6 de maio de 2019

What I learned from reading “Adult-Child Sex and the Limits of Liberal Sexual Morality.”

Filed under: Saúde e bem-estar — Tags:, , , , — Yure @ 09:22

Adult-Child Sex and the Limits of Liberal Sexual Morality” was written by Agustin Malón. Below, what I learned by reading his text.

The ban on adult/child sex.

The general ban on sexual relationships between adults and minors is fundamentally derived from prudence: it is not prudent to allow such relationships because of the risk implied. But what if there is no risk in a given situation? To what extent can such experiences be called abuse and to what extent is attraction to minors an illness? For purposes of reflection, adult is anyone who is past adolescence and child is anyone under the line of puberty. Thus, we are talking about prepubescents.

One can argue that the relationship between adult and minor is “disgusting”, but aesthetic judgments are not enough to base moral judgments. And here is the thing: the problem of the relationship between adult and minor is a moral problem, rooted in ethics. Most of the classic scientific research on the intergenerational relationship phenomenon assumes that these experiences are always bad, so the effort is made to prove the damage, not to verify that it actually exists. But other studies, instead of proving the causality between adult/child sexual contact and harm, investigate if such causality actually exists. There’s a tendency to do this kind of study today and the causality can not be always proven by more recent studies.

Yet, scientific evidence alone does not operate legal or political changes. Plus, such evidence doesn’t invalidate de existence of harm. “Ethics” is not a collection of prohibitions, let alone sexual bans. But a prudential ban on adult/child sexual contact, based on the risk of harm, even when such harm is not very prevalent, not always traumatic and differently experienced between the sexes, seems ethically plausible.

The neutral nature of sex in modern day morals.

Sex is not inherently dangerous, but that does not mean that all sex is acceptable. If you engage in a rejected sexual practice, you expose yourself and your partner to the risk of punishment. The current moral paradigm says that sex does not need a moral of its own. Sex is not a special area of ​​human behavior, says our morals. Sex isn’t good or bad in itself, but it becomes bad depending on associated circunstances. One of them is the lack of informed consent (which is free for adults and denied to children). Consent is the first thing that comes up in legal discussions about sexuality. So, consent is more important than the possibility of a behavior being “normal” or “perverse”. The discussion of “good” and “evil” is exhausted in times of moral pluralism. What matters is: the experience must be mutually consented and harmless to all parties involved. Notice that issues such as mutual respect and safety may be present in moral discussions about sexuality, but these issues are not unique to sexuality, being also valid in sports and other human relationships. That being said, there are no moral problems that are unique to sexuality.

Who can be a better judge of a relationship than its participants? The judgment of the relationship belongs to them. We are not supposed to judge the sexual behavior of someone eles, provided that the parties involved claim that it was consensual and there’s no evidence of harm. There are sexual contacts motivated by love (passionate) and others by simple (casual) appetite. If that’s the case, are such participants in love with each other? Do any of the subjects feel like a mere object? Is this kind of relationship hygienic or does it pose any risk to the health of the participants? That’s the kind of question that runs moral discussions on sexuality. And they are down to consent and safety.

If sex is morally neutral, an experience is not good or bad because it is sexual, but because of other elements that are associated with the experience. Remove the negative elements and any sexual relationship will be harmless. Such elements are exploitation (when only one side benefits from the relationship, with the other receiving nothing or even being harmed), coercion (both parties have to accept the relationship while being aware of what it entails) and objectification (when the partner is not seen as a complete human being, but as a sex toy, for example). Thus, rape is not a sex offense, as if sex were morally charged, but a crime of violence, which is always bad, whether it is or not sexual violence. So the problem is not whether something is normal or not, but whether it is permissible (on the grounds of consent and safety) or not. As long as our morals are based only on verifiable damage and consent, two things that can exist in an individual level, the concept of “normal sexuality” is totally irrelevant.

The moral status of adult/child sexual contacts.

Some people find it a waste of time to appraise the moral status of this type of relationship and assume that they are immoral without thinking about it (this was what happened to homosexuality). It’s like saying that adult/child sexual contact is wrong “just because”. If you think that something is immoral, it is important to understand the reasons why you think it’s immoral, or your position will not make sense.

So let’s dare to ask: what makes these relationships “wrong”? While it is prudent to ban these relationships as a rule, there are exceptions to this rule. Here, talking about willing, harmless relationships, not the harmful kind. Of course, harmful or forced relationships will always be reprehensible, but there are relationships between adult and minor that do not harm the minor, who is also not forced to participate. So, if the boy was not forced, coerced, blackmailed or bribed and if he considers the experience to be positive, is this particular case still immoral?


The child has sexuality and innocence is a questionable concept. If the child has sexuality, it is difficult to argue in favor of banning child sexual activity in general. Sexual self-determination is inherent to the person. If it is inherent to the person and if children are people, sexual self-determination is a right of the child. Such right is based on the ability to give or refuse their consent to libidinous acts. The girl is only incapable of informed consent because she does not understand what she is getting into when doing something sexual with an adult.

The “children can’t consent” argument applies only to relationships with adults, but not to minors in relationship with other minors, nor to solitary activity (masturbation). That’s because a complete denial of their consent to sexuality disregards the fact that the child has sexuality, undermining self-determination. To say that the boy has the “right to say no” implies that he has the right to say “yes”, otherwise saying “no” would be a duty and not a right. While the minor needs protection, he can not develop into a fully working adult if he does not have freedom and has no chance of exercising autonomy. That being said, “children can’t consent” isn’t an argument that can be blindly applied to the child’s entire sexual potential. They can consent (or at least should be able to consent) to sexual contacts with same-age peers.

But a problem arises: we only discuss kiddy consent in sexual matters and only to say that they can not consent. Most of the times, minors are forced by the adults in charge of them to do several things. If we coerce the minor to accept something that he does not want only after we make sure that nothing bad will happen because of that, why not do the same with voluntary relationships? Why not prepare the youngling to exercise their sexuality? What is the problem of minimizing the risks that might result, making sure that the experience is safe for a consenting minor (if parents are supervising the relationship in order to intervene when something is going wrong, the risk is minimized)? Because all of those things require information that the minor has no access to.

If the problem of informed consent is lack of information, why not give such information to the minor? What does the child need to know to enter into relationships like those and give “informed” consent to them? In our society, the minor is informed of everything, except sexual matters. If the minor is kept ignorant, he will effectively be kept vulnerable. Do not teach your child to be submissive, do not teach your child to do whatever any adult wants.

Safety and power disparity.

There was a time when attraction for minors was tolerated in Europe, an unacceptable tolerance today. Because this tolerance caused concern, the only way to reverse it was to point out the potential harm that this type of relationship might cause. Generally, the son or daughter can’t give a firm negative to a sexual advance made by the father or mother. That’s because of power imbalance. That means that the boy, if he tries to deny it, can be forced, because he is weaker, ignorant or dependent on parents in particular and adults in general. Because the power disparity is a risk factor, simple consent (willingness to participate) is not enough: it’s important to understand the risks implied in order to consent to a risky activity. In the absence of risk, informed consent is not required.

Someone might ask: “why are relationships between adults allowed, then, as power imbalance can be present in adult/adult sexual contacts?” Inequality of force is exceptional in relationships between adults, but it is the norm in relationships between adult and minor, so the argument of inequality is less important in the analysis of relationships between adults. That’s why. But for feminism, inequality of force is normal in “consensual” relationships between men and women too, because men, according to feminism, are more physically and socially privileged, so that women can never consent to men (because, they say, consent needs equality to exist). Even the seduction between men and women can be viewed violence against women, according to these madames. Note that there are feminists who do not think like that.

Arguing about the danger of something is a great way to condemn something without worrying about moral issues. But it is science that says what is dangerous and what is safe. Even if adult/child sexual contact is potentially harmful, scientific evidence shows that this type of relationship is often harmless and mutual between the parties despite the power disparity (Arreola et al, 2008; Arreola et al, 2009; Bauserman & Rind, 1997; Carballo-Diéguez et al, 2011; Condy et al, 1987; Dolezal et al, 2014; Kilpatrick, 1987; Lahtinen et al, 2018; Leahy, 1996; Mulya, 2018; Rind, 2001; Rind, 2016; Rind & Tromovitch, 1997; Rind & Welter, 2013; Rind & Welter, 2016; Rind et al, 1998; Sandfort, 1984; Sandfort, 1987; Tindall, 1978; Ulrich et al, 2005-2006; Wet et al, 2018). The thesis of inherent harm has been rejected even by those who oppose such relationships: to say that adult/child sexual contacts are always negative, always harmful, is no longer an accepted argument, because such argument has already been exhaustively proven to be wrong in literature. Much of the damage can be caused by the social reaction to the act. There are reports of minors who not only deny that any harm has resulted from their relationship with an adult, but also say that that relationship has benefited them. That enables us to question to what extent it’s unsafe to allow such relationships to happen. There are relationships between adult and minor that are not destructive, with some experts saying that such cases should be judged individually, on a case-by-case basis, rather than being all equally outlawed. This turns the tables: we no longer need to prove that harm not always happens, but it is the opponent who has to prove his point about inherent harm. Nonetheless, if a study says that 90% of subjects in a given sample did not experience their childhood sexual contact as negative, readers of the data will prefer to pay attention to the 10% who have suffered.

One might ask how can any percentage of children in a given sample say that their sexual contact with an adult was harmless? When an adult penetrates a child, it’s bound to be painful and perhaps degrading. So, how come? That’s because adults in relationships with children are probably not doing anything “adult” with said children, but limiting themselves to things the child would do to another child. Of course, if you were sexually interested in children as much as you are in adults, that still wouldn’t mean you would do something harmful a child just as you wouldn’t do to an adult. If you, as a man, loves women, that doesn’t mean you would do to any woman something that would hurt her. Why would you?

An objection that can rise from here is that a relationship can only be harmless if it isn’t not forced. Now, if the minor set limits that the adult can not violate, would the adult respect them? Won’t the adult use his power to disregard the child’s boundaries? If I was a child, could I trust a pedophile?

To solve this, we must remember that presence of power, use of power and abuse of power are different things: an adult will not necessarily use his superiority to exploit (use) the minor. An adult can respect the limits imposed by the minor: the fact that he is an adult does not mean that he will impose himself, just like men, who are physically stronger, not always impose their desires upon weaker women, mainly because of love. Thus, power inbalance only becomes a problem if the adult uses it to exploit the minor (same goes for relationships between men and women). So, not all of these relationships can be unanimously considered “exploitation” or “abuse.” Nonetheless, the minor must have the right to deny his consent to adults and to report them in order to defend himself when necessary, just like women do nowadays.

Restrictive morality versus liberal morality.

A restrictive sexual morality only makes sense if sex is “important,” while a liberal sexual morality only makes sense if sex is “just another human behavior.” A liberal sexual morality is not to be confunded with a “leftist” sexual morality: feminism hates pornography. For feminists, pornography is harmful. That is a sexually conservative position taken by a movement associated with the left.

Does sex need a specific morality or can we judge sex according to the moral precepts we already use for all other human behaviors? If it needs a specific morality, consent and safety may not be enough to make a relationship morally okay.

But a problem arises: people who condemn relationships between adults and minors do so inside of a permissive and sensualistic moral framework, but those who approve such relationships also do so with the same framework. That means that the concepts of consent and safety, typical of liberal sexual morality, can be used for and against the emancipation of adult/child sexual contact. The state should take a totally amoral attitude towards sex, assuming that it works with a sexually liberal mindset, looking for actual harm, not for right and wrong. If the inherent damage can not be scientifically proved, there is no reason to forbid all such relationships. If current morality says that sex is morally neutral, but violence is morally negative, so that sex is only reproachable if it is harmful (physically, mentally or socially) or if it’s forced, then such morality can not condemn relationships between adult and child without first evaluating them; it needs to verify the presence of damage or coercion before condemning them. If sex is morally neutral, there is no need to judge sex, but the well-being of the individuals involved and their happiness: if either party is not liking (presumably the child), that’s what we should look at. Thus our sexual morality is incapable of condemning all relationships between adult and minor. “Sex with children is abuse”, then, becomes a disputed statement.

Even if such relationships were acceptable, parents should have the right to prohibit their children from engaging in them, as they do with other activities, if this conflicts with the child’s best interests (no father would let his son get involved in a relationship that said father considers dangerous). That being said, even if we agree that such relationships should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, the parents must have their say, because they are the closest authority figure to the child and their immediate guardians.

The debate about the morality of these relationships remains open. Our morals have “loopholes” that make relationships between adults and children morally permissible. To prohibit them once and for all, we need to replace our entire moral paradigm regarding sex, that is, to adopt a more restrictive, instead of absolutely liberal, sexual morality.

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