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Paedophilia/Hebephilia – It’s All About Consent

August 6, 2014

boy hugging knees girl hugging kneesThe recent Operation Yewtree Savile cases and the convictions of ‘It’s a Knockout’ presenter Stuart Hall, children’s TV presenter and artist Rolf Harris have ensured that paedophilia is and will remain front page news. There is now talk that the ideology the PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange) organisation (which enjoyed popularity and a surprising degree of respect the 1970s) may be due a renaissance in a particularly sexist way.

Hebephilia, or sexual attraction to early pubescent children aged 11-14, is another word which is being increasingly used. It is a benign word, which denotes a passive sexual attraction rather than the active progression of those sexual attractions. Paedophilia denotes attraction to children and young adolescents but legally means sexual activity those under the legal age of consent of 16.

It seems to me that there is one thing missing in all these conversations, and that is the issue of consent. Consent is something I have blogged about before, and I will keep banging on about it.  Here is my summary/definition of informed, enthusiastic consent (skip if you already know all about this, although I would suggest reading anyway):


This is the primary consideration from which all else follows in sexual activity.  This precludes those who are unable, for whatever reason, to give informed consent.  Children cannot give informed consent.  Animals cannot give informed consent.  Trafficked slaves forced into sex work (economically based rape, to give it a more honest title) cannot give consent.  Anyone under any form of external duress directly related to the situation cannot give informed consent; for example putting pressure via emotional or physical violence disempowers your partner and causes duress.  Abuse of a position of power (college professor and student or boss and employee) by the consentee removes the ability of the consenter to give informed consent.

Informed consent means having all the information one feels is necessary to oneself in order to give informed consent to a sexual activity.  This means knowing all the information which may exist which may cause harm to the consenter if they knew the same and which would alter their decision to give consent – such as whether the potential sexual partner has a sexually transmitted disease or a partner with whom they do not have an open relationship.  The decision whether to consent to sexual activity is then made with all the necessary facts available.

Some people give informed consent if they know a partner is not in an open relationship and will be cheating on someone or if they are the employee, for two examples. There is no universal moral rule which will apply in all situations. A power disparity in a relationship such as boss/employee does not necessarily preclude a relationship, but the imbalance exists and therefore the issue of informed consent is even more explicitly required to be given by all parties. The person in the position of power always has the higher level of responsibility in the situation.

Informed consent means the ability to give the same – if a person is very intoxicated on whatever substance they cannot give informed consent. Remember, too, that intoxication will affect your judgement so you may not be able to understand that informed consent hasn’t been given. If you feel intoxicated or in any way unsure of your judgement, do not have sex. That is the only way to avoid becoming a rapist.

Think of it this way – if you wouldn’t drive a car because you are too intoxicated, why would you trust yourself to be aware and understand informed consent? In the same way you wouldn’t drink and drive, don’t drink and rape.

Being able to give informed consent means knowing your own sexuality, what you are comfortable with and feeling you are in a safe environment.  It does not describe the actual physical activity to which that consent is given. No can be said during sexual activity too; what starts as one type of sexual activity can develop into a different activity and saying yes once is not a blanket consent. Make sure you have informed, enthusiastic consent for all. Again, if in doubt, stop what you are doing and check!

Most importantly, the only way informed consent can be given is if sex education is given from as soon as children are old enough to ask question, in an age-appropriate fashion of course.  After all, how can a person give or deny consent if they don’t know what they are or are not consenting to, and the implications of the same?  Informed consent requires information; the clue is in the title!

Informed consent is the ability to say “yes”, to say “no”, and to say “maybe, but I want to know more first before I can decide” and to know that that decision will be respected and adhered to. Informed enthusiastic consent is very sexy, you know.


It is clear that if we are to live in a world where abuse does not exist, empowerment of informed consent must be clearly understood and put into practice by all sexually active human beings. Children are not able to give informed enthusiastic consent. The power dynamics of a hebephiliac-based relationship is far too skewed. It becomes paedophilia, and therefore lacking in consent and illegal. Rightly so.

Paedophilia exists, and there is myriad evidence showing the harm it does to the child for many many years. However, not all paedophiles will act on their desires, as this recent Upworthy post detailed.

He is controlling his desire. He is aware of consent. He is understanding of the damage lack of consent and abuse of the power dynamic does. When articles such as the Telegraph one I linked to above talk about paedophilia and hebephilia, the lack of victim-survivor testimony and of discussion of informed consent is telling. It is the powerful who are maintaining the dialogue.

Sexual attractions are vast and varied. We all have desires that we would rather not admit to, although for the majority of us they are not so extreme and we would never consider acting on them in real life. We have free will and a responsibility towards our fellow human beings, and it is upon these that the knowledge and enaction of consent is based.

The teaching of informed enthusiastic updating consent to everyone will, I believe, go a long way to addressing the problems of paedophilia and hebephilia. A person cannot control the sexual attractions they have. What they can, and must, control is whether they act on them.


From → Ideology

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