Pedophilia, which literally means the “love of children” is a sexual disorder that is broadly defined as a sustained sexual attraction for preadolescent children that generally involves an “erotic arousal pattern and fantasy life” that centers on children. Theories on pedophilia vary however most include the most common assumption that it involves the individual who has failed to advance from the normal interest in other children as a child to a mature sexuality as an adult marked by interest in and relationships with adults.
These criterion serve as a framework for diagnosing the pedophile however it must be noted that they do not influence the judicial systems response to any offense that includes the acting out of sexual urges or fantasies regardless of the age or gender of the perpetrator or the victim. It is also important to note that the criterion for the diagnosis of a pedophile does not include the gender of the individual diagnosed, despite the fact that males make up the largest percentage of pedophiles. The specification of individuals diagnosed as a pedophile on elements of attraction and exclusivity is significant because pedophilia actually takes different forms and is generally categorized as either heterosexual pedophilia, where the pedophile is attracted to a child of the opposite sex or as homosexual pedophilia, where the pedophile is attracted to a child of the same sex. Although homosexual pedophilia that involves a male adult’s attraction to the male child is often referred to ephebophilia and is used most commonly to refer to cases of pedophilia in the Catholic priesthood, it will be referred to as pedophilia for the remainder of this examination.
While society clearly has an aversion to sexual offenses and to pedophilia in particular, society often perpetuates the misconception that the term pedophile can be used interchangeably with the terms child molester, sex offender, perpetrator, abuser, rapist, victimizer as well as other broad terms often associated with sexual offenses. The use of these terms interchangeably with the term pedophile can create confusion. Pedophilia is much more distinct than these terms because it involves sexual interaction with children only in response to recurrent, intense sexual urges and/or fantasies involving sexual contact with children. On the other hand, other sexual or violent offenders generally target children for other reasons. Even more, many pedophiles never act on their sexual urges or fantasies of sexual activity with children and therefore cannot be labeled as child molesters or any of these other labels.