<J.Michael Bailey> is a professor of psychology at Northwestern University. He has a crucial role in the existence of the Virtuous Pedophiles group, of which Nick Devin and I are co-founders. When we approached Mike with our idea of forming Virtuous Pedophiles early in 2012, he was very helpful with concrete suggestions and had important connections with other professionals who study sex.
He recently wrote a short essay in another forum and gave me permission to quote it here. In this blog I focus primarily on the pedophile view of the world, and the requirement for adults to never engage sexually with children -- no exceptions. Bailey has devoted more attention to what happens after men violate that rule -- the effects on the children. I found it a very interesting summary.
Mike Bailey writes:
My answers to two key questions:
1. Should adult-child relationships be legal or acceptable?
2. Should the age of consent be lowered?
It's complicated, but my answers are:
1. Probably not, but the penalties and stigma should be much less.
First of all, what is a “child?” Legally in many states it includes anyone less than 18 years old. A 6 year old girl and a 17 year old boy are children in Virginia, with respect to sex with adults anyway–although the penalties would be harsher for an adult who has sexual contact with the 6 year old girl. Generally, it is my impression that laws make such distinctions. My own intuitions differ according to whether the child is a 14 year old boy (where I tend to be pretty permissive) or an 8 year old girl (and can’t really imagine a case in which an adult should be sexual with her).
Also what is “sex?” Also quite variable in meanings. Also I assume treated as such in the law.
I think we should answer these questions as we should answer all policy-related questions: in terms of costs and benefits.
Benefits of adult-child sexual relationships may sometimes exist for a child, although I would not weigh them highly. It is difficult for me to imagine that any young person’s life has been made much worse by delaying sex (with an adult or another young person). This is not to deny accounts I’ve heard in which children (mainly boys) look back fondly to their sexual debuts with adults. The primary benefits of adult-child sexual relationships accrue to a child-attracted adult. I weigh these benefits even less, although I suppose if there were no costs to adult-child sex, they’d count for something.
Benefits of our current attitudes, laws, and systems concerning child-adult sex: They strongly discourage such relationships, primarily by consequences for any adults who might contemplate them. How much of a benefit this is depends on how harmful one believes such relationships are. There have been awful cases, surely, although for the most part as James said, the awfulness derives from coercion (and violence), threats (physical and emotional), and secrecy (causing alienation from others and fear). Violence and coercion should be legally for bidden for adult-child sex, and perhaps for most things. At least secrecy is always present, unless the adult is insane. But how harmful is child-adult sex intrinsically? That is, suppose a child agreed to have sex with an adult, the adult did not coerce or insist on secrecy, and there were no legal or social repercussions. How bad would this be for the child/youth? Oren acknowledges that this sometimes works out for the younger person but is persuaded by his clinical experience that sometimes it is quite harmful. I am not persuaded by clinical experience, because the clinical situation does not allow for knowledgeable consideration of the counterfactual: What would this person have been like if s/he had not had child-adult sex? I acknowledge that there are correlations between such experiences and some bad outcomes (although Rind’s studies suggest these correlations are not large), but their interpretation is not straightforward, to say the least. Any bad outcome could be attributable to one of the following: iatrogenic effects of societal/family reactions; preexisting personality factors that caused the child to engage in such interactions (of course, in a small minority of cases a child had no agency whatsoever, and these could not be a factor); genetic factors (in cases where the adult is a genetic relative); and especially relevant to the clinical situation, the desire to have an explanation for one’s problems–and ideally an explanation that others will accept and sympathize with, and reduce blame for one’s own problems. These alternative explanations are under appreciated and under explored, and I suspect they are more powerful in explaining negative associations between child-adult sex and adverse outcomes than anything intrinsically harmful about an adult non-coercively sexually touching a child.
Costs of adult-child sexual relationships: see above. In addition, James is correct that adults likely have some extra skills or coinage in luring some children. They are smarter and (sometimes) cooler and have more things and are bigger. But we should not forget that young persons are targeted for sex all the time by other young persons, and this also has costs. I spent far more time and energy protecting (policing?) my children from early sex with other young persons than I did protecting them from adults. (I certainly would have, but it just didn’t come up.) In our current society in the industrialized West, in my cultural milieu where we want college and economically productive futures for our children, I didn’t want my children to have a relatively early sex life–or to use drugs or some other things inconsistent with the future I wanted for them. I suspect most people I know feel the same way, although we don’t really discuss it. This issue is culturally variable, though, with earlier sexual debut more common in some subcultures.
Costs of our current attitudes, laws, and systems concerning child-adult sex: This is where the bad stuff is. First, believing that child-adult sex is one of the worst experiences one can have helps make it so. Making public ugly criminal cases whenever children and adults have sexual interactions only reinforces this (along with deterring adults, admittedly). Blaming others for one’s problems that are caused by one’s own personality and life choices more than by things that happened to us when we are young is underrated as a social harm and promoted in too much psychotherapy. I consider this an additional cost of placing CSA on a pedestal of harm. And although I don’t have any ambitions to promote the sex lives of child-attracted men, I do think our current system is far too ready and able to destroy their lives. (And by doing so, reinforces the beliefs of the children that they have been gravely harmed) And child pornography should not be illegal to download (although probably it should be to produce).
I close with the suggestion that if we reduced the severity of penalties for child-adult sex and lowered the age of consent, I don’t think all that much would change for children. Parents mostly regulate their children’s sex lives because of their own values, not because of the law. Reducing the severity of penalties is not tantamount to removing shame and community oversight.