Canadian 'peter meter' youth program halted; tester charged with sexual assault

I've covered Canadian psychology hijinks before, and how a handful of them are leading the push to expand which sexual interests are mental illnesses.

Now comes another scandal that's like something out of Clockwork Orange.

Late last month, Youth Forensic Psychiatric Services in Burnaby, British Columbia was forced to shut down a decades-old program where troubled youths had a device placed on their penises while they were subjected to media depicting stuff like rape and child pornography. The final straw was when one of the test administrators was arrested for a sexual assault allegedly committed during leisure time.

The whole sordid story follows.

Canada has had a long, hard fixation with catching people getting aroused over things Canadian "experts" consider mental illnesses. One program in the mid-20th century, nicknamed the "fruit machine," led to over 9,000 Canadian citizens being investigated as suspected homosexuals, with some even being tested and drummed out of government jobs.

In the wake of the fruit machine program, the fine folks at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health developed and still promote penile plethysmography (PPG). The device, nicknamed a peter meter, is supposedly a lie detector for male genitalia. It's not admissible in court cases as evidence for the same reason as a polygraph: the data can be manipulated by both subject and tester, and there's little standardization in equipment or stimuli.

Because the whole concept is based on the premise that the subject is a "non-admitter" who needs to be caught, sometimes they jam another sensor up the subject's butt to ensure he is not clenching his sphincter to alter the blood flow into his penis. Males in general and teenage boys in particular can get spontaneous erections for any number of reasons that may or may not be related to the stimulus presented. They might even chub up just because of the test itself (the stress, touching, humiliation, etc.).

According to those who learned how to game the device, it's also pretty easy for other subjects to suppress tumescence by thinking of something decidedly unsexy. In case you are wondering, they've also created one for young ladies that gets inserted in the vagina, but the testers are much, much, much more interested in teen peen.

PPG evangelists have fanned across North America, using their device in all kinds of questionable ways for decades. Then a 2009 article, ironically published in the journal Sexual Abuse, reported on the long-running practice of hooking up penile plethysmographs to minors charged with sex offenses in British Columbia. That got the attention of civil rights groups. The sexual assault arrest of one of the testers was the last straw for local lawmakers, who finally pulled the plug on the abusive plethysmograph for kids program.

The current guy in charge of Sexual Abuse is, unsurprisingly, a CAMH employee, so he is a huge proponent of penile plethysmography. In fact, you can often find him on Wikipedia altering articles on sexuality to promote theories and devices his coworkers developed via the CAMH Phallometry Lab (an actual tax-funded Toronto lab). Anyone interested in measuring penises should consider an internship or even a career as a Canadian psychologist. Perhaps you can even be part of history by developing the next-gen fruit machine or peter meter...

To learn more about how high-tech penile plethysmography is, you can visit this major manufacturer's cutting-edge website (complete with 1995-style Under Construction sign and email gif). The Skeptic's Dictionary has a good overview of PPG, too.

B.C. permanently halts sexual arousal testing [ctv.ca]

Sex charge prompts expanded probe of youth-offender penile test [theprovince.com]

B.C. used penile teen sex test for decades [cbc.ca]