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1. SEXUAL LEARNING THEORY
Despite many therapies assuming that relearning or unlearning needs to take place, the ways in which paedophilia is learnt are rarely discussed. More usually, its origins in childhood's complex psychological dynamics are alluded to.
An exception to this trend is discussed by Howells (1981). Children are known to engage in
Howells' thesis could be extended to take into account the reward and punishment contingencies associated with these early sexual experiences. Not all early sexual experiences are likely to encourage paedophilia.
Haugaard and Tilly (1988) surveyed students at a mid- Atlantic state university about their sexual experiences before 13 years of age. Sexual partners below the age of 16 years were considered by the researchers to be peers. Forty per cent of the students claimed such sexual episodes; hugging and kissing, exhibitionism and fondling were most characteristic. Intercourse, oral sex and attempted intercourse were rather infrequent.
Typically, the children were of very similar ages and the average age discrepancy was just a few months. Friends of the opposite sex were the most common "partners". Girls were considerably less likely to initiate sexual activity (9%) than boys (49%). Coercion and same-sex experiences generated the most negative feelings.
Interestingly, the sexual activities were largely unrelated to how the child felt about the episode. Coercion influenced how negatively sexual activity with other children was experienced but was not so important with adult partners. Adult-child experiences were more likely to be seen negatively even when coercion was not involved.
While Howells' theory easily explains how sexual attraction towards children begins, it does not explain why so many people pass through adolescence having had adolescent sexual experiences without becoming adult paedophiles. Howells suggests that peer
rejection and parental hostility may act as punishments which create an aversion to adult-orientated sexuality. The maturing individual may thus feel anxious about the prospect of approaches to sexually mature people.
Furthermore, sexual fantasies about other children during masturbation may reinforce the paedophile imagery; there is some evidence that sexual offenders start masturbating younger than men in general (Condron and Nutter, 1988). Sometimes, adult paedophiles may act as models for this lifestyle. Problems in relating to adults may result in the now sexual youngster failing to "grow out of" his paedophilia. A similar learning model can be applied to adult offenders:
Like most theories of paedophilia, this leaves many important questions unanswered - such as why such men offend in the first place.