There is virtually no information available about French illustrator Pierre Brun (who is not to be confused with earlier artist Jean-Baptiste Pierre Le Brun, though he may have been related to him). This is one of a handful of works I could find attributed to him, and the only one that really fit the Pigtails theme. It comes from the French art and style magazine Revue des Arts Décoratifs, though I couldn’t tell you which issue or page. Otherwise I might be able to find a better copy of it elsewhere. But this one isn’t bad. After a bit of cleaning up, that is. It definitely fits into the Art Nouveau mode and was a practice example of a border illustration such as was often found in books of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
I’m leaving this reply to your latest comments at the top level because it looks like we’ve reached a level of indentation too deep to continue that reply chain.
Well, it appears to me that each of us has probably misread the other to some extent.
Where do I draw the line? You’d like to know not what I find personally distasteful, but what I think should be legally proscribed.
Well, first, I think there are levels of proscription, and *illegal* is the strongest. In fact, not even all illegal content is equally harmful, so there should be levels within what’s illegal. But (in my humble opinion) a site like Pigtails in Paint should have its own standards of decency, which should probably be somewhat more discerning than “whatever’s legal is okay.”
I’ll attempt to answer your direct question, but to craft real laws is a highly complex business, and on top of that, this is an especially involved subject, so whatever I say will necessarily be more general than I think the laws should be.
I disagree that the law should draw the line only where direct harm actually occurs. First, indirect harm is just as real as direct harm, and it can be just as harmful, or even more harmful in some instances. Why should we arbitrarily choose only to prevent direct harm? Harm is harm. Second, to establish that harm has “actually occurred” requires it to occur first, which means the law isn’t preventing harm, it’s only reacting to it in the hopes of being a deterrent, which I think is too weak of a stance. Besides, in many cases the actual harm goes undetected–conceivably even most of the time.
I think a question like this can’t be answered without weighing the competing concerns against each other. On the one side we have children being hurt. On the other side we have art being regulated. We’d like to have neither. It would be nicest to have no children being hurt and artists free to do whatever they want. Since that’s not possible, what’s the relative importance of each?
Well, I feel that freedom of expression is very, very important. But it’s not really freedom of expression that’s at issue. It is freedom of a highly specific and narrow range of expression, namely depiction of children as objects of sexual desire. Out of all art and ideas, I think this is an exceedingly tiny slice of a huge pie. Any legislation in this area would leave the vast, overwhelming majority of artistic expression completely unimpeded.
Competing against regulating that relatively tiny slice is the concern that when children are made objects of sexual desire, children are harmed, both directly and indirectly, in both detected and undetected cases, and I think there is in fact a great deal of this happening currently in our society. I also think the harm that goes on is really very harmful–not something to be taken lightly.
Suppose, for example, there is a pen-and-ink drawing in comic-book style of graphic sexual abuse involving an older adult and a prepubescent child. And suppose the artist did not work from photographs or live models in making this drawing, so it can be claimed that there was no “real, direct” harm done. (I’m pretty sure such a thing would be illegal under our current laws, but I’m not absolutely certain, and I’m definitely no expert.) Besides serving as child pornography, what’s the purpose of such a drawing?
Against that purpose, whatever it may be, we have to balance the effect such drawings have on the society that gives them license–not just a single drawing, but the cost of permitting this kind of thing in general. Where a brisk trade in child-pornographic drawings is going on legally, in fact there is pretty much guaranteed to be a greater underground market for photographs and videos in which children were actually abused, because they would aid in the creation of the drawings. And how long will consumers of this “art” be content with depictions purely out of an artist’s imagination before they start wanting to know whether those depictions are in fact realistic, and again they will turn to photographs and videos for that. This is not hysteria. This is a sane and rational set of expectations of the effects of this kind of “art scene” on a society.
Further, since it seems clear to me that the only real purpose of such obviously child-pornographic drawings is to sexually stimulate adults, what we are giving license to here is a kind of “art” whose primary goal is to create more sex drive in adults directed at children, which will, on the whole, lead to more children being molested. I think that’s the reality. A society in which child-pornographic drawings are freely circulated and consumed *will* be a society in which more children are victimized. Very few people would question that.
So my view is that this particular highly specific kind of expression (a drawing graphically depicting sexual abuse of a prepubescent child) should be illegal, even where there’s no proof of direct harm.
All this to say I don’t think “real, direct harm” is a sufficient criterion to determine what should be illegal. I don’t think a safer environment for children should be sacrificed in the name of unbridled free expression. There are works of art that are obviously all about trying to arouse adult sex drive toward children, and I’m in favor of such works being proscribed by law. I don’t take this lightly. In general I favor less government control of a lot of things. But I think the amount of actual “free expression” lost with such laws would be negligible in comparison to the safety gained for children.
It’s critical to realize that child pornography is not on even ground with other “ideas.” We not talking about appealing to the thoughts or the emotions. Appealing to sexual urges–particularly to urges that must harm children if they are fully gratified–is a different basic kind of thing from other types of expression.
Of course, there’s a whole gamut between outright graphic depictions of sex involving children and art that explores the subjects of sexual abuse or childhood sexuality without the intent of being sexually stimulating. There’s also a range of ages of children, and at a certain point things change. If we’re talking about a sixteen-year-old, that’s very different from a six-year-old.
So what we have are a lot of blurry lines and gray areas where it’s difficult to draw clear, solid lines. A great deal of thought should be put into these issues. But I think they are much more far reaching and complicated than simply “real, direct harm.”
Two minors get married and have sex in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” In Wes Anderson’s film “Moonrise Kingdom,” twelve-year-old kids strip to their underwear, sleep together (in the noneuphemistic meaning of the term), and the boy fondles the girl’s breasts on camera. I don’t think these works of art are pornographic. They’re both works I like. But a drawing of an eight-year-old child being sexually abused is child pornography, whether or not any children were directly harmed in its making. There is a clear distinction between the mentality behind such a drawing and those other works, and I think this distinction is not really difficult for most people to see. When we start getting into the academics of how to define things, it gets difficult, but the concept is easy to grasp.
By the way, I don’t think “unhealthy” is a euphemism. Or at least I didn’t mean it as one. It’s a word with a well-understood meaning, and it has far more neutral connotations than “sick,” which is why I chose it (not wanting to cloud the discussion with emotionally-charged language).
When you refer to the kink community, I assume you mean sexual ageplay. But as you point out, there’s a big difference between an adult playing the role of a child, and an actual child. Both are very complicated realities, and they’re realities that bear little relation to each other. Adult partners who engage in ageplay are only unhealthy if for them the game is actually a stand-in for molestation. If a pedophile uses ageplay with an adult partner as an outlet, he or she is unhealthy (inasmuch as I think pedophilia is in fact a disorder). But if (as is probably more common) a participant has no desire whatsoever to engage in sex with young children but just enjoys role playing the scenario, that’s a very different thing. The person knows his or her partner is not a child, and the person isn’t pretending or imagining that his or her partner is a child (which would only be a turn-on if the person were in fact a pedophile). Likewise, pornography depicting ageplay between adults is not child pornography and should not be illegal.
It would actually be nice if pedophiles could find an outlet in such activities, but I suspect it doesn’t work very well for them. No matter how you dress and make up an adult, nor how childish he or she acts, he or she is still very different from an actual child.
But I submit that the eroticism in ageplay is not the “eroticism of youth” that you mentioned. There should be nothing erotic to any healthy adult about an actual prepubescent child. A prepubescent child could never be an adult’s sexual partner without doing significant harm to the child. In actual reality, such children *never* properly engage in grown-up sex. So what aspect of the human condition are we supposedly exploring in art if we explore “the eroticism of youth”? It can never be anything but a fantastical invention of adults who want to place children in the position of being objects of sexual desire.
I don’t think I’m building a straw man when I say that an adult pursuing a sexual fantasy in which he or she is in some context permitted to engage in sex with a prepubescent child is having a pedophilic fantasy. As normal adults generally find the idea of sex with young kids gross and horrifying, such fantasies must be seen to appeal to the unhealthy sexual impulses of a small minority. It may be the case that these individuals know that sex with children would harm the children and bring on the wrath of society, and for those reasons they don’t “desire” it, but if they wish in their heart for a world in which it would be *okay* to have sex with kids, its fair, I think, to be very concerned about where such a desire will lead them, in terms of the safety of our kids.
Literature can explore sexual abuse or even situations that push the extremes of age difference in our society (say, a fourteen-year-old girl marrying a twenty-five year old man) without being pornographic. A book with graphic descriptions of sexual contact between adults and young kids is child pornography, even if it has no pictures.
In all these cases, the line is whether the clear intent, purpose, and/or most prominent effect of the work is to evoke an adult’s sexual feelings or fantasies directed toward young children. Yes, it’s pretty much impossible to define that precisely such that no judgment call is required, but this is true in many areas of the law. Sadly, this means there are miscarriages of justice. I’ve yet to see any system invented, though, that could mitigate this problem. The current law in the U.S. codifies what I just said in the phrase “appeals to the prurient interests . . .” This would be fair if not for the fact that judges and juries have often been very prudish about just what appeals to the prurient interests, so we probably need to work on more precise definitions.
I think you vastly oversimplified my views by saying that my suggestion was “that all artists must be made to take care not to set off what you have yourself identified as a solid minority along the wrong path, triggered, if you will, by currently legal (or perhaps quasi-legal in some cases) imagery to behave sexually with children.” That is not, in fact, what I intend to suggest.
I believe that these questions cannot be considered by taking isolated cases and trying to sort them out one by one, because societies are far too complicated. Nothing is isolated from anything. Child pornography has overall effects on society that end up leading in general to victimization of children. I feel that a society which cares about the safety of its children must concern itself with that problem, even though doing so means compromise within a certain small arena of free expression.
But here I think I might lob the “straw man” accusation back in your direction. When I brought up these matters at this web site, it was obviously not in any way suggestive of the idea that the blog should be censored by the government, or that the discussions here should be labeled as child pornography. I never suggested any such thing. I didn’t start off talking about how “dangerous” the ideas here are. I started off talking about how valuable I think the ideas are, and how I felt that at the same time a certain lack of concern for two important classes of fact about children may be a major factor leading to general unease about this site.
Suppose I’d like to recommend the site to my friends. Can I freely do that? Can I endorse what is advocated here? The answer is that I can endorse a lot of it, but then there are aspects of it that creep me out, and even make me afraid for anyone to know I have any association with this site. I don’t think that’s because I’m an uptight person who has no courage in such matters.
So I asked myself, “Exactly where is the problem? What is it about Pigtails in Paint that I feel crosses the line from the healthy to the unhealthy, and even flirts with the harmful?” I identified those two points, and I set out to express them because I suspect there may be many people like me who can get behind a lot of what is advocated here, but feel that part of what’s advocated is in fact dangerous to children.
If you were here claiming the government is corrupt, I might agree. Perhaps most people in the U.S. would. If you went on to suggest that in an attempt to effect change, bombs should be set off in affluent neighborhoods, I might rightly object that you are going to hurt children by doing that. You could come back with the answer, Yes, “ideas can be dangerous.” But I would fail to see how that excuses advocating hurting kids. So I might come on here and suggest that it’s good to advocate for social change, but you undermine your own cause by advocating hurting kids in the process.
The posts I’ve actually made have been similar by analogy. It’s good to advocate for social change in the areas of more openness to healthy nudity and proper expressions of sexuality. But why the parts of the blog that seem to want to fantasize about children as if they were grown ups, or as if they might, under certain circumstances, actually want sex with adults and even benefit from it?
My question to you is this: What do you hope such ideas will accomplish in the world? As far as I can see, these ideas must appeal to pedophiles and hebephiles already, without the need to reinforce them here. So is the idea to convince people in the broader demographic that the fantasies of pedophiles and hebephiles are wholesome and perhaps sexual abuse should be less hated by our society? If you could manage to do that, what effect would it have on the safety of children?
Okay, so in fairness, you’ve stated emphatically that the position of this site is that sexual abuse is bad and wrong. If you believe that, I would think it would concern you to know that certain of the posts appear to portray soundly the opposite point of view. And what am I–a neutral outsider–to think when I see this contradiction? Here I read that sexual abuse is harmful. There I read that this comic book was revolutionary in its portrayal of a pedophile as a positive character. Here, children have a right not to be molested. There, even prepubescent children can be willing sexual partners. I don’t think I’m stretching to call these contradictions.
Little girls are wonderful. There should be a site like this dedicated to art that features them. But how can I feel good about the site when in some posts it advocates viewing children as objects of adult sexual desire–presumably for “artistic” reasons, such as to challenge the status quo? This is a status quo that should not be challenged. There are many of those, actually. I can understand a desire to be open to various ideas, but this, in fact, appears to be an idea that has been given a lot of air time here. I’ve read many of the posts on this site, and it doesn’t look to me like the idea is casually introduced once or twice. It looks like a fairly pervasive ideological underpinning.
If one of your goals is that people should be open to the idea of adults viewing young girls sexually, that’s your prerogative. But in that case it isn’t really fair to characterize detractors as sexually repressed prudes. In that case, detractors (I’d be among them) would be expressing a healthy and good protectiveness of little girls. But if this is not one of your goals, then I thought perhaps you should know that it seems to come across as one in many of the posts; perhaps you would gain something from that feedback; perhaps you would like to respond to it.
I consider myself pretty open minded on the spectrum of views about nudity and sexuality, so it seemed to me that I might be able to address more specific concerns, since I don’t have a problem with child nudity in general, or with the idea that children are sexual beings.
Happy 4th. Thanks for listening.
At the risk of further prolonging this discussion, I suggest that it has already veered far afield of the subject of this site, and even the initial topic of the initial comment. Again, I cannot speak for Pip or Ron or anyone other than myself. You identify yourself as “neutral,” but your discourse makes clear you are anything but. That’s fine. Strong opinions are good. I’ve been known to have a few myself, and I welcome the chance to address yours in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms, if the editors are willing to indulge me.
You have repeatedly mentioned comments that appear to condone adult-child sexual interaction. Perhaps it would be helpful if you could point out specific examples of this. So far your concerns, while valid, are also frustratingly abstract.
You refer to direct vs indirect harm, but, again, are quite vague in exactly what you mean by that. How, precisely, is a child indirectly harmed by being represented in nude art? You keep alluding to the intent of the artist. But I must ask 1) why ultimately does that matter, and 2) is the artist’s true intent possible to know with certainty? (I teach art theory so you probably do not want to go down this road with me.)
The debate on the purpose of art is a rabbit hole that never ends. This includes comic-book depictions of sexual abuse. Have you seen some of the hentai that exists? What is its purpose? Who are you asking? There are many who argue that the purpose of art is to provoke, to discomfort, to shock, to offend. I prefer to think that art should be pleasurable and enlightening. But that’s me, and others disagree, including on this very site. And no one relishes a vigorous debate more than I, so bring it on.
First we’ll debate what should or should not give pleasure to any particular viewer. Are you in a position to proscribe that in any meaningful, objective way? Is any of us? By way of analogy, if you enjoy ice cream or other dairy products, aren’t you glad that society is not dominated by vegans who have an entirely valid desire to prevent any sort of harm, direct or otherwise, to animals? See how it works?
And the fact that you defended two films that depict child sexuality by saying, “They’re both works I like,” is extremely telling. You found those movies pleasurable. It’s subjective. It’s easy to defend the things we like, and easier still to condemn those we do not. It would be more persuasive if you were to offer an example of a film that you dislike or find offensive, yet still believe is acceptable for others. And don’t kid yourself. There are entire websites dedicated to screencaps of Olivia Hussey’s 14 year old breasts. I think the purpose of those sites is pretty clear. Are you still okay with it?
But in any case there are many other ways to provoke beyond representations of child sexuality. I refer you to this post: https://pigtailsinpaint.org/2017/06/sex-drugs-fascism-the-dangerous-and-disturbing-art-of-dopingirl/
I’m sure you will agree there’s some pretty transgressive stuff there. But it’s worth noting that the sexual content was far less provocative to some of the regulars here than was the implication of fascism. That’s a massive hot button for some. I confess that, here in the US, I do not have the same reaction to fascism as will people in Europe, who have a very real, dark history I can only appreciate in library books. Some of the regulars reacted far more strongly to fascist symbology (more art theory, sorry) than you have to the content you are concerned about. Who decides what goes “too far”?
You ask what aspect of the human condition we explore with the eroticism of youth. I believe that’s already been answered elsewhere but it’s worth addressing again, as it is a major focus of this site. We are exploring the human condition of youth itself. You spoke favorably of “Moonrise Kingdom,” so I assume you were not repulsed and outraged by the scene you mention. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that scene actually resonated with you (as it did with a lot of people). Is it fair to say that’s not because you were somehow lusting after a 12 year old, but rather you were remembering the incredibly profound experience of being 12 years old? That’s the appeal of the movie for its fans. And it’s precisely the kind of thing this site was created to celebrate. I’ll also point out I’ve not seen the movie, because I’m not a fan of Wes Anderson; he’s much too self-consciously precious for my taste. But I totally understand the appeal he has to his fans and would never dream of criticizing their tastes nor impugning their motives for appreciating a scene wherein a 12 year old girl’s breasts are fondled.
Having established your approval of two films that depict child sexuality, you can not be seriously suggesting that there can only be one possible purpose for sexually explicit images. The common assumption that viewing pornography will somehow inspire the viewer to go out and be a molester has little basis in fact, and is no different than the argument that playing violent video games makes people more likely to go out and engage in real violence. The vast majority of players have no such reaction, and are horrified at real violence. They can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Some few might be negatively influenced, but that’s invariably because they were already predisposed to such behavior, hence their interest in violent games. And it has even been suggested that playing violent games serves as a safe outlet that actually reduces the likelihood of violent behavior. For the parallel with child pornography, consider that during the decade when it was de facto legal in Denmark, incidence of child molestation actually decreased, significantly. Make of that what you will.
In your comments regarding “kink communities,” you are entirely correct that there is a big difference between an adult playing the role of a child and an actual child. Just as there is a difference between a comic book drawing of a child and an actual child, yet you easily conflate the two as equally harmful. What, I wonder, is the distinction between living adults and inanimate drawings for you? I have friends in the cosplay and furry communities and they insist that yiffing is almost never an actual thing. Again, they can tell the difference between fantasy and reality, just as can gamers and manga fans (I number those among my friends as well).
You asked if you can endorse what is “advocated” here. That might be the heart of the matter. This website is dedicated to examining and appreciating representations of the girl child. Such a topic will, of necessity, occasionally include issues related to pornography and/or pedophilia. That’s not the objective of this site, but it is naive and, frankly, a bit dangerous to pretend that it can be just swept under the rug, never to be spoken of. Indeed, it is because of such attitudes that the topic has so much taboo and thus cannot be broached without very visceral reactions, which tend to obscure rational thought.
But do not confuse discussion with advocacy. Bringing up a subject does not mean one is expressing favor or support. In the words of Stephen Hopkins, “In all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about.” Discouraging particular topics or perspectives from debate is counter-productive. If you can’t ask the question, how will you learn the answer? If you forbid someone from saying, “Is adult-child sexuality really all that bad?” you have deprived yourself of the opportunity to tell him, “Yes, yes it is, and here’s why.” Given your very strong feelings on the subject, I should think you would welcome the opportunity. Again, maybe that’s just me.
But as I said, this has drifted far from the mandate of this site. I come here first of all to enjoy artistic representations of young girls. I find them aesthetically very pleasing. I also enjoy learning about the artists, about trends, about the role art of this sort plays in society. And I very much enjoy the differing perspectives raised in the comments which, unlike on the majority of websites these days, tend to be very respectful, articulate and stimulating, on a subject I am hard pressed to be able to honestly discuss in general company. I most certainly include your comments as being all of those things.
On the other hand, if someone else comes here seeking sexual gratification, despite clear statements that they should look elsewhere, the reality is you ultimately can’t do anything about that. To restrict discussion on the basis that it might give some hypothetical person ideas that others consider harmful or dangerous is both narrow-minded and short-sighted. You cannot change other people’s ideas; you can only hope to influence theirs by expressing your own. Presumably with the gratitude that no one here is telling you to keep those ideas to yourself because of some abstract danger.
I have gone on far too long, and am in increasing danger of entirely disappearing up my own ass. I beg the assembly’s pardon.
I appreciate the thoughtful replies, and I’d like to offer some clarifications of my thoughts.
First, I was referring to the absence of parents in the discussions, not in the photographs.
Second, I don’t have a problem with children appearing nude in photographs or works of art, provided the nudity is not pornographic, the children and their parents are willing, nothing happens which is harmful to the children, and ideally, when the children grow to adulthood, they retain the option of rescinding permission for the images to be used. I think the people running this site do everything in their power to ensure those conditions have been met for the artworks on display here.
The thing is, a lot of the text posted here is not about the art. A lot is about child nudity and childhood sexuality in general. It’s really the discussions about childhood sexuality where I think the problem lies.
It seems to be a pervasive fantasy of pedophiles and hebephiles that children are completely autonomous–that they can be viewed as little grown-ups. The fantasizers are adults who want to have sexual relationships with children as partners–peers in the relationship. Child molesters often rationalize away the wrongness of their actions by telling themselves that the children involved were consenting partners. They also tend to use this rationale with the children they abuse in order to get the kids to accept responsibility, and also in order to secure their cooperation in keeping the affair secret.
But this fantasy is a lie. Prepubescent and pubescent children are not old enough to make all their own decisions. They have parents to keep them healthy and protect them from exploitation. In particular, young children cannot be consenting sexual partners with adults. They may give their consent, but in essence it is not yet theirs to give. They just aren’t old enough to understand what they’re consenting to. This isn’t oppression. It’s the natural order of things. Young children whose parents let them do whatever they want are sorely neglected and generally in peril. It’s terribly abusive to make a child responsible for decisions he or she is not yet ready to make, then blame the child when those decisions lead to harm.
Responsible parents make their children eat a variety of healthy foods, bathe regularly, and so forth. It’s part of our job to supervise their daily physical existence to keep them healthy and safe. This certainly extends to sexual choices as well.
When I see discussions of childhood sexuality that seem to treat children as if they were adults–completely ignoring the role of parents in a child’s life–those discussions feel creepy to me. Frankly, they feel like the rationalizations of pedophiles and hebephiles. But there are a number of such discussions on Pigtails in Paint. I think they would make most parents queasy.
I agree that our society is generally prudish and repressive of natural childhood sexuality, and I’m in favor of correcting that. I think our attitudes about nudity and sexuality tend to create the very issues we were trying to avoid with them, and irrational fears drive a lot of what goes on. The problem with proposing cultural reforms is it can be tough to avoid the “anything goes” mentality that jumps to the conclusion that every existing form of regulation is oppressive.
My experience went something like this: I found this site and started reading through the posts. I felt that a lot of what is advocated here is sane and good. But in the course of reading through the posts, I kept repeatedly coming across those that seemed to be suggesting or implying that if a child desires something or agrees to something, that automatically makes it right. That’s the very attitude that molesters want everyone to adopt, especially the children themselves. They want to convince children that their parents have no right to have any say in what the children do, because only by getting kids to disobey parents and keep secrets from them can the molester secure cooperation and secrecy. A parent is a child’s fortress of protection. The would-be abuser must first break down the walls of that fortress.
So my original question is valid, I think: where are the parents in all these discussions?
Children can do amazing things, but not everything. There are children with extraordinary talents, who can perform with reasonable safety feats that others cannot. Such children inspire me. But I still wouldn’t want to turn them loose to make all their own decisions, and even they wouldn’t want that. Selah Schneiter achieved greatness with copious help from committed adults who understood the risks and supervised all her climbing activities and training. I concede freely that there are many young children in this world who have capabilities I will never achieve. I respect and admire them. But they still aren’t adults.
You continue to raise good points. I am just as much a visitor to this site as you and cannot presume to speak for administrative policy, but merely my perspective. I agree that children are not adults, but the precise distinction has been debated by psychologists, sociologists, physicians and philosophers since…well, since the concept of childhood has existed.
I must raise a concern with the phrase, “provided the nudity is not pornographic.” This is very subjective and brings to mind Justice Potter Stewart’s legendary definition of obscenity: “I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it.” What is pornographic to one person is erotic to another, and perfectly innocent to a third. Indeed, there are many people who believe mere nudity is, in itself, pornographic. I know one such person. Therefore we must be careful when drawing boundaries that are inherently arbitrary.
I also take issue with your implied conflation of the terms “pedophile” and “molester.” It is not semantics to say they are not the same thing. A pedophile has an attraction to children, which may or may not be sexual in nature. On the other hand, most child molesters are not actually attracted to children. It is about power and control. This is a very common error people make, in large part because the subject is not well-understood. There are few meaningful studies that have been conducted, due to the hysteria surrounding the subject, and the strong legal sanctions that make it near impossible to get accurate reporting from anyone other than convicted felons, a poor sample at best.
I submit that one of the primary functions of a site such as this is to encourage the kind of discussion that is otherwise suppressed in our society. I believe that is why the administrators maintain a pretty open policy regarding comments, generally only restricting those which are blatantly offensive, overly politically charged, or just plain off-topic. I could be wrong and will leave it to them to correct me. But I’d like to think that comments such as yours, and my response to them, are precisely why this site exists, as it is a conversation that would be very difficult to have anywhere else without devolving into the traditional internet hate-fest.
I don’t conflate pedophiles and child molesters, and I apologize if my comment gave that impression. I meant to observe different things about the two groups. Pedophiles have a kind of sexual preference (or “orientation”) that tends to motivate certain fantasies and attempted justifications. Child molesters tend to want to break down a child’s obedience and trust for parents. There is an obvious overlap in the fact that the natural role of parents is an inconvenient fact to both groups.
There is some overlap between the groups too, obviously. I don’t personally think the question of how much overlap has been reliably established by good research. (It may be impossible practically to do that.) But I do understand it’s nothing like 100%.
Websters defines pedophilia as: “Sexual perversion in which children are the preferred sexual object. Specifically, a psychiatric disorder in which an adult has sexual fantasies about or engages in sexual acts with a prepubescent child.” Similarly, Wikipedia says: “Pedophilia (alternatively spelt paedophilia) is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children.” Hebephilia is the same directed toward pubescent children. Hence, I think that by definition these are topics about sexuality. There is no pedophilia or hebephilia apart from sexuality.
I don’t hate pedophiles or hebephiles. I feel sorry for them, because I think it would be a terrible burden to find oneself with a sexual preference that can only be fully gratified by harming children. I wish for these people to find some way to have a safe and happy existence. Do I fear them? To a certain extent, yes, because they are (by definition) driven by a powerful motivation to engage in acts that would harm children, and that’s not something to be taken lightly. But I understand that some unknown fraction of them never act out their sexual impulses and so do not harm anybody, and I respect those folks, because what they’re doing may in fact be quite difficult, but their platonic love of children takes precedence over their sexual desires, which is as it should be.
Nevertheless, I think the rationalizations I mentioned are an observable phenomenon. Wherever I have seen pedophilia and hebephilia discussed with openness and calm, the pedophiles and hebephiles themselves have often been represented in the discussion, and many have come on with strong rationalizations that society should approve of their having sexual partnerships with young children, typically with the assumption that the kids are ready and able to be consenting of such partnerships.
I don’t mean to suggest that all pedophiles or hebephiles feel a certain way. I mean to say only that this seems to be a pervasive fantasy among such groups in general, which is understandable, given their predicament. But this fantasy is false and harmful. When I seem to see the same fantasy on the pages of Pigtails in Paint, then it feels to me like the site is bordering on being a pedophilia advocacy site, which, as a parent, feels repulsive to me. That’s not because I’m hysterical and prudish. I think I’m being reasonable here.
It ought to be possible to express here a legitimate concern without being labelled as one of those hysterical prudes who thinks all nudity is pornographic. In fact, pornography exists. In fact, it is difficult to write an objective definition of pornography in words. Nonetheless, *child* pornography ought to be illegal, while child nudity ought to be constitutionally protected. I think even “erotic” depictions of children have no place in society. Healthy adults do not find the subject of children erotic. Our feelings about nude children are complicated and certainly not neutral, but “erotic” seems to cross a clear line.
That said, children are sexual beings, and they (especially girls) often naturally behave provocatively, and depictions of this behavior are simply the honest depictions of children, which should not be censored. The dividing line would be whether the intent of the work is to arouse sexual feelings in adults or older adolescents, which is tough to establish on the basis of the content alone, because different people experience art in different ways.
I think we would be better off if society acknowledged the sexuality of children of both genders and did not shy away from it out of fear. At the same time, child pornography is still wrong, and what constitutes child pornography almost has to be a judgment call in the end, because it’s so difficult to define it with complete clarity.
I personally enjoy the artworks on this site, including those involving nudity. And like many people, I have to be afraid that this enjoyment will be interpreted by others as sexual just because nudity is involved, and that I might be stigmatized or even prosecuted for it. This is a sad state of affairs, and I applaud this site for fighting in aid of what’s right. But I think the site undermines its own battle to the extent that it flirts with justifications of pedophilia/hebephilia. It shouldn’t make me nervous to tell people that I like and support the ideals of Pigtails in Paint. But when Pigtails in Paint seems to be arguing in favor of children having sex with adults, I have to feel much more nervous about even being here than I should. That’s a shame.
While I agree with your assessment of children’s inability to consent to sex (which has been stated repeatedly and unequivocally by Ron and myself as the position of this site), I have a couple of issues with what was said above. First, as I’m sure you’re quite aware, what is “erotic” varies from person to person. What may be a turn-on for one will be completely neutral (and therefore noncontroversial) to another.
I also take issue with your definition of what constitutes a healthy adult. When it comes to desires, fancies, the whole realm of the mind, I do not think we can judge it by the same standards as we do physical pathology. I suggest what matters in the big picture is how one’s thoughts or desires affect their behaviors.
As the founder and originally sole editor of this site, I have an especial connection to Pigtails that others cannot quite fathom (no offense to them). I have since ceded control to Ron, and as he can tell you himself, maintaining this site over the years against blatant attempts to suppress it, while continuing to offer provocative and interesting artistic imagery year after year, images which are intended to provoke discussion without encouraging the “wrong” sort of discussion, is no easy feat. It is a delicate balancing act worthy of any circus performer, all done for no pay but merely for the love and value of the work.
To be sure, we may sometimes attract elements to the site who come here strictly to gawk pruriently at the little nudies. We do our best to discourage that, but in the end I consider it a price worth paying that pedophiles may gather on this site in order to fight the ever-encroaching state, which would just as soon erase any trace of child nudity or child sexuality from the entire history of art if given half a chance. Anyway, who’s to say that such persons finding their relief here isn’t keeping them from committing hands-on offenses or seeking out truly horrible imagery where children really are being exploited and harmed?
None of us are gods. We cannot really know other people’s minds. It is so very easy to say, “Only a small unhealthy minority is to any degree stimulated by the prepubescent or pubescent body,” but this, I’m certain, is utterly disingenuous. That does not mean I feel everyone fits the clinical definition of a pedophile, but I do not believe for one second that the complexities of human sexuality, including with respect to the erotic appeal of children, do not deign to cast a shadow over most or all of us in some respect. Indeed, I have spent several posts, in my Sublimated Sexuality in Modern Surrealist Girl Art series, dissecting what to me has long been obvious: that the current moral panic over child sexual exploitation did not arise out of nothing, and that our culture is currently writhing and twisting itself into knots in order to avoid confronting its own massive sexual insecurities over children.
Sir, I respectfully disagree with your position that there is no place for eroticism in child art. Nature teaches us that when we create vacuums, those vacuums do their damnest to get filled, one way or another. I think it is not only important that we find a niche for such work (providing no flesh-and-blood children are in any way harmed or exploited, I mean), but that to do otherwise is to invite disaster.
I understand that parents might be worried as to the motives of some readers and contributors to this site. I respect that, and your viewpoint has prompted me to take a closer look at parents’ relationship to their children as artistic subjects. However, I caution you that being a parent affords you no particular authority on matters of art, psychology, morality, sexuality, or any of a dozen other issues which intersect here.
Finally, we have all been children, have we not? Perhaps you were an asexual child. I was not. Certainly my understanding of sex was vague and weak and lacked the sort of impetus which drives adults to have sex. But it was not lacking. I am, and ever will be, fascinated by the workings of juvenile sexuality. Though I have no drive or desire to interfere in it, I am in some sense motivated by an innate need to explore and understand it, particularly in the opposite sex. My primary means of doing that is through art, and I expect I am far from alone.
I don’t know, perhaps there is something in me which balks at the idea of forbidden knowledge. It is one thing to protect children from actual sexual predators and abuse (the great majority of which occurs inside the home, at the hands of relatives, not in artists’ studios). It is another thing altogether for society to proclaim that even to explore the concept of the sexual child in art is verboten, that it is tantamount to abusing children and should be quashed at every turn. I find that idea borderline Orwellian. If there is any clear path in this day and age to the return of fascism, it is this one. We have already seen it in the Pizzagate and Qanon conspiracy theories, both of which have made an attempt to entangle artists into their vile propaganda. We at Pigtails are among the very few who stand directly in the line-of-fire and say, “No! You will NOT tarnish art or the exploration of ideas in the name of furthering your political goals.”
And so it goes.
I appreciate your points of view. I think we may agree on more points than it seems.
First, let me say that I think being a parent has given me serious insight into the way children really are, as observed from the perspective of fully rational adulthood. I became a parent quite late in life, so I know the difference between how well I understood children before and after. Eighteen years of very heavy responsibility for the wellbeing of another human is a huge (and often frightening) learning experience, which I do doubt nonparents can completely understand. I don’t feel that I’m a great expert on all these topics. I do feel that I have opinions that come from enough years of direct experience to be worthy of some respect.
For many years now (years before I ever knew about Pigtails in Paint) my favorite artist has been William Bouguereau. We have a fine-art print on canvas of “L’Amour et Psyche, Enfants” (Cupid and Psyche as Children) hanging on our living-room wall, and it certainly has caused a stir. I hope this gives you some idea of my feelings about nude children in art, along with my own courage to push back against those who would censor such things.
I cordially disagree with the idea that nothing should be forbidden in art. In the broader sense, that idea seems to me like anarchy. It’s easy to make black-and-white statements. It’s just as easy to say “anything goes” as it is to say “nothing goes.” What’s tough in a society is to try to set sane limits to balance the competing interests of free expression against safety and health–particularly of children. There is a constant tug-o-war there, as the lines can tend to be blurry. Solid lines can never be drawn so as to please everyone. But I think we still must draw them.
Of course I was not an asexual child. I have clear memories of sexual impulses in childhood, and my experiences growing up are a major factor fueling my stance that prudery in our society is generally harmful. My intent has been to confine my comments here mostly to the subject of sex between adults and young children. By “young” I mean prepubescent or pubescent, roughly from birth to about thirteen years old.
Clinical definitions aside, I think the following is a true statement: “Healthy adults do not desire young children as sexual partners.” I think this statement is accepted as true by most adults in the civilized world.
Of course the feelings that adults (or children for that matter) experience are very complicated and defy any simple analysis. It’s my personal opinion that to a significant degree, any titillation that might be felt by normal adults upon seeing kids naked tends to stem from the facts that our society trains us to conflate nudity and pornography, and the sight of a nude child is generally treated as something forbidden. Thus, more exposure to innocent child nudity would probably lead to healthier feelings and attitudes in general.
Another negative upshot of prudery has been the surgical isolation of sex as a thing unto itself, removed from its normal place in the context of relationships and families. As long as we are in mind of the fact that a normal human sexual partnership is also a romantic relationship between equally responsible people, we aren’t going to advocate such relationships between adults and young kids.
Kids in healthy families don’t see themselves as autonomous, nor do they want autonomy. They don’t feel ready to make all their own choices, which is a good thing, because in fact they aren’t ready. Faced with some unknown, such as adult sexuality, a healthy child’s first instinct is to ask his or her parents about it, and to believe what they say. And parents who love their young children and want what’s best for them do not approve of the children’s entering sexual partnerships with adults. Therefore, young children in normal circumstances can’t be willing sexual partners–their true will is to be kept safe by responsible adults. I think it’s fair to say that this is the general reality, and also to observe that any adult sexual fantasy with a child as its object must necessarily ignore this reality, or even strongly desire for it to be otherwise. But such a desire is in direct opposition to children’s safety, which is why I think seeing it hinted at on these pages would make most parents queasy.
If I’m not mistaken, you yourself have suggested that those people who see innocent child nudes as pornographic are the perverted ones, because they are unable to look at a nude child without being turned on. I think this oversimplifies the issue, but I bring it up mainly because of the implications of such a statement. It implies that adults who are sexually aroused by looking at nude children are perverted.
I personally think it’s madness for a society to attempt to legislate the thoughts and feelings of its members. Besides that, people are not culpable for feelings, because people don’t generally choose their own feelings. People are only responsible for their actions and intentions. But adult sex drive directed at children is, in fact, abnormal and dangerous, and it is within the realm of reason and good sense to believe that a society should balk at such a thing.
I’m gladly willing to concede that some part of the complex jumble of feelings we experience when looking at children, whether nude or clothed, some part of those feelings could be called sexual, inasmuch as sex should not be divorced from its broader context, which is the natural human drive to have a family–to be in a fruitful partnership and have offspring, which we will bond with, love, and take care of. All those warm fuzzies go together. It’s really impossible to separate them, and I think it’s unhealthy to try. I recall my ex-wife, at a certain age, feeling a strong desire to procreate, and seeing children definitely stimulated that desire. But there is a clear distinction that can be drawn: in healthy adult sexuality, prepubescent or early-pubescent children are never the *object* of sexual desire, and likewise healthy children do not desire sex with adults. I think we must be very careful to keep this clear in our hearts and minds.
Why do I think that’s so important? Because when adult sexual desire is directed at children, it becomes a dangerous force, which in fact does result in a lot of children coming to harm, even very great harm. I think it’s reasonable to say that we are better off when society doesn’t tolerate even flirting with the idea of children as objects of adult sexual desire. If you disagree with that, I’d like to cordially ask this question: What would we gain by legitimizing such a thing (seeing as how what we lose is already obvious)?
“Erotica” is a middle ground between art and pornography, as it has elements of both. It’s designed for the purpose of stimulating both aesthetic and sexual feelings. I don’t personally think erotic elements “debase” art. I think eroticism is a normal part of human experience, and as such, it has its place in art. And I actually don’t think pornography is all bad either. Its proper place in society is a complicated subject. I’m certainly not in favor of blanket censorship of pornography, but I do think it needs to be regulated.
But when we talk about art featuring children, I believe there must be a line. I think child pornography ought to be illegal, and child “erotica,” which has elements of both art and child pornography, has no place in any good society. What would its place be? Part of its function is to stimulate adult feelings of sexual desire directed at children. What is to be gained by doing that?
But, you may ask, what do we lose? For one thing, preventing children from being exploited in the making of such art is problematic. If some artist wants to do a drawing or painting of children engaging in adult sexual activities, that artist is likely to wish for models or photographs to refer to. And having secured them, of course the artist will later claim that no such models or photographs were consulted. But apart from direct harm to children, should we permit art whose purpose is to stir up adult sexual desire aimed at our children, even though such desire is known to be a force that leads to victimization? I don’t think mere “freedom of expression” is a strong argument for such a thing. Freedom is not the same thing as anarchy. Expression should be free, but not necessarily totally unconstrained.
Ron said that “it takes a village to raise a child.” If the village–society–takes collective action to protect its children from being objects of adult sexual intentions, can we fault it for that?
I’ve said that I feel sorry for pedophiles and hebephiles, and I do. I think they are unfairly stigmatized. A pedophile or hebephile could be very strong and responsible, could always choose what is morally right, and could in fact be a model citizen, but if he or she dares to admit to having sexual feelings toward children, our society will be unrelenting in its hatred and persecution. Such people have been dealt a bad hand by fate: they already have to deal with their own perverse sexuality. On top of that, they can’t practically get any support, because to tell anyone of their predicament is to bring the wrath of the clan down on their heads, even if their sincerest wish is to keep all children safe.
But it’s still the case that an adult’s sex drive is a powerful mover. This is “by design”: it’s one of those facets of the human condition that ensures the survival of the species. The fact of the matter is, the adult whose sex drive is directed at prepubescent or pubescent children poses a very tough problem. Such people would like to have some sexual outlet that doesn’t harm children. It seems cruel (not to mention impractical) to suggest that they be denied any outlet. But whatever gratifies the urge to mate with children reinforces a powerful and dangerous drive to behave in harmful ways, which, in the end, might require a heroic strength to resist, and not all pedophiles and hebephiles will possess such strength.
There doesn’t seem to be an easy general answer. But I believe child pornography and child “erotica” ought to be forbidden. One of the reasons I think the latter should be forbidden, even if we could be sure children were not being exploited in its making, is to help us all keep the truth clearly before our eyes: adult sexual desire directed at young children is abnormal and dangerous. Any force in society that would act to legitimize it increases the actual risk to children while morally degrading society. Please understand that I don’t say this lightly. I’m not a reactionary or a prude.
Childhood sexuality should be expressed in appropriate ways by children, and adult sexuality should be expressed in appropriate ways by adults. In all cases, healthy young children should be following the directives of loving adults committed to their wellbeing, and such adults, who understand the complexities of human sexuality, will not make choices based purely on the pleasures of the moment, nor will they permit children to be manipulated by adults whose motivation is only their own sexual gratification.
I appreciate this blog. I respect you for starting it and defending it. Personally, I feel that it would be easier to defend to the extent it didn’t seem to be trying to legitimize adult sexual desire directed at children. I don’t believe every adult has secret sexual fantasies about children, and I certainly don’t think we should be exposed to art whose aim is to lead us to think about such things.
As a parent, images of children (even *particularly* of nude children) lead me to experience strong warm-fuzzy feelings of nurturing and protectiveness. And contact with children leads to even stronger feelings. Holding a young child is for me a powerful sensual and emotional experience, which is–in some complex way–intertwined with the feelings that led to my becoming a father in the first place. But there is never the slightest tinge of sexual feeling directed toward the child, and I think that’s the normal and overwhelmingly common state of affairs. To a large extent, it’s these same warm fuzzies toward children that make me feel ill at the idea of children’s being separated from the adults protecting them and treated as if they were ready to make grown-up sexual choices. Plain and simply, that idea is just wrong.
Thanks for listening.
I don’t disagree that there needs to be a line drawn. It should be drawn at the point where real and direct harm occurs. As luck would have it, the law currently draws the line exactly there. Or at least it did until lolicon and shotacon were all but directly criminalized. And therein lies the problem: by leaving the laws surrounding illustrated child erotica so vague and undefined, it spooks legitimate artists from challenging the status quo and the fearmongering, which I will argue is one of the main jobs of the artist. I once read a great quote that I can not longer find, but I will attempt to paraphrase it here: an artist who is beholden to the state, to popular opinion, to anyone or anything but their own vision is not making art; they’re making propaganda. In this age of Fox News and Trump, artists as independent creators have never been in more danger. So I ask, where do you draw the line? What constitutes erotic content that you feel goes too far? I’m not asking merely what you find distasteful. There are plenty of images that I find personally distasteful, including some that are posted here. I’m asking you what you feel should be legally proscribed. Can you provide some examples, or at least give us some idea of what you’re referring to?
Okay, but you are treading dangerously close to—if not outright crossing into—attacking a straw man here. I think there’s a supposition on your part that playing with ideas or fantasies about sex with underage partners is essentially the same thing as “desiring young children as sexual partners.” It isn’t. There are many adults in the kink community, for example, who explore such fantasies by proxy but have no interest in directing that towards actual children. Would you classify them as unhealthy? What about people who are aroused by cartoons of animals but aren’t actually into bestiality? What if the cartoon animals are depicted as juveniles? And let’s not forget that these same ideas have been explored in literature, sometimes quite explicitly. Do you judge Nabokov a child pornographer? I suspect not. Why, then, would you assume that a visual artist who explores the eroticism of youth, even if they do so obliquely (Jana Brike being a supreme example), are merely out to titillate the viewer? Do you suggest there is no possible way to explore such ideas in art without being anything but sick—excuse me, “unhealthy” to employ your euphemism—agents of filth and indecency?
Ah! Now we are at the crux of the issue. Your suggestion, simply put, is that all artists must be made to take care not to set off what you have yourself identified as a solid minority along the wrong path, triggered, if you will, by currently legal (or perhaps quasi-legal in some cases) imagery to behave sexually with children. Indeed, if I am reading you correctly, your objection isn’t only with such images, but even with discussions or suggestions of these matters, which you’ve identified as taking place regularly on this blog. Oh, I agree that ideas can be dangerous. Is it dangerous to claim that the government is corrupt and should be overthrown? Of course it is. And that is an idea which I strongly suspect influences far more of the population than legally protected “erotic” images (however loosely defined) of children. Should we appease the would-be Big Brothers and Big Sisters among us and outlaw that speech as well? Oh, but there we’re talking about an entity operated by adults, you might reply. No children are endangered by the calls for the overthrow of the state. Not directly anyway. Well then, let me put this to you: every reputable medical, psychological and children’s organization in America has claimed in no uncertain terms that spanking is harmful to children. Grand! I agree. We should outlaw spanking, then, but would that even be enough to protect children? Simply spreading pro-spanking speech is dangerous, encouraging the weak-willed to spank, or go further yet and wallop their kid a good one across the face. So, we mustn’t permit the spread of “abnormal and dangerous” ideas, no matter what form that might take, don’t you agree? Or do you make a lone exception for erotic child art?
Thank you. I also appreciate that you see things far more reasonably than the average critic of our site and have been very respectful with your complaints. I do take exception, however, to your suggestion that we “seem to be trying to legitimize adult sexual desire directed at children.” This is an accusation I must take seriously and object to very strongly. I quite agree that not every adult harbors “secret sexual fantasies” about children. I do, however, believe that many adults in modern society are driven by a complex moral panic surrounding child nudity and child sexuality, to the extent that society now has a pathological dread of these which pushes the whole of it in an “unhealthy” direction resulting in another sort of abuse to children which is harder to quantify in the same way as direct sexual abuse but is no less harmful for that. And before you jump the gun here, I will stress yet again that Pigtails is and always has been staunchly opposed to sexual abuse of every sort. This is in no way an appeal to the false idea that all the harm of sexual abuse arises from society rather than from the abuse itself. I am well aware of this argument and do not agree with it at all. But there is something to be said for the idea that conservative approaches to youth sexuality have been problematic. Is it a coincidence that teen pregnancy is highest in areas where sexual abstinence has been preached most aggressively and prophylactics and birth control measures have been actively denied to them? This, to me, is simply one dimension of the same moral panic. So too the severe punishment of kids involved in sexting cases. And on and on.
I will say finally that, yes, it may be easier to defend our position if the matters of child sexuality and child erotica never arose. We could certainly have gone that route. But I think that would’ve been dishonest and “safe”, if you will. By tossing ourselves into the midst of controversy with the nude art, it was inevitable that accusations that we were pandering to pedophiles would arise. By default, this implies that these works are pedophilic in nature. I reject this accusation not by skittering fearfully away from it but by leaning into the discussion, by holding up the work proudly, and by not avoiding the concepts and allegations but rather addressing them head-on. If that means we sometimes come across as defending the “pedophilic gaze” as it were, then so be it. Almost without exception I will err on the side of freedom of expression and freedom of thought, lest we lose those rights to the insidious encroachment of censorship and fascism. First they came for the nudes . . .
I must stress that Pigtails in Paint is not a forum to discuss paedophilia / hebephilia or intergenerational sexual activity, whether in this society or in a more enlightened one. As with many social and political questions, there are other places to debate them. Authors and editors are free to have their opinions on such matters and to express them elsewhere. What unites us is the appreciation of the girl in arts and media, hence the defence of the freedom of art and artists. There is much to do in this respect, given the high level of intolerance, as many people consider that “feeling offended” is sufficient ground for censorship.
I stand corrected. Thank you for the clarification.
Well, de facto, these subjects are discussed on Pigtails in Paint, not just in the comments, but in the original posts. It was such remarks that my original post was a reaction to. If the people operating the site feel it’s fair game to discuss childhood sexuality, including the question of whether sex between children and adults may sometimes be appropriate, it must also be fair game to respond to those discussions in kind, by expressing my feelings about what has been said, no?
I understand that intolerance and censorship exist, but I’m not expressing intolerance or a desire for censorship. I’m expressing my feelings about what has been said about childhood sexuality here. My reason for taking the time to do that was actually that I feel this site does a lot of good, and it’s a shame to see such good undermined by what I think are certain attitudes about children in societies (even hypothetical ones) that are patently erroneous (factually) and likely to be perceived by most parents as dangerous.
I’d like to come to this site and feel that its content is in no way about attempts to justify unhealthy sexual or romantic intentions toward children. I’d like to feel that it’s all about the art. Because I don’t feel that way, I felt inclined to comment. I think the issues I’ve raised do in fact exist in the text some of the posts here.
I want to say all this respectfully, even though it’s tone is that of disagreement. I appreciate that we are able to discuss this subject civilly, and I respect all involved.
This is my first time commenting. My comments pertain to the site in general. I’m posting them here because this looks like the most recent blog entry.
I’ve enjoyed reading through many of the posts. I think Pigtails in Paint serves several important purposes. As things have turned out, clearly one of its main points is to battle against unhealthy attitudes toward childhood nudity and sexuality.
I agree with the position that our taboos about child nudity stem from irrational fears of pedophilia and child pornography–fears that have reached hysterical proportions–and it seems plausible to me that the whole system of taboos and fears is self-reinforcing. Therefore, it’s particularly healthy, in general, for people to permit themselves to see children nude (in ordinary nonpornographic contexts of course). This is probably especially good for children themselves, who have a natural sexual curiosity that shouldn’t be repressed. Pigtails in Paint facilitates this healthy practice in a world where it’s much more difficult than it should be. It also advocates for more relaxed attitudes toward childhood sexuality, which I think could be a very positive type of change if we could get the specifics right. Prudery has done significant harm.
That said, I feel that the attitudes expressed in the text and comments sometimes seem to miss a couple of essential points about childhood sexuality and its proper place in society. Perhaps it’s the disregarding of these important factors that makes a lot of people–parents especially–queasy about what seems to be advocated here.
The hard thing about advocating social change is how to draw the line. We start envisioning brave new worlds, and where does it end? With childhood sexuality, for example, at some point we’ve gone too far. Hysteria aside, most people–even people who advocate a lot of openness–would say that it’s going too far to suggest that adults should be allowed to have prepubescent kids as sexual partners. That’s simply childhood sexual abuse. It’s well over the line. But where is the line itself exactly? How far is just too far?
I submit that we must find the line by subjecting our brave new worlds to the same standards that we’re subjecting our present world to. We say repression of childhood sexuality is unhealthy because it’s unnatural. Nature would have children validate and act on certain sexual impulses as they grow, and we hamper their proper development when we repress those impulses. Therefore, whatever we advocate instead should be something more natural–in general–than what we have now.
It’s very important to recognize that Nature gave children parents. I feel that this consideration is conspicuously lacking from a lot of the text and discussion here. Yes, children are whole people: first-class citizens. But they are not yet ready to live autonomously. They need adults to protect them and help them navigate through the early part of life. We can observe not only that this need exists, but also that under normal circumstances children naturally form very strong emotional bonds with both parents at birth, and these bonds continue throughout childhood. If we wanted to ignore the proper roles of parents, we’d have to divorce ourselves from a majority of what’s known about healthy childhood development.
Yet in reading the commentary and discussion about childhood sexuality here, several times I found myself coming back to the question: Where are the parents in all this? My perception was that the speaker wanted to consider childhood sexuality in the world of Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” comics: a child’s world, where adults are never seen and participate very little.
Children are not served by pushing aside their parents. In fact, when a nefarious adult enters a child’s life, the first thing that adult will generally try to do is weaken the child’s loyalty to his or her parents. The child molester knows that children who obey their parents will not be cooperative. So the evil adult must first break down Nature’s defenses by convincing the child to keep secrets from parents and embark on activities the child knows his or her parents would disapprove of.
As a parent myself, when I read discussions about children’s scope of sexual expression, and those discussions completely leave parents out of the picture, I can’t help feeling that the writer is somebody who might encourage children to break free from their parents and keep them in the dark about what’s really going on. And of course that feels nefarious to me. It’s just what a child molester would want a child to do, and it’s certainly not in the child’s best interests.
I read one discussion in which (if I recall correctly) the poster and a commenter considered whether (in, I presume, a hypothetical society) an adult should be free to pursue a sexual relationship with a pubescent child. The poster argued that although it might conceivably be good for the child, it might also be bad, and therefore it would be best not to pursue such a thing. The commenter countered that we never really know even how being born is going to come out for the child. (I assume this meant the commenter thought it should be okay for the adult to pursue sex with the child.) But throughout the discussion there seemed to be a tacit assumption that it was totally a question of what the adult and the child wanted, without any consideration of what the child’s parents felt about it, or how it would affect the family dynamic if it happened. That lack of consideration made the discussion feel creepy to me. One of the major benefits I’d hope to see in a more open society would be more parental involvement in adolescents’ sexual choices, so that the kids could be better protected.
Prudery has the unhealthy effect of surgically isolating human sexuality from the rest of the human condition and considering it as a thing unto itself. I think if we look to what’s natural, sexuality is inextricably interwoven with all the complex bonding mechanisms at work between humans. Coitus does not generally happen in an emotional vacuum. Nature would have it that people are attracted, and they bond, and they have sex. The bond leads to sex, and sex strengthens the bond. The idea that sex could be “purely physical” is nonsense. For “pure” physical gratification, a well-designed sex toy would be as good as another person. Sex is fundamentally an activity of intimate connection and bonding between two people: sort of like a hug on steroids. This removal of sex from its emotional context–romantic love–is a negative consequence of prudery. We were told that love is beautiful but sex is dirty. Thus, we learned to consider sex as a separate thing.
The antidote to this isn’t to keep sex as a separate thing and start insisting that it’s great and encouraging everyone to do it as often as possible. The real antidote is to reintegrate it. The term “sexual” is really a pretty arbitrary category. Is a hug sexual? It’s a physical contact between two people that expresses intimacy, and it feels good to the participants. But hugs are not considered dirty or even separate from ordinary affection. In the context of adult romantic love, sex has its place as an expression of an intimate bond between two people. We don’t pursue hugs because they feel pleasurable physically. We pursue them because we want to express affection. If sex were in its proper place, it wouldn’t be separated from love. Even the radical vision of childhood sexual openness in Will McBride’s “Show Me!” keeps sexual relations and love firmly fused together.
Sexuality is complicated. At all ages and in every stage of development, our sexual feelings also involve warm fuzzies toward other people. This is one of the tragic things about sexual repression–it’s really expressions of affection that we’re stifling.
It’s unnatural to single out sexual urges, thoughts, and behaviors and artificially repress them. It’s equally unnatural to single them out and artificially stimulate or encourage them. We ought not teach children that sex is dirty. But neither should we teach children that sex is something they should be really into as soon as possible and as fanatically as possible. We ought to teach them what sex is, that when it happens, it’s natural, and that there are certain risks involved, especially after puberty, so that parents should be aware of what’s going on and involved. If we never made the subject taboo, it would be perfectly normal for children to discuss it with their parents, and thus the kids would be protected–from exploitation by adults as well as from other hazards like pregnancy and STDs.
It’s a bad thing that kids are defying their parents and having sex on their own–high risk sex as often as not. Sometimes I get the feeling that we are proposing to declare that a good thing, and people even seem to be suggesting that adults could be young children’s sexual partners. To me, that all loses sight of where we started–what would be natural. Nature gave kids parents. In terms of what’s natural, I don’t think healthy adults desire young kids as sexual partners, and I don’t think young kids generally desire adults–to the extent they can correctly sort out and interpret their own feelings, which is still limited at puberty. Sexual relationships are naturally peer relationships, because the sex is an expression of an emotional bond that’s normally on a peer level. An adult can manipulate a child into consenting to something that he or she may think is a good idea at the time, but will later regret–perhaps bitterly, as sex is a very powerful expression of one’s intimate self. That’s why we have “age of consent” laws to govern sex between adolescents and adults. It seems silly to suggest that we’re stifling children sexually by having such regulations. That feels more like a complaint coming from hebephiles who would like it to be okay to pursue sex with kids. But in general, when parents are involved, they can help their kids understand their own feelings and make good choices with all the relevant information.
These two considerations–parental roles, and the natural place of sexuality in the larger context of normal human relationships and family life–these two considerations seem to be absent from a lot of the rhetoric I see on the subject. I feel that if we were to forge new attitudes toward childhood sexuality without considering these essential facts, we’d likely do at least as much harm as good.
Firstly, thank you for this long and thoughtful reply. However, it is quite long, and I needed several days to process it. Upon reflection, there’s little in it that I take issue with. I will say that the main reason parents don’t appear in these images very often is because it is not the focus of the blog. The focus is the girl-child, and as such, she gets the overwhelming bulk of attention here. I would add that this blog is not ultimately an ideological blog, save that it reflects the spirit of freedom of expression. Of course parents are important in the decision of children modeling publicly, including whether or not they appear in the nude. To my knowledge, we have never suggested that children’s parents shouldn’t be involved in the decision of whether or not their kids may appear in art to be publicly displayed. But parents agreeing to allow their kids to model for art, nude or otherwise, has never been the deciding factor for the state or critics of the work in terms of its appropriateness or legality. If anything, the criticism has been levied at the parents almost as frequently as the artists who produce the work, and often they are one and the same anyway, for good (mostly) or for bad (consider the case of Irina Ionesco). But again, family dynamics are not the main focus of this blog, or even a secondary focus. Always keep that in mind as you peruse the site.
There ARE some beautiful pictures here in which a parent is included, such as:
(These two pictures of course have another common element, which is obviously a complete coincidence.)
There is nothing I like more than well thought-out comments. In our focus on girl children, it is easy to forget that responsible artists who work with them will make sure they are properly chaperoned. This is usually a parent, but not always. I would also like to mention that the presence and permission of the parent does not guarantee that things are handled ethically. There have been many instances of parents or other close relatives abusing the children themselves. Lately, I find myself thinking again and again that it takes a village to raise a child; the biological parents, especially young ones, cannot always be counted on to make the right decision.
Even when posing in the nude is completely above board, it does not mean that it removes the stigmatization. In such an instance, it should be possible for the subject to decline to be exhibited during socially-sensitive times in life, namely teen years and young adulthood. This happened with one of Frank Cordelle’s models who requested she be removed and, once she was married, be reinstated. Being reinstated is a sure sign that things have been legitimate and that the feelings of the model are being respected. A similar situation happened with Sally Mann’s children: when the children got older, they allowed a couple of “embarrassing” photos to finally be published. One of the key conditions for removing images from this site lies mainly in respecting the model, not necessarily the artist.
I must agree with the commenter here that perhaps there is too much discussion about nudity and sexuality on this site. But we should not just put our heads in the sand and pretend, as mainstream media does, that there are not important issues to sort out here. It is clear that people need to talk about these things and I am glad that, at least in part, these concerns can be debated. Sexuality in particular is an intensely interesting subject for most people and it is not going to go away. I would not say that childhood sexuality is the problem here; it is the way we deal with it that is the problem. In a perfect world, people would be educated enough to know that sexuality is simply an integral part of every human being. As such, it will tend to be at least a small component in almost any representative art form. The need for discussion at this stage is because societal rules on how sexuality may be expressed has not been standardized and, in our modern internationalist culture, will not be so for a while.
The notion that children are completely autonomous is indeed a fantasy and it is used all too often to rationalize pedophilial behavior and attitudes. On the other hand, it is not only children who should be protected but any members of our society that need assistance, guidance or protection. Modern libertarians would have us believe that once we are adults, we are all fair game for victimization by our fellow human beings. There may be a desire by some to make children fair game as well, but this is not strictly an age distinction.
Age alone does not take into account the complexity of real relationships and even the notion of the ‘age of consent’ is an oversimplification for the sake of legal system (certain forms of sexism play into this problem as well). Namely, it won’t tax the intellectual capacity of police, jurors and judges and, of course, it saves money. There is an odd thing regarding responsibility and secrecy. I seriously doubt it takes much if any coercion on the part of the more mature partner to keep an affair secret. Frankly, for someone with little experience, sex is a weird thing and it makes us do things that don’t make sense. Because of that, people are not often inclined to share details of one’s sexual conduct unless it is somehow fashionable in which case people go to the other extreme and will even lie, claiming they have done it! Sexual impulses are also mysterious and so, because of their inexperience, young people can’t help feeling that they are somehow responsible for putting some vibe out there which someone has responded to. If children can blame themselves for the marital problems of their parents, it is very easy to imagine that they would internalize the blame for illicit sexual behavior as well. If this were not the case, there would not be the need for public service announcements urging children to report the misconduct of adults. This is certainly all fear driven, but not necessarily the fear from explicit threats. This state of affairs creates severe challenges to law enforcement and the justice system.
Our instincts do not always work in our favor but, for the most part, they are there to protect us. If someone feels creeped out by the idea that children should be treated like adults, there is a good reason for that: it is, in some way, unnatural. One of the problems is that people can come to the wrong conclusion about their feelings. If the purpose of the discussion is meant to be a guide for predators, then that would be quite upsetting. It is my hope that on Pigtails in Paint the discussion is operating on a clinical level. So many in the general public including parents and children themselves are uneducated on this important subject and really ought to be to make sound decisions. As things stand, most decisions in this area are cultural placeholders that may have worked somewhat in a tribal setting, but may not fit with many individuals in our complex post-industrial world. I don’t think it is very compassionate to allow these people to go on suffering simply because they were not given the tools to understand the scope of the problems or allowed a reasonable leeway when they express themselves differently.
The commenter agrees that society is generally prudish and repressive when it comes to the nature of childhood sexuality. Reform is certainly in order, but I must caution readers about condemning those who hold fast to inflexible standards. This condition is perhaps inevitably the result of the melting pot of world cultures interacting. Different societies have different rules about sexuality and they all work in their way. But what I find interesting is that the rules aren’t the same. On the one hand, what we should take away from that is that there is not just one right set of rules for human sexuality. As convenient as it may be mentally to think that there is one right way, there isn’t. Humans and other creatures would not be able to survive if there weren’t some wiggle room because of changing environmental conditions—including what we have done to ourselves. The other lesson is that there is a need for rules of some kind; a kind of sexual anarchy simply does not work in societies with more than a handful of members. So what has happened? In order to err on the side of conservatism—that is, anger the fewest people possible—the most proscriptive standards have been adopted as not to interfere with business as usual. This has gotten too restrictive and does not give most healthy human beings enough flexibility to find a happy balance. It is paramount that we use our minds and not fall back on hard-and-fast rules. Limitations in themselves are not oppressive, only overly-strict ones are.
So where are the parents (or other responsible agents)? They are there; we are simply not focused on them. Our fascination with children is a fascination with the idyll and mystery of our own childhood. And yet we are evaluating things as sexually mature human beings at the same time. It is no wonder that we should become confused by our own projections. So although the commenter’s question is perfectly valid, that aspect may get downplayed in exploring the fantasy and reality of childhood. Rest assured, though, that when writing about the portrayal of little girls, in the back of my mind is always the complexity of a world that has brought her to our contemplation. -Ron
Ron, I really appreciate your in-depth and insightful comments. I agree with pretty much everything you say here. I guess my only concern would be that there seem to be several posts on this site that take a different stance, or at least give that impression rather strongly.
Let me give one example. This is from the post on the album cover for the Scorpions’ “Virgin Killer”:
“Moreover, the girl’s seeming compliance is an accurate depiction of child sexuality, which is likely what disturbs people the most about it. The girl’s easy and open pose stresses her willingness. Most people currently seem unable to accept the fact that kids—even prepubescent ones—are sexual and can not only be participatory but willing sexual partners. I know people who were molested and when asked directly about this, most of them have admitted that they enjoyed the sexual contact to some degree. This does not, of course, mean they weren’t victimized, but it demonstrates a valuable lesson to us: children are not asexual beings who experience de facto suffering and trauma when they have sexual experiences.”
This set of statements evidently considers the prepubescent child completely irrespective of the adults responsible for the child’s health and safety. In fact, it would almost appear to be chastising those very adults for their feelings about this portrayal of a child as “willing.” If a child is a “willing” sexual partner, it’s because that child has been somehow divorced from his or her parents and other protective adults and is knowingly acting against their wishes. This is a highly dangerous situation for the child. Should we really focus on the child’s “willingness” and the physical pleasure she experiences, and even go so far as to point out that perhaps she wasn’t traumatized after all? Doesn’t that seem to be rationalizing in favor of the actions of the abuser?
The title of the album is “Virgin Killer,” not “Child Abuser.” The implication of that title with that cover is that the child depicted is a virgin until she is exploited, after which she is simply the sexually experienced child shown on the cover. This ignores the girl’s age and the harmfulness of childhood sexual abuse. The poster seems to be saying that this is a good thing, that an accurate portrayal of abuse must take into account the child’s “willingness.”
As a parent, I have to admit that I find that a pretty creepy interpretation. The child’s “willingness” may be realistic, but it’s only indicative of the extent to which the child has been separated from those who should be protecting her and manipulated into choosing what’s harmful to her. This reality is horrifying.
By analogy, we could have a work of art depicting a child being given a heroin injection by a pusher, and we could similarly point out that the child is willing to be given the injection, and that she will feel great pleasure. And we could indict those in our society who wish to ignore that aspect of the making of a teenage junkie. We could say, “People seem unable to accept the fact that children choose to shoot up, and that they enjoy it very much.” But I don’t think people are unable to acknowledge that at all. I think people find that assertion to be the pervasive lie that wrecks the lives of kids who fall victim to pushers. What a child “chooses” in a void without parents is not really properly called “choice.” The fact that the child is “willing” and enjoys the experience does nothing to mitigate its harmfulness, and if we dislike art that seems to glorify such an experience, I think that only shows that we’re decent people. The effect of art like this on children must not be underestimated. It’s fair to say that adolescents were a primary demographic for the Scorpions’ music. Should we think it’s a good thing to depict for those children how hip it is to be molested, as it makes you a sophisticated and experienced nonvirgin?
The comments and ensuing discussion on this post continued the trend of ignoring the role of parents. For example, the original poster wrote, in response to a comment:
“I think it’s a very bad idea for adults to be having sex with kids, if only because you can never be sure which way it’s going to go for the child, no matter how much care is taken by the adult. There are a lot of different factors involved, probably the most relevant one being—I think you would agree—how the society we live in poisons any such experiences for kids almost as a matter of course.”
The assumption here is that you have an adult, and you have a “consenting” child, and the poster says that sex between them might be good or it might be bad (even if the adult is “careful”!), so perhaps it is best avoided. What’s more, it asserts that the primary reason that the sex might be bad for the child is that society will “poison” it. The question of where the child’s parents are never comes up. In actual fact, there are many reasons sexual exploitation of pubescent children by adults is objectively harmful, but this comment says the most important consideration is that society “poisons” the experience. The clear implication is that the experience itself (prior to its being poisoned) is, or at least might be, an okay thing.
We can perform the following thought experiment. Suppose I have an eleven-year-old daughter, and a thirty-year-old hebephile wants to have sex with her. I decide I’m going to let my daughter choose. So I sit down with her and tell her all the facts of the case. I explain to her what a hebephile is, and what this man’s actual feelings toward her are–that he would like to think of her as a lover, the way married people think of each other; that he feels within himself a very strong drive and desire to obtain sexual pleasure by having sex with her; that this experience will likely make him fall in love with her and desire her even more; that the relationship he envisions is one of a grown-up sexual partnership. Meanwhile, I explain, her own sexuality is a complicated thing that is fundamental to her psychological and emotional wellbeing, her sense of herself, her feelings about her own body and her own worth, and so on. And having sex, though it will be physically enjoyable, will have emotional repercussions that kids her age are not normally mature enough to deal with. There will be a tendency for it to create an emotional bond between her and this man. And besides all that, this man’s strong sexual drive will be the main thing motivating him, and that means that he is not and will not be inclined to consider whether what he does is harmful to her. Hebephilia is an abnormality. Normal adults want sex with people their own age. Hebephiles necessarily evade certain aspects of reality, because they are ready to imagine that they can have peer-level sexual partnerships with children, which is not really practical. I go on to explain to my hypothetical daughter that if she would like to have sexual pleasure, masturbation is always an option for her, and if she wants more information about that, I will make sure her mother supplies it to her.
Now, in saying all this to the girl, I’ve done nothing to “poison” the experience. I haven’t told her that it’s dirty, that the man is a creep, that she will be “damaged goods” if she chooses sex with him–none of that. I’ve told her only the facts of the case (many of which are objectively bad without reference to society’s attitudes). Assuming I have a normal, loving bond of trust with my hypothetical daughter, what are the chances she is going to choose to have sex with this man after our talk? I think extremely low to nonexistent.
My point is that this reality–the importance of the role of parents in a child’s life–has been ignored in the comments I quoted above. If the child is “willing,” it’s only because she doesn’t understand all the complexities involved, and there is no trusted adult supplying what’s lacking. She knows only that she has had pleasure, and she naturally desires more of it (exactly like the teenage junkie). What we should see in this image is not a willing child who’s having fun. What we should see is the tragedy of an exploited child being manipulated–due to her lack of protective adult advocates–into going along with something that harms her. But neither the post nor the comments point that out.
My original comment listed two aspects of childhood sexuality conspicuously missing from quite a few posts here. One is the role of parents in a child’s life. The other is that childhood sexuality has a nature of its own, which is not amenable to arbitrary reinvention, and which does not embrace sex with adults. In fact, we err when we separate sexual aspects of personality from emotional. They are intertwined, and grown-up sex goes with real romantic love. A parent’s job with a pubescent child is to help him or her understand the new feelings and where it’s all leading, and to help him or her find appropriate, natural, and safe expressions of sexual feelings.
I think the post and comment I quoted above provide an example of the kind of text on this site that seems to ignore those considerations, which makes it feel sometimes like the site is arguing in favor of permissiveness toward sexual abuse.
This site must already contend with people jumping to the conclusion that it’s tailor made for pedophiles. It does itself no service when the posted text tends to lend support to that conclusion.
In situations with young girls involving nudity or sexuality, the question always comes up, “Where are the parents?” along with the mandated wringing of hands. To which I answer, “Hopefully, right there making sure their child’s well-being is being protected.” Being nude is in no way innately harmful, certainly no more than, say, participating in athletics or the myriad other things parents shepherd their children into. Indeed, risk of abuse is present in all realms of endeavor where children participate. And, while we can all be sickened at the revelations regarding Larry Nasser, without meaning minimize that horror, it is a statistically small risk in comparison to the tremendous physical damage child gymnasts and dancers inflict on their bodies before they are even fully grown. My physical therapist has some true horror stories.
If we want to talk about the parents’ role in protecting vs permitting risk, we can look at the example of Selah Schneiter (who I hope to see celebrated on this site soon), climbing El Capitan at age ten. She was climbing almost before she could walk, but we rightly celebrate her courage and determination, and commend her father for raising such a strong child. Yet the consequence of a fall from great height is immeasurably greater than that of being seen naked in a photograph by someone unsavory in another time and place. It’s an example of our culture’s skewed moral priorities. I for one would like every child to have a set of healthy, well-adjusted parents who truly have her best interests at heart. And I also want a pony. The world is what it is.