To Fantasize Or Not To Fantasize?
Should pedophiles fantasize about children?
I would like to use this post to talk about the idea of pedophiles sexually fantasizing about children. This is yet another controversial topic that is very emotionally charged, and I will try to analyze it from a rational point of view.
It is generally accepted that people have sexual fantasies. The nature of people’s fantasies are as varied as there are human beings, but it is also generally understood that people fantasize about things that sexually arouse them; therefore what people fantasize about is a good indicator of someone’s sexual orientation. However, actually having sexual fantasies about a certain group of people — or even actively having sex with people in that group — is not a requirement to classify someone into a sexual orientation or another. Some people simply don’t entertain sexual fantasies, or don’t have sex at all, but that doesn’t make them asexual. There is plenty of people who’s moral or religious belief system dictates to them that having sexual thoughts or fantasies — and masturbating, but what good are sexual fantasies for if not for masturbation? — is morally wrong and/or sinful, so they make a conscious choice not to do so. They’re still heterosexual, or homosexual, or bisexual; they simply choose not to fantasize.
Fantasy as a diagnostic criterion for pedophilia
According to the DSM-5, pedophilia is defined as “over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger)”. However, the “or” indicates that it’s not a necessary requirement, just one of the possible diagnostic criteria.
A layman definition of pedophilia found in most dictionaries simply defines it as a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. This is in line with what I expressed in the first section of this article: it’s not the fantasies about sex with children what make someone a pedophile, just like it’s not the fantasies about sex with women what makes an adult man heterosexual. What makes someone a pedophile, then?
Before fantasies come thoughts, and before thoughts, feelings
I am going to examine the different “layers” of reactions that people have towards those they are sexually/physically attracted to. This would apply to pedophilia just as much as to any “normal” sexual orientation. Some of these things are completely beyond anyone’s control, they are automatic physiological responses to visual stimuli that no matter how much willpower we wish to exert are impossible to suppress. Others are much more controllable — the question becomes then whether there is any valid reason to exert such control over them.
The first layer that comes into play is the immediate reaction to seeing someone that fits that particular set of subconscious criteria that everyone has to find someone attractive. This falls in the category of feelings. And it’s not just seeing someone belonging to the broad category of people you are generally attracted to (men, women, children…) Heterosexual men are not attracted to all women, homosexual men are not attracted to all men, and in the exact same way pedophiles are not attracted to all children. Everyone has their preferences: they might prefer them blond, or chubby, or blue-eyed, or fair skinned or with freckles… the combinations are as numerous as there are people in the world, and it applies to people of every sexual orientation.
In addition, and contrary to what many people believe, most pedophiles have an age and gender orientation/preference, meaning that they will only find girls or boys attractive, and only at certain stages of development, often matched to an approximate age range and referred to as age of attraction (AoA) among pedophiles. What is also common among people of any sexual orientation — yes, including pedophiles — is the kind of feelings we feel when we see someone who hits the sweet spot of those traits we have a preference for. Every once in a while we will see someone who we plain and simply consider to be incredibly beautiful, sometimes mind-bogglingly so. What happens inside our bodies, the reactions that it sparks within, are something nobody can control. This has been described in poems and songs throughout history, and there are plenty of cliches to describe what happens. You feel butterflies in your stomach. A warmth inside your body. Weakness at the knees. Your heart skips a beat. He/she takes your breath away… These are cliches for a reason, and the feelings are the result of chemical reactions in your body. Expecting anyone to be able to control those reactions and choose not to feel this when they see someone they are attracted to is simply ridiculous. And it is precisely this that is the true indicator of someone’s sexual orientation. But bear in mind that this all happens in an instant, and before there is even any sexual arousal.
Thoughts and fantasies are a choice, feelings are not
After the feelings come the thoughts. After “recovering” from your lack of breath, a thought can quickly pop into your head. Something like “wow!” or “holy crap” is common, or depending on the person, something quite more colorful, like “damn, he/she’s hot/sexy!”… You may think it’s in poor taste — or simply disgusting — to think of a child as “hot” or “sexy”, yet that’s exactly what being sexually attracted to someone means. Why would it be different with pedophiles?
From that point on there are typically two choices. You either dismiss the thought and go on with your day — which is likely the most frequent outcome— or you entertain further thoughts, examine the person more, or even start to imagine “sexy” scenarios in your mind. Once again, you may think that imagining a sexual situation with a child is sick and perverted, but think about it rationally. What red- and hot-blooded adult heterosexual male has not had lascivious thoughts about the “hot chicks” he’s attracted to? Once again, why would pedophiles be any different?
That is where sexual arousal typically begins. If you let yourself, and if the situation allows it, you may decide to further develop your incipient thoughts into a full-blown fantasy, and masturbate to it. I don’t think it’s outlandish to say that this is pretty common among “normal” men. And yet no one would think that a heterosexual man entertaining a sexual fantasy about a hot woman he stumbled upon at the grocery store is in any way a violation of that woman, since everything is happening within the man’s mind and in the privacy of his bedroom. And it may very well happen that the particular woman would never consent to an actual sexual relationship with that man, for any number of reasons. And yet no one in their right mind would judge such a fantasy as a rape fantasy, and yet constantly pedophiles are accused of having fantasies about raping children. I already explained why that is a fallacy in my post Demystifying Sexual Attraction To Children.
And yet it’s true that both thoughts and fantasies are a choice, whereas the feelings — which is what constitutes the condition of pedophilia — aren’t. Perhaps the initial thoughts I referred to can pop up to your mind unsolicited, but from then on everyone has the ability to decide whether they want to entertain the thought any further, develop it into a fantasy or simply dismiss it. The question then is, what should pedophiles do?
Fantasy leads to action. Or does it?
A common argument among people that don’t quite understand what pedophilia is, is that fantasy leads to action. That eventually the fantasy won’t be enough and a pedophile will seek a real child to have sex with. That argument, though, is not supported by any actual evidence, only by unfounded fear and a misunderstanding of pedophilia as a condition. The thing is, pedophilia describes someone who is attracted to children. Nothing more — and nothing less. Pedophilia does not impair the pedophile in any way.
It does not impair our ability to be an independent and functioning member of society; it does not impair our ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality; it does not impair our ability to know right from wrong. It also does not affect our moral compass. A pedophile has no inherent desire to do harm, and if we have been taught that it’s wrong to harm anyone to fulfill our wishes, and if we acknowledge that children don’t have the developmental ability to provide meaningful consent — to anything, not just to sex with adults— then we simply have no actual desire to act on our sexual attraction with one, because we don’t want to cause him or her any harm. It’s really as simple as that.
One of the reasons people often cite to argue that pedophiles will eventually molest a child — the ticking time bomb theory — unless they repress every thought or fantasy of children is that it’s impossible to go one’s entire life without giving in to their urges (a word I despise, by the way). However, pedophilia also doesn’t impair a pedophile’s ability to control his or her actions at all times. Pedophilia is not a compulsion, or an urge to touch children that requires an actual conscious — let alone gargantuan — effort to refrain from. A great resource to read for a good understanding of what pedophilia is and isn’t is the Learn page on the B4U-ACT website. If you don’t have time to give it a good read, here’s what I’d like you to go away with:
Studies of personality characteristics on average find low levels of aggression among pedophiles. Other than the attraction itself, studies fail to find any abnormal or pathological characteristics. In particular, people attracted to children or pubertal adolescents have not been found to exhibit narcissism, psychosexual immaturity, low intelligence, aversion to adults, psychopathology, neurosis, or any personality disorder any more than people attracted to adults. The presence of these characteristics have been assumed, rather than being tested scientifically (Bradford et al., 1988; Langevin, 1983; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Wilson & Cox, 1983).
Another reasons why people argue that fantasy leads to action is that fantasy normalizes or reinforces the desires. That is simply not true, if not outright absurd. Pedophiles are sexually attracted to children whether they ever fantasize about having sex with children or not. If a pedophile stops fantasizing about children, they won’t stop being attracted to them. I’ll go again to my example of a celibate religious person: they are committed to never having sex or sexual fantasies, but they are still human and still find people of a certain group attractive.
In many other areas of society we have come to the acceptance that fantasy does not necessarily lead to action, and when it does it is not the fantasy itself at fault but something else that was wrong with the individual that materialized a fantasy. Violent media, particularly video games — and even role playing games when they started to become popular — went under a lot of scrutiny in the early days when there were some notorious cases of clearly deranged people that enacted some of the violent and imaginary things they had seen or performed in those games and went in violent sprees causing severe harm or killing other people. Mass shootings have often been blamed on violent movies and video games too. Yet no one advocates anymore for banning violence from video games or movies. The key is to make sure people have a firm grasp on reality and are able to differentiate between fantasy and the real world. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy running people over and killing prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto. What is not OK is to go around your local town doing the same thing to real people.
Should pedophiles fantasize?
So the question now is whether pedophiles should or should not fantasize about children. And the answer, as usual, is: it depends.
For many pedophiles, having sexual fantasies about children acts as a good release valve for accumulated sexual tension. Given that pedophiles are not allowed to have sex with the kind of people they are sexually attracted to, many find the need to find an outlet for their sex drive, and wish to do so in a way that doesn’t harm children. Most pedophiles acknowledge that consuming child pornography is wrong and indirectly harms children by contributing to the problem. They often consider turning to virtual child pornography, with things like drawn pornographic cartoons or erotic stories, or simply innocent pictures of children. Once again, you may find this disgusting all you want, but it objectively doesn’t harm anyone, mostly because in the former two cases there are no actual children involved, and in the latter the children have not been harmed to produce the images and can never possibly know that someone has fantasized about them. However, as these other outlets are being criminalized more and more every day, many pedophiles are afraid and have fantasy as their only possible outlet. Most of the pedophiles in this category firmly believe that having such an outlet actually helps them keep firmly grounded and confident that they will never act with a real child or consume real child pornography, the kind where actual kids are sexually abused to produce.
Many other pedophiles, however, have reasons to refrain from entertaining fantasies about children. In a very good percentage of those that fall under this category, there are religious and/or moral beliefs at play that dictate for them that they should not do so, and that is as valid a reason as any other. However, these pedophiles should have the same qualms regarding fantasizing about adult women if they happened to be heterosexual men, and yet often the don’t. And many times even those who have no such religious beliefs are also distressed by the fantasies. Why would that be?
Feelings of guilt
Pedophiles are conditioned to feel guilty for our sexual desires. It is very easy to internalize the stigma surrounding pedophilia and believe that merely having a sexual attraction to children is morally wrong — let alone entertaining sexual fantasies about them. Something that is not chosen cannot be attributed a moral value though. Just being a pedophile is neither right nor wrong. It just is. Once again, fantasizing is indeed an option, so we could potentially assign a moral/immoral qualifier to it. However what one person believes to be immoral is different to what the next one does. I fail to see, though, a reason why fantasizing about children would be immoral whereas fantasizing about adults would not be. Like I said, consent plays no role in a fantasy because, well, it’s a fantasy and by definition not real. What happens in someone’s head cannot possibly harm another person, so where is the harm in fantasy, of any kind?
If you are a pedophile and are wondering whether you should fantasize about children or not, the reality is that only you can make that decision. But make that decision based on your own beliefs, and be consistent with those beliefs and apply them to everything; don’t bend them to chastise yourself for the mere fact of being a pedophile. If your religious beliefs tell you not to, you are free and it’s in your control to choose not to, but also everyone falters and sins. If you ask for forgiveness, God will forgive you for your sins. Learn to forgive yourself too. Don’t beat yourself up too severely; pick yourself up and continue trying. Practice makes perfect.
If otherwise you feel there would be nothing wrong with fantasizing about an adult woman if you were a heterosexual man, then there is exactly no difference between that and fantasizing about children. It’s only natural that you want to fantasize about those you find sexually appealing. And as long as you have a firm grasp on reality and it helps you cope, you are certainly not harming anyone by doing so, so I would say enjoy and let go of the guilt, because it doesn’t belong in you.