Page 425-449, 25 pages Page 1 of 12
Chapter 15: Variations in Sexual Behaviour
WHEN IS SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR ABNORMAL?
• Sexual behaviour varies between cultures, so there are corresponding cultural variations in terms of
what is considered to be “abnormal” sexual behaviour
• Statistical Definition: An abnormal sexual behaviour is one that is rare, or not practised by many
people. This lacks insight into the psychological or social functioning of the person who engages in this
• Sociological Approach: Defining abnormality as something that violates the norms of society. This
recognizes the importance of the individual’s interaction with society and of the problems that people
must face if their behaviour is labelled as “deviant” in their culture
• Psychological Approach (Arnold Buss): The individual’s discomfort and unhappiness, and inefficiency
or disruptiveness of the behaviour.
• Medical Approach: Definitions used by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Paraphilia is
defined as recurring, unconventional sexual behaviour that is obsessive and compulsive. It can involve
non-human objects (fetishism, transvetic fetishism), suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partners
(sexual sadism, sexual masochism), or other non-consenting persons (pedophilia, voyeurism,
• Other criteria include a duration of at least 6 months, and causing clinically significant distress or
impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
• Some believe that paraphilias that involve two consenting adults, such as S/M, should neither be
considered mental disorders nor included in the DSM. These behaviours involve unusual sexual interests
and may be labelled as pathological due to sociopolitical and historical factors, but not coercion, and may
be healthy expressions of sexuality for some individuals.
• Some paraphilias are not against the law, but pedophilia is because it involves exploitation of children.
• Other behaviours violate community standards, such as indecent exposure or showing one’s genitals
in a public place to passers-by, voyeurism, and public nudity.
• In 1996 the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that women have a right to go topless as long as it is not for
commercial gain or sexual purposes, but many Canadians still think it should be illegal.
The Normal-Abnormal Continuum
• Although distinctions between “normal” and
“abnormal” are possible in theory, they are often
difficult in reality.
• These are not separate categories, but gradations
on a continuum. For example, a woman may find
wearing lingerie arousing, but lingerie is also
considered a sexual fetish object.
• Many behaviours, such as voyeurism, are common even in “normal” populations
• When the fetish object becomes a necessity – cannot become aroused and engage in sexual activity
unless it is present – then the boundary is crossed into abnormal behaviour. When the individual
becomes obsessed with the fetish object and is preoccupied with obtaining it, the fetish has become a
paraphilia – the individual may even commit burglary or assault to achieve their fetish object.
• A behaviour becomes abnormal when it interferes with healthy relationships, completing day-to-day
activities, or causes harm to others. Page 425-449, 25 pages Page 2 of12
SEXUAL ADDICTIONS AND COMPULSIONS
• With sexual addiction, the individual has a pathological relationship to a sexual event or process,
substituting it for a healthy relationship with others.
• However, unlike chemical addictions, there are no physiological withdrawal symptoms.
• The use of the term “addiction” may affect perceptions of these behaviours and become an excuse for
illegal, destructive behaviour. We should thus use the term compulsive sexual behaviour.
Compulsive Sexual Behaviour
• Compulsive Sexual Behaviour: A disorder in which the person experiences intense sexually arousing
fantasies, urges, and associated sexual behaviours that are intrusive, driven, and repetitive (an
obsession). These individuals lack impulse control, often incur social and legal sanctions, cause
interference in interpersonal and occupational functioning, and create health risks due to obliviousness to
danger or harmful consequences.
• These behaviours may be paraphilic or non-paraphilic, such as compulsive masturbation. Chief
distinguishing feature is that the person has lost control over the behaviour – not all sexual variations
• A minority of those who have depression or anxiety experience increased sexual interest; coupled with
low self-control, this may result in compulsive sexual behaviour as an attempt to escape from the
• Low self-esteem, a need for validation and affection, stress release, relationship issues, and an
availability of sex partners are all contributing factors. Some report that 30-78% of those who have
sexual compulsivity have experienced sexual abuse.
• Faulty beliefs involving denial and a distortion of reality are used to “justify” these compulsive
behaviours. For example, one may deny the possibility of contracting an STI.
• Carne (1983): Each episode proceeds through 4-step cycles, intensifying with each repetition:
o Preoccupation: The person can think of nothing other than the sexual act
o Rituals: The person enacts certain rituals that have become a prelude to the addictive act
o Compulsive Sexual Behaviour: The sexual behaviour is enacted and the person feels that he
or she has no control over it.
o Despair: Rather than feeling good after the act is completed, the addict falls into a feeling of
hopelessness and despair.
• There is often a history of alcoholism or other types of addiction in the families of these individuals
• Fetishism: A person’s sexual fixation on some object other than another human being, and attachment
of great erotic significance to that object. They engage in sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviours to
produce or enhance sexual arousal with or in the absence of a partner.
• The fetish item is typically something closely associated with the body.
Media Fetishes & Form Fetishes
• Media Fetish: A fetish whose object is anything made out of a certain substance. In hard media fetish,
the substance is hard, such as leather or rubber; these are often associated with sadomasochism. In soft
media fetish, the substance is soft, such as fur or silk.
• Form Fetish: A fetish whose object is a particular shape, such as high-heeled shoes, or stockings and
Why do People Develop a Fetish? Page 425-449, 25 pages Page 3 of 12
• 1) Learning Theory: Fetishes result from classical conditioning, where an association is built between
the fetish object and sexual arousal and orgasm through previous experiences.
• 2) Cognitive Theory: People with paraphilias have a serious cognitive distortion in which they perceive
an unconventional stimulus as erotic. Their perception of arousal is also distorted, as this physiological
arousal may actually be caused by feelings of guilt and self-loathing – but is misinterpreted as sexual
arousal, which leads to a feeling that the fetish ritual must be carried out. There is orgasm and temporary
feelings of relief, but the event is evaluated as negative, leading to further feelings of guilt and self-
loathing – and a repeat of the events.
• 3) Sexual Addiction/Compulsion model as discussed earlier.
• 4) Sociological: Impact of gender expectations used to explain why most individuals with paraphilias
• Fetishism typically develops early in life: mean age at which respondents reported first being sexually
aroused by feet or shoes was 12 years.
• Transgender individuals may cross-dress to express their gender identity, including as part of
transitioning. Drag queens (gay men who dress in women’s clothing) and lesbians who dress in
masculine clothes (drag kings) do it more for performance than eroticism.
• Female impersonators are men who dress up as women as part of entertainment, such as Robin
Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire.
• Finally, many boys try on clothes or accessories of a sister out of curiosity or as a part of gender-role
socialization. Cross-dressing behaviour in childhood reflects exploration of gender and sexuality, and
does not mean this behaviour will continue into adulthood.
• Transvestism: The practice of dressing as a member of the other gender to produce or enhance
sexual arousal and derive sexual gratification. If these fantasies, urges, or behaviours meet the DSM
diagnosis criteria for paraphilia, he is said to have a transvestic fetish.
• This is almost exclusively a male sexual variation. This may be influenced by our culture’s tolerance of
women who wear masculine clothing and relative intolerance of men who wear feminine clothing.
Traditionally, women’s clothing are designed to be sensual and erotic, while men’s clothing are meant to
• This illustrates that many sexual variations are defined for, or practised almost exclusively by, members
of one gender; the parallel practice by members of the other gender is often not considered deviant.
• Most sexual variations are practised mainly by men. Among men who experience arousal from cross-
dressing, this is correlated with being easily sexually aroused in general, more frequent masturbation,
and same-sex sexual experience. However, the vast majority are heterosexual and 60% are married.
• Soliciting subjects with atypical sexual behaviour patterns is usually achieved by placing ads in
specialty newsletters, and soliciting at meetings and conventions for these demographics.
• Most report that their first cross-dressing experience occurred before age 10, median age of 8.5.
• In a sample of 50 heterosexual transvestites, 60% report their wives as accepting of their cross-
dressing and some even feel fulfilled in being supportive of this behaviour. Some had told their children,
and claim that their relationship was undamaged and that children were tolerant and understanding.
• Transvestism occurs on a continuum, and is a mild harmless and victimless sexual variation for most.
SADISM & MASOCHISM
• Sexual Sadist: A person who derives sexual satisfaction from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on
another. This is named after the Marquis de Sade. Page 425-449, 25 pages Page 4 of12
• Sexual Masochist: A person who derives sexual satisfaction from experiencing pain, humiliation, or
torture. This is named after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
• Bondage and Discipline: The use of physically restraining devices or psychologically restraining
commands as a central aspect of sexual interactions. These may enforce obedience and servitude
without inducing physical pain.
• Dominance and Submission: The interaction that involves a consensual exchange of power, where
the dominant partner uses their power to control and sexually stimulate the submissive partner.
Sexual Sadomasochistic Behaviour
• In its milder forms, discussion of spanking and use of handcuffs occur on prime-time TV shows like
Friends. Kinsey found about 25% of both males and females have experienced erotic response from
being bitten during sex. Surveys find many have sexual fantasies involving S/M.
• Men involved in S/M frequently report having been interested in such activity in childhood, while women
are more likely to report having being introduced to the subculture by someone else.
• People who are involved in S/M often only find some of a spectrum of activities satisfying. They develop
a script that they prefer to enact each time.
• 4 clusters or themes: hypermasculinity (dildo), administering and receiving pain (caning, clothespins on
nipples), physical restriction (handcuffs), and humiliation (verbal, face slapping).
• Behaviours within each cluster on a continuum of frequency also reflect least to most intense. For
example, humiliation continuum ranges from flagellation (81%), to verbal humiliation (70%), to gagging
(53%), slapping (37%), and use of blades to make surface wounds (11%).
• S/M has an element of play, organized into “scenes”. Roles, costumes, and props are important in
addition to the activity – slave and master, leather clothing, ropes and whips. In S/M clubs, there are
often rules governing the social and S/M interaction.
• Sexual sadists and masochists do not consistently find experiencing or giving pain to be sexually
satisfying – the masochist who stubs their toe will be just as unhappy as anyone else. Pain is only
arousing when it is part of a carefully scripted ritual.
Causes of Sexual Sadomasochism
• Most experts view sexual sadomasochism as a variation on forms of healthy sexuality. The theories
applied to fetishes can also apply here, such as learning theory associating pain with sexual arousal (a
little girl is caught masturbating and is spanked)
• Childhood sexual abuse may cause sadistic fantasies, such as of revenge. These fantasies are
functional to help cope with abuse, but if sexual arousal is paired can influence sexual behaviour.
• Masochists may be motivated by a desire to escape from self-awareness, where pain helps escape
from consciousness of the self the same way meditation or alcohol do. This may be because self-
awareness is associated with anxiety due to focus on pressures on the self and responsibilities. Sexual
masochism may be especially powerful due to its link to sexual pleasure.
• Perhaps sexual masochism is more common among males because the male role is especially
burdensome, with heavy pressures for autonomy and individual achievement.
Bondage & Discipline
• Sexual bondage has been a staple of erotic fiction and art for centuries, including current mainstream
and adult films. There are many B/D clubs, including munches which is an informal gathering of people
interested in BDSM so they can eat, socialize, and meet others with similar interests.
• Most frequently mentioned reasons for finding B/D to be sexually arousing include using sex as play,
sex as the exchange of power, intensified sexual pleasure, and tactile stimulation.
• There is a marked imbalance in preferences for the active “top” and passive “bottom” roles – most men
and women, regardless of sexual orientation, prefer to be bottom. Page 425-449, 25 pages Page 5 of 12
Dominance & Submission
• The key to S/M is not pain, but dominance and submission – it is a social behaviour embedded in a
subculture and controlled by elaborate scripts.
• There is a distinct D/S subculture which creates culturally-defined meanings for D/S acts; a D/S act is
not a wild outbreak of violence, but a carefully controlled performance. Within the play, people take on
roles such as master or slave; men can play the submissive role even though it contradicts the societal
• There is social control over risk-taking; although individuals engage in restraint, whipping, and other
dangerous activities, outcomes involving serious injury are rare. This is mitigated by complex social
arrangements, with initial contact made in protected territories, basic scripts being widely shared (there is
some negotiation even when participants are strangers), and the importance of subtle non-verbal signals.
• Illusion of control as the master is not in complete control and the slave is not powerless.
• Voyeurism: A sexual variation in which the person becomes sexually aroused from secretly viewing
nudes. In scotophilia, the person becomes sexually aroused by observing others’ sexual acts and
• Many who engage in voyeurism install small video cameras to secretly observe people in washrooms.
This surreptitious observation and recording are both criminal offences.
• Voyeurism is another good illustration of the continuum from normal to abnormal, as watching is of
interest to many “normal” individuals – it becomes a problem when the other person involved is an
• People who engage in voyeurism are typically men, and they want the woman they view to be a
stranger, and do not want her to know what they are doing. The element of risk is important.
• Voyeurism first experiences tend to occur prior to adolescence – 1/3 report before age 12.
• A major problem with research on sexual variations is that much of it has been done only on people
who have been arrested for their behaviour or sought treatment – a small minority who are distressed by
• Exhibitionism: A person derives sexual gratification from exposing his genitals to non-consenting
others, in situation in which this is inappropriate. This is referred to as indecent exposure in the Criminal
• Whether this sexual behaviour is considered abnormal depends on the person’s gender – a woman
who is wearing a skirt without underwear would not primarily be met with offense.
• Homosexual exhibitionism is quite rare; the prototype is a man exposing himself to a woman.
• Exhibitionism is only considered problematic when the other person involved is an unwilling participant;
a woman aroused by exhibiting her body in lingerie to her partner is not engaging in paraphilic or criminal
• Exhibitionists recall their childhoods as characterized by inconsistent discipline, lack of affection, and
little training in appropriate forms of social behaviour. 15% recall a first instance of exposure by age
12, and 50% by age 15.
• According to the social learning-theory, parents may have subtly modeled such behaviour when the
person was a child. In adulthood, exhibitionistic behaviour is reinforced with the attention one receives for
performing it, while he may receive little reinforcement from interpersonal sex due to a lack of social skills
needed for intimate relationships. Page 425-449, 25 pages Page 6 of 12
• The best strategy for a victim would be to respond calmly and walk away, as shock or other strong
emotional responses may act as gratification.
• In most female cases of exhibitionism, their atypical sexual behaviours seem to reflect alcohol or
psychiatric problems rather than sexual motivations. Some women who exhibit themselves may
normalize it by justifying that it provided self-confidence and would not exhibit to the elderly or children.
• The term exhibitionism is also used to refer to people who are sexually aroused from having others
watch them engage in sexual activity, although this is not the definition used in the DSM.
• Nymphomania: An excessive, insatiable sex drive in a woman. Satyriasis: The same in a man.
• Hypersexuality: A general term for both genders. The sexual drive may be so insatiable that it
completely overshadows all other concerns and interests. In milder forms, it is difficult to say when a
person has an “abnormally” high sex drive with the wide range of frequencies with which people engage
in sexual activity
• This can lead to compulsive sexual behaviour, where a person feels driven to do it despite negative
consequences. The person is never satisfied, and may not reach orgasm despite the abundance of
• This may be quantified with the amount of time per day spent in unconventional sexual activity, a modal
of 1-2 hours in a sample of 100 male patients with paraphilias. The most common unconventional
behaviour was compulsive masturbation, followed by protracted promiscuity.
• In one study of hypersexual women, highly sexual referred to those who desire sexual stimulation to
orgasm 6-7 times a week, or who think of themselves as highly sexual and whose sexuality strongl