What is pedophilia?

Pedophilia is a sexual disorder. If you have this disorder, you are sexually excited by children.

Most pedophiles start having fantasies long before they act on them. This is the best time to seek treatment. Even with treatment, this disorder is usually lifelong. However, both the fantasies and the behaviors often lessen with ongoing treatment and as you get older.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of this disorder is not known. Possible causes include:

  • The brain makes chemicals that affect thoughts, emotions, and actions. Without the right balance of these chemicals, there may be problems with the way you think, feel, or act. People with this disorder may have too little or too much of some of these chemicals.
  • Stress plays a part. You may be at higher risk due to problems such as abuse, financial stresses, or the death of loved ones.
  • Problems in your family when you were growing up may increase your risk. For example, child abuse, lots of conflict in the family, or a family history of mental illness.

What are the symptoms?

If you have this disorder, you may pretend that you are not doing anything wrong. You may tell yourself that you are “teaching” the child or that the child “wants to” have sex. Most people with pedophilia are attracted to one gender and age group.

Symptoms may include:

  • Being sexually attracted to children
  • Having sexual fantasies or urges towards children, usually age 13 years or younger. This happens over and over.
  • Looking at naked children or child pornography, exposing yourself or masturbating in front of a child, or forcing a child to have sex
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, ashamed, or guilty, but not being able to stop

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your relationships, family history of any medical and mental problems, and any substance abuse. He will also ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may be referred to a mental health therapist for treatment.

To be diagnosed with this disorder, you must be at least 16 years old, and at least 5 years older than the child. This disorder can be diagnosed if your urges and fantasies cause personal, social, family, work, or legal problems, even if there has been no actual sexual contact with a child.

How is it treated?

Many people with this disorder do not get help until they are arrested and the court orders treatment. If you have pedophilia, get help before it becomes an even bigger problem.

Both therapy and medicines may be used to treat this disorder. Several types of therapy may help.

  • Behavior therapy helps you recognize that the way you act affects others. This can help you change problem behaviors.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a way to help you identify and change views you have of yourself, the world, and the future. CBT can make you aware of unhealthy ways of thinking. It can also help you learn new ways to think and act.
  • Conditioning therapy helps you learn to link thoughts and actions related to your sexual disorder with something negative, such as a foul odor or an image of getting caught. Over time, the negative thoughts help you to not act on your sexual thoughts.

Medicines may include hormones or medicines to correct the balance of chemicals in your brain. Both kinds of medicine help reduce sexual urges.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Get support. Consider joining a support group in your area.
  • Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, or take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, try to quit. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
  • Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all of the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take. Take all medicines as directed by your provider or therapist. It is very important to take your medicine even when you are feeling and thinking well. Without the medicine, your symptoms may not improve or may get worse. Talk to your provider if you have problems taking your medicine or if the medicines don’t seem to be working.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.

Get emergency care if you or a loved one has serious thoughts of suicide or harming others.

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-08-01
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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