When Dave Riegel kindly offered to host a link to my CHIN paper recently published in Sexuality & Culture, he was more alert than me to the need for an explanatory summary to go with it – a double CHIN, as it were – or an edited highlights version. As he wrote along with the link:

This paper comprises some 15,000 words and 33 pages. While composed with the academic or professional reader in mind, it can be read profitably by the layperson who puts his mind to the task, and who follows the logic carefully. For those who feel the sheer size is overwhelming, it is suggested that they begin at the “An Alternative Ideal” section.

Good advice! And at Dave’s request I am now taking a couple of steps to provide a reader-friendly introduction to the article. One of the steps, for visitors to Dave’s SafeHaven site, will comprise a short piece to go with the link there. The other step, for heretics here, appears below. It aims to encapsulate the paper’s main themes.

Before starting, I will just note that as I write, less than two months after CHIN’s publication, the paper has been downloaded 2,200 times from the official Springer site, a figure that I feel more than justifies splashing out, as I did, to pay for Open Access, making the paper freely available to all. Heretics here have donated generously in response to my appeal aimed at raising funds to cover the fee but I am still considerably out of pocket. So please consider making a donation if you have not already done so: see Donate button near the end text of the right-hand column or email me (tomocarr66@yahoo.co.uk) to ask for my international bank account number.

So, here we go.

It may help to begin with how CHIN came about. This has roots going back seven or eight years to a meeting in a London pub with psychiatrist Richard Green, whose record of pioneering support for gay and trans rights will be familiar to many here and who has recently published a memoir of his involvement in these issues. At Richard’s instigation we were joined for lunch by Agustin Malón, a Spanish specialist in sex education, whose views seemed agreeably liberal. We got on well, and in the years that followed I read a number of his academic papers with growing enthusiasm.

He was never a committed heretic, but his writing always showed understanding and goodwill. Many years ago, he wrote in the preface to his doctoral thesis:

Those who love children – and who very rarely attack them – undoubtedly lead a complicated existence; especially those who are attracted to prepubertal children, since society is not likely to allow them to live out these experiences in relative liberty and tranquillity. We have a lot to learn – as do they – about how to permit them to live out and express those desires through channels that are more acceptable, and that cause fewer problems for both minors and society.

This clearly indicates empathy but it is hardly a radical position. There is nothing to suggest he ever thought child-adult sex could ever be allowed. So I was agreeably surprised when a paper of his appeared in 2015 in a leading academic journal. The introductory Abstract noted that such relationships might indeed be morally permissible under some circumstances, based on his understanding of general ethical principles. What he was saying, in effect, was that the usual “anti” arguments, such as the idea that children cannot give valid consent, are weak: they do not stand up to close scrutiny.

Excitingly, it looked as though Malón was finally getting on board with true radicalism. But that turned out to be wildly over-optimistic. Seeing only a glass half full, I was overlooking the half empty perspective. His article was planned as the first of two. The first would throw out the weak case against child-adult sex; but the second would bring in some new, much stronger, “anti” ideas to replace them! So we would be left not with a radically libertarian analysis but a beefed up conservative one!

This could have been very deflating, but when the second article appeared, in 2017, I soon began to see it as an opportunity. Malón’s new paper was grounded in virtue ethics. And just as he had seen the weakness of the usual “anti” arguments, it seemed to me his “virtue” approach was also full of holes. All I had to do was point them out. Also, without placing any great store on the virtue concept as a basis for deciding whether any sort of behaviours should or should not be permitted, answering Malón’s case appeared to offer a marvellous platform for talking about active child-adult sex as potentially something that could be seen positively, as part of a virtuous adult’s life.

Malón’s appeal to virtue ethics is part of a revival in recent times of a very old sort of moral philosophy, going back to ancient Greece. The person of good character, in this way of thinking, is one who lives life well in the sense that their behaviour tends to promote their own well being and that of their society, and may even be considered good for human flourishing in general. Virtue ethics these days is often referred to as “neo-Aristotelian” moral philosophy, as Aristotle was one of the key figures in the field among the ancients, following Socrates and Plato, and a good deal of his writing has survived.

It makes sense to ask, as these great philosophers did, what sort of life a good life is, and what makes for good character. One problem with this, though, is that you tend to get very different answers depending on when and where the question is posed. Different cultures have widely divergent views. Life could be harsh in ancient times and that was reflected in what was seen as morally acceptable. Aristotle, for instance, defended slavery.

Perhaps that is why Malón doesn’t mention him! His approach may be neo-Aristotelian but the figure he draws on for inspiration is a leading public intellectual of our own times, Sir Roger Scruton, knighted two years ago for “services to philosophy, teaching and public education”. The official citation emphasises his promotion of “freedom and Western values” in Soviet-era Communist Europe, but in Britain he is better known for his love of fox hunting, his distaste for homosexuality and his ferocious hostility towards anything he considers to be perverted or obscene – including, of course, paedophilia. He once argued that gays have no children and consequently no interest in creating a socially stable future, so it was justified to “instil in our children feelings of revulsion” towards homosexuality.

His ideas on sexual morality find their fullest expression in his 1986 book Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation, which is undoubtedly a hugely sophisticated and erudite work, running to over 400 pages. Unfortunately, Malón appears to have been over-impressed by it and uncritically blown away. In my article, as a result, I found that really I had to regard Scruton as my primary opponent. The first part of CHIN is in effect an attempt to demolish Scruton’s thinking, and I hope readers will feel I have succeeded.

After that I found myself gloriously free on the open philosophical road, able to put my foot on the gas, driving the article hard towards my own vision of “An Alternative Ideal”. Dave Riegel is quite right to propose this section as a possible starting point: it avoids the unfortunately necessary negativity of the early sections, allowing the reader to get straight to what I hope will be considered more inspirational material. In fact, with this in mind, you could perfectly well begin and end with this single section.

Those who want to take that advice are free to do so. What I think may be useful in the remainder of this blog is to give a guide to the overall structure and main contents of CHIN.

Abstract and Introduction

The Abstract and the Introduction were written with the academic reader in mind and will perhaps feel rather perplexing and unhelpful to a wider audience. As Dave says, though, a careful, attentive reading should reap rewards.

The Illusion of Sexual Exceptionalism

This section is one to skip unless you are keen on philosophy. It tackles the idea that human sex of any sort is unlike other aspects of morality and needs a different kind of ethics. This view is at the heart of Scruton’s book, which takes a “phenomenological” approach focusing on human “intentionality”, a tricky concept which takes him 15 pages to “explain” in an appendix that leaves the head spinning. Basically, it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors that enables him to claim, unpersuasively, that where sex is concerned the birds and the bees may do it but human sexual desire is on an altogether more elevated plane, such that ethical discussion essentially has to be inward looking:  we must contemplate our feelings for other people without reference to the wider world of nature, or indeed without delving into what science can tell us about our own sexual natures and how best they might be enabled to flourish.

Virtue Ethics and Child-Adult Sexual Relations

Malón’s particular contribution with regard to child-adult sexual relations sets out by identifying three potential lines of argument against paedophilic behaviour made available by the virtue approach. They are considered under these headings: (a) perversion and obscenity; (b) the sexual bond; (c) erotic neutralization and “extended” incest. CHIN responds to each of these three approaches.

Perversion and obscenity

Malón invokes childhood “innocence”, but he does not defend the concept against the charge that it represents a state of ignorance in which children are deliberately kept by adults in order to control them. Instead he seeks to justify the tradition in which a high value has been placed on virginity, a valuation challenged by feminists as being at the heart of patriarchal control of female sexuality.

It has also been put under scrutiny from an evolutionary perspective, and here I draw on the work of psychologist Darcia Narvaez. She suggests that we have been wrongly “projecting onto the past a scenario like today’s of sexual restriction and competition, assuming sexual competitiveness for virginity, and emphasizing the timing of first sexual behaviour”. Evolutionary psychology, she says, has wrongly assumed “mate competition and male desire to control female reproduction to ensure genetic dominance”.  Among the small-band gatherer-hunters of the past, in contrast, “sexual relations are widespread with experimentation at all ages”. Also, “As with our bonobo cousins, individuals do not wait for the right fertile mate. Sexual relations are more about pleasure than control.”

With this in mind, I raise the possibility that it might be beneficial to practise intimate relationships well before the time when there could be reproductive consequences. I note that childhood and adolescent sexual experiences with adults have been reported in very positive terms in the research literature as relationships characterised by warmth, pleasure, affection and humour.

The sexual bond

Malón argued that the child’s capacity for intimacy and to be emotionally connected to another person would be damaged by a sexual relationship with an adult. He did not even claim there was any evidence for this in the case of consensual encounters. I decided to stick with a single really good counter-example, that of the psychoanalyst and theorist Heinz Kohut: he claimed his sexual relationship at age 10 with an admired tutor was life-saving for him when his parents’ marriage was deteriorating.

Erotic neutralization and “extended” incest

It is difficult to argue in favour of sex with children in a nuclear family setting simply because behind closed doors it is hard to be sure kids have real choices: no one wants to see them become sex slaves of their parents. This has nothing to do with the danger of producing deformed or otherwise genetically damaged offspring in an incestuous union, as young children are physically incapable of becoming fathers or mothers. And, despite his use of the word incest, “blood” relations have nothing to do with what Malón is saying. He talks about so-called extended incest, by which he means any adult-child contacts that show some of the same psychodynamics as family relationships, especially via the quasi-parental authority invested in teachers, sports coaches, scout leaders, etc.

His argument is not against such authority, quite the reverse. Rather, he thinks that having a sexual relationship is likely to undermine legitimate authority. Good parents, after all, teach their children good values and try to set an example through their own good behaviour. An implicit assumption is that unless they are firmly in control, they will not be able to keep their children on the right path. By revealing their own sexual needs, by “surrendering” to passion, they become vulnerable to the child’s power; and in a consensual relationship the child can withhold willingness to meet those needs.

The argument is a strong one, but I argue that it puts excessive emphasis on the value of hierarchy. I give examples of role reversals that can be valuable for children and adults alike, where the younger party is in command.

An Alternative Ideal

Please simply read this section: it is easier going and arguably more important than some of the other parts.

Some Further Misconceptions

Intellectually, this section is a minor mopping up operation after zapping all three of Malón’s main arguments but it contains some interesting evidence you are unlikely to have seen elsewhere: use the search terms “Bemba” and “Nyakyusa” for some fascinating material on pre-pubertal consummation of marriage in African tribes – as researched by intrepid female anthropologists in the mid-20th century.

A prudential argument

This short section deals with the argument that child-adult sex may be harmless or even beneficial at the time but damaging in the long term on account of the social stigma attached to such encounters. Some give this as a reason not to permit them. I cite philosopher Stephen Kershnar’s powerful counter-argument.

Conclusion

The paper concludes with a plea to look at the evidence rather than just assuming that child-adult sex is harmful; it is also pointed out that relevant research has been systematically blocked and censored in recent times.