A recent article on Gawker.com by Cord Jefferson suggests that we could be a more just and healing society were we to consider pedophilia a sexual orientation, rather than simply a crime. He suggests that pedophiles are born with this orientation, just as men might be born with the inherent potential to develop an attraction to adult females, or vice-versa.
Here, Jefferson promotes a predictable (because it has been said before) and extremely dangerous claim that wanting to have sex with kids means nothing psychologically about the person who wants to. Further, it suggests that when one cannot resist having sex with a child that that person is a victim of mental illness beyond his or her control, which he or she has no responsibility to resist.
The truth is that no one has ever been able to demonstrate that a person is born destined—genetically or neurologically—to want to have sex with children. The evidence for differences in the brains of pedophiles and those attracted to adults could easily be accounted for by traumatic life experiences of a sexual nature. We already know that trauma changes the brain. Life experience influences the function and structure of the nervous system.
Pedophiles, while worthy of pity because they are in fact sick, aren’t born, in my opinion.
Sadly, pedophiles who won’t accept responsibility for their actions may be inappropriately seeking to “benefit” from the advances won by the gay rights movement, because that movement has asserted that homosexual behavior is pre-programmed into babies, just as heterosexual behavior is. The unscientific and rote intolerance on the part of some gay rights groups for the idea that life experience can also shape sexual orientation (that sexual orientation is fluid) plants the seeds for the same insistence by those who would prey upon children.
I have treated many people with sexual disorders, including pedophilia. Not one of them was without extremely significant childhood trauma. I defy any mental health professional to introduce me to a pedophile whose early life experiences did not include inappropriate boundary crossings and failure of empathy by adults around that person—whether sexually violent or otherwise humiliating.
Pedophiles, while worthy of pity because they are in fact sick, aren’t born, in my opinion. They are made by traumatic life experiences. Moreover, even once they are created, many resist their impulses because they understand what should be—but is not—obvious to all of them: Forcing oneself on a child, through assault or coercion, is morally abhorrent and illegal.
Resisting sexual impulses is a very common occurrence. It happens billions of times a day on the planet.
Married people do it routinely, even though they are attracted to other partners.
People who would like to be Peeping Toms because they are sexually excited by voyeurism routinely resist acting on their desires because they understand them to be morally and legally wrong.
Teachers attracted to teenage students routinely resist cavorting with them because they would lose their jobs and because it is wrong to indulge.
People who might be excited by hiring prostitutes often resist because they know they would be breaking the law or because they intuit that buying sex from a young woman could be doing her psychological harm, even if she insists, otherwise.
People attracted to their best friend’s girlfriends routinely resist because they understand that consummating the relationship would be wrong.
Those who do not resist pedophilic desires—and who actually have sexual contact with a child (not simply looking at sexual images online, by the way, which is a matter for another column)—have made a choice. That choice is morally reprehensible and legally indefensible.
No one alive must have sex with a child. No one is born, in fact, absolutely needing to. No evidence exists, whatsoever, that the brain at birth is different in pedophiles than in the rest of the population. And treatments do exist that can dramatically reduce pedophilic impulses—including the use of Depo-Provera injections, which tank testosterone levels.
The elevation of pedophilia to sexual orientation clears the way for more of it. And Cord Jefferson conspires with that potential with his writings.
Author's note: Psychiatrists, of course, remain uncertain to what extent heterosexual and homosexual orientation is genetic and to what extent it is affected by environment. It was pointed out to me that my blog (above) may not have been entirely clear about that fact. Hopefully, this addendum will make it so. In addition, one reader believed that the blog suggested that gay rights groups legitimate pursuit of civil rights is in sympathy with pedophilia. That is also untrue and certainly nothing I would imply.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.