What if Paedophilia is an Orientation?
Cantor has come to this conclusion through examining the brains of paedophiles using MRI scans, and on one level his study and conclusions are fascinating, as it casts new light on the ‘nature or nurture’ debate. The growing biological explanation for human sexual desires and behavior is fascinating, biologically. I think it would be difficult for anyone to now deny that genetics and brain function affect our sexual appetites. But we also know that it is not the complete story, with nurture clearly having an impact on the way in which our natures are expressed.
While unearthing the scientific explanations for the way we feel as we do is fascinating, I have long thought that the often tortuous nature vs nurture debate about human sexuality is fundamentally uninteresting. Yes, all of us, for whatever reasons, are wired certain ways sexually – most are attracted to people of the opposite sex, some to people of the same sex, others to both sexes, and a few to neither. Get over it. For me the bigger issue is about what we do with our desires – for how our behaviours most effectively nourish human flourishing and the health of society.
So, while I would not be surprised if Cantor’s assertion proves to be true, and paedophilia is ‘a sexual orientation’ as much as any other, what concerns me more is how those who are sexually attracted to children conduct themselves – for the good of human community; and how society acts towards those who are oriented towards paedophilia, for the sake of human flourishing.
Given the current climate this is probably wishful thinking, but I’d like us as a society to get to the point where someone oriented to paedophilia can ‘come out’ about that without fear of threat or stigma – or a baying lynch mob at the door. It would be good if we could be unfazed about this kind of coming out. If we were, is it not likely that incidents of child abuse would actually decrease? If paedophilia were a sexual desire that could be acknowledged without fear of personal ruin, would that not lead to more paedophiles confessing their desires, and it being easier for them to seek treatment? And would it not make the safeguarding of children easier too? After all, a paedophile is most dangerous to children when it is not known that he/she is a paedophile.
Wouldn’t we do better as a society if no-one was stigmatized for their sexual orientation? Wouldn’t it be better if no-one batted an eyelid if we were to admit being same-sex attracted, or opposite-sex attracted, or not attracted at all – or even being able to admit attraction to children?
A second hope (which is probably even more wishful) is that we as a society might come to the point where we again recognize that sexual constraints are an important aspect of human flourishing. Recognizing that paedophilia is a sexual orientation, but one that it is always inappropriate to act on, makes far more plausible the logical leap to the Christian teaching that any sexual activity outside the marriage of one man to one woman is wrong. If we can draw lines declaring that one particular sexual orientation enjoys no rights to be acted on, why could we not draw such lines for other sexual orientations?
That paedophilia is harmful to children in a way that consenting adult relationships are not gives us grounds for discriminating between orientations, but doesn’t actually provide grounds for saying that any consenting adult relationship is healthy for human flourishing and the building of community. And if we continue along our current cultural line that sexual activity is merely the outworking of sexual orientation (whether that be hetero-, homo-, or bi-) and that is fine, I think it will be increasingly hard to hold the line that sex with children is always wrong.
One of the givens of the Christian life is the acknowledgment that it is always better to confess our sin and brokenness than to bury them. Confession is the pathway to forgiveness, and to victory over temptation. Central to this acknowledgment is the recognition that we all are broken sinners, in need of the forgiveness and grace of a Saviour. Perhaps our growing understanding of the complexities of human sexuality will open doors for more people to find such grace and forgiveness – that humans may flourish, and community be established.