Disclaimer: Pedophilia is a subject I was never comfortable with, and I remembered seeing many people get outraged at others who even hinted at it. I initially thought it was best to leave it as uncharted territory; stay safe in what I covered.
However, there’s no authenticity and truth in “staying safe”. More importantly, many people don’t get the support they need from the mental health community because they’re “staying safe”. Feel free to disagree, but I do feel that pedophilia still deserves to be understood and better approached. It could save the lives of those affected by it, as well as keep others safer.
If this is more of a sensitive topic for you, please feel free to skip this post. Otherwise, I reserve my right to continue spreading awareness to the public, even for more taboo topics, because dancing around them solves nothing.
This isn’t me excusing or defending any behaviors that have hurt people. This is just my attempt at spreading facts and awareness of the prevalence of pedophilia.
So, pedophilia. Ooh, boy. No one likes to even go near that topic. Not that long ago, even I wouldn’t. However, it’s something that impacts society more often than people think. Much more. So, why not learn about the psychology behind it?
According to Psychology Today, “Pedophilia is considered [in the mental health community] a paraphilia, a condition in which a person’s sexual arousal and gratification depend on fantasizing about and engaging in sexual behavior that is atypical and extreme.”
Pedophilia in itself is “defined as the fantasy or act of sexual activity with children who are generally age 13 years or younger.” It goes on to say that pedophiles are typically men, and that they can be attracted to children of either sex.
According to Psych Central, “In order to be classified [as a pedophile], the person must be at least 16 years of age and five years older than the child or children for whom he has these feelings…”.
Pedophilia can often be confused with Hebephilia, which is defined as “the sexual preference for early adolescent children (those roughly ages 11-14)” (definition from Psychology Today). However, the cutoff between the two seems to be that pedophilia involves sexual attraction to children who are prepubescent, whereas hebephilia involves a sexual attraction to early pubescent children.
How often does pedophilia tend to occur, then?
According to Psychologist Gilian Tenbergen et. al. in the research article, “The Neurobiology and Psychology of Pedophilia: Recent Advances and Challenges” , “The prevalence of a true pedophilic sexual preference is approximately 1%, but when general fantasies are investigated, that prevalence can reach up to 5% among men in the general population…” (2015).
If you’re wondering how prevalent those statistics mean pedophilia-related thoughts can be, let’s look a bit further into a study conducted in the same research article. About 1,915 men, aged 40-79, were given a questionnaire to delve into their sexual preferences and experience. Results from the study showed that “Fifty-seven percent of the questioned men recognized at least one paraphilia-associated arousal pattern as part of their fantasies, 46.9% of this group used them for arousal enhancement during masturbation, and 43.7% acted out these patterns in a relationship. The finding of relevance here is that 3.8% acted out a pedophilic preference on the behavioral level – which means of these men – 14 men acted out their impulses toward children.” Though this study was conducted in Germany, it still helps to give some insight on just how prevalent pedophilia and pedophilia-related thinking actually is.
But, let’s also not pretend that there are never cases of pedophilia among women. According to the same research article, “Although pedophilia is generally regarded as a phenomenon in males (Seto, 2008), victim surveys show that a female perpetrator was indicated by between 14 and 24% of sexually abused males and by between 6 and 14% of sexually abused females (Green, 1999).” Yes, women can be the predators.
In regards to the risk factors of pedophilia, researchers aren’t always entirely sure. However, some of the most widely cited potential risk factors that have been found are low IQ (the lower the IQ, the younger the victim), a lower amount of gray matter in the brain (among other vague brain differences), sustaining serious head injuries multiple times at a young age, and chronic childhood abuse of any form.
Remember several things about these findings, though. First of all, the potential for a pedophile to have a lower IQ doesn’t mean that they’re lesser than or inherently mentally handicapped. Plus, it’s not guaranteed that they’ll all have that going on.
Second of all, having had head injuries or having experienced childhood abuse does NOT automatically mean that anyone’s turning into a pedophile by default. Those are just findings the researchers have suggested can be risk factors for pedophilia.
There’s another big reason that none of us realize how prevalent pedophilia is, however: Most pedophiles are actually non-offending. This means that they can fantasize about children, or experience attraction to them, but not act out those fantasies by means of sexual abuse or the intake of child porn. They recognize that having an attraction to children isn’t favorable, and are willing to exercise the utmost willpower to abstain from anything that could put a child at risk. What’s more, there’s a whole community of people like this.
The cases of pedophilia that we see most often are also the most scandalous; the ones that end in a child being hurt and in the rest of us being disgusted and outraged. We then pin those cases as the face of pedophilia, and tend to want to ban pedophiles from society as a whole. However, pedophilia isn’t synonymous with being a child molester, and those who don’t offend and are ostracized and left to struggle alone with something they can’t help, NEED HELP.
They do not WANT to be attracted to children, nor did they choose to. For this reason, it’s also been debated in the psychology and medical community to call pedophilia a “sexual orientation”.
In my opinion, it may help to lower how often children are victims of sexual abuse if the mental health community were willing to see just how prevalent pedophilia and pedophilia-related thinking is. In addition, if the mental health community thoroughly understood what pedophilia is and were more willing to tackle such a difficult topic, pedophiles would be less afraid to reach out for help so that their thoughts and urges didn’t get out of hand. Both are exactly what we need.
Although this is a topic that can still make me uncomfortable, my yearning to help the mental health community gain a better understanding of pedophilia won.
After watching the featured video on YouTube, I ended up being inspired to reach out to the man in it. His name is Todd Nickerson, and he was such a pleasure to talk to.
The post that follows this one will contain the things he kindly informed me of about the non-offending pedophile community.
But, before we get to that, please feel free to share your thoughts on this. How do you view pedophilia? What are some questions you have about it? What more should society and the mental health community do to address pedophilia?