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Hi, dr.

keep up the great site please!


I have had a terrible feeling off guilt, depression and shame since i was reading an article about a child abuser and i remembered that when i was younger i touched or just at least looked at a family friends privates. I was around 12 and she would have been about 4. My memory is very patchy and i cant remember what really happened. But i know i either groped or pulled back her underwear. I don't think i was forceful, probably more calculated.

I feel disgusted with my self, i keep asking myself why? will she remember? I am a child abuser?

I am no way attracted to children now but suddenly i'm scared to be a dad even tho i was looking forward to it and never done anything else like it.

I looked at websites that state that child sex play is normal but none of them talk about an 8 year age gap! In fact some say an age gap is cause for concern.

please help i feel sick at myself.



ask dr-robert ask psychologist todos santos ask psychologist dr robert saltzman
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Hello, Stephen--

This kind of question comes up often in therapy work. The fact is that many people have had childhood sexual experiences of various kinds about which, as adults, they feel ashamed, so you are not alone.

As I have written elsewhere, the sexual instinct in human beings is extremely strong. Having evolved over eons of time, the overwhelming power of this instinct is why the human race has continued up to the present time, and why, barring some kind of technological catastrophe, it will continue endlessly into future generations. To look at this another way, all of us now alive are the descendents of just those ancestors who among their peers had the strongest desires to be sexual, the "horniest" ones, that is. The ones with weaker sexual drives would not have produced as many offspring, and so any tendencies for weaker sexual drives, or weaker interest in sex, would gradually have died out, leaving the horniest to inhabit the Earth.

In other words, Stephen, those of us alive today are the descendents of very horny people, and so we are very horny people, and there is nothing wrong in this. Our horniness is just nature, just normal, just the way we are. When I say "horny," I mean that we humans are fascinated by sex. We are curious about bodies, both our own and those of others, and we are strongly driven to express this curiosity in every possible way. Anyone who doubts this should consider the way that sex is used in advertising to sell any kind of product, or reflect on the staggering amount of pornography available on the internet, which, according to a recent study, accounts for about 40 percent of all internet use world wide. In fact, it is said that every new technical advance on the internet is first funded and used by the pornography industry, so that without this overwhelming curiosity about sex, the internet would be years behind its current development.

Now, as a child approaches adolescence, this interest in sex, which may have been somewhat latent (quietly hiding) in earlier years, suddenly comes to the fore, producing in the average child a powerful curiosity about other bodies, and particularly the genitals. This curiosity, occasioned by the release of powerful hormones intended to bring on sexual maturity, is entirely normal, and should not be the cause of any guilt whatsoever. Unfortunately, religious indoctrination has produced a sense of guilt about human sexuality which discourages children from expressing their curiosity as openly as would be optimal for their personal and social development, and so often children are forced to go about satisfying their normal, hormonally driven curiosity in hidden and secret ways, such as happened to you.

Curiosity about the vagina is entirely normal in all children, a bit stronger in boys perhaps, but normal and expected in girls also. However so-called "morality"--I say "so-called" because I see nothing ethically desirable in repression of children's normal inquisitiveness--prevents many if not most of them from expressing that curiosity openly, and so they must find other ways to find out what they want to know. Some children peek through keyholes to watch their parents or siblings in the bathroom or the bedroom. Some become "peeping Toms," peering through the windows of neighbors. Some view pictures of bodies in magazines or, these days, on their laptops. Some find opportunities to look at the genitals of playmates or younger children, as you did. But none of this is abnormal, and none of it is abusive. This needs repetition: when done by a curious child, none of this is abnormal, and none of it is abusive.

Your having wanted to gaze at the vagina of a four year old when you were twelve does not mean that you abused her. It only means that you were curious about vaginas, and used that method of doing some investigation. It was innocent, not abusive. I imagine that the little girl was not even aware that something "forbidden" had taken place, so she certainly was not abused. But the main point here is this: the actions of a child of twelve cannot be judged by adult standards, which is what you have been doing and why you are so upset. If you now were to find gratification in pulling aside the panties of four year old girls, there would be something to worry about. But having done this at age twelve is not something to worry about, and I hope you will take my professional opinion about this and just let it go.

Further, I do not know to what website you refer which says that an age gap in childhood sex play is a concern, but what you did was not sex play anyway. Sex play takes place between two or more children all of whom take part in it. Your observing the vagina of this little girl was not play at all, but just your way of getting some information, and you should try to understand it that way.

I wish you luck, and the joys of fatherhood if that is what you desire to experience.

Be well.

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