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Characteristics of minor-attracted men

State of research

Many studies have attempted to show that pedophiles fit a typical personality profile characterized by such traits as social inadequacy, tendency toward anxiety or depression, low intelligence, excessive religiosity, puritanical attitudes, narcissism, gender pathology, psychosexual immaturity, aversion to women and adult sexuality, and lack of aggressiveness.1

These studies have suffered from numerous flaws:

Reports of personality characteristics of pedophiles are often unreliable.

One flaw that characterizes almost every study is the use of incarcerated offenders or clinical populations (those who have received psychological treatment). These studies often overlook the potential dishonesty of offenders.9 Even more importantly, criminal and clinical samples are most likely not representative of pedophiles or ephebophiles in general.10

Personality studies

Researchers who have conducted careful studies of pedophiles outside the clinical or criminological settings have found little evidence to support the belief that attraction to underage boys is related to any particular personality profile or disorder.13

For example, two British psychologists studied a sample of 77 men most of whom were attracted to 12 to 14 year old boys. A high percentage were professionals. The administered the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire to assess personality characteristics.

The researchers wrote that other investigators had obtained similar results, but emphasized that it could not be concluded whether these characteristics were related to pedophilia or to society's attitudes toward them. They wrote that their results were "consistent with previous findings in failing to discover any obvious links between paedophilia and aggressive or psychotic symptoms.14

Similarly, after an extensive review of the literature, two UCLA psychologists concluded:

Most researchers, including those who have examined only prison samples, have found that pedophiles who do engage in sexual activity with children rarely use force or violence. No links between pedophilia and aggression have been found.16

Dutch researcher Theo Sandfort writes:

It is not true that pedophilia in men is associated with a number of other socially recognizable characteristics. Psychiatric literature has played an important role in establishing this misconception: in it one reads that pedophilia occurs in regressive personalities who are frightened of sexual contact with women and have not sufficient social skills to be able to get along with adults. Such stereotyping is completely without empirical support. There is no research which justifies any kind of type-casting of "the" pedophile.17

Feelings of attraction

Most studies of the sexual feelings of minor-attracted adults have been limited to physiological measurements of genital arousal among sex offenders. They have found that many child molesters are more aroused by "consenting" stimuli involving children than by "non-consenting" stimuli involving children.18

However, a few British studies have closely examined the thoughts and feelings of minor-attracted men outside of criminal or clinical settings.

One of them is the study of 77 men mentioned earlier.

The researchers concluded that except for the object of their attraction, these men were similar to men attracted to women in terms of their fantasies and the traits they found attractive.19

A similar study by clinical psychologist at the University of Cambridge involved interviews with 27 male volunteers who had had some type of sexual contact with underage boys or girls.

Annotated bibliography

Bradford, J.M.W., Bloomberg, B.A., & Bourget, D., "The heterogeneity/homogeneity of pedophilia," Psychiatric Journal of the University of Ottowa, v. 13, no. 4, pp. 217-226, 1988.

This study by three University of Ottawa criminologists actually examines convicted child molesters rather than a representative sample of pedophiles. Their results contradict some of the findings of earlier studies, however they are consistent in finding that the vast majority of child molesters are non-violent.

Campbell, T.W., "The Reliability and Validity of Gardner's Indicators of Pedophilia,"* Issues In Child Abuse Accusations, vol. 5, no. 3, 1993.

Clinical and forensic psychologist Terence W. Campbell critiques psychiatrist Richard A. Gardnerís 24 "indicators of pedophilia." Also in the same publication:

Howells, K., "Adult sexual interest in children: Considerations relevant to theories of aetiology," in Cook, M. & Howells, K. (Eds.), Adult sexual interest in children, London: Academic Press, 1981, pp. 55-94.

A British psychologist discusses studies that have attempted to determine the characteristics of pedophiles and classify them according to these characteristics.

Langevin, R., Sexual strands: Understanding and treating sexual anomalies in men, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1983.

Chapter 8 of this book, written by a sex offender treatment professional at the Clarke Institute Psychiatry in Toronto, examines theories of the development of pedophilia, characteristics of pedophiles, and treatment approaches.

Li, C.K., "Some Case Studies of Adult Sexual Experiences with Children," Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 20, Numbers 1-2, 1990b, pp. 129-144.

A clinical psychologist describes the findings of his study which examined the perceptions and thoughts of 27 men who had sexual relationships with boys or girls. He asked them what attracted them to children and young teenagers, and what they sought in their relationships.

Okami, P. & Goldberg, A., "Personality Correlates of Pedophilia: Are They Reliable Indicators?", Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 29, No. 3, 1992, pp. 297-328.

UCLA psychologists critically review the literature that attempts to investigate personality characteristics of pedophiles.

Wilson, G. & Cox, D., The Child-Lovers: A Study of Paedophiles in Society, London: Peter Owen Publishers, 1983.

British psychologists describe the results of their study of 77 men attracted to minors. They investigated their feelings about children and teenagers, their relationships, their emotional and mental health, and their feelings about their sexuality. The study also describes in more detail the lives of several of the men.


1. Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
2. Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
3. Campbell, 1993a*.
4. Langevin, 1983.
5. Langevin, 1983.
6. Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
7. Bradford et al., 1988; Campbell, 1993a*.
8. Langevin, 1983; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Wilson & Cox, 1983.
9. Langevin, 1983.
10. Campbell, 1993a*; Langevin, 1983; Howells, 1981.
11. Ames & Houston, 1990; Freund, 1981; Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
12. Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
13. Langevin, 1983; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Sandfort, 1987.
14. Wilson & Cox, 1983.
15. Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
16. Bradford et al., 1988; Constantine, 1981; Crawford, 1981; Hall, 1996; Howells, 1981; Ingram, 1981; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Virkkunen, 1981; West, 1998; West & Woodhouse, 1990; Wilson & Cox, 1983.
17. Sandfort, 1987.
18. Hall, 1996.
19. Wilson & Cox, 1983.
20. Li, 1990b.
*offsite articles
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