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ATTRACTION TO YOUNGER GUYS - What psychology says
Some adolescent and adult males are primarily attracted to boys who have not yet entered puberty, while others are mainly attracted to pubescent boys.1 Some are primarily or exclusively attracted to younger males, while others are also attracted to younger females, same-age females, and/or same-age males.2 According to researchers, their feelings for younger guys frequently also include feelings of affection and feeling in love.3

Men and youth attracted to younger guys may or may not act on their sexual feelings. There is evidence that many abstain from sex with younger guys, but it is unknown how many do so. According to some research, many interact with boys in a variety of non-sexual ways and sometimes develop close relationships with them.4

Studies have failed to find any evidence of elevated levels of aggression among these men and youth.4 Even those who do engage in sexual activity with boys often do so with the boy’s willingness, and sometimes even at his initiative. According to some researchers, the interaction frequently resembles a "love affair" in that the older male has affectionate feelings for the younger one, and will stop if he resists.5,6 Studies show that the interaction resembles sex play more than sexual assault. The most frequent activities are cuddling, caressing, fondling, and masturbation. These facts do not necessarily make the sexual activity ethically acceptable, but do point out that it is not violent. Research shows that violence, force, and aggression are rare.4,7,8

However, most of society agrees that children and younger adolescents cannot meaningfully consent to sex with older ones or adults, so such activity is seen as inherently coercive and exploitive. Therefore, it is considered immoral and is illegal and seriously punishable.

No studies have been conducted to determine whether attraction to younger guys is more obsessive or addictive than attraction to peers. The few researchers who have studied such feelings among men say that they resemble straight men’s feelings toward women.2,3 On the other hand, providers of sex offender treatment work under the assumption that attraction to younger people can be treated by relapse prevention methods adopted from the field of addiction recovery.7

Those researchers who have examined the thoughts and feelings of men attracted to boys report that they find both the personalities and the physical traits of boys attractive. These researchers have found that many of these men desired to give love and affection to the boys, and indicated that a sense of emotional contact was as important as, or more important than, sexual activity. Some men believed that their sexual feelings were a natural, innate part of their constitution.3

It is unknown how many males are mainly attracted to younger males. According to one study of sexual arousal, most men are sexually attracted to underage youth, but less intensely than they are attracted to adults.9 Estimates of the number of men who are preferentially attracted to underage boys come from criminological studies, and range from 0.1% to 0.5%.8 This puts the number of such men in the U.S. roughly between 100,000 and 500,000. However, these studies are highly unreliable since no one knows how many never act on their feelings, or if they do, how many are never reported.4

Based on a theory that attraction to underage males has a hormonal basis, a University of New Mexico researcher predicts that 7% to 10% of men are preferentially attracted to underage boys, but believes that many of them can suppress their feelings in favor of those toward adults.1 If correct, this would mean that there are about 7 to 10 million such men in the U.S.

It is unknown what causes feelings of attraction for younger people; in fact, the development of heterosexual and homosexual attraction to peers is not understood.7 A large number of theories involving psychoanalysis, hormonal influences, genetics, evolutionary processes, negative socialization, poor parental relationships, and childhood sexual experiences have been proposed, but most have not been tested scientifically, and none are supported by reliable evidence.10

In particular, there is no evidence to support the common belief that sexual attraction to children or adolescents in adulthood is related to childhood sexual abuse,11 or to narcissism, psychosexual immaturity, low intelligence, aversion to adults, psychopathology, neurosis, or any particular disorder or personality profile.4

The sexual attraction to prepubescent children is believed to first appear during adolescence. One researcher has found evidence that it may be predetermined before puberty.12 Criminological literature shows that some juvenile sex offenders are preferentially attracted to prepubescent children.13 There is no literature on the appearance of sexual attraction to pubescent boys, and there are no non-criminological studies of the development of attraction to younger boys among youth.

The most common type of treatment available is that intended for sex-offenders and is provided by clinics and university departments that work in concert with the criminal justice system. The singular purpose of sex-offender treatment is to prevent re-offending. To that end, it attempts to eliminate boys' and men's sexual attraction to younger boys through behavioral methods originally developed to eliminate homosexuality—aversion therapy, covert sensitization, masturbatory satiation, and related techniques which attempt to associate feelings for boys with boredom, revulsion, fear, or physical pain.7,13,14,15,16

In addition, cognitive and relapse prevention methods are used to change what is believed to be incorrect thinking, eliminate denial and minimization, promote victim empathy, develop social skills, teach control of sexual and aggressive urges, promote avoidance of tempting situations, and teach concepts about sexuality. Treatment may also involve the use of sex-drive reducing drugs.7,13,15

There have been many studies of the effectiveness of behavior conditioning methods (aversion therapy, etc.) to change sexual feelings. Almost all have suffered from serious methodological shortcomings, and have led to inconsistent results. The few well-constructed studies have found little evidence that feelings of sexual attraction can be changed in this way.7,14,15,16

There are a small number of therapists and counselors, primarily in the Netherlands, who describe approaches which do not assume that feelings of attraction to boys are necessarily pathological. They instead address issues of self-understanding, the development of a positive self-concept, the maintenance of healthy relationships, and the discovery of ways of coping with one’s sexuality and society’s reaction to it.17,18

Since all research has been in the context of criminology, no information is available about the characteristics or behavior of children or adolescents in the general population who are attracted to younger boys, or of effective ways to help them.19

Very little is actually known about men or adolescent boys' attraction to younger boys because most research is based on convicted offenders who do not represent the general population of boys and men attracted to younger boys. Cultural, political, and legal obstacles prevent the study of those who have not been convicted of a crime.4 Furthermore, several researchers have written that the development of a knowledge base is hampered by narrow conceptual perspectives, poor methodology, imprecise or inconsistent definitions, and biased methodology based on moral beliefs rather than scientific principles.1,10,20,21,22
1Feierman, J., Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990,
pp. 1-68.
2Wilson, G. & Cox, D., The Child-Lovers, London: Peter Owen Publishers, 1983.
3Li, C.K., "Some Case Studies of Adult Sexual Experiences with Children," Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 20, nos. 1-2, 1990, pp. 129-144.
4Okami, P. & Goldberg, A., "Personality Correlates of Pedophilia: Are They Reliable Indicators?", Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 29, No. 3, 1992, pp. 297-328.
5Ames, A. & Houston, D.A., "Legal, social, and biological definitions of pedophilia," Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 19, 1990, pp. 333-342.
6West, D.J. & Woodhouse, T.P., "Sexual encounters between boys and adults," in Li, C.K., West, D.J., & Woodhouse, T.P., Children’s sexual encounters with adults, London: Duckworth, pp. 3-137, 1990.
7Hall, G.C.N., Theory-based assessment, treatment, and prevention of sexual aggression, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
8West, D.J., "Boys and Sexual Abuse: An English Opinion," Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 27, no. 6, 1998, pp. 539-559.
9Freund, K., "Assessment of pedophilia," in Cook, M. & Howells, K. (eds.), Adult sexual interest in children, London: Academic Press, 1981, pp. 139-179.
10Li, C.K., "Adult sexual experiences with children," in Li, C.K., West, D.J., & Woodhouse, T.P., Children’s sexual encounters with adults, London: Duckworth, 1990a, pp. 139-316.
11Garland, R.J. & Dougher, M.J., "The abused/abuser hypothesis of child sexual abuse: A critical review of theory and research," in Feierman, J. (ed.), Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990, pp. 488-509.
12Freund, K. & Kuban, M., "Toward a testable developmental model of pedophilia: The development of erotic age preference," Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 17, 1993, pp. 315-324.
13American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, "Practice Parameters for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents Who Are Sexually Abusive of Others," Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, vol. 38, no. 12 Suppl, 1999, pp. 55S-76S.
14Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association, "Aversion therapy," Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 258, no. 18 (November 13), 1987, pp. 2562-2565.
15Langevin, R., Sexual strands: Understanding and treating sexual anomalies in men, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1983.
16McConaghy, N., "Unresolved issues in scientific sexology," Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 28, no. 4, 1999, pp. 285-318.
17Gieles, F.E.J., "Helping people with pedophilic feelings," Lecture at the World Congress of Sexology, Paris, June 2001.
18Van Zessen, G., "A Model for Group Counseling with Male Pedophiles," Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 20, nos. 1-2, 1990, pp. 189-198.
19Feierman, J., Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990b, pp. 552-565.
20Haugaard, J.J., "The challenge of defining child sexual abuse," American Psychologist, vol. 55, no. 9, 2000, pp. 1036-1039.
21Kilpatrick, A., "Childhood Sexual Experiences: Problems and Issues in Studying Long-Range Effects," Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 23, No. 2, 1987, pp.173-196.
22Okami, P., "Sociopolitical Biases in the Contemporary Scientific Literature on Adult Human Sexual Behavior with Children and Adolescents," in Feierman, J. (ed.), Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990, pp. 91-121.

Adapted from MHAMic, a site containing extensive scientific information on sexual attraction to boys.

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