Paedophilia and Orientation

I read something interesting today: the American Psychiatric Association (APA) now classifies Paedophilia as an orientation:

In the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) drew a very distinct line between pedophilia and pedophilic disorder. Pedophilia refers to a sexual orientation or profession of sexual preference devoid of consummation, whereas pedophilic disorder is defined as a compulsion and is used in reference to individuals who act on their sexuality.

I’m just not quite sure what to make of it at the moment. Here we have a particular sexual desire – an ‘orientation’ – being seen as acceptable, whereas acting on this particular orientation is not. (Edit: this article (see comments) indicates that the article is based on a misunderstanding and is not actually the case. However, given the article in the next paragraph, I think this post still applies, if only as more of a hypothetical – there are certainly those who would wish to change paedophilia to an orientation and it has been discussed in official circles.)

What’s even more interesting is another article on Paedophilia from earlier this year: it suggests that the ‘harm’ aspect of Paedophilia – which I would imagine most if not all people would see as proscribing any kind of paedophilic behaviour – is actually more gray and complex than you might think.

In recent arguments about same-sex marriage and the like, I’ve seen people make comparisons between homosexuality and paedophilia – these have generally been strongly rebutted by people on the pro-LGBT side of the argument. But what the reclassification of paedophilia as an orientation says to me is that there’s actually a shift in society’s thinking going on, and paedophilia may end up taking some of the same steps that homosexuality has done over the past 30 or so years (albeit to a limited extent).

I have to admit, I find the notion of paedophilia being an ‘orientation’ slightly disturbing and leaves me with a few uncomfortable questions:

  • If, as we were constantly being told in the same-sex marriage ‘equality’ discussion, orientation is a protected characteristic, does that mean it may become illegal to discriminate against someone for a job with children if they have a paedophilic orientation?
  • I know there are people who are sexually attracted to children and yet are happily married. What does this say about the concept of orientation?
  • There are various fetishists  who are sexually attracted even to inanimate objects – bicycles, for example. Should they be classified as having some kind of ‘orientation’ as well?
  • I’m not sure whether going down a utilitarian road of ‘harm’ is necessarily a good thing when it comes to orientation (or any other ethical system – see my post on Godless ethics, for example).

In some ways I think this actually ties in quite well to what I’ve said before about Biblical sexual ethics. This is what I said there:

… the Bible never talks about sexual orientation. I think orientation is a fairly modern concept, I don’t know what people in Biblical times would have made of it. What matters is not who you’re attracted to, because we cannot change that – but instead, what you do with that attraction.

And, thinking it through, I think there is some wisdom in that. The Bible never once talks about orientation. It simply talks about what our conduct should and shouldn’t be. Our desires don’t matter, because – and this is fundamental – all our desires are screwed up. We may be all screwed up in different ways, but ultimately that is what we are. The apostle Paul often talks about “the flesh”, or our sinful nature, in contrast with “the Spirit”, or our new nature.

To give but one example, I think this part of what Paul is saying in Ephesians 4.17-23:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

The whole point is, we can’t just introspect our desires and say “ah, clearly, I am an x“. The Bible is clear: our orientation, for every single person, is not what God wants. Not completely. It will differ from person to person, of course (and I’m not just talking about sexual orientation here) – but fundamentally our orientation is away from God. Therefore, we do need guidance on what is right and wrong, we can’t just follow our hearts and let that lead us into truth.

This is where I think I fundamentally disagree with pro-homosexuality Christians. Much of what I hear from them seems to assume that God basically came to affirm us. It’s a creation thing: “God made me like this, therefore to do any different would be to fundamentally deny who I am.” But actually, it seems to me that doesn’t take seriously enough the effects of the Fall – that God does actually condemn us in our fallen natures. But praise God, he has made a way for us to be transformed and renewed and live our lives in accordance with his design.

I want to close by linking to a piece I saw earlier (I put it on Twitter, if you follow me there): Hate, Homophobia, and Holiness. It’s written by Gavin Ashenden, who is one of the Queen’s Chaplains, He basically says what I’ve said in the last couple of paragraphs but more eloquently. Here’s a taster, but I do encourage you to read the whole thing.

But Christianity, or Christ, comes to the human appetite, whatever it is , sex, money, booze, pride, revenge, and offers to tame it; to tame and transform it. Sex is not a different special appetite, exempt from the touch or call of God, it’s just one that society has become most fixated about, and screams abuse at any attempt to tame it.

So yes, Christians – at least those who have not been infected by the spirit of the age- continue to say that sexual appetite is not exempt from God’s call and touch, and that sex outside heterosexual marriage is unacceptable to God – who is holy – and calls us to be either holy too – or else to succumb to the flood of dehumanising appetites that the Tradition has always called sin.

So of course, this applies to me as much as to anyone else.

The moment Jesus warns that even looking at someone with sexual appetite opens the floodgates of desire in a way that takes us in a direction that is unacceptable to God, I and the majority of people are engaged in a struggle that will carry us to the limits of our self control and beyond. But it is  not a ‘gay’ issue. It is a human issue. And it is not restricted to sex. It touches our difficulties with forgiveness, anger, pride, greed, the whole range of human appetite.

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4 thoughts on “Paedophilia and Orientation

  1. Phill, thank you for this interesting post.

    First, I am highly sceptical about the basic premise here, that the APA has reclassified pedophilia as an orientation. The initial report at Charisma News is based on material from the American Family Association (AFA), a group which, according to Wikipedia, “has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as of November 2010 for the “propagation of known falsehoods” and the use of “demonizing propaganda” against LGBT people.” That is not to say that this report is a falsehood, but I would look for confirmation before passing it on. The Neon Tommy article you link to might be considered partial confirmation, but seems confused in itself (how did APA’s decision in a May 2013 publication give rise to B4U-ACT, founded in 2003?) and suggests that there are a whole lot of complex nuances here which AFA has chosen to ignore.

    Yes, if there is any real truth in this report it could have some worrying consequences. But it might also have some positive ones. It seems to have been politically correct to divide the whole of humanity (or at least each gender separately) into two according to sexual orientation: straight or gay. Clearly the full picture is a lot more complex, and includes all kinds of sexual interests and attractions, some of which society still considers abominations. We really need to sort out this mess before coming to firm conclusions about such issues as gay marriage.

    • Hi Peter, thanks for commenting. I may have been (read: almost definitely was) too hasty in talking about the APA declaring paedophilia as an orientation – having said that, from the Guardian article it does seem like it’s something which is bandied around in psychological circles, even if it’s controversial, so it’s a possibility at least.

      Whatever the status of the APA, it does seem like paedophilia is coming up as an issue more often, e.g. Peter Ould’s post about the Virtuous website.

      I think I was more keen to blog because I wanted to talk about Gavin Ashenden’s article from earlier, so the APA thing was more of a vehicle to do that with rather than an end in itself.

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