Paraphilia

Paraphilia (also known as sexual perversion and sexual deviation) is the experience of intense sexual arousal to atypical objects, fetishes, situations, fantasies, behaviors, or individuals. No consensus has been found for any precise border between unusual sexual interests and paraphilic ones. There is debate over which, if any, of the paraphilias should be listed in diagnostic manuals, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

The number and taxonomy of paraphilias is under debate; one source lists as many as 549 types of paraphilias. The DSM-5 has specific listings for eight paraphilic disorders. Several sub-classifications of the paraphilias have been proposed, and some argue that a fully dimensional, spectrum or complaint-oriented approach would better reflect the evidence.

Terminology


Many terms have been used to describe atypical sexual interests, and there remains debate regarding technical accuracy and perceptions of stigma. Sexologist John Money popularized the term paraphilia as a non-pejorative designation for unusual sexual interests. Money described paraphilia as “a sexuoerotic embellishment of, or alternative to the official, ideological norm.” Psychiatrist Glen Gabbard writes that despite efforts by Stekel and Money, “the term paraphilia remains pejorative in most circumstances.”

Coinage of the term paraphilia (paraphilie) has been credited to Friedrich Salomon Krauss in 1903, and it entered the English language in 1913, in reference to Krauss by urologist William J. Robinson. It was used with some regularity by Wilhelm Stekel in the 1920s. The term comes from the Greek παρά (para) “beside” and φιλία (-philia) “friendship, love”.

In the late 19th century, psychologists and psychiatrists started to categorize various paraphilias as they wanted a more descriptive system than the legal and religious constructs of sodomy and perversion. Before the introduction of the term paraphilia in the DSM-III (1980), the term sexual deviation was used to refer to paraphilias in the first two editions of the manual. In 1981, an article published in American Journal of Psychiatry described paraphilia as “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors generally involving:

Causes


The causes of paraphilic sexual preferences in people are unclear, although a growing body of research points to a possible prenatal neurodevelopmental correlation. A 2008 study analyzing the sexual fantasies of 200 heterosexual men by using the Wilson Sex Fantasy Questionnaire exam, determined that males with a pronounced degree of fetish interest had a greater number of older brothers, a high 2D:4D digit ratio (which would indicate excessive prenatal estrogen exposure), and an elevated probability of being left-handed, suggesting that disturbed hemispheric brain lateralization may play a role in deviant attractions.

Behavioral explanations propose that paraphilias are conditioned early in life, during an experience that pairs the paraphilic stimulus with intense sexual arousal. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema suggests that, once established, masturbatory fantasies about the stimulus reinforce and broaden the paraphilic arousal.

Management


Most psychologists believe that paraphilic sexual interests cannot be altered. Instead, the goal of therapy is normally to reduce the person’s discomfort with their paraphilia and limit any criminal behavior. Both psychotherapeutic and pharmacological methods are available to these ends.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, at times, can help people with paraphilias develop strategies to avoid acting on their interests. Patients are taught to identify and cope with factors that make acting on their interests more likely, such as stress. It is currently the only form of psychotherapy for paraphilias supported by evidence.

Medications

Pharmacological treatments can help people control their sexual behaviors, but do not change the content of the paraphilia. They are typically combined with cognitive behavioral therapy for best effect.

SSRIs

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used, especially with exhibitionists, non-offending pedophiles, and compulsive masturbators. They are proposed to work by reducing sexual arousal, compulsivity, and depressive symptoms. However, supporting evidence for SSRIs is limited.

Antiandrogens

Antiandrogens are used in more severe cases. Similar to physical castration, they work by reducing androgen levels, and have thus been described as chemical castration. The antiandrogen cyproterone acetate has been shown to substantially reduce sexual fantasies and offending behaviors. Medroxyprogesterone acetate and gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists (such as leuprolide acetate) have also been used to lower sex drive. Due to the side effects, the World Federation of Societies of Biological Psychiatry recommends that hormonal treatments only be used when there is a serious risk of sexual violence, or when other methods have failed. Surgical castration has largely been abandoned because these pharmacological alternatives are similarly effective and less invasive.

Epidemiology


Research has shown that paraphilias are rarely observed in women. However, there have been some studies on females with paraphilias. Sexual masochism has been found to be the most commonly observed paraphilia in women, with approximately 1 in 20 cases of sexual masochism being female.

Many acknowledge the scarcity of research on female paraphilias. The majority of paraphilia studies are conducted on people who have been convicted of sex crimes. Since the number of male convicted sex offenders far exceeds the number of female convicted sex offenders, research on paraphilic behavior in women is consequently lacking.[Some researchers argue that an underrepresentation exists concerning pedophilia in females. Due to the low number of women in studies on pedophilia, most studies are based from “exclusively male samples”. This likely underrepresentation may also be attributable to a “societal tendency to dismiss the negative impact of sexual relationships between young boys and adult women”. Michele Elliott has done extensive research on child sexual abuse committed by females, publishing the book Female Sexual Abuse of Children: The Last Taboo in an attempt to challenge the gender-biased discourse surrounding sex crimes. John Hunsley states that physiological limitations in the study of female sexuality must also be acknowledged when considering research on paraphilias. He states that while a man’s sexual arousal can be directly measured from his erection (see penile plethysmograph), a woman’s sexual arousal cannot be measured as clearly (see vaginal photoplethysmograph), and therefore research concerning female sexuality is rarely as conclusive as research on men.

Legal issues


In the United States, following a series of landmark cases in the Supreme Court of the United States, persons diagnosed with paraphilias, particularly pedophilia (Kansas v. Hendricks, 1997) and exhibitionism (Kansas v. Crane, 2002), with a history of anti-social behavior and related criminal history, can be held indefinitely in civil confinement under various state legislation generically known as sexually violent predator laws and the federal Adam Walsh Act (United States v. Comstock, 2010).

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