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Human sexuality and gender topics
Pedophile: one word; multiple meanings
Overview of the term "pedophile:"
"Pedophile" is derived from two Greek words: ''pedo" means "child;"
and "philia" means "love for." Unfortunately, it is an ambiguous term.
It has many meanings in common usage:
||Sometimes it is used to refer to an older individual who is sexually
attracted towards children. A very small percentage of pedophiles act
on their attraction by actually abusing children; the vast majority
never act out their feelings.
||Other times it refers only to a person who sexually abuses pre-pubertal
children under the age of 13.
||Finally, the definition is sometimes expanded to include sexual
abuse of a children and/or youth as old as 17.
Most pedophiles are attracted to children in a specific age group (e.g.
5 or 6). Some are attracted to young people of any age up to puberty.
Definitions of "pedophile" -- formal and otherwise:
There does not appear to be any universally accepted definition:
The Child Welfare Information Gateway of the Children's Bureau,
Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services:
"An adult whose primary sexual interest is in children; some
professionals make a differentiation between a pedophile, whose
sexual partner of choice is a prepubertal child, and a hebephile,
who is aroused by adolescents." 1
The "Viagara Cures" website:
"A person who has recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies,
sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent
child or children." 2
WordNet at Princeton University:
"An adult who is sexually attracted to children." 3
American Psychiatric Association:
"A person who over at least a 6 month period has recurrent, intense
sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving
sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (age 13 years
or younger). The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically
significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other
important areas of functioning. The person is at least age 16 years
and at least 5 years older than the child or children. Not to include
an individual in late adolescence involved in an ongoing sexual
relationship with a 12 or 13 year old (straight or gay). Individuals
with pedophilia generally report an attraction to children of a
particular age range. Some individuals prefer males, others prefer
females, and some are aroused by both males and females. Pedophila
involving female victims is reported more than pedophilia involving
male victims." 4
Wikipedia defines pedophilia as:
"... the primary or exclusive sexual attraction by adults
to prepubescent youths. 5
||"Pedophile" appears to be increasingly
used in the media to refer only to adults who sexually abuse children. If this
trend continues, we will need a new term to refer to non-abusive pedophiles.
Hebephile: This is derived from the
Greek words ''phepius" means "youth;" and "philia"
means "love for." It is a condition in which an adult, usually male,
is sexually attracted to young people who are at about the age of puberty.
It is sometimes used as a synonym for "hebephilia."
Ephebophilia: A condition in which an adult, usually male,
is sexually attracted to post-pubertal adolescents (14 to 17).
Infantophilia: A rare form of pedophilia in which the older
person's primary interest is a child 24 month or younger.
Problems caused by the lack of precision in definitions:
Note the extreme confusion among these definitions:
||The term "pedophile" may include adults -- a person over 17
-- or to persons over the age of 15, or to persons of any age.
||The victim is variously defined as a child (perhaps any person under
the age of 18), or as a prepubescent child, perhaps 11 or younger, or as a child at about the age of puberty.
||Most pedophiles never act on their sexual attraction by actually abusing
Perhaps the most serious result of the lack of clarity concerning the
meaning of "pedophile" has been the misunderstanding by the media and public
about the nature of the the abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church. This
is almost universally described as pedophilia. This raises the image in
the minds of the public of a priest sexually abusing a small child. In fact,
the vast majority of sexually abusive priests are ephebophiles. They target
post-pubertal adolescents -- almost always mostly male in their mid or later teen years.
A Google search for the vague phrase
"pedophile priests" returns about 94,000 hits; a search for a
"hebephile priests" found three! 6
This website will generally use the term "pedophile" to refer to persons
16 years-of-age or older who are sexually attracted to children under the
age of 13. We will refer to pedophiles who act out their feelings by sexually
abusing children as "abusive pedophiles." We encourage others to use the same convention.
Incidence of pedophilia:
It appears that a fairly large percentage of male adults are sexually
attracted to prepubescent children. However, they are not necessarily aware
of their attraction, and the vast majority never act on their feelings.
According to Wikipedia: 5
"In 1989 Briere and Runtz conducted a study on 193 male undergraduate
students concerning pedophilia. Of the sample, 21% acknowledged sexual
attraction to some small children; 9% reported sexual fantasies involving
children; 5% admitted masturbating to these fantasies; and 7% conceded
some probability of actually having sex with a child if they could avoid
detection and punishment. The authors also noted that 'given the probable
social undesirability of such admissions, [one could] hypothesize that
the actual rates ... were even higher'." 7
"A study by Hall et al. of Kent State University found that,
of their sample of 80 adult male volunteers, 20% reported some attraction
to prepubescent girls and 32.5% exhibited sexual arousal to heterosexual
pedophilic stimuli that equaled or exceeded their arousal to the adult
"Less research is available regarding pedophilia's occurrence
9 in females. In a 1996 study of a university sample,
2.6% of surveyed females self-reported at least some sexual interest
in children." 10
The group: The Primary Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse states:
"Our current estimates from the best researcher of pedophilia in the field, Michael Seto, indicate that pedophilia affects less than 5% of the male population and less than 4% of the female population. The DSM-V indicates that the highest prevalence for pedophilia in male population is 3-5%. As such, about 1.12-1.86% of the world’s population are pedophiles. ..."
"... after accounting for underreporting, you see that 4.8-9.36% of pedophiles do molest children. Conversely, this means that 90.64-96.2% of pedophiles do not molest children, even after underreporting is accounted for.
While these numbers are obviously an illustrative estimate, it is reasonable to conclude from this exercise that the majority of the world’s pedophiles do not molest children." 15
What causes pedophilia?
Studies in the past have indicated that pedophilia may be caused by or
linked in some way to:
||Childhood head injuries,
||Psychological abuse during childhood+,
||Lower than average Intelligent Quotient (IQ),
Shorter stature 11 and/or
Early childhood sexual abuse. 12
Pedophiles are also known to be at least three times as likely to be left-handed than non-pedophiles.
Since left-handedness develops before birth, this may indicate that both
traits are linked to genes or to events during gestation.
A study reported in the Journal of Psychiatry Research published
during the week of 2007-NOV-25 has convincingly linked pedophilia to brain
structure. James Cantor is the lead author of the paper. His team at the Centre
for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto ON Canada found a
cluster of differences between the brains of convicted pedophiles and non-pedophile
male offenders. The brains of 127 men were studied using magnetic resonance.
44 were pedophiles, and had been convicted of sexual offenses against children
under the age of 15 but not against young adults aged 17 and older. 21 had
been convicted of sexual offences against older persons. They were recruited
from the Kurt Freund Laboratory at the Centre. The control group
was composed of non-sexual offenders who were recruited from provincial and federal
parole and probation offices in the Toronto area. The study found that "white
matter" -- the connective "wiring" that connects "grey matter" neuron cells
-- is far thinner in the brains of pedophiles.
Joseph Hall of the Toronto Star reports:
" 'One of the parts of the brain that didn't develop normally in
these people is the part that seems to be related to identifying sexual
partners,' Cantor says."
"About half a dozen areas have been identified, through imaging,
as centres of sexual stimulus, generally distributed in two major brain
regions. One is the temporal lobes, tucked behind the ears, which help
control memory storage and facial and object recognition. The other
cluster is in the parietal areas in the back that are involved in co-ordination
of vision with actions." 11
CBC News reported that:
"The researchers theorize pedophilia is the result of a 'partial
disconnection within that network'."
" 'The most straightforward explanation of the present result is that
low white matter volumes increase the risk of developing pedophilia,'
they write. 'Regardless of whether white matter deficiencies produce
pedophilia or a susceptibility to it, the present results suggest the
need to pursue what causes the white matter deficiencies'."
"They add that white matter abnormalities have already been implicated
in other psychiatric illnesses, including bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive
disorder and schizophrenia." 13
The researchers believe that these structural differences in the brain are
present in infants. However, it is not yet clear whether they are
established genetically at conception, during gestation, or in early
An earlier German study published in the same Journal during 2006 involved
MF studies of 18 pedophiles -- 9 attracted to male children, 9 attracted
to female children, and none attracted to both boys and girls -- were compared
to 24 non-pedophiles -- 12 heterosexual, 12 homosexual and 0 bisexual.
The abstract of their paper stated that "... pedophiles showed decreased
gray matter volume..." in areas of the brain. The concluded that "...
these findings may support the hypothesis that there is a shared etiopathological
mechanism in all obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders." 14
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the
above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Glossary Of Terms," Child Welfare Information Gateway, 1993, at:
"Viagra & sexual terms >> P," Viagra Cures, at:
"WordNet Search," Princeton University, at:
- "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; 4 edition
text revision," Section 302.2, American Psychiatric Association, (2000).
"Pedophilia," Wikipedia, at:
- The Google search was performed on 2007-DEC-02 before this essay
was placed online.
J. Briere & M. Runtz, "University males' sexual interest in children:
predicting potential indices of 'pedophilia' in a nonforensic sample,"
Child Abuse and Neglect, (1989); 13(1), Pages 65 to 75. An abstract
Gordon C.N. Hall, et al., " Sexual Arousal and Arousability to Pedophilic
Stimuli in a Community Sample of Normal Men," Behavior Therapy, (1995)
26, Pages 681 to 694. See:
Marina Knopf, "Sexual Contacts Between Women and Children," Paidika,
(1994), Vol.3, No.3
- K. Smiljanich, & J. Briere, "Self-reported sexual interest in children:
Sex differences and psychosocial correlates in a university sample,"
Journal of Violence & Victims, (1996). Vol. 11, No. 1, Pages 39
Joseph Hall, "Pedophiles 'programmed,' study finds. Toronto researchers
discover stunted wiring between regions responsible for sexual response,"
The Toronto Star, 2007-NOV-29, at:
Lisa J. Cohen, et al.: "Heterosexual Male Perpetrators of Childhood
Sexual Abuse: A Preliminary Neuropsychiatric Model," Psychiatric Quarterly,
Springer Netherlands, 2002-DEC, at:
"Pedophiles have less brain white matter: Toronto study," CBC News,
Boris Schiffer, "Structural brain abnormalities in the frontostriatal
system and cerebellum in pedophilia," Journal of Psychiatry Research,
in press, at:
"Estimating the Prevalence of Abusers Among Pedophiles," The Primary Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse web site, 2015-2018, at: https://www.csaprimaryprevention.org/
Copyright © 2007 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance
First posting: 2007-DEC-02
Latest update: 2018-JUL-30
Author: B.A. Robinson