Pedophiles Mate For Life

In the farming era, people disapproved of sexual attraction, especially outside marriage, but weren’t much more offended by attraction to adolescent girls than to older women. Today, in contrast, we approve more of sexual attraction in general, even outside marriage, but we take great offense at pedophilia, i.e., older males attracted to pre-fertile females.

This trend is explained in part by rich folk reverting to forager ways, in particular to more sexual promiscuity. From Evolutionary Biology of Human Female Sexuality:

Adolescent females with exaggerated [fertility] ornaments in nonhuman primates exhibit and elicit from males relatively little sexual interest. Human adolescent females appear to differ in these respects. This difference is likely another manifestation of the profound implications of long-term pair bonding in humans. Human female lifetime reproductive success has historically been influenced by [their] ability to attract male attention during adolescence. Men’s sexual interest in adolescent females reflects the fact that, typically, their reproductive success achieved through pair bonds was not maximized by attending solely to cues of current fertility but also to cues of [future] reproductive ability. [p.124]

This is more about the long-term-ness of bonds, and less about whether they are pair bonds. Farmers look more to a female’s future fertility potential, while foragers and other primates with shorter-term relationships focus more on her current fertility. This turns farmer males into pedophiles, i.e., more interested in younger females. Pedophilia is a sign that a species or a culture has longer term sexual relationships. Which our culture considers to be a good thing. Which makes it ironic that we consider pedophilia a bad thing.

While we still praise marriage today, we are more accepting of sexual promiscuity. Of course neither farmers nor foragers are much offended by marriage-directed attraction to pre-fertile females.  So why are we so offended? Perhaps the key is our extending kid dependency further via more years of school. Perhaps we mentally rate someone’s “adultness” via their economic independence, and assume that their sexuality should follow this rating. If so, we might think of a 21 year old today the way our ancestors thought of a 14 year old, as an acceptable if young marriage partner, while thinking of a 14 year old today as our ancestors did a 10 year old, as unacceptably young. Count this as another way we have not fully adapted to industry era novelties.

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  • William H. Stoddard

    I’ve been told by someone who claims to be professionally qualified that the use of the word “pedophile” for an adult who’s sexually attracted to adolescents is not valid diagnostic terminology: the term is properly used for adults who are attracted to prepubescent children. Apparently there’s a technical term, “ephebophile,” for attraction to adolescents.

    Nonetheless, in popular jargon, “pedophile” is used more loosely. This has actual human welfare costs: Two adolescents born a few days apart, if they consummate their attraction to each other on the older one’s eighteenth birthday, become a case of “pedophilia,” which can lead to the older partner being on a sexual predator registry for the rest of their life. There have even been cases where two adolescents, both under 18, each faced such charges *as an adult* for sexually abusing the other. Whatever objections there may be to adolescent sexual activity (and the Scandinavian experience seems to show that accepting it and teaching prudent risk minimization works better than what Americans do), this seems an excessive penalty to impose for it, especially when a very large percentage of adolescents are sexually active and potentially vulnerable to such punishment.

    I’d also note that given the human evolutionary record, and the many millennia of recorded history in which a girl of fourteen was ripe for marriage in law and custom, the theory that sexual attraction to adolescents is a sign of psychological abnormality doesn’t seem to be reality-based.

    The whole thing strikes me as a product of the current American moral panic. Unfortunately I don’t think we’ll have laws that make any sense, or produce minimal harm (balancing the costs of permitting abusive behavior with the costs of overharsh prohibitions), until we get over it . . . and probably that will happen when some new group has been singled out for scapegoating.

    • Sherri Boyd

      The way the laws are are absolutely retarded especially with regard to two people that are so close in age and yet can still be charged

  • burger flipper

    Have you read (or do you intend to) Sex at Dawn?

    McArdle stirred the pot ripping it w/o reading even the half she claimed.

    • Sherri Boyd

      Sex at Dawn is a very interesting and relevant book to this discussion

      • Robin read the book, found it persuasive, then read a book criticizing it and found that persuasive, although he tries to synthesize their claims.

      • Sherri Boyd

        Do you know which book it was that criticized “Sex at Dawn?

      • Yes, I do. The name is in the url I linked. It’s even named after the book it’s criticizing. Perhaps the author is a fan of Robert Rodriguez.

      • Sherri Boyd

        Thank you for the info. I wil look into it. ?

  • J

    I agree that increasing the age at which acting upon sexual attraction is considered appropriate seems to have increased with societal wealth, but there are two other issues that might be in play here. First, I don’t think 14 year olds getting married was the norm 100+ years ago, but it wasn’t that uncommon (my grandmother had her first child at 15). The concept of childhood extending into the late teens appears to be a relatively new phenomenon. Second, we are repulsed by stories of extremely young brides in other cultures (I’m not sure if that’s what you’re getting at here), but those are arranged marriages in which sexual attraction is presumably irrelevant.

    “This turns farmer males into pedophiles, i.e., more interested in younger females.”

    If you mean sexually attracted to adolescent girls, you should state it that way. Pedophilia is not the same thing.

  • Ok, clarify my ignorance. Ti wgat extebt are foragers really, systematically more promiscuous than farmers. My ignorance is enormous, and I had thought there was a huge variation from between different pre-agricultural societies. And indeed there is huge variation within agricultural ones.

    • In English “Ti wgat extebt” means “To what extent”. Sorry.

  • William H. Stoddard

    J: I agree with your usage, and as I said, I’ve been told it’s the professionally favored terminology. But at the level of popular discourse, an adult man who thinks a fifteen-year-old is attractive is likely to be called a pedophile. And this more expansive definition is embedded in the criminal law as well.

    • J

      “But at the level of popular discourse”

      That was my beef with Robin’s use. It’s unlikely a 14 year old qualifies as pre-pubescent. An adult male sexually attracted to her may be a dirty old man, but he’s not a pedophile.

      • William H. Stoddard

        I agree with that conclusion. But I also note that an adult male who’s sexually attracted to a 14-year-old is going to be the focus of moral opprobium in American culture, even if the attraction is expressed by wanting to marry her; indeed, the idea of a 14-year-old getting married is going to strike a lot of Americans as disturbing, even though a century ago it was not uncommon. And a lot of Americans who aren’t psychologists or child abuse specialists will express that opprobium by calling the man in question a pedophile. There seems to be a general assumption that no normal adult male feels that attraction. Which is a little odd, if you think about it, because jeans commercials and high school dramas alike would be out of business if they didn’t get to trade on the idea that Teenagers Are Hot. But seemingly it’s okay to watch such things if you don’t think about what you’re looking at. I just dislike the idea that lack of insight is an ethical obligation.

    • Homo hypocriticus. An adult male who is NOT attracted to a 14 or 15 year old girl in the US, where menses averages what, 11 years old? has something wrong with him. An adult male who discusses this in more formal circles is creepy. An adult male who is NOT attracted to females over the age of 18 and actually does something about his attraction to younger females may in popular usage be called a pedophile, a movie director, or both.

  • There is a big difference between living in a society where it is presumed that sex is properly between unequals and one where sex is presumed to be properly between equals.

    If males are legally and socially dominant, then “proper” sex is between unequals. So, for an adult male to sexually service another male is to demean themselves. But (depending on the structure of the society) women (including adolescent women), adolescent males and slaves or other social inferiors are fine as sexual partners for adult males.

    If, however, men and women are becoming social equals, then proper sex is between social equals. One male sexually servicing another male becomes much less problematic. (It is a nice historical resonance that the term ‘homosexual’ was coined the same year John Stuart Mill wrote On the Subjection of Women.) But having sex with someone who is not a social adult becomes improper: the more improper, the further away from being a social adult.

    Social causation is complicated, but the changing status of women as industrialisation reduces the economic premium on upper body strength and increases the value of dexterity and cognitive capacity is probably not unconnected to changing social attitudes on sex. Sex and gender tend to be irretrievably intertwined in social conceptions and attitudes.

    There is also technological change to consider: particularly the role of female-controlled contraception (the pill) on church attendance and attitudes to sexual attraction and activity.

  • Interesting post. There does seem to be a creepy tendency in present culture to sexualize girls of younger and younger ages, though at the same time we seem to be getting more bohemian, which seems more forager-like, and foragers were less interested in younger females.

  • William H. Stoddard

    If you want an extreme case of attraction to very young girls, take a look at Katharine Mayo’s Mother India, published in the 1920s, if you can track down a copy. Mayo visited clinics that had to cope with the medical consequences of child marriage. Don’t read it after eating! Mayo also quotes a defense of child marriage by the Nobel-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore . . . a part of his beliefs that has dropped out of sight over the intervening years.

    Lorenzo seems to be right about the sex between unequals thing. The ancient Athenians were fine with men desiring women, boys, or slaves, but men desiring men was disdained: epithets such as katapygon and eurypygon, applied to an adulm man who was penetrated by another man, carried a strong negative weight. A friend of mine who teaches classics at university level has talked about how hard her students find it to grasp this.

    But I don’t think “sex between unequals” explains everything about American attitudes. Under the laws of at least some states, two teenagers who are sexually active with each other both face prosecution for statutory rape; there’s not an issue of “unequals” there. Something else seems to be going on.

    • “Under the laws of at least some states, two teenagers who are sexually active with each other both face prosecution for statutory rape; there’s not an issue of “unequals” there. Something else seems to be going on.”

      The difference is that there’s little or no social stigma on two 17-year-olds having sex with each other. It’s not perceived as creepy or unhealthy, just illegal. At least in California, the legislative intent behind that application of statutory rape law is not to prevent pedophilia, but to prevent teen pregnancy.

  • The age of consent was raised from 13 to 16 in the late 1800s. At the time, one in fifty PEOPLE was a prostitute in England. Many of them were forced into prostitution, and an emphasis was put on “new girls” and “pure girls” – i.e. women who were less experienced or virgins.

    Since many members of parliament and judges visited these whorehouses, prosecuting them and rescuing the girls was difficult. Members of the Salvation Army documented the extent of the problem and campaigned to have the age of consent raised to 16. By raising the age of consent, they were able to universally say that none of the young girls who entered these whorehouses had consented to it, and forced prostitution as a common practice disappeared overnight in England.

    It should be noted that there was no stigma at the time – during debates, one member of parliament even suggested that the age of consent should be lowered to 10. That said, what began as a legal measure to combat prostitution, ended up gaining a social stigma over time.

    Source: William and Catherine: The Life and Legacy of the Booths: Founders of the Salvation Army by Trevor Yaxley

  • In common usage, “pedophiles” are attracted to pre-fertile females, and are socially and legal disliked. The fact that docs give another definition to the term is irrelevant to me here.

    William, “moral panic” is a pretty weak theory, and doesn’t lead us to expect very specific events.

    Adrian, larger within-group variance doesn’t mean groups have the same averages.

    Lorenzo, but why not treat 14 year olds as equals, if we treat 20 and 60 year olds as equals?

    Brendon, interesting specific history, but that seems an unlikely explanation for a world wide historical trend.

    • fructose

      Well pedophiles are people who are attracted to pre-fertile people. But 14 to 18-year-olds are generally fertile. (The average age of first menses is 12-13.) So if you accept “pedophile” is nomenclature for pre-fertiles, attraction to adolescent females isn’t pedophilia.

    • William H. Stoddard

      Robin: I don’t consider “moral panic” to be a theory at all. I consider it to be a descriptive phrase. I don’t have a theory to explain why that particular sort of behavior occurs.

      Some of the things that can be observed about “pedophilia” in American culture include the following:

      * The word is used to refer to sexual relations between adults and anyone under the age of consent, which can be as high as 19, or to any expression of attraction to such young sexual partners by adults

      * The calls for harsh punishment of persons who sexually pursue prepubescent children are generalized to calls for harsh punishment of people who sexually pursue adolescents

      * The lower limit of “adolescence” is set not by physiology, but by an arbitrary legal age

      * In some jurisdictions, adolescents who engage in sexual relations with other adolescents are also liable to these harsh penalties under the law, and to official classification as sexual predators (there was a striking case in Utah a year or two ago involving a 13-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, IIRC)

      If you have a theory to explain this, I’m certainly willing to consider it. I don’t.

      • Sherri Boyd

        William S: all that you say here is true

    • “Brendon, interesting specific history, but that seems an unlikely explanation for a world wide historical trend.”

      It is probably clearer in the context of legal empires.

      I am unaware of claims to rampant prostitution among aboriginals, prior to their annexation by technologically superior invaders.

      dwc [url=]RMCM™[/url]
      God bless

      • Sherri Boyd

        William S: All that you say here is absolutely true!

    • “but why not treat 14 year olds as equals, if we treat 20 and 60 year olds as equals?”

      Because they aren’t equals to adults in our culture, in a variety of ways which are unrelated to sex. They’re still being educated, not allowed to work, not allowed to vote or drink, and not even allowed to live independently except under extraordinary circumstances. Regardless of biology, they are on a clearly different social level from adults. This would continue to be true even if they were legally allowed to have sex, unless all the other things that make them legally “children” also changed–and I predict that, were that the case, wanting to have sex withthem would also stop seeming creepy.

      • Armchair MacLayman

        Another distinction between adolescents and adults that seems worth mentioning here is the former’s relative lack of cognitive control during prefrontal cortex development, which unlike puberty, extends at least into the early twenties.

  • fructose

    Actually, here is an interesting idea that just occurred to me: maybe the cultural tendency toward emphasizing thinness is a product of legal limits on marrying adolescent females.

    According to the ideas laid out above, men tend to prefer marrying adolescent females. Adult women who are seeking husbands try to meet the desires of men for more adolescent-like bodies. Adolescent females have lower levels of subcutaneous body fat than peak-fertility females, as well as less developed secondary sex characteristics. This might also explain the trend toward removing or limiting pubic hair.

    I wonder if any psychologists or sociologists have studied this?

  • Pedophilia is a side-effect of humans having evolved as a neotenous species. The ever-increasing age of consent is a side-effect of feminism and a desire for equality of education between the sexes. Biologically, putting the age of consent at 18 is unnatural, even if it may be socially desirable. Of course, the problems that have since arisen show what happens when there is a mismatch between biology and society.

  • Matt

    Check out other species with long term bonds (it’s not like they’re thin on the ground, even though they aren’t social in the way humans are).

    If they demonstrate members with attraction to pre-fertile other-sex (at least at a greater frequency than other species without such bonds), then we can say this is a consequence of long term pair bonding. Otherwise no, I expect no relationship.

    “Wife husbandy” ( would seem like a more likely consequence of long term mating strategies than unreciprocated and serial sexual advances towards pre-fertile women. And more socially acceptable.

    Why do we romanticise (at least in fiction) close relationships between pre-fertile children who later, when they are adult, marry and remain together in a monogamous bond?

  • russo


    The problem with that theory is that women in the USA are much fatter than they’ve been historically. The thinness ideal only holds for the very upper classes and is mostly followed by a small minority even of these. Real world slimness combined with traditional attractiveness is more predominant abroad — esp Eastern Europe and Asia which also have a less punitive attitude towards relations between older men and women in the mid to higher teens.

    • fructose

      First of all, a lot of women value thinness, but that isn’t the same as being able to achieve it in the real world. I value muscularity, yet skinny I remain. Food has gotten very cheap, convenient, fattening, and delicious during the same period, and that is a confounding variable.

      It is also true that higher class women are more likely to value thinness as opposed to generalized sexiness. This makes sense: the lower classes no longer have a culture oriented around marriage. Short-term sexual relationships dominate procreation amongst the lower classes. The upper-middle class and upper class still demand marriage before reproduction, so these women maximize their marriage market value by being adolescent looking.

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  • Tracy W

    I don’t see the contrast. In farmer times, people were fine with attractions to adolescent females, okay, but were they fine with attraction to pre-fertile females? You’re not comparing like with like here – teenagers are quite often fertile.

    I understood that when there were child marriages amongst the aristocracy or royalty in medieval times, they were for political purposes and the couple were generally brought up separately until they were both adolescents. So I don’t think such a contrast existed (of course, I could have been wrong in my memory of medieval times).

  • tsprad
    • Doug S.

      What he said.

    • Avishek

      This link is awesome!

  • RNG

    Men, look at these 15-19 year old adolescent girls.

    Admit that they are are beautiful or admit that you are a liar. It doesn’t matter whether you are a farmer or a forager. If you are an honest heterosexual male, you will admit that these adolescents are sexually attractive.

  • OhioStater

    The word pedophile in modern usage is reserved for “older man – young boy” relationships. We need a new word to describe “older man – young girl”, “older woman – young boy”, and “older woman – young girl”.

  • RNG

    From a fertility perspective, females age 15-19 should be the most attractive since they are both currently fertile and have the longest fertility window. In the US, college educated females (and parents of college educated females) have instilled the idea that women under age 22 are “too young” to get married, thus ensuring that females exiting college are viewed as being the prime age for marrying.

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  • Human Being


    “Pedophilia” which should be called “Misopedia”, or “hater of children”. The word “pedophile” is sort of a cover up word.The word really does not show forth it’s meaning – as “philia” means love in a friendly way. “Ped” means “earth, soil” and also “foot” or rather something under-foot, eg: a child. So pedophile means a “friend of children”

    • i

      This is just etymologically embarrassing

  • Carl Barjer

    You utterly misunderstand pedophilia. A pedophile is attracted to prepubescents. Once they become pubescent, the appeal dissipates.

    • som1w.pedophilia

      There is a good reason for not entitling this post “Hebephiles Mate for Life”–it just sounds inscrutable.

      As to your last sentence, even the APA definition doesn’t require *exclusive* attraction. And while romantic love dissipates in most adult relationships, *appeal* may still persist. (I can personally testify this is relevant.)

      Other thoughts on this topic:

      It seems worth considering how much making teenagers off-limits *is* a worldwide historical trend. The age of consent in Germany, Spain, and most of Latin America is 14 or even less.

      Some people are indeed exclusively and pathologically attracted to the young. This may be something like having two recessive genes that singly (once did) confer a moderate advantage but together are bad. And while many agricultural societies countenanced relationships with girls of twelve, and sometimes even nine (remember Muhammad), some sick people are attracted to even younger ages. I see David Brin has his own related musings.

      Well, have a nice day.

      • Carl Barjer

        With ‘pedophiles’, it’s more likely, surely, that appeal would dissipate, while (romantic) love
        may still persist?

  • Jorma Kovanen

    i like em boys