Many people hostile to celibate pedophilia can't think of any innocent explanation for a sexual attraction to kids. Since kids aren't interested in sex and it's bad for them, why would a man even consider the possibility? When the idea pops into a decent man's head, the harm to children should pop into his head at the same time, and unless he's a bad man -- a sadistic man! -- that ought to be the end of the story, right? If an ordinary guy has a momentary thought of trying to seduce someone totally inappropriate -- his mother, perhaps? -- he puts it right out of his mind. He certainly doesn't dwell on it or make it a part of his identity.
But pedophilia is entirely different from thoughts of sex with a particular person. It is a sexual orientation. That term is of course most often associated with gays and lesbians, and it has important political connotations. Pedophilia is very different from homosexuality in some key respects, most importantly that sex between gays or lesbians is perfectly OK, while adult-child sex is not at all OK.
Social conservatives sometimes speak cavalierly of the "gay lifestyle". It is true that individual men can decide whether or not to engage in sexual activity. But what the mainstream in the West has come to accept is that the attraction to other men is a fundamental part of who these men are. Even if they believe deeply that sex with other men is wrong, conversion therapy does not work. They can choose to be celibate or they can choose to have sex with men, but they will always find men sexually attractive. That is what defines a homosexual orientation, and it is exactly the same with pedophilia. Celibate pedophiles know not to act sexually with children (and all pedophiles can learn to be celibate) but they will always find children sexually attractive.
While the cause of a homosexual orientation is not known, the most promising investigations concern effects on the brain of the fetus in utero. The same is true of pedophilia.
"Sexual orientation" has "sex" in its name, but typically the attraction is far broader than that -- it is an attraction to an entire person..
Consider ordinary boys and girls at puberty. Their feelings towards the other gender change markedly. Some might notice a direct physical desire to have sex. But just about everyone feels an attraction to the entire person. Everything about the other is fascinating -- voice, hair, face, laugh, sense of humor, how they move. To see the distinction unmistakably, consider the sizable numbers of boys and girls in the not so distant past who reached puberty without having any idea what sex was. They were still strongly attracted to the other gender.
For pedophiles it is usually the totality of the child that is attractive. Thinking about consummating that attraction sexually is a later step -- a place where celibate pedophiles come to a screeching halt. But this conclusion doesn't work backward and nullify the attraction. Consider cultures where sex before marriage is prohibited, and then focus specifically on ordinary boys and girls who earnestly accept that teaching. They are still fully aware of the girls and boys they find attractive. It's not a switch they suddenly turn on when it's time to choose a marriage partner. A man might be completely clear on not trying to seduce his boss's wife, but it won't stop him from finding her hot. A determination not to act sexually doesn't make the attraction disappear.
When all that is considered, we know that pedophilic attraction is not, as some opponents would have it, a desire to rape children.
Tragically, of course, it sometimes does lead to sexual abuse. But that shouldn't make us lose sight of the bigger picture. Many pedophiles are unshakably celibate, but they are still romantically and sexually attracted to children. They can't make it go away. It is an important part of who they are.