The moral status of harmless adult-child sex

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Abstract: Nonforcible adult-child sex is thought to be morally wrong in part because it is nonconsensual. In this paper, I argue against this notion. In particular, I reject accounts of the moral wrongfulness of adult-child sex that rest on the absence of consent, concerns about adult exploitation of children, and the existence of a morally primitive duty against such sex.

Introduction: There are two standard reasons given in support of the notion that nonforcible adult-child sex is morally impermissible: it harms the participating children and it infringes upon the children's rights because it is nonconsensual. This issue is important since the empirical case for the harmfulness of voluntary adult-child sex has been called into doubt. If such nonforcible adult-child sex is not harmful, then the moral impermissibility of such sex (and the case for banning it) rests on another reason. In this paper, I argue for the following thesis: other things equal, pedophilia is wrong if and only if it is harmful or the child's parents do not agree to it. The "other things equal" clause is designed to screen out third-party concerns, e.g., it screens concerns relating to the promotion of an atmosphere conductive to child rape. If this is correct, then our best judgment as to the general permissibility of adult-child sex rests on the empirical analysis of its harmfulness (or lack thereof) and on concerns surrounding parental permission to it. If a reader views nonforcible adult-child sex as invariably harmful, then this paper can be seen as a theoretical investigation of whether there are additional reasons against such interactions.

source: Paper 'The moral status of harmless adult-child sex' by Stephen Kershnar;; Public Affairs Quarterly, Volume 15, Number 2; April 2001

VII. Conclusion If adult-child sex is harmless and the child's parents consent to it, then it is probably morally permissible. This is because the most plausible explanations of the wrongfulness of adult-child sex - the absence of the child's consent, the pejorative exploitative nature of such acts, and the intuitive wrongfulness (and aesthetic distaste that most people have for it) - all fail to show that it in itself is morally wrong. If it is in fact harmful, then its wrongfulness can be accounted for in a straight- forward way. However, two points about harmfulness are worth noting.

First, the claim that such an activity is harmful, or more specifically psychologically harmful, can be empirically investigated. Should the studies fail to establish a strong enough causal relation between psychological harm and sexual interaction with adults, the burden would then fall to those who wish to disallow the activity. Second, even if adult-child sex is psychologically harmful, the degree of harmfulness is important in determining whether such sex ought to be banned. This is because some activities which produce minor harm, e.g., eating unhealthy foods, watching large amounts of television, ought not to be banned because the child enjoys them and they fall within the domain of parental rights. Hence, the legal status of adult-child sex should be determined in large part by the outcome of the empirical investigation of its degree of harmfulness.

source: Article 'The moral status of harmless adult-child sex' by Stephen Kershnar; Quote taken from Boychat:;; Public Affairs Quarterly, 15 (2):111-132; 2001