Living in a panic room: Virtuous pedophiles?

Living in a panic room: Virtuous pedophiles? July 17, 2015


“Eternally hunkered down in a panic room.” That’s how one psychologist describes  the interior lives of people who are sexually attracted to prepubescent children.

Who could pity a pedophile? Of all the crimes in the world, child abuse rightly seem unforgivable.  “It would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” That’s what Christ said about people who hurt little children.

But that’s how we feel about people who actually commit these unspeakable crimes. What about people who, through great effort, don’t?

Say you feel sexually attracted to children. You don’t want to feel that way, but you do, and you have felt that way your whole life. You’ve never acted on your attraction, but you’re afraid you might. What are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to live your life?

I need to speak to a therapist because I don’t think I can get through this on my own. But if I talk to a therapist he could report me, because I have to talk about my attraction to young girls. I don’t know whether he would or not and don’t even know how to go about getting more information. Even the friendships I have are in danger of falling apart because I can’t just keep saying ‘I’m fine’ and I can’t talk to anyone about my problem. I think about suicide a lot.

This quote comes from a website I came across the other day. It’s called Virtuous Pedophiles,  and its goal is not to normalize pedophilia but to “provide peer support and information about available resources to help pedophiles lead happy, productive lives.” They say,  “Our highest priority is to help pedophiles never abuse children.”

From what I can see, the approach is in keeping with how the Church understands temptation and sin: there is a difference between being tempted to do something, and actually doing it. People who are tempted are not sinners simply because they are tempted — but they do need help. It is possible that our extreme and fitting repugnance of crimes against children is actually making it harder for pedophiles to avoid committing these crimes, because there is no structure in place to help pedophiles who have never acted on their urges. People are, in effect, punished for admitting that they need help.

A few years ago, the American Psychological Association printed a new version of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and for the first time, it classified pedophilia as a “sexual orientation.” The nation responded with horror, and the APA quickly retracted what it called an “error.” In a statement, the APA said:

“Sexual orientation” is not a term used in the diagnostic criteria for pedophilic disorder and its use in the DSM-5 text discussion is an error and should read “sexual interest.” In fact, APA considers pedophilic disorder a “paraphilia,” not a “sexual orientation.” This error will be corrected in the electronic version of DSM-5 and the next printing of the manual.

APA stands firmly behind efforts to criminally prosecute those who sexually abuse and exploit children and adolescents. We also support continued efforts to develop treatments for those with pedophilic disorder with the goal of preventing future acts of abuse.

In other words, pedophilic disorder means that you are attracted to children, not that you do abuse children. If you have this disorder, you should be able to speak about it with a therapist, to help you avoid acting on your involuntary attraction. It is neither a sin nor a crime to be tempted, but it is treated as both.

It is possible that the APA briefly used the term “sexual orientation” because they were attempting to classify non-abusive pedophiles in such a way that they could more easily speak to their therapists about their urges without triggering mandatory reporting.

I am not sure if this was the reasoning behind the choice to say “sexual orientation” (and Virtuous Pedophiles does use the term “orientation” in its site, which is disturbing).  There is most certainly a push, in some quarters, to normalize the sexual abuse of children, and to call pedophilia just one more shade in the rainbow. Goodness knows that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as well as in nearly every other organization that comes into regular contact with children, has been criminally slow to recognize and crack down on abusers and the structure that enabled them, even while condemning the sin itself; and some Catholics are still speaking as if the sex abuse crisis was some overblown, media-created hit job instead of the deeply scandalous tragedy it was and continues to be.

But as it is, people who are attracted to children are told that they cannot get treatment unless they’ve actually already preyed on a child! Part of the reason for this dearth of preventative treatment is, according to the NYT, because all the studies about pedophila have been done on pedophiles who have succumbed to temptation. Many psychiatrists believe that pedophilia has a neurological origin; but people who feel an attraction to children but do not act on it are not included in studies because they are afraid of being charged with a crime they have not yet committed — and so the information about pedophiles is all information about criminals, whose brains, psyches, behavioral patterns, and family histories may be very different from people who successfully resist temptation. It’s a vicious cycle.

I believe very strongly that society shouldn’t do anything that even suggests that attraction to children is within the normal range of sexual experience, and I believe that our laws should prevent child abusers from living and working near children. But refusing to acknowledge the existence of “virtuous pedophiles,” who are struggling against their attraction, is the wrong response.

The longer we refuse to acknowledge the existence of “virtuous pedophiles,” the less likely these suffering souls are to find effective treatment to help them remain virtuous.



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  • DJ Wambeke

    Thank you for this. I am aware of one such gentleman, suffering estrangement (understandably) from his family because of abuse he committed long ago to a family member and for which he did his time in the criminal system, who in his old age is now up front and honest with those around him (when warranted) about his past and his need to be guarded. He has at times asked parents whose kids were getting too familiar with him for his comfort zone (he is a lovable old man, after all) to redirect the kids’ affections and give him some space.

    Now there’s self-knowledge and great humility. My crosses in life pale in comparison.

  • chipsquirgirl

    An intelligent piece. Coincidentally, I am currently reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov…and it definitely got me thinking about the Church’s teaching that it is not a sin to have a particular sexual desire, but it might be a sin to act on that desire. Certain elements of the Left seem to tell us that sexual desire is out of one’s control, and if one feels attracted to a certain type of person, then it is just torture or cruel to tell the attracted one that he can not act on his desires. But here is a case where that is obviously not true…

    • Susan Peterson

      I don’t know what the issue is with the term sexual orientation. Homosexuality is on a continuity with other perversions of the sexual instinct, not a normal variation. It is just usually less harmful to others than pedophilia. We abhor people who have sex with children because children don’t understand sex, can’t reciprocate and can’t consent. To have such desires must be a torment for a good person who does not want to harm others. But as more and more everything else is permitted we have made out such people to be monsters. Those who give in to it and harm children can turn into monsters when they kill to protect themselves. But let us assume that most people who feel like this do not want to do harm. And certainly let them engage in therapy. As for the ” inter generational ” thing I find the post suspicious to be honest. I agree that in some cultures women marry at a very young age and there husband’s might be 10, 15 years older. But the young women are at lest sexually mature. Before puberty is certainly a perversion.

  • Rachel

    Thank you for posting this. I know someone who is struggling with these issues and I constantly pray for the person.

  • Mitchel Long

    Pedophilia is not an act, but just a sexual preference.

    Most sexual chid abuse comes from non-pedophiles.

    “A 2006 study found that 35% of its sample of child molesters were pedophilic.[100] Pedophilia appears to be less common in incest offenders,[101] especially fathers and step-fathers.”

    Mary was Joseph’s child bride and started having children at 11-14. Since the Bible doesn’t even talk about inter-generational relationships, there’s a good chance it’s because it was considered normal.

    The truth is that older males mating with juvenile females is common if not dominant in humans and other mammals.
    If you study mammalian mating, you’ll notice that females start mating with the dominant male at the start of puberty. In human years this is about 10 years old.

    Only in the late 1800s did certain ‘modern’ societies deem intergenerational relationships as ‘immoral’. For more information on how society came to the conclusions that inter-generational sex is immoral google ‘1885 moral panic’ and ‘social purity movememnt’.

    As modern society progresses past irrational ideologies and feminist-anti-sex ideology there is resistance, but the end of the day, only the truth matters.”

    • KarenJo12

      Modern society thinks that women are humans with the right to make there own decisions, not Pokemon card to be given to the nearest male as a reward.

      • Baldur_Odensen

        Most modern pedophiles would agree, and very much favor recognizing children’s agency.

    • Anti-egomoral

      Angelo Bonavera. You are an atheist so you don’t believe in Maryland or Joseph. Next you have abused and aided in the abuse of children. I have had to report you. Also it is sick you force yourself on girls. Men in the US actually go for adult women instead of raping kids. You don’t speak the truth, actually you lie and condone rape.

    • Anti-egomoral

      You coward removing Google searches. If you are so sure that all men hate adult women and want to rape little girls why so scared? I will not stop until you are ruined. Believe that!!!

  • KmJ

    Discussing inclinations or intrusive thoughts of any type shouldn’t trigger any mandatory reporting laws. Revealing actual incidents of child abuse – including sexual abuse or molestation – definitely would, if the abuse had not been previously reported, as would revealing a specific plan and intent to carry out abuse against a specific individual or group of individuals (this second part would be what falls under “duty to warn” and would include notifying the appropriate government agency AND the individual being thus threatened). As long as the person struggling with pedophilia or pedophilic thoughts has never acted on them and has no intent to act on them, reporting would be an inappropriate breach of confidentiality and the therapist or doctor would be endangering his or her license.

    There’s really nothing to say to make it easier to disclose or confide this type of burden to a therapist. Still, there’s a really good chance that any given therapist or counselor has heard something very similar before from other clients – shocking a counselor who’s been practicing for more than a year or two is actually very, very difficult.

    • axelbeingcivil

      Duty to warn is one of those things that can be troublesome to a degree. When it comes to warning in the case of sharing actual intent to harm others, that is, no contest, a necessity, but discussion of past action is something that will be inevitably necessary to ensure people can properly prevent recidivism. It would be, for example, impossible to treat someone with kleptomania without discussing prior instances of theft; a comparatively lesser crime but still one in which the person has committed an illegal act against another party.

      In some countries, duty to warn only covers intent for future acts, though, not past ones.

  • Ethan Edwards

    I’m one of the two co-founders of Virtuous Pedophiles, and I appreciate your post and think you’ve gotten the major points correct. But I’d comment on “sexual orientation”. The problem is this phrase has two meanings. The scientific meaning is a sexual attraction to a class of persons that is persistent and can’t be changed easily (if at all). From that point of view, pedophilia and homosexuality are alike. But the social implication of “sexual orientation” has come to include, “It’s just fine!” And in that sense we at Virtuous Pedophiles agree with most of society that they are not the same at all. Gays and lesbians can act on their attractions without causing any harm (according to secular criteria!) but pedophiles cannot.

    • KarenJo12

      Good luck to you and your group. You make an important point in noting that some desires cannot be acted upon without harming another person.

  • unknown unknown

    Im a pedophile and I wasn’t always a pedophile actually which means I can go back if I really try, I don’t wish to find help because I understand myself more then anyone else, and I have no problem with the urges at all, meaning there is no way I could ever hurt anyone, at least not for now

  • Baldur_Odensen

    Thank you for the thoughtful piece.

    I disagree on several points: the “millstone” quote is out of context, for example, and actually refers to things like quoting the “millstone” quote out of context….

    Besides this, there is ample evidence that pedophilia is quite normal (research consistently shows that at least 90% of men have some attraction to prepubescent girls, and somewhere between 20% and 32% have an attraction to prepubescent girls equal to or greater than their attraction to mature women). The best research on harmfulness (Rind et al, 1998, replicated by other researchers in 2005) has shown very little or no psychological harm from consensual adult-child sex – unless it was discovered by authorities at the time, which suggests that most harm is actually caused by societal shame or even by the therapists treating the children.

    If you would like to visit a different community of pedophiles that advises abiding by the law to spare children the harm caused by law enforcement and therapists, see

    Despite our differences of opinion, I appreciate your approaching this subject with reason and love.

    • simchafisher

      I will pray for you, Baldur. I thoroughly reject the idea that pedophilia is as common as you claim — and the idea that common is the same as normal. I thoroughly reject the idea that pedophilia doesn’t hurt children, and I thoroughly reject the idea that children can give consent to sex.

      • Baldur_Odensen

        Facts don’t change just because you reject them, though I have seen an awful lot of that across the belief spectrum in recent years.

        Exclusive pedophiles (ONLY attracted to children) are relatively rare (perhaps around 5%) and generally well-behaved. (If theories about connections between neoteny, self-domestication, and pedophilia are correct, it should not be surprising that pedophiles are better behaved than average.) This may help explain why you haven’t noticed it more – but there is ample evidence that many men are attracted to prepubescent girls, and virtually all men are attracted to young women from about 12 to the late teens.

        But if you want to oppose sexual promiscuity, be my guest. You will find that many pedophiles will support you. What we chiefly object to is prejudice based on age.

        • Anti-egomoral

          This post ignores gay men….they aren’t attracted to any female….

    • Clare

      Underage sex does children no harm? I feel a little soiled just reading that claim.