Should “Hebephilia” Be Considered a Mental Disorder?

The world of forensic psychology is a dynamic one that involves ongoing research and debate regarding the motivations behind crimes, the role of mental illness, and proper place of medical professionals in determining someone’s punishment.  The contributions made by psychologists are not without their run-ins with controversy.  For instance, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is due out in 2013 and workgroups are considering inclusion of a psychiatric diagnosis that is being met with strong resistance.

Hebephilia, or the sexual attraction to pubescent minors, is being discussed as a new mental disorder.  This label would come into play into cases of statutory rape that involve victims between the ages of eleven and fourteen. 

One vocal opponent of this proposed disorder is Dr. Allen Frances, who was chair of the DSM-4 Task Force and who serves as professor emeritus at Duke University.  In a recent blog post published for Psychology Today, Frances asserts that sexual attraction to those who have reached puberty is hard-wired and very common, pointing to popular advertising campaigns and their use of sexualized teenagers in appealing to adults, and that these urges must be controlled.  The feelings remain from a time in our history when people did not live long enough to delay sexual activity past adolescence.  Frances believes that sex with a teenager in today’s society is indeed a heinous crime and such urges must be controlled, but that such an act is not a sign of a mental disorder.

What are your thoughts on defining sex with a child who has reached puberty as a mental disorder

Is this a legitimate addition to our psychological labels, or are we making excuses for a rapist who made a very bad decision?

 
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Comment by Jennifer Chase on July 9, 2011 at 2:29am
Thanks for your comments!  You can see that this issue is dicey and we'll have to see what the DSM-5 comes up with.
Comment by Benjamin Sobieck on July 8, 2011 at 3:34pm

I agree with Dan, there's no reason to ruin the life of an 18 year old in high school having consensual sex with a significant other younger than 18. The sexual offender label that comes with it is not on par with the 40 year old looking to do the same thing.

 

I don't think there can be an objective cut-off. Coercion at any age, although not definable, is a better measure. A jury would know it when it sees it. We all know it, really. It's just not an objective measure, because the ability to consent is different for everyone.

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