“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. This is a very interesting and controversial topic which makes the argument more fascinating on whether pedophilia is a sexual orientation or a mental disorder. What makes the topic even more interesting is how the argument sparked from a homophobic campaign against the LGBTQ community. It also amazes me how there are studies that back up both ends of the argument saying that pedophilia is a sexual orientation yet a mental disorder and how if only there were an alternative.

  2. This is a very controversial topic to discuss and I appreciate the professional manner in which this article was written. I haven’t really considered the idea of pedophilia being a sexual orientation, but I can see why it is being studied and pondered over. For those who have acted on their urges to sexually abuse a child it is inexcusable, but it is good to see that those who need help are getting the help they need. No one can come out and say that they are attracted to children, it’s hard for a person to understand or even fathom the idea, but they realize that it’s wrong and encourage others to resist these urges. I’m sure if they could change their preference they would, but for the time being there will have to be more studies and research conducted to find a conclusive answer to the problem.

  3. This article contained a lot of informative and interesting information on something that we never thought we would have to even consider. Despite all of the research that was done about this topic, I personally do not think that pedophilia should be able to be considered as a sexual orientation. This is due to me feeling that if it becomes widely accepted, there are bad people in the world that will use it as an excuse to harm and take advantage of young children since it won’t be seen as a terrible thing and rather just something to be accepted.

  4. This article was a great read, because it gave detailed information about the difference in sexual orientation preference and the actual wrongful act of pedophiles who harm their victims. I had no idea that there is a community who works together to prevent each other from harming children. At least that is a positive outcome of such a horrendous thing. There is no excuse to ever harm a child that way. Many of these kids can get traumatized because an adult couldn’t control their urges. There should be more awareness on this issue and more sources to help those who feel such urges to harm.

  5. Thank you for this great read. 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.

  6. This article is very informative but their is never an excuse for Pedophilia, it will always be wrong no matter how you put, there is no way Pedophilia should be accepted, I have no sympathy for pedophile and i feel like they should get a worser punishment than what they are getting now.

  7. Most children are known to play with their own private parts and sometimes engage in sexual behavior with other children, and the average psychologist will justify this behavior as being normal. So how can it possibly be so much more traumatic when an adult becomes a helper in the behavior? In most cases of child molestation, the child is comfortable and open to the activities. It is only when they grow older to learn how harsh society’s condemnation is against such behaviors, do they then begin feeling negatively about it.

    1. Danielle Slaughter

      No, “too_real”, this is in no way natural nor acceptable. I cannot fathom how someone would ever think that a child is comfortable and open in “most cases of child molestation”. They are manipulated, coerced, and groomed. If you do not know what grooming is, I highly suggest you research it, as it can manifest in agreeability on the part of the child because they view the adult as the one who knows the most in the situation. Maybe you should seek out survivors of childhood sexual abuse and consult them; you will find that many of them have lasting psychological trauma that requires years and years of healing to overcome.

  8. This article posed a very interesting point. Whether or not pedophilia is a disorder or a sexual orientation. Though it may be a sexual orientation, that does not make acting upon any urges of pedophilia acceptable. The main concern about this topic should be the impact that it will have on the children that will be performing these acts with the adults because many times, these kids often have emotional or sexual trauma after having those experiences with adults.

  9. This article made a sharp delineation between sexual orientation and sexual assault. The writer did an excellent job in expounding upon the differences between pedophiles and most sexual assault Perpetrators. I can’t comprehend why so many people are repulsed by pedophilia. However, I cannot accept how anyone would make an effort to relate tell Ophelia with other sexual orientations. I entirely view pedophilia as a mental illness; as it is wholly unnatural and inhumane to express or find interest in a child in a sexual manner. However, I must submit that it stands to reason that this mental illness may be addressed in counseling and or eventually subdued.

  10. This was a very informative article on a very uncomfortable topic, the research that is being undergone to explain pedophilia. Pedophilia should never be legalized, because such actions would cause severe physical, emotional, and phycological harm to a young child. I had no prior knowledge of the program discussed in this article that helps individuals that struggle with this state of mind, yet have never touched a child in such as way and vow to never do so. I think that is a good idea to get help for those individuals that fit in that category, since science is finding that it is out of their control. This will help protect our children and still be able to lend a peaceful hand to those who have this struggle, but would never dream to cause harm to a child.

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