Know The Facts
As part of our commitment to supporting research, B4U-ACT maintains an extensive summary of academic literature regarding minor-attracted persons. This resource, intended to be easily understood by laypeople and academics alike, contains cited references to over 100 publications pertaining to minor-attracted persons and issues that affect them.
Continue to read or download our research summary below, or check out these other resources to learn more:
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 (Blanchard et al., 2012; 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 5% 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 6 million men in the U.S. are preferentially attracted to children or younger adolescents, and between 60,000 and 600,000 adolescent boys are themselves preferentially attracted to children or adolescents younger than themselves. (More details about prevalence)
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 or if it causes distress (APA, 2013). While nepiophilia may be considered under the umbrella term of pedophilia, hebephilia is not mentioned at all. (More details about nature of attraction to minors)
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, socialization, parental relationships, and childhood sexual experiences have been proposed, but most have not been tested scientifically. Studies also normally use samples of persons convicted of sex crimes, making it difficult to generalize results to the non-forensic population, 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 sexual activity with an adult during childhood (Freund & Kuban, 1993; Garland & Dougher, 1990; Hall, 1996; Li, 1990a; Bailey, Bernhard, & Hsu, 2016). (More details about etiology)
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 persons convicted of sex crimes are not intrinsic to minor-attracted persons (Mitchell & Galupo, 2015; Kärgel et al., 2016; Massau et al., 2017; Schiffer et al., 2017; Gerwinn et al., 2018). Additionally, a large number of studies show that the majority of people convicted of sex crimes 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 broken the law)
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 about personality characteristics)
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 about immutability)
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 about MAP identity)
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 about disclosure)
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 providers working with MAPs often focus on the prevention of sexual activity with minors rather than on the mental health or well-being of the MAP (“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 a crime. 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 Attraction to Minors
- Causes and Development
- Personality Characteristics
- Mental Health Issues
- MAP Youth
- Coming Out
- MAP Identity
- Public Attitudes
- Stigma in Research
- MAPs Who Have Broken the Law
Abel, G. & Harlow, N. (2001) The Stop Child Molestation Book. Xlibris.
Alanko, K., Salo, B., Mokros, A., & Santtila, P. (2013). Evidence for Heritability of Adult Men’s Sexual Interest in Youth under Age 16 from a Population‐Based Extended Twin Design. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10(4), 1090-1099.
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). (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5. Washington, DC: Author.
Ames, A. & Houston, D.A. (1990). Legal, social, and biological definitions of pedophilia. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 19, 333-342.
B4U-ACT. (2011). MENTAL HEALTH CARE & PROFESSIONAL LITERATURE. Retrieved from https://www.b4uact.org/research/survey-results/spring-2011-survey/.
B4U-ACT. (2011). YOUTH, SUICIDALITY, AND SEEKING CARE. Retrieved from https://www.b4uact.org/research/survey-results/youth-suicidality-and-seeking-care/.
Bailey, J.M., Bernhard, P.A., & Hsu, K.J. (2016). An Internet Study of Men Sexually Attracted to Children: Correlates of Sexual Offending Against Children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 125(7), 989-1000.
Bailey, J.M., Hsu, K.J., & Bernhard, P.A. (2016). An Internet Study of Men Sexually Attracted to Children: Sexual Attraction Patterns. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 125(7), 976-988.
Becker-Blease, K., Friend, D., & Freyd, J.J. (2006, November). Child Sex Abuse Perpetrators among Male University Students. 22nd Annual Meeting of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Hollywood, CA.
Beech, A.R. & Harkins, L. (2012). DSM-IV paraphilia: Descriptions, demographics and treatment interventions. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 17, 527-539.
Beier, K.M., Oezdemir, U.C., Schlinzig, E., Groll, A., Hupp, E., & Hellenschmidt, T. (2016). “Just dreaming of them”: The Berlin Project for Primary Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse by Juveniles (PPJ). Child Abuse & Neglect, 52, 1-10.
Blanchard, R., Kuban, M.E., Klassen, P., Dickey, R., Christensen, B.K., Cantor, J.M., & Blak, T. (2003). Self-Reported Head Injuries Before and After Age 13 in Pedophilic and Nonpedophilic Men Referred for Clinical Assessment. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(6), 573-581.
Blanchard, R., Kuban, M.E., Blak, T., Klassen, P.E., Dickey, R., & Cantor, J.M. (2012). Sexual Attraction to Others: A Comparison of Two Models of Alloerotic Responding in Men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 13-29.
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.
Briere, J. & Runtz, M. (1989). University Males’ Sexual Interest in Children: Predicting Potential Indices of “Pedophilia” in a Nonforensic Sample. Child Abuse & Neglect, 13, 65-75. https://doi.org/10.1016/0145-2134(89)90030-6.
Cacciatori, H. (2017). The Lived Experiences of Men Attracted to Minors and Their Therapy-Seeking Behaviors (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Walden University, Minneapolis, MN.
Cash, B.M. (2016). Self-Identifications, Sexual Development, and Wellbeing in Minor-Attracted People: An Exploratory Study (Master’s thesis). Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
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.
Freimond, C.M. (2009). Navigating the Stigma of Pedophilia: The Experiences of Nine Minor-Attracted Men in Canada (Master’s thesis). Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, CA.
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.
Gerwinn, H., Weiß, S., Tenbergen, G., Amelung, T., Födisch, C., Pohl, A. … Kruger, T.H.C. (2018). Clinical characteristics associated with paedophilia and child sex offending – Differentiating sexual preference from offence status. European Psychiatry, 51, 74-85.
Goode, S. (2010). Understanding and Addressing Adult Sexual Attraction to Children: A study of paedophiles in contemporary society. Oxford, UK: Routledge.
Goudreault, M.A. (2017). Study of the psychological and physiological characteristics of a community sample of pedophiles (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Université de Montréal, Quebec, CA.
Grundmann, D., Krupp, J., Scherner, G., Amelung, T., & 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. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0729-z.
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.
Houtepen, J.A.B.M., Sijtsema, J.J., & Bogaerts, S. (2015). Being Sexually Attracted to Minors: Sexual Development, Coping With Forbidden Feelings, and Relieving Sexual Arousal in Self-Identified Pedophiles. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 00(00), 1-21. doi: 10.1080/0092623X.2015.1061077.
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
Kärgel, C., Massau, C., Weiß, S., Walter, M., Borchardt, V., Krueger, T.H.C. … Schiffer, B. (2016). Evidence for Superior Neurobiological and Behavioral Inhibitory Control Abilities in Non-Offending as Compared to Offending Pedophiles. Human Brain Mapping, 00(00), 1-13.
Langevin, R. (1983). Sexual Strands: Understanding and Treating Sexual Anomalies in Men. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Laws, D. R., & Marshall, W. L. (2003). A brief history of behavioral and cognitive behavioral approaches to sexual offender treatment: Part 1. Early developments. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 15, 75–92.
Lehmiller, J. (2018). Tell Me What You Want: The science of sexual desire and how it can help you improve your sex life. New York, NY: Da Capo Press.
Levenson, J. S., Willis, G. M., & Vicencio, C. P. (2017). Obstacles to help-seeking for sexual offenders: Implications for prevention of sexual abuse. Journal Of Child Sexual Abuse: Research, Treatment, & Program Innovations For Victims, Survivors, & Offenders, 26(2), 99-120. doi:10.1080/10538712.2016.1276116.
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.
Malón, A. (2012). Pedophilia: A Diagnosis in Search of a Disorder. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 1083-1097. doi: 10.1007/s10508-012-9919-5.
Marshall, W. L., & Laws, D. R. (2003). A brief history of behavioral and cognitive behavioral approaches to sexual offender treatment: Part 2. The modern era. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 15, 93–120.
Massau, C., Tenbergen, G., Kärgel, C., Weiß, S., Gerwinn, H., Pohl, A., … Schiffer, B. (2017). Executive Functioning in Pedophilia and Child Sexual Offending. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 23, 1–11.
McConaghy, N. (1999). Unresolved issues in scientific sexology. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 28, 285-318.
Mitchell, R.C. & Galupo, M.P. (2015). Interest in child molestation among a community sample of men sexually attracted to children. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 22(2), 224-232. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13552600.2015.1056263.
Nobrega, J.M.D. (2016). Pedophilia in Youth: Most Beneficial Treatment and Prevention of Child Sexual Exploitation. Relational Child & Youth Care Practice, 29(4), 40-54.
Okami, P. & Goldberg, A. (1992). Personality correlates of pedophilia: Are they reliable indicators? Journal of Sex Research, 29, 297-328.
Pedersen, M.R. (2017). The Politics of being a Pedophile: An anthropological exploration of political engagements and narratives among minor attracted people (Master’s thesis). Aarhus University, Aarhus, DK.
Pessimism about pedophilia. (2010, July). Harvard Mental Health Letter.
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.
Schiffer, B., Amelung, T., Pohl, A., Kaergel, C., Tenbergen, G., Gerwinn, H., … Walter, H. (2017). Gray matter anomalies in pedophiles with and without a history of child sexual offending. Translational Psychiatry, 7, 1-8. doi: 10.1038/tp.2017.96.
Seto, M.C. (2009). Pedophilia. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 5(1), 391-407. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.032408.153618.
Seto, M.C. (2012). Is Pedophilia a Sexual Orientation? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(1), 231-236.
Seto, M.C. (2016). The Puzzle of Male Chronophilias. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46, 3-22. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0799-y.
Smiljanich, K. & Briere, J. (1996). Self-reported sexual interest in children: Sex differences and psychosocial correlates in a university sample. Violence & Victims, 11(1), 39-50.
Tenbergen, G., Wittfoth, M., Frieling, H., Ponseti, J., Walter, M., Walter, H., Beier, K.M. … Kruger, T.H.C. The neurobiology and psychology of pedophilia: recent advances and challenges. (2015). Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9 (344), 1-20. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00344.
Tozdan, S. & Briken, P. (2015). The Earlier, the Worse? Age of Onset of Sexual Interest in Children. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12(7), 1602-1608.
Vogt, H. (2006). The Leipziger Study of the Social and Psychical Situation of Pedophilic Men. Lengerich, DE: Pabst Science Publishers.
West, D. J. (1998). Boys and sexual abuse: An English opinion. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 27, 539-559.
Wiggin, Ender. “Why I Do This.” Medium, 8 October 2015, https://medium.com/pedophiles-about-pedophilia/why-i-do-this-34c42a98047f. Accessed 13 June 2018.
Wilson, G. & Cox, D. (1983). The Child-Lovers: A Study of Paedophiles in Society. London: Peter Owen Publishers.