Human Erotic Age Orientation: A Conclusion
Jay R. Feierman *
All Categories Are Arbitrary?
"Pedophile" and "ephebophile" are categorical labels for individuals who have in common a preferential sexual attraction to the attributes of children and adolescents, respectively. Given the multiplicity of human attributes,
Within a biosocial framework, it is reasonable to assume that those perceivable attributes whose variance in expression preferentially affected variance in individual fitness in human phylogeny will be perceived, categorized, and labeled by individual humans. Certainly, the biological sex (perceived as gender) and the age of a sexual partner are attributes whose perturbations markedly would affect variance in individual fitness.
In fact, if one were to pick only two attributes in a potentially procreative sexual partner, biological sex and age certainly would be the two most obvious candidates. It is therefore not surprising that apparent deviations of sexual attraction from the "procreative norm" will be perceived, categorized, and labeled so that knowledge about such labels and their underlying referents can be culturally transmitted across generations.
In the specific case of the categories "pedophilia" and "ephebophilia" in contemporary Western industrialized societies, such labeling, with its resultant social ostracism, humiliation, and banishment of the labeled individual, has three potential benefits to the individual fitness of the labeling individual:
It is the last of the three so-called "benefits" that is a self-inflicted paradox, inasmuch as the "cost" of such self-knowledge is an indeterminable sentence of never to be discussed inner turmoil and pain.
There is, of course, the culturally transmitted belief that the categories pedophilia and ephebophilia, like homosexuality, are the result of some yet to be fully specified social-learning experience, such as in the “abused/abuser hypothesis," that potentially might be avoided if the outcome, as in homosexuality, were somehow labeled and then spoken about as a category
This belief may explain, to some degree, the sharp increase in verbalized homophobia in social groups of "at risk" male adolescents, often in the form of derogatory humor, and the near hysteria surrounding even the mention of the word "pedophilia" in some rightfully protective, parental-age adult social groups.
All Mutually Exclusive Categories Are False
There was a time when something or someone was believed to be either dead or alive, male or female, pregnant or not pregnant, sinful or not sinful. Time has since taught us that there are small segments of nucleic acids that fall between living and nonliving, that one can be partly alive, partly male, partly pregnant, and partly sinful.
Such is also the case with pedo- and ephebophilia. An individual is not exclusively a pedo- or an ephebophilic or not a pedo- or an ephebophile, even though the dichotomous grammar of our perceptual and conceptual processes persuades us this way.
The more meaningful questions to be asked of any adult male are
Especially in regard to gynephilic ephebophilia is the boundary of social appropriateness quite blurred for many self-respecting and other-respected adult male members of contemporary industrialized societies. The age of marriage, the "age of consent," and the resultant chronological definition of "nubile" female are steadily moving upward, while many upstanding adult male citizens’ gnawing phylogenetic memories come dangerously close to never to be crossed boundaries.
Also, for many adult males, in contrast to adult females and for reasons that have been developed within this volume (see Eibl-Eibesfeldt, this volume), the boundaries between parental and romantic love continue to be blurred. This condition should not be surprising, given the phylogenetic origins of romantic love. Because aspects of male sexual behavior have functional proximity to aspects of male parental behavior, keeping their sexual and parental motor patterns separated will always be more difficult for males than for females.
Neotenization and Nubility Perpetuation
All human males who are alive today are the offspring of ancestral males who, on average, found the attributes of females more sexually attractive than the attributes of males and who, on average, found the attributes of nubile females more sexually attractive than the attributes of truly juvenile or postmenopausal females.
"Nubility," like nobility, is conferred from birth, but unlike nobility, nubility has a somewhat flexible, though nevertheless inevitable, period of expiration. Contributing to this flexibility are the two selective processes
The former process carries over juvenile characteristics into the truly nubile period, and the latter process pushes the morphological markers of definite adulthood out of the entire reproductive period. These two selective processes are both genetically and culturally transmitted across generations and, also, are reflected somewhat in the morphological appearance of males.
So that the newborn’s head can fit through the pelvis of the adult human female, human infants are born with a relatively immaturely developed central nervous system, most of the maturation of which takes place during the early years of postpartum life. As a result of this altricial condition in which humans are born, with the added natural selection for the maintenance of plasticity for learning well into the adult period, human nubile females have retained numerous juvenile behavioral and morphological attributes.
In many species of nonhuman primates, the juvenile individuals have different morphological features, e.g., "natal coats," when compared to the sexually mature, breeding adults. Humans, too, have easily recognized morphological signs of definite adulthood, with variation both among and within populations, such as the graying of the hair and the wrinkling of the skin.
These easily recognized morphological signs of definite human adult- hood are contrasted to the also easily recognized morphological signs of puberty that comprise the secondary sexual characteristics, such as the "feminine" hour-glass distribution of fat tissue in females.
These easily recognized morphological signs of definite human adulthood, such as gray hair, do not serve as unambiguous indicators of human-female breeding status, however. Rather, it is proposed, such signs have been "pushed back" into later adulthood in varying degrees by different societies (populations) by male sexual selection for nubile-female attributes throughout the entire female breeding period, a process termed the "nubility perpetuation" of reproductive-age females.
Two global observations support this sexual-selection proposition:
In some societies more than in others, barely pubescent and definitely reproductively competent females are morphologically very similar to each other.
Adding to this similarity between barely pubescent and definitely reproductively competent females is the falling age of menarche that has been shown in numerous societies in which there are historical data. Numerous factors are believed to be responsible for the earlier age of menarche, including nutritional status, light, and natural and sexual selection. Associated with this earlier age of menarche, however, is a several-year period of adolescent-female subfecundity.
In addition to the genetically transmitted processes of female neotenization and nubility perpetuation are their culturally transmitted analogs (serve the same function). The shaving of leg hair by nubile females is an example of culturally transmitted reproductive neotenization. The wearing of undergarments that uplift the breasts and flatten the abdomen, the using of facial creams to retard the development of skin wrinkles, and the coloring of hair to hide its gray color are all examples of culturally transmitted nubility perpetuation.
All of these genetically and culturally transmitted processes blur the distinction between reproductively competent adults and children and adolescents. Therefore, all of these processes must be considered to be determinants, at some level, of pedo- and ephebophilia.
Why in God’s Name Would . . . ?
If ever there was a challenge for evolutionary biologists to make sense of a biology-related phenomenon, it would be to make sense of the mechanisms of evolution underlying human pedo- and ephebophilia. Whereas a similar challenge has been met somewhat reasonably in terms of the "nest helper", concept of adult homosexuality, hypothesizing that another type of nest helper would have to erotically love and sexually interact with the children for whom he was caring may be stretching the limits of the nest-helper concept too far.
Perhaps partly for philosophical as well as for sociopolitical reasons, it would be desirable for members of "erotic minorities," such as pedo- and ephebophiles, to have a meaningful, individual raison d'être per se from the perspective of evolutionary biology.
However, this individual adaptationist, or selectionist, conceptualization of human pedo- and ephebophilia per se appears to have little direct scientific support at this time (see Dienske, this volume). The pertinent nonhuman-primate data, which have been reviewed and discussed in this volume, also do not lend support to such an interpretation, although they also do not refute such an interpretation, which still leaves open the possibility.
Nonhuman and Human Primates
An important point regarding the nonhuman-primate data is that they are mainly species-typical, normative data rather than species-atypical, variant data, the latter being the types of data that would be required for describing the concepts human pedo- and ephebophilia.
If a primatological description of human-primate sexual behavior were to be written by an outside observer, it is quite likely that pedo- and ephebophilia and pedo- and ephebosexual behavior, being species-atypical, would not be observed and, therefore, would not even be described. Even adult-adult homosexual behavior could be nearly invisible, as it is in many societies.
Also, our knowledge of adult - non-adult sexual behavior in nonhuman primates is very incomplete at this time. More species and more behavior have to be described before trans-species generalities, into which humans can be placed, can be suggested. In the meantime, only some preliminary statements can be made.
There is another common difficulty encountered in making comparisons between some nonhuman- and human-primate sexual behavior. The inter-individual sexual behavior of savannah-living nonhuman primates under natural conditions can be observed. In contrast, human inter-individual sexual behavior typically is not conducted in the presence of other members of the social group and, therefore, is difficult to observe or study directly.
Aspects of it that are conducted in the presence of this group, such as public displays of small amounts of interpersonal affection, often involve classes of individuals between whom more amorous or overtly sexual interactions would, away from the social group, be societally proscribed. Therefore, the range of inter-individual sexual behavior cannot be inferred on the basis of public displays.
In addition, when studies are conducted of "all occurrences" of inter-individual sexual behavior of certain nonhuman primates living under various conditions of captivity, the sexual behavior that is observed often resembles "barnyard behavior"; as a consequence, these data can only supplement naturalistic studies.
The witnessed adolescent/adult copulatory behavior under natural conditions in the species of nonhuman primates reviewed (see Anderson and Bielert, this volume) does not reveal very many clues as to the nonhuman-primate origins of human pedo- and ephebosexual behavior, with perhaps one very interesting exception typified by the unimale-type hamadryas baboon.
In this species and in others, the adult male follows and cares for a sexually immature, juvenile female years before she is reproductively competent. This behavior differs somewhat from the human pattern of pedophilia in that the adult male baboon’s behavior toward the juvenile is more parental than sexual during the juvenile period but then makes a transition into overt sexual copulatory behavior with the beginning of the juvenile’s transition into sexual maturity.
The significance of this pattern, however, is that adult-male parental-like behavior makes a transition into adult-male copulatory behavior in the same adult male individual over time. This making of a transition suggests that there is a degree of "functional proximity" between these two motivational states — parental and sexual - -in another, albeit nonhuman, adult male primate.
In addition, the female baboon is an early adolescent when the male’s behavior becomes sexual toward her. Most of the other adult - non-adult copulatory motor behavior observed in nonhuman primates under natural conditions appears to be play or practice motor patterns by non-adult males, which at best appears to be tolerated by the adult females.
There have been no published reports to date of individual adult-male nonhuman primates who were observed to show preferential sexual interest in a young juvenile under natural conditions, in contrast to the situation in human pedo- and ephebophilia, even though in multi-male breeding groups there is differential access among adult males to adult estrous females, who are preferred over younger females.
The mechanisms of inbreeding avoidance described in nonhuman primates are strong support for the nonhuman-primate origins of the same phenomenon in humans, but these mechanisms of familiarity/lack of interest and dispersal relate only obliquely to the mechanisms of adult erotic interest/lack of interest in juveniles per se (see Pusey, this volume).
The functions of nonhuman primate paternalism (see Taub, this volume) give a list of clues as to possible "biological motives" for human pedo- and ephebophilia. However, none of the nonhuman-primate motives appear to capture the erotic sexual attraction and the acting out of the sexual-motor-patterns component between human adult males and non-adults.
There is significance, however, in the "particular friendships" that develop between adult males and particular non-related non-adults, "friendships" that to some degree resemble aspects of the nonsexual components of pedo- and ephebophile relationships (see Silva, this volume).
The use by the bonobos of sexual motor patterns for tension regulation and reconciliation among all age and sex combinations in the social group (see de Waal, this volume) has some functional counterparts among humans. One such counterpart is the use by humans of nonsexual affiliative motor patterns for reconciliation in the presence of the social group.
In addition, it certainly is probable that outside of the observation of the social group, some adult humans reconcile by using sexual motor patterns in a fashion similar to bonobos. However, bonobos’ display of intergenerational sexual motor patterns in the service of tension regulation and reconciliation within the social group appears to have a somewhat different "biological motive" than the sexual aspects of human pedo- and ephebophile relations that occur outside of the social group.
On Chins, Spandrels, and Pedo- and Ephebophiles
It appears, therefore, that neither exact homologs (same behavior in the same context) nor exact analogs (same function) of human pedo- and ephebophilia are readily evident in what we now know from nonhuman- primate sexology. Given this lack of phylogenetic evidence for similarly executed and motivated behavior in the nearest living species to humans, there still is an alternative biosocial perspective the components of which have been discussed earlier in this volume:
Given the inevitable biological variability in the degree to which the average developing male and female brains are hormonalized, pedo- and ephebophilia can be conceptualized as
The difference between "sacrificial altruism" and "kin selection" is that in the latter concept, there is implied an active, seemingly individually altruistic (but actually genetically selfish) fitness-benefitting act toward kin, such as is seen in the behavior of some of the social insects.
In the former concept, the "help" may be as much by omission as by commission, inasmuch as such individuals are the "by-products" of the inevitable biological variation around a selected central tendency. So that
Such males, who love children and adolescents to a degree more than average or less than average, will be carried along in a population in the tails of frequency distributions as long as the fitness benefits of their existence that are available to their kin outweigh the costs.
Until a functional-adaptation hypothesis of human pedo- and ephebophilia can be supported with convincing data, either from the nonhuman or the human literature, the "by-product of selection" hypothesis seems a reasonable hypothesis to tentatively entertain.
This hypothesis also fits with the two-dimensional model of brain masculinization and defeminization that was developed earlier in this volume [in chapter 1] by the structuring of a rank-order relationship of hormonalization between pedo- and ephebophilia and species-typical heterosexuality. It is simply inevitable that some adult males in a population will be sexually attracted to individuals who are younger and more feminine than self but whose attributes are more young and less feminine than can be found within the range of fertile females.
Thus, pedo- and ephebophiles, like chins and spandrels [*2], may have no primary adaptive function in themselves but, instead, may be rank-ordered by-products of selection for more adaptive attributes in their kin.
In addition, given the degree to which human learning is governed by open genetic programs, such proclivities can be strengthened through both non-reinforced, critical-period, juvenile-imprinting-like phenomena (see D’Udine, this volume) and the more traditionally reinforced conditioning of adult life (see Domjan, this volume).
Complex phenomena such as adult human male pedo- and ephebophilia do not have simple, reductionist, unitary causes. Rather, there are numerous factors at numerous levels that interact complexly (see Zivin, this volume) to bring about both the pedo- and ephebophilic predispositions and the overt pedo- and ephebosexual behaviors.
Some of the main factors operating at the levels of the social group, the individual, the tissue, and the molecule will now be briefly reviewed.
At the Level of the Social Group
At the level of the social group, the primary determinants of pedo- and ephebophilia, with their sometimes resultant pedo- and ephebosexual behaviors, are the parental-like interactions that adult males in certain social roles play with children and adolescents. The roles of priest ("father"), teacher, and coach are good examples.
Also very important at the level of the social group are the reconstituted families in which non-related adult males find themselves in surrogate parental roles with previously unknown children and adolescents. The role of "stepfather" is certainly the obvious example.
At the Level of the Individual
It would seem that at the level of the individual, the most obvious example of a potential determinant of future pedo- and ephebophilia should be a highly pleasurable, eroticizing, sexual experience that occurred during a critical formative period in childhood or early adolescence with another child or adolescent
Interestingly, however, self-reports of such experiences rarely are different from the usual self-reports of childhood sexual exploration in non-pedo- and non-ephebophile males.
In contrast, pedo- or ephebophilia could also result from a highly unpleasant or double-binded-entrapment type of sexual experience between a child or an adolescent and an adult (opponent-process learning), where only an individual without adult attributes (e.g., a child or an adolescent) could become eroticized and incorporated into the developing love map
The effect of a seemingly emotionally neutral or self-reportedly positive sexual relationship between a child or an adolescent and an adult is nonspecific. Such a relationship is neither a necessary nor a sufficient cause of later pedo- and ephebophilia, however. These kinds of relationships appear to have variable effects on psychosexual development.
Often, the negative effects are not realized at the time of the relationship, and often, they are brought out in the context of psychotherapy experienced later in life. The self-reports of positive effects rarely are self-disclosed, and when they are, they usually are not in the professional literature.
Another contributing determinant of pedo- and ephebophilia at the individual level would be the conditioning of a child or an adolescent (as the previously unconditioned stimulus) to sexually evocative status during the adulthood of an adult male
One can imagine a child or an adolescent inadvertently being paired with sexual arousal and that particular child or adolescent, or his or her categorized attributes, subsequently taking on sexually evocative properties.
Finally at the level of the individual would be those situations in which circumstances, such as the lack of sexual opportunity with age- appropriate sexual partners or the dis-inhibiting influence of alcohol or senility, result in adult human sexual behavior with a child or an adolescent. Such circumstances have been called in the literature "regressed pedophilia" in contrast to "fixed pedophilia," where the child or adolescent is a preferred sexual partner.
At the Level of the Tissue
There are two sets of tissues that are involved in the understanding of the causal determinants of pedo- and ephebophilia:
Paraphilias, such as pedo- and ephebophilia, are developed through the eroticization of attributes of childhood and adolescence that usually (normatively) are not associated with sexual arousal in adult human males. The exaggerated (diminutive) size as well as the highly discriminable visual characteristics of the budding signs of puberty of children and adolescents make them ideal (human) objects of paraphilic sexual attraction
At the Level of the Molecule
Interestingly, more about human sexual behavior is directly known at the molecular level than at the tissue level, because most of the molecules of interest can be extracted from the peripheral blood of humans, while the main human tissues of interest lie within the inaccessible confines of the cranium.
At the molecular level, there has been a lot of recent work on understanding the molecular (hormonal) basis of erotic sex (gender) preferences, although the molecules that are being measured are thought to be an indirect reflection of the differential reactivity of the underlying neural tissue
The molecular neurobiology of testosterone and its estrogen-like metabolites in pedo- and ephebophilic males is a potential area of very promising research.
However, even a cursory reading of Hutchison and Hutchison’s chapter (this volume) should convince the reader who is uninitiated in biochemistry that simplistic, reductionist biochemical models are a great oversimplification and a misrepresentation of the facts.
It is not surprising that older molecular (hormonal) studies that searched for hormonal blood-level differences in homosexual versus heterosexual males were destined not to succeed.
The technology to measure neuro-hormones directly and the reactivity of pertinent neural tissues indirectly now is ahead of the supply of interested and sufficiently trained investigators who might apply this technology to an understanding of both erotic sex (gender) and age orientations. To date, there are only a small number of investigators worldwide who are engaged in this potentially productive area of research.
Nevertheless, it is certainly conceivable that in the future there will be neuro-hormonal blood tests, probably indirectly measuring the reactivity of particular neural tissues, that will allow the specifying of the degree to which one’s brain predisposes one to be sexually attracted to atypical age and gender attributes in other individuals.
The difference between "adaptive function" and "function" from a biosocial perspective is the difference between using a coat hanger as an object upon which to suspend a coat and using it, for example, as an object with which to open locked doors; it is the difference between using a coin as a unit of exchange and using it as an object with which to turn a screw
That the coat hanger evolved (cultural evolution) to fulfill one adaptive function does not prevent a clever individual or an entire society from utilizing the existing structure in the service of another, added function
Unfortunately, adult male individuals with such variant age orientations, like species-atypical males the world over, proceptively search for individuals who fit the object of their sexual desire (i.e., their love map).
That some such adult males will discover that children and adolescents meet these needs is not at all surprising, given that children and adolescents, like age-appropriate potentially procreative females, are younger and more feminine than self
A given percentage of adult human males will inevitably be sexually attracted to individuals who are somewhat younger and somewhat less feminine than individuals found within the range of age-appropriate females. It is also quite understandable how a pedo- or an ephebophile’s appetitive sexual behavior, like a coat hanger unbending, can facultatively adapt to the behavioral repertoire necessary to proceptively "court" a child or an adolescent.
It is most likely, therefore, that pedo- and ephebophilia are individual, facultative proclivities that are bent out of the tails of hormonal frequency distributions around the optimum brain masculinization and brain defeminization of the "average male."
The "function" of pedo- and ephebophilia for the unfortunate adult male individual in whom their determinants reside is very similar to the function of the object of any other human male’s erotic desires: fulfillment
The specific adaptive function of pedo- and ephebophilia per se to the individual pedo- and ephebophile, however, apart from the previously discussed sacrificial altruism, has yet to be convincingly demonstrated.
In the meantime, for contemporary Western industrialized societies, a social function for individual pedo- and ephebophiles who are caught acting out and then publicly adjudicated also is evident: the ostensible function is that the consequences of their behavior will deter other similarly motivated individuals.
Pedo- and ephebophiles also are burdened with the functions of carrying, protecting, storing, and yes, even passing on the "by-products" of our genetic evolution that perhaps in moderation or in another body or in another generation will do someone else some good.
When I Grow Up, I Want To Be . . . .
"When I grow up, I want to be .. ." are words that are heard frequently from children. There are a myriad of factors that eventually lead a particular child’s or adolescent’s life in one direction or another.
Recently, much has been written about the development in childhood and adolescence of individuals who eventually grow up to be homosexual. Western industrialized societies have become somewhat more tolerant of "homosexual rights" in the process of granting other minorities such freedoms. There are now numerous well-written biographies and films on the lives of socially respectable and productive homosexual individuals. These materials, as well as interested and compassionate professionals and nonprofessionals, are available to an adolescent or a young-adult male who is personally dealing with his homosexuality.
These resources simply are not available in most Western industrialized societies for an adolescent or a young-adult male who is dealing with a preferential sexual attraction to children or younger adolescents. If in the process of learning about his sexuality such a male unfortunately acted his attraction out, in any way, and if in many jurisdictions he were to tell a human services professional (physician, psychologist, social worker, counselor, teacher, minister, and so forth) that he had done so, he very likely would be arrested. Almost all jurisdictions have "reporting laws" that make the reporting of such information to police or social service agencies mandatory. It is, therefore, not surprising that adolescent and adult males who are dealing with this issue rarely discuss it with anyone.
Ostracism, Humiliation, and Banishment
When an adult human male with a sexual attraction to children or adolescents is found to be acting out this attraction in a Western industrialized society and if the adult male has any significant social status in his community, such is the material for headlines in newspapers. Then there follows a period of public ostracism, humiliation, and banishment. In many jurisdictions, this banishment occurs in penal institutions.
In various jurisdictions, penal institutions generally function to accomplish some combination of punishment, deterrence, protection, and rehabilitation, often with the emphasis on the first three rather than on the last. Pedo- and ephebosexual behavior are dealt with by many penal systems like other felonious criminal behaviors, such as burglary, robbery, rape, and murder, and many penal institutions offer pedo- and ephebophiles little or no effective psychological or medical therapy during their period of incarceration. Even after they are released, pedo- and ephebophiles often find very little help.
In the United States, for example, self-help groups such as Sexaholics Anonymous, which are based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, are distinguished by the relative absence of pedo- and ephebophiles. Also, most non-govemmental practitioners avoid the members of this population because of the tremendous liability associated with being responsible for their therapy.
There are specialized clinics in some jurisdictions to which such individuals can go for help, if not before, then at least after their encounter with the criminal justice system. With help — which often includes some combination of anti-androgen hormones (to lower sex drive), behavior modification, social skills training, and support groups — recidivism for acted-out, illegal pedo- and ephebosexual behavior is markedly reduced.
Very rarely, however, will a pedo- or an ephebophile come for help before he has been apprehended by the criminal justice system. Part of the reason for this situation is the fear of being "turned in," as was noted previously, by the very therapist from whom he sought help.
Another very significant reason for the lack of treatment before criminal apprehension is the fear of ostracism, humiliation, and banishment from non-criminal justice, social institutions. For example, can one imagine a male primary school teacher being continued in employment if it were discovered that he was being treated for never-acted-out pedophilia?
If Not But For the Grace of God and Natural Selection . . . .
In the course of professional work over the past 13 years, this author/editor has had the opportunity to attend, in numerous jurisdictions within the continental United States, sentencing hearings for pedo- and ephebophiles who have been found guilty of pedo- or ephebosexual behavior. During such hearings, because the individuals who were being sentenced were public figures of high social status in their respective communities, media, especially television, nearly always were present.
At the conclusion of such hearings, one could appreciate the meaning of the term "judgemental," inasmuch as virtually all sentences were handed down within the framework of castigating and derogatory comments. Such comments, I believe, are what the larger social group wanted to hear, along with the sight of television footage or newspaper photographs of the publicly humiliated, submissively postured defendant waiting to be banished.
Often I have wondered during such times whether the sentencing judge would be able to meet his own standards of continence if the object of his own adult male sexual desires were similarly illegal.
Pedo- and ephebophiles with strong religious convictions, which is the population with which I am the most familiar, often take solace in their belief that "this is the way God made me." Most pedo- and ephebophiles with whom I have had contact over the years have begrudgingly accepted the reality that the object of their sexual desires is socially proscribed as illegal. Most, I believe, could have lawfully lived with this reality with a little help before their downfall.
Most were not given the opportunity to receive this help, however, because of the way that their behavioral proclivities were received by their societies. Perhaps much of this reception was a result of the lack of understanding of pedo- and ephebophilia. I hope so.