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Important distinctions

Ephebophilia vs. pedophilia

While ephebophilia (or hebephilia) is the preferential attraction to adolescents, pedophilia is the preferential attraction to children who have not reached puberty. According to some researchers, the two phenomena may be quite different in causes, characteristics, function, and prevalence.20 Pedophilia is listed as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association's DSM, but ephebophilia is not.21

Feelings vs. behavior

As already noted, ephebophilia and pedophilia refer to preferential feelings of attraction only, regardless of whether the adult has interacted sexually with adolescents or children. There is evidence that many do not behave sexually with minors.22 Ephebosexual and pedosexual behavior refer to actual sexual interaction with adolescents and children regardless of sexual preference.23

Scientific vs. legal definitions

Thus, ephebophilia and pedophilia are not synonymous with sex offenses against minors or child molestation. In addition to the distinction between feelings and behavior, different age cut-offs are used by science and law.24

  Ephebophilia/Pedophilia Sex offense
Realm Science Law
Basis Feelings Behavior
Age of young person Based on biological development: before puberty for pedophilia, and in adolescence for ephebophilia Based on legal status: under the age of consent set by law

Most studies find that only a small portion of convicted sex offenders against minors are actually preferentially attracted to children or adolescents.25 Many sex offenders engage in sexual activity with minors because of situational factors such as marital problems, alcoholism, or unavailability of adults.26

This site is concerned with sex offenses only when they involve preferential attraction to underage boys. However, criminological research usually does not make this distinction. This is one of the reasons that MHAMic relies mainly on psychological rather than criminological research.

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20. Ames & Houston, 1990; Feierman, 1990a.

21. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders DSM IV-TR, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

22. Gieles, 2001; Hall et al., 1995; Okami & Goldberg, 1992.

23. Ames & Houston, 1990; Freund, 1981; Howells, 1981; Okami & Goldberg, 1992.

24. Ames & Houston, 1990; Feierman, 1990a.

25. Ames & Houston, 1990; Freund, 1981; Okami & Goldberg, 1992.

26. Howells, 1981; Sandfort, 1987.