What is it all about?

Sexuality is an integral part of being human, and one of our basic needs. Sexuality is manifested in many ways in all what we are, how we interact with others, and what we do. Thus, sexuality is much more than merely sex and intercourse. Sexual interest is one dimension of sexuality. We may be sexually drawn to people of different ages or gender, and some of us also to certain things or artefacts.

Sexual interest in children may express itself in thinking about children in a sexual way, fantasizing about children in a sexual way, or experiencing sexual arousal related to children. It is entirely different to be interested in children sexually (e.g. "I am sexually interested in children") and act upon sexual interest in children (e.g. "I watch online footage of sexual abuse of children, or engage in a suggestive chat with a child"). Individuals, who have for instance sexual fantasies about children, may never act upon these fantasies because they comprehend how sexual acts harm a child.

One is free to express one's sexual preferences in action fairly freely provided that it does not breach the rights of others, or break the law. Sexual acts involving under aged children that fulfil the characteristics of a criminal offence are not within the boundaries of the freedom of sexual expression. They are a crime and as such they are punishable.

 Sexuality and responsible behaviour

Sexuality is an inseparable and essential part of being human. It is manifested in different ways in all that we are, feel, think, and do. Sexuality can be expressed in different ways through our thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, values, and attitudes.

Intimacy and fulfilling sexual needs primarily by following one's own desires is not, however, always self-evident. We all experience periods of time in our lives when our sexual desires and needs are not fulfilled as we wish. Also, the nature of our preferences may hinder the way we can manifest sexuality.

However, sexuality is not an immutable state. Instead, new ways of expressing sexuality and manifesting it in action can be discovered throughout our lives. One can develop and challenge oneself also in this respect. As important as it is to listen to one's needs and desires, it is crucial that one's actions are not illegal, or in other ways harmful or detrimental to others.

 Sexual interest in children

Being sexually interested in children may mean thinking about children in sexual ways, sexual fantasies about children or sexual arousal involving children. When a person over 16 is sexually attracted to children in their pre-puberty, it is paedophilia. Hebephilia refers to a condition in which sexual desires are directed to children in their puberty. Paedophilic interest may be primary (fixated paedophiles) when sexual interest is primarily and permanently directed to children in their pre-puberty. Nevertheless, fixated paedophiles can engage in sexual interaction with someone over the age of 16.

Secondary paedophilia (regressive paedophilia) refers to conditions in which one's sexual desire is temporarily (e.g. in a stressful life situation) directed to a child. Primarily and permanently the person is sexually interested in someone over the age of 16.

In medical terms, sexual interest in children is defined as paedophilic disorder, a psychiatric disorder in which an adult experiences primary sexual attraction to children. This means that the sexual desires towards children experienced by the individual cause the individual themselves harm, or they might have already acted upon their sexual desires in practice. (For more information, see "Definitions")

Current research has not been able to single out a cause that brings about sexual interest in children. The evolvement of this disorder takes place as a result of multiple factors. The genetic factors behind the disorder are actively being investigated, and the latest research findings suggest that neurobiological brain deviations may be involved in the evolvement of the disorder. Based on current knowledge, 90 per cent of the occurrences of the disorder are explained by multiple environmental factors and no single genetic connection explaining the disorder have not been established.

Although, in light of recent research, sexual interest in children appears to be a rather permanent feature, it is important to note that sexual desires and acting upon these desired are two entirely separate issues. We rarely follow solely our sexual desires as if automatically. Some never act upon this preference and for some this preference remains on the level of mental images and sexual fantasies. Even though this sexual preference itself may not be changed, there is help available to support engaging in sexual activity with adults or adolescents over the age of 16. Remember, sexuality is holistic and it can be manifested in many dimensions in our lives. Some of those sexually interested in children can also be attracted to adults or adolescents over the age of 16.

Life provides us with a myriad of temptations, and desires often come with fleeting thoughts and emotions. For someone who is sexually attracted to children, seeing a child or a child-related stimulus may trigger an almost automatic feeling of euphoria. This sensation may also be intertwined with satisfying one's sexual needs by looking at children or images of children. These kinds of problematic and harmful thoughts and behavioural models directed to children can be questioned and changed. People sexually interested in children, like other people, are able to restrain their detrimental thinking and behaviour at will.

Fantasies are common and as such part of the multitude of sexuality. At times, however, fantasies are accompanied by thoughts, which are in reality not possible or appropriate to bring into action. Sexual fantasies about children may increase the risk of harmful, criminal activity that damages a child. It may also lead to watching illegal images or footage depicting child abuse, so-called "child pornography". However, these types of images or footage are not pornography but images or video recordings of child molestation and abuse – sex crimes.

People experience it differently what kind of thoughts their sexual preference to children evoke. For most, sexual attraction to children causes anxiety and they would like to act in a responsible way, and do what is right. According to current research, approximately 1-5 per cent of the population experience sexual interest in children. Based on the statistics, a vast majority of the perpetrators are men but also a small minority of women experience sexual interest in children. It is estimated that there are 19 000 over 18-year olds in Finland who are sexually interested in children. The actual number is, however, difficult to estimate because, due to the sensitivity of the matter, doing research and collecting accurate statistical data is difficult.

It is critical to remember that sexual interest in children does not automatically lead to sexual action. One can control, and learn how to control, one's sexual impulses. This guide offers you help in regulating your harmful behaviour. If you feel that the guide offers you insufficient help, or if you suspect you may not be able to control your detrimental sexual activity, seek further support. Many people sexually attracted to children have availed of e.g. Uusi Suunta individual rehabilitation programme, and cognitive behavioural therapy.

When should I worry? Do I need help? (The Worry Test)
  • Do you experience sexual interest in children, and/or images of children?
  • Are you worried about your behaviour realted to your sexual interest?
  • Have you been worried about the possible negative consequences of your sexual interest?
  • Do you experience shame, guilt or fear over your habits that are somehow linked with your sexual interest?
  • Have you used images of children to a sexual end, or caught yourself repeatedly ending up on a webiste depicting child-related sexual material?
  • Have you experienced the need to approach children to a sexual end?
  • Have you approached or contacted children much younger than yourself to a sexual end?
  • Do you want to control your thought processes and actions involving harmful sexual interest, such as sexual interest in children and/or images of children?

If your answer to one or more of the above questions is yes, this guide may help you ponder on the activity you deem problematic and find tools to control it.

 The effects of child sexual abuse on a child

Sexual abuse of a child is always a serious offence, and extremely traumatic to the child. In the abuse situation, a child often experiences confusion, helplessness, and fear. Sexual acts usually have serious and long-standing negative repercussions on the child's development, health, and life in general.

A child, due to developmental stage and age, may not understand having been sexually abused. Even though a child does not understand or recognise that an adult's behaviour is wrong, it never diminishes the adverse repercussions on the child. The emotions experienced by the child in the abuse situation, such as confusion and fear, or experiences of pain may paralyze the child's ability to act.

Generally, a child may not - on the outside - seem to react to the abuse because of confusion or distress, which can falsely be interpreted as consent to sexual acts. In a shocking situation, a child often lacks the capacity to say no, or stop the sexual acts. It is common that a child freezes and is unable to stop the sexual act through speech or action. This does not in any circumstances mean that a child would be consensual or willing to sexual acts.

In the course of sexual acts, a child may experience also other sensations. Feeling of euphoria experienced by a child as a result of e.g. caressing the genital area are normal physiological reactions that are triggered automatically. It is important to understand that these are not signals of consent, pleasure or willingness to the sexual act. Pleasure or orgasm experienced during the course of sexual abuse often leave a long-standing, harmful marks in the child's mind – fortifying the experienced feelings of guilt and shame.

A child is never responsible for the sexual abuse he or she has been subjected to even though he or she might have taken the initiative, or initially given his or her consent to engage in sexual interaction. The person abusing a child is always responsible for his or her actions, not the child.

According to current research, capturing and storing sexual abuse in image or video form is growing in number. Potential spreading of this kind of illegal material through digital media repeatedly victimizes a child. Portraying a child as a sex object, or recording child sexual abuse significantly increases the suffering the child undergoes. It is often unbearable for the child to face the possible uncontrollable dissemination of images or footage portraying him or herself. In addition, the fear over this kind of material circulating on the Internet interminably significantly hampers recovery. Child sexual abuse is extremely traumatic to the child victim and also to his or her nearest and dearest.

 Definitions

More specific definitions of key terms:

Sexual interest in children = a person is sexually attracted to children, most commonly to boys or girls or both in their pre- or early puberty. Sexual interest may manifest itself in thinking about children in a sexual way, in child-related sexual fantasies or sexual arousal by children.

Paedophilia = sexual orientation in which interest is primarily oriented towards children much younger than oneself, in their pre-puberty. Not all people with paedophile orientation act upon their orientation but the interest remains on the level of mental images and sexual fantasies.

Hebephilia = sexual orientation in which one's interest is primarily oriented towards children much younger than oneself, in their puberty. Not all hebephiles act upon their orientation but the disorder remains in the level of mental images and sexual fantasies.

Ephebophilia = sexual orientation in which one's interest is primarily oriented towards children much younger than oneself, in or slightly past their puberty. Not all ephebophiles act upon their orientation but the disorder remains in the level of mental images and sexual fantasies.

Pedophilic disorder = harmful urges and fantasies about eg. children causing the individual significant distress that lasts over six months, or problems with relationships, or the individual has already acted upon his or her sexual urges. This psychiatric disorder is considered an illness (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems code ICD-10: F65;4) when the urge to engage in sexual activity with a child or children in their pre-puberty is dominant and permanent. In addition, this sexual interest must extend over a period of more than six months, cause the individual him or herself suffering, or the individual has already committed a sexual offence. Also, the individual must be over 16 years of age and a minimum of 5 years older than the child he or she is attracted to. This disorder encompasses the definitions of pedophilia, hebephilia, and in some cases also ephebophilia.

Paraphilia = recurring and obsessive dependency on a unconventional or socially unacceptable stimulus as a source of sexual pleasure (objects, situations, individuals such as children)

Dependency = compulsive need to act on or experience something that is perceived personally rewarding. A dependent person can no longer regulate one's behaviour and the dependency adversely takes over one's life and time consumption. In people sexually attracted to children, dependency may manifest itself in multiple ways. Activity yielding instant gratification may develop into an automatic, problematic habit that functions both as a source of joy and anxiety.

A potential perpetrator = refers to a person who is sexually interested in children but does not act or has not yet acted nor fulfilled one's sexual preferences.


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