It sounds like the last thing society should do, right? Accept that pedophiles, people with a sexual attraction to children, exist among us. Not just accept them, but to let them be around children, and treat them like human beings as well. After all, pedophiles are responsible for harming children… right?
Actually, the majority of child sexual abusers are not pedophilic at all, they are mainly attracted to adults. Several studies put that majority between 60-80% (here and here), as do other advocacy organizations. Likewise, not all who view child sexual exploitation material are pedophilic: 40% or so are attracted to adults. Research also solidly supports the idea of non-offending pedophiles: People who have a sexual attraction to children but refuse to act on it via sexually exploitative imagery or by molesting/raping a child.
Given the available numbers, it would likewise appear that most pedophiles do not harm children. So, before we continue, I need to bring up another point: Help. Yes, get help. That is what pedophiles should do, right?
What Does Help Look Like?
…nothing like what you might think. There are two main schools of thought around helping pedophiles. One is based in sex positivity, research, and an acknowledgment of the facts around these issues. The other is based in what we would call wishful thinking that has limited, if any, scientific basis. For those that may not know, I am a pedophile, and yes, I got help already. So, let me give you the nutshell version of what properly researched help looks like for pedophiles.
Wishful thinking goes something like this: Sexual fantasy involving anything that would be illegal if acted on is bad for you. Why? Because everyone knows that it is practice for acting on it, plain and simple. If someone has a sexual interest in children, for example, they should work hard to suppress that interest. Sexual interest, after all, is a choice.
The fact-based approach goes something like this: Sexual fantasy is just that, fantasy. It is not the same as reality, and if someone acknowledges that distinction, there is no problem. Also, there is growing evidence that pedophilia functions as a sexual orientation in that it cannot change and persists over time. In other words, there is no way to “pray the pedophilia away,” pedophilia is something that has no cure. Conversion therapy has been scientifically proven to do more harm than good, and suppressing sexual thought can actually backfire.
The therapeutic approach, then, is to work with pedophiles in understanding that pedophilia has no way of changing, accepting that one has pedophilia and all that comes with it – sexual fantasies included – and not attempting to change that which cannot change. In other words, rather than resisting having sexual fantasies, going with the flow and not shaming oneself afterward.
Why Acceptance Is The Only Solution
Many have speculated that, given enough time and research, we might come up with a way of changing sexuality for those who might seek it. In other words, just because there is no way of changing pedophilia now does not mean there never will be a way of changing pedophilia. This “solution” is not in the immediate foreseeable future, and it is unclear if that will ever be a reality. Only time will tell.
So, let me explain what cognitive dissonance is: A psychological phenomena in which our mind is in conflict with something in a way that causes us distress. The simplest example of cognitive dissonance is the caricature of someone trying to make a moral decision, and a red devil is on one shoulder and an angel on the other shoulder. A practical application might be that you got passed up for a promotion at work, and you refuse to accept that your performance was not good enough to get the promotion, blaming it on favoritism, sexism, racism, or a boss that hates you (not to say those do not happen, obviously, but leave those aside for now).
If a pedophile – or society – is constantly holding out hope that we might have a world in which there is no pedophilia, no sexual attraction to children… then that creates distress and cognitive dissonance. It creates turmoil, which can cause any number of negative effects: Isolation, depression, anxiety, shame, worthlessness… the list is very long indeed. If a pedophile is holding the false hope that they can somehow change their attractions, and that consistently does not happen, or worse, they fool themselves into thinking that it has happened, then they are creating their own distress.
The only way to solve that distress is acceptance: Acceptance of the facts, acceptance of reality. That is the only way for pedophiles to be happy, and for society to peacefully coexist alongside pedophiles.
We have seen the results that distress and cognitive dissonance brings and how this puts children at risk by driving pedophiles away from help and support. We have seen already how difficult it is . The better alternative is to keep children safe by not asking pedophiles to do the impossible.
Society Will Accept Pedophiles
Whether you want to admit it or not, there is no reason why pedophiles will not gain just as much acceptance as other minorities in the near future. No one chooses their attractions, that much is obvious to anyone. They can choose their behaviors, which is what pedophiles should do… carefully. For most pedophiles, this is easy. Some need support in making that choice. However, the acceptance of pedophiles as human beings will happen within my lifetime.
The question is… are you going to opt for that, or for cognitive dissonance?