I’m a 27-year-old guy. I feel as normal as one can be while still being human. Had a great childhood with loving and supportive parents whom I am still close with today. Currently single but have had a lot of healthy relationships with great girls so that has never been a big problem or anything. Never been to jail — yada, yada. I preface all of this because I have recurring thoughts that seem to only happen with people who have some serious, serious issues.
I often think about and am aroused by thoughts of first-time sexual experiences and playful, innocent-type teenage sexuality. But it’s important that I use the word “teenagers” and not “young children.” This isn’t something I have ever acted on or would even consider for a moment, but I will see high school age girls or couples and get fixated on what they would be like sexually — what they have done and what it would be like to see a girl experience all these new sex acts for the first time.
It is ridiculous. They are underage and it is wrong. It just seems like someone who is really into that would be someone who has an abusive past, trouble socializing — I don’t know, things like that. Do you feel like I have any reason to be concerned?
Chris, I started mulling your email by imagining that you were one of my dearest male friends (having already given you a made-up name, I felt at liberty). This was not only easy to do, seeing as you’re the same age as most of them, but it also made me feel comfortable assuming that you were indisputably a “Good Guy,” and being a “Good Guy,” you were fantasizing about a physically developed and emotionally mature girl of 16 (the age of consent in most U.S. states). If that had been the case, I might have teased you for being so damned normal and boring. Find a legitimately messed-up fantasy already!
But sexual desire isn’t so black-and-white, is it? That’s why I responded to your first email and asked you to clarify exactly what ages you were talking about. You responded, “I would say fourteen to seventeen. Thirteen seems a bit outlandish, but then again it is hard to tell with girls.” This is a bit more intriguing, so I figured it might actually be worth taking your question to Ray Blanchard, one of the world’s leading experts on “erotic age orientation,” for a professional opinion. Seriously, I took this to one of the world’s leading experts on the subject. What I wouldn’t do for one of my dearest guy friends!
Blanchard, a psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto, is the chairman of a committee currently tasked with revising the section on paraphilias in the next edition of the DSM, psychiatry’s diagnostic bible. I shared your original email with him to lay the groundwork and Blanchard said, “If he is more attracted to girls aged 13 to 14 than to physically mature females, I would say that he has a paraphilia” (read: not normal). However, if you’re primarily attracted to girls between the ages of 16 and 18, says Blanchard, “I would say that his preferences are somewhat problematic but not paraphilic.”
It’s crucial to note that in both scenarios, Blanchard is strictly talking about erotic preference, as opposed to the mere existence of attraction. That’s why I emailed you a second time to clarify whether you were predominantly attracted to teens (and you said no, that this is just one facet of your erotic imagination). This is important because even “normal” men who are primarily attracted to adults can be aroused by adolescents. We know this thanks to studies that use a penile plethysmograph, which measures blood flow in your junk. (Just try to imagine the unreliability of self-reports on a taboo subject like attraction to minors.) Based on clinical assessments of sexual interest, most adults are chiefly aroused by adults, but they are also, to a lesser but still significant degree, aroused by teenagers.
You don’t have to have access to a plethysma-thingy to figure all that out, though. As any Internet-porn connoisseur knows, there is plenty of interest in a girl’s “first time.” Now, I’m assuming you’re not looking at porn of actual underage girls, Chris, since you didn’t mention it (and as one of my dearest guy friends, I know you wouldn’t hide anything from me). That’s a relief, because child porn is supremely illegal, not to mention very much “reality” and not harmless “fantasy.” But perhaps you’ve indulged in some “barely legal” or “virgin” porn, in which case you are hardly alone. In his book “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” cognitive neuroscientist Ogi Ogas analyzed millions of erotic Web searches from around the world and tells me, “Several very popular genres of male-targeted pornography highlight the male interest in women’s first time sexual experiences, including ‘virgins’; ‘first-time X’ where X can be a variety of acts including fellatio, anal sex, or threesomes; and the huge ‘amateur’ genre.” Ogas goes so far as to say, “Given the online data and biological evidence supporting this interest, I’d say it would be more unusual for a man to not be interested in hearing about a woman’s initial experience of various sex acts.”
You see, “normal” is so often subjective. That’s why they need a freaking committee of expert researchers to update the list of officially recognized sexual disorders — and even still, their recommendations inspire scalding criticism from their peers. It’s why there is no universal, or even national, age of consent. From a strict moral and social perspective, attraction to someone underage (however it’s defined within the context) is all sorts of messed up. In reality, though, such standards don’t dictate physiological arousal. Complicating things further, these supposedly off-limits desires are culturally reinforced at every turn: Just you try to keep track of the number of sexy schoolgirl costumes at your local Halloween superstore. Thankfully, it sounds like you are not even remotely tempted to turn your fantasy imaginings about high schoolers into reality. That is what’s truly important here — more so even than the fact that, yes, you’re probably in the range of normal. Meredith Chivers, another kick-ass sex researcher that I presented with your question, put it to me like so: “If he never acts on this fantasy, and is not significantly distressed by his fantasies or the role they play in his sexuality, then he can think about whatever he wants.”