It is unknown how many people in the general population are emotionally and sexually attracted to children or adolescents. Evidence suggests that many adults may have some feelings of attraction to minors, but these feelings are subordinate to their feelings for adults (Fedora et al., 1992; Freund, 1981; Freund & Costell, 1970; Hall et al., 1995; Quinsey et al., 1975).
However, some adults are preferentially attracted to minors. Most of those who have been identified are males. Experts estimate that 0.5% to 7% of all males are preferentially attracted to minors (Abel & Harlow, 2001; Farella, 2002; Feierman, 1990; West, 1998), although there is no solid data to support these figures. If these experts are correct, then between 600,000 and 8 million men in the U.S. are preferentially attracted to children or adolescents .
Attraction to minors typically involves feelings of affection and being in love (Howells, 1981; Ingram, 1981; Li, 1990b; Sandfort, 1987; Wilson & Cox, 1983). Preferential attraction to prepubescent children is called pedophilia, and preferential attraction to adolescents is called ephebophilia (Ames & Houston, 1990; Feierman, 1990; Okami & Goldberg, 1992). Pedophilia is listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but ephebophilia is not (APA, 2000).
No one chooses to be emotionally and sexually attracted to children or adolescents. The cause is unknown; in fact, the development of attraction to adults is not understood. A large number of theories involving hormonal influences, genetics, evolutionary processes, negative socialization, poor parental relationships, and childhood sexual experiences have been proposed, but most have not been tested scientifically, and none are supported by reliable evidence. In particular, there is no evidence to support the common belief that attraction to children or adolescents in adulthood is due to childhood sexual abuse (Freund & Kuban, 1993; Garland & Dougher, 1990; Hall, 1996; Li, 1990a).
Anecdotal evidences suggests that many pedophiles and ephebophiles do not act sexually with children or adolescents, but it is not known how many do not (Hall et al., 1995; Okami & Goldberg, 1992).
A large number of studies show that a majority of child molesters are not preferentially attracted to prepubescent children or adolescents, and therefore are not pedophiles or ephebophiles (Ames & Houston, 1990; Freund, 1981; Okami & Goldberg, 1992).
Studies of personality characteristics on average find low levels of aggression among pedophiles. Other than the attraction to minors itself, studies fail to find any abnormal or pathological characteristics. In particular, people attracted to minors have not been found to exhibit narcissism, psychosexual immaturity, low intelligence, aversion to adults, psychopathology, neurosis, or any personality disorder any more than people attracted to adults. The presence of these characteristics have been assumed, rather than being tested scientifically (Bradford et al., 1988; Langevin, 1983; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Wilson & Cox, 1983).
Enduring feelings of attraction to prepubescent children first become apparent at puberty (Abel & Harlow, 2001; AACAP, 1999; Farella, 2002; Freund & Kuban, 1993; Johnson, 2002). Attraction to adolescents becomes noticeable later.
Reducing or eliminating attraction to minors is often attempted through reconditioning methods such as aversion therapy and masturbatory satiation, developed in the 1930s to eliminate homosexuality. The goal is to associate attraction to minors with boredom, revulsion, fear, shame, or physical pain. Sex-drive reducing drugs may also be administered (AACAP, 1999; Abel & Harlow, 2001; Crawford, 1981; Hall, 1996; Langevin, 1983; Maletzky, 1991).
Studies of the effectiveness of reconditioning methods to change feelings of attraction suffer from serious methodological flaws, and have led to inconsistent results. The few well-constructed studies have found that they are no more effective with pedophilia or ephebophilia than with homosexuality (AMA, 1987; Freund, 1981; Hall, 1996; Langevin, 1983; McConaghy, 1999).
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Updated April 26, 2009