Pajiba Dirty Talk: See, I Told You You're Normal
I firmly believe that most people have at least a little kink, and that non-church approved sexual practices are pretty common. I also believe that it'd be nice if we as a society acknowledged that all kind of things actually fall under the definition otf "normal," when it comes to sex, since many people wrongly believe there is something wrong or strange about what they desire. I don't believe that you can quantify the degree to which humans are kinky by analyzing their internet searches, but surveys of actual humans? Now we're getting somewhere. This month's Journal of Sexual Medicine republished a 2009 article on the prevalence of paraphilias (broadly defined in this study as a range of sexual desires not generally thought of as standard) in a population of German men. While it's unfortunate that the study is limited to men (paraphilias are generally thought to not affect women, probably because women are strongly encouraged not to talk about their sexual desires, especially if they are considered weird), it's still interesting to see just how many of the research subjects were willing to admit to various sexual fantasies and practices.
367 volunteers from an earlier study on Berlin males answered computer and pencil-and-paper surveys about their sexual desires and practices, as well as their sexual health. The subjects ranged in age from 40 to 79. The majority (90,2%) identified as straight, but 2.2% and 7.6% identified as gay or bisexual, respectively. Paraphilia's looked at in this study included: Transvestic fetish (i.e. a fetish for cross-dressing, not a fetish for cross-dressers), fetishes for non-living objects such as shoes, voyeurism, exhibitionism, frotteurism (the practice of rubbing one's genitals on an non-consenting stranger, not the same thing as frottage, which, incidentally, my brain insists on reading as a type of cheese for some reason), masochism, sadism, and pedophilia. (Some of these things are not like the other ones! Some of these things do not belong!)
To be fair, the current version of the DSM (the psychiatric bible) does consider paraphilias to be mental conditions, but only if certain criteria are met. Those criteria being: that the desire causes clinically significant distress for the patient or creates intense social and interpersonal problems or that the person has acted out their fantasies with non-consenting people. This seems mostly reasonable to me. Some people will unfortunately take otherwise normal behaviors to extremes (see: animal hoarders), but that doesn't mean that everyone who exhibits a behavior is sick. I think that some people may feel distress over paraphilias not because they have become obsessive or compulsive about them, but because society or individuals in their lives make them feel ashamed of their desires, in which case the root of the problem isn't the desire itself and hopefully psychiatrists and psychologists take that into account when dealing with actual patients. And of course anything that involves using other people's bodies for your own sexual pleasure without their consent is a significant issue. Older criteria define any acted upon paraphilia to be a sign of disorder, but based on the results of this study, that would mean that most Berlin men are living with a sexual psychiatric disorder. Onto the results!
A total of 62% of all the men surveyed identified with at least one paraphila. Only 1.7% of those reported that their desires had caused them distress. The men were most likely to fantasize (58.6%) and masturbate (47.7%) to their desires, but a pretty substantial number (44.4%) had acted on them. Voyeurism (38.7%) and fetishism (35.7%) were the most commonly reported paraphilias. Sadism and masochism were the next most common (24.8% and 18.5%). Frotteurism was somewhat disturbingly common (15%), as was pedophilia (10.4%), and the least common were transvestitism (7.4%) and exhibitionism (4.1%). Of those paraphilias that involved underage or non-consenting partners, 6.5% admitted to engaging in frotteurism in reality (as opposed to just fantasy), and 3.8% admitted to acts of pedophilia. Fetishism, sadism, and masochism were the most commonly practiced in real life. Pedophilia and transvestitism were the most likely to cause distress, although the numbers of respondents who reported distress were so low (0-2 per fetish) that the numbers are uninterpretable. Most of the respondents described their paraphilias as intensely arousing, and most did not consider their paraphilias a problem (not such a good thing when you include the pedophiles and frotteurs). Men with paraphilias were slightly more likely to be single (odds ratio 2.6) and to masturbate at least once a week (odds 4.4). Their rates of general life satisfaction and sex life satisfaction were the same as for men who did not report paraphilias.
The subjects of this study were, of course, volunteers, so the results might be skewed slightly by the fact that it's based on the responses of men who felt comfortable talking about their sex lives and who therefore have pretty liberal attitudes toward sex. On the other hand, it is likely that some downplayed their paraphilias out of shame. The fact that such a large number admitted to these desires (and in many cases, actions), seems to me to be a strong indicator that paraphilias are in fact very, very common and totally normal. I wish that a similar study had been conducted on women, but the results of such a study would likely be even more skewed by cultural factors, since society polices women's sexual desires much more fervently. The fact that the psychiatric community lumps things like sado-masochism and exhibitionism with pedophilia is somewhat disturbing, but the definitions of paraphilia-as-mental-disorder have changed substantially over the years and this conflation is largely a relic of more prudish times. A behavior or desire can't be abnormal if most of the population engages in it, and this study demonstrates that paraphilias are in no way abnormal.
Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she's had a little whiskey.
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