The Finkelhor dogma

No dogma in science

Questioning a dogma is not allowed. As part of a doctrine, they curb the progress of science. This makes it paramount in each science to identify dogmata and to get rid of them. Doing science in their presence is simply not possible, one has to ignore scientific results that contradict dogmata. Hence, such science is not free and is limited to the allowed range of opinions.

One of the most famous dogmata had been the earth's position within the universe. Copernicus had too much trouble with the circles of circles explaining the orbits of planets, when much pointed towards the sun. Placing the sun in the center of those orbits was the correct scientific answer to his problems. Doing so questioned the dogma of earth being the center of the universe. Galileo publicly discarded this dogma and got punished for it. His bravery is still in need today.

A dogma is an unfounded belief and can be identified as such. Moreover, a dogma always serves a purpose.

Finding new reasons for the wrongfulness of child sex

Basing laws on immorality creates circular logic, since moral is based on the judgement what is right and what is wrong - which often is based on the law, hence completing the circle. Sometimes something is considered to be wrong when it's not ought to be. However, ought to be denotes a desire - creating another undesired circular logic.

The prohibition of adult-child-sex is such a law. First, it was declared a sin, later it was just indecent, lewd, or sinister behavior. These arguments are no longer acceptable reasons for a prohibition. Laws are designed to ensure order and to prevent damages, but not to enforce moral. Some other reasons had to be found and David Finkelhor tried to do it. Damage in form of harm would have made it an easy case. However, citing harm presents difficulties, since laws based on damages require those damages to be proven in court. Bodily harm is a rare outcome of adult child sex. Moreover, children are considered unreliable with respect to giving evidence in court. Hence, child sex should be wrong due to facts that don't require testimony from children.

Finkelhor's dogma is based on three points:
  1. Consent is required,  
  2. Children are unable to give true consent,
  3. and power inequality implying inability.
In my opinion, all three are wrong. The emphasis on true consent should have raised a warning flag. It reminds one of the no true scotsman fallacy, hence such a consent is impossible to obtain. The points are so wrong that they have impacted the notion of what constitutes rape and what not. The "rape epidemic" on US-campuses got media attention. Some even claim the existence of stare rape - which is utterly nonsense. There is such a thing as rape. It is a serious issue and it needs to be addressed adequately. The question what constitutes rape and what not leaves a grey area. Some cannot accept the existence of such a thing as a grey area. They want to eliminate such an area at all cost, without reflecting how much it would cost and who would pay the price. They demand zero tolerance. However, zero tolerance is a policy that punishes the innocent for the crimes of the guilty. It creates more damage than it prevents.

What is consent and where does this strange notion come from?

When people engage in a common activity, they tend to make compromises and to negotiate an agreement. All involved parties have an interest in and benefit from such activities. The term "agreement" implies negotiation - it places the child on the same level as the adult, hence the term was not suitable for this dogma. A negotiation offers room for permissible activity, which had to be avoided. Something more one-sided was needed.

The concept of consent is well known from medicine, research, and law. Consent is given once, usually it is not recalled, and it implies consequences. Giving consent is necessary in case of a surgeon performing a heart transplantation. It might be an extreme case of consent, but it illustrates my point.

The heart surgeon usually makes a plan how to carry out the heart transplant. The patient seldom has enough knowledge and wisdom to discuss details with the surgeon and to suggest changes. Moreover, the patient is unconscious during the operation, hence the consent has to be given beforehand. The consent is more a declaration of trust in the operating team than a agreement to a fixed plan. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the surgeon might deviate from the plan and adjust the procedure. This does not invalidate the given consent. The surgeon is only required to work in the interest of the patient. Even though the procedure is rudimentarily explained, and an understanding is not required, the bigger part of giving consent is about accepting the consequences as one owns responsibility. There is a desired outcome, but problems may arise. Few types of operations have a clean 100% success rate. 

In a heart transplant operation, the patient's heart is taken out. At this moment, the patient does no longer live independently. If the operation fails, he was as a matter of fact killed at this moment. Giving consent to a medical procedure means accepting the consequences. Otherwise, heart surgeons would be prosecuted for murder on a regular basis. In such cases, the given consent provides a legal cover, claiming that the patient requested the procedure and takes responsibility for all consequences. In those cases, there is no remedy. There is nothing that can be done to reduce the damage. One can only surrender and becomes a powerless victim to one's ultimate fate.

Talking about giving consent in the context of a sexual adventure is simply wrong. The concept denotes something one-sided, usually given once. It would make sense if one part was knocking the other out and mutilated her/him. That kind of action is rare, even within the setting of consensual BDSM among adults. 

The consent paradigm backfired big time as can be seen on american campuses. Lensman wrote an excellent piece on Heretic ToC about the staircase model of consent. Consent is not given just once to a fixed scenario, but many times. It is more like a dance, where each step is taken with caution. A good dancer listens to the signals given by the partner all the time and takes care not to crash into obstacles. Arriving at this point, one can no longer speak of consent. It is an ongoing non-verbal dialog. You agree to dance, you do not consent! Dance is fun. And it is fun, because the interaction escalates towards hilarious moments. It escalates, because every reaction is amplified by its response. It goes back and forth, not just one-way.

When my fingertips travel towards an area throbbing with desire, I have to listen for the purr or growl. The feelings of the partner are to be respected. Is there pleasure and enjoyment or are there hesitations? As with dance, communication by any means is required. I'm not a mind reader, so my partner has to let his/her desires to be known. Whatever happens, has to happen on the premises of both or all in case of an orgy. It's not the responsibility of just one.

Sex is fun! Fun is best when all make an effort and enjoy it. Talking about consent takes the fun and joy out of it. Moreover, it takes the focus from the important continuous communication aspect. And that is most dangerous aspect of the consent discussion.

Can we really consent to sex?

After the previous reasoning, it is clear that Finkelhor was right. Children can't consent to any sexual activity. However, this is not the children's fault, but Finkelhor's. He uses a concept that is not at all appropriate for sexual contacts. He even questions its appropriateness. Not only can children not consent, most adults can't either. In his 1979 paper, Finkelhor gives examples for certain adults not being able to give true consent.

Nobody would talk about required consent when dancing. Sex is more like dance to a mutual enjoyment rather than a heart transplant performed on an unconscious patient. All participants are awake and turn the encounter into the fun activity they want it to be. 

Sex is fun and most sex is just for fun. If sex were just for procreation, then humans really suck at it. According to scientists, it takes on average more than 1000 attempts to conceive a child - that makes humans the losers among all mammals. Sex is fun and it should be fun. During the Victorian period, all sex was considered a sin. Masturbation was forbidden and prevented by crazy inventions. Only recently, it has left the taboo zone.

The Victorian era is not only responsible for the masturbation hysteria and moral panic, but also for the exclusion of children from most aspects of the adult life. Previously, children participated in normal life, once they were no longer dependent on the mother. At first, they were excluded from the workspace, later from the sexual arena. Only productive members of the society were allowed to have sex. Similar to children, sexual activity among elders was a taboo as well. It seems rather strange that humans demand others in private sexual encounters to follow certain rules.

"If everybody enjoys it, why should it be bad?" asks Jenn in a well thought through video on youtube. Is it bad? Where is the harm done? Is it a trauma? How can we avoid iatrogenic harm? Child lovers and professionals could fill libraries with treatises on that topic. Finkelhor discussed several aspects in his 1979 paper and concluded that the condemnation of adult child sex must be based on a moral wrong. He himself considered the foundation upon harm to be problematic, since harm happens only in few cases. At the time, when he wrote his paper, several publications reported on positive outcomes. So why forbid something, if it only harms a few? These questions are discussed in different media. Unfortunately, the final verdict has not been made yet.

The Finkelhor dogma tried to keep children from sexual activities, but this has failed. Many minors engage in sexual activities, even though adults try to prevent it. Finkelhor acknowledges that children are sexual beings and sexual activities with peers is normal. In the 70's he referred to doctor play - modern technology like digital cameras has changed that. Recently, sexting has gotten the media attention. According to them, it is a dangerous activity and must be suppressed. The prevalence of sexting should rise some questions. Why does the youth engage in those activities? Do they think that it is harmless?

Is sex harmless fun?

When I started this post, i wanted to emphasize on that. However, a post on boychat totally changed my understanding. Sex might be one of the most dangerous human activities.
Many argue that it is just harmless fun. Some people have casual sex with strangers, but this is not the norm. People arguing for the harmlessness of sex are often accused of promoting promiscuity and immorality, and of having ulterior motives. When child lover's question the harm of adult child sex, they often face fierce attacks as alleged child molesters. Taking the child's view often results in miserable attempts, hardly veiling any sexual desires.

The uninformed often assume that all sex must involve penetration and imagine horror stories. Penetration is what evolution programmed the men's sex drive to do. It might just be a projection of the heterosexual pattern onto all others - that the goal of sex is penetration. Gay men have been pictured as seeking anal sex over everything else, but it turned out to be not true. Gay men cuddle, caress, suck, and blow. Where else has the heterosexual projection been wrong? When it comes to sexual activities, too much is assumed to happen and fact reports are ignored.

Media enjoys giving graphical details about the conditions in which rape victims are left behind. The current hysteria equates bruises with those life threatening damages. The truth is different. Children play and some of them break bones. Sometimes it is not their fault, but their friend's. Doctors mend those bones and children continue to be friends even after inflicting serious damages on each other. The perpetrators are sorry and make up for it. Hence, bodily damage is an unlikely candidate for long lasting harm, if there is harm at all. Moreover, this post is not about rape, but about those adult-child sexual activities without any traces of violence.

Even if sex can be compared with dance as making simple steps all the time, it can be extremely dangerous. While walking can be considered to be harmless too, climbing the Mount Everest, however, isn't. One can turn back at any time, but this option does not save everybody from the cold death. It requires serious consideration, few make it to the top, and a lot of things can go wrong.

Sex is the Mount Everest of intimacy and trust. It is not only the top, but also the way to the top. The path not only leads to the top, but also to the next abyss. For many it is uncharted territory, where the path is narrow and the abyss is near. This might sound like an exaggeration, but for most people it is reality. The fear to make missteps, to appear unknowledgeable, to fail to reach the top, to fail expectations, and first and foremost the prospect to get those failures reported by the disappointed partner are intimidating. Trust is the safety rope that binds the roped team together. Much trust in the partner and confidence into own performance is needed.

Stepping onto a glacier without a safety rope is indeed foolish and everybody should hesitate out of fear of the unknown. Strolling on a glacier without a safety rope is as stupid as discussing sex without mentioning trust. As roped teams seldom are just two persons teams, relationships usually involve more than just the two in bed. Each part has a support team comprising parents, siblings and friends. Advice on how to proceed is requested. Small steps are reported and confirmation is seeked. Women talk, men too. Where can I go from here?

There are more involved than just the two in bed

The problem with the consent concept lies in the acceptance of eventual consequences. If the new heart does not start beating, life is over and nothing can be done. Those consequences are final. Often, the consent discussion involving children centers on the argument that children are unaware about the consequences. They simply lack the knowledge about the outcome which is bound to happen. Adults are often unaware of possible outcomes of their major decisions. Many married couples end up in divorces. Using the same argumentation, even adults are not able to consent to marriage. However, people marry because they think they can manage their life together. Hence, it is not about possible outcomes, but the ability to deal with them and to change their development.

Back to the case of broken bones during childhood: Broken bones are mended and friends make up, in case it was their fault. That is why broken bones seldom mean the end of a friendship, even though considerable harm was done. The ability to deal with eventual consequences and to change their course is absent in the consent discussion. 

There have been reports about positive memories of pedophilic relationships in the late 80's. The attitude towards pedophilia during that time was different. It was not necessarily seen as abusive. The interviewed boys compared notes with other boys or even got advice on their friendships from their parents. Those children were free to deal with the outcomes. It has been noted that children typically are quite resilient. I guess that is mostly true due to their active involvement in those relationships.  They trusted their parents to support them in the relationship with the adult they trusted.

Things are differently nowadays. In case of a discovered sexual relationship between an adult and a child, a mechanism is set into motion, which removes any degree of freedom from the child. They are usually witnesses to a process which they cannot influence. Moreover, the terms "victim" and "survivor" emphasize the passivity force on them. They are left alone in their victimhood. Any chance to deal with the outcome has been removed.

Children are incapable to do whatever...

Children are not born as blank slates, having to learn everything from scratch during childhood. Game theory predicts, how humans should behave rationally, but experiments show different outcomes. Researchers tested the prisoner's dilemma in experiments and were baffled by the results. It first made sense, when they considered an infinite version of the dilemma, in which the participants meet again and again. However, no one did the mental calculation required for this outcome - an innate sense dictates how to behave in certain social situations. 

Try cheating children in a game and you face a fierce protest - this is not fair! Who teached them what is fair and what is not? Sometimes, parent explain why something is not fair, but the concept fairness is never explained. This has been confirmed in experiments like the dictators game. Given a choice, children will avoid unfair situations. This is something all children except the smallest are able to do. Children should get more credit than they get now. However, children do lack knowledge and shouldn't be treated like miniature adults. That is why parental support is important. 

Children are experts at playing. They do it all day long. Sometimes, lessons are modified to resemble games, such that children will enjoy learning. Playing with each other is very much a continuous non-verbal communication. During unsupervised play, children make up the rules and enforce them. Making up rules is a masterpiece of negotiation. Having rules requires their enforcement. Hence, children are also experts in dishing out punishment for their violations.

When children start playing with other children, they don't give or ask for consent. They know how playing works and they are equipped with the means to deal with the consequences. After all, they know how to have fun.

Inequality is not necessarily bad

In fact, inequality was required in ancient Greece for the acceptance of a pederastic relationship. Inequality ment that one profited from the other. Almost nothing is equal in an adult-child relationship. If fulfilling each other's needs is the ultimate goal of a relationship, then the adult-child relationship has the most potential. 

The whole chapter 9 of "Paedophilia - The Radical Case" by Tom O'Carroll is dedicated to power and equality. In fact, he subscribes the most power to be on the side of the child, who can just stop seeing the adult. The adult on the other hand is more desperate to make the relationship work and to keep the child as a friend. The one who need the relationship the least is the most powerful, says the inverse power law. Many pedophiles are devastated, when the child suddenly decides to put an end to their relationship and keeps staying away.

Sometimes, children do not have the choice to stay away from the adult. This happens to be the case in incest cases. This is usually cited in the consent discussions - that the child is exposed to every whim of the adult and therefore such a relationship is wrong. It sounds like a legit concern that there may be harm. However, it is illusional to think, that the inappropriate sex is the sole cause of all trouble. 


The presumed inability to give true consent and the necessity of consent is misleading. Not only is the concept of consent inappropriate, but the inability of children is based on assumptions that are most likely wrong. Any discussion must include the continuous non-verbal communication aspect and the ability to change the outcome and development of consequences. Children trust and agree to "known unknowns", meaning they trust in their ability to deal with the challenges.

The current attitude turns children with sexual contacts of any kind into "victims" or into "child molesters" in cases involving other children. Not only does this undermine the right to self-determination, but it destroys their ability to deal with consequences on their own. They are pacified and forced into victimhood without any chance of escape. Sometimes they are placed on the register for sexual offenders and have their life made miserable.  The imperative dogma to punish any transgression of the presumed "moral wrong" does more damage than good. If they were not damaged before the intervention, they certainly are afterwards. After all, children are sexual beings and most sex is for fun.

After having discussed, what is involved in consensual sex, rape is easily identified. Not having given explicit consent or deciding afterwards that expectations weren't met is not an appropriate identifier. The absence of a continuous verbal or non-verbal dialog, or the refusal to deal with consequences or to mend any harm are quite good indicators and should be used instead.

1 comment :

  1. I enjoyed this. I have not gotten too deep into the consent issue, because I'm usually studying about harm. But it's in my list. I know the general issues on consent and you explained it well. This is very complete, I could link to this when mentioning consent in a discussion. Thank you.