The grail isn't holy!

What causes pedophilia?

"Nobody knows" was the usual answer. This is no longer true as research has made progress. In the following, I give an interpretation that answers most of the question. But, it involves a twist of logic. 

What causes darkness?

If someone expects the holy grail to be shiny, an ordinary object will escape the attention. Similarly, if someone looks for a distinct cause, the reason for a certain situation might not be obvious. The answer I give in this blog is not an answer to the original question, but an explanation of the phenomenon. 

Pedophiles have a preference for children. This also means that they don't prefer women. This seems to be obvious, but it is seldom discussed in scientific literature. However, this is the part of the question that is mostly answered by now.
Q: What causes darkness?
A: The absence of light.

Cross wiring

James M. Cantor PhD sometimes explains pedophilia as a cross wiring within the brain. Instead of engaging the nurture instinct, the view of children causes sexual arousal: "pedophiles got their wires crossed". A similar explanation claims that sexual arousal is caused by images of children instead of the appropriate partner. The cross wiring metaphor has inherent limitations. One imagines a wire being removed and thereafter a new connection being made. However, no pedophile was truly a heterosexual to begin with. Hence, no wire was removed, it merely is absent.

Cross wiring also suggests that the new connection is established after the old connection was removed. The phrase "instead of" points in the same direction. Understanding that "cross wiring" is a metaphor, one could ponder if the order of events could be reversed, a new connection is made before the old one is removed. Moreover, is this "new connection" really a new one or existing in all humans?

The results by Cantor and his colleagues make sense with respect to the "first wire". Much of it points towards brain organization. In short, his probands are more likely to be shorter, left-handed, less intelligent, having had head injuries before the age of 13, more cranio-facial anomalies, and less white-matter in the brain. Cantor himself points out that there might be a disturbance in the development responsible for all this and it can more or less be traced back to prenatal origins. All of it sounds rather as something not working as expected than creating a new orientation from scratch. Summa summarum: this makes perfect sense when thinking of that "removed first wire". What could that be?

Intuitive sexuality

This term is made up by me. However, similar terms are used by Steven Pinker in "The Blank Slate" to refer to innate abilities. Most humans have a pretty good idea, what others are thinking. Pinker calls this "intuitive psychology" and it is missing in people with Autism. They simply have no idea what others are thinking.  

With intuitive sexuality I mean normal heterosexuality. Since most persons experience their sexuality as something natural and intuitive, nobody spends much time questioning the nature of it. Sometimes, it is described as a sex drive, while in animals it is called mating instinct. Instincts are patterns of behavior that play out once triggered. Humans have the ability to think rationally and to act according to rational decisions and overriding those urges. However, we also have a thing called gut feeling and jumping to conclusions. Both are remains of instincts. Sometimes, we act in certain consistent patterns and are not able to give a justification. Kim Sterelny's book "The evolved apprentice" gives several examples related to cooperation.

The intuitive sexuality can be understood as a weak instinct. Instinct are hard wired in the brain, which according to Cantor was subjected to some disturbances (in pedophiles). Pinker points out that the brain develops while in use. The basic structure exists at birth, but a lot of changes happen after birth and during growth. One of those changes is the myelination - wrapping neurons in fatty neuroglia cells. In short, wrapped neurons fire faster. Cantor first found out on MRI-T1 images that those fatty cells are not visible in regions related to sex. In the latest paper by him and co-authors, missing myelination was reasoned as one of the possible explanations for the discovered anisotropy.

So, Cantor & Co found evidence, which I relate to the absent "first wire". This means that big part of pedophilia can be explained by the absence of intuitive sexuality.

The second peak

It is a myth that normal heterosexual people are only attracted to age peers of the opposite sex. Violent homophobic people are found to show genital arousal to same sex scenarios. There is homosexual prison sex, and homoerotic behavior in the military. Moreover, child molestations is mainly carried out by non-pedophiles - one study found pedophiles to make up just 16.2% of the tested child sexual offenders. The average person has not a narrow sexual target but reacts to a variety of persons of both sexes and different ages. It can be imagined as a hilly landscapes with peaks here and there.

Normally, the intuitive sexuality should overshadow all other peaks. People are aware of their main attraction. 

If the peak of intuitive sexuality is absent, some other peak is the highest. Which one it is, depends on a number of things. Some animals live in a homosexual partnership, because foraging is easier in pairs. Chimps are known to use youngsters as shields against aggressivity from other males. There are many ways, a certain company can be comforting.

The two-stage model of sexuality

It is difficult to explain a lot of sexual phenomena without assuming this two-stage model. First an attraction target is acquired, then the clues of comforting company are causing sexual arousal. If this second stage fails, one develops the paraphilia known as asexuality. This model also explains, why sexual conversion therapies failed - they tried to fix the second stage without working on the comforting company.

In short, if a person fails to obtain intuitive sexuality, and finds the company of children comforting, a lot of thoughts will focus on them. This might even be a self-enforcing circle - the more one falls out of the peer group, the less one will be driven to the opposite sex. The second peak gets a chance to take over. 

But why are some missing out on intuitive sexuality?

Some try to find an evolutionary reason for the existence of pedophiles. It is even harder to argue why some people should be affected by autism. It makes no sense, considering hebephile, pedophiles or autistic savants as isolated groups. Human evolution reduced the way instincts impacted our behavior, made humans more flexible, and it made intelligence possible. All this is related to the neoteny humans possess. Most attractions are to signs of balanced neoteny. Cute children are treated with many favors - so much that it is not fair to plain children. 

The price of this development is paid by those, who get some of it in abundance. Too much reduction of an instinct renders it weak. It is advantageous when not reacting with panic, when the box we are sitting in is moving. Fear of flying has become rare. Sea sickness as a false alarm to food poisoning is still frequent. Most persons are able to understand the mind of other people. Most people are still seeking the opposite sex for lifetime partnership. But a few don't. 


The ticking-time-bomb meme portrait in media and some scientific journals probably is false. If the absent intuitive sexuality is a precondition for pedophilia, sexual urges should be less strong than in heterosexuals. Most statements about pedophiles are made by normal hetersexuals. It is too tempting to draw from personal experience, when making statements about other. Too much what is said about pedophiles are in fact projections by heterosexuals.

1 comment :

  1. The kind of model for thinking about sexuality generally, and minor attraction (my preferred term) offered here is positive. I have read some material like this before. James Cantor is often referenced, however I find Bruce Rind more interesting. The models I tend to favour are the mix found in sociology, philosophy, and the humanities. I don’t practice a science/humanities split, so what is offered in this blog is, for me, very positive. The deep hostility towards the minor attracted person, and the sad positioning by the virtuous pedophiles which undermines a positive connotation of self in the minor attracted person with talk of pro and anti-contact profiling, offers a dark time/space for many. What is offered in this blog, with its speculations, is welcome.