Approximately 1 in 5 Americans report childhood sexual abuse.1 While 50% to 65% of child sexual abuse occurs in the absence of pedophilic interests and is thought to be driven by additional factors such as the availability of an appropriate sexual partner,2,3 a substantial portion of childhood sexual abuse is perpetrated by individuals with pedophilia.
However, many individuals with pedophilic interests never have sexual contact with a child or the penal system. This non-offending pedophile group reports a greater prevalence of psychiatric symptoms compared with the general population, but given the intense stigmatization of their preferences, they are largely psychiatrically underrecognized and underserved. This article focuses on the unique psychiatric needs of this neglected population. By understanding and addressing the treatment needs of these patients, psychiatrists and other mental health clinicians can serve a pivotal role in decreasing stigma, promoting wellness, and preventing sexual abuse.
Understanding the terminology
DSM-5 defines paraphilia as “any intense and persistent sexual interest other than sexual interest in genital stimulation or preparatory fondling with phenotypically normal, physiologically mature, consenting human partners.”4 The addition of the word “disorder” to the paraphilias was introduced in DSM-5 to distinguish between paraphilias that are not of clinical concern and paraphilic disorders that cause distress or impairment to the individual, or whereby satisfaction entails personal harm or risk of harm to others. As outlined in DSM-5, pedophilic disorder refers to at least 6 months of recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child.4 The individual has either acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty. Lastly, the individual must be at least age 16 years and at least 5 years older than the child. Sexual attraction to peri- or postpubescent minors is not considered a psychiatric disorder, but is illegal.
Coined by B4U-ACT (www.b4uact.org), the term minor-attracted person (MAP) refers to individuals with sexual attraction to individuals who are minors or below the legal age of consent. MAP is an umbrella term that includes sexual attraction to prepubescent individuals but also includes sexual attraction to peri- and postpubescent individuals (Table 1). A MAP may or may not meet criteria for pedophilia or pedophilic disorder, based on the age of their sexual interest and whether they have experienced distress or acted on the attraction. Although many individuals with minor attraction identify with the term MAP, not all do. The term has been critiqued for being too inclusive and conflating pedophilia with minor attractions.
It is important to keep in mind that the terms pedophilia and minor attraction are not synonymous with childhood sexual abuser or “child molester” because neither term specifies whether the individual has had sexual contact with a child or legal consequences. The terms offending/non-offending and acting/non-acting are used to specify the presence of sexual contact with a child, and do not convey any clinical information.
The true prevalence of pedophilia and/or attraction to minors is unknown, and estimates vary considerably. In some studies, 1% to 4% of the general population were thought to have persistent attraction to prepubescent children.5,6 In a community sample of 8,718 German men, 4.1% reported sexual fantasies involving prepubescent children, 3.2% reported sexual offending against prepubescent children, and 0.1% reported a pedophilic sexual preference.5 In a study of 367 adult German men surveyed from the community, 15.5% reported fantasies (9.5% daydream and 6.0% masturbation fantasies) involving prepubescent children.7
Stigmatization of minor-attracted persons
Stigmatization is the process of forming negative evaluations of an individual or groups of people based on limited characteristics.8,9 MAPs are a highly stigmatized group. This stigmatization can be profound, regardless of whether the MAP has had sexual contact with a child. A public survey of nearly 1,000 individuals showed that 39% believed that non-acting MAPs should be incarcerated, and 14% believed that they would be “better off dead.”10 Societal misconceptions of minor attraction are pervasive and include10:
- MAP sexual orientation is a choice
- MAPs cannot resist their sexual urges
- all MAPs have offended, or inevitably will
- MAPs will not respond to therapy
- MAPs are fundamentally predatory and immoral.
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