(this was previously posted on the Prostasia discussion board on 4/1/2023)
The public is enraged at child sexual abuse, of course. A great many pedophiles are too. The public is also enraged by abuse that is recorded and distributed. That is child pornography (CSAM). They are enraged not just by the making CSAM, but by the idea that anyone might look at it for the purposes of sexual arousal -- getting pleasure out of the suffering of some child in the past.
But the public is enraged at far more than those cases. The public wants to ban sexualized cartoon drawings of children (notably the Japanese forms of lolicon and shotacon). They want to ban realistic-looking AI-generated images of children in sexual situations. They want to ban child-sized sex dolls. They want to ban text-only stories involving children in sexual situations.
The COPINE scale is used in the UK to classify images of child pornography from least to most serious. The description of the least serious is worth quoting in full: "Non-erotic and non-sexualized pictures showing children wearing either underwear or swimsuits from either commercial sources or family albums. Pictures of children playing in normal settings, in which the context or organization of pictures by the collector indicates inappropriateness." There is nothing wrong with the pictures themselves, but it is "inappropriate" when they are organized to indicate a pedophile might find them sexually interesting. They may not be illegal, but the authors of the COPINE scale want you to know they think it is inappropriate -- morally wrong. I doubt much of the public would disagree.
Let's be explicit about what we are talking about. The public assumes that the pedophile will masturbate while looking at the images in question. I think that is a fair assumption about how a typical pedophile would "use" such material.
But suppose we take images out of the picture entirely. It's a good guess that if the public knew some pedophile was lying on his back in the dark, masturbating to the memory of a child in a scene from a Hollywood movie, they would be angry about that as well. They would certainly be repulsed. They would feel no shred of sympathy or compassion or even fellow-feeling -- "I know what sexual desire feels like" inspired by what they have in common. (Some people think masturbation by ordinary people thinking adult heterosexual thoughts is also wrong, but I will set them aside in this post.)
A pedophile masturbating while thinking of a child causes gut-level revulsion in the public, even those whose beliefs should make them sympathetic. After years of contemplation, I think this is the fundamental problem we pedophiles face.
Of course there are other sources of hatred based on mistaken beliefs. Some believe all pedophiles are dangerous because they will molest a child sooner or later. Some who might not believe that will believe that all pedophiles will look at CSAM. A great many pedophiles do neither of those things. Some people will accept that reality. Organizations such as Virtuous Pedophiles (of which I am co-founder) believe that good pedophiles should restrain their behavior in that way.
Some will also accept the truth that pedophiles have an attraction they did not choose and cannot change, and that momentary feelings of attraction can arise unbidden.
Of course a great many people will not yet accept these things, but these are matters of fact that can be addressed by education. The gut-level revulsion cannot.
There is one other key element of a pedophile's behavior that he or she has control over. They can abstain from masturbation. That is is under conscious control. Masturbation is an extremely powerful temptation, whether a man prefers women or other men, and sex-positive people think it is just fine or even a positive good to masturbate to thoughts of such partners. And yet many believe that a sexual attraction to children is so repugnant that a good pedophile should never do that.
One thing to note is that a great many pedophiles agree. Some pedophiles seek never to masturbate. A few succeed, but many more lapse with varying frequency. They typically feel remorse and self-hatred after the moment of climax.
I agree that pedophiles must control their actions to the extent of never molesting children. But I think (and feel!) that in general pedophiles should feel free to masturbate while thinking of children and feel no guilt about doing so. Past efforts to get men and boys to not masturbate were both cruel and largely ineffective. In the modern view it is instead viewed as a healthy part of sexuality. Deciding that an entire class of people with a condition they did not choose and cannot change cannot masturbate would only make sense if there was a very serious risk of harm to others.
There are some pedophiles who should probably not masturbate while thinking of children. One case is simply those who themselves perceive that it is leading them towards offending. The other is those who have already committed an offense against a child and a professional correctly judges that abstention is required for the future safety of children. But there is a widespread common-sense belief (at least among social liberals) that masturbation by ordinary people reduces sexual desire and any tendency to act inappropriately with others. We expect the same to hold for pedophiles.
I believe there is a significant segment of the population (and a large group of mental health professionals) with a sex-positive view and who also value freedom, feeling that people's private behavior should only be restricted when there is strong evidence that it needs to be. Their minds may tell them that they should accept pedophiles masturbating to thoughts of children, but they retain their revulsion. How people behave is often controlled by their feelings more than their beliefs. Will a potential ally speak up for fair treatment of pedophiles if they think they ought to but just can't shake the revulsion?
What could be done to reduce that revulsion? Pedophiles vary a great deal, and some fantasies might cause revulsion among many pedophiles too. Ones with violence or humiliation would qualify. Overcoming revulsion to all pedophile fantasies is asking too much.
I had a plan to find the most sympathetic case I can of a pedophile masturbating while thinking of a child. If I could get some freedom-loving sex-positive people to feel that some pedophile masturbation isn't so revolting, I would have succeeded.
Some elements of the description are clear enough. Someone with a commitment to never abusing children and a track record of keeping that commitment despite potential temptation. Someone with a similar commitment and track record regarding CSAM. Someone over 50 would have increased credibility about those things continuing into the future. Someone with mild, consensual fantasies. But I fear that anything more specific is a bridge too far.