Dear President Putin: Homosexuality And Pedophilia Are Not The Same Thing


In a recent media interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to reassure the world that gay and lesbian visitors should not be afraid of attending this year's Olympics in Sochi. However, he asks that they please "leave the children in peace." He then went on to say that "we have no ban on nontraditional sexual relations. We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia, I want to underline that, on propaganda among minors." Putin's statements appear to conflate homosexuality with pedophila and child molestation, something that anti-gay folks have been doing for years (e.g., remember all of those people who tried to say that the Catholic Church's child sex scandals were a "homosexual problem" that could be solved simply by getting rid of gay priests?). In light of Putin's comments, I thought it would be worth taking a look at what the research actually says when it comes to homosexuality, pedophilia, and child molestation.

First, crime statistics reveal that the vast majority of people who molest children are male and the vast majority of their victims are female. This suggests that there are far more child molesters in the world with heterosexual interests than there are with homosexual interests. So why isn't Putin telling the heterosexual Olympic attendees to "leave the children in peace?"

Second, consider the results of a study in which gay and heterosexual men were exposed to images of children and adolescents while hooked up to devices that measure genital arousal. This research revealed that gay men showed no more sexual arousal in response to images of male children than heterosexual men showed in response to images of female children [1]. This tells us that sexual attraction toward children is not something that can be reliably predicted from one's sexual orientation.

Finally, it is also important to note that pedophilia and child molestation are not quite the same thing either. Pedophilia refers to an exclusive pattern of sexual attraction toward prepubescent children; however, just because someone is a pedophile does not necessarily mean that they ever have or ever will commit a sex crime. Likewise, not everyone who has molested a child did so because they were primarily sexually attracted to children (e.g., someone with an intellectual deficit might sexually abuse a child because they lack a sense of what constitutes appropriate sexual behavior). It is important not to oversimplify things here and act as though the terms "pedophile" and "child molester" are interchangeable for at least two reasons. First, how can we hope to prevent sex crimes against children if we aren't honest about all of the potential causes? And second, how will pedophiles ever be willing to seek help in curbing their sexual urges if they are so strongly demonized for something that may not have done and are actively trying to avoid?

In short, this idea that all homosexual persons are pedophiles and that all pedophiles are child molesters is not scientifically accurate. Rather than creating a welcoming environment for gay and lesbian Olympic athletes and attendees, Putin's statements and the Russian "propaganda" laws do just the opposite by perpetuating harmful sexuality myths.  

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[1] Freund, K., Watson, R., & Rienzo, D. (1989). Heterosexuality, homosexuality, and erotic age preference. Journal of Sex Research, 26, 107-117.  

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