[* Correction of the lay out and addition of text will follow - Ipce.]

The condition known as “pedophilia” is a part of the fabric of everyday life. Attraction to prepubescent children is common among men, as is attraction to pubescent adolescents

  • (Briere & Runtz, 1989; Fedora et al., 1992; Goode, 2010; Hall, Hirschman,& Oliver, 1995; Quinsey, Steinman, Bergersen, & Holmes, 1975).

With or without our knowing, people who experience these desires are present in our lives as co-workers, spouses, family members, and friends (Goode, 2010). Unfortunately, the percentage of adult women who may be attracted to young people is unknown, as these women have received very little attention from researchers (Goode, 2010).

This thesis examines the experiences of adults who are primarily sexually attracted to children and/or adolescents. In order to learn more about who they are and what their lives are like, I interviewed nine men who self-identify as being primarily attracted to minors (i.e., youth who fall below the age of consent). [*1]

  • [*] I had hoped to interview women as well, but did not succeed in persuading any to take part in the study.

My interview participants and I discussed the nature of their sexual attractions, how they came to identify as minor-attracted, their experiences with disclosing their identities to others, and their attempts to cope with widespread condemnation.

The stories of these men are vitally important - their insights highlight the need to critically examine social norms and customs surrounding sexuality. It is crucial to engage in these discussions because decisions that determine which sexual desires and behaviours are socially acceptable and which are not have an enormous impact on the way people are treated in our society.

Many adults who are attracted to minors experience intense suffering as a result of contemporary attitudes about them and current methods of relating to them. Even when no crimes have taken place and no sexual interaction with people below the age of consent has occurred, people who are sexually interested in children and adolescents encounter incredible stigma. They experience fear about the possibility of their desires becoming known to others, and they cope with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

These individuals are often completely alone in dealing with their feelings, as they may be too worried about the negative consequences that could arise from talking to loved ones.

Further, they may feel restricted in seeking help from therapists, as mandatory reporting laws in many jurisdictions require counsellors to report their clients to the police if they express sexual interest in children.

If the nature of their sexuality is revealed, these people are at risk of experiencing physical violence, losing relationships with their friends and families, being fired from their jobs, and encountering financial destitution. The situation facing this population is troubling, and researchers argue that a new, more compassionate approach is needed in order to help people who are attracted to children lead more positive lives

  • (see Cantor, 2012; Goode, 2010).

Our culture's relationship with pedophilia is highly problematic. Sex researcher Steven Angelides argues that:

  • "Within the last two decades in Australia, Britain, and the United States, we have seen a veritable explosion of cultural panic regarding the problem of pedophilia. Scarcely a day passes without some mention in the media of predatory pedophiles or organized pedophile networks. Many social constructionist historians and sociologists have described this incitement to discourse as indicative of a moral panic." [Angelides, 2003, p. 79]

Pedophiles figure prominently on the cultural landscape. They are thought to be everywhere. Children are deemed to be at high risk of being molested or abducted, and adults feel compelled to take on the responsibility of managing this risk. The stereotypical pedophile is a familiar character in Western culture. He – and he most certainly is a he, not a she, according to the mainstream narrative – is an evil monster. Completely different from “normal” people, his desires are alien.

This perspective imagines the pedophile as someone who lurks near elementary schools, waiting for an opportunity to snatch children up and take them away to be used for his sexual pleasure. Alternatively, he is depicted as a Catholic priest, a Boy Scout leader, or a minor-league hockey coach - a trusted authority figure who abuses his position to sexually molest young boys.

Michael Jackson may come to mind; emotionally troubled, and with a suspected history of having been sexually abused himself as a child, he allegedly used his fame and fortune to get away with the sexual abuse of children.

Sociologist Sarah Goode argues that these characterizations do not accurately reflect the reality; traditional media portrayals of so-called pedophiles

  • “appear simplistic and psychologically naive” (Goode, 2010, p. 1), and ask the public “to believe in what amounts to almost two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, evil monsters utterly unrelated to everyday life” (Ibid.).

According to clinical studies, the reality is that a significant percentage of men experience a high degree of sexual interest in children.

In their study of a community sample of 80 men, Hall et al. discovered that over 25 per cent of the respondents

  • “self-reported pedophilic interest or exhibited penile arousal to pedophilic stimuli that equalled or exceeded arousal to adult stimuli” (Hall et al., 1995, p. 681).

Fedora et al. (1992) recruited 60 men from hospital staff and the community at large, and found that 17 per cent of them exhibited pedophilic interest that was as great as or greater than their interest in adults.

When another group of researchers compared “homicidal child molesters, non-homicidal child molesters, and a comparison group of non-offenders” (Firestone, Bradford, Greenberg, & Nunes, 2000, p.1847), they learned that 28 per cent of the control group (consisting of 47 adult men) were equally or more sexually aroused by prepubescent children than by adults.

Briere and Runtz (1989) also conducted a study to determine the frequency of pedophilic desires, and found that in a community sample of 193 male college students,

  • 21 per cent report experiencing sexual attraction to children,
  • 5 per cent claim to have masturbated to sexual fantasies involving children, and
  • 7 per cent admit that they would consider having sex with a child if they thought they could avoid detection.

Given the social taboo of revealing sexual interest in children, Briere and Runtz argue that participants should not necessarily be trusted to be completely forthcoming in their self-reports. The researchers believe that the true percentage of male sexual interest in children is probably higher than what their findings suggest. Even men who do not necessarily have a preferential or equal attraction to minors exhibit a surprisingly high degree of arousal to children and young adolescents.

Quinsey et al. (1975) found that a sample of “normal” men had an average arousal response to pictures of young adolescents that was 70 per cent as strong as their response to adults. Most of the men in their study appear to have a preferential interest in adults, yet their response to young adolescents is significant, and indicates that attraction to minors is a major component of human male sexuality.

The Firestone et al.(2000) study mentioned above also reveals that men who are primarily attracted to adults may also experience a strong sexual interest in prepubescent children. In their sample of “normal” men, they found that the ratio of penile response to auditory material describing sexual activity with children was .71 of their response to similar material describing sex with adult partners.

These figures seem staggeringly high when considering the fact that sexual attraction to children is portrayed as a deviant desire unique to strange, bad people. The evidence seems to suggest that attraction to children that equals or exceeds attraction to adults is part of the “normal” spectrum of male sexuality; and given that even “normal” men who are preferentially attracted to adults also display a significant attraction to children and adolescents, it is likely that attraction to minors falls on an uninterrupted continuum of age orientation.

These clinical studies indicate that a great number of men experience some attraction to minors, and suggest that millions of men around the world may possess a primary sexual attraction to minors, or what may be called a “minor-attracted” sexuality.

Throughout this thesis, I utilize the terms “minor-attraction” and “minor-attracted” because it is not only sexual arousal to prepubescent children that is suspect in our culture, but attraction to adolescents as well. For example, a person who is primarily interested in pubescent twelve-year-old girls and has no sexual desire for adult women would be regarded as deviant, just as would an individual who has a primary attraction to prepubescent ten-year-old girls. Furthermore, some people are interested in youth who fall across a broad age spectrum. Consider a man who is primarily aroused by youth between the ages of ten and fifteen – he is not technically a pedophile, nor would he be considered “normal.”

Referring to the population of people who are primarily attracted to children and/or adolescents as “minor-attracted” allows me to consider the experiences of all those who do not fit the status quo of being attracted to adults.

Contrary to widely accepted stereotypes, preferential interest in children is not caused by childhood sexual abuse or fear of relationships with adults (Cantor, 2012). Rather, primary attraction to children appears to be rooted in biology (Ibid.). In other words, researchers believe that some people are born with the predisposition to be primarily attracted to children. Unfortunately, very little is known about this sizeable minority of men. Scientists have not been able to study this group very easily, as they are a hidden population (meaning that they are not identifiable on sight, as is the case with visible minorities).

Most research subjects are drawn from groups who have come into contact with the criminal justice system or mental health institutions, and as such there is a dearth of information about people who are primarily attracted to children and living in the general population.

Due to widespread condemnation of pedophiles, individuals who experience sexual desire for children are highly unlikely to identify themselves, even though their interests are not rare. Despite how common these desires are, the dominating narrative about primary sexual interest in minors is that it is a mental illness. Psychiatrists classify pedophilia as a “paraphilic disorder” and list it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, psychiatry's leading authority on mental disorders.

The characterization of pedophilia as a mental problem is not the only perspective, however. Some scholars regard primary attraction to children and young adolescents as a normal component of human sexuality, and even compare pedophilia's inclusion in the DSM with that of homosexuality (which too, was considered a mental illness and listed in the DSM until 1973).

Psychiatrist and sexologist Richard Green insists that while “a society can set rules on sexual conduct and proscribe child–adult sex and invoke sanctions for transgressors” (Green, 2002, p. 470), these discussions belong in the realm of the law, not psychiatry.

The competing perspectives on the “normalcy” of pedophilia and its place in the law raise important questions about sexuality and social acceptability in contemporary Western society. Sexuality researchers Charles Moser and Peggy Kleinplatz argue that:

  • The confusion of variant sexual interests with psychopathology has led to discrimination against all “paraphiliacs.” Individuals have lost jobs, custody of their children, security clearances, become victims of assault, etc., at least partially due to the association of their sexual behavior with psychopathology.
    This is not a new problem for psychiatry. Within the last 100 years, the labeling of other sexual behaviors as pathological (e.g., masturbation, “nymphomania,” homosexuality) has caused untold misery. Judgments should be made on the basis of science, rather than the morality that is popular at the time of a given edition. [Moser & Kleinplatz,2006, p. 107]

This criticism of pathologizing certain sexualities is echoed in the work of anthropologist Gayle Rubin, who maintains that sexuality is

  • “organized into systems of power, which reward and encourage some individuals and activities, while punishing and suppressing others” (Rubin, 1999, p. 171).

In contemporary Western societies, sex is considered a “dangerous, destructive, negative force” (Rubin, 1999, p. 150). From this perspective, sexual activities have the potential to cause significant social harm, and as such, sexual expression ought to be highly regulated. Clear boundaries defining acceptable and unacceptable sexual practice ought to be established in order to minimize risk of harm.

Rubin goes on to explain that not only is there a line dividing the tolerable from the intolerable, there is a sexual hierarchy. She argues that married heterosexual couples sit at the top of this hierarchy, followed by monogamous, straight, unmarried couples, who are then followed by all other heterosexuals.

Even though sexuality is a “dangerous” force, the sexual interests and behaviours of these groups are granted social approval as long as they express their sexuality for justifiable reasons. Such reasons may include a desire to demonstrate love, or an attempt to reproduce. Sexual practices engaged in for the “right” reasons may redeem the individuals who partake in them.

Below heterosexuals, other groups have managed to establish a foot hold on the acceptable levels of the sexual hierarchy. Such groups include monogamous lesbian and gay couples. The bottom of the pyramid consists of all the people and sexual practices considered deviant and socially unacceptable. They too, fall into an order ranging from least bad to worst. Sex workers, sexually promiscuous people (especially women), and “fetishists” embody examples of these unacceptable sexualities, yet their social position is far above that of pedophiles, who sit at the very bottom.

Scholars offer various explanations as to why pedophiles are regarded as the lowest of the low. According to historian Elise Chenier, the category of the pedophile exists and persists because

  • “it plays an important ideological function in modern society: it affirms the white, middle-class, ‘traditional’ heterosexual family as the ideal site for the production and reproduction of social and political norms” (Chenier, 2012, p. 172).

Externalizing threats to children's safety allows the family to be viewed as a safe institution, which is important because the family is viewed as the basic, fundamental unit of society. Employing the narrative of the “dangerous stranger” (Ibid.) creates a space for social norms to be reproduced and social stability to be maintained (Chenier,2012).

The image of the pedophile as a dangerous figure is likewise engaged to enforce norms around the regulation of children's sexuality and behaviour. Children are generally conceptualized as sex-less beings - their sexual activities with other children are interpreted as “play” and they are considered incapable of providing meaningful sexual consent, initiating purposeful seduction, or expressing legitimate sexual desire. Any sexual activity between children and adults is, therefore, characterized as abusive.

The prevailing attitude about children's sexuality protects the stability of the family unit. By enforcing the views that children ought to be protected from sex and tha tall adults with sexual interest in children are monsters, the opportunities for children and adults to form sexual relationships are severely restricted. It is not only sexual relationships that are affected in this way; the moral panic around pedophilia allows even non-sexual relationships with adults to be proscribed under the guise of protecting children from the sexual advances of adults. The child is, therefore, kept close to the family, and exposure to outside adult influence is limited.

Because children and adolescents are economically dependent on their families until the state permits them to engage in paid employment, a relationship with an adult is one of the only ways for children to escape an unhappy home life, or explore alternative ideas or activities. Youth who are dependent on their parents or legal guardians for basic necessities like food, shelter, and clothing may feel pressured to remain in a problematic situation at home rather than try to fend for themselves or seek help from an adult outside the family.

According to Rubin, socially acceptable forms of sexual expression are the only sexual behaviours which are deemed to contain any nuance. For example, a monogamous heterosexual relationship between adults can be positive or negative, enjoyable or unpleasant, abusive or healthy. When it comes to socially unacceptable sexual behaviour, there is no room for any interpretation other than that the act is bad, wrong, and harmful. When people like sex workers, BDSM practitioners, or crossdressers maintain that their activities are enjoyable, healthy, and positive, they are routinely dismissed as troubled, or unable to rationally assess their own activities due to some form of psychological problem. Such judgments do not apply to those engaging in acts which are accepted at the top of the sexual hierarchy.

Even though evidence suggests that child-adult sexual interactions can be nuanced, and may not necessarily be negative experiences

  • (see Baker & Duncan, 1985; Ingram, 1981; Kilpatrick, 1992; Okami, 1991; Riegel, 2009; Rind et al., 1998; Sandfort,1987; Tindall, 1978; Ulrich, Randolph, & Acheson, 2006),

the pedophile threat impedes young people from exploring the possibility of a relationship with an adult. The strict regulation of children's behaviour protects the stability of the family and facilitates the reproduction of social norms, by enforcing the family unit as the only source of meaningful relationships with adults in a child’s life.

The pedophile threat also serves as a form of social control in circumstances that do not involve children at all. In the name of protecting children, a society can justify interfering with the rights and freedoms of its citizens. For example, in 2012, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada, officially titled Bill C-30.

Had it passed into law, the bill - known as the “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act” - would have granted law enforcement the ability to track and monitor the online activities of Canadians, and required telecommunications service providers to hand over their customers' private information at the request of police and intelligence agencies without a warrant. Vic Toews, the Public Safety Minister of Canada, criticized opponents of the bill, saying that they could “either stand with us or with the child pornographers” (“Online Surveillance Critics,”2012). Intriguingly, the bill did not contain any mention of children or predators other than in the title (“Online Surveillance Bill,” 2012).

This case demonstrates that highlighting the danger of the pedophile can potentially be a very effective way to regulate and monitor the lives of the general public.

Moral panic theorists offer an additional explanation for the condemnation of pedophiles. They suggest that moral panics arise during times of social unrest, such as during widespread economic trouble, or war (Chenier, 2012). The “bogeyman” at the centre of any panic – whether it is a communist, a Jew, a homosexual, or a pedophile – is a scapegoat for all of society's larger problems. Focusing hatred onto a deviant group allows the general public to blame their problems on a tangible, accessible population that can be rooted out and punished. Targeting these scapegoats contributes to a feeling that something is being done to combat society's ills, that productive steps are being taken, and that everyday citizens are not helpless victims.

Whatever the cause of the panic, one thing is certain – it is getting worse. The pedophile hysteria has become so intense over the past two decades that it has even interfered with the ability of scholars to conduct scientific inquiry on the subject of pedophilia.

We know that people who are attracted to children live amongst us as members of mainstream society, and that many, if not most, do not engage in sexual encounters with minors (Goode, 2010). Still, deviating from the narrative that all pedophiles are bad, dangerous people has been accompanied by negative consequences for academics.

In 2002, a political scientist named Harris Mirkin encountered condemnation for an academic paper he had published in 1999. In the article, the University of Missouri professor compared the pedophile rights movement to the feminist and gay rights movements. His paper states that

  • “attitudes towards child sexuality and representations of it resemble historical attitudes towards women and homosexuals” (Mirkin, 1999, p. 1).

The primary purpose of the paper is to argue that:

  • [T]here is a two-phase pattern of sexual politics.
    • - The first is a battle to prevent the battle, to keep the issue from being seen as political and negotiable. Psychological and moral categories are used to justify ridicule and preclude any discussions of the issue, and standard Constitutional guarantees are seen as irrelevant.
    • - The second phase more closely resembles traditional politics as different groups argue over rights and privileges. Feminist and gay/lesbian politics have recently entered the second phase, while pedophilia is in the first. [Ibid.]


Mirkin's exploration of the topic – which contained no endorsement of child-adult sex, and no advocacy for any change in laws – created considerable controversy for him and the University of Missouri. Upon finding out about the article, the Missouri House of Representatives voted to cut the university's funding by $100,000 (which was the amount they estimated to be Mirkin's salary). Senator Loudon claimed the paper legitimized molestation and protested that Missouri taxpayers should not be made to


  • “subsidize this guy's attempt to legitimize a despicable behavior and a dangerous behavior” (Wilgoren, 2002).

Bruce Rind and the co-authors of a 1998 study titled “A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples” also encountered difficulties as a result of their academic work. In their analysis, Rind, Tromovitch, and Bauserman (1998) conclude that sexual activity between children and adults is not always harmful, and that for some children, such interactions can be positive experiences.

The United States Congress criticized the authors' conclusions ,claiming that the study was “severely flawed” (H. Con. Res. 107, 1999). The Congress passed a resolution urging the President of the United States

  • “to reject and condemn, in the strongest possible terms, any suggestion that sexual relations between children and adults – regardless of the child's frame of mind – are anything but abusive, destructive, exploitative, reprehensible, and punishable by law” (Ibid.).

According to the resolution, the only “credible” studies on child-adult sexual relations are those which conclude that such interactions are always harmful to children.

Prior to studying this subject, I often wondered what a person would do upon realizing that he or she is primarily aroused by children. Hysteria is widespread, and hatred of pedophiles is the norm. How does a person deal with the revelation that he or she is attracted to children in the midst of all this upset? What are the options? How should one live one’s life? 

Conservative writer Judith Reisman believes that people who are attracted to children should “isolate themselves” (Bleyer, 2012). She claims that if she found herself in this position, she would remove herself from society and live

  • “on a mountain somewhere and never go anywhere, like people who cannot go outside because they're allergic to everywhere outside their home” (Ibid.).

Sex researcher James Cantor offers men who are primarily interested in children an alternative to Reisman’s advice - he encourages them to consider undergoing chemical castration to eliminate their sex drives (Savage, 2010).

These two options seem unappealing at best. What should people who are attracted to children do, then?

  • - Break the law by pursuing sexual interactions with minors?
  • - Remain celibate?
  • - Live in secrecy, never telling anyone about their desires?
  • - Seek help – if so, from whom?

I do not know how I would begin tackling these questions if I were facing this dilemma. As such, I have a great deal of sympathy for people who are primarily sexually interested in children – they face an extremely challenging situation with very little support from others (Cantor, 2012; Goode, 2010).

The number of unanswered questions on this incredibly charged subject is what drew me to investigate the matter in greater detail. I wanted to know more about who these people are, what their lives are like, and how they fit into society at large. I was eager to explore our culture's relationship with pedophilia.

  • - Why are minor-attracted people reviled?
  • - How would someone react if they found out they knew a minor-attracted person?

This thesis attempts to answer some of these questions.

In order to gain some understanding of what their lives are like, I conducted an interview study with nine minor-attracted men. Between July 2011 and April 2012, I interviewed these men about their identities, their experiences with telling other people about their desires, and their attempts to cope with stigma.

In this thesis, I present findings and analysis arising from the nine interviews I conducted. While each man's story is personal and unique, I strive to situate their stories within a larger social context, demonstrating how their experiences are relevant to our society as a whole. By critically engaging with broad concepts relating to sexuality, identity, stigma, mental illness, deviance, moral panic, and social justice, I am positioned to offer a nuanced perspective on the complex issue of adult sexual attraction to children in contemporary Western society.

Continuing to relate to this population from a place of panic and hysteria is not helpful to anybody (Goode, 2010), and in fact, causes significant harm to minor-attracted people themselves, to children, and to society as a whole. This thesis is intended to contribute to the emerging position among researchers that there is a need to approach the issue of minor-attraction in a new, more productive way (see Cantor, 2012; Goode,2010). After careful review of this topic, suggestions for alleviating the suffering of minor-attracted people are presented in the conclusion of this work.

Thesis Overview

In Chapter 1, I explain that a moral panic about pedophilia exists in contemporary
Western societies, and I call attention to the fact that most research on minor-attracted
people portrays them as mentally ill, criminal, or potentially criminal. I challenge these
assumptions by critically engaging with the research literature. I also introduce and
explain the terms “disclosure” and “coming out.” I insist that a participant-centred,
qualitative approach to the study of this topic is needed, and I situate the thesis within a
long-standing tradition of social theorizing about identity.

Chapter 2 of this thesis outlines the context of my project, explains the methodology I utilized, and introduces the participants. I also present the research questions which guided this project, provide an overview of the interview guide I used, and explain how I analyzed the data.

As well, Chapter 2 outlines the recruitment strategy I employed, and highlights the integral role played by an American organization called B4U-Act. I also discuss the process of gaining ethics approval for this project, and draw attention to the challenges I encountered during the eight months I waited to receive official approval to conduct this study.

Chapter 3 is the first of three chapters which present and analyze findings arising from the interview data I collected. In this chapter, I explore the participants' experiences
of coming to identify as minor-attracted. Further, I discuss the experience of identifying
as minor-attracted, revealing that some of my participants found it liberating to take on
this identity, while others found it stressful.

In Chapter 4, I investigate the experience of disclosing a minor-attracted identity to others. This chapter uncovers why my participants revealed their identities, who they talked to about their sexuality, and under what circumstances. I also canvass the reactions they received and what consequences they faced, both positive and negative.

Chapter 5 explores how minor-attracted people cope with stigma, and how they find a place for themselves in a society that does not readily accept them. This chapter highlights the extent to which minor-attracted people experience discrimination as a result of their alternative sexual identities. The interview data reveal that my participants are adept at managing stigma, and are able to find meaning and hope in their lives despite facing incredible challenges.

The conclusion of this thesis summarizes the main themes of this project, and focuses on solutions to the problems caused by current methods of dealing with minor attraction.
I argue that a new strategy is necessary, and that it should incorporate empathy, education, and anti-discrimination policies.