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Title: Toward a testable developmental model of pedophilia: The development of erotic age preference
Author(s): Kurt Freund and Michael Kuban
Affiliation: Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, Toronto
Citation: Freund, K. & Kuban, M., “Toward a testable developmental model of pedophilia: The development of erotic age preference,” Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 17, 1993, pp. 315-324.


Current theories to explain pedophilia (as well as other paraphilias) suppose that it is caused by adverse childhood experiences. According to Garland and Dougher, none of these theories agree with scientific observations.

The most popular theory claims pedophilia is caused by childhood molestation, but the observational basis for this theory is unreliable. Some theories have attempted to explain pedophilia as the result of aversion to some feature of the mature human body, but studies in this area have not found the concept of aversion to be fruitful. Little is known about the development of erotic gender and age preference, and there is no testable developmental theory.

This study investigated two possible components of a testable model: a process that establishes a pre-determined gender preference, and one that establishes age preference. Some studies of early brain damage and the familial occurrence of pedophilia support the possibility that age preference for the most part is determined in childhood.

This study supposes that there exists a continuum of erotic attraction to various ages. At one end is maximum attraction to physically mature men or women, and at the other end is maximum attraction to children. At puberty, one end is devalued and the other end is strengthened.

To test this theory, it was assumed that a developing erotic attraction in childhood expresses itself as curiosity to see people in the nude. Thus, the study investigated childhood memories of such curiosity.

The study included 589 men: 46 heterosexual pedophiles, 30 homosexual pedophiles, 462 gynephiles (preferentially attracted to women), and 51 androphiles (preferentially attracted to men). The pedophiles were identified from a group of sex offenders by plethysmograph, or due to offenses against at least two children age 11 or under. The gynephiles were paid volunteers, and the androphiles were clients in therapy seeking to adjust to their sexual orientation. Mean ages of the groups were 28 to 35.

The subjects were asked about their curiosity to see male children their age, female children their age, male adults, and female adults, in the nude, during two periods in their lives: before age 7, and between ages 7 and 11.

The following was true among all four gender-age preference groups: Some respondents reported no curiosity before age 7 but curiosity between ages 7 and 11, while a much smaller number reported the reverse. However, the total of both types of responses was still in the minority. A sizeable minority (20% to 33%) reported their curiosity was indiscriminant according to gender and age, and a smaller minority (11% to 20%) lacked any curiosity at all.

Some reported that between ages 7 and 11, they were curious about their later preferred gender without concern for age, while a much smaller number reported curiosity about their later preferred age without concern for gender. However, the total of people with these responses was usually still a minority (20% to 52%).

Among some subjects, there was a difference between pedophiles and men attracted to adults with respect to their curiosity between ages 7 and 11. Among gynephiles and androphiles, some reported curiosity only about adults, while far fewer reported curiosity only about children, although the total of people with these responses was still in the minority (15% to 25%).

Among heterosexual and homosexual pedophiles, the situation was different: slightly more reported curiosity only about children than about adults, although the total of people with these responses was still only 13% to 20%.

The next part of the study was intended to assess the age at which the curiosity about nude children disappeared. Seventy-eight male gynephilic university students were asked the same questions as above, plus if and when their curiosity to see nude children significantly diminished or disappeared.

Their results on the earlier questions were similar to those found in the original group of 462 gynephiles. The majority (43 out of 78) reported that their curiosity about nude children did diminish or disappear. The mean age when this occurred was 11.7.

The authors write that their findings, as well as their earlier clinical observations, support the assumption that curiosity about nudity is associated with development of erotic interest, and that the development of erotic gender preference precedes that of erotic age preference. Most of the latter seems to be completed only at puberty.

They also conclude that the development of gender preference appears to occur earlier in heterosexual gynephiles and pedophiles than in homosexual androphiles and pedophiles. The proportion of pedophiles that are curious about children rather than adults between the ages of 7 and 11 suggests that in a substantial proportion of pedophiles (possibly all of them), pedophilia is predetermined at least from early childhood. Developmental studies on pedophilia are lacking but needed.

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