So you’ve been called a pedophile…

A humanoid figure walks towards a bright light at the end of what appears to be a dark train tunnel.

If you are concerned that you might be a pedophile, the good news is that it’s less likely than you think. Unfortunately, the term ‘pedophile’ is often misused, especially in the media, where it is used as an attention grabber and a scare tactic. 

There is confusion over the term itself but it does not mean you are a pedophile if, for example, you experience pleasurable fantasies or memories about childhood experiences, you have a sexual interest in teenagers if you read or write fiction about the topic, or there is an age-gap relationship with your 18+ partner.

It’s important to recognize that even if you are a pedophile, that does not mean you are doomed to harm anyone. It just means you have an atypical sexual attraction…An attraction only. It does not mean you will go on to sexually offend, and it does not mean you are a monster.

People with pedophilia have either an atypical sexual interest. Pedophilia is specific – it’s an ongoing attraction to pre-pubescent children aged 13 or younger. (Hebephilia is an attraction to pubescent children/early adolescents, and ephebophilia is an attraction to late adolescents). People who don’t act on sexual attraction to minors or who don’t experience significant distress because of their attraction are generally considered to have a pedophilic sexual preference. People who feel distressed because of their attraction may be diagnosed with a pedophilic disorder.

It is thought among top researchers that pedophilia shares some characteristics with sexual orientation. People generally find out that they have a sexual interest in minors when they are going through puberty. The attraction is stable throughout life, and there does not seem to be any therapy that can change the attraction.

The media and society, in general, often conflate the term pedophile and ‘child molester .’ For example, journalists sometimes refer to individuals as ‘convicted pedophiles.’ This terminology is wrong and confusing. One cannot be convicted of being a pedophile; pedophilia is an attraction, not an act, and it is not illegal. People are convicted of criminal acts of violence against children and child sexual abuse. 

The stigma associated with the word pedophile sensationalizes reporting and creates confusion which makes it harder to protect children. Most convicted child sex offenders are not pedophiles. Many perpetrators are situational and/or opportunistic offenders who are not attracted to children but harm them anyway because they have the opportunity or enjoy the feeling of power. Focusing on pedophiles can make it more challenging to identify these perpetrators. 

Another myth is that pedophiles, and other minor-attracted people (MAPs) to use the less stigmatized term, have sexual ‘urges’ that are uncontrollable.  It is important to note that MAPs don’t have any more urges than the average person because of their attraction. The majority of people have willpower and morals. MAPs do as well.

If you do realize you are minor-attracted, and your thoughts are getting disturbing, there is confidential and sympathetic help available. The MAP Support Club ( is totally anonymous and supported by Prostasia. You will find many people like you there to talk with you and help. There are also weekly support sessions hosted by professionals that you can access.

If you realize that you are not minor-attracted, but you are still being called a pedophile or have intrusive thoughts about being or becoming one, then you can also obtain help with that. Bullying and harassment are never okay, especially when being called a pedophile. Anxiety and depression can result from bullying, in which case a mental health professional can assist you in dealing with those problems. If worrying about becoming a pedophile persists, even when you know you are not attracted to minors, you may be experiencing Pedophilia Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (POCD). This is not pedophilia, but a disorder where you experience intrusive thoughts about becoming one that triggers anxiety and fear. A qualified therapist can help you sort through this issue.

So, if you are a pedophile, you are not alone – it is estimated that 3-5% of the population are minor attracted (, and most of them just go about their daily lives living with their attraction. All of us may have one or more MAPs in our lives – friends, partners, family, and acquaintances – and just don’t know it.

If you or someone you know struggles with attractions to minors, you can find support and resources here.

Notable Replies

  1. I found an article similar to this one: Pedophile OCD (POCD): Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Coping

    From the article (this section explains the difference between POCD and pedophilia):

    The obsessions of obsessive-compulsive disorder are ego-dystonic or opposite to a person’s desires, values, and self-concept. The person with POCD is deeply disturbed by their obsessions and does not enjoy them. They want more than anything to escape the thoughts because of how terrorizing they are and go to great lengths to do so by performing compulsions.

    A pedophile experiences sexual thoughts, urges, attraction, and fantasies that are ego-syntonic, or align with a person’s self-concept, feelings, and desires. The sexual thoughts and feelings about children are pleasurable to the pedophile.

  2. 3-5%. I’ve seen this number before, but most often in regards to the adult male population. I don’t know if this number refers to only a certain area or the entire globe. This article simply says “3-5% of the population”. Is this referring to the total global population, men and women?

  3. The linked PDF says that it’s the “general population”. Here’s what it says (on page 392):

    The prevalence of pedophilia in the general population is unknown because large-scale epidemiological surveys have not yet been conducted. Much smaller surveys of convenience samples suggest that the upper limit for the prevalence of pedophilia is around 5%, as almost all of these surveys have shown that 3% to 9% of male respondents acknowledge sexual fantasies or sexual contact involving pre-pubescent children (e.g., Briere & Runtz 1989, Fromuth et al. 1991, Templeman & Stinnett 1991). Only some of these respondents might meet the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia, however, as these surveys have not asked questions regarding the intensity or persistence of sexual fantasies or behavior.

  4. Thank you, and apologies for my own laziness in not reading the paper myself.

    If we highball this and say 5% of the total human population (8 billion) are pedophiles, then that’s 400,000,000 million pedophiles in the world! That’s 100 million people greater than the entire US population! That’s one-in-how many people exactly!?

    If every single one of these people was a child molester, we’d have so much more molestation in the world than we currently do. And for all those folks suggesting we just kill all pedos… well, 400,000,000 people far exceeds any genocide in history. Simply unfeasible (not to mention morally bankrupt).

  5. In truth, pedophilia is a medical condition and you must meet several criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition (DSM-5) to be diagnosed as a pedophile […].

    There’s a difference between pedophilia and Pedophilic Disorder. The DSM-5 has an entry with diagnostic criteria for Pedophilic Disorder, but not for pedophilia. Pedophilia isn’t a diagnosis. The entry itself draws this distinction.

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