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Age concern: A brief look at chronophilic behaviours

As someone who is academically interested in sexual paraphilias, it never ceases to amaze me how people working in the sexology field (myself included) love to categorize and sub-categorize every nuance of human sexual behaviour. One of the ways in which sexual behaviour has been categorized relates to the age of the person to which the person has a sexual paraphilia. Most of you reading this blog will probably be thinking that when it comes to age preference, the world is broadly split into the minority of individuals who are involved in paedophilia (i.e., individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from children) and those whose sexual preference is geared towards sex with adults. In fact, in researching this article I was surprised to learn that I am a teleiophile. Teleiophilia (and occasionally called ‘adultophilia’) refers to adult individuals whose primary sexual focus is other adult individuals. (As Dr. Anil Aggrawal reassuringly notes in his book, Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices teleiophilia is not a sexual paraphilia). Those individuals whose primary sexual preference is for elderly adults are said to be engaging in gerontophilia (and sometimes called graeophilia).

According to the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), paedophilia is described as a form of sexual paraphilia whereby individuals experience intense sexual urges towards children (aged under 16 years of age), and experiences recurrent sexual urges towards (and fantasizes about) children that the individual has acted upon and/or causes distress and interpersonal difficulty. Technically, many child abusers would not be defined as paedophiles according to the DSM criteria as the behaviour may not be causing the abusers any psychological problems themselves. However, in day-to-day language, most people would define any adult who engages in any form of sexual behaviour with a minor as paedophilia.

Apologies for what you are about to read because anyone reading it is likely to feel revulsion by what I am about to write. One of the most disturbing and horrific cases that I am aware of involved two children who were systematically abused by their grandfather and their grandfather’s friends. The grandfather had sexually abused his daughter throughout her childhood, and then began abusing his daughter’s children from an early age. After the grandfather died, a video was played at the reading of the will that the family thought contained the grandfather’s verbal reading of his last will and testament. What the video actually contained was a short film of the grandfather having sexual intercourse with his two-year old granddaughter and his four-year old grandson.

The reason I recounted this story is that this is an example of what is known as nepiophilia (or infantophilia) and refers to individuals that have a sexual preference for very young children (usually aged between birth and three years). In the upcoming DSM-V, the term paedohebrephilia refers to the expansion and reclassification of paedophilia into subgroups such as the distinctions between paedophiles that prefer pubescent or post-pubescent children. More specifically, hebephilia refers to those individuals who have a sexual preference for pubescent youths (i.e., typically adolescents aged around 11 to 14 years of age). However, some authors – such as Dr. Anil Aggrawal – claim that hebephilia is a preference for pubescent children between 11 and 14 years for females and 11-16 years for males.

Ephebophilia refers to those individuals sexual preference for post-pubescent youths (mid-to-late adolescents aged around 15 to 19 years of age). Other researchers in the sexual studies field (such as Kurt Freund) have used the term ‘adolescentophilia’ as referring to individuals who have a sexual preference of pubescent and/or adolescent youths. According to the Wikipedia entry on hebephilia:

“In 1914, physician Kurt Boas described hebephilia as ‘an alleged form of female fetishism’. Anthropologist and ethnopsychiatrist Paul K. Benedict uses the term to distinguish pedophiles from sex offenders whose victims were adolescents. Forensic psychologist Karen Franklin traced the history of use of the term in a 2010 article. She states that it is a variation of ephebophilia used by Magnus Hirschfield in 1906 to describe homosexual attraction to males between puberty and their early 20s, who considered the condition normal and nonpathological. Historically, criminal hebephilic acts where victims were ‘biologically ready for coitus’ (i.e. statutory rape) were considered distinct from other forms of criminal sexuality such as rape and pedophilia, with wide variations within and across nations regarding what age was acceptable for adult-adolescent sexual contacts. Bernard Glueck, Jr. conducted research on sex offenders at Sing Sing prison in the 1950s, using ‘hebephilia’ as one of several classifications of subjects according to offense…The prevalence of hebephilia within the general population is unknown”.

In relation to ephebophilia, the Wikipedia entry notes that:

“Because mid-to-late adolescents usually have physical characteristics near (or in some cases, identical) to that of full-grown adults, some level of sexual attraction to persons in the age group is common among adults. Ephebophilia is used only to describe the preference for mid-to-late adolescent sexual partners, not the mere presence of some level of sexual attraction. Generally, the preference is not regarded by psychologists as a pathology when it does not interfere with other major areas of one’s life, and is not listed by name as a mental disorder in the [DSM-IV] or as a paraphilia”.

This also raises questions such as ‘Are some kinds of paedophilic behaviour worse than others?’ For instance, is a 25-year old man that has consensual sex with a 15-year old girl engaging in a sexual behaviour that is as morally repugnant as a 50-yer old man who has non-consensual sex with an 8-year old girl? Such questions have come to the fore over the last year concerning the sexual behaviour of radio and television presenters Jimmy Savile and John Peel. As Dr. Michael Seto notes in a 2008 book chapter on paedophilia in Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment:

“An interesting theoretical question is whether sexual age preferences can be represented on a continuum, such that most adults are attracted to sexually mature persons, but some individuals are attracted to pubescent children, prepubescent children, or infants in varying degrees. These age preferences may instead represent different “taxa” (plural of “taxon” – i.e., natural group), and it is possible that each taxon involves a different etiological pathway. Thus the causes of pedophilia may differ from the causes of hebephilia, nepiophilia or gerontophilia. It is also plausible that there are multiple etiological pathways for atypical age preferences such as pedophilia, including the genetic transmission of predispositions, poor maternal health, fetal exposure to toxins or infections, and early head injuries”.

Encompassing all of these different types of age-related sexual paraphilias is the term chronophilia. This term was coined by Professor John Money in his 1986 book Lovemaps, and was defined as a form of sexual paraphilia in which individuals experience a sexual preference that is limited to individuals within particular age ranges. However, despite the fact the term was coined by one of the world’s best known sexologists, the term has arguably not been generally accepted, adopted and/or used by most people working in the field of abnormal sexual behaviours.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Blanchard, R. Blanchard, R., Lykins, A. D., Wherrett, D., Kuban, M.E., Cantor, J.M., Blak, T., Dickey, R., & Klassen, P. E. (2008). Paedophilia, hebephilia, and the DSM–V. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Kaul, A. & Duffy, S. (1991). Gerontophilia: A case report. Medicine, Science and the Law, 31, 110-114.

Seto, M.C. (2008). Pedophilia: Psychopathology and Theory. In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp. 164-182). New York: Guildford Press.

Money, J. (1984). Paraphilias: Phenomenology and classification. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 38, 164-78.

Money, J. (1986). Lovemaps: Clinical Concepts of Sexual/Erotic Health and Pathology, Paraphilia, and Gender Transposition of Childhood, Adolescence, and Maturity. New York: Irvington Publishers.

Wikipedia (2012). Ephebophilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephebophilia

Wikipedia (2012). Hebephilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebephilia