The concept of “pedophilia” or an individual being described as a pedophile (i.e. someone that has a sexual attraction towards young children) is thought of as a socially unacceptable form of behavior and thus any individual that has been caught in the act is labelled as a social deviant and is summarily prosecuted based on the degree of their violation (Duke, 2013). Pedophilia is considered as a crime despite consent being given by both parties since the law views children as not having sufficient understanding regarding sexual acts to give proper consent. As such, engaging in sexual intercourse, acts of a sexual nature or having children depict themselves in such a way so as to cause sexual arousal is perceived as a taking advantage of their inability to ascertain the concepts of sex, sexuality, arousal and intercourse (Duke, 2013).
Another viewpoint regarding the illegality of pedophilia is from Helmus, Ciardha and Seto who presented the notion that early exposure to acts of a sexual nature can cause long term psychological harm (Helmus, Ciardha, & Seto, 2015). Helmus et al. explained that since children are not mentally prepared to engage in sex, sexual acts or similar activities of that nature due to their underdeveloped minds, having them participate in it at an early age results in the manifestation of the theory of learned behavior wherein they will perceive such actions as being completely normal and will seek to emulate the same circumstances once they are older (Helmus et al., 2015). This was seen in some of the cases mentioned by Helmus et al. who noticed that some individuals who used to be sexually abused when they were children in turn became abusers when they were older (Helmust et al., 2015). It is theorized that the basis behind this behavior are the individuals in question attempting to resolve some form of cognitive dissonance wherein they know such acts are harmful yet since they learned the behavior when they were young, it has integrated itself into their thought process resulting in the perception that despite it being harmful it is considered as being “normal”, at least to them. This creates a cycle where the one that was abused becomes the abuser and so on and so forth and, as such, shows one of the reasons why pedophilia is viewed negatively since it creates and potentially perpetuates a cycle of abuse that harms multiple individuals over time.
Aside from this, there is also the physical aspect to think about when it comes to sexual intercourse with children. Due to their underdeveloped bodies, the genital regions of children are simply not compatible with those of an adult due to the difference in size. A full grown adult man forcing himself on a 11 year old child for instance will result in a considerable level of pain for the child as well as the possibility for long term damage and scarring to occur in their genital region. When taking all the theories, concepts and facts that have been presented so far in this section into consideration, it can be seen that pedophilia is a damaging act that causes adverse physical and psychological effects and, as such, should be prevented. This theme of eradicating pedophilia is what will be discussed in this research paper with a focus on determining the psychological causes behind why people turn towards pedophilia, its socio-psychological precedent in modern day society and what can be done to prevent its manifestation in the future.
Prevailing Theoretical Perspectives Behind the Manifestation of Pedophilia
This section of the report examines the theoretical underpinnings behind present day examinations of the behavior of pedophiles and will seek to determine what causes the behavior and how it manifests in a person’s actions and ways of thinking. One of the first theories to be explored that has been associated with pedophilia is the social bonds theory of Travis Hirsche. This theory presents the notion that the manifestation of deviant behavior in people is due to the loss of social bonds with society. Hirsche presents the notion that it is the bonds that people have with society in the form of relationships with family members, friends, peers, etc. that keeps them from performing deviant acts. This is due to the fear they have towards the loss of such bonds and how this would adversely affect them. Social bond theory can be considered as one iteration of the concept of “the social contract” which explains the creation of present day societies wherein people give up specific freedoms in order to be able to reap the rewards of being in a society with other individuals. Going back to social bond theory, one explanation that has been put forth to explain why people become pedophiles is that these individuals lack the necessary social bonds that prevents a person from pursuing acts of social deviance. McPhail and Cantor described this as a form of dis-inhibition which refers to a state where a person is not deterred due to the presence of prohibitions that depict such a behavior as being deviant (McPhail & Cantor, 2015). Their lack of social bonds makes it so that they will continue to pursue a line of actions because they believe that it is “normal” despite society determining that it is a form of abnormal behavior. This is due to the lack of fear regarding how their actions could potentially have adverse consequences with the people that they have bonds with since these bonds do not exist at all in their case (McPhail & Cantor, 2015). While this theory does have some credence when it comes to explaining why pedophilia occurs in certain individuals, it is not absolute since it fails to explain why some individuals who have families of their own also happen to be pedophiles. Bonds are present yet the person in question continues to be act in a way that is socially deviant. It is based on this example that more theories are needed in order to explain why such a behavior manifests in certain individuals.
Another theoretical method that attempts to examine the cause behind pedophilia is the perspective of Chenier who focused on using cognitive dissonance (Chenier, 2012). Chenier explained that some pedophiles were former victims of sexual abuse when they were younger which resulted in the manifestation of a form of repetition compulsion brought on by cognitive dissonance (Chenier, 2012). In this case, former victims of childhood sexual abuse attempt to allay their childhood trauma where they felt helpless and powerless by placing themselves in a situation where they can become dominant and have power over the situation. Chenier went on further to explain that such behavior acts as a form of coping mechanism due to the anxiety they have developed over the trauma they experienced when they were sexually abused when they were younger (Chenier, 2012).
The perspective of Chenier helps to explain why pedophiles repeatedly engage in acts of sexual deviance since the “relief” that they gain is only temporary and, as such, they have to repeatedly engage in the act in order to address their continued feelings of anxiety (Chenier, 2012). This theoretical perspective helps to explain cases where pedophiles engage in increasingly greater levels of sexually deviant behavior wherein they start with pictures of naked children and continue to progress in their sexual desires until it reaches a point where they interact in a sexual manner with a child. Deviant behavior progression among pedophiles does have a certain parallel with the actions of drug addicts where in order to get the same type of “high” drug addicts utilize higher and higher doses of their preferred narcotic. While deviant behavior is not a drug, the relief pedophiles get from their anxiety can be considered as somewhat similar to the relief that drug addicts get from a narcotic high. As such, it is not impossible to assume that in order to get the same level of relief from their anxiety, pedophiles need to engage in increasingly more deviant forms of sexual conduct. When examining this theoretical perspective, it helps to explain why pedophiles engage in the practices that they do. Due to their anxiety, they have developed a psychological predisposition towards acts of sexual deviancy towards children in order to get the relief that they desire. This is an important perspective within the greater context of eradicating pedophilia since it showcases why some people continuously desire to have sexual relations with children despite the potential for being ostracized by society and prison time they may experience if they are ever caught. Their compulsive desires towards addressing their anxiety via sexual deviancy is what is at the heart of their behavioral issue and, as such, if such an issue is addressed, it is possible to potentially remove the desire from their behavior completely.
Another theoretical assumption is the family systems theory which states that pedophilia is actually a learned behavior that came about as a direct result of a child learning it from within the family. This theory focuses on two distinct perspectives, the first involves the parent teaching the behavior to the child overtly or subtly as a result of their actions while the second perspective involves the incorporation of the theory of social learning wherein a child who has been exposed to sexual abuse associates it as being normal thereby developing traits of sexual deviance later on in life. When looking at the first perspective it is important to note that the sexual symptom (i.e. the desire to have sex with a child) by one family member is communicated to a child via overt or subtle communication or actions. While a parent may not necessarily act on these impulses due to fear of punishment based on social bonds theory, this does not mean that their methods and attitudes that have a subtext of sexual innuendo, sexuality or other associated actions do not have an influence on the way in which the child will behave in the future. Just because the parent in question has the necessary social bonds in place to prevent them from engaging in pedophilia directly does not mean that the child will develop the same type of bonds. In the absence of bonds of the same nature, it is likely that when the child develops into an adult they will manifest the deviant sexual behaviors that they were exposed to resulting in them becoming a pedophile that would have actual sex with children. This theoretical perspective shows how the influence of parents can have a considerable impact on the development of a child and how it can manifest in pedophilia later on in life. This is not to say that all adverse behaviors taught by parents manifest into a child becoming a pedophile, that is far from the truth. Rather, it is more accurate to state that specific types of behavior that are observed by a child early on in life can have a significant impact on the sort of adult that they develop into. This theoretical perspective is important since it shows one possible method of eradicating pedophilia wherein by focusing on the parent that is the cause of the problem, it could potentially be resolved early on before the observed behavior becomes a long term aspect in a child’s psyche when they develop into an adult.
The second perspective involving family systems theory focuses on a greater integration of the theory of learned behavior when it comes to the impact of early exposure to sexual acts on a child’s mental development and how they view sexual behavior in general. Under this perspective, children that have been victims of sexual abuse have the potential of developing sexually deviant behaviors wherein they connote aspects related to abuse and domination as being “normal”, at least to their own perspective. For these children, sexual excitement and pleasure is connected to the act of sexual deviance (i.e. having sex with an adult) resulting in it become a method of positive reinforcement which continues well into adulthood. Thus, under this perspective, the creation of a pedophile is due to the sexual acts a child was exposed to when they were young which resulted in it becoming incorporated into their psychological makeup due to the mechanism of learned behavior. The end result is that such individuals equate pedophilia with pleasure and continue to engage in the act since for them it is normal.
Can Pedophilia be Cured?
In this section of the paper the focus will be on determining if a “cure” for pedophilia can be developed in order to make pedophiles “normal” again. One of the first aspects that should be discussed before proceeding is that the concept of a “cure” towards pedophilia is that such a terminology correlates it as a type of physical malady when in reality the problem is psychological in nature. What the various theoretical viewpoints that have been discussed so far indicate is that pedophilia is the result of a lack of sufficient bonds, learned behavior, dis-inhibition, and the desire for relief from anxiety (due to traumatic sexual experiences at an early age). All of these aspects point towards variances in a pedophiles behavioral profile as compared to what can be approximated as the social norm. However, what must be understood is that just because pedophiles have deviant behavioral profiles does not mean that they cannot function. As shown by Carvalho, those classified as pedophiles come from an assortment of backgrounds, careers and economic classes yet most of the individuals that have been placed under this category have been shown to lead relatively normal and at times enriching lives (Carvalho, 2015). They were able to have well paying careers, had no history of violence and on the surface were noted as being perfectly normal. It is based on this trait of relative “normalcy” that there is no such thing as a one size fits all cure for pedophilia since, for all intents and purposes, these people do not manifest psychological traits that would require any form of medication whatsoever. The only abnormal quality associated with them is their sexual deviance which came about through the various reasons expounded upon in the theoretical analysis section of this paper. However, this is not to say that pedophilia cannot be removed or at least the necessary measures put in place in order to prevent its manifestation (Carvalho, 2015). One of the first aspects to resolving the problem of pedophilia can be traced to the concept of learned behavior. Jahnke, Philipp and Hoyer explained that since a behavior is learned, it can be similarly unlearned with sufficient counseling and training (Jahnke, Philipp, & Hoyer, 2015). The difference between pedophilia and a condition such as dementia is that there has been no evidence so far to connect pedophilia towards it having a biological predisposition. In other words, it is not caused biologically nor can it be resolved biologically thus the “cure” so to speak is primarily psychological in nature. Resolving the problem in this case follows two theoretical perspectives that were brought up, namely: the lack of social bonds and the connection of pedophilia to anxiety. When looking at the lack of social bond and anxiety as being two of the causes behind pedophilia, it can be assumed that both aspects have an origin behind their presence. The lack of social bonds could be because this individual was isolated from his peers due to a variety of reasons while the presence of anxiety is due to the sexual abuse that the individual experienced at an early age. By having a pedophile work through their social bond and anxiety issues, it is likely that they may be able to sufficiently alter their behavioral profile so as to stop being pedophiles. This is based on the concept that through new learned behaviors, they can work through the cognitive dissonance that brought about their sexually deviant behaviors which would result in them being more inclined towards socially acceptable behaviors.The last aspect of this section focuses on the impact of parents on the development of children into potential pedophiles. As elaborated on in the theoretical examination section of this paper, it was noted that observed behavior by children can result in the creation of sexually deviant tendencies later on in life. The best way to address this issue is to promote the concept of closed door psychological treatments for individuals who believe they are impacted by some form of pedophilia. By making pedophilia seem more like a psychological issue than a social deviance, this makes it more acceptable for people to seek help for it. This practice would help to prevent potential parents that have some form of tendencies related to pedophilia from passing such traits on to their children who may manifest them in increasingly more deviant ways.
Carvalho, J. (2015). Commentary on Kärgel and Colleagues’ Study: Diminished Functional Connectivity on the Road to Child Sexual Abuse in Pedophilia. Journal Of Sexual Medicine, 12(3), 796-797.
Chenier, E. (2012). The Natural Order of Disorder: Pedophilia, Stranger Danger and the Normalising Family. Sexuality & Culture, 16(2), 172-186.
Duke, S. (2013). The Slippery Slope to Pedophilia. New American (08856540), 29(19), 21-26.
Helmus, L., Ciardha, C. Ó., & Seto, M. C. (2015). The Screening Scale for Pedophilic Interests (SSPI): Construct, Predictive, and Incremental Validity. Law & Human Behavior (American Psychological Association), 39(1), 35-43.
Jahnke, S., Philipp, K., & Hoyer, J. (2015). Stigmatizing attitudes towards people with pedophilia and their malleability among psychotherapists in training. Child Abuse & Neglect, 40, 93-102.
McPhail, I. V., & Cantor, J. M. (2015). Pedophilia, Height, and the Magnitude of the Association: A Research Note. Deviant Behavior, 36(4), 288-292.