The seven ages of sexual attractiveness

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Neologophilia is a terrible disease that can wreak havoc on its victims, especially those who become trapped inside neologisms emanating from the warped minds of mad scientists.

It all started over a century ago with Richard Fridolin Joseph Freiherr Krafft von Festenberg auf Frohnberg, genannt von Ebing, a man apparently destined by an odd quirk of nominative determinism to become obsessed with strange names. For it was Krafft-Ebing, as he is usually known, who gave us the term “paedophilia erotica” and a whole lot of other new words for sexual “perversions”, now known as “paraphilias”. In more recent times the palm for linguistic inventiveness in the sexual field passed first to John Money and then to Ray Blanchard, who is still with us.

Money, for instance, dreamed up “formicophilia”, which translates roughly as “insect-love”. The insanity of thinking the world needs such a word might seem self-evident. On the other hand, a glance at the symptoms suggests otherwise, as does the case of a 10-year-old boy who was diagnosed as a formicophile. Beaten by his father for a sexual relationship with another boy, he focused instead on getting sexual satisfaction from having ants crawl over him. By adulthood he had graduated to getting his jollies from cockroaches crawling on his thighs and testicles, and snails on his nipples and penis.

So maybe we should not be too hard on the neologophiles, including Blanchard, who came up with the terms hebephilia and teleiophilia for sexual age-orientations. It’s not the terms themselves that count, necessarily, so much as what is done with them. Blanchard, for instance, is a highly-rated researcher whose experimental work distinguishing hebephilia from paedophilia is of considerable theoretical importance. Unfortunately, he massively blotted his copy book by trying to have hebephilia classified as a mental illness, which would make it easier for sex offenders to be kept locked up indefinitely under civil commitment laws until they are “cured”.

There is no such black mark against the name of the newest big-time word coiner on the block, Michael Seto. I know Dr Seto from the Sexnet forum. He absolutely does not agree with my radical views but he once very nobly expressed his appreciation of my “informative and thoughtful posts” after some of his professional colleagues had been grumbling about the presence on the invitation-only forum of a few non-academic activists like me.

Seto’s textbook Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children: Theory, Assessment, and Intervention, published by the American Psychological Association, was by far the most authoritative guide to the research literature when it appeared in 2008. Now he has come up with an exciting new paper, “The Puzzle of Male Chronophilias”, thereby introducing us to another term of Money’s, chronophilia, an umbrella expression covering the various forms of sexual attraction to those within a particular age range, or stage of physical development.

What is exciting about it? Well, Seto unveiled the brand new term “mesophilia”. It hasn’t set the world ablaze but it did float journalist Jesse Singal’s boat. He wrote an article, “Being Into Middle-Aged People Is Probably a Sexual Orientation”, which neatly sums up both the meaning and the (as yet) rather shaky level of support for the idea. Seto merely wrote that “The existence and relative prevalence of mesophilia is hinted at by the relative popularity of the MILF (for ‘‘Moms I’d Like to Fuck’’) genre in pornography”, adding that DILF (with the expected meaning) is out there too.

Even BoyChat, straying from their usual focus, featured a lengthy thread on the topic after poster “Filip” (who must surely be the same Filip who has posted very informatively here) introduced it. As someone who makes the effort to do his own research, Filip commented acidly “It is interesting to see that sexual age preferences are born by writing an article and not by doing research…” But that didn’t stop him from seizing on an interesting thought: How many boys and girls are “mesophilic”?

But mesophilia is just an attention grabber. The really interesting aspect of Seto’s paper is its review of age attraction across the board, including how it is conceived, and the relative prevalence of attraction to the different ages/stages of life.

Shakespeare gave us the Seven Ages of Man. Seto nominates seven ages to which anyone might be sexually attracted, and names the desire: nepiophilia (infants/toddlers), paedophilia (prepubescent children), hebephilia (pubescent children), ephebophilia (postpubescent, sexually maturing adolescents), teleiophilia (young sexually mature adults, typically 20s and 30s), mesophilia (middle-aged adults, typically 40s and50s), and gerontophilia (elderly adults, typically 60s and older). See Table 1, which I have adapted from Seto’s own Table 1.

chronophilias-table-1

He is at pains to emphasise, though, that these labels are not meant to pigeon-hole us into neatly separate categories. Rather, we each have our own individual, idiosyncratic, pattern of sexual attraction: we might be hot for women and boys but indifferent to men and girls; or crazy for the smooth, hairless genitals of little boys and girls alike but distinctly turned off by the hirsute turn that comes to both sexes with puberty. A friend jokingly tells me he is bisexual, the two “sexes” being boys and men! He is in effect saying females of any age are so sexually uninteresting to him they might as well be a different species.

Seto speaks of us each occupying “blobs” in a multi-dimensional sexual space, a territorial concept which to my mind has much in common with Money’s “lovemaps”. Seto’s dimensions include not just the most obvious ones, the gender and age to which we are attracted, but also some far more exotic axes, such as human/animal, alive/not alive and forced/consensual. But age is both interesting and puzzling, so I’ll stick with it.

Starting with nepiophilia, Seto admits that not much is known about sexual attraction to infants or toddlers, but data held by the FBI indicate that few cases of active sexual involvement with such young children come to the attention of the authorities. Also, this sexual interest is rare as judged by child pornography content. Quayle and Jones (2011), we are told, found that only 1–2% of the more than 24,000 child pornography images in their analysis of a large police database depicted babies or toddlers. As for Seto’s own research, “Only 1% of our sample of 286 child pornography offenders had images of such young children compared to a third with images of prepubescent children and 20% with images of pubescent children (Seto &Eke, 2015).” We frequently encounter lurid claims in the media of “baby rape” images being discovered when a child porn ring is busted. Based on Seto’s figures, though, the strong suspicion must be that such claims often amount to no more than black propaganda.

The prevalences of paedophilia (with nepiophilia usually included by default) and hebephilia have been studied much more but the figures are hotly contested. I will return to these major categories of minor attraction, but a word first about ephebophilia, which, like nepiophilia, has been remarkably little researched. The first question to ask about this is why not? After all, while many women are known to find older men attractive (especially wealthy, high-status guys), men are notorious for trading in their wives and long-time lady friends for much younger females: the images that work best for advertisers when trying to grab men’s attention tend to be of young models, no older than early twenties and down to mid-teens. And as Filip pointed out in a comment here recently, studies have shown that the highest risk of sexual assault for females is when they are in their mid-to-late teens, which looks a reasonable indicator of maximum sexual attraction. Seto cites research putting the highest risk at 14-15, though these figures must include consensual “statutory” encounters, thereby artificially inflating the “assault” rate against minors. Either way, it is entirely possible that ephebophilia is even more common than teleiophilia, at least among males.

Or is it? Somewhat belatedly, I realise that I have been carrying at the back of my mind the traditional idea of the ephebe, which is of course the inspiration for the modern term ephebophilia. The Oxford Dictionary tells us an ephebe was “(In ancient Greece) a young man of 18-20 years undergoing military training”. Forget the male-only bit, and the military training. Just look at the age: 18-20. As we have seen, though, Seto defines ephebephilia as attraction to those aged approximately 15-17.

His rationale for this, reasonably enough, is that what distinguishes different age-attraction categories is not so much age itself as the size, shape and other physical characteristics that are typical of any particular age group, including visible primary and secondary sexual characteristics such as the appearance of  the genitals, size of breasts or testes, and development of pubic hair. Using the Tanner stages of physical development, Seto defines ephebophilia on the basis that it corresponds to Tanner Stage 4, whereas teleiophilia is Tanner Stage 5. You can check these stages for yourself, from the link. Personally, I would say there is not a great deal of difference between stages 4 and 5. The young people in both of these stages are clearly well past puberty, with extensive genital development, and female “ephebes” are quite full breasted. So it seems artificial to limit ephebophilia in the way proposed. It would make more sense to designate Tanner Stages 4 and 5 as the target of ephebophilia.

What we need, perhaps, is a different scale. Let’s call it the TOC Scale. Babies and toddlers are clearly a very different shape to older children, being typically much chubbier, with shorter limbs and relatively larger heads. So there should be TOC Stage 1 (nepiophilia). Then we would have prepubescent children as TOC 2 (paedophilia); pubescent as TOC 3 (hebephilia); sexually mature (nubile, typically ages 15-25) as TOC 4 (ephebophilia); then straight to dad bod and mum bod as TOC 5 (mesophilia); finally, elderly as TOC 6 (gerontophilia).

Filip might want to start TOC 4 a year earlier, after spotting a very important problem with Seto’s age scheme. He wrote that “Girls in Tanner stage 4 are 14.0 to 15.2 years according to one German study. According to that study 99% of the girls have reached the Tanner stage 4 with 16.8 years. So nearly no 17-year-olds are in Tanner stage 4. Most of the ‘typical men’ would probably prefer a 16- or a 17-year-old over a 30-year-old.”

In addition to being more realistic, the TOC Scale would stop obscuring the obvious truth that men, especially, are mainly attracted to youth. Not to prepubescent children though: we minor-attracted types should not exaggerate the prevalence of Kindness out of desperation to make ourselves feel normal or to claim that our tastes are not that different to the mainstream. I say this in the full knowledge that a lot of research (reviewed extensively in comments here and in papers by Filip Schuster and Philip Tromovitch: see below) show that around a quarter of all men, or even more, have a significant level of sexual attraction towards children. But this should not be allowed to obscure the fact that many among this 25% or so feel a more powerful degree of attraction to their preferred age/stage of attraction, which tends to be young but physically mature. [TOC adds, 11 Sept: Actually, I stand corrected. Filip has pointed out in a comment below that research has shown a quarter of men taking part as control group participants in lab studies show at least as much sexual arousal to depictions of children as to adults. TOC further adds 12 Sept: However, Filip now gives further information. If he is right, my original intuition may have been reasonably accurate after all. See below.]

Neither should researchers downplay the rarity of such desires in order to pathologise and Other us. With this in mind, I asked the researchers on Sexnet last year what would have happened if Blanchard had included a set of ephebophilic stimuli in a major paper of his on sexual attraction. Ray Blanchard replied in person.

“Just for the record, he said, “the phallometric stimuli were assembled by Kurt Freund long before I met him – long, in fact, before I ever thought of studying sexual behavior. My guess is that Freund did not include mid- or late-adolescent photographic models because his immediate agenda was clinical diagnosis. If my assumption is correct, he deliberately built this discontinuity into the stimulus set, in order to make the differentiation between teleiophiles vs. pedo- or hebephiles simpler… I suppose I could, in principle, have made the effort to add later adolescent models and middle-aged or elderly models to the stimulus set, and that might have strengthened my theoretical studies of erotic gender-age preferences. To a large extent, however, I used the modus operandi that Freund had taught me: Piggyback your research onto your clinical operation.”

This strikes me as an honest answer, and one that gives a real insight into how research projects, even those by such a careful and highly regarded scientist as Blanchard, tend to be cobbled together in ways that potentially allow convenience to trump accuracy. In this case, allowing their work to be influenced by clinical considerations has meant that both Freund and his protégé Blanchard have focused on issues predefined by society as problematic rather than on truly objective research. Their work has been led by the perceived need to fix the presumptively sick minds of their clinical patients, or at least to stop paedophiles and hebephiles from “offending”. The effect has been to emphasise the pre-declared abnormality of these often involuntary patients and simultaneously to misrepresent what constitutes normal male attraction: the very common male preference for youth, including freshly nubile teenagers, has been wiped out of consciousness by the simple act of not researching it.

chronophilias-figure-1

Figure 1 shows Seto’s view of the relative frequency of his “chronophilias”. The TOC Scale would define ephebophilia in a way that would put it at the top of the curve, reflecting men’s overwhelmingly common attraction to youth. Allen Frances, best known for producing DSM-IV, wrote that “Evolution has programmed humans to lust for pubescent youngsters – our ancestors did not get to live long enough to have the luxury of delaying reproduction.”And as Filip noted here, the age of puberty is steadily getting lower, so the age to which adult males are attracted may also be falling.

On the other hand preferential paedophilia is probably rare. Some years ago Seto’s estimate was that up to 5% of the adult male population could be exclusive or preferential paedophiles. Now he tells us his best guess is that it is probably only 1%. He says his new, lower, figure is based on recent large Finnish and German surveys (Santtila et al., 2015).

I read the Santtila et al. study when it appeared last year. It is a complicated paper that I found difficult to interpret, so I asked about it on Sexnet. Mike Bailey, one of the top guys in the world on statistics in this field (he stoutly supported the controversial meta-analysis by Rind et al. 1998, showing that “CSA” causes little if any long-term harm even based on figures including coerced contacts) did not dispute Seto’s estimate but conceded that despite a large database, the Santtila et al. data “aren’t very good. … The truth is, it’s very hard to get good data on this.”

As for hebephilia, Seto reckons the figure is only “slightly higher” than the 1% for paedophilia. My guess – in the end we are all guessing – is that 1-3% seems about right for paedophilia but it looks crazy to claim hebephilia is not considerably higher bearing in mind Blanchard’s work, which shows that typically there is a smoothly curving gradient in the strength of sexual interest people feel between adjacent age categories. Thus those whose strongest sexual preference is ephebophilia have a lower, but still quite strong, attraction to those in the next age two groups, one a bit older, the other a bit younger. In this case the immediately younger category would be pubescent i.e. the hebephilia group. If there are thus a large number of people whose second preference is pubescents, it would seem odd to claim only a vanishingly small number whose strongest preference is for this physical stage of development. Phallometric testing of control samples of men also support the claim that preferential hebephilia is quite prevalent. See “Tromovitch sets a poser on prevalence” here at Heretic TOC and also “Every fifth boy and man is pedophilic or hebephilic” (Schuster, 2014). Schuster comes up with prevalence rates of 3% for paedophilia and 16% for hebephilia. These figures, carefully derived and explained, look more realistic to me than Seto’s, for which he does not set out a clear rationale.

Sorry to get bogged down in figures and technicalities and for the taxing length of this blog. I had hoped to go further as well, to a discussion of sexual orientation in its relation to identity politics. But that must wait until another time.

Skateboarding as metaphor for social shifts

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Heretic TOC welcomes Peter Herman as a guest blogger today.
Peter is an occasional contributor to the NAMBLA website,
and has been a member and supporter since shortly
after the organization’s founding. He has also been
one of the editors of the NAMBLA Bulletin.

In the late 1960s in the US, child abuse briefly captured everyone’s attention. It was not sexual abuse if that is what you were thinking. It was physical abuse of children. And, no, neither was it the seat of the pants spankings that were a generally accepted form of discipline at the time. It was the broken bones and other traumas for which children were regularly brought to emergency rooms. The covering stories were that the child had accidentally fallen down stairs, run into an obstacle or experienced some other catastrophe while playing. These fictions never added up, and trauma doctors at last became aware that most of these cases stemmed from parental battering. Soon, the headlines became fewer, and little more was heard about these horrific abuses of children. Until… , bear with me…

At about the same time, boys, mostly, were experimenting with skateboards. But the fad then disappeared for a time. As we all know, skateboards eventually came back and are now more popular than ever. The fading and re-emergence of this phenomenon had to do with an important change. The early skateboards were just that: repurposed metal skate wheels affixed to unresponsive boards. When new materials and responsive suspensions developed, skateboarding became an exhilarating sport. Where am I going with this.

Shock about child abuse also came back, and the headlines today never seem to stop. What happened? There now was a new twist — sex. As with skateboarding, a catalyst emerged to change the dynamics in society’s perceptions. Where skateboarding became popular due to technological innovations, child sexual abuse became a public fascination following two major social shifts — the growing empowerment of gays simultaneous with that of women. The Stonewall rebellion in the US and the Pill (itself a catalyst freeing women from the womb) were the pivotal ingredients. Gay advances prompted a backlash in the form of protecting children from the perceived recruitment menace. Women, who had felt the tyranny of male domination, were eager to protect their children from sometimes real but mostly imagined sexual predation (almost exclusively by men). This protectiveness extended to boys as well, to the point that even eleven-year-old boys are sometime seen following their mothers into public toilets. The male child molester bogeyman grew ever more sinister in the public imagination.

It is ironic that today’s liberated women have forgotten that for nearly 500 years many were also the victims of similarly heinous characterization. In the nearly 500 years of witch prosecutions in the West, it was overwhelmingly women who were tried, punished and, more often than not, executed. Women were seen as weak, less intelligent and more susceptible to sin and evil acts. Male lust was projected onto them portraying women as evil temptresses who would have no compunction consorting with the Devil. As with the emergence of the evil pedophile, here too a catalyst can be identified — the printing press. This invention that could spread enlightenment could also spread misinformation and fear.

Early on, witchcraft was seen as simply superstition and did not provoke the fear and loathing that came later. A printed manual, the Malleus Maleficarum published in 1487, could circulate easily and act as the catalyst that transformed a superstition into a great evil. Over five hundred years later not much has changed other than the speed with which misinformation spreads. Our modern day equivalent, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is a fanciful, thoroughly unscientific compilation of mental afflictions. Sadly, it is but one example of unscientific thought that permeates much of psychology today.

Skateboarding may seem a trivial way of illustrating major social shifts, and history is certainly much more complex than what a short essay can convey. Nevertheless the pivotal points (i.e. catalysts) identified in the above examples cannot be denied.

Show me an abnormal mountain

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Is it abnormal for a mountain to be behind schedule? Today’s mountain, promised as a guest blog in The magical age of 10?, is running a bit late, which is my fault entirely, not the author’s. I should also apologise to other guest writers whose work is in the pipeline: be assured, your excellent contributions are not forgotten. Today’s blogger is Jim Hunter, who has a Master of Social Work degree and has spent most of his life working in the mental health field. A number of his articles have appeared in professional journals, mostly related to psychotherapy, and he writes fiction under the pen-name Jay Edson. He manages a web page, You Are Your Story, for minor attracted adults and those wanting to know more about them.

In the novel, A Galaxy of No-stars (pg. 190) a mother writes to her son who lives separately from her. In an effort to help him sort out a confusing mixture of thoughts and feelings about sex, she shares with him her some of her views on the subject:

Everyone’s got a different landscape. And that’s a good way for it to be. Their ain’t no gay nor straight nor pedo nor bi, and certainly no normal or abnormal, no more than you can say about an ocean or a continent, this one here is normal, and that one is abnormal. Each person is just his or her own landscape which like any landscape is a mixture of things. We just find ourselves among all these hills and forests with all the living things within them, and sometimes we find joy in their beauty and other times we tremble at the dangers that might pop out at us at any moment. To always see the beauty while at the same time never forgetting about the possible dangers – that is the way I think we should live. Beautiful and dangerous are useful words. They define real things that happen to us and around us – things we can know and see. But “normal” and “abnormal” – what use are those terms? When I look around me I don’t see no normal or abnormal. I see beautiful and ugly and loving and hateful and helpful and dangerous – but no normal or abnormal. Those are life-killing words. Those are words narrow people use to try to put life in a little box because it’s too big and unruly for them to accept on its own terms. Normal and abnormal? Pah! Show me an abnormal mountain.

The biological sciences were furthered by the development of an overarching taxonomy. Kingdoms were subdivided into phyla and on down the line through classes, orders, families, genera and species. Every critter had its place and, while it may not have known who it was and where it fit, the biologist studying it did. Medicine took things a step further. Not only did it develop a taxonomy of diseases, but it added an additional concept: normal. Some physiological conditions were “normal” and others were “abnormal.” That seemed to produce beneficial results, so it was logical to take a similar approach with regard to human behavior. A person might be a schizoid, borderline, or narcissistic personality, or a sociopath, or a manic depressive, etc. In the sexual sphere the human sciences began with a set of categories (and prejudices) that were common in the popular culture, and refined them. In this case people were defined as homosexuals, bisexuals, pedophiles, sadists, masochists, asexuals etc. This provided us with a taxonomy of human beings, some of whom could be designated as normal, and others abnormal. So why might this effort to bring order to a confusing plethora of data be problematic?

Several reasons.

The first has to do with the taxonomy itself. If one draws a 2X2 table with adult or child across the top and male or female across the side, and then fills in the various boxes in accordance with the strength of the attraction a particular person has in each category, we don’t know whether the results from a large population of people will produce clear cut patterns that actually correspond to any of our ordering schemes. There may be, in effect, as many sexual orientations as there are people. I may find both pubescent children of both sexes, and adult women quite attractive; a friend of mine reports that only men and boys are appealing to him; and someone else is attracted only to girls between the ages of 8 and 13. Are we to create new terms for each of these constellations? Perhaps a limited number of patterns really can be identified. However, at this point we have only limited and inconclusive research on this. Blanchard et al. (Sexual Attraction to Others: A Comparison of Two Models of Alloerotic Responding in Men, Arch Sex Behav., 2012, February; 41(1): 13–29.) have made an interesting beginning, but the most their findings would be able to demonstrate is that some patterns may be more common than others. It is almost as though biologists created its taxonomy as an act of pure reason, and then went out to actually look at the plants and animals they were categorizing. It seems probable that the sort of carelessly tacked together taxonomy of sexual types that we presently have is an impediment rather than an aid to research.

For the non-scientist who is just trying to get on with his or her life, the taxonomy can have an additional problem. To become identified with one’s type – I am a hetero, a gay, an asexual, or whatever – could lock a person into just that, rather than the multifaceted person he or she really is. The expectations of one’s friends as well as one’s own self-expectations can become a cage from which it is difficult to escape.

The second concern is that when we are dealing with people who manifest various human desires and behaviors, we are dealings with continuums – not with discreet entities. We all manifest borderline characteristics to one degree or another. Most, if not all people are capable of at least some degree of sexual attraction to children. One study, for example, showed that “20% of the current subjects self-reported pedophilic interest and 26.5% exhibited penile arousal to pedophilic stimuli that equaled or exceeded arousal to adult stimuli.” (Hall, G.C.N., Hirschman, R., Oliver, L.L., Sexual Arousal and Arousability to Pedophilic Stimuli in a Community Sample of Normal Men, Behavior Therapy, 26:4, Autumn 1995, pp.681–694.) One must assume that some degree of arousal is a common occurrence with a much larger segment of the population. Some more and some less. This is not the case with species. We don’t have a continuum of animals, some of which are more foxy than others. Any particular animal either is or is not a fox. It’s a binary kind of thing. The same is true of actual diseases. A person may have a mild case or a bad case of pneumonia, but one either has it or not. Pneumonia does not gradually blend into measles.

The next two questions concern the word normal. “Normal” is a slippery term. Dictionary definitions include, not deviating from a norm, occurring naturally, characterized by average intelligence or development, free from a mental disorder, and falling within a certain range within a normal distribution curve. The connotation of “undesirable” clings to the term in common usage. Is it undesirable to be unusual or not average? If someone is unusually tall or intelligent, they are not “abnormal,” as the term is usually used. A-sexuality appears to be fairly unusual, yet on what basis can we say that it is abnormal? Certainly it is not appropriate to designate a feature of a person’s personality as pathological simply because it varies from the average. The writers of the DSM manual have struggled with this, but have arrived at no universally accepted, and certainly no objective or scientific, criteria for making such a judgment. Because of the slippery nature of the terms “normal,” and “abnormal” there are many situations where it is far from clear what is actually being said when these words are used.

As the debate in a previous DSM revision about whether homosexuality is normal made clear, the criteria by which something is judged to be abnormal are always value laden, and relative to the cultural assumptions of a particular time and place. When the term “normal” is used in a discussion that purports to be scientific, it is generally loaded with less than explicit political and moral agendas. Indeed, it would seem that the most common uses for the term in both the mental health industry and in general discourse is to suppress, demonize and/or marginalize populations that are, in the popular imagination, undesirable; or to deny some aspect of human nature that is common but not currently valued. The word “normal” is a Trojan horse by which unacknowledged judgments with regard to the disgusting, unacceptable and perhaps immoral nature of the category of people being talked about are smuggled into the dialogue. It is, to be brief, generally a term of repression used to smother the natural diversity of life.

In almost all cases there are other terms that can be used that would allow us to say what we mean without such ambiguity. If we say that something is useless, most people would know what we mean. Likewise with such terms as harmful, or ugly, or illegal or immoral (though these last two terms are sometimes confused.) I would grant that the term “immoral” is subject to a variety of definitions, but at least most people would understand that it refers to a violation of a moral principle of some sort. And while “ugly” may be rather subjective, most people would know what you were saying if you used the term. Not so with abnormal. Only the connotation remains constant through most of its shifting denotations: always, it means undesirable, and perhaps disgusting.

Still, perhaps there are “abnormal mountains.” Perhaps mountain-top-mining produces just such a thing. Certainly this kind of mining produces results that are ugly. Few would deny that this mining technique is destructive. I would go so far as to say it is immoral. But abnormal? Hmm. Perhaps so. Perhaps real abnormality is produced when human beings interfere with natural processes in ill-conceived and intrusive ways.

The missing mechanism of harm

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The “virtuous” debate over the last few days (see latest two previous posts) has been a remarkably lively one, and genuinely virtuous as regards the courteous terms in which it has been conducted. My thanks to all who have taken part. Much was asserted from the self-styled virtuous side about the potential harmfulness of adult-child sexual contacts. It is very timely, then, that I have just received a piece submitted by Dave Riegel as a guest blog which addresses this issue based on information rather than speculation. A remarkable aspect of this piece which I have not seen formally set out before is that those who are so loud on the subject of harm have no explanation as to how harm could be intrinsic to non-coerced sexual contacts: hence the “missing mechanism” of the title.

Dave started his extensive researches and writing in retirement. He has had a number of articles published in peer-reviewed journals, including the prestigious Archives of Sexual Behavior. He has pioneered the use of internet surveys to reach minor-attracted persons, especially BLs, thus providing a valuable source of information not reached by research based on clinical and offender samples. As will be seen, his guest blog is formatted like an academic article, complete with Abstract and References. Dave tells me he may develop and refine it further for journal publication.

The Missing Mechanism of Harm

Abstract

For decades there have been claims that all sexual interactions between children and older persons “. . . cause harm, [that] this harm is pervasive, . . . [is] likely to be intense, . . . [and] is an equivalent experience for boys and girls . . .” (Rind, Bauserman, and Tromovitch 1998, p. 22). [1] There is, however, no mechanism (anon, 2013) offered as to how these sexual interactions actually cause harm, and, as noted by Bailey, “a surprising . . . lack of scientific evidence” (2011, p. 3) for these claims. Clancy (2009) took the position that at least initial trauma is a “myth,” and as far back as 1981, Constantine described the effects of interference based on this assumed/assigned harmfulness as “psychonoxious” (p. 241). This paper reviews a sampling of the literature in this area, takes issue with these unsupported claims, and argues that, instead, much real damage is done by assuming the existence of intrinsic harm when the only harm that occurs apparently is extrinsic.

One of the earliest proposals for this assumed damage is to be found in Finkelhor (1979), where he presented his research data purporting to show intrinsic harm from boy/older male sexually expressed interactions. However, when this research was shown to have a “near-fatal skew” (Sandfort, 1987, p.9) and to have been based on “a loaded questionnaire . . . ” (Bauserman, 1990, p. 305), Finkelhor abandoned any pretext of scientific objectivity and fell back on subjective “moral issues” as the “final arbiter” of the question:

 Ultimately, I do continue to believe that the prohibition on adult-child sexual contact is primarily a moral issue. While empirical findings have some relevance they are not the final arbiter. . . . . Some types of social relationships violate deeply held values and principles in our culture about equality and self-determination. Sex between adults and children is one of them (Finkelhor, 1990, p. 314).

Finkelhor did not extend his emphases on the above mentioned “equality and self-determination” to juveniles; he instead presumes to impose unilateral judgment on what they may or may not do with their own sexuality. “Victimology,” as his model came to be known, and his principal theme, “child sexual abuse” (CSA), dwell on unidirectional, assumedly traumatic “sex between adults and children.” Ondersma et al. (2001) also asserted that CSA is “a moral and legal term. . . with a sociological [i.e “opinion based”] rather than an empirical [i.e., “fact based”] foundation.” Victimology, which seems to be more concerned with the social control of juveniles than with understanding them as they really are, also largely ignores the documented examples of children willingly seeking out sexual encounters with older persons (e. g. Bender & Blau, 1937; Sandfort, 1987).

As for the significance of “deeply held values and principles in our culture,” it is well to remember that for over 200 years eminent “social scientists” like Finkelhor steadfastly “held” that young male masturbation resulted in everything from acne to lunacy, and it was only in the 1950s that this “masturbation insanity” finally was dismissed as the utter nonsense it had always been (e.g. Hare, 1962; Laqueur, 2003). Finkelhor and Brown (1985, 1986, etc.) have offered an elaborate scheme of “traumagenic dynamics,” but they still failed to provide a valid mechanism as to how a willing sexually expressed boy/older male interaction becomes harmful. Clancy also admitted that she “cannot offer a clear theoretical model as to exactly how and why sexual abuse damages victims” (2009, p. 142).

From a non-sociological and strictly physical point of view, it seems reasonable and likely that most boys would, apart from and prior to cultural negative brainwashing, find gentle stimulation of their penis pleasurable, whether they do it to/for themselves, or they willingly allow/encourage another person to participate. So why and how do such experiences become “harmful?” If the boy is coerced, or if some aspect of the experience becomes emotionally or physically distressing, then the potential for harm exists. But if a willing boy initially finds the incident pleasant and desirable, only iatrogenic outside influence would seem to be able to “reconceptualize” (Clancy, 2009, p. 121) it into “harm.” Kilpatrick also posed a very relevant question: “What has been harmed—the child or the moral code?” (1987, p.179).

Sex is basically simplistic and instinctive, especially for boys. Wilson noted “Priests, doctors, psychiatrists, and others have invested sex with magical powers . . . [but boys] . . . saw sex as being no more than just a game. . . ” (1981, pp. 129-130) whose principal purposes and motivations would seem to be the simple physical pleasures of arousal and orgasm. As such, any requirement for formalized “consent” is irrelevant; simple “willingness” is more than adequate for such initially uncluttered and essentially inconsequential experiences. However, denying this instinctual drive has the very real potential for emotional frustration and social maladjustment (Prescott, 1975).

While the sexophobia that is the basis and fundamental principle of victimology must be learned from an outside source before consensual sex can be twisted into something negative, any unwanted and unwilling sexual encounter has the potential for harm, not from the sex, but from the intrinsic infringement of the victim’s self-determination. This is true with males and females, with adults as well as children, and no attempt is made here to excuse or justify such violations.

It is unpleasant to be reminded, but the social sciences have a long history of getting things horribly wrong, from the hyper-behaviorism of Watson and Skinner through “repressed/recovered memories” (Loftus & Ketcham, 1994), “disassociative identity disorder” (Piper & Merskey, 2004), and “Satanic ritual abuse” (Nathan & Snedecker, 1995), to mention just a sampling. The decades-long gradual exorcism of homosexuality as a harm-based mental illness from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association is well known, as is the previously mentioned depathologization of masturbation insanity. The current victimological assumption of harm in regards to sexually expressed boy/older male relationships has neither objective foundations nor offers any rational mechanism of cause. It is not logically defensible, and needs to be superseded by fact based and empirically supported legitimate science.

REFERENCES

anon. (2013) Mechanism of Harm. Internet posting by “shy guy” 22 January 2013: http://www.boychat.org/messages/1330899.htm

Bauserman, R. (1990). Objectivity and ideology: Criticism of Theo Sandfort’s research on man-boy sexual relations. In T. Sandfort, E. Brongersma, & A. van Naerssen (Eds.) Male Intergenerational Intimacy. Binghamton NY: Harrington Park. 297-312).

Bailey, J. M. (2011). Book Review: Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons. Archives of Sexual Behavior, DOI 10.1007/s10508-011-9842-1

Bender, L. & Blau, A. (1937). The reaction of children to sexual relations with adults. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 7, 500-518.

Clancy, S. (2009). The Trauma Myth. New York: Basic Books.

Constantine, L. (1981). The Effects of Early Sexual Experiences. In L. Constantine & F. Martinson (Eds.) Children and Sex: New Findings, New Perspectives. Boston: Little-Brown.

Finkelhor, D. (1979). Sexually victimized children. New York: Free Press.

Finkelhor, D. (1990). Response to Bauserman. In T. Sandfort, E. Brongersma, & A. van Naerssen (Eds.) Male Intergenerational Intimacy. Binghamton NY: Harrington Park 313-315.

Finkelhor, D. & Browne, A. (1985). The traumatic impact of child sexual abuse: A conceptualization. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 55(4), 530-541.

Finkelhor, D. & Browne, A. (1986). Initial and long-term effects: A conceptual framework. In D. Finkelhor; S. Araji; L. Baron; A. Browne; S. Peters; G. Wyatt(Eds.) A Sourcebook on Child Sexual Abuse. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. pp. 180-196.

Hare, E. (1962). Masturbatory insanity: the history of an idea. Journal of Mental Science, 108, 1-25

Janus, S., & Bess, B. (1981). Latency: fact or fiction? In L. Constantine & F. Martinson (Eds.) Children and sex. New findings, new perspectives.(pp. 75-82). Boston: Little Brown.

Kilpatrick, A. (1987) Childhood sexual experiences: Problems and issues in studying long-range effects, Journal of Sex Research, 23:2, 173-196

Laqueur, T. (2003). Solitary sex. A cultural history of masturbation. New York: Zone.

Loftus, E.F. & Ketcham, K. (1994) The Myth of Repressed Memory. NY: St. Martin’s.

Nathan, D. & Snedecker, M. (1995). Satan’s Silence. New York: Basic Books.

Ondersma, S., Chafin, M., Berliner, L., Cordon, I., Goodman, G., & Barnett, D. (2001) Sex with children is abuse. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 707-714.

Piper A., & Merskey H. (2004). The persistence of folly: a critical examination of dissociative identity disorder. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 49 (9): 592–600.

Prescott, J. (1975). Body pleasure and the origin of violence. The Futurist, IX, (2) 64-74.

Rind, B., Tromovitch, P., Bauserman, R. (1998) A meta-analytic examination of assumed properties of child sexual abuse using college samples. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 22-53

Sandfort, T. (1987). Boys on their contacts with men. Elmhurst, NY: Global Academic.

Wilson, P. (1981). The man they called a monster. North Melbourne, Australia: Cassell.


[1] Note: Some of the evidence and arguments offered in this essay are to some degree applicable to other younger/older gender combinations (girl/older male, etc.), but there is evidence that boys are more forward in sexual explorations (Janus & Bess, 1981), likely to seek out older males for information (Sandfort, 1987), and less prone to experience the assumed/assigned harm cited by Rind et al. (1998).

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