What if Pedophilia were an Orientation?

Derek Ouellette —  February 14, 2013 — 13 Comments

The issue of pedophilia hit fairly close to home several months ago when someone I consider a friend, a Christian and a leader, was arrested for “luring” young boys. It was a shock, for sure. I still love my Christian brother. But it was a shock.

Last year an online friend, a conservative Christian blogger in seminary, was arrested for making sexual advances on his male roommate. This also came as a shock. I still love my Christian brother – though we’ve never met (it’s a Christian thing). But it was a shock, nonetheless.

In both situations the victims had not consented (a child, we’d say, can’t consent. And the roommate did not consent).

But in my experience, people are far more accepting and forgiving of my blogging friend then they are of someone who might lure a child. Children have a special place in our hearts. They are young and defenceless. It is a crime. I mean, it’s a crime today in our culture.

But in ancient Greece the story is quite different. Young prepubescent boys were considered the peak of human bodily perfection. The culture had expectations on these young boys (twelve and under). In order to become “something” in society they would need to find a man who was “someone” in society who would take them on, sort of like an apprenticeship into manhood. But this presented a cultural conundrum. For the boy it was a taboo to be “used” sexually. But for the man it was expected that he would “sexually” use the boy. It was a tightrope of epic proportions.

So what are we to make of pedophilia? Pedophilia is a taboo in our society. We are revolted by it. It is the most heinous of heinous crimes. The worse criminals hate pedophiles. We see people who commit pedophilia acts as individuals who have a mental illness – at best. They are reprobate in the extreme. We make no distinction between someone who acts and someone who is. They are one and the same.

RECENT STUDIES: PEDOPHILIA IS AN ORIENTATION

But more and more experts are claiming that pedophilia is an orientation.

In a recent [Canadian] parliamentary session on a bill relating to sexual offenses against children, psychology experts claimed that pedophilia is a “sexual orientation” comparable to homosexuality or heterosexuality. (Here)

The article goes on to quote one of these experts, Van Gijseghem:

Pedophiles are not simply people who commit a small offence from time to time but rather are grappling with what is equivalent to a sexual orientation just like another individual may be grappling with heterosexuality or even homosexuality… True pedophiles have an exclusive preference for children, which is the same as having a sexual orientation. You cannot change this person’s sexual orientation… He may however remain abstinent.

The article continues with the question/answer discussion that followed. Obviously Van Gijseghem’s statement – made on Valentines Day 2011 – was odious to the politicians, as one went on to say, pedophilia “has more to do with violence and control.” That, of course, is what we want to believe.

The purpose of the inquiry was to discuss the merits of “reparative therapy” (where have we heard that before?). The politicians continued to focus on Van Gijseghem’s statement that pedophilia is an orientation like homosexuality, showing where the politicians where going with this. But Van Gijseghem would add, “and heterosexuality” to show that he wasn’t trying to make this about homosexuality, but about pedophilia. Van Gijseghem’s point is this:

If, for instance, you were living in a society where heterosexuality is proscribed or prohibited and you were told that you had to get therapy to change your sexual orientation, you would probably say that that is slightly crazy. In other words, you would not accept that at all. I use this analogy to say that, yes indeed, pedophiles do not change their sexual orientation.

Van Gijseghem was joined by another psychologist who put the finishing touch on their discussion. Dr. Vernon Quinsey said:

You can manage the risk that sex offenders present – even pedophiles. It’s not necessarily that they need to change their sexual orientation; they need to learn to control themselves, with our help. (emphasis added)

Nobody here was or is condoning the act of pedophilia. To be sure it is morally unethical, socially reprehensible, and certainly from a Christian perspective, utter sin. These experts were not denying any of that. What they were saying is that pedophilia is an orientation and that people born with that orientation need to learn to control themselves, and they need our help to do it. But all the politicians would hear – all many people would hear – is this:

In my opinion, society and no one around this table will accept pedophilia, even if it is a sexual orientation. I recall a period, not too long ago, when homosexuality was treated as an illness. It is now accepted, society has accepted it … I cannot imagine pedophilia being accepted in 2011. You are telling me that even if we were to impose a five-year minimum on people it would not solve the problem. Once they get out of jail, they reoffend. That is worrisome.

No, that’s not at all what the experts were saying. Having an orientation from birth is one thing; acting on those desires is quite another. In fact, as Quinsey pointed out in a subsequent interview, “Not all guys who commit offenses against children are pedophiles” and, as we’ll see in a moment, not all pedophiles commit offences against children.

PUTTING A FACE ON THE ISSUE

In an earlier post on homosexuality I quoted a Christian (pseudonym: Jordan) who said that he would sit in chapel, stare at the cross and beg God to “please just let me be attracted to girls.” My heart wrenched at that prayer. I don’t understand that man’s challenge because I don’t share his struggle. I’m a heterosexual. This man was a “non-offender,” meaning that he was a conservative Christian who believed that homosexual sex was a sin. He chose to live a celibate life. Putting a face on the situation helped me overcome some of my assumptions about homosexuality. In particular, I used to believe that Homosexuals were reprobate in the extreme. I made no distinction between someone who acted on it and someone who was one. They were one and the same.

But what happens when we put a struggling face on a man with a pedophilia orientation, who never acted on it? Enter “Ralf P.” whose self-loathing is not too different from Jordan’s prayer:

“I hate my desires,” he says brusquely. “They make me sick.” Then, after a brief pause, he adds: “But I’ve never abused a child.” (Here)

Listen to his struggle:

When the girl dressed in skimpy summer clothes sits down across from him and smiles, Ralf P. goes into a panic. His heartbeat speeds up and he begins to breathe heavily and unsteadily. He breaks into a sweat.

He tries to look the other way, but he can’t. He stares at the girl for minutes at a time. Then he gets up abruptly and steps off the public bus at the next stop. Never mind that he’s still a long way from his destination. P. spends an hour wandering aimlessly through the city. He’s a man on the run from himself.
Ralf P. finds himself in this kind of situation all the time — in restaurants, on the escalator at the shopping mall, on elevators, at the supermarket. “Why me?” is the question he asks himself every time it happens. “Damn it, why me of all people?”

The girls that plunge him into this restless and confused state, making him forget everything that goes on around him, are young — much too young. They’re 10 or 11 years old — 12 years at best.

Ralf P. is a pedophile.

Ralf was participating in a program that is designed to help him overcome his struggles and desires. It is a program designed to prevent “pedophile men from ever putting their sexual fantasies about small boys and girls into practice.” (Read Ralf’s remarkable story here.)

WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN?

Even though pedophilia is an orientation, most people would probably still maintain a distinction between it and, say homosexuality, on the grounds that homosexual activity can be engaged between two consensual adults. Nobody is getting hurt. The problem with that argument is that it still fails to make a distinction between a pedophilia orientation and a pedophiles activity. What’s ironic about this is that the Christian community has made head-strides in accepting homosexuals on the grounds of that very same distinction. So perhaps we can argue that there is no difference between homosexuality and pedophilia (as well as heterosexuality) on the grounds that both are (or, may be) in-born sexual orientations. The difference comes into play only when we talk about the action and the object of the attraction.

But if we acknowledge the relativeness of even that fact – and our society loves to make things relative, but only when it’s convenient – what we are then to do with pedophiles? What I mean is that in other societies of the past it was not uncommon for men in their late 20’s – early 30’s to marry prepubescent girls or girls who were “just coming to age.” My point is that it is only because of our modern sensibilities that we consider certain activities revolting that previously were considered normal. Our society has set those standards. Ours. But other societies – ones we might find to be more barbaric – may have different standards. This goes back to what C.S. Lewis talks about in Mere Christianity, if – for secularists – there is no God. If there is no God there is no universal governor of morality.

Suddenly I’m hearing a whole host of arguments in my head. They are not my arguments. They are arguments I’ve read in emails and on blog sites and social media platforms and in books and on TV. Here are a few:

“Who are you to tell me I can’t be with the person I love?”

“I was born this way.”

“You’re asking me to live a celibate life?”

Yes, yes and yes. The Christian answer to all of these questions is yes. But now I’m confused. Are we still talking about a pedophile? Because if you accept – as I do – that pedophilia is an orientation, then the answer to all of these questions is yes. Yes, if the person you love in an unhealthy manner is a child, then I believe you cannot be with that person. Yes, I accept that you may have been born that way. Yes, I am asking you to live a celibate life, if that is the only option.

But if these questions are posed by a homosexual, I am supposed to feel guilty, heartless and inconsiderate. Yes, if the person you love (eros) is of the same gender, then on biblical grounds I believe you cannot be with that person. Yes, I accept that you may have been born that way. Yes, I am asking you to live a celibate life, if that is the only option.

But I’m not picking on homosexuals here any more than I am picking on pedophiles. In fact, the answers can be the same resounding “YES’s” for heterosexuals as well. Yes, if the person you love is married to another person, then I believe you cannot be with that person. Yes, I accept that you were born with a heterosexual orientation. Yes, if you feel you can be with no one else except that one person, then I am asking you to live a celibate life.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

I’ve argued so far that pedophilia may be an orientation and that that does not alleviate the heinous actions of a pedophile when he acts – in any way – upon those desires. As the church has dropped the ball on our homosexual community by failing to be a supportive outlet that embraces them and models for them true Christ-love and acceptance, so also not just the church, but society has long abandoned and ostracized pedophiles so that, unlike the homosexual community, we cannot even speak of a pedophile community. For where would two pedophiles admit their struggles? Where could they go to get help? Get support? Find strength?

Consider Ralf again. Terrified that he might one day lose the battle to resist, he became a recluse. He stayed away from any part of society where children could be found. He abandoned his career choice – too public – and took a job as a crane operator high in the sky. Finally, he decided to seek help.

After hesitating for a long time, he finally confessed to his doctor, who reacted helplessly. The doctor gave Ralf a prescription for a drug that lowers blood pressure, explaining that this will help to curb his sexual desire. Then he sent him to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist fiddled nervously as he listens to Ralf’s confession and then gives him a disgusted look. “I can’t help you,” he said. “All I can say is: The poor children.” (Here)

Is that what pedophiles seeking help get to look forward to? “I can’t help you. All I can say is: The poor children.” Ralf tried to kill himself with an overdose at 18. Luck stepped in as someone happened upon him and saved his life. At 52 he tried again. It was too much to bear.

“You pervert!” he said to himself. “You pervert, you disgusting pervert.” He could already see himself standing in court — spat on, threatened and despised by all: Ralf, the child molester.

So he stood on a cliff, having done nothing wrong, and tried to take his life if it weren’t for a police officer who apprehended him.

And let’s be honest. How have you reacted to this post? To the idea that pedophilia is an orientation? To the suggestion that we should change the way we approach men who struggle in this area? Perhaps we should change the way we think about pedophilia for both the struggling man, and the children they desire. Can we help them?

Perhaps this is too much too soon. It was, after all, not long since homosexuality was treated as an illness. But how would Jesus treat a man who struggles with homosexuality? And how would Jesus treat a man who struggles with pedophilia? Do we have a place in our faith communities for such a one? Matthew 25:36

RELEVANT ARTICLES:

Q&A with Vernon Quinsey

Experts disagree on the cause of pedophilia

The Future: Where sex orientation gets confusing

Experts tell Parliament pedophilia is an orientation

Where a pedophile can go for help: Ralf’s story

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • robgrayson

    This is a brave post, Derek. I don’t really know how I react to the issues and questions you raised, but I commend you for having the courage to publish your thoughts on such a delicate and controversial issue.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Thanks Rob. It was not an easy post to write and I’m not sure we are ready to explore this subject as a society. I appreciate your thoughts.

    • http://covenantoflove.net/ Derek Ouellette

      Thanks Rob, it was not an easy article to write.

      (P.S. I submit the blunder to the hour in which I wrote the article – and I’m paying for it now with glossy eye-balls and routine yawns.)

  • drew chapados

    well done–Ben Witherington wrote one time of a friend of his who was convicted looking for forgiveness and simply asked if there was a place in any faith community for someone like his friend. It is a good post–very thought provoking and challenging–one aspect perhaps to consider when comparing with homosexuality and pedophilia:
    when either of them ‘act’ on their desires–the affect on a community is quite different: for instance–if two homosexual adults act in agreement verses the adult and the child who do not–or who cannot understand–also, the child’s family dealing with the after affect–forgiveness and repentance must be available if we understand the gospel correctly–but the avenue of repentance considering the child and their family will be quite differently.
    But as for the orientation aspect of it all–great job

    • http://covenantoflove.net/ Derek Ouellette

      You absolutely right. In terms of the acts and effects there is no comparison. Pedophilia is heinous. The article I linked to titled The Future: Where sex orientation gets confusing is all about how the difference that makes all the difference has to do with the ability of consent.

      Thanks bro.

  • Daniel

    Bravo Derek,

    You express the gospel witness to human brokenness without being drawn into blind allies of useless polemics. You avoid completely the unjust reproach of discrimination against homosexuals or the condoning of pedophilia. You equate them on the grounds of their cause….orientation. You justly distinguish the desire which is blameless and certain sexual actions which are culpable. What is more, you illuminate our culture’s dysfunctional approach to both which results from not being able to make this all important distinction.

    This is not empty praise (I don’t normally take the time to elaborate my agreement to the extend I do with my disagreement.) The reason is, that secular and the gay rights voices in our society loudly condemn the Christian message on the sinfulness of homosexual acts as also condemning people with homosexual desire. When these voices define the boundaries and terms of the conversation, a conservative Christian voice that enters into dialogue will usually come out labeled as a bigot. It makes many afraid to speak up. Believing that its impossible to condemn homosexual acts while not condemning people for merely having the orientation, is a manipulative logic that leads many Christians, of otherwise orthodox concepts of morality, to reject this teachings. It is a manipulative logic, and that’s why appreciate your post.

    But I also have a question about it. It has to do with the castigation for condemning the homosexual lifestyle on the basis that it necessarily includes a personal condemnation and therefore “attack” on those with same sex orientation. Do you think that this counterargument against the conservative Christian message is just a useful rhetorical device or is it because these groups justly believe this to be the position they’re rejecting?
    Thanks to whoever might take a stab at my question.

    • http://covenantoflove.net/ Derek Ouellette

      I appreciate your enthusiastic comment.

      In my experience, the gays I’ve talked to genuinely see any suggestion that gay sex is wrong as a personal attack on them.

      • Daniel

        When speaking to gay friends in the 90s, I sometimes would hear them thank me for not accusing them of choosing to be gay. Later I learned that some Christian groups taught this. The idea seemed silly to me, but I get that if one chooses to “be” gay then there’d be little reason to distinguish between the person and the lifestyle. What I wonder about is whether this idea was a small voice as it were, that the gay rights movement exploited to make the public at large perceive the Christian rejection of the lifestyle as condemning the person as well? Or is it as I suspect that it’s a honest reaction to a Christian position on the homosexuality that was more widely advocated than I realized?

        • http://covenantoflove.net/ Derek Ouellette

          Well I think you’re right that, as a group, fundamentalism makes for an easy target. Here’s what I mean: I too was raised on the idea that gay people chose to be gay. That, I suppose, would be most offensive to the gay community. I think they have genuinely reacted to that. I don’t think the gay community has distinguished between the voice of some Christian groups and the voice of others. So yes: “it is as I suspect that it’s a honest reaction to a Christian position on the homosexuality that was more widely advocated than I realized”.

          But, of course, my opinion on that matter is purely anecdotal.

  • Concerned Christian

    Can you answer this question plainly please. Is living a homosexual lifestyle sinful? Please don’t beat around the bush, yes or no?

    • http://covenantoflove.net/ Derek Ouellette

      Hey there “Concerned Christian.” I’ve never beat around the bush on this topic. But I do seek precision and clarity on the expressions and words we use.

      IF by “homosexual lifestyle” you mean GAY SEX, then yes, I believe GAY SEX is sinful. As Romans teaches plainly (to my mind), against the sin of “men who have sex with men.” (NIV 2011). I believe any sex outside the bonds of marriage between on man and one woman is sin.

      This includes: Straight Sex outside of marriage, Sex with a child, Sex with an animal, Lust, Pornography and so on. All of these are equally sinful. In other words, if a straight Christian has sex outside of marriage, that is no more or less sinful than Gay Sex.

      Hope that was plain enough. :)

  • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

    Gutsy article, Derek, and completely correct IMO.

    The only thing you did not address, but which I think probably needs to come back into the conversation, is to face the fact that urges such as Ralf describes, deep conviction one is the other gender from their biology, and perhaps even same-sex attraction are or may be mental/emotional disorders. Whether treatable or not is not clear … quite frankly there’s still a lot of voodoo in what passes for psychology/psychiatry … but disorders nonetheless. And by “disorder” I mean “a mind not functioning as God created the human mind to function.”

    Great post.

    • http://covenantoflove.net/ Derek Ouellette

      You’re right about that. There’s more that we don’t know about this subject then there is of what we do know. Thanks Dan.