PHL Module 10 Sexual Perversion and Freud and Perversion
if there are any sexual perversions, they will have to be sexual desires or practices that can be
plausibly described as in some sense unnatural, though the explanation of this natural/unnatural
distinction is of course the main problem. Second, certain practices will be perver- sions if
anything is, such as shoe fetishism, bestiality, and sadism; other practices, such as unadorned
sexual intercourse, will not be; about still others there is controversy. Third, if there are
perversions, they will be unnatural sexual inclinations rather than merely un- natural practices
adopted not from inclination but for other reasons.
"Sexual desire is simply one of the appetities, like hunger and thirst. As such it may have various
objects, some more common than others perhaps, but none in any sense 'natural'. An appetite is
identi- fied as sexual by means of the organs and erogenous zones in which its satisfaction can be
to some extent localized, and the special sensory pleasures which form the core of that
satisfaction. This enables us to recognize widely divergent goals, activities, and desires as sexual,
since it is conceivable in principle that anything should produce sexual pleasure and that a
nondeliberate, sexually charged desire for it should arise (as a result of conditoning, if nothing
Hunger and eating are importantly like sex in that they serve a biological function and also play a
significant role in our inner lives. It is noteworthy that there is little temptation to describe as
perverted an appetite for sub- stances that are not nourishing. We should probably not consider
someone's appetites as perverted if he liked to eat paper, sand, wood, or cotton. Those are merely
rather odd and very unhealthy tastes: they lack the psychological complexity that we expect of
What helps in such cases is the peculiarity of the desire itself, rather than the inappropriateness
of its object to the biological function that the desire serves.
We approach the sexual attitude toward the person through the features that we find attractive,
but these features are not the objects of that attitude.
Sartre's treatment of sexual desire and of love, hate, sadism, masochism, and further atti- tudes
toward others, depends on a general theory of consciousness and the body which we can neither
expound nor assume here.
He says that the type of possession that is the object of sexual desire is carried out by "a double
reciprocal incarnation" and that this is accomplished, typically in the form of a caress, in the
following way: "I make myself flesh in order to impel the Other to realize for- herself and for me
her own flesh, and my caresses cause my flesh to be born for me in so far as it is for the Other
flesh causing her to be born as flesh
Sexual desire involves a kind of perception, but not merely a single perception of its object, for
in the paradigm case of mutual desire there is a complex system of superimposed mutual
perceptions- not only perceptions of the sexual object, but perceptions of oneself. Moreover,sexual awareness of another involves considerable self- awareness to begin with-more than is
involved in ordinary sensory perception. The experience is felt as an assault on oneself by the
view (or touch, or whatever) of the sexual object.
Let us say that X senses Y whenever X re- gards Y with sexual desire. (Y need not be a person,
and X's appre- hension of Y can be visual, tactile, olfactory, etc., or purely imaginary; in the
present example we shall concentrate on vision.)
Every real sexual act will be psychologically far more specific and detailed, in ways that depend
not only on the physical techniques employed and on anatomical details, but also on countless
features of the participants' conceptions of themselves and of each other, which become
embodied in the act.
Sex has a related structure: it involves a desire that one's partner be aroused by the recognition of
one's desire that he or she be aroused.
All stages of sexual perception are varieties of identification of a person with his body. What is
perceived is one's own or another's subjection to or immersion in his body, a phenomenon which
has been recognized with loathing by St. Paul and St. Augustine, both of whom regarded "the
law of sin which is in my members" as a grave threat to the dominion of the holy will.3 In sexual
desire and its ex- pression the blending of involuntary response with deliberate control is
sexual desire leads to spontaneous interactions with other persons, whose bodies are asserting