Profiles of Pedophilia
Andy has a secret he has never told anyone — “No one would understand. I don’t even understand it myself,” he thinks to himself. Even though he has never acted on his sexual urges toward children, he feels overcome with guilt, and feels so very dirty. He hated himself so much for what goes on in his head, he is even considering killing himself.
Lois spent the afternoon at the police station, bailing out her husband. “Child pornography!?” she says to Bob. “You should be ashamed of yourself. You make me sick!” Bob sits quietly during the car ride home, feeling both ashamed and sick.
John has suffered from pedophilia since he was a teenager. He speaks to a room of men and women with the same problem. “We all have our struggles, and this one is mine,” he says. “I’m happily married, and I’m proud to say I have never in my life acted on ‘the urge.” He assures the group that no matter what has occurred in their pasts that there is healing to be found.
Pedophilia: Definitions and Key Thoughts
As a medical diagnosis, pedophilia (sometimes spelled paedophilia) is a psychological disorder where the sufferer presents a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Pedophilia is classified by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) as a paraphilia, which is a sexual disorder involving socially unacceptable desires or practices (other paraphilias include exhibitionism, voyeurism, and sexual sadism).
The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems defines pedophilia as “a sexual preference for children, boys or girls or both, usually of prepubertal or early pubertal age.” [i]
A person who practices pedophilia is a pedophile. Most pedophiles are men, though pedophilia occurs in women as well. [ii] And while many persons guilty of child sexual abuse are pedophiles, not all persons who suffer from pedophilia have acted on their sexual urges toward children. Put another way, not all persons who experience the urges of pedophilia participate in pedophilic behavior.
The causes of pedophilia are not fully known. However, research on the origins of pedophilia is ongoing. [iii]
The American Psychiatric Association’s publication, the DSM-IV, provides the following diagnostic criteria for Pedophilia. The following criteria must be met for a diagnosis of pedophilia:
- A. Over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger)
- B. The person has acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty
- C. The person is at least age 16 years and at least 5 years older than the child or children in Criterion A.
The diagnosis of pedophilia is further specified by the sex of the children the person is attracted to. Moreover, a specific designation is added if the impulses or acts are limited to incest. Also, the diagnosis of pedophilia is sometimes split further into the two following categories:
- Exclusive Type (attracted only to children)
- Nonexclusive Type (attracted to both children and adults)
- According to a study of 2429 adult male pedophile sex offenders in the U.S., only 7% identified themselves as “exclusive.” This suggests that the majority of pedophiles, or at a minimum pedophiles prone to acting on their urges, are attracted sexually to both children and adults. [iv]
Action Steps and Treatment Plan for Pedophilia
Even with treatment, most people who experience pedophilia are never completely cured of their sexual urges toward children. However, counseling therapy can help one reduce their sexual urges, and help a person to live a life free of acting on inappropriate sexual urges. The following tips serve as a starting point for pedophilia treatment.
Step One: Make a Commitment to Act Responsibly
Even if a person suffers from pedophilia (that is a sexual attraction to children) a person never needs to act on those urges. Being tempted is different than action.
It is important to realize that feeling attracted to children is not a choice, and one who suffers from pedophilia should not feel guilty for having attraction and urges. One who suffers from pedophilia can feel good in him or herself in that even though they are prone to being sexually attracted to children they choose to (1) never act on those urges, (2) consistently work to decrease those urges, and (3) refuse to fantasize about children by refocusing their thoughts to another topic when sexual fantasies begin.
Step Two: Focus on Healthy Sexuality
According to a study of nearly 2500 adult male pedophiles residing in the U.S., only 7% of participants identified themselves as having an exclusive attraction to children. For the vast majority of participants (93%), they experiences sexual attraction to both children and adults. [v]
Focusing one’s sexual energy on healthy sexual behaviors, and having a satisfying sex life—one within a committed marriage—may help to quell unhealthy sexual attraction or tendencies.
Step Three: Accountability and Support
Pedophilia is a serious problem because it not only affects the person who experiences the disorder, it also has the potential to seriously damage the life and happiness of a victim of sexual abuse.
Because of the serious nature of the problem, it is highly important that a sufferer of pedophilia, or pedophilic symptoms, find a support system. This may include an accountability partner who the pedophile can talk to about his or her ongoing struggles (and who can protect the person from their actions if the pedophilia becomes too severe to control). This may also include an appropriate therapy group, or support group, where one can learn more about their struggles, and learn that others face similar challenges.
For more information on sexual health related issues and to schedule an appointment with a Thrive Boston sex therapist, visit our Boston Sex Therapy page. Appointments scheduled within 24 hours.
[i] World Health Organization, International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems: ICD-10 Section F65.4: Paedophilia (online access via ICD-10 site map table of contents)
[ii] Mayo Clinic Proceedings “A Profile of Pedophilia,” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Accessed June 2, 2008
[iii] “Pedophilia,” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC (07 Sept 2006)
[iv] HALL, MD, RYAN C. W.; AND RICHARD C. W. HALL, MD, PA.. “A Profile of Pedophilia: Definition, Characteristics of Offenders, Recidivism, Treatment Outcomes, and Forensic Issues” (PDF). MAYO CLIN PROC 82:457-471 2007. MAYO FOUNDATION FOR MEDICAL EDUCATION AND RESEARCH.
[v] HALL, MD, RYAN C. W.; AND RICHARD C. W. HALL, MD, PA.. “A Profile of Pedophilia: Definition, Characteristics of Offenders, Recidivism, Treatment Outcomes, and Forensic Issues” (PDF). MAYO CLIN PROC 82:457-471 2007. MAYO FOUNDATION FOR MEDICAL EDUCATION AND RESEARCH.