A map of desire: Multidimensional scaling of men's sexual interest in male and female children and adults

J. Michael Bailey, Ray Blanchard, Kevin J. Hsu, William Revelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background Men sexually interested in children of a specific combination of maturity and sex tend to show some lesser interest in other categories of persons. Patterns of men's sexual interest across erotic targets' categories of maturity and sex have both clinical and basic scientific implications. Method We examined the structure of men's sexual interest in adult, pubescent, and prepubescent males and females using multidimensional scaling (MDS) across four datasets, using three large samples and three indicators of sexual interest: phallometric response to erotic stimuli, sexual offense history, and self-reported sexual attraction. The samples were highly enriched for men sexually interested in children and men accused of sexual offenses. Results Results supported a two-dimensional MDS solution, with one dimension representing erotic targets' biological sex and the other dimension representing their sexual maturity. The dimension of sexual maturity placed adults and prepubescent children on opposite ends, and pubescent children intermediate. Differences between men's sexual interest in adults and prepubescent children of the same sex were similar in magnitude to the differences between their sexual interest in adult men and women. Sexual interest in adult men was no more associated with sexual interest in boys than sexual interest in adult women was associated with sexual interest in girls. Conclusions Erotic targets' sexual maturity and biological sex play important roles in men's preferences, which are predictive of sexual offending. The magnitude of men's preferences for prepubescent children v. adults of their preferred sex is large.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2714-2720
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number15
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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