Sunday, 5 June 2016

Review: Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering

This is an interesting book to read on the train, or in a hospital. At least your fellow passengers and patients seem to regard you with some interest anyway... or maybe that's just concern. To some extent though, that's Dr Bering's point with this book. Sexual deviance is far more common and far less dangerous than is commonly believed, and shouldn't be regarded with fear or disgust. Even if you are sat across from a grouchy looking redhead reading a suspect-looking book.

Summary: “You are a sexual deviant. A pervert, through and through.” We may not want to admit it, but as the award-winning columnist and psychologist Jesse Bering reveals in Perv, there is a spectrum of perversion along which we all sit. Whether it’s voyeurism, exhibitionism, or your run-of-the-mill foot fetish, we all possess a suite of sexual tastes as unique as our fingerprints—and as secret as the rest of the skeletons we’ve hidden in our closets.

Combining cutting-edge studies and critiques of landmark research and conclusions drawn by Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey, and the DSM-5
, Bering pulls the curtain back on paraphilias, arguing that sexual deviance is commonplace. He explores the countless fetishists of the world, including people who wear a respectable suit during the day and handcuff a willing sexual partner at night. But he also takes us into the lives of “erotic outliers,” such as a woman who falls madly in love with the Eiffel Tower; a pair of deeply affectionate identical twins; those with a particular penchant for statues; and others who are enamored of crevices not found on the human body.

Moving from science to politics, psychology, history, and his own reflections on growing up gay in America, Bering confronts hypocrisy, prejudice, and harm as they relate to sexuality on a global scale. Humanizing so-called deviants while at the same time asking serious questions about the differences between thought and action, he presents us with a challenge: to understand that our best hope of solving some of the most troubling problems of our age hinges entirely on the amoral study of sex.

I actually ended up really liking this book. It's been on my wishlist for a while, but I never took the plunge and got a copy in case it was one of those heavy, dry scientific non-fictions or one of those fluffy popular science books. In the end, it was neither. Dr Bering writes very well and avoids, for the most part, becoming stuffy or condescending. It was an accessible read and one that I enjoyed picking up in the evenings.

The point of Perv, in a nutshell, is that the sexual preferences of others (homosexuality, acrotomophilia, sadism, etc) is completely and utterless harmless in itself and should be treated as such. If it isn't causing any damage, why does it matter? It sounds fairly logical, but then Dr Bering brings up the concept of paedophilia. The meaning has been distorted in recent years, but he points out that the word refers only to those with a preference for young children not those who act upon their desires or have been convicted of a sexual offence. Suddenly the 'has any harm been caused?' doesn't seem so innocuous, but what's the alternative? Imprisoning people for their thoughts?

It's an interesting point. He raises the example of a (hypothetical) necrophilia club that devised a way for their members to have sex with dead people. Each member would donate their body to the club after death so the other members could have sex with the corpse. A study asked participants whether it would be wrong for a man to have sex with a dead woman who has given her body to the club.

Most participants in this study defaulted to a 'presumption of harm' in their moral reasoning. Even when they were told explicitly that the woman didn't have any family members who might get upset if they found out what happened to her corpse, that the club isn't interested in recruiting or harming living people, that neither the man nor any of the other club members suffer any regrets or anguish about their sexuality, that the group's activities are kept private and consensual, that the man used protection to prevent disease, and per her instructions, that the club cremated the woman's body after the man was done having sex with it, people still insisted that somehow or other, someone, somewhere, must be getting harmed.   
Perv looks at why/how we attempt to impose our own morality on others by assuming that a certain sexual preference is 'wrong' and therefore must be harming someone, even when there's zero evidence to support that view. That said, it's not a preachy book at all. Dr Bering doesn't look down from his high horse to lecture on how we should all be more open-minded. It's more of a psychological perspective than a sermon.

I particularly appreciate that the book took the time to explain the differences in sexual 'deviance' between men and women, and gay and straight people. For example, men are much more likely to have a paraphilia (an abnormal sexual desire) than women, but sexuality was irrelevant. A lot of similar books either lump everybody together or only deal with heterosexual male preferences, so the expansive explanation was interesting.

I do recommend reading this. I learned a lot but, more importantly, I actually enjoyeding reading this book too. I was quite happy to just sit with it for several hours on the go - it's fascinating, accessible, thought-provoking and downright enjoyable.

What non-fiction books have you been reading this year? 


  1. Ooooooh I'm 100% going to get this because interesting and also I want disturbed looks from people hahaha!

  2. OKAY it might go back on my library list. Dammit. :P

  3. Ha, not sure how to feel about this! ;)


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