Why do people feel attracted to children?

How does the sexual inclination towards children arise? : In the pedophile's brain

Hardly any other crime arouses so much disgust and loathing as the sexual abuse of children. According to a survey by the Technical University of Dresden, 40 percent of those questioned are of the opinion that pedophiles - i.e. people who are sexually attracted to children - belong behind bars even if they have not committed any criminal offenses. About every hundredth man is said to be sexually aroused by the child's body schema.

But what is behind the tendency towards children, how does it come about? What is going on in the brain of pedophiles? The Nemup research association of five German universities, which has been in existence since 2012, deals with these questions. Not least with the ulterior motive of treating the disorder better and preventing attacks on children. “Nemup” stands for “Neural Mechanisms Underlying Pedophilia” and was funded by the Federal Ministry of Research until the end of April. On Thursday, the scientists presented their first results at a symposium at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin.

Pedophilia can also be identified using brain research. If you have a corresponding inclination, your brain is largely activated when looking at photos of naked children in precisely those regions that are stimulated by photos of naked adults in non-pedophiles.

Pedophilia as such is not a disease

Sexologist Klaus Beier from the Charité has been offering pedophiles anonymous advice for ten years with the prevention network “Don't become a perpetrator”. “Don't become a perpetrator” is now available at ten other locations in Germany and has attracted international attention. It is important to Beier not to classify pedophilia as such as a disease. “The tendency doesn't have to lead to assault,” he said. Only when those affected suffer from their tendency or harm others and become the perpetrator does the predisposition become pathological.

“There is no classic perpetrator profile,” reported Tillmann Krüger from the Hannover Medical School, spokesman for the Nemup research association. However, there are “group differences”. The researchers compared pedophile men with or without a history of child sexual abuse with non-pedophile men who had committed child sexual abuse and with normal people. At around 40, pedophile perpetrators were on average six years older than pedophiles who had not committed any crime.

Education and intelligence of the pedophiles was slightly reduced, but still in the normal range, said Krüger. This largely coincides with previous findings in which pedophiles had an IQ that was ten points lower on average.

You have empathy but lack of impulse control

Pedophiles often suffered from depression (up to 40 percent) and anxiety disorders (up to 25 percent). There were no indications of reduced empathy, reported Krüger, but of more impulsive behavior and thus greater problems in keeping yourself under control.

When asked whether a pedophile becomes a perpetrator, the size of the almond kernel probably plays a role, said Henrik Walter, head of the “Mind and Brain” research department at the Charité. The tonsil nucleus is a region of the brain in the temporal lobe that is involved in making decisions and processing emotions. It cannot be ruled out that pedophilia will soon be "objectively" detectable - with an image in the magnetic resonance tomograph, the "brain scanner".

There are many assumptions about why a person develops a pedophile tendency, but none has been proven, said Nemup spokesman Tillmann Krüger. The course in the direction of pedophilia is set early in a person's life, possibly already in the womb, said Krüger. Some researchers believe that it is some kind of developmental disorder of the brain that makes the predisposition manifest.

The idea of ​​curing pedophilia has largely been abandoned. Many therapists see their task more as helping pedophiles to keep their impulses under control and thus also to prevent serious criminal offenses. One way to suppress sexual desire is to take drugs that suppress drive. However, the pharmaceutical industry is very reluctant to develop new drugs, says sex researcher Beier. Maybe because she fears image problems.

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page