Paraphilia is one’s uncontrollable sexual arousal to atypical objects, individuals, or situations. Synonymous to sexual perversion or sexual deviance, paraphilia include sexual behaviors that society may view as displeasing, unusual or abnormal. Most paraphilia are far more common in men than in women. The focus of a paraphilia is usually very specific and unchanging, distinguished by a preoccupation with the object or behavior to the point of being dependent on that object or behavior for sexual gratification. Paraphilia is often confused with sexual fetishism. Fetishism is a form of paraphilia, however the sexual gratification a person with a fetish experiences derives only from arousal by inanimate objects, materials, or part of the body.
Recognized Sexual Deviancy Disorders
There is an incredibly various amount of unique paraphilia. Below is a compilation of some of the main ones recognized by the nationally used diagnostic manual, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders1:
Exhibitionism: the act of exposing one’s own breasts, genitalia, or buttocks of oneself in a public or semi-public place to elicit a response. This shock and response is how an exhibitionist receives sexual gratification.
Frotteurism: the practice of rubbing one’s pelvic area or erect penis against a non-consenting person for sexual gratification. This can happen in crowded areas like subways, concerts, etc. Voyeurism: the practice of spying on people engaged in intimate behaviors such as undressing or sexual activities for the purpose of sexual arousal.
Transvestism: the practice of dressing and acting in a style generally associated with the other gender. This is distinguished from cross-dressing because of the focus on sexual arousal.
Sadomasochism: deriving pleasure through infliction of unnecessary pain towards oneself (sadism) or others (masochism).
Pedophilia: a disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences sexual attraction towards prepubescent children.
Sexual Fetishism: sexual arousal from a certain object or situation
There are several methodologies behind treatment: traditional psychoanalysis, hypnosis, and behavior therapy techniques.2 New drugs known as antiandrogens, which can drastically lower testosterone levels during use are being used in conjunction with counseling and cognitive behavior therapy to treat paraphilia. These cognitive behavior therapies mainly focus on correcting erroneous beliefs and erroneous logic, as well as creating empathy within a patient towards identifying with the perspective of the victim.2 Disassociating pleasure from certain behaviors or object is the main goal of treatment. Aversive conditioning utilizes a negative stimulus to reduce or eliminate unwanted deviant behavior. Covert sensitization involves a patient thinking about a sexually deviant behavior followed by visualizing a scene of a negative event, such as being in a bed full of spiders. Assisted aversive conditioning is similar to covert sensitization, except the negative event is made real. This is most likely done in the form of a foul odor pumped in the air by the therapist.2 The goal is for the patient to associate the deviant behavior with the foul odor and take measures to avoid the odor by avoiding said behavior.2 Focus is also put on social skills training and learning alternate behaviors that are more socially appropriate during treatment.
It is still unclear what causes a paraphilia to develop. Some sources have theorized that an individual with a paraphilia is repeating or reverting to a sexual habit that arose earlier in life.1 Other sources point to the fact that paraphilia usually begin through a process of conditioning.1 Particular sexual acts that provide especially intense erotic pleasure can lead the person to prefer that behavior. This can include things from peeping to bestiality. Nonsexual objects can become sexually arousing if they are repeatedly associated with pleasurable sexual activity. Researchers propose that predisposing factors such as difficulty forming person-to-person relationships are precursors to forming paraphilia.
Behavioral learning models suggest that a child who is the victim or observer of inappropriate sexual behaviors learns to imitate and is later reinforced for the behavior. These individuals can be deprived of normal social sexual contacts and thus seek gratification through less socially acceptable means. Physiological models focus on the relationship between hormones, behavior and the central nervous system with a particular interest in the role of aggression and male sexual hormones. Finally, it is important to note that some of these behaviors do occur in circumstances of consent.1 They are only defined as mental disorders when the activity becomes a compulsion, interfering with normal daily function or behavior. Oftentimes it can be especially hard defining the border between atypical and typical behavior.
What to Do When Someone Else’s Paraphilia Affects You
Different paraphilia evoke different reactions from victims and the general public, especially when geared towards a certain group or individual. Being conscious of one’s surroundings and avoiding situations of isolation and darkness may prevent instances of unwanted confrontation. Although in most instances controlling the inclinations and preventing the actions of others is impossible, you can control the choices that you make that increase or decrease your risk of becoming a victim of a sexual deviant2. For some disorders, such as exhibitionism, there is a certain sexual pleasure that comes from eliciting a response. The best thing to do in these situations is nothing; simply walking away can be the best solution. However, if it becomes something personal, such as voyeurism, do not be afraid to report a person to the authorities.
1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fourth Edition, Revised.
2. Nathan, P. E., Gorman, J. M., * Salkind, N.J. (Eds.). (1999). Treating mental disorders: A guide to what works. New York: Oxford University Press.
Last Updated 23 February 2015.