I’m concerned because I think my friend is what is called a hebephile, someone attracted to adolescents or those appearing to be in the early stages of puberty. Then again, he may be an immature gay man incapable of intimate adult relationships. Could he be both? Or in transition?
He has a boyfriend and I worry about both of them. I don’t wish my friend to get stuck on young guys as he gets older, or at least I want him to come to terms with it. And I don’t want his lover to be the perpetual boy-toy until he is discarded when he ages.
Where can my friend turn for help, without being reported as a sex offender? I see him only as a man getting sexually and emotionally involved with twinks and genuinely wanting healthy, committed relationships.
Primarily, I’m writing because I want to know how to think about their arrangement. Is it abusive if they’re both consenting? How can I be a supportive friend to both of them?
Dear Ethically Confused,
There are a number of layers to peel here, some made more difficult because you omit the vital information of the ages of the men involved.
The situation is different, for instance, if the younger one is 13 or 17. If he is under the age of consent (16, except for anal sex, homophobically delayed to age 18), your friend is legally committing child abuse and would be considered a sex offender. He would have extreme difficulty accessing rational therapeutic help and avoiding both prosecution and persecution.
Also significant is the older man’s age. It’s a different story if he’s 20 or 50. A 20-year-old dating a 16-year-old may raise parental ire but rarely compels prosecution. A middle-aged man dating a 10th grader, however . . .
Regardless of the legal minefields, I suspect your concern lies more with the ethical and social implications of their relationship. Have you discussed your concerns with these men? Do you see problems in their relationship other than their age disparity?
You make no mention of a power imbalance, and that should concern you. If these two treat each other with respect and kindness, they’ve developed the elements of a healthy relationship, haven’t they? After all, age disparity alone does not a problem make.
True enough, if the older partner’s taste remains fixated on very youthful men, he’ll encounter increased difficulty attracting his targets as he himself ages. Likewise, if the twink is erotically excited only or predominantly by the daddy/boy dynamic, he, too, will fear aging and consequent loneliness. It’s not an enviable position for either.
If the older man is distressed by his attraction to young or young-looking men, he can find nonjudgmental, supportive help at Virtuous Pedophiles (virped.org), an “accountability network” whose “highest priority is to help pedophiles never abuse children.” Regardless of the age of teens your friend favours, this resource offers a community connection for his contentious attraction.
It’s really hard to be dispassionate when young people are involved. No one wants to see children hurt, and it’s difficult to decide when innocence ends and agency begins.
Is your friend drawn by the allure of a beautiful young man? Common. Or is he fixated on maintaining romantic and sexual interactions with barely grown boys? Surely you see the difference — and the danger.
But there is danger, too, in overreacting, and it warrants impartial examination. If you believe harm is being done, you have the same obligation as all other Canadians to protect the younger man by reporting.
If not, relax. Our social panic is not always justified. Though we can’t choose whom we love, we are responsible for our behaviour. If you must judge, judge that.
Got a question for Dr Ren? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.