Doctor James Cantor has perhaps done more than any other scientist in the 21st Century to define paedophilia to the thinking general public. Cantor is a charismatic communicator who has manoeuvered himself into being the media’s go-to guy when it comes to the science of paedophilia.
He has appeared on many television, radio shows and podcasts, and has featured in the CBC documentary ‘I, Pedophile’. He is also widely referenced for providing scientific information about sex following high-profile cases of unusual sexual behaviour – such cases those of entertainers Bill Cosby and Mark Salling, and former Subway spokesperson Jared Fogel.
Cynics might attribute his success to the fact that his research offers society the narrative it wants to hear: that paedophiles are flawed humans, slaves to a poorly developed cross-wired brain, suffering from an illness not of their choosing, in some way ‘subhuman’, whilst also offering solutions to the ‘problem’ that appeal to members of the public unwilling to buy into the ‘hang em all’ approach of populism.
The conclusions he has drawn from his research have neatly divided the paedophile world along the ProChoice/VirPed fault-line. The Virtuous Pedophiles have been eager to adopt his findings as the price for an increased tolerance by mainstream society; more radical paedophiles, however, have been unwilling to shoulder yet another fardel of dehumanisation and stigma, and refuse to consider their love as some kind of malfunction.
But it could be argued that when you’re as beleaguered as paedophiles are, anyone who is not an enemy is a friend. And in a climate of total ignorance, where even half-truths are considered as unspeakable, Cantor has done valuable work in explaining paedophilia to the public – enlightening presenters and audiences whose intellects had previously been running on empty as far as paedophilia and related issues were concerned.
The following podcast furnishes an example of how far a little education can go.
Sickboy: The Science of Pedophilia
One of the first things that struck me when I first encountered Cantor’s research was how dismissive he is of the role of Stigma. I felt that I’d identified the Achilles heel that would undermine his whole thesis. One of the notes to myself I made reads:
“look at academic records of paedophiles in primary school and compare these with their peers – if there is no difference then that suggests that adolescent stigma could cause brain differences”
But Cantor was, of course, many steps ahead of me. He had studied the school records of the paedophile sex offenders in his samples and found that their school careers were less successful than equivalent samples of teleiophile sex offenders and hebephile sex offenders.
Since an IQ difference was already manifesting itself in his sample at a time of life when they, being children, could not have been subjected to paedophile-related stigma, this seemed to prove that stigma couldn’t have caused the lower IQ he’d observed in his sample of paedophile offenders. My quest for the Holy Grail had stalled at the first hurdle and, tail between my legs, I slunk off defeated.
But nevertheless a sense that there was something fishy in Cantor’s methodology persisted, but I had other things I wanted to think about and research, and my first impulse was to dismiss my intuition – (as it turns out my original intuition concerning stigma was far from groundless – but I will address that in a future essay).
Brain Research and Pedophilia What it Means for Assessment Treatment and Policy | James Cantor Ph
A few months ago I watched the above lecture (which I recommend since it gives a useful summary of Cantor’s work).
Go to 19:44 and listen to the way he delivers the following words:
“Physical Height” (pause).
“They’re shorter” (laughter from audience).
“Paedophiles are physically short..!”
We never betray ourselves so much as when we are making others laugh.
Even scientists testing new drugs can find it in themselves to feel compassion or sympathy for the rats they inject their chemicals into. Apparently not Dr Cantor. His supercilious little quip betrays a batholith of contempt for those he is studying.
Compare this to the dedication Brian Martin Cash makes in his paper “Self – Identifications, Sexual Development, And Wellbeing In Minor – Attracted People : An Exploratory Study“:
“This thesis is dedicated to my participants. Though I have never met them, they are the bravest people I have ever known. I am forever grateful for the trust they have placed in me.“
The anger provoked in me by Cantor’s contempt motivated me in pursuing my intuitions of the fishiness of Cantor’s research: how sweet it would be if a subhuman paedophile were to point out some significant flaws in his research!
This essay will give an overview Cantor’s research and focus on a couple of general criticisms. I will deal with some more specific methodological flaws in a future essay.
And if you should happen to be reading this, Dr Cantor, I hope you will take what follows in the spirit in which it was intended…
Cantor’s research – a summary
(Numbers in brackets link to the relevant research papers)
Cantor recruited all the participants in his studies from the ‘Kurt Freund Laboratory’ of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in Toronto, Canada.
The Kurt Freund Laboratory provides evaluation services to male patients referred as a result of illegal or clinically significant sexual behaviours. The primary source of their referrals is correctional institutions, parole and probation officers, children’s protective societies, with physicians and lawyers providing others. Some patients seek a referral on their own initiative.
Cantor’s samples consisted not just paedophiles, but would also include a range of sexual behaviours and dispositions, including teleiophilic ones. Cantor would use these as control groups. For example:
“The […] patients […] included 14% with no known sexual offenses, 52% with offenses against children under age 12, 30% with offenses against pubescents ages 12 to 14, 17% with offenses against minors ages 15 to 16, and 30% with offenses against adults ages 17 and older.” (3)
Each participant would undergo a battery of assessments. The details of these assessments vary from study to study – but would consist of essentially a phallometric test, which would serve to ‘sort’ the participants into various chronophilic categories (paedophile, hebephile, teleiophile), a semi-structured interview, and tests specific to the variables being studied, such as IQ, handedness, height, or school career).
(I have found no mention in any of his research of any controls for, or factoring-in of, any treatments his sample might be undergoing. Many sex offenders are treated with sex-drive suppressants, antidepressants &c. What effect could these have? Especially on IQ and memory? Maybe he assumed that the frequency, nature and intensity of such treatments would be evenly distributed across the various chronophilias and thus cancel each other out.)
Cantor acknowledges the possibility of confirmation bias in this sampling method: for example, paedophiles with low IQ might get caught more often than paedophiles with high IQ. Cantor also acknowledges that the fact that the tests were often done many years after the offence was committed could be a confounding factor in the results.
Dr Cantor’s first two paedophilia-related studies were conducted as part of a team led by Dr Ray Blanchard. These studies showed that his sample of paedophiles had a significantly high rate of head injuries severe enough to cause unconsciousness sustained before the age of 13. This seems to have started him on the quest to find the causes of paedophilia in neurological damage or malfunction. (1, 2).
In 2004 Cantor published a study which found that rates of left-handedness, poorer memory scores and lower IQ progressively increased as one tracked the continuum of chronophilias backwards (teleiophilia -> hebephilia -> paedophilia)(3).
The above findings seem to suggest that there was something going wrong in the brains of paedophiles. Intelligence and memory could possibly be accounted for by heredity, environment, upbringing, trauma or disease. But handedness is a characteristic that is established before birth – the foetus already showing a tendency to suck the thumb of its dominant hand. Cantor found that 30% of his sample of paedophiles were left-handed whereas normally about 10% of the general population are left-handed. The only other group that display such a high level of left-handedness are schizophrenics.
This suggested to Cantor that whatever was going wrong in the brains of paedophiles originated very early in the brain’s development. Though social and psychological factors could be contributing to the results he was finding, Cantor states that
“there is no psycho-social way to explain […] handedness”.
In 2006 Cantor published a study in which he found that the school careers of his research sample of paedophile offenders were significantly poorer than those of hebephile offenders, and much poorer than those of teleiophile offenders (whose school careers, in turn, were also significantly poorer than those of teleiophile non-offenders) (6).
This suggested that whatever was going wrong with the brain was not a result of their having offended and been convicted, since significant differences between paedophiles and non-paedophiles were already evident in childhood, before they could be aware of being paedophiles and before they had offended.
In 2007 Cantor published a study showing that the paedophiles and hebephiles in his samples were shorter than teleiophilic men (7).
There followed a study (8) in which Cantor examined the entire brains of paedophiles using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and found that in the brains of paedophiles/hebephiles (this study doesn’t distinguish between the two) the white matter in the superior occipital frontal fasciculus and arcuate fasciculus had a lower density and was less well-formed than in a control group of teleiophile sex offenders (‘white matter’ is the connective tissue, the ‘cabling’, of the brain, and consists of the ‘axons’ of neurons. It links various areas of ‘gray matter’ – the cell bodies of neurons).
Studies show that there is no single ‘sex centre’ of the brain. Sexuality consists of several areas of the brain that operate together via the networking of white matter that is found in the superior occipital frontal fasciculus.
From this Cantor concluded that what causes paedophilia is not located in the various sex centres themselves (which would be located in the gray matter), but rather in the network that connects these sex centres and is responsible for identifying what is a potential sexual object.
Cantor uses the metaphor of ‘cross wiring’: when the paedophile perceives a child, the crossed wiring causes the sexual instinct to be triggered instead of the ‘correct’ nurturing instinct. However he cautions against taking this metaphor too literally.
Imagine a scientist wanting to investigate the nature of the ordinary, everyday hetero-teleiosexual man.
Imagine him deciding that the best way to do this would be to focus exclusively on a sample of offenders convicted of teleiosexual crimes: rape, sexual sadism, voyeurism, exhibitionism, obscene telephone calling, toucheurism, frotteurism &c
He does tests on a sample of these offenders and finds that they have a lower than average IQ, poorer memory, a higher rate of left-handedness, relatively poor school records &c (these are, in fact, what Cantor found in his control group of teleiophile sex offenders).
From this he concludes that the ordinary hetero-teleiosexual man has a lower than average IQ, poorer memory and a higher than average rate of left-handedness.
He also concludes that whatever causes hetero-teleiophilia was present in early childhood – long before hetero-teleiophiles could commit their offenses – since his group had relatively poor school records and a relatively high rate of left-handedness.
Imagine the public response to such a study.
It would hit the wall of people’s experience of the hetero- teleiosexual males in their lives – their fathers, husbands, sons, friends, boyfriends, and brothers. They would not recognise these findings in the men they knew. People would assume it was a poorly conceived attempt at slandering and smearing the group concerned. It would fail the ‘Reality Test’.
Of course, such data can be ‘cleaned up’. An intelligent use of statistics and data correction can do much to make flawed data yield valid results. But how much controlling, covariance, outlier exclusion &c would be required to be able to extract the true characteristics of the average non-offending hetero-teleiophile from a data gathered from a sample of rapists, sadists, exhibitionists &c?
Or, for that matter, the characteristics of the average homosexual from data gathered from men incarcerated for homosexual offences prior to decriminalisation?
But this is exactly what Dr Cantor does with paedophiles when he extrapolates the nature and origins of paedophilia from a group of convicted sex offenders. He gets away with this because:
1/ there is no ‘Reality Test’ as far as paedophiles are concerned.
Though most people will have family, friends or acquaintances who are paedophiles, it is unlikely that they will be aware of their sexuality. This means that their interactions with real life paedophiles will not have any effect on the profoundly flawed preconceptions the general population cherishes concerning paedophiles and paedophilia.
No-one has ever had his reputation damaged by slandering paedophiles, even if (as in the McMartin case and the Westminster Paedophile Ring furore) those slanders are so outrageous that they ride rough-shod over the laws of nature.
A society that is willing to give credence to the idea that paedophiles can fly (‘‘Ray flew in the air.”) is hardly going to cavil at a scientist saying that they are slightly subhuman. There are no available competing public narratives that would give people a vantage point from which to question his findings.
2/ it is impossible to access a large sample of randomly selected paedophiles with whom to conduct in-person interviews and tests. People realise this. Groups of offenders were probably the best option available to Cantor, so people accept the results since better no better options are available.
However, acknowledging this in no way nullifies the flaws of Cantor’s approach. Sometimes a ‘poor second-best’ is so poor that any results are guaranteed to be misleading or false. Sometimes it would have been best not to have bothered at all.
In research like Cantor’s much depends on how valid an equivalency is being proposed between two phenomena. Which equivalence is the more valid: one between ‘the paedophile’ and ‘the teleiophile’; or one between the ‘the paedophile’ and ‘teleiophile sex-offender‘?
Dr Cantor’s research assumes that the correct equivalence is between ‘teleiophile-sex-offender‘ and ‘paedophile’: his assumption is probably based on the fact that both have desires which society considers as pathological; neither can act on their desires without breaking the law; both have two states, which are equally pathological: ‘potential offender’ or ‘offender’.
But a scientist whose own sexuality, in his own country and in his own life-time, has been both illegal and pathologised should be more wary: it is too easy to confuse ‘illegality’ with ‘pathology’.
Moreover this leaves him with nowhere to go with non-offending paedophiles, whom, in a later paper, he categorically distinguishes from ‘offending pedophiles’ (9).
When an identity becomes strongly associated with a problematic act, even if it’s only a tiny minority of that identity who engage in that act, that identity becomes defined by that act and the general population sees members of that group as either ‘perpetrators’ or ‘perpetrators-in-waiting’. The acts of the few pathologise the whole identity.
A more valid approach for establishing valid equivalency is to see whether the intrinsic characteristics of paedophilia map best onto ‘teleiophilia’ or onto ‘illegal teleiophillia’.
I propose three characteristics that distinguish non-pathological or healthy teleiophilia from criminal (or potentially criminal) teleiophilia:
- it is consensual
- it is accompanied or motivated by affection or love
- it holds no harmful intent towards the object of desire
How does paedophilia fare by these criteria?
1. it is consensual
Admittedly, even in the paedophile community there is a fundamental disagreement as to whether children can or cannot consent to sensual intimacy with an adult. Regular readers will know where I stand. I have written on this issue here, here and here. I won’t rehearse this debate here.
Instead I’ll cut the Gordian knot by reminding the sceptical reader that what we are concerned with are impulses, not acts, desires not deeds. And on this basis I’m confident that, in his or her fantasies, wishes and hopes the normal paedophile dreams of a child who is sexually eager and proactive – a child who wants, asks for and enjoys the imagined shared love and intimacy. In short – the impulse is consensual.
Undoubtedly there exist a tiny minority of sadistic paedophiles – but their existence goes to prove that the distinction between the paedophile with a consensual impulse and the paedophile with a non-consensual impulse is a valid and significant one.
2. it is accompanied or motivated by affection or love
I can do no better than to quote Dr Cantor himself:
“A majority of the sample described experiencing romantic feelings toward children, rather than their attractions being strictly sexual in nature, and included falling in love with a child or having fantasies about a romantic relationship with a child.”
“here is evidence to suggest that some pedophilic individuals, both those who have offended and those who have not, experience romantic attachments to children that are not strictly sexual and include love and nurturance, both in a romantic sense and a non-romantic sense (e.g., friendships and mentoring relationships)”
(both quotations from ‘Non-Offending Pedophiles’ – Cantor & Mcphail – 2016 (9))
3. it holds no harmful intent towards the object of desire
The reader whose only knowledge of paedophilia comes from the dominant narrative might again expect paedophilia to fail the test.
Again I won’t here rehearse the arguments about the true source of the harm often seen in ‘survivors’ of consensual child/adult intimacy (the essay ‘Three Essential Paedo-Reads: “The Trauma Myth” by Susan Clancy‘ deals with this issue). But again the Gordian knot can be cut by pointing out that the huge majority of paedophiles have no wish to harm or scare the children they are attracted to.
On the contrary – it would be grossly understating the case to say that the normal paedophile would find any possibility of harming or distressing a child the most powerful of anaphrodisiacs. Paedophiles generally value the mutuality of love, respect and trust between them and the loved-child above everything else. To do anything that might betray this would be to violate the foundations of a paedophile’s self-worth and self-respect.
It should be remembered that the huge majority of paedophiles who enter the legal system do so for acts that would not have been considered as crimes if performed within a teleiophilic frame of reference (mild consensual intimacy, or the viewing of erotica or porn).
On the other hand, it is reasonable to conclude that the desires that led the teleiophilic sex-offenders to commit their offences (sexual sadism, rape, voyeurism, exhibitionism, obscene telephone calling, toucheurism and frotteurism) all violate some or all of the above three criteria.
So, the characteristics of normal paedophilic desire map pretty much perfectly onto those of normal teleiophilia. And those characteristics of paedophilia that map onto ‘teleiophilia’ are intrinsic, whereas those that map onto ‘teleiophile-sex-offender‘ are accidental.
Cantor’s research makes an equivalence between ‘the paedophile’ and the ‘teleiophilic sex-offender’. He then extrapolates the findings that this equivalence yields to paedophiles in general. Neither the equivalence or the extrapolations he makes from it appear to stand up to close scrutiny.
I am working on a second essay that will address more specific flaws in Cantor’s methodology – especially those resulting from his taking insufficient account of Stigma. But before I publish this second essay I intend to look closely at the phenomenon of Stigma as it relates to paedophilia.