Originally published March 19, 2014.
I am a liberal parent. I raised a daughter who is bi and poly. I always thought that I could accept anything that parenthood might throw at me. I knew that I could embrace my son if he were straight, gay, bi, trans, etc. If there is a controlling consciousness of the universe, it has a nasty sense of humor. Putting it bluntly: My son is sexually attracted to Pokémon. He dropped hints that I didn't really pick up on. But over the last few years, I have stumbled across evidence of his browsing habits that left me pretty clear about his proclivities. He is now 17, so thoughts that he would "grow out of it" are fading. My biggest fear is that he won't find someone to pair with. I love my children and want them to be happy. Should I address this with him? Try to discourage an orientation that, to me, seems kind of pathetic?
Dad Of Pokémon Enthusiast
"It's possible that DOPE's son is just a curious kid who finds unusual sex fascinating, with his browsing habits no more revealing than discarded tickets to a carnival act," says Jesse Bering, PhD, the author of Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us. Bering is a research psychologist and science writer who regularly contributes to Slate, Scientific American, and other publications. "But if it's true that Pokémon lights this boy's fire in the ways DOPE imagines, there's not much DOPE can do about his son's 'pathetic' orientation. By age 17, his son's singular erotic profile is pretty much fixed, like it or not."
What might cause a young man to take a sexual interest in Pokémon?
"Scientists can't exactly do controlled laboratory experiments on humans to determine the cause of a given kink," says Bering. "So nobody knows why some people are more prone to developing unusual patterns of attraction than others. But whether it's a penchant for Pokémon, feet, underwear, or spiders, the best available evidence suggests that some people—mostly males—have a genetic predisposition for being 'sexually imprinted' during development."
It's like this, DOPE: Some kids are going to sexually imprint on random shit, kids are exposed to random shit all the time, there's no way of predicting which kids will imprint on what shit, so there's no way to prevent Pokémon fetishists or foot fetishists or sneeze fetishists or clown fetishists from happening. A small number of our fellow human beings, your son included, will have kinks that strike others—folks who don't share their kinks, folks who don't have any kinks of their own—as pathetic, twisted, sick, or silly.
And since being shamed by his dad or mom (see below) won't save a kid from his "pathetic" orientation, shaming your son is a waste of time that will serve only to damage your relationship with him. As for your fears that your son will wind up alone...
"Although DOPE might prefer a regular old queer child instead of a rare plushophile—someone with an attraction to cartoonlike stuffed animals, such as Pokémon—the good news is that his son grew up in a world where, somewhere out there, other people were being erotically molded by animated Japanese chimeras in exactly the same way," says Bering. "Reaching out to that community online can only empower him and help him to accept a now unalterable—and completely harmless—part of his nature. In many ways, life can be easier for DOPE's son: He's got a ready-made sexual niche, complete with hookup opportunities at annual conventions."
Follow Jesse Bering on Twitter @JesseBering.