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Hebephilia Is More Common Than You Might Think

As a child, being attracted to your classmates budding on puberty is considered normal. But what if a person’s attractions do not mature as they age, but instead stayed fixed on adolescents? A person’s sexuality develops during puberty and is influenced by biological, evolutionary, and societal factors.

Hebephilia is the sexual attraction to pubescent children, ages 11-14. The development of hebephiliac attraction is spurred on by pubatory changes, further reinforced by evolutionary inclinations, and then cemented as taboo in the western mindset. Hebephilia is an evolutionary mismatch; a vestige of a biological desire to procreate with girls just becoming fertile pitted against western societal norms to procreate later in life.

The following quote comes from an anonymous interview with a self-identifying, 27 year-old hebephiliac man:

It’s like a weight.  I’ve heard people describe ‘attraction’ as having butterflies in their stomach. That’s what it’s like.  And for me, that feeling is bad.  It’s a bad thing to have.

His attraction to pubescent girls started when he hit puberty at age 10. He started to realize something was abnormal when his preferences stagnated as he got older.

I thought the self-hatred and bad feelings were some kind of punishment for being drawn to girls the wrong age, or thinking that ‘girls’ instead of women are pretty.  After a lot of therapy, I’ve realized that what I’m feeling when I see a pretty girl who looks like she’s twelve is just attraction.  I feel ashamed even saying that now.”

What Makes a Mental Disorder?

Recently, there was a debate in the medical world about whether or not hebephilia was a mental disorder. A mental disorder is defined by a failure of a naturally selected mechanism, like sexual attraction, to function properly in the current environment.  Harm to the individual and to others was also weighed in this decision.

While the study that brought this debate to the forefront of the psychiatric community’s conscious, proved that hebephilia was a genuine sexual preference, (Blanchard et al. 2009) it was later rejected by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a mental disorder. The rejection of this classification was rooted in the study’s failure to provide reasoning showing hebephilia as a mental disorder. Another factor weighing heavily on the decision was the fear of what such a classification would mean in criminal proceedings.

I have made the mistake in the past where I’ve a comment that a girl was ‘cute,’ and felt all my friends look at me funny.  In a second, I realized the girl was probably thirteen or so.  I was so ashamed I wanted to die.  I mean, it’s one thing to have like, a ‘weird fetish’, but what I think is attractive is illegal.  That feeling is so…evil…that if I ever started a relationship with a girl that age and it somehow turned consensually sexual, I’d be put in prison.  And if the other prisoners ever found out, they’d murder me.

This comes again from the interviewed hebephiliac source. Although he has to actively control his behavior and desires, he has never acted upon his impulses. The man understands that he would be hurting a child if he ever did.

Again, just thinking about it makes me feel disgusting ‘cus I know what I’m really saying: I’m turned on by girls who are much, much younger than me, girls who are 14, 13…even 11 years old… My friends will point out or talk about girls they think are ‘hot’ or ‘pretty’. If I find myself attracted, I almost wonder if they’re trying to trick me and get me in trouble.

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If hebephilia is not a mental disorder, how should it be thought of? The age of consent is not a constant and varies from society to society. The age of acceptable sexual activity has also fluctuated throughout history, moving from a young girl just entering puberty to averaging around late twenty’s to early thirties. Western culture is a worldwide outlier, (Henrich et al. 2010), and America is a further outlier in the realm of societal acceptance of adolescent attraction.

Changes Over Time

In ancient Judaic and Egyptian cultures, the average marriage age for females was 12-14 while men’s average marriage age was 19-21. This age range for females ensured two things: maximizing fertility and preventing premarital sex, (Redford 2001). This marriage age was echoed in many other cultures including Spartan, Roman and Christian communities.

I mean, even in Christianity, being ‘virginal’, you know, without sexual experience, is revered,” the hebephiliac source said. The hyper sexualized duality of “virginity” and “promiscuity” is transposed onto this man’s hebephiliac attractions. He muses that this must be an extreme fetishization of coveting virginal innocence. “It makes me wonder if other guys feel the same way.  But I could never ask anyone.

Since historically marrying pubescent girls seemed to be common practice, what would have been the driving factor for a cultural shift in what we find societally acceptable as sexually attractive?  Education along with industrialization, modernization, colonization and globalization has made “marrying older” the new standard along with shrinking age gaps between spouses.

Evolving Preferences

When I see what normal guys think is ‘hot’, I compare it to what I think.  And in a lot of weird ways, some things are the same and overlap,” the hebephilic man said. That overlap speaks to the biological and evolutionary roots of attraction.

Hebephilia could be considered a vestige trait. Just like human’s antiquated tailbones, because of modern medicine and emphasis on education, the attraction to newly pubescent girls is no longer needed to spur on procreation, (Bru¨lde, 2007). The circumstances that forged the hebephilia adaptation changed, but just because the environment has changed, it does not necessarily mean humans will evolve to better suit that environment. Evolution is spurred on by necessity. If there is no fatal force shaping the population, adaptations will continue in the community.

I’ve tried to control it for years.  At this point in my life, I’m just never truly ‘turned on’, I just try everything I can to not feel aroused.

Although evolution may have shaped his preferences, he tries to respect other people and the society he lives in. The hebephiliac man has been in therapy for 7 years, trying to help cope with antiquated adaptation.


Blanchard,R.,Lykins,A.D.,Wherrett,D.,Kuban,M.E.,Cantor,J.M.,Blak, T., et al. (2009). Pedophilia, hebephilia, and the DSM-V. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 335–350.

Bru¨lde, B. (2007). Wakefield’s hybrid account of mental disorder. World Psychiatry, 6, 163–164.

Henrich,J.,Heine,S.J.,&Norenzayan,A.(2010).Theweirdestpeopleinthe world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33, 61–83.

Redford,D.B.(Ed.).(2001).TheOxfordencyclopediaofAncientEgypt(Vol.1). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Michelle Kostuk, B.S. Ecology, Evolutionary Biology
Michelle Kostuk, B.S. Ecology, Evolutionary Biology

Michelle Kostuk is a freelance science journalist. She is passionate about translating scientific research into compelling stories. Currently located in Tucson, Arizona, she holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona.

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