Pedophilia and Ephebophilia

Age of consent laws have been of interest to me since watching the indie revenge thriller Hard Candy, in which 32-year old Jeff tries seducing 14-year old Hayley. This makes Jeff not a pedophile, but an ephebophile, and there’s a big difference between the two. In yesterday’s Times article Carol Sarler upholds the distinction over the protests of one Michele Elliott:

“Terry Grange, the Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys and spokesman on child protection for the Association of Chief Police Officers, suggested greater clarity in the labelling of sex offenders: it is incorrect to say that those who have sex with underage teenagers are pedophiles — and if we say they are, we risk overestimating the scale of the problem of pedophilia.

“With predictable fury, Michele Elliott, the director of the children’s charity Kidscape, rounded on the policeman’s wish to reclassify those who have sex with youngsters between 13 and 16: ‘He is saying they are not pedophiles and they bloody well are.’

“If Miss Elliott would care to borrow my dictionary, she would discover that they bloody well aren’t. A pedophile is defined as one who is sexually attracted to children; children are defined as those between birth and puberty. What our teen fanciers are, in fact, is ephebophiliacs: adults attracted to postpubescent adolescents.”

There’s obviously a difference, because pedophilia is intrinsically wrong (or at least, most of us believe so), while ephebophilia is conditionally and arbitrarily wrong, depending on what society says about it. As Sarler notes:

“[Pedophilia] goes to the defiance of a law of Nature… [It] is to have sex with somebody who is, if you will, not ‘ready’. By contrast, to have sex with somebody who has passed the age of puberty is merely to defy a law of Man — and a pretty arbitrary law at that. We cannot agree between one border and the next at what age a boy or girl is emotionally developed enough to give informed consent: Malta and The Netherlands think 12, Canada and Italy weigh in at 14, cautious Greece holds out for 15 and the good burghers of Iceland go as high as 17.”

Here’s a site depicting age of consent laws around the world.

Legal Ages of Consent By Country

Obviously what one country or state thinks is fine, another will throw you in jail for. Sarler says, quite rightly:

“As long as the law is the law, [the ephebophile] deserves a smacked paw if he gives in to his excitement. But he does not deserve the same opprobrium as the [pedophile] — and nor do we deserve that our police forces’ time be needlessly spent in his pursuit rather than that of the far rarer, but far more dangerous, bogeyman proper.”

But back to Hard Candy. What’s amusing about the film is that Jeff is committing an ephebophiliac felony by Californian standards (where the age of consent is 18), but doing nothing wrong by Canadian standards — the irony being that Ellen Page, who plays Hayley, is Canadian. The age of consent in Canada is 14, that of the character Hayley. Canadians who watch Hard Candy might be a bit puzzled at the film’s premise. What exactly is the problem here? What’s wrong with these uptight Californians?

Of course, it does come out in the story that Jeff is also a pedophile, when Hayley stumbles on his stash of kiddie porn. He appears, then, to be a closet pedophile and an active ephebophile. One critic has suggested that the filmmaker’s choice to make Jeff both was gratuitous, in the sense that it plays on exaggerated tendencies of people to associate one with the other, as if ephebophilia is as bad as pedophilia, or as if a person who is sexually drawn to teens is necessarily drawn to children too. Given the incredible reaction of Michele Elliot to Terry Grange, I think the critic has a good point. But I still love the movie.

30 thoughts on “Pedophilia and Ephebophilia

  1. I’m Canadian. I’m not sure that the average Canadian is aware that it’s legal for a forty-year-old to have sex with a fourteen-year-old. You’re right, but with one qualification: “unless it takes place in a relationship of trust or dependency, in which case sexual activity with persons over 14 but under 18 can constitute an offence, notwithstanding their consent”

  2. …but with one qualification: “unless it takes place in a relationship of trust or dependency, in which case sexual activity with persons over 14 but under 18 can constitute an offence, notwithstanding their consent”.

    The same is true in my state (New Hampshire), where the age of consent is 16, but defaults to 18 in relationships of trust or authority (i.e. teachers, pastors, counsellors, etc).

  3. Many girls enter puberty at age 8–by your “argument” (which does not deserve the name), it would be ok to have sex with them. I hope that you get therapy soon.

  4. Anonymous said: “Many girls enter puberty at age 8–by your “argument” (which does not deserve the name), it would be ok to have sex with them. I hope that you get therapy soon.”

    To the person that wrote the above comment(quoted), you are an idiot. An ephebophile is someone that is attracted to POST-pubescent youth…this means AFTER PUBERTY. Not BEFORE, not DURING. This covers a wide range of men all over the world. A female that is post-pubescent will look attractive to any normal human male. When I was in high school I thought girls were attractive and ever since then they still are. While the age of consent law in the particular area should, of course be followed , it is not wrong for men to be attracted to young women. Keep in mind the definition(ephebophile) I’ve given you before your knee-jerk reaction. Romeo & Juliet was written about post-pubescent adolescents (13 and 14 years old). People had sex at that age at that time. Tastes didn’t change, our laws changed. We are still animals. Check out this site “”. These people that get caught for this stuff are WRONG for having pursued sex with those that are considered minors in their communities, however, it is not indicative of a need for therapy to be attracted to someone of that age depending on the fact that they are POSTpubescent and not PREpubescent or still in puberty. Most of the girls I know from high school were well developed and done developing by the time we reached highschool.

  5. While many adults may be attracted to adolescents,this does not make them ehebophiles.An ephebophile is a person who is only attracted to adolescents,some of whom are incapable of sexual interaction with adults.There is no treatment for such unfortunate people.Rather than label them pedophiles,people should understand that some of those who pursue younger partners are no less decent or moral than regular people,but simply have no choice in their sexual and romantic desires.

  6. There is clinical usefulness in the distinction between ephebophiles and pedophiles, specifically in the treatment of offenders. The pathology and motivation of the two are considerably different as are the patterns and methods of vicimization. Consider too that most people have a rather different level of abhorrence when they hear about an offender that has penetratively victimized a person not yet in grade school versus a victim whom is a senior in high school. This suggests that at some deep level there is a perceptible difference in the nature of the offence. The discussion about the extent and degree of harm that can come to a teenager engaging in sexual activity with an adult is complex and nuanced due to the complexities about just what is consent and what is coercion. Preferably law in this regard would be based as much as possible on evidence of harm as much as it is based on public outrage. The clinical separation of ephebophiles and pedophiles serves an important public policy purpose. The disaggregation allows for more focused and specific research into the offenses and offenders, more accurate assessment of public sentiment and hopefully better assessment and treatment of offenders. Unfortunately there is a voice that screams out against increased precision in understanding these paraphilias, expressing the concern that it is an effort to “legitimize” sexual contact between youth and adults. Does aggregating a mass of behaviours into a general category of things we think are “icky” ever really help establish good public policy or advance our ability as clinicians, therapists, counselors and peers to assist offenders of law in normalizing their interaction with the public. Whatever ones normative stance on sexual relations between adults and post pubescent but legally underage youth it serves no ones bona-fide interests to oppose clearer understanding of the issue.

  7. to the previous anon that sai:<>While many adults may be attracted to adolescents,this does not make them ehebophiles.An ephebophile is a person who is only attracted to adolescents,some of whom are incapable of sexual interaction with adults.There is no treatment for such unfortunate people.Rather than label them pedophiles,people should understand that some of those who pursue younger partners are no less decent or moral than regular people,but simply have no choice in their sexual and romantic desires.<>funny, everywhere i look up the word i find “preference” not “exclusive” as the key term. to make it seem like it’s an exclusive attraction makes it sound more like a disease than it actually is. just because people grow older doesn’t make younger girls/guys less attractive.

  8. I was 14 and had a relationship with an adult male and it was wonderful. He was very loving and caring. Not manipulative and aggressive. It wasn’t all about sex as most people would see it. I think the age of consent laws should be changed in the United States to allow responsible adolescent males to have relationships with older men. Notice the word responsible. Why is it every one thinks older males who are gay and are interested in some postpubescent males are monsters and perverts. It’s not all about that at all. Love happens,sex happens,life happens.

  9. There are men who in their 50’s are attracted to 14 and 15 year olds…ok you can say this is ‘natural’ adolescent girls atre beuatiful. BUt when the man seeks out his sexual pleasure in fantasizing about teens via teen porn sites and teen model sites to get his gratification and this takes away from being abel to be sexually involved iwth his loving adult partner there is an enormous abnormality with this. It’s one thing to appreciate beautiful but when seeking out youths that are underage,in secret, to fulfill a sexual fantasy replces a realtionship or prohibits one there is something seriously wrong with thsi behavoir.

  10. I see people debating between Pedophilia and Ephebophilia and ignoring the paraphilia between the two called hebephilia. I will list all three for anyone that needs to have some clarification on what they are talking about.

    Pedophilia is a preference for pre pubescent children.

    Hebephilia is a preference for minors in early pubescence.

    Ephebophilia is a preference for mid to late teens.

    and Also if Ephebophilia affects the individual who has it in a negative or destructive way then it is considered a disorder.

  11. Most people claiming that most people had sex at age 12 centuries ago are overlooking significant historical facts. The average European/Caucasian woman did not reach menarche until about 17 years old. It was still an average of 17.5 about 120 years ago. If you look up average age at menarche around the globe it is still as high as 18 in many countries. Most of the people I know in their 50s and 60s can still remember girls in grade 11 and 12 waiting for their periods. Only in the last 40 years or so has the age at menarche started dropping lower and lower in the industrialized west. In my day it was on average 12.5 now it is 12 or less. This is due primarily to high fat diets as a girl must weigh about 100 pounds and have about 15-20% body fat or she will not menstruate.

    Only the very rich would have developed and married early. Romeo and Juliet were nobility and nobility were married off even before puberty in arranged marraiges. Prior to the introduction of the potato the average age at first marraige was 27! After it dropped to about 20. People were socially adults then, in a simpler time, long before they were physically and sexually adult. Now they are physically and sexually coming of age, in a complicated and risky time (AIDS etc) long before they are emotionally and socially adults.

    ALL the people I know that are of similar age to me 30-40 who had sex with adults as teens (ranging in age from 12-16) are all totally screwed up. All of them have serious intimacy issues and sexual issues and several of them are sex addicts. The fact that a few people say “Oh it worked out fine for me” does not mean it is harmless, any more than the one uncle everyone seems to have who smoked 3 packs a day and lived to age 95 proves that smoking is harmless. All the people I know once boasted about how lucky they were to have such a great adult lover, so gentle, so attentive….until they one day realized that they never learned how to interact sexually with their peers and so missed a few crucial lessons in forming intimacy.

    Nowadays, there is so much pressure to be sexual even on adults (most adults in one survey agreed that sex was an expected part of dating) that I'm not sure anyone can be said to “consent” freely anymore. Say no = be alone. I know I didn't feel able to say no as a teenager more than 20 years ago. God help kids now.

  12. I'm 16. I don't think there are any problems with dating an older person if it is consentual. I even think the hottest people are between 35 & 50 years old. Adults may think we are “too young to know true feelings”, but we go through enough of them to know what's real and what's not. I'm not saying it's okay for a 8 year old to go date a 56 year old, but I think there are circumstances when it's okay; like a 16 year old with a 47 year old. Doesn't mean they'll have kids, doesn't mean they'll be together forever, it's experiences and a relationship built on something more then just lust on one side, and like I said before, it has to be consentual.

    On a more personal note, I think older people are smarter, more cultured, sexier & have a better understanding of the world and how it runs. I'm a virgin, and I'm not a flirt. I'm not one of those idiots who waltzs around and acts like a 5-year-old or tries to tease or get into bed with every person. And I especially don't want to DATE someone like that either! Who cares what age they are, as long as their someone I can talk with and have feelings for.

    All of this to say, pedophilia is extreme, but if it's kept to themselves, whatever. But, I don't mind ephebophilia, as long as it's consensual. ♥

  13. I've read all of these posts and many of those who are appalled at the idea of ephebophilia raised great points.

    At some point we need to look at the deeper issue. Why are we attracted to each other? – So we can have sex and reproduce.

    Post-pubescent teenagers are extraordinarily fertile, much more so than people in their 20s or 30s. Evolutionarily speaking, we should be more attracted to younger people because we have a better chance of reproducing.

    Now, of course we don't all want to have babies every time we have sex… But biologically the reason we want to have sex is to make children.

    Quite frankly… I would argue that someone who denies a basic biological desire exists has their own set of psychiatric problems, or at the very least a terrible set of logic patterns governing their thinking.

    I suppose that whether teens and adults actually should engage each other and act on their biological desires is a completely separate issue… Particularly when the primary reason behind that desire is being quelled. I also have no interest in arguing the point either way, but I see nothing wrong with it.

  14. Since this is a Christian blog, it's surprising that nobody's talking about issues of marriage and promiscuity. Sex of any kind outside of a marital relationship is wrong according to the Bible. It is not likely that an older person will marry a teenager, especially with the cultural disapproval.

  15. How many Christians today still wait until marriage to have sex? Only 5% of people in the U.S. wait to have sex while a majority of the U.S. population is Christian. Religion changes over time. ❤

  16. “Many girls enter puberty at age 8-“

    That's only because of what the government is putting into our food and water. It's unnatural for girls to enter puberty at that age.

    At least get your facts straight before you try to shame people.

  17. 14. Something about that number and age that I'm attracted to, even before I was 14, when I was 14, and after I was 14. Though I'm only 18 now, but I doubt my attraction will change. I like girls 14 to 35.

  18. ^
    Completely agree with this, although I'd like to add that my preference has changed even if the general pinnacle age range has stayed the same.

  19. I'm not sure if the definitions have changed or what, but as far as I know hebephiles have uncontrollable urges to have sexual relations with adolescents, and ephebophiles are specifically attracted to male adolescents (Wolak, Finkelhor, Mitchell, and Ybarra, 2008).

  20. Should I mention that the 'youngest' age of consent (according to the OPs link) is in Vatican State… where 12 is legal.
    “Let he who is without sin…” and so on.

    My opinion on this is that an arbitrary number assigned by a governing body is useless in deciding if someone is 'old enough', if you actually take a look at people in this age range (post puberty) then you will see that they are all different, with different levels of maturity and a different understanding of sex and relationships. Case in point, my daughter is 16 and she is in no way mature enough to make a decision about sex, yet my cousin is 14 and and can easily make her own decisions about the subject.

  21. I believe it is important to differentiate between Pedophilia and Ephebophilia. Pedophilia is intrinsically harmful to the child, especially female. Ephebophilia is considered bad depending on where you are. Pedophilia is malum in se and ephebophilia is malum prohibitum. One cannot be argued and the other can be argued ad infinitum.

  22. Anonymous said post pubescent teenageres are extroadinarily fertile,more so than those in 20's.This is not true.A males sex drive does not peak untill about 19.Also their sperm count does not peak untill around 20-22.Females,not sure about them,but it is generally accepted that their sex drive peaks considerably later than males.

  23. also to the one who said all those he knows who had sex with adults when they were teenagers are all screwed up,A lot of people who had sex with other teenagers when they were at school are all screwed up as well.there is no evidence any researcher has ever produced which specifically compares the outcomes of adult/child vs child/child sexual relationships.It is completely unknown what the likelyhood of harm is if a man has sex with a teenager.No one has ever examined the topic.And statements like”everyone I know” is not evidence,rather casual observation which holds absolutely no scientific sway.

  24. Well I for one wish that they would update the laws, we have a family friend who was sentenced to 5 years in FEDERAL PRISON!!! Because he entered into a relationship with someone who was 16 but lied and said they were 18. As soon as he found out he ended it but then was blackmailed into paying for things and having more sex with them because, they knew he was a federal employee. They said I'll tell basically if you don't do this! The fact that he was a federal employee and an upstanding one with an exemplary record no less wasn't reason enough for them to take his word for it even though he had text messages and call logs and witnesses to the calls and texts. The Federal Govmnt also wouldn't let his boss come and testify to his exemplary work performance and character. They just wanted to make an example out of him! This is a distinction that needs to be clarified and subcategorized for a less severe punishment, he will never be a pedophile and will be allowed around my daughter and any other children I have (in my opinion).

  25. Hmm. I wasn't aware there was another term. Hey, I'm 19, and I find 15 year old girls nice to look at. I wouldn't say I have a preference for them, but sometimes, young men/women are mature enough. Really. Now, I believe people who have sex with children… That is disgusting. But young teens, as long as it is totally consensual, and they are mentally/emotionally mature enough to handle it, I don't think there is anything wrong with it. Usually, though, I find boys only attrative after 16/17/18, but that's probably because females tend to mature faster.

    It's all about consent, see?
    Pedophilia is wrong, because a child can not really consent, not having the intelligence &/or understanding of what is happening.
    An animal can not consent.
    A corpse can not consent.

    A mentally&physically mature teenager CAN consent. & as long as they do, there shouldn't be a problem.

  26. See, I'm 18. OK? I had a crush on a girl during high school who was a couple of years younger than me. So, I am in a relationship. But the day I turn 18? I get labeled a Pedophile. Even without sex!! I know the term is ephebophile, but let's face it, not a lot of people know that.

    So my point is, well… nothing. I'm just telling how this law/rule effects two adolescents as well as 40 year olds being attracted to Post pubescent teens, which i think is not wrong. What's wrong is trying to trick them into sex or if they are not aware of the concept.

  27. 14 year olds need love too right? Or are we all going to pretend santa claus and the tooth fairy exist now. We are sexual beings, society gets in the way of many things. We should look at this with an open mind and not one of scorn and derision.

  28. I'm in my 60's, married many, many years. I've always been faithful to my wife, and we're quite happy. That said, I do enjoy watching the teen-age girls walking past my house going to and from school. I'm not a bad person but I'm not dead yet, either.

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