Word of the Day: Ephebophilia

I watched the movie Smart People recently, which features Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church and Ellen Page. After watching the film, I went to IMDB to get some additional information about it.

Like every other movie at IMDB, Smart People has a message board, and several of the most popular threads from that board are displayed at the bottom of the movie’s entry page. I noticed the following thread posted therein:

“Pedophilia and Ellen Page’s characters”

The person who started the thread had some concerns about some of the characters in Ellen Page’s movies – specifically, Mark Loring (Jason Bateman) from Juno and Chuck Wetherhold (Thomas Haden Church) from Smart People. In Juno, Mark and Juno have a flirtatious relationship that some might consider inappropriate; in Smart People, Page’s overachieving character develops a crush on her slacker adopted uncle, and actually ends up kissing him at one point.

While we could certainly argue over whether it’s appropriate for thirtysomething males to flirt with or kiss a 16 or 17 year-old girl, one thing is clear: that ain’t pedophilia.

Pedophilia is generally defined as “a psychological disorder in which an adult experiences a sexual preference for prepubescent children”. Ellen Page is 21 years-old in real life; in Juno she played a pregnant 16 year-old, while in Smart People she played a 17 year-old. Both of these characters are obviously past puberty, so the word the poster might actually have been looking for is ephebophilia, which is “the sexual attraction to adolescents (typically teenagers)”.

What makes ephebophilia interesting is that it just might be hardwired into the male brain.

As you probably know, men and women are biologically wired to look for mates to reproduce with. When women seek out men, this can be many things. Some women look for a young, hunky man ready to “reproduce” on command; other women might seek out an older man who is wise, rich (or both). In the first case, the male provides many opportunities to reproduce, while in the second, the male has created a “safety zone” for the female to reproduce.

It’s completely different when men look for women, however. Many anthropologists think that youth and beauty – the twin pillars of female fertility – are almost the only things men look for a mate. And why not? After all, who is more youthful and beautiful (and ready to reproduce) than teenage girls?

If you’re getting a “skeezy vibe” off this article so far, you might want to take a pause and think about it for a moment. Ephebophilia is not only tolerated, but is considered desirable in much of Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia. And if you think it’s only those pesky Third World countries that indulge in ephebophilia, think again: the Japanese obsession with girls in schoolgirl outfits (to say nothing of America’s obsession with “Catholic schoolgirl” outfits) has obvious roots in ephebophilia. The enduring popularity of “teen” porn sites (which, in reality, usually have 18-24 year old girls with “youthful faces”, small breasts and pigtails) has blatant roots in ephebophilia. Many of your favorite fairy tales have roots that are deep in ephebophilia. And America’s obsession with youth and beauty might well have its roots in ephebophilia. After all, American women spend billions of dollars every year on cosmetics and plastic surgery to look as much like teenage girls as they can. Is this an echo of ephebophilia? You be the judge!

In closing, I just wanted to point out a couple of things about ephebophilia. First of all, ephebophilia is a male preference for post-pubescent girls only. Most psychologists consider it perfectly normal for an adult male to develop the occasional crush on a younger female. So, ladies, if your man has a “thing” for one of the girls from High School Musical… don’t worry: it’s normal. If, however, he drives past the high school ten times a day… well, you might want to keep an eye on him. Also, while most Americans don’t make a distinction between ephebophilia and pedophilia, it’s important to understand that ephebophiliacs are just as disgusted by pedophilia as everyone else.

Read more about ephebophillia at Wikipedia here.

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