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What is Pedophilia?

What is Pedophilia?
By Tamra Wade

Warning: Contains mature subject matter

In light of constant stream of childhood sexual abuse cases in the media, I thought it a good idea to have a conversation about pedophilia. I think that definitions help delineate and bring awareness.   

Pedophilia has a public misconception. Most people think that pedophilia is an adult who has sex with a minor under the age of eighteen.

While that is partaily true, pedophilia’s clinical definition is much more complicated. 

Pedophilia is currently considered a psychiatric disorder where a person aged sixteen and over has exclusive or non-exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children generally ages nine to under thirteen. To be considered pedophilia, the individual must be five years older than the victim and have sexual urges and thoughts for more than six consecutive months. These are guidelines used in diagnosis.  

Pedophiles can be offending or non-offending and exclusive or non-exclusive. Offending is self-explanatory meaning the individual is actively involved sexually with children. Non-offending pedophiles are individual who have sexual urges and thoughts that involve children, but do not act upon them. Exclusive pedophiles are only sexually attracted to children. Non-exclusive pedophiles have sexual attraction to both children and adults.

The activity with children can be more than the act of having sex. Molestation, touching and fondling are also examples of sexual interaction. Pedophilic activities often include masturbation while watching children and fantasizing or watching child pornography.

The prevalence of pedophilia in the general public is not known because childhood sexual abuse is largely not reported. Of what is reported, here are some United States’ statistics you may not know about childhood sexual abuse:

  • 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of twelve
  • 29% are age 12-17
  • 44% are under the age of 18
  • 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 said that they have been sexually abused
  • 3% of boys grades 5-8 and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 said that they had been sexually abused
  • 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker

Getting our footing on pedophilia is difficult because globally views of sex with children vary. Globally, the age of sexual consent varies from nine years of age to twenty years of age. Some countries like Saudi Arabia and Oman have no legal age of consent making it legal and at the very least not illegal to have sex or be involved sexually with children.

Who are pedophiles?

The DSM-5, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fifth edition states that diagnosing criteria of pedophilic disorder applies to both individuals who freely disclose their thoughts and desires as it does to those who deny sexual attraction to prepubescent children even though there is substantiated evidence to prove differently. Pedophiles are both men and women, though the numbers on record show that there are more men pedophiles.

Researchers believe that individuals with pedophilia can show signs of the disorder before and/or during puberty and stays consistent over time.

Pedophilia is not a sexual orientation or choice, it is a psychological disorder.

Currently there is no evidence that pedophilia can be cured. Of the limited therapies available, the focus is on suppressing the individual’s sexual desire. There are no studies that provide evidence that these therapies affect long-term change in behavior.

Are all who molest children pedophiles?

The answer is no, not all who molest children are true pedophiles. The research isn’t clear in this delineation. Child molestation refers to specific legal defined actions. They do not always imply that the perpetrator has the specific psychological disorder associated with pedophilia.

The difference doesn’t mean that a person who is categorized as a child molester isn’t a danger to children, it is a merely a different way to categories a child predator.

Regardless of terminology, it is illegal for an adult to touch any portion of a child’s body when it is combined with a “lewd and lascivious” intent. Children cannot legally provide consent to anything – even if they are groomed to act or say ‘yes’.

Why is knowing this information important?

Knowing what pedophilia is, parents can be more vigilant in keeping children safe from childhood sexual abuse and assault. Ninety three percent of juvenile sexual assault victims know their perpetrator.

Think about that.

Ninety three percent of children who are sexual assulted, their perpatrator is known to them some how. These known people are the kid down the street, coaches, religious leaders, teachers, parents, grandparents, siblings anyone who has access to children. Typically, pedophiles seek out ways to be near children.

Don’t have false security thinking that law enforcement will know or that these predators are on the sex offender registry. The registry is only for people who have been caught AND convicted. Most of these offenses go unreported.

My perpetrator was my grandfather. He was a non-exclusive offending pedophile. Often my abuse took place during family gatherings, often with family in the next room and even sometimes while family was in the same room. I also had offending cousins. These events also went on while parents and other family members were in the next room.

Talk with your children about appropriate touch. Give guidelines that no one is to touch them where their bathing suit covers. If someone wishes to show your child a puppy or a toy make sure that your child tells the person that they need to go get their parent first. Neighbors who need help carrying groceries into the house instruct your child to get a parent to assist.

Not all interactions are nefarious. The trouble is we cannot delineate the ones that are innocent from the ones that are harmful until it is too late.



  • DSM-5, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fifth edition
  • Are All Men Pedophiles 2012 Documentary by Filmmaker Jan-Willem Breure:    
  • National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey. 1998.
  • U.S. Department of Justice. 2003 National Crime Victimization Survey. 2003.
  • U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sex Offenses and Offenders. 1997.
  • 1998 Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls. 1998.
  • U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. 1995 Child Maltreatment Survey. 1995.
  • U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2000 Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement. 2000.
  • U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. American Indians and Crime. 1992-2002.
  • World Health Organization. 2002.
  • U.S. Department of Justice. 2012 National Crime Victimization Survey. 2012.
Hello! My name is Tamra Wade I am the founder and president of Paper Hope. Paper Hope is an official Arizona based 501c3 dedicated to servicing women and girls. We provide life skill in the form of workshops, meet ups, round table, panel discussions and online goodness on our blog. No topic is off limits. Paper Hope helps women of all ages have the confidence to live authentic lives.

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