Title: Introduction; A Biosocial Overview
Author(s): Jay Feierman
Affiliation: Department of Psychiatry, University of New Mexico
Citation: Feierman, J., ”Introduction” and “A Biosocial Overview,” in Feierman, J. (ed.), Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990a, pp. 1-68.
The author introduces the subject by describing the limited usefulness of current research:
If we were to judge the seriousness of a psychological problem by the attention that the popular media give to it, we would have to conclude that the modern world is in the midst of an epidemic of pedophilic child sexual abuse...However, most of the lay and professional literature, although voluminous, reflect a narrow anthropo-, ethno-, and chronocentrism that precludes any real understanding of the topic with anything more than the preconceptions of our times. The writing is anthropocentric because the topic often is discussed as though humans were the only species in which sexual behavior between adults and nonadults is found. The writing is ethnocentric because the behavior is discussed as though it were, somehow, peculiar to Western industrialized societies. The writing is chronocentric because the behavior is discussed as though it were a recent development in the history of the human species. All of these ‘-centrisms’ obscure the fact that the behavior is seen in other species, societies, and times and has to be understood within these broader contexts. (p. 1)
Much of what is believed about adult sexual interaction with minors comes from the part of social psychology concerned with child sexual abuse (CSA). Most CSA literature is based on the belief that adult-minor sexual interaction is transmitted from one generation to the next through social learning, a belief that is strongly influenced by the discipline of victimology. A central tenet of victimology is that the primary cause of an adult’s sexual involvement with a child is the adult’s own childhood sexual interaction with an adult.
However, data used to support this belief has been collected in a biased manner, and examination of even this data shows that being involved with an adult as a child is neither necessary nor sufficient for engaging in sexual behavior with a child as an adult.
Instead, the author writes that there is strong evidence that such behavior results from an interaction of genetic and nongenetic factors, and that the genetic factors have developed through evolution. The root of such behavior may lie neither in childhood exposure to sexual behavior nor in the minds of the mentally ill, but rather in “the evolutionary past of all humans.”
A distinction needs to be made among four important terms:
Sexologist John Money’s theory of the lovemap may help explain the source of pedophilia and ephebophilia. An individual’s lovemap is the configuration of attributes that one finds sexually attractive in another person. According to Money, the initial stimuli that make up the lovemap are acquired in early childhood, well before puberty.
Two important aspects of the lovemap are the relative age and the relative gender of people to whom one is attracted. These aspects are partly innate. Due to genetic and pre-natal hormonal variability, these innate elements vary from male to male. They can be represented as two dimensions on a diagram as shown below. The two dimensions "older/younger than self" and "more feminine/masculine than self” create four quadrants.
Men attracted to boys are located in Quadrant B: they are attracted to people who are more feminine as well as younger than themselves. (Boys are considered more feminine than men in this model.)
Men attracted to girls as well as most adult heterosexual males are also located in Quadrant B. Those attracted to boys are just below those attracted to girls (not as feminine-attracted) and below and to the right of heterosexual males (not as feminine-attracted, and more attracted to younger people).
Most adult homosexual men are located in Quadrant C (younger than self and more masculine than self). Adolescent homosexual males and adolescent heterosexual males are located in Quadrants D and A respectively; both are attracted to people older than themselves, but gay boys are attracted to those who are more masculine than themselves, whereas straight boys are attracted to those who are more feminine.
According to this theory, male adolescents—gay and straight—tend to prefer older partners. The author writes, "Adult male androphilic ephebophiles [men attracted to adolescent boys] are the obvious individuals whose interests as well as attributes match the relative age and relative gender attractions of adolescent homosexual males." (p. 41)
Studies of hormonal influences on the embryo may explain why males end up in the different quadrants. Two separate hormonal processes are known to cause sexual differentiation in the brain before birth: brain masculinization, and brain defeminization. The precise vehicles and mechanisms for these processes are not known, but they may be among the best available explanations of age and gender orientation.
Brain masculinization is the process in which the brain is hormonally masculinized (oriented toward competitiveness and social dominance) in males. This process makes submissive-like diminutive size sexually alluring to heterosexual men, causing them to be attracted to women “younger than self.”
Thus, brain masculinization may be mainly responsible for the eroticization of diminutive, submissive-like attributes characteristic of children and adolescents. Thus it may form the basis for pedophilia and ephebophilia, whereby pedophiles are even more masculinized than ephebophiles.
Brain defeminization is the process which reduces the male brain's exposure to female hormones in the womb. This process reduces or prevents eventual feminine mannerisms in males, but increases erotic attraction to those who exhibit these mannerisms; that is, those who are “more feminine than self.”
The brains of pedophiles and ephebophiles may be almost as defeminized as those of heterosexual men, which may explain their attraction to either children or those with budding secondary sexual characteristics. It may also explain their lack of feminine mannerisms as compared to homosexual men. In this theory, men attracted to boys are be less defeminized than those attracted to girls.
If this brain masculinization/defeminization theory is true, it points to a strong biological component to pedophilia and epehebophilia as sexual orientations.
The author attempts to use this model to predict how common pedophilia and ephebophilia are in the general male population. The prediction is based on two assumptions. First, like other biological phenomena, the amounts of brain masculinization and defeminization in various embryos are assumed to follow a normal distribution. Secondly, it is assumed that this will result in a normal distribution of sexual orientations in men, with the most common heterosexual orientation at the center.
Based on an estimate that 5% of men are attracted to other men, this theory predicts that 7-10% of men would be attracted to boys, which puts the number in the United States well into the millions. This contrasts with the 0.5% prevalence calculated on the basis of prison studies.
Because attraction to minors is so close to attraction to women, most minor-attracted men may be able to suppress their feelings in favor of adult heterosexuality. However, a minority either cannot or will not.
To understand the relationship between adult-minor sexual behavior and child sexual abuse, the author addresses two concepts: consent and harm. Physical coercion is rare in cases of adult-minor sexual interaction. In fact, adult sexual behavior with children and adolescents is not associated with sexual violence and brutality any more than is adult/adult sexual behavior.
However, consent is still difficult to determine in non-violent acts because consent-containing messages are communicated through both verbal and nonverbal means, with the two methods sometimes containing conflicting messages. With minors (as with adults), it is possible that the recipient may interpret the nonverbal message as sexual when it is not intended that way by the sender. In addition, seduction (subtle verbal or nonverbal coercion of one person into sexual behavior by the other) of a minor by an adult involves an extreme asymmetry of power, skills, ability, and knowledge.
As regards harm, so little is known about the norms of child and adolescent sexual development that deviations from it cannot be defined. In addition, most published studies of long-term consequences of adult/child and adult/adolescent sexual behavior are methodologically weak.
A sexual relationship between a male child or adolescent and a minor-attracted man could have various outcomes. Because of lack of systematic follow-up data, it is currently impossible to evaluate the probability of harmfulness or lack of harmfulness in a specific individual relationship. Most likely it depends partly on the age and sexual orientation of the minor and the nature of the relationship.
Numerous studies report neutral short-term consequences, some describe adolescents who report positive experiences, and others report short-term harm. Most studies reporting harm are problematic because they almost always involve other clinical psychopathology or criminal prosecution.
In addition, clinical literature perpetuates the myth that sexual involvement during childhood or adolescence with an adult male will lead to seeking out male children and adolescents for sexual gratification in adulthood. The scientific evidence does not support this belief.
Studies have found correlations between childhood or adolescent sexual interaction with an adult and problems such as drug abuse, criminal behavior, running away, impulsive or self-injurious behaviors, personality disorders, and chronic psychoses. However, when two conditions (A and B) correlate with one another, there are four possible reasons for it:
It is inaccurate to assume that A causes B without entertaining the other possibilities. The common element that is found in the life histories of persons with many of the symptoms described above is overwhelming abuse: physical, sexual, or emotional. Sexual abuse seems equipotent to, or even less potent than, physical and emotional abuse. What makes certain types of adult/child and adult/adolescent sexual behavior abusive and other types inconsequential is not known.
The author concludes as follows: