This morning #FucktoyFriday – a weekly twitter hashtag – was challenged for some of the #AgePlay that has been tweeted as part of it. Although age play is a something that quite a lot of FTF players engage in, it plays a relatively small part, appearing only every few weeks. Nevertheless, it stands out, even to me, because it is a difficult topic to explain and to understand. I chose not to engage in the argument itself, but decided it was time for me to say a few things about my views on age play, paedophilia and, conversely, the cultural sexualisation of children we are experiencing here in the UK – all topics I have been considering for a long time now.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the way children are treated and expected to behave is encouraging paedophilia, I don’t think that would be far from the truth. The clothes available in many children’s stores across the UK are extremely unsuitable, including padded bras and 3.5 inch heels for 8 year olds, as well as tee shirts sporting the phrase “Future WAG” and other similar items. Beyond this, studies have shown that adult magazines are being sold on low shelves in news agents, at perfect eye level for children aged 10 and under, not to mention the explicit music videos (which are exempt from age certification) being shown on television well before the watershed. You may have seen Anna Richardson’s campaign Stop Pimping Our Kids on The Sex Education Show, in which she confronted several large retailers and challenged them about the products on sale in their stores. There is also more in depth detail in an article from the Guardian.
I wish the sexualisation of children could be separated in my mind from paedophilia, but it simply cannot. It is not okay that children are wearing clothes like this, or viewing explicit images in a society that (quite rightly) demonises the sexual abuse of children. This is a battle that has to go both ways. In order to protect our children, we should endeavour to maintain their childhood for as long as necessary. I was recently asked to speak with a mature-looking twelve year old girl – whom I have a sort of big sister relationship with – because her class teacher and her parents were afraid she might be having sex. The fact that this was even a concern is an indication of how bad our culture is for young people.
Furthermore, I have experienced first hand, through my work in schools, that children who are exposed to too much television – particularly of a sexual or adult nature – have a shocking lack of imagination, which holds them back from learning. Imagination is such a powerful tool, engaging children’s thoughts and allowing them to flourish so that, when it comes to learning (for example) their times tables or alphabet, they have the capacity to understand and use this knowledge.
But I digress.
TheFreeDictionary.com defines “kinky” as ‘1. Slang given to unusual, abnormal, or deviant sexual practices’. (Although I raise issue with the word “abnormal” that is a post for another day.) What I am concerned with is the fact that, by definition, paedophilia falls into the category of kink. I don’t mean to downplay it’s seriousness by placing it there, but it seems to me that there is something to be said for this view. Bearing that in mind, I have struggled a lot with two conflicting ideas; 1) out of respect for our fellow human beings, and a desire to further freedom of speech, I feel that the growing kink communities and any acceptance of that in the wider society are a very good thing. 2) People who experience paedophilic desires (I’m sure) experience them similarly to the way others experience their kinks. Of course there is no way in hell this means that we ought to be embracing paedophilia along with other sexual practices, but I think it is something that everyone needs to bear in mind as they celebrate their kinks whilst damning anyone with an inclination towards children.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To my mind, there are two kinds of paedophiles; those who act on their desires, and those who suppress them. The first group are incredibly dangerous and the action we take towards them, I feel, is completely justified – perhaps even too soft. Child abuse, in any form, is something that people should be and are locked up for. I believe that parents have every right to know where men and women of this nature are and be given every opportunity to protect their children from harm.
However, when it comes to the second group, things are a little more complicated. Paedophilia is a psychological disorder and those who suffer from it need to seek therapy to overcome their desires. Those who are suppressing their inclinations, I’m sure, are keen to find help and support in their quest for peace. However, in many countries the law states that therapists who believe they are treating paedophiles have to report their patients to the authorities. For the most part therapists won’t break doctor-patient confidentiality if their patient doesn’t have any contact with children; but this is cold comfort when you consider how many people do have contact with children. Obviously these laws have been put in place for very good reasons – to protect children – but I fear they may actually have a detrimental effect on our battle against paedophilia. As long as these laws are in place, people fighting to suppress their paedophilic urges are extremely unlikely to seek therapy, for fear of being reported. I can’t imagine that there are many groups of people who have to deal with such extreme internal conflict, and in a weird way I have a lot of respect for people who are quietly and successfully suppressing their deepest desires for the good of the people around them.
As someone who works with children, and who is keen to have children of her own, I can’t, in all good conscience, say that I think these laws should be lifted. It feels like very thin ice, and I know that when I have children I will want to know as much as I can about the dangers in my local community. What I propose, instead, is an anonymous phone line for people struggling with paedophilia; that way they could seek help without fear of putting their lives at risk, and their therapists would not have to deal with the moral dilemma of whether to report them or not. To me this, at least, would seem like a step in the right direction.
But where does age play fit into this? Personally, in the vast majority of cases, I don’t think it does. There are two extremely important defining characteristics of age play that set it apart from paedophilia; 1) people who engage in age play are adults, not children – otherwise it would be paedophilia, not age play, – and 2) age play is consensual. I am of the belief that anything that occurs between consenting adults is acceptable, and if you speak to people who engage in this kind of sexual play, you will find, overwhelmingly, that they are very intelligent, very considerate people who are, of course, vehemently against anything involving children. In my chat-room days I did come across a fair amount of people who put themselves forward as age players and then told me disturbing stories about the desires they had for their children, or sexual acts they had engaged in with adults when they were children. There is such a huge difference between those people and true age players. The first group are to be avoided at all costs, and reported if that’s an option. But the age playing that I have experienced as part of FTF is done by respectful people who – as far as I can tell – hold in their minds a very clear distinction between what they do, and what child abusers do. There is really no comparison between consent-seeking kinksters and paedophiles.
These three issues – the sexualisation of children, paedophilia, and age play – although separate are inextricably linked, if not by fact, then by society’s view of them. I believe that to overcome the first two, and to set the third apart, all three need to be considered rationally. They require us to control our gut reactions and act with morality and the protection of our children in the forefront of our minds. And then, maybe, we might be one step closer to distinguishing immorality from freedom.