In human sexuality, adult sexual interest in children comprises a wide range of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors some adults have toward prepubescent children. It occurs in both men and women, but it is reported to occur more frequently among males.[1] These interests range from fleeting fantasies of sexual activity with children,[2] to a subset of people with preferential or exclusive interest in children (defined as pedophilia).[3] While adults with a sexual interest in children often abuse children, either directly or indirectly by viewing child pornography, they do not always do so.[4] Of those who do, a variety of factors play into the type, frequency, and duration of the behavior.

Distinction from pedophiliaEdit

Physician Anil Aggrawal states, "not all child sexual abuse is perpetrated by pedophiles, and not all pedophiles actually commit child sexual abuse."[5] Sexologist John Money said, "The majority of reported acts of sexual abuse of children are not committed by pedophiles, but by men in relationships with adult women and men.[6] Psychologist Michael Seto writes, "Ever having thoughts of sex with a prepubescent child, or even having contact with a prepubescent child, would not be sufficient to meet the diagnostic definition of pedophilia, because a central feature is the persistence of the sexual interest in children."[7]

According to the Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology, "someone who has expressed a sexual interest in children or who has engaged in sexual behavior involving a child is not necessarily a pedophile." Further, not all adults with sexual interest in children have involvement in child sexual abuse.[3] Researcher Ron Langevin writes, "sexual acts with minors involve a heterogeneous group of adult men, some of them non-pedophiles..."[8] Psychologist Kevin Howells writes, "Some have a persistent sexual preference for children beginning in adolescence, while others have a preference for adults but act with children due to situational factors (e.g., marital problems, loss of wife, abuse of alcohol, or stress). Most theories focus on the former type since the latter type are really not pedophiles. However, most clinical and criminal studies find the latter type to be the majority of those who offend."[9]

Prevalence and demographicsEdit

Vern Bullough's 1964 historical survey of human adult–child sexual behavior worldwide claimed it has occurred throughout history with varying degrees of acceptability and was much more prevalent in the past.[10] Most of this behavior occurs between a child and someone who knows the child.[11]

Only a minority of incarcerated child molesters (25 to 33 percent) have a primary and relatively permanent sexual interest in children.[12] Kurt Freund's tests using penile plethysmography led him to report that although the "normal" heterosexual males showed a larger penile response to adult females than to children, "children have some arousal value even for normal males."[13]

One survey found that approximately 20% of adult males and 8% of adult females self-reported having some sexual interest in children, with as many as 7% of males and 3% of females saying that they would engage in sexual activity with children if they could avoid detection.[14] In another study of men's erotic fantasies, 61.7 percent fantasized sexually initiating a young girl, 33 percent fantasized rape, and 3.2 fantasized sexually initiating a young boy.[15] Among convicted criminals, "most data suggest that only a relatively small portion of the population of incarcerated sexual offenders against minors consists of persons for whom minors (particularly children) represent the exclusive or even primary object of sexual interest or source of arousal."[16]

Theories and researchEdit

A history of childhood sexual abuse has been theorized to lead to a sexual interest in children. However, "only about 28% of child sexual abusers report being sexually abused as children, and not all sexually abused children will become child sexual abusers; therefore, the relationship between childhood victimization and adult perpetration does not appear to be straightforward."[17]

Maxwell Taylor and Ethel Quayle summarize various academic and clinical attempts to organize people with these interests.[18] Classification schemes include anthropometric correlates, gauges of "inappropriate frequency" of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, or classifications based on stimulus and response characteristics. They write that a typological system such as the classifications for paraphilias in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders "is possibly of limited value because meeting the first criteria (evidence of duration of urges, fantasies, or behaviours) inevitably excludes a large number of people with sexual interest in children." Finkelhor proposed a multifactor model with four preconditions: motivation, overcoming internal and external inhibitors, and overcoming the child's resistance.[19] Taylor and Quayle conclude, "Inevitably, such categorising of behaviour tends to dichotomise activities, so that we end up attaching to them labels such as normal/abnormal, moral/immoral, acceptable/deviant and do on."[18]

Legal issuesEdit

Researchers Quayle and Taylor write, "Adult sexual interest in children on the Internet embraces both illegal and legal activities."[20] Clinicians and legal experts theorize the easy accessibility and transnational distribution of child pornography may cause this interest to develop in people who previously did not have this interest.[21]

Acting on a sexual interest is illegal when it involves sexual abuse or the creation, possession, viewing or distribution of child pornography. Adults who illegally act on their sexual interest in children face a wide range of laws regarding child sexual abuse depending on the activities and jurisdiction.

See alsoEdit

Selected bibliographyEdit


  1. Wiehe, Vernon R. (1998). Understanding family violence: treating and preventing partner, child, sibling, and elder abuse, p. 38. SAGE, ISBN 9780761916451
  2. Dowd NE, Singer DG, Wilson RF (2006). Handbook of children, culture, and violence, p. 63. SAGE, ISBN 9781412913690
  3. 3.0 3.1 Weiner IB, Craighead WE (2010). Pedophilia. The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology, Volume 3, p. 1177-1178. John Wiley and Sons, ISBN 9780470170243
  4. Schultz, LeRoy G. (1980). The Sexual victimology of youth, p. 273. Thomas, ISBN 9780398039257
  5. Aggrawal, Anil (2008). Forensic and medico-legal aspects of sexual crimes and unusual sexual practices, p. 47. CRC Press, ISBN 9781420043082
  6. Levine, Judith. Harmful to Minors Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003 ISBN 9781560255161
  7. Seto MC (2008). Pedophilia: Psychopathology and theory. In Laws DR, O'Donohue WT (eds.) Sexual deviance: theory, assessment, and treatment. Guilford Press, ISBN 9781593856052
  8. Langevin R, et al. (1985). Erotic preference and aggression in pedophilia: a comparison of heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual types. In Langevin R (ed.) Erotic preference, gender identity, and aggression in men: new research studies, p. 158. Psychology Press ISBN 9780898594454
  9. Howells K. Adult sexual interest in children: Considerations relevant to theories of aetiology. In Mark Cook, Kevin Howells (1981). Adult sexual interest in children. Academic Press, ISBN 9780121872502.
  10. Linz, Daniel and Imrich, Dorothy. Child pornography. in White, Susan O. (2001). Handbook of youth and justice, pp. 79-114. Springer, ISBN 9780306463396
  11. Jenkins, Philip (2004). Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America, p. 135. Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300109634
  12. Finkelhor, David (1981). Sexually victimized children, p. 22. Simon and Schuster, ISBN 9780029104002
  13. Freund K. (1981). Assessment of pedophilia. In M. Cook, & K. Howells, (Eds.), Adult sexual interest in children. Academic Press, ISBN 9780121872502
  14. Porter, Louise (2008). Young children's behaviour: practical approaches for caregivers and teachers, p. 51. Elsevier Australia, ISBN 9780729538336
  15. Van Dam, Carla (2001). Identifying child molesters: preventing child sexual abuse by recognizing the patterns of the offenders, p. 79. Psychology Press, ISBN 9780789007438
  16. Okami P, Goldberg A (1992). Personality Correlates of Pedophilia: Are They Reliable Indicators? Journal of Sex Research, 29(3), 297-328
  17. Hines DA, Malley-Morrison K (2005). Family violence in the United States: defining, understanding, and combating abuse, p. 117. SAGE, ISBN 9780761930860
  18. 18.0 18.1 Taylor, Maxwell; Quayle, Ethel (2003). Child pornography: an Internet crime, p. 48. Psychology Press, ISBN 9781583912430
  19. Finkelhor, David (1984). Child Sexual Abuse: New Theory and Research, p. 54. Free Press, ISBN 9780029100202
  20. Quayle E, Taylor M. Model of Problematic Internet Use in People with a Sexual Interest in Children. CyberPsychology & Behavior, January 2003, 6(1): 93-106. PMID 12650567
  21. O'Connell, Rachel (1999). An Analysis of Paedophile Activity on the Internet from a Structural and Social Organisational Perspective. 14th BILETA Annual Conference 1999 : Cyberspace 1999: Crime, Criminal Justice and the Internet. Cited in Dowd NE, Singer DG, Wilson RF (2006). Handbook of children, culture, and violence, p. 63. SAGE, ISBN 9781412913690
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