Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The DSM revision petition (US-centric)

The NCSF's latest Big Project is activism to remove "paraphilias" from the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (The DSM-V). In the last edition, diagnoses like "Sexual Sadism" and "Sexual Masochism" hung in a strange limbo. If you enjoyed SM, also liked other forms of sex, were satisfied with your sexual life, and didn't do anything nonconsensual, you weren't mentally ill. But if you needed SM exclusively to get off and were distressed about it, that was considered to be a mental illness.

Various groups have been trying for a while now to get that taken out again, and now NCSF (and others, probably, too) have stepped up the fight.

So why haven't I said anything so far, or found myself unreservedly thrilled about this? My reason for hesitation is that the paraphilia section includes pedophilia as well, and I am not sure how I feel about removing it.

Some years ago, I was totally convinced that all the paraphilia diagnoses needed to go. All the things in the section -- including pedophilia -- struck me as fetishes, as fixed sexual things about a person. I was convinced that pedophiles are just people who happen to have fetishes for kids' bodies, and that the sad thing isn't so much their desires but the fact that they can never act on them without doing harm. I was convinced that depathologizing their feelings would help some of them to find creative ways to deal with their desires for children without actually having sex with children -- age play, fantasy, etc.

I'm still half-sympathetic to this. I do think humans have fetishes, and often cannot control what they'll find arousing. I think some of us end up with rather outlandish fetishes, and while plenty of people snicker at those, few people really bat an eye. That's just how desire is for some people, and so what? If people can find themselves in transports from balloon-popping, surely someone out there's going to draw the short straw and lust after prepubescent humans for no discernible reason, right? Compounding the inevitable ethical dilemmas by already branding whoever drew said straw a danger and an enemy might just prove dangerous.

But I'm no longer sure. I spent some time on the website Perverted Justice, where adults pose as children to humiliate and hopefully to catch pedophiles looking to have actual sex with kids. (Yeah, their techniques do worry me some; if it's not entrapment, it's close.) I read a few of the chat logs they posted to the site, and the more I read the more I saw patterns. These men (I never saw any women) clearly weren't people struggling with an inability to sexually respond to human adults. Many had wives and girlfriends. The men would befriend the "child" chatting with them, and as soon as the "child" was nervously half-convinced to trust them, they would begin threatening, talking in abusive language, etc. They would insist that the "child" belonged to them, that the "child" was supposed to obey them. (Some appropriated BDSM-type language, calling the "child" their submissive, pet, or slave, and going into towering rages at any "disobedience.")

While I did see a few chats that fit the "fetishist who's convinced he's being harmless, poor sod" model, I saw this domination thing happen over and over too, and it worried me considerably. It seemed to me that these people, far from having a different conception of sexy bodies than the rest of us, had a desire to dominate and to harm weaker, more insecure people.

So I worry. I wholeheartedly support the removal of SM and other kinks from the DSM. But I want to see more evidence about pedophilia. I want to know if those men I read about were simply the criminals, and most people have a fetish, or if that's the real face of pedophilia.

18 comments:

electronic doll said...

Interesting point - I guess that I've never considered paedophilia as a fetish, although reading through your note I can see how it probably is able to be classified as such. For me, the criminalisation should stem from the issue of consent rather than any reference to mental disorder. Like any potentially harmful act, all parties must agree to, and understand the implications of those agreements. Which children can't, but say, adults involved in age play can (and do!). This separates out the issue of what drives the desire from the sexual act itself and also allows for safe BDSM activity.

hexy: hexpletive said...

As a non-neurotypical person, I'm quite emphatically in favour of definitions for "disorder" that include the whole "... and is distressed/unable to function as desired because of it."

Trinity said...

Electronic,

Yes, I agree. The one concern that I do have though is that if there is no mental health reference, will the idea that there is a certain set that prefers to prey on children disappear? And if the idea does disappear, and they're just criminals, is that good or bad? I'm honestly not sure.

Trinity said...

Hexy,

Do you mean for your comment to imply that you think the diagnoses in the DSM should stay as they are, or not? I'm not sure there's any reason for SM to be particularly diagnosable, whether personally distressing or not. Some people consider their homosexuality distressing, but this doesn't mean "being gay is a mental disorder, so long as you're bothered by it." We'd want to say now that a gay person who is bothered by his desires has some other problem, such as internalized homophobia, trouble fitting into homophobic communities, etc. It's pathologizing the wrong thing.

In the cases of both SM and transvestic fetishism, I think this is the case. I'm not sure what to think about pedophilia.

shiva said...

"It seemed to me that these people... had a desire to dominate and to harm weaker, more insecure people."

I think that itself may well be a fetish, for at least some.

Rather like the whole "rape isn't about lust, it's about power/control/etc" thing, which i always tend to feel a bit "is this really ALWAYS true?" about - i think there are some people for whom the desire to overpower, to strip of agency, to nonconsensually violate, actually *is* what arouses their lust. Add a bit of sociopathy to that, and you have the serial rapist/child-molester.

Whether it's as a result of patriarchy that people get turned on by evil shit like that, i don't know, and i'm not sure if it matters much tbh. I'm in total agreement with the viewpoint that criminalisation should be on the grounds of nonconsent, tho. Criminality and "mental disorder" are, or at least should be, entirely separate issues IMO.

As for the DSM, i have... complicated and ambiguous feelings about that. I hear a lot of stuff about "trying to remove autism from the DSM" and/or "trying to remove gender dysphoria from the DSM", for example, and... it makes me think, OK, so every interest group for a particular category gets its category removed from the DSM, due to "this is not a mental disorder" rhetoric... and then what happens to the people who are still left within the DSM? Where is the solidarity with them?

Is the aim for there ultimately not to be a DSM at all (which is the logical end of everyone successfully getting themselves out of it... and which might well be a good thing)? Or is it to demarcate the boundaries so that you are outside it, but I am still inside it (or vice versa)?

It feels an awful lot like the whole "us vanilla gays are OK, we're not nasty kinky freaks like them" (where them equals trans* people, BDSMers, polyamorists, whoever) and all the divide-and-conquer that entails...

Thaddeus said...

In some part, I can't help but feel that the apparent prevalence of predators is amplified by Perverted Justice. It's a selection bias. If you're trolling around chat rooms looking for kiddies, you're a creepy sexual predator. If you're not, then we never hear about you - with good reason.

Trinity said...

"i think there are some people for whom the desire to overpower, to strip of agency, to nonconsensually violate, actually *is* what arouses their lust."

Yeah, I definitely think that's true. I think some people are insecure, some people buy into rape myths, some people are violent, and some people are sadists, in the exact way that word gets used in common parlance. I do think they're rare, but I don't doubt they exist.

"and then what happens to the people who are still left within the DSM? Where is the solidarity with them?"

I think the idea may be that what should stay in the DSM is not types of people, but things that adversely affect people mentally. Depression, for example -- yeah, some people see their depression as a part of who they are and don't choose treatment, but many people see it as a malfunction, a chemical error or error in thought patterns that actually *doesn't* reflect who they are, so they turn to medication or talk therapy.

Or something like PTSD -- I don't feel that having it enriches my life. I wouldn't trade the life I've had for anything, but my flashbacks and hypervigilance are intrusive and violating, not a different way of thinking or the sign of a unique mind. (I don't have problems with others seeing things differently and not doing anything about it, as long as they are not, say, violent during flashbacks, which is rare but can happen.) I do see those things as impairments, and I don't have problems with people dealing with their impairments how they choose. So I suspect there will always be a DSM.

In Utopia (though now as always I consider Utopia kind of silly to talk about) there would likely not be ways to force treatments on people who weren't actually engaging in harmful behavior. But I don't think that would mean there would be no notion of mental ill-health.

I think what gets called "mental illness" is like disability in that way... some people are really into pride and culture and "this is me, buzz off" and others really do experience themselves as impaired and seek help dealing with the impairments. I don't think a one size fits all model works for everyone, in either group.

hexy: hexpletive said...

Trin: Absolutely not, for the same reason I don't think any form of non-typicality should be pathologised. I'm not a fan of ticky box diagnoses as it is. My dream model of psychiatric treatment would involve genuinely assessing all biological/psycological/sociological factors, rather than simply paying lip service to the idea of bio-psycho-social factors, and reaching a conclusion about where a person sits on the [disordered - functional but non standard] spectrum a non-neurotypical person sits based on what is true and best for that person. I'm told my expectations are too high.

I do think a paraphilia can be the basis for a disorder, or of distress so extreme it renders the person non-functional. I don't think all paraphilias are disorders, and I say that as someone with a whole heap of them, and who has also accepted various chunks of her brain as being disordered. But then, a diagnosis is supposed to be a step towards healing and happiness, not a rubber stamp of "Freak" the establishment sticks on you.

hexy: hexpletive said...

I just checked out the Perverted Justice site... it seems to me they focusses most on men chasing young teens, yes?

That's not pedophilia.

Dusk_Blue said...

I would say that ageism and disrespect for human life are the real problems. Pedophiles are people sexually attracted to children, but what they do is entirely different. Just because some play the abusive dom, it doesn't mean all dom-types are abusive. It strikes me as wrong to assume that a fetish unrelated to an antisocial disorder is in itself a danger.

Anonymous said...

All I know is, there's a helluva lot more lolicon on the internet than there are sexual predators. My instinct is that these are in the majority of pedophiles, but the people who actually act on their desires probably fit more with the predator type you describe.

Trinity said...

"I just checked out the Perverted Justice site... it seems to me they focusses most on men chasing young teens, yes?"

I'm not so sure I'd call twelve and thirteen "young teens" myself. I mean "teen" IS at the end of "thirteen," but if you're asking me when exactly we're entering into the clear category of "ephebophilia," with some idea that ephebophilia has different moral contours, I'd say no, it's not twelve.

Trinity said...

"It strikes me as wrong to assume that a fetish unrelated to an antisocial disorder is in itself a danger."

Oh, I don't think that. My question is whether there are two things at play: a fetish, which I agree is harmless as long as it stays in the brain, and something else, which these really creepy people evince.

Trinity said...

"All I know is, there's a helluva lot more lolicon on the internet than there are sexual predators. My instinct is that these are in the majority of pedophiles, but the people who actually act on their desires probably fit more with the predator type you describe."

I think you're probably right, anon, but I do think you've got one bit wrong. I don't know so much about loli, but running in yaoi fan circles I've met a few women who like shota. And I don't think that it's a fetish for children in many of these women's case. I think they are interested in any erotic material and amused at things that are "way out." It's not real, so they like it, in a way they wouldn't like male children for real.

So I'd suspect that while many lolicon fans are pedophiles, some people may like it without actually having an interest in kids.

hexy: hexpletive said...

I'm not so sure I'd call twelve and thirteen "young teens" myself.

Granted, I didn't look through the whole site, but quite a few of the chat logs linked off the first page involve people posing as fifteen year olds.

I mean "teen" IS at the end of "thirteen," but if you're asking me when exactly we're entering into the clear category of "ephebophilia," with some idea that ephebophilia has different moral contours, I'd say no, it's not twelve.

I'm drawing absolutely no moral anything. Your original post was about the DSM, and the DSM definition of pedophilia is very specific: pre-pubescent, under the age of 10.

As you pointed out a difference in what you'd previously thought of as pedohilic behaviour and what you saw on that site, I thought it worth pointing out that the predatory behaviour on that site largely doesn't fit into the DSM definition of pedophilia.

Trinity said...

Ah, okay Hexy. It's been a while since I looked at that, so I sit corrected.

Personally I do think there's still something going on when people are attracted to people whose pubic hair hasn't grown in yet, whether that's ten or older, but that is a more amorphous way of looking at it, yes.

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