“Let’s Be Mature About Pedophilia:” Disorder or Sexual Orientation?

Pedophilia haunts children | Courtesy of Flickr Commons
Pedophilia haunts children | Courtesy of Flickr Commons

In the wake of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) movement, new sexual orientations have been cast into light. Pansexuals, Demisexuals, and Asexuals are just a few of the emerging sexualities covered under the umbrella of representation within the LGBTQ community. However, not all sexual orientations are welcomed in this community. In an attempt to spread misinformation and hate within the LGBTQ community, a homophobic smear campaign advertised the idea of LGBTQ leaders fighting for the rights of pedophiles (using the acronym LGBTP–Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Pedosexual). This ad sparked outrage among members of the LGBTQ community, but also led to new questions, including whether or not pedophilia should be normalized into society as a sexual orientation. Despite the negative stigma surrounding pedophiles, as well as the current conception of sexual identity, psychologists and scientists are actively working to showcase how pedophilia is indeed an “unchangeable sexual orientation.”

In order to spread awareness about pedophilia as a sexual orientation, experts highlight that the sole difference between pedophilia and other sexual orientations is that, to live out a pedophilic fantasy would end in disaster.1 Psychologists and scientists alike do not condone child sexual assault. They, like many of us, believe it is a horrendous crime that should always remain a crime and be punished accordingly. But many mental health professionals already hold pedophilia to be a sexual orientation, given the nature of its definition by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition–the DMS-5.2 Pedophilia is defined as the “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children of 13 years of age or younger.”3 Sexual orientation refers to whom an individual is sexually and romantically attracted. Despite this “widely held” view among mental health professionals that pedophilia is a sexual orientation, “people are uncomfortable talking about pedophilia that way since there seems to be, currently, an idea that sexual orientation is something that we should kind of respect and honor.”4 Psychologists also emphasize that sexual attraction to children and the choice to harm children by acting on an individual’s sexual desire are two separate things.5

Child Abuse is Abuse | Courtesy of Flickr Commons

Pedophilia does not become pedophilic disorder, however, until the person has experienced personal distress and impairment caused by the burden of their fantasies and urges regarding children for over a period of six months. Although having pedophilic disorder and/or being a pedophilia is not a crime, when one acts out by either watching child pornography or sexually abusing a child, their disorder does not excuse their behavior and their crimes are prosecuted.6

A major case against pedophilia being labeled as a sexual orientation is that it will decriminalize child sex abuse. Although many people relate being a pedophile with acts of child sexual abuse, only fifty percent of people who sexually abuse children are pedophiles. The other fifty percent are not specifically attracted to children, and often look to children as sexual surrogates due to their lack of social skills in maintaining appropriate emotional and sexual relationships with adults. Moreover, these abusers who are not strictly attached to children are said to suffer from an impulse-control disorder.7 It is also estimated that up to three percent of the male population has some form of pedophilic interest.8 “The cases [of pedophile child sex abusers] that we see are, of course, the cases who have been unable to resist their sexual interest…Those are the cases that hit the news,” Dr. James Cantor recalls.9 Criminals like Earl Bradley and Pedro Lopez who have raped and molested hundreds of children before imprisonment have been the only picture of a pedophile the media has painted. However, men like Dr. Cantor and Ethan Edwards aim to showcase the thousands of “gold-star” pedophiles in the world.

“Pedophile Butterfly” used to signify attraction to both girls and boys | Courtesy of Google Images

Ethan Edwards is a pedophile. Despite Edward’s awareness of his attraction to young girls early in his life, he has never touched or caused any harm to a child. As Edwards began accepting his romantic, and at times sexual, attachment to girls as young as four, he sought out a therapist to discuss his pedophilic thoughts, and he then co-founded Virtuous Pedophiles. Virtuous Pedophiles, also called VirPed, is a website with a community of over two thousand, non-offending, “gold-star” pedophiles of all sexes and ages. Within this online community, pedophiles can anonymously provide peer support and information about available resources to help one another not hurt children as well as live a happy, productive life. Additionally, Virtuous Pedophiles aims to combat the stigma that every pedophile is a child molester who seeks to hurt children. These “gold-star” pedophiles have never sexually abused children and vow to never give in to their urges. “Our highest priority is to help pedophiles never abuse children.”10

To further the case of pedophilia as being unchangeable, scientists have discovered physical features and similarities among pedophiles. For instance, a common trait found among pedophiles is an IQ ten to fifteen points lower than the average IQ. A team of scientists at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health also found that, on average, pedophiles are shorter than other men, and three times more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous. These two physical characteristics are determined before birth, leading scientists to conclude that the explanation for pedophilic behavior is, to an extent, prenatal.11

Additionally, scientists have found significant evidence of multiple structural abnormalities in the brains of pedophiles. Within the brain of a pedophile, there is a decreased volume of gray brain matter, GM, in the central striatum, affecting the nucleus accumbens, orbital frontal cortex, and cerebellum—all of which play an important role in addictive behaviors and impulsion control. The lack of GM “burdens pedophiles with repetitive urges and thoughts,” despite their knowledge that the activities they want to engage in are illegal and would harm children.12 This lack of GM furthers the idea that pedophilia is a preexisting condition that did not develop over time.13

Dr. James Cantor | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Dr. James Cantor, senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada, has found, after  a decade of work, that pedophiles have less white matter in the brain. White matter serves to carry messages throughout the brain and without it, the “cross-wiring” of stimuli occurs. This cross-wiring takes the stimuli that evokes nurturing and protective reactions in adults and instead evokes sexual reactions.14

Let’s be mature about pedophilia. As research continues to develop on the other possible agents within the brain to showcase that pedophilia is indeed biologically rooted–at least in some cases–pedophilia being a sexual orientation is a reality to many professionals in mental health. Unlike the LGBTQ movement, thousands of pedophiles, such as the over two thousand in the Virtuous Pedophiles community, do not wish for their orientation to be “normalized” and promoted in society. Instead, they wish to be understood and receive help in controlling their attraction to children.

Neurobiologists, psychologists, pedophiles, and parents all agree that child sexual abuse should remain illegal—no one denies this fact. And although pedophilic tendencies develop before birth, that does not serve as an excuse for ever harming a child. But, when there are pedophiles that constantly fight their urges given to them by abnormalities they had no control over, Dr. James Cantor supports the idea of help being afforded to them as soon as possible to combat the possibility of pedophilic thoughts becoming inhumane actions against children.15

“There is nothing in any research that says somehow they are not responsible for their behavior… I think society as a whole would be better off if these people had an alternative. If they had someone or someway that they can turn to some group, some institution, some help line in order to prevent them from going from just a pedophilia to an actual child molester.” -Dr. James Cantor16

As author of this article I would like to clarify that I do not believe that pedophilia belongs in the LGBTQIA+ community, nor do I believe it is acceptable to hurt children. First and foremost, children cannot give consent. Sexual assault of a child, child pornography, and any other crimes against children will and shall always be illegal. My interest in this topic was sparked when I came across studies suggesting that pedophilia could somehow be treated in the brain. My curiosity that one day in the future people could “treat” a pedophile interested me, and I wrote the article to better understand this argument. As I stated in the article, “Neurobiologists, psychologists, pedophiles, and parents all agree that child sexual abuse should remain illegal.” I, like all of you commenting and reading, strongly hold that all sexual abuse of children should be criminally prosecuted. I felt I must revisit this article given the current political climate, and how it seems more people are trying to support the idea that pedophiles belong in the LGBTQIA+ community. As the author of this article, I had no intent to push this outlandish idea and I hope the readers know I in no way support child molesters and child sex abusers attempting to be normalized in society.

  1. TEDx, “Pedophilia Is a Natural Sexual Orientation | Mirjam Heine | University of Würzburg,” June 20, 2018, YouTube video,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cy4AUzsGbfE. 6:19-6:28.
  2. Diana Tourjée, “Most Child Sex Abusers Are Not Pedophiles, Expert Says,” Broadly, VICE,   April 4, 2016, broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/mgmzwn/most-child-sex-abusers-are-not-pedophiles-expert-says.
  3. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: Edition DSM-5 (Virginia: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013), 697.
  4. Diana Tourjée, “Most Child Sex Abusers Are Not Pedophiles, Expert Says,” Broadly, VICE,   April 4, 2016, broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/mgmzwn/most-child-sex-abusers-are-not-pedophiles-expert-says.
  5. CNN, “CNN Weekend Shows – Psychologist Discusses Treatment of Pedophiles,” June 27, 2012, YouTube video, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTkXmDROQz4. 1:12-1:44.
  6. Phil Pruitt and Chance Seales, “Can Pedophilia Be Treated Like Any Other Mental Illness?” WTVF, October 13, 2018, www.newschannel5.com/newsy/can-pedophilia-be-treated-like-any-other-mental- illness.
  7. Phil Pruitt and Chance Seales, “Can Pedophilia Be Treated Like Any Other Mental Illness?” WTVF, October 13, 2018, www.newschannel5.com/newsy/can-pedophilia-be-treated-like-any-other-mental- illness.
  8. TEDx Talks, “Let’s be mature about pedophilia,” April 13, 2018, YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egiBgmvv8wA.
  9. CNN, “CNN Weekend Shows – Psychologist Discusses Treatment of Pedophiles,” June 27, 2012, YouTube video, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTkXmDROQz4. 2:30-2:40
  10.  Virtuous Pedophiles, https://www.virped.org.
  11. Laura Kane, “Is Pedophilia a Sexual Orientation?” The Star, December 22, 2013, www.thestar.com/news/insight/2013/12/22is_pedophilia_a_sexual_orientation.html.
  12. Michael Cochran and Meghan Cole, “Inside the Mind of a Pedophile,” Neuroanthropology, August 27, 2012, neuroanthropology.net/2010/05/10/inside-the-mind-of-a-pedophile/.
  13. Timm B. Poeppl et al., “Association between brain structure and phenotypic characteristics in pedophilia,” Journal of Psychiatric Research, vol. 47, issue 5, (2013), www-sciencedirect-com.blume.stmarytx.edu/science/article/pii/S0022395613000095#!.
  14. Laura Kane, “Is Pedophilia a Sexual Orientation?” The Star, December 22, 2013, www.thestar.com/news/insight/2013/12/22is_pedophilia_a_sexual_orientation.html.
  15. CNN, “CNN Weekend Shows – Psychologist Discusses Treatment of Pedophiles,” June 27, 2012, YouTube video, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTkXmDROQz4. 4:42-4:54.
  16. CNN, “CNN Weekend Shows – Psychologist Discusses Treatment of Pedophiles,” June 27, 2012, YouTube video, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTkXmDROQz4. 3:18-4:16.

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This Post Has 90 Comments

  1. Eva Lizarraga
    Eva Lizarraga

    I appreciate how your standpoint on this topic very clear, that even though you were finding resources and research that will help you/us understand an uncomfortable topic, it doesn’t mean you support the illegal behavior and/or action that takes places because of it. I found your findings about the “gold-star” community and also the biology behind pedophilia to be especially interesting, and feel much more educated about the topic. Even though pedophilia is disturbing and uncomfortable, it’s best for us to be open to learning about the unknown rather than afraid of it.

  2. Hailey Lechuga
    Hailey Lechuga

    Very interesting article! It is always disturbing and uncomfortable to have a conversation about sexual deviations as horrendous as pedophilia. I believe this is a sickness but a crime that is in no case excusable by any means, and this sickness needs to be addressed and treated. It should never be normalized, yet unfortunately in our society there are often subtle inclinations in society and that are indeed normalized. Nonetheless, it is not an orientation and should never be considered one, I think acceptance as an orientation would lead society to think it is justifiable and okay but it never is.

  3. Maria Moreno
    Maria Moreno

    This must have been a very difficult article to write without your words being manipulated into seeming to approve of this topic. I had never thought of it before, I know it repulsing and 100% wrong but I never thought of people actually just having a sexual orientation towards children. Its hard to say that this is a mental illness because people could misinterpret it as saying all the other sexual orientations could be an illness as well, but there is something wrong about liking kids in a sexual way. I can’t say I would name someone as “gold-star” because they can control themselves, because they might not show it but in the inside they are still having nasty thoughts. Thank you for writing this article and informing us about these new “revelations”, its a very difficult topic.

  4. Avatar
    Caroline Medina

    I never heard about pedophilia being included as a sexual orientation and I don’t necesarilly like it either. Although, I do see the importance of differentiating between pedophilia and child molestation. I would never want to normalize pedophilia because it would decriminalize child molesters. I will always believe it is disgusting and wrong.

  5. Jacqueline Guardia
    Jacqueline Guardia

    This is an interesting topic. Yes, you are right the majority of people won’t talk about pedophilia because it makes them uncomfortable, however, the chances that pedophilia might be a preexisting condition is a “game-changer” for people who have malicious intentions. I remember seeing on Facebook a video explaining the situation about pedophilia being a sexual orientation, and reading the comments was sickening. Some of the people in the comments (of the video) were posting some horrible ideas that weren’t diplomatic nor ethical referring to the topic. I hope that people can understand that sexual activity involving minors is by no means acceptable.

  6. Avatar
    Celeste Loera

    I remember this debate about whether or not pedophilia should be accepted into the lgbt movement and it always unsettled me. I do believe however that people with these kind of thoughts should get help and that having a platform that helps them is huge. Many pedophiles do have things wrong with their brain that makes them have these thoughts, like this article stated. Although these are horrible thoughts it is good that some reach out and get help and not act out on these thoughts. This is a very controversial topic and you wrote about it well.

  7. Avatar
    Paula Salinas Gonzalez

    Before your article, I hadn’t heard or read anything about pedophilia being a sexual orientation. Although people have their urges and preferences, I do not think that as a society, this should be accepted. If we normalize this “sexual orientation”, it would definitely decriminalize attacks against minors and make them even more vulnerable than they are now. I believe that by having scientific proof, these people can get the help they need before they ruin their and someone else’s life.

  8. Avatar
    Pedro Lugo Borges

    I never thought about it but after reading this article I now think that pediphile should belong into an abnomal sexual preference community, that being said the action of sexually assaulting a child should remain illegal for various of important reason. By normalizing the idea of pedophilia being a biological defect that is uncontrollable by nature, it might make our society a lot better because these people can go get help or segregated into a community, or more open to admitting it without instantly becoming a social pariah. The argument that recognizing pedophilia as an uncontrollable biological disorder will cause the legalization of sexual assault of a minor is the same argument that allowing transgender people entering there genders restroom will cause perverts to get away with being perverts, but it doesn’t and now the general population has accepted the latter but not the first statement. Considering all that normalizing this disorder will actually lower the threat and incidents of sexual assault due to actual pedophiles.

  9. Avatar
    Vianka Medina

    I did hear about this but never looked into it. I do not like the idea you stated of how pedophilia being labeled as a sexual orientation that it will be decriminalized child sex abuse. I do not like the sound of that, I do not think pedophilia is a sign of normal in any kind of way, you are suppose to growth with someone who is mature and capable of loving. Child molestation or any kind of abuse or actions done with a child, physically or sexually, is just flat out wrong is disgusting.

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