Debate Guide: Misdefinitions and Rhetorical Manipulation

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To promote a consistent and amicable debate, you must be on the same page as your opponent with language. Opponents will misdefine common phrases in order to get away with indefensible arguments. As far as labelling is concerned, remember to make the point that there is no such thing as 'the pedophile', no more so than 'the heterophile/homophile'. Minor attracted people have no essential characteristics that distinguish them, save that their attractions are strongly directed towards younger people. Therefore, MAPs should not be the exclusive targets of depersonalization. Point out the following examples:


Simple response to misdefinition

Pedophilia is commonly, and often simultaneously, misdefined as:

  • "Child Sexual Abuse" or "a crime"
  • "Minor-adult sex"
  • "Attraction to minors" or "attraction to a considerably younger person"
  • "Pornographic material"
  • ...even as a "social issue/problem/topic"

Pedophilia is a sexual attraction towards prepubescent children. Dictionaries provide basic definitions, e.g. 'sexual desire directed towards children' (Oxford, 1991), and sometimes specify the colloquial uses. Abuse of a child should not automatically qualify a person as a Pedophile, as the etymology of Pedophilia does not relate to behavior. Diagnostic criteria are quite clear on these matters.

Hebephilia and Ephebophilia

You can introduce these chronophilias alongside a critique of your opponent's definitions. Hebephilia is defined as a sexual attraction towards pubescents. Ephebophilia is more controversial, since the target (post pubescent youth, sometimes defined as late teens) is sexually mature and most probably teleiophilic.


This is a word for a man who interacts 'sexually' with adolescent/pubescent boys. It derives from "boy love" the combination of “παίδ-” (the Greek stem for boy or child) with “ἐραστής” (Greek for lover; cf. “eros”). It has been manipulated in modern times, so that it refers to the anal penetration of underage boys, homosexuality, or any form of child rape.

Abuse, molestation

These terms may be adopted by your opponent, but should be challenged, and not adopted as parameters of debate. Use more neutral terms yourself, such as "minor", "teen", "age-discrepancy", "sexual"/"genital contact", "intimacy".

The most likely reason you will not be able to force your opponent to adopt trauma-neutral language is that they will quote studies concluding that "child sexual abuse" is uniquely and intensively harmful. These false-diagnostics are based upon methodological and sampling flaws that are as common as they are predictable. Thankfully, methodology has been improving over the last couple of decades, with many of the confounding variables being weeded out. Still, you must point out precisely how the evidence conflicts with theirs, instead of just linking it.


This is an objectifying term that presents sexual intimacy as something that is done by an older partner unto a younger one. It assumes penetration and has coercive overtones. A reasoned debate can only be had if the very definitions that we use are objective, and preferably shared by all sides of a debate. The well-known author and feminist, Patrick Califa, has noted that if engaging in sexual relations with their partners, boylovers generally show more concern for the pleasure of their partners than does the average heterophile.


Opponents will often attempt to use the term "rape" in an arbitrary/statutory manner, defining lack of informed consent as the only necessary feature. This is problematic, since consent is itself an arbitrary concept. By defining rape arbitrarily, we undermine the gravity of traumatic experiences, while attempting to reinterpret positive lived experiences as abuse. This is unhelpful, and counter to evidence collected in relation to the experiences of children and minors.

'Normal' / 'Normality'

If your opponent uses this term, be sure to point out that it is an entirely relative concept. You should suggest that 'normal' only means "relatively common". Female inferiority? Slavery? White supremacy? Castration of sexual deviants? All of these were considered normal.

Rhetorical Manipulations

We consider misuse of language an argument against the scheme as opposed to an advice section. See Debate Guide: Abuse of language.

The use of persuasive effect in language is an important part of debate. When possible, the use of superficial rhetoric, especially that which builds upon misdefinitions should be identified and dismissed.

"Sexual relationships" as an example

An opponent may deliberately or unknowingly profit from rhetorical effect by always describing adult-minor sexual interactions as "sexual relationships". Your opponent is mentally superimposing adult relationship models upon the hypothetical relationship in question. This western "adult" relationship model is constructed to satisfy the needs and rights of modern, western "adults", and not younger people. Another implication here, is that a relationship involving sexual intimacy, is necessarily and primarily a "sexual relationship". Other factors are neglected, since our preconception of a "pedophile" relationship is heavily biased; indeed, the sex is under an undue level of scrutiny.

Accounts and research might help us understand how these relations may develop under an emancipation model.

Addressing non-constructive participants and low-quality opponents

Some members of bulletin boards are fond of shouting from the sidelines while making absolutely no constructive points at all.

Never forget - however hard it may seem, that there are lurking members and at least twice as many non - members viewing the discussions on a bulletin board. So hyperbolic rebuttals and expressed disgust (lest they happen) are by no means the end of a debate. In fact, when others overshoot - it may only serve to give power to your side of the debate.

Linking an opponent's disruptive behavior with their beliefs may work if it is done carefully, but indifference or a humorous reply is more likely to undermine their efforts. If the board has a good moderation policy, it may be worthwhile reporting threatening or accusative content to moderators, although such "lawyering" often undermines your credibility, and risks validating flippant, insulting remarks. Remind yourself that with the rule of reason on your side, you should never be effectively countered with jibes, which are themselves easily dismissed.

"Concise Lede" approach

If you feel that a "point by point" response to an over-reacting, emotional, repetitive, fallacious/low-quality opponent has effectively obscured your core contentions, it may be worthwhile to summarize your objection at the start of a post. Considering that your contributions may be "TLDR" for most readers, it is important to emphasize your main contention at the beginning of each large post, explaining why it has not changed in light of new argument. It is also advisable to stress your main contention/s repeatedly throughout your reply, if you are addressing tangential arguments that may serve to distract.