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.

Which is to be master – that’s all

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“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

Grumpy Mr Dumpty was right, unfortunately. Take the word “paedophilia”. All the queen’s horses and all the queen’s men couldn’t put it back together again in its earlier queen’s English usage as a relatively objective medical term for sexual attraction to children. Admittedly, the man who first used the term paedophilia erotica*, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, was blatantly moralistic in denouncing the “unmanly, knavish and often silly” expression of such feelings; but a century or so would pass before we learned which was to be the master meaning, and who would make it so, when tabloid interpretation brutally bound the word hand and foot to sadism and murder, ruthlessly gagging gentler understandings, choking them off.

So, when I heard Andrew Marr presenting BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week discussion on Lewis Carroll and the Story of Alice on Monday, I was not surprised to hear him say that Alice in Wonderland and its later companion volume Through the Looking-Glass (from whence comes the Humpty Dumpty passage above) are “meant to be playful and to make you laugh, which is one of the answers to the whole paedophilia worry: something so playful, so funny, is unlikely to be that sinister”.

Paedophilia in this construction is sinister. The logic then proceeds thus: playfulness is not sinister; Carroll is playful; therefore Carroll is not sinister – and cannot be a paedophile. I have cheated a bit: Marr said the sinister side was unlikely rather than impossible, but it is clear he wants to exonerate Carroll from the more defamatory connotations of the P word.

Quite right too.

Not that Marr or his guests were in denial over Carroll’s sexual attraction to little girls, in what turned out to be a rather good programme to mark the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland’s publication in 1865. Gillian Beer, who has edited Carroll’s nonsense poems and will be bringing out a volume on the Alice books later this year, spoke with exquisitely tactful precision. Speaking with Alice Liddell in mind, the real little girl who inspired the wonderland books, she said:

“I think that the figure of Alice in Alice in Wonderland is a part answer to any suggestion of damage to the children… she is so appreciated as a lively, imaginative curious, independent young girl and she is treated with such respect, as it were, by the book; yes, she is teased, yes, she is worsted, but she is absolutely…

Marr interrupts: “But she isn’t objectified?”

…no, never. It’s always told, indeed, from within her, so that it’s her sensibility we’re sharing, and it’s her sense of terror, sometimes that is informing everything we read there.”

Beer is in effect confirming points raised elsewhere in the programme: Carroll was in love with Alice and probably got into trouble with her mother for being overly affectionate towards the child; but this essentially paedophilic behaviour was not a source of damage.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, whose book The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland has just been published, was also a Marr guest. His book, one reviewer notes, draws attention to Carroll’s having written “A girl of about 12 is my ideal beauty of form.” Also, asked if children ever bored him, he replied: “They are three-fourths of my life.”

Carroll, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was an Oxford mathematics don. The picture that emerges from Douglas-Fairhurst’s book, according to a review in the Observer, is that he photographed Alice Liddell “obsessively” and was “evidently in love” with her. Alice was born in 1852. Already, from 1858 to 1862, “Dodgson’s peculiar intimacy with Miss Liddell had become the subject of intense Oxford gossip, with suggestions that the strange young Christ Church don had even proposed marriage and been rebuffed by the girl’s parents”.

The marriage proposal sounds like the Victorians’ idea of a joke; but the mere fact that there was intense gossip about the relationship refutes the modern deniers’ claim that Dodgson’s “sentimental” or “paternal” attachment to Alice was considered unremarkable in its day. Most Victorian gentlemen did not hang out with prepubescent girls; nor did they – as Dodgson did – remain lifelong bachelors. There were other girls, too, who at various times in his life occupied a special place in Mr Dodgson’s affections, to whom he wrote copious letters and whom he photographed extensively, sometimes in nude poses – photos which, as Marr’s programme noted, could not be used in Douglas-Fairhurst’s book for fear they might now fall foul of the law.

The letters, the photos and much else have long been the subject of biographic attention, perhaps most assiduously in the case of Morton N. Cohen’s 1995 book Lewis Carroll: A Biography. In an essay for the Times Literary Supplement in 2004 (“When love was young”, TLS, 10 September 2004) Cohen took issue with a “revisionist” voice, that of Karoline Leach, one of a growing band of writers who seek to rescue the author of Alice from the taint of paedophilia by contriving desperately improbable alternative narratives. Dodgson was no dodgy don, she insists: he was in love not with Alice but with her governess, a Miss Mary Prickett.

I will not waste time on this absurdity, except to say that Cohen’s demolition is strong.

His critique of Edward Wakeling, a far more substantial Dodgson scholar, is also devastating in my view. Wakeling, a Dodgson devotee for decades and a past Chairman of the Lewis Carroll Society, certainly knows his stuff and indeed has presented a lot of it on a website, including a database of the great man’s surviving letters and photos. I am assured by a Lewis Carroll Society insider who knows Wakeling personally that he is privately willing to admit Dodgson’s interest in girls had its erotic side. But it seems he feels duty-bound to protect the man’s reputation in public. As with Marr and his guests, that is a good thing if one wishes to insist upon him having been kind and considerate, rather than callously abusive; but, in Cohen’s opinion and mine, he goes much too far in trying to explain inconvenient facts away when these have a direct bearing on Dodgson’s sexual desires and even his behaviour.

In the same TLS article in which he took Leach apart, Cohen also tackled Wakeling. As the editor at that time of the latest and fullest version of Dodgson’s diaries, Wakeling had suggested that Dodgson’s interest in girls had been merely paternal. If so, why was there a falling out between the Liddell family and Dodgson in June 1863? Pages from his diary for this period, which might have explained the matter, were cut out and never recovered. Wakeling plays the rift down as unimportant, saying it lasted only “a few weeks”; but Cohen shows this “few weeks” lasted from 27 June to 19 December, almost half a year (25 weeks) when Dodgson was unable to see his beloved Alice, or her sisters.

Cohen also points out that in addition to this blatant minimisation, Wakeling ignored an important letter that Lorina, Alice’s older sister, sent to Alice in 1930 when they were both elderly. Lorina was reporting a meeting with an early Dodgson biographer, Florence Becker Lennon. Lorina wrote:

“I said his manner became too affectionate to you as you grew older and that mother spoke to him about it, and that offended him so he ceased coming to visit us again – as one had to find some reason for all intercourse ceasing…Mr D. used to take you on his knee…I did not say that.”

By this time Alice would have been 11. Girls typically did not reach menarche in those days until around 14 to 17 – much later than now. So in all probability she was still physically very much a child. On the other hand, the age of consent in those days was 12. Small wonder Mrs Liddell was vigilant, given that Alice, child or not, would soon be “legal”! Having said this, though, it may be that the rift was caused by Mrs Liddell finding out that Dodgson was becoming too close to Lorina as well, an intimacy we shall see hinted at below.

However that may be, Cohen’s revelations have done little to stem the public demand for an innocent Dodgson, along with our ever more strident insistence upon childhood innocence. And Wakeling has proved ever the man to supply that demand in a plausible, but to my mind deliberately misleading, manner. For the 150th anniversary, he has come up with a book called Lewis Carroll: The Man and His Circle, which looks at the writer through his social circle, which included royalty, musicians, publishers and artists. Yes, as he points out, Dodgson was a sophisticated character at ease in adult company; he was not an oddball loner, as some have suggested, who could relate only to children.

But so what? Wakeling implies that such sophistication was incompatible with paedophilia, which is simply false. It wouldn’t play too well as an excuse in a modern criminal court, would it?

“It is true, Your Honour, that images of children depicted in, ahem, somewhat carnal disport, were found on my client’s computer; but he also did a lot of excellent still life photography, fruit arranged in bowls, that sort of thing. Clearly, he is a cultured individual whose motives are artistic, not prurient…”

As for Wakeling’s elaborate charts of Dodgson’s letters and photographs, they appear designed to downplay the child theme by generating a bigger context: there were a vast number of letters to adults (albeit many to parents of his child friends) as well as to children; around 60% of his known photos of individuals were of children, but that still leaves a chunky 40% that were of adult subjects, and he did landscapes, etc., as well. What this ignores is the missing diary pages (whole volumes of his diaries are missing too), plus Dodgson’s letters to Alice Liddell, burnt by her mother, and a great many letters and photos destroyed or lost (only about 1,000 photos remain out of 3,000 he is known to have taken), probably by Dodgson’s heirs and possibly even by an early biographer: an obvious reason for disposing of such material would have been its embarrassing or even incriminating nature.

Wakeling’s technique seems to be to throw up a smoke screen of genuinely well researched scholarly detail in the hope that readers will be too impressed to notice its irrelevance. If Dodgson were on trial today over his “indecent” photos, Wakeling’s style of defence would cut no ice with the judge, as noted above; the jury wouldn’t buy it either.

But his actual jury is far more generous: his jurors are all the Alice fans out there, millions of them around the globe, many of them desperate to believe in Dodgson’s innocence and keen to read books in which it is asserted. I found myself among a hundred or more last week when Wakeling spoke to the Oxford Literary Festival about his new book, along with Vanessa Tait, grand daughter of Alice Liddell, no less, who was talking about her forthcoming Alice-themed novel The Looking-Glass House.

The event was held in the 15th century Divinity School beneath Oxford University’s ancient Bodleian Library, a magnificently ornate and august setting right in the very heart of Dodgson City, as it were. Not wanting to be run out of town by angry Carolingians (the noun being from Charles Dodgson, not from Lewis Carroll), I thought it best not to be too blunt when I asked a question from the floor. With an air of perhaps not entirely convincing innocence, I mildly pointed out that Dodgson had once written ”I’m fond of children (except boys)”. Would the speakers care to comment?

Up to that point I sensed a certain anxiety on the platform. Presenter Alastair Niven, a literary critic, invited questions afterwards from anyone who might “dare” to ask them. When I asked mine, Wakeling’s eyes positively sparkled with what may have been delight but I suspect it was relief, along the lines, “Oh, good, I can handle this one without things getting nasty”.

His answer was blandly reassuring: just Dodgson’s dry humour; friendly towards boys too; took about 100 photos of them; boys were usually at school when he went calling; girls in those days stayed at home, so he saw more of them. Ergo, Dodgson not dodgy. Simple!

But Vanessa Tait, who distinctly resembles her famous forebear Alice Liddell, was by no means as simplistic in her own response, and turned out to be distinctly at odds with Wakeling when someone asked what the pair of them thought of the BBC’s 150th anniversary documentary, aired in January and titled The Secret World of Lewis Carroll. Whereas Wakeling professed himself outraged by the programme, Tait seemed quite happy with it.

Presented by current affairs broadcaster Martha Kearney, the documentary was to a great extent a fan piece, actually. As a child, Kearney tells us, she took the role of Alice in a stage production of Alice Through the Looking-Glass in the village where she grew up. She loved the Alice books at that time and has been a Carroll devotee ever since.

Unlike Wakeling, though, she seemed keen to explore the truth about Dodgson’s desires. For her, this turned out to mean confronting a photo she said no respectable Victorian mother would have approved of. A nude photo of a little girl might have been acceptable in those days, but not one of a sexually maturing 14-year-old. Just such a photo, labelled “Lorina Liddell” on the back and attributed to “L. Carroll”, was discovered by the programme makers in a museum in far-off Marseilles. The overall conclusion, drawing on experts in photography and face identification, was that it was probably authentic.

Wakeling, who had long known about this photo, was having none of it. The experts’ opinions proved nothing, he insisted. His ire, though, was chiefly directed at the programme makers for failing to ask his own opinion, as though that would have settled the matter! However, when he had the opportunity in Oxford to do just that, he said nothing that I found even remotely persuasive. He did not even mention the inscription, much less refute its authenticity! His silence on this crucial evidence suggested to me he had nothing meaningful to say about the meaning of this photograph. All we learned was that he gets rather cross when anyone disputes his self-proclaimed magisterial authority!

A bit like Humpty Dumpty in fact: the photo means just what he chooses it to mean – neither more nor less. It’s all about which – or who – is to be the master.

*In the first version of this blog I wrongly said he introduced the term in 1886. That was when the first edition of his book Psychopathia Sexualis appeared. However, the term paedophilia erotica did not appear until the 12th edition, in 1912. I should have remembered my blog of 15 November last year in which this was mentioned. The term was included in the “Psychopathological Cases” section of Chapter Five, on sexual crimes. Oops, still not right! As Filip has kindly pointed out, in the comments below, there appears to have been at least a very brief mention of the term in the 10th edition, published in 1898.

PROUD TO BE A PAEDOPHILE

The GlobalPost, an online news outfit based in Boston, Mass., but not owned by the Boston Globe newspaper group, ran two big articles last month arising from the “sex abuse crisis” in Britain. They were filed by Corinne Purtill, an American reporter who is GlobalPost’s correspondent based in London. The more general article of the two adopts an uncritical approach, in which the events in Britain are viewed as a real crisis over actual “abuse”, rather than a moral panic over alleged abuse.

The other article is based on a phone interview with me. My initial response was that it is as bad as the general piece, mainly because it quotes me out of context: what I said was backed up by references to research, such as the work of Rind, Clancy and others; but these supporting authorities are deleted, so I probably come across as an obsessive crank. However, a number of other people have said they thought this article was quite good.

You can see for yourself, and make up your own mind:

The child sex abuse scandals engulfing Britain“:

And:

This man is a pedophile, and proud of it

Paedophilia more popular than icecream in 2007

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Pedophilia has been more popular than icecream since about 1979. Paedophilia, however, has always been less popular than icecream except in just one year, 2007, when it enjoyed a brief moment of glory, pulling ahead of icecream only to fall back again the following year.

Heretic TOC was inspired to make these discoveries following comments on Boy Chat about Ice-Cream Hands, the short film introduced here in the previous blog, ‘Harmless’ paedos venture out of the shadows. In the BC thread, “cabinet maker” found the film “creepy as shit”, adding “the ice cream man is a pedophile? how much more stereotypical can we get?” On the other hand “Kit” said “Love the ice cream-man cliche.”

While opinions of the film itself ranged from rave to rubbish, nobody disputed that it was indeed a cliché to make the paedophilic Mr Sprinkles an ice-cream seller.

I wasn’t so sure. Yes, any ice-cream van is a kid magnet, so it would make sense for the connection to be a cliché, but I couldn’t immediately think of another film, TV programme, book, painting or any other medium in which this connection was expressed. Then I recalled Chester the Molester, the comic strip character from Hustler magazine. The strip ran for years, with Chester depicted comically (feminists of the po-faced variety will disagree) setting up all manner of ruses to get into kids’ pants, so surely he must have been depicted selling ice-cream? I was never a Hustler reader myself so I can only guess, but googling soon revealed that others have made their own connection, and in the following case linked it to evidence (albeit unsourced and with no details) from news stories involving errant ice-cream vendors:

Chester Molester The Ice Cream Truck Driver
Tuesday, October 11, 2005

It has been brought to my attention that this summer has been a time for creepy, mullet wearing, goatee sporting, shit eating grin men to come out of the woodwork and mess with our young ones.
On the news today I heard of three…Count em three cases where Ice cream truck drivers have bribed children into taking there clothes off for free icecream. Not only that These molesting mother fuckers are taking photos of it too!
Apparently the story goes as followed:
Chester the Molester finds unsuspecting children on the streets while riding around in the molester mobile…Otherwise known as the ice cream truck. Once the kids stop the man, if they’re right for the picking Chester offers them a ride in his pimp ass ice cream truck. Now, if I were a child and was offered a ride in an ice cream truck I probably would have gone too…So don’t blame the kids, they’re just kids.
Once inside the truck, Chester starts his molestation trap. Next thing you know the kids walk out of the truck slightly confused but with a bombsicle tightly gripped in there hands.
Chester gets off easy with his photographs with his naked children…And then he’s off to the next neighborhood.

It turns out that comedian Tim Minchin, has very effectively milked the ice-cream theme too. His Häagen-Dazs-level performance is probably the cream of the cream but, not to be licked (sorry!), the amateur jokesters are hanging in there.

Putting up some admirable resistance to this damning image is Lenore Skenazy at her admirable Free-Range Kids website (“How to raise safe, self-reliant children”). Skenazy, as some heretics here will surely know, hit the headlines a while back after allowing her nine-year-old son to ride home alone on the New York City Subway, and has written a book on less paranoid parenting. In an article titled “Does Ice Cream Man = Pervert?” she notes the fusion of the two in popular culture, “like the twin sticks of a Popsicle”. She objects vigorously in this piece to a proposal for state and federal fingerprint-based criminal history checks on people applying for ice cream van vending licences.

Some of her readers backed her up, pointing out that ice-cream vending is a very public business, and anyone selling from a van is firmly separated from his customers. The traditional department store Santa Claus has a much greater chance of a grope in his grotto. As for teachers, scout leaders and sports coaches, they all enjoy a long-term lust licence, while the opportunities for illicit intimacy open to close relatives, including siblings and parents, are absolutely endless and not infrequently taken.

I was an ice-cream man myself, as it happens, so I can speak from some experience! It was just a brief student job before I went into teaching. It was nice to make the kiddies happy (only with the ice-cream!) but also a much tougher job than might be thought: you have to work hard at building up a profitable round and it isn’t always easy: there are turf wars; a good pitch will be fiercely contested. Yes, you can bribe kids with free ice-cream and invite them into your vehicle, but only at tremendous risk to yourself. Not that bribery would be necessary. Kids ask if they can come aboard and plead to be taken for a ride.

You wouldn’t think that, though, from the supposed victims’ tales of woe in a tabloid yarn earlier this year headlined “Jimmy Savile’s mayor pal ‘preyed on young lads.’ ” This was a Daily Star story about an alleged “paedophile ice-cream tycoon known as the King of the Cornets” who was mayor of the English seaside town of Scarborough. He was said to have employed boys part-time and molested them going home in his van at night after work – while actually driving, it seems. Clearly, a very dangerous man! Nothing was ever proved against him and conveniently for the paper he died in 1999 so is in no position to sue for libel. In fact, it’s a great tab story for three reasons: there’s a villain who is a major local employer and politician, hence too big to prosecute; the guy is a pal of super villain Savile and appeared on his TV show; and last but not least, he panders to the ice-cream man stereotype. Tasty!

Whatever the realities, it seems the Boy Chat thread was quite accurate: people do think ice-cream guys are paedophiles, or might well be. So it is indeed a cliché. At least, it has become so in recent times, as expressed in jokes and comedy sketches if not necessarily in cinema (though I may be wrong, in which case please tell me). There was a 1995 horror film called Ice Cream Man which sounds great fun judging by the IMDB synopsis:

Poor Gregory. After being released from the Wishing Well Sanatorium, all he wants to do is make the children happy. So Gregory reopens the old ice cream factory, and all the unappreciative brats are reprocessed into the flavor of the day.

More Winy Wonka than paedophilia, methinks.

As for novels, there is the very recent The Ice Cream Man by Katri Lipson (the original Finnish title is a wonderfully exotic single word: Jäätelökauppias), which won the 2013 European Union Prize for Literature as a “playful and charming story”. I’m guessing there’s not much paedophilia then.

So what about my claim that paedophilia was more popular than icecream in 2007? What’s that all about?

Books, actually. For the first part of my cliché quest, I thought I’d try the quantification route via references to ice-cream in books. If I could search millions of volumes and see a tight correlation between increasing appearances of the word paedophilia (and pedophilia for American books) and increasing appearances of the word ice-cream, then Heretic TOC could reasonably hypothesise the rise of an ice-cream man cliché as the cause. OK, so a third variable could be the cause of both phenomena, which might require some investigation, but I thought I might be onto something all the same. I probably have junior genius James to thank for this thought. New readers: search recent comments for Bayes (of Bayes’ theorem fame) and consequentialism, which are just two of the knotty notions James is into.

It was a fun exercise, but in terms of useful information I think I came a bit unstuck. So here’s a warning: Never take ideas from a Strange Boy (or Girl or Non-Binary Person) unless you are prepared to be amused 🙂 by your own inadequacy :-(.

And also perhaps by the data. So let’s come to that (or those, for any pedantic grammarians here: Heretic TOC wants to keep everyone happy, even if they are virtuous). So, where was I? Ah, yes, the data.

Google n-grams, that’s the tool. The demonstration graph when you go to the link shows the percentage of books published from 1800-2000 in which particular words occurred, the demo ones being Frankenstein, Albert Einstein and Sherlock Holmes.

What I did was create my own n-gram for paedophilia, pedophilia and icecream. This was a bit limiting because the system does not accept ice-cream with a hyphen although it will take ice – cream when a hyphen or dash is separated from the words by spaces. Weird! But n-grams are also wonderful, as I hope will be agreed.

I have put one of my creations on the blog (see below).

Paedophilia and its American variant derive, as is well known, from Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s first use of the term “paedophilia erotica” in his book Psychopathia Sexualis. The book’s first edition appeared in 1886 but it was not until the 12th and final one in 1903 that his new term is to be found. Richard Fridolin Joseph Freiherr Krafft von Festenberg auf Frohnberg, genannt von Ebing, to give his glorious full appellation, included it in the “Psychopathological Cases” section of Chapter Five, on sexual crimes.

It will be seen that the n-gram dutifully records this first appearance of “paedophilia” in 1903, with the American variant hot on its heels. Both terms remained in medical obscurity, though, until the 1970s, since when the graph has shot upwards for both spellings. Unsurprisingly, pedophilia has raced ahead, reflecting the greater number of American publications in general and medical, legal and scientific ones in particular. Fiction probably lags well behind, thanks to imaginative alternatives such as “monster, “scumbag”, and “lowlife”, as deployed by the likes of popular novelist Andrew Vachss.

Pedophilia, but not paedophilia, leapt ahead of icecream just before 1980.

If you go to this n-gram for the period 2000-2008, the latter date being as recent as the tool goes at the moment, you will see my headline point about paedophilia just above a very steady-looking (with zero “smoothing”) icecream.

What, then, may we conclude about icecream as a literary cliché in connection with paedophilia? Bugger all, perhaps. But if the paedophilic ice-cream man ever became a cliché, wouldn’t we expect to see icecream rising in the graph along with the P words? There are similar n-gram results also for “molester” with “icecream”.

Perhaps this is what has happened: in popular culture the ice-cream man as paedophile is such a strongly entrenched figure that seriously creative people, such as film-script writers and novelists, try to avoid what they fear may be seen as a cliché. As a result, it never actually becomes one.

Anyway, I hope everyone is relaxing and enjoying this little ice-cream break after some rather intensive discussions here. 🙂

 

Icecream n-gram 1800-2000

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