This article is about the sexual preference toward prepubescent children. It is not to be confused with hebephilia or ephebophilia. Features of activity of children of early age, or paedophilia, is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children.
In popular usage, the word pedophilia is often applied to any sexual interest in children or the act of child sexual abuse. Pedophilia was first formally recognized and named in the late 19th century. A significant amount of research in the area has taken place since the 1980s. Pedophilia emerges before or during puberty, and is stable over time.
For these reasons, pedophilia has been described as a disorder of sexual preference, phenomenologically similar to a heterosexual or homosexual sexual orientation. Studies of pedophilia in child sex offenders often report that it co-occurs with other psychopathologies, such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and personality problems. Impaired self-concept and interpersonal functioning were reported in a sample of child sex offenders who met the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia by Cohen et al. The pedophilic offenders in the study had elevated psychopathy and cognitive distortions compared to healthy community controls. The most marked differences between pedophiles and controls were on the introversion scale, with pedophiles showing elevated shyness, sensitivity and depression. The pedophiles scored higher on neuroticism and psychoticism, but not enough to be considered pathological as a group. Consumption of child pornography is a more reliable indicator of pedophilia than molesting a child, although some non-pedophiles also view child pornography.
Pedophilic viewers of child pornography are often obsessive about collecting, organizing, categorizing, and labeling their child pornography collection according to age, gender, sex act and fantasy. Although what causes pedophilia is not yet known, researchers began reporting a series of findings linking pedophilia with brain structure and function, beginning in 2002. Such studies suggest that there are one or more neurological characteristics present at birth that cause or increase the likelihood of being pedophilic. Some studies have found that pedophiles are less cognitively impaired than non-pedophilic child molesters.
A 2011 study reported that pedophilic child molesters had deficits in response inhibition, but no deficits in memory or cognitive flexibility. Another study, using structural MRI, indicated that male pedophiles have a lower volume of white matter than a control group. While not causes of pedophilia themselves, childhood abuse by adults or comorbid psychiatric illnesses—such as personality disorders and substance abuse—are risk factors for acting on pedophilic urges. The ICD-10 defines pedophilia as “a sexual preference for children, boys or girls or both, usually of prepubertal or early pubertal age”. Like the DSM, this system’s criteria require that the person be at least 16 years of age or older before being diagnosed as a pedophile. Exclusive pedophiles are sometimes referred to as true pedophiles.