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In psychology and sexology, paraphilia (in Greek para παρά = besides and '-philia' φιλία = love) is a term that describes sexual arousal in response to sexual objects or situations which may interfere with the capacity for reciprocal affectionate sexual activity. However it is important to notice that the term can and is also used to imply "less mainstream sexual practices" but without necessarily negatively implying any dysfunction or 'wrongness'. more...

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The word is used differently by different groups. As used in psychology or sexology it is simply a neutral umbrella term used to cover a wide variety of atypical sexual interests. There are eight types of paraphilias, and according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the activity must be the sole means of sexual gratification for a period of six (6) months, and cause "marked distress or interpersonal difficulty".

  • Exhibitionism is the recurrent urge or behavior to expose one's genitals to an unsuspecting person
  • Voyeurism is the recurrent urge or behavior to observe an unsuspecting person who is naked, disrobing or engaging in sexual activities.
  • Masochism is the recurrent urge or behavior of wanting to be humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer.
  • Sadism is the recurrent urge or behavior involving acts in which the pain or humiliation of the victim is sexually exciting.
  • Fetishism is the use of non-sexual or nonliving objects or part of a person's body to gain sexual excitement.
  • Transvestic fetishism is a sexual attraction towards the clothing of the opposite gender.
  • Pedophilia is the sexual attraction to prepubescent children.
  • Frotteurism is the recurrent urges or behavior of touching or rubbing against a nonconsenting person.

A paraphilic interest is not normally considered important by clinicians unless it is also causing suffering of some kind, or strongly inhibiting a "normal" sex life (according to the subjective standards of the culture and times).

Paraphilia is sometimes used by laypeople in a more judgmental or prejudicial sense, to categorize sexual desires or activities lying well outside the societal norm. Many sexual activities now considered harmless or even beneficial by many (such as masturbation) have often been considered perversions or psychosexual disorders in various societies, and how to regard these behaviors has been, and continues at times to be, a controversial matter.

The term "paraphilia" is rarely used in general English, with references to the actual interest concretely being more common. Some see the term as helping to aid objectivity when discussing taboo behaviors or those meeting public disapproval, but which may not in fact be a problem. Some have even interpreted the term pejoratively, seeing paraphilias as "rare conditions or serious disorders" that should either be criminalized or require serious treatment.

It is worth noting typical clinical warnings given against improper assumptions about paraphilias:

  • "Paraphilias are ... sexual fantasies urges and behaviors that are considered deviant with respect to cultural norms..."
  • "Although several of these disorders can be associated with aggression or harm, others are neither inherently violent nor aggressive"
  • "The boundary for social as well as sexual deviance is largely determined by cultural and historical context. As such, sexual orientations once considered paraphilias (e.g., homosexuality) are now regarded as variants of normal sexuality; so too, sexual behaviors currently considered normal (e.g., masturbation) were once culturally proscribed"
(Source: Psychiatric Times)

What is considered to be "perversion" or "deviation" varies from society to society. Some paraphilias fall into the kinds of activities often called 'sexual perversions' or 'sexual deviancy' with negative connotations or 'kinky sex' with more positive connotations. Some specific paraphilias have been or are currently crimes in some jurisdictions. In some religions certain sexual interests are forbidden, and this has led to some people believing that all paraphilias must be sins. Since the development of psychology attempts have been made to characterize them in terms of their etiology and in terms of the ways they change the functioning of individuals in social situations. Some of these psycho-medical etiologies and descriptions have allowed many societies and religious/ethical traditions to view some of the paraphilias in a less negative light, at least in some circumstances. Some behaviors that might be classified as paraphilias by some subsets of society may be viewed as harmless eccentricities by other subsets of society, or entirely normal behavior within other societies.


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A Valuable Reference Work Made Better
From Journal of Sex Research, 2/1/05 by Vern L. Bullough

The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. Edited by Robert T. Francoeur and Raymond J. Noonan. New York: Continuum, 2004, 1,419 pages. Hardcover, $225.00.

Reviewed by Vern L. Bullough, Ph.D., R.N., State University of New York Distinguished Professor Emeritus, 3304 West Sierra Dr., Westlake Village, CA 91362-3542; e-mail:

The original international encyclopedia of sexuality consisted of four volumes. This well-written, updated, and more comprehensive edition is published as a single volume. It is a job well done on what could only be called an impossible task.

The encyclopedia includes the forwards by Timothy Perper and Ira Reiss that appeared in the first edition. However, there are significant changes from the first edition volumes. The current volume feels more like an encyclopedia and has far more data than the original set. Despite smaller type, this edition is more visually appealing, probably due to the efforts of Raymond Noonan, the coeditor. Articles that included tables and figures in the first edition now only have tables. The demographic and historical perspectives that precede each entry are nearly all written by Francoeur himself and this provides a consistency that was lacking in the earlier volumes.

The encyclopedia also includes an "International Directory of Sexological Association and Institutes by Regions and by Country," including information for countries not covered with entries in the encyclopedia. The index is selective and not comprehensive, but still helpful. A map of the respective country is also included in each entry. In fact, the encyclopedia could be more accurately entitled an atlas than an encyclopedia, since it is a countryby-country survey with data gathered for each of the 60 countries, or units. I say "units" because one article on outer space and one on Antarctica deal with sexuality in extreme environments and not countries per se.

The authors for each entry were asked to address 13 basic issues, each representing subsets of data. The issues included (a) basic sexological perspectives including an assessment of gender roles, status of males and females, and general concepts of sexuality and love; (b) religious, ethnic, and gender factors affecting sexuality; (c) knowledge and education about sexuality; (d) autoerotic behaviors and patterns among children, adolescents, and adults; (e) interpersonal heterosexual behaviors among children, adolescents, and adults; (f) homoerotic, homosexual, and bisexual behaviors among children, adolescents, and adults; (g) gender diversity and transgender issues; (h) significant unconventional sexual behavior (which includes coercive sex, prostitution, pornography and erotica, and paraphilia); (i) contraception, abortion, and population planning; (j) sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV/AIDS); (k) sexual dysfunctions, counseling, and therapies; (1) sexuality research and advanced professional education; and (m) important ethnic, racial, and/or religious minorities. There is a list of references and suggested readings for each entry.

While some of the data, such as that on sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, abortion, and population planning, is easily available and more comprehensive in other works, much of the data pertaining to the other issues has not been assembled before. Unfortunately, there is tremendous variation in the quality of the articles, the references, and the actual data. Some country editors included numerous tables, and others did not. For the articles that appeared in the earlier edition, addenda include the new data that is available; only a handful of the original articles were rewritten. For the most part the bibliography is the same as in the earlier edition, with perhaps a few new titles added.

Also troubling is the uneven attention paid to the various countries under consideration. For example, more than 200 of the total 1,419 pages is devoted to the United States. Is the United States so much more important than the other areas of the world, particularly since all the material on the U.S. is more easily found elsewhere than that on other countries? Is it 10 or 20 times more important than Germany? There are only 16 pages (including one table) devoted to Germany, whereas Finland is covered in more than 30 pages (including several tables). Since both France and Germany have large numbers of professionals involved in sexuality research, the data presented on these countries is barely adequate. Slightly more than 30 pages are devoted to the United Kingdom. and Ireland warrants 11. Coverage of Israel involves nearly 40 pages. India 16, China 27, and Russia 20. There is a separate article on Hong Kong but not on Taiwan. Cyprus is covered by devoting two sections to it, one about Turkish Cyprus and one about Greek Cyprus.

Iran is included, although Francoeur wrote that it was the most controversial article because it was written by expatriates with whom many Iranians disagreed. In fact, disagreement is not difficult to find with many of the articles, since certain aspects of sexuality remain highly controversial and authors either ignore the controversies or pass over them. The authors of the article on Egypt. for example, tread very cautiously in discussing pornography and prostitution, while the addendum on the Egyptian raids on homosexuals was written by Francoeur himself. It seems obvious that contributors of many of the articles were conscious of the dangers that too detailed a data file might hold for them personally, and either failed to go into detail or ignored certain developments. As a result, the articles, while giving at least a minimal set of data. are very uneven.

These are obviously not minor criticisms. However, where else can one access such data'? The editors had an impossible task involving hundreds of authors and varying levels of sophistication among the many contributors. Moreover, conditions change. In the first edition of the encyclopedia, Czechs and Slovaks were treated together, whereas in this the Czech Republic is described and Slovakia is ignored. It is surprising to me that the editors could accomplish as much as they did. It is an extraordinary synthesis of data which is not easy, or perhaps impossible, to find elsewhere. When all is said and done, it is enough to conclude that there is simply nothing else like it. I recommend it most highly.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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