Is pedophilia immoral?
- Moen, Ole Martin (2015). “The ethics of pedophilia,” Etikk i praksis. Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics, 9(1): 111–124
Norwegian philosopher Ole Martin Moen has published a new paper in the Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics that argues pedophilia — as a sexual preference for children — is not immoral itself. Moen writes that pedophilic feelings appear to be unchosen and immutable, and as such are not properly subject to moral assessment. In contrast, Moen deems adult-child sex to be immoral, using the analogy of giving hard drugs to children — even if some children are not harmed or remember their experience positively, it still exposes them to great risk.
Not all chosen expressions of pedophilia are immoral, however. Moen argues that using virtual child pornography is not immoral because virtual children cannot be harmed, and because there is no evidence of a causal link between pornography use and sex crimes. He cites evidence that “consuming child pornography alone is not a risk factor for committing hands-on sex offenses,” and could even act as a sexual outlet. Evidence that sex crimes fell in Japan and the Czech Republic following child porn legalization indicates that “texts and computer-generated graphics with pedophilic content may result in less adult-child sex.”
Moen further suggests that pedophiles do not necessarily have “abusive or disrespectful intentions.” Rather than desiring to harm children, many pedophiles “report that they fall in love with children, long for physical intimacy with children, and want their feelings to be reciprocated.” Therefore, harmless pedophilic practices like virtual child pornography should not be condemned for expressing ill will.
Moen concludes with the policy implications of his position:
One revisionist implication is that we should stop the outright condemnation of pedophiles. Condemning pedophiles for being pedophiles is unjust, and non-offending pedophiles, rather than deserving condemnation for their pedophilia, deserve praise for their admirable willpower. Possibly, today’s condemnation also prevents pedophiles from telling health professionals about their attraction to children, and insofar as detection and counseling can help prevent abuse, this is very unfortunate. To prevent harm to future children, we would also be well advised to start teaching high school students not just what to do in case they are victims of sexual abuse (which, thankfully, we have started telling them over the last few decades), but also what to do in case they themselves are pedophiles.
The production, distribution, and enjoyment of texts and computer-generated graphics with pedophilic content should almost certainly be made legal.
In tandem with the publication of this paper, Moen appeared on the Norwegian radio channel NRK P2 to discuss his views.
David White, a philosopher at the University of Calgary, published a similar paper in 2006. His “Loving the Alien: A Moral Re-Evaluation of Paedophiles” argues that “in most cases those who are attracted to children are more deserving of moral praise than blame.”
Hebephilia debate continues
Two new papers discussing hebephilia have appeared in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. In “Hebephilia: A Postmortem Dissection” philosopher Patrick Singy expands upon his previous analysis of the hebephilia debate, rejecting several arguments for classifying hebephilia as a mental disorder while affirming that it is ultimately a political decision.
In “The Imperialism of Historical Arrogance: Where Is the Past in the DSM’s Idea of Sexuality?“, classical scholar Simon Goldhill argues that it would be historically and culturally ignorant to classify hebephilia as a disorder.
First, the age of marriage and the age of sexual attractiveness were normatively defined by menarche in ancient Athens (the city for which we have most evidence (Davidson, 2007; Dover, 1978; Halperin, 1990; Lear & Cantarella, 2008; Winkler, 1989, 1990). That is, medical sources as well as social ethics argue that marriage as soon as possible after menarche is required for reasons of health and desirability. A virgin on her wedding day is the icon of erotic attraction (Oakley & Sinos, 1993)—indeed so familiarly recognized as such that when Aphrodite, the goddess of desire herself, wishes to seduce the shepherd prince Anchises, she appears on the mountain-top precisely as a virgin in her wedding gown. The Hippocratic treatise On the Diseases of Virgins outlines symptoms that plague young girls if they start to menstruate but do not marry and have intercourse (King, 1998). […] Most scholars agree that 14–15 was the usually expected female age for marriage, 25–35 for men.
Even more strikingly, there is a vast amount of literature, not only from Athens but from throughout the Greek world until late into the Roman Empire, which establishes that the young male at the point of puberty—‘‘when the down first appears upon the cheek’’is the standard definition—is a privileged object of sexual desire for men within Hellenic cultural norms.
In summary, Goldhill writes, “it would seem that for Blanchard and his supporters [of the hebephilia diagnosis] a whole culture and its norms would need to be determined as diseased.”