Chapter 1

Toward a Conceptual Framework for Studying Minor-Attraction


This thesis examines the troubling situation facing minor-attracted people in contemporary Western society. [... ...]

The overarching aims of this thesis are to shed light on the experiences of minorattracted people living in our communities, and to contribute to the development of strategies that will alleviate their suffering and put an end to discrimination against them.
I accomplish these aims by presenting a critical analysis of my own original research on the experiences of minor-attracted adults, and by radically engaging with contemporary discourse on minor-attraction.

[...] By investigating the experiences of minor-attracted people, I have been able to learn what their interactions with other members of society have been like. Examining the successes and challenges of their lives provides a solid foundation upon which to devise strategies that will tackle discrimination and help minor-attracted people and other members of society learn how to relate to each other in more positive and productive ways.

Prior to embarking upon this research, I consulted a variety of sources in order to prepare myself for the interviews. In this chapter, I present and critically engage with these sources, providing an overview of several key themes and concepts which lay the necessary framework for understanding the challenges facing minor-attracted people in Western societies. These concepts include the psychiatric condition known as  pedophilic disorder, the practice of disclosing an alternative sexual identity, and the meaning of the term “minor-attracted.” Furthermore, I situate the topic of minor-attraction within a broad sociological tradition of explorations of identity, and I explain and underscore the importance of taking a qualitative approach to the study of minor-attraction.

Barriers to Achieving Social Acceptance

[...] The
dominant attitude about child-adult sexual encounters is that they are inappropriate and
should remain illegal.

The complete rejection of the possibility of socially acceptable, legal relationships between adults and children creates a dilemma for minor-attracted people.

  • Should they advocate for changes to the laws?
  • Should they accept the laws as they are, and attempt to make the best life possible within those boundaries?

Several minor-attracted people I have met told me that they have chosen the latter option. They wish to remain lawabiding, and hope to find a way to be happy without engaging in sexual relationships with minors.

Many members of the general (non minor-attracted) public may have serious doubts about the likelihood that minor-attracted people can refrain from acting on their desires. People who are attracted to children are viewed as inherently dangerous – many would argue that even if minor-attracted people genuinely want to avoid sexual encounters with children, they would not be able to help themselves. This perspective places individuals who are attracted to minors in a very difficult position.

  • How can they convince others that they are not a threat to children?
  • Is it possible to gain the trust of, for example, parents who do not want to expose their children to any adult who may desire sexual activity with minors?

Goode (2010) argues that many minor-attracted people are fully capable of refraining from pursuing sexual encounters with children. Still, the general public is likely to fear minor-attracted people. Children are viewed as vulnerable, and sex is viewed as
dangerous and potentially harmful – it is, of course, perfectly understandable that
parents would want to protect their children from the perceived risks of sexual
interactions with adults.

Minor-attracted people can react in a variety of ways in the face of this challenging situation. They can try to raise awareness about the possibility of positive child-adult sexual interactions, and advocate for changes in laws; or they can try to convince society that they will not engage in sexual relationships with minors, and that they are not dangerous or bad people. Either strategy would encounter resistance. The first would be viewed as monstrous, while the second would be viewed with suspicion.

I argue that raising awareness about the sexuality of minor-attracted people will eventually result in members of the general public feeling less suspicious, confused, and uncomfortable. Education is the first step to ending discrimination against people who are primarily attracted to minors.

The Introduction of this work summarizes research demonstrating that attraction to minors is common, and describes the hardships that minor-attracted people face. The rest of this work is committed to exploring the experiences of minor-attracted people and trying to determine what problems they face and what their needs are. In the interest of social justice and with the goal of alleviating human suffering, it is essential that ignorance and aggression be abandoned in favour of informed, productive responses.

A New Perspective on Minor-Attraction

[... ...] Several respected researchers and social scientists are calling for improvements to the way our society treats minor-attracted people. Dr. James Cantor, a researcher and professor at the University of Toronto, and editorial board member of several esteemed sexology journals including The Journal of Sex Research, and Archives of Sexual Behavior, argues that minor-attracted people ought to be treated with compassion. Cantor remarks that

  • “it is hard to imagine someone who would feel more isolated than someone who recognizes he is sexually interested in children” (Clark-Flory, 2012).

Goode (2010) asserts that minor-attracted people are here to stay and that we should face this fact head on and deal with it. She maintains that our society needs to learn more about them in order to figure out how best to approach their situation. Goode (2010) laments that researchers face difficulties producing research in this field, arguing that:

  • The lack of help for adults sexually attracted to children is further exacerbated by the lack of knowledge about this area. There is a reluctance to support research to learn more about the experiences of paedophiles or the incidence of sexual attraction to children in the general adult population. [p. 169]

According to Goode (2010), we should neither ignore nor demonize minorattracted people. Instead, our society should develop new strategies for engaging with the conducting more research on the topic.

Conventional Research on Pedophilia

Most researchers refer to people who are primarily attracted to children as “pedophiles.” Pedophilic disorder is a psychiatric condition listed in the DSM 5 [... ...]
It should be noted that conditions are added and deleted with each new edition of the manual. Occasionally, conditions which were once thought to constitute mental illnesses are removed when social norms change (Moser & Kleinplatz, 2006). For example, homosexuality [... ...].

What is considered mentally sound or mentally ill can change drastically over the course of a few decades, especially when it comes to matters of sexuality (Moser & Kleinplatz, 2006). Currently, the medical community considers pedophilia a mental illness, and this perspective contributes to mainstream ideas about who minor-attracted people are and what they are like.

The dominant body of research on so-called pedophiles informs cultural perceptions of what minor-attraction is, and these understandings in turn affect the way the general public relates to minor-attracted people. This information may also influence how minor-attracted people view themselves. It is crucial to have an understanding of this literature in order to contextualize the experiences of my participants - they are coming to understand their sexual identities in a society which regards them as deviant.

Most of the studies conducted on pedophilia in the past 50 years have been carried out in the fields of criminology and psychology, and these are the studies which have contributed most significantly to scientific and mainstream understandings of pedophilia. Researchers typically adopt a theoretical position which frames minor attracted people as

  • mentally ill,
  • criminals,
  • criminals, or
  • some combination thereof.

The majority of studies focus almost exclusively on adult males, and draw research subjects from both criminal and non-criminal populations.

The dominant body of literature on pedophilia does not advance the position that
a primary attraction to minors should be socially acceptable or that it is biologically
healthy. So-called pedophiles are described as being riddled with deficiencies.
According to Cantor et al. (2008):

  • ... pedophilic men show
    • lower IQs (Cantor et al., 2004, 2005a),
    • poorer visuospatial and verbal memory scores (Cantor et al., 2004),
    • higher rates of non-right-handedness (Cantor et al., 2004, 2005b),
    • elevated rates of having suffered childhood head injuries resulting in unconsciousness (Blanchard et al., 2002, 2003), and
    • elevated rates of having failed school grades or
    • having required placement in special education programs (Cantor et al., 2006). [p. 167]

The studies Cantor et al. (2008) cite draw research subjects from problematic sources. For example, the 2002 study by Blanchard et al. presents conclusions about the relationship between pedophilic desires and childhood head injuries based on findings drawn from research subjects who were referred to a clinical sexology clinic because they had exhibited “illegal or disturbing sexual behavior” (Blanchard et al., 2002, p. 513).

It is curious that claims about the deficiencies of a particular sub-set of men with pedophilic tendencies are presented as truths about “pedophilic men” (Cantor et al., 2008, p. 167) overall. It is impossible to know how many minor-attracted people actually have a history of childhood head injuries because a large-scale study has never been conducted on a representative sample. Despite methodological concerns present in these studies, “pedophilic men” (Ibid.) - as a group - are subject to unflattering claims about their intelligence levels and academic performance.

I prefer to use the term “minor-attracted person” rather than the widely accepted “pedophile” because the former is the label that many of my interview participants use to refer to themselves, and because it does not contain any connotations of mental illness or criminality. My aim is to adopt a neutral, non-judgemental term in order to avoid contributing to the marginalization already experienced by this group.

Most researchers in this field view minor-attracted people as mentally ill, assuming that a primary attraction to minors is an expression of a dysfunctional sexuality. However, arguments about why this sexual arousal pattern should be considered disordered are weak - or even absent – in major studies published on pedophilia.

  • Green (2002) argues that pedophilia does not meet the DSM's own criteria for mental illness.
  • Moser and Kleinplatz (2006) go even further, arguing that none of the paraphilias have a sufficient scientific basis for being included in the DSM.

Understanding the nature of the dominant discourse on pedophilia helps to situate the issues explored in this thesis in their socio-political context. Minor-attracted people are regarded as deviant, mentally ill, and criminal or potentially criminal. Studies about them have primarily been conducted on clinical and forensic populations which are not likely representative of minor-attracted people as a whole (Green, 2002). Research on minor-attracted people living in the general (i.e., non-clinical, non-forensic) population is almost non-existent, yet sorely needed in order to understand the minor-attracted
people living in our communities.

“Everyday” Minor-Attracted People and the Importance of a Qualitative Approach

Although there is a dearth of published research on minor-attracted people drawn from the general population, I have managed to locate two such studies.

The first, published in 1983, is titled “The Child-Lovers: A Study of Paedophiles in Society.” The authors examine the experiences of a non-clinical, non-forensic sample of 77 adult male participants who were recruited through a British “self-help group for paedophiles” (Wilson & Cox, 1983, p. 8). Two personality questionnaires were administered, and ten face-to-face interviews were conducted.
The authors found that while their participants were more introverted on average than the control group, “the most striking thing about these results is how normal the paedophiles appear to be” (Wilson & Cox, 1983, p. 57).
The participants were interviewed about a variety of topics relating to their sexuality, and the findings reveal that

  • some of them enjoy the act or idea of sexual interaction with other adults (18 per cent),
  • some are indifferent to it (43 per cent), and
  • still others are disgusted by it (18 per cent).

When asked about their attitudes toward their sexuality, the participants’ descriptions included feelings of

  • being proud (35 per cent),
  • disturbed (27 per cent),
  •  puzzled (14 per cent), and
  • frustrated (17 per cent).

Wilson and Cox (1983) paved the way for future research into “everyday” minorattracted people, but it would be more than 20 years before another such study would be produced.

[Second,] In 2010, Goode published her work, titled “Understanding and Addressing Adult Sexual Attraction to Children: A Study of Paedophiles in Contemporary Society.” To gather information for her study, she distributed questionnaires to 56 participants and conducted two interviews over E-mail exchanges. Her participants were drawn from a convenience sample of people who responded to her call for participants, which was posted on several minor-attracted community Internet message boards.

I relied on the aforementioned studies to provide a rough template for my thesis research. Both Wilson and Cox (1983) and Goode (2010) draw from non-clinical, nonforensic samples to learn more about minor-attracted people. Taking a qualitative approach, they endeavour to truly understand the experiences of their participants, treating them as people, not “subjects.” While it is important to examine the biological, psychological, and criminological dimensions of minor-attraction, these explorations are not able to canvass the entirety of the issue. A qualitative approach is necessary in order to provide a deeper understanding of the minor-attracted individuals in our communities.

Goode's (2010) work was particularly inspirational for me, given that she had so recently conducted an examination of non-offender minor-attracted people. Her book was published just months before I was to embark upon my own research for this thesis.
I admired her for taking a sympathetic, problem-solving approach to the subject.
However, I developed concerns about the manner in which she treated her participants once I was given the opportunity to speak with some of them myself. I talked to several
minor-attracted people in 2010, [*3] and according to a few of them, Goode (2010) had
misled her research participants about the nature of her research.

  • [*3] In 2010 I attended a conference organized by a group called B4U-Act. This group is a US based organization that provides support to minor-attracted people. My involvement with the organization is discussed in greater detail in the second chapter of this thesis.

They claim that she had initially approached members of the minor-attracted community with the intention of publishing a study about their daily lives and their support networks. Upon release of her book, some of her participants were dismayed to learn that her work focused primarily on the prevention of child sexual abuse. Goode (2010) summarizes the primary objective of her book as follows:

  • The fundamental aim of this book is child protection, to understand and address adult sexual attraction to children in order to make the world a safer place for children, but I believe this book will also be of value and benefit in other ways as well. [p. 1]

Goode’s (2010) focus on protecting children from child abuse seems to imply that minor attracted adults pose an inherent risk to minors, an attitude which is widespread in contemporary Western societies. This perspective was perceived as highly offensive by some of the people with whom I spoke.

Still, Goode (2010) did uncover new and important information about the experiences of minor-attracted people. For example, she learned that some of her participants were married, and that some were also parents. Many of her respondents reported that they were open about their sexual orientation with people in their lives, while others did not tell anyone at all.

The experience of disclosing a minor-attracted identity to others was

  • sometimes positive (e.g., when minor-attracted people are accepted for who they are), and
  • sometimes negative (e.g., when minor-attracted people are rejected by loved ones, or fired from their jobs).

Goode (2010) found that many of her participants experienced feelings of anxiety, stigmatization and isolation. While there were members of the minor-attracted community who took offense to Goode's (2010) final product, many conceded that they were grateful to see a body of work that presented them in a more humane light than is typical for research on this subject. One person I spoke with referred to Goode's (2010) work as “the first step” in what he hopes will become a pattern of researchers approaching the topic of minor-attraction in a more compassionate, thoughtful manner.


In this thesis, one of the major areas I explore is the experience of disclosing a minor-attracted sexual identity to others.

  • What assumptions do people make upon finding out that someone they know is primarily attracted to minors?
  • Do they treat the minor-attracted person differently?
  • What are the consequences of revealing an attraction to minors?

I examine these disclosure experiences as a way to learn more about how minor-attracted people interact with others, and how they attempt to find a place for themselves in a society that does not readily accept them.

Some of my participants actively use the phrase “coming out” to refer to their disclosure experiences. It is important to acknowledge that the term “coming out” originates in the LGB community. [...]
To directly employ the term “coming out” to describe the experiences of the minor-attracted people with whom I spoke could be viewed as an appropriation of the term on my part. Instead, I rely on neutral and strictly descriptive words when discussing my participants’ stories of revealing their identities to others. For example, I use the term “disclosure” to discuss these experiences.

The minor-attracted population and the LGB community are groups that appear
to share some similar experiences of marginalization. The communities even share
some direct connection and overlap. [...]
Because of the overlap in these communities, there are some sections in this thesis where I find it both relevant and useful to draw upon research on the LGB population as a means of exploring the disclosure experiences of minor-attracted people. [...]

It is important to note that there are distinct differences between a group that is attracted to the same sex, and one that is attracted to minors (regardless of sex). Whenever I draw upon research examining the LGB population, I am not attempting to equate these two marginalized groups, but rather, my aim is to deepen my own exploration of the experiences of minor-attracted people. [... ...]

These nuanced and flexible perspectives on disclosing an alternative sexual identity are theoretically supported by

  • Goffman's (1963) work on identity management,
  • Butler's (1990) writing on the performative nature of sexuality (Butler, 1990), and
  • the concept of “face” in Cupach and Imahori's (1993) Identity Management Theory.

All of these social theorists argue that the development of identity occurs in relation to both the dominant cultural paradigm and other individuals.

The Sociological Heritage of this Thesis

This thesis draws on both pedophilia and sexuality research; however, it is firmly situated within a much broader body of work relating to identity. The concept of identity is deeply embedded in the history of sociological thought. The underlying theoretical framework for this study is thus informed by sociological theories of identity, specifically with respect to the methods employed in the Symbolic Interactionist tradition.

Symbolic Interactionism is a perspective which maintains that interactions between individuals are best understood when examined in the context of their specific social realities (Blumer, 1969). In addition to bringing context to the forefront, symbolic interactionism is useful as a theoretical framework because it conceptualizes all meanings as socially constructed, and highlights the subjective nature of human experience (Ibid.).

Sociologists maintain that we cannot isolate society from the individual, nor the individual from society (Charon, 2004). People are always acting within - and interacting with - their social environment. Thus, a person develops her identity as a result of interaction and negotiation with others in the social world around her (Goffman, 1963).

Not only do social interactions shape the self, but, according to George Herbert Mead, the concept of the self is actually best viewed as a social process (Mead, 1934). The self is never complete, nor concrete; it is constantly developing as a result of social interaction with others (Ibid.). The development of identity, then, is not, and cannot be an individual pursuit, because adopting or forming an identity necessarily occurs in relation to others.

I draw heavily on Goffman’s concept of “spoiled identity” as a means of framing the experiences of my interview participants. Goffman argues that stigma impacts the ability of individuals to fully integrate into society, and may prevent them from achieving social acceptance. All kinds of people can possess a stigma, and this condition may be visible or invisible. Minor-attracted people are not stigmatized on sight, because their sexuality is not an observable feature of their persons. Upon disclosing their sexual identities or having them exposed by others, minor-attracted people experience stigmatization, and may encounter the experience of living with a spoiled identity.

Explorations of identity – what it is, how it is formed, how it changes, what influences it – are deeply rooted in sociological thinking, and current studies of identity and coming out continue to draw upon these lines of thought. This thesis is located within a longstanding sociological tradition of theorizing about identity.


Sociological theories of identity, research on alternative sexuality disclosure experiences, and dominant discourse on attraction to minors (including moral panic) are three major areas of thought which inform the work undertaken in this thesis. Drawing on Mills' concept of the sociological imagination, I strive to situate the experiences of minor attracted people in their cultural context.

The relationship between “personal troubles” and “public issues” (Mills, 2000, p. 8) is highly relevant to this investigation. All minor attracted people experience stigmatization, and it is essential to acknowledge this cultural backdrop in order to understand their experiences. The concepts covered in this chapter provide the background information that is necessary to fully grasp the material presented in Chapters 3, 4, and 5 of this thesis.