There has been a bit of hubub in the news lately, as the BBC released an interesting article written by a 60-year-old pedophile who claims to have pedophilia, which he deems a “deeply distressing sexual orientation.” This has set off an uproar on social media, and has now been covered by RT, The Daily Caller, and Twitchy. This begs the question… is pedophilia a sexual orientation? And what is pedophilia, exactly?
What Is A Sexual Orientation?
According To The APA
According the the American Psychological Association’s FAQ on sexual orientation and homosexuality, a…
“Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to men, women or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors and membership in a community of others who share those attractions. Research over several decades has demonstrated that sexual orientation ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex.”
They go on to indicate that,
“Sexual orientation is distinct from other components of sex and gender, including biological sex (the anatomical, physiological and genetic characteristics associated with being male or female), gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female)* and social gender role (the cultural norms that define feminine and masculine behavior).”
So, there you have it. Sexual orientation is an enduring pattern of attraction, be it emotional, romantic, sexual, or any variation of the three. In other words, these attractions are long-term and do not change.
According To WebMD
The definition given by WebMD is very similar to the APA’s definition:
“Sexuality is an important part of who we are as humans. Beyond the ability to reproduce, sexuality also defines how we see ourselves and how we physically relate to others. Sexual orientation is a term used to refer to a person’s emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to individuals of a particular gender (male or female).”
They go on to say that,
“Sexual orientation involves a person’s feelings and sense of identity; it may or may not be evident in the person’s appearance or behavior. People may have attractions to people of the same or opposite sex, but may elect not to act on these feelings. For example, a bisexual may choose to have a monogamous (one partner) relationship with one gender and, therefore, elect not to act on the attraction to the other gender.”
Bringing Both Together
In other words, it is an enduring (long-term) attraction that is of a emotional, romantic, and sexual nature or any variation of the three. It is something that may or may not be acted on, and it is typically seen as something that does not change. They are distinct from biological sex and gender, are part of identifying a certain way and in a community of like-minded individuals, and are directed towards people of one biological sex or both.
Can Orientation Be Changed?
Both sources strongly indicate that the answer is no. WebMD states that, “Most experts agree that sexual orientation is not a choice and, therefore, cannot be changed,” and go on to discuss those who hide homosexuality or bisexuality on religious grounds. APA points to the research, with strongly indicate the same: Therapies that attempt to change someone’s sexual feelings are not shown to be effective, and can cause harm.
What Is Pedophilia?
Okay, so we have now defined a sexual orientation as a long-term sexual attraction that does not change, and may or may not be acted on. Now we must delve into what pedophilia is.
WebMD has an article about pedophilia, but unfortunately, the APA does not. The WebMD article was written by Dr. Ray Blanchard, who is a sexologist from the University of Toronto. Another well-known sexologist, Dr. James Cantor, has previously worked at the same University, and currently works as a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has uncovered a great deal of information about pedophilia.
Before I get into the specifics of what Dr. Cantor says, let me first quote Dr. Blanchard in his opening remarks on what a pedophile is and what pedophilia is:
“A pedophile is a person who has a sustained sexual orientation toward children, generally aged 13 or younger, Blanchard says.”
Not all pedophiles are child molesters (or vice versa). “Child molesters are defined by their acts; pedophiles are defined by their desires,” Blanchard says. “Some pedophiles refrain from sexually approaching any child for their entire lives.” But it’s not clear how common that is.”
Interestingly, Dr. Blanchard seems to answer our question for us.
But let us first dig a little deeper before we reach a conclusion. The article (which was written before the release of the DSM-V) goes on to say that pedophilia will be treated by the DSM-V as separate from pedophilic disorder, and that pedophilia is the feelings towards children, while, “[Pedophiles] would be diagnosed with pedophilic disorder either if their attractions toward children are causing them guilt, anxiety, alienation, or difficulty in pursuing other personal goals, or else if their urges cause them to approach children for sexual gratification in real life,”
In other words, the feelings towards children themselves are not a disorder unless they cause the above difficulties.
With the specifics aside, pedophilia is an enduring pattern of attraction towards children that may or may not be acted upon.
Does Sexual Orientation Apply To Pedophilia?
The evidence seems to point most strongly towards yes. In addition to Dr. Blanchard’s information on the topic, we have an article detailing research from Dr. Cantor from December, 2013, which indicates the same. The article about Dr. Cantor’s research quotes the founder of Virtuous Pedophiles, an online community of pedophiles who seek to support each other in staying safe around children.
This answers a lingering question from the APA’s definition of sexual orientation: Do pedophiles find identity and support from other pedophiles? The answer is obviously yes, if an online community of pedophiles exists, and what is more, exists to support pedophiles in being safe with children.
What Does This Mean For Child Sexual Abuse?
Nothing whatsoever, provided that pedophiles do not wish to push for the right to be sexual with children. A brief look into Virtuous Pedophiles reveals that they exist to, “help virtuous pedophiles remain law-abiding, and lead happy, productive lives.” So it is safe to say that while there may be some vocal groups like NAMBLA who say otherwise, there are also pedophiles who seek to be law-abiding.
Without a survey or poll of some kind, it would be impossible to tell which group has more members. However, the point is that there are pedophile groups who do not want to harm children, and there are other pedophile groups who do. We do need to ensure we keep the two separate, and continue to push back against those who seek to harm children, but as an advocate for preventing sexual abuse, I see no harm in taking pedophilia out of the shadows, even if that means calling it an orientation.
If there are pedophiles who have pedophilia, a sexual orientation towards children, then we need to support them in whatever ways they ask for so that they continue to refrain from acting on their orientation and stay strong in their commitment to remain law-abiding.
If a sexual orientation, as WebMD points out, is something that can be refrained from being acted upon, then one can have a pedophilic sexual orientation and not harm children.