The primary focus of this blog is children’s sexuality, which is normal, natural and healthy, a fact that is widely ignored and neglected, and even flatly denied in some quarters (1), which is not in children’s best interests. The mass hysteria over child sexual abuse demonizes innocent sex play, and draws attention and resources away from the more frequent and most deadly dangers children face. But in this post I want to discuss the attraction and arousal that adults and children may feel for each other, which is widely considered both a moral crime and a mental disorder, a contradiction that some confused individuals don’t seem to notice: punish the sick?
Some therapists and other special interests profit from the creation of categories of customers who “need” products and services that therapists want to sell (2). However, whether or not such categories actually correspond to any individuals in the real world is debatable. Contrary to popular beliefs and claims about “abnormal attraction” or “excessive arousal,” there is a strong case to be made for a more positive view of sexual health based on the conventional medical model of the effective functioning of body organs.
A paradigm case is the category of homosexuality, which was formerly considered a form of mental disorder on the basis of its “abnormality.” Although some suggest that the recent removal of homosexuality as a category of mental disorder was due to political pressure and threats of violence rather than clinical evidence, it has been convincingly shown that the criterion of “abnormality” is inappropriate as a measure of mental health (3).
A similar case is that of pedophilia, which may be viewed as a form of fixation, and considered a mental disorder when (if) accompanied by difficulties in work, social relationships, or other important areas in life, not because it is “abnormal.” As we shall see, some arousal toward children is normal in the statistical sense.
The very existence of “homosexuals” or “pedophiles” should not be taken for granted, even though some individuals choose to identify themselves as members of those categories. Note that millions of people consider themselves “Christians,” and invest a lot of effort to convince themselves and others that they really are “Christians,” but despite my 60 years and extensive travels I have yet to meet a single person I would call a genuine follower of Jesus of Nazareth.
Some sexologists now consider sexual “orientation” or sexual “identity” to be a matter of degree rather than either-or. Statistically, most people may be primarily heterosexual or primarily homosexual, but few people (if any) are 100% hetero or 100% homo. In some individuals that degree may be fluid and change over time. For example, in childhood an individual may be less hetero, but during the reproductive years become more strongly hetero, and then in old age become less hetero again.
There is some evidence that “pedophilia” may also be a matter of degree. Experiments using laboratory instruments to measure signs of sexual arousal in men and women have found that many people who are not “pedophiles” (if defined as an exclusive sexual preference for children) exhibit varying degrees of sexual arousal when shown photographs of children accompanied by erotic audio narrative (4). Some degree of sexual arousal to children may very well be species-typical, and may change over time, rather than being a neat, clear and fixed category requiring professional merchandizing of psycho products and services.
A popular belief is that any sexual arousal toward children is extremely dangerous to the latter as well as society as a whole, but there is no evidence that arousal must necessarily lead to acts of sexual abuse. Some individuals may feel strong arousal to children but never actually go out and violate a child. Similarly, some children who are sexually abused may be the victims of psychopaths (who usually prefer adult victims), not “pedophiles.”
I have already criticized the fairy tale that all children who are touched in an unauthorized place are inevitably traumatized for life (5). As a volunteer with child cancer patients and their families for many years, I am repeatedly amazed at how many kids can completely ignore their life-threatening illness and be happy as if they are at home rather than confined in a hospital. The exaggeration and exploitation of the category of child sex abuse victims is perhaps the most shameful practice of opportunists and profiteers in the rescue business.
As far as we know it’s possible that the reality is quite the contrary: a significant lack of arousal to children may be a contraindication for parenting or jobs with childcare responsibilities. In my extensive personal experience I have repeatedly seen children dangerously neglected and even physically injured by self-proclaimed asexual heroes of prudery. A chilling example: a staunch enemy of “abnormal arousal” allowed a toddler to enter a backyard pool unsupervised. “Don’t worry,” the adult said, “he’s wearing a floatation jacket.” When I rushed to be with the boy I found him in the deep water with his floatation jacket unfastened.
Instead of considering kinds and degrees of sexual arousal as mental disorders, it might be more fruitful to study the other side of sexual fixations. When an individual is obsessed with one gender or age group, he is usually dysfunctional with the other gender or age groups. From that point of view, both heterosexuality and homosexuality are disorders, as are both pedophilia and its opposite: the mature-playmate-only model of political correctness.
In other words, the interesting problem that is worthy of closer study is: why do some people (“heterosexuals”) exclude same-sex playmates? Why do other people (“homosexuals”) exclude opposite-sex playmates? Why do people with different-age preferences (“pedophiles”) exclude same-age playmates? Why do people with same-age preferences (the “politically correct”) exclude other-age playmates?
There seem to be some values of sexual attractiveness that are very common if not universal: i.e. no physical deformity and no symptoms of infectious disease. But the possession or not of genitalia of the “right” gender, or the age (maturity or immaturity) of genitalia, seem to be odd reasons for failing to experience arousal. If we consider love an element in arousal, individuals of any gender or age group may possess the qualities that make a person potentially loveable. What specific qualities of any gender or age group are equivalent to deformity or disease?
Insofar as physical appearance is an element in arousal, we must note that the quality of someone’s physical appearance is not necessarily related to any age or gender. Some individuals are widely considered average-looking or even mediocre before maturity, but become more attractive after maturity; while other individuals are widely considered very attractive (“model material”) before maturity, but become less attractive after maturity.
A girl may be pleasingly tall and thin before maturity, but become excessively tall or obese after maturity. Or a nose may be well-proportioned before maturity, but become oversized after maturity. Being flat-chested before maturity is unobjectionable, but if a girl remains flat-chested after maturity she is commonly considered unattractive. Age – in itself – is not a reliable indication of the quality of physical appearance.
What are the origins of attraction and arousal? In evolutionary terms, the tendency to be aroused by individuals during the reproductive years is often rewarded by offspring, who in turn may pass on the same tendency. Hence, the statistical infrequency (“perversion”) of arousal during the reproductive period that is not likely to result in reproduction. But even though it is popularly considered “perverted” to be aroused by individuals who are before the reproductive period, nobody suggests that being aroused by individuals who are after the reproductive period is “perverted.”
When you are too young or too old to reproduce (or otherwise infertile), there is no evolutionary advantage in being aroused by individuals who are in their reproductive period. Likewise, there is no evolutionary advantage in being aroused by individuals who are voluntarily infertile, e.g. on oral contraceptives or determined to abort any eventual conception. Evolutionary tendencies that developed in one environment may be useless or even fatal in a changed environment, and hence are not an appropriate measure of mental health.
Under some circumstances an inability to experience arousal with the “wrong” class of partner or playmate may be considered a form of dysfunction. In terms of organ function, when someone sits on a healthy male’s lap, the sensation of warm, soft buttocks in contact with the male’s penis (even indirectly through clothing) causes an erection. That is a normal and healthy physiological reflex. It should not matter what gender or age the person sitting on your lap happens to be. If you don’t get an erection, then your erectile reflex may be considered dysfunctional.
The paradigm case here is the child. Children are models of robust health, energy, highly effective organ function, amazing resilience and healing. When a healthy little girl straddles an adult’s knee, you can feel the tip of her clitoris protrude erect, pressing against your knee like a firm fingertip. That is a normal and healthy physiological reflex, and it doesn’t matter to the child if the knee is male or female, young or old. Children tend to stimulate themselves in order to develop the relative brain areas that render sexual function robust. When a little girl wants to straddle her father’s knee while eating lunch in a public restaurant, she should be welcome to do so.
As I pointed out in my previous post, many individuals who claim to be aroused by the “right” class of playmates are merely faking arousal (6). The same may be true for love: many people who claim they love “only” a certain limited class of individuals are merely faking love. They don’t really love anybody. One practical advantage of limiting the pool of “acceptable” playmates is to limit the burden of how many potential playmates you have to fake arousal by or love for. Individuals who are sexually dysfunctional may be understandably invidious and attempt to hide and defend their dysfunction by attacking sexually functional individuals as “sex maniacs.”
It’s also possible that the burden of sexual dysfunction isn’t merely a lack of sexual and emotional pleasure; there may be a causal link between sexual dysfunction and other health problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Epidemiological data indicate that women – who are disproportionally sexually dysfunctional – suffer from IBS at 2.5 to 4 times the rate of men. In the case of the male, lack of a functional sex life is a risk factor in eventual prostate cancer.
Children are highly flexible in their choice of playmates, sexual or otherwise. Kids aren’t so much “bisexual” as they are Omni-sexual. But through years of neglect or deliberate mental castration by a parent many become less flexible and even dysfunctional as they mature. The mental health industry is quietly moving away from the primitive focus on “abnormality,” but superficial popular attitudes cultivated by the mass entertainment “news” media still thrive.
An important step in preserving children’s healthy capacity to function flexibly throughout the lifespan is to promote accurate, balanced and comprehensive sex education from the earliest age.
- 1. See, for example, “The Talk: What Your Kids Need to Hear from You About Sex,” by Sharon Maxwell (Avery, 2008), in which the author makes the unsupported claim: “99% of ten-year-olds have never felt an inkling of sexual desire.”
- “From Persuasion to Coercion: Psychopharma’s Priesthood of the Mind.” http://memoryholeblog.com/2012/10/05/from-persuasion-to-coercion-psychopharmas-priesthood-of-the-mind/#comments
- “Homosexuality and the Unnaturalness Argument,” in Philosophy and Sex, Robert Baker et al. (eds), Prometheus Books.
- “Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children: Theory, Assessment and Intervention.” Michael C. Seto. American Psychological Association. 2007.
- 5. “The Courage to heal? A Critical Review.” https://sexhysteria.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/the-courage-to-heal-a-critical-review/
- 6.“Faking Orgasm to Hide Sexual Dysfunction.”