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Good day Dr. Saltzman,

I have been feeling sick in my stomach for several days now. I have recently discovered in a good friend's (divorced father) computer several pictures of young girls practically naked. He is an excellent father of two boys and when I approached him with the facts he said he has always been having this problem but never did anything else than look at them every once in a while. He said he's not attracted to young girls when they are in person in front of him; only has fantasies of being their age when looking at the pics. I have a young daughter who has often been in his house playing and am horrified. He said he has deleted all of them now and is seeking help. I love that person dearly and he swears he has never done anything else and never will. He wants me to support him and help him get thru this. In your experience, is it safe to keep a social relationship with that kind of person? I am afraid that if I run away it will worsen his problem.

Please help.


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Without knowing your friend personally I cannot tell you whether his particular interest in young girls is "dangerous," as you put it, or not. However, in general, many people have sex fantasies which they do not intend ever to carry out, and which they never do carry out. In fact, having such fantasies, as long as they are not acted upon, may be a rather good way of dealing with inappropriate desires; the desires are given some satisfaction, perhaps through masturbation, but no innocent person is made a victim.

You know, as I see it, we human beings really are not responsible for our sexual predilections, which come upon us, unchosen, like fate. At birth, the infant already bears specific genetic programming which determines not only such physical characteristics as body type, skin, hair, and eye color, and size of feet and hands, but also such mental characteristics as native intelligence, introversion or extraversion, timidity or boldness, as well as the basic focus of individual sexuality. These aspects are not chosen by anyone, which is why I say that they come upon us like fate or destiny. As the infant matures, these various congenital genetic programs are influenced by interaction with the environment--the general culture into which the child is born, the specific parents of that particular child and how they treat the child, interaction with random strangers, etc. None of this is chosen by the child either, but all of adds its influence to the basic genetic programming, and the resultant of this mix of genetic tendencies modified by environmental factors is what we call the "person."

To give an example on the physical level, imagine a child born to a couple of very tall parents. That child, in all likelihood, already is destined to be tall. But how tall exactly also depends on how and what the child is fed, whether the child suffers any serious illness during the early years of life, and other such important influences. Obviously, the child chooses none of this, and so we do not blame the adult for being tall or short; we understand that ones height is a matter of fate: genetics plus environment, that is. Well, the situation with personality is precisely the same as the situation with stature or any other physical attribute; the infant is born with certain genetic tendencies--a tendency to be melancholy, for example, or cheerful, or to be timid, or to be adventurous--and, just as with the example of height, these tendencies then are shaped by outside influences--interaction with other people and the general environment--also not chosen. In other words, we do not choose our sexuality or any other aspect of our personality any more than we choose our height.

I am aware that many people will disagree with this view, believing that people are responsible somehow for their sexuality and other personality traits, that people choose somehow to be the way they are, but careful examination of the facts--and there is much recent evidence on this score--reveals that view as simply ignorant. And this is why I was pleased to see that, although feeling disgusted and fearful of your friend's sexual interest in children, you continue to regard him with compassion. From my vantage as a psychologist, compassion is the only logically possible view of others' personalities. Since we do not choose to be who we are, we also should not blame others for being the way they are. This point is obvious, but frightening to many, since it implies that we all have much less "free will" than most of us would like to imagine, if indeed we have any at all.

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To return to the specifics of your question: in my opinion, it certainly is safe to keep a social relationship with your friend, and, since you say that you love him, I suggest that you do what you can to maintain the friendship. After all, he has requested your help, and you seem to want to help him. If you are worried about your daughter, it might be best not to allow her to be alone with him, but, since at a distance I cannot possibly know anything about this particular individual, in this detail you must use your own judgment.

If you want to help your friend, in addition to remaining close to him, I suggest that you encourage him to seek some professional counseling for his pedophilia. Such therapy may or may not diminish his interest in young girls, but probably could help him to resist carrying out any actual sex with a child.

I admire your compassion for this person, and wish you the best.

Be well.

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page last modified April 1, 2007

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