Paraphilias have always fascinated me. Not only because I’m nosey and want to know what makes people tick sexually, but because psychologically everything non-normative, when it comes to our genitals, has been branded a paraphilic disease or crime, sometimes with little distinction. As late as 2010, our little kinks could even be used against us in a court of law. Ever tie someone up during sex? By Christ, think of the children! It wasn’t until the newly updated DSM-V (2013) that BDSM, along with a number of other fetishes, was finally struck off the list of crazy kinks worthy of psychological evaluation.
For many paraphiliacs, these sexual desires fester like a cancer, consuming their thoughts, and sometimes their actions. Others are comfortable letting their sexual fantasies remain just that, a thought tucked away in the private spank banks of their mind. Still, there are those who have found a way to navigate safe and consensual ways to manifest their sexual desires in reality.
But how would you react if you knew just the sight of female feet was enough to give Ben down the street chub for days? Or if Betty the babysitter confessed one day that, while bugs completely grossed her out, the idea of letting them crawl around her lady bits gave her the biggest orgasm of her life? Unless Betty was already sick with the sauce when you picked your kids up—in which case, fire Betty—she’d probably keep that shit to herself.
The reason? Because Betty, like most of us, doesn’t want to be considered some kind of sick pervert…a sexual deviant to be watched closely to make sure she isn’t digging around the neighbor’s back yard for a few dung beetles.
Paraphilic desire and paraphilic action are two separate ideas, and yet they are closely linked. The DSM-V recognized this, by distinguishing between fantasy and disorder. It is important to realize than any action doesn’t become a disorder until it begins to negatively affect relationships, jobs, or any other facet of personal life. The same is true for fetishes. Rape fantasies, for example, are one of the most common fetishes around. Lots of people are into the idea of forced pleasure. Yet, these same individuals are far removed from the idea of being on the receiving end of rape. Rape is violent, and leaves its victim physically and psychologically traumatized. It is safe, however, to fantasize about rape, and even explore it in a safe, consensual environment. And according to a recent study, it might even be more normal than fantasizing about so-called “normal” sex.
The study, published in Sexual Medicine by Christian Joyal, PhD. late last year, surveyed 1,516 men and women of various sexual identities and found that 57% engaged in what would be considered “paraphilic” sexual fantasies. Researchers identified 55 sexual fantasies (SF), dismissing 10 because of a “lack of discriminate value,” probably because the piss queens aren’t coming out of their golden closets any time soon. That still left 45 dirty thoughts rummaging around our pervy brains, and guess what…the perverts won!
From the study:
“…focusing on “atypical” or “anomalous” behaviors may be unnecessary and stigmatizing. Not only will any definition of sexual “normality” or “normophilia” be controversial, but it is unnecessary in order to diagnose a disorder involving sexual preference or arousal. If a sexual interest induces psychological suffering, distress, or significant impairment, it is a disorder, whatever the nature of the interest. If a sexual behavior involves a non‐consenting partner, it is an illegal act (e.g., rape, sexual interactions with a child, voyeurism, exhibitionism, frotteurism, necrophilia, bestiality). It is important to remember that not so long ago, oral sex, today's most popular SF in both genders, was considered as an example of a gross and deviant behavior committed by helpless men suffering from a masochistic disorder.”
And the list goes far beyond a simple BJ here or there—masturbation, anal sex, female orgasm, homosexuality, BDSM, and more have all been pathologized as anomalous sexuality worthy of psychological and/or medical intervention. Indeed, sex is far more understood today than the days when affluent women were treated for those debilitating orgasms they craved. Yet, in some places anal sex—still religiously referred to as “sodomy”—is illegal, homosexuality is a far cry from being universally accepted, and all over the world female circumcision is used as a method of sexual control.
When I write it out like that…how far have we really come in the quest for safe, personalized sexuality?
In the end, I think this study into deviance has more to do with the harmfulness of said paraphilic act, and less about the desire behind it. Joyal, stresses the legality of an action, consent, personal autonomy versus something conjured up by our brains that just happens to give us the tingles in our nether regions. Harm is the distinction.
In his book, Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, Jesse Bering stresses the importance of distinguishing between the harm of an action versus paraphilic desire. He writes:
“Treating an individual as a pervert in essence, and hence with a purposefully immoral mind, because his or her brain conjures up atypical erotic ideas or responds sexually to stimuli that others have deemed inappropriate objects of desire, is medieval in both its stupidity and its cruelty. It’s also entirely counterproductive. Research on the “white bear effect” by the social psychologist Daniel Wegner has shown for instance, that forcing a person to suppress specific thoughts leads to those very thoughts invading the subject’s consciousness even more than they otherwise would.”
This “white bear effect” is where paraphilic ideas start to fester, and still it goes deeper. In recent years there has been an influx of social warriors policing our minds and the ideas they hold. Writers of erotica, for example, are often boxed in by the things they can and cannot write. Incest, bestiality, anything non-consensual is off limits even in the fictional world—unless your name is George R. R. Martin, that is. Even in non-fiction, critical thinking takes a backseat to political correctness, as Dr. Alice Dreger knows too well. Her book Galileo’s Middle Finger was recently nominated and then un-nominated for an award by Lambda Literary for being transphobic. According to The Advocate:
“In Dreger’s book, she defends The Man Who Would Be Queen by J. Michael Bailey. Bailey's 2003 book promotes the pseudo-scientific theory that there is no such thing as transgender people, just self-hating homosexual men who believe they could have guilt-free sex if they were female and heterosexual men with an out-of-control fetish (autogynephilia). This theory has helped paint transgender people as hypersexualized perverts — a smear that has devastating consequences that affect more than just trans people.”
First of all…autogynephilia?? I had to look it up to know that what they’re talking about is transvestism, in the DSM-V, and one of those kinks that are no longer linked to a disorder. Autogynephilia is a term coined more than 20 years ago by researcher Ray Blanchard, PhD, and one that has landed him in the transphobic hot seat more than once. More to the point, while I have no disillusions that Bailey’s book might be used by right-wing nut jobs to disprove something like “gender dysphoria” (God I hate that term.), I find it difficult to believe there are no cis-gender men out there who get off on the thought of gender role reversal.
Yet autogynephilia is something trans advocates are trying to suppress, or, at least, ignore. According to one trans website featured in the above Advocate article:
"Autogynephilia" is a sex-fueled mental illness made up by Ray Blanchard. Blanchard defines it as "a man’s paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.
Support for this disease model of gender variance is almost nonexistent, limited to a tiny online "autogynephilia" support group with fewer than 40 contributors out of a worldwide population of transwomen numbering in the millions. This support group was taken down in early 2005.”
Here, tsroadmap.com pathologizes a sexual interest while decrying the way trans-people have been pathologized, all in an effort to cement a singular identity. I might add that it is also playing in to the patriarchal, sexual narrative our society is so keen on hearing. After all, cis-men have a role to play as much as cis-women. Why should it be any different for the trans community? Even so, Dreger herself, whose work focuses on the stifling of academic freedom, fires back in an open letter at those who would criticize her research:
“I haven't put twenty years of my life into advancing intersex patient rights because I’m intersex; I have done it because intersex people deserve those rights. Had I been able to keep my ‘Lammy’ finalist status, I would have used it to remind non-LGBTQI people that they are needed in the movements for full equality—that they have no excuse not to help.
But now I don’t have that. Your decision is, honestly, pathetic. It reaffirms that LGBTQ people who don’t toe the party line of bullies and trolls…must stay silent or else be harassed. It allows a small group of transgender people to smear a book that contains critically important original histories of and advocacy for intersex, transgender, lesbian, and gay people.”
The stifling of sexuality, at its core, is this idea of singularity—there is a right way to be gay, a wrong way to express gender or race, to fuck. And it apparently works to the status quo’s advantage. Writers are worried about the taboo, so ideas are backburnered. Research is left uninvestigated. Sexualities go unexplored. Though, in the end there is only one way to describe what’s keeping us from opening these Pandora’s boxes of our minds:
It is the policing of thought on the most biological level. Whether it is art, research, or just our private fetishes, we are allowed to think…critically and sexually.
Who cares if you are a thirty-year old man who likes to be diapered? Or a mother of three with an insatiable desire to be a pirate wench who crushes a man’s balls beneath her booted feet? And yes, even a man who gets off on the idea of transitioning into a woman just to feel what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a cock.
Experience is subjective; there is no universal when it comes to gender or sexuality. And in the end, too many people already think you’re wrong just for having a libido—let alone a kinky one. Just remember, it’s healthy and normal to fantasize.
Until next time you sexy pervs...