Pedophilia: Busting the myth

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“Pedophile”, the instant we hear this word a lot of references from the media come up and we have this image of a ‘monster’ who has committed a crime of child sexual abuse. However, this use of the term pedophilia is in fact wrong. Pedophilia is a clinical term, and not the description of a criminal profile. In fact, many people who have pedophilia never commit a crime against children, and in turn, many people who sexually abuse children are not even pedophilic. Let us clear this up for you:How experts define pedophilia (and hebephilia)The medical coding system of the World Health Organization (WHO) defines pedophilia as a “sexual preference for children”. More specifically, pedophilia describes the sexual attraction towards the body scheme of prepubescent children who are in the stage before pubertal development – for instance, they have no pubic hair, and in case of girls no developed breast. Researchers estimate that approximately one in 100 men experiences sexual attraction towards children.

Pedophilia is just one type of sexual preference that is associated with minors, another term that is completely new for most people is ‘’hebephilia”. Hebephilia describes a sexual attraction towards children who are at the beginning of their pubertal development, hence hebephilia is a sexual interest in the body scheme of early-pubescent children, who show signs of pubertal development like the onset of pubic hair and breast development.Pedophilia and hebephilia are aspects of the sexual preference, which manifest during puberty, and which is – and this is important – not chosen by the person and not changeable. One could say that pedophilia and hebephilia are rather a result of fate than of choice.Understanding that one is sexually attracted towards children can cause intense distressMany people with pedophilia/hebephilia first notice their sexual attraction towards children and/or young adolescents when they themselves are teenagers. Discovering that one rather feels sexually attracted towards younger kids and not towards his peers, unlike others his age can be a quite disturbing experience for the teenager. The societal stigma attached to pedophilia – namely that people with pedophilia are monsters and should be locked in jail even if they have never touched a child in their lives – adds to feelings of shame and self-hate. Also relieving distress by talking to friends or family about one`s sorrow is most of the times not an option for someone with pedophilia – too big is the fear to be judged or even hated than helped.For people with pedophilia, these increased distress levels and feeling of isolation can actually be a risk factor for impulsive behaviours and sexually acting out against children. Hence, psychotherapeutic treatment can help to interrupt this vicious cycle.Treatment can help people with pedophilia to lead an offense-free and satisfying life“I somehow always knew that I need help – but for the longest time I did not dare to talk to anyone about this issue – the taboo around it was just too big”, describes the participant of a treatment programme for people with pedophilia and hebephilia in Germany. Another says: “Since the beginning [of the treatment] it had a really relieving effect to be able to talk openly about this tabooed topic without being rejected or judged for my sexual preference.” Accepting one`s pedophilia/hebephilia is the first and a crucial step in the treatment: only when one accepts that their sexual preference for pre-and/or early-pubescent-children is both unchangeable as well as persisting, a person will be able to understand for example what their personal risk situations are and how to tackle with their sexual impulses in a way that no child gets hurt. Treatment also helps to cope with stress in a healthy way so that participants do not fall back on using masturbation or sexualized behavior to deal with negative feelings. Sometimes medical treatment which can drastically reduce one`s libido can also be an option – of course only if the concerned person wants this medical option. Treatment for people with pedophilia and/or hebephilia not only aims at preventing child sexual abuse but also to prevent the use of child sexual abuse images (so-called “child pornography”). The production and consumption of child sexual abuse images are a rapidly growing problem worldwide and a considerable number of people with pedophilia and hebephilia turn to watching child sexual abuse images. Children are being exploited in one or the other way, let it be to produce these images or be it the mere act of accessing the content reinforces this abuse cycle. Hence, refraining from the usage of child sexual abuse images is often a treatment goal in therapy.Pedophilia is a disorder, not a crimePedophilia describes the sexual attraction towards prepubescent children, and hebephilia describes the sexual attraction towards early-pubescent children. Pedophilic or Hebephilic sexual preference is not criminal by nature neither are people with pedophilia or hebephilia destined to abuse. Psychological and even medical treatment can support people to deal with their sexual interest in children in a way that they can live fulfilling lives and not act out against children, neither in real life or online by watching child sexual abuse images.________________________________________________________________If you feel sexually attracted to children and/or young adolescents, you can find free and confidential help online: to research articlesDombert, B., Schmidt, A. F., Banse, R., Briken, P., Hoyer, J., Neutze, J., & Osterheider, M. (2016). How common is males’ self-reported sexual interest in prepubescent children? The Journal of Sex Research, 53(2), 214–223., S. (2018). The Stigma of Pedophilia: Clinical and Forensic Implications. European Psychologist, 23(2), 144–153., M. C. (2008). Pedophilia and sexual offending against children: Theory, assessment, and intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Pedophilia is not Child Sexual Abuse

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Have you ever read news like “French soldiers accused of paedophilia in custody in France”? This headline is an example of how people share a common misconception by mixing up pedophilia and child sexual abuse.
Articles like this are actually about cases of child sexual abuse. But that does not necessarily mean they are also about pedophilia (which is the sexual preference for children)! That is because pedophilia and child sexual abuse are two different matters. And here is why:
Child sexual abuse is an act, a behavior. In contrast, the term “pedophilia” or the phrase “sexual attraction towards children” describes a sexual preference. Sexual preference is mostly shaped by sexual fantasies, not by sexual acts. In fact, the sexual behavior of a person does not have to coincide with their actual sexual preference. Think of a homosexual woman who is living in a society which does not permit sexual relations between people of the same gender. This woman might get married to a man, have children, and die without ever having had sex with another woman – but that does not change the fact that her fantasies were about women and that she had a sexual preference for women.
Which sexual fantasies a person finds arousing is not something decided by choice. So is the case for people with pedophilia – their preference is a destiny, not a choice. In fact, if people were left a choice whether to be pedophilic or not, most probably no one would choose to be attracted to kids instead of adults.
In a similar context, we can understand that experiencing sexual attraction towards children does not necessarily mean that a person will act on those attractions and commit child sexual abuse; they can stay offense-free their whole life by keeping their “sexual impulses on the fantasy level for a lifetime”. To help people with pedophilia to stay offense-free is the goal of treatment projects like “Don’t Offend India” or “Kein Täter werden” which is German for “Don’t Offend”.
Furthermore, when we look at people who were convicted of child sexual abuse, we find that more than half of them actually do not even have a sexual preference for children (Seto, 2008). It means that a person might have sexual fantasies about adult women, but sexually interacts with a child as a surrogate for an adult of their preference. This can have a number of reasons viz. low intelligence or personality disorders.
To sum it up: People who abuse children are not necessarily pedophilic, and pedophilic people do not necessarily abuse children.

In other words: pedophilia is a preference, and child sexual abuse is a crime. And we do believe it is extremely important not to confuse pedophilia with actual child sexual abuse.
Thanks for reading this article – we hope it helps you to be able to discrimate between a legal case of child sexual abuse from the preference “pedophilia” the next time you read about “pedophiles” in any article!

Jahnke, S., Schmidt, A. F., Geradt, M., & Hoyer, J. (2015). Stigma-Related Stress and Its Correlates Among Men with Pedophilic Sexual Interests. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(8), 2173–2187.
Seto, M. C. (2008). Pedophilia and sexual offending against children: Theory, assessment, and intervention. American Psychological Association.

How Stigma can Increase the Risk of Sexual Offending

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In the last article, we explained how a sexual preference differs from a sexual behaviour, and that many people with a sexual attraction towards children refrain from acting on this preference.

In this article, we talk about how stigma can increase the risk of sexual offending and explain how stigma is associated with sexual offending. Let us begin with an example: X is a 15 year old boy who realises that he is sexually attracted towards children. Would you be willing to engage in a small conversation with him? Would you like to be friends with X? Or do you think X is dangerous and it would be better to maintain some distance from him?

If your answer to the first two questions was No, you may have attitudes similar to many people. Many people have similar answers to these questions. Have you ever thought that the views that we hold about people with pedophilia (PWP) can have an impact on them?

Let’s go back to the example of X introduced in the beginning of this article. He realizes that he is sexually attracted to children. The word ‘pedophile’ comes to his mind. All he ever read about “pedophiles” is that they are ‘monsters’ and an enemy of society. He might even start to believe that, sooner or later, he will inevitably act on his attraction. With the sexual attraction towards children being a societal taboo to discuss, he would be discouraged to confide even in his close friends and family. He would probably try to isolate himself from others and strive hard to keep his sexual preference a secret because of fear of rejection. He might be too scared to seek professional help, even for his emotional problems (if not for his distress because of his sexual attraction). This might lead to further problems such as mood disorders, anxiety and/or substance abuse disorders. Factors like loneliness or substance abuse can increase the vulnerability for sexual offending and this is how the stigma can not only be unjust but also indirectly harmful.

Research has shown that people generally have a strong negative attitude toward PWP1. Often, PWP are perceived as ‘monsters’ who are a threat to society and should be punished. Furthermore, the general public is of the opinion that PWP could change their attraction towards adults if they wanted to. They express feelings of anger, disgust, and hostility towards PWP. These kinds of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral reactions of the general public stigmatise PWP.

PWP may find it difficult to seek professional help because of the fear of being judged, doubts about the professional’s understanding of their problem, and concerns related to not receiving ethical treatment. Thus there are very few options available for those in need. However, it is important they seek help from the right people.

Conclusion :

In short, stigma can increase the risk of sexual offending.

In the next blog, we will talk about the risk factors for sexual offending.


1. Jahnke, S., Imhoff, R., & Hoyer, J. (2015). Stigmatization of people with pedophilia: Two comparative surveys. Archives of sexual behavior, 44(1), 21-34.

Jahnke, S., & Hoyer, J. (2013). Stigmatization of people with pedophilia: A blind spot in stigma research. International Journal of Sexual Health, 25(3), 169-184

Does watching child pornography lead to contact sexual offense

Prevention of child sexual abuse is in our hands, and together we can prevent a child with sexual abuse.

In this article we discuss whether viewing child sexual abuse material (so called child pornography) increases the risk of contact sexual offenses. 

Person X, 23 year old, single male is inclined to watch so-called child pornography. With high speed internet available at home and even at his workplace, there are not many obstacles in his way to fulfil his wishes. When we think of the consequences of viewing so called child pornography there are multiple questions that come to our minds. Does watching the so-called child pornography not increase the risk that this person might commit sexual offenses? Or does it act as a buffer to channelize his sexual impulses and prevent cases of contact sexual abuse? The following explanations will reveal that these deceptively simple questions are not easy to answer. 

Seto and Eke analysed the association between child pornography use and subsequent acts of contact sexual offenses. Their results showed that 1.3% of the sample committed contact sexual offense4. In another study, Riegel (2004) conducted an internet based survey on people who identified themselves as Boy-Attracted Pedosexual Males (BPM). When this group was asked if consumption of child pornographic material increased their desire to commit sexual acts with minors, 84.5% of the group replied ‘rarely’ or ‘never’. The above findings point to the possibility that child pornography alone does not lead to contact sexual offending. 

Furthermore, there is evidence that child sexual offenses are committed before engaging in child pornography. In 2011, Eke et al. did an extensive study of 541 child pornography offenders. Out of these, 30% had also committed contact sexual offenses. Within this sample majority of the contact sexual offenses were committed before (18%) the child pornography offenses or at the same time (8%); only 3.9% of these offenders committed contact sexual offenses following their child pornography offenses over a period of 5.9 years. In another study, majority (84%) of the contact sexual offenses were reported before engaging in child pornography offending.6 In another study, Howit (1995) studied the role of child pornography in sex offeding. His results indicated that viewing pornography did not precede the sexual offense. Thus a simple direct causal effect of viewing pornography on offending was not supported by this study.

There are other factors which interact and determine if a person will act out or not. Sexual deviance is a major risk factor for sexual recidivism. In addition, antisocial tendency is another major risk factor. We will not be talking about these factors in detail since it is beyond the scope of this article. 

The aim of this article was only to elucidate if viewing so called child pornography leads to contact sexual offenses. It does not, in any way, justify, or advocate the use of so-called child pornography or child sexual abuse material. In the reality viewing CASM and contact sexual abuse both are seriously harmful for children.  

In conclusion, a number of people who engage in child pornography offending also commit contact sexual offenses. However, there are some who don’t. Hence a direct causal link between the two cannot be established and more research is warranted.  


  1. Aslan D., & Edelmann R. (2014). Demographic and offence characteristics: A comparison of sex offenders convicted of possessing indecent images of children, committing contact sex offences or both offences. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology25, 121-134.
  2. Babchishin, K. M., Hanson, R. K., & Hermann, C. A. (2011). The characteristics of online sex offenders: A meta-analysis. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 23, 92-123
  3. Bourke, M., & Hernandez, A. (2009). The “Butner Study” redux: A report of the incidence of hands-on child victimization by child pornography offenders. Journal of Family Violence24, 183-191
  1. Eke, A. W., Seto, M. C., & Williams, J. (2011). Examining the criminal history and future offending of child pornography offenders: An extended prospective follow-up study. Law and Human Behavior35, 466-478
  2. Endrass, J., Urbaniok, F., Hammermeister, L. C., Benz, C., Elbert, T., Laubacher, A., & Rossegger, A. (2009). The consumption of Internet child pornography and violent and sex offending. BmC Psychiatry, 9(1), 43.
  3. McCarthy, J. A. (2010). Internet sexual activity: A comparison between contact and noncontact child pornography offenders. Journal of Sexual Aggression16, 181-195