Well, it has an interesting title, don’t you think? Provocative, really.
Title: Perv – The Sexual Deviant in All of Us
Author: Jesse Bering
Publishers: Penguin Random House, UK(2015)
Genre: Non-fiction; Psychology
What’s it about?
Jesse Bering is a former director at the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University Belfast and also a former professor of psychology at University of Arkansas.
The book begins with the characterization of sexual deviance, and the label ‘perv’. Bering provides the evolution of the term ‘perverse’. It would seem the moniker of ‘perverse’ is attributed to one who is turning away from what is right according to the Judeo-Christian religion, namely an atheist. It was only in the late 19th century that ‘perv’ is common usage in reference to sexual deviance.
Sexual deviance is only deviant as compared to a persisting standard or norm. It was not that long ago that masturbation was considered a sexual deviance and a psychological illness. Further Bering claims, as the title indicates, we are all sexual deviants in varying degrees. We have all thought sexual thoughts which we would not divulge to others in general conversations. Consider, rape fantasies or voyeuristic or exhibitionist fantasies… There is a social standard or norm which few of us would casually flout.
Which brings us to the notion that what goes on in our minds is no one else’s business unless and until we act it out, and perhaps not even then.
Bering states that the present debate on sexual deviance rests on the dichotomy of ‘what is natural’ against ‘what is unnatural’. He suggests perhaps a better test may be ‘what is harmful’. His argument is rather convincing, at least to me.
“Treating an individual as a pervert in essence, and hence with a purposefully immoral mind, because his or her brain conjures up atypical erotic ideas or respond sexually to stimuli that other have deemed inappropriate objects of desire, is medieval in both its stupidity and its cruelty.”
The gendered conception of sexual deviance between the sexes can be seen from the psychological explanation and treatment approach to nymphomania and satyriasis (this being the male counterpart to nymphomania) – for example, satyrs are men who do sick things, while nymphos are women who are sick as women cannot possibly have sexual desires.
Bering then went on to explain and describe the many different sexual inclinations and with case studies to match, including ornithophilia (an intense desire for birds), necrophilia, foot fetish, podophilia (toes being the object of desires), etc. They are mind-boggling to say the least. His take on paedophilia and the age of consent is courageous indeed given the prevailing sentiment surrounding it. I will leave you to read it for yourself. He does make a sensible point.
Of course, a book on sexual deviance would be incomplete without addressing the issue of sexual orientation – homosexuality, transsexuality etc. Bering states that a person’s sexuality is determined by a lottery at birth – our sexuality is determined through a combination of 4 factors
- Sexual orientation – homosexual, heterosexual, bi-sexual or asexual;
- Erotic target – person, animal, inanimate or none;
- Erotic behaviour – normal intercourse, courtship paraphilia, other paraphilia or masturbation; and
- Erotic age orientation – pedophilia (prepubescent), hebephilia (pubescent), ephebophilia (older adolescent), teleiophilia (mature adult), gerontophilia (elderly), or none.
Fortunate for me living under present societal standard and norm (‘social jackpot’ in Bering’s term), I am heterosexual, person, normal intercourse and teleiophilia. Care to identify your combination? Remember, it need not be acted upon, thoughts count too 🙂
This book is made all the more interesting by Bering’s irreverence, dry wit and humor, with his deft handling of the ‘intense’ topics. His humane liberal approach is endearing. There were many laugh-out-loud moments, which earned me quizzical looks on the train commute especially when I was holding up a book titled ‘Perv’.
Perhaps it is time to look at issues of sexuality from the lens of ‘harm’ instead of ‘nature’ or ‘religion’, and to differentiate the harm value between thought and action. Just because we think it, does not mean we will do it. And if we do do it, are we harming others? And if not, is it a matter for public or private governance? And why the condemnation and/or persecution? As a psychotherapist, my question is this – what benefits can shame, stigma, ostracism and separateness create?
And a word of caution from Bering – when we identify a person by his or her sexuality,
“…we’ve lost the trees for the forest. … our knowledge of a person’s hidden sexual desires overshadows everything else we know about him or her…”
Who would I recommend this book to?
This is a book of ideas, visions and possibilities on sexuality. It is intended to challenge prevailing views, standards and norms rather than a book for scientific study. The 13-page bibliographic notes is indicative of a well-researched book.
I recommend this book for the curious minds, as well as those open and willing to explore, at the least intellectually ;-), different paradigms of human sexuality.
Realistic Characterization: NA
Made Me Think: 4/5
Overall enjoyment: 3.5/5
Overall Rating: 4/5
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