It is unknown how many people in the general population are emotionally and sexually attracted to children or pubescent adolescents. Evidence suggests that many, perhaps most, adults may have a limited level of such feelings, but they are subordinate to their feelings for adults (Fedora et al., 1992; Freund, 1981; Freund & Costell, 1970; Hall et al., 1995; Quinsey et al., 1975; Briere & Runtz, 1989; Smiljanich & Briere, 1996; Becker-Blease et al., 2006).
However, some adults are preferentially attracted to underage youth. We refer to these individuals as minor-attracted persons, or “MAPs.” Most of those who have been identified are males, and current theories about age-related sexual preference posit that males are more likely to be attracted to younger persons than females (Seto, 2017; Pedersen, 2017). Experts estimate that 0.5% to 7% of all males are preferentially attracted to younger children or adolescents (Abel & Harlow, 2001; Farella, 2002; Feierman, 1990; West, 1998; Blanchard, 2012), 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, and between 60,000 and 800,000 adolescent boys are themselves preferentially attracted to younger children or adolescents. (More details)
Attraction to underage youth typically involves feelings of both romantic affection and desire for friendship (Howells, 1981; Ingram, 1981; Li, 1990b; Sandfort, 1987; Wilson & Cox, 1983). Minor-attracted persons often show a desire to protect children and make them happy (Goode, 2010, p. 112; Houtepen, Sijtsema, & Bogaerts, 2015). Preferential attraction to infants and toddlers has been termed nepiophilia; to prepubescent children, pedophilia; and to pubertal adolescents, hebephilia (Ames & Houston, 1990; Feierman, 1990; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Seto, 2016). Together, these constitute the umbrella term of minor attraction. Pedophilia is listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but is only considered a disorder if acted upon illegally (APA, 2013). While nepiophilia may be considered under the umbrella term of pedophilia, hebephilia is not mentioned at all. (More details)
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. Studies also normally use a samples of offenders, making it difficult to generalize results to non-forensic samples, and measure correlational, rather than causal, relationships. Evidence for heritability seems scant at best (Alanko et al., 2013). Current research has largely been done in the field of neuropsychology: Several studies implicate structural and functional differences in parts of the brain that may lead to a preferential attraction to children (Tenbergen et al., 2015), while others suggest childhood head traumas (Blanchard et al., 2003), but causation in the general population has not been established. 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; Bailey, Bernhard, & Hsu, 2016). (More details)
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many MAPs do not act sexually with children or adolescents, but it is not known how many do not (Hall et al., 1995; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Bailey, Bernhard, & Hsu, 2016). It is consistently demonstrated, however, that impulsivity and aggression commonly observed in offenders are not intrinsic to minor-attracted persons (Mitchell & Galupo, 2016; Kärgel et al., 2016; Massau et al., 2017; Schiffer et al., 2017; Gerwinn et al., 2018). Additionally, a large number of studies show that a majority of people who have sexually offended with children or adolescents are not preferentially attracted to them, and therefore are not nepiophiles, pedophiles, or hebephiles (Ames & Houston, 1990; Freund, 1981; Okami & Goldberg, 1992). (More details about behavior and MAPs who have offended)
Studies of personality characteristics on average find low levels of aggression among pedophiles. Other than the attraction itself, studies fail to find any abnormal or pathological characteristics (Sandfort, 1987; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Goudreault, 2017). In particular, people attracted to children or pubertal adolescents 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). (More details)
Enduring feelings of attraction to prepubescent children first become apparent at puberty (Abel & Harlow, 2001; AACAP, 1999; Farella, 2002; Freund & Kuban, 1993; Johnson, 2002; Houtepen, Sijtsema, & Bogaerts, 2015; B4U-ACT, 2011b; Tozdan & Briken, 2015; Seto, 2012; Bailey, Hsu, & Bernhard, 2016). Attraction to adolescents becomes noticeable later. Due to its age of onset, presence of sexual and romantic components, and stability over time, minor attraction, particularly pedophilia, has been proposed as a sexual age orientation (Seto, 2012; Grundmann et al., 2016). (More details about development and MAP youth)
Reducing or eliminating attraction to children or adolescents is often attempted through reconditioning methods such as aversion therapy and masturbatory satiation (Beech & Harkins, 2012), developed in the 1930s to eliminate homosexuality. The goal is to associate sexual attraction 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 hebephilia than with homosexuality (AMA, 1987; Freund, 1981; Hall, 1996; Langevin, 1983; McConaghy, 1999; Grundmann et al., 2016; Seto, 2009), and though some methods have affected arousal patterns, they do not alter underlying sexual desires (Laws & Marshall, 2003; Marshall & Laws, 2003; Seto, 2009). While they have been discredited and are now considered unethical and inhumane by mainstream mental health practitioners when used on homosexuals, many still consider them acceptable when used on adults and adolescents who are attracted to children or pubescent adolescents. (More details)
Like people with same-sex attractions, most minor-attracted persons first discover their attraction during puberty. For many, this attraction can become a central part of their identity, whether sexual or general (Pedersen, 2017; Cash, 2016). MAPs with a same-sex attraction additionally experience a “second coming out” of sorts: they may first identify as gay, then realize they are gay and have an attraction to minors (Freimond, 2009; Wiggin, 2015; Goode, 2010, pp. 6-8). Due to the potential consequences of revealing their identities in real life, MAPs often join online communities of like-minded individuals instead of coming out to people they know (Goode, 2010, p. 117; Freimond, 2009; Cash, 2016; Pedersen, 2017). (More details)
Of those who choose to come out to their friends and family, MAPs find that reactions are typically mixed. However, it can also be a source of great relief for them; after all, they may no longer feel like they are under the burden of a terrible secret (Freimond, 2009; Goode, 2010, pp. 125-129; Cash, 2016). As with disclosing any minority identity, it remains a highly personal decision. (More details)
Because of the stigma they face from society, minor-attracted persons often feel negatively about themselves. Loneliness, distress, suicidal ideation, and low self-esteem are common themes, particularly for young MAPs coming to terms with their attraction for the first time (Cacciatori, 2017; Cash, 2016; B4U-ACT, 2011b; Vogt, 2006). Many MAPs avoid therapy out of fear that they will be considered a threat to children, or that their mental health providers will not work with them effectively or ethically (B4U-ACT, 2011b; B4U-ACT, 2011; Levenson, Willis, & Vicencio, 2017; Lehmiller, 2018). This is indeed true, as therapy for MAPs is often focused on the prevention of child sexual abuse rather than the mental health or well-being of the individual (“Pessimism about pedophilia,” 2010). This is especially detrimental for MAP youth, who are likely to be referred to psychiatric care only if they have committed an offense. They are thus being increasingly considered as a crucial group to reach (Goode, 2010, p. 189; Beier et al., 2016; B4U-ACT, 2011b; Nobrega, 2016). However, it is necessary to note that some MAPs do not feel negatively about their attraction apart from the consequences of being at odds with society (Malón, 2012). (More details about mental health, therapy, public attitudes, and professional attitudes)
For more details, see the following topics:
- Nature of Minor-Attraction
- Causes and Development
- Personality Characteristics
- Mental Health Issues
- MAP Youth
- Coming Out
- MAP Identity
- Public Attitudes
- Stigma in Research
- MAPs Who Have Offended
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