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Hebephilia as Mental Disorder? A Historical, Cross-Cultural, Sociological, Cross-Species, Non-Clinical Empirical, and Evolutionary Review

An Erratum to this article was published on 25 September 2012

Abstract

Blanchard et al. (2009) demonstrated that hebephilia is a genuine sexual preference, but then proposed, without argument or evidence, that it should be designated as a mental disorder in the DSM-5. A series of Letters-to-the-Editor criticized this proposal as a non sequitur. Blanchard (2009), in rebuttal, reaffirmed his position, but without adequately addressing some central criticisms. In this article, we examine hebephilia-as-disorder in full detail. Unlike Blanchard et al., we discuss definitions of mental disorder, examine extensive evidence from a broad range of sources, and consider alternative (i.e., non-pathological) explanations for hebephilia. We employed Wakefield’s (1992b) harmful dysfunction approach to disorder, which holds that a condition only counts as a disorder when it is a failure of a naturally selected mechanism to function as designed, which is harmful to the individual in the current environment. We also considered a harmful-for-others approach to disorder (Brülde, 2007). Examination of historical, cross-cultural, sociological, cross-species, non-clinical empirical, and evolutionary evidence and perspectives indicated that hebephilic interest is an evolved capacity and hebephilic preference an expectable distributional variant, both of which were adaptively neutral or functional, not dysfunctional, in earlier human environments. Hebephilia’s conflict with modern society makes it an evolutionary mismatch, not a genuine disorder. Though it should not be classified as a disorder, it could be entered in the DSM’s 5-code section, used for non-disordered conditions that create significant problems in present-day society.

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Notes

  1. Blanchard (2009) responded to the first six commentaries offered. Three others appeared too late for Blanchard to consider (i.e., Green, 2010; Kramer, 2011; Moser, 2009).

  2. They wrote two sentences on cultural attitudes regarding menarche’s significance and one on male preference for fecund females as being seen by evolutionary psychology as adaptive.

  3. His side comment was to wonder whether Franklin (2009) would also draw a distinction between homosexual pedophilia and hebephilia on grounds of evolutionary adaptiveness, as she apparently had in the heterosexual case.

  4. Many evolved psychological mechanisms may also have had their origins among prehuman ancestors (i.e., in environments before the human hunting–gathering era) (Buller, 2009). Such origins are considered in this article for hebephilic behavior.

  5. Data on extant or historical low-tech, small-scale societies reflect to a great degree (much more so than the modern West) the hunter-gatherer existence in the EEA, and as such are especially useful for inferring human nature, as opposed to being ignored or dismissed in favor of Western patterns (Henrich et al., 2010).

  6. The problematic nature of modern Western marriage patterns for drawing inferences about human nature is highlighted by a recent report by Kreider and Ellis (2011). In the U.S., the mean age of first marriage for females is now 26. This pattern is not only anomalous with respect to low-tech and under- or undeveloped societies across time and place, but with respect to U.S. practices in the recent past. In 1950, for example, the mean age was 20.

  7. In Blanchard et al.’s (2009) Fig. 1, heterosexual hebephiles’ (level 2) verbal attraction reports were about 5 to girls aged 12–14 and 4 to females aged 17+ on a scale from 1 to 5, which translates as a response to fully mature women at 75 % strength of response to pubertal girls, which is non-trivial.

  8. Blanchard’s subjects were White Canadian male clinical patients in a modern Western environment. Generalizing to men in the EEA is highly dubious (Franklin, 2010; Henrich et al., 2010). Nevertheless, the analysis here allows for the extrapolation to show the weaknesses in Blanchard’s argument.

  9. p values, but not effect sizes, are directly influenced by sample size, which was huge in this study (N = 1,569), which is one reason why effect size is needed for interpretation here.

  10. The Kinsey subjects were asked how much they enjoyed their first postpubescent coitus: none, little, some, or much. “Much” enjoyment was coded as a positive reaction in the Rind and Welter (2012) analyses.

  11. Kirkpatrick and Muscarella discussed function for homosexual behavior more generally. But their data focused on MIMH (mostly hebephilic in form), to which their conclusions are therefore most relevant.

  12. The egalitarian form (i.e., equal in age and status) has mainly involved sexual relations between adolescent boys, who typically gave up homosexual behavior as adults, but also includes the gay pattern (i.e., exclusive same-sex relations between relatively equal adults), which has been restricted to the modern West and is exceptional from cross-cultural and historical perspective (Adam, 1985; Cardoso & Werner, 2004; Gregersen, 1983; Herdt, 1987; Werner, 2006).

  13. In no species did relations between two adults dominate. By comparison, in Vasey’s (1995) review, aside from species in the mixed category, MIMH dominated in 43 % of the species, immature–immature in another 43 %, and mature–mature in only 14 %. In the mixed category, MIMH was always part of the mix usually along with immature–immature.

  14. Group selection has been out of favor since the 1960s, but recently has been returning. Its dismissal was based only on argumentation, not a distinguished body of empirical research (Wilson & Wilson, 2007). Since the 1960s, growing evidence for group selection has emerged in microbes, plants, insects, and vertebrates, and a number of key biologists who had rejected group selection later reverted back to it as a supplemental process (e.g., Williams, Hamilton, Maynard Smith). Ants are a model instance of group selection, with hyper-cooperativeness within groups and hyper-aggressiveness between groups, and with extreme evolutionary success (Wilson & Hölldobler, 2008). These features all have parallels in humans, suggesting that group selection partially explains human nature as well, particularly aspects of the male group, including warfare tendencies (Gat, 2006; Wilson & Hölldobler, 2008; Wilson & Wilson, 2007). Bowles and Gintis (2011), based on an extensive review, argued that the high degree of self-sacrificing cooperation found in humans (especially within the male group, with lethal risks to its members) cannot be explained by self-interested mechanisms alone (e.g., kin or reciprocal altruism)—group selection is also needed.

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Rind, B., Yuill, R. Hebephilia as Mental Disorder? A Historical, Cross-Cultural, Sociological, Cross-Species, Non-Clinical Empirical, and Evolutionary Review. Arch Sex Behav 41, 797–829 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-9982-y

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Keywords

  • Hebephilia
  • Mental disorder
  • Harmful dysfunction
  • DSM-5