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Sexual Deviations

It is surprisingly difficult to define exactly what a sexual deviation is.  Sex books and discussions often devote large  amounts of space and time to the so-called deviations, perversions, or abnormalities; and  yet there  is little agreement among the writers and discussants as to what, essentially, constitutes deviated  behavior.

          As I have shown in previously published papers and books (A. Ellis, 1952b, 1954b, 1958c), various authorities have insisted that a sexually deviated or perverted act is one that is (a) statistically abnormal or infrequently resorted to by members  of the general populace; (b) biologically or  procreatively inappropriate; (c) psychologically unhealthy or immature; or (d) ethically or morally  "bad" or "wrong." None of these criteria, I contend, are satisfactory because, in the last analysis, each depends largely on social norms or on culturally approved standards; and  the norms and standards  differ enormously from one community  to another.

          Thus, from a statistical standpoint, masturbation and petting are widely prevalent in our county; while instead, homosexuality seems  more frequent  among young Arabian males. Who, then, are we to call  deviated or sexually abnormal ourselves or the Arabs?

          From the standpoint of mental health or emotional "maturity," it may be healthful and mature for a  Scandinavian girl to have an "illegitimate"  child but unhealthful  and "immature"  for a modern American  girl to do likewise.  And where it was relatively "healthy" for an ancient Greek male to be largely homosexual in his interests and acts, it is (as we shall  show below) distinctly "unhealthy" or "neurotic"  for a modern American  male to be predominantly homosexual.

          From a so-called  biological  or procreative standpoint, all acts which do not lead to childbearing, such as masturbation and petting, would have to be called perverse; while forcible rape or an adult male's being attracted exclusively to thirteen-year-old girls would have to be deemed perfectly "normal." A married couple's performing intercourse with the use of contraceptives would also have  to be  viewed as abnormal or deviated behavior.

          From a moral or theoretical point of view, a woman's having an orgasm in marital intercourse  may be looked upon as wicked (as it actually is viewed I some communities, including some fanatical religious groups in our own country);  while a woman's remaining with her husband when  she does not have sex satisfaction may be seen as a virtual crime in other communities (as it seems to be viewed  among some fanatical romantic  groups  among our avant garde liberals). Which of these women, the one who does   or the one who does not have a climax in marital relations are we to consider a pervert?

          Although the usual definition of sexual deviation would seem to be prejudiced and parochial, and  non of them can be  absolutely upheld, there does seem to be one that holds up fairly well for  people living in our own society as well as for most individuals in most societies: namely, a psychosocial approach to deviation.

          This definition starts with the assumption, which I first stated in The American Sexual Tragedy (1945b), that an individual who has no sexual defeats (such as an injured penis or neuromuscular  deficiencies) may be  considered to be sexually deviated if he can only, under all circumstances,  enjoy one special  form of sexual activity:  or if he is obsessively compulsively fixated on a given  mode of sex behavior; or if he is fearfully and rigidly bound  to one or two forms of sexual participation.

          This definition of sexual deviation or sexual neurosis is the only one that seems to be consistent with that which is usually given of a non-sexual deviation or neurosis. A non-sexual  neurotic is an individual who, out of some kind of illogical   fear, favors one kind of behavior  (such as staying alone in his room)  and disfavors  another kind (such as going to social functions or riding on trains). A sexual neurotic or deviant, similarly, may  be said  to be an individual who, out of irrational anxiety, rigidly  refrains   from one kind of behavior (such as heterosexuality)  and adheres  exclusively to another  kind (such as homosexuality  or masturbation).

          By the same token, a non-sexual neurotic often becomes obsessively compulsively attached to a given form  of conduct such as touching  picket fences, keeping his room  inordinately clean and tidy, or remaining thoroughly attached to his mother. And a sexual neurotic or deviant  becomes obsessively-compulsively attached to a given form  of sex conduct such as copulating  with women  who have  small feet, or who wear bloomers, or who whip him.

          This does not mean that  individuals  cannot logically  favor or prefer one kind of sexual (or non-sexual) conduct to another. They can  (Kepner, 1959). Thus, it is possible for a  woman to prefer  staying by herself  to attending social functions or prefer being a Lesbian to being physical heterosexual provided that she has, for a reasonable length of time, unprejudicedly  tired both alternatives  (that  is, tried sociality and a sociality or heterosexuality  and Lesbianism) and then merely decided that she likes one mode better  than the other.

          If, however, this same woman  rarely or never tries, say, social  functions or heterosexuality  and still  insists that  they are worthless, pleasure less activities,  we can only surmise that she has some irrational fear of these  kinds of acts and that she is compulsively attached to other activities because of her fear. Under these circumstances, we would have to think of her as being  neurotic.

          Moreover; even if this woman  tries  social  functions  and  heterosexuality and finds  them relatively unsatisfactory  as compared to staying  at home and being homosexual, it would be suspicious if she always, under all circumstances, rigidly sticks to her preferences.  Granted that she usually  may dislike social affairs, why should  she always  find  them distasteful especially, say, when something  is to be gained that she prefers Lesbians, why should she, in the face of suffering possible grave penalties for being homosexual, always engage  in Lesbian acts and refuse more  safely available, albeit somewhat less satisfactory, heterosexual affairs?

          If we forget about sex for a moment and transpose the problem  of deviance and neurosis into, say,  the analogous  problem of eating, the core attitudes behind deviations will probably become  much clearer.

          Suppose, for instance, that an individual who is in good physical health and has no special  allergic reactions tries  all kinds of foods, eats  at different hours, and uses several types  of crockery.  He finally decides that he prefers meat  and potatoes to all other foods,  that he likes to eat  one large meal a day, at three in the morning, and that blue plates are best for him.  Under these circumstances, many of us might think this individual  peculiar; but we would have no scientific   grounds for calling him neurotic or deviated.

          Suppose, however, this same individual insists, after little or no experimentation, that he will eat nothing but meat and potatoes; or that he only will eat at three  in the morning, even if he is starving; or that he must  eat exclusively  on blue plates and cannot eat on dishes of any other color.  Or suppose, if meat and potatoes are arbitrarily banned in his community and a stiff jail sentence is given  to anyone discovered eating them, he still insists on ingesting only  this kind of food and refuses to touch any other kind of easily available victuals.  Or suppose,  that he is  utterly revolted by every other kind of food except  meat and potatoes and winces  with disgust  every time he sees others eating these  other foods.

          Such an individual, obviously, has  a distinct, illogical fear of most foods, or of different eating times, or of non-blue  plates.  From a psychological foundations he is clearly abnormal, fixated, compulsive, or neurotic.

          Suppose to use an opposite example that a person enjoys many kinds of foods but that, without really ever having  tried meat and potatoes, or after trying them once or twice and finding them mildly unsatisfying, or  after trying them only after   he has convinced himself that they cannot be appetizing, he  either never tries them again or occasionally tries them with great prejudice and keeps   insisting that they are tasteless or disgusting.  From a psychological standpoint, again, this person would have to be classed  as distinctly phobic   or neurotic.

          So, too, are sexually fixated or compulsively driven people neurotic. Irrationally ignoring the many possible kinds of sex outlets, they rigidly adhere to a single mode or two. Or, in some instances, they try a variety of sex  acts (such as masturbation, homosexuality, exhibitionism, and peeping) but fearfully refrain from other common modes (such as heterosexuality).

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