A collection of the latest research on MAPs and minor attractions
Who is a pedophile?
A pedophile is someone who is sexually and/or romantically attracted to prepubescent children. Someone attracted to early-pubescent teenagers is a hebephile and someone attracted to late-pubescent teenagers and young adults is an ephebophile. Anyone could be a pedophile, and because up to 5% of the population is estimated to have pedophilia, it's likely you know at least one. These aren't faceless, middle-aged men on the internet, they're your friends, coworkers, and even your children, since 66% of those attracted to minors are minors themselves when they discover their attractions. Of course, there are pedophiles who abuse children, but these make up a minority of minor-attracted individuals.
In addition to the widespread erroneous belief that all pedophiles are child abusers and vice versa, there are several misconceptions the public holds about pedophiles, the main ones being related to the belief that they are more likely to have psychiatric disorders. While these beliefs are based on research, that research was conducted under the belief that all pedophiles are child abusers and all child abusers are pedophiles, both of which have been disproven. Today, it is known that, while pedophiles who are convicted for sexual offenses are more likely to have these issues, non-offending pedophiles are not significantly more likely to have any of the traits stereotypically associated with pedophilia than members of the general population.
Are pedophiles a danger to children?
Society and the media often use the terms "pedophile" and "child abuser" interchangeably, causing many to believe that most or all pedophiles are child abusers and that most or all people who commit sexual offenses against children are pedophiles. Neither of these beliefs, however, is an accurate reflection of reality. Pedophilia and other minor attractions are simply attractions, and like most people who experience attractions, the majority (up to 85%) of pedophiles do not commit sexual offenses. Additionally, studies have consistently found that a minority (potentially as few as a quarter) of people who commit sexual offenses against children are pedophiles.
Regardless of whether someone is a pedophile, there are factors that can make someone more likely to commit a sexual offense. Many of these are related to mental or physical health and can be addressed through treatment, which is why research into support for pedophiles and others who are attracted to minors has become a focus in efforts to prevent CSA. To be clear, this is not a claim that all pedophiles need support to avoid offending, but rather that ensuring those at risk of offending have access to support can lower that risk.
The societal stigma surrounding pedophilia can actually increase the risk of pedophiles committing sexual offenses. This is because the stigma, when internalized, can lead to increased isolation and lower self-esteem, both of which are known risk factors for sexual violence. Stigma may also cause MAPs to attempt to suppress their attractions, which may result in them becoming stronger. Additionally, internalized stigma also tends to reduce an individual's willingness to seek support for such issues, making it even harder for pedophiles who are at risk of offending to get help. For this reason, many CSA prevention researchers and organizations have begun to focus on sharing factual information about pedophilia to combat the misinformation and fearmongering that perpetuate stigma.
Can adult pedophiles be attracted to and have relationships with adults?
Pedophiles and others who experience attractions to minors can be separated into two categories: exclusive and non-exclusive. Non-exclusive adult pedophiles are those who experience some level of attraction to other adults, and many non-exclusive adult pedophiles are able to engage in sexual and/or romantic relationships with other adults. While exclusive adult pedophiles do not experience sexual or romantic attractions to other adults, they can still form platonic connections with them, and sometimes these are strong enough to facilitate some sort of relationship beyond friendship. These relationships can include a sexual element, although this is often aimed at providing pleasure for a partner.
An important clarification is that pedophiles are not inherently more attracted to "adults who look like children." Though some adults are physically small and may even have less-developed sexual organs, most pedophiles are attracted to a combination of size, age, specific stages of development, and even children's personalities, and it is uncommon for any adult to possess all of those characteristics to a great enough extent to make them legitimately look like a child. While it is certainly possible for non-exclusive pedophiles to be attracted to adults who happen to look younger than their age in some ways, this is not the result of their pedophilic attractions.
What are minor-attracted people (MAPs)?
MAP stands for minor-attracted person, which refers to anyone who experiences sexual and/or romantic attractions to minors. It was popularized by mental health experts at B4U-ACT as an umbrella term for nepiophiles, pedophiles, hebephiles, and ephebophiles, and it is now widely used among researchers in both the mental health and CSA prevention fields. Despite popular belief, the term does not reflect an attempt to "rebrand" pedophiles or encourage the inclusion of cishet MAPs in the LGBTQ community.
The MAP Community
While anyone who experiences an attraction to minors is, by definition, a MAP, some are also members of the MAP community, an unofficial network of several different peer support-focused spaces for MAPs. This includes support groups, MAPs doing outreach to help others find support on social media, and even group chats for MAPs on a variety of platforms. The reason for its decentralized nature is that, rather than being centered around a certain group of people or a specific platform, the MAP community revolves around the very concept of peer support and bonding over shared experiences with stigma and attractions. While many people erroneously believe that MAPs forming a community and interacting with each other could result in higher rates of child abuse, experts have spoken out in favor of MAP-focused support groups and social media activism, saying that both play a role in reducing the likelihood of MAPs offending. Unfortunately, many social media (and other) platforms actively interfere with CSA prevention efforts by censoring MAPs and the experts who support them.
What challenges do minor-attracted people face?
Due to the prevalence of misinformation about MAPs (most notably the conflation of pedophilia with child abuse), minor-attracted individuals are subjected to extremely high levels of stigma. This can come from peers, family members, and even the media, and often becomes internalized, taking a severe toll on MAPs' mental health. Over 1 in 3 MAPs experience suicidal thoughts, and young MAPs are particularly vulnerable, as the most common age for a MAP to first attempt suicide is just 14 years old.
This stigma even impacts the interactions between MAPs and mental health professionals. A majority of MAPs are interested in seeking some form of professional support, but many are unwilling to do so for fear of being misunderstood and further stigmatized by therapists and other professionals. These fears are not unfounded, as studies have shown that a majority of health professionals wrongly believed mandatory reporting laws required them to report clients who disclosed a sexual attraction to children. In extreme cases, MAPs may even be subjected to conversion therapy, which is known to be ineffective and incredibly harmful. These risks serve as yet another factor preventing MAPs from seeking support, even for issues unrelated to their attractions.
Despite the fact that MAP activism reduces the risk of CSA, many social media platforms have decided to prioritize the PR hassle of "you allow pedophiles on your site!" over the wellbeing of children and ban MAPs and MAP activism. Some have taken this a step further, banning support groups and even medical professionals who try to share factual information about MAPs. This makes it harder for MAPs to find others like them and support resources, increasing the risk of mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts, in a community that is already at a higher risk due to the stigma surrounding their attractions.
Due to the near-universal misunderstanding of minor attractions, MAPs, even non-offending ones, are popular targets for online vigilantes, often referred to as "pedophile hunters" or "anti-MAPs." These groups are associated with illegal actions, harm to innocent "suspects," and false accusations. They also benefit from and perpetuate the stigma surrounding pedophilia and other minor attractions, interfering with legitimate CSA prevention efforts in the process. In short, these groups hide behind the claim that they are "protecting children" while their words and actions harm both children and innocent adults.
You can learn more about online threats to MAPs and allies on our Safety page.
How can I support minor-attracted people?
Due to the wide variety of topics covered by the media, there are numerous ways journalists can integrate more accurate, non-stigmatizing information about MAPs into their content. The most basic of these is simply using accurate terminology, something CSA prevention experts strongly recommend, as it could actually help reduce rates of child abuse. When focusing on abuse-specific topics, getting input from child protection organizations that base their work on the research surrounding minor attractions rather than appealing to stereotypes about pedophiles is another great way to ensure accuracy.
Journalists can also go a step further by talking about the MAP community itself and the role it plays in CSA prevention. Some MAP-focused organizations and support groups are open to providing interviews about their work, and some may even be willing to help reporters find specific MAPs who can share stories about their personal experience with their attractions. While there is also the option to seek out MAPs in the community without the help of any organization or group, this can be problematic, as trolls have a history of pretending to be a MAP in order to cast the community in a negative light. Be sure to find a MAP who is well-known in the community and can be vouched for by other respected community members.
Journalists who are interested in learning more about MAP Resources can get in touch using the contact information on our About page.