The psychometric properties of the penile tumescence assessment of child molesters

William O'Donohue, Elizabeth Letourneau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


The presence of sexual arousal to children or a sexual preference for children are commonly hypothesized as being related to child molesting. Sexual arousal and sexual preference do not appear to be accurately assessed by traditional assessment methods such as the clinical interview and traditional personality testing or by projective testing (Earls, 1992). Penile tumescence measurement is an increasingly utilized method for assessing sexual arousal and preference in child molesters. The published literature concerning the psychometric properties of this technology as used with child molesters is critically reviewed. Basic questions concerning the sexual preference hypothesis, the criterion problem, the lack of procedural standardization, the kind of test penile tumescence measures exemplifies, and potentially problematic inferences involved in penile tumescence assessment are examined. There is evidence of test-retest and internal consistency reliabilities for certain penile tumescence measurement procedures. While there are a significant number of studies providing evidence that these techniques can accurately distinguish child abusers from nonoffenders, many are plagued by methodological problems. Suggestions for future research are given.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-174
Number of pages52
JournalJournal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • assessment
  • child sexual abuse
  • pedophilia
  • penile plethysmography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology


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