The saying goes “Age ain’t nothing but a number”…but this isn’t exactly true, especially when it comes to one’s sexual desire for another. While some may simply cause raised eyebrows there are others that can get a person in very serious legal trouble and brand them as an outcast for life. While the specifics of which term is most appropriate for which preference may seem irrelevant it’s important to both mental health professionals and law enforcement…and it never hurts to know as a layperson either.
This is the one that virtually everyone knows; a term thrown out to just about every sex predator and pervert that seems even vaguely attracted to any being under the age of consent – generally 16-18 in the US depending on the state. It’s become more of a go-to pop culture word than a true term these days, making it overused and incorrectly at that, though. According to its actual definition (as found in the revisions for the DSM-V, the diagnostic book used by mental health professionals) pedophilia is the sexual attraction to those aged eleven years and younger.
Keeping this more specific and more accurate definition in mind we can see that certain groups of sex abusers do not, in fact, qualify as pedophiles…such as the vast majority of online predators that seek out kids in chatrooms and social networking sites (these types will be discussed next). It also becomes clear that other predators do qualify, such as certain priests that find themselves in the news as part of the Catholic sex abuse scandals and the 2010 pediatrician from Delaware who made headlines after it was discovered he may have sexually assaulted more than a hundred of his patients – some as young as three months old (he also seems to have been a sadist, not true of all pedophiles).
The term is far less used, but far more accurate, when dealing with those whose sexual preferences focus mainly on the tween sect. For this reason alone it might be why the DSM-V will have it listed as a specific “type” of pedophila…the fact it’s been gaining increased attention and usage over the years are other likely reasons. Hebephilia, in its definition, is the sexual attraction to those aged eleven to fourteen.
Now, by the definition alone, most could see that many “pedophiles” are, in fact, hebephiles. The fictional Humbert Humbert of Nabokov’s Lolita would be one and so would R. Kelly, Michael Jackson (if his rumored/suggested sexual preferences for young boys were true), and a few of those female school teachers – such as Debra Lafave and Mary Kay Letourneau- who made splashes in the news for sleeping with their then 13 and 14-year-old male students. Most of the online predators that chat up young tween girls and boys in order to try to lure them into taking risque photos or meeting up somewhere away from a guardian’s careful eye would also fall into the category of hebephile.
Ephebos means “one arrived at puberty” in Greek and ephebophilia is defined as the sexual attraction to those 15 to 16 years of age. It is not currently nor is it to be in the DSM. Part of this could be due to the fact that, in certain states, 16 is the age of consent – it would be a touch confusing to label someone with a mental illness when what they’re doing is perfectly legal. Another part could be because it’s a touch more socially acceptable to lust after them; frequently those in this age range are the ones jokingly being described as “jailbait”. In pop culture they are the tempting cheerleader, babysitter, or jock that seem to already have a sex life of their own, even if it’s just developing. (An image that often plays out in reality, even if only in a tamer form.)
So who are the ephebophiles? Hard to say, there really isn’t as much data on these individuals as there are for the first two discussed. As a sweeping (completely research-baseless) guess I’d think it’d be some of those online predators again, some other teachers that have found themselves embroiled in sex scandals with their students, and maybe those who enjoy “barely legal” type pornography and/or fantasize about those pop culture cliches previously mentioned.
Few More Age Philias:
There are a few other “philias” based on the age of the object of one’s desire as well. Next in the age continuum is teleiophilia meaning the sexual attraction to those 17 and older (teleios is Greek for “fully grown”); basically it covers pretty much everyone who’s attracted to the normal age range for the average adult. After that there’s gerontophilia, which if broken down is rather clearly the sexual attraction to the elderly…it’s considered very rare, though perhaps Harold from the movie Harold & Maude had it. There’s also pedohebephilia – the sexual attraction to both those under 11 and 11 to 14 years of age – which will be found in the DSM and some are pushing for the use of the word infantophilia to describe the sexual attraction to those who are under the age of six.
*This piece was originally written in 2010, prior to the DSM-V being released, therefore the paraphilias existence within the manual, specifically, may have changed.