Hebephilia controversy

Much of my theoretical work involves exploring unspoken messages and biases embedded within forensic psychology paradigms. For this reason, I was fascinated when I first stumbled across the esoteric construct of “hebephilia” back in 2007. It was a made-to-order exemplar for training purposes, to illustrate the ethical pitfalls of psychiatric diagnosis in the forensic arena.

Before long, what started out as a light-hearted blog post turned into a formal research undertaking, in which I explored historical documents and legal cases to get the low-down on this obscure Greek word and its newfound popularity. My research article, the most comprehensive treatise that this formerly unheralded term has ever received, was published in Behavioral Sciences and the Law in 2010. Here is the abstract:

Hebephilia is an archaic term used to describe adult sexual attraction to adolescents. Prior to the advent of contemporary sexually violent predator laws, the term was not found in any dictionary or formal diagnostic system. Overnight, it is on the fast track toward recognition as a psychiatric condition meriting inclusion in the upcoming fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This article traces the sudden emergence and popularity of hebephilia to pressure from the legal arena and, specifically, to the legal mandate of a serious mental abnormality for civil commitment of sex offenders. Hebephilia is proposed as a quintessential example of pretextuality, in which special interests promote a pseudoscientific construct that furthers an implicit, instrumental goal. Inherent problems with the construct’s reliability and validity are discussed. A warning is issued about unintended consequences if hebephilia or its relative, pedohebephilia, make their way into the DSM-5, due out in 2013.

In 2009, researchers at a Canadian clinic began lobbying for hebephilia to be added to the forthcoming edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This proposal set off a firestorm of controversy and a number of published rebuttals.  For readers interested in exploring this controversy, I have compiled a list of these various publications. The article links provide only a “preview” of each article. However, the full articles may be requested from the primary authors, by clicking on an author’s name.

It’s hard to believe that a quirky little word could generate so much heat, but the stakes are surprisingly high – up to lifetime civil detention for those found to have this scientifically shaky disorder.

The debate: Point-counterpoint*

  • My articles, essays and letters:

Research Article: Hebephilia: Quintessence of Diagnostic Pretextuality Karen Franklin (2010), Behavioral Sciences and the Law 28 (6), 751–768

The Public Policy Implications of “Hebephilia”: A Response to Blanchard et al. Karen Franklin (2009), Archives of Sexual Behavior 38 (3), 319-320. [DOI 10.1007/s10508-008-9425-y]

Why the Rush to Create Dubious New Sexual Disorders? [Letter to the Editor] Karen Franklin (2010), Archives of Sexual Behavior [DOI: 10.1007/s10508-010-9616-1]

Forensic Psychiatrists Vote No on Proposed Paraphilias (2010, December), Psychiatric Times, p. 14

Invasion of the hebephile hunters: Or, the story of how an archaic word got a new lease on life (my original blog post of October 31, 2007)

  • Other critiques and analyses:

Hebephilia as Mental Disorder? A Historical, Cross-Cultural, Sociological, Cross-Species, Non-Clinical Empirical, and Evolutionary Review by Bruce Rind and Richard Yuill (2012), Archives of Sexual Behavior

Hebephilia and the construction of a fictitious diagnosis, Paul Good and Jules Burstein (2012), Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases

DSM-5 proposed diagnostic criteria for sexual paraphilias: tensions between diagnostic validity and forensic utility, Jerome Wakefield (2011), International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.

Diagnosing and Litigating Hebephilia in Sexually Violent Predator Civil Commitment Proceedings, John Fabian (2011), Journal Of The American Academy Of Psychiatry And The Law [available online]

Commentary: Hebephilia—A Would-be Paraphilia Caught in the Twilight Zone Between Prepubescence and Adulthood, Robert Prentky and Howard Barbaree (2011), Journal Of The American Academy Of Psychiatry And The Law [available online]

Hebephilia is not a mental disorder in DSM-IV-TR and should not become one in DSM-5, Allen Frances and Michael First (2011),  Journal Of The American Academy Of Psychiatry And The Law [available online]

Hebephilia is a Mental Disorder? Richard Green (2010) Sexual Offender Treatment 5 (1)

Sexual Preference for 14-Year-Olds as a Mental Disorder: You Can’t Be Serious!! [Letter to the Editor] Richard Green (2010), Archives of Sexual Behavior [DOI 10.1007/s10508-010-9602-7]

Adult Sexual Attraction to Early-Stage Adolescents: Phallometry Doesn’t Equal Pathology Thomas K. Zander (2009), Archives of Sexual Behavior 38 (3), 329-330. [DOI 10.1007/s10508-008-9428-8]

Are There “Hebephiles” Among Us? A Response to Blanchard et al. Joseph J. Plaud (2009), Archives of Sexual Behavior 38 (3), 326-327.  [DOI 10.1007/s10508-008-9423-0]

Manufacturing Mental Disorder by Pathologizing Erotic Age Orientation: A Comment on Blanchard et al. Philip Tromovitch (2009), Archives of Sexual Behavior 38 (3), 328.  [DOI 10.1007/s10508-008-9426-x]

Should Hebephilia be a Mental Disorder? A Reply to Blanchard et al. Gregory DeClue (2009), Archives of Sexual Behavior 38 (3), 317-318. [DOI 10.1007/s10508-008-9422-1]

When Is an Unusual Sexual Interest a Mental Disorder? Charles Moser (2009), Archives of Sexual Behavior 38 (3), 323-325. [DOI 10.1007/s10508-008-9436-8]

Hebephilia plethysmographica: A partial rejoinder to Blanchard et al. (2008). Janssen, D.F. (2009).  Archives of Sexual Behavior,  38, 321-322.

Pedophilia, Hebephilia, and the DSM-V Ray Blanchard, Amy D. Lykins, Diane Wherrett, Michael E. Kuban, James M. Cantor, Thomas Blak, Robert Dickey and Philip E. Klassen (2009), Archives of Sexual Behavior 38 (3), 335-350. [DOI 10.1007/s10508-008-9399-9]

Reply to Letters Regarding Pedophilia, Hebephilia, and the DSM-V Ray Blanchard (2009), Archives of Sexual Behavior 38 (3), 331-334. [DOI 10.1007/s10508-008-9427-9]

The Fertility of Hebephiles and the Adaptationist Argument against Including Hebephilia in DSM-5 [Letter to the Editor] Ray Blanchard (In Press), Archives of Sexual Behavior [DOI 10.1007/s10508-010-9610-7]  (full letter also available HERE) (Blanchard’s reply to Franklin 2009)

  • And one author who thinks the proposed diagnosis doesn’t go far enough:

A Critique of the Proposed DSM-V Diagnosis of Pedophilia [Letter to the Editor] William O’Donohue (2010), Archives of Sexual Behavior [DOI 10.1007/s10508-010-9604-5]

*NOTE: This page is not regularly updated.