Though researchers have sought to determine psychodynamic, neurobiological, environmental, and genetic bases for pedophilia, results are usually weak and correlational rather than causal. Childhood sexual abuse, though a common proposed explanation for pedophilia, doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny (Freund & Kuban, 1993; Garland & Dougher, 1990; Hall, 1996; Li, 1990a; Bailey, Bernhard, & Hsu, 2016; Cohen et al., 2002). Twin studies of incidental pedophilic attraction show low levels of coincidence (Alanko, Salo, Mokros, & Santtila, 2013; Santtila et al., 2015). Childhood head traumas have also been suggested (Blanchard et al., 2003), as well as various theories about different functional areas of the brain (Tenbergen et al., 2015; Schiffer et al., 2017; Cantor et al., 2008; Mohnke et al., 2014; Schiffer et al., 2007; Cantor et al., 2016). However, most of these samples were taken from forensic and/or clinical populations and are therefore more likely to deviate from average brain structure or function, as noted by Goudreault (2017). Large-scale studies of neuroanatomical differences between non-offending pedophiles and non-pedophilic men do not yet exist.

What is certain is that minor attraction follows a developmental arc similar to the more common sexual orientations: It is stable, often realized before or during puberty, and encompasses a clear preference in sexual and/or romantic partners for each individual (Seto, 2012). Many MAPs become aware of their attraction before they are fifteen years of age (Seto, 2012; Tozdan & Briken, 2015; Houtepen, Sijtsema, & Bogaerts, 2015; B4U-ACT-Act, 2011).

Back to Research Summary



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.


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.

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.

Cantor, J.M., Kabani, N., Christensen, B.K., Zipursky, R.B., Barbaree, H.E., Dickey, R., … Blanchard, R. (2008). Cerebral white matter deficiencies in pedophilic men. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 42, 167-183.

Cantor, J.M., Lafaille, S., Soh, D.W., Moayedi, M., Mikulis, D.J., & Girard, T.A. (2015). Diffusion Tensor Imaging of Pedophilia. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(8), 2161-2172.

Cohen, L.J., Nikiforov, K., Gans, S., Poznansky, O., McGeoch, P., Weaver, C., … Galynker, I. (2002). Heterosexual Male Perpetrators of Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Preliminary Neuropsychiatric Model. Psychiatric Quarterly, 73(4), 313-326.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Mohnke, S., Müller, S., Amelung, T., Krüger, T.H.C., Ponseti, J., Schiffer, B., … Walter, H. (2014). Brain alterations in paedophilia: A critical review. Progress in Neurobiology, 122, 1-23.

Santtila, P., Antfolk, J., Räfså, A., Hartwig, M., Sariola, H., Sandnabba, N.K., & Mokros, A. (2015). Men’s Sexual Interest in Children: One-Year Incidence and Correlates in a Population-Based Sample of Finnish Male Twins. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 2, 115-134.

Schiffer, B., Peschel, T., Paul, T., Gizewski, E., Forsting, M., Leygraf, N., … Krüger, T.H.C. (2007). Structural brain abnormalities in the frontostriatal system and cerebellum in pedophilia. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 41, 753-762.

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. (2012). Is Pedophilia a Sexual Orientation? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(1), 231-236.

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.