IPT Book Reviews

Title: Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions   Positive Review
Editor: Jay R. Feierman
Publisher: Springer-Verlag 1990

Springer-Verlag Publishers
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10010
$45.00
  

Description:

This book sets out to offer a broad, biosocial perspective on pedophilia that is in contrast to the narrow, often dogmatic preconceptions of our times.  As the introduction points out, pedophilic behavior is seen in other societies, in other species, and has a history of occurrence that dates back to ancient times.  The book opens with a biosocial overview by the editor, who speaks from 13 years of experience working professionally with pedophiles and ephebophiles (adults who become sexually involved with adolescents).  There are chapters which take on the challenge of trying to understand the biological function of pedophilic practices in evolution, as well as the influence of hormonal factors and imprinting.  Material is presented on pedophilic practices in nonprimates, in an ape species called Bonobos, and in certain human societies such as Melanesia and traditional Hawaii.

The approach taken in this book appears to be, "What can we learn about pedophilia from studying all its manifestations?"  According to the editor, the single most important contribution of this volume is the thesis that aspects of pedophilic behavior appear to have resulted from an interaction of genetic and nongenetic factors that were to some extent byproducts of natural selection in the evolutionary past.  The idea that rapid evolution has made humans vulnerable to behavioral disorders is also discussed.

Densely scientific chapters are interspersed with essays such as the one that specifically addresses the viewpoint of victimology which, according to author Paul Okami, "Characteristically employs polemical devices and research that blur the line between social science and social criticism."  Okami critiques the work of specific authors whose writings appear to spring from the victimology perspective, such as Diane Russell, and, to a subtler degree, Finkelhor.

Another chapter that has particular relevance to the child abuse movement of the 1970s and 1980s reviews the theory and research behind the Abused/Abuser hypothesis.  Garland and Dougher conclude that "sexual contact with an adult during childhood or adolescence is neither a necessary nor a sufficient cause of adult sexual interest in children and adolescents."

Five chapters explicate various developmental aspects of pedophilia, including a unique, autobiographical essay by pediatrician Donald Sylva who describes the development of his own pedophilic preference.  Sylva's story appears to illustrate the thesis put forth by John Money in the preceding chapter that pedophilia may develop from a derailment of the parent/child pairbonding instinct, such that it becomes entrained to sexuoerotic, lover/lover pairbonding.  In the concluding chapter, the editor reaffirms what he and the contributors believe to be the strong biological components of pedophilia, including a paragraph heading, "If Not For the Grace of God and Natural Selection ..."
  

Discussion:

The material in this book is much broader than, but very applicable to, the topic of child sexual abuse.  Those who are unable or unwilling to suspend a moralistic view may find portions of it disturbing.  Yet, in the truest sense of the word, this book is humanistic in perspective.  The vocabulary is challenging at times, such as the distinction made between "pedophilia" (adult preference for sexual interaction with prepubescent children) and "ephebophilia" (adult preference for sexual interaction with adolescents).  The preciseness of vocabulary reflects the scientific orientation of the contributors and the refusal of this book to offer facile statements that would obscure the complexity of the subject matter.  The scholarly yet readable book, over 500 pages long, both adds to our understanding of a complex human behavior and honestly acknowledges the fact that there is much that we still do not know.

Reviewed by Deirdre Conway Rand, Marin Psychological Services, 650 East Blithedale Avenue, Suite M, Mill Valley, CA 94941.

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