Young Love

Mary-Kay Wilmers

  • Paedophilia: The Radical Case by Tom O’Carroll
    Peter Owen, 280 pp, £14.95, October 1980, ISBN 0 7206 0546 6

The radical case for paedophilia is that children like it, and if there were more of it the world would be a better place. ‘Sex by eight or it’s too late’ – too late because the guilt is already on the gingerbread. Tom O’Carroll, prosy successor to Lewis O’Carroll and leading light of PIE, the Paedophile Information Exchange, takes the view that what is nice for him would be good for everyone. ‘A climate in which children come to view all consensual sex, including consensual paedophilia, positively and without guilt may be necessary for the welfare of everyone.’ ‘Consensual sex’, mutually agreed and mutually agreeable: is there anything unreasonable in wanting it for oneself but not for one’s children – or Mr O’Carroll?

Were Mr O’Carroll a more accomplished writer, he might not have elicited such an ungenerous response. It’s possible he doesn’t feel comfortable talking to adults and resents having to spell out things that are, apparently, self-evident to children. Whatever the reason, the result is an edgy, self-righteous book and a lacklustre piece of propaganda. Since Mr O’Carroll sees nothing wrong with paedophilia, he isn’t interested in our sympathy; and since his opinion of the non-paedophile world is no higher than the opinion the non-paedophile world has of him, he doesn’t waste time trying to be conciliatory. We may think we are doing Mr O’Carroll a favour in listening to his case: but in his view he’s the one who is doing the favour.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is autobiographical; a long middle section is taken up with the ideology of paedophilia; and a final section is devoted to PIE and its not so pi activities. Mr O’Carroll starts by recounting his early life as a paedophile. No attempt is made to explain his condition – indeed, he sees nothing in it to explain. ‘I am not interested in why I am a paedophile,’ he tells us in his short sharp way, ‘any more than others are interested in why they are “normal”.’ The most he will say is that past a certain age he found his mother’s affection embarrassing. His best, ‘most sexually active’ period was his first few years at secondary school: ‘it was so easy then to slip into intimacy with one’s peers.’ Things became difficult when his contemporaries took up with girls while he found himself gazing longingly at younger boys.

For many unhappy years he kept his feelings to himself, even tried to find a wife (‘I intend no disrespect to women in general, or my fiancée in particular, when I say that the task was too much for me’), but also spent most of his time among children, ignoring, as he tells it now, the evidence they continually offered of their interest in sex, their interest in him, and their interest in sex with him: ‘he even asked if he could sleep with me and I have reason to suppose he meant more than just sharing my tent.’ He hesitated not out of self-regard but because he couldn’t believe that what he wanted to give them was what the children wanted too, and cringes now ‘to think of the embarrassed, slightly old-fashioned school-masterly way in which I have rejected children’s curiosity (and sometimes more than curiosity) in the past’. His inhibitions were reinforced by the memory of his own dislike of adult affection, but he has no doubt that the main cause of his diffidence was a ‘background rooted in the view that anything to do with the genital areas of the body was unspeakably rude.’

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