What is ephebophilia? Allegations against Carson King shed light on condition that often flies under the radar
A 2008 analysis had found significant differences between pedophile and ephebophile offenders regarding their personal history and offending behaviors
Allegations have been made against YouTuber and comedian Carson King that he used to sext with underaged fans. The accusations have not been proven yet, however, there is a condition called ephebophilia that is used to describe an individual who experiences sexual attraction to people in particular age ranges. Here's all you need to know about the condition.
What do we know about this?
Unlike pedophilia, which describes an adult’s sexual attraction to children 13 years or younger, ephebophilia refers to sexual attraction for sexually maturing teenagers or adolescents who are not yet adults. “Ephebophilia is used to describe a preferential sexual interest in adolescent individuals, usually mid-late teens,” explains a blog.
The American Psychological Association defines ephebophilia as “sexual attraction to and arousal by adolescent children, usually early adolescents who are just going through puberty.” The Association’s diagnostic manual does not include ephebophilia as a diagnostic category currently.
According to a 2018 post in The Conversation, most men are sexually attracted to sexually mature young adults. But some are sexually attracted to other age groups, from infants to the elderly. These age-based attractions are called "chronophilias" and ephebophilia falls under it, according to Michael Seto, associate professor of psychiatry from the University of Toronto.
In a 2017 article, Dr Rosenzweig, a certified sex educator and the author of 'The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart and Healthy Children', had said that not all adults who pursue teens and tweens are predatory ephebophiles. “But one of the most important things experts advise parents is to ensure that their children tell them about any alone-time they spend with an adult or older teen. No exceptions,” she cautioned.
What does research suggest?
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice was commissioned in 2008 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to conduct a national survey to determine the nature and extent of child sexual abuse by clergy. Using data collected in the survey, the study examined factors that differentiated between pedophile and ephebophile offenders. Significant differences were found between these groups regarding their personal history and offending behaviors.
“The factors that did differentiate between these two groups can provide clues for further research on child sex offender subtypes. The picture that emerges from the ephebophile when compared to the pedophile is of someone who starts offending earlier in their career and continues over a longer period of time. Not only is this type of offender more likely to have a history of substance abuse, but he is also more likely to be using at the time of offending,” wrote the authors.
According to researchers, a possible explanation for this finding is that the ephebophile may be more conflicted regarding his offending behavior and therefore, requires the disinhibition from substance use to engage in the abuse. The substance use at the time of offending may also reflect an attempt to self-medicate as a means of coping with stress.
“This would be consistent with previous research that suggests the ephebophile is more likely to offend in response to external stress,” the findings state.
The investigators also suggested that the ephebophile’s offending behavior is more likely to occur during special events and that their victims are coerced into more active sexual behaviors.
“Since ephebophile victims have reached a level of physical sexual maturity there is the possibility that ephebophiles may justify their offending by viewing their victims as more willing participants and seeing the sexual activity as stemming from a relationship based on what the offender may want to perceive as shared interests and activities,” they explained.
The team said that while the subjects in this study were limited to Catholic clerics, the data makes a significant contribution to the research on child sexual offenders. “Further research is needed to determine if there are specific variables that are unique to this group and can differentiate these offenders from pedophile and ephebophile offenders so that improvements can be made in the identification and treatment of both offenders and victims,” they recommended.
Many unanswered questions
Seto explains that the “best-known atypical chronophilia is pedophilia,” which he says has received the most attention because it helps explain many cases of child pornography use and child sexual abuse. “There are other lesser-known chronophilias, including attraction to infants or toddlers (nepiophilia) and sexually maturing teens who are not yet adults (ephebophilia)."
"Ephebophilia can explain some cases of statutory rape involving ‘consensual’ relationships between adults and teens who are under the legal age of consent. Surprisingly little research is available about these crimes, even though they are frequent, with approximately one in four rapes recorded by police in the US involving statutory cases,” wrote Seto, a forensic research director at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group.
According to him, chronophilias could be the result of errors in age detection, where heterosexual male preferences for youth cues like big eyes and smooth skin are “not offset by sexual maturity cues like full breasts and curvy hips.” “For pedophilia, hebephilia, and ephebophilia, the youthfulness cues dominate; for mesophilia and gerontophilia, the preference for youth cues is actually reversed,” he added.
Seto emphasized that many questions need to be answered: “When do chronophilias emerge and how stable are they over a person’s lifetime?”, “What are the female experiences of chronophilias?” and “What might be effective treatments to prevent acting on sexual interests in children and underage adolescents?”
“Developmental studies are rare because scientists (and parents) are reluctant to include children and adolescents in sex research. Instead, we rely on studies asking adults to remember their earlier lives or looking at developmental markers with adults,” he noted.