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Fact Sheet

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).


Abel, G. & Harlow, N. (2001) The Stop Child Molestation Book. Xlibris.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). (1999). Practice parameters for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents who are sexually abusive of others. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38(12 Suppl), 55S-76S.

American Medical Association (AMA) Council on Scientific Affairs. (1987). Aversion therapy. Journal of the American Medical Association, 258(18), 2562-2565.

American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR Fourth Edition. Washington, DC: Author.

Ames, A. & Houston, D.A. (1990). Legal, social, and biological definitions of pedophilia. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 19, 333-342.

Bradford, J. M. W., Bloomberg, B. A., & Bourget, D. (1988). The heterogeneity/homogeneity of pedophilia. Psychiatric Journal of the University of Ottowa, 13(4), 217-226.

Crawford, D. (1981). Treatment approaches with pedophiles. In Cook, M. & Howells, K. (Eds.),  Adult Sexual Interest in Children (pp. 181-217). London: Academic Press.

Farella, C. (2002). The unthinkable problem of pedophilia. Nursing Spectrum. July 1, 2002. Retrieved from http://community.nursingspectrum.com/MagazineArticles/article.cfm?AID=7084

Fedora O., Reddon J. R., Morrison J. W., Fedora S. K., Pascoe, H., & Yeudall, L. T. (1992).
Sadism and other paraphilias in normal controls and sex offenders. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 21, 1-15.

Feierman, J. (1990). Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Freund, K. (1981). Assessment of pedophilia. In Cook, M. & Howells, K. (Eds.), Adult Sexual Interest in Children (pp. 139-179), London: Academic Press.

Freund, K. & Costell, R. (1970). The structure of erotic preference in the nondeviant male. Behavior Research and Therapy, 8, 15-20.

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

Freund, K. & Watson, R. (1991). Assessment of the sensitivity and specificity of a phallometric test. Psychological Assessment, 3, 254-260.

Garland, R.J. & Dougher, M.J. (1990). The abused/abuser hypothesis of child sexual abuse: A critical review of theory and research. In Feierman, J. (Ed.), Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions (pp. 488-509), New York: Springer-Verlag.

Hall, G. C. N. (1996). Theory-based Assessment, Treatment, and Prevention of Sexual Aggression. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hall, G. C. N., Hirschman, R., & Oliver, L. L. (1995). Sexual arousal and arousability to pedophilic stimuli in a community sample of normal men. Behavior Therapy, 26, 681-694.

Howells, K. (1981). Adult sexual interest in children: Considerations relevant to theories of aetiology. In Cook, M. & Howells, K. (eds.), Adult Sexual Interest in Children (pp. 55-94), London: Academic Press.

Ingram, M. (1981). Participating victims: A study of sexual offenses with boys. In Constantine, L.L. & Martinson, F.M. (eds.), Children and Sex: New Findings, New Perspectives (pp. 177-187), Boston: Little, Brown & Co.

Johnson, M. (2002). Cases force hard look at puzzle of pedophilia. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. May 27, 2002. Retrieved from http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=46065

Langevin, R. (1983). Sexual Strands: Understanding and Treating Sexual Anomalies in Men. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Li, C.K. (1990a). Adult sexual experiences with children. In Li, C. K., West, D. J., & Woodhouse, T. P., Children’s Sexual Encounters with Adults (pp. 139-316), London: Duckworth.

Li, C.K. (1990b). Some case studies of adult sexual experiences with children.  Journal of Homosexuality, 20 (1-2), 129-144.

Maletzky, B. (1991). Treating the Sexual Offender. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

McConaghy, N. (1999). Unresolved issues in scientific sexology. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 28, 285-318.

Okami, P. & Goldberg, A. (1992). Personality correlates of pedophilia: Are they reliable indicators? Journal of Sex Research, 29, 297-328.

Quinsey, V. L., Steinman, C. M., Bergersen, S. G., & Holmes, T. F. (1975). Penile circumference, skin conductance, and ranking responses of child molesters and "normals" to sexual and nonsexual visual stimuli. Behavior Therapy, 6, 213-129.

Sandfort, T. (1987). Boys on their contacts with men: A study of sexually expressed friendships. New York: Global Academic Publishers.

West, D. J. (1998). Boys and sexual abuse: An English opinion. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 27, 539-559.

Wilson, G. & Cox, D. (1983). The Child-Lovers: A Study of Paedophiles in Society. London: Peter Owen Publishers.

Updated April 26, 2009
With the exception of the tautological diagnosis of "sexual deviate," little clinically significant pathology was found among either "pedophiles" or "sex offenders against minors."

Paul Okami, PhD
Amy Goldberg, PhD
University of California, Los Angeles
Our results are also consistent with previous findings in failing to discover any obvious links between paedophilia and aggressive or psychotic symptoms. The majority of paedophiles, however socially inappropriate, seem to be gentle and rational.

Glenn D. Wilson, PhD
University of London Institute of Psychiatry
Individuals whose sexual orientation is directed toward children manifest the same range of personality, temperamental, and character traits as individuals whose sexual orientation is directed toward adults. A recent Journal article documented that the vast majority of individuals with pedophilia showed no evidence of either antisocial or narcissistic personality disorder. It may be no easier for a person with pedophilia to change his or her sexual orientation than it is for a homosexual or heterosexual individual to do so.

Fred Berlin, M.D.
National Institute for the Study, Prevention, and Treatment of Sexual Trauma