It's estimated that between 100,000 and 500,000 children in the United States are molested by men each year. Medical or psychiatric treatment of child molesters aimed at stopping this type of behavior are often unsuccessful. Psychiatrists classify sexual attraction to children (pedophilia) as one of a group of disorders called paraphilias. People with paraphilias have recurrent sexual fantasies, urges and behaviors that involve children or other non-consenting individuals, non-human objects or the suffering or humiliation of themselves or their partners.
An Israeli study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that a new treatment is highly effective in men with long-standing deviant sexual behavior.
Thirty men with paraphilia (ranging in age from 24 to 40) were treated with monthly injectiofns of triptorelin, a long-acting drug that blocks the action of gonadotropin-releasing hormone. That is a messenger chemical from the brain that normally stimulates the pituitary gland to release other hormones that control the function of sex organs such as the testes and ovaries.
Triptorelin treatment produced a dramatic drop in the men's testosterone levels. All of the men reported a reduction in deviant sexual fantasies and desires, from a mean of 48 per week before treatment to zero during treatment. Similarly, incidents of abnormal sexual behavior decreased from a mean of five per month to zero.
The drug's effectiveness persisted in all 24 men who continued treatment for at least a year, according to the study by Ariel Rosler of Hadassah-Hebrew University and Eliezer Witztum of Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
Triptorelin did produce significant side effects. Bone-mineral density decreased in 11 of 18 men in whom it was measured. The treatment causes temporary infertility and shrinkage of the testes. Many men reported difficulty with erections and lack of sexual interest, and some had hot flashes, decreased facial hair and muscle weakness or tenderness.
Despite these drawbacks and the absence of a placebo group in the study, triptorelin seems effective in reducing sexual deviant behavior in men, writes John M.W. Bradford of the Royal Ottawa Hospital in an accompanying editorial.
"What is clear is that there is a public health problem for which there are potential solutions," Bradford said.