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Muddy Waters

Paul Okami, Ph.D., 
Department of Psychology, University of California at Los Angeles, 
405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, California 90095 
(e-mail: birdlivs@attbi.com )


I will confine my comments to the article by Schmidt. Green's paper seems to me so level-headed that any controversy surrounding it should be worthy of close sociological scrutiny. 

(To be sure, I am not a great fan of mental illness diagnoses much beyond those for schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness, major depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, so perhaps I am simply blinded by science.)

Schmidt's paper, 

despite its admirably humane instincts, highlights the massive difficulties presented to anyone wishing to study or even discuss pedophilia. 

At the outset, Schmidt rightly attempts to distinguish questions of wrongfulness from those of harmfulness. These concepts have become hopelessly entwined in the discourse on pedosexuality, probably as a consequence of the guiding secular morality of our time-utilitarianism. 

That is, in a pluralistic society bereft of a single all-powerful deity upon whose dicta all can agree, one tends to look for (or even require) harmfulness in order to rationalize judgments of wrongfulness (Okami, 1999). Or, as McConaghy (1998) put it, 

"Child-adult sexual activity should be opposed as an infringement of children's rights rather than requiring a false belief that it is invariably harmful" (p. 252).


after affirming the distinction between wrongfulness and harmfulness, Schmidt muddies the waters by positing that pedophilia is wrong because an "imbalance of power" between an adult and a child endangers or overwhelms the child's sexual self-determination 

(I have observed that when you write about pedophilia you must condemn it explicitly to be taken seriously and not be suspected of being a pedophile yourself.). 

History and modern life, though, are replete with examples of power-discrepant relationships that support and maintain sexual self-determination -- a professor and student marry, for example, and live happily ever after.

More to the point, at least some people claim that their childhood sexual experiences with adults have advanced


their sexual self-determination, not overwhelmed it. 

I've interviewed such people (Okami, 1991). So what do we do with these claims? I do not believe we can accuse the claims-makers of false consciousness. And shall we decry all the marriages of adult men to adolescent girls throughout history? Not a single one of us walking the earth would be alive were it not for the "power discrepant" relationships of our ancestors.

The problem with the "balance of power" argument is that dyadic power can be in constant flux within a relationship and, in any event, is always multidimensional. 

Who has the greater power in a relationship? 

A black man or his white wife? 
A smart, beautiful, well-heeled female medical student or her somewhat dim-witted, cab-driver boyfriend (who is built like Arnold Schwarzenegger)? 
A teacher who is desperately in love with her 15-year-old former student or the 15-year-old who doesn't much care one way or the other and could imprison the teacher for a hefty stretch with a few words? 

One simply cannot say which type of power is more significant socially or more important to the partners themselves -- 

race versus sex, 
physical strength versus intelligence and wealth, 
age versus degree of "wanting" the relationship (being in love), 
Social versus dyadic. 

Nor can one accurately measure degrees of power (police person vs. congressperson) or changes in power over time. 

By way of example, a woman may have more power to effect her will at 19 than after menopause because of the factor of attractiveness, but by the time she is menopausal, she may be wealthier or more savvy and possess the type of power such attributes bring. 

Of course, certain statements regarding power can be made fairly unequivocally -- guards walking a death row prisoner to the electric chair have more power than the prisoner; corporate executives, if viewed one-dimensionally as a class, have more power than underclass crackheads (if viewed one-dimensionally as a class). But we are dealing here with individuals, not classes, and the situation is not one-dimensional.

Moreover, there is nothing logically intrinsic in power discrepancy that violates principles of justice or fairness in sexual relationships or that is necessarily harmful to the "less powerful" participant, unless one views sexual relationships as similar to hand-to-hand combat (e.g., heavyweight vs. flyweight contestant). 

The instability and multidimensionality of dyadic power and the fact that a "power-balanced" relationship is clearly mythological (in the sense that it can never be logically ascertained) lay to rest as useless the "power imbalance" argument. At best, this argument is a fine example of late twentieth century cultural-feminist silliness.

Schmidt then proceeds to use a hypothetical adult child sexual interaction (the back rub incident) to buttress his argument that pedosexual experiences always violate principles of "intimate citizenship" because the adult and child have different things in mind. 

This is a straw man argument. 
Schmidt implies that because the child is unaware that the adult has sex on his mind at the outset of the interaction, there can be no consensus regarding sex at any time in the relationship. However, eventually, the child will necessarily know that sex is an issue, i.e., when it is overtly introduced by the adult. At that point, at least barring coercive situations, the child may reach a "consensus" (Schmidt's term) with the adult to engage in sex or not.

Schmidt's demand that "everyone involved is acting in the same play" is absurd because it would not fit any relationship where one partner seeks to satisfy one type of need, while the other partner seeks to satisfy another. Nor would it fit any interaction where one person only gradually comes to be aware of their own sexual interest in another person, whereas the other person entered the interaction already interested. 

Schmidt a priori assumes the existence of a world where sexual partners (at least those in morally acceptable relationships) are all "on the same page," but nowhere has it been shown that this world exists. As Nehring (2001) puts it, 

"What relationship ... is ever perceived in precisely the same way by two different, thinking individuals?" 

(Indeed, a case could be made that a male and female are rarely, if ever, on the same page.)

From his "same play, same page" argument, Schmidt then concludes that he "finds it difficult to imagine consensual sex between adults and children," but immediately proceeds to back-peddle by exempting a whole class of boys, i.e., those who are entering puberty, have masturbated, and thus might "know the score." 

The process of puberty that climaxes with spermarche and menarche, however, begins with adrenarche, a process that peaks at about age 10 (Herdt & McClintock, 2000). Given that a very sizeable portion of boys who become involved sexually with men are 10 or older (Holmes & Slap, 1998), what exactly is Schmidt talking about when he says that sex between adults and children cannot be consensual? 

Only those relationships involving boys younger than 10? 
What about boys who have been masturbating since infancy presumably a substantial number (Langfeldt, 1990)? 
Do they know the score? 

Moreover, conspicuously and strangely absent from Schmidt's discussion is any mention of girls, who overwhelmingly are preferred by adult men over boys 

(Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, \& Michaels, 1994). 

One cannot adequately discuss the morality of pedosexuality without discussing female children. Schmidt exempts boys who have entered puberty from the imbalance of power problem. 

Girls too?


It seems to me that 

clarity regarding the pedophilia problem can only be obtained by taking very seriously the first part of one of Schmidt's closing thoughts: 

"Apart from such reflections on the issue of traumatizing effects, however, it is quite clear that pedophilia in contemporary Western societies represents a form of sexuality that cannot be lived out." 

Schmidt attributes this state of affairs to an intrinsic conflict of pedophilia "with a central social covenant based upon sexual self-determination and consensual sexuality," beliefs which I doubt are shared (or even comprehended) by a great many human beings outside of academic and feminist circles. 

The real reason that pedophilia cannot be lived out is that it is detested, a priori, apparently by the larger portion of humanity and for a much longer time than people have been concerned about "intimate citizenship," whatever that may be. People hate pedophilia and child molestation and will continue to come up with reasons to explain their hatred -- none of which strike me as capturing the true origin of this profound distaste.

What is the true origin? 

I suspect that it is multiply-determined, but the Western version probably has origins in the sexual heritage of St. Paul and St. Augustine, which characterizes sex as dangerous, dirty, sinful, ugly, destructive, and so forth (Rubin, 1984). 

This heritage intersects with a "surge of sentiment" that has emerged over the past two or three centuries and which regards children as "priceless, lovable, vulnerable innocents" (Shorter, cited in Best, 1990, pp. 34), if not as sacred (Zelizer, 1985). This is a neat reversal from earlier characterizations of children as sinful heathens who need the devil beat out of them. 

The end result is a powerful desire to save priceless, loveable, sacred, innocents from something dangerous, dirty, disgusting, and sinful. In the case of adult-child sexual contact between a man and a girl, there are reproductive issues as well. There is the potential for disruption of the girl's rights of reproductive self-determination (something that is comprehended by the mass of humanity), and hence, reproductive success 

(she may be seen as "damaged goods," she may be injured in premature intercourse and become sterile, she may become turned off to marital sexuality, etc.). 

Thus, it is unlikely that pedosexual relationships will ever be acceptable to the majority of human beings.


Schmidt claims that the "naturalistic" view of childhood is "antiquated" and has been since the work of Gagnon and Simon, carried forward by Weeks, Plummer, and others. It is my impression that the ideas of such poststructuralists, influenced as they are by odd French philosophical and literary movements, are so marginal in the scientific world that large numbers of working scientists studying human and nonhuman primates are not even aware of their existence. The "naturalistic child," with all her flaws, is a far more vibrant entity than the "intimate citizen."

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