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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. Paraphilia may also be used to imply non-mainstream sexual practices without necessarily implying any dysfunction or moral deviance.

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Wiktionary: paraphilia


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.

Clinical definition
A paraphilic interest is not normally considered clinically 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).
Lay-public view
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. (For a contrasting view see: Wisdom of repugnance)
Usage of the term in English
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.
Clinical warnings
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)
Social norms
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.

Due to the somewhat subjective nature of their definition, the specific acts included under the umbrella of paraphilia vary from time to time and from place to place, and indeed from edition to edition of such works as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

History of the term[]

The term was coined by Viennese psychotherapist Wilhelm Stekel (in his book Sexual Aberrations) in 1925, from the Greek para- (beside) + philos (loving), and first used in English in Stekel's translated works. It was not in widespread use until the 1950s, and was first used in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM) in 1980. It was used by Sigmund Freud, as well as by the sexologist John Money.

Categorization of paraphilias[]

There is much debate about what (if anything) should constitute a paraphilia, and how these should be clinically classified (see Controversy, below).

Clinically recognized paraphilias[]

Clinical literature discusses eight major paraphilias individually, 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" to be considered such. In the clinical sense, many professionals and lay people prefer the term "disorders of sexual preference".

Note that their listing in DSM is mostly because, either due to widespread commonality or the nature of any psychological distress, standardized clinical assessment methods (as opposed to general guidance) is considered valuable for these.

They are:

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

Other paraphilias are grouped together under "Other paraphilias not otherwise specified."

Homosexuality was previously listed as a paraphilia in the DSM-I and DSM-II, but this was declassified from both DSM-III and DSM-IV, consistent with the change of attitude among psychiatrists. There is still a disorder of homosexuality, but this refers to clinical distress caused by the repression of homosexuality. Likewise, zoophilia was clinically reëvaluated between DSM-III and DSM-IV as a result of research, and is now not considered a clinical problem unless distress is caused. As of 2004, transvestic fetishism was still listed as a paraphilia in the DSM-IV-TR. There are also many other paraphilias, both common and rare.

It seems that anything can (in theory) become sexualized, given the right circumstances, and that therefore paraphilias can (in theory) encompass almost any imaginable subject.

Intensity and Specificity[]

Clinicians often distinguish between optional, preferred and exclusive paraphilias, though the terminology is not completely standardized. An "optional" paraphilia is an alternate route to sexual arousal. For example, a man with otherwise unremarkable sexual interests might sometimes seek or enhance sexual arousal by wearing women's underwear. In preferred paraphilias, a person prefers the paraphilia to conventional sexual activities, but also engages in conventional sexual activities. For example, a man might prefer to wear women's underwear during sexual activity, whenever possible. In exclusive paraphilias, a person is unable to become sexually aroused in the absence of the paraphilia.

Optional paraphilias are far more common than preferred paraphilias, which are, in turn, far more common than exclusive paraphilias.

Optional paraphilias sometimes disrupt stable relationships when discovered by an unsuspecting partner. Preferred paraphilias often disrupt otherwise stable relationships. Open communication and mutual support can minimize or prevent such disruption in both of these cases. Exclusive paraphilias often preclude normal courtship and committed romantic relationships, even when the person in question desires such a relationship. Loneliness or social isolation are common consequences. In extreme cases, preoccupation with a preferred or exclusive paraphilia completely displaces the more typical desire for loving human relationships.

Psychology of paraphilias[]

Behavioral imprinting[]

Observation of paraphiliac behavior has provided valuable scientific information on the mechanisms of sexual attraction and desire, such as behavioral imprinting. Careful investigation has also led to the tentative conclusions that normal biological processes may sometimes be manifested in idiosyncratic ways in at least some of the paraphilias, and that these unusual manifestations are frequently associated with unusual (and especially traumatic) events associated with early sexual experience. They tend to be caused by classical conditioning in that a sexual stimulus has been paired with stimuli and situations that do not typically result in sexual response, then perpetuated through operant conditioning because the sexual response is its own reward or positive reinforcement.

Views on paraphilias[]

Religious views[]

Main article: Religion and sexuality

Some religious adherents view various paraphilias as deviations from their conception of God's original plan for human sexuality, or from their religious laws. Depending in part on the nature of the paraphilia in question, judgements can differ as to whether religiously it should be considered a case of exual sin, mental illness, or simply harmless sexual variation. Another variable is whether it is the acting out, or (less commonly) just the desirous thought alone, which is critically viewed in such cases. In any event, several paraphilias, as with many "non-mainstream" behaviors, are viewed negatively (or with distaste) by various religions.

Some religious traditions include forms of extreme asceticism such as scourging, when practiced as a sexual activity would usually be considered masochism and popularly viewed as paraphilias. When practiced for non-sexual reasons, they are usually valued by the religious groups concerned as a part of their religious observance and submission to God.

Legal views[]

Main article: Sex and the law

As a general rule, the law in many countries often intervenes in paraphilias involving young or adolescent children below the legal age of consent, nonconsensual deliberate displays or illicit watching of sexual activity, harm to animals, acts involving dead people, harassment, nuisance, fear, injury, or assault of a sexual nature. Separately, it also usually regulates or controls censorship of pornographic material.

Non-consensual exhibitionism, where people who have not previously consented to watch are exposed to sexual display, is also an offense in most jurisdictions, as is non-consensual voyeurism. (See indecent exposure and peeping tom)

Non-consensual sadomasochistic acts may legally constitute assault, and therefore belong in the list below. Some jurisdictions criminalize some or all sadomasochistic acts, regardless of legal consent and impose liability for any injuries caused and that, for these purposes, non-physical injuries are included in the definition of grievous bodily harm in English law. (See Consent (BDSM))

The paraphilias listed below may carry a condition of illegality in some areas if acted out (though they may usually be legally role-played between consenting partners).

  • pedophilia: sexual attraction to prepubescent children
  • ephebophilia: sexual attraction to adolescents (ie, postpubescent youth, such as teenagers)
  • frotteurism: sexual arousal through rubbing one's self against a non-consenting stranger in public
  • exhibitionism and voyeurism, if deliberate and non-consensual
  • telephone scatologia: being sexually aroused by making obscene telephone calls
  • zoophilia: emotional or sexual attraction to animals
  • biastophilia: sexual pleasure from committing rape
  • lust murder: sexual arousal through committing murder

The two above are always illegal for obvious reasons.

  • necrophilia: sexual attraction to corpses
  • necrozoophilia: sexual attraction to the corpses or killings of animals (also known as necrobestiality)
  • zoosadism: the sexual enjoyment of causing pain and suffering to animals.

Paraphilia in popular culture[]

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, previously censored or stigmatized images of many paraphilias became more prevalent in the popular culture of Western countries.

  • Sadomasochism: In the independent 1974 German film The Night Porter, Charlotte Rampling wore a hat from a Nazi uniform in a sadomasochistic sex scene. At the time, the image was startling and new, but over the following years the use of Nazi-tinged iconography in a sexual context became mainstream, appearing first in mass-marketed pornography like Playboy and Penthouse, and finally becoming so tame that teen queen Britney Spears wore a similar outfit to a primetime awards show in 2003.
  • By 2006, sadomasochistic imagery had become mainstream enough for singer Justin Timberlake to have a hit song with the lyric "Just see these shackles baby, I'm your slave! / I'll let you whip me if I misbehave!"
  • Pedophilia: Pedophiliac imagery famously burst into popular culture at the beginning of the 1980s with the success of Brooke Shields in such movies as Pretty Baby and The Blue Lagoon]'. Even at the time, however, the negative response to these movies was strong. Since then, popular culture has continued to simultaneously promote and censor pedophiliac imagery. In 1999 the fetishistic use of a school uniform helped make the video for "...Baby One More Time" (again by Britney Spears) a huge hit. But just two years earlier, the film Lolita could not find a theatrical distributor despite the fame of its director and star, and was instead premiered on cable television.
  • Webcomics] and furries both gained popularity on the Internet at roughly the same time, so it's natural that furries have been featured as characters or objects of satire in many webcomics, including Diesel Sweeties[1], Overcompensating [2], and Something Positive [3], among others.

Controversy over the term[]

The definition of various sexual practices as paraphilias has been met with opposition. Advocates for changing these definitions stress that, aside from "paraphilias" with a criminal element, there is nothing inherently pathological about these practices; they are undeserving of the stigmatism associated with being "singled out" as such. Those who profess such a view hope that, much as with the removal of homosexuality from the DSM (see homosexuality and psychology), future psychiatric definitions will not include most of these practices.

List of paraphilias[]

Also see article -philia for "-philias" in other fields

Note: This article needs some clean-up. Many terms have been represented incorrectly. Terms with the -philia suffix refer to conditions in which the person's primary sexual interest involves the stimulus or situation mentioned. Each term with the -lagnia suffix refers to any action involving the stimulus or situation. For example, someone who is consistently sexually excited by feces would have coprophilia; any sexual act involving feces, even by someone for whom that is not a primary interest, would be coprolagnia.

The following terms represent combinations of greek words, but do not necessarily represent reality. Some of the following sexual interests are fairly common. For instance, problems with sexual abuse of children, associated with pedophilia, are well-known, and at least a few bars or clubs dedicated to bondage and discipline (sadism and masochism) can be found in most large cities in the U.S. Others are vanishingly rare, if they exist at all and are not documented in any reliable source. Some items portray personal preferences that don't reasonably qualify as paraphilias. Finally, the following list might contain some dubious items.

  • Abasiophilia: love of (or sexual attraction to) people who use leg braces or other orthopaedic appliances
  • Acrotomophilia: love of (or sexual attraction to) amputees
  • Agalmatophilia: sexual attraction to statues or mannequins or immobility
  • Algolagnia: sexual pleasure from pain
  • Amaurophilia: sexual arousal by a partner whom one is unable to see due to artificial means, such as being blindfolded or having sex in total darkness. (See: sensory deprivation)
  • Andromimetophilia: love of women dressed as men
  • Apodysophilia: desire to undress, see also nudism
  • Apotemnophilia: desire to have (or sexual arousal from having) a healthy appendage (limb, digit, or male genitals) amputated
  • Aquaphilia: arousal from water and/or in watery environments, including swimming pools
  • Aretifism: sexual attraction to people who are without footwear, in contrast to retifism
  • Asphyxiophilia: sexual attraction to asphyxia; also called breath control play; including autoerotic asphyxiation; see medical warnings
  • Autogynephilia: love of oneself as a woman (also see Blanchard, Bailey, and Lawrence theory for discussion on controversy)
  • Biastophilia: sexual pleasure from committing rape
  • Coprophilia: sexual attraction to (or pleasure from) feces
  • Crush fetish: sexual arousal from seeing small creatures being crushed by members of the opposite sex, or being crushed oneself
  • Dacryphilia: sexual pleasure in eliciting tears from others or oneself
  • Diaper fetishism: sexual arousal from diapers
  • Emetophilia (a.k.a. vomerophilia): sexual attraction to vomit
  • Ephebophilia (a.k.a. hebephilia): sexual attraction towards adolescents
  • Eproctophilia: sexual attraction to flatulence
  • Exhibitionism: sexual arousal through sexual behavior in view of third parties (also includes the recurrent urge or behavior to expose one's genitals to an unsuspecting person, known as indecent exposure)
  • Faunoiphilia: sexual arousal from watching animals mate
  • Fetishism: is the use of non-sexual or nonliving objects or part of a person's body to gain sexual excitement. Examples include:
Balloon fetishism -- breast fetishism -- foot fetishism (podophilia) -- fur fetishism -- leather fetishism -- lipstick fetishism -- medical fetishism -- panty fetishism -- robot fetishism -- rubber fetishism -- shoe fetishism -- smoking fetishism -- spandex fetishism -- transvestic fetishism (see below)
  • Frotteurism: sexual arousal from the recurrent urge or behavior of touching or rubbing against a nonconsenting person
  • Galactophilia: sexual attraction to human milk or lactating women
  • Gastergastrizophilia: sexual arousal derived from the sight of or sensations associated with someone (usually female) receiving punches in the stomach; AKA, "bellypunching."
  • Gerontophilia: sexual attraction towards the elderly
  • Haematophilia: sexual attraction involving blood (either on a sex partner/attractive person or the liquid itself; not to be confused with haemophilia, a genetic disorder of the blood)
  • Harpaxophilia: sexual arousal from being the victim of a robbery or burglary
  • Hematolagnia: sexual attraction to blood
  • Hybristophilia: sexual arousal to people who have committed crimes, in particular cruel or outrageous crimes
  • Infantilism: sexual pleasure from dressing, acting, or being treated as a baby
  • Klismaphilia: sexual pleasure from enemas
  • Lust murder: sexual arousal through committing murder
  • Macrophilia: sexual attraction to larger people and large things (including larger body organs such as breasts and genitalia)
  • Maiesiophilia: sexual attraction to childbirth or pregnant women
  • Masochism: is the recurrent urge or behavior of wanting to be humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer
  • Microphilia: sexual attraction to smaller people and things of smaller size
  • Mysophilia: sexual attraction to soiled, dirty, foul or decaying material
  • Necrophilia: sexual attraction to corpses
  • Necrozoophilia: sexual attraction to the corpses or killings of animals (also known as necrobestiality)
  • Nepiophilia: the same as infantophilia sexual attraction to children between the age of 0 - 3 yrs.
  • Pedophilia: sexual attraction to prepubescent children (also spelt paedophilia in some countries)
  • Pictophilia: inability to become sexually aroused except through the use of pictorial pornography
  • Plushophilia: sexual attraction to stuffed toys or people in animal costume, such as theme park characters
  • Pyrophilia: sexual arousal through watching, setting, hearing/talking/fantasizing about fire
  • Retifism: sexual arousal from shoes
  • Sadism: is the recurrent urge or behavior involving acts in which the pain or humiliation of the victim is sexually exciting
  • Sitophilia: sexual arousal from food
  • Somnophilia: sexual arousal from sleeping or unconscious people
  • Spectrophilia: sexual attraction to ghosts
  • Telephone scatologia: being sexually aroused by making obscene telephone calls
  • Teratophilia: sexual attraction to deformed or monstrous people
  • Transformation fetish: sexual arousal from depictions of transformations of people into objects or other beings
  • Transvestic fetishism: is a sexual attraction towards the clothing of the opposite gender (also known as transvestitism)
  • Trichophilia: love (or sexual arousal) from hair
  • Urolagnia: sexual attraction to urine
  • Vorarephilia: sexual attraction to being eaten by, and/or eating, another person or creature
  • Voyeurism: sexual arousal through watching others having sex (also includes the recurrent urge or behavior to observe an unsuspecting person who is naked, disrobing or engaging in sexual activities, see peeping tom)
  • Xenophilia: sexual attraction to foreigners (in science fiction, can also mean sexual attraction to aliens)
  • Zoophilia: emotional or sexual attraction to animals
  • Zoosadism: the sexual enjoyment of causing pain and suffering to animals


  1. Sadism and masochism are often grouped together, under sadomasochism, or (as a lifestyle interest) BDSM. See also " bondage and discipline" and algolagnia.

See also[]

External links[]

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