A pedophile is a person 16 years of age or older who is primarily or exclusively sexually attracted to children who have not begun puberty (girls 10 years old or less, and boys 11 year old or less, on average). The prepubescent child must be at least five years younger than the person in the case of adolescent pedophiles before the attraction can be diagnosed as pedophilia.
Medically, this condition is called "pedophilia" and is classified by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental disorder. Some people with pedophilia have sex with children or use children in a sexual way. This is defined as "child sexual abuse" because children are defined to be unable to truly agree to sexual acts with an adult. Some adults have pedophile feelings but do not act by sexually abusing children. Some adults who are not pedophiles commit sexual abuse against children.
Not all pedophiles feel or act in the same way. Since the 1880s, psychologists have studied and shown that different pedophiles might act in different ways:
- Some pedophiles are only sexually attracted to prepubescent children. They are called exclusive pedophiles.
- Some pedophiles have a sexual preference for prepubescent children but are sexually attracted to adults as well. They are called preferential pedophiles.
- Some adults who prefer adult sexual partners are also sexually attracted to prepubescent children.
Adults whose primary sexual attraction is for pubescent children are properly called hebephiles, not pedophiles. Adults whose primary sexual attraction is for mid-to-late teens are properly called ephebophiles, but ephebophilia is not considered abnormal by mental health professionals.
For pedophiles who commit child sexual abuse, some studies have shown that pedophiles who are only attracted to children may abuse more children than pedophiles who also have adult sexual partners.
The people who abuse children are often known to them -- such as parents, other relatives, and friends -- and are not strangers. One research study found that half the adults convicted of child sexual abuse of children outside of their family were also sexually abusing their own children.
Is it common? [change]
Medical researchers do not know how many people in the population are pedophiles. This is because it is hard to study people's feelings and desires unless they actually show that they have those feelings. Generally, the only pedophiles who can be studied are those who have both broken the law and been caught and convicted of child sexual abuse. A second reason is that when an adult or teenager sexually abuses a child, people often call the abuser a "pedophile", but it is possible that the abuse happened for a different reason, such as the unavailability of an adult partner. Experts generally define a person as a pedophile only if they are primarily or exclusively sexually sexually attracted to prepubescent children. If a person sexually abuses a prepubescent child to frighten or punish them, for example, then it may not be true pedophile behavior. Some sources, such as the Mayo Clinic, report that most child sexual abuse of prepubescent children is committed by pedophiles, while other studies report that most people who sexually abuse children are not pedophiles. According to some studies, about 1% of all adult males may be pedophiles. Another study estimated the percentage of pedophiles to be between twelve and twenty percent.
As of 2008, most doctors believe that pedophilia cannot be cured. The current approach to deal with pedophiles who have been convicted of sexual abuse is to try to change their behavior. It does not change their sexual attraction. Using this treatment, it is believed that some sex offenders can be prevented from offending again.
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