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Do Gay Men Have More Sexual Interest in Children Than Straight Men Do?
I thought about holding off on this post until the next time somebody in the news declares that gay men are to blame for the sexual abuse of children. I’d probably only have to wait a couple of weeks at most. But I’ve decided to go ahead and put this research notice out there, so that hopefully the next time this issue comes up, the rational folks talking about it have the data they need to back up their hunches.
So, at the outset, let me give away the answer to my headline question: Do gay men have more sexual interest in children than straight men do? No. And we have lab studies to prove it.
In fact, the British Journal of Psychiatry published a major study backing up the “no” answer 40 years ago. The distinguished sex researcher Kurt Freund and his colleagues used a laboratory method (described below) that demonstrated that the sexual responses of gay men to boys were similar to the responses of straight men to girls. (Both responses are relatively low.) This past June in Canada, at the major international research conference on sexual orientation science, sex researcher Ray Blanchard (who was trained under Freund) presented substantial new data confirming and expanding on Freund’s findings.
Blanchard has published this work online, making it freely available to all comers. But, because this work is so important (the scientists assembled in Canada were stunned into near silence when they saw the impressive datasets and theoretical work Blanchard put before us), I asked Blanchard to explain the work somewhat more plainly for those who are not scientists. He’s been kind
enough to do so for us here.
Blanchard explains first the laboratory method used:
“This dataset included measures taken with the same laboratory method used by Freund et al., namely, phallometric testing. Phallometric testing (sometimes called penile plethysmography) is an objective technique for assessing erotic interests in men. In phallometric tests for gender and age orientation, the individual’s penile blood volume is monitored while he is presented with a standardized sequence of laboratory stimuli depicting male and female children and adults. Increases in the patient’s penile blood volume (i.e., degrees of penile erection) are used as the measure of his attraction to different classes of persons.”
In other words, sex researchers studying these men strap a device over the subjects’ penises to measure how swollen or flaccid they become in response to various kinds of pictures and audiotapes. The idea is that, the more erect the penis, the more the man has been stimulated by the particular sexual material being presented to him. Blanchard further describes the subject population of his recent study:
“The subjects were 2,278 male patients referred to a specialty clinic for phallometric assessment of their erotic preferences. All underwent the same test, which measured their penile responses to six classes of stimuli: prepubescent girls, pubescent girls, adult women, prepubescent boys, pubescent boys, and adult men. The stimuli were not, of course, live persons, but rather audiotaped narratives describing sexual interactions with prepubescent girls, pubescent girls, and so on. These narratives were accompanied by slides showing nude models who corresponded in age and gender to the topic of the narrative. The slides did not show the models doing anything sexual or even suggestive but rather resembled photographic illustrations of physical maturation in a medical textbook.”
Some laboratories doing phallometric tests use a “strain gauge,” which is just what it sounds like—a sensitive wire strapped around a penis to measure how swollen a subject’s penis gets in circumference in response to various stimuli presented to the subject. But Freund’s and Blanchard’s groups used a more precise type of measurement, a kind of bell jar that goes over the whole penis and allows the researchers to detect even small changes in penile volume. Blanchard explains:
“Penile responses were recorded as cubic centimeters (cc) of increase in penile blood volume from the time a stimulus trial started to the time it ended. (A stimulus trial was one audiotaped narrative plus slides.) A full erection, as measured by the equipment used to collect these data, would typically correspond to an increase in penile blood volume of 20-30 cc. However, most subjects responded much less than that.”
So what the researchers were looking at was relative stimulation to different kinds of sexual materials, some suggesting sexual encounters with prepubescent girls or boys (usually about aged 10 and younger, and of sexual interest to pedophiles), some suggesting sexual encounters with pubescent girls or boys (generally aged 11-14, and of sexual interest to the group termed “hebephiles”), and some suggesting sexual encounters with sexually mature men and women (of interest to the people researchers call “teleiophiles,” and what the rest of us tend to call “normal,” i.e., “straight men and women,” “gay men,” or “lesbian women”).
In Blanchard’s work, the subjects were assigned to one of six groups according to their highest response on the phallometric test: (1) men who responded more to adult women than to any of the other five stimulus categories were classified as heterosexual teleiophiles; (2) men who responded more to adult men than to any other stimulus category were classified as homosexual teleiophiles; (3) men who responded more to pubescent girls than to any of the other categories were classified as heterosexual hebephiles; (4) men who responded most to pubescent boys, were classified as homosexual hebephiles; (5) men who responded most to prepubescent girls were classified as heterosexual pedophiles; (6) and men who responded most to prepubescent boys were classified as homosexual pedophiles.
So what did the numbers in each category look like? First, keep in mind that this is not a random sample of the population walking around cities; this is a sample of men who were specifically referred for testing, typically because they were suspected of a crime or sought therapeutic help. Among that group, “the procedure of classifying subjects according to their highest penile response produced 1,066 heterosexual teleiophiles, 761 heterosexual hebephiles, 159 heterosexual pedophiles, 110 homosexual pedophiles, 86 homosexual hebephiles, and 96 homosexual teleiophiles.”
In order to repeat Freund’s comparisons for this post, Blanchard graphed the relevant information from the dataset as shown in the accompanying figure. He notes, “This figure shows the mean (average) response of each group to each stimulus category. So that statistically inclined readers can make some comparisons besides those I will explicitly discuss, I have included the 95 percent confidence interval for each mean. These are represented by the vertical lines bracketing the top of each bar. Two means are significantly different if their confidence intervals do not overlap. The converse, however, is not true, and the significance of the difference between means with overlapping confidence intervals must be tested with methods other than visual inspection.”
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