Keywords: Pedophilia

A Comment on Seto's "Is Pedophilia a Sexual Orientation?"

Gieles, Frans; Jun 29 2015
Type of WorkComment and essay

1. A good question, answered in a good essay

  • Seto:
    "In this article, I address the question of whether pedophilia in men can be construed as a male sexual orientation, and the implications for thinking of it in this way for scientific research, clinical practice, and public policy. [...]
     I conclude with comments about the potential social and legal implications of conceptualizing pedophilia as a type of sexual orientation in males."

Good question. Mostly, people with pedophilic feelings are seen as deviants,  with distorted thinking, and suffering from a mental illness. They are seen as being sick and needing treatment. But when seen as having a different sexual orientation, they can be seen as fellow human beings -- different, but worth starting a dialogue with, in which their story -- their narrative -- can be respectfully listened to.

2. A problem with all research on this topic

One cannot blame Seto, who correctly refers to research which has been done. But there is a problem with all research on this topic. The problem is that nearly all research examines only a small minority of a small minority, namely the convicted offenders, and just the large number of people with pedophilic feelings who do not offend. The first group -- the offender group -- is easy for a researcher to find,  while the second group of people is difficult to find, as they remain hidden in the society within which they hide.

In my experience, after thirty years of 'helping peole with pedophilic feelings' (the name of my website mentioned above), I find the first group -- the offenders --to be a small minority. The second group, those who have feelings and desires, but who do not act upon those feelings represents the great majority. We cannot say what the percentage is of the offender-group within the larger group, as we do not know how many people belong to the non-offending group. They hide their feelings in today's society. Thus, says my reasoning, one cannot apply the research findings of the first group to the latter group. 

There is another complication. Gradually, society and its researchers begin to accept the difference between 'pedophilia' (feelings) and 'pedosexuality' (acts). Fine. But the complication is that most researchers and writers use a dichotomy, not between feelings and acts, but between individuals, named 'pedophiles' or  'pedosexuals' - viewed as an identity, a lasting characteristic of the person. 

A Dutch proverb says "Once stolen, always a thief". Here we see: 'Once a done sexual act, always a pedosexual'. But a human can be a pedophile (having pedophilic feelings only) for many years. Then one day, maybe when he is in his 30s or 40s, he may commit one act, one which may last for only five minutes, or perhaps several acts, during a particular period of his life, and then rethinks what he has done, or enters therapy, and returns to his previous 'feeling only' stage for the rest of his life. In that case, he is not a pedosexual person, but he has committed some pedosexual acts. The dichotomy is not 'people A' vs 'people B', but feelings vs action(s).

Moreover, in these modern days of the Internet, we might make a distinction between kinds of acts, namely 'hand-on' and 'hands-off' acts. The distinction is too great to correctly put both kind of acts into one category.

3. Pedophilia is ...

  • Seto:
    "Pedophilia can be defined as a sexual attraction to prepubescent children, as indicated by persistent and recurrent sexual thoughts, fantasies, urges, arousal, or behavior (‘‘or’’ because the diagnosis can be made on the basis of thoughts and urges alone, for example)."

Correct, but think about the important distinction between what was mentioned before the "or" and after it: the distinction is between thoughts or behavior. 

  • Seto:
    "Pedophilia is associated with sexual behavior involving children."

Associated with it? Or perhaps not associated with it. Pedophilia is associated with feelings, pedosexuality is associated with sexual behavior. The first has a much greater prevalence than the latter, at least in my experience. 

  • Seto:
    "Finkelhor (1984) defined emotional congruence with children as the extent to which sex with a child fulfilled emotional needs. Emotional congruence can also include the degree to which someone prefers the company of children, enjoys child-oriented activities, and feels his emotional and intimacy needs can be met by children (Wilson, 1999)."

This is correct. Finkelhor only refers to the people who act sexually, Wilson and Seto refer correctly to the people who do not act on their sexual feelings.

  • Seto:
    "Some pedophiles not only seek sexual contacts with children, but seek romantic relationships with them. For example, Li (1991) interviewed 27 pedophiles and found that many characterized their contacts with children as part of loving relationships."


  • Seto: Wilson and Cox (1983) [*] interviewed 77 members of the Paedophile Information Exchange in the United Kingdom, and found that more respondents characterized their relationships with children as affectionate, loving, intimate, and ‘‘close’’(n=25) than as genitally-oriented (n=18). Some respondents claimed their relationships with children were platonic, suggesting that sexual attraction was not the primary motivation."
  • * The Child-Lovers, A Study of Paedophiles in Society,Peter Owen, London & Boston, 1982


  • Seto:
    "There is little other research exploring the emotional aspects of adult–child contacts, from the adult’s perspective."

"Little", yes, but it does exist. See Ipce:

About the possible origins of pedophilia, Seto wrote ;

  • "An increasing body of research has revealed that prenatal factors (...) influence sexual gender orientation and has identified neuroanatomical and other biological correlates"

Excuse me for disagreeing here. A recent article reports from a research project [*] that concluded that those prenatal factors are present, but I have written a response [**] that undermines that conclusion:

If I may quote myself in that latter response:  "People with pedophilic feelings might say now: ‘I am born (created) as such. Ah! Thus I have no responsibility for my feelings’, or even adding: ‘thus also not for my behavior!' " This is not correct; not just because the study mentioned above above is flawed, but -- and more importantly - because any human being may seen -- and must be seen --  as being responsible, but not for his feelings -- only for his acts.

  • Seto:
    "Accepting that pedophilia is a sexual orientation akin to heterosexuality or homosexuality, rather than a preference that is chosen or somehow learned, may influence the direction of this discussion."

The orientation or preference may not have been chosen, but one's acts should be seen as chosen, thus as being something that one is responsible for. The danger of viewing pedophilia -- and especially also pedosexuality -- as being an inborn disposition, is that society, wanting (correctly) to keep its offspring safe, may then start to detain people with certain characteristics, and force them to therapy "before they act", in order to prevent those acts.

4. Pedophilia and society

  • Seto:
    "Pedophilia is unlikely ever to be accepted, given its behavioral manifestations involve the sexual exploitation of children, but can it be tolerated when it is not accompanied by criminal actions?" "Our efforts to respond to pedophilia and the associated social problems of sexual child exploitation — through child pornography, sex tourism, juvenile prostitution, and child sexual abuse — require a more compassionate and less discriminatory treatment of pedophiles (see Seto, 2008)."
  • Correct. "... involve ..." factually can be: "... sometimes involve ...".
  • "... associated social problems ..." may be: '... in a part of the cases associated social problems ...". And
  • "exploitation" is not in all case the right word. See Rind cs

Only a few 'pedophiles' can be labeled as 'child molesters' - if they are 'pedophiles' at all. Most people with pedophilic feelings avoid sexual contacts with minors. Here in the Netherlands, we call them "the weekday pedophiles'. They are described by Sarah Goode.

5. Therapy & help

Seto correctly reports that research has showed that re-orientation therapy based on cognitive-behavioral principles does not work either for homosexuals, or for pedophiles; neither outside the laboratory, nor for the longer term. Thus I agree with his statement...

  • ... Seto:
    "Viewing pedophilia as a sexual orientation would suggest that treatment is more likely to be effective if it focuses on self-regulation skills (in order to effectively manage pedophilic urges, thoughts, etc.) than on trying to change sexual preferences."

He correctly states that:

  • "treatment and support services are mostly available to individuals who have been charged or convicted of sexual offenses against children. Few resources are available to help-seeking pedophiles."
    He refers to the Dunkelfeld Project, to Stop It Now! and to B4U-ACT as reasonable alternatives.

I may politely also refer to the Dutch self-help group JON

6. Former children speak out

  • Seto:
    "I realize that adults have more opportunities to speak and be heard, at least by other adults, but I have never heard (directly or indirectly) a child speak on behalf of his or her right to have sex with an adult."

A sample of those former children can be heard speaking out in Rivas' "Positive Memories".
A more recent project may be find at < >.

7. Concluding remarks

Seto's proposal to view pedophilia, seen as 'being attracted to ..', thus as a feeling, as an orientation similar to heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality, may be a first step towards humanizing our fellow human beings who have those feelings.

However, it might become even dangerous if society begins to detain those people, just because of their feelings, not because of acts which they have committed. And then to force them into therapy, saying 'Excuse me, sir, but you have an in-born illness, one which may lead you to commit certain acts that we would like to prevent from performing'. 

This step would also be interpreted incorrectly, as those people would then say: ‘I am born (created) as such. Ah! Thus I have no responsibility for my feelings’, or add to it: ‘thus also not for my behavior!'.

Thus, it is also important to make the following distinction:

  • A sexual orientation, one that is not appreciated by society, is not the same as an illness. It is a sexual variant.
  • Pedophilia, which is a kind of feeling, is not synonymous with committing pedosexual acts.
  • The dichotomy should not be between 'people A (pedophiles, persons with this identity)' vs 'people B (pedosexuals, persons with that identity)', but about feelings vs act(s).

Morover, some other changed conditions may also helpful:

  • Society
    • might see people with such feelings -- and even those who commit such acts -- as fellow human beings who also have a conscience, and thus are responsible and who can be spoken with, and who deserve a place under the sun, and might acknowledge that not every child's sexual experiences should automatically be considered harmful.
  • People with such feelings
    • should be conscious of that fact and follow their conscience, taking responsibility for what they do and what they don't do;
    • they should acknowledge that there is a small but existent risk that the sexual experiences of children may cause harm; and
    • they should acknowledge that a state, formulated in a correct democratic way, has the right to make laws.
  • Therapists and helpers should see their clients not as 'machines that produce behavior caused by factors', but as humans who are able to act consciously and be motivated by thoughts, feelings, reasons and their conscience.
  • Researchers should stop searching for any telltale 'automatic factors that may cause behavior', which they do by measuring only visible physical features, those which can be measured; they would be better off learning how to understand those people better, thus they should concentrate on motives, feelings, narratives, histories, choices - elements that cannot be physically or quantitatively measured; information that only can be related, thus only can be studied by quantitative methods of research, which is performed by talking with those people and asking them for their narratives, thus by narrative research, which is founded in narrative theory (eventually narrative therapy), which is, in turn, not founded on (neo)positivism or behaviorisma, but on narrative philosophy.