Background paper


Helping people with pedophilic feelings

Lecture at the 15th World Congress of Sexology, Paris, June 2001

by Dr Frans Gieles.

[Ergänzungen und Informationen...]

Table of content

What are we talking about?

Are we talking about violence?

Perversion, distortion, deviancy, variance, crime, scapegoating process?

The question of harm

Science and morality

The role of the clinician



What are we talking about?

I am talking about "people with pedophilic feelings", not about "pedophiles" or about "pedophilia". I have reasons to do this. 

First, a person with pedophilic feelings does not have by definition a pedophile identity. It's up to him or her to feel and say this. The feelings can be part of a much more broad and rich identity. 

Secondly, the concepts "pedophile" and "pedophilia" are unclear and are used in a variety of ways. Originally, the meaning was 'someone who loves a child'. Later on, a sexual or erotic connotation entered the concept: 'someone who feels sexual attraction to children'.  This concept is defined correctly so far.
However, the meaning has changed over time. For most people, the meaning shifted from feelings into actions, especially sexual acts by an adult with a child. This shift makes the concept unclear, too broad, into a container concept and thus not usable.
There is more, because to the words "sexual acts by an adult with a child" were added "and that's wrong, bad and sick." So, the concept shifted from referring to facts into referring to morals. 
In my humble opinion, it is not possible to work correctly, as a scientist and as a clinician, with such an unclear, broad and moralizing concept. I have explained this is more detail in my lecture "About 'pedophilia' as a concept".

Because of both the above mentioned reasons, I will go back to the facts. What I see is the fact that there are people with pedophilic feelings. What they do with these feelings, their acts, will differ from one to the other. We cannot judge and surely not condemn people because they feel something. Only their actions can be judged. So, the concept "people with pedophilic feelings" is not too broad and is not moralizing - thus usable as a concept.

The description that is used most often is from the DSM-IV-Revised. It describes 'pedophilia' as being a paraphilia. Paraphilias "are characterized by recurrent, intense, sexual urges, fantasies, or behaviors that involve unusual objects, activities, or situations and cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning."
The words "unusual" and "impairment" are not clear; their meaning will differ by culture and era. As you remember, once upon a time homosexuality was described as a kind of perversion in the DSM. So is pedophilia described nowadays. To say it is a perversion is making a judgment instead of describing a fact. Moreover, the word "victimize", used in DSM, says that a moral judgment was made. 

Are we talking about violence?

If one wants to keep speaking about 'pedophilia' and use the concept, one should define it. Most sexologists will refer to the DSM-IV-Revised as mentioned above. Are the ones who use this definition speaking about violence? Not by definition, even along the DSM lines. DSM talks also about "arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity". Thus: fantasies or behaviors. 
DSM also says that "Individuals with Pedophilia who act on their urges with children may limit their activity to undressing the child and looking, exposing themselves, masturbating in the presence of the child, or gentle touching and fondling of the child.
Others, however, perform [....] and use varying degrees of force to do so." Thus: some..., others.... So, violence is not inherent by definition.

Nevertheless, have a look at the leaflet promoting this congress. We read about a section called "Violence and sex (violence, pedophilia, rape)". So, the congress leaflet itself raises the question: "Is pedophilia violent?"

Tom O'Carroll has taken up this question and has written a paper about it, named: Is pedophilia violent? According the abstract, "This paper challenges the appropriateness of viewing pedophilia [...] in terms of violence. The literature on personality and behavioural aspects of paedophilia is reviewed with particular reference to "preferential" as opposed to "situational" paedophilia. Evidence on harm to children commonly attributed to adult-child sexual contacts is considered, as is the validity and value of the "consent" construct in the light of recent research. The unscientific attribution of violence to paedophilia as a supposedly inherent characteristic is discussed, particularly with regard to lines of feminist analysis founded on issues of power imbalance in personal relationships."

The leading Scientific Committee of this congress has refused that paper.  'Thou shalt not know....' But here it is.

Perversion, distortion, deviancy, variance, crime, scapegoating process?

How do we look at our clients, the people with pedophilic feelings? Our view will influence our way of working.

So, if we view perversion or sickness, we try to heal it. Especially if we have moral reasons for it. This has been tried by therapists who for these reasons have treated gays and lesbians, trying to change them 'from sickness into health', thus from homosexuality into heterosexuality. Recent research showed 'success' (which is even doubted by the authors) with only 6 out of 202 respondents. 

Just like having homosexual desires, the feeling of pedophilic desires is not a perversion per se. In my lecture, I referred to Nagayama Hall, Hirschman & Oliver, who say that more than 25% of a sample of normal men reacted to 'pedophilic stimuli'. If we read the article, we will see that only female pedophilic stimuli are given to men. If the researchers had also used boys as stimuli, the percentage would have been higher. If they also had women in their sample, supposedly the percentage would have been even higher. In my estimation, this includes one-third of the adult population. One cannot say that one-third of a population that functions on a normal level, should be perverted. With a supposed a two-third majority and a one-third minority, one can scarcely speak about deviance. In my view, we are speaking about a variance.

"Does paedophilia involve perverse sexual desires? It is hard to give an univocal and general answer to this question, in particular because there are different forms of paedophilia.", wrote  Ben Spiecker and Jan Steutel, both Dutch educationalists. They conclude their article with "It would be mistaken, however, to consider all forms of paedophilia perversions. Paedophile sex is a form of exploitation because it endangers the long-term welfare of the child. Consequently, paedophilia involves desires towards behaviour that is morally wrong, but only in some forms of paedophilia are these desires perverse."

When I look at my clients, I look with two eyes: first the eye of the clinician who wants to help people. To do this as good as possible, I need my second eye, the eye of the scientist. Being a clinician for my clients, I'm not a moralist. Being a scientist, I'm also not a moralist. I see the facts - and one of the facts I see is that my clients ask for help to wrestle with certain feelings. It's not up to the clinician nor to the scientist to give a moral condemnation to what my clients feel. One of the facts I saw was that the members of self-help groups developed a moral code themselves. As a co-member of the group and as a fellow human being, I also have opinions about moral codes and I can bring these into the discussion. But never I will give a moral condemnation about what the clients say about their feelings.

This holds even more for the fact that, as a scientist and a clinician, I am not a police officer, prosecutor or judge. As said, nobody can be judged for one's feelings, only for one's deeds. If we should follow the juridical way of looking at the deeds of our clients, we would draw strange conclusions: the same action is a crime in one country, but not in another; it is a crime in one era, no crime in another era. Some actions are a crime on May 15, when Johnny is 15 (or in other countries 17), and not a crime on May 16, when he is 16 (or in other countries 18). The juridical way of viewing is maybe appropriate for jurisdiction, but it's irrelevant for clinicians and scientists.

A clinician and a scientist has at first to look at the meaning the clients themselves give to their feelings, desires and deeds. As described, for example, by Van Naerssen, these meanings differ greatly and this fact should be our entrance to help the client.

There is another view of the facts necessary: the sociological view. People are not only living with their own soul, people live in society. If people say they wrestle with pedophilic feelings and desires, they do not speak out of their inner soul only. They are speaking and wrestling in this society in these days. We cannot shut the eyes to what's going on now in our society concerning people with pedophilic feelings. I will not give details or references, because everybody knows. My interpretation is that a scapegoating process is going on now. BTW, scapegoating and projection are well known psycho-social distortions. Now that the communists and the homosexuals are gone as scapegoats, the people said to be 'a pedophile' are easy objects for scapegoating by the so called normal people.

So, what are we talking about? In my view not about perversion per se, scarcely about a deviancy. As far as it concerns feelings and desires, surely not about crimes. We're talking about a variance in the population that nowadays is the object of a quite violent scapegoating process. And we are not talking about these people and these facts as police officers or prosecutors, but as clinicians and scientists. We want to help people and to understand what's going on in their soul and in society.

This view is behind the self-help method. The method aims that people accept their feelings as a part of themselves. 

For example, see how Dr Pelo replies the FAQ's (frequently asked questions) on his web site and see how the Baumstark web site announces the help that a religious community will offer.  See also Sandford's article about Constructive questions.

As a contrast, Heather Elizabeth Peterson quotes Julius, who says: "I have read about numerous boylovers whose 'therapy' taught them to hate their feelings and themselves, and destroyed their capacity to love. They have spent years rebuilding their self-esteem and ability to love others."

The question of harm

If sexual experiences of children and youths with adults were always harmful, it would be difficult to defend the self-help method. But there is not always harm. Rind, Bauserman and Tromovitch have published a meta-analysis in which they have re-analyzed 59 studies using college samples. Negative effects were reported in about 25% of the cases, especially for girls - not 100%, which is widely thought. In the cases that reported harm, the family environment was a factor that was 10 times stronger than the sexual experiences. 

Thus, people that have said "There is never harm" have to review their opinion. But also people who have said "There is always harm" have to review their opinion.

Because there were so many people who said "There is always harm", the Rind report has caused many reactions. Many people would or could not believe this conclusion, many articles are written about the Rind research. Even the USA Congress has condemned it.

I do not want to repeat this all here. I have made an overview and a selection in a section of the references on this CD and web site. I suppose that the honorable Members of The Congress have condemned this article without reading and understanding it. I invite the reader to read the meta-analysis, the explanations and the comments  - and then to draw one's own conclusions.

For this background paper, I only want to repeat what I have written in my article 'Science and Morality' about the roles of science, the media and politics. Then, I'll go to the role of the clinician.

Science and morality

"Science should give the facts and has the right and obligation to do this; the media has to inform the public correctly; politicians should honestly lead the process of decision making in moral matters.

Science can tell us that it is healthy to eat meat; human beings can decide on moral grounds to not eat meat. Science can tell us that it is dangerous to drink alcohol; human beings can decide to permit each other to drink alcohol. Science can tell us that it is not dangerous to use cannabis in small portions now and then; human beings can, with draconian punishment, forbid each other to use or possess a tiny portion. Science can give the facts and has the right and the obligation to do this; human beings should hear and read these facts and should discuss honestly the moral consequences. Politicians have the obligation to lead this discussion and to take the decisions as far as necessary.

The discussion, about moral matters, is a different kind of discussion; it differs from the discussion about the facts in every aspect of the discourse. It’s another kind of discourse, as Habermas has shown us. The U.S. Congress has interchanged both kinds of discourses.

If politicians with their power (supposedly without reading or understanding the study), decide to condemn and denounce the facts, found in careful scientific research, it’s the end of science, but also the end of a correct discussion about morality. Since most of the media did not read the article at all and gave non-existing ‘quotations’, the public is not well informed and cannot reasonably discuss the moral implications.

Everybody has to accept the conclusions from careful scientific research, until further research gives other conclusions. The FRC wrote: "If psychology finds no harm in something considered morally wrong, we believe they are not looking carefully enough." This is the essence of what passes for respectful criticism of Rind et al. At least, it is not a personal attack. It is, however an attack on the very idea of science. Think what this means: Social scientists would be sent back to the drawing board, until their facts agree with popular prejudices.

Once upon a time, Galileo discovered some facts about the earth and the sun. The Pope refused to accept the facts and with all his power – the power of the Inquisition and the stake – condemned the scientist. Some centuries afterwards, the Church accepted the facts and gave Galileo his due long after his death."

The role of the clinician

As I have tried to explain in the scheme I made, the role of the clinician differs in the three methods described. In the first method, 'Treatment', the clinician is "healthy, good and normal", while the client is seen as "sick, bad and deviant." All these six words have a moral content or at least a moral connotation. Moreover, the clinician aims to reach "control" and he or she uses "pressure". Both these words have a political content or at least a political connotation. 

Here above, I have written that, in my opinion, "Science should give the facts and has the right and obligation to do this; the media has to inform the public correctly; politicians should honestly lead the process of decision making in moral matters." So I see different roles for scientists and politicians. I also see a different role for the clinician, who is also a scientist, and for people who speak about morality and politically correctness. In my view, the clinician who uses the 'Treatment' method as described here, mixes up both roles. In that case, he is no longer a clinician and a scientist, but a moralist. 

As one can see in the scheme, the other methods have completely different roles and clearly another view on the human being. 

As I have said in my lecture, a scientist can work with the actuarial view, a clinician cannot work in that way. To give an example: Hanson says that having contact with other pedophiles is a risk factor for recidivism. Working in the actuarial way, one could say: 'Well, client, do not have contact with other clients'. Clinicians working with method #1 will forbid it, as is the usual practice now. But a clinician has to ask: which contacts with which pedophiles? A ring to exchange pornography, or a support circle that helps to develop ethical codes? In the self-help method, it appears to be helpful to speak freely with people having the same feelings and problems. The self-help method appears to be helpful for pregnant women, parents with gay children, for people who worry about their body's outlook and for people with pedophilic feelings.

Does a clinician work without any moral codes or ethical rules? No, he or she has his or her own moral codes and ethical principles, mostly shared with their colleagues. Using the self-help method, the clinician is also a member of the group and in that role he or she can bring in one's own opinions. 

As I have said, one of the results of the self-help method is that the groups gradually have developed ethical codes.  Let's have a look at those codes.


Over the course of time, we have given it the name "the four principles and the P.S." This is described in my article "I didn't know how to deal with it", in an article by the Dutch psychiatrist Gerard Roelofs and in Dutch psychiatrist Frank van Ree's article "Are there criteria for a positive experience?". I will give these four principles and the P.S. here in full from my article:

"1. Self-determination:
Children must always have it in his or her own power to regulate their own sexuality, their relationships with others and their own lives.

2. Initiative:
Even in a later stage of the relationship, it is always the children who make the choice to have sex.

3. Freedom:
At any moment within the relationship with an adult, children must have the freedom to withdraw from the relationship. (Dependency in sexual relationships limits their freedom). Love and dedication must be unconditional. Sex is never allowed to be a bargaining tool.

4. Openness:
The child should not have to carry unreasonable secrets. One has to take into consideration how the child lives with its own sexuality. This openness depends a great deal on the quality of the relationship, and the support from the adult(s).

The local mores and customs also play a role, as openness about children's sex lives is not always appreciated. Children often have to be sexual in secret. Homosexuality is for many youngsters a big taboo. This can bring many problems and insecurity. If the sub-culture in which they live is relaxed and strong enough, then children can find support in that environment. "

This was the text, made and discussed in a group. I continue my article by remarking:

"I notice that as an adult one can realize the first three principles, Self-determination, Initiative and Freedom. However, I have to come to the conclusion that the fourth principle of Openness can as the result of the present moral pressures not be realized any longer. Nowhere is discussion possible. Support is only available, from infants onwards, for heterosexuals; sometimes a very, very little bit of support is given to the homosexuals but only when they are in their late teens or their early twenties.

For pedosexual relationships there is no support at all for the younger partner: not in the family, not at school, not in the play-ground, not in public and not from the mental care agencies

And now let us talk about secrets. The essence of a nice secret is that you can tell all about it, but that it pleases you to keep it to yourself. If you are not allowed to talk about it, it is not a nice secret any longer. I am aware that at least one of the four principles can in this day and age not be realized any more."

The Dutch psychiatrist Gerard Roelofs mentions more or less the same principles - the numbers in the [brackets] are added by me to refer to the principles here above.

"[Roelofs] has developed five criteria for a healthy pedophile relation. 

[1.] There should be no coercion; 

[2.]the child should be able to stop [the interaction] at every moment. 

[3.] At third, sexuality should be [only] at the psycho-sexual level of the child. In other words: the intimacy has to fit in the sexual feeling of the 12 to 16 year old youngster. ‘One can think about mutual masturbation, but not about real hard sado-masochistic games,’ says Roelofs. 
"Two other conditions however, will in most cases form an obstacle for the actual generation of pedophiles: in Roelofs opinion, 

[4.] the parents of the child should know about the relationship [and the sexual aspect of it]. 

[5.] Also is a condition that the child can talk about the relationship in his [social] environment, without meeting disapproval. [Refers to principle #4]

[The P.S.:] "With these conditions, Roelof’s opinion will only be a theory nowadays. No ‘good parent’ shall give permission for a sexual relationship of his or her child with an adult nowadays. Just as Roelofs himself must confess. "But after twenty years one could find such parents."

Also the Dutch psychiatrist Frank van Ree refers to the four principles:

1. Who is in charge?: the child should always be in charge of his or her own sexuality.
2. Initiative: the initiative for sexuality should always come from the child him- or herself.
3. Freedom: the child should be able at any given moment to remove himself or herself from the situation.
4. Openness: the child may not be burdened with a secret.

"This is not the place to discuss all four criteria, but in closing I will give some attention to the fourth, concerning openness. The necessity for this is clear enough. But, as Gieles himself indicates: ‘there is no place where these matters can be discussed. (...) I find,’ continues the writer, ‘that this fourth criterion now, in this time and this society cannot be met (any longer).’ And he closes, ‘This implies that I do not allow myself to have sexual contacts with young people.’ An extremely conscientious conclusion and one worthy of respect, based on a realistic analysis of the present reality. But... this conclusion means in fact respecting and maintaining an unwanted taboo!"

It's in this taboo that our clients have to live with and to find their own way. Factually, a clinician or counselor can only advise the clients to live in celibacy. Most of them do so. But there is more: one can socialize the desires. One can go about with children in free time activities, clubs, education or care. Having support from the group or circle, one can do this in a responsible way. That's why the support circles are named "Circles of support and accountability". Also Heather Peterson mentions this solution of socializing the desires from the groups she studied. The article Zur Notwendigkeit pädophiler Selbsthilfegruppen describes (for those who can read the German text) the same process of growing in responsibility.

Clinicians who work with method # 1, the 'Treatment', usually forbid their clients to have any contact with any child anymore. Doing so, they block the way of sublimating and socializing the desires. Usually, they also forbid any contact with any people with pedophilic feelings. Doing so, they block the way to support also. Doing so, they're creating steam boilers under high pressure and without a safety valve, which can burst sooner or later. This is dangerous and it's not ethical.

In my view and according to my experience in the last twenty years, the first method should only be used in extreme cases for people who are not able to control themselves.  For many others, method #3, real therapy, and especially the second method, the self-help method, can give real and effective help to people with pedophilic feelings.