“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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16 Comments

  • I dont think pedophilia should be considered a sexual orientation. I think it shed a bad light on the LGBTQ community. The LGBTQ community wants to be accepted and bringing something like pedophilia into it completely destroys andy validity that they have earned at this point. To me, pedophilia seems to be more of a mental illness that a sexual orientation.

  • Pedophilia is not something I’d ever consider a sexual orientation no matter how mature people want to be about it; even if they can’t get rid of these habits due to various mental reasons it will never be okay to try and have sexual relations with a child. What sickens me even more about all of this is that there are people in this world who want to justify this behavior by calling it a sexual orientation, as if that would make this situation socially acceptable.

  • Going as far to describe something like this as a “sexual orientation” is something I wouldn’t agree with. In my opinion, I think that the topic on pedophilia is something that should be discussed more in groups and meetings because it is a serious thing that many people suffer from. In some cases, these urges don’t manifest into behavior which is a good thing, but there are indeed people who do these things to children, and I feel like we aren’t doing enough to stop it. It was a good article because it recognizes that not all people enjoy having these urges or fantasies, and it’s great because it points out a specific support group for these types of people. No matter how bad something may seem, we can’t always shame and be negative towards people; sometimes support and help is all they need to become a better person.

  • In my opinion pedophilia shouldn’t be considered a sexual orientation. I feel as if giving them a title such as “sexual orientation” is giving them some sort of justification. There is no justification for pedophilia and there should be no element of inclusiveness to it. Even if, by definition, it’s a “sexual orientation”. It shouldn’t be included with a group of people with other marginalized sexualities.

  • I found this article very informative. I never knew that it was something that they could not get ride of. I also never knew there was actual help like therapy and website for people to go to that will help them with resources to not hurt children. When the part about white matter and grey matter and other preexisting conditions came up I realized that scientist have actually spent time to figure out why pedophiles were hurting children and what was going through they head most of the time. I also agree that these people should get help but it is never okay to hurt a child and their actions should have consequences. Almost everything I read in this article was completely new to me so I enjoyed it very much.

  • I am completely stunned at the fact that people that have this behavior cannot completely get rid of it. There is very literally medical terms as to which to describe the actions or feelings that cause pedophilia and that could either be frightening or soothing. I say it could be frightening because it could mean that there are going to be more and more people that are born with such feelings but soothing to know that these people are not exactly having these thoughts willingly and most seek help ignorer to not harm others such as children.

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