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

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

  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 55 Comments

  1. I was a little uncomfortable reading this article because it was dealing with pedophiles. It reminds me of back at home, I lived in a violent crime free environment, but then in the mail my family received a lot of pedophile notices that shows us sexual offenders/pedophiles and they just got out of jail and just in case we see them, we know that we should keep our distance for our own safety. The notice gave us a lot of information where the person lives, their age, their height, how they look, etc. and later on we get updates on how they look just in case some things change physically. It was very terrifying for me. But reading this story makes me feel as if pedophilia should not be accepted no matter what the sexual orientation is.

  2. This article had alot of information . I can agree with other comments that whether pedophilia is considered a sexual orientation or not it still should not ever be allowed. we need to protect our naive children. if they come into contact with this they can be traumatized for a lifetime. Other than my opinion i believe this article was very informative and well written . great job, thank you.

  3. Sarah Uhlig

    I guess I understand that behaviors and feelings can be explained by psychologists in today’s world, but it shouldn’t be accepted or continued to be expressed as a sexual orientation. This is a problem and should be a complete disorder rather than something that is maybe accepted. It is just morally wrong and there are so many problems with pedophilia. Children are young individuals and aren’t old enough to be doing any of that stuff or give actual consent.

  4. My initial thought when I read the title was standoffish to be honest however after having read the article I now have a better understanding of what exactly research is trying to do when placing pedophilia. Of course child sexual abuse is terrible and should NEVER be acceptable, but that is not at all what the article is attempting to make a point of. The article explains how research is being done and communities are being formed to better understand how to keep children safe when more and more people seem to be struggling with pedophilic tendencies.

  5. Even if pedophilia is acknowledged as a sexual orientation, I pray it is still outlawed. It can leave everlasting psychological trauma to the victim. Even if it is a “sexual orientation” it is still morally wrong and should continue to be outlawed in the future years to come.

  6. Pedophilia should never ever be accepted no matter the sexual orientation. Children aren’t aware of their sexual orientation, and adults should never be able to lay their hands on them. This is just ethically wrong and should never ever be considered. This leaves a long lasting scar on a children’s life and will affect them. This article was eye opening to me and was very well written.

  7. Pedophilia will never be accepted and in truth I myself wouldn’t like for it to be accepted. Pedophilia needs the involvement of children who in fact haven’t yet to know anything about sexual orientation. Having a grown person taking and showing a child into a sexual orientation to me is not ethical and simply not right to do. This is taking advantage of a innocent child and no matter how it is presented it’s never correct. This has caused children to have mental problems later on through their life’s.

  8. Pedophilia whether it is a sexual orientation or not will never be deemed acceptable and I hope not because people like pedophiles and convicted child molesters are scaring these kids who don’t have the knowledge to make those kinds choices on their own. There are kids that grow up to have mental problems because they were molested by people who would be deemed pedophilic.

  9. I found this article to be extremely informative and factual because the question about pedophilia obviously has nothing to do with whether or not people will accept it as an orientation but rather, what the definition of sexual orientation is. I think this is what has driven LGBTQ leaders and organizations to become so influential and successful. Also, because of organizations that work to support these “gold stars”, I am open to the fact that pedophilia may one day be recognized as an actual sexual orientation, no matter how ridiculous it may sound.

  10. This article is incredibly informative and challenged everything I thought I knew about pedophilia. I hesitated to click on this article because it is such an uncomfortable topic, but I am glad I did because now I am much more informed and I can form an opinion on the subject based on facts and not on the stigma that has always been in the media. I used to be so appalled by pedophiles, I never stopped to think that some of them haven’t technically done anything wrong, and are, in fact, trying to help themselves and others with the same stigmatized sexual orientation.

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