Research: Prevalence

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Evidence concerning the prevalence of pedophilia in the general population is limited, methodologically disparate and inconclusive. Studies using phallometry have found that most men show at least some arousal to prepubescent children, with a significant minority demonstrating a clear preference. Evidence concerning women is for all practical purposes, absent.

Prevalence of attraction to minors

  • Hall, G.C.N., Hirschman, R., & Oliver, L.L. (1995). "Sexual Arousal and Arousability to Pedophilic Stimuli in a Community Sample of Normal Men," Behavior Therapy, 26, 681-694.
    "Consistent with previous data (Barbaree & Marshall, 1989; Briere & Runtz, 1989; Fedora et al., 1992; Freund & Watson, 1991), 20% of the current subjects self-reported pedophilic interest and 26.25% exhibited penile arousal to pedophilic stimuli that equaled or exceeded arousal to adult stimuli. [...]
    Eighty subjects completed the study. [...] Twenty-six subjects [approximately 33%] exhibited sexual arousal to the child slides that equaled or exceeded their arousal to the adult slides.
    [...] a sizable minority of men in normal populations who have not molested children may exhibit pedophilic fantasies and arousal. In recent studies, 12 to 32% of community college samples of men reported sexual attraction to children (B &R, 1989, H,G & C. 1990) or exhibited penile response to pedophilic stimuli (B&M, 1989, F et al, 1992, F&L, 1989, F & W, 1989). Thus, arousal to pedophilic stimuli does not necessarily correspond with pedophilic behavior (Hall, 1990; Schouten & Simon, 1992), although there are arguments to the contrary (Quinsey & Laws, 1990)."
  • Green, R. (2002). "Is pedophilia a mental disorder?," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31(6), 467-471.
    "In a sample of nearly 200 university males, 21% reported some sexual attraction to small children, 9% described sexual fantasies involving children, 5% admitted to having masturbated to sexual fantasies of children, and 7% indicated they might have sex with a child if not caught (Briere & Runtz, 1989). Briere and Runtz remarked that “given the probable social undesirability of such admissions, we may hypothesize that the actual rates were even higher” (p. 71). In another sample with 100 male and 180 female undergraduate students, 22% of males and 3% of females reported sexual attraction to a child (Smiljanich & Briere, 1996).
    Laboratory researchers have validated physiologically the self-report studies of nonclinical, nonpedophile identified volunteers. In a sample of 80 “normal” volunteers, over 25% self-reported some pedophilic interest or in the plethysmographic phase exhibited penile arousal to a child that equaled or exceeded arousal to an adult (Hall, Hirschman, & Oliver, 1995). In another study, “normal” men’s erections to pictures of pubescent and younger girls averaged 70 and 50%, respectively, of their responses to adult females (Quinsey, Steinman, Bergersen, & Holmes, 1975). In a control group of 66 males recruited from hospital staff and the community, 17% showed a penile response that was pedophilic (Fedora et al., 1992). Freund and Watson (1991), studying community male volunteers in a plethysmography classification study, found that19%were misclassified as having an erotic preference for minors. Freund and Costell (1970) studied 48 young Czech soldiers who were shown slides of children between 4 and 10, both male and female, as well as adolescents and adults, male and female. Penile responsivity to female children, ages 4–10, was intermediate to adolescent and adult females and males in one scoring system. In the other scoring system, all 48 soldiers showed penile response to adult females, as did 40 of 48 to adolescent females, and notably, 28 of 48 showed penile response to the female children age 4–10."
  • Brongersma, Edward (1986). Loving Boys..
    "As early as 95 years ago psychoanalyst Wilhelm Stekel in his work Psychosexually Infantilismus (1922) wrote of the sexual attraction to children, "My experience has taught me that this is very nearly a normal component of the sexual impulse. Almost everybody will, at one time or another, discover himself thinking such thoughts, rejecting them and condemning them, with all the emotion of moral indignation. Many people of high and cultural standards have confessed to me that such sinfull thoughts have been inspired in them by children, We hardly realise how constantly present paedophillia is in men and women."
    Sixty years later the well-known German sexologist, Professor Sigusch found it much less difficult to deal with these "sinful thoughts". According to him Adults have problems if they don't desire tenderly sexual relations with a child. In France, Gabriel Matneff in his book Les Passion Ascimatique (1977) calls the absence of child love a "bad symptom" and in England our own Rosemary Gordon, a psychoanylist of Jung, wote in The Normal and Abnormal love of Children (1976) "Paedophilia, the love and sensuous experience of child and youth, is a normal and universal phenomenon. [...]
    For some time now it has been technically possible to make laboratory tests of what excites a man sexually. The penis of the subject is introduced into an apparatus which measures sexual arousal and records it with with an instrument called a Penile Plethysmograph. The Clark Institute Of Psychiatry in Canada wished to so examine 'paedophiles' in order to distinguish their responses from 'normal males'. Pictures of of naked children children were shown to subjects of both groups, the so-called 'normals' reacting with a penile swelling equal to that of the paedophiles. It appeared that that one simply could not distinguish between them and the men who had had sexual contact with children. I'm happy to say that this test has been scrapped in the UK."
  • Freel, Mike (2003). "Child Sexual Abuse and the Male Monopoly: An Empirical Exploration of Gender and a Sexual Interest in Children ," The British Journal of Social Work, 33, 481-498.
    "A self-administer questionnaire was given to a sample of 92 female and 91 male public sector child care workers. Results showed a significantly higher percentage of males (15 per cent) than females (4 per cent) expressed a sexual interest in children." (From abstract.)
  • Fedora O., Reddon J. R., Morrison J. W., Fedora S. K., Pascoe, H., & Yeudall, L. T. (1992). "Sadism and other paraphilias in normal controls and sex offenders," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 21(1), 1-15.
    "Of the control group, 28% evinced a paraphilic response, from a low of 3% for cross-dressing to a high of 17% for pedophilia."
  • Byers, S.E., Purdon, C., & Clark, D.A. (1998). "Sexual intrusive thoughts of college students," Journal of Sex Research, 35, 359–369.
    NewgonWiki: 19% of men and 7% of women reported sexual intrusive thoughts about sexual acts with a child or minor.
  • Crépault, Claude and Couture, Marcel (1980). "Men's erotic fantasies," Archives of Sexual Behavior, 9(6), 565-581.
    NewgonWiki: 61.7% of the 94 men surveyed reported fantasies during heterosexual intercourse of "'sexually initiating a young girl" -- 12.8% "often," and 48.9% "sometimes." It was the thirteenth most common fantasy. 3.2% reported sometimes fantasizing of sexually initiating a young boy.
  • O'Donnell, Muireann; Lowe, Rob; Brotherton, Hannah; Davies, Hannah; Panou, Anna; Bennett, Paul (2013). "Heterosexual Men’s Ratings of Sexual Attractiveness of Pubescent Girls: Effects of Labeling the Target as Under or Over the Age of Sexual Consent", Archives of Sexual Behavior.
    "Overall, these data suggest that men find pubescent girls identified as being under the age of consent sexually attractive, but inhibit their willingness to report this; the greater the attraction, the greater the inhibition." (From abstract.)

Non-offending pedophiles

  • Underwager, Ralph and Wakefield, Hollida (1995). "Special Problems with Sexual Abuse Cases," in J. Ziskin (ed.), Coping With Psychiatric and Psychological Testimony, Fifth Edition, pp. 1315-1370. Los Angeles, CA: Law and Psychology Press.
    "Although the terms are often used interchangeably, a distinction must be made between "sex offender against a minor" and "pedophile." The former refers to a criminal sexual behavior and the latter to an anomalous sexual preference. Many pedophiles never act on their impulses."
  • Fagan, Peter J.; Wise, Thomas N.; Schmidt, Chester W.; and Berlin, Fred S. (2002) "Pedophilia," Journal of the American Medical Association, 288, 2458-2465.
    "Also, not all individuals who fulfill the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia actually abuse children."
  • Freel, Mike (2003). "Child Sexual Abuse and the Male Monopoly: An Empirical Exploration of Gender and a Sexual Interest in Children ," The British Journal of Social Work, 33, 481-498.
    "If someone is fully inhibited from sexually abusing children, no amount of emotional congruence, sexual arousal, or blockage will lead them to abuse children."
  • Jarvik, Elaine (2007). "Teacher gets new accuser in sex case," Deseret Morning News, 17 March.
    "A person can be diagnosed as a pedophile without ever touching a child, [Dr. Mark] Zelig explains. "Our best research shows that the majority of men who have a sexual attraction to children do not act on it.""
  • Seto, M. (2009). "Pedophilia," Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 5, 391-407.
    "Yet even after thorough police and child welfare investigations, some pedophiles are found to have no history of sexual contacts with children. [...] Seto & Eke (2005) followed a sample of child pornography offenders for an average of 2.5 years. The majority of these offenders would likely be diagnosed as pedophiles (Seto et al. 2006). A small proportion (4%) committed a contact sexual offense during this time period. This suggests that having a sexual interest in children is not a sufficient factor to explain sexual offending against children. In Seto & Eke's (2005) study, child pornography offenders with any kind of prior criminal history were more likely to commit a contact sexual offense, or an offense of any kind, during the follow-up period. This finding suggests that it is the pedophiles who are more likely to engage in antisocial or criminal behavior of any kind—which would include individuals who are impulsive, callous, and willing to take risks; individuals who become disinhibited as a result of substance misuse; and individuals who endorse antisocial attitudes and beliefs such as a disregard for social norms or the laws—who pose the greatest risk of acting upon their sexual interest in children (Seto 2008). In contrast, one would predict that pedophiles who are reflective, sensitive to the feelings of others, averse to risk, abstain from alcohol or drug use, and endorse attitudes and beliefs supportive of norms and the laws would be unlikely to commit contact sexual offenses against children."