This section provides information about and for adults who have been sexual with children. It also addresses the question of whether this behavior constitutes sexual addiction.
If you are someone who has been sexual with children, you are encouraged to read this whole section, even if you do not agree with everything you read. An attempt has been made to present the information in a way that is sensitive to the adult who has engaged a minor in sexual activity. It is also presented with the goal of helping such a person to see what you have experienced and what you think about it from a clearer, broader perspective.
As a backdrop to this discussion, statistics show that sexual relations between adults and children is widespread, with the current estimate indicating that one-in-three girls has experienced an adult being sexual with them, and from one-in-five to one-in-seven boys. Generally the incidence seems to be similar in other countries where these kinds of statistics are gathered. The figures come from reported child abuse cases, so it is commonly held that the incidence is considerably greater than the statistics indicate.
Another universal aspect is that most countries have laws that label an adult engaging in sex with a child as child sexual abuse which is punishable under the law. In the U.S., the production, distribution and acquisition of child pornography is a Federal offense. Laws also designate the age at which a person is considered an adult—generally it is around 17 or 18 years of age in the U.S.
In addition, cultural norms that tend to view the taboo of sex between adults and minors differently according to their respective gender and relative age have been changing. For example, there has usually been a stronger reaction to a man being sexual with a young girl than a woman being sexual with a teen-aged boy. To a boy in his late teens, having sex with a woman in her early 30’s might sometimes be viewed as “a score,” but public opinion has increasingly condemned these kinds of relationships, as a disturbing number of incidents have come to light in which a female teacher has been sexual with a male student. Also, a mid-twenties man dating and having sex with a girl in her late teens, who a few decades ago might have been considered “a little immature,” is more likely now to cause concern and even criminal investigation (depending on whether the girl is recognized as legally adult). In these situations, the truth is that psychological harm is done to the child, whether a girl or a boy, harm that they will carry forward into their later relationships.
More will be said below about the legal issues involved and about getting help, but as far as whether an adult who engages in sexual relations with a minor is a sex addict or not depends on several factors. Sometimes adults may stray once or twice from their sexual orientation to other adults as a result of the effects of alcohol or other drugs, in which case the person may not be addicted to sexual activity with children. Or, a sex addict may have been attracted to sexual activity and fantasy about other adults for years, but as a result of the addiction’s progression, finds himself attracted to individuals on the younger end of an age continuum for the added thrill of the forbidden (which happens especially on the Internet) and could eventually wind up seeking a new thrill by being sexual with a minor. This person would be sexually addicted but not necessarily addicted to sex with children (unless the addict became fixated and dependent on the new thrill).
Then there are individuals whose primary sexual interest and preoccupation is with children, with little or no interest in sex with adults. These persons would generally be classified as pedophiles; however, they might be addicted to the activity or they might not be an addict, but simply sexually oriented to children. A full evaluation by a sexual addiction specialist would be necessary to determine whether the specific behavior(s) constitutes sexual addiction. Often, of course, adults in this situation are reluctant to seek professional help because of their shame or due to the fear of laws that, for instance in the U.S., require a therapist to report suspected child abuse. More will be said later on the issue of getting help.
Any time an adult engages in sex with a minor, whether it is a stranger or someone well known to the child, it is a very serious problem for the following reasons. At the very least it confuses the child because the child does not have the psychological and emotional maturity to understand what is happening or to make an informed and appropriate decision about the sexual activity. The adult in this case makes the decision for the child and takes advantage of the child's vulnerability. This is true even if the child seems to initiate and/or enjoy the experience, as will be explained in the next paragraph.
The child who has not received sufficient love and nurturing is particularly vulnerable to being manipulated into being sexual with an adult, especially if the adult already has a trusting relationship with the child or the adult gives the child attention, affection and validation for which the child hungers. While the attention may be positive and affirming for the child, the introduction of sex confronts the child with an experience she or he is not yet developmentally equipped to comprehend. Therefore, the sex is not for the good of the child, as some pedophiles tell themselves, but only serves the adult's distorted needs. If the child cooperates, it is only because the child senses this is what is necessary in order to get the acceptance and attention the child may crave.
There is much documented evidence that children drawn into sex with an adult are set on a path containing numerous sexual, emotional, psychological, social and interpersonal problems for the rest of their lives. These problems include depression, self doubt, promiscuity, lowered school performance and juvenile delinquincy during childhood. When the child becomes an adult, depression and self doubt persist, contributing to a troubled life at best and to serious psychological problems and even suicide at the worst. The sexual confusion created by the abuse leads, in adulthood, to such conditions as sexual addiction, love addiction, sexual anorexia (the avoidance of anything sexual), and sex crimes. The sex crime may be that the former victim of molestation becomes a child molester him or herself or becomes an exhibitionist, a voyeur or a rapist. And for sure, their romantic relationships and marriages will be laden with difficulties.