Pedophilia (paedophilia in British English) is a psychiatric disorder when a person sixteen years of age or older is primarily or exclusively sexually attracted to children who have not begun puberty (usually under 12 years old).
A person with pedophilia is called a pedophile. The child must be at least five years younger than the person in the case of adolescent pedophiles before the attraction can be called pedophilia. Adults whose primary sexual attraction is for early adolescents are properly called hebephiles, not pedophiles. Adults whose primary sexual attraction is for mid-to-late teens are properly called ephebophiles, but ephebophilia is not considered abnormal by mental health professionals. The opposite of pedophilia is teleiophilia (attraction to adults).
Medically, this condition is classified by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental disorder. Some pedophiles have sex with children or use children in a sexual way. This is called "child sexual abuse" because by law, children are unable to truly agree to sexual acts with an adult. Some adults have pedophilic feelings but do not act by sexually abusing children. Some adults who are not pedophiles commit sexual abuse against children.
Not all pedophiles feel or act in the same way. Since the 1880s, psychologists have studied and shown that different pedophiles might act in different ways:
- Some pedophiles are only sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children. They are called exclusive pedophiles.
- Some pedophiles have a sexual preference for pre-pubescent children but are sexually attracted to adults as well. They are called preferential pedophiles.
- Some adults who prefer adult sexual partners are also sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children.
For pedophiles who commit child sexual abuse, some studies have shown that pedophiles who are only attracted to children may abuse more children than pedophiles who also have adult sexual partners.
The people who abuse children are often known to them—such as parents, other relatives, and friends—and are not strangers. One research study found that half the adults convicted of child sexual abuse of children outside of their family were also sexually abusing their own children.
Is it common?
Medical researchers do not know how many people in the population are pedophiles. This is because it is hard to study people's feelings and desires unless they actually show that they have those feelings. Generally, the only pedophiles who can be studied are those who have both broken the law and been caught and convicted of child sexual abuse. A second reason is that when an adult or teenager sexually abuses a child, people often call the abuser a "pedophile", but it is possible that the abuse happened for a different reason, such as the unavailability of an adult partner. Experts generally define a person as a pedophile only if they are primarily or exclusively sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children. If a person sexually abuses a pre-pubescent child to frighten or punish them, for example, then it may not be true pedophile behavior.
Some sources, such as the Mayo Clinic, report that most child sexual abuse of pre-pubescent children is committed by pedophiles, while other studies report that most people who sexually abuse children are not pedophiles. According to some studies, about 1% of all adult males may be pedophiles.
As of 2008, most doctors believe that pedophilia cannot be cured. The current approach to deal with pedophiles who have been convicted of sexual abuse is to try to change their behavior. It does not change their sexual attraction. Using this treatment, it is believed that some sex offenders can be prevented from offending again. Medications such as Depo-Provera can be used to treat pedophilia.
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Some cases of child molestation, especially those involving incest, are committed in the absence of any identifiable deviant erotic age preference.
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