Chapter 3

Establishing a Minor-Attracted Identity


In this chapter I begin to present and discuss the findings that emerged from the interview data I collected from nine participants between July, 2011 and April, 2012. As noted at the end of Chapter 2, I searched for patterns and themes in the interview transcripts, and these became apparent immediately. I will present the findings in a chronological structure which is divided into three chapters.

Here in Chapter 3, I explore my participants' experiences of coming to identify as minor-attracted.

  • Why do they identify this way?
  • What is the experience like?

In Chapter 4, I examine their disclosure stories.

  • Whom do they tell about their identities? 
  • Why do they disclose, and what is the experience like?

Finally in Chapter 5, I analyze the ways my participants cope with their marginalized social status. I also consider the possibilities for living as a minor-attracted person in contemporary Western societies.

  • What happens after disclosing a minorattractedidentity?
  • What are their options?

I hope to guide readers through a process of understanding how my participants establish their identities, what they do with this new-found understanding, and what lies ahead for them. Learning more about the lives and experiences of minor-attracted people will allow our society to develop more effective strategies for interacting with them. Throughout this and the next two chapters, I draw on the key themes and concepts that were introduced in Chapter 1 to explain and contextualize the experiences of these nine men.

The Nature of the Attraction

  • I can find older teenagers – age 18 – attractive, if they look exceptionally young. Even then it's rare and not as appealing. Sometimes as young as six can be appealing, but not as much as the older boys. [Ben]

In order to understand how and why my participants adopt a minor-attracted identity, it is necessary to understand the nature of their attractions.

  • Where do their interests lie, and
  • how do these interests affect the way they choose to identify?

Every interview begins with a discussion of the kind of people my participants are most attracted to. The first question is “Are you attracted to boys, girls, or both?” followed by “What is the general age range of the people you are attracted to?” I also inquire about whether my participants' attractions to minors are exclusive, or whether they ever experience attraction to older people, or people outside their preferred sex.

  • Five participants are primarily attracted to boys.
  • One participant identifies as bisexual, and
  • the remaining three are attracted to girls.

When I ask what age group they are most often aroused by, I receive a wide array of answers, ranging from two to twenty-two. Most of the men report that the people they are primarily interested in fall into a fairly specific age group, usually comprising a four- to seven-year age span. Only one participant, Thomas, [*8] provides a fairly wide spectrum of interest, informing me that he is equally attracted to girls and women between the ages of two and twenty-two.

  • [*8] All participant names used in this thesis are pseudonyms of my own choosing.

Table 1. Participants' Primary Interests

Thomas     girls and women aged 2 to 22 (20 year range)
Nathan      girls aged 7 to 14 (7 year range)
Liam        girls aged 8 to 15 (7 year range)
Jacob       girls and boys aged 4 to 9 (5 year range)
Lucas      boys aged 10 to 16 (6 year range)
James      boys aged 11 to 14 (3 year range)
Zachary   boys aged 13 to 18 (5 year range)
Ben         boys aged 10 to 14 (4 year range)
Jack        boys aged 10 to 14 (4 year range)

All of my participants inform me that they experience some attraction to people outside their usual category of interest.

  • Five have some attraction to adults, while
  • the remaining four experience some attraction to older teenagers.

Their experiences of attraction to adults and older teenagers are quite varied.

  • One participant, Zachary, reports that he is frequently attracted to men in their twenties and thirties, and can have fulfilling romantic relationships with them,
  • while Nathan explains that he is “rarely attracted to anyone younger or older” (than age seven to fourteen).
  • Two of the participants who are primarily attracted to boys tell me that they also have some interest in teenage and adult women, but not adult men.

Most of my participants do not offer descriptions of the young people they find attractive, nor do they provide details about what physical features they prefer, or what they consider beautiful. Zachary, however, is forthcoming. He conveys his thoughts on beauty, telling me:

  • The slim proportionality of a youthful body - there's something achingly beautiful about that. But we live in a culture, unfortunately, where it seems like bigger is better [...] So there’s this fetish with size. And ubermasculinities, when it comes to an ocean of beauty, which I think is really ugly.

Ben agrees with Zachary, arguing that

  • “gay culture today downplays any hint of pedo-eroticism and has created a culture of the muscle man.”

Both claim that in reality, many gay men are attracted to teenage boys from time to time. They maintain that the fear of being accused of pedophilia or of attempting to recruit young people into homosexuality prevents gay culture from embracing this aspect of homosexual desire.

In addition to reflecting on standards of beauty in both gay and straight culture, Zachary discusses his personal desires. He describes the “arresting moment” he experiences when he sees an especially attractive adolescent boy:

  • So I was sitting in a cafe doing some work, and this beautiful boy walks in. And he must have been maybe fourteen, fifteen. And I tend to like darker haired boys. And this beautiful face, just everything. He was just stunning. So I'm sitting there, and literally, I'm just looking at him. And the whole world gets shut out.

I speculate that Zachary feels more comfortable opening up about his desires because they are not completely out of step with the status quo. He tends to be attracted to boys who are between thirteen and eighteen, and he is also regularly attracted to adult men as well. He implies that his sexuality is easier to cope with than it would be if he were attracted to pre-pubescent children, exclaiming,

  • “I can't even imagine living with that desire. You know, for someone who's eight. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I'd be a mess.”

He expresses sympathy for his friends who are attracted to children, suggesting that it must be much more difficult for them to cope with stigma and discrimination than it is for him.


Before one can adopt an alternative sexual identity, one must first realize that one’s attractions are not consistent with mainstream heterosexuality (Evans & Broido, 1999). I ask my participants to tell me about the first time they realized they were attracted to minors. All of them report that they first began to consciously question their sexuality in their teenage years, or even earlier. Their experiences of coming to understand their sexuality generally occurred over a period of many years. Some of the participants can identify the exact moment or age when they first noticed they had a primary attraction to minors, while others describe several events in their lifetimes that eventually led them to the realization.

Thomas knew he was attracted to girls when he was thirteen. I ask what the experience was like for him, and he reflects,

  • “I remember aging with my cohort and realizing that I felt a lack of fulfilment.”

Liam remembers being thirteen and having a crush on a ten-year-old girl. He describes this experience as his earliest memory of finding someone else attractive, and it was this crush that led him to understand that he was different from his peers. He knew that it would not be socially acceptable to ask this younger girl out on a date, whereas his peers could invite their same-age crushes to go on dates.

Nathan's experience is similar to Liam's. He recalls realizing he was different from his peers when they all entered high school together and he was still attracted to twelve-year-old girls, and had little to no interest in high school age girls.

Lucas recalls thinking he was gay when he was a young teenager, and not consciously realizing that he was attracted to boys in particular - rather than men - until he was older. He remembers being attracted to boys his age when he was twelve, thirteen, and fourteen, explaining,

  • “As I got older, my age of interest stayed at the same level. It didn't go up, basically. And that's when I realized.”

Jack cannot define a specific moment of noticing his attraction to boys – he believes he was repressing his sexuality to some extent throughout his teenage years. Jack explains,

  • “Most of the time that I was a teenager I was not fully in tune with what my primary sexual attraction was. Uh, so it was probably late teens before I would have realized.”

Research indicates that in order to take on an alternative sexual identity, someone must first become aware that the identity is available to be adopted (Troiden, 1989). There is a realization that one is not alone, and that there are others who do not fit the status quo. For Ben, this experience occurred when he was a young man. He recalls:

  • I read Lolita when I was 20. It felt so like me. It gave me a conceptual framework. It gave this a name. Reading it helped me to understand that I was attracted to boys, and not men.

Even though Nabokov's Lolita tells the story of an adult man who is infatuated with a 12-year-old girl, the fact that the protagonist is captivated by this adolescent and has no interest in adult women afforded Ben an opportunity to see himself as somewhat similar. He is most often attracted to boys aged 10 to 14, and reading Lolita as a young man helped him to see that there were other people like him – people who were also attracted to children and adolescents rather than adults.

Most of my participants are able to reflect on their early experiences of finding out about a category of people known as pedophiles.

  • Some of them remember hearing news stories about Catholic priests abusing boys, and feeling anxious that other people would associate these stories with them if their attraction to minors should ever be discovered.
  • Others recall searching for information about pedophilia in the library, or on the Internet, and only encountering information that they perceived as negative, such as facts and statistics about mental illness, or child abuse.
  • None of them report finding positive stories or messages about minor-attracted people in the present day.
  • Some, however, came across historical information that presented sexual interest in minors as acceptable and normal – namely, the culture of pederasty in ancient Greece.
  • James takes comfort in knowing that his desires have been acceptable in other time periods, and Zachary takes pride in his connection to ancient Greek culture. He argues that appreciation of the beauty of boys is something special, claiming that
    • “people who like youth, who like teenagers, who like boys, can offer a different kind of aesthetic to the world.”

Boy-lovers, Girl-lovers, and Other Terms

  • By the way, I use the expression 'BL'. I don't know if you've heard that, 'BL', to refer to people like me? [Lucas]

Upon finding out that they were not alone - that other people like them exist - some of my participants began to wonder how they should refer to themselves. What terms and labels are available, and which ones should they use?

Eight of my participants employ the terms “boy-lover” (or BL) and “girl-lover” (or GL). Some of them use these terms to describe themselves personally, while others talk about what they refer to as the “boy-love” and “girl-love” communities more generally.

  • [*9] There are two main websites that comprise the online girl-love and boy-love communities. They are called Girl Chat and Boy Chat, respectively. These  communities also exist offline, with some minor-attracted people getting together in person for both social and political reasons.

Jacob proclaims that he is “mostly a girl-lover, then a boy-lover” and Liam says he does not mind what people call him. The acronym “MAP” (minor-attracted person), the acronym “GL”, and the term “pedophile” are all acceptable to him.

Thomas explains that he sometimes uses the label girl-lover, but with reservations. He believes the term implies a sexual attraction to girls, and because he maintains that he only experiences an emotional attraction to girls, the word does not feel like a good fit. Although Thomas would prefer to use another term to describe his identity, he does not know of any adequate labels that currently exist.

Zachary explains that whenever he uses the word boy-lover to describe himself, “it's sort of been in quotation marks.” He says he uses the label to refer to himself in certain contexts, but that he does not think of himself as a boy-lover, since this description does not encompass the totality of his identity. He prefers to identify as queer.

I asked all of my participants to tell me more about what terms they enlist to describe themselves, and which terms they prefer to use. Not surprisingly, everybody has an opinion about what Thomas calls “the P word.” Some of my participants do not like to refer to themselves as pedophiles due to the negative connotations associated with the word.

Liam does not have a problem with the term per se, and says it was the first word he ever used to describe himself. However, he thinks that using it might not be a good idea, since it regularly conjures up negative associations, such as the scandals surrounding child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Jack does not employ the word “pedophile” to describe himself, although he clarifies that he does not find the word offensive. Rather, he thinks it is

  • “a very limited, clinical definition that doesn't really verywell reflect the reality.”

James responds with many questions about identity and attraction when I ask him whether he thinks of himself as a pedophile:

  • If someone likes a 16-year-old boy, is he a pederast or is he gay?
    • What is the difference?
    • If a boy is 15 and he likes a 13-year-old boy, is he a pedophile, a pederast or is he gay?
    • How do you know?
    • How can he know?
    • And he's 15, and he grows up to be 18 and he likes boys who are 15. Is he gay, or is he a pederast?
  • In the gay community, if a man is 30 and he likes young men, let's say 20 years old, people around them call them pedophiles. You know, the inter-generational relationships in the gay community are taboo. So everybody who looks at someone who is a little bit younger than him is a pedophile. So that word means nothing.

James grapples with the complex relationships between desire, identity, and politics. He claims that a thirty-year-old man will be called a “pedophile” for expressing interest in a twenty-year-old man. While a relationship between the two would be legal in Canada, the taboo surrounding cross-generational relationships may affect the decisions people make about whom they should consider as potential partners. According to James, referring to someone who is attracted to twenty-year-old men as a pedophile undermines the entire meaning of the term. If it can be applied in this way, what does the word really mean? Figuring out how to apply this term accurately becomes even more complicated when examining the sexuality of young people.

For example, it is common for fifteen-year-olds to be attracted to thirteen-year-olds. Upon growing up, however, most people will shift their desire toward adults. If an adult in his thirties is attracted to a thirteen-year-old girl, many people would label him a pedophile, even though they would not likely label a fifteen-year-old a pedophile for the same desire. Dominant social norms impact the way we perceive sexuality – what is considered a socially acceptable desire for a teenager may not be considered such for an adult. James critiques these distinctions and taboos to the point where he finds them meaningless.

When I ask for his thoughts on using the term “pedophile,” Nathan draws a very powerful comparison to the use of the word “nigger.” He explains:

  • I like the term pedophile because it's a re-claiming of a term, in the same way black people may like to use the word nigger to refer to themselves. It's a word with lots of negative connotations, but I like to use it in a proud way.

Clearly, there is a lot of negativity surrounding “the P-word”, and several of the men I interviewed seem unsure of what labels they should use to describe themselves.

  • Should they “re-claim” pedophile, as Nathan suggests?
  • Should they strive to extend the reach of the newly created term “minor-attracted person”?

Thomas wishes he knew the right word to use, and wonders if he should invent one. We discuss several possibilities, but neither of us can come up with a satisfactory answer.

Identifying as Minor-Attracted

Thomas finds it extremely stressful to identify as a minor-attracted person. He is frequently lonely and frustrated, in large part due to feeling unwelcome in mainstream society.
Unlike Thomas, James finds the experience of adopting a minor-attracted identity incredibly liberating. He remembers searching online for others like him, and recalls the excitement he felt when he discovered the Boy Chat website. While James prefers to socialize with other minor-attracted people in person, he finds solace in chatting with other boy-lovers and girl-lovers online. He says providing support and advice to other people like himself has become a very important part of his life.

Nathan reports that the process of identifying as minor-attracted was incredibly difficult for him when he was first coming to terms with his sexual desires. He has been involved in long-term romantic relationships with adult women, and these relationships have been somewhat satisfying.
However, these relationships never feel “quite right” - he describes sensing that something is missing. Even though he dates adult women, Nathan explains that he cannot identify as straight, because he is not attracted to women in the same way that he is attracted to girls.

He is constantly reminded of how different he is from others. He cannot relate to mainstream television programs about men and women striving for each other's affections. He does not join in conversations about which celebrity his friends think is most attractive. It is not acceptable for him to ask the cute eleven-year-old girl living down the street from him out on a date. He cannot avoid being bombarded with news reports about pedophiles. These frequent reminders create a feeling of difference that is so strong that Nathan does not feel comfortable identifying as straight, even though he regularly engages in relationships with adult women. In spite of all the pain and stress it causes him, Nathan believes that his attraction to girls is an integral part of who he is, and that he needs to figure out how to be happy with a minor-attracted identity.


Some of my participants report feeling confused about their sexual attractions. Sexual interest in children is not depicted as an acceptable or healthy type of desire in mainstream culture. Upon realizing that their sexuality is different from the status quo, some of the men I interviewed try to make sense of their desires by reading about child-adult relationships in other historical periods, or by reaching out to online communities of minor-attracted people. My participants use a variety of terms to describe themselves, and most feel conflicted about which labels to use.

This chapter reveals that coming to adopt a minor-attracted identity is a complex, highly emotional experience. In Chapter 4, I explore my participants’ experiences with disclosing their identities to other people.