What Is Pedophilia?


Paedophilia, also spelled pedophilia, alternatively called pedophilic disorder or pedophilia disorder, is defined as a psychosexual disorder, which generally affects adults, and is characterized by sexual interest or attraction to prepubescent children or attempts to be sexually involved with prepubescent children.

The term was used with the above meaning in the psychiatric diagnostic literature before the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (2013; DSM-5), was published, and the term pedophilia was replaced with the pedophilic disorder.

As in older editions of the DSM, the DSM-5 classifies the pedophilic disorder as one of many paraphilic disorders, which involves typical sexual practices, interest, or behaviors (paraphilias).

Unlike the older editions, however, the DSM-5 clearly draws the line between paraphilias and paraphilic disorders.

Pointing out for the first time that sufferers may exhibit certain behaviors or engage in a variety of atypical sexual practices, interests, desires, or behaviors that do not, in themselves, relate to mental illnesses.

Under this method of diagnosis, a paraphilia can only be categorized as a paraphilic disorder if the sufferer meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • the interest or sexual desire produces major distress or social impairment in the individual affected, for reasons unrelated to shame and society’s disapproval
  • the practice or behavior involves harm to other people or is directed at defenseless, unwilling persons or people who are not able to give legal consent because of their age or for other reasons.

In the case of pedophilia, even though the interest itself is not considered symptomatic of mental illness any longer—unless it leads to distress in the affected person—any behavioral expression of the abnormal interest (e.g., any attempt at have sex with children) is just enough to warrant a diagnosis of the pedophilic disorder.

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Also stipulated in The DSM-5 is that the abnormal interest or behavior in question must have been constant for at least six months before a clinical diagnosis can be made, and the affected person should be at least 16 years old and at least 5 years older than the victim (or victims) at the center of the surfers’ sexual fantasies.

Pedophilia is distinguishable from hebephilia (which is a sexual preference for people who are typically between ages 11 and 14), and also different from ephebophilia (sexual attraction to late-stage adolescents, typically between ages 15 and 16).

In many countries, any individual who is reported, caught and convicted in a court of law of pedophilia, or child sexual abuse, which involves sexual contact with a prepubescent or postpubescent individual up to 18 years of age, is identified as a sex offender; some of those people are also clinically diagnosed with pedophilia once admitted to the correctional system.

While some pedophiles are only sexually attracted to children, there are others who are attracted to both kids and adults. Pedophiles may be attracted to kids of only one gender or to kids of either gender.

Sexual encounters between children and people with the pedophilic disorder are frequently traumatic for the children, especially if violence or force, or the threat of violence or force, is involved.

It has been found that most pedophiles are men; since the condition is not common in women. Just like most other paraphilia, the root causes of the pedophilic disorder are unknown.

Although pedophilic attraction and behavior have been associated with neglect experienced during childhood or sexual abuse for a long time, recent studies have implicated specific alterations of both brain structure and function, which may be the outcome of neurodevelopmental problems happening in utero or in early childhood.

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An individual who suffers from pedophilic disorder and acts on his or her paraphilic urges generally commits a punishable sexual offense.

People who are diagnosed with paraphilic disorder are expected to take part in treatment programs.

Even though the available treatment methods are most successful individually, however, such treatment programs may involve both cognitive and behavioral therapies.

Cognitive behavior therapy is a treatment method that has served mainly to strengthen the affected person’s ability to control his or her pedophilic desire rather than to get rid of the urges altogether.

In a few cases, medications like cyproterone that can suppress the activity of testosterone in men may be effective in lessening aggressive behavior and sex drive.

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