Hebephilia is the strong and persistent adult sexual interest in pubescent (early adolescent) individuals, typically ages 11–14 (see the Tanner stage). It differs from ephebophilia, which is the strong and persistent sexual interest to those in later adolescence, approximately 15–19 years old, and from pedophilia, which is the primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children. While individuals with a sexual preference for adults may have some sexual interest in pubescent-aged individuals, researchers and clinical diagnoses have proposed that hebephilia is characterized by a sexual preference for pubescent rather than adult partners.
Hebephilia is approximate in its age range because the onset and completion of puberty vary. Partly because of this, some definitions of chronophilias (sexual preference for a specific physiological appearance related to age) show overlap between pedophilia, hebephilia and ephebophilia; for example, the DSM-5 extends the prepubescent age to 13, the ICD-10 includes early pubertal age in its definition of pedophilia, and some definitions of ephebophilia include adolescents aged 14 to late adolescents. On average, girls begin the process of puberty at age 10 or 11; boys at age 11 or 12, and it is argued that separating sexual attraction to prepubescent children from sexual attraction to early-to-mid or late pubescents is clinically relevant.
According to research by Ray Blanchard et al. (2009), male sex offenders could be separated into groups by victim age preference on the basis of penile plethysmograph response patterns. Based on their results, Blanchard suggested that the DSM-5 could account for these data by subdividing the existing diagnosis of pedophilia into hebephilia and a narrower definition of pedophilia. Psychologist Bruce Rind and sociologist Richard Yuill have published criticism of the classification of hebephilia as a mental disorder, though their view is that Blanchard et al. successfully established hebephilia as a “genuine sexual preference”; they suggested that if hebephilia were listed in the DSM-5, that it be coded as a condition that results in significant social problems today. Blanchard’s proposal to add hebephilia to the DSM-5 proved controversial, and was not adopted.