Vorige Omhoog Volgende

~   [Home]   ~ 

Precisely Defining Pedophilia

Michael C. Seto, Ph.D., 
Law and Mental Health Program, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 
1001 Queen St. West, Unit 3, Toronto, Ontario M6H 1H4, Canada 
(e-mail: Michael Seto@camh.net )


Green argues that pedophilia is not a mental disorder, focusing his criticisms on logical problems he detects in the diagnostic criteria of the DSM (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). His major points can be summarized as follows: 

(1) Using puberty as the defining limit for age of preferred partners is arbitrary; 
(2) sexual fantasies involving children are reported by community volunteers in survey studies; 
(3) there is historical and cross-cultural evidence of adult-child sex being accepted, at least in some circumstances; and 
(4) sexual arousal to stimuli depicting children is exhibited in phallometric studies by a significant minority of community volunteers.

Although there may indeed be logical problems with the diagnostic criteria in DSM-IV, pedophilia can be considered a mental disorder when it is precisely defined using biologically relevant criteria. 

I have previously suggested that the term pedophilia should be restricted to the preference for prepubescent children over adults as sexual partners, rather than more liberally applied to any sexual attraction to children (Seto, 1999). A pedophilic preference is indicated by 

a higher frequency of sexual fantasies about children than about adults, 
greater sexual arousal to children than to adults, 
repeated sexual behavior involving children even when adult partners are available.

Restricting the definition of pedophilia to a preference for prepubertal children is meaningful because puberty is a biological event that is observable and non-arbitrary. More importantly, the onset of puberty provides information about a person's reproductive status. 

From a Darwinian perspective, a preference for sexually immature, non-reproductive persons is anomalous, while a preference for sexually mature, potentially reproductive persons, even if they are below the socially or legally prescribed age of sexual availability, is not (see Quinsey \& Lalumi ere, 1995). 

Given the adaptive significance of sexual partner choice, a sexual preference for prepubescent children would meet Wakefield's (1992a) explanatory criterion for psychopathology: 

"the condition results from the inability of some mental mechanism to perform its natural function, wherein a natural function is an effect that is part of the evolutionary explanation of the existence and structure of the mental mechanism" 
(p. 384). 

In this case, the putative evolved mental mechanism is a sexual preference for sexually mature individuals. Thus, the suggested definition's emphasis on puberty as an age


boundary addresses some of the concerns raised by Green: it is not affected by historical or cross-cultural variation in the acceptance of sex with children, variation in the social or legal definitions of childhood, or even variation in the age of onset of puberty. 
The mental development of a particular child and the ability (or inability) of that child to give informed consent is irrelevant in this definition.

The definition of pedophilia suggested here would require more than an occasional sexual fantasy about children for the diagnosis to be made. 

Nine percent of the 193 male respondents in Briere and Runtz (1989) admitted to ever fantasizing about sex with children, 
5 % admitted ever masturbating to fantasies about sex with children, and 
3 % admitted some likelihood of having sex with a child if they were sure they would not be detected or punished. 

This survey does not tell us, however, how many of the respondents would prefer to have sex with children even when adult partners were equally available, or how many would experience more gratification from sex with a child than with an adult 

(see also Crepeault & Couture, 1980; Templeman & Stinnett, 1991).

Similarly, Green observes that many community volunteers show some sexual arousal to stimuli depicting children when they are assessed phallometrically. One must note, however, that the large majority of volunteers still show a preference for adults; they respond more to stimuli depicting adults, and it is relative responses that are most informative with regard to the discriminative or predictive validity of phallometric assessment (see Seto, 2001). 

Some volunteers do respond more to children than to adults 

(e.g., Hall, Hirschman, \& Oliver, 1995; Seto \& Lalumi ere, 2001). 

Possible explanations for this finding include the imperfect validity of all measurement methods, including phallometric assessment, and the inclusion of some individuals with true, but previously undetected, pedophilic sexual interests.

The suggested definition would also require more than a sexual interaction with a young girl or boy for the diagnosis to be made, because engaging in a sexual behavior does not necessarily indicate a preference for that behavior. 

For example, a recent Details magazine survey of approximately 2,000 college students found that 

30 % of men and 
24 % of women 

had tried spanking during sex and 

27 % of men and 
24 % of women 

had tried bondage (Elliott \& Brantley, 1997). 

This does not mean that these college students would meet the diagnostic criteria for Sexual Sadism or Sexual Masochism. 

The Details survey results can be compared to a survey by Moser and Levitt (1987) of subscribers to a sadomasochistic magazine or members of a sadomasochistic organization. They found that 

95 % of the 178 respondents reported that sadomasochistic activities were as satisfying or more satisfying than conventional sexual intercourse and 
30\% reported that sadomasochistic activity was essential for their sexual gratification.

Not all sex offenders with child victims are pedophiles, at least in terms of their sexual arousal to children relative to adults (Seto & Lalumiere, 2001) and not all pedophiles have engaged in sexual behavior with children. 

The critical question is, given the choice, which would the person prefer?

Vorige Omhoog Volgende