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Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us

by Jesse Bering

genre: non-fiction, psychology, sexology, science, human sexuality

A great book exploring big topics in human sexual deviancy. Find out why I gave it 5 out of 5 stars!

Summary

(Taken from Goodreads)book-review-perv-sexuality

Combining cutting-edge studies and critiques of landmark research and conclusions drawn by Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey, and the DSM-5, Bering pulls the curtain back on paraphilias, arguing that sexual deviance is commonplace. He explores the countless fetishists of the world, including people who wear a respectable suit during the day and handcuff a willing sexual partner at night. But he also takes us into the lives of “erotic outliers,” such as a woman who falls madly in love with the Eiffel Tower; a pair of deeply affectionate identical twins; those with a particular penchant for statues; and others who are enamored of crevices not found on the human body.Moving from science to politics, psychology, history, and his own reflections on growing up gay in America, Bering confronts hypocrisy, prejudice, and harm as they relate to sexuality on a global scale. Humanizing so-called deviants while at the same time asking serious questions about the differences between thought and action, he presents us with a challenge: to understand that our best hope of solving some of the most troubling problems of our age hinges entirely on the amoral study of sex.As kinky as it is compassionate, illuminating, and engrossing, Perv is an irresistible and deeply personal book. “I can’t promise you an orgasm at the end of our adventure,” Bering writes, “but I can promise you a better understanding of why you get the ones you do.”

Review

This book on sexual deviancy caught my attention and I’m glad it did. I love that it focused so much on the psychology of sex and desire and also morality/ethics of sexual desire and behaviour. It covers a great range of sexuality topics from sexual orientations, chronophilias (desired age ranges), paraphilias, and partialisms. Fascinating and weird fetishes were discussed (there was a case study of a man who sexually obsessed over used boots) but so were to the uncomfortable and confronting chronophilias: pedophilia and hebephilia.

Jesse, the author, shares his experiences as a homosexual man who was a closeted gay child in the 80s. He often compares the treatment of the homosexuals then to how we treat other sexual deviants today. I think using homosexuality in this way was smart because culture in developed nations has been changing its attitudes towards homosexuals and for the better. Will the disgust we hold for other sexual deviants also disappear in time with social change?

I loved learning about the different forms of human sexual deviancy. There were some evolutionary paragraphs to give scientific evidence towards the great divide generally seen between males and females (with men being more likely to have most paraphilias). I didn’t think it was a strong animal model case. And I’m always skeptical of biological/evolutionary explanations for gender differences especially considering how sexuality is imposed on boys and girls in very different ways. In general, women are oppressed sexually whereas men’s sexuality is celebrated and encouraged. I think this is the biggest driving force in the paraphilias ratio. But the author has some interesting theories and studies that made me think, appreciate, and think critically.

I was captured by his very important discussion of the ‘normality’ argument in moral human sexuality. Just because sexual acts result in children or are found among other species shouldn’t dictate whether we deem it okay. Homosexual sex doesn’t result in children but neither does heterosexual oral sex. Homosexual sex occurs in the animal kingdom but so does pedophilia. A 40 year old having sex with a 13 year old is ‘natural’ as it can result in a child but is it okay? His prevailing model for morality in regards to sexuality is harmfulness. Something should be deemed wrong or shameful if it causes others harm, if the target experiences harm that they find distressing. And that harm is to be determined by the individuals engaged in the act. I think that’s a very helpful way to perceive these instances of sexual deviancy.

Even though the harmfulness model sounds simple, there are still catch-22s. I felt that this book did a great job addressing them the best that it could with research and reason. Although sensitive topics such as child abuse, pedophilia and hebophilia are discussed, it’s done in a way that is both straight and also considerate. Pedophilia is the most hated, shameful, and stigmatised sexual deviancy but this also results in very few constructive discussions on how to keep children safe and offenders from re-offending. Additionally, I’m glad I was educated on the difference between pedophiles and hebophiles since the media calls any adult who sexually assaults or molests someone under 16. Pedophiles are sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children and hebophiles are attracted to pubescent children.

I really enjoyed the writing style. He was succinct but witty. He had some funny anecdotes. He painted vivid scenarios to imagine to help the reader sympathise with the shame that socially ostracised sexual deviants suffer. There were moments of beautiful florid writing but most of it was scientific and conversational. I thought he nailed the balance perfectly for an informational novel for the public. But at the same time, some of his anecdotes were used to support his points which were way too subjective and pointless as a form of evidence (which I didn’t appreciate).

I had few issues with this book. It wasn’t perfect but it doesn’t have to be. It was entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking. I like to think I’m an open person, even to the sexual deviant activities engaged by some, but this book helped me address my prejudices and become more empathic of their struggles. I have been lucky that my sexuality is ‘normal’ as a young cis woman in Australia in 2014 who enjoys heterosexual sex with my long-term boyfriend who is of similar age and race. But don’t get me wrong, I will always have issues with pedophilia and hebephilia. They are the only subgroup of people who I feel any automatic distaste and disgust. But I also greatly respect those pedophiles and hebephiles who do not act on their impulses and try their best to control their desires in order not to harm children.

I think it’s important to confront issues that we feel strongly about, especially considering how we often know little about them. I feel that strong emotions and little information often clouds constructive discussions about the wide range of sexual deviancy.

Would you give this book a go? What did you think of the harmfulness model for expressions of human sexuality?

5 out of 5 stars

amazonbutton2 copyThis book is for you if you:

  • Find sexual deviancy interesting
  • Enjoy reading non-fiction written for the public

This book is not for you if you:

  • Are easily squeamish or disgusted by sexual ‘strangeness’
  • Find discussion about pedophilia and hebephilia to be too distressing

 Ermisenda Alvarez

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