Pedophilia and pedophiles are terms that are often used incorrectly to describe someone who has had sexual contact with children. This information is presented to increase knowledge of pedophilia and clarify the use of terminology.
Clinical pedophilia is not the same as child sexual abuse or offending; a person can be diagnosed as having clinical pedophilia without committing criminal sexual acts with children. Many pedophiles may not be child sex offenders (they are attracted to children but do not act on those feelings), and many people who sexually molest children are not pedophiles. In other words, they are people who are primarily sexually attracted to adults, but in a specific situation, may molest a child.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Sexual Disorders, or DSM IV-TR, defines a person with pedophilia as a person who:
- Over a period of at least 6 months, has recurrent, intense sexual arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally 13 years or younger).
- The person has acted on these urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty
- The person is at least age 16 years and at least 5 years older than the child or children in Criterion a.
The DSM IV-TR notes that this definition does not include an individual in late adolescence involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with a 13-year-old. It also asks clinicians to differentiate based on the sex of the preferred child, whether the behavior is limited to incest (a family member), and whether the attraction is exclusive (attracted only to children) or non-exclusive. [xlii]
Ephebophilia is a preferential sexual attraction to adolescents. It is not considered pedophilia, and given the proliferation of images of sexualized adolescents in the media, it is fairly common. Ephebophilia's legality is determined by state sexual consent laws; in other words, once a young person reaches the state's legal age of consent, it is not a crime to have sex with them. Nepiophilia is a sexual attraction to infants.
Pedophilic behavior usually begins during adolescence or early adulthood. Pedophiles are said to “groom children.” It is rare for their contact to be forced upon a child. Rather, “they may begin with flattery and gifts or take the child on “dates” (outings), while proceeding from intimate conversation to sexual talk and sexual touch, gradually getting the child accustomed to each new step.” Children who are lonely, depressed, or angry with their parents are most vulnerable to these special attentions. [xliii]