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Wednesday, 27 June 2018

The APA/DSM pedophilia controversy: Orientation or disorder?

Gilan Gertz
Decoded Science

How does the American Psychiatric Association (APA) view pedophilia? A recent controversy leaves many people wondering about this question. Charisma Magazine, a publication geared toward evangelical Christians, was dismayed to discover that the APA had described pedophilia as a "sexual orientation" rather than a "sexual interest." The description seems to validate pedophilia, which is a sexual attraction to children, as a viable life choice.

Christian and conservative citizens quickly responded to the report, petitioning Congress and Attorney General Eric Holder to appeal to the APA to change their definition. Immediately after, the concerned groups noticed that the APA had written a news release to correct their error. The APA said that the discussion section of the newest version of the DSM-5 (a manual of psychiatric disorders that is widely used by mental health professionals) contained an error.

The APA said that the discussion about diagnostic criterion for pedophilic disorder contained an error; it should have read, "sexual interest," instead of "sexual orientation."

In the news release, the APA affirmed that they strongly support effort to criminally prosecute those who sexually abuse and exploit children and adolescents. They also support ongoing efforts to develop treatment for individuals who have been diagnosed with pedophilic disorder, with the goal of preventing future abusive acts.

Correcting the DSM

What's behind this issue? The DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, was first developed in 1952. It has been periodically revised since then, but for nearly two decades, it remained untouched, despite the wealth of new information that researchers had discovered in that time. In 2013, the updated version, called the DSM-5, was finally revealed.

The DSM-5's chair and vice-chair, David Kupfer and Darrel Regier, published a disclaimer on the tome's website. They noted that they worked on revising the criteria for the diagnosis and classification of mental disorders for more than a decade, but the work is still not complete. Kupfer and Regier called on the public to play an active role in the next phase of refining the material, including correcting any errors. This disclaimer seems to indicate that the "sexual orientation" vs. "sexual interest" statement was truly a mistake.

A Political Issue?

Conservative groups doubt that the designation of pedophilia as a sexual orientation was far from an honest mistake. Instead, they believe that the APA bowed to the demands of radical groups that maintain that feeling attracted to children is different than acting on one's attraction to children. Some compare the APA's attitude toward pedophilia to its attitude toward homosexuality; in much earlier editions of the DSM, homosexuality was considered a disorder, but its definition has been changed over the years.

Comment: It seems none of the parties involved can think. 1) There IS a difference between a feeling and action - that's why we don't have thought crime. 2) Accepting this does not imply condoning pedophilia, as a "sexual interest" or as a practice, i.e. criminal behavior.  

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