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Dear Dr. Robert,

I am a sexually confused boy living in the UK, and am writing to ask if you think sexuality is flexible or can be changed. I've been reading through your website and find you to be intelligent and openly minded, which is why I chose to write to you. I really hope you'll take the time out of your busy schedule to reply. I've tried my best to keep this letter short and to the point, so hopefully I can keep your interest. I will explain my argument first and then explain how it applies to my situation.

I've spent the better part of 3 hours writing this now, so even though I realize that everyone says this, I really need to get a response. Please try and take the time to reply; I actually think this might be of some interest to you.

In the Nature V Nurture argument, I'm very far on the side of Nurture. To me, the idea that somebody's sexuality is inherent is ridicolous, and I'm about to explain why. Please note, this isn't homophobia talking as I have 2 gay family members and I've always been completely fine with homosexuality.

The modern western style of thinking is that sexuality is inherent and unchangable; you fit in one of three categories - Straight, Gay or Bi. Of course, judging by the failed attempts of many gay men and women to deny their urges this is an easy mistake to make. However, what's interesting is that if you look back at the past sexuality was treated completely differently. The Greeks and Romans for instance practiced pederasty, which is a sexual relationship between adolescent boys and grown men. Almost everyone indulged in this. There are many texts of both cultures claiming how beautiful and lustrous adolescent boys were. Nowadays of course, almost nobody is attracted to adolescent boys - not even adolescent girls, who often go for older guys. I'm sure there are also many other examples of different sexual attractions in other cultures, both modern and ancient, which I won't go into.

So if sexuality really is inherent then why have our sexual attractions changed so much? Genetic evolution? I doubt it. The only difference is that of culture. The Greek and Roman cultures raised men to find boys attractive and so they did. On the other hand, our modern culture raises men to find women attractive and so they do. Of course, there are exceptions, but this is only because culture is bound to affect people differently. I mean, if sexuality is down to situational factors then who knows what situational factors might be responsible and who will or will not be exposed to them, which explain why some guys still like guys or even animals, shoes, feet, exhibitionism, necrophilia, etc etc, and why some Greeks and Romans (probably) would not have had sex with young boys.

The reasons I'm asking this is because I'm 15, a boy, and my sexuality isn't exactly normal. I'll ask you not to judge here, but even so, in the interests of protecting my privacy I've made this address specifically to send you this E-mail and have sent it from a local library computer to protect my I.P address. So, sexually I'm definitely confused. I'm mainly gay I guess although female pornography does arouse me slightly, but never enough to give a full erection. This might be okay except that like the Romans and Greeks, the guys I want are on the younger side. About 8 - 14.
I know that morals and values are subjective but even to me I find this `wrong` and `immoral`. I would never actually do anything involving these boys, but I often masturbate to pictures on the internet of them, topless at the beach or something, and can't seem to stop. I know you could say that this is normal and just a phase that I'd outgrow, but if anything it's gotten worse as I've got older.

To make matters more confusing, there's a girl involved. Let's call her Emily.

Emily and I first went out when we were 14, but then broke up but stayed friends and lightly flirty and sort of went on and off for ages. I'm completely in love with her. I know you shouldn't say that when you're a teenager, 'cause you'll just hear that you don't really know what love is, but it's true. Trying to explain how she makes me feel is just impossible. I could spend more time trying to prove that we're not just two teenagers who happen to be together, but instead I'm just gonna ask that you trust me on this point.

The problem is that I'm not fully straight. However, lately Emily and I have been getting closer again, and although we're not officially going out, stuff's been happening. Nothing physical, just that we'll often end up getting off in bed together then getting almost naked, basically just foreplay. The odd part is however, I really am turned on during this, I just lose myself in the moment, and I do get erections - until I start worrying about maintaining this erection. That's when it starts to go down, kind of like how some guys get performance anxiety. She's never noticed luckily.

See the thing is, I really do love her, like insanely, and have done for over a year now, despite my sexuality and would just like nothing more than to be with her! Problem is, I'm worried that I couldn't be with her sexually and so it wouldn't work! On the other hand however, if sexuality isn't fixed and it really does just come down to situational factors, then I should be able to overcome my perversion and be with her! I know this might seem futile and like I'm kidding myself, but on the other hand I am attracted to her! And there are plenty of stories on the internet about people who've overcome their pedophilic urges to go on to have normal relationships, as well as gays who've turned straight and straights who turn gay, etc etc, you get the idea.

I just feel like my whole life is going to be just one big waste of time unless I can find a way to decide my sexuality. I know most fail at this, but then others don't. So I guess I have two questions really:

A) Do you think sexuality is flexible, or can be changed at will? Do you think it's genetic, or situational? What's your personal theory? Believe it or not, I've read through your archives and I haven't actually found your views mentioned in detail. So basically, what are your views on sexuality?

B) What advice would you give to me in my current situation? There certainly isn't a specific `method` of changing my sexuality but if I work on changing my psychology then perhaps it is possible? Just looking for your thoughts really.

I said it once and now I'm going to say it again: I've spent the better part of 3 hours writing this now, so even though I realize that everyone says this, I really need to get a response. Please try and take the time to reply; It could quite possibly change my life forever.

Thank you sincerely.

ask dr-robert

Dear Anonymous--

I understand, of course, why you would like to believe that basic sexual orientation as well as which stimuli might cause a person to feel sexual desire are a matter of choice, or decision. I understand also why you would like to convince yourself that both the content of sexual fantasies as well as the particular sexual hankering that one feels for a certain kind of person but not another are the result not so much of powerful drives, perhaps conveyed genetically (or which arose in response organic changes in the intrauterine environment), but rather that attractions arise due to cultural conditioning and the customs of the cultural surround. You are frightened by your own sexual desires, and wish you had others instead of the ones you have, so of course you would not like to believe that nature might be stronger than nurture. All that makes sense, and if you were not asking for advice, I would probably leave you with those comforting but incorrect beliefs, but you have asked my advice, and, as you know, here on these pages I do not mince words, so here goes:

Although you asked for my advice—demanded it really--you also filled your letter with your own answers to the questions you asked me as well as logical arguments defending your answers, so I must start by saying that I disagree with most your ideas about sexuality. I will advise you as you asked, but first I must try to clear up some of your misapprehensions, otherwise any advice will fall upon deaf ears—deaf because plugged up with your own faulty opinions.

You imply, erroneously in my view, some kind of great controversy regarding nature vs. nurture. Yes, there have been, for various reasons, people who try to argue that a baby is simply a blank slate when born, and that his or her sexuality and personality will be entirely, or at least largely, shaped by socialization, but those people are quite mistaken. That argument began to run out of steam in the late 1980s, and is now all but dead. These days, only some religious nuts still talk about "curing" homosexuality, as if it were a disease, or attempt to convince homosexuals that their sexuality is really a "life style choice" from which they can decide simply to opt out, or about which they can be "reeducated."

ask dr-robert

Recent studies of twins raised apart in completely different circumstances, along with detailed studies of the human genome, have demonstrated convincingly that a major share of personality is inherited and biologically determined, not learned. This does not mean that individual attitudes and behaviors are not influenced and shaped according to the vicissitudes of one engagement with the cultural surround; of course they are. It simply means that many of the basics of personality, such as basic gay/straight sexual orientation, are inherited, or at least present at birth, just as the basics of ones physical makeup (body type, health tendencies, etc.) are inherited or present at birth.

ask dr-robert

I understand that for you this is an inconvenient truth, but I think you would do better to stop projecting your own struggle for sexual self-acceptance onto a false controversy about nature vs. nurture. Misusing your obvious intelligence in that fashion will only becloud an issue which ought to be addressed forthrightly and personally, not theoretically or en masse, particularly when the theory upon which you want to rely really holds very little water. To repeat: there really is no controversy. Basic sexuality is formed by both nature and nurture (and, for that matter, the intrauterine environment), but nature predominates strongly in that mix, and makes itself known regardless of cultural conditioning. Of that, there is little doubt.

Any fair observer who has spent time with young infants will know that your ideas are mistaken. There are calm babies and anxious babies. They did not learn to be calm or anxious; they were born that way. This has been demonstrated by assessing infants for various personality traits, and then following them as they grow into adulthood. The early traits usually persist, and strongly, regardless of upbringing.

This is true of sexuality as well as various other traits. An experienced observer often can predict whether a particular child will be straight or gay, and when puberty arrives, most children find that their sexual orientation comes upon them as if written in the stars, not by choice at all. One child will tend to be attracted towards the opposite sex, another towards the same sex, no matter what he or she may wish, and this is completely natural and universal across cultures.

Two children may be brought up in the same style in the same household, and one will turn out to be gay while the other is straight, even though both were subjected to quite similar cultural influences. You do know this. Further, homosexuals are found in all cultures, and in roughly equal proportions, so the differences among cultures are not so much about whether they produce a gay orientation, but whether and to what extent homosexuality will be denied and concealed or accepted and expressed openly. In a country like Saudi Arabia, for example, homosexuality must be hidden because the consequences for discovery could be severe, while in a place like Holland, homosexuality is totally out in the open and simply a part of the normal cultural surround. Certainly social influences and cultural arrangements will influence how, and sometimes even if, sexual desires are acted upon, but those cultural arrangements do not determine the direction of desires, any more than the cultural surround creates a calm baby or an anxious one.

Those who assert that sexuality arises not from ones inborn nature but is a "life style choice" or a decision one makes are liars. They are the ones who who try to create a controversy about nature vs. nurture--taking of course the nurture side since in their view homosexuality cannot be "natural," (and "God" hates it). These are the same kind of prejudiced, bigoted numbskulls who imagine a controversy between Darwinian theory and so-called "intelligent design." There is no controversy: intelligent design is bullshit. Same for "life style choice": bullshit.

ask dr-robert

Your citation of the practice of pederasty among the ancients is not well chosen either. To begin with, your statement that, "almost everyone indulged in this [pederasty]" may be erroneous. Many historians maintain that pederasty was the custom of a certain stratum of high born men, not the masses. According to this view, the masses in Greece disrespected male homosexuality—particularly the passive side of it. Scholars point, for example, to the mockery and belittlement of gays in the highly popular comedies of Aristophanes. In that regard Greek culture may have been something like mid-twentieth century American culture, when the masses demeaned "faggots" and "pansies," while such supposed exemplars of masculinity as Paul Newman, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, and Rock Hudson indulged in gay love affairs as an open secret, and lost no esteem among their Hollywood associates for it.

Further, and even more to the point, pederasty, as it was practiced in ancient Greece, involved "a boy who was at least a teen, with modern age estimates ranging from 13 to 20, or in some cases up to 30. Most evidence indicates that to be . . . eligible . . . a youth would be of an age when an aristocrat began his formal military training, that is, from fifteen to seventeen." [Wikipedia, 2010]. And this is the age at which the pederasty would begin. These fellows of military age were not the kind of children to whom you say you are attracted. Many were older than you are now—some twice your age, according to authorities--so your situation has little or nothing to do with Greek pederasty as you wish to imagine.

Finally, even if pederasty really was as wide-spread among the Greeks as you believe, that does not mean that your sexuality was socially constructed or that your honest attractions can be re-channeled in any direction you might wish. Many—probably most—of those ancients who engaged in affairs with boys had wives and children, and most certainly practiced heterosexual relations. The man-boy thing was part of the poetry of the age perhaps, especially among the rich and powerful, but probably most pederasts were not homosexual by nature, just as today there are heterosexual men—plenty of them—who have homosexual affairs on the "down-low" or "DL" as it is called. Those affairs are secret liaisons which heterosexual men carry out and hide from their wives or girlfriends while maintaining and enjoying heterosexual relationships out in the open.

You are mistaken also when you say that, "almost nobody is attracted to adolescent boys." Certainly you are, and you are not alone; so are millions of others, both men and women. Since affairs between adolescents and adults are illegal, they are avoided by some who would otherwise like to have them, and, when such sex occurs, it is usually clandestine, but certainly sex between adults and adolescents is neither as rare nor as undesired as you seem to imagine. In fact, sex with adolescent boys plays a big part in the world-wide sex trade which flourishes in many countries—particularly poorer ones--attracting sexual tourists who travel specifically to engage in sexual experiences with children of either or both sexes.

I have taken pains to throw some cold water on your assertions about the wellsprings of sexual orientation because in my experience, and according to the great preponderance of present understanding, your ideas are simply invalid. Gay/straight sexual orientation is largely inborn (and/or a resultant of intrauterine factors) almost all experts now believe. Later, this basic orientation will be modified and shaped by upbringing and immersion in the cultural surround, as well as by important events in ones personal history. Nevertheless, trying to change ones basic sexual orientation is, in my opinion both futile and likely to prove self-destructive.

Now when I say "basic orientation," I am referring to whether one is straight or gay, not to pedophilia, which, like other paraphilias may not be inborn, but the result of early experiences (such as, for example, sexual molestation). This is why a therapy aimed at changing a homosexual into a heterosexual is a foolish enterprise while a therapy aimed at helping a pedophile, a necrophile, a sadist, a masochist, an exhibitionist, a transvestite, or other paraphiliac to embrace more normal and socially acceptable sexual practices may be worthwhile. Actually, as I have written elsewhere, nobody really knows what causes paraphilias such as sadism, voyeurism, or pedophilia. Certainly it is nothing so simple as "situational factors," by which you meant cultural factors, but psychotherapy has been known to help those who suffer from a paraphilia and wish to change.

That said, let me get directly to the personal advice you asked for. Judging solely from what you have written (which is all I have to go on), in my opinion you are gay and you know it. If you are gay, the sexual relationship with Emily probably will not work either to your satisfaction or hers. I have seen that kind of thing tried many times, and it almost always ends badly, often with two people who really do care for one another having to separate, perhaps after having children together, or having made some other kind of major investment in the relationship.

ask dr-robert

If you are gay, you should begin thinking in terms of seeking sexual relationships with other boys instead of with girls. That is my first advice, and I hope you accept it. By the way, you don't "decide" your sexuality as you wrote, you discover it, admit it to yourself, and try to live it as best you can.

Secondly, since you are young, and they are not all that much younger, your attraction to younger boys is not yet officially pedophilia, but it may (or may not) develop into actual adult pedophilia, and I imagine that this is what really worries you—not your thing with Emily, which I believe you must know is not all that you want or need despite your feeling in love with her. By the way, I do think you are too young to know what adult love is—way too young--but for the purposes of this discussion that is beside the point.

My advice on the pedophilia matter is to get into psychotherapy right away. Accepting your homosexuality in a full and complete way, including beginning to experience sexual pleasure with suitable partners, could go a long way towards diminishing your attraction to younger children. Further, with the right kind of help aimed at exploring the meaning of your attraction to children you may arrive at desiring adult sex with another man instead of wanting to engage in forbidden and criminal activity with children.

Be well.

ask dr-robert

Dear Dr. Robert,

I'd first like to thank you for taking the time to reply to me, I deeply appreciate it. I apologize for taking over three months to reply, but I needed to thoroughly think through what you'd said, and I think I have done now. The first reason I write this letter is to explain my thoughts since our correspondence. I'm not sure why I feel the need to explain - or indeed, why I presume you'd be interested - but I do, so there you are.

I realize now how incorrect my ideas concerning sexuality really were - in fact, I think I knew from the start. What you say simply makes logical and scientific sense. I've read through your response many times and after a long period of self reflection, I've come to the conclusion that by confronting my sexuality in a theoretical, intellectual manner - or as you put it, by "filling my letter with my own answers to the questions I asked as well as logical arguments defending these answers"- I was trying to stay distant from the reality of the situation, and avoid dealing with my true feelings. My argument did hold very little water, and I think if I'd wanted to I could have easily seen just how flawed my beliefs were, but unfortunately I simply didn't want to, preferring to stay in denial instead.

Thankfully however, you've now stripped me of these false beliefs, which has meant I've now had to deal with my sexuality as one should, forthrightly and personally, with all the emotional stress that entails. I broke off the arrangement with Emily. What really got to me was when you said "I have seen that kind of thing tried many times, and it almost always ends badly, often with two people who really do care for one another having to separate, perhaps after having children together, or having made some other kind of major investment in the relationship." I know first hand the pain this can cause; as I said before, I have two gay family members, one of whom is my Dad, the other a cousin I don't know so well. When my Mum found out my parents divorced and now refuse to even speak to each other. They have shared custody, leaving me and my siblings torn between the two homes. The point is, I shouldn't have really needed you to remind me of why these relationships don't work when I have such a perfect first hand example right in front of my nose, but as I said before, I obviously preferred to stay in denial. I care too much for Emily for for me to knowingly hurt her when I can easily prevent it, whether my feelings can be called love or not, which is why I have ended it.

But it was also something more than that. By focusing all my energy into trying to maintain a heterosexual relationship I was again trying to deny my true sexual feelings, and if I am ever to be comfortable with and accept my own sexuality this is clearly something I can not be doing. I'm not saying that I want to pick the gay side and stick to it either, as to do so would just be another form of me denying my sexuality, just the heterosexual component instead. Rather, I just think that maintaning any sexual relationship with the sole aim of denying another part of your sexuality - which is I think, what I have been doing - is quite frankly backwards.

Intriguingly however, once I ended the relationship with Emily - and therefore began to accept my sexuality for what it is - I found that my sexual urges towards underage boys were diminished slightly, and my attraction towards men and woman of an appropriate age has increased. I don't mean to say that my pedophilic attraction has disappeared, as it hasn't, and it still remains predominant. What I mean to say is that now I've begun to accept my sexuality and have stopped denying my sexual feelings by forcing myself into an unhealthy sexual relationship and "projecting my own struggle for sexual self-acceptance onto a false controversy about nature vs. nurture", I've been able to experience sexual attraction seperate to that of my denial.

I'm not entirely sure what this means, although I've considered many possible theories. Perhaps in trying to deny one part of my sexuality I accidently denied it all? Maybe it was the fear of possible homosexuality that led me to displace my sexual feelings towards a less threatening target of children? Possibly I have sexual feelings towards men, women and boys, but my anxiety at the less acceptable pedophilic urges overrode the others until it became my primary desire? Of course, this speculation is all completely irrelevant until it could be proved for certain. What I do know however, is that this new information could be crucial into explaining why I harbour this paraphilia in the first place, which I can now explore further with a qualified psychotherapist.

Yes, I said psychotherapist. The thought of sex with children sickens me - from an ethical viewpoint at least - and I don't think I could live with myself if my urges ever forced me to abuse a child. I don't think I would ever willingly commit such an attrocity, but I'm smart enough to realize that the sheer power of the human sex drive may not give me a choice. For this reason I've decided the best thing I can do is to get psychotherapy, or some other kind of treatment. I've since looked up treatment for pedophilia and it's been shown to vary largely by patient, but if there's even a slightest chance that it could prevent me from doing something so awful then it's worth a try. Unfortunately, at the moment I obviously can't seek out therapy, both for financial reasons and not wanting my family to find out. However, if the problem hasn't resolved itself by the time I gain independence - which I very much doubt it will - then I will make sure to get the help that I do need.

The second reason I write is to ask a favour. In my letter I quickly mentioned another small list of problems just in case it had anything to do with my main problem. As it turned out you didn't find it relevant, and I realized after sending it how stupid it was of me to include it, as it makes me easily personally identifiable to anybody who knows me well enough. I'm therefore asking if you could possibly remove the small section in brackets containing these personal details from your website? I realize that you might not want to, if only to preserve your website's reputation, but I would really appreciate it if you did. I'd hate to think of this coming back to bite me on the arse in years to come once I've moved past it. So please, I'm almost begging you here, could you please possibly do me a small favour and remove the small section I thoughtlessly included, and then maybe combine the rest of the paragraph with the one above? And whilst you're there, you could omit this paragraph too? It would really mean a lot to me if you would.

Anyway, the final thing I want to do with this letter is to thank you. You've been an absolute huge comfort to me through your letter and have been a massive help towards my own sexual self acceptance. It's weird to think that one E-mail sent by somebody living thousands of miles away who I'll never meet could have such a dramatic impact on my life, and yet it has. I never could have predicted how much of a difference you would have have made to my life when I first wrote to you, but I am sincerely grateful for it. I do sound so cringeworthingly cheesy and melodramatic right now, but I really do mean it. Your website has been a huge help to me and will continue to be so for everyone worldwide who would not otherwise have access to this kind of support. You should feel truly proud of it.

Be well yourself.


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