Most people in society seem to think that all pedophiles are child molesters. The fundamental message of Virtuous Pedophiles (and an increasing number of other pedophiles online) is that this is not true. There are a great many people who feel a sexual attraction to children who never act on it.

"Acting on it" in the most obvious sense is acting sexually with a child who is right there, physically present, and aware of what's happening. Let's call it "hands-on abuse".

Another way of acting on it is to view child pornography. If email to Virtuous Pedophiles is any indication, this is much more common than hands-on abuse. I have tried in <a long series of posts> to analyze child pornography from many different angles.

Public reaction is that CP viewing is just as bad as hands-on abuse. If some concede it is not literally as bad, it is in any case over the line in the arena of unforgivable, despicable crimes calling for long prison sentences.

In part, this is understandable. In order to have something to film, child pornographers must abuse a child. While some hands-on abuse might be somewhat understandable as an impulsive decision made in a given moment that is deeply regretted later, this can't be true of CP makers. They must decide, in a not at all impulsive fashion, to post these images for others to see.

Another connection is people who buy this material. If CP makers are making it to earn money, then blame lies on those who buy it, just as we accept that those who wear fur or eat meat are responsible for whatever cruelties are needed to produce fur and meat.

However, I suggest that in today's world, where a veritable flood of images and videos is available for free on any subject imaginable, there is a separate class of CP viewers which is quite different from those who make, distribute, or buy.

Why they deserve sympathy:

Everyone has sexual attractions. Most people in society can find a willing adult partner to have satisfying sex with. It is typically considered part of the good life. Many of us want a long-term partner for a relationship that must contain sex as one of its elements. Others are satisfied with a series of briefer sexual encounters. If any young person laments that they see no prospect of a sex life, we are sympathetic -- it is reasonable for them to feel distressed about that. That is exactly the position that exclusive pedophiles (those with no attraction to adults) are in. They have an attraction they did not choose and cannot change. If you believe that the vast majority of pedophiles solve this problem by molesting children, you will not be sympathetic, of course. But if you accept the reality that a great many do NOT ever molest a child, you should feel the same sympathy for that group.

People who are attracted to adults who don't have any prospect of a real "hands-on" sex life achieve partial fulfillment vicariously. Both sexes get the hots for attractive people in films. Beyond that, women tend towards romance novels, while men tend towards plain old pornography. The men see people doing the sexual things they would like to do, are aroused, and masturbate as they imagine themselves in the same situation.

Pedophiles enjoy innocent videos. This includes girls doing gymnastics or dancing or swimming, child modeling sites, and innocent family videos. Some also look at child pornography. How should we think about such men? One way is that they are part of the entire child porn industry and deserve the same condemnation as hands-on molesters. This is too simplistic.

A crucial question as we consider the morality of CP viewers is how they think about it. There is a continuum. A few might enjoy watching children who are visibly suffering. A few others might think it is good that this apparently happy child is actually feeling distressed. Others might not actively want the child to suffer, but are willing to have the child pay that price so they can enjoy what they are watching. Others might feel strongly that they wish such material was never made, but also figure that what's done is done and they might as well enjoy the resulting video.

But at the end of the continuum is another group, and I have reason to think it is a large group. They feel terrible about the idea of getting enjoyment out of video of a child's suffering, and they are horrified at the idea -- except in those moments when lust is powerful and they feel the desperate need for some sort of sexual fulfillment. As soon as orgasm has taken the edge off that desire, they feel awful about themselves. Some report self-loathing that makes them feel actively suicidal. There is also a large group that feels terrible masturbating to  innocent videos of children. All these pedophiles have a strong sense of morality. I tried to paint a sympathetic sketch of <one such viewer> .

Compare the other ways that men sometimes act when sexual desire is strong. We have too much plain, indisputable rape. Society rightly treats this as a very serious crime. But we also have many lesser insults, such as <subway molesters> , groping, wolf whistles, public and obvious leering, or sexually suggestive remarks in the workplace. They are rarely treated as crimes at all, but simply nuisances. "Me too" is rightly trying to raise awareness of how damaging they can be and make them less common. But few people are seriously proposing years in prison as an appropriate penalty.

In contrast, no child is aware of a given act of child porn viewing. There is no direct harm. Yet that viewing is considered a serious crime, worthy of years in prison and a lifetime on the sex offender registry. This is unjust.

But criminal penalties aside, how should we think of those men who do view child porn sometimes, who feel bad that it was ever made? They despise themselves for getting sexual satisfaction from a child's suffering. They seem to have the same moral standards as the rest of us, though trouble living up to those standards. Still, they never engage in hands-on abuse. Can't we come up with some genuine sympathy for these men?

I hope we can, and start the process of reducing penalties for simple child porn possession.

There is the other class -- those who make and distribute CP, who pay for it, or who are happy that it was made. We can rightly continue to despise them. But they are quite distinct from the others who deserve our sympathy.

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