Self-reported sexual interest in children

In this new study, 8,718 German men were asked to report any sexual fantasies or behaviors involving children in an online survey. The major findings are:

  • 4.1% reported sexual fantasies involving prepubescent children, 1.5% reported sexual contact with prepubescent children, and 2.4% reported child pornography use. Of the fantasists, 68.4% fantasized about girls, 13.1% about boys, and 18.4% about both. (When weighting the sample by age and education to be more representative of the German population, child fantasy rates increase to 4.4% and child contact rates decrease to 1.4%.) 0.1% reported more fantasies about children than adults (i.e., pedophilia).
  • Self-reported sexual behavior with children was correlated with self-reported fantasies. 53.5% of the people who reported sexual contact with children (without child pornography) also reported sexual fantasies about children. The vast majority of these, however, still reported a preference for adults.
  • Only 24% of people who reported sexual fantasies about children also reported sexual contact with children. (This number is not mentioned in the study, but can be easily calculated using the data in Table 1: (38+49)/358.)
  • 12.3% of all subjects who reported sexual interest in children indicated they needed help. Of those who had not committed a crime, only 2.7% said they needed help. The authors conclude that “our findings show that a certain amount of pedophilic interest can be found among community males and is not perceived as distressing by the majority of men, especially if they had not committed sexual crimes against children”.

Limitations

There are several limitations to this study, in my opinion:

  • Given the extreme stigma and legal climate, it’s unrealistic to expect most people with sexual fantasies about children to risk everything by admitting it when they stand to gain nothing. Even the majority of people convicted for child pornography use deny having any sexual interest in children (Seto, 2010, Explanations Given by Child Pornography Offenders for Their Crimes). Phallometry is a more objective and reliable measure of sexual interest. There are currently seven studies using phallometry on men in the general population, with rates of preferential arousal to children ranging from 14.3% to 29.4%.
  • After completing the survey, participants were given the option to revoke permission to use their data for the research. 4.7% did so. Additionally, 11.3% dropped out before answering the child sex questions. These participants were not included in the final sample. It seems likely that people who disclosed fantasies about children would be more concerned over the use of their answers, and more likely to revoke permission (or not answer at all).

Future studies announced

The references for this paper reveal that two other studies will soon be published based on the same survey data. The studies are titled:

  • “Risk factors for sexual offending in men working with children – A community based survey.”
  • “Are sex drive and hypersexuality associated with pedophilic interest and child sexual abuse in a male community sample?”

Other news

A brief editorial commentary on the previously reported neurology study, distinguishing non-offending and molester pedophiles, is to be published in the The Journal of Sexual Medicine. The commentary praises the study as “ground-breaking.” There’s no new insight here, but it’s an unusual honor.

Agustín Malón has published an analysis of ethical arguments related to adult-child sex in The Archives of Sexual Behavior: “Adult–Child Sex and the Limits of Liberal Sexual Morality“.

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4 thoughts on “Self-reported sexual interest in children

  1. There’s a quite a bit of real world evidence that men generally find girls about 14 the most attractive, which is actually exactly what biology predicts.

    Using modern day foraging societies as a guide, the best estimate that girls in ancestral times would have started reproducing is the mid to late teens or about 17. In order for a man to monopolise a girl’s reproductive lifespan and get as many offspring from her as possible he would have had to acquire her before this age when the whole of her reproductive lifespan still lies ahead of her.

    A man could aim for girls who are really young like 5, but these wouldn’t be the best to go for since he would have to wait many years before he could start getting offspring from them. It would be better to aim for girls that are just prior the beginning of their reproductive lifespan who would be capable of producing offspring soon. Taking 17 as the typical age of first pregnancy this would generally mean girls about 12, 14, 16 kind of age.

    Here’s some data that supports this prediction: http://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/2nh1nb/science_ama_series_we_are_alan_sanders_michael/cmds0hy

    Aiming for girls a bit younger than that, say 7-11, would have been a sub-optimal but still viable reproductive strategy, and aiming for girls much younger, 6 and under, would have probably been maladaptive (assuming older females are available) since they are too far away from the beginning of their reproductive years.

    So, I’m going to stick my neck out a bit and guess that most men actually have a significant degree of sexual attraction to girls down the age of about 7, though most men would never admit it under today’s climate. If men’s attraction peaks of girls about 14 it must obviously begin years before that and I think about 7 is a good estimate.

    Helen of Troy and Snow White were both judged to have become the most attractive in the land at the age of 7. After conquering a town, Mongol warriors would round up all the girls over the age of 7 and rape them. Girls were selected for the Inca emperor’s harem at about 7 and it was probably the same for many other harems throughout history. The age of consent in the states of America used to be about 10 and in one of them it was set at 7 which suggests that the men in power had some attraction to girls that age.

    And I’m not ashamed to say I’ve popped a few boners at pics of child models that young I’ve seen on sites like 4chan, though I prefer girls about 14.

    These are the kind of pictures I’m talking about (don’t worry, they both legal and nonnude):

    http://a.pomf.se/byhkxv.jpg
    http:// [mod edit – This is clearly legal, but I want to be excessively cautious to respect WordPress’s TOS]

    Models like this are hugely popular on imageboards which are mostly populated by men in their 20’s (the adolescent boys on these sites seem to like MILFS more). A model’s popularity generally peaks about 12-14 and there isn’t much interest in models under 7, just as biology predicts.

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    • In the book Sperm Wars the evolutionary biologist Robin Baker also theorises that normal men have some attraction to girls down the age of about 7 as girls have been known to conceive that young:

      “Authenticated records show that women have conceived at all ages between seven and fifty-seven, with unconfirmed reports of women conceiving up to the age of seventy. Reproductively, therefore, a predisposition to find any woman between these ages to be sexually attractive is not totally futile.”

      I personally think this explanation is wrong because the male attraction to young females is more to do with their future fertility than their current fertility. The chances of a girl conceiving at 7 are probably less than one-in-a-million which would hardly make it worthwhile to pursue them for that purpose. It does however make sense to pursue girls that young for the purpose of keeping them as wives that will produce offspring in the future.

      Although his explanation may be wrong it’s curious that he also chose the age of 7 as the lower bound for the range of male sexual attraction. I think he may have settled on the age of 7 first out of intuition and then groped for a scientific explanation for it.

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