Paraphilias

From William A. Percy
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by Wayne R. Dynes

Paraphilia (in Greek para παρά = besides and -philia φιλία = love) is a term used to describe sexual arousal by objects or situations that lie outside the ordinary range of sexual scenarios. The term was coined by the psychiatrist Wilhelm Stekel in the 1920s. It was popularized by John Money in the 1960s, who described paraphilia as "a sexuoerotic embellishment of, or alternative to the official, ideological norm."

The first attempt to formulate a systematic approach to this constellation of phenomena stems from Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (1840 -1902), an Austro-German sexologist and psychiatrist. He wrote Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), a famous series of case studies of behaviors he termed sexual perversity. The book remains well known for his advocacy of the terms sadism (from the Marquis de Sade) and masochism (from the name of writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose novel Venus in Furs tells of the protagonist's desire to be whipped and enslaved by a beautiful woman). The later coinage of the term paraphilia represents an attempt to reduce the stigma of the pejorative term perversion.

Typical paraphilias involve nonhuman objects, such as uniforms, leather garments, rubber items, shoes, and boots. Sex toys may be classed as paraphilic, though some observers regard them as part of the normal repertoire of sexual encounters. Yet the use of objects is not essential; exhibitionism, voyeurism, frotteurism, klismaphilia (interest in enemas), urolagnia (sexual stimulation from urine), and coprophilia (faeces) also belong in this realm. The literature includes instances of rare and idiosyncratic paraphilias. These include an adolescent male who fetishized the exhaust pipes of cars, a young man with a similar interest in a specific type of car, and a man who had a paraphilic interest in sneezing (both his own and the sneezing of others).

Paraphilic activities generally involve some element of role playing, preceded by and accompanied by sexual fantasies. Paraphilic situations may also entail S/M performances, creating or simulating humiliation and pain. Such behaviors may also serve as foreplay, leading to more conventional genital activity.

As has been noted, the term paraphilia reflects an effort to provide a nonjudgmental equivalent for such older expressions as perversion and fetishism. Over time, however, the term paraphilia has acquired its own tincture of negativity, as seen, for example, in the pejorative expression “paraphilic psychopathology.” Psychiatrist Glen Gabbard holds that despite the efforts by Stekel and Money, "the term paraphilia remains pejorative in most circumstances."

Because of the discomfort some individuals experience in these behaviors, some have been the object of clinical intervention, though this is now generally avoided. The view of paraphilias as disorders is not universal. Groups seeking greater understanding and acceptance of sexual diversity have lobbied for changes in the legal and medical status of unusual sexual interests and practices. Charles Allen Moser, a physician and advocate for sexual minorities, has argued that the diagnoses should be eliminated from diagnostic manuals,

There is some continuing use of the older terms sexual fetishism and erotic fetishism, commonly defined as sexual arousal brought on by any object, situation or body part not conventionally viewed as being sexual in nature. Sexual fetishism may be regarded as a disorder of sexual preference or as an enhancing element in a relationship. Body parts may also be the subject of sexual fetishes (also known as partialism) in which the body part preferred by the fetishist takes a sexual precedence over the owner.

Originally designating a religious object among tribal peoples, the term fetish entered European languages in the 18th century. The beginning of clinical use of the term fetishism has been ascribed to Alfred Binet (1857-1911). The French psychologist proposed that fetishes be classified as either "spiritual love" or "plastic love." "Spiritual love" comprised the devotion to specific mental phenomena, such as attitudes, social class, or occupational roles; while "plastic love" referred to the attachment to material objects such as body parts, textures or shoes.

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