Were We Born With Pedophilia? Part 1

Human Sexuality Is Biologically Natural

Pedophiles are people who have a sexual attraction to children. When people begin the natural process of puberty, their bodies mature and develop the full range of sexual and romantic functionality. This all happens automatically and spontaneously. It is self-evident that an adolescent child doesn’t choose to start experiencing desires for intimate, sexual relationships; they simply experience it, and decide how they’ll respond.

What should we think when we find ourselves sexually and romantically interested in the wrong people? In recent years, society has come to believe that almost anything that comes naturally is an acceptable expression of sexuality. The rallying cry of “I was born this way!” echoed far and wide. And why not? Ask most people, and they’ll say it’s intuitively true.

Clearly, infants don’t experience sexual desires at all. They totally lack the psychological and neurological capacity for that, or most of the other perceptions and desires in the range of human experience. So what is “I was born this way” even supposed to mean? Most people mean something like “These sexual attractions occurred spontaneously, from a relatively early age.” In the past, no one would bat an eye when boys and girls had crushes on each other. People widely understood that feelings of romantic interest and being especially drawn to certain people involved much more than just sexual arousal. But more recently, people have come to see sexual desire as the defining lens of interpersonal relationships. This change does not reflect reality, and it has had disastrous results. (That history is not what I’m addressing here, but the books Strange New World, by Carl Trueman, and Openness Unhindered, by Rosaria Butterfield are good resources to learn about it).

Give it even a little thought, and being “born this way” is not a reliable way to determine right and wrong. This world is obviously broken, and people harm each other in all kinds of ways. Even toddlers are selfish, hit their parents, and lie to them. The idea that sexual desires are a special case of “my desires tell me my who and what I am” is a distinctly modern idea, and society has not grappled with the implications of it for pedophilia.

Well, that’s the boat we’re in.

A Body and Spirit Together

Research is increasingly showing that pedophilia likely stems from pre-existing biological causes, at least in some cases. Notably, researchers have found statistically significant higher rates of non-righthandedness among people who experience pedophilia. This is meaningful because non-righthandedness is both less common than right-handedness, and is usually attributable to biological variations in prenatal and perinatal development. But what about Christians; what should we do with this? How can we believe that God is perfectly good and all-powerful, when our best evidence suggests that some people are born with a biological predisposition to be sexually attracted to children?

This actually doesn’t pose the problem that some people might easily assume. Ever since Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden, there has been brokenness, disease, and death in this world. We are physical; we are a unity of body and spirit together. Yet Sometimes, people can lose sight of how interconnected our spiritual and physical brokenness are. This can lead to focusing too much on one, and losing sight of the other. But we need to understand both to make sense of our lives, and the moral framework God has revealed to us through the Bible and through the designs in nature.

God has created all of reality with intrinsic purpose and meaning. The study of this is called Teleology. Likewise, human sexuality has purpose and meaning outside of our subjective experience of it. That purpose includes things like procreation, mutual sacrificial love, emotional bonding, and symbolizing God’s relationship with his people. God’s intention for human sexual behavior never changes. Rather, it is our bodies and minds that can be wrong. All sexual sin violates this innate purpose in some way, even when the desire for that sin comes from biologically natural causes. In this sense, no one is “A Pedophile”, because sexual activity with a child is contrary to God’s purpose for human sexual relationships within marriage.

Malfunctions In the Brain

“The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

Jesus, Matthew 15:18-19

Jesus taught that our sinful thoughts and desires begin in the heart; that is, in the core of our passions. Things like adultery, slander, and coveting. Again, we are both body and spirit. The various organs of the body each have their purpose, and the brain is no different. Our brains facilitate our thoughts, emotions, and desires. And if there is a malfunction in the brain, that too can impact our thoughts and perceptions. Scripture gives us no reason to think this would not include how we experience our inherent sinfulness, including sexual sinfulness.

It’s easy to find examples of this. Various forms of dementia can profoundly change one’s personality. As the disease progresses, symptoms may fluctuate from day to day. On bad days, a person can become confused, and lash out in anger and frustration at the very people caring for them. Sadly, my own grandmother has been going through this process as I write this. The gentle, cheerful soul I remember – sometimes says some deeply mean-spirited things. It has been an exhausting  experience for my whole family. Yet we don’t blame her, for we know it is only her body that is failing. It is not her fault that she has dementia, yet she is still responsible before God for her behavior, including her thoughts and affections. Nor is she regressing in her spiritual sanctification. No, God is still faithful in her life. His abundant grace will cover her even when she loses her self-control. He has allowed this disease to attack her brain, and he is using it in part of his sovereign plan for her good, and ours. Soon she will be with her Savior, free from the clouded judgment and misunderstanding that this illness inflicts. Free from original sin, and its ongoing physical and spiritual effects.

At the other end of life, babies can be born with a variety of neurological disabilities that impact their behavior and intellect. While disabilities certainly don’t indicate any greater inherent sinfulness, they can impact how someone experiences sinful desires. A person born blind probably won’t experience strong temptations of lust in the same way most people do. An adolescent with a learning disability might have more difficulty than his peers understanding why it is wrong to indulge in the intense sexual desires brought on by puberty. Sometimes we can identify the cause of these disorders, as with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, but oftentimes we just don’t know. Crucially, God never tells us that we need to know.

The simple fact is, sexual attraction to children and adolescents often occurs spontaneously. It develops over time as a person who experiences it grows into an adolescent, and then into adulthood. In more ways than most people would like to admit, it mirrors the development of healthy, typical attraction to teen peers/adults of the opposite sex. In these spontaneously occurring cases, the core pedophilic impulse is not something people have any natural ability to simply choose not to have. No one has found a medical cure, and no amount of wishing will change things. Perhaps the most frustrating part for myself and others I know is that unlike actions we have voluntary control over, Repentance today does not mean no temptation tomorrow.


So what should we do, you and me? In some ways this requires an answer specific to pedophilia, but for the most part, we simply follow God like everyone else. But I do want to make a few important points:

  • Regardless of whether pedophilia is nature, nurture, or (most likely) a complex mix of the two, God’s moral standard always applies. Any form of sexual activity involving a child is wrong, and even fantasizing about it is wrong. We cannot just permanently stop experiencing these internal temptations by our own will. But we can surrender them to God every day, and trust that he will be faithful to walk with us and uphold us. We are always morally responsible before God and man for what we do.
  • We have put our faith in Jesus Christ, and we have his promise of new life. We can still have a joyful, fulfilling life, with deep relationships and meaning. As rap artist Lecrae said, “See, your money, your singleness, marriage, talents, your time – they were loaned to you to show the world that Christ is divine.” Note that I included marriage in that quote. I know this may never work out for some who live with pedophilia, but it is not taboo or forbidden for us, either.
  • Obviously, many people who are sexually attracted to children choose to indulge those desires. Even so, know that you are NOT responsible for the sins and crimes of others. Each person is an individual moral agent, and it is wrong of other people to judge your behavior or moral character by the sins of others.

To learn more about what we are supposed to do with our sexuality, check out God’s Plan for Sex: What’s a Pedophile to Do?

To learn more about dealing with strong temptation, check out A Pedophile’s Darkest Hour – Pitfalls & Strategies

To hear Trent’s thoughts on sexuality change, check out Is Change Possible? – A Closer Look at Regeneration

Subscribe to Finding a Way Blog