Christian Right Launches Attack On Wrong Medical Body Over Misrepresented New Paraphilia Definitions

Charisma News brings news of a breathless announcement from the American Family Association:

A shocking announcement made by the American Psychological Association (APA) in its latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders caused an uproar among pro-family organizations and many others, as the APA states it now classifies pedophilia as a sexual orientation or preference instead of a disorder.

Sandy Rios, cultural expert and talk show host on the American Family Radio network, has issued a statement on behalf of the American Family Association in response to the APA’s position on pedophilia:

“Just as the APA declared homosexuality an ‘orientation’ under tremendous pressure from homosexual activists in the mid-’70s, now, under pressure from pedophile activists, they have declared the desire for sex with children an ‘orientation,’ too. It’s not hard to see where this will lead. More children will become sexual prey…”

The fifth edition of manual, widely referred to as DSM-5, is actually published by the American Psychiatric Association; this has now been corrected on Charisma, although “psychology” is preserved in the url. Here’s what it says (page 698) on the subject of the paraphilia of attraction to children:

… if [individuals] report an absence of feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety about these impulses and are not functionally limited by their paraphilic impulses (according to self-report, objective assessment, or both), and their self-reported and legally recorded histories indicate that they have never acted on their impulses, then these individuals have a pedophilic orientation but not pedophilic disorder.

A PDF summary on the APA’s website has further further details and context:

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), paraphilic disorders are often misunderstood as a catch-all definition for any unusual sexual behavior. In the upcoming fifth edition of the book, DSM-5, the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group sought to draw a line between atypical human behavior and behavior that causes mental distress to a person or makes the person a  serious threat to the psychological and physical well-being of other individuals.

…Most people with atypical sexual interests do not have a mental disorder. To be diagnosed with a paraphilic disorder, DSM-5 requires that people with these interests:

• feel personal distress about their interest, not merely distress resulting from society’s disapproval;


• have a sexual desire or behavior that involves another person’s psychological distress, injury, or death, or a desire for sexual behaviors involving unwilling persons or persons unable to give legal consent.

To further define the line between an atypical sexual interest and disorder, the Work Group revised the names of these disorders to differentiate between the behavior itself and the disorder stemming from that behavior (i.e., Sexual Masochism in DSM-IV will be titled Sexual Masochism Disorder in DSM-5).

It is a subtle but crucial difference that makes it possible for an individual to engage in consensual atypical sexual behavior without inappropriately being labeled with a mental disorder. With this revision, DSM-5 clearly distinguishes between atypical sexual interests and mental disorders involving these desires or behaviors.

The chapter on paraphilic disorders includes eight conditions: exhibitionistic disorder, fetishistic disorder, frotteuristic disorder, pedophilic disorder, sexual masochism disorder, sexual sadism disorder, transvestic disorder, and voyeuristic disorder.

…In the case of pedophilic disorder, the notable detail is what wasn’t revised in the new manual. Although proposals were discussed throughout the DSM-5 development process, diagnostic criteria ultimately remained the same as in DSM-IV TR. Only the disorder name will be changed from pedophilia to pedophilic disorder to maintain consistency with the chapter’s other listings.

One can see how the word “orientation” might have caused confusion (indeed, the word doesn’t appear in the PDF summary, and I initially thought it had been introduced by the secondary discussions; see my comment below for more on this), but it’s clear that this is essentially a technical discussion about medical categorization and treatment; there’s nothing here that seeks to normalize or excuse pedophilic behaviour.

The DSM-5 recently caught the eye of Neon Tommy, a news site associated with the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which summarized the DSM-5 revision thus:

Pedophilia refers to a sexual orientation or profession of sexual preference devoid of consummation, whereas pedophilic disorder is defined as a compulsion and is used in reference to individuals who act on their sexuality.

The headline for this was “Pedophilia Now Classified As A Sexual Orientation”, and the reporter also sought comment from an obscure paedophilic-advocacy group in Maryland run by a convicted sex offender. The article also introduced the confusion between the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association (the error was subsequently amended, but not acknowledged).

The Neon Tommy story was then picked up by a Catholic blog run by a certain Father John Zuhlsdorf, who suggested that the word “orientation” showed that a plot was afoot by “homosexualists” to eliminate the age of consent. From here, it was passed on to Patrick Ryan at the American Spectator; by the time story reached the AFA and Charisma, the DSM-5’s distinction between what people may be thinking and how they behave is gone completely. Instead, it’s now become a story of how gay people opened the way for “pedophile activists” to corrupt medicine and society. The repeated “American Psychological Association” error is particularly significant in the context of the American Family Association; the AFA is a strong supporter of the anti-gay psychologist Paul Cameron, who was famously expelled from the American Psychological Association over his views on homosexuality.

The American Family Association’s notion of “pressure from pedophile activists” is particularly hard to take: we live in a world in which people who are even suspected of paedophilia are forced into hiding or murdered; the notion of an obscure sex-offender “activist” pressuring either the American Psychiatric Association or the American Psychological Association into amending its methodology is self-evidently absurd.

UPDATE (1 November): The story has now prompted the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association to issue statements; Charisma, meanwhile,  has been distancing itself from the American Family Association’s claims, and the AFA is apparently blaming its hapless PR company. More on all this here.