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