Male Homosexual Attraction to Minors Information Center
Home Using this site Print documents Full Bibliography Mission Contact us

Book details

Title: The Child-Lovers: A Study of Paedophiles in Society
Authors and Affiliations:
    Glenn D. Wilson, University of London Institute of Psychiatry
    David N. Cox, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia
Citation: Wilson, G. & Cox, D., The Child-Lovers: A Study of Paedophiles in Society, London: Peter Owen Publishers, 1983.


Typical studies of pedophiles are unreliable because they are based on prison or clinical samples. Thus, this study sought to rectify the problem by administering questionnaires to a non-clinical and non-legal sample of 77 men identified through a London self-help group for pedophiles.

Subjects were men mostly between the ages of 20 and 60. Compared with the general British population, a higher percentage were professionals and fewer were unemployed. Two instruments were used in this study: the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire and the authors' own questionnaire tailored for pedophiles.

Feelings of attraction

Seventy-one percent of the subjects were attracted to boys, and most preferred 12-14 year olds. Twelve percent of the subjects were attracted to girls, and most members of this group preferred 8-10 year olds. Seventeen percent were attracted to both (preferring girls 2-3 years younger than boys). That the men attracted to girls were attracted to younger children than those attracted to boys agrees with other researchers' findings.

However, the proportion of those attracted to boys in this sample did not agree with those found in prison samples. Prison samples typically find the number attracted to girls to be twice that of those attracted to boys. This may be due to a tendency to more frequently prosecute those who interact sexually with girls, who are seen as more vulnerable than boys.

However, in both prison samples and the sample in this study, the proportion of men attracted to boys was much higher than the proportion of homosexuals among the general population. The authors speculate that this results from the tendency of boys to be more willing participants than girls in sexual activity, and to more awareness among homosexual than heterosexual men of their attraction to children due to the more striking physical changes in boys than girls which occur at puberty. In all studies, sampling biases and inconsistencies in the definition of "pedophilia" make it impossible to determine the actual proportion of men attracted to boys among pedophiles.

In this study, subjects were asked to describe the characteristics they found attractive in children. They cited personality traits slightly more often than physical traits. Personality traits included openness, curiosity, spontaneity, enthusiasm, lack of inhibition, innocence, honesty, and affection. Physical traits included good looks, smooth skin, attractive eyes, slim stature, and lack of pubic hair.

When asked about their feelings about sexual activity with adults, 43% of the subjects said they were indifferent to it, 18% were disgusted by it, and 18% said they enjoyed it. Ten percent of the men were heterosexual with respect to adults but attracted to boys. Other respondents had homosexual feelings for both men and boys.

When asked to describe their fantasies, 51% described sexual activity, and 29% described a romantic or caring relationship. In the vast majority of those fantasies that involved sex, the child was willing or enthusiastic. A high proportion involved several partners. The authors found these characteristics to be similar to those of fantasies of men attracted to adult women. However, they wrote that pedophiles' fantasies that involved loving, caring relationships were more similar to fantasies that heterosexual women typically have about men.

When the subjects were asked what they really wanted if there were no legal restrictions, the most frequent response involved the love, care, and protection of the child. Even among those who cited sexual activity, most emphasized the consent and participation of the child as critical. Some said they would like to live with a boy for an extended period of time.


When asked about their fathers, 80% of the respondents described them negatively, claiming they were absent, remote, weak, strict, or violent. This compared with 22% responding negatively in a survey of a representative sample of people conducted by a British newspaper. Similarly, 74% of the subjects described their mothers negatively, compared to 14% in the newspaper sample.

When asked about parental attitudes toward sex, 44% of the subjects said their parents never or seldom mentioned it, and another 40% said their parents had very negative attitudes. There was no data from the general population for comparison. Definite conclusions cannot be made from this data, since pedophiles may exaggerate their parents' attitudes in order to account for their condition, or parents might have been responding negatively to their sons’ sexual development.

Forty-five percent of the subjects said their first sexual experience was masturbation with a same-sex peer. Eight percent had their first experience with an adult. One subject said he knew he was a pedophile at age 13. Again, there was no data from the general population for comparison.

The above data led the authors to speculate that pedophilia may be caused by lack of a satisfactory father model due to geographical or psychological unavailability, or by insufficient tenderness from the mother to permit imprinting upon adult women as sex objects. They found it striking that this pattern which has "so often been implicated in homosexuality and other sexual difficulties emerges once again within this group of subjects." (p. 30)

However, they advised caution in drawing this conclusion. There are three other possible causes of the correlation between pedophilia and negative attitudes about parents: a negative reaction by parents to the (less masculine) development of their child, a genetic connection between the parents and children involving instability and social communication difficulty, or a bias by pedophiles toward describing their parents negatively as a way of accounting for their condition.

Although the majority of subjects were attracted to boys rather than girls, they paradoxically sought feminine characteristics (e.g., soft skin, charm, and understanding). This suggested to the authors that having rejected women as sex targets, pedophiles turn to the next best approximation. Whereas some men turn to fetishes as substitutes, pedophiles prefer someone with whom they can establish a relationship.

The authors also proposed that the men felt more comfortable approaching children than adults because most were homosexual and found it dangerous to make advances to adult men. They further speculated that if the male sex role requires social dominance, and pedophiles inherit a submissive nature, they have trouble competing with other males for women and therefore turn to children. The features of children that pedophiles find attractive (e.g., innocence, softness, simplicity, and openness) seem to support this view.

The authors also suggested an evolutionary basis for pedophilia. Some qualities that pedophiles find attractive in children (e.g., vitality, playfulness, and clear complexion) are an important basis for attraction between adults and have evolutionary origins. Thus, pedophiles' sexual arousal mechanism may be similar to that found in men attracted to women. Furthermore, pedophilia may be at least partly an exaggeration of the normal tendency of men (both heterosexual and homosexual) to seek youth in their partners, which also has an evolutionary basis.

Mental Health and Personality

When asked to describe their feelings about their sexuality, the most common responses were as follows:

Subjects were asked whether they had sought treatment, and if so, what kind and how effective it was. Sixty percent had not sought therapy because either they did not consider themselves sick, or they thought their sexuality was so ingrained as to be unchangeable. Those who sought treatment mentioned group therapy, drugs, and insight-oriented talk therapy. Some were offered aversion therapy but turned it down. None reported beneficial effects of treatment attempts.

The Eysenck Personality Questionnaire showed the pedophiles to be on average significantly more introverted than the general population, but similar to transvestites, transsexuals, and masochists. However, as in these other groups, the existence or direction of causality cannot be determined.

The questionnaire also showed pedophiles on average to be slightly higher in their levels of psychoticism and neuroticism, but no more so than members of several occupational groups including actors, architects, doctors, and students. The authors concluded that pedophiles show no sign of clinically significant psychopathy or thought disorder. The lie scale indicated that the pedophiles gave honest and accurate self-reports on the questionnaire.

There were some correlations between personality characteristics and other variables. Those scoring higher in psychoticism tended to be slightly more exclusively pedophile, but also scored lower on the lie scale, suggesting they may simply have been more honest about their preference. Those who were more introverted tended to prefer younger children.

Those who scored higher on the neuroticism scale tended to be more likely to have sought treatment, similar to known findings in the general non-pedophile population. Those attracted to girls tended to prefer younger children than those attracted to boys, but also related better to adults as partners.

When compared to a control group of slightly older males from the general population, the pedophiles were more likely to be shy and sensitive, and to have feelings of loneliness and depression. These characteristics may be related to a lack of confidence and social skills which may in turn lead to pedophiles' inability to approach adults as sexual partners.

However, the authors emphasized that this was only speculation: the connection could work in reverse; that is, pedophilia may be the cause of the lack of confidence and social skills. In general, personality characteristics and sexual behavior are partly determined by heredity and therefore may have a genetic connection. However, social characteristics of pedophiles may also be the effect of hostility directed toward them by society.

There was no support for the belief that pedophilia is related to narcissism. Questionnaire findings showed that the pedophiles were less likely than the general population to be obsessive or concerned about their looks.

The authors concluded that their findings were consistent with those of many other studies which found pedophiles to be "timid, isolated, dependent, submissive, effeminate, sexually inhibited, and generally not adequate to the task of competition with other men for heterosexual adult conquests." Their results were also "consistent with previous findings in failing to discover any obvious links between paedophilia and aggressive or psychotic symptoms. The majority of paedophiles, however socially inappropriate, seem to be gentle and rational." (p. 122)

Attitudes and Behavior

When asked about the nature of their pedophile relationships, subjects described most of them as non-sexual. Respondents most commonly gave the following kinds of descriptions:

Six percent had no relationships at all. It was common for a subject to claim many affectionate relationships with only very occasional sexual contact. Two of the subjects described relationships whose sexual component ended by mutual desire when the boy reached adulthood, but the pedophile and former boy remained friends. The authors' impression from questionnaire responses and detailed interviews was that subjects were honest and accurate, although there was the possibility that they downplayed their sexual motive.

To illustrate the diversity among pedophiles, and to provide a closer view of their feelings and behavior, the authors presented detailed case studies of ten of their subjects. The authors' own summaries of those subjects are given here (from pages 66-69):


The most interesting feature of Rex's life is that he is the only paedophile we interviewed who is married. His wife was aware of his paedophilic interests when she married him. He provided us with a classic remark in commenting that he has come to realize that paedophiles need a good travel agent rather than a psychiatrist, which seems fairly perceptive in view of the legal restrictions that exist in some countries while not in others. In his work Rex occupies a position of some status, and the professional attitude that he must have to display there carried over to the interview.


What was most obvious about Adam was his enthusiasm in discussing his paedophilic interests. More than any of the others interviewed, he seems to have declared openly his love for children, and he does not hesitate to express it when the opportunity arises, as it did in this situation. Subsequent to the interview, Adam contacted us to let us know that criminal proceedings had been brought against him and if we did not hear from him by a specific date then we should assume that he had been convicted and sentenced to prison. We did not hear from him again.


The isolation that he experiences was very obvious throughout the interview with William. Indeed, there was almost a sense of tragedy about his present circumstances. A conviction for what appears to have been an isolated paedophilic relationship against a background of heterosexuality and a distinguished career as a teacher seems to have left William a somewhat lonely man. In his particular situation, the development of his paedophilic interests appears to have been as much situationally determined as the result of any predilection he might have had towards a sexual relationship with a child.


It was obvious that Eric has done a great deal of research on the topic of paedophilia. As he is so knowledgeable about the behavior, he was able to place his interests in a historical perspective, and throughout the interview he supported things that he said with references to the existing literature on paedophilia.


In his present circumstances, John seems to be, more than any other subject interviewed, involved in what might be described as a perfect relationship from a paedophilic point of view. In discussing his total involvement with a boy at present—a situation which exists with the parents' tacit approval—John acknowledges the unique circumstances of the relationship. Interestingly, John was involved with the boy's older brother previously and seems to have functioned very much as a 'big brother' to both of these boys.


At the time that he completed the initial questionnaire, Neil had not been sexually involved with a child; however, in the period prior to the interview, he had become deeply involved with a boy in a relationship that did involve a sexual component. The concern that he felt about taking this step was apparent, as was his confusion over how such a relationship should be conducted. The degree of personal anguish he expressed over his future, if this is the direction his life will take, was obvious. If one had not known that Neil is a paedophile and was describing a relationship with a boy, it would have been very easy to assume that he was recounting the trials and tribulations encountered in any 'first love' relationship as might be experienced by heterosexuals.


Peter was concerned that we should be given the 'whole' picture with respect to paedophilic behaviour and following his initial interview contacted us to see if he might come in again to provide us with more information, which he did. He appeared to be very much at ease discussing the paedophilic lifestyle, and he described in some detail the international scene, particularly as it occurs in countries where age of consent is not a factor, as in the Philippines. He gave the impression of being a travel agent for his paedophilic friends as his work in the airlines allows him to travel extensively and investigate circumstances in other countries. He came to the second interview with pictures, most of which he had taken himself, to give us examples of the types of boys he found attractive.


Garry was one of the subjects who was somewhat suspicious of our intentions in these interviews. His particular concern was that we were interested in finding a cure for paedophilia, which emerged when he was questioned concerning his relationship with his parents. He was also one of those who was able to describe a relationship that has continued on into adult life even though the sexual component has ceased to be important. In this particular case, he is the godfather to the son of the man whom he was involved with when the latter, who is now married, was a child.


Harry was the most difficult of all of the subjects to talk to. He was very hesitant to discuss his situation and was much less forthcoming concerning his behaviour than the other paedophilies interviewed. He was the only subject who did not appear to be exclusively paedophilic in his sexual orientation; rather he described himself as a sexual 'libertarian,' which seemed to imply that his sexual activities could involve relationships with adults as well as children. In fact, the only sexual contact that Harry did not mention having been involved in was a homosexual relationship with an adult male.


Derek gave the impression of being completely at ease with his lifestyle, to the extent that he lives with a boy he was involved with in a paedophilic relationship and who is now married. The wife is aware of the relationship that existed between her husband and Derek and apparently does not object to the latter's presence in their home. Derek is also employed in a job which brings him into close contact with children; however, he avoids paedophilic encounters in this situation. He has been involved in long-term relationships of five years while at the same time visiting the Philippines for short-term experiences with boys there. In many ways, Derek seemed childlike in his behaviour and attitudes and did, in fact, describe himself as a 'Peter Pan' who had never grown up.

Moral Issues

Severe legal penalties for pedophilic behavior are usually based on the assumption that children are harmed. However, the authors write that "most researchers seem to be agreed that except in the case of physical assault against an unwilling child (tantamount to rape), no lasting harm to the sexual or social development of the child 'victim' can be detected."

Therefore, the authors make a distinction between psychological harm and morality, and call for police to deal with the issue sensitively:

We are inclined to agree with the argument of Finkelhor that the issue of empirical harm needs to be separated from the more directly moral question of whether meaningful consent can ever be obtained from a child....we still regard sex as immoral if there is any suggestion that social power has been abused in obtaining it....Adult-child relationships in general fall into this category.
On the other hand, it has been pointed out that heavy-handed intervention by police and legal authorities can result in great trauma and lasting emotional harm to the child involved....Therefore, although we do not favour the total abandonment of legal safeguards, we would hope that when appropriate authorities feel that intervention is necessary, some discretion and compassion is exercised, for the sake of the child "victim" as much as the transgressing adult. (p. 129)
Top of page
Home Using this site Print documents Full Bibliography Mission Contact us