Chapter 5

Coping with Stigma and Finding a Place in Society


The findings and analysis presented in Chapters 3 and 4 of this thesis shed light on the identity formation and disclosure experiences of my participants. In this current chapter, I build on the knowledge I have generated, examining how my participants cope with stigma, and what role they see themselves playing in our society. What is their place, and what are their options?

Coping with Stigma

  • Usually you just hear about, you know, crime, and abuse and molestation. [Zachary]
  • I started to read about pedophiles, and about how everyone said they were bad. [Nathan]
  • Some people would only see some sort of child molester if they knew this about me. [Liam]

Widespread prejudice against minor-attracted people makes them vulnerable to a variety of undesirable consequences should their sexual desires become known. These consequences include

  • losing relationships,
  • being fired, and
  • experiencing physical and verbal abuse (Goode, 2010).

In addition to facing discrimination from others, they may be at risk of denigrating themselves through a process of “internalized pedonegativity.” This phenomenon is akin to “internalized homonegativity,” a construct frequently cited in the LGB identity development literature (see Cox et al., 2011; Hill, 2009).

Internalized homonegativity describes the psychological state of LGB people who absorb, and to some extent believe, the negative messages our culture disseminates about homosexuality. These individuals internalize the message that they are strange, bad, immoral, and/or unnatural (Hill, 2009). Judging from the observations of my participants, it appears that a similar obstacle exists for minor-attracted people.

  • Zachary argues that, as a culture, we “completely pathologize and dismiss” people who are attracted to minors. As recounted in Chapter 4,
  • Nathan struggles to overcome the feeling that he is “a freak.”

Anti-pedophile sentiments are heavily embedded in our culture, and developing a positive self-image can be a challenging endeavour for minor-attracted people.

Social Identity theorists Tajfel and Turner (1979) propose several identity management strategies individuals may pursue when attempting to cope with a negative self-concept. [*15]

  • [*15] A negative social identity can include any identity which is devalued in mainstream society. For example, “African-American” may be viewed as a negative social identity because Caucasian people are idealized and normalized in our culture (Tajfel & Turner, 1979, p. 43).

The purpose of these strategies is to develop a positive self-image despite membership in a marginalized social group. My participants adopt some of the strategies proposed in social identity theory, including:

  1. revaluing aspects of their own group that are typically seen as negative as positive instead,
  2. comparing themselves to other groups in ways that make their own group appear superior, and
  3. attempting to initiate social change that will improve their social status (Tajfel & Turner, 1979, p. 43-46).

These strategies fit within Goffman's analysis of the ways that stigmatized individuals may cope with their situation. Goffman argues that as a means of managing stigma, individuals may attempt to “re-assess the limitations of normals” (Goffman, 1963, p. 11), or interpret the suffering they experience as a “blessing in disguise” (Ibid.).

Thomas appears to utilize the coping strategies outlined by both Goffman and social identity theorists when he introduces the possibility that some minor-attracted people can be “child whisperers.” He argues that minor-attracted people are inclined to pay more attention to children, treating their feelings and concerns as valid and interesting whereas other adults might overlook the pursuits of children as silly or boring.

From Goffman's perspective, Thomas is re-assessing the limitations of other adults by pointing out that their lack of sexual interest in children reduces the likelihood that they will take an interest in young people, and therefore, limits their ability to form meaningful connections with them.

Viewed from the perspective of social identity theory, Thomas's arguments represent an attempt to elevate minor-attracted people to a superior position by comparing them to the dominant group on a “new dimension” (Tajfel & Turner, 1979, p. 43) that shifts the focus of attention

  • away from an area in which minor-attracted people fail (i.e., fitting into social norms regarding sexual identity), and 
  • toward one in which they succeed (i.e., perceived ability to connect with children).

His point is contentious – many would take offense at the position that sexual interest in children aids adults in developing meaningful relationships with them. Still, Thomas appears to believe that in comparison to “normals,” minor-attracted people are better situated to take a strong interest in children and their needs.

By regarding attraction to minors in a positive light, Thomas is also utilizing another coping strategy proposed in social identity theory – he revalues the trait of minor-attraction from a negative characteristic into a positive one.

Nathan, too, believes that being minor-attracted is a positive attribute. As an “outsider” (i.e., someone who is attracted to minors rather than adults), he has a different perspective on young people compared with most other adults – one which he implies makes him more caring and attentive to their needs. He argues:

  • You start to think about them [minors] more and more, and that gives you more insight into them, and makes you care about them more, and not just sexually. So I think I have a special insight and compatibility with children of either sex, even ones I'm not sexually attracted to, because I think about them so much more than other people.

Zachary echoes Nathan's sentiment about caring for minors in a non-sexual capacity as well as a sexual one, explaining:

  • My erotic desire for young people is co-mingled with my interest in their oppression. In child and youth oppression. And I constantly think about the relationship of power between young people and adults.

Zachary's sexual interest in minors motivates him to question his “adult status” and the privileged place it gives him in our society. He believes this critical examination allows him to treat young people with more dignity and respect than someone who does not question these social categories.

Nathan and Zachary view their sexuality as a conduit for insight into the lives of children, as well as a catalyst for perceiving under-examined patterns of societal oppression. Focusing on how their sexuality sets them apart in a positive way allows them to view their sexuality as a “blessing in disguise” (Goffman, 1963, p. 11). Despite the hardships they undergo as a result of their own oppressed status, Zachary and Nathan flourish in their ability to offer valuable social critique.

Feminist standpoint theory

  • (see Collins, 2000; Haraway, 1988; Hartsock, 1998)

offers an explanation for Nathan and Zachary's heightened capacity to critically examine the status quo. This theory is grounded in the assumption that every individual's perspective is shaped by her social location. A slave's perspective, for example, will be different from a slave-master's.

Proponents of feminist standpoint theory argue that marginalized people are highly motivated to try to understand the perspectives of the dominant group, since they are marginalized by the social structures maintained by those in power. As outsiders, marginalized people find it easier to challenge status quo assumptions about all kinds of socially relevant issues, including gender, sex, sexuality, race, class, and so on.

Drawing on this theory, I argue that minor-attracted people are uniquely situated to critically examine the roles and values ascribed to adults and children, as well as our cultural customs surrounding sexual identity and sexual practice. Zachary offers a compelling anecdote to support my argument:

  • You know how people talk about anti-oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia? I think very few people think about their adult status. It's a bit of a micro revolution. It's really hard to really think about how much we construct ourselves as adults by denigrating what it means to be a youth or a child.

Zachary draws a direct connection between his sexual identity and his ability to step back from mainstream society and offer a critical examination of assumptions about what it means to be an adult or a child, and how these two categories of people are supposed to interact.

Ben also questions our society's customs regarding adult-child interactions, asking

  • “how many adults are there who truly care for children that they are not related to?”

He implies that most adults ignore the wellbeing of children other than their own,
pointing out that many children suffer from neglect, or the effects of poverty, with little intervention from adults outside those children's families.

Ben argues that treating minor-attracted people as a threat is a “waste of a precious resource,” explaining that boylovers and girl-lovers could become active participants in the lives of children who do not have adequate access to care and attention. Contrary to popular opinion about the intentions of minor-attracted people, Ben says he wants to support children, not abuse them.

Zachary elaborates on this same point:

  • I feel extreme empathy with young people. It is so far away from any kind of harm, that to impute a dangerous subject onto the desire, to me, is extreme obscenity.

Zachary, Nathan, and Ben appear to share Thomas's opinion that

  • “there is a great capacity for adults who are not related to children to care for them and form attachments with them.”

They do not view their sexual attraction to children as dangerous, but rather, as potentially useful.

Finally, my participants cope with their negative social identity, or stigma, by attempting to enact social change to improve the social status of their group.

  • Liam, for example, participated in an interview with Jessica (the student researcher) in order to educate her about what kind of person he is. He hoped to convey that minor-attracted people are not “monsters.”
  • In the same vein, Thomas claims the reason he chose to speak with me is “political,” arguing that he wants to “get this discussion on the table.” If members of the general public are more informed about minor-attraction, he suspects they might view it differently.
  • Nathan also attempts to change the image of minorattracted people by disclosing his sexual desires to those he knows, hoping they will have “more of an understanding” about minor-attracted individuals after talking to him.

In addition to observing my participants employing this strategy, I am aware of two organizations – comprised in part of minor-attracted members – who adopt the same
approach. Both B4U-Act and Virtuous Pedophiles are groups which attempt to improve the social image of minor-attracted people.

Virtuous Pedophiles was formed in 2012, nine years after the inception of B4U-Act (whose history and goals I outlined in Chapter 2). Unlike B4U-Act, the Virtuous Pedophiles members consist solely of minor-attracted people (though they describe themselves as “pedophiles” on their website). Their objectives appear similar to those of B4U-Act:

  • The goals of our organization are to reduce the stigma attached to pedophilia by letting people know that a substantial number of pedophiles do not molest children, and to provide peer support and information about available resources to help pedophiles lead happy, productive lives. [Virtuous Pedophiles, 2012]

The members of Virtuous Pedophiles attempt to achieve their aims by providing informational resources on their website. They also direct people who are attracted to children to an email support group, and are currently creating a database of the names of mental health professionals who are willing to provide treatment to minor-attracted people in a compassionate, non-judgemental manner.

B4U-Act also provides online resources; however, they conduct in-person seminars and workshops as well. By offering educational resources and opportunities for members of mainstream society to interact with minor-attracted people, both organizations are actively working to improve the public perception of minor-attraction.

The Role of Minor-Attracted People in Contemporary Western Societies

  • If a person is attracted to children, what is he or she to do?
  • What are the options?
  • Where can a minor-attracted person turn for advice or support?

In 2010, a man grappling with these questions sought advice from popular sex advice columnist Dan Savage. In his letter, the advice-seeker explained that he is sexually attracted to children, has no trouble refraining from sexual contact with children or watching child pornography, but is unsure of how to achieve sexual fulfilment in his life.
Savage calls upon pedophilia expert James Cantor, who suggests chemical castration may be the best option for someone with a primary sexual attraction to children. Savage quotes Cantor as arguing that allowing a pedophile to be around children unsupervised is like letting a cat “be in charge of the canary” (Savage, 2010).
Savage agrees with Cantor, instructing the advice-seeker to refrain from being around children unsupervised, in order to “protect the kids” (Ibid.).

Thomas read this letter, and was disappointed with the advice. He explains:

  • The entire tone of the article implied that a pedophile who doesn't act on his feelings is extremely rare. It implied that they are all at high likelihood of offending against children, and I found this implication insulting.

Thomas disagrees with Savage and Cantor, arguing that most minor-attracted people do not have difficulty preventing themselves from interacting with children sexually. Like Thomas, James finds the opinions of Cantor and Savage offensive. He maintains that a person rapes “because he is a rapist,” not because of his sexual desires.

James argues that people from all sexual orientations commit rape, but only minor-attracted people have their sexual identities linked to the offense. He finds this judgement unfair.

Ben is not so much insulted by Savage's response as he is critical of its conclusion. He does not think that minor-attracted people need to undergo chemical castration, or isolate themselves from children. He claims there are options for minorattracted people aside from choosing to be either “miserable or criminal.”
However, Ben notes it is extremely difficult to explore the alternatives and find a satisfactory place for oneself as a minor-attracted person, given that

  • “the dominant social narrative about sexual identity is that you have to fulfill your sexual desires.”

He says this attitude leaves no conceptual room for there to be a “happy pedophile” unless said pedophile breaks the law by engaging in sexual activity with a minor.

In our culture, pursuing a sexual relationship with a consenting young partner is neither a socially acceptable nor legally permitted option. According to the dominant perspective in our society, the only legitimate options for minor-attracted people are chemical castration or self-imposed isolation. At the very least, they are instructed to stay away from children at all times, and should certainly never become parents (Savage, 2012).

The dearth of positive role models, scripts, and possibilities for minor-attracted people is very troubling for some of my participants. Still, they resist the dominant narrative by seeking out other options and trying to formulate new possibilities.
Assuming that sexual interaction with children or viewing child pornography involving actual children are not viable options,

  • what should minor-attracted people do?
  • Can they achieve sexual satisfaction?
  • If so, how?
  • What is their role in society?
  •  Should they strive for the same goals as others – marriage, children, a white picket fence?
  • Or do they need to take a more radical approach, creating a new ideal rather than trying to fit into an existing one?

Some of my participants explore scripts that differ from the negative mainstream conceptualizations of minor-attraction.

James recalls reading about ancient Greece and the culture of pederasty when he was a teenager. He remembers thinking,

  • “okay, there are other people like me, and this is something natural. It's been in history for centuries.”

In addition to drawing on the past for inspiration, James considers the situation in other countries. He claims that

  • “if you go outside of North America, you will see boys with men everywhere.”

Liam also looks to other cultures for guidance, citing twelve as the age of consent in Mexico. [*16]

  • [*16] In Mexico, the federal law sets the minimum age of consent at 12-years-old. At the state level, the age of consent is set between 12 and 15, varying by jurisdiction.

Reflecting on youth-adult sexual interactions in previous eras may provide some measure of comfort to James, and may reassure him that there is nothing inherently wrong with his sexuality. This reflection, however, does not provide any models for an alternative way to live in our present culture. What may provide this option is leaving North America in search of a place whose inhabitants are friendlier toward minor-attracted people. None of my participants spoke of wanting to leave their homes, but some minor-attracted people do explore this possibility.

When I attended the B4U-Act conference held on November 19, 2010, one minor-attracted person told the group that he was getting tired of living in a society which views minor-attraction as inherently bad. He also explained that he was tired of living in fear of discovery. He went on to inform us that he was exploring the possibility of making a fresh start in another country, one where the pedophile moral panic does not exist. [*17]

  • [*17] He clarified that if he did move to another country, it would not be for the purpose of seeking out sex with minors, but rather, to “find peace.”

Leaving one's own home and culture for another may be an option for minor-attracted people. Such a decision could be accompanied by many drawbacks, however, including

  • leaving one's friends and family behind,
  • searching for a new job,
  • learning a new language, and/or
  •  building a new social network.

Moving to another country with a different culture may provide a haven from the moral panic, but there can be no guarantee of new-found happiness. Practical considerations aside, this recourse is a luxury - many minor-attracted people would not be able to afford moving to another country, and some have commitments in their own countries that may prevent them  from leaving.

What then, are the options for those who do remain in this society? Traditional models of success and happiness tend to revolve around romantic relationships, sexual fulfilment, meaningful friendships, and rewarding careers. For minor-attracted people, engaging in some of these pursuits can be challenging.

Minor-attracted people who want to pursue romantic relationships and remain law-abiding must necessarily seek out adult partners, since relationships between adults and minors who fall below the age of consent are neither legally nor socially permitted.
Some individuals with a primary attraction to minors are also attracted to adults, and do not experience great difficulty forming relationships with the latter.

  • Zachary, for example, explains he is most attracted to boys in late adolescence, but that he is also very attracted to adult men and can have fulfilling relationships with them.
  • Ben and Nathan, on the other hand, have very little interest in adults, and must always consider the effect their sexuality will have on potential relationships.

Disclosing a sexual interest in children to a partner can be risky – the consequences of this act were explored in Chapter 4.
Alternatively, a minor-attracted person may choose to conceal his attraction to minors from his partner rather than revealing it. Hiding in this fashion would bring its own set of challenges, such as an underlying fear of discovery, or a sense that the relationship is lacking depth and honesty. Forming romantic relationships with adults may be much more challenging for minor-attracted people than for people with other sexual identities, requiring consideration of risks and consequences that do not apply to others.

Goode (2010) recommends that minor-attracted people be allowed to explore their sexuality through fantasy and pornographic material that does not involve actual children. She argues that erotic fiction and anime [*18] or cartoon pornography should be made accessible to minor-attracted people so that they can achieve sexual satisfaction without the involvement of actual minors.

[*18] “Anime” is a particular style of cartoon drawing. This style of animation originates in Japan.

Contrary to popular belief, consuming child pornography does not cause a person to act out these fantasies in the real world

  • (see Diamond & Uchiyama, 1999; Endrass et al., 2009).

There is a problem, however, with advising minor-attracted people to consume pornography that portrays fictional minors – namely that in Canada, and in some American states, pornographic material of this nature is prohibited. In Canada, it is illegal to create or possess pornography that involves actual people below the age of eighteen, and it is also against the law to create, possess, or access expressive material that depicts sexual activity involving minors, whether that material be written, visual, or an audio recording

  • (see the Appendix for the full legal definition of child pornography in Canada).

Minor-attracted people living in Canada are left with very few legal options to pursue sexual satisfaction, given that they are not permitted to form sexual relationships with minors below the age of sixteen (or in some circumstances, below the age of eighteen) or consume pornography involving actual or fictional people below the age of eighteen.

Finding a way to achieve sexual fulfilment under these legal restraints seems nothing short of incredibly challenging, and the options appear to be limited. Pursuing relationships with adults may be one way for minor-attracted adults to explore their sexuality. An open-minded partner may be interested in engaging in sexual role-play scenarios, or encouraging the minor-attracted partner to pursue fantasies in his imagination during their sexual activity.

Aside from engaging in sexual activity with adults, masturbating with the assistance of one's own fantasies, and accessing material which would not be considered child pornography according to the laws of one's country, I can see no other avenues for sexual fulfilment available to minor-attracted people who wish to remain law-abiding. As Ben concedes, people like him may simply need to “make do” with the available options.

Focusing on their roles as romantic partners, friends, or participants in whatever hobbies or careers they pursue could be beneficial to minor-attracted people trying to find their place in society.

Another possible option is more radical, revolving around the idea of trying to change social norms and attitudes surrounding minor-attraction and sexual identity, or even current social customs regarding youth-adult sexual interaction. The organizations B4U-Act and Virtuous Pedophiles attempt to transform social attitudes about adult attraction to minors by educating the public about the nature of this sexual identity, and trying to explain that they do not view themselves as a risk to children. By sharing their experiences and perspectives, these groups attempt to alter society in order to make it a more hospitable place for themselves and other minor-attracted people.


Many aspects of life are much more challenging for minor-attracted people than for those who possess socially acceptable sexual identities. My participants endeavour to cope with these challenges in the face of limited options.

Minor-attracted people appear to be restricted to the following choices:

  • a) trying to fit into this society by adapting to dominant social practices,
  • b) attempting to change our society's ideas about minor-attraction and/or sexual interaction between minors and adults, or
  • c) abandoning this society for one which may be preferable in its current form.

My participants demonstrate courage and resilience in coping with their stigmatized identities. Their efforts would benefit from assistance from society at large.

In the conclusion of this thesis, I offer practical suggestions for helping minor-attracted people live happier and more productive lives.