Skip to main content

Is Pedophilia a Sexual Orientation?

Abstract

In this article, I address the question of whether pedophilia in men can be construed as a male sexual orientation, and the implications for thinking of it in this way for scientific research, clinical practice, and public policy. I begin by defining pedophilia and sexual orientation, and then compare pedophilia (as a potential sexual orientation with regard to age) to sexual orientations with regard to gender (heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality), on the bases of age of onset, correlations with sexual and romantic behavior, and stability over time. I conclude with comments about the potential social and legal implications of conceptualizing pedophilia as a type of sexual orientation in males.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Clinical definitions usually require distress or impairment if pedophilia is to be considered a mental disorder (e.g., the DSM-IV-TR) (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), but not ICD-10, which considers the sexual attraction to prepubescent children to be sufficient (World Health Organization, 1997). I will not enter the debate about whether pedophilia should, or should not, be classified as a mental disorder, in this commentary. Interested readers are directed to the December 2002 issue in the Archives of Sexual Behavior for commentaries on this debate (e.g., Seto, 2002, where I argue pedophilia should be a mental disorder). For my purposes, the sexual attraction part of the definition is the key consideration in operationalizing pedophilia. There has been recent debate about the existence of hebephilia, a sexual age orientation for pubescent children, that is, children who are beginning to show signs of physical maturity such as breast budding in girls or changes in the scrotum and penis for boys (Blanchard, 2010; Franklin, 2009; Seto, 2010). There is no word coined yet for individuals who are attracted to both mature and immature persons. DSM-IV-TR refers to such individuals as nonexclusive pedophiles, but one could also call them nonexclusive teleiophiles (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The Greek root for age is aion, so one word that could apply is bi-aionic.

  2. 2.

    The order of these adjectives describing sexual preferences could easily be reversed; for example, a man attracted to prepubescent girls could be correctly described as either a “gynephilic pedophile” or a “pedophilic gynephile” (I thank one of the anonymous reviewers for this point). An important empirical question is whether sexual gender preferences or sexual age preferences have primacy.

  3. 3.

    I realize that adults have more opportunities to speak and be heard, at least by other adults, but I have never heard (directly or indirectly) a child speak on behalf of his or her right to have sex with an adult.

References

  1. Abel, G. G., Becker, J. V., Mittelman, M., Cunningham-Rathner, J., Rouleau, J. L., & Murphy, W. D. (1987). Self-reported sex crimes of nonincarcerated paraphiliacs. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 2, 3–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Ahlers, C. J., Schaefer, G. A., Mundt, I. A., Roll, S., Englert, H., Willich, S. N., et al. (2011). How unusual are the contents of paraphilias? Paraphilia-associated sexual arousal patterns in a community-based sample of men. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8, 1362–1370.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

  4. Beckstead, A. L. (submitted). Can we change sexual orientation? What we know, what we need to know, and why these questions are important. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

  5. Beier, K. M., Neutze, J., Mundt, I. A., Ahlers, Ch. J., Goecker, D., Konrad, A., et al. (2009). Encouraging self-identified pedophiles and hebephiles to seek professional help: First results of the Berlin Prevention Project Dunkelfeld (PPD). Child Abuse and Neglect, 33, 545–549.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bernard, F. (1985). Paedophilia: A factual report [English edition]. Rotterdam: Enclave Press.

  7. Blanchard, R. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for pedophilia. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 304–316.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Briere, J., & Runtz, M. (1989). University males’ sexual interest in children: Predicting potential indices of “pedophilia” in a non-forensic sample. Child Abuse and Neglect, 13, 65–75.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Cantor, J. M. (submitted). Is homosexuality a paraphilia? The evidence for and against. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

  10. Chandra, A., Mosher, W. D., Copen, C., & Sionean, C. (2011). Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: Data from the 2006–2008 National Survey of Family Growth (National Health Statistics Report No. 36). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

  11. Chivers, M. L., Seto, M. C., & Blanchard, R. (2007). Gender and sexual orientation differences in sexual response to the sexual activities versus the gender of actors in sexual films. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 1108–1121.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Conrade, S. R., & Wincze, J. P. (1976). Orgasmic reconditioning: A controlled study of its effects upon the sexual arousal and behavior of adult male homosexuals. Behavior Therapy, 7, 155–166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Dandescu, A., & Wolfe, R. (2003). Considerations on fantasy use by child molesters and exhibitionists. Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research and Treatment, 15, 297–305.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Des Sables, L. (1976). Résultats d’une enquête auprès d’un groupe de pedérastes. Arcadie, 276, 650–657.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Diamond, L. M. (2008). Sexual fluidity: Understanding women’s love and desire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Drescher, J., & Zucker, K. J. (Eds.). (2006). Ex-gay research: Analyzing the Spitzer study and its relation to science, religion, politics, and culture. Binghamton, NY: Haworth.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Finkelhor, D. (1984). Child sexual abuse: New theory and research. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Franklin, K. (2009). The public policy implications of “Hebephilia”: A response to Blanchard et al. [Letter to the Editor]. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 319–320.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Freund, K., & Kuban, M. (1993). Toward a testable developmental model of pedophilia: The development of erotic age preference. Child Abuse and Neglect, 17, 315–324.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Fromuth, M. E., Burkhart, B. R., & Jones, C. W. (1991). Hidden child molestation: An investigation of adolescent perpetrators in a nonclinical sample. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 6, 376–384.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hanson, R. K., Steffy, R. A., & Gauthier, R. (1993). Long-term recidivism of child molesters. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61, 646–652.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Harris, G. T., Quinsey, V. L., & Rice, M. E. (1991). Sexual recidivism among child molesters released from a maximum security psychiatric institution. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59, 381–386.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Jenkins, P. (1998). Moral panic: Changing concepts of the child molester in modern America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Li, C. K. (1991). ‘The main thing is being wanted’: Some case studies on adult sexual experiences with children. Journal of Homosexuality, 20, 129–143.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Marshall, W. L. (1997). The relationship between self-esteem and deviant sexual arousal in nonfamilial child molesters. Behavior Modification, 12, 86–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Marshall, W. L. (2008). Are pedophiles treatable? Evidence from North American studies. Polish Sexology, 6, 1–5.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Marshall, W. L., Barbaree, H. E., & Eccles, A. (1991). Early onset and deviant sexuality in child molesters. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 6, 323–336.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. McClintock, M. K., & Herdt, G. (1996). Rethinking puberty: The development of sexual attraction. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 5, 178–183.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Mustanski, B., Chivers, M. L., & Bailey, J. M. (2002). A critical review of recent biological research on human sexual orientation. Annual Review of Sex Research, 13, 89–140.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. Neutze, J., Seto, M. C., Schaefer, G. A., Mundt, I. A., & Beier, K. M. (2011). Predictors of child pornography offenses and child sexual abuse in a community sample of pedophiles and hebephiles. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 23, 212–242.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. O’Carroll, T. (1980). Paedophilia: The radical case. London: Peter Owen.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Oxford English Dictionary. (2011). Retrieved http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/orientation. Accessed November 30, 2011.

  33. Pieterse, M. (1982). Pedofielen over pedofilie [Pedophiles concerning pedophilia]. Zeist: Nisso.

  34. Quinsey, V. L., & Lalumière, M. L. (1995). Evolutionary perspectives on sexual offending. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 7, 301–315.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Remafedi, G., Resnick, M., Blum, R., & Harris, L. (1992). Demography of sexual orientation in adolescents. Pediatrics, 89, 714–721.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Riegel, D. L. (2004). Effects on boy-attracted pedosexual males of viewing boy erotica [Letter to the Editor]. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33, 321–323.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Rouweler-Wuts, L. (1976). Pedofielen in contact of conflict met de samenleving [Pedophiles in contact or conflict with society]. Deventer: Van Loghum Slaterus.

  38. Savin-Williams, R. C., & Diamond, L. M. (2000). Sexual identity trajectories among sexual-minority youths: Gender comparisons. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 29, 607–627.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Seto, M. C. (2002). Precisely defining pedophilia. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31, 498–499.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Seto, M. C. (2008). Pedophilia and sexual offending against children: Theory, assessment and intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  41. Seto, M. C. (2010). Child pornography use and Internet solicitation in the diagnosis of pedophilia [Letter to the Editor]. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 591–593.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Seto, M. C., Cantor, J. M., & Blanchard, R. (2006). Child pornography offenses are a valid diagnostic indicator of pedophilia. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 115, 610–615.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Seto, M. C., Lalumière, M. L., & Blanchard, R. (2000). The discriminative validity of a phallometric test for pedophilic interests among adolescent sex offenders against children. Psychological Assessment, 12, 319–327.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Seto, M. C., Murphy, W. D., Page, J., & Ennis, L. (2003). Detecting anomalous sexual interests among juvenile sex offenders. In R. A. Prentky, E. S. Janus, & M. C. Seto (Eds.), Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 989: Understanding and managing sexually coercive behavior (pp. 118–130). New York: New York Academy of Sciences.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Smith, T. P. (1994). Effects of the child’s relative age appearance and attractiveness on vulnerability to pedosexual interactions. Dissertation Abstracts International, 54(12-B), 6472.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Underhill, J., Wakeling, H. C., Mann, R. E., & Webster, S. D. (2008). Male sexual offenders’ emotional openness with men and women. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 35, 1156–1173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Wilson, R. J. (1999). Emotional congruence in sexual offenders against children. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 11, 33–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Wilson, G. D., & Cox, D. N. (1983). The child-lovers: A study of paedophiles in society. London: Peter Owen.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Wilson, G. D., & Rahman, Q. (2005). Born gay: The biology of sex orientation. London: Peter Owen.

    Google Scholar 

  50. World Health Organization. (1997). The ICD-10 classification of mental and behavioural disorders: Clinical descriptions and diagnostic guidelines. Geneva: Author.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

A version of this article was presented at the University of Lethbridge Workshop, “The Puzzle of Sexual Orientation: What Is It and How Does It Work?”, held in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, June 2010. It does not represent the positions of the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group or of any of the universities with which I’m affiliated. I would like to thank James Cantor, Meredith Chivers, Grant Harris, and Vern Quinsey for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael C. Seto.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Seto, M.C. Is Pedophilia a Sexual Orientation?. Arch Sex Behav 41, 231–236 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-011-9882-6

Download citation

Keywords

  • Pedophilia
  • Paraphilia
  • Sexual preferences
  • Sexual orientation