Parenting When You’re A Pedophile

Sometimes feelings of pedophilia can be effectively suppressed as long as you can easily avoid being trapped in close quarters with the kinds of kids that upset you. But once you become a parent yourself–as many pedophiles do–suddenly you can find yourself dealing with some very upsetting problems that you don’t feel like you can talk to anyone about. Helping you get accurate answers to some of your questions is the purpose of this post. And remember that if there are other questions you’d like to ask, you can submit them anonymously using this form.

Q. Why do I feel so uncomfortable touching my own kids?

Pedophilia is a result of you going through an early life experience which your mind interprets as a form of sexual assault. There are many ways to end up in this situation without anyone trying to assault you. Many pedophiles were intentionally molested, raped, or otherwise violated in their private regions by someone else. But in other cases, no malice was involved, yet the resulting trauma was just as intense.

Whenever you go through a distressing experience (and any unwanted interaction involving your privates is extremely distressing), your mind automatically locks onto certain aspects of that experience and turns them into symbolic reminders of what happened to you. This is much like the pictures you take while you’re on a vacation. You just take a few snaps, but the idea is that by looking through those photos, you’ll bring up many happy memories of your vacation that weren’t caught on film. In the same way, once your mind chooses certain elements of your upsetting experience to fixate on, it then treats those elements as critical warning signs that danger is near. In the case of pedophilia, age is one of the factors your mind fixates on: usually your own age at the time you felt assaulted.

Because the experience that originally upset you felt both sexual and harmful, your mind ends up merging the concepts of sexual arousal with a fear of being harmed. This then causes you to feel sexually aroused as a fear response. You still keep other “normal” fear responses, such as tensing muscles, butterflies in the stomach, and sweating palms. But when you are feeling threatened sexually, one of the ways your body expresses your terror is through an instant rush of sexual arousal. Of course this is extremely confusing and upsetting when you don’t understand the logic that your mind is using. Things get even more confusing when you can’t recall ever being in a situation where you felt sexually assaulted. Some pedophiles have mentally blocked out those experiences because they were so upsetting. Yet whenever your body and mind seem to be acting in strange ways, remember that there is always a rational explanation.

So then, something awful happens to you when you are a child. Your mind takes note of what age you are at that time. Your mind then flags that age as extremely significant, because that was an age at which some terrible, life-altering event happened to you. From that point forward, whenever your mind is around kids who look like they are around that scary age, your mind panics and thinks, “An eight-year-old! Eight is bad! Eight is when my world was shattered by something awful! What does it mean that this terrible reminder of the past is suddenly in my face, triggering these awful memories?? Am I in danger? Am I going to get assaulted again??” Your body then starts feeling sexually aroused. Remember that for you, a sexual arousal triggered by kids is a fear response. The stronger and more intense the arousal, the greater the fear. Depending on what happened to you, kids can trigger an all out terror response in you. But from your mind’s perspective, your reaction is completely reasonable. After all, something awful did happen to you around the same age as the kid who is agitating you today. And whatever happened to you did feel like it shattered your inner being. So as far as your mind is concerned, you have every right to feel extremely upset around anyone who reminds you of that awful experience.

Now age is not the only element of your trauma that your mind latched onto. It took note of several other things as well. Physical exposure is a very common trigger for pedophiles. In sexual assault experiences, victims’ privates are often uncovered against their wills. This kind of exposure is extremely upsetting to your mind and it often fixates on uncovered genitals as a strong reminder of the awful thing that happened to you. Then one day you find yourself the parent of a newborn who needs frequent diaper changes. Diaper changes involve exposing your kid’s private parts. For many pedophiles, this is an intensely upsetting experience. Both the act of taking off the diaper and the visual of exposed genitals are two separate triggers that can each cause intense fear and mental panic. Due to how your mind processed your own experience, one of the ways you will likely express your upset in the diaper changing moment is by having your body start feeling physically aroused. This doesn’t make you a dirty pervert, nor does it mean that you don’t love your child in a positive way.

Many pedophiles feel very bonded to their children, the same as other mothers and fathers do. But due to the kind of trauma you’ve personally been through, and due to the fact that you haven’t had a chance to process your own experience in a healthy way, your mind feels very uncomfortable with what is a normal and appropriate parenting activity. To your mind, having to get hands on with someone else’s genitals feels too close to what happened to you in the past. Here is where you can experience emotional flashbacks, which is when the same negative emotions you felt in the past suddenly well up in you today. Depending on how severely you were traumatized, you might experience visual flashbacks as well, which is when your mind suddenly floods with images from your original trauma experience.

Now in a perfect world, I’d have you all get in-depth therapy from very gentle and compassionate counselors who know how to handle pedophiles correctly. But I’m a realist, and I know that many of you are going to try to soldier on and suppress your distress. It’s not a wise choice, but I get that some of you feel like it’s your only choice at the present time. So given that, let’s talk about some practical ways that you can lessen your distress in these moments.

How To Minimize Your Discomfort

Understanding what is causing your distress is essential to understanding how you can minimize it. Traumatized minds are very nervous and tense and they are expecting trouble to spring on them at any moment. To try and give themselves as much warning as possible, they are constantly on the alert, actively looking for similarities between what’s happening to you now and what happened to you in the past. The fewer details your mind can latch onto that remind it of the past, the easier time you’ll have of remaining calm and in control.

#1: ADJUST YOUR ENVIRONMENT

Any sight, sound, or sensation that causes you to suddenly feel upset, sick, or negatively aroused is something that your mind finds disturbingly reminiscent of the trauma you’ve been through. For those of you who can remember the events that originally caused you to feel sexually violated, consider where that event took place. Was it indoors or outdoors? In a home or in a hospital? In a bedroom or a bathroom? In bright lighting or darkness? What kinds of colors and furniture do you remember? Was there music playing? Were there certain objects nearby, like a vase of flowers or a certain kind of art? The first way to minimize your discomfort with diaper changes, bath time, applying medicine, or any other task that requires you to get hands on with your child’s body is to do these things in an environment that feels, looks, and sounds distinctly different than where you were assaulted in the past. For example, if your trauma occurred in a pink bedroom, then decorate your child’s room in colors that are nowhere close to pink. If you remember a stuffed teddy bear being present while you were being assaulted, then make sure your child’s toys aren’t bears. With so many soft, plush toys to choose from these days, there is no need to torment yourself with items that will keep reminding you of the worst moments of your life.

Anytime your mind recalls traumatic memories, you will find that it keeps emphasizing the same elements over and over again. Maybe your mind always focuses on a yellow lamp or certain color of blankets, or a certain type of curtains. Whatever the emphasized elements are for you, try to set up your environments to look and feel very different. If your traumas happened in a brightly lit environment, use soft lighting today. If your traumas happened in dim lighting, use bright lighting today. Details are very important in cases of trauma. Remember that your mind is aggressively looking for signs that you are in danger, and it will be prone to discounting small differences unless you make those differences hard to ignore. The more you set up bedroom and bathroom environments that feel very different than the places you were assaulted in, the better chance you’ll have of doing what you need to do efficiently and with minimal distress.

#2: MINIMIZE YOUR VISUAL CONTACT WITH EXPOSED PRIVATES

The areas of your child’s body that you feel most uncomfortable with will be directly linked to the areas on your own body that you felt were violated or mistreated. Be honest with yourself about what those areas are, because the more in touch you are with your own triggers, the better chance you will have of avoiding them. Bare pelvic regions, thighs, and torso fronts are common triggers for pedophiles (and all sexual assault victims). But your mind can easily throw in some odd extras, like elbows or ears. Know what your trigger areas are and try to keep those areas of your child covered as you work. For diaper changes, have clean, soft hand towels ready that you can quickly place over your child’s pelvic zone while you pause to deal with soiled diapers and locate some wipes. The cover will not only keep your child warmer, it will also help your eyes not linger on parts of their anatomy that upset you.

It is a natural tendency of all humans to focus on what upsets them. When your finger is burning, you bring it up to your face and scrutinize it for the sign of some tiny cut or splinter–you don’t just ignore it. When there is something poking your foot, you take off your shoe and examine your foot. When your friend says something rude to you, you keep replaying her words over and over in your mind. All humans instinctively obsess over what stresses them, and this is a good psychological principle to remember because it can help you keep your problem in perspective. The fact that your mind happens to feel stressed about genitals is what is making your eyes fly to that area on your child’s body and stare before you can stop yourself. Because genitals are the things grabbing your attention, not something “innocent” like a finger or toe, it’s easy to panic and think, “Good grief, what kind of sick pervert am I??” And yet the reality is that your mind is behaving in a manner that is normal to all humans: it is focusing on what bothers it.

Human minds are very analytical and the obsessing they do is really their way of trying to work out a solution to a difficult puzzle. Just as you must go back and study the numbers of a complex math formula in order to figure out why you got the wrong answer in solving it, your mind feels it must review your trauma again and again until it finally figures out a way to make peace with what happened to you. Anything that your mind considers to be a symbolic reminder of what happened to you–such as your child’s privates–will be something that it instinctively tries to study. This is why you can feel such a strong pull to visually fixate on certain areas of your child’s body even when you feel upset by what you’re seeing. The longer you stare, the more agitated you will feel, so it’s best not to give your eyes opportunities to lock on. Instead, keep you child’s pelvic zone covered as much as possible.

#3: WORK FAST

An efficient set up will enable you to work quickly and minimize your exposure to tasks that make you uncomfortable. At your diaper changing station, have everything you need readily available. Don’t waste time having to dig through drawers to find what you need. Be strategic in how you set things up so you can get changes done as quickly as possible. When possible, use diapers that require the least amount of fussing to get on securely. When doling out the baby powder, don’t waste time trying to be precise. Be generous with the sprinkling and get those clothes back on. Some extra skin protection certainly won’t hurt your child and you need to minimize your eye contact with pelvic zones.

Keeping your mind distracted in these moments is helpful, so if it helps you to turn on some kid songs and sing along to silly lyrics while you work, then do it. Make up funny stories or just babble nonsense to keep your child entertained and your mind distracted from focusing entirely on how agitated it feels.

Diaper changes are a hassle for both you and your child so making a game out of it and seeing how fast you can get the job done will also help your mind be distracted. Use a timer or count seconds while you work and see how quickly you can finish.

#4: USE BARRIERS

It is very important that your child receive affection from you in both verbal and physical forms. It’s also important that they get positive feedback from you about their bodies. It does immense damage when your child senses you are trying to avoid having physical contact with them, but many pedophiles do cut their kids off from any physical affection because they are afraid of doing something inappropriate. Instead of remaining aloof and leaving your child to assume the worst about how you view them, you can use physical barriers to make necessary and affectionate touches more comfortable.

When bath time is over, wrap your kid in a soft towel as quickly as possible. If you find the front of them upsetting to look at, move around the back of them and dry them from that position. This will help you avoid making visual eye contact with the front of their bodies. Adult sized towels will make it easier for you to keep your kid covered (and warmer) while you dry them off. Encourage them to keep the towel on for warmth’s sake while you dress them. Put their shirt on first, while they have the towel around their waist. (You can fold over its top edges to make it stay in place.) Pull any necessary pants on, and then remove the towel last. This approach will minimize visual contact with exposed anatomy. If your child is upset for some reason, hugging them while they are wrapped in the towel will avoid having your hands make contact with their bare torso.

There are many ways of expressing affection, and you need to choose methods that are the least upsetting for you. If you are uncomfortable making skin-to-skin contact with your child, make sure to rest your hands on clothing when you hug them or have your arm around them. If you’re uncomfortable cuddling your child on your lap, put a blanket over yourself first and then have them sit on top of it. The extra barrier will likely go a long ways to helping you feel more relaxed and less exposed.

If kissing your child’s face feels awkward, kiss them on the tops of their heads or forehead. Some form of physical affection is far better than none. Simply using words alone will leave your child feeling confused and starved for touch.

If there are times when you know you’re going to get stuck with a naked child hugging you, such as a warm summer night where your son is sleeping with no shirt on, then put on a long sleeved sweater or jumper before you head in to do the bedtime rituals. Having the cloth barrier blocking skin-to-skin contact can make you feel a lot less stressed by your child hugging you.

When your child wants to be held by you in a bed setting but you find the situation uncomfortable, try sitting up and having them lean back against you with the front of their bodies facing forward and away from your eyes. Pull a light throw or sheet over them and give the comforting hugs through that cloth barrier. Keep your hands high on their body or resting on a thick pile of blanket material so you don’t feel like your hands are anywhere near the pelvic region. Remember that all of your discomfort with touch is really stemming from your own experience of being touched in unwanted ways. By being creative and using the tools at hand, you can find ways to communicate positive affection to your child without making yourself miserable.

#5: DON’T EXPOSE YOURSELF TO YOUR KIDS

There are many situations in which it can be totally appropriate for a father and son or mother and daughter to get naked together. Gym showers, camping showers, saunas, changing rooms: these are just some examples of normal situations that many cultures would consider appropriate settings for same gender parents and kids to see each other naked. Certain cultures have a much longer list of appropriate naked activities, such as sunbathing or skinny dipping. But when you are dealing with pedophilia, it’s in everyone’s best interest to avoid getting naked with your kids. The discomfort that drives pedophilia begins with you feeling very uncomfortable with your own body. Exposing the areas of your body that make you feel uncomfortable only heightens your stress. Heightened stress makes your mind feel extra paranoid about you being in danger, and this results in your mind putting extra effort into scrutinizing your current situation for reminders of your past trauma. Triggering this chain of mental processes can end up causing you to do something that you’ll permanently regret, so it’s much wiser to avoid getting naked in front of an audience until you get more comfortable with your own body.

Q. I was fine with my eldest son when he was young, but now that he’s nearly 10, I’m suddenly feeling very uncomfortable around him. I have two other children besides him, and neither of them make me feel this way. What’s going on?

Pedophilia starts with your mind linking a certain age with some form of perceived sexual assault. The age is usually your own age at the time you felt assaulted. If you experienced multiple assaults, your mind can end up stressed by range of ages instead of a specific age. There are many factors that determine which kinds of kids and how many kids trigger a pedophilia response in you. Pedophiles aren’t agitated by all kids. Instead, each pedophile starts off feeling particularly agitated by a limited set of children. Depending on how many factors your mind is focusing on, you might find very few kids upsetting, or you might find a wide range of kids upsetting. But regardless of what aspects your mind is focused on, there was an original child who is triggering all of these associations. That original child is usually yourself at the age when you experienced your first assault. Here’s where we come to a key point: the closer your child gets to the age you were when you were assaulted, the more agitated you are likely to feel by them.

If you are a man and you got assaulted when you were 8 years old, then you might feel reasonably comfortable with your kids when they are young, especially if you have a wife who does all of the diaper changing and bathing and keeps your contact with naked bodies at a minimum. But as your kids approach the age of 8, you may find your feelings towards them shifting in a negative way. If you have both girls and boys you will likely find the boys more agitating as they get closer to the age you were when you were assaulted. This is because your sons are the same gender you are, and have the same anatomical set up, therefore they will feel like much stronger symbols of you than your daughters do.

The target age issue is often a factor with parents who never mishandle their kids, only to suddenly start molesting them when they reach a certain age. Here again, knowing yourself is critical to setting up good defenses. When you notice that one of your kids is starting to rile up pedophiliac reactions in you, then you need to make some strategic changes to how you interact with them. Review the tips I’ve listed above and think about how you can put those strategies in place today. Remember that every age has its advantages. Older kids can bathe and dress themselves which gets you out of a lot of stressful interactions. Having house rules that require your kids to dress with a certain level of modesty will benefit everyone. Don’t allow shirtless boys to eat at the supper table. Don’t allow your daughters to strut around in bikinis or run through public areas of the house wearing only bras and panties. Modesty is good for many reasons, but it becomes very important when you need to keep certain visuals out of your face.

When serious one-on-one talks need to happen, take your child on a walk instead of sitting down with him in a bedroom. Walking keeps the eyes focused forward, it distracts the mind with motion, and it makes close physical touch feel inconvenient and awkward. When your child is upset and needs comforting touch, stop to give him a hug, then start walking again. Or sit down across from her at a picnic table and take her hands in yours while the table top keeps your bodies well separated. There are many ways to communicate comfort and affection while minimizing physical contact.

Respect Yourself

Pedophilia is a logical reaction to severe trauma. You don’t develop this problem without going through some very upsetting experiences. Just as you’d respect the pain and limitations of a man with a broken leg, you need to respect your own psychological pain and limitations. Like all trauma symptoms, pedophilia can be drastically improved and even entirely resolved by dealing with root causes. But until you get a chance to do that, you need to deal with your psychological wounds the same as you would any serious physical injury: be patient with yourself, respect your limits, and celebrate the successes.

For in-depth help in understanding how you developed pedophilia and how you can recover from it, see my book Recovering from Pedophilia.

This post was written in response to a request.

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