Is Paedophilia A Mental Disorder

Is Paedophilia A Mental Disorder?

The condition paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder and it is characterised by intensive sexual arousal as well as changes in behaviour which is related with their high urge to engage in a sexual activity with children. This disorder has been mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as paraphilia as a recurrent and strong sexual urge towards prepubescent children. Studies conducted have shown that these individuals have many abnormalities in their frontal lobe as well as defective cognitive functioning (Schiffer et al, 2008). Paedophiles find it difficult to disguise their feelings and tend to openly show sexual attraction for kids. How much of the general population presents with this condition is not known, but it is estimated to be less than 5% in men (Gray, et al, 2005). The data of its prevalence among females is less known but cases have been reported of females having strong sexual attraction towards children.

Structural Changes in the Brain

When one studies the brain compartmentation of paedophiles, it is observed that sufferers of this condition have an impaired prefrontal cortex as well as the hippocampus and amygdala. Due to these changes it induces a behavioural change in the individual. Apart from this, the paedophiles also show an aggressive and anti-social behaviour. This is because their frontal lobe is less active due to a frontal temporal dysfunction promoting an urge to involve in sexual activity with children. This has led to an inability to think far and created a poor inhibition of thoughts towards sexual behaviour. As paedophiles have compulsive sexual orientation, it is linked to an excessive sexual cognitive behaviour which is the main cause for child abuse (Kuzma, & Black, 2008). Research has shown that, in comparison to normal men, paedophiles have a higher level of testosterone. As the brain function of paedophiles do not happen properly, it causes the release of GnRH which is responsible for the high secretion of testosterone increasing sexual urge (Jordan, et al, 2011).

Diagnosis by Doctors

This psychiatric disorder is diagnosed by doctors based on a range of criteria, for instance if individuals have a fascination towards children 13 years and under. These fantasies can be sexual urges or inappropriate behaviour like touching, undressing and gazing at children. Doctors identify such individuals have a great distress and not able to function well. Generally they are individuals above 16 years of age attracted to a child who is less than 5 years junior. Doctors class such individuals as paedophiles if they have experienced this condition for over 6 months. Paedophiles are mainly men and they can get attracted to either sex of children (Jahnke, et al, 2015).

Research by Dr. Kaergel

Scientific studies have been performed on the behavioural dysfunction of the brain of paedophiles. Sexual arousal and such behaviour is a physiological and psychological behaviour (Green,2002). A research conducted by the University of Duisburgessen by Dr. Christian Kaergel where he studied the brains of 40 child abusers and our of this 37 being paedophiles, but not sexually assaulted children together with 40 controls of healthy normal individuals. An MRI scan was used to study these individuals. The difference between these two groups were evident through the activation patterns in the different regions of the brain, which were responsible for controlling the urge for child abuse. The study found that some individuals though they had a diagnosis of paedophilia did not commit child abuse while others who did not show a brain pattern of paedophilia committed sexual offenses against children (Kärgel, et al, 2017). Dr. Kaergel concluded that although neuro-profiling indicates paedophilia, it is seen that this condition is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to involve with sexual abuse against children. These researches saw areas of ‘inhibition related activation’ in two regions of the brain in the non-offending group in areas of the left posterior cingulate and left superior frontal cortex. The data available shows that heightened inhibition related recruitment in these areas together with a decrease in the amount of commission errors relates to a better inhibitory control in paedophiles who are able to control themselves from committing hands on sexual violation on children. It is believed that pedophilia can occur due to brain disorders, it leads to hyper-sexualism and disinhibition actions where people have a disposition towards a sexual desirability towards children. These neurological disorders were linked to damages in the amygdalae frontal lobe and non-motor basal ganglia (Mendez, et al, 2000).

How optics vary in paedophiles

When looking into the changes in behaviour and eye movement of paedophiles, it is observed that they have a low level of anxiety and fear for their behaviour and a disinhibition behaviour along with a poor control of their impulsive behaviour. This onset could be due to the paedophilic behaviour which could be due to a disturbance in the right anterior temporal amygdala and the right orbito frontal cortex. Eye movements too have been studied as attraction plays a significant role with sexual arousal. The eye movements are categorised as fixations and saccades. Fixation is a way of gaining attention and attracting someone where the eye doesn’t move and causes to gain attention, while saccades are voluntary movements in the eye . paedophiles due to a deteriorated mental health have more fixations than saccades due to which they attract children more and relates to sexual arousal Tost, et al, 2004).

Treatment Options for Paedophiles

The treatment of this condition is through psychotherapy and drugs. A better outcome is seen when individuals participate voluntarily for treatment and the persons receive social skills training and treatment of issues such as depression and drug abuse. When treatment is done only after a criminal offence and legal action is taken then it can be less effective. Antihormonal therapy is started when psychotherapy alone does not show an improvement. The drugs of choice are GnRH antagonists and antiandrogens. The antiandrogens include cyproterone acetate and medroxyprogesterone. These drugs help to reduce the sexual urge towards children (Stoléru, 2008).

When therapies are done, it helps the sex offenders to change themselves. The goal of these psychotherapies are to make the paedophiles to admit their sexual preferences with children and helping them understand that children are victims rather than their partners. Paedophilia is a social issue which needs to be addressed. Paedophiles should be identified early and treated so that the damage to society can be minimised.


Gray, N. S., Brown, A. S., MacCulloch, M. J., Smith, J., & Snowden, R. J. (2005). An implicit test of the associations between children and sex in pedophiles. Journal of Abnormal Psychology114(2), 304.

Green, R. (2002). Is pedophilia a mental disorder?. Archives of sexual behavior31(6), 467-471.

Mendez, M. F., Chow, T., Ringman, J., Twitchell, G., & Hinkin, C. H. (2000). Pedophilia and temporal lobe disturbances. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences12(1), 71-76.

Jahnke, S., Philipp, K., & Hoyer, J. (2015). Stigmatizing attitudes towards people with pedophilia and their malleability among psychotherapists in training. Child abuse & neglect40, 93-102.

Jordan, K., Fromberger, P., Stolpmann, G., & Müller, J. L. (2011). The role of testosterone in sexuality and paraphilia—A neurobiological approach. Part II: Testosterone and paraphilia. The journal of sexual medicine8(11), 3008-3029.

Kärgel, C., Massau, C., Weiß, S., Walter, M., Borchardt, V., Krueger, T. H., … & Gerwinn, H. (2017). Evidence for superior neurobiological and behavioral inhibitory control abilities in non‐offending as compared to offending pedophiles. Human brain mapping38(2), 1092-1104.

Kuzma, J. M., & Black, D. W. (2008). Epidemiology, prevalence, and natural history of compulsive sexual behavior. Psychiatric Clinics of North America31(4), 603-611.

Schiffer, B., Krueger, T., Paul, T., de Greiff, A., Forsting, M., Leygraf, N., … & Gizewski, E. (2008). Brain response to visual sexual stimuli in homosexual pedophiles. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience: JPN33(1), 23.

Stoléru, S. (2008). The brain, androgens, and pedophilia. In Hormones and Social Behaviour (pp. 163-175). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. Tost, H., Vollmert, C., Brassen, S., Schmitt, A., Dressing, H., & Braus, D. F. (2004). Pedophilia: neuropsychological evidence encouraging a brain network perspective. Medical Hypotheses63(3), 528-531.

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