Sexual Ethics: Pedophilia

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EDIT: A lot of people are coming to this post after searching Google for “help for pedophiles”. This post does not contain information about therapies available. I’ve had trouble finding good information on the internet, the only thing I can suggest is seeing a psychiatrist. If anyone knows of some good online resources, please put them in the comments and I’ll add them.

Pedophilia is seen as fantastically (almost supernaturally) evil because harm and disgust are intertwined here. The only reason someone who has sex with a child is immoral is the harm argument: the child can’t give informed consent. (Of course the idea of an age of consent, or even of judging consent case-by-case is a bit arbitrary, but let’s ignore that for now.) A separate category for pedophilia simply creates an outlet for us to vent our (invalid) arguments-from-disgust.

Let’s break the bubble with a story: A man living a “normal” married life started to one day experience sexual desires for little girls. So intense were these that he tried to act on them, until it was found he had a brain tumour which was causing these. The tumour was removed, he returned to normal. Not to be sensationalist, but this could happen to you tomorrow.

Two interesting parallels with historical gay rights arguments:

  • Some say “who would choose to be gay, given what they’d have to go through?” This argument fails but makes sense for pedophiles. I’ll rephrase to avoid free-will traps: “what person who has sexual urges for children wouldn’t wish for the urges to go away?” Especially since they’re the most reviled member of society, to the point where a conviction is a death sentence. And yet we treat pedophiles as if they chose to become pedophiles (regardless of how absurd this is).
  • An old Christian/Jewish/Muslim mantra: “there’s a difference between orientation and the sexual act; just because you have urges doesn’t mean you should act on them.” Again this is true for pedophilia. Some think calling it an orientation legitimises it but it merely states the fact that a pedophile’s brain is oriented for certain desires. Calling a pedophile who’s never acted on his/her desires immoral only makes sense from a moral disgust argument.

All pedophiles should seek professional help. Tens of thousands don’t because of stigma, and because of the [justified] fear that they’re just opening themselves up for legal/social/medical harassment. So the only way to reduce child sexual abuse is: (1)reduce stigma and eliminate hysteria (2)encourage people to seek help (3)spend actual research money on finding better treatments.

By imagining pedophiles as somehow “inherently” evil, we ignore what we know about the body/brain and revert to believing in ghosts & “essences”. The destructiveness of shrill moral panic (eg. British mob attacks pediatrician mistaking the term for a pedophile), is a great example of moral disgust actually causing more moral harm in the long run.