Pedophilic Disorder Fast Facts

Pedophilic disorder is a mental health-related issue in which a person experiences sexual urges, fantasies, arousal, or acts involving prepubescent or young adolescent children.

The disorder predominantly affects men.

Pedophilic behavior is generally illegal, although the criteria that define what’s illegal (e.g., the child’s age or the age difference between the child and the perpetrator) may vary from place to place.

Some estimates suggest that 1-5% percent of the male population may be affected by pedophilic disorder. Some scientists doubt whether females are affected.

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Some estimates suggest that 1-5% percent of the male population may be affected by pedophilic disorder.

What is Pedophilic Disorder?

Pedophilic disorder is a mental health-related issue in which a person has a strong urge to engage in sexual activity with prepubescent or young adolescent children. The person may act on the urges or merely have fantasies about the behavior. In addition to harming the children involved, the behavior may also cause distress in the person with the disorder. It is much more common in men than in women.

Behavior that meets the diagnostic criteria for the disorder is typically criminal, and a large portion of reported sexual criminal offenses involve children.

Symptoms of Pedophilic Disorder

Common symptoms of pedophilic disorder include:

  • Sexual arousal, fantasies, or urges involving children
  • Acting on the urges

What Causes Pedophilic Disorder?

The cause of pedophilic disorder is unknown, but various factors likely trigger it in different cases. Scientists believe that physical, medical, and psychological factors may all play a role in producing the disorder’s decreased behavior. Possible risk factors include:

Is Pedophilic Disorder Hereditary?

Some studies have attempted to find an explanation for why sexual disorders sometimes seem to cluster in individual families. While these studies suggest that a genetic component could play a role in developing some of the disorders, no study has yet found a strong link between genes and pedophilic disorder.

How Is Pedophilic Disorder Detected?

Pedophilic disorder usually emerges at puberty. Warning signs can include:

  • Sexual arousal involving children
  • Use of child pornography
  • Denial of the urges
  • Guilt or shame associated with the fantasies or urges
  • Inability to be aroused by sex involving a consenting adult partner

How Is Pedophilic Disorder Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of pedophilic disorder begins by ruling out medical problems that may be causing symptoms. After these exams, if the doctor suspects that pedophilic disorder is the cause of the symptoms, they may recommend a psychological or psychiatric assessment.

Diagnostic steps may include:

  • A physical exam. This exam aims to rule out physical conditions that could be causing the symptoms.
  • Psychological assessments. These assessments may take the form of questionnaires or talk sessions with a mental health professional to assess the patient’s mood, mental state, and mental health history. Family members or caregivers may also be asked to participate in these assessments.

After medical causes are eliminated, medical professionals can consider whether the patient meets the diagnostic criteria for pedophilic disorder. These criteria include:

  • The patient is consistently aroused by fantasies, urges, or acts involving prepubescent children (typically under 13). The feelings have been present for at least 6 months.
  • The patient has acted on the urges, or the symptoms cause significant impairment in social situations, work, or elsewhere.
  • The patient is at least 16 years old, and the target of the urges is at least 5 years younger than the patient.

In most cases, a medical professional who has a reasonable suspicion that child sexual or physical abuse has occurred is required to report the abuse to authorities.

It is important to note that possession or use of child pornography is often an indicator of pedophilic disorder, but it is not considered one of the definitive diagnostic criteria. Possession of such materials, however, is illegal.


How Is Pedophilic Disorder Treated?

People with pedophilic disorder typically will not seek out treatment on their own. Often, treatment does not begin until after a person has illegally acted on their urges and has been arrested.

Treatment of pedophilic behavior may include both psychotherapy and medications. Common treatment options include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches a person to recognize the situations that trigger their pedophilic urges and develop new, healthy ways to cope with those situations.
  • Group therapy or support groups
  • Antidepressant medications, typically serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Antiandrogen drugs such as medroxyprogesterone acetate, which work to lower testosterone levels

How Does Pedophilic Disorder Progress?

Even with treatment, pedophilic disorder has a high rate of recurrence. Treatment that is ordered by a court, after the patient has been arrested, is less likely to be effective compared to self-sought treatment.

In addition to the impact of the disorder on the targets of the behavior, it can also result in long-term complications for the person with the disorder, including:

  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Depression or other mental health-related issues
  • Loss of healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Low self-esteem

How Is Pedophilic Disorder Prevented?

There is no known way to prevent pedophilic disorder. However, treatment may relieve the effects of the disorder and make it less likely that the patient will harm others.

Pedophilic Disorder Caregiver Tips

Some people with pedophilic disorder also suffer from other brain and mental health-related issues, a condition called co-morbidity. Here are a few of the issues commonly associated with the disorder:

Pedophilic Disorder Brain Science

Pedophilic disorder is classified as a paraphilic disorder. These disorders involve sexual arousal induced by unusual situations, objects, or targets of arousal. Common paraphilias include:

  • Fetishes (e.g., sexual arousal triggered by specific objects or situations)
  • Voyeurism
  • Exhibitionism
  • Sexual sadism/masochism

Paraphilias are not inherently considered to be disorders. Some people have sexual interests or urges that others may regard as unusual but don’t cause distress or harm. Factors that make a paraphilic interest cross the line to a disorder include:

  • The urges or acts are illegal.
  • The urges or acts involve non-consenting targets (either children or non-consenting adults).
  • The urges or acts have the potential to cause harm to other people.
  • The urges or acts cause significant distress or impairment to the person experiencing them.

By their nature, pedophilic urges and behavior are likely to cross all these lines.

Pedophilic Disorder Research

Title: Lupron Sex Offender Therapy

Stage: Completed

Principal Investigator: Justine M. Schober, MD

Hamot Medical Center

Erie, PA 

This study compared cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy with leuprolide acetate (LA) to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy with saline injections for 12 months. Five white male pedophiles (M age, 50 years; range, 36-58) volunteered for a two-year study. LA was administered by Depo injection (7 mg initially, then 22.5 mg every three mos) for 12 months, followed by a saline placebo. Effects of LA on testosterone levels, sexual interest preference by visual reaction time (Abel Assessment), penile tumescence (Monarch PPG), as well as strong urges, and masturbatory frequency to children (polygraph), were measured every three months. Subjects were treated with weekly cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy. On LA, testosterone decreased to castrate levels. Because of the suppression of testosterone, physiologic arousal response as measured by penile plethysmography (penile tumescence) was significantly suppressed compared with baseline. However, sufficient response remained to detect pedophilic interest. This pedophilic interest was also detected by visual reaction times. All subjects self-reported a decrease in strong pedophilic urges and masturbation. When asked about having pedophilic urges and masturbating to thoughts of children, polygraph responses indicated subjects were not deceptive when they reported decreases. On a placebo, testosterone and physiologic arousal eventually rose to baseline levels. At baseline and on placebo, subjects were consistently deceptive regarding increased pedophilic urges and masturbatory frequency, as noted by the polygraph. Interest preference, as measured by Abel Assessment and Monarch PPG, was generally unchanged throughout the study. Cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy augmented with LA significantly reduced pedophilic fantasies, urges, and masturbation but did not change pedophilic interest during one year of therapy. Deceptive responses by polygraph suggested that self-report was unreliable. Follow-up utilizing objective measures is essential for monitoring treatment efficacy in pedophilia. Our study supports the supposition that modification of pedophilic behavior is possible. LA may augment cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy and help break the sequence leading to a reoffense.

Title: Descriptive Epidemiology Study for Patients With Paraphilia Sex Offenders and Receiving Androgen Antagonists (EPIPARA)

Stage: Completed

Principal investigator: Florence Thibaut, MD/PhD

University Hospital

Rouen, France 

The study aims to describe the French population of individuals with paraphilia who have committed a sexual offense for whom androgen antagonists were prescribed. The secondary objectives are the description of social demographic profiles, personal and family histories, psychiatric co-morbidities, and the side effects of androgen antagonist treatment. This study, the first of its kind in France, may allow us to understand better the social demographic and clinical profile of sexual offenders with paraphilias treated with androgen antagonists.

To be included, the subject must have committed a sexual offense and must present a diagnosis of paraphilia with an indication of treatment with androgen antagonists. Paraphilia is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a sexual behavior disorder characterized by “sexually arousing fantasies, needs or recurrent and intense sexual behaviors generally involving (1) of non-human objects, (2) the suffering or humiliation of oneself or partner, (3) children or other persons without their consent, occurring during a period of at least six months “(Criterion A). This disorder is responsible for sexual behavior which is “clinically significant disturbances in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning” (Criterion B).

The inclusion of approximately 200 subjects is expected in this study. The inclusion period will last for 12 months.

Data will be codified, and only a few investigators will have access to these data. The statistical analysis will use the usual descriptive parameters: mean, standard deviation, median, interquartile range, range for quantitative variables, frequencies, and cumulative frequencies (if applicable) for qualitative variables.


Title: Study of Maintenance of the Efficiency and Adverse Effects of Pharmacological Treatments in Sex Offenders With Paraphilia (ESPARA)

Stage: Not Yet Recruiting

Study Chair: Florence Thibaut, MD/PhD

Hospital Cochin

Paris, France 

This research concerns the evaluation of the maintenance of the efficiency and incidence of adverse effects of pharmacological treatments in sex offenders with paraphilia.

Despite the increasing use of pharmacological treatments in these indications, few data indicate which sex offender populations benefit from which pharmacological treatments and which adverse events are observed, particularly with antiandrogens or antidepressant treatments that are widely used in these subjects. A recent Cochrane study showed that psychodynamic treatment is less effective in terms of sexual delinquency compared to probation alone and has not demonstrated significant efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) compared to the lack of treatment, except for a study in which antiandrogen therapy was associated with CBT. Another recent study concluded that the tolerance, even of anti-androgenic drugs, was uncertain, as all studies were small and of limited duration. New research is needed in the future. Further research demonstrating the efficacy of SSRIs in treating paraphilic disorders is still needed, and long-term studies are lacking. Their use for this indication is still off-label.

As far as we know, this cohort should be the largest population of paraphilic sex offenders studied for the longest time to date in a field where research is insufficient. This large sample receiving routine care and followed for three years should allow for analyzing the maintenance of the effectiveness of the pharmacological treatments received (SSRIs or antiandrogens) and their tolerance. In addition, this analysis of clinical practices should be crucial to improve the knowledge of the indications for these treatments, which could be reviewed concerning their effectiveness and tolerance, especially in the most serious cases of paraphilic sex offenders.

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