Orientation or illness?

Despite one reader’s insistence that pedophilia is a sexual orientation — like being L,G or B — most in the community think otherwise

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

T­he very mention of the word pedophilia — defined as the abnormal sexual desire in an adult for children — can spark an emotional and angry response in many people.

I discovered that when I posted a question on Facebook recently seeking comments on what an anonymous reader had previously suggested to me about pedophilia.

The reader advised me that pedophiles comprise a minority group, and that pedophilia is actually a form of sexual orientation, like being gay or lesbian.

The reader reached out to me because I had described the LGBT community as the last minority group that is still considered a politically correct target for discrimination in some quarters. The reader claimed that pedophiles are similarly discriminated against in much harsher ways, and suggested that LGBT activists also engage in the discrimination against pedophiles because they are higher in the pecking order than pedophiles.

In response to a comment I made about his initial complaint, the reader wrote, “You are confusing sexual orientation with criminal activities. There is abundant evidence that most child molesters are not pedophiles (not primarily attracted to prepubescent children), and that most pedophiles are not molesters. I would hope that the people in your community [the LGBT community] would be able to understand the difference.”

Well, I not only did not understand the difference, I was bewildered, to put it mildly.

I asked the reader to send me an email giving me more explanation about his argument, but I never received a response.

So my next step was typical for me when I don’t quite know what to say: I started doing a little research on the Internet.

What I found first was an essay, “The Pattern of Sexual Politics: Feminism, Homosexuality and Pedophilia,” by Professor Harri Mirkin, published in 1999 in an academic journal.

The essay made headlines in 2002, while Mirkin was chairman of the political science department at the University of Missouri’s Kansas City campus, according to a New York Times story.

The essay gained widespread attention because of the sexual abuse scandal that enveloped the Roman Catholic Church. In the essay, Mirkin compared the “moral panic” over pedophilia to the outrage that erupted when the feminist and gay rights movements took hold.

Reaction to Mirkin’s essay, even though it was a few years old, apparently was equally hostile and panic-stricken.

From there I moved on to an essay written for the Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, written in 1989, by Joan A. Nelson, who is listed today as an American Board of Sexology certified sex therapist practicing in San Rafael, Calif. The essay, “Intergenerational Sexual Contact,” gave me a more clinical name for what I was researching and defined it as “any behavior between a minor and someone at least five years older that is perceived by either participant or by society as sexually stimulating or intended to be sexually stimulating.”

It examined both the “adult participants” and the “child participants” in great detail. In one passage it noted, “In the face of age-old taboos and horrors of child abuse, it is hard for educators, research designers and other shapers of social policy to be nonjudgmental about intergenerational sex.”

It goes on to say that scientists should basically approach this type of sexual activity clinically to avoid misleading results. One of the more surprising points made in the essay was that the child participants appeared to sometimes be “indifferent” to the experience rather than traumatized.

Advocates of legalizing sexual relationships between adults and pubescent minors apparently argue that it is usually consensual, it has occurred throughout history and that it causes no harm to the younger partners.

I searched to see if there were any groups actively promoting the interests of people who think they should have the right to engage in sexual activity, but all I found was the North American Man/Boy Love Association. To the best of my knowledge that group and its interests have been condemned by most LGBT activists, law enforcement agencies and mental health professionals, and its small membership has disappeared underground.

I became aware of some advocacy for lowering the age-of-consent laws for sexual activity, but I don’t think those are particularly relevant to the issue of so-called intergenerational sex. Most of what I’ve read concerning that issue appears to be related to teenagers who become involved in consensual sexual relationships with others relatively close to their age.

Finally, armed with this new body of knowledge, I went to Facebook to do my unofficial survey. I asked for input from my friends — and boy howdy, did I get it.

My Facebook friends represent a pretty good cross-section of straight and gay people, conservatives and liberals and people all ages and backgrounds, many of whom are part of our community in some way.

Most appeared to be outraged by the very idea of even considering pedophilia to be a sexual orientation.

One commentator noted that LGBT activists should have had the foresight long ago to “rail against” any classification of our community in terms of sexual orientation, sexual preference or any other sexual terms. In our community, we are building relationships, raising families and doing all of the other things in which our heterosexual counterparts engage.

She asked why we should always be classified in sexual terms, rather than for who we are and what we accomplish?

So I would say in conclusion that I learned a lesson. And to the anonymous reader who thought that our community should be better able to understand pedophilia and be more sympathetic, I’d have to say, “Sorry, but we don’t get it.”

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative press for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  John Wright