Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pedophilia, Sexual Attraction, Sexuality and 'Cures'

Throughout my time in treatment, I have been asked a great many questions and seen a great many statements and questions both in the news and by my friends regarding attraction to children, or pedophilia (pedophilia being the disorder, not the label for those who abuse children). One question I was asked by a friend is, 'What is the difference between your attraction to children, and a homosexual's attraction to the same sex?' I would like to take the time to answer that question and others like it.

In one sense, my attraction to children is no different from attractions to the same sex, or other sexualities (I use the word sexualities to acknowledge that sexual attraction spans much more than just heterosexuality and homosexuality- sexuality is a continuum, much like autism or politics and there are no neat categories that everyone fits into). It is not an attraction I chose to have, and it is not something that is likely to change. Just like other sexualities, my response to my attraction is my responsibility: Some try to ignore their sexuality, some acknowledge it but do not wish to feed it, some embrace it, some act on it and seek partners fitting their sexuality. But unlike other sexualities, my attraction is to a population that cannot consent to and is not ready for sex. Legally and morally, it is not something I can ever feed, embrace, or find a partner for.

My view of my attractions are that they are not changeable, but nor are they something that I am comfortable taking any further than attraction. Practically speaking, when I see a child and I find them attractive, I acknowledge that feeling and choose to move on rather than dwell on that feeling. Sometimes I do have fantasies of children, and that makes me uncomfortable, but it is not something I beat myself up over because that is just as unhealthy as seeking those fantasies out. If they happen they happen, but I move on. That is what makes attraction to children different from other sexualities.

With that being said, some well-intentioned people have often asked the question, 'Can sex offenders be cured?' I think this is an atrocious question because of how it asks what those people really want to know: Can sex offenders reach a point where they are safe in society? That question is very different from 'can we cure them' because it assumes that a sex offender has some sort of disease that is cureable. Yes, the mental health diagnosis that sex offenders often receive- bipolar, anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, pedophilia, and others- have a direct hand in the offense that the offender committed. My autism played a very big role in my offending, because of how I interpreted the world around me and how I viewed things. It affected what I believed about myself and other people. I believed no one could understand me, I was a monster, and that I was doomed to follow my parent's mistakes.

That does NOT mean that people with anxiety will offend sexually against other people, or that everyone with pedophilia will hurt a child. It means they have a mental health issue that significantly impacts their life. Those issues can be managed to the point where the person is healthy and safe in society. Most people meeting me these days are not even aware of my autism unless I say something about it, or they have worked with people with autism before, and when I explain what autism is and how it affects my ability to communicate, they find it hard to believe that I have something 'wrong' with me.

I am offended by the idea that I need to be cured. I cannot go back in time and erase my offense, as much as I would like to take back the pain I caused. I cannot not be a sex offender. I offended sexually against someone and violated their boundaries. By definition, that makes me a sex offender. I cannot change the action I took, therefore I cannot be cured of having taken that action. Similarly, I do not have a disease. I have two mental health disorders that I have learned to manage so that I can live a normal, healthy life. I have to pay attention to things that some people do not, and I have to avoid situations that some people do not. That does not make me unsafe, risky, or diseased. It makes me human.

The biggest thing my treatment has taught me is that understanding myself and others better leads to empathy towards myself and others. What that empathy means is that I am not alone in whatever I am dealing with. In a population of 7 billion people, I am never alone in facing something. Hopefully, you can understand this issue more by understanding me. And hopefully, that understanding can lead to breaking down the things that prevent people who are seriously wrestling with their sexuality and attractions from hurting other people, and getting help instead. I would not know about my treatment program unless someone had told me about it, and I would not have graduated from that program if someone had not taken the time to understand me and help me.

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