Paraphilias Research Paper

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1. Definition

Modern usage tends to favor the word ‘paraphilia’ rather than ‘deviance’ or ‘perversion.’ In this research paper these latter terms will be used only in their historical context. The word ‘paraphilia’ means a love of ( philia) the beyond or irregular ( para), and is used instead of those words which today have pejorative implications that are not always relevant. The term itself is used to describe people, usually men, with intense sexual urges that are directed towards nonhuman objects, or the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, or more unacceptably, towards others who are incapable of giving informed consent, such as children, animals, or unwilling adults. People who are paraphiliacs often exhibit three or four different aspects, and clinical psychiatric conditions (personality disorders or depression) may sometimes be present.

Paraphilias include: exhibitionism (the exposure of ones genitals to a stranger, sometimes culminating in masturbation); voyeurism or peeping (the observance of strangers undressing or having sexual intercourse, without their being aware of the voyeur, who usually masturbates); fetishism (the use of inanimate objects for arousal, usually articles of women’s underwear, although if these are used to cross-dress, transvestic fetishism is the diagnosis); frotteurism (the rubbing of the genitals against the buttocks, or the fondling of an unsuspecting woman, usually in a crowded situation, so that detection of the perpetrator is unlikely). Pedophilia refers to men sexually attracted to children, some to girls, some to boys and some to either sex. Some pedophiles are attracted sexually only to children, the exclusive types, but some are attracted to adults as well, the nonexclusive type.

Sexual sadism and sexual masochism (S&M) involve the infliction or reception of pain respectively to necessitate arousal and orgasm. Sadistic fantasies that involve obtaining complete control of the victim are particularly dangerous and may result in death. Some masochistic behaviors that involve self-asphyxiation as part of a masturbatory ritual can result in accidental death. Other paraphilias include the use for sexual purposes of corpses (necrophilia), animals (zoophilia), feces (coprophilia), enemas (klismaphilia) and urine (urophilia).

It is of particular interest that just as masturbation is nowadays excluded from being considered a deviant act, so homosexuality, which figured so largely in this area in earlier times, was removed as a paraphilia in the 1974 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

2. Greek Mythology

The ancient Greeks often ascribed to their gods extreme forms of sexual behavior. Whether this reflected fears or wishful thinking or actual practices is obviously very difficult to evaluate. Zeus’s myriad affairs were often conducted in the form of animals or even inanimate objects, such as a cloud or a shower of gold, and his objects of desire were male or female, as indeed were those of the other gods and heroes. Artemis and Athena both eschewed sex altogether and remained adamantly virginal. The mighty Hercules cross-dressed to be humiliated by Queen Omphale, while Theseus and Achilles both donned women’s clothes without apparent later loss of esteem (Licht 1969, Bullough 1976).

3. History

3.1 The Hunter-Gatherer Past

In most species sexuality and reproduction are of necessity tied together and overlap, but in modern humans it is the relatively recent separation of sexuality from reproduction that represents a crucial evolutionary phase. Despite huge sociological changes we are genetically still at the stage of hunter-gatherers, who had a shorter life, no menopause and long periods between childbirth due to prolonged breast feeding. Perhaps because of better nutrition, and possibly exposure to electric light (which affects the hypothalamus), girls in the developed countries in the 1990s have their first period at around 13 years of age, and ovulation starts soon afterwards, with pregnancy being a distinct possibility. Usually most women have conceived and had their children by 30–40 years of age, which, assuming many will reach 80 years of age, leaves some 40–50 years of life to enjoy nonreproductive sex. Sex therefore takes on new meanings and fulfils other roles, perhaps as a recreational activity, which allows time for sexual variant behavior (Short 1976).

3.2 Sexuality

Numerous so-called Venus figurines and cave paintings have been found from between 25,000 and 10,000 years ago that depict almost all of the sexual acts with which we are familiar today. What the meanings and significance of these depictions were to the people who created them we can only speculate. Early studies showed that paraphilias were present universally in every culture and throughout every historical period. Often tied up with religious rites, sacred prostitution, and/or phallic cults, public shows of self-immolation, sadism, fetishism, and homosexuality flourished. Iwan Bloch believed that every sensory organ could function as an erotogenous zone, and so form the basis for a so-called perversion. Freud pointed out that the ancients laid stress on the instinct itself, whereas we today are preoccupied with its object. Thus it was considered wrong to be passive, that is, to be penetrated anally by one’s slave, but acceptable to penetrate him or her. Today the object, that is, whom a man penetrates, is important.

3.3 Classifications

The enormous variations found in human sexual behavior have always been part of the heritage of humankind, but it was not until the eighteenth century in the West that such activities were labeled and put into categories, so that attempts at a scientific classification could be made. These categories varied from culture to culture and showed a great deal of fluidity, as each culture constructed the behavior in different ways. The essential behaviors remained constant, however, and it was rather how each society considered them, whether they approved or disapproved, that created the particular sexual climate. Classifications thus offer an insight into the current thinking of each particular time.

The Marquis de Sade (1740–1814), while imprisoned in the Bastille, wrote a full description of most perversions and suggested a classification about 100 years before his successors, Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis, and Freud. He wrote many short stories on sexual themes including incest and homosexuality. He also foresaw the women’s rights issue, which he treated in a compassionate and modern way, yet this did not preclude his use of women as victims in his writings. His 120 Days of Sodom is perhaps his main work on perversion, although all his works contain little homilies about sex and morals. As de Sade lived in an age that was both turbulent and brutal, it says something for the humanity of the man that he implored us not to laugh at or sneer at those with deviant impulses, but rather to look upon them as one might a cripple, with pity and understanding. De Sade offers the following classification for sexuality (Gorer 1962):

(a) People with weak or repressed sexual desires— the nondescript majority, he saw as cannon fodder for the next two groups;

(b) Natural perverts (born so);

(c) Libertines—people who imitate group (b), but wilfully rather than innately.

De Sade’s admiration was for group (b). The 120 Days of Sodom, written while Sade was in the Bastille, contains examples of all these, and the range extends from foot fetishism, various types of voyeurism, obsessional rituals and bestiality, to frank sadism and murder. Sade described many sexual acts involved with body fluids, sperm, blood, urine, saliva, and feces.

Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), the utilitarian philosopher who believed that nature has placed humankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure, published his essay on pederasty in 1785 in which he argued cogently for the decriminalization of sodomy (then punishable by hanging), and other sexual acts. He challenged the notion current at the time that such behaviors weaken men, threaten marriage, and diminish the population. He went on to discuss these punishments as an irrational antipathy to pleasure, and he highlighted the dangers that prohibitions incur, i.e., possible blackmail and false accusations (Crompton 1978).

In the nineteenth century, Darwin in his theory of evolution was able to explain the presence of gill slits and the tail present in the early human embryo as well as the appendix, as evidence of our evolutionary past. Ernst Haeckel, Darwin’s forceful adherent, developed the concept that ontogeny recapitulated phylogeny. It was argued from this that if elements from our past physical evolution were so preserved, why should this not apply to our psychological history? Thus sexual perversions were deemed to reflect a re- turn to an earlier developmental stage in phylogeny that had somehow become fixated, so that perverts, like other races and women, were at a lower point on the evolutionary ladder. Following on from Darwin’s observations of hermaphroditism in nature, Karl A. Ulrichs (whose pseudonym was Numa Numantius) believed male homosexuals to be female souls in men’s bodies.

Succeeding generations of doctors and sexologists argued these points and many offered alternative classifications of the perversions to reflect their views. These are mainly of historical value now, but perhaps we could look at Krafft-Ebing’s classification as an example. He believed that life was a struggle between instinct and civilization, and that mental illness created no new instincts, but only altered those that already existed. He believed that hereditary taint and excessive masturbation were among the causes of sexual perversion. His classification, which is self-explanatory, was as follows:

Group 1: deviation of the sex impulse. Too little sexual feeling (impotence, frigidity); too much (satyriasis and nymphomania), and sexual feeling appearing at the wrong time (in childhood or old age) or being directed wrongly (at children, the elderly or animals).

Group 2: Sexual release through other forms of activity (inflicting or receiving pain or sexual bondage).

Group 3: Inverted sexuality (homosexuality, bisexuality, and transvestism).

Krafft Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis ran into 12 editions in his lifetime, with many revisions, and although he did write some of the more explicit details in Latin, the British Medical Journal in 1893 lamented that the entire book had not been written in Latin, ‘in the decent obscurity of a dead language.’ Like Sade before him, Krafft Ebing spoke of ‘perverts’ as ‘stepchildren of nature,’ and asked for a more medical and sympathetic approach rather that mere legal strictures.

His belief that most perversions were mainly congenital was challenged by Alfred Binet who argued that with fetishism (a term he coined), for example, the fetish may take many different forms, for example, an obsession with the color of the eyes, bodily odors, various types of dress, or different inanimate objects. Heredity could not dictate this choice, rather a chance phenomena that occurred in childhood was more likely as a cause. Furthermore, on this argument, the fetishist could just as well become a sadist, masochist, or homosexual if early childhood events had been so conducive. As many individuals were exposed to such childhood events and did not develop a perversion, however, Binet had to conclude that there could well be a congenital morbid state in those who did so. Albert Moll argued further that as all biological organs and functions were subject to variations and anomalies, why should the sexual behaviors be any different?

Moll further believed that the sense of smell was always an important factor in mammalian sexuality, and the advent of clothing in human culture diminished this. Wilhelm Fliess, an ENT surgeon and colleague of Freud, drew attention to the erectile tissues of the nose and its similarity to that of the penis and clitoris. The upright posture adopted by humans had distanced them from the ground, away from feces and smell, so diminishing the importance of olfaction in human arousal, and forming what Freud described as an abandoned erotogenous zone (Sulloway 1992).

Today these mechanisms have been somewhat elaborated. A region in the nasal septum (Jacobson’s organ), is linked by nerves to the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that controls sex-hormone secretion. Small volatile chemicals known as pheromones, found in sweat around the genital and axillary regions, are known to stimulate this nasal pathway. Subtle differences in the pheromone balance depend on the individual’s genetic make-up, and it is possible that these differences give a biological basis for avoidance of attraction to one’s near relatives who exhibit similar profiles. The importance of smell in animal sexuality is well known, and it is of interest that to many fetishists it is soiled rather than clean female underwear that arouses them (Goodman 1998). Freud believed that each individual from infancy to adulthood repeated the moral development of the race, from sexual promiscuity, to perversion, and then on to heterosexual monogamy. There was a correct developmental path, during which the infant, from the stage of polymorphous perversity, went through various phases of development, and negotiated the Oedipal situation and castration complex.

Freud believed that perversions arose because of arrested development leading to fixations on this pathway due to sexual trauma. Those who did not deviate when so exposed in childhood, Freud believed to have been protected by constitutional factors, namely an innate sense of propriety that had been acquired through moral evolution. He classified as deviants those who have different sexual aims (from normal vaginal intercourse), for example, sadists, fetishishists, and those who have a different love object (from the normal heterosexual partner), such as pedophiles or homosexuals (Weeks 1985).

4. Modern Times

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, technology-led cultures have had a profound effect on sexual behavior, which has expanded to fill the different niches in the manner of Darwin’s ‘tangled bank.’ We may see even greater fluidity of such behaviors in the future. Just two areas will be briefly considered.

4.1 Fetishism And Fashion

Today the fashion industry makes much use of fetishism in its designs. Magazines cater for a whole range of people, both gay and straight, with fetishistic and S&M interests. Relatively new phenomena have appeared in recent times, such as ‘vogueing’ where the devotee dresses up as a facsimile body of an admired personality either of the same sex (homovestism), or of the opposite sex (the well-known transvestism). Common examples are Elvis Presley and Madonna lookalikes. Voguers compete with each other for realness. Fans who obtain objects, such as articles of clothing or signed photographs from their idols, or who in the USA search the dustbins of stars for trinkets (so-called ‘trashcanners’) and later use these in their sexual fantasies, resemble classical fetishists in their behavior (Gammon and Makinen 1994, Goodman 1998).

4.2 Technology And Sexuality

Every technological invention has altered society in some way and this applies equally to the field of sexual behavior. Newspapers allow wide advertisement of sexual services, the telephone made possible obscene telephone calls, while commercial sex lines have utilized this phenomenon so that men (it is mainly men who use them) can dial and indulge in sexual talk for the price of the call. The automobile is often used as a place of sexual assignation, the home video for viewing obscene material, and the camcorder for making erotic home movies.

The term ‘cybersex’ is used for people who wish to indulge in erotic fantasies through the Internet. The Internet provides a means of getting in touch with other like-minded individuals worldwide, so that fantasies, which may previously have existed only in the mind of one individual, can be exchanged, enhanced, and embellished. Arrangements have been made for such people to meet in order to carry out acts, which have included pedophilia, rape, and even murder. The perpetrator(s) may take on a different age or gender persona (‘gender bending’), to entrap the unwary, especially children. As a result of this, groups have been set up to combat these problems, for example, the Cyberangels in the UK, who monitor the net and inform the police where necessary.

Psychologically some individuals in tedious relationships may find that occasional looks at erotica enlivens their sex lives, but others have become obsessed and addicted to on-line sex (‘hot chatting’), and indeed have needed therapy to help them cope (Durkin and Bryant 1995). Virtual reality, which offers the possibility of taking part in a virtual sexual scenario, will further increase the scope of sexual variant behavior.

5. Recent Scientific Advances In The Understanding Of The Paraphilias

5.1 The Brain

The human brain reached its present size and proportions about 50,000–100,000 years ago. The brain consists of regions which formed at different epochs in vertebrate evolution. It is the hypothalamus that is largely concerned with the hormonal control of reproduction. Certain nuclei found here in homosexual men have been claimed to be more female than male-like, and similar findings have been made in male to female transsexuals (Swaab et al. 1997). Sexual fantasy depends on the cerebral cortex, which is of such complexity that an almost infinite variety of mental responses are possible which ensures a unique plasticity to the range of sexual behaviors.

Furthermore, following head injury or the use of certain drugs, paraphilic behavior may become evident in individuals who did not show such tendencies before. Medical conditions such as temporal lobe epilepsy have been associated with fetishism in some patients. New noninvasive techniques for studying the brain, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography are helping to elucidate its functions.

5.2 Genes And The Developing Fetus

The contributions of genes and development to adult sexual behavior have been a topic of intense debate for many years. Recently, new discoveries have added fuel to this argument, and new concepts have been considered.

In humans the Y-chromosome slows down the growth rate in the male fetus, which is consequently born relatively more immature compared with the female and is therefore more vulnerable. Thus males have a higher perinatal mortality and a higher incidence of accidental death, and later in life they show an increased vulnerability to cardiac disease and certain forms of cancer. Mental handicap, which includes autism and epilepsy, is more common in men than women and perhaps the preponderance of the paraphilias in males is also a reflection of this vulnerability (Ounsted and Taylor 1972).

Do genes play some part in determining human sexual behaviors and orientation? Certainly in Drosophila, the fruit fly, where male and female behavior were once considered separate and exclusive, recent experimental manipulations of various genes have produced bisexual and homosexual behaviors in males. Even courtship chains, both heterosexual and homosexual (like something out of the Marquis de Sade), have been seen, behaviors that never occur in the wild (Yamamoto et al. 1996). In humans, some paraphiliac behavior does seem to run in families (Gorman 1964, Cryan et al. 1992), and suggestions of a gene occurring on the X-chromosome that predisposes to male homosexuality have been made (Hamer and Copeland 1994).

Developmental factors are also of seeming importance in future behaviors and it is the presence of the two hormones, testosterone, and estrogen, that are thought to influence the developing fetus. This has been shown in mice and other species. When a male fetus is placed in between two female fetuses leakage of female hormones may feminize the male. Testosterone can masculinize the female if a female is between two males (Vom Saal and Bronson 1980).

Stress applied to pregnant rats just one week before delivery resulted in homosexual and bisexual behaviors in males (Ward and Weisz 1980) and Dorner et al. (1983) thought that the stress of war in pregnant women resulted in a higher incidence of male homosexuality in the German population.

Sex hormones, particularly testosterone, are known to interact with the immune system. It has been suggested that the mother’s immune system triggered by a male fetus can affect male psychosexual development, especially if she has had many pregnancies. This would further inhibit her immune system and may explain the preponderance of elder brothers in the families of homosexuals and certain pedophiles (Blanchard and Bogaert 1996).

6. The Future

Freud and the sexologists considered the libido in terms of the combustion engine and electricity, as well as using biological ideas that were extant at the time. Today as knowledge in all fields converges, concepts from one area are fertilized as never before by ideas from others. Cybernetics, the study of control and communication in artificial neural networks, has been applied to biological systems such as the brain. Chaos theory, a concept derived from nonlinear dynamics and used initially to predict the weather, has been applied to numerous other areas of research which include fetal development and sexual behavior, as well as various branches of psychology (Goodman 1997).

Waddington (1975) portrayed fetal development as a mountainous terrain, in which the fetus is the ball that rolls down the valleys, which depict the possible developmental pathways. These pathways represent the culmination of millions of years of evolution and are relatively resistant to change. Both genetic factors and early environmental stresses may divert the fetus onto another pathway however, although the system does have a degree of stability. It may well be that certain paraphiliacs and individuals with homosexual or transsexual identities have been diverted from the more common (but not necessarily more normal) path of heterosexual identity. If sexual orientation and behavior are linked to cognition, as seems to be true, then variations could have evolutionary possibilities by throwing up individuals who have the ability to think differently from their peers, offering no little advantage in the struggle for survival. The epistemological solipsism of the developing brain needs sex for its development in the world and not just for procreation (Freeman 1995). Sexual behavior and its variants therefore may merely be a reflection of this process. We should contemplate it with a sense of awe.


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