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Title: Legal, social, and biological definitions of pedophilia
Author(s): M. Ashley Ames and David A. Houston
Affiliation: Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
Citation: Ames, A. & Houston, D.A., “Legal, social, and biological definitions of pedophilia,” Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 19, 1990, pp. 333-342.


Pre-industrial Western society and primitive cultures defined childhood biologically—it ended when certain signs of adolescence (such as menstruation for girls) first appeared. However, modern society arbitrarily sets a certain age as the beginning of adulthood. Since this age is several years after puberty begins, childhood is prolonged into a limbo period where young people are physiologically but not sociologically prepared for reproduction. This creates a conundrum for researchers in the area of adult sexual activity with children.

The problem is to determine the age of a child below which sex with that child is pathological and not just criminal. One study showed that normal males of all ages are preferentially attracted to 17-year olds. This makes intuitive sense with respect to reproductive strategy. However, men who consistently prefer to engage in sexual activity with prepubescent children are practicing a very unsound reproductive strategy.

Freund found that child molesters are more frequently aroused by the prepubescent body shape with its lack of secondary sex characteristics, while incest offenders and normal men are aroused by the presence of secondary sex characteristics. Thus, the true pedophile should be defined by an attraction to the prepubescent body type, not by attraction to a certain chronological age.

A distinction should be made between socio-legal children (defined legally by an age cut-off) and biological children (defined as pre-pubescent). Laws governing child molestation reflect socio-legal childhood, but the definition of pedophilia should reflect biological childhood. The discrepancy between the two has served to cloud what should be a natural distinction between offender types. Making this distinction should aid in the study of the etiology of pedophilia.

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