Abnormal Sexual Psychology/Introduction
Everyone has heard about them. Everyone has seen talk shows discussing them, or heard something about a person in the news. A Catholic priest accused of molesting children. A man arrested for exposing himself. Giggling teenage boys watching the neighbor's wife with binoculars. The scene in Pulp Fiction talking about foot massages.
Psychology touches on every aspect of human activity, and sexuality is no different. But just as psychology must sometimes touch on the arcane and the abnormal, so does sexuality follow. Paraphilia is what psychological experts call sexual attraction to or arousal from inappropriate activities or inappropriate sex partners. Many of these are illegal if the person acts on his fantasies, such as Pedophilia (sexual attraction to prepubescent children) and Exhibitionism (exposing oneself to a person who did not consent to it). This is in contrast to a Fetish, which is a sexual preoccupation with an inanimate object such as women's panties or shoes.
A Paraphila is a mental disorder, as described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the book of criteria for diagnosing and segregating psychological abnormalities. The DSM has had four major revisions, the current version being the DSM-IV-TR. As the standardized manual of recognizing and diagnosing such ailments, this book relies on the DSM-IV for information.
The DSM-IV classifies paraphilias as Axis I disorders, meaning that they are clinical disorders that one develops over time and might eventually be cured of, as compared to Axis II conditions which are expected to be a constant through one's life such as Mental Retardation, Personality Disorders, and Developmental Disorders such as Autism.
So ... paraphilia?
This book covers paraphilia from a clinical viewpoint. The DSM-IV definition of Paraphilia follows:
The sexual arousal and excitement by a specific action, type of fantasy, sexual urge, or behavior that both a) deviate markedly from standardized behavioral norms in sexual psychology in such a way that they require external stimulus and b) that if repressed, are known to create clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Individuals who have such impulses, fantasies, etc. but do not act on them can be considered to fall into this category as well.
To state it more clearly, a paraphila is the act of deriving sexual arousal from activity that is either difficult to reciprocate or otherwise radically different from what a vast majority of people are aroused by. Some of the minor paraphilias are so bizarre that they could double as minor psychoses. Just because you feel an urge to do something doesn't mean you have a paraphilia, though. Most people with paraphilia have strong urges to do what they feel.
Why is paraphilia important?
Paraphilia is rapidly becoming a major driving force in cultural change. Emboldened by the transition of homosexuality from being seen as a mental illness to a condition, many paraphiliacs are more open about their preferences. In some cases, this is harmless. Fetish paraphilias, like plushophilia or shoe fetishism, is pretty much a non-issue. But many paraphilias are far from benign, and many involve the injury or non-consenting interaction of other people.
Considering the numbers of people believed to have pedophiliac, ephebophiliac, or pyrophiliac tendencies are estimated to be well above 300 million, this is not an issue to be set to the side. Nor are other paraphilias to be dismissed.
Paraphilia is also important due to the fact that, in terms of how the DSM-IV examines the facts, people who suffer from these conditions are classified, at least to some degree, as mentally ill. It is estimated that there are 15 to 40 million Americans with paraphiliac tendencies in one fashion or another. Yet there is almost no effort to educate mainstream America about the conditions of paraphilia, or it's dangers, or how to deal with paraphiliacs.
As someone who has multiple paraphilias and obsessive compulsive disorders related to said paraphilias, it is important to the writer of this introduction that people have a thorough understanding of paraphilia, in all aspects, but most critically in how the mainstream psychological community looks at it. That is why this book mainly considers only DSM-IV recognized paraphilias, and not more outrageous fetishes that don't have a psychological component.