“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

  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 75 Comments

  1. Sabrina Doyon

    I don’t agree that it is society’s responsibility to assist those that have pedophilia. Whether or not it is a mental illness or a sexual deviancy, people who don’t enjoy fantasizing about prepubescent children are not responsible for those who do. What also disgusts me is that some people believe that pedophiles are on the same level as gays. How can you even compare the two?? One is between consenting adults whilst the other is the violation of a child who is unable to give proper consent. I really appreciate your take on this issue but I just can not feel much sympathy for these people.

  2. Avatar

    This is such an interesting article, and it also very well-written. I am very well aware of pedophilia and heard of some cases and I find it simply horrible and disgusting. I can’t imagine how mentally sick someone can be for them to be attracted at children. I also strongly disagree that pedophilia develops before birth, this is a very good and informative article but I completely disagree with some of the things that contain.

  3. Avatar

    This article was very interesting and I think the author did a good job, but I did not agree with what is being said in it .I do not think that Pedophilia should be looked at as normalized in this world. I am pretty sure it is illegal first off and it puts children in danger which is not okay

  4. Avatar

    I have never thought about pedophilia in this way; this article opened my mind. I am surprised by the fact that pedophilia can be seeing as a sexual orientation. I think that this is just a way to justify pedophilia. Pedophilia is not an easy topic to discuss, this is a problem in our society that we see in the news almost every day. We cannot see these terrible acts of child sex abuse as if it were a problem of sexual orientation.

  5. Avatar

    This article was very odd to me. Everything said was well written and the author held a solid claim. But I am not sure I can fully agree seeing as pedophiles should not be able to get justification for what they do. They shouldn’t get to be justified and normalized for who they are. The author made a very good point for what they believe in, but I can’t fully agree

  6. Avatar

    Although the author did a good job at describing the topic, I do not agree with what the article is saying. They shouldn’t be trying to normalize pedophilia in any way. Even though they don’t act on the urges they have, I still think it is wrong to even be thinking about it at all.

  7. Avatar

    For what ever reasons that scientists and researches put forward, I would say that pedophiles is not justifiable. That is my view on the topic pedophiles. But this article is well written as it explains different aspects of pedophiles. I really liked the idea of having an organization to limit the harms done by the persons, that is communities like the Virtuous Pedophiles. Any ways, Good job!

  8. Avatar

    Honestly, reading this article was kind of weird. I firmly believe that pedophiles should not be justified by claiming it’s a sexual orientation. I think that’s messed up on so many levels. Sexual orientation should not justify having sexual urges every time he or she sees a child. I don’t even agree with relationships that have huge age gaps. For example, a 23 year old dating a 47 year old. The brain never stops maturing in one way or another. Pedophiles are not accepted in today’s society and I hope society never justifies their ways.

  9. Avatar

    The majority of the population of the world believes that pedophilia is wrong, and so do I. It’s just so disgusting and disturbing that someone would do things like that to young kids. What the author of this article did was risky, talking about pedophilia, but they did a good job about talking about both sides. Before reading this article, I would’ve never considered pedophilia as a “sexual orientation”. I still don’t but I respect those who do.

  10. Avatar

    As open as I like to say I am or believe I am, I do not agree with the main point of this article. To each his own, but pedophilia as a sexual urge is still not acceptable in my book. The article explains how having urges is okay as long as you don’t act, and I completely disagree. I believe it’s by far not okay to think like that about minors, that it’s a mental disorder. To be fair, other orientations have been perceived negatively in the past, but this one does not seem okay at all to me.

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