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Trigger warning: this article discusses paedophilia
Recently, experts have claimed that paedophilia ought to be seen as a type of sexual orientation, just like hetero or homosexuality. But should it be seen in these terms and what are the implications of this new label?
The first issue, naturally, is if such a label is appropriate. By sexual orientation we mean ‘an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction.’ The atypical trend has been to avoid giving paedophilia this label and refer to it as a psychological disorder. In 2013, however, Dr James Cantor (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) suggested that it is a ‘biologically rooted condition that does not change’ and effects 2% of men, suggesting that it is a natural condition that cannot be ‘cured’. In terms of LGBT+, the majority view has been to stress the natural-bias on sexual orientation, so homosexuality or asexuality are not seen as “choices” that an individual makes but rather features of their personality. Thus, holding Cantor’s widely-accepted evidence and our standard 21st-century attitude to sexual orientation, paedophilia does stand as a sexual orientation.
So why does this matter? It means that paedophilia is no longer a choice, and cannot be treated medically or psychologically. But this leaves us locking away potential paedophiles because their threat to children and imposing medication on them to suppress (but not treat) their urges. This, seemingly, makes a paedophile look more like a victim of the system than a criminal, which is obviously problematic. We wouldn’t be locking them away in virtue of them having done something wrong, but rather in order to protect young children. Equally, in reforming them we would simply be ordering them not to act on their natural sexual impulses. We have to remember that fifty years ago the same attitude held to homosexuality. But because we hold on to notions of consent, we thus say paedophiles are wrong in their natural sexual construction. But if they have not chosen it and have not acted on it, have they really done anything wrong?
Perhaps there is a loop-hole here. We cannot say that attraction to children itself is immoral per se, but acting upon such an attraction is. Thus the fact that paedophiles make comments such as “We do not choose to be attracted to children, and we cannot make that attraction go away,” are irrelevant when considering the actual act of child abuse committed when a pedophile acts upon their desires.
This has two implications. The first is that society ought to no longer see sexual desire towards children as immoral or perverse. This may seem outlandish, but to do so would bear a fatal contradiction and injustice. Pedophilia is a biological attraction, and thus to object to its very occurrence is equal to objection to homosexual desires. To object to a person on the grounds of such a desire is to fatally misunderstand it and to unfairly subject and demean individuals. Furthermore, their admittance of their desire may help them to not act upon it. Non-abusive pedophilic desire is not wrong. The second is that we take a high ground on sexual desire. 98% of the population see their sexual desire as permissible to act upon, and stop the other 2%. This is less worrying; there are plenty of desires we have that are deplored (the desire to smoke, for example). The only factor here is that if you have pedophilic desires exclusively you would have to abstain from sex. But this a fair price for child protection.
There are some serious issues to deal with now that paedophilia is being seen as type of sexual orientation. The law and society as a whole may need to re-evaluate exactly how we approach this taboo area of sex, especially by removing stigma from the simple having of (but not acting upon) paedophilic desire.