Pedophilia is defined as a sexual preference for prepubescent children, reflected in the person’s sexual thoughts, fantasies, urges, arousal, and behavior. There are three key features in this definition: (1) the sexual interest is persistent, so individuals who have occasionally fantasized about sex with a prepubescent child or who have engaged in sexual contact with a child are not necessarily pedophiles; (2) the persons of interest are prepubescent and thus show few or no signs of secondary sexual development; and (3) the person would sexually choose children even when adult partners are available. Individuals who seek sexual contact with sexually mature minors are unlikely to be pedophiles, though they may be engaging in illegal behavior given a jurisdiction’s legally defined age of sexual consent.
Pedophilia is probably the best-understood paraphilia, given society’s concerns about preventing children from becoming victims of sexual offenses. Pedophilia is an important motivation for sexual offending against children, but the two concepts are not synonymous: Some pedophiles have no known history of sexual contact with children, and perhaps half the sex offenders against children are pedophiles.