Hebephilia, the erotic preference for pubescent children1 (Blanchard et al., 2009), has been the focus of many discussions since its potential inclusion in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition). However, many researchers and practitioners in the field argue against the very existence of hebephilia as a mental disorder, since there is only sparse and contradictory evidence regarding this issue (DeClue, 2009; Frances & First, 2011; Franklin, 2010; Green, 2010; Janssen, 2009; Kramer, 2011; Moser, 2009; Prentky & Barbaree, 2011; Tromovitch, 2009; Zander, 2009). The current DSM-5 proposal states that preferential sexual attraction toward adolescents between 11 and 14 years old should be considered a paraphilia, as either a subcategory of pedophilia or a standalone diagnosis (Blanchard et al., 2009). This proposal is mostly based on a phallometric study of 881 men that concluded that men who verbally reported maximum sexual attraction to “pubescent children” had greater penile responses to depictions of pubescent children than to depictions of younger or older persons (Blanchard et al., 2009). However, significant statistical differences were only found for heterosexual hebephiles, not homosexual ones. While these are interesting findings, are they sufficient to warrant the creation of a new mental disorder, especially in light of the conflicting evidence? In fact, two studies carried out to replicate Blanchard et al.’s (2009) findings did not confirm them. The results of these studies, by Spape and Looman (2012), based respectively on 376 and 274 sex offenders, indicated the existence of a pedophilic sexual arousal pattern but did not provide evidence of a distinct hebephilic arousal pattern. Furthermore, many phallometric studies suggest that sexual attraction toward adolescents is not an exclusive feature of paraphilic sex offenders, and is also largely found in nondeviant, non-criminal males (Barbaree & Marshall, 1989; Freund & Costell, 1970; Quinsey, Steinman, Bergersen, & Holmes, 1975). For
instance, Freund and Costell (1970) found that 80% of non-criminal heterosexual men exhibited sexual arousal by images of females aged 12-16. It has been argued that, unlike pedophilia, sexual attraction to adolescent females has been favored by human evolution, since it promotes reproduction (Kenrick & Keefe, 1992). Thus, men may be hard-wired to respond sexually to pubescent females (Prentky & Barbaree, 2011). If this is indeed the case, hebephilia does not seem to meet the underlying principle governing paraphilia diagnoses, which is sexual foci toward unusual, bizarre, or deviant objects/procedures (Frances & First, 2011; Prentky & Barbaree, 2011). Another concern is the potential consequences of the inclusion of hebephilia in the DSM-5 on the civil commitment of sexually violent predators, primarily in the United States, which requires a diagnosis of mental disorder/abnormality (Fabian, 2011; Frances & First, 2011; Franklin, 2010). Acknowledging hebephilia as a mental disorder could lead to a legitimization of civil commitments in the United States that might otherwise be found unconstitutional (Fabian, 2011; Frances & First, 2011; Franklin, 2010-based on Knight, 2010).2 Offenders who sexually abuse adolescents could receive civil commitment because they have a mental disorder that is characterized by sexual attraction toward adolescents; this seems highly tautological, since sexual attraction toward adolescents is often inferred on the very basis of sex offenses against them. While this rationale is already applied with “paraphilia not otherwise specified (NOS)” and pedophilia (Levenson, 2004), acknowledging hebephilia as a legitimate mental disorder would only strengthen these kinds of reasonings (Franklin, 2010). If arguments against hebephilia as a mental disorder seem compelling, so are rebuttals by the DSM-5 workgroup. First, the hebephilia diagnosis proposal is not intended to pathologize sexual arousal by adolescents; it is intended to pathologize preferential sexual arousal by them (Blanchard, 2012). Furthermore, there is no evidence that preferential arousal by adolescents favors reproductive fitness (Blanchard, 2010; Blanchard, 2012), which invalidates the evolutionist counterargument. In fact, quite the opposite is observed: hebephiles tend to have lower reproductive success than men whose main sexual attraction is to adult women (Blanchard, 2010). Moreover, evolutionary fitness should not be considered relevant for DSM inclusion; if this was the case, homosexuality should be reinstated in the DSM (Blanchard, 2012). Second, concerning the legal consequences of the inclusion of hebephilia in the DSM-5, Blanchard (2009) has pointed out that sexual aggressors of adolescents are already receiving DSM diagnoses, namely “paraphilia NOS: hebephilia” (Levenson, 2004), just not the most precise ones. Integrating hebephilia into the DSM-5 would only help to define and operationalize the construct. That being said, the main argument against the DSM-5 hebephilia proposal (Blanchard et al., 2009) is that data on hebephilia is too scarce to produce solid foundations for a mental health diagnosis (DeClue, 2009; Frances & First, 2011; Franklin, 2010; Green, 2010; Janssen, 2009; Kramer, 2011; Moser, 2009; Prentky & Barbaree, 2011; Tromovitch, 2009; Zander, 2009). Most articles on
hebephilia have been published in the last five years, especially since Blanchard et al.’s (2009) proposal. While the situation is not as dire as some make it out to be (Cantor, 2012-in response to Franklin, 2010), little data is available on hebephilia or sexual aggressors against adolescents. While the present chapter does not aim to resolve the debate about the validity of hebephilia as a mental disorder, it does aim to provide empirical data on sexual aggressors against adolescents. First, a short literature review of the available knowledge on hebephilia/sexual aggressors against adolescents will be presented. Second, our data on the offending process of sexual aggressors against adolescents will be presented, hopefully advancing the debate about hebephilia.