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Paraphilia is a term that was coined in the early 1900s to describe atypical sexual desires and behaviors, and its meaning has expanded since then. A paraphilia is now regarded as a sexual dysfunction which is classified by recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors. These urges include abnormal or socially unacceptable objects, activities, and situations.
People with paraphilic conditions find it difficult to control their sexual impulses and have difficulty developing personal and sexual relationships. Paraphilias are relatively rare, and are notably more common among males than females (20:1 male to female ratio). While some of these conditions are aggressive, harmful, and carry criminal consequences, others are harmless to the object of focus. Paraphilias often cause great distress, confusion, and secrecy in those who have them, resulting from the taboo nature of their desires.

Types of Paraphilias:

The most commonly recognized types of paraphilias, according to the DSM-IV are:

    • Exhibitionism-Exposing oneself.
    • Fetishism-Sexual gratification that is associated with a non-living object; i.e. a certain type of clothing.
    • Pedophilia-Fantasies, urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child (under the age of 13)**
    • Voyeurism
    • Sexual masochism-Being made to suffer (humiliated, or physically abused) in order to be sexually gratified.
    • Sexual sadism-Sexual excitement stems from inflicting either psychological or physical pain upon their partners. Depending on the circumstances (e.g., whether the person’s partner is consenting), this can carry severe criminal charges along the lines of rape, or torture.
    • Transvestism-A heterosexual man dressing in female clothing (specific articles, or entire outfits) in order to produce or increase sexual arousal.
  • Frotteurism-Rubbing oneself against a non-consenting, unfamiliar person.*

*= Crime in every situation.
**= When these situations are acted out, they are serious crimes that carry stiff sentencing, as well as cause serious damage to the child.

Causes of Paraphilia

No one is entirely certain what causes paraphilic conditions to emerge. Certain experts argue that it’s caused by childhood trauma; many believe that it stems specifically from sexual abuse. Others believe that these objects or situations become arousing if they’re frequently and repeatedly associated with pleasurable sexual activity. Paraphilias often begin in adolescence, and continue into adulthood. Although situations vary from case to case, the intensity of these urges and desires generally decreases with age.


In order to treat paraphilic tendencies, counseling or therapy is required to control the urges and decrease stress surrounding the impulsivity of this dysfunctional behavior and thought process. There are also medications available that help by decreasing compulsivity and sex drive. However, in order for treatment to be effective, it has to be set up on a long-term basis. If someone is unwilling to participate in counseling and recommended treatment, they face a much greater chance of giving into their impulses.