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3 min

Liking teens doesn’t make you a villain

If both people consent and enter into an encounter enthusiastically, it is really nobody's business

Dear Dr Ren,
I’m writing to you in this forum mainly because of the confidentiality. I really don’t think you can help me, but at least I can get this off my chest.

I’m in my late 20s. I’ve identified as gay since high school, but that’s only a part of it. I’m attracted to younger guys. There, I’ve said it. It was easier when I was still in school, because I was younger, too, but as I’ve gotten older, the age of the guys I want to be with hasn’t changed. If anything, I’m drawn to even younger boys. Not children, but teens. God, it makes me cringe even to write that.

I’ve never acted on these urges with anyone underage. The thought disgusts me. But that’s where all my fantasies go.

I can’t sustain anything with guys my own age. I am becoming a complete recluse. I can’t go get help for this, either, as I’d be turned in or judged as the pervert I am.

Can anybody change an attraction they hate having? Is there any way out of this beside suicide?

Tortured

***
Dear Tortured,
You say you came out while you were still in high school, so you know well the perils and pleasures of being different. It sounds as though coming out as queer was not traumatic for you. Good.

Then you discovered that you were even more different. Oops. And different in a way that has no support groups or parades or community. You are what writer David Steinberg calls a “designated pervert,” someone we as a society agree to hate and fear.

You ask if you can change your attraction group. No, you can’t, which is why heterosexuals remain attracted to the opposite sex, gays to same-sex lovers, and those with more uncommon sexual needs remain hooked on those. Our sexual turn-ons are hard-wired and compelling, but you already know this, because if you could eliminate your desire for an unacceptable target, you would have.

Nevertheless, as you pointed out, you successfully control your behaviour so that you do not take advantage of the youth to whom you are attracted. In fact you understand clearly the consequences of such acting out and say it “disgusts” you. The thrill remains in your imagination, in your fantasy world, where it damages no one.

I hope you can credit yourself with the ethical fortitude this earns you, so distinct from the hypocritical anti-sex preachers caught in compromising situations themselves. You are conscious of effect and consent, the hinge pins of ethical sexual behaviour.

What I think you may not be seeing is that, just as you are attracted to younger men, some of those very teens may be developing attractions to men in your age bracket. Do not do them the disservice of denying them sexual agency.

Intergenerational sex is not “bad” outright, and claiming it so is yet another unconsidered judgment.

It is as reasonable that a young man would be drawn to an older man as is the reverse. If both people consent and enter into an encounter enthusiastically, it is really nobody’s business but theirs.

You were clear that your attractions are not for children. Though your love map is more complex, you do not need to vilify yourself unnecessarily. It seems you are harder on yourself than is warranted.

Can you find sympathetic and knowledgeable professionals to help you navigate your feelings and actions? Yes. You must search carefully, for we as a society do not do well with nonjudgmental sexual attitudes, and this can be true even in the professional community. Check credentials, interview potential therapists and trust your gut.

Finally, refocus your perspective. “Becoming a recluse”? Unnecessary and unhealthy. You, and everyone else, are more than the sum of your sexual desires. Explore and expand your interests. Make friends of all ages.

If you spark with a younger man, consider the possibility that he is mutually attracted to you. Let him approach you to guarantee his consent, and talk honestly with him about your hesitations and anticipations regarding an age-discrepant relationship. Be aware that youth are often fickle and quixotic — be prepared to let go.

Fight your depression. Live your life to the fullest. Become the sort of person who attracts others. Work with a professional to discover why you are so willing to take on the world’s bad opinion of you. Make a list of your heroes and emulate the qualities that attracted you to them.

None of us is perfect. All of us are tortured at some time about something. As writer John Irving advised when asked how to avoid the temptation of suicide, “Just keep passing the open windows.”

I’m so glad you wrote. I hope I’ve given you enough information to reformulate your vision of yourself and the world you can live in.

Indulge in a rich fantasy life devoid of judgment, and engage in a real-time life grounded in ethical consideration and self-regulation. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It’s the way most of the world gets by.