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Pedophilia as a Sexual Orientation?

George A. Gaither, Ph.D., 
Department of Psychological Science, Ball State University, 
North Quad 118, Muncie, Indiana 47304 
(e-mail: ggaither@bsu.edu )


Green and Schmidt state the case that adult-child sex should be controlled by the penal system. Both, however, present arguments for conceptualizing pedophilia in a different way. Currently, adult-child sexual behavior is considered both illegal and a form of mental disorder. It appears that the goal of Green and Schmidt is to bring about a logical discussion of this form of sexual behavior, using terms that evoke less emotional responding, so that we can actually discuss the issues at hand.

Green is not the first to critique both the general definition of a mental disorder found in the DSM (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) and the description or specific diagnostic criteria for pedophilia to demonstrate that there is a logical disconnect between the two 

(see Laws & O'Donohue, 1997; Marshall, 1997; Suppe, 1984). 

He is, however, the first to do so with the most current revision


of the DSM and the only writer that I have come across to support his position with examples from the extant historical, cross-cultural, and clinical literatures. 

He reports that the process of reviewing such literatures was the same one that he and his colleagues used in the 1970s in their ultimately successful battle to have homosexuality removed from the DSM. 

One distinction that Green makes, however, between pedophilia and homosexuality is that adult-child sexuality should not be equated with mutually consenting adult-adult homosexuality, as the former involves children who cannot be considered consensual partners in sexual activities (a point echoing the central thesis of Schmidt's paper). 

Thus, a logical conclusion to Green's paper is that pedophilia should be removed from the DSM classification system in the same way that homosexuality was. 

If pedophilia should not be conceptualized as mental disorder, how should we view it, and what are the implications of adopting such a view?

One possible conceptualization of pedophilia is that it is a sexual orientation. This point of view appears to be consistent with Schmidt's reasoning. 

Although most researchers have tended to discuss sexual orientation in terms of the sexes or gender identities of the individuals involved 

(most likely assuming that the individual to whom one is attracted is of consenting age), 

there have been a growing number of researchers who have defined sexual orientation in much broader terms, which include pedophilia 

(e.g., Barbaree, Bogaert, & Seto, 1995; Berlin, 2000; Feierman, 1990; Laws & O'Donohue, 1997; Suppe, 1984). 

Barbaree et al. (1995), for instance, stated that 

"sexual orientation is defined by 

(1) the ability of a certain class of stimuli to evoke sexual arousal and desire in the individual, 
(2) the persons or objects toward which sexual behavior and activity are directed by the individual, and 
(3) the persons or objects depicted in fantasies and cognitions" (p. 358). 

Pedophilia certainly fits within this definition of sexual orientation. Furthermore, clinical evidence suggests that, similar to homosexual or heterosexual orientations, a pedophilic sexual orientation 

typically begins by early adolescence, 
tends to be lifelong, 
and is resistant to change 

(Abel & Osborn, 1995; Marshall, 1997), 

for as Schmidt states, it is part of the person's identity.

There are some who believe that, although pedophilia may represent a sexual orientation, it should still be classified as a mental disorder 

(Berlin, 2000; Laws & O'Donohue, 1997). 

At present, this might be the best policy. 

For instance, consider the fact that most comprehensive treatment programs for pedophiles currently involve some work on changing sexual responses to reduce sexual interest in children and/or increase sexual interest in adults, i.e., changing the pedophile's sexual orientation

(Barbaree et al., 1995; McAnulty, Adams, & Dillon, 2001; Marshall, 1997). 

It is possible that such practice could come under attack, if pedophilia was removed from the DSM. Basing their statements on reparative or conversion therapies for changing homosexual orientations, clinicians such as Haldeman (1994) have opined that it is unethical to treat a condition that is not considered to be an illness. 

A number of professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have also passed resolutions or adopted policy or position statements regarding treatments aimed at changing sexual orientations, which echo these sentiments. 

The American Psychiatric Association ("Position Statement," 1999, p. 1131), for instance, published a position statement on psychiatric treatment and sexual orientation, which concluded by stating

Therefore, APA opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as "reparative" or "conversion" therapy, that is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or is based on the a priori assumption that the patient should change his or her homosexual orientation. 

A similar statement was issued a year later ("Position Statement," 2000). We can be sure that there are many who would say that such statements could and logically should be applied to pedophilia if it is removed from the DSM.

Another possible implication of removing pedophilia from the DSM would be the effects it would have on research. Funding from agencies such as the National Institute of Mental Health would potentially become even more difficult to obtain. Clinical researchers would potentially not have access to research participants or may no longer conduct research in areas such as epidemiology and treatment of pedophilia.

I would like to conclude by stating that I believe that adopting a view of pedophilia as a sexual orientation can be very helpful in encouraging more scholarly discussion on this form of sexual behavior. I am, by no means, advocating that we retain pedophilia in the DSM because of the possible implications that I have outlined above. I merely believe that these issues should be considered before making a movement in that direction.

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