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Misconduct committed by pedophiles or other carnal wrongdoings committed against children frequently triggers large scale community outrage. Pedophilia can be defined as the sexual attraction to prepubescent children, involving recurrent, intense, sexual fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with children under the age of 13 (Houtepen, Sijtsema, & Bogaerts, 2016). Mental health professionals have so far been unable to definitively explain why pedophiles engage in this type of behavior. There has been extensive research on underlying causes, and treatment of pedophilia, but experts have not reached a conclusive answer on how to successfully treat pedophiles.
Examine why some adults are sexually attracted to children?
The exact reason why some adults are sexually attracted to children is unknown. Researchers suggest there are causal factors such as abnormalities in sexual hormones, serotonin imbalance in the brain, history of molestation as a child, genetics, or learned behavior, yet none of these have been proven (Ivey & Simpson, 1998). Another theory regarding why pedophiles are attracted to children is that they never matured psychologically, and they do not see their actions as harmful or abusive (Massau, Kärgel, Weiß, Walter, Ponseti, Krueger, & Schiffer, 2017). Finally, some researchers theorize that pedophiles have distorted ideologies about relationships and feel they need to be dominant in sexual relationships, also alluding to the fact that the majority of pedophiles are male (Massau, et al., 2017).
Is there a difference between an adult who is attracted to a 10 year old as opposed to an adult who is attracted to a 16 year old?
Plaud (2009) suggests there are several subgroups of sexual deviants in society that do not fit under the definition of pedophile. To be diagnosed as a pedophile, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states the following criteria must be met: Over a period of at least six months, the individual experiences recurring and sexually arousing fantasies involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child 13 years of age or younger, the fantasies seriously impair daily functioning, and the person must be at least 16 years of age and at least 5 years older than the object or target of sexual activity (Massau, et al., 2017).
One group, referred to as “Hebephiles” displays primary sexual attraction to pubescent males or females in the 11–14 year age range (Plaud, 2009). Adults who reported that early pubescent children were the focus of their sexual thoughts, fantasies, or urges are considered hebephiliacs under this construct, as opposed to pedophiles (Grundmann, Krupp, Scherner, Amelung, Beier, & Beier, 2016). Researchers also claim there is another subgroup of sexual deviation not covered in the definition of pedophilia, in which the primary sexual attraction to or molestation of minors who are either pubescent or post-pubescent males, called ephebophilia (Cartor, Cimbolic, & Tallon, 2008).
One study found hebephiliacs and ephebophiliacs had a better chance of being rehabilitated and that they were more likely to take blame for their behavior, more sensitive to stress, more likely to offend when under outside pressure, and more likely to seek mutual relationships with victims as compared to pedophiles (Cartor, et al., 2008). Researchers refer this group of mature men who are overwhelmingly heterosexual, who are attracted to pubescent females aged 17 years or older as ephebophiles (Blanchard, Kuban, Blak, Klassen, Dickey, & Cantor, 2012). One study found that there are significant neurological differences between pedophiles, who prefer prepubescent children and the other groups discussed in this section (Blanchard, et al., 2012).
Examine what the science says about pedophilia and it’s prevalence in our society
Houtepen et al. (2016) suggests pedophilic curiosity is becoming more common in society than expected. Researchers estimate that somewhere between 3% and 9% of males in public samples are at least in some way sexually enticed by children (Houtepen, et al., 2016). Studies have also shown that pedophilia may have many parallels with sexual preference, such as sexual gender orientation (i.e., heterosexual versus homosexual feelings), including early onset of development or the desire to engage in sexually deviant behavior with prepubescent children (Houtepen, et al., 2016).
Because of this association, researchers propose that pedophilia may be better classified as a sexual age orientation or preference, rather than a mental health disorder (Houtepen, et al., 2016). This view conflicts with previous research into sexual allure to minors by individuals who have committed child abuse or molestation. Previous research has shown that child sexual abusers largely possess personality disorders, narcissistic attitudes, or display distorted perceptions which show no conflict to the idea of having sex with children (Houtepen, et al., 2016).
Is there evidence that treatment can be effective for this disorder?
Researchers suggest that treating pedophilia is a difficult task for a variety of reasons. First, the person seeking treatment may only be able to manage his or her urges, rather than changing actual sexual preference (Langevin & Lang, 1985). Second, pedophiles typically see nothing wrong with their sexual desires involving children, and consider their attraction to them as simply a sexual preference (Langevin & Lang, 1985). One study found humble results with a drug called Provera. Of the 34 pedophiles in the study, only 11 continued to take the drug as prescribed for the duration of the study. The drug is intended to suppress all libido of the individual by lowering the testosterone present in the body, but researchers found it does not change the sexual preference of sex offenders (Langevin & Lang, 1985).
Langevin and Lang (1985) propose the only way to effectively treat pedophilia, is to convince the individual to change their way of thinking in the following ways:
- Encourage the offender to admit to his sexual preference and extent of sexual involvement with children
- Help them see children as victims of these types of relationships, as opposed to participants
- Overcome justifications about motives for sexual association with children
Pedophilia remains one of the most perplexing and misunderstood types of sexual deviancy in society today. Crimes committed by pedophiles or other sexual offenses committed against children often spark large scale public outrage. After decades of research studies and clinical trials, there is yet to be an effective and accepted method of treatment for those who commit this type of behavior. The biggest hurdle discovered in treating pedophiles is inspiring these individuals to change the way they think about sexuality and curtail their atypical behavior. It is commonly believed by researchers and mental health professionals that it is unlikely to change the sexual preferences of a pedophile, but the focus of controlling sexual behavior may be accomplished by treating the symptoms of this disorder.
- Blanchard, R., Kuban, M., Blak, T., Klassen, P., Dickey, R., & Cantor, J. (2012). Sexual attraction to others: a comparison of two models of alloerotic responding in men. Archives of sexual behavior, 41(1), 13–29. https://doi-org.ezproxy1.apus.edu/10.1007/s10508-010-9675-3
- Cartor, P., Cimbolic, P., & Tallon, J. (2008). Differentiating pedophilia from ephebophilia in cleric offenders. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 15(4), 311–319. https://doi-org.ezproxy1.apus.edu/10.1080/10720160802289280
- Grundmann, D., Krupp, J., Scherner, G., Amelung, T., Beier, K., & Beier, K. M. (2016). Stability of self-reported arousal to sexual fantasies involving children in a clinical sample of pedophiles and hebephiles. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(5), 1153–1162. https://doi-org.ezproxy1.apus.edu/10.1007/s10508-016-0729-z
- Houtepen, J. A. B. M., Sijtsema, J. J., & Bogaerts, S. (2016). Being sexually attracted to minors: sexual development, coping with forbidden feelings, and relieving sexual arousal in self-identified pedophiles. Journal of sex & marital therapy, 42(1), 48–69. https://doi-org.ezproxy2.apus.edu/10.1080/0092623X.2015.1061077
- Ivey, G., & Simpson, P. (1998). The psychological life of pedophiles: A phenomenological study. South African journal of psychology, 28(1), 15. https://doi-org.ezproxy2.apus.edu/10.1177/008124639802800103
- Langevin, R., & Lang, R. A. (1985). Psychological treatment of pedophiles. Behavioral sciences & the law, 3(4), 403–419. https://doi-org.ezproxy2.apus.edu/10.1002/bsl.2370030407
- Massau, C., Kärgel, C., Weiß, S., Walter, M., Ponseti, J., Krueger, T. H. C., Schiffer, B. (2017). Neural correlates of moral judgment in pedophilia. Social cognitive & affective neuroscience, 12(9), 1490–1499. https://doi-org.ezproxy2.apus.edu/10.1093/scan/nsx077
- Plaud, J. J. (2009). Are there “Hebephiles” among us? A response to Blanchard et al. (2008). Archives of sexual behavior, 38(3), 326–327. https://doi-org.ezproxy1.apus.edu/10.1007/s10508-008-9423-0
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