25 June 2017

Dear Dr. James: Could a certain amount of pedophilic interest simply be normal for men?

This question was left as an anonymous comment for last week’s entry, Will there ever be a cure for pedophilia?  But because I receive this question so frequently, thought I'd put it here as it’s own entry...
Dear Dr. James: Could a certain amount of pedophilic interest simply be normal for men? 
Men in prehistoric times who chased after say 9 year old girls would have left behind more descendants than men who chased after 30 year old women for the simple reason that a 9 year old has many more fertile years remaining. When men in primitive societies raid and abduct females from other tribes the most highly prized are the young virgin teens and preteens for the same reason. Essentially what's happening is that men are stealing eggs off other tribes and the females with the most eggs in their ovaries are the young virgins who haven't started reproducing yet.
That comment really has two parts. The first part is a straight-forward question with a straight-forward answer: Yes, typical men do indeed show a certain (very small) amount of response to children—this has been shown repeatedly again in the lab (Blanchard et al., 2009, figures shown below). That pattern of arousal does not indicate being a pedophile, however. Although typical men sometimes respond (a bit) to children, they respond more to older persons, and the most (by far) to adults. That is, typical men strongly prefer adults over children, even if some have some non-zero level of response to children.

The second part is an idea I have heard before, but I am afraid it is based on some false information: Fertility does not start at the beginning of puberty. Indeed, fertility does not start even when menstruation starts (another common misconception). The menstrual cycle begins at an average age of 12.3 to 12.9 (Euling et al., 2008; Finer & Philbin, 2014; Herman-Giddens et al., 1997), whereas a woman’s ovaries don’t start releasing eggs until roughly three years later, on average (Apter, 1980; Metcalf et al., 1983). Although we do occasionally see instances in the media of very young girls becoming pregnant, these are, of course, the exception. Hormone studies show that human fertility starts at the low point of puberty, increasing to peak during the 20s, and decreasing again over the 30s (Ellison, Panter-Brick, Lipson, & O’Rourke, 1993).

That is, a man who focuses his energies on women in their 20s would produce pregnancies than a man who focused those energies on women in their 30s (who are less fertile) or in their teens (and are least fertile of all).

Also arguing against the “kidnap them as girls to get all their subsequent offspring” idea is that it forgets that pedophilia is the preference for children. When such girls become adults and able to bear children, they are no longer attractive to the pedophile. Even though the now-adult could conceive children, the pedophile is more attracted to the girls who cannot. So, once again, the greater the pedophilia, the lesser the chance of successful reproduction.


Apter, D. (1980). Serum steroids and pituitary hormones in female puberty: A partly longitudinal study. Clinical Endocrinology, 12, 107–120.

Blanchard, R., Lykins, A. D., Wherrett, D., Kuban, M. E., Cantor, J. M., Blak, T., . . . Klassen, P. E. (2009). Pedophilia, hebephilia, and the DSM-V. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 335–350.

Ellison, P. T., Panter-Brick, C., Lipson, S. F., & O’Rourke, M. T. (1993). The ecological context of human ovarian function. Human Reproduction, 8, 2248–2258.

Euling, S. Y., Herman-Giddens, M. E., Lee, P. A., Selevan, S. G., Juul, A., Sorensen, T. I. A., . . . Swan (2008). Examination of US puberty-timing data from 1940 to 1944 for secular trends: Panel findings. Pediatrics, 121 (suppl. 3), S172–S191.

Finer, L. B., & Philbin, J. M. (2014). Trends in ages of key reproductive transitions in the United States, 1951–2010. Women’s Health Issues, 24, e271–e279.

Herman-Giddens, M. E., Slora, E. J., Wasserman, R. C., Bourdony, C. J., Bhapkar, M. V., Koch, G. G., & Hasemeier, C. M. (1997). Secondary sexual characteristics and menses in young girls seen in office practice: A study from the Pediatric Research in Office Settings network. Pediatrics, 99, 505–512.

Metcalf, M. G., Skidmore, D. S., Lowry, G. F., & Mackenzie, J. A. (1983). Incidence of ovulation in the years after menarche. Journal of Endocrinology, 97, 213–219.

20 June 2017

The 2017 SEXposium!

Hey, folks!

I just want to give a big shout out and thanks to organizers of this year’s amazing SEXposium!  They brought to Toronto  some really big names in the science of sexincluding Marc Breedlove and Meredith Chivers and otherswho have TED-style talks, available to the public.  It was a great program, the audiences were engaged and invigorating, and it was wonderful to see so many talented students planning to pursue this as a career!  It was a genuine pleasure to participate!

The organizer, Diana Peragine, did an amazing job.  She's a grad student in the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuro-science, Gender, and Health at the University of Toronto. I understand that this is just the second year of this project: So, I'm already pretty excited to see how it shapes up for next year!  This was truly an impressive project on a topic with no shortage of public interest!

James Cantor at the 2017 SEXposium
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario.
For those interested, the slides from my own talk, Pedophilia being in the brain: The evidence & the public's reaction, can be downloaded by clicking here. There was a lot of live tweeting during my talk, and I am grateful for all your comments!

Dear Dr. James: Will there ever be a cure for pedophilia?

Dear Dr. James:

I have two questions I would like answers to. First question: Why is there no cure for pedophilia attraction?  Secondly, will there ever be a cure?  I have read that white matter is one of the problems causing the disorder.  So, why can’t we just add more white matter, for example?  If we, as humans, can solve so many problems, I don't see why we shouldn’t be able to solve this one in some way in the near future.

@fadelsadel via twitter

Hi, @fadelsadel.  Thanks again for letting me share your question: I think a lot of people are interested in knowing exactly the same things!

For your first question: I think it ultimately boils down there not being any funders—either public research agency or private philanthropist—who have taken this on as a goal.  Most people (very understandably) have strong emotions when it comes to this topic, and they fear and avoid any whiff of the stigma surrounding it. However, in my experience, only little education on the topic is needed before most people recognize how much we stand to gain, and how much suffering (nevermind financial expense) stands to be saved.  We need a public health official or a Bill Gates type to recognize what could be done if we (first) just faced down the stigma of discussing this rationally.

For your second question: I could never say never.  It’s amazing to think that it was only 10 years ago that we even established pedophilia to be a neurological phenomenon at all.  Currently, it still looks like pedophilia emerges from atypical connectivity among brain regions that identify/perceive social stimuli as sexy.  If governments and research funders made a serious effort to figure out how the sex response system of the brain worked, then we might be in a better position to know which of the ever-emerging tools from neuroscience could be applied.  Moreover, the more we know about how it develops, the earlier we might be able to detect it, and the earlier something is detected, the easier it is to influence.  I want to add, however, that these are fundamentally important questions of bioethics related to the science of this topic:  Many people have discussed these issues with regard to converting homosexuals to heterosexuals, but not with regard to converting pedophiles or others whose sexual interest pattern (unlike homosexuality) cannot be enacted without risk of harm.

Although it seems logical, just adding white matter isn’t as simple as it might sound.  Brain development starts very early after conception, and it undergoes very many phases ultimately leading to each point in the brain connecting to just the right other point of the brain.  Interestingly, the infant and childhood brain is quite “over-connected.” After childhood, substantial pruning of white matter occurs.  In adulthood, brain cells (the neurons) do not divide and make new brain cells like other types of cells.  The various signals that cells used to determine the direction to grow towards are no longer present in adulthood.  So, the great complication (I predict) will be how to get each of the brain cells to connect to all the corresponding brain cells, even though the rest of the brain is no longer undergoing the series of phases that originally led to its final structure. 

The best analogy I have is that, when it is still batter, we can add chocolate to make it a chocolate cake, but after it’s baked, adding the same ingredient gives us a vanilla cake drizzled with chocolate sauce.  That said, we are outside of my real field of expertise.  This step in figuring out a cure will have to come from a conversation between a real neuroscientist on top of developments in that field and a sex researcher who describes this situation until the neuroscientist says, “Hey, that sounds just like…”.

I don’t know who those people will be or what technology that will be, but I feel confident to saying that such conversations are most likely to happen in place that foster cross-pollination between fields and offer scientists some flexibility outside of a business model, and such places are becoming increasingly rare.

[FOOTNOTE: Just for the record, I’m using the colloquial sense of the word “cure” here, as the writer meant it.  I point this out to acknowledge that there are other people who would emphasize that (1) when someone sexually prefers children, but is neither distressed by it nor poses a risk of harm to anyone because of it, then the person would not receive a diagnosis in the DSM-5 system, and (2) without there being a diagnosis, it is not clear whether one should be referring to a “cure.”]

11 May 2017

Some dreams do come true.

Forgive me but: I must have just the best fucking job in the world.  Sure, I had fantasies, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would ever get to walk a red carpet...an actual, honest-to-goodness red carpet. (!)

Matt Campea (left) and James Cantor (right)
at the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards.
The real hero here, however, is Matt Campea, the talented, young director of I, Pedophile.  (I just got to be along for the ride.)  For folks who haven't watched it, Campea did an unbelievably good job with an unbelievably challenging topic.  In I, Pedophile, Campea interviews several pedophilic men discussing their lives and experiences living with sexual attractions they didn't ask for and don't want, scientists studying the problem internationally, and protestors expressing the more familiar (but somewhat less rational) public views.  Audiences both public and professional keep telling me the very same thing after watching: "Wow, I'm going to have to think about this some more..."

The film got great reviews from the actual critics, and it was a sincere delight to see Campea get nominated for a Canadian Screen Award (the Canadian Emmy's) for best social/political documentary.  So, here we are, with our mandatory selfie at the awards gala!  (We'd have taken more, but it was cooold!!)

It still amazes me: The funny, little math nerd/brain scientist actually makes good his funny, little fantasy in show business.

Well, okay, so there is also a downside to the best fucking job in the world: There is now an entry for I, Pedophile in IMDb (the International Movie Database).  At first, the show-biz queen in me was tickled to read "Staffing James Cantor." But then the rest of the entry sunk in: "as himself." Um... In a film named, "I, Pedophile." Oy...

To stream and watch I, Pedophile:
     From Canada: http://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/episodes/i-pedophile
     From Australia: https://www.tvcatchupaustralia.com/i-pedophile/april-30-2017-292367
     U.S. distribution is expected in the fall, 2017.
Special arrangements can also be made for classroom and other non-profit use.

13 February 2017

Do child sex dolls count as child porn? Should they?

Canada and Australia now have both reported charging men with breaking child pornography laws for possession of child sex dolls (CBC News, The Independent). This has led to several discussions about whether such dolls constitute child pornography and what the relevant science says. To understand properly whether child sex dolls constitute child pornography depends on whether we mean within the worlds of science and mental health or under the law.

Scientifically, my colleagues and I have published research demonstrating that people who possess erotic or nude photographs of children are usually pedophilic. (At least, this is the case for people who have been apprehended and convicted of possession.)
Seto, M. C., Cantor, J. M., & Blanchard, R. (2006). Child pornography offenses are a valid diagnostic indicator of pedophilia. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 115, 610–615.
doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.115.3.610
Because sex doll cases are rare, the equivalent research about that kind of possession has not been done. I would predict (and I think most sex researchers would predict) that possessing child sex dolls would be an effective indicator of pedophilia. So, within the world of psychological and psychiatric diagnosis, I would agree with Dr. Peter Collins, the prosecution expert in this case whom the CBC quoted as saying “In my professional opinion, the possession of a sex doll is just another form of depicting a child for a sexual purpose and therefore would meet the criteria for child pornography.”

Whether child sex dolls constitute child porn under the law, however, is the pertinent issue for the courts. Although I am a scientist rather than a policy expert, I believe I can point out that the purpose of child porn laws is to protect children from being harmed in the production of child porn (where the images are themselves evidence of abuse) and to prevent there being a market for child porn. With child sex dolls, however, there is no actual victim being protected, and it does not matter whether there is a market for latex dolls. Although it is very reasonable to conclude that the consumers purchasing sex dolls are genuinely attracted to children, there is no evidence to indicate that sex doll owners are at an elevated level of risk to go on to commit crimes that do involve a victim.

Different jurisdictions use different language in their anti-child porn laws, including different definitions of child porn. The language of such laws can usually be interpreted either way. So, in practice, whether dolls are covered by the laws generally meant for images of real people is up to the courts.

This invites, of course, the question of what one thinks the courts should find. This is now a pure value judgment rather than a scientific question at all. For what it is worth, my personal value judgment is on the side of free speech (however distasteful one might find that speech to be) until there is a compelling societal need for otherwise. Although many child molesters also possess child pornography, it does not appear to work the other way around: Of people who have been apprehended for child porn, very few are found to have molested any children. (In such cases of child porn, investigators attempt to find any children in the porn-possessor’s environment who might have been targeted.) That is, as best as can be found with the current science, there is no compelling need here.

Men who are attracted to children have no healthy outlet for their sex drives, and it will be that way for their entire lives. For someone who did not ask to be pedophilic and who cannot have romantic and sexual relationships like the rest of us, the only outlet they have is masturbation. For society to hamper even that, to me, is cruel when it is in the absence of a demonstrated societal benefit.