Pedophilia – essential facts

Everything you need to know about pedophilia and pedophiles in less than 8 minutes. This is a crash course on pedophilia.

Pedophilia, a definition
Pedophilia is the sexual attraction towards (young) childeren.

According to psychiatry a pedophile experiences sexual desires over a period of more than six months for children that have not yet reached puberty (=prepubescent). A pedophile is at least sixteen years old and five years older than the child.
Someone who has a sexual contact with a child (below the age of consent) or watches child pornography is not by definition a pedophile. He or she is a child porn viewer, an offender or a child molester. We will see later that there are several reasons why people engage into sexual contact with a child other than being a pedophile.

Is pedophilia a disorder? A sexual orientation?
The handbook of psychiatry (DSM5) lists several deviant sexual orientations including pedophilia. Another word for a deviant sexual preference is paraphilia. Pedophilia is one of many paraphilias (link). Paraphilias are not psychiatric disorders perse. According to DSM5 pedophilia is a disorder only when the pedophile has i) acted on his urges (engaged into sex with a minor below the age of consent) or ii) he/she is greatly distressed or impaired by his/her urges and fantasies (source)(source). There is a debate among pyschiatrists about whether pedophilia should be called a disorder (source).

There is no clear definition of a sexual orientation. The characteristics of a sexual orientation are that it is unchangeable, it is not a personal choice and it reveals itself during puberty or adolescence. Pedophilia meets these criteria as much as heterosexuality and homosexuality. Leading scientists in the field of pedophilia, such as Michael Seto and James Cantor, consider pedophilia a sexual orientation focused on age (source)(source)(source). Harvard Medical Review and others also categorizes pedophilia as a sexual orientation (source) (link)(link)(link).

A popular belief is that pedophilia originates from childhood sexual abuse. This myth has been debunked by an Australian study that found no evidence for this (source).

Some people are distressed about the idea that pedophilia is a sexual orientation because they believe this will normalise adult-child sexual relations, much like how gay relationships have become more accepted in the past decade. But the fact that pedophilia is a sexual orientation does not imply that adult-child sexual relations should be permitted. Pedophilia can be considered a sexual orientation while at the same time the age of consent remains unchanged.

Are there any other sexual orientations for age?
Yes, there are sexual orientations for all age ranges. They are called chronophilia (source):

  • Infantophilia/Nepiophilia | babies and toddlers – 0 to approx. 5 years old
  • Pedophilia | Prepubescent children – approx. 6 to 12 years old
  • Hebephilia | Early teenagers – approx. 12 to 15 years old
  • Ephebophilia | Late teenagers – approx. 15 to 18 years old
  • Teleiophilia | adults – approx. 18 years and older
  • Meisophilia | middle aged adults (not being middle aged yourself)
  • Gerontophilia | eldery people (not being elderly yourself)

The different sexual orientations towards minors are summerized as Minor Attracted People (MAP’s).  These are all the orientations below the age of eighteen. Eroticism below the age of eighteen is however often popularly called pedophilia. That is understandable but not very accurate because in many countries the law has distinctions for age such as the age of consent. Also the punishments for sex offences in many countries vary depending on the age of the minor.

Pedophilia is illegal, right?
No, it is not. No countries or states have declared pedophilia illegal. There are no laws that forbid you to be primarily sexually attracted to children. This does not change the fact that society usually frowns upon pedophiles.

Most countries, if not all, do have laws regarding the age of consent. Sexual contact with children below the age of consent is illegal. A person can legally be a pedophile but may not express this sexually with people below the age of consent. As we will see shortly most sexual contact with minors below the age of consent is by non pedophiles. But no matter what your sexual orientation is, having sex with minors below the age of consent is illegal.

The age of consent varies around the world:
Africa (source): lowest 12 (Angola) / highest 18
Asia (source): lowest 13 (Japan) / highest 21
Europe (source): lowest 14 (Germany) / highest 18 (Turkey)
North America (source): lowest 12 (parts of Mexico) / highest 18
South America (source): lowest 13 (Argentina) / highest 16
Oceania (source): lowest 13 (Micronesia) / highest 18

Sex between a minor (above the age of consent) and an adult is often legal provided that there is no role of guardianship (parent, stepparent, foster parent, guardian, uncle, aunt or other members of extended family) or other power or authority or responsibility for care or upbringing (teacher, counselor, doctor, coach).
For an exact description of the law consult the Criminal Law or Crimes Code or a legal advisor of the country you reside in. Most countries have different age-of-consent-laws for prostitution, pornography or even homosexual sex. At least one country has no age of consent for boys having sex with women (Cook Islands).

Persistent myths about pedophiles

Myth 1
If you have sex with a child, you are a pedophile

Fact: A pedophile is someone that has a sexual attraction towards children. Having this attraction doesn’t mean one acts on these feelings. In fact, and now it gets interesting, according to several studies the majority of people (60% to 83%) who have sex with children do not have pedophilic feelings. (source, par 2.5) (source) (source) (source)(source, page 4).

Sexual acts with children often have different causes than the pedophile sexual orienation. Child molesters are more likely to have an anti-social personality disorder, a poorly developed sexual impulse control and / or are under the influence of drugs (source, par. 2.5.1)(source)(source)(source)(source). Sometimes the child is simply available at the time an adult wants sex. Being a pedophile is neither a necessary nor a sufficient explanation to commit sexual acts with children. (source) (link)

Dr. Phil summarized it in just a few words: ” Pedophilia is an affliction, child molestation is an action. You can have one without the other. Not all pedophiles are child molesters, not all child molesters are pedohiles.” (source)

Despite the fact that non pedophiles are responsible for the majority of child sexual abuse, pedophilia is considered a risk factor for child sexual abuse.

Myth 2
Childporn downloaders and/or viewers are pedophiles

Fact: Child pornography users are often not a pedophile. According to studies the number of downloaders of childpornography that are actually a pedophile is roughly between 33% and 50% of perpetrators (source, par. 2.5.5) (source) (link). Often people download or view childpornography out of loneliness and/or because they find the idea of downloading illegal material exciting.

Myth 3
Child sex tourists are pedophiles

Fact: Pedophiles are the minority of child sex tourists. (source, page 12) (source, page 4) Child sex tourists are more often than not men and women that use prostitutes that are below the age of consent. A large part of child sex tourists are nationals of the country itself.

These myths are unfortunately often repeated in the (social) media. The word pedophile is often used to describe people who performed sexual acts with children. But pedophiles are by no means always a perpetrator, nor are perpetrators always a pedophile.

To say pedophile when you mean offender is stigmatizing. This is morally wrong. It wrongfully accuses pedophiles of all child sexual abuse. This leads to the demonization of pedophiles which encourages hate and leads to (extreme) violence (link).

Scientific facts and solid information about adults having sex with children is crucial in designing effective programmes of prevention of child sexual abuse.

Most pedophiles indicate that they suffer from the continuous stigmatising by journalists, experts, care professionals and the average citizen on social media. In newsarticles about sexual acts with children there should be no information about the sexual orientation of the suspect. If one wants to mention the suspect either call him or her ‘the suspect’, ‘the man’ but not ‘a pedophile’. There is no such thing as a ‘convicted pedophile’. One is convicted for child sexual offenses, not because someone is a pedophile.

Pedophiles; how many are there?
This is unknown. There has been no convincing research into the number of pedophiles. Several estimates have been made, but these are mainly based on small-scale research. Most estimates are about men only.

  • Michael Seto first estimated the number of pedophiles at 5% of all men. Later he adjusted his estimate to 1%. This number rises to 2% when hebephilia is included (attraction towards young teens). (source)
  • Researcher Tromovitch comes to an estimate of 20% of all men. (source)
  • Another study by Briere and Runtz found that 21% of the men examined had a sexual interest in (some) children. Having a sexual interest however is not necessarily the same as being a pedophile (source).
  • Researcher Sarah Goode says that 20% of men can have a sexual interest in children. (source)
  • The forensic psychologist Sullivan says that the number of female paedophiles is much higher than most think. He bases his estimate on the number of child sexual abuse cases that involved women. Caution is needed though because child sexual abuse and pedophilia are not the same thing. Media often conflate the two. (source)

Pedophiles; Where can they find support?
Peer support

Professional support (to not offend)

  • The Global Prevention Project – An education effort addressing risky sexual thoughts, fantasies, and non-contact problematic sexual behavior in adult men and women. (has an interesting podcast about pedophilia)
  • Stop it Now (USA)– Together we can stop the sexual abuse of children. There are similar programmes in the UK, The Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland, Wales, Ireland. Use Google to find them.
  • Kein Täter werden – A German based prevention project.

Ben Kirssen
The Netherlands, December 2018

Feel free to link to this crash course on pedophilia to all those interested in facts on pedophilia. Feel free to copy text but please when you do so, do mention my name as your source.

If you find any errors, if a link is dead, if you have other research studies or if you think essential facts are missing, please let me know either at Twitter ( or leave a reply below.

4 thoughts on “Pedophilia – essential facts

  1. Excellent article and collection of references.
    About these references, I would like to point out that several of these are mixed bags as far as resources to rely on. You gleaned good points from what are in some cases quite problematic sources. Dr. Phil, for instance, is an authoritarian moralist and a sensationalist showman, and his despicable treatment of Gary and Tabitha comes off to the ignorant masses as compassionate concern, precisely because he cleverly adopts some of the surprising facts and states them authoritatively. So his statement distinguishing paedophilia from child molestation, while helpful, is couched in a long series of techniques designed to arouse fear and disgust and other strong emotions in the audience.
    Seto, Cantor, and others are also unreliable in some respects, despite being leaders in the research areas currently available. And the DSM is an amalgam voted into existence according to the psychiatry profession’s zeitgeist.
    Of all of the experts you’ve referenced, the one i find the most useful is Sarah Goode. …And she’s not without her glaring faults. The following statement is taken from the article you linked referencing her work.
    “Goode says simply: “Children are not developmentally ready for adult sexuality,” adding that it is “intrusive behaviour that violates the child’s emerging self-identity”

    This statement, while apparently sensible according to the cultural stories reigning in the entirety of the industrialised world, is in fact utter nonsense. Any sensitive and respectful adult who spends years interacting with children will at some point or another experience a child initiating sexual contact with them. To say ‘No’ to the child may be dissapointing, even crushingly so, but to say ‘Yes’ or to tickle them where they want to be tickled is not “intrusive behaviour”. It may be short-sighted on the part of the adult to participate in a child’s journey of sexual exploration, given the terrifying consequences of it being discovered and/or reinterpreted later as abuse, but it is absolutely not intrusive or a violation of the “child’s emerging self-identity”. Nonsense, Miss Goode.

    Liked by 1 person

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