Dr. James M. Cantor
Dan Savage is a very popular sex advice columnist and author, based in Seattle. I have long found his comments highly intelligent and supportive of even the most diverse and unusual sexualities, all while still challenging people when they are deluding themselves about some aspect of their sexual or romantic lives.
He recently asked me to be a guest expert to respond to a letter he received about pedophilia, which I was very happy to do. I have reprinted his full response below. The original column is available at http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=3347526, and I strongly recommend visiting that site: The comments from Savage’s readers (not included below) showed an insight and a sympathy that I never expected. Society would be a better place should other people demonstrate the humanity they have.
“Gold Star Pedophiles”
February 4, 2010
by Dan Savage
Let's say, theoretically, I'm a pedophile.
I'm not stupid or evil, so I'm not gonna DO anything. I'm not even gonna look at porn, because the production of it involves child exploitation. I don't even look at kids in public places.
So what the fuck should I do? Chemical castration? But I haven't DONE anything and I don't plan to. Am I obliged to tell anyone? Good way to lose friends. Can I keep babysitting my friends' kids when they need a hand? After all, if I were into adult women, people wouldn't see anything wrong with leaving me alone with a couple of those.
What the fuck do I do? Live alone and hope Japan starts producing affordable sexbots before I'm too old to care?
You know, theoretically. If I were a pedophile.
Knows It's Wrong
"My heart goes out to people to whom nature has given something as powerful and as distracting as a sex drive and no healthy way to express it," says Dr. James Cantor, a psychologist and the editor in chief of the research journal Sexual Abuse. "Pedophiles are not the only folks in this position, but they are by far the most demonized, regardless of whether they have ever actually caused anyone any kind of harm."
My heart is going out to you, too. As I've written before, we should acknowledge the existence of "good pedophiles," people like you, KIW, who are burdened with a sexual interest in children but who possess the moral sense to resist acting on that interest. It's a lifelong struggle for "good pedophiles," and most manage to succeed without any emotional support—to say nothing of credit—whatsoever.
Unfortunately, science doesn't know much about pedophiles like you, pedophiles who haven't done anything, because the social stigma is so great that most nonoffending pedophiles never seek treatment. And what research has been done, says Cantor, isn't very encouraging if you're looking to free yourself from your attraction to children.
"There is no known way of turning a pedophile into a nonpedophile," says Cantor. "The best we can do is help a person maximize their self-control and to help them build an otherwise happy and productive life."
The psychotherapies that are available, says Cantor, "were designed to assist people who have already committed an offense to prevent a 'relapse.' These therapies have less to provide to people who already have the skills and drive to keep themselves from 'acting out.'" Your best option, according to Cantor, is one you're clearly not too enthused about (and who can blame you?): "Castration, both chemical and physical," says Cantor, "can indeed be used to eliminate or take the edge off one's sex drive."
If castration doesn't "take the edge off" a man's sex drive, I shudder to think what Plan B is. Back to Cantor:
"Nonoffender pedophiles have told me that chemical castration has given them considerable relief," Cantor adds. "So it's unfortunate that we use the term 'chemical castration,' which evokes all kinds of emotions. When you get right down to it, we are talking only about taking the same medication used by, for example, prostate-cancer patients—some cancers are accelerated by testosterone, so blocking testosterone is part of the treatment."
And as for babysitting...
"It is true that a regular heterosexual man is not going to commit an offense against every woman he finds attractive. However, most women are capable of recognizing when an interaction is just starting to go south and of getting out of the situation. Most children are not. So although there is every reason to believe that there exist cats that can successfully be in charge of the canary, it's not a very good idea for the cat to be the one making that call."
So no babysitting for you, KIW—to protect the kids, first and foremost, but yourself as well. If it ever comes out that you are a pedophile and you were in the habit of babysitting-without-touching, your friends are unlikely to take your protestations—you've never touched a child—at face value.
"I wish I had better news," concludes Cantor. "I also wish that more people did good research on this so that one day I could have better news to give."
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Last updated 5 April 2010