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Parent categories: fantasy - sex

Perversion is a colloquial and slightly derogatory term for paraphilia and as such a hard to define concept which ranges from mild deviant sex forms such as indecent exposure to outright sex crimes.

Etymology: In the psychological sense of "disorder of sexual behavior in which satisfaction is sought through channels other than those of normal heterosexual intercourse" is from 1892, originally including homosexuality. --etymonline.com [May 2006]

By medium: perversion in art - perversion in cinema

Connoisseurs: Mario Praz - Bram Dijkstra - Colin Wilson - Elizabeth Grosz - Robert Stoller - Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel - Claire Pajaczkowska - Slavoj ˇi˛ek

Creativity and Perversion (1996) - Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, Otto Kernberg Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

...the number of perverts involved in the field of art is probably much greater than the average for the population in general.... It can be supposed ... that the pervert inclines in some particular manner to the world of art. --Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, Creativity and Perversion, 1984

Activities: BDSM - coprophilia - exhibitionism - fetishism - humiliation - masochism - necrophilia - pedophilia - polymorphously perverse (psychoanalysis) - play - sadism - sadomasochism - spanking - voyeurism - zoophilia

Theory: Krafft-Ebing - Sigmund Freud - John Money - psychiatry - sexology - Wilhelm Stekel -

Related: abnormal - arousal - attraction - behaviour - clothed - desire - eccentric - fascination - kinky - mind - nude - pain - paraphilia - -philia - pleasure - queer sensation - sensual - sex fantasy - sex object - unconventional

Contrast with: vanilla sex - normal

The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders (1988) - Colin Wilson [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
See also: Colin Wilson


While Sigmund Freud clearly intended the psychoanalytic concept of 'perversion' to be free from the moral judgement the word carries in colloquial use, the relationship of perversion to hostility and sexuality makes it a troubling concept. Is perversion an emotion? Is it a form of thinking or belief? Is perversion a sexual act? -- Claire Pajaczkowska


  1. To cause to turn away from what is right, proper, or good; corrupt.
  2. To bring to a bad or worse condition; debase.
  3. To put to a wrong or improper use; misuse.
  4. To interpret incorrectly; misconstrue or distort: an analysis that perverts the meaning of the poem.
-- The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

Perversion is a term and concept describing those types of human behavior that are perceived to be a deviation from what is considered orthodox or normal. It was originally defined as a "deviation from the original meaning or doctrine", literally a "turning aside" from the norm. The term pervert is a person in a state of perversion, though this term, referring to a person instead of a behavior, is generally used in a derogatory sense. Perversion, or perverse behavior, differs from deviant behavior, which describes a recognized violation of social rules or norms (though the two terms can apply to the same behavior).

The term most often refers to "sexual perversion," more neutrally called a paraphilia, many of which can contribute to sex crimes. The term, in a general sense, is most often applied to the more abnormal or disturbed types sexual behavior, mainly those involving compulsion and coercion. Used casually, the term can be meant to simply describe someone who is seen as having "dirty", "unnatural" or ambiguous thoughts.

Still, the definition and usage of the concept can vary by such variables as time, person, religion, and culture; and what some would describe as perversion, others might say is simply a variant form of human sexuality. Homosexuality was once considered to be a perversion, but is now widely seen as a natural sexual variation. However, some people would disagree with this, and there is still much debate on what constitutes a "deviant" or "perverted" behavior.

The verb form of the term, in general usage, simply means to turn something away from its natural state (or what is perceived to be its natural state.) For example, one might say that the modern film version of Romeo and Juliet "perverted" Shakespear's version of the story. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perversion [Dec 2005]

Paraphilia [...]

The medical term for perversion.

Definition (psychoanalysis)

The pursuit of "abnormal" sexual objects without repression. Freud at one point lists five forms of perversion, which is to say five ways that an individual "differs from the normal": "first, by disregarding the barrier of species (the gulf between men and animals), secondly, by overstepping the barrier against disgust, thirdly that against incest (the prohibition against seeking sexual satisfaction from near blood-relations), fourthly that against members of one's own sex and fifthly the transferring of the part played by the genitals to other organs and areas of the body" . He makes clear that a young child will not recognize any of these five points as abnormal—and only does so through the process of education. For this reason, he calls children "polymorphously perverse" . --Freud, Sigmund. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Trans. James Strachey. 24 vols. London: Hogarth, 1953-74. via Felluga, Dino. "Terms Used by Psychoanalysis." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory.[Nov. 28, 2003]. Purdue U. [Apr 2004]. .

A vocabulary of perversion

Though Krafft-Ebing made a lasting contribution by spreading a vocabulary of perversion, the theory of degeneration he espoused fell on hard times at the turn of the 20th Century.  Havelock Ellis rejected it in his Sexual Inversion of 1897, and in 1905 Freud published a withering criticism of the idea that amounted to its death knell.  The year before he died, Krafft-Ebing even recanted himself.  In a 1901 article in the Jahrbuch für Sexualzwischenstufen, a journal published by the Scientific Humanitarian Committee he declared that even though inversion is an inherited variation, it is not morbid or degenerate.  Unfortunately, the last edition of his book predated his conversion, and its frequent reprints contain the old model of degeneration. --Andrew Wikholm, http://www.gayhistory.com/rev2/events/1886.htm [Sept 2004]

The book and others of its ilk had another consequence:  they formalized and popularized the idea that homosexuals are constitutionally different from heterosexuals, that their minds and sometimes even their bodies set them apart from the heterosexual majority.  Ulrichs was the first to articulate this idea in print, but psychiatrists learned about it from Krafft-Ebing.   The idea was popular among psychiatrists and homosexuals, but for different reasons. --Andrew Wikholm, http://www.gayhistory.com/rev2/events/1886.htm [Sept 2004]

Many homosexuals, including many in the case studies Krafft-Ebing used to illustrate his book, welcomed the idea that they possessed a unique personality structure. It seemed better to be considered sick than depraved and subject to prosecution under the law. Psychiatrists liked the idea, too, because it gave them a position of power as experts in the treatment of sexual pathologies. The older sin model didn't pay for anybody, so the new medical model quickly caught on. --Andrew Wikholm, http://www.gayhistory.com/rev2/events/1886.htm [Sept 2004]

Kinky [...]

Showing or appealing to bizarre or deviant tastes, especially of a sexual or erotic nature.

Voyeurism [...]

It is usual for most normal people to linger to some extent over the intermediate aim of looking that has a sexual tinge to it; indeed, this offers them a possibility of directing some proportion of their libido on to higher artistic aims. On the other hand, this pleasure in looking [scopophilia] becomes a perversion (a) if it is restricted exclusively to the genitals, or (b) if it is connected with the overriding of disgust (as in the case of voyeurs or people who look at excretory functions), or (c) if, instead of being preparatory to the normal sexual aim, it supplants it.

Sigmund Freud, "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality," 1905

Female Perversions

Female Perversions (1996) - Susan Streitfeld
[FR] [DE] [UK]

Eva Stephens (Tilda Swinton), a beautiful and sexy high-powered attorney, is up for appointment as a judge. But below her veneer of self-confidence lies a darker side, one in which she is driven by bizarre visions and sexual fantasies. After a series of events, including rescuing her sister Madelyn (Amy Madigan) after her arrest for shoplifting, being rejected by her lover John (Clancy Brown) during a surprise visit, and finally, meeting with the Governor regarding her judical appointment, Eve comes unraveled. In a stunning and climatic conclusion, Eve is forced to confront her fears and, more importantly, herself.

Female Perversions (1991) - Louise Kaplan
[FR] [DE] [UK]

Distinguished psychoanalyst and author Louise Kaplan scrutinizes the world of sexual perversions and exposes the misconceptions behind them in her masterful study, Female Perversions. Her effort earned the book a nomination for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Kaplan's general thesis is that perversions are as much a function of gender role identity as they are of sexuality. Her thesis also maintains that the predominantly male medical profession has created and perpetuated many of the myths of perverse female sexual behavior. The book outlines various types of perverse behavior--fetishism, voyeurism, exhibitionism--and then analyzes each type outside of society's traditional perspective. As she expounds on her theory, Kaplan invokes Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. She sees many parallels between the plight of Emma Bovary and the perception of female perversions in society today. Kaplan writes lucidly, offering an enlightening insight into the provocative and complex issue of female erotic expression to a range of readers.

From Publishers Weekly Kaplan, citing the behavior of Flaubert's Madame Bovary and such literary figures as George Sand and Edith Wharton, demonstrates her belief that female perversions are gender-identity disorders that parody feminine ideals. "This masterful study breaks new ground in our understanding of sexuality, gender roles and the way modern society trivializes erotic expression," said PW. --Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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