An Open Letter to Jesse Bering

Dear Jesse,

Several weeks ago I found myself devestated by the events occuring in my homeland.  I saw Joe Pa coach as a girl when my father and I watched games as a girl, and later when I was a grown woman.  I couldn’t believe that Jerry Sandusky has done something so horrible on campus, less than a mile away from where I was.

Then, a few weeks later, Jerry Sandusky allowed himself to be interviewed in an attempt to clear his name.  He was asked if he was attracted to children.  I would think the answer would be “No!  Fuck no!  Absolutely not!  That’s gross!!! Fuck you for even asking! Only a sick bastard would be attracted to a child!!!!”  That, of course, is not what Jerry Sandusky said.  He said these things…

That left me feeling sad.  Now I realize that, maybe, Jerry Sandusky couldn’t help it.  Maybe Jerry Sandusky is perfectly normal – a consequence of evolution.  After all, you write to this “reader” in response to his admonition that he is attracted to young girls:

That’s not to say that the majority of men wouldn’t exhibit some measurable penile response to sexualized depictions of very young teenagers in these studies (they often do), just that they get more intensely aroused by older targets.

Still, hebephilia certainly isn’t rare, either, and as I’ve argued previously, there’s some reason to believe that a hebephilic orientation would have been biologically adaptive in the ancestral past (at least at the upper end of this age continuum, since there’s a period of relative infertility for some time after menarche). The global age-of-consent laws reveal deep cultural disagreements over when, exactly, teenagers have the mental fortitude to make their own sexual decisions. In most of the US and the UK, a person under 16 cannot legally consent to have sex with an adult. In most of Europe, 14-year-olds are of legal age; and having consensual sex with a 12-year-old in Chile probably isn’t wise, but it’s legal, and the government would consider it your personal business.

My initial response to that “reader” would have been, “Fuck you, you sick fuck!  Keep your cock away from little girls!”  Now I know that it’s totally normal for men to be attracted to children.  Teens give dudes boners.  “Old enough to bleed, old enough to breed”, and all that.  Forget that the age of consent was once 12 and 14 because people only lived to be 30.   It’s just part of dude biology.  It’s evolution!!! Whew!!!!  The thing that I am most  comforted by, though, is your statement that its good for teh kidZ.  You write:

Rind finds that many adults, especially men, have positive, meaningful memories of their “technically illegal” relationships with non-exploitative adults during their adolescent years. Although too many minors are hideously abused, raped, and exploited sexually—a fact to be met with merciless fury and disdain—Rind points out that it’s foolish and manipulative to demand that all teens frame their consensual trysts with all adults as inherently negative. He tells of a 14-year-old Jewish boy who lost his virginity to a prostitute in her 20s on the eve of the Holocaust only to soon perish at a concentration camp. On learning after the war from his son’s friend that the boy died a “man,” the boy’s father smiled and wept with pride. The irony, of course, is that today’s moral panic dictates that this teenager should be called a “survivor” of sex abuse had he actually escaped Auschwitz.

You’ve certainly made me reconsider the feminist part of me.  After all, I would have contended that older men have sex with young girls do so in a tremendous postition of power. That young people are not emotionally mature to engage in meaningful relationships with older adults.    I might have made the point that this line between manipulation and acceptable relationship is arbitrary, at best.  I might have argued that any adult who has sex with a minor child is abusing them, regardless of what the minor child thinks.  I might have argued that some teens who have sex with older men as teens have different feelings about those relationships when they are older. That would have been silly.  Evolution!

I suggest you call Jerry Sandusky’s legal team right now.  You should be an expert witness, no doubt.  Perhaps you could make the case that if those kids had been sent to concentration camps, at least their fathers would have been proud they didn’t die virgins.  Your testimony could get Jerry Sandusky cannonized instead of imprisoned.

They might even put him  back on the mural.  And we could all feel better about the terrible, horrible things that went down because, after all, it’s all evolution. And science.


Isis the Scientist

***Of couse, it would be irresponsible of me to not point out that evolutionary psychology is a pretty cocked up “science”. I put science in scare quotes because I find the whole field to be the primest example of bullshittery.  Nothing more than a way for d00ds to justify all the fucked up shit they do in order to maintain their power over women and children.  I’d point you to this for further review. Of course, pointing this out would make me a dirty, dirty feminist.  And probably a bitch.

I’ll also note that I am extremely skeptical that Bering’s letter came from an actual reader and isn’t just some made up inflammatory bullshit.  Who the hell in their right mind writes to someone on the internet to tell them they are attracted to kids? I have no evidence of this.  Simply the notion that pedophiles generally try to not get caught.  What’s an easy way to get caught?  To email some fuckknuckle on the internet.

73 responses to “An Open Letter to Jesse Bering

  1. Who the hell in their right mind writes to someone on the internet to tell them they are attracted to kids?

    Maybe someone who (1) thinks most other men are attracted to kids, and (2) has reason to anticipate the blogger he is emailing will be affirming of, or at least sympathetic to, this attraction.

    I’m pretty sure there was some data that lots of convicted rapists believe that most other men do what they do — but that they were just the unlucky ones to get caught (and then held to some unrealistic standard of behavior by the legal system, which is totally controlled by man-hating feminists). It’s possible that pedophiles are equally inclined to universalize from their individual attractions to what’s “normal” for everyone. If they thought they had a line on some science guy who would go on the record as saying they were normal, trying to get that reassurance would be pretty tempting.

  2. Adolescents aren’t children and the attraction to adolescents isn’t paedophilia. It may be morally and legally suspect, depending on your location, but it is no way equivalent to paedophilia but rather an illustration of shifting cultural norms on the morality and legality of sexual attraction.

    And there is a considerable biological role in the development of sexual maturity. For example, the onset of menarche varies significantly amongst different human populations due to biological and environmental factors. This has evolutionary origins too in many cases, pygmy populations are though to develop sooner as a result of selection driven by poor nutrition and lowered lifespans in ancestral populations.

    It is a complex area that should be approached with nuance, not kneejerk abuse.

  3. They’re children, you nasty fuck Children.

  4. Adolescents aren’t children and the attraction to adolescents isn’t paedophilia. It may be morally and legally suspect, depending on your location, but it is no way equivalent to paedophilia but rather an illustration of shifting cultural norms on the morality and legality of sexual attraction.

    I dare say it also has something to do with a shift in attitudes as to whether female humans are actual human beings whose autonomy (in both the short term and the long term) is worth valuing.

  5. No Dr- Free-Ride, paedophilia has a distinct definition in the medical literature, finding children younger than 13 sexually attractive. You are welcome to hold your own personal views, but for terms used by medical professionals and legal systems you have to abide by formal definitions when considering arguments relevant to these.

  6. Yeah, Freeride! So 14 is totes cool! Duh!!!

  7. Isis, stop being silly. I’m arguing that nuance is necessary here, not kneejerk. Nobody has suggested that an adult having sex with a 14 year old is morally acceptable, although in some jurisdictions it may not be illegal (as it happens Bering is slightly wrong about laws in Europe, most permit adolescents of a certain age to have sex with 14 year olds, but not legally defined adults).

  8. Yes, the DSM is the ultimate arbiter of morality. That’s what it was written for right? #billingcodesonly

  9. I present this theory: Present day, people don’t want to have sex with minors because they find them sexually attractive. People say that minors are sexually attractive because they want to have sex with them.

  10. PalMD, nobody is saying it is morally acceptable for an adult to have sex with an adolescent (although depending on the age of the adolescent it would be, imho). My criticism is the conflation of paedophilia with hebephilia and the hysterical tone of the debate on sexual development that shouts down attempts to bring nuance and understanding to a controversial area.

  11. The “it” in my comment was meant to connect to the second sentence I quoted (on attraction to pubescent girls) not the first (about the official definition of pedophilia).

  12. So, I just made this up?

    He tells of a 14-year-old Jewish boy who lost his virginity to a prostitute in her 20s on the eve of the Holocaust only to soon perish at a concentration camp. On learning after the war from his son’s friend that the boy died a “man,” the boy’s father smiled and wept with pride. The irony, of course, is that today’s moral panic dictates that this teenager should be called a “survivor” of sex abuse had he actually escaped Auschwitz.

  13. by giving idiotic names to the different pedophilias and focusing on them, you ARE condoning child rape. fucking sick bastard.

  14. Isis, that is not an argument arguing that such behaviour is morally acceptable from the author’s point of view, that rather the contemporary debate surrounding sexual attraction doesn’t permit a nuanced view of sexual behaviour, at least to my reading.

    Your blog post provides further evidence for this argument

  15. PalMD, attraction to adolescents isn’t paedophilia.

    When I was 16 I had sex with a 14 year old (albeit I though she was 15 going on 16). That isn’t paedophilia and it is not uncommon. To imply such behaviour is shuts down debates and creates a climate where such things cannot be discussed appropriately.

  16. whats the fucking nuance here? that is, to someone NOT trying to justify child rape

  17. FWIW, Bora didn’t pick Jesse Bering (in regards to DM’s tweet). Jesse Bering was grandfathered into the SciAm Blogs network because he was on board before Bora was hired.

  18. no one here is talking about an 11th grader having the hots for a 9th grader, douchebag.

  19. The original context was clearly adult and not-adult getting busy. Dragging up the 18 yr old doing a 17 yr old or what not is intentionally obscuring the issue, not illuminating “nuance”.

    Look, there’s far more people of the appropriate sex identity for your interests within +/- 5 years of your birth than you should ever be fucking. It really isn’t asking too much to stick to them is it? If some 30 or 50 year old numbnut has to resort to 14 year olds…well there is a little more going on here than some bullshit genetic imperative for fertility markers, my friends.

  20. Dear Jesse,

    I am a non-practicing genocidophile. When I see people whose skin color is different than mine, I want to slaughter them. I think most people are like this, and find living in our melting pot society particularly difficult given the puritanical forces that suppress this normal aspect of male aggression. I feel like the psychological arguments surrounding current laws against killing people who are not of your own race need to be challenged.

    –Deep-thinking Ethnic Cleanser

    Dear Deep-thinking Ethnic Cleanser,

    Whenever society screams about some demon or another, it’s probably just caught an especially alarming sight of itself in the mirror. Given the long history of people of one racial group or other tribal designation brutally slaying anyone who is not a member of their group, there are few among us who aren’t the direct descendents of those who’d be incarcerated as hate-crime murderers today.

    There is every reason to believe that an inclination towards genocide isn’t rare, either, and as I’ve argued previously, there’s some reason to believe that such desires would have been biologically adaptive in the ancestral past.

    Hope this helps.


  21. Eisen- bravo.

    “Look, there’s far more people of the appropriate sex identity for your interests within +/- 5 years of your birth than you should ever be fucking. It really isn’t asking too much to stick to them is it?”
    Yes, it is. Have you MET the assholes within +/- 5 years of ’83?

  22. All I have to add to this is to note that Bering’s a gay man who thinks that the jury’s still out on whether or not you can be made gay by being around gay people. Or, at least, he does when there are page-views to be had.

  23. PalMd, nuance is needed. A 16 year old sleeping with a 14 year old is probably ok, what about a 17 year old? An 18 year old? 19? 20? 25? It’s a gray area in terms of morality, if not the law. But the law, in some jurisdictions, would say that a 16 year old sleeping with a 15 year old one day shy of her 16th is criminal. But the law will also consider the emotional development and background of all concerned.

    Similarly in most places a 40 year old can sleep with a 16 year old without sanction, but should that 40 year old be an adult with a statutory responsibility over them, a teacher for example, then they would face sanction. Circumstance is an influence.

    This is all nuance required in a modern democracies.

    What of tribal societies, where life expectancy can be low and sexual norms differ from those in the West? In societies where adults can marry people under 14, are all adults paedophiles? Does culture play a role in how we determine this? Does biology – see previous eg of pygmy populations?

    You can’t approach this issue with kneejerk abuse. It’s a gray area, both in terms of the morality and the physiology, and it requires sensitive discussion.

  24. You’re confusing legal complexity with morality.

    The official definition of murder varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, with many grades (1st, 2nd, etc…) and variants (manslaughter, reckless endangerment) and special circumstances. That “nuance” doesn’t change the fundamental fact that it’s wrong to kill someone. And it’s wrong for a 40yo to sleep with a 16yo.

  25. Michael Eisen, it may be morally wrong in your view (and mine, fwiw), but it is permitted, and it’s certainly reasonably common enough within all societies to be considered part of the normal range of human behaviour. Don’t you think it would be interesting to explore why this should be, scientifically of course?

  26. You think there are areas of inquiry which should be forbidden? Aspects of behaviour whose root should never be understood?

  27. srsly how is it that the discussion of pedophilia draws in
    1. the holocaust
    2. your happy memories of losing the big V

    The feminist in me can’t help but note that people will do almost ANYTHING to not talk about what is truly repellent, a very old man performing sex acts on very young boys by coercing them. This is precisely how the discourses that enable pedophilia continue.

    So feel free to debate evo-psych, and socio-cultural norms (historian me would like to note that those young girls having sex with old D00Ds in the past may or may not have been consenting as the concept of a WOMAN giving consent to sex is a very very modern one cf. marital rape laws circa 1970s!], but spend a moment or two to ponder why it is that you can’t allow yourself to stay focused on the central issue at hand in Dr I’s post and the Penn State scandal, which is not you doing your Frosh GF on prom night, and most certainly not an (apocryphal) story about the “silver lining” of a Holocaust death.

  28. feMOMhist, I’m afraid I have no idea what ‘Frosh GF on prom night’ means.

    But, my central point is that this article is extremely unhelpful because rather than facilitate debate it seeks to shut it down. Bering, whatever his faults, approaches, subjectively of course, the issue with consideration of the evidence base, not swearing and hysteria.

  29. Debate what? Whether some douche on the internet should hand you a cookie to make you feel better for fucking little girls? When he is totally selective with his evidence? Debate away.

  30. Isis, a debate about the influences, environmental and genetic, on sexual attraction and behaviour. Perhaps one in which people aren’t smeared as endorsing paedophilia should they dare to disagree with your opinion.

  31. You mean my opinion that older dudes shouldn’t fuck young girls? I mean, for fuck’s sake, the guy’s post is titled “Dear Jesse, I like very young girls.”

    Not even young women. Young GIRLS. How is that not at all pedo-y?

  32. “Who the hell in their right mind writes to someone on the internet to tell them they are attracted to kids?”

    Evidently you have never been on reddit. I’m jealous.

  33. Isis, as pointed way up thread the article makes clear it is not talking about paedophilia but hebephilia.

  34. Given that some girls start puberty at 9, your delineation is pedantic at best.

  35. Isis, the lowest age of consent talked about in the Bering article is 12, not 9, and he clearly offers a disapproving judgement on it.

  36. cackleofradness

    Echoing @JBYoder: What can we expect from a ‘Science Provocateur’ who hypothesizes the end of homosexuality following legitimacy of gay marriage? Because, you know, there were no gay people prior to the establishment of marriage.

  37. Are you kidding? He said it “probably isn’t wise.” The letter writer offered no distinction as to what age they were interested in.

  38. Funky Fresh, that’s a conscious understatement fitting with the authors style of not beating you over the head with his opinion. I take it as an attempt to engender discussion, rather than proselytising.

  39. So “probably isn’t wise” is just the gentlemanly, understated way of saying “fuck NO you sick motherfucker you shouldn’t touch children. For Fuck’s Sake! Get some help.”?

    Yeah, I totally missed that.

  40. So says you.

  41. Funky Fresh, it’s clearly not an endorsement of paedophilia, as Isis is implying.

  42. Given the widespread negative response to what Bering wrote, I submit to you it is not at all “obvious” that he was not defending pedophilia.

  43. DrugMonkey, I can’t comment on how widespread and representative the negative response is as I’m not terribly aware of it.

    Nevertheless, if a majority of people believe Bering is justifying paedophilia then I disagree with them on the grounds that from his opening paragraph he is very clearly talking about attraction to pubescents.

  44. grarghamel is a slippery character. He insists on unimportant distinctions between “pedophilia” and “hebephrenia.” When you try to condemn sex between older adults and adolescents he shifts the topic to discuss sex between 16 year olds and 14 year olds. Then he slowly inches up (17, 18, 19, …) and before you know it, he’s up to 25. Smoke in your eyes. It’s all an elaborate dance to avoid confronting the basic situation: fully grown adults shouldn’t be touching adolescents.

    He talks about “nuance” when the situation demands rejection that is clear and strong. He says there should be a debate, when the right topic to debate is whether child abusers (“child” includes adolescents) should be the length of the prison term.

  45. ANeuroscientist

    grarghamel: “Don’t you think it would be interesting to explore why this should be, scientifically of course?”

    Probably not interesting, but still, if this were the point of the article, Bering would have perhaps explored why some men are attracted excusively to children with low fertility (female fertility peaks in the 20s, and at the beginning of puberty, girls are not usually fertile); he would have considered neural development during puberty; he might have considered the influence of puberty-related hormones on decision-making, particularly risk-taking; he would have given at least a passing mention to the nature of power in relationships like these.

    But the point is he didn’t. He cherry-picked data and an anecdote from young men and used it to justify having sex with 11 to 14-year-old girls (that’s Wikipedia’s age range for hebephile.)

    This isn’t using science to tackle a “difficult” question, this isn’t being provocative (and see this post for whether that’s even a goal). This is just using pseudo-science to justify male desire. And that’s too familiar.

  46. ANeuroscientist, he didn’t justify anything. He merely observed that different countries have different ages of consent, some people are attracted to pubescents and that some people are challenging the idea that consensual trysts between teenagers and adults are ‘inherently negative’.

  47. ANeuroscientist

    grarghamel, so why do all his examples point in one direction??? Instead of listing the more obvious ones, as I did above.

  48. @grarghamel srsly d00d if u dnt no what “‘Frosh GF on prom night” mns then you totes nd 2 b dtn 40+

    although creepy smurf ref might point to the opposite

  49. “merely observed”.


  50. Even in HS, senior dudes who were trying to get busy with 9th graders were viewed as pathetic and suspect in my book.

  51. The douche bag doth protest too much.

  52. Even NOW the seniors who get busy with 9th graders are pathetic.

  53. I get insulted and it is insinuated that I am some kind of sexual deviant because I hold a different opinion on Bering’s article than you despite not once condoning hebephilia. Bering has a point about a moral panic. It’s nasty and unhelpful.

  54. The stunning level of goatfuckery issuing from…issue is horrific. Srsly, step back and remember “rape child bad”, “not rape child better”

  55. grarghamel I was “merely observing” that references to young folks’ pop culture characters in pseudonym might indicate passing acquaintance with lingua franca of anyone under 40. When I think people are Pedos I generally call them on it pointedly.

  56. feMOMhist, your cultural references are lost on me, I’m not American.

  57. grarghamel – my only critique is that you are valiantly trying to have a civil discourse with a bunch of people who are just having a good time feeling smug about themselves and who actually have no interest in addressing the questions raised in the original post or in your critique of this one. I completely agree with you, otherwise. And I am a feminist who personally has no desire to have sex with a female of any age or species. But your time might be better spent elsewhere, or you’re likely to come out feeling a bit bruised. Others have been there before you.

  58. Oh hey look another feminist filter bubble gone all monkey-mind and freaking out.

  59. Boy, have I ever been wrong all these years. I shouldn’t have been confused and squicked out at age 14 when that drunk 45-yr-old wanted me to sit on his lap. After all, his behaviour was perfectly natural.

  60. @ Heather, feel free to be as smug as you want and have civil discourse on your own fabulous blog. By all means, GO.

  61. Pingback: Science and ethics shouldn’t be muddled (or, advice for Jesse Bering). - News of the day

  62. Well. I have to say, I agree with everyone in this argument. That is, most men are attracted to pubescent girls (aged 11-14), and it is also pretty gross and to be discouraged.

  63. Oh look 4 out of 5 scientists say more field research is needed on the subject (no source, just because I say so)

  64. Ugh. I wanted to argue something but all I feel is that internet joke about arguing on the internet. There’s no way to win. Both sides have gone into stupid mode.

    PalMD even went off into an anti-psychiatry tangent for what seems to me no reason. In a way that seemingly implies due to the context of the discussion (though I’m hoping it was a mistake) that DSM condones rape of 11-17 yr olds. For money!

    One side basically deserves no response so I will not get into it. I have a bit more hope regarding the other one.

    Some seem to be arguing: “Different definitions are justifying child rape!!!11!!!eleven!!!”
    Or, you know, different definitions might be recognizing that there are two different problems that might require two different approaches to solve. (Or are you really going to argue that raping a 5 yr old and a 15 yr old have the same demographic distribution/causes/solutions? If so, it might be really interesting if you have some research on this!)

    So, if you want to argue that some are trying to add ambiguity to justify their actions/thoughts/whatever, OK, argue that specifically. But don’t claim that any sort of distinction between two actions that are both wrong/creepy/whatever is Always Chaotic Evil. That just makes you look dumb.

  65. Pingback: Dear Kate: I am a science provocateur - News of the day

  66. I need a bingo card for every time the issue of 40 year old men raping little children ages 12-15 comes up, people bring up the untrue “fact” that it’s so unfair that 16 year olds can go to jail for foolin’ around with their 15 year old sweethearts. Fact is, that’s covered under what are known as “Romeo and Juliet” clauses pretty much every where in the US and isn’t the case, so cease with the diversionary tactics. the other big bingo point, of course, are all the standard BS evopsych ones, which make no sense since women in their 20s and 30s are the most likely to survive birth, and their babies are the most likely to live – NOT teenage children.
    Forget the bingo square associated with “it’s only modern culture that makes us marry so late as well!” You can look up census figures dating back into the 1700s and 1800s in America showing the average age of a first marriage for a woman was in her early to mid 20s, for men it was even older.
    Pedophiles rape teens for one reason and one reason only – they lack personal power and these assholes are attracted to their lack of personal power. it’s a power trip, they enjoy the abuse of little children. If you “loved” that 16 year old, you could wait two years for them to develop the maturity to say yes meaningfully. You could do all kinds of nice things for them without raping them. I haven’t got the slightest amount of sympathy for pedophile sympathizing.

  67. Yeah, I can’t really get on board with the hair-splitting here. I mean, I think that it’s -possible- for an adult and a minor to theoretically have a non-damaging sexual relationship, but in light of massive, earth-shattering, irreparable damage that is caused by abusive relationships of this sort, the only rational response is to have a very, very strong stance against it. It would be ridiculous to have a “case by case” basis where you let the relationship happen, and then weigh all the factors to see if this one is the rare, unicorn “non-harmful” event that some people are arguing can exist.

    The fact is that part of being an adult is being able to make decisions in a rational, responsible way, and given the likelihood of harm to a child, and the magnitude of that harm, the rational decision is to not have sexual relations with children even if (for whatever reason) it might seem like a good idea at the time…because minors can think they are consenting when in reality they are physically unable to even understand what it is they’re consenting to. Someone who does not come to that conclusion is a good candidate for, at the very least, psychiatric help.

    The rare, unusually mature teenager who is really, really ready for that relationship is just really TOO rare, and too difficult to accurately assess for sex with minors to ever be a good decision.

  68. JenRave: I get your point regarding Romeo & Juliet laws, but it is important to keep in mind that those don’t apply to same-sex relationships in many places.

  69. Pingback: Is Hebephilia a Mental Disorder? « Gucci Little Piggy

  70. NowThatYouMentionIT

    Isis, you don’t seem like much of a scientist to me. I’m disappointed that you didn’t try to prevail in your argument with facts, but instead tried to prevail with bullying those who express an opposing viewpoint. The argument can be won on facts, why didn’t you do that, or at least attempt it?

  71. Pingback: Dear Kate: I am a science provocateur | Kathryn B. H. Clancy, PhD

  72. Pingback: Has Jesse Bering jumped the shark yet? | Jeremy Yoder

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