What I Learned From Interviewing An Ex-Paedophile

 
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LIFE SELF-LOVE MENTAL HEALTH LGBTQ+ TRAVEL

In 2016 I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Anyone else who suffers from this condition will know that one of the ways it can manifest itself is through intrusive thoughts. These are thoughts, often graphically violent or sexual, which can trigger severe anxiety and become very debilitating.

We all get them, I’ve learned; those thoughts that just pop into our heads. Waiting for the tube, what if I just jumped? Old lady crossing the road in front of your car, what if I just drove into her? Hot guy in a coffee shop, what if I just asked him for a shag in the toilets?

They sound ridiculous when you say them out loud!

But when you have OCD, and these thoughts pop into your head, essentially you freak out.

For me, one of the most recurring and fear-inducing worries I had was that I might be a paedophile. This worry would result in extremely distressing intrusive thoughts, which fundamentally made my life more of a struggle than it needed to be.

I sought help. I went through a course of cognitive behavioural therapy, through which I discovered that I was not a paedophile, but instead that I was living with OCD. Although I believe I will never cure myself of OCD, I have learned not only to understand the disorder, but also how to try and overcome it.

It’s going to be an on-going battle. But when I left therapy, I felt as ready for the fight as Jon Snow storming towards a Lannister.

In other words, bring it on.

 
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Recently, my editor at work asked me if I wanted to interview a non-offending paedophile. Even while she was simply explaining the idea to me, I could feel my OCD starting to rear its ugly head.

I was frustrated; I thought I’d slayed this beast. But clearly it had only been in hibernation.

I stewed on the idea but eventually agreed for three reasons: one, I thought it would be a good piece and I like doing good work; two, I learned in therapy that you have to face your problems to beat your problems; three, I can’t preach about the importance of trying to overcome mental health issues if I’m going to run a mile at the first opportunity I get to fight my own.

Soon enough, I sat down to do the interview. I could feel my heart thumping in my chest. I was scared; scared to hear his voice and scared that I might not be able to handle our conversation.

I’d forewarned my therapist about what I was doing. I felt reassured that she was on standby should I have needed her.

The man I interviewed describes himself as “a cured, or healed, or ex-paedophile.” The more the interview went on, the calmer I felt. I actually started to engage in our conversation, as opposed to just reeling off the pre-planned questions I had written.

He told me that he views paedophilia as a “sexual orientation.” He described to me the years of struggle, denial and revulsion he endured upon realising that he was a paedophile.

Despite our differences in attraction, I empathised with what he was saying. I was reminded of the realisation of my own gay sexuality during the early 2000s. I remember being overwhelmed with fear and I remember how scared I was.

Coming into this, I never thought I would empathise with someone who once identified as a paedophile.

But I did. I know the fight for liberation he was describing too well; through shame and through social normalities. His words resonated with me.

He told me that he went through a form of therapy that, essentially, rid him of his paedophilia.

This sat uncomfortably with me. He had previously described his paedophilia as a “full sexual orientation.” My personal belief of my own sexuality, whether I like it or not, is that it is something I was born with, not a by-product of my environment.

Science is yet to prove me right on the matter.

I whole-heartedly believe that my sexuality cannot be cured, despite some radical conservative views that still persist in society today. Although he claimed that his sexual orientation, paedophilia, was cured through his treatment, it seems to draw more comparisons with my (improved) OCD, i.e. a mental health disorder.

However, as someone who knows first hand of the benefits that mental health services can provide, it was good to hear of another example of how profound an effect they can have on somebody’s life.

 
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I’ve always argued that there is a difference between an issue being accepted, and an issue being understood.

The more our conversation went on the more I realised not only how I hadn’t accepted paedophilia before, but also how I hadn’t even begun to understand it.

I felt guilty when he explained the difference between a paedophile and a child abuser; I had never distinguished between the two. I had equally never thought about how my assumptions might be affecting those affected by any of these issues.

As I’ve said, when I agreed to take on this piece I was full of hesitation. A year ago, I couldn’t have done it. That’s a fact, and it’s something that I’m proud that I overcame.

I never imagined that not only would I enjoy this conversation, but sadly that I would draw so many parallels between some of the lowest moments of my own life and some of his.

Unfortunately I did. But I, personally, think that my views on paedophilia have fundamentally been altered having had this conversation, I’m closer to that point of understanding.

That’s why I am, and will always remain, an advocate for the further understanding and acceptance of both sexuality and mental health. In every shape and form.

The full interview is available to read on the BBC Three website here.

Mental Health, LGBTQ+Nick Arnold