If I understand the etymology of pedophile and pederast, both mean child lover. Is there a difference in their connotation?

In some recent local news stories that discuss changing sex offender laws, the controversy has centered around dividing the pedophiles and the rapists from the more questionable cases of older teens having sex with younger teens. In a lunchtime debate, I contended that we should not worry so much about the pedophiles as we should the pederasts.

Which brings me to the crux of it. My understanding of these words is that

A pedophile is sexually attracted to children.

A pederast has sex with children.

Therefore, one can be a pedophile without having sex with children, and as a matter of fact, once a pedophile has sex with a child, then that person is a pederast.

However, given the reaction to my statement, I feel I may have a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of the word pedophile. Does this word imply more than just attraction? I thought -phile indicated an affinity for something, not necessarily an indulgence in it.

Update: There are some great answers here. I was inspired to look deeper and found that in the English language, there are only four words ending in -erast. These are pederast, paederast (alternate spelling), philerast (the boy in a pederastic relationship), and federast (merging "federalist" and "pederast"). It looks like pedophile and pederast may be unique in the English language for this -phile/-erast distinction.

  • Linguistically, pederast would mean "loves boys", while pedophile is "loves children". There may be specific legal and psychological distinctions
    – mgb
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 17:23
  • What about pederast makes it specific to boys, and not just children?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 17:43
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    @Kit: The word "child" is actually pais, with the stem paid-, but paide itself is not actually a word. The e is pederasty is part of the stem erastia. Commented May 21, 2011 at 19:49
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    Now would that be changing-sex offender laws or changing sex-offender laws? I can easily imagine that sex changes might be considered a criminal offence in certain jurisdicktions.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 16:12
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    Rather unconscionably, you seemed to have missed one -erast word. ’Tis for neither the faint-hearted nor easily offended, so avert your eyes now if you be either. The word you missed is mulierast, being of course a lover of . . . women! Yes, these people really do exist and should not be side-lined. As with so many paraphilias, this one has engendered a wealth of derived terms, including mulierastic, mulierastically, mulierose, mulierosity, not to mention the related muliebral, muliebrious, muliebriousness, muliebrity. Mulierasts in disguise often try to sneak aboard the MulieriBus.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 16:30

5 Answers 5


Pederasty is defined by M-W as:

Anal intercourse, especially with a boy as the passive partner

Whereas pedophilia can refer to any kind of sexual attraction to children, including attraction which is never consummated, or which doesn't result in intercourse.

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    Damn, you got there first. On an etymological note, it always bemuses me that "philos" has so frequently drifted into meaning "eros" instead.
    – user1579
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 17:27
  • @Rhodri I'd be interested in hearing more about the blurring between "philos" and "eros". Pederast is the only word I know (I think) that uses this suffix. Can you answer and give some examples? Or should I post that as a separate question?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 17:29
  • Is there something specific about the derivation of pederast that makes it man-boy, or is this derived from usage? Would the morphology of the word be different if the genders of the partner differed?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 17:39
  • @Kit: that's rather my point. I'm not by any stretch of the imagination a Greek scholar, but I am aware that "philos" does not mean a sexual love in Greek (or in "Philosophy", unless it's a lot messier than I thought :-). For some bizarre reason, English fails to make the philos/eros/kairos distinction a lot of the time, and uses "-phile" for as a suffix for erotic loves despite its different original meaning.
    – user1579
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 17:39
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    @Rhodri, that would be agape, sort of. Lots of people seem to think that agape means that, but in reality the Greek word means quite a few different things. Commented May 20, 2011 at 17:45

My understanding is that a paedophile is attracted to pre-pubescent children; there is another little-used term to describe one who is attracted to post-pubertal children, but it escapes me. [Edit: add ephebophilia to JSBang's hebephilia — I suppose we ought to add in teleiophilia and gerontophilia to our list of chronophilic terms.]

A pederast is one who has a relationship with a [usually] adolescent boy.

The differences are many, and it is a mistake to think these are synonyms. For one, historically a pederast would have a far more involved relationship with the child; secondly, pederasts are concerned with post-pubertal children; and finally, the relationship is (AFAIK) exclusively homosexual.

From Wikipedia's entry on pederasty

  • Re: pubescent children, maybe you mean hebephilia? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebephilia Commented May 20, 2011 at 17:29
  • I've never heard a distinction between pre- and post-pubescent. What's the difference in meaning between pedo- and hebe-?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 17:42
  • @JSBangs - actually, I was thinking of ephebophilia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ephebophilia), but between us we have covered the whole range!
    – CJM
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 22:10

I just found a very good explanation and here is a summary of it:

Pederasty is between adult and adolescent males. Pedophilia is is the mental state of being sexually attracted prepubescent children, which could mean boys, girls, or both. Historically, pederastism wasn't generally even considered as part of a sexual preference. In the cultures that it was common in, most men who had adolescent male lovers would also have wives and children, and the adolescent male would grow up and have his own wife, children, and possibly his own adolescent male lover. In many cultures, pederast relationships were considered part of the norm, with the relationship between the older man and the adolescent ending once he was considered a grown man.

Pederasty is a debatable thing, whether it is ethically sound or not. Different countries have different laws concerning it. Pedophilia, unlike pederasty, is without a doubt harmful to the child. It's considered abuse in most countries. The child is not sexually nor mentally mature enough to be in a relationship, and are not old enough to consent and are taken advantage of. Pedophilia has many, many negative affects on children involved.pederasty may or may not be harmful. It would really depend on the people.

pedophilia is a mental disorder which requires treatment and medical therapy.


According to this, pederasty is "sexual relations between two males, especially when one of them is a minor". Other definitions, like the one that JSBangs found, differ slightly. But otherwise, I think you answered the question yourself: pedophile refers to the attraction, while pederasty refers to the act itself.

  • Only "especially when one of them is a minor"? What an odd definition. That would include adult gay men as pederasts.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 17:47
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    @Kit: Yes, it does mean that... odd though it is from an etymological point of view.
    – psmears
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 18:03

Both of the words which we’re seeking to find the relation; have there base in Greek language.
As very well set it by @Rhodri. Both of them are produced by two parts of speech.
The first gives us the object where we’ll refer to and the other demonstrate the action gives to the object.

Now let's take the words.

PEDOPHILIA = ped – o – philia.
PEDERASTIA = ped – erastia .

The first word ped refers to a child (either of gender).

The second letter is a connection between ped and philia (because the first ends with consonant and the second starts with consonant so they need a vowel between).

The third word is philia and means the most honest and dedicated relation between two persons (no gender no age).

Now let's see the other word.

Here we don’t have the need of any connection letter because the first word ends with consonant and the second starts with vowel.

Now we’re talking about erastia; this is a word having each base in the sexual relation of two humans (no gender) and reveals the action itself.

In the Ancient Greece, Eros was a beloved God and he was living in any place (home) -> ‘estia’ along with Athena which she was affort the prosperity of a family; so this family need the God Eros for a good sexual relation between the founders.

Now that’s the reality of the two words. All the other meaning which the international community gives in these words are completely wrong and out of any sense.

But if we want to refer to the relation between an adult and a child, then if we want to be accurate we may use the word pederastia.

Now please excuse may poor knowledge in English grammar but I write in English using the Greek syntax.

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