Pedophilia is viewed as among the most horrifying social ills. But scientists who study the sexual disorder say it is also among the most misunderstood.
When most of the public thinks of pedophilia, they assume it's synonymous with child sexual abuse, a pervasive social problem that has exploded to crisis levels online. Researchers who study pedophilia say the term describes an attraction, not an action, and using it interchangeably with "abuse" fuels misperceptions.
The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders said pedophilia is defined by “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children.“ Scientists have in recent decades improved their understanding of pedophilia's causes, prenatal and early childhood risk factors as well as how pedophiles can better control impulses.
One of the most significant findings is that scientists who study the disorder say pedophilia is determined in the womb, though environmental factors may influence whether someone acts on an urge to abuse.