Male Homosexual Attraction to Minors Information Center
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Unfortunately, a clear understanding of adult-minor sexual attraction is hampered by the lack of precise, consistent definitions. Terms are used differently in science, law, and public discourse, as well as in different parts of the world.1

Male homosexual attraction to minors

We use the phrase male homosexual attraction to minors to refer to feelings of sexual attraction that some men have for underage boys.

Men with such feelings vary considerably:

Few researchers have closely investigated the feelings of such men, but those who have say that their feelings for boys may resemble romantic feelings most men have for women, frequently involving feelings of affection and being "in love." 3

It is important to note that the phrase "male homosexual attraction to minors" does not necessarily indicate sexual activity with boys, but rather feelings of attraction. Men with such feelings may or may not act on them sexually. According to researchers:

However, researchers seem agreed that force or violence is rare.5

Regardless of the willingness of the boys, any type of sexual behavior between men and boys (or older and younger boys) raises important ethical issues, and any action other than celibacy is almost universally condemned by society.

Attraction to adolescent boys

Various terms are used for preferential sexual attraction to boys (and girls) who have reached puberty; that is, cases in which attraction to adolescents is stronger than attraction to adults or prepubescent children.

Again, hebephilia and ephebophilia refer to feelings of attraction, not necessarily to sexual behavior with pubescents or adolescents. Sexual interaction between adults and adolescents is termed ephebosexual behavior .10

Some scholars, particularly historians, use the term pederasty in this context. The Greek word paiderastes originally referred to a man who fell in love with male adolescents. However, pederasty has acquired several meanings over time:

This site is concerned with hebephilia/ephebophilia in those cases involving men's preferential sexual feelings for boys.

Attraction to prepubescent children

Sexual attraction to boys (or girls) who have not yet entered puberty is termed pedophilia.

The term pedophile has its origins in ancient Greek as a synonym to pederast; that is, a man who falls in love with adolescent boys.12

However, it has acquired many different meanings in different parts of the world, and among different segments of society. Researchers and clinicians often use the term in inconsistent ways:

The DSM-IV-TR definition differs from that of many researchers in that it excludes cases where the adult has a preferential attraction to prepubescent children but does not act on it and does not experience distress or difficulty. There are unresolved issues in the DSM definition of pedophilia related to this fact, and to the fact that the definition may not meet the DSMís own criteria for classification as a mental disorder.18

This site uses the term pedophilia as it is used by leading North American researchers (the first group above); that is:

Adult sexual interaction with prepubescent children is termed pedosexual behavior. The adult involved in such behavior need not be a pedophile; that is, not preferentially attracted to children.19

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

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.

Child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a legal term rather than a scientific one. According to Cornell University researcher Jeffrey Haugaard, scientists have not yet resolved the fundamental issue of defining it. Different researchers, lawmakers, and clinicians define each word in the phrase child sexual abuse differently.27

Thus, CSA usually includes not only coerced or unwanted sexual experiences, but also recreational sex or sexual relationships between two people of sufficiently different ages. In fact, one study suggests that over 80% of activities classified as abuse may be consensual.30 Some surveys are so over-inclusive that they conclude that only a minority of children in the general population are free from abuse.31

Similarly, related terms such as child molestation, exploitation, victimization, sexual aggression, and sexual assault are generally used not only to indicate sexual acts that are necessarily violent or coercive in a literal sense, but also those which violate ethical or moral standards prohibiting adult sexual interaction with children or adolescents, or sexual interaction among adolescents or children of different ages.32

Many researchers have argued that such broad definitions of CSA and related terms obscure important issues, mislead the public into believing that all CSA is violent, and result in widely discrepant or erroneous conclusions. They favor restricting the use of terms such as CSA, exploitation, and assault to situations involving harm, violence, or coercion.33

For the purposes of this website, it is important to remember the following:

  1. CSA and related terms usually refer to a wide variety of behaviors, including assault, coerced interactions, unwanted advances, exhibitionism, consensual viewing of pornography, verbal propositioning, consensual touching or kissing, willing recreational sex, and ongoing sexual relationships, including consensual activity among children or adolescents who differ in age.
  2. Studies of CSA vary considerably in what activities they are investigating.
  3. Researchers may not specify what activities they are including in their definition of CSA.

Annotated bibliography

Ames, A. & Houston, D.A., "Legal, social, and biological definitions of pedophilia," Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 19, 1990, pp. 333-342.

Researchers from Indiana University elaborate on the distinction between child molestation and pedophilia, writing that confusion of the two hinders scientific understanding.

Feierman, J., "Introduction and A Biosocial Overview," in Feierman, J., ed., Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990a, pp. 1-68.

Jay Feierman of the University of New Mexico defines pedophilia, pedosexual behavior, ephebophilia, hebephilia, and ephebosexual behavior. He also discusses the relationship between adult-minor sexual behavior and child sexual abuse in terms of consent and harm.

Fergusson, D.M. & Mullen, P.E., Childhood sexual abuse: An evidence based perspective, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1999.

David M. Fergusson and Paul E. Mullen describe the way in which CSA is defined based on normative moral standards, and explain why there can never be a single universal definition of CSA. They criticize the popular belief among professionals and the public that CSA is a syndrome identifiable by certain symptoms. They also find fault with "trite conclusions" about CSA that are "chanted like sacred mantras." They propose a straightforward scientific approach to definitional problems.

Freund, K., "Assessment of pedophilia," in Cook, M. & Howells, K. (Eds.), Adult sexual interest in children, London: Academic Press, 1981, pp. 139-179.

Kurt Freund of the University of Toronto makes a distinction between pedophilia and hebephilia, and describes misleading conclusions that result from criminological research which confuses pedophilia with pedosexual behavior.

Green, R., ďIs pedophilia a mental disorder?Ē, Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 31, no. 6, 2002, pp. 467-471.

British sexologist Richard Green describes changing definitions of pedophilia in successive editions of DSM and writes that the current definition is logically incoherent. He writes that it fails to meet the DSMís own criteria for classification as a mental disorder.

Haugaard, J.J. & Emery, R.E., "Methodological issues in child sexual abuse research," Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 13, 1989, pp. 89-100.

University of Virginia researchers describe their study which found that the definition of CSA significantly affects findings regarding the prevalence and consequences of CSA.

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 researchers describe common inconsistent usage of the terms child and pedophilia--usage based on law and morality rather than science. They explain in detail why sex offenders against children are most likely a very different group of people from pedophiles. They also criticize the use of terms that suggest violence to refer to adult-child sexual interactions when overwhelming data show a lack of force or violence in such interactions. They argue in favor of making a distinction between actual violence and moral violation.

Sandfort, T., Boys on their contacts with men: A study of sexually expressed friendships, New York: Global Academic Publishers, 1987.

University of Utrecht researcher Theodorus Sandfort defines children according to Dutch law as those under age 16, and accordingly defines pedophile and pedosexuality. He argues in favor of limiting the term abuse to situations in which the adult uses his power or some other method to compel the child to have sex with him.

West, D.J. & Woodhouse, T.P., "Sexual encounters between boys and adults," in Li, C.K., West, D.J., & Woodhouse, T.P., Childrenís sexual encounters with adults, London: Duckworth, 1990, pp. 3-137.

British researchers describe varying definitions of "child" and "abuse" found among researchers, and argue against the use of the blanket term "abuse" for all sexual contacts between minors and adults.


1. Ames & Houston, 1990; Freund, 1981; Haugaard, 2000; Kilpatrick, 1987; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; West, 1998.
2. Bullough & Bullough, 1996; Feierman, 1990a; Freund, 1981; Wilson & Cox, 1983.
3. Howells, 1981; Ingram, 1981; Li, 1990b; Sandfort, 1987; Wilson & Cox, 1983.
4. For more details, see the section of this site on behavior.
5. Bradford et al., 1988; Howells, 1981; Ingram, 1981; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Sandfort, 1987; West & Woodhouse, 1990; Wilson & Cox, 1983.
6. Freund, 1981.
7. Feierman, 1990a.
8. Sandfort, 1987; Wilson & Cox, 1983.
9. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders DSM IV-TR, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
10. Feierman, 1990a.
11. Liddell, H.G. & Scott, R., Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1959; Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, New York: Merriam-Webster, 1998.
12. Liddell, H.G. & Scott, R., Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1959.
13. Feierman, 1990a; Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
14. Sandfort, 1987; Wilson & Cox, 1983.
15. Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Smiljanich & Briere, 1996.
16. Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
17. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders DSM IV-TR, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
18. Green, 2002.
19. Feierman, 1990a; Okami & Goldberg, 1992; Sandfort, 1987.
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.
27. Haugaard, 2000; Li, 1990a.
28. West, 1998.
29. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1999*; Center for Sex Offender Management, 1999*.
30. Li, 1990a.
31. Haugaard, 2000; West, 1998.
32. Kilpatrick, 1987; Okami & Goldberg, 1992.
33. Kilpatrick, 1987; Li, 1990a; Okami, 1990; Sandfort, 1987; West & Woodhouse, 1990.
*offsite articles
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