In a recent blog, Fox News psychiatric consultant Dr. Keith Ablow states that “environment, not genetics, determines sexual orientation.”
Man, where do I start?
Dr. Ablow’s blog appears to have been stimulated by the recent furor over sexually suggestive pictures in the French edition of Vogue of 10-year-old fashion model Thylane Loubry Blondeau. Here’s a link to additional commentary in the Huffington Post.
Now, let’s be clear about something: Thylane is a very attractive little girl who will no doubt grow up to be a very attractive big girl (i.e., a woman). She truly is quite striking. However, the key issue here is that she is a “little girl” who is being dressed and presented as if she belongs with the “big girls”. In my mind, sexualized representations of minors is a big bad idea, for a whole host of reasons—and I’m typically a very liberally minded person. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been happening for a long time or that it will stop anytime soon, for that matter.
"I've turned from a little nice school girl, into this sexy, slutty seductress and I like it. I like it a lot."
Britney Spears (at least according to the internet)
As a father of daughters, I see this sort of thing as just plain wrong. It’s actually part of the reason why I have typically devoted a segment of many presentations on the nature of sexual deviance to the issue of sexualizing minors. I call this my “Blame it on Britney” segment, in which I lament the regenesis of the Catholic schoolgirl fantasy (blame it on Britney) and highlight such things as Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus) being photographed in stages of undress for Vanity Fair and the existence of a truly dreadful Eastern European singing duo called Tatu. Interestingly, Tatu is a couple of cute twenty-somethings whose shtick is that they are Lesbian Catholic Schoolgirl Lovers—a male adolescent trifecta of sorts, I suppose. Problem is, they’re not being marketed to adolescents, their pictures (in various stages of undress) are presented in Maxim and other publications intended for adults (mostly, if not exclusively, men).
Actually, the age demographic most interested in Britney is “tweens” while the sexualized elements are clearly aimed at guys in my age demographic. I suppose this is part of the reason for Celia Rivenbark’s inflammatory book title “Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank”—think track pants on a young girl with the word “juicy” written across the fanny. How wrong is that?
But I digress…Back to Dr. Ablow…
In discussing Thylane Loubry Blondeau, Dr. Ablow says this:
“I objected (to the Thylane photos) for a number of reasons, including my belief that sexual images of children, marketed to the public, can actually "create" pedophiles.”
He then notes that he received many comments that supported his criticism of Vogue, but objected to his notion that sexual orientation can be shaped by environment or cultural forces. He then calls forward his many years of working as a psychiatrist to support his position (can anybody else smell “unstructured clinical judgment”?). Does this guy read?
As a case in point, he states that men deprived of access to women by circumstances such as incarceration exhibit greater homosexual behavior, which is absolutely true. But, Dr. Ablow misses the point of sexual orientation. He seems to think that it is about convenience or purely situational variables. He also seems to have missed a good many years of scientific inquiry into this very subject.
I think the mistake he is making is in equating sexual behavior with sexual orientation (or preference). I know of many gay males who married women and engaged in sexual activities, sometimes fathering children, solely because they were dreadfully terrified of being found out. I also know of many persons in the arts who seem to have ever-changing sexual interests. For example, it has been rumored for years that Mick Jagger and David Bowie were “sexually involved” at some point in the 1970s (at least that’s how the story goes, I do not assert its authenticity). My point is that both men have perpetually been seen in public with beautiful women on their arms. For his part, Jagger is an infamous womanizer. So, are they gay, are they bi, or are they simply exploring some artsy-fartsy fantasy? Who knows? Personally, I’m pretty content to declare each of them to be of heterosexual orientation.
So, what about Dr. Ablow? His premise would seem to suggest that we can simply choose what we want to be sexually oriented to by flooding ourselves with images of a particular stimulus, or that our environment can change what I would contend Mother Nature has had a good hand in establishing. Karl Hanson has always contended that he didn’t include sexual orientation in the items of the Static-99—even though possession of sexually deviant interests via phallometry has consistently been an effective predictor of future offending in persons who already have—because it is a “dynamic” variable. I’ve never agreed with him, mostly because I am one of those people who believes that, like a leopard, you can’t change your sexual preference spots. As research into sexual orientation gets more refined and technological, it would seem that the data supports my opinion. I actually believe Karl’s data on the Stable also supports this contention, but that’s an argument for a later time.
Here’s my first case in point: For how long have misguided persons tried to suggest that homosexuality is a disease to be cured? During the run-up to the 2012 election, this issue has again taken center-stage, with at least one Republican candidate being linked to treatment centers for homosexuals.
Newsflash: The professional community delisted this “condition” some 38 years ago. It’s time for everyone to catch up, including Dr. Ablow.
Here’s my second case in point: Many readers will know that I got my start in this business as a research assistant to phallometric pioneer Dr. Kurt Freund. For the better part of 10 years, my job was to create, refine, and administer phallometric test protocols that included sexually explicit pictures of children, teens, and adults. I was also tasked with identifying visual stimuli of a sexually aggressive nature. I spent literally thousands of hours watching this stuff, which included child pornography, violent sadistic pornography, and all manner of horrific and graphic media. Yet, here I am—older, more cynical, perhaps more darkly humored—but about as sexually boring as I have ever been. I don’t want to have sex with children and I believe that “no” means “no” (and that “Ow” means “Ow”). So, all that environment added up to one big bust. Further, my wife made me watch “Brokeback Mountain” and it didn’t make me gay.
Last case in point: I work in a field where we try to keep persons with sexual attraction to children from acting on those attractions. Sometimes we do that by having them fantasize about grown-ups. Other times we restrict their access to children (i.e., removing the stimulus from the environment). But, guess what, the larger majority of them who are sexually interested in children remain so. That is not, however, to say that their behavior does not change. In fact, many so-called Minor-Attracted-Persons never act on their interests because they understand the ramifications. Those who have acted on those interests can learn not to do so in the future.
Again, preference/orientation versus behavior.
In closing, there is a sinister aspect to all this. Clearly, child pornography is just bad. It shouldn’t exist. But, the research data is uncertain as to the characteristics of those who view it, especially regarding their propensity to engage in hands-on offenses with children. What we don’t need is a whole lot of fear-mongering and scare tactics to support a political or ill-conceived social agenda. Simply put, suggesting that viewing child pornography will turn you into a pedophile is as ludicrous as the suggestion that masturbation will grow hair on your palms or make you go blind.
Perhaps AUDIOphilia should perform “Turning Japanese” at this year’s ATSA conference in Toronto?