The author of Positive Memories, T. Rivas, has responded to the critique offered by Ethan Edwards following my most recent blog, A positive sighting of 118 black swans, in which I introduced the book. Announcing this response as a guest blog, as I now do, gives me the opportunity to correct an unfortunate false impression I left last time when I said “Rivas is not a trained scientist so far as I am aware.” I would have done better, clearly, to be more aware, because I have since learned that he has masters degrees in both psychology and philosophy. He writes:

Here’s my answer [to Ethan Edwards]:

–       As should be clear to any reader, erotic relationships do not just involve ‘adult’ sex in the sense of penetration. In fact, I explicitly state in the Discussion: “Consensual ‘pedophile’ erotic contact is by definition based upon the consensual erotic activities that minors typically practice with themselves or other minors. Especially in relationships with young children, normally there will be no penetration, but only kissing, caressing, petting, mutual manual stimulation, shared masturbation, or oral stimulation, with only rare exceptions. ” That’s the problem with the approach taken by readers such as Edwards who have made their minds up to such an extent that they don’t bother to read the whole book from cover to cover.

In my book, we’re not dealing with the caricature of pedophile erotic contacts as consisting of adult coital sex forced onto children, but with the eroticism characteristic of an individual minor that is voluntarily shared with an individual adult.

–       What does Edwards mean by iatrogenic contamination? These cases are all self-reported! So what kind of contamination by medical doctors (as I understand his terminology) could be involved? Is he simply accusing me of making up the accounts?

–       I’ve included Judith Levine in the category of erotic relationships, because as I explicitly state: “In exceptional ‘erotic’ relationships here presented there was hardly any physical contact, but I have not listed such cases under platonic relationships if the former child felt really in love with the adult and longed for such [physical] contact.”

–       In the case of Koekie, I explicitly write: “After the caravan, Ben visited her at the farm where they lived and they had some mild non-genital erotic contact.” So, Edwards simply hasn’t read this story carefully enough.

–       Edwards states: “I looked to see what hints I could get about an answer to my question: Would the relationship have been worse or better if the sex hadn’t been present? I thought 4 gave a clear indication that they actively wanted the sex, 2 hinted that the sex was more something they put up with, and for 13 it isn’t clear.”

My response: What’s important is that all these women are talking about the relationship as a whole and not just about the sexual part. None of the women states that they objected to the sex, felt ambiguous about it, or were harmed by it, while all of them indicate that they recall the relationship as something positive. If the erotic parts were really problematic, why on earth would they stand up for their positive memories of the relationship as a whole? Especially in these days with widespread anti-pedophile hysteria?

Edwards’ question whether the relationship would have been worse or better if the sex hadn’t been present, first of all is simply not a question that is asked in this book. This book centers around the question whether there are ANY erotic pedophile relationships that are remembered as positive and that have not caused any harm or painful ambiguity, based on the former minor’s own perception.

In none of the cases presented is there any reason to believe that the erotic aspects ‘ruined’ anything. And that’s what is important. It simply must mean there is nothing intrinsically detrimental about the erotic aspects as such, as long as they are voluntary and match the child’s personality. We’re not discussing the “ideal” type of relationship here, but simply whether an erotic relationship can be positive and harmless or whether it cannot. I wonder whether Edwards believes children should abstain from any type of erotic contact (and maybe even masturbation) because that would make their relationships (in the case of masturbation that would of course concern one’s relationship with oneself) more ideal? If so, what are his reasons for believing this? If not, why should the effect of voluntary pedophile eroticism be any different from that of all other types of eroticism? What should be so magical about pedophile eroticism, especially if we are talking about the exact same types of activities? Is it simply the adult’s age, the age difference or the older adult body? If so, how to explain any type of positive recollection of the pedophile eroticism (as such) by the former minor? We should have expected there would be none. Now that positive memories do seem to be reported, we should try to explain all of them away because we already know what reality is like before we’ve studied it. After all, what are data if we have the gift of infallibly knowing how things work a priori?

–     Edwards: “What astonished me was the leap from the data to the conclusions in this study: The existence of positive memories of relationships between adults and children can hardly be doubted anymore, and this enduringly raises the issue of sound criteria for morally acceptable relationships.’ ”

My comment: All of these cases concern positive memories of such relationships. So, eh, where exactly would the leap have to be? I utterly fail to see this. Unless Edwards demonstrates that most of these positive memories are not really positive memories, my conclusion seems very justified to me!

–      Edwards once more: “There is no way to compare positive to negative outcomes. If we want to say science has anything to do with this, we need data showing that when those criteria are met, harm does not happen or is very rare. What does the present data tell us about the occurrence of harm when strict moral criteria are met? Nothing, except that harm is not universal. Now, the chances of avoiding harm when strict moral criteria are met are surely much better than winning the lottery jackpot. They could easily be 50% or higher. How to estimate that value and its implications is an entirely different topic. (To keep this in context, there is no change to my personal view that adult-child sex is wrong and always will be.”

My response: well, this really is a matter of skipping the relevant parts of my book! I explicitly state the following things that are very relevant in this respect:

(1) Some readers may wonder why I do not use statistics to analyze how often the psychological effects of these experiences are negative, neutral or positive. The reason is easy to understand: I’ve limited myself exclusively to cases in which the respondents themselves report that any noteworthy form of (inherent, non-external) harm was entirely absent.

This collection does not intend to explore if some cases of alleged abuse are, as such, harmless, and if so, what percentage falls in this category, but if there are any cases of voluntary relationships without (inherent) negative repercussions.   In other words, it does not start from the overly undifferentiated, conventional concepts of ‘sexual abuse’ or ‘pedophile encounters’, but specifically from relationships and contacts that were consensual from the minor’s perspective.

Therefore, questions such as: “Are boys and older children less likely to be psychologically harmed by ‘abuse’ than girls or preteens?” really do not apply here.

(2) This collection seems to establish clearly that neither the minor’s sex and age nor sexual contact as such are the direct source of any potential problems in the future. Taking the existence of harmful consensual relationships seriously, this implies the possible harm must be caused by other factors.
We already mentioned the phenomenon of what is sometimes called secondary victimization, i.e. a negative social re-interpretation of the relationship in terms of abuse. Also, some seemingly consensual relationships may not be consensual in certain important respects, such as the onset, frequency, or specific types of sexual contact. This may be caused by miscommunication and insufficient knowledge of the minor’s development and personality.

Herein lies a task for parents or other caretakers in that they should check in an open, unprejudiced manner if the minor really wants the relationship and its possible erotic aspects.

Special care should in this respect be given to children with psychiatric or developmental problems, to prevent confusion.  However, in the context of direct consequences of real consensual relationships, the two main problems I can think of are:

(a) misunderstandings about the intentions of the adult partner (e.g. about the duration of the physical aspects of the relationship – the minor would want the sexual bond to last, while the adult would not), and

(b) confusion in the former minor about his or her sexual identity.

The first problem is covered by the fourth ethical criterion.   [TOC adds: This appears to refer to a list of ten “Important ethical criteria” set out on pages 231-233 of the book. Criterion 4 begins, “The adult must be honest about the nature and extent of his or her feelings and affection for the child or teenager.” ]

The second problem is mainly related to specific same-sex ‘pedophile’ relationships in which the younger partner would not possess a gay orientation as an adult and would feel insecure about his or her adult sexuality. The solution to this problem obviously consists of a greater societal acceptance of homosexual feelings, phases, and experiments and is in this respect related to gay emancipation.

Some authors seem to think that a third problem might especially arise when a relationship was exceptionally positive. The former minor might become dissatisfied when it turns out to be difficult to find a new relationship of comparable quality.  Something like this (besides possible other imperfections of his relationship or adult partner) seems to have been claimed by Ted van Lieshout, the Dutch author of Zeer kleine liefde, and Mijn meneer. (Please note that this claim concerns the consequences of well-balanced ‘pedophile’ relationships, and not just of one-sided, overly sexual relationships that might indeed lead to insatiable sexual desires; see the seventh ethical criterion.) [TOC: Again, this is one of the ten ethical criteria set out in the book.]

However, in my view, this cannot at all serve as an argument against the ‘pedophile’ relationship, but only against the normal way many adults apparently relate to each other. To blame this on the ‘pedophile’ relationship is a bit like blaming an outstanding musician for the fact that many or most musicians are (in comparison) mediocre.

At most, the emancipation of positive, consensual relationships ought to go hand in hand with the promotion of good relationships between adults, as part of a more general relational or love ‘revolution’.

Furthermore, any possible dissatisfaction is directly related to the taboo on ‘pedophile’ relationships in that the former minor may find it difficult to be open about what he or she is missing in relationships with other adults.

Nowadays, if this issue is at all discussed, it is mostly regarded as a negative consequence of the ‘pedophile’ relationship itself. Even to the extent that any positive relationship should really be considered abuse, because a ‘pedophile’ would in this view invariably take the risk of making a ‘normal’ love life for the child impossible.

Some also claim that a positive ‘pedophile’ relationship may lead to a general preference for older partners, as if such an alleged preference would be inherently problematic. Similarly, some claim that peers may seem less attractive due to a lack of erotic experience, as if such a ‘defect’ could not be overcome by the initiative of the former minor.

Others even believe that the relationally experienced minor will end up being less attractive than average to potential partners of the same generation. This is odd, because quite a lot of candidates will find an experienced lover more rather than less appealing.

Although the quality of a positive, consensual ‘pedophile’ relationship could be successfully approached as a general standard for affection or sexuality, even such a relationship is still usually regarded as an undesirable, abnormal interference by an adult in the life of a vulnerable child. I have the impression that some scholars welcome any possible complications after the relationship, as long as they can use them as an argument against consensual ‘pedophilia’.

Supporters of a popular myth of the inherent unpredictability of harm typically refuse to differentiate between the consequences of morally sound relationships and the impact of irresponsible contacts, and between secondary victimisation related to social condemnation of a relationship and real, intrinsic abuse.

Many things in society ought to change, but something positive deserves to be protected.

(3) Only from a conservative, closed-minded outlook on life and human values may it seem obvious that some phenomena which are consensual and psychologically harmless should still continue to be regarded as immoral. Starting from any other approach, personal experiences are obviously more important than prejudices and caricatures.

I will only respond to any further comments by Ethan Edwards after he’s read the whole book page by page and really shows he’s digested its contents 🙂