Why is the notion of a child having sex with an adult considered so profoundly

Read another response by Peter S. Fosl
Read another response about Children, Sex
Why is the notion of a child having sex with an adult considered so profoundly offensive? It is widely believed that sex with a child is psychologically harmful to the child. However, why should that be? Is it the act itself that is psychologically harmful to the child or the belief that they (the child) have participated in something psychologically harmful which psychologically harmful to the child? Some people have claimed that when a child participates in a sexual act that they lose their "innocence." Yet I do not perceive any direct connection between innocence and sexuality. It is possible to express ones sexuality in ways that are disrespectful and even sadistic, for instance a person might feel deeply insulted if they allowed a person to have access to intimate parts of their body only to discover that that person had no respect for them as a person. The complexities and dangers of sexuality are one reason that it seems to be no less prudent to restrict the sexual activity of children than it would be to restrict a child from making complicated and risky business transactions. (Freud made a similar analogy when he compared sexuality to the "marketplace".) Yet I do not see any direct connection between the insult of objectification and the idea of a child having sex with an adult. Perhaps it can be argued that a harm of objectification occurs because the child can not consent. However this argument seems to beg the question of whether there is anything inherently objectionable about the act of a child having sex with an adult. Studies of pedophiles have shown that pedophiles do not at least consciously have a desire to harm children. Such studies seem to go against the idea that pedophiles are objectifying children although objectification might not be what people centrally find offensive about sexual activity between adults and children. Sexual activity between adults and children is widely perceived as aesthetically displeasing. In fact I find it aesthetically displeasing to such a sufficient degree that I believe that is a good reason to legally restrict activity between children and adults since the child may not be aware until later in their life that such activity is aesthetically displeasing. If a person deliberately made a child engage in a very aesthetically displeasing activity such as making them eat a plate full of excrement I think it would be correct to regard such an activity as heinous. However that does not seem to be what is going on with pedophiles because they do not regard their activity as something aesthetically displeasing. Sexuality is highly complex and what one person finds aesthetically displeasing another might not find aesthetically displeasing. (homosexuality for example) Do people have intense animosity toward pedophiles simply because they do not think of the matter in an enlightened and philosophical manner? Might it be possible to reduce pedophiliac behavior while being respectful and nonjudgmental toward people who are pedophiles?

Not only is it possible that pedophilia is in general not judged philosophically; as it is with virtually everything it is a near certainty. That, however, doesn't make the judgment incorrect. I can't speak to the reasons that pedophilia is thought to be harmful psychologically, but philosophically the issue is one of consent. That children should be initiated into and involved in a set of practices (i.e. sex) with such profound emotional, social, political, and moral implications without their consent is what offends philosophically. What determines when someone is able to give consent to sexual interaction, what criteria ought to be employed to determine when consent is properly given, etc., are interesting and difficult philosophical issues. I don't however think the aesthetic line of thought you pursue will prove terribly useful in this regard or in underwriting moral judgments about pedophilia, as what is thought to be disgusting pedophilia today was not so in the past--for example, in ancient Greece, in the Middle East, in Europe, etc. And, of course, even today there is likely to be little uniformity among individuals about this sort of aesthetic. Most of us, myself included, would find mutually consensual sex with, among, or between specific individuals disgusting aesthetically but perfectly acceptable in a moral sense. Consent is the issue and properly so.

Related Terms