What is pedophilia and where does it come from?

Pedophilia is a disorder characterized by “recurrent, intense arousing fantasies, urges or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child,” according to the psychiatric diagnostic manual.

Pedophiles discover that their sexual preferences haven’t matured like everyone else’s. Most remain attracted to the same-age boys or girls that first attracted them during puberty, though some have an interest in much younger children. A small number of male and female pedophiles have an interest in toddlers, or even infants.

Pedophilia is a mental illness, and legally, it only becomes a crime when acted on.

predatory behavior

Most pedophiles who act on their impulses do so by gradually desensitizing children to inappropriate behavior. Then they escalate the assault. Pedophiles are able to do this because in most cases they already know the children or have access to them. In about 60% to 70% of child sexual abuse cases involving pedophiles, the pedophile is a relative, neighbor, family friend, teacher, coach, clergyman, or someone else in regular contact with the child. Strangers are less likely to sexually abuse children — but are more likely to become violent when they do.

where does it come from

Research suggests a biological origin for pedophilia, occurring during specific periods of development in the womb. There is also some association with childhood head trauma.

James Cantor, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, who is one of the few researchers studying pedophilia from a biological perspective.

Cantor has found that, on average, pedophiles have an IQ that is 10 points lower than the average population, they are 2.5 centimeters shorter, and they are significantly more likely not to be right-handed.

Non-right handedness has been shown to occur more often among people with both autism and schizophrenia, two “clearly biologically based” psychiatric conditions.

Cantor also discovered significant differences in the white matter—the substance that connects one brain region to another—of pedophile versus non-pedophile brains. In the pedophile group, Cantor found significantly less white matter in two different regions, suggesting a problem with connection between the two.

co-morbid disorders

Among pedophiles in residential or outpatient treatment, two-thirds had a lifetime history of mood or anxiety disorders, 60% had lifetime substance abuse history, and 60% qualified for a personality disorder diagnosis of which obsessive-compulsive (25%), antisocial (22.5%), narcissistic (20%), and avoidant (20%) were most common, as reported in reviews.

not enough information about pedophilia

In the U.S., laws require therapists and physicians to report to child protective services anyone they believe poses a threat to a child. The legislation supersedes patient-doctor confidentiality, and has deterred many pedophiles from voluntarily seeking psychiatric help.

bias in research

Almost all research on pedophiles is based on convicted sex offenders—those who have already acted on their desires—most of whom are or have been in prison. This is a source of bias in the research.

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