Hebephilia: quintessence of diagnostic pretextuality

Behav Sci Law. 2010 Nov-Dec;28(6):751-68. doi: 10.1002/bsl.934. Epub 2010 Apr 27.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Humans
  • Paraphilic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Paraphilic Disorders / psychology
  • Sex Offenses / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Sex Offenses / psychology