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.