This Crowdfunding Campaign Is Supposed to Treat Pedophilia. What It Does Is Much Worse.

This Crowdfunding Campaign Is Supposed to Treat Pedophilia. What It Does Is Much Worse.

An institute in Sweden launched a crowdfunding campaign April 6 to raise £38,000 (or $54,745) to run a pharmaceutical trial to effectively make pedophiles no longer sexually attracted to children.

The medicine they want to test, Degarelix, decreases the amount of testosterone produced in the body. It's prescribed to people with prostate cancer, since testosterone helps the cancer grow. One of the byproducts of lower testosterone is a lower sex drive.

The researchers from the Karolinska Institute believe reducing the testosterone of pedophiles will keep them from assaulting children — but lowering testosterone does a lot more than reduce sexual desire.

According to Dr. John Bradford, a University of Ottawa psychiatrist who studies paraphilias — the group of abnormal sexual behaviors to which pedophilia belongs — the disorder affects roughly 4% of the population. It's difficult to ballpark how many people have pedophilia, and, moreover, how many turn that desire into assault.

But killing sexual desire to treat pedophilia is like cutting off one's hands to prevent murder: It treats only a symptom of a larger problem, and not without major side effects.

The controversial practice is sometimes called chemical castration

People undergoing this type of hormone treatment report an inability to achieve erection. New York magazine spoke with an anonymous patient of the Institute for Sexual Wellness' Dr. Renee Sorrentino who receives hormone therapy for a self-identified sex addiction. "I completely lost the ability to get it up," he said. "I start to feel a tiny bit of urge, but it's all mental."

Some doctors who use medication to lower testosterone, like Dr. Fred Berlin from the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma, don't see hormone treatment that way.

"I think 'chemical castration' is misleading," Berlin said Tuesday in a phone interview. "It's not trying to control someone's mind. It's trying to increase self-control. The way we stop thinking about food when we receive food, when sex drive is high, we lower testosterone to not have those strong urges." 

Berlin believes pedophilia is a sexual orientation. Pedophiles "didn't program their minds this way," he said. "But children aren't miniature adults and so we need to protect them from being prematurely introduced to this type of sexuality."

Low testosterone and the body: Low testosterone in men leads to fragile bones, hot flashes, insomnia, depression and increased fatigue. As we age, bodies produce less testosterone, leading to all of those symptoms naturally. Chemically stopping testosterone can effectively age the sex drive decades in a matter of weeks.

"This has to be done in a medically responsible way," Berlin said. "Before we start medication, we do a complete metabolic study, check kidney function and do blood work. If people show bone problems, we give them medication for bones."

Berlin said that if someone has non-exclusive pedophilia, meaning they're also attracted to adults, they'll also be given Viagra to be able to biologically perform in appropriate sexual circumstances.

What Berlin suggests is more like pedophilia palliative care: Medications diagnosed as the result of the testosterone-lowering treatment are just to make someone able to cope with his new condition.

"Unfortunately we treat pedophilia as a criminal problem, not a mental health [condition]," Dr. A.J. Marsden, assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College, said in a phone interview. "But we shouldn't use castration as the first go-to treatment for it."

This leaves us at an impasse: If pedophilia operates as an actual sexuality in people who have it, psychotherapy is an uphill battle. Making pedophiles unsexual beings has deep physiological and psychological side effects.

One thing is clear: For such a serious problem, the solutions are startlingly inadequate.