Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 557–568 | Cite as

Does sexual abuse in childhood cause pedophilia: An exploratory study

  • Kurt Freund
  • Robin Watson
  • Robert Dickey


The reliability of the notion that pedophilia is caused by sexual abuse in childhood was explored by examining retrospective self-reports of 344 males. Included in the study were 77 heterosexual pedophiles, 54 homosexual pedophiles, 51 nonpedophilic sex offenders against children, 36 sex offenders against physically mature females, 75 heterosexual paid volunteers who erotically preferred mature females, and 51 homosexual clients who preferred mature males. For each sex offender the differential diagnosis of an erotic preference for minors vs. a preference for physically mature partners was made by means of the phallometric test of erotic gender and age preferences. The analysis of self-reports confirmed that the proportion of pedophiles who report having been sexually abused in childhood by mature persons is larger than that of men who were not charged for or accused of a sex offense against a child though the difference is relatively small (28.6 vs. 13.9 and 10.7% for the heterosexual pedophiles and the two groups of gynephiles, respectively, and 25.9 vs. 11.8% for the homosexual pedophiles and androphiles, respectively). Further analysis demonstrated, however, that pedophiles who admitted having an erotic interest in children significantly more often claimed that they had been sexually abused as children than pedophiles who did not admit having such feelings. This interdependence renders the reliability of these self-reports questionable.

Key words

sex offenders pedophilia phallometry sexual abuse 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abel, G. G., Barlow, D. H., Blanchard, E. B., and Mavissakalian, M. (1975). Measurement of sexual arousal in male homosexuals: Effects of instructions and stimulus modality.Arch. Sex. Behav. 4: 623–629.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Finkelhor, D. (1984).Child Sexual Abuse: New Theory and Research Free Press, New York.Google Scholar
  3. Freund, K. (1961). A laboratory differential diagnosis of homo- and heterosexuality—An experiment with faking.Rev. Czech. Med. 7: 20–31.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Freund, K. (1963). A laboratory method for diagnosing predominance of homo- or hetero-erotic interest in the male.Behav. Res. Ther. 1: 85–93.Google Scholar
  5. Freund, K. (1981). Assessment of pedophilia. In Cook, M., and Howells, K. (eds.),Adult Sexual Interest in Children Academic Press, London, pp. 139–179.Google Scholar
  6. Freund, K., and Blanchard, R. (1986). The concept of courtship disorder.J. Sex Marital Ther. 12: 79–92.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Freund, K., and Blanchard, R. (1988). Gender identity and erotic preference in males. In Davis, C. M., Yarber, W. L., and Davis, S. L. (eds.),Sexually-Related Measures: A Compendium Graphic Publishing, Lake Mills, IA, pp. 143–151.Google Scholar
  8. Freund, K., and Blanchard, R. (1989). Phallometric diagnosis of pedophilia.J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 57: 1–6.Google Scholar
  9. Freund, K., Chan, S., and Coulthard, R. (1979). Phallometric diagnosis with “nonadmitters.”Behav. Res. Ther. 17: 451–457.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Freund, K., Steiner, B. W., and Chan, S. (1982). Two types of cross-gender identity.Arch. Sex. Behav. 11: 49–63.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Freund, K., Watson, R., and Rienzo, D. (1988). Signs of feigning in the phallometric test.Behav. Res. Ther. 26: 105–112.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Gebhard, P. H., Gagnon, J. H., Pomeroy, W. B., and Christenson, C. V. (1965).Sex Offenders Harper & Row, New York.Google Scholar
  13. Groth, A. N., and Burgess, A. W. (1977). Motivational intent in the sexual assault on children.Crim. Justice Behav. 4: 253–264.Google Scholar
  14. Hanson, R. K., and Slater, S. (1988). Sexual victimization in the history of sexual abusers: A review.Ann. Sex Res. 1: 485–499.Google Scholar
  15. Henson, D. E., and Rubin, H. B. (1971). Voluntary control of eroticism.J. Appl. Behav. Anal. 4: 37–44.Google Scholar
  16. Hindman, J. (1988). Research disputes assumptions about child molesters.NDAA Bull. 7: 1–3.Google Scholar
  17. Laws, D. R., Meyer, J., and Holmen, M. L. (1978). Reduction of sadistic sexual arousal by olfactory aversion—Case study.Behav. Res. Ther. 16: 281–285.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Laws, D. R., and Rubin, H. B. (1969). Instructional control of an autonomic sexual response.J. Appl. Behav. Anal. 2: 93–99.Google Scholar
  19. Malcolm, P. B., Davidson, P. R., and Marshal, W. L. (1985). Control of penile tumescence: The effects of arousal level and stimulus content.Behav. Res. Ther. 23: 273–280.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Quinsey, V. L., Chaplin, T. C., and Carrigan, W. F. (1979). Sexual preferences among incestuous and nonincestuous child molesters.Behav. Ther. 10: 562–565.Google Scholar
  21. Rosen, R. C., Shapiro, D., and Schwartz, G. E. (1975). Voluntary control of penile tumescence.Psychosom. Med. 37: 479–483.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Rubin, H. B., and Henson, D. E. (1975). Voluntary enhancement of penile erection.Bull. Psychosom. Soc. 6: 158–160.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kurt Freund
    • 1
  • Robin Watson
    • 1
  • Robert Dickey
  1. 1.Department of Behavioural SexologyClarke Institute of PsychiatryTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations