Pedophiles have been getting together on the web for many years now. In the public imagination they are trading child porn or secrets about how to seduce children. I've never seen such sites but assume they exist in the "dark net". On public sites that I have seen, a prominent subject is how unjust the laws are that prevent pedophiles from having sex with small children.

Two years ago Nick Devin and I put up a different kind of website called "Virtuous Pedophiles". The site and the associated web support group are different in that we all share the common understanding that adult-child sex is wrong and we have no desire to change laws or attitudes to make it more acceptable. Of course we also are committed to never engaging in any sexual activity with children. As of today there are over 300 members.

A bit of history: The original idea for Virtuous Pedophiles was Nick's. There is an organization called B4U-ACT, which is primarily devoted to obtaining better mental health care for minor-attracted people. They serve an important role. But this organization does not take a clear position that adult-child sexual activity is wrong beyond the harm caused by wrong-headed societal attitudes and laws. B4U-ACT also hosts a peer support group, and Nick was a member. Discussions there in 2011 made it clear that many of the most active posters and the moderator himself were strongly of the view that the problem was just misguided societal attitudes. Nick disagreed, and felt there was no chance of gaining public sympathy for the goal of making pedophilia less stigmatized if messages came from a group that refused to say categorically that adult-child sexual activity was wrong. So he left that group and formed what became Virtuous Pedophiles. I joined the B4U-ACT support group after Nick had left, but I saw those discussions in the archives. I contacted him and we joined forces while the website was being designed.

The Virtuous Pedophiles site largely speaks for itself. On the home page is a big blue "Contact" button. For two years Nick and I have been reading all the emails generated by way of that button. In some cases we have had extensive follow-up conversations. Gmail's way of counting says there have been over 1,000 conversations.

Most people who write are pedophiles who ask to join our group. Most qualify, but we have also had extensive conversations with pedophiles who have other opinions. We receive inquiries from teens who aren't yet 18, and we turn them away with a heavy heart. They are the ones who need our support most of all. But we have reluctantly concluded that it's too dangerous for us to accept them, largely to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Outsiders might fear that some of our members who are attracted to young teen boys will try to hit on them.

But we have heard from a variety of people who aren't pedophiles. Journalists want to interview us. Scientists want to study us. Parents or wives or girlfriends of pedophiles write asking us what to do. Sexual abuse survivors write supporting our work. Laypeople write to share their ideas and theories about pedophilia. Some -- almost exclusively women, for some reason -- have no personal connection to the issue but they get what we're saying and just want to express their support. We have also received a few pure hate emails-- a lot fewer than we expected.

I have tried to read widely on the subject of pedophilia, but this stream of email and the follow-up conversations are vital to many of my views about pedophilia. They are the most obvious unique experience I can bring to writing a blog.

And it is truly amazing to me to see the pedophiles emerge from the shadows. You can see excerpts from the first year's inquiries in the "First Words" tab of the "Who We Are" section of our website. The inquiries have continued at the same rate during our second year.

In whimsical moments, I experience the illusion is that a web site with a "Contact" button has brought into existence hundreds of pedophiles who share our views. Yet of course we haven't created them, we've merely tapped into a vast reservoir of them. A few write to us saying that pushing the "Send" button is the scariest thing they've ever done, and we can guess there are others who never did press that button and many times that number who never even considered leaving an electronic trail admitting their attractions.

Pedophiles know they are perhaps the most viscerally hated group on earth. Most take great pains to make sure their attraction remains a secret. Overwhelmingly, society forms its impressions about pedophiles from those who have broken the law. They are hardly good representatives of the group -- suppose you formed all your impressions about ordinary men from rapists. But the rise of the web over the past decade or more has allowed communities to form anonymously online. These men give us a different window into the world of pedophilia -- the hidden world. The predominant view on those sites is that adult-child sex is fundamentally OK, but a great many participants have never broken the law.

Virtuous Pedophiles is a different kind of online community that attracts a different sort of pedophile -- some members say explicitly that they would never even visit a site where many people think adult-child sex is fundamentally OK. We are no more an unbiased sample of pedophiles than child sex abusers or online pro-contact pedophiles, but we are a different group and we tell a very different story.

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