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"But attraction to younger adolescents or children isn't the same as homosexuality. It's an illness that needs to be cured."

Regardless of whether that's true or not, the fact is that youth attracted to younger people are subject to the same stresses on their mental health faced by gay youth who are attracted to peers. In fact, in their case, these stresses are much worse, and information and help is almost non-existent.

In 1994, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services convened a conference on sexual minority youth.1  Although the conference did not address youth attracted to those younger than themselves, it did address one specific group of youth with a disorder, as well as youth with mental illness.

Transgendered youth are classified by the American Psychiatric Association as suffering from "gender identity disorder." The conference report stated that they often suffer from high rates of substance abuse, attempted suicide, and psychiatric problems. It concluded that access to support, nonjudgmental help, and positive role models were key to helping transgendered youth achieve identity resolution, self-acceptance, and productive, satisfying lives. The report stated that it is harmful to treat them as "disordered individuals," and that they should be offered support and access to resources to help them resolve conflicts surrounding their identity and determine whether treatment is appropriate.

Furthermore, when addressing the situation of mentally ill sexual minority youth, the report said, "Lesbian and gay adolescents with severe mental illness lack the level of support available in many communities for lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. The dual stigma of homosexuality and mental illness further isolates and marginalizes them, while lack of accurate information and negative internalized stereotypes make it increasingly difficult to develop a more positive identity and to understand their risks." 2

In addition, the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) made the following statement in 1993:

The APA and NASP shall take a leadership role in promoting societal and familial attitudes and behaviors that affirm the dignity and rights, within educational environments, of all lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths, including those with physical or mental disabilities and from all ethnic/racial backgrounds and classes. The APA and NASP support providing a safe and secure educational atmosphere in which all youths, including lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths, may obtain an education free from discrimination, harassment, violence, and abuse, and which promotes an understanding and acceptance of self.3
Even more notably, there are several researchers who question the designation of attraction to younger adolescents or children as an illness. Attraction to those in puberty, called "ephebophilia," is not even listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). And according to internationally known sexuality researcher Richard Green, attraction to prepubescent children, or "pedophilia," should be removed from DSM because it does not meet the APA's criteria for a mental disorder, it is surprisingly common among the general population, and it is not connected to psychopathology or certain personality features.4


1Caitlin Ryan & Donna Futterman, Lesbian and Gay Youth: Care & Counseling, New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
2Ryan & Futterman, p. 53.
3Ryan & Futterman, p. 97.
4Richard Green, "Is pedophilia a mental disorder?", Archives of sexual behavior, December, 2002.

Some youth who are attracted to younger people voluntarily try to steer their feelings away from younger people and toward those who are their own age. Sometimes they voluntarily do this with the assistance of compassionate therapy or counseling. We encourage them to do this if they feel it is helpful.

However, we do not pressure them to make this choice, for the following reason. At present, we have no idea how feelings of sexual attraction develop in straight people, let alone those who are gay, bisexual, or attracted to younger people. There are many speculated theories, but none are backed up by any solid evidence.

Although homosexuality is not the same thing as attraction to younger people, researchers in the field admit that current theories that have attempted to explain and treat these two phenomena are identical. Few have been tested scientifically, and none are supported by scientific evidence.1,2,3,4 In particular, there is no evidence that accepting certain kinds of sexual feelings causes them to spontaneously emerge in people without them, to grow stronger in people who already have them, or to prevent other feelings from emerging.

Thus, all efforts to direct or change feelings of sexual attraction are experimental. There is as yet no scientific evidence that any particular method is generally effective and safe. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that psychotherapy or counseling may be successful with certain people. However, anecdotal evidence also suggests that psychotherapy intended to change sexual feelings of homosexuals is sometimes ineffective and harmful.

Unfortunately, most efforts to change sexual feelings for younger people are not voluntary and are not carried out in a compassionate therapeutic context. Current methods (aversion therapy, etc.) and the coercive conditions under which they are imposed are virtually identical to those used 40 years ago with all homosexuals. They are usually based on the use of shame and humiliation, and are physically and/or emotionally painful. (See treatment for more information.)

It is now widely recognized by the mental health profession that this approach is ineffective, dangerous, and unethical when used with homosexuals. The report of the 1994 HHS conference on sexual minority youth states:

…lesbian, gay, and transgendered youth are at risk for…inappropriate treatment, and involuntary institutionalization, which includes use of behavioral conditioning and aversive treatment aimed at changing their sexual orientation and enforcing socially-sanctioned behavioral changes….use of involuntary aversive treatment is a clear violation of ethical standards. In addition, treatment aimed at enforcing strict gender codes which are contrary to one's core identity will likely result in harmful, potentially long-term iatrogenic disorders…follow-up mental health services are generally warranted to 'undo' psychological damage caused by such ill-advised attempts.5

1Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association, "Aversion therapy," Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 258, no. 18, 1987, pp. 2562-2565.

2Jay Feierman, Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990, pp. 1-68.

3Ron Langevin, Sexual strands: Understanding and treating sexual anomalies in men, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1983.

4Nathaniel McConaghy, "Unresolved issues in scientific sexology," Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 28, no. 4, 1999, pp. 285-318.

5Caitlin Ryan & Donna Futterman, Lesbian and Gay Youth: Care & Counseling, New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, pp. 63, 92-93.

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