Book Review: Perv by Jesse Bering

Today I’ll be reviewing a book which has received a lot of praise and attention – Perv by Jesse Bering. Bering is an award-winning columnist and psychologist who has written two other books on sexuality and psychology. In Perv, he addresses the subject of “sexual deviants”, or “perverts”. He argues that practically everyone is a “pervert” in one way or another, that describing things as “normal” or “abnormal” in the medical world is ultimately dangerous, and that we should instead focus on the amount of harm a certain behavior brings rather than what’s “normal” or not.

Each chapter deals generally with a specific subset of “perverts”, including (but not only) transvestites, sadists and masochists, object and amputee fetishists, incest, zoophiles, and finally, saving quite possibly the most taboo for last, pedophiles. Not expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised by the neutrality he used to discuss the subject. Right off the bat, in the introduction, Bering writes this:
“Our knee-jerk perception of individuals who similarly have no choice over what arouses them sexually (pedophiles[…])is that they’ve willfully, deliberately, and arrogantly strayed from the right course. We see them as ‘true perverts’ […] whereas gays and lesbians are perceived by more and more people as “like normal heterosexuals” because they didn’t choose to be the way they are, these others (somehow) did.” Thus acknowledging that pedophiles, along with other “perverts”, did not necessarily choose to be the way they are. He also goes on to talk about the seemingly moral but empty tautologies that are used against “perverts” such as “it’s wrong because it’s just nasty”.

A little more than halfway through the book, Bering begins to address chronophilia in more depth. While I had been pleasantly surprised before, I was shocked in a good way to read the next few pages. Bering surprised me by boldly stating that “research has also revealed that not every child who has a sexual encounter with an adult is traumatized.” Something I appreciated is that he does not just say this “outrageous” thing and leave it at that. He explains that trauma may still occur later on down the road. He compares a child who has experienced sexual activity with an adult to a “ticking time bomb” – “there’s a marginal chance that it won’t detonate at all, but if it does, it’s often catastrophic.” As to the likelihood of this “ticking time bomb” detonating, Bering cites Rind’s studies: “The best predictor of subjective harm – past, present and future – he found, is the minor’s lack of consent. Obviously, there’s consent in the legal, underage sense of the term, but there’s also consent as a mental state (basically, the feeling of wanting to do something) that occurs regardless of age.”

Bering also poses the question, “When, exactly, does ‘childhood innocence’ end?” “At what precise moment in time, for instance, did you lose yours? Perhaps you never had it, or perhaps you never lost it. Few of us are so naïve as to believe that it happens at the stroke of midnight dividing childhood from legal adulthood, anyway, especially given that such a line is culturally arbitrary.” And takes a critical look at the black-and-white of the “age of consent” law. “There are problems with the hard-line approach to this emotional immaturity argument as well.” Bering explains. “Being with someone with a developmental delay isn’t a crime, so long as the person is over eighteen and ‘consents’. So if we’re really trying to protect the vulnerable from sexual harm due to their mental immaturity, then using chronological age, rather than mental age, seems like an odd way to go about it.” My question is, how do we go about assessing mental age? Obviously, it’s a little more challenging than knowing the number of years, months, and days someone has been alive.

The second-to-last chapter, “A Suitable Age”, takes an even deeper look into chronophilia. Bering begins the chapter by comparing a person’s sexuality to a slot-machine, with each slot representing a defining characteristic of their sexuality. The last slot, he describes, represents “age orientation”, and if that slot lands on “pedophile” or “hebephile” for you, well, that just sucks. He also discusses one of the arguments made against treating hebephilia as a disorder. He cites Jerome Wakefield, who suggested that for a trait to be considered diseased, it must be biologically dysfunctional – “that is, the trait must be at odds with evolutionarily adaptive response.” And explains that “It was due in no small part to these reproductive realities that the APA ultimately rejected a proposal to add hebephilia to the DSM-5.” However, as a disclaimer, Bering adds that by following this logic, being gay should have not been removed from the DSM. He admits that “Even in science, we’re not quite to the point of being able to take an objectively amoral approach to this issue.”

Bering does a good job at maintaining neutrality, presents facts from all sides of the debate, and poses many thought-provoking questions to the reader. The way he writes isn’t dry or technical; he writes casually and even makes (terrible) jokes to keep the reader interested. He discusses much more than I have talked about here, including biological age attraction vs chronological age attraction, androphilia*, the “abused-abuser” myth, and the use of virtual CP. I only have a few very minor criticisms. I was critical about the fact that the subject of female pedophiles was brought up only briefly, writing that “There are very few certifiable female pedophiles. Some sexologists aren’t convinced they exist at all.”, and writes that cases like a teacher having sex with a 17-year-old aren’t really pedophiles (this behavior is more likely to be ephebophilic), and in cases where it is younger children, they are probably not pedophiles, but “timid women who’ve been coerced by pedophilic men into joining them into committing their crimes.” Even though he doesn’t discuss this subject much, it’s understandable as he explains that there’s simply not enough data on these females, and because of the shame associated with being a pedophile that’s not likely to change. “[L]adies won’t exactly be lining up to help researchers to answer it.” He also cites James Cantor’s “distinguishing features” of pedophiles (shorter than average, left handed, attached earlobes, etc.), but Cantor’s research was conducted on criminals who have been convicted of molesting children, and is not necessarily a good representative of non-offending pedophiles. Finally, Bering brings up the topic of religion quite often, and almost always in a negative light. I found it to be off-topic and it may offend some religious readers.
All in all, I found Perv to be an exciting read. My list of appraisals far outweighs my list of criticisms. I would recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about chronophilia or “sexual deviants” in general.

*I’d like to discuss the flip-side of this, “gynophilia”, in my next article. Stay tuned!

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All Love is Equal, but some Love is more Equal than others.

With the recent big successes of the gay rights movement, “Love Equality” seems to be a trending topic. “All Love is Equal” is a quote that you will hear often nowadays.

As this Icelandic children’s show explained, “Think about what it would be like to live in a world where it didn’t matter who you were attracted to. You don’t decide what makes your heart beat. It just beats.”
However, will people apply this knowledge outside of the classroom? Society may teach people that “all love is equal”, but to what scope will these values be applied? Most people would now consider gay love as an appropriate example of the values embodied in this phrase, but what would these same people say to those whose attractions haven’t been researched or fought for as much? For example, what would they say about zoophiles? What would they say about incest? What would people say about those attracted to people under the age of consent?
Perhaps they would say, “No! Those don’t count as ‘Love’! Zoophilia and incest are disgusting and sex with someone under the age of consent is statutory rape and rightly illegal!” Some reactions can be found by looking at Tumblr. A few years ago, there was a post going around that said “Love is Love.” The original post, with 37k+ notes or reactions, was removed for apparently violating Tumblr’s community guidelines, but I was able to find a reupload of it.

The picture in question is of man and a man, a woman and a woman, a Jewish person and a Christian person, and a 15-year-old girl and a 21-year-old man being affectionate. Some people reblogged this without criticism. Other people made their own edits of the image: they cut out the 15 and 21-year-old couple or crossed out “love” and wrote “statutory rape” in red letters. I have a couple of criticisms about this “statutory rape” edit. Firstly, this image shows that for many people, love must entail sex. A 15-year-old hugging a 21-year-old does not mean that a sexual act or statutory rape has been committed. One can have a romantic or loving relationship with a person without sex. All it requires is a basic self-control, understanding and care for the other person.
Secondly, if this image does in fact imply ‘sex’, and not ‘love’, 15 is not below the age of consent in many countries, so it is presumptuous and ethnocentric to describe that couple’s love as “statutory rape”.
Thirdly, many relationships that are considered socially acceptable today were criminalized in the past. In fact, same-sex marriage was illegal in certain states at the time of this image’s creation, and same-sex relationships are still illegal in some countries. What if these people were living in a country such as Russia or Uganda? (Though even this is not quite comparable with the concept of adult-child intergenerational love, as same-sex love is becoming accepted in other parts of the world, and people sometimes take advice from other modern countries.) I wonder if a few decades ago these people would have described same-sex couples as “mentally ill”, or an interracial couple as “illegal”. The whole point of the ‘Love is Love’ campaign is not only to campaign against the stigma but also, in certain states, the illegality of certain types of love. To object to an intergenerational relationship merely because it is illegal (in some states and countries) goes against the whole point of the ‘Love is Love’ campaign.

Harris Mirkin described pedophilia as a Phase I topic – a topic that is unable to be rationally discussed by society in general. The topic is taboo. It is a radical, or even ‘unthinkable’ concept in the eyes of the “Overton Window”. The Overton Window measures the public’s acceptance of political or social ideas.
All the groups currently included in the ‘Love is Love’ campaign have been through the Overton Window stages of being a radical concept to becoming accepted or popular ideas.

So are people really becoming more open-minded? I would like to think so, but unfortunately I am not so sure.
In today’s society, all love is equal.
That is, unless the idea of their relationship is a taboo topic and their attraction has not yet been thoroughly researched. I’m afraid that a lot more research and thought will be required on the subject of intergenerational love before the majority of people will be open enough to even give it a second thought. As long as the group in question (whether interracial, same-sex, or whatever the next one may be) is considered to be a threat by the public, they can not be ‘equal’.

Stereotypes

Think for a moment what comes to mind when you hear the word, “pedophile”.

Perhaps you think of an older man with a creepy smile. Maybe he has the classic “pedo glasses” or “pedo ‘stache”. He doesn’t have a lot of friends (if any) and he hangs out in the park or where ever kids are, promising them free candy or toys or a puppy if they come in his windowless van. Whatever he’s doing, he’s always thinking of one thing – entrapping children.

Now think for a moment of someone else. A pretty young teenage girl. Long blonde hair. She’s very popular at school. She’s involved in a lot of different extracurricular activities at school and in the meantime she’s working at a kid’s club. A boy compliments her and she laughs and blushes.

This girl can also be a pedophile.

A lot of people don’t realise this because of a thing called stereotyping. But stereotyping happens to every major group of people, and if that group is being oppressed or vilified in any way, you can be sure that people will only see the ugliest, most horrible stereotype possible.

Just look at the way suffragettes, Jewish people, Romani, among other stigmatized people have been portrayed in the media. Even though we now know they aren’t like the propaganda we see, they were once portrayed as vile and unattractive people, and people believed it. Even closer to home, we can look at how gay people were portrayed in the past in the retro cautionary film from the 1960s, Boys Beware.

Boys Beware on YouTube

Here, they are portrayed as pedophiles are portrayed today. Nowadays, people know that most gay people are not like the predatory figures you see in this film. They do not, however, know that most pedophiles are not like the predatory figures you see in this film, and it appears that this “creepy” identity has been cut-and-pasted right onto pedophiles.

Most people of today would believe that Boys Beware is an inaccurate representation of most gay people, but an accurate representation of most pedophiles. In reality, this is simply not the case. This film is more likely to show the predatory behaviour of a stalker or would-be rapist. Remember that many researchers have confirmed that most sexual offenders against children are not pedophiles, but situational offenders. (Blaney, Paul H.; Millon, Theodore (2009). Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology (Oxford Series in Clinical Psychology) (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press, USA. p. 528.)

Now think for a moment of someone else. Someone you know. Someone close to you.

Why I am writing this blog (I can hide but I can’t run)

Maybe some people would wonder, “Why would you write a blog about this stuff?” “Shouldn’t you just ignore your attraction?”

The truth is, I probably would ignore it if it was possible. The problem is that when I leave this community behind and step into the “normal world” to do normal things, ignorance and animosity surrounds me, and it hurts.

Not all pedophiles are not child molesters, and most child molesters are not pedophiles. But “pedophile” is probably just as negatively registered in people’s minds as “child molester”, because most people think that pedophiles are the ones out there molesting children. Because of that, pedophiles are branded as one of modern society’s biggest enemies, up there with terrorists, serial killers and rapists. Criminal actions are  put on the same level with an unchosen attraction. It makes me disappointed that more people can’t see that. I can’t even watch a video on YouTube without seeing  comments saying things like “what if a pedophile kidnapped her?” or  “that guy was a creepy pedo” or something equating pedophiles as child molesters, or as creepy, dangerous and disgusting. And these were just normal videos that I was watching that had nothing to do with pedophilia, but lo and behold, I can’t escape it. Even when I try to stay away, I’m never allowed to forget how hated I am.

No! I don’t want to rape or molest.

No! I never have.

No! I never will.

I, just like so many other pedophiles.

But many people treat us as if we are rapists, or at the very least, want to rape someday, when for most of us, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Kill all pedophiles” is a phrase that I can try to run from, but I’ll end up hearing it anyway.

That’s what makes me extremely sad, but it also scares me to think what would happen if people were to discover this facet of me. Countless pedophiles have lost their friends, family, and jobs simply from people discovering that they are what they are.  It’s painful to know that other people who have done nothing wrong other than having an unchosen attraction, and being too honest, are being hurt from this.

That’s why I need to write. I am not a rapist. I am not a child molester. Pedophiles are just people who happen to be attracted to children – NO action implied. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Towards the aetiology of paedophobia

Looking at the link between pedophobia and capitalism

Heretic TOC

Heretic TOC began an exploration of deep waters recently in Whither the punitive state?, which delved into some fundamental questions about the kind of society we are and how we might live better. A lively debate ensued. One contributor, Lensman, outlined a green vision of the future. As I requested, he now takes this further in the first of two guest blogs. He begins with an analysis of our present situation, especially the economic context of paedophobia*; his second piece will set us upon a Deep Green course.    

Lensman tells me he is a “psychogeographer” and artist, whose work is informed by such issues as stigma, alienation and longing. He is an avid reader, music-lover, an intrepid explorer of the shabby edges of cities, friend to fungi and an all-round culture vulture. He writes the occasional short story, essay, and poem. Growing up in a…

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