Well, what was left of him after Stephanie provided the science that shows that practicing hebephiles actually do, demonstrably, harm the children they victimize, anyway. (Yes, I’m late to this game too. The blogosphere is a busy place and, like I said recently, I’m playing catch-up right now.)
Jesse Bering of Bering In Mind made several mistakes in tackling the subject of hebephilia as presented by a reader. He took a number of things at face value, and did not delve deeper into the quandry presented regarding sexual “moral panics” and whether there’s any good reason to excoriate this writer despite his seeming attempt at honest discourse. There were many red flags in the original letter, and Bering missed them and did not take the opportunity to interrogate those red flags, and for that he got raked over the proverbial coals by the blogosphere. Bering wrote an addendum, which did much to provide us with a mea culpa and put the focus back on the letter-writer and the topic at hand. Which is good, because there were many, MANY loose threads in said letter left by Bering in his original coverage, which really needed to be tugged at. And Bering’s addendum, too, needed further interrogation.
I am especially grateful that Sci, with her usual aplomb, took apart Bering’s claim that a “measurable penile response” to being shown pornographic images is equivalent to being a hebephile in the sense that the “Deep-Thinking Hebephile” who sent the Dear Abby letter to Bering in the first place meant. Stephanie’s original coverage pointed out that DTH cannot merely assert that all men are hebephiles, but that did not strictly define hebephilia as taking an active sexual interest in post-pubescent children, e.g. ages 11-14. This allowed some hebephile apologists that tiny bit of wiggle room, which Sci has so gracefully and surgically nuked from orbit:
All penile reactions to naked bodies were larger than those in response to nature scenes, but by far the biggest response was to adult women, and preference decreased drastically when presented with very young girls. It is clear that pedophilia and hebephilia are very much in the minority.
I would also like to take a moment to clarify the idea of ‘measurable penile response”, and the idea of “natural”. When you spend a lot of time in one particular field of study (in this case, psychology), phrases and words like these can lose one context (the one used by wider society), and gain another (used by the specialty).
First, to have a ‘measurable penile response’ is NOT to immediately have to hump the nearest item eliciting the response. It is quite clear that the human brain is much stronger than “a measurable penile response” elicited in the laboratory, and a person’s actions in the wider environment are going to take into account not just whether a person is physically developed (which presumably elicits the penile response), but other things, such as the child’s probable age and the person’s relationship with that child. While some men may have a “measurable penile response” to any female that is close to physically developed, they are not attracted to children. The fact that the person in question is a child will negate any motion toward a “measurable penile response” that is elicited in the lab by looking at naked pictures of kids.
You need to click through to see what she had for point number two. Think: angry bear, or botulism.
Kate Clancy also covered the need to further examine the evidence Bering presented and the claim he made that hebephilia would be evolutionarily adaptive.
The third part of natural selection – that the trait must promote reproductive success relative to other strategies – is where the claim breaks down. DTH’s first point, that he thinks most men are heterosexual hebephiles, suggests it is an evolutionarily stable strategy that results in enough reproductive success to continue to succeed among other existing strategies (like, say, a sexual preference for adult women). Perhaps hebephilia couldn’t beat out a preference for adult women (though I am being very generous here, since in a way this is exactly what DTH is trying to argue), but can it at least beat out the other sexual preferences?
I’ve talked about this before, but girls just past menarche (that’s her first period) are usually what’s called “subfecund” – this means that fewer of her cycles, when she does cycle, are ovulatory, compared to an adult woman. In fact, the most consistent ovulatory cycles and highest hormone concentrations are found in women 25-35 years old, shattering the myth that younger women are actually the most fertile (Ellison et al. 1993).*
I’ve noticed that in many of these conversations, scientists espousing the “evolutionarily adaptive” point of view are using it as a magic wand to dodge the question. And it seems that the vast majority of these cases can be dismissed by showing that the situation proffered is in actuality not strongly selected-for because of some complication. Frankly, the whole domain of evo psych appears to be about duelling claims, so I’ve learned to ignore much of it. If there’s anything actually good and scientific about the field, I’m not being exposed to it. All I’m seeing is handwaves and magic wands, and it turns me off of the whole endeavour.
The tag-team duo of Kate Clancy and Scicurious came to fruition at this year’s Science Online convention, which I sadly did not have the opportunity to attend this year. I really wish I had, because their panel looks like it would have been a killer.
Besides, nobody has ever made better dinner conversation over beers and mole poblano than the friends I made at SCIO11.