Sexual interest in children resembles sexual gender orientation in terms of early onset and stability across the life span. Although a genetic component to sexual interest in children seems possible, no research has addressed this question to date. Prior research showing familial transmission of pedophilia remains inconclusive about shared environmental or genetic factors. Studies from the domains of sexual orientation and sexually problematic behavior among children pointed toward genetic components. Adult men's sexual interest in youthfulness-related cues may be genetically influenced.
The aim of the present study was to test whether male sexual interest in children and youth under age 16 involves a heritable component.
The main outcome measure was responses in a confidential survey concerning sexual interest, fantasies, or activity pertaining to children under the age of 16 years during the previous 12 months.
The present study used an extended family design within behavioral genetic modeling to estimate the contributions of genetic and environmental factors in the occurrence of adult men's sexual interest in children and youth under age 16. Participants were male twins and their male siblings from a population-based Finnish cohort sample aged 21-43 years (N?=?3,967).
The incidence of sexual interest in children under age was 3%. Twin correlations were higher for monozygotic than for dizygotic twins. Behavioral genetic model fitting indicated that a model including genetic effects as well as nonshared environmental influences (including measurement error), but not common environmental influences, fits the data best. The amount of variance attributable to nonadditive genetic influences (heritability) was estimated at 14.6%.
The present study provides the first indication that genetic influences may play a role in shaping sexual interest toward children and adolescents among adult men. Compared with the variance attributable to nonshared environmental effects (plus measurement error), the contribution of any genetic factors seems comparatively weak. Future research should address the possible interplay of genetic with environmental risk factors, such as own sexual victimization in childhood.