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.

19 September 2016

Dear Dr. James,

I am a 23 year old male.  I dream to have a family, and I work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide for my parents.  I love to help people anyway I can.  I have several people I call best friends and a loving family full of faith.  I never have hate in my heart and even forgave my older cousin for molesting me for so many years, and I humbly see my self as a great person and will never hurt anyone, but I am very ashamed to say I am a pedophile.

For so many years, I have tried countless times, but have always failed.  I have run out of options and am giving up hope. I can not continue to live my life like this. I feel that the only cure for this is death. My will to live is very strong, but I don't know how much more I can take.  I can't move forward in life until I have this problem resolved.  I understand this is a personal problem and I don't have any money.
If I need to move to Canada and get a job out there I will and will participate in any test regardless what the risks are, I will do anything it takes.  What can I do for your help?


Hello, David.

I sincerely congratulate you on confronting this so directly.  Very few people have the strength you are showing.  You are not the only one, however.  There is a whole community of people who, like you, have figured out that though no fault of their own, they feel sexual attractions to children, and I want to put you in touch with them.  Although pedophilia is terribly stigmatized, you did not chose it.  That is, there is no reason to feel shame about it.  (Society is starting to become aware of this, but there is still a very long way to go.)

It is true that your life might not be what you were raised to want and expect, but that doesn’t mean you cannot live a happy, fulfilling, and long life.  Therapy can be a wonderful help, at least to people who can afford it and find an appropriate therapist.  The best help, however, often comes from the other people who are in the same boat as you: The Virtuous Pedophiles are a group of people who have realized that they too are sexually oriented to children, and they support each other in dealing with it without ever posing any risk of harm to anyone.  Their anonymous, online billboard is available at www.virped.org.

Finally, I very much appreciate how overwhelming this can feel, especially when first starting to confront it.  If you now, or in the future, genuinely contemplate killing or hurting yourself, I want you immediately to get to the nearest hospital emergency room.  Although I have not been in the same position as you, I have watched many people walk this difficult path.  This, right here, is the very hardest part—it gets easier from here.  To start, read the stories of other virped’s, and see the wide range of things that can help.

I wish you the best of luck.

27 January 2016

On Russo's "Is there something unique about the transgender brain?": Well, yes and no.

In Scientific American Mind, journalist Francine Russo takes on a fascinating research question: “Is there something unique about the transgender brain?” She reviews some of the relevant brain research on transsexuals and concludes that transgenderism is indeed a phenomenon of the brain.  Although I agree with Russo that transgenderism is a phenomenon of the brain, I believe Russo over-focussed on gender identity, which led her away from the better explanation of the data:

These brain scans don’t reflect gender identity, they reflect sexual orientation.

The research that Russo examined she explained correctly: Biological males and females differ from each other on certain subtle, non-learned features of the brain and body, and some samples of transsexuals are in-between on these features.  That is, they were shifted away from what is typical for their sex-at-birth and towards the other sex.  Taken by itself, this would indeed seem like strong evidence that transsexuality in biological males is caused by having “feminine” or “feminized” features of the brain, and ditto for females/masculine/masculinized.

Unfortunately, Russo’s analysis excludes other, closely related research that would have led her to a different conclusion: Namely, gay men and lesbians show the same shifts! That is, the differences are not specific to transgenderism. For example, Russo pointed out (correctly) that males and females differ in “echolike sounds produced by the inner ear in response to a clicking noise” and that transgendered folks are shifted towards what the opposite sex usually shows. Missing, however, was the research showing that the same shift is present in cis-gendered homosexuality (e.g., McFadden & Pasanen, 1998). [For those interested, these echo-like responses are called “click-evoked otoacoustic emissions,” and the shift among transgendered folks was reported by Burke et al. (2014). The full reference appears below.]

The reason this matters is that, in the MRI study Russo describes (Zubiaurre-Elorza et al., 2013), all of the male-to-female transsexuals were attracted to men, but all of the control males were attracted to women, and all of the female-to-male transsexuals were attracted to women, but all the control females were attracted to men.  That is, although the subject groups differed from the control groups in their gender identity (as they must), they also differed in their sexual orientation. This is what we call a confound: We can’t know whether the brains of the male-to-female transsexuals differed from the controls because they wanted to be women while the controls wanted to be men, or because they were attracted to men while the controls were attracted to women (and ditto for female-to-male transsexuals with regard to men/women/women/men).

Although Russo attributes Zubiaurre-Elorza’s MRI findings to gender identity, those findings are better attributed to sexual orientation. This would have shown by other research that Russo excluded.  Specifically, Russo excluded other MRI studies of transsexuals, namely Rametti et al. (2010) and Savic and Arver (2010).  Rametti used a set-up very much like Zubiaurre-Elorza.  (In fact, Rametti and Zubiaurre-Elorza are from the same research team, led by Antonio Guillamon.) Rametti compared 18 male-to-female transsexuals who were attracted to men with: 19 cis-gendered control males who were attracted to women, and with 19 cis-gendered control females who were attracted to men. Guillamon contrasted the male controls with the female controls to find the features of the brain where males and females differ (there were six such features), and they found the transsexual group to be intermediate on all of them. That is, male-to-female transsexuals who were attracted to men were in between cis-gendered males who were attracted to women and cis-gendered females who were attracted to males.

Now, let us compare that with the Savic and Arver study: They also analyzed male-to-female transsexuals (24 in total), but these were male-to-female transsexuals who were attracted to women. Savic and Arver contrasted them with 24 control males who were attracted to women, and with 24 control females who were attracted to men. Like Rametti, Savic and Arver contrasted the male controls with the female controls to find the brain features where males and females differ (there were eight), but found the transsexual group to differ from the male controls on none (Savic & Arver, 2010, Table 3). In contrast with Rametti and with Savic and Arver, the transgendered bio males who were attracted to women did not differ from cis-gendered bio males who were attracted to women.  That is, what we’ve observed in the brain depends on whether the groups differ in sexual orientation, not gender identity.

Just as interestingly (if not more so!) the male-to-female transsexuals who were attracted to females did show other brain differences from the control males, but they were not features in which females differ from males. To me, this brings us to the next fascinating and unanswered question for us sexual neuroscientists: What is it about male-to-female transsexuals who are attracted to females that makes their brains different from other people’s, and is not just in between biological males and females?


Burke, S. M., Menks, W. M., Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., Klink, D. T. & Bakker, J. (2014). Click-evoked otoacoustic emissions in children and adolescents with gender identity disorder. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 1515−1523. doi: 10.1007/s10508-014-0278-2.

McFadden, D., & Pasanen, E. G. (1998). Comparison of the auditory systems of heterosexuals and homosexuals: Click-evoked otoacoustic emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 95, 2709–2713.

Rametti, G., Carrillo, B., Gómez-Gil, E., Junque, C., Zubiarre-Elorza, L., Segovia, S.,... Guillamon, A. (2010). The microstructure of white matter in male to female transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment: A DTI study. Journal of Psychiatric Research. doi:10.1016/ j.jpsychires.2010.11.007.

Savic, I., & Arver, S. (2010). Sex dimorphism of the brain in male-to- female transsexuals. Cerebral Cortex. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhr032.

Zubiaurre-Elorza, L., Junque, C., Gómez-Gil, E., Segovia, S., Carrillo, B., Rametti, G., Guillamon, A. (2013). Cortical thickness in untreated transsexuals. Cerebral Cortex, 23, 2855−2862.

For professional researchers, see also:

Cantor, J. M. (2011). New MRI studies support the Blanchard typology of male-to-female transsexualism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 863864. doi: 10.1007/s10508-011-9805-6 http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10508-011-9805-6

11 January 2016

Do trans- kids stay trans- when they grow up?

Following the closure of the CAMH Gender Identity Clinic for children, I have been receiving requests for what the science says.  Do kids grow out of wanting to change sex, or does it continue when they are adults?

In total, there have been three large scale follow-up studies and a handful of smaller ones. I have listed all of them below, together with their results. (In the table, “cis-” means non-transsexual.) Despite the differences in country, culture, decade, and follow-up length and method, all the studies have come to a remarkably similar conclusion: Only very few trans- kids still want to transition by the time they are adults. Instead, they generally turn out to be regular gay or lesbian folks. The exact number varies by study, but roughly 6090% of trans- kids turn out no longer to be trans by adulthood.

Lebovitz, P. S. (1972). Feminine behavior in boys: Aspects of its outcome. American Journal of Psychiatry, 128, 1283–1289.
Zuger, B. (1978). Effeminate behavior present in boys from childhood: Ten additional years of follow-up. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 19, 363–369.
Money, J., & Russo, A. J. (1979). Homosexual outcome of discordant gender identity/role: Longitudinal follow-up. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 4, 29–41.
Zuger, B. (1984). Early effeminate behavior in boys: Outcome and significance for homosexuality. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 172, 90–97.
Davenport, C. W. (1986). A follow-up study of 10 feminine boys.  Archives of Sexual Behavior, 15, 511–517.
Green, R. (1987). The "sissy boy syndrome" and the development of homosexuality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Kosky, R. J. (1987). Gender-disordered children: Does inpatient treatment help? Medical Journal of Australia, 146, 565–569.


Wallien, M. S. C., & Cohen-Kettenis, P. T. (2008). Psychosexual outcome of gender-dysphoric children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 47, 1413–1423.

Drummond, K. D., Bradley, S. J., Badali-Peterson, M., & Zucker, K. J. (2008). A follow-up study of girls with gender identity disorder. Developmental Psychology, 44, 34–45.
Singh, D. (2012). A follow-up study of boys with gender identity disorder. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto.
Steensma, T. D., McGuire, J. K., Kreukels, B. P. C., Beekman, A. J., & Cohen-Kettenis, P. T. (2013). Factors associated with desistence and persistence of childhood gender dysphoria: A quantitative follow-up study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 52, 582–590.

*For brevity, the list uses “gay” for “gay and cis-”, “straight” for “straight and cis-”, etc.