenarios.
Only the adult is aware of the disparity of scenarios and only he is in a position to overcome it...Part of the muddled situation is that the pedophile is compelled to preserve this disparity of scenarios in order to keep the plot moving. Thus, he will tend to do whatever is needed to maintain it, as the element of deception is essential to fulfilling his own desire. From this vantage point, therefore, I find it difficult to imagine consensual sexual acts between children and adults There are undoubtedly exceptions, which would include cases of boys just entering puberty and who have msturbated or had other sexual experiences leading to orgasm with peers, that is, of boys who can be expected to know "what the score is." (p. 474-475)
The author writes that pedophiles justify adult-child sex by resorting to an argument based on the child's need for self-determination. They claim that adults who deny children's sexuality stifle their development and endanger their self-determination, while pedophiles liberate the children from this repression. Apart from the fact that this is a paternalistic and self-serving view of self-determination, it sees children as small adults who are forbidden to use their nearly full sexual capacities. This is a naturalistic view, one that was advocated by illustrious sexologist Alfred Kinsey, who noted that arousal, lust, and orgasm are present in children. However, Kinsey did not consider the importance of relationships and meanings, and his view is regarded as antiquated today. Children do not follow the same sexual scripts or recognize the same sexual meanings as adults.
Thus, the problem of pedosexuality can be examined apart from discussions of harm and damage. Once this distinction is recognized, the author writes, "the discussion focused on the potential impact of sexual experiences with adults upon children can be carried out in a more realistic vein." Currently, there is a divide between researchers and clinicians over the harmfulness of adult-child sex. Nonclinicians criticize the unrepresentative samples and selected insights gained by clinicians, claiming they exaggerate the effects of adult-child sex and too often automatically classify children as victims. Clinicians argue that the researchers' superficial surveys are inadequate to the study of sexual trauma, and thus downplay the effects of adult-child sex.
There are two facts that should be a point of agreement for all involved. First, adult-child sex poses a risk of lasting trauma for the child even when there is no force of violence involved. Secondly, there are many cases of nonconsensual adult-child sex that are not traumatic for the child. What is morally unacceptable is not necessarily harmful. By recognizing this, we can relieve the child from the burden of automatic assignment to the role of victim, and in the case where the sexual experience was pleasant, from the fear that something must be wrong with him since he didn't recognize the evil and danger implied by the reactions of parents and police.
The fact that many children are not traumatized by sex with adults results from the rapidly expanding definition of sexual abuse. Over 100 studies of the effects of sexual abuse have been conducted. Analysis of these studies results in the conclusion that while devastating effects can and do occur, many experiences covered by the broad definition of abuse are not traumatic or experienced by the children negatively. Thus, the author says, "we should recognize the need to bring our assessment of the impact of sexual acts involving children back into balance in order to do justice to the realities of the children themselves."
However, apart from the issue of traumatizing effects, pedophilia is a form of sexuality that cannot be lived out, since it conflicts with the principles of consensual sexuality and sexual self-determination. The author concludes:
That is the dilemma of the male pedophile. The great differences in terms of power and influence, knowledge and insight, dependence and autonomy and, even more importantly, the disparity of scenarios and the differences in adult and child sexuality make pedophilic relationships irreparably problematic. The dilemma is tragic because the pedophile's sexual orientation is deeply rooted in the basic structure of his identity. Pedophilia is as much a part of him as is love for the same or opposite sex for the homosexual or heterosexual man or woman, the difference being that the one is accepted, while the other is categorically forbidden and virtually impossible to realize. In view of the pedophile's burden, the necessity of denying himself the experience of love and sexuality, he deserves respect, rather than contempt. (pp. 476-477)