(I’m cheating today, by using a previous paper I’ve written on paraphilia, but I wanted to provide an informational post on paraphilia, and didn’t feel I could do better than I had previously.)
Moving throughout the day, it is easy to forget something happening all over the world. It is in the back of all our minds, as for most cultures it seems to be either a taboo or considered rude to publicly discuss, even though almost all of us as well as most living beings have it to thank for life. The topic in question of course, is sex. Not just sex though, sexual deviance or paraphilia in the world. Some argue sexual deviance is an indicator of criminals and mental illness regardless of the type of deviance, but the truth is paraphilia exists in sexual acts all over the globe and is for many, a normal desire.
Since sexual deviance or paraphilia can be considered by some to be a taboo subject, there is confusion by some as to what exactly classifies a sexual act to be paraphilia. Currently in the scholarly world, there is a debate over what precisely classifies something as a paraphilia versus an unusual sexual interest. A paraphilic interest as defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) is, “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors generally involving a) non-human objects, b) the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, c) children, d) non-consenting persons” (Hucker, 2005) The DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) defines paraphilia as, “intense, recurring sexual fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors that involve non-human objects, children or non-consenting adults, suffering or humiliation (to self or to others)” and “causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of life” (Hucker, 2005) Paraphilia differs from ‘unusual sexual interests’ (fetishes) in that it is usually deemed (although still widely debated) as a mental disorder when causing mental or physical distress to the self or others. Such acts include, fetishism (attraction to specific objects), sexual masochism (pain or humiliation of self), sexual sadism (pain or humiliation of others), and asphyxiophilia (being strangled or asphyxiated). The list, once again, is a source of controversy as some, like fetishism, are considered by many to be harmless, and simply unusual, but not mental disorders. As of now, there is no official list of paraphilia.
As an example of the ongoing battle of how and what is classified as a paraphilia, homosexuality and non-heterosexuality was listed as a paraphilia until 1974 by the DSM, until it was removed as a mental disorder and thus a paraphilia. While it has been removed from the list, some parts of society today still consider homosexuality and other sexualities other than heterosexuality to be abnormal and destructive behaviors.
Culture undoubtedly plays a large role in what is defined as paraphilia and why. For many Christians, for example, homosexuality would still be considered as a paraphilia, or Chronophilia (partners of a widely differing chronological age) by those who have learned through other relationships that partners should be similar ages. Heterosexual relationships with penetrative sex is the majority of sexual acts, thus considered to be the ‘norm’ by many. Truly, sex has no one definition by society, ranging from vaginal, oral, hand-to-genital, or anal, further complicating how to define paraphilia. There is no one true ‘norm’ of sexual activity, be it positions, acts, or sexuality, making it difficult to define what is deviant and thus dangerous or a paraphilia.
Paraphilia is, in reality, completely normal for a majority of people, particularly men. In a study conducted in 2011, it was found that 62.4% of men had a sexual reaction to paraphilia, with only 1.7% of those reactions reported to cause distress (Ahlers, et al., 2009). By the DSM-IV-TR standards, not causing distress should remove these so called ‘paraphilia’ as being defined as such. They may be regarded as unusual sexual interests, but removed from the list of paraphilia indicating mental disorders. Such paraphilia were fetishism (~25%), voyeurism (18%) and sadism (15.5%) these statistics are rather high to be considered a ‘mental disorder’ when only ~25% of Americans have a diagnosable mental illness (CDC Report: Mental Illness Surveillance Among U.S. Adults., 2013). This is also, only men studied. Men tend to account for 20 men for each woman in sexual paraphilia for the exception of masochism in which women tend to make up the majority, although less research has been done (Ahlers, et al., 2009).
There is, however, still much to be done as far as official diagnoses, lists, and definitions of paraphilia. This, as a result, has created a stigma and negative view of paraphilia and sexual deviance. Deviance is found all over the globe, even in those who are mentally stable, those free of criminal records, and overall good parents and contributing members of society. There is little to back the notion of paraphilia or deviance being associated with criminals or only those who wish to hurt others.
Paraphilia and unusual sexual interests are still confused with one another, and thus given a bad reputation by some. While some paraphilic interests can be criminal offenses (pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, sadism, and frotteurism) others can be completely harmless, but put in with the rest. Just recently, England implemented a pornographic ban of certain acts being filmed or sold in the UK such as: spanking, caning, aggressive whipping, penetration by any object “associated with violence”, physical or verbal abuse (regardless of consensual nature), urolagnia (known as “water sports”), role-playing as non-adults, physical restraint, humiliation, female ejaculation, strangulation, face sitting, and fisting. The reasons given, were that such acts could be considered dangerous or life endangering. However, paraphilia is quite popular in porn, with many searches associated with S&M, bondage, voyeurism, masochism, and fetishes. This, for many would seem to indicate that paraphilia interest is quite high, however others argue that there are only some men making these searches and requesting these acts, while a majority do not. Information on this is unsupported, however one study did conclude that it is mainly single men that have paraphilia interest (Ahlers, et al., 2009).
Some of the psychological and psychiatric community argue that paraphilia are signs of an underlying psychobiological dysfunction. They argue with Darwinism in mind stating, “Wakefield (1992) proposed that in order for a condition to be considered a mental disorder, the condition must represent the failure of some mental mechanism to perform the function for which it was designed by natural selection and the condition must cause some deprivation of benefit (defined in terms of the society within which the affected individual lives)” (Quinsey, 2011). In other words, they believe that since these unusual sexual acts do nothing to contribute towards reproduction, this constitutes them as paraphilia, and thus a mental illness. However, this fails to take into consideration acts such as oral sex, in which the main goal is simply pleasure, not reproduction. Yet, it is not considered to be paraphilia.
There is also those who believe sexual deviance is directly tied to, or even a causing factor of criminal behavior, or that interest in paraphilia indicates something is wrong with them. This is, of course, as weak of an argument as, “You’re gay? You must’ve had a bad experience with the opposite gender”; however, this is indeed what some propose, stating, “in sexual offenders, inability to effectively cope with psychological problems may lead to occurrence of deviant sexual fantasies, which, in turn, might lead to the use of deviant sexual activity…as a way of dealing with psychological distress” (Maniglio, 2011). In other words, some hold the theory that sexual deviance emerges as a coping mechanism, and then leads to criminal behavior. This feels like some logic was lost in between, so let us break it apart. Researchers believe that those who are acting upon sexually deviant fantasies are those who have been abused or put under some sort of mental trauma, thus needing a form of release or coping. What once were fantasies become acted on, and as a result the person spirals deeper into their sexual fantasies, turning to abuse, rape, and even homicide. While researchers like Roberto Maniglio have found it is more likely for sexual offenders, particularly those against children, to have and act upon paraphilic behavior, this was a particularly insignificant amount compared to non-sexual offenders. This suggests that, while the pool leans slightly more towards sexual offenders having paraphilia interests, this holds no ground in stating that those who are deviant are more likely to become sexual offenders or even criminals.
It is however, my personal belief that thinking like this is dangerous. If such a significant part of our population has some sort of interest in paraphilia, then according to those beliefs we should hold a much larger criminal and sex offender population than we already do. However, this simply isn’t the case. Often times those who hold paraphilic interests are normal, everyday people. This is comparable to porn stars, who often have interest in paraphilia, and how they are thought to be criminal, or unusual people. Beyond the sex industry, these people hold steady, important jobs, marriages, families, and lead typical lives. They turn out to be great parents, despite adoption agencies refusing to let some adopt, with the idea that they are perverts and thus, sexual offenders.
We cannot forget too, that diagnosing such a significant amount of people with a mental disorder also means we must treat these people. This, for those with paraphilia interest, means heavy medication including hormones to control sexual desire, psychological and psychiatric evaluation, counseling, and perhaps even court dates to deliberate whether or not this person is a sex offender. This results in a colossal waste of time, money, and resources on both the individual’s hand and the professional’s, not to mention the effects it has on the individual’s personal life. They may be labeled by society as ‘weird’, sexual offenders and their private lifestyle becomes a show for the whole community. They could lose their job, their spouse, even their children who could be pulled away by concerned social workers. If they didn’t have a mental illness already, it is likely stress from these events could cause one. All in all, a large commotion over what is in reality, a normal behavior and occurrence for many.
For me, if the DSM-IV were still the authority on paraphilia, we would have a majority of people diagnosed with a mental disorder, who were in reality fine, which would be a terrible abuse of power in the psychological world. Luckily, the DSM-V was released in 2013, meaning paraphilia had a major rewrite in the psychological world. The DSM-V, in fact, states exactly what this paper has be debating for all along stating, “Most people with atypical sexual interests do not have a mental disorder” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). In summation, the DSM-V along with a multitude of researchers and professionals concluded that after a decade of debate a research, having unusual sexual interests, no longer classifies as a paraphilia unless it is causing distress to the individual or others.
Sexual deviance, paraphilia, or unusual sexual interests, occur all over, even in nature, in such a significant part of the population that there is no reasonable way they could still be considered as mental disorders. Those who saw to revising the DSM understood that, and now those with unusual sexual interests can now enjoy a larger portion of freedom from being persecuted, at least by the psychological and academic community. The stigma of ‘perversion’ and perhaps even the lingering mindset of deviance associated with criminals will have their effects for some time, but those too will fade away in time and give back the sense of normality that should certainly be associated with their lives. Those individuals will hopefully be spared humiliation and scrutiny by their communities instead of being labeled as sex offenders and perverts. Those who would be quick to call them sex offenders, perverts, or criminals would be entirely mistaken, as unusual sexual interests have been found to be very common and normal for many. They are, as research and modern knowledge indicates, not so deviant after all.
Ahlers, C., Schaefer, G., Mundt, I., Roll, S., Englert, H., Willich, S., & Beier, K. (2011). How Unusual Are The Contents Of Paraphilias? Paraphilia-Associated Sexual Arousal Patterns in a Community-Based Sample of Men. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8(5), 1362-1370. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from EBSCO.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC:
CDC Report: Mental Illness Surveillance among U.S. Adults. (2013, December 2). Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealthsurveillance/
DSM 5: Understanding Exhibitionistic Disorder. (2013, June 21). Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.hypersexualdisorders.com/hypersexual-disorders/dsm-5-understanding-exhibitionistic-disorder/
DSM-V Revision Project. (2012, February 16). Retrieved December 5, 2014, from https://ncsfreedom.org/key-programs/dsm-v-revision-project/dsm-v-program-page.html
Hucker, S. (2005, January 1). Forensic Psychiatry. ca. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.forensicpsychiatry.ca/paraphilia/overview.htm#what
Maniglio, R. (2011). The role of childhood trauma, psychological problems, and coping in the development of deviant sexual fantasies in sexual offenders. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(5), 748-756. Retrieved December 10, 2014, from EBSCO.
The Most Adorable Animals Engage in the Most Reprehensible Behavior. (2013, October 28). Retrieved December 5, 2014, from http://www.slate.com/blogs/wild_things/2013/10/28/sea_otter_dolphin_and_penguin_behavior_your_favorite_animals_are_jerks.html
Quinsey, V. (2012). Pragmatic and Darwinian Views of the Paraphilias. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41(1), 217-220. Retrieved December 5, 2014, from EBSCO.