Suppose you are a teen boy who notices you have a sexual attraction to children. You realize that you can never have sex with children because it would harm them. That’s settled. Now, beyond that, what should you do? The Sanger view is that you should do your best to make those feelings go away. You should get them under control, even though it may be difficult. Sanger does not suggest that the right attitude and will power can let a pedophile create a strong sexual interest in adults to replace the interest in children — to actually “cure” the pedophilia. His suggestion is more in line with the monastic tradition.
Sanger lumps pedophilia with other bad habits or impulses, using as examples the idea of sex with a particular person (your sister), and a temptation to use the “n” word.
Sexuality is different. It is fundamental to human nature, and we are continually aware of our desires. Some people are against sex education for young people, since they argue that it will make them think about sex. This is absurd — people who reach puberty think about sex regularly, whether they want to or not.
One benefit of good sex education is to learn that others have similar feelings, and another is to learn how to channel and deal with those feelings appropriately. If you feel as I do that intercourse is not a good idea for young teens, one helpful suggestion will be masturbation, as a private and healthy release. I hope Sanger will agree that it is not healthy to teach children that sex is shameful, that feeling sexual desire is wrong, and that it is only in a committed relationship between adults that the feelings themselves become acceptable.
Some young teen boys notice that they are gay and suffer immense anguish, given societal attitudes. Good sex education will teach that this is an attraction that is fairly common, and that there is an entire gay community they will be able to join, one where good lives are modeled. It will not suggest that this sexual interest can be redirected. Long experience shows that gay conversion therapy does not work. Now, some gay people are devout members of religions who teach that their attraction is morally wrong, and this is a good test case for the Sanger approach (even if he disagrees with their motives). They should put sexual attraction to males out of their minds, to make it less and less and not let themselves think about it.
Does this approach work? It is not very satisfactory for most people. There are strong monastic traditions in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. The saintly goal is to make sexual thoughts themselves disappear. It works for a few people, but for most people it is a major struggle. The minimum goal of just not having sex with other people could count as success, whatever fantasies they may entertain.
What would the ideal sex education course say about pedophilia? Here’s mine: It should of course say that sexual activity with younger people must absolutely be avoided. It should encourage people to be aware that some feelings of attraction to children may just be a phase, and not to jump to conclusions, and to keep focused on attraction to their peers if they can. However, it would also recognize that some people are attracted only to children. The scientific evidence strongly suggests that it behaves like homosexuality in that the interest is set early in life and cannot be changed. As evidence for this, pedophilic child sex abusers have for decades been subject to attempts to make their desires go away, often with the strongest possible desire for success, but they always fail.
I’m not sure to what extent Sanger would agree with my sex ed draft for pedophiles up to this point — the “diagnosis”. Now we move to “implications”. If you really are a pedophile, what should you do? And what can we expect the consequences of this advice to be?
Judging from what he has written, here is Sanger’s version of sex ed on the subject of pedophiles: Your desire is profoundly evil. Our interest in you is overwhelmingly to make sure you never sexually abuse a child. That interest is so strong that we do not care in the least for your welfare as a person. Think about sex as little as possible. Do not fantasize about children sexually. To the extent these thoughts come to your mind, you are giving in to evil, even if you never act.
Perhaps those getting the Sanger message will say, “Wow, I really am evil! I guess I’ve got to try really hard never to think about sex!” and as a result will take a saintly monastic path. A more likely reaction is isolation, despair, depression, anger and resentment. If suicide is not chosen, a likely reaction is, “If I’m nothing but a potential offender and I’m evil anyway, then when there’s a temptation, what have I got to lose?”
Here is my version: You are responsible for your actions, and you must absolutely never engage in sexual activity with children. But once you’ve got that straight, then you should stop hating yourself. You didn’t choose to be this way and you can’t change it. There are many others who are in the same situation you are in, and you can join an online community of others who are committed to never abusing children. You can share life experiences and hear stories of others who have lived their entire lives without abusing children. Many of them have good, meaningful lives and some are happy. Many allow themselves to enjoy their sexual attractions in fantasy. You must never do anything sexual with children, but your life is just as important as anyone else’s. Your inability to never know love or have satisfying sex are real and serious challenges, but they can be overcome. My vision invites the boy to join a community like Virtuous Pedophiles that is based on a commitment to never abusing a child. He belongs, and people hold him accountable for the “minimum monastic path”. This is far less likely to lead to abuse.
Given that no sex ed program exists with that message, the best we can do is make it available to anguished young pedophiles who go searching on the web.
Pedophiles can go astray online. There are reportedly parts of the dark web where child pornography is traded and people freely speak of how it’s OK to molest children. There are also public groups such as BoyChat and GirlChat where the most common view is that adult-child sex would be just fine if it wasn’t for bad societal attitudes and laws. But free speech being what it is, the latter groups are not going away. It is surely helpful to have additional options like Virtuous Pedophiles where the commitment to not abusing children runs deep.
The most serious recurring problem in Sanger’s post is jumbling up thoughts and actions and the relationship between them. If our co-worker makes us very angry and we entertain fantasies about just how we might dispatch them, it might lead us to actually kill them. If we watch a violent movie or play a violent video game, it might inspire us to be violent. If a teen boy has a sexual fantasy about a girl in his class, he might rape her. All highly unlikely — we are generally very good at keeping fantasy and reality straight. If a pedophile thinks about sex with children, he might abuse them. And this is also unlikely. The reason the last will seem different to most people is that the desire is foreign to them, while they are familiar with the other cases of thoughts not leading to bad action. They are aware of child sex abuse and the sexual fantasies that likely preceded them, but have no awareness of the millions of pedophile fantasies that remained harmless.
Dissecting Sanger line by line would be tedious. But there is this complain about pedophiles speaking:
“There is the plea that we should “understand” pedophiles first and foremost, never mind the risk to abuse victims.”
I have never seen this attitude expressed. When pedophiles ask for understanding, it almost always takes as its premise that the rights of abuse victims are more important. More often than not the argument is that understanding pedophiles will reduce sexual abuse. Yes, some pedophiles argue that adult-child sex is OK, but they are a separate group and we should not all be lumped together. They don’t ask for understanding, they demand their “rights”.
If I am correct that Sanger’s bottom line is reducing child sex abuse, then his response should be to argue that I am incorrect about the actual effects, preferably citing evidence. Evidence for my position comes from the Diamond, et al studies, for instance http://www.hawaii.edu/PCSS/biblio/articles/1961to1999/1999-effects-of-pornography.html.
In a number of societies, including Denmark, Japan, and Czechia, pornography was very difficult to obtain and suddenly became very easy — including child pornography. The Sanger view would predict that child sex abuse should have risen dramatically, as everyone can view children acting sexually and it should put ideas in their heads and enable bad behavior. But in fact, child sex abuse either stayed the same or went down. The implication is not that child pornography should be legalized. It is that pedophiles are constantly aware of children and their attractiveness. Talking about it or even seeing it does not facilitate abuse, as most pedophiles know right from wrong and have self control. We can speculate that for those who struggle with self-control, the more common effect was to allow a satisfying fantasy in place of molesting a child.