Paraphilic disorders: A better understanding

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Individuals with other types of paraphilic disorders are frequently similarly maligned and referred to as “perverts” or “deviants.” Public service announcements are frequently aired to reach out to individuals who are depressed, or drug- or alcohol-dependent, or suffering with other forms of mental disorders. When does one hear a public service announcement that encourages young people who may be experiencing disturbing or unacceptable sexual feelings to seek psychiatric treatment? There is a support group on the internet called Virtuous Pedophiles.6 That organization is unequivocally opposed to child molestation, while supporting efforts to improve the mental well-being of individuals who, through no fault of their own, experience unwanted pedophilic feelings.

Causes and noncauses

In attempting to elucidate etiology, researchers typically investigate nature (biology) and/or nurture (life experiences). In terms of the development of pedophilic disorder, there is evidence that both nature and nurture can play a role. Researchers have found that boys who are sexually abused are at increased risk for developing pedophilic disorder, and evidence of temporal lobe disturbances has also been documented in some instances.7,8

From clinical, societal, and forensic perspectives, it may be equally important to identify noncausal factors. Paraphilic disorders, including pedophilic disorder, do not develop as a consequence of volitional choice.9 For example, none of us decide which category, or categories, of potential partners are going to attract us sexually. Rather, in maturing we discover the nature of our own sexuality. Children do not ponder their options, somehow deciding while growing up to be attracted to the opposite sex (heterosexuality), the same sex (homosexuality), or both sexes (bisexuality). Similarly, in maturing into adulthood, individuals do not decide to become sexually attracted to prepubescent children. Who would decide to do that? Instead, unlike most of us, some individuals discover this about themselves; this often is a deeply disturbing insight.

It is not an individual’s fault that he or she has a paraphilic disorder. It is, however, his or her responsibility to do something about it. This may require accessing appropriate psychiatric care.

Why treatment may be needed

Sex is a powerful, biologically based appetite that recurrently craves satiation. God or nature has put that drive into all of us to ensure the survival of humanity. Even when that powerful biologic drive becomes misdirected (for example, towards children, or towards a desire to engage in public exhibitionism), it still recurrently craves satisfaction. It does not require mental health expertise to appreciate what a problematic situation this could become.

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