A gardener, faced with a derelict wasteland, has to clear out the abandoned cars, leaky drums of toxic chemicals, brambles and fly-tipped rubbish before he can even start thinking about doing any proper gardening.
I wrote ‘18 common misconceptions…‘ out of an awareness of the extent to which the average citizen’s mind, when it comes to the issues of paedophilia and child sexuality, is encumbered with the most toxic and tenacious junk.
In this essay I will try to be like a gardener who, having cleared the wasteland, thinks about planting trees, seeding lawns, establishing herbaceous borders and a vegetable patch. This essay tries to answer the question: ‘assuming paedophilia is not the evil that society imagines it to be, what benefits, if any, does it bring to individuals, the community and society?’
But before turning to paedophilia let’s look at a more fundamental issue.
Children’s Sexual Rights
If the concept of sexual rights for prepubescent children exists at all in the mindset of WEIRD society it is as a negative: the right not to be sexually exploited or abused.
These negative rights are undoubtedly worth upholding and defending. However this emphasis on protecting children from the worst manifestations of sex is a symptom of how Society sees child sexuality as a problem, a problem which society solves through denying that child sexuality exists and suppressing all manifestations of it (think how when children act sexually Society attributes their motivation to ‘experimentation’ and ‘curiosity’, not to those drivers of sexual behaviour in adolescents, adults and non-human animals: ‘desire’ and ‘pleasure’).
The recognition that children have positive sexual rights as well as negative ones precedes and underlies all arguments in support for the legitimacy of child-adult intimacy.
I suggest children should have the following sexual rights:
– to have their sexuality considered as having value in itself and not just as some preparation for sexual maturity and adulthood,
– that no body part should be mutilated, excised or altered in order to discourage, change or control their sexuality,
– a right to a sexual education which acknowledges the primacy of desire and pleasure (‘primacy’ because Pleasure is the first thing a child knows and experiences about sex, with Desire following on soon after),
– the right to a sexual education which furnishes children with a vocabulary and concepts which will enable them to think about, make sense of and communicate sexual feelings and thoughts (why can a little girl come out of sex education course knowing the basics of genetics but not knowing what the word ‘clitoris’ refers to?),
– a right to a lived sexual education as well as an academic one. Children should learn about sexuality in the same way as they learn about all other things – through observation, discussion, play and performance, with their peers and trusted adults, at home and in the community,
– the right to enjoy sexual pleasure and to agency over their bodies,
– the right to be listened to and to receive honest answers,
– a right to privacy,
– that a child’s ‘no’ be respected, and that manipulation, coercion or persistence should not be used to by-pass or override that withholding of consent,
– The right to say Yes as well as to say No (I will argue further on that a child can not have one without the other – which is why campaigns telling children to ‘just say No’ are doomed to be ineffective),
– the right to choose with whom they express their sexuality.
Paedophilia: The Best Love?
Fatherhood civilises young men: the love that a baby demands changes young men for the better, calms their aggression and makes them more caring.
The nature of the object of love, if that love be not selfish, molds its lover’s nature and actions to it.
It would be an interesting exercise for people of different sexualities to list those qualities which most constitute their ideal of ‘Love’. A vanilla heterosexual’s list might include ‘sexual chemistry’, ‘reliability’, ‘shared goals’ and ‘long-term commitment’ – though, of course, I can only speculate…
However, I can speak for myself as a paedophile. An adult’s love for a child seems to especially demand the following qualities:
– Restraint: because our love should never depend on the child’s willingness to engage in intimacy with us. Nor should we forget that even if s/he does wish for intimacy there are reasons why we should still consider refraining from it;
– Generosity: because an adult is capable of giving more time, attention, resources and means to a child than a child can give the adult;
– Selflessness: because the loved person brings no social status, power or wealth with it;
– Gentleness: because children are smaller and weaker than adults;
– Sensitivity: because children and less emotionally hardened than adults, experiencing emotions on a more extreme scale. All of which means that the adult should be more alert to the child’s needs and responses;
– Attentiveness: because children are less able to assert themselves and are so often discounted or overlooked;
– Responsiveness: because children are less predictable than adults;
– Respectfulness: because respect, which they are unaccustomed to receiving from adults, is the greatest gift an adult can give to a child as it allows them to flourish and be more present in the world;
– Serenity: because children need adults whose presence is reassuring.
Undoubtedly some will object that such a list is meaningless, that a list of aspirations hardly qualifies as ‘evidence’ for anything much.
Yet we live in a world where economic surveys and political polls question us about our aspirations, where people aspire to wealth, fame or a better world, and where advertisers and marketeers spend billions on manipulating those aspirations.
Aspirations drive our actions and define our moral goals. It means something that, as I suspect, the great majority of paedophiles aspire to a relationship that embodies such qualities.
On a more mundane level paedophilia is a love less tainted by the irksome mundanity and compromises of the adult world – mortgages, career prospects, cars, income worries &c.
Paedophilia is also a love not based on the reproductive imperative. Indeed in some discussions with ‘norms’ it has become clear that they find paedophilia perplexing because they can not see what there is about a child that one could fall in love with and that they can only conceive of themselves loving a child in whom they have a genetic stake.
Better protection of children from sexual abuse
Age of Consent laws not only fail to protect children from sexual manipulation and coercion, but enact a trade-off by which society protects its fundamental belief in the asexuality of children at the cost of increasing children’s vulnerability to sexual predation.
These laws fail children because:
– they penalise caring and consensual relationships as harshly as they penalise men and women who force themselves on children. Given that the law does not recognise a child’s consent there is little (if any?) extra penalty for coercive or manipulative behaviour on the part of the adult, and thus there is no extra legal discouragement for such behaviour.
– the fact that the law (and therefore Society) does not recognise a child’s consent as being valid means that representations of ethical, consensual child-adult intimacy are not only absent in the culture, but are effectively forbidden, leaving people who find themselves sexually attracted to children having to build an identity exclusively from negative examples and role models: something likely to encourage reckless, manipulative and coercive urges and behaviour.
If the law at least acknowledged as a mitigating factor a child’s willingness and eagerness to engage in intimacy with a defendant this would at least signal that gentle, respectful intimacy was preferable to violence and coercion.
– Consent laws are based on, and reinforce, a model of child-adult intimacy that is statistically erroneous. This has resulted in an epidemic of trauma, alienation and suffering (this is best explained in Susan Clancy’s book ‘The Trauma Myth’ – you can read a summary of her thesis here).
– Consent laws assume, rely on and enforce the disempowerment of children vis-a-vis their bodies and their sexuality. Society, through its laws, has chosen to police child sexuality through maintaining children in a state of ignorance (which it euphemistically calls ‘innocence’) and powerlessness: effectively depriving children of the capacity to make decisions about what happens to them sexually. This leaves them more vulnerable to manipulation, deception and coercion.
Campaigns which try to tell children to ‘just say ‘no’!’ fail because children are given no understanding of what it is they are saying ‘no’ to. Of course, to give them such knowledge would risk them deciding, in certain circumstances, they may actually want to say ‘yes’. For reasons I examine in depth here this would be deeply problematic for the structures and institutions of Capitalism, especially Consumer Capitalism.
– Consent laws prevent children from learning about relationships, sexuality, hygiene, respect, responsibility and contraception in the best way possible: from controlled play and experience, involving people whom they love, respect and trust.
Society and the law pay lip-service to the idea that sexuality is about ‘respect’, ‘love’, ‘mutuality’ and’ responsibility’ (omitting, of course, ‘pleasure’ and ‘desire’) yet they make it illegal for anyone whom the child loves, trusts or respects to actually model, live out or demonstrate those laudable qualities, preferring instead to leave its children’s sex education to too-late, abstract sex-ed lessons in school, the internet, television and play-ground gossip, and the commercial concerns that have designs on children’s desires and aspirations – the fashion industry, the pop industry, consumer culture &c
– Consent laws and the attitudes that they reinforce have created an atmosphere of intergenerational fear, suspicion and alienation.
The effects of this are well documented. Children are taught to view all adults with suspicion, and taught that they possess, in the guise of false accusations, a ‘nuclear option’ against them. And adults are too afraid of being accused of ‘paedophilia’ [sic] to take any responsibility for unfamiliar children who may be lost or distressed, and fathers are afraid of showing affection publicly to their own children;
– they create a sudden access to sex at (in the UK) 16 rather than a gradual access which would be more in tune with the natural process of learning. This encourages bingeing and risk taking (a parallel is the attitudes to alcohol and children in Mediterranean countries and in Anglo-saxon countries. The former allow children a controlled access to alcohol throughout their development. This approach seems to result in much maturer attitudes than the Anglo-saxon ‘no booze till sixteen’ model);
– they criminalise border-line cases, and tend to both criminalise and pathologise all manifestations of child sexuality, including consensual activity with peers.
Young children, the very people whose ‘innocence’ these laws purport to defend, are finding themselves labelled as ‘sex offenders‘ – suggesting that these laws are less about protecting children than maintaining the illusion of their asexuality.
– they create a huge amount of unnecessary work for police, courts and prisons. The many cases of consensual intimacy swamp the relatively rare cases of genuine abuse, making the latter harder to detect, investigate and prosecute.
Role model, mentor, friend & lover
A close, intense and (possibly) intimate relationship with an adult lover will enrich a child’s life in ways no other relationship can: the child will have an adult role model who is not an authority figure; and, unlike all other relationships a child will have with adults, it will be a relationship that they have chosen to engage in and which they can opt out of (are there any other close relationships with adults that a child can opt out of?).
They will know that their lover is interested in them not because they represent a genetic investment (as is the case with parents and relatives) or because the adult is paid to be interested in them (as with teachers, social workers, doctors &c) but simply because that adult specially values them as a person in their own right.
Such a relationship will give the child a foot in the adult world – they will learn how to interact with adults on an equal basis, and experience a quality of respect and admiration that their family and professionals are not in a position to offer the child, and their self-esteem will flourish accordingly.
For the third time in less than a month I feel obliged to use the same quote from ‘Tiger, Tiger’ by Margaux Fragoso (apologies to those who may feel this to be excessive):
“…time with a pedophile can be like a drug high. There was this girl who said it’s as if the pedophile lives in a fantastic kind of reality, and that fantasticness infects everything. Kind of like they’re children themselves, only full of the knowledge that children don’t have. Their imaginations are stronger than kids’ and they can build realities that small kids would never be able to dream up. They can make the child’s world… ecstatic somehow…”
An added effect of such ecstatic relationships might be that the child learns (against the grain of Society’s best efforts) that Happiness comes from relationships rather than consumption.
My own experience with child-friends has been that they have always readily assumed the ‘maturity’ that an equal friendship with an adult has asked of them; which makes me suspect that our society holds children back, infantilises them (as, indeed, it does adults), and discourages them from becoming independent and autonomous. Histories of childhood testify to children proudly and willingly assuming roles now reserved for adults, such as looking after younger siblings, earning a wage, and helping with the running of the household (What’s Wrong with Child Labour?).
Respected and responsible paedophiles could even act as mentors for children having social or academic difficulties. Indeed I suspect that much of the best work with troubled and disruptive children could only be done if motivated by the kind of devotion, insight and selflessness that comes with being a lover of children.
WEIRD societies are highly age-stratified. Indeed it would not be exaggerating to talk of ‘intergenerational apartheid’. Children exist in zones from which all adults, other than parents and professionals, are excluded. The older generation of paedophiles will be aware of the extent to which children have disappeared from public spaces. The fostering of strong friendships between children and non-familial adults would break down this intergenerational apartheid and change society from one that is age-stratified to one dense with cohesion and solidarity across the ages. Children would be better able to escape the nuclear family and become embedded in their geographical community.
But here I’m starting to stray into something – how the legitimisation of child-adult intimacy could change society – that, though relevant, the broaching of which would take me way past an acceptable word count for a blog-essay.
For those of you interested in my take on this question can I suggest the following two essays ‘Towards the aetiology of paedophobia‘ and especially ‘The future is green, and liberating for children‘.