Paraphilia: Sexual Behaviors That Are Generally Considered Atypical

Paraphilia is a collective term for sexual behaviors that are generally considered atypical. This can manifest as sexual arousal to certain objects, situations, or fantasies, like a sexual attraction to shoes.

Key takeaways:
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    The term paraphilia refers to sexual interests or behaviors that are considered atypical when comparing them to the sexual interests and behaviors of the general population.
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    Although they are atypical, many paraphilias fall within the spectrum of healthy sexuality and are practiced either solo or with consenting adults.
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    Some paraphilias are coercive and cause harm to the victim and the perpetrator. Sexual behaviors or interests that are distressing or harmful should be treated by a mental health professional.

While some paraphilias are coercive, many noncoercive paraphilias exist and are practiced by consenting adults.

What is a paraphilia?

As stated above, a paraphilia is a sexual behavior that is generally considered not common within society. They often involve sexual arousal to certain objects, situations, or fantasies and can be defined as coercive or non-coercive.

Noncoercive paraphilias involve solo sex activities or sex with a consenting adult. As everyone involved is consenting to participating in or observing the sexual activity, and their basic human rights have not been violated, noncoercive paraphilias are considered to be relatively harmless.

Coercive paraphilias involve unconsenting participants, which has the potential to cause them significant physiological trauma. As such, these types of paraphilias are illegal in many places and can be considered a paraphilic disorder.

There are many different types of paraphilias, with some researchers suggesting that there may be over 500.

Are they common?

It is not known exactly how common paraphilias are as, due to stigma, many people do not report atypical sexual interests. It is known that the majority of people who do report having atypical sexual interests are men, and some studies report that women are most likely to engage in sexual masochism.

A 2017 study examined 1040 men and women and found that around half of the participants expressed interest in at least one type of paraphilia, and around 33% had previously engaged in a paraphilic experience at least once. Another study of 1,915 German men aged 40-79 found that approximately 62% reported interest in at least one type of paraphilia, and only 1.7% of these men experienced distress as a result of their sexual interest.

What types of paraphilias are there?

As stated above, there have been over 500 paraphilias identified, with some being more common than others. One study found that the most common paraphilias in the general population were voyeurism, fetishism, frotteurism, and masochism.

Voyeurism is the act of gaining sexual satisfaction from watching others engage in sexual acts. This paraphilia is generally non-coercive and may be practiced by watching a partner have sex with another person or by watching others at a sex club. However, voyeurism can also be coercive when practiced with an unknowing victim.

Fetishism is a broad term for those who gain sexual gratification from a certain object, body part, or sexual activity.

Frotteurism is the term given to those who gain sexual gratification from touching or rubbing up against another person nonconsensually. This usually takes place in crowded spaces such as public transportation.

Masochism is the term given to those who gain sexual gratification from pain or humiliation being inflicted on them. While technically, this is causing physical harm, most forms of masochism are performed consensually. Masochism falls under the umbrella of BDSM, (bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadomasochism), and those who practice BDSM do so with explicit prenegotiated consent and safety in mind.

Some less common paraphilias include autassassinophilia, which is gaining sexual gratification from life-threatening situations, and crurophilia, which is gaining sexual gratification from legs.

What should you do if you have an atypical sex interest?

If you’re not harming yourself or others, there is no reason to stress about engaging in these types of sexual activities or fantasies. Although certain sexual activities or fantasies may be less common than others, the majority of them exist within the spectrum of healthy sexuality and do not need to be treated.

However, if these interests or activities are causing you distress, harming others in a nonconsensual manner, or are illegal, you should seek help from a sex-positive mental health professional.

Paraphilia is the term given to sexual acts and interests that are typical compared to the rest of society. Even though they are atypical, many paraphilias exist within the spectrum of healthy sexuality and are practiced by consenting adults. There are, however, paraphilias that are coercive and cause harm to the victim and the perpetrator. If your sexual interests or activities are causing you distress or harming someone, please speak with a mental health professional.

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