Little research has attempted to determine the prevalence of sexual interest in prepubescent children among adult men. The studies that do exist have tended to involve small, non-representative samples, and they have not always distinguished between interest in prepubescent and postpubescent children. A new study in press at The Journal of Sex Research addresses some of these limitations and offers some insight into just how common this interest might be.
In this study, a German market research panel was used in order to recruit a large and diverse sample of men. In total, the sample consisted of 8,718 German men aged 18-89. Although the sample was diverse, it was not representative of the German male population. Older men (> age 65) were underrepresented, as were men of lower education levels; however, it is important to note that neither age nor education were correlated with sexual interest in children.
Participants completed a survey assessing their sexual interest in prepubescent children, including sexual fantasies, behaviors, and usage of child pornography. It should be noted that participants were informed about the nature of the study before agreeing to participate.
Results revealed that a total of 5.5% of men responded to the survey in a way that indicated at least some pedophilic inclination (i.e., fantasy, behavior, and/or porn use involving prepubescent children). Looking at specific survey responses, 4.1% reported sexual fantasies of prepubescent children (68.4% of whom said their fantasies were only about girls, compared to 13.1% who said their fantasies were only about boys; the remainder fantasized about both girls and boys), 1.7% reported exclusive usage of child pornography, 0.8% reported sexual contact with a prepubescent child, and 0.7% reported both exclusive use of child porn and sexual contact with prepubescent children.
Perhaps not surprisingly, sexual fantasies about prepubescent children were associated with a greater likelihood of having sexual contact with a prepubescent child; however not all men who reported such fantasies reported such behaviors.
It is also worth noting that of the 5.5% of men who reported some degree of pedophilic interest, 12.3% reported that they had thought about seeking help for this interest before. However, this number increased to 50% among those who reported that they preferred children to adults and among those who reported interest in both male and female children. Thus, it would seem that certain types or degrees of pedophilic interest are linked to greater feelings of personal distress than others.
Of course, the results of this research only speak to German men, and despite efforts to recruit a large and representative sample, this study was still subject to some selection biases. Beyond the age and education limitations noted above, it is worth noting that only about half of those who received an invitation to the survey responded, and not everyone who responded completed the entire survey. In addition, about 5% of men who completed the survey opted out of having their data included in the final report (all participants were given this option at the end of the study). Due to these limitations, we cannot definitively say whether the numbers in this research are under- or over-estimates of prevalence.
That said, these results provide at least some limited insight into how common pedophilic interest may be in a relatively large and diverse sample of adult men.
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To learn more about this research, see: Dombert, B. et al. (in press). How common is males’ self-reported sexual interest in prepubescent children? The Journal of Sex Research.
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