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By shocu
Telegram: @shocu7
Originally published in MAPness:

For many people, the word “pedophilia” or “pedophile” conjures up negative images of unfeeling monsters and abused children. This is not surprising, as most people have been exposed to the term purely through depictions of some of the worse crimes imaginable. The media and society at large has consistently used the term “pedophile” synonymously with “child molester,” “child rapist,” “child abuser,” etc. This use of the term has lead to the construction of the pedophile as someone who seeks to do nothing but harm, as someone with no sympathy, as someone who doesn’t care about the well-being of children, as someone “evil.” This image, however, is a gross misrepresentation and oversimplification that leads to a lot of misunderstanding and dehumanization. While the sexual exploitation of children, unfortunately, most certainly does exists, describing it exclusively with the term “pedophilia” is highly inaccurate, for that is not what the word means. In fact, there is a general lack of understanding of who these people are and confusion regarding the meaning of certain terms relating to them.

Therefore, before further discussion and elaboration on the previous points can be made, I must first clarify the meanings of certain terms, for their misuse is precisely what causes so much misunderstanding whenever the topic is brought up.

Let us start with the elephant in the room, the term most people have heard but know little about: pedophilia. As stated previously, most people associate this term with the sexual abuse of children, but things are not quite that simple. A pedophile is someone who is sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children. “Pre-pubescent” here refers to children who have not reached puberty, generally between the ages of 5 and 11. Special emphasis must be placed on “sexually attracted”: pedophilia does not mean sexually abusing children (in fact, it is not an action, i.e., one does not “do” pedophilia). It is merely an attraction, a sexual preference. It is not too dissimilar to a man finding breasts attractive or even someone finding the same or opposite sex attractive. And similar to adults finding other adults attractive, a pedophile is not necessarily an abuser. They may be, of course, but so can just about anyone. Being sexually attracted to someone is not the same thing as deciding to sexually assault someone.

As mentioned, pedophilia is the attraction to pre-pubescent children, but what about other age groups? Even though pedophilia is often used to refer to the attraction to minors of any age, there are other terms that are more specific, albeit not as commonly used. For example, a hebephile (hebephilia) is someone who is attracted to pubescent children, that is to say, preteens or teenagers going through puberty, generally between the ages of 11 and 14. There are also ephebophiles (ephebophilia), who are attracted to post-pubescent (after puberty) teenagers, generally between the ages of 15 and 17. If we’re talking about an attraction to infants (babies/toddlers), those would be nepiophiles (nepiophilia). Similar to pedophilia, these terms describe a sexual attraction, not the action of actually having sex with a minor.

All of these “-philias” are sometimes referred to as chronophilias: attraction to certain age ranges. There are two more chronophilias: teleiophilia (teleiophiles), which is the attraction to adults (in other words, most people), and gerontophilia (gerontophiles), which is the attraction to the elderly.

It should be noted that these chronophilias are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One may find several age ranges and even both minors and adults attractive. For example, I am mostly hebephilic, though I may also find some older pre-pubescent children (which is typically considered pedophilic) as well as some younger post-pubescent children (which is typically considered ephebophilic) attractive.

As there are several chronophilias that describe an attraction to minors, many opt to use a more encompassing term when talking about attraction to minors in general: MAP. MAP (or MAPs) stands for minor-attracted person (or persons). Some websites and Internet users have interpreted this term as a euphemism for pedophiles, as a way of “softening” it or “hiding” it, but this is incorrect (and, once again, based on assumptions of what a pedophile is). MAP is an umbrella term that includes nepiophilia, pedophilia, hebephilia, and ephebophilia. Therefore, MAP is not synonymous with pedophilia, as that would exclude the other chronophilias. Describing all types of minor attractions as simply “pedophilia” paints a highly inaccurate and problematic picture where an attraction to, say, a 5-year-old is viewed as being exactly the same as an attraction to a 17-year-old.

There are also exclusive and non-exclusive MAPs. Exclusive MAPs only find minors attractive, while non-exclusive ones may find both minors and adults attractive. These categories shouldn’t be seen as a hard line separating two “types” of MAPs, but rather as a sort of spectrum in which an individual MAP may decide to identify as one or the other. In other words, someone who identifies as exclusive may still find certain adults attractive under certain circumstances. These terms mostly describe how “strong” one’s sexual preference is for minors compared to adults. A MAP may also be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, which in the case of minor attraction refers to finding boys or girls (or both) attractive.

A MAP, once again, is not necessarily someone who abuses children. Someone who sexually abuses a child is called a child molester. A MAP may or may not be a child molester, just like someone who is attracted to adults may or may not decide to sexually abuse another adult they find attractive. It is unfair to assume someone wants to cause harm based solely on their sexual preference. Additionally, child molesters are not necessarily MAPs either. Some people may decide to abuse a child not necessarily because they’re attracted to them, but for a myriad of other reasons, such as children being easy to take advantage of, opportunity, revenge, etc.

Lastly, I would like to briefly touch on a distinction that exists among MAPs. Many MAPs identify as anti-contact MAPs, while others identify as pro-contact MAPs. Basically, pro-contact MAPs believe that not all sexual interaction with children is necessarily harmful to them, while anti-contact MAPs believe it is invariably harmful. While I won’t go too in-depth about this debate, as I’d be veering into a different topic, I nevertheless feel it is important to note that even pro-contact MAPs don’t necessarily actively engage with children sexually, although they do hold an unpopular opinion even among many MAPs. It is also worth noting that some MAPs may not necessarily identify as one or the other, and some may even identify as neutral-contact.

At this point it is imperative to mention an important aspect that many people may not realize about MAPs. These attractions are inborn. In other words, no one chooses to be a nepiophile, or a pedophile, or a hebephile, or an ephebophile. Like just about everyone else, MAPs discover their sexuality around puberty, and they have no say on how that sexuality will be. No one can choose what they’re attracted to. In that sense, it is not too dissimilar to homosexuality or bisexuality, in that homosexuals/bisexuals have a sexual attraction (that they never chose to have) that is heavily stigmatized in our society. Some may describe being attracted to minors as “wrong” or “evil,” but how can we hold people morally responsible for something they cannot control (what they’re attracted to)? It would be like determining a person’s intentions or moral standing based on the color of their skin or on the shape of their nose.

Of course, one might say, a (teleiophilic) homosexual or bisexual person can have a consenting relationship with another adult, while the equivalent for a MAP would be problematic to say the least. And that would be true, but it is unfair to assume that most MAPs even intend to engage sexually with a child. MAPs are not wild animals who dictate their actions based on instinct; we may have this attraction, but that doesn’t mean we cannot control ourselves. Being sexually attracted to someone is not the same as wanting to harm them, and indeed, most MAPs have no desire to harm children or anyone.

Unfortunately, because of the stigma that exists against this attraction, many MAPs must endure a lot of social hostility; they are viewed as monsters even if they’ve done nothing wrong. They are seen as inherently “bad” people even though they never chose to be MAPs. Imagine a young teenager realizing that they are attracted to children. Now mix this realization with the horror stories people typically hear about pedophiles/MAPs. The teenager is left to feel like they have been deemed a monster with nothing they can do about it. In fact, the lack of good information about this subject can even lead to them thinking that abusing children is an inevitable outcome of their attraction. This is, of course, untrue, but for someone who is just discovering their sexuality, where are they suppose to turn to in order to learn about that? Who can they turn to for support? The life of a MAP is typically very isolating. Most of them cannot discuss it even with close friends and family for fear of being looked on with disgust. And as if this wasn’t enough, attempting to seek information on the Internet may yield a mixture of good information and open hostility. They may find some basic explanations regarding what minor attraction is and isn’t. They may even find videos or articles such as this one, which attempt to paint them positively for what they are: humans. However, they will also most likely come across many other videos, articles, tweets, and comments responding to these aforementioned representations with open disgust, comparing it to defending murderers, claiming the world is going crazy, and in some cases, calling for their execution. What do you think that does to a person, especially a young teenager?

I remember experiencing very similar things to the above during my teenage years (and early adult years). To be under the impression that the world at large hates you and wishes you dead merely for existing is crushing, it is dehumanizing, it is cruel. People are unable to see beyond our immutable attraction and assume we are little more than monsters or ticking time bombs. This leads many MAPs into depression, and without the ability to even talk about it, that depression is often left unchecked. It happened to me during my teenage years, and there is no doubt in my mind that many other teens around the world are going through the same thing as I’m writing this.

This is, of course, all for the sake of protecting children, some might say. But, once again, why must it be assumed that we’re a danger? Why must we be stripped of our dignity and human rights based on the possibility of someone deciding to harm someone else? This is something, I might add, that most MAPs have no intention of doing, since, as most humans, we are perturbed by the idea of harming others. This possibility is also something that is not exclusive to those attracted to minors. Should we shun or even lock up all (teleiophilic) heterosexual men based on the possibility that some of them may decide to harm women?

This approach of dehumanizing all MAPs does very little to actually prevent the sexual exploitation of children and instead causes suffering for innocents. There is very little energy directed towards finding how these people can be integrated into society in a healthy way. For many MAPs, simply having someone they can talk to can go a long way in helping them cope with their sexuality. For children discovering their sexuality, having available resources that explain what the attraction is and isn’t can help prevent much anxiety and confusion for young MAPs, as well as help non-MAPs be more informed on the subject. As for sexual urges, it may be tempting to say that they should just refrain from all sexual thought. However, complete sexual repression is not necessarily healthy, and may lead to psychological issues down the line. While this idea is uncomfortable for many people, masturbation and simulated (fictional) pornography may serve as healthy outlets for people with minor attraction. Unfortunately, it is hard to determine for sure whether such outlets can truly be effective for dealing with these urges, as the taboo surrounding this subject has meant very little research and discussion has been dedicated to it.

One common argument I’ve seen people make whenever this topic is brought up is the concern over whether this is “normalizing pedophilia.” However, I find this phrase problematic. What exactly do people mean when they say this? The phrasing is quite vague, and I believe it stems from a misunderstanding of what these terms mean. For one thing, it is usually phrased as “normalizing pedophilia,” but this already shows some ignorance on the subject, since, as I’ve discussed above, pedophilia is only one of several chronophilias describing an attraction to minors. Perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “normalizing minor attraction,” though this is still rather vague, as I will discuss below.

What does “normalizing” pedophilia / minor attraction mean? Is it the acceptance of adult-child sexual relationships in our society? Because most of the time this subject is brought up, that is not what is being argued at all. Is it the “normalization” of the fact that people with this attraction exist? How would ignoring our existence be fruitful for anyone? Whether anyone likes it or not, people like us exist, and pretending that is not the case can only worsen the situation for everyone.

Perhaps this “normalization” refers to the acceptance of helping people with this attraction cope with their sexuality in ways that are not harmful to them or to children. Why is this such a bad thing? Is it truly better to socially ostracize, isolate, and dehumanize an entire group of people based solely on an immutable aspect of their being? Or maybe this “normalization” refers to allowing people to have sexual thoughts involving children. While I can understand how some people might find this idea uncomfortable, approaching the issue from this angle leads us dangerously close to policing people’s thoughts, i.e., thought crime. One may think that having sexual thoughts about children is inherently immoral, but sexual thoughts are only a natural part of anyone’s sexuality. How can we blame people for having fantasies involving what they’re attracted to? Regardless, complete sexual repression, including one’s thoughts, hardly seems like a preferable alternative. In the end, thoughts cannot hurt anyone. It is only when people take action where we should be concerned, and we shouldn’t assume people’s intentions based on things like sexual thoughts. Again, would it be fair to assume someone fantasizing about an adult intends to harm them?

Another possibility I can think of regarding what people mean by “normalizing” would be the “normalization” of the discussion of MAP issues. Although many people may be uncomfortable discussing these issues, how will anyone ever reach a better understanding and seek solutions that can work for everyone if we simply censor topics we don’t like? And, more to the point, what are people with this attraction meant to do if we cannot even speak out against the way we’re treated? We should never be afraid of discourse. If we simply decide that some topics simply cannot be discussed because we find them uncomfortable or unpleasing, what then would be the purpose and value of free speech? To silence us is to deprive us of our basic human rights (which, again, contributes to our dehumanization).

Lastly, I would like to address another misconception concerning MAPs. I’ve observed some people imploring us to “get help” when they hear about our attraction. While this gesture is certainly more appreciated than the usual insults or threats, I feel it is ultimately misplaced. There are many cases where it is imperative for a MAP to “seek help” (“help” here referring to psychotherapy). These cases may include things like feeling one cannot control their urges, feeling distress related to their minor attraction, having depression, needing help coping with their attraction, and so on. Note that even in these cases a MAP may still be dissuaded from going to therapy, as many therapists lack the training and experience for dealing with something like this, and in some countries there are laws that heavily incentivize therapists to report someone they think may be a risk, even if they’re not. There are more legal consequences for therapists for not reporting someone who ultimately does something illegal than for reporting someone unnecessarily.

However, whenever I see people saying “get help” like this, they seem to have something else in mind. They appear to be under the impression that a MAP, simply for having this attraction, should go see a psychiatrist to “get it fixed.” This line of thinking makes some erroneous assumptions, the biggest one being that one’s sexual preference can be altered. Not only is it impossible to “get rid” of someone’s minor attraction, but to suggest so gets dangerously close to an argument in favor of conversion therapy, as it assumes an “undesirable” sexual attraction can simply be changed with the right methods. Many homosexuals in the past (and sometimes even today, unfortunately) have had to face torturous treatments with the expectation that they would become “normal,” but these “therapies” have proven time and time again to be in vain. Moreover, the physical and emotional distress on a person undergoing such treatments can only prove to be harmful. Why has much of society determined that attempting to change a homosexual’s sexuality is wrong but does not apply the same logic for people attracted to minors? Of course, there is the argument that a teleiophilic homosexual can have a healthy, consensual relationship. However, we would once again be assuming that having an attraction would necessarily mean acting on it. Homosexuals who have had to undergo conversion therapy did not do so with the idea that they must be prevented from entering into a same-sex relationship, but rather because their attraction itself was seen as something that needed “fixing.”

Despite the distress and anxiety I had to face when I was discovering my sexuality, today I feel much more comfortable with it. I know that it doesn’t mean I’ll suddenly lose my sympathy and start desiring to cause harm. I know that I am not a bad person simply for having this attraction. I did decide to visit a psychiatrist regardless, just to get his opinion. He ultimately determined that I was no danger to children. He saw that, despite my attraction, I had no intentions of harming anybody, and that I had long learned how to cope with my reality. Since there was nothing else to be done, we decided to end the sessions there. Unfortunately, many MAPs do feel distress about this, and the hostile attitudes surrounding the issue does little to improve the situation.

The misunderstanding of the terms above as well as the general attitude and treatment of MAPs leads to a situation where we are constantly dehumanized for doing nothing more than existing. I would go so far as to say that we are an oppressed group. We are seen as subhuman, monsters, and ticking time bombs. Many of us have had childhoods like any other, hobbies like any other, aspirations like any other, and yet, because of our sexual preference, we are made to feel like we are less than human. We cannot even talk about it without the risk of being ostracized. I’ve seen people openly call for the deaths of people like me, with phrases like “the only cure is a bullet to the head” or “the only good pedo is a dead pedo,” while being encouraged. It is genocidal. And in the rare event that we are discussed as something other than bogeymen, it is subsequently met with open disgust and hysteria. How on earth can this be considered as anything other than dehumanizing and oppressive?