Chapter 2

Context, Methods, and Participants

Research Questions

This thesis is structured around the following central question: How do minor attracted people understand and manage their stigmatized sexual identities?

Because very little is known about minor-attracted people and their experiences, it is important that the research design be flexible enough to allow for a wide range of possible answers to emerge and that it avoid omitting valuable responses prematurely as a result of rigid or assumptive research questions.

In addition to the central question, the research for this thesis is guided by the following eight sub-questions:

  1. How do minor-attracted people establish their identities?
  2. Why do minor-attracted people choose to disclose their sexual identities to other people?
  3. To whom do minor-attracted people choose to disclose their sexual identities?
  4. What terminology and language do minor-attracted people use when they disclose their sexual identities?
  5. How do others react to minor-attracted people disclosing their sexual identities?
  6. What are the ramifications of disclosure?
  7. How do minor-attracted people cope with stigma?
  8. What are the consequences of keeping a minor-attracted identity a secret?

Instrument of Data Collection

I employed semi-structured qualitative interviewing for the nine interviews I was able to secure. I initially considered developing a structured interview guide, and I also considered utilizing a completely open-ended interview technique; but both ideas were ultimately discarded.

These methods have been successfully utilized in previous research, but the circumstances of this project make them unsuitable. Structured interviews ensure that the same questions are explored with every participant, thereby lending uniformity to the data generation process. However, structured interviews do not allow opportunities for other data to emerge should a participant have something to contribute that is not addressed in the interview guide. Not only are structured interviews problematic in their impersonality and potential to make participants feel undervalued, but they are unable to capture information that falls outside of the expected answers, which may cause researchers to miss out on recording potentially important data. The drawbacks of structured interviews are often acceptable to researchers undertaking large-scale studies in which huge numbers of responses need to be gathered and analyzed, and time is limited.

However, since I planned to conduct intensive interviews with a small number of participants, I determined that a structured interview guide would be unnecessary. Because this is an exploratory study, my principal aim was to generate as many novel insights as possible. As such, there was no need for uniformity of responses for coding and analysis.

Since I knew I would be conducting research with a relatively small number of participants, I considered utilizing a completely open-ended interview approach. Although I was intrigued by this method, I was not confident that this approach was capable of uncovering the sort of data I suspected were available, since I would have no control over what participants talked about. Because very little research has been conducted on minor-attracted people, I thought it was important to cover as much ground as possible. I decided to combine the benefits of both structured and open-ended approaches by generating an interview guide with specific questions, but without a firm plan to ask every single question, or to ask questions in a set order. I also planned to allow opportunities for participants to direct the flow of the conversation and raise their own discussion topics during the interviews.

I prepared an interview guide containing 31 questions. The list of questions was used only as a guide, and was not strictly adhered to in all interviews. Sometimes questions were asked in a different order, and sometimes new, unplanned questions emerged during the interviews. I wanted to allow room for conversations to flow naturally, and for participants to actively participate in the data generation process.

The questions in the interview guide were organized into the following six sections:

  1. Sexual identity
  2. Disclosure
  3. Keeping a minor-attracted identity hidden
  4. Homosexuality and gay rights
  5. Advice for other minor-attracted people
  6. Participant input

The first three sections were directly influenced by research on LGB disclosure experiences. I drew on Rossi (2010) and Rothman, Sullivan, Keyes, and Boehmer (2012) to develop questions for minor-attracted participants, and in some cases I used the same questions that they had asked their participants.

The last three sections were developed independently.
With regard to the fourth set of questions, I wanted to learn how minor-attracted people view LGB individuals because I suspected that this knowledge would lead to important discussions about rights, feelings, identity, politics, and coping strategies that would all be connected to the experience of managing a stigmatized sexual identity.
Regarding the fifth set, I wanted to find out whether participants had any advice for other minor-attracted people because I suspect that such information may be useful for that audience once this project is made publicly available.
Finally, I kept time available in the sixth section to ask participants whether they had any final contributions or questions that they wanted to raise before ending the interviews. Providing an opportunity for participants to introduce their own points at the end of the interview is common in qualitative research, and I thought it was both applicable and important for this project.

My preference was to conduct face-to-face interviews in order to be able to pick up on body language, and develop rapport more easily with participants. However, since I expected that participants would contact me from cities all across Canada, I decided that I would also conduct interviews over the phone or via Skype audio calls. In the end, four interviews were conducted in person while the remaining five were held over Skype.
Seven of the interviews were audio-recorded [*4] and the other two were recorded solely by taking notes during the interviews. The interviews all took between 45 minutes and two hours to complete.

  • [*4] All audio-recordings were destroyed after I had transcribed the interviews.


Because attraction to minors is taboo, I predicted that very few minor-attracted people would be comfortable enough to come forward and participate in an interview with me. Furthermore, the Research Ethics Board at Simon Fraser University restricted my potential participants to minor-attracted people physically located in Canada at the time of the interview. [*5] Given these limitations, I set a goal to recruit six to ten participants, although I was prepared to talk to more.

  • [*5] This restriction was purportedly due to their concern that research information could be intercepted by law enforcement officials in other countries. I had originally planned to seek out interview participants living in the United States but I did not receive the Board's permission to do so. These restrictions and my experiences with the ethics approval process are discussed in further detail below (see the subheading “Ethics Approval Process”).

In order to reach out to this population, I sought the help of a US-based organization called B4U-Act. This Maryland organization, which has received government funding from Baltimore Mental Health Systems, was established in 2003 for the following purposes:

  • To publicly promote services and resources for self-identified individuals (adults and adolescents) who are sexually attracted to children and seek such assistance,
  • To educate mental health providers regarding the approaches helpful for such individuals,
  • To develop a pool of providers in Maryland who agree to serve these individuals and abide by B4U-ACT's Principles and Perspectives of Practice, [*6] and
  • To educate the citizens of Maryland regarding issues faced by these individuals. [B4U-Act, 2013]
  • [*6] B4U-Act developed a guide for mental health professionals working with minor-attracted people. This document is called “Principles and Perspectives of Practice” and can be found on their website at the following website URL:
    < >.

[... ... ... ... ...]

I could have announced the plans for my research project on some of the popular public minor-attracted community Internet message boards, as Goode (2010) had done, but I chose not to recruit participants via a public announcement. I had some concerns that announcing a study on minor-attracted people to the general public might attract people who would try to sabotage the research. I concluded that it was important that I talk to participants who were part of the B4U-Act network of contacts, and that these conversations take place in person or over Skype. My concerns stem from claims that Goode's (2010) work had been infiltrated by people who participated in her study in order to intentionally botch her results. [*7]

While this speculation is unconfirmed, I wanted to be as sure as possible that the individuals I was interviewing were actually minorattracted people, and that they had good-faith reasons for choosing to participate in the research. As such, it was my hope to recruit participants directly through the private channels available to B4U-Act.

[... ...]
As anticipated, my request generated very little response. Still, I was able to arrange for nine interviews, which were conducted over a ten month period, beginning in July 2011 and concluding in April 2012. Since I had aimed to undertake between six and ten interviews, I considered the completion of nine interviews a success. Participants were invited to contact me by phone, although all of them chose to use email. Interviews were arranged to take place either in person or through an audio conversation using Skype.

Ethics Approval Process

Because this study involves human participants, I was required to submit an ethics application to the Simon Fraser University Office of Research Ethics. That office assessed my application as a non-minimal risk study, which means that it needed to be considered by the Research Ethics Board in order to determine whether the benefits of the study outweighed the risks, and whether the project would thus gain approval. My application received official approval from the Office of Research Ethics on June 1, 2011. However, the entire process leading up to this approval took eight months.

[...] During the eight months that the ORE was considering my application, I was required to make several revisions to my application, and attend two meetings of the Research Ethics Board, [...]

Two of the primary reasons for their concern revolved around [1] the possible revelation of criminal activity involving harm to children engaged in by participants, and the risk of a participant confidentiality breach. I emphasized that my study would be concerned with the identity disclosure experiences of minor-attracted people, and as such, my interview guide did not contain any questions asking about sexual or criminal activities with minors below the age of consent.
Further [2], all participants would be explicitly informed of my legal responsibility to report any illegal sexual activity with minors, and that if they should bring up such information in the interview, I would not protect their confidentiality.

The other major concern [3] for the Board, however, remained the possibility of a confidentiality breach, and their apprehension that such a breach would result in drastically negative consequences for both the participants and Simon Fraser University. Specifically, they argued that if identifying participant information was inadvertently divulged to third parties, then the lives of the participants could potentially be ruined as a result of being “outed” and the university would accordingly be subject to a lawsuit.

In particular [4], the REB conveyed skepticism that I would be able to sufficiently protect confidentiality if I were to conduct interviews in person or over the phone with participants living in the United States, due to the existence of the Patriot Act in that country. They argued that my data could be seized if I crossed the Canadian/US border with notes or audio recordings of my interviews. They pointed out that my phone conversations could be accessed by law enforcement agencies in the United States. As such, in the view of the REB, my participant pool needed to be limited to participants physically located in Canada so that the Patriot Act would not come into play during the data collection process.

In addition [5], the Board required that participant recruitment occur through the auspices of B4U-Act, and that my call for participants not be announced publicly. This stipulation was presumably due to their previously raised concerns that my study would attract too much public attention, possibly resulting in a visit from the police or other authorities who might require me to hand over my data.

Ultimately, I was able to assuage the REB's concerns without having to make any significant adjustments to my original application other than limiting my pool of participants to those physically located in Canada at the time of their interviews.

The Participants

I interviewed nine participants, all of whom were located in Canada at the time of their respective interviews. All were men who ranged in age from 20 to 70. In order to protect anonymity, I did not ask specific questions about age, race/ethnicity, religious affiliation, city of residence, level of education, or anything else that could be considered identifying information. Some participants, however, did choose to share such details with me. All information that could be used to identify a specific participant was deleted and is not included in this thesis.

Participants were located in at least three major Canadian cities [...].

Eight participants identified as minor-attracted, and one participant identified as queer. One of the participants who identified as minor-attracted maintained that the attraction was purely emotional, and that his identity as a minor-attracted person did not contain a sexual component. Some of the participants told me that their attractions were exclusive to minors, while others explained that they also had attractions to adults, or to minors and/or adults outside their preferred sex. Participants were living in a variety of situations, including at home with their parents, with an adult partner, with roommates, or alone. Some of the participants were living with or dating adult partners, others were seeking out adult partners to date, and still others were single.

Participants were living in varying stages of openness. Some had disclosed their sexual identities to almost all of their friends and family, others had told only one or two other individuals, and one participant had never formally revealed his sexual identity to anyone in person until talking to me in a face-to-face interview. With the exception of one participant, all of the participants had disclosed their sexual identities to other people in person prior to participating in an interview with me.

The Research Experience

I conducted four interviews in person, and five interviews using Skype audio calls. Interviewing over Skype and interviewing in person were very different experiences. [...]

Upon establishing the Skype connection with participants, I introduced myself by my first name, and then informed them that I would need to read aloud some information regarding their rights as a participant and my responsibilities as a researcher. The information sheet that I read from assured participants of their rights to confidentiality, but most of the information consisted of explaining my legal responsibility to report instances of criminal activity with children, possession of child pornography, and other laws regarding harm to minors.

I cringed inwardly every time I had to read out this list of information. I worried that it would make me appear suspicious of my participants' behaviour or intentions. I worried that I would come across as an agent of law enforcement. [...]
It was important to me that my participants feel comfortable, because I sensed how difficult it was for many of them to come forward and speak to me about such a personal aspect of their lives.

[...] As it turned out, several participants told me that they felt more comfortable talking to me using Skype because they did not need to worry about a police officer waiting around the corner. Because I could not identify them by appearance, or even know which city they lived in, they felt more assured of their confidentiality.

Interviewing in person felt a lot more comfortable for me. In person, I was able to see whether my participants were smiling, crying, fidgeting, or presenting some other kind of body language which allowed me to assess the best course of action for further discussion and questioning. I found myself much more at ease during pauses and silences because I was able to interpret a participant's body language to ascertain whether he was thinking about what to say, or whether he was waiting for the next question.

Meeting participants in person was a fascinating experience. Three of the interviews were conducted in an airport hotel room in a large Canadian city. [... ... ...]
Two participants whom I met in that hotel room [....] both fidgeted and frequently searched the room with their eyes. I interpreted these behaviours as signs of nervousness. [...]

Data Analysis

Because this project is exploratory in nature and revolves around a subject that has been explored very little in academia, my plan was to take a flexible approach to the gathering and analysis of data. I did not develop a hypothesis that I was seeking to prove or disprove. My intentions were to keep an open mind, make as few assumptions as possible, and learn whatever I could about the experiences of minor-attracted people.

Throughout this project, I relied on what Mason (2002) refers to as the

  • “interpretivist approach” to social research. She describes the interpretivist approach as aiming to “explore people's individual and collective understandings, reasoning processes, social norms, and so on” (Mason, 2002, p. 56).

This approach was a good fit for this project because I specifically wanted to encourage participants to tell their own stories and prioritize which experiences they wanted to share.

I analyzed the data using the open-coding method outlined by Hesse-Biber and Leavy (2005). I printed out all of the interview transcripts and highlighted words and phrases that stood out to me. Upon a second read-through, I highlighted words and phrases that arose in multiple transcripts, as well as those that were unique to an individual participant. Initially, I searched for patterns and recurring themes, and these began to emerge fairly quickly. Still, I was cognisant to look for differences as well as similarities between the experiences of my participants.