top of page
Focus on the Cause


An Ongoing Sex Drive Directed Toward Children


What Causes Someone To Molest?

Focus on the cause. To do that, we must know the cause. What could possibly cause someone to suddenly molest a child? In general, sexual abusers act because they fit into one of four broad categories. They act because:

  1. They are children or teenagers who are sexually curious or experimenting.

  2. They have a medical or mental problem that needs treatment.

  3. They are opportunists, who lack feelings for others and who have an antisocial personality disorder.

  4. They have an ongoing sex drive directed toward children.


Let’s look at each category.

  • Children and teenagers are sexually curious. Curiosity is a major trait of humans. Some teens use much younger children to find out about sex because they can convince these children to take their clothes off. Most teenage experimenters, as they get older, stop all sexual interactions with children. George is too old to be in this category.

    (To read George’s Story, go to Who is the child molester? Who causes so much damage to our children? under 1.Tell others the facts.)

  • A few sexual abusers will sexually touch a child because they are profoundly intellectually disabled, or they have developed a brain disorder, or they are psychotic. Close supervision and, when appropriate, medications to control the disorder often stop child molesters in this group. George does not fit here.

  • Some abusers will sexually touch a child because they have an antisocial personality disorder. Think “anti-society.” People with this disorder may be social, even glib. So why do we call them “antisocial?” Because they believe that the rules of society do not apply to them. They break many of society’s rules. Essentially, antisocials lack feelings for others. In the mind of an antisocial, all of the rest of us, including children, exist to be used. The child molesters in this group appear most often in horrific accounts you see on television and in the newspaper. George, in most of his behavior, sticks to the rules. So he does not belong in this group, either. When researchers analyzed the data provided by the 4,000 abusers in the Child Molestation Prevention Study, they found this fact. Put all together, these first three categories of abusers – the sexually curious teens, the adults with medical or mental disorders, and the antisocials – were responsible for only five percent of the sex acts committed against children. In contrast, the members of the fourth category were responsible for 95 percent of the sex acts committed against children.

  • Abusers who molest because of an ongoing sex drive directed toward children. Abusers who fall under this category and who are 16-years-old or older are considered to have the disorder pedophilia. Abusing teenagers and children who fall under this category and who are younger than 16 cannot be considered pedophiles because they do not meet the diagnostic criterion of being at least 16-years-old. An ongoing sex drive directed toward children or younger children can be identified early by a sex-specific physician or therapist, and then successfully controlled with sex-specific therapies and medication, when appropriate. Treatment from this type of specialist is 87 percent effective. George is part of this group.

An Ongoing Sex Drive Directed Toward Children:

The Single Greatest Cause Of Sex Acts Against Children


The single greatest cause that drives an adult to sexually interact with a child is a sexual desire for a little girl or boy.


As explained above, older teenagers and adults who fall under this category are called pedophiles. Their problem, a sexual desire directed toward children, is called pedophilia.

Pedophiles molest 88 percent of our children who are molested. They commit 95 percent of the acts. This is a serious disorder.

To be a force to protect the children closest to you, you must understand the difference between a pedophile and a child molester.

Diagnostic criteria for pedophilia


Pedophilia is a well-known disorder. It’s defined by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-IV-TR.

You may be familiar with the main features of this disorder, but we want to be sure you understand the importance of some of the details.


To be diagnosed with pedophilia, a person must:

  • be sexually aroused by, have intense, recurring sexual fantasies of, or be involved in sexual behavior with a prepubescent child or children (generally 13 years or younger);

  • be aroused by, have sexual fantasies of, or be involved with a child for at least six months.;

  • be at least 16 years old, and

  • be at least five years older than the child or children he or she is attracted to.


George matches the criteria for being a pedophile. He’s been doing the “behaviors” (molesting children) for 26 years. That’s well over six months. He’s past 16, and he’s been at least five years older than all of his victims – including his first victim, his 10-year-old stepsister Abby.


The diagnosis of females with the disorder pedophilia is exactly the same. However, we are concentrating on male pedophiles because they come into either the mental health or criminal justice system in huge numbers. Of the over 16,000 people in the original sample in the Child Molestation Prevention Study, only 601 were women. Of the 4,000 people who admitted to being a child molester, only 1.4 percent or 55 of them were women. However, female sexual abusers do present a problem. In reports of daycare workers who are abusers, women account for 40 percent.


How early can a person with an ongoing sex drive directed toward children be stopped?


Let’s take a look at George again.

What was the beginning for George? What caused him to molest? What happened before he molested his stepsister?

The year he was 13, he began having recurrent sexually arousing fantasies of very young girls. That’s when he started fantasizing about sexually interacting with his six-year-old stepsister, who stayed over one weekend a month. These sexual urges toward her remained fantasies until he turned 17, when he molested her. George molested Abby repeatedly that year. Abby was ten.

When Abby’s mother complained to her ex-husband, who by then was George’s stepfather, about how the boy seemed to be “mooning over Abby,” her former husband told her she’d have to get used to it: “Our daughter is a pretty little girl. This is only the beginning. Get prepared. You’re going to see many boys ‘mooning’ over Miss Abby before she hits 18.”

George’s mother and stepfather did the best they could. They lived in the old era when families didn’t know what to do to protect their children. They failed Abby.

First of all, Abby’s father refused to consider the fact that a 13-year-old boy “mooning over” his six-year-old daughter might indicate the boy had a developing problem. He saw no possible danger. Abby’s mother went along.

Take another look at the first diagnostic criterion for pedophilia: “Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a child or children.”

Notice that little word “or.” It’s the cornerstone of The Child Molestation Prevention Plan. What it means is that someone can be diagnosed before they have done the behaviors. George could have been stopped before his developing disorder caused him to molest Abby.

Why six months? Because having a fleeting sex fantasy involving a child doesn’t mean someone has a disorder. These sexual fantasies, these sexual urges, have to go on for at least six months to be considered a sign of pedophilia.

It’s also true that just because someone sexually molests a child doesn’t mean they have a diagnosable disorder. There is a big difference between a child molester and a pedophile.

A child molester is someone who sexually touches a child. What defines a child molester is the fact that a child molester has molested a child. A child molester always has a child victim.

A pedophile is different. At 16, a full year before he molested Abby, George already had the disorder, pedophilia. He met all the diagnostic criteria for being a pedophile. However, he was not yet a child molester. He had never molested a child.

The distinction: Child molesters include four categories of people: much older children, mentally or medically disabled, antisocials, and people with an ongoing sex drive directed toward children. Within that last category, there exist adults, teenagers, and children who are in an early stage. They have thoughts of sexually touching children or younger children, they have urges to sexually touch children or younger children, they have had these thoughts for more than six months, but they have never molested a child. It’s that early stage – the stage before the person with an ongoing sex drive directed toward children becomes a child molester- that allows all of us to act to stop 95% of the sex acts against our children before they happen. Early intervention is possible.

Contrasts: Child Molester vs. Pedophile

Table 5.png

What Is A Paraphilia?

Paraphilia is a medical term. It refers to a class of disorders recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as sexual disorders. Pedophilia is one of a number of sexual disorders grouped together as paraphilias. Some other examples of paraphilias are fetishism (sexual obsession with objects), sadism (hurting others), masochism (hurting oneself), exhibitionism (flashing), voyeurism (window-peeping), and making obscene phone calls. Paraphilic disorders are sexual, ongoing, and can be diagnosed.

Why is it important to know about paraphilias? Because this tells us that pedophilia is not a mystery that leaves all of us helpless. Pedophilia is well known and, in fact, is one of a group or class of sexual disorders that share similarities: All of them respond positively to variations of the same basic therapy approach, and all of them respond to the same type of medicines. Specialists- physicians and therapists- who are trained to alter sex drive using tests, therapies, and medicines, treat all of them.

The specialists who treat older teenagers and adults who have the disorder pedophilia and who treat younger teenagers and children who are developing an ongoing sex drive directed toward younger children are called sex-specific therapists. Sex-specific therapists should not be confused with sex therapists. Sex therapists treat problems of sexual dysfunction. Sex-specific therapists treat people with paraphilias, such as – fetishism, exhibitionism, voyeurism and pedophilia.

To learn more about Sex-Specific Therapists and to locate one in your area of North America, please click on the Diagnosis & Treatment link. If there are no listings close to you, please contact the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers for additional listings.

3. Act: diagnose early. Use tests, medicines, and sex-specific treatment therapies.

bottom of page