This study, presented at the 16th World Congress of Sexology in Cuba 10-14 March, 2003, suggests that non-conventional sexual practices cannot be used as a diagnosed criteria of any kind, whichmeans that the only aspect that distinguishes these individuals from others is their sexual practices.
Author: Maria Cristina Martins, Clinical Psychologist and Specialist in Human Sexuality. Campinas, SP, Brazil
Co-author: Paulo Roberto Ceccarelli, Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, PhD in Psycopathology and Psychoanalysis by Paris VII, Paris, France; Appointed Professor of the Psychology Dep. of Pontifice Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil.
The Internet became one more vehicle where people, occasionally or routinely, may enjoy or accomplish sexual fantasies and desires, often unconfessable and frustrated in their love and sexual relationships, safely and anonymously, without their real identities being revealed.
Similarly, the Internet provides opportunities for men and women, regardless of sexual orientation, marital status or age, and with distinct sexual preferences, to make come true, in the “real” world, a contact started and kept through online communication (Martins & Grassi, 2001).
Starting from the premise that the definition of “normality” is historically and culturally built, concepts such as “normal”, “healthy” and “pathological” are being questioned by all professionals who are interested in the study and comprehension of human sexuality.
The innumerable manifestations of human sexuality, so as the most varied searches for pleasure, confirm once more that, for the human being, sexuality is not linked to procreation.
The dynamics of human sexuality – what leads an individual to have the sexuality one has – has been an object of study since ancient times, without a consent being reached, which has lead to the search of new paradigms for understanding the so-called “deviant” sexual behaviors.
One of the reasons that make the comprehension of unconventional sexual interests difficult is that the traditional sexual paradigm, based on psychology and psychiatry, as well as on popular opinion, assumes that procreation is the most important biological function (Fog, 1992).
Most collected and studied data about so-called “deviant” behaviors were based on cases considered pathological.
Such studies were made under the legal medical view, or having as reference people who sought for psychiatric and/or psychological treatment because their sexual preferences “deviated” from “normal” sexual behavior (Ceccarelli, 2000) – understood as heterosexual relationship, ending on genital penetration and with the intention of procreating.
Certain so-called “deviant” practices, such as Sexual Sadism and Masochism and also Fetishism, are categorized as “paraphilias” and disfunctional behaviors in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (Fourth Edition), DSM-IV, by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems – 10th revision (1999), by the World Health Organization, which has generated many debates regarding diagnostic criteria, with which many professionals who are interested in the study of “alternative” sexual practices do not agree.
This study aims to explore human sexuality in its most diverse variations such as BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism) or SM, and Fetishism, through an online questionnaire sent to a group of people who describe themselves as BDSM and Fetish practitioners, and who have in the Internet their referential for the exchange and search of information, as well as the search for partners who share the same sexual fantasies.
This study has no intention of encouraging or condemning the choice of sexual practices, but of exploring the diversity of adult human sexuality of a group of people in the context of the contemporary Brazilian society.
An e-mail was sent to the various discussion groups and classified ads posted on websites directed to consensual BDSM and Fetish practitioners in Brazil, and who use the Internet as a means of exchanging and obtaining information and contact with people who share the same sexual fantasies. The exploratory character of the study was explained, that it would be conduced basically via e-mail, and that the real identity of the participants would be preserved. Those who were interested should be over 18 years old, their sexual orientation or marital status notwithstanding. It was asked to the volunteers that they got in touch by replying the sent e-mail. One hundred and eleven people from various Brazilian states manifested their interest in participating. They were sent, then, a questionnaire with questions such as why they used the Internet, which sexual practices they were involved in, how and when they became interested in sexual activities that were considered “different” and how they felt about having pleasure with practices that are considered unconventional.
Information on their age, religious formation, sex, marital status, education and sexual orientation were also the object of interest for the research. It was not the aim of the present study to establish diagnostic criteria of the researched sample, or describing in details the unconventional sexual practices.
In spite of the growing evolution observed along the years in human sciences and in the technologic and scientific fields, sexuality is still the object of much speculation, prejudice and taboo. If we observe the diverse current reactions in face of sexual manifestations, we will see how much such reactions remain unchanged throughout History. Although the sixties‘ “sexual revolution” and the innumerous movements aiming at the recognition of human rights (especially the feminist) have changed the social scenery, sexuality is still an enigma for the human being and the object of many discussions since antiquity.
From the 5th Century on, due mainly to the leading Christian Fathers – Augustine, Jerome and Thomas of Aquinas – sexuality was linked to and procreation: the unquestionable example that follows is the “naturally heterosexual” life of animals. All sexual practice that falls out of that norm would bring what is known as the “negative pleasure stigma”.
Then, a form of morality that is essentially a sexual morality appeared. Practices “against nature” – considered offensive to decency, to custom and to public opinion – bring out severe sanctions, so that “normal” may be kept.
However – History shows that – such an objective was never reached: sexuality always escaped all attempts of normatization (Ceccarelli, 2000).
In the late 19th Century, the contemporary psychiatric discourse appears, marked by the same moralistic view;
it maintains the theological and juridical positions, bringing to the medical order what was, until then, from the juridical. The great psychopatologists of that epoch, among them Havellock-Ellis (1888) and Kraftt-Ebing (1890), classified and labeled the sexual practices that escaped moral rules.
A detailed inventory of the so-called “deviant” sexualities was traced, in which new forms of sexual practices (those which use the other for obtaining pleasure and in which the natural finality of sexuality – procreation – is subverted) were created: homosexualism, voyeurism, exhibitionism, sadism, masochism, joining the endless psychiatric nosography of that time. It is also when some terms, that later became classical, are introduced: perversion (1882, Charcot and Magna), narcisism (1888, Havellock-Ellis), auto-erotism (1899, Havellock-Ellis), sadism and masochism (1890, Krafft-Ebing) [Ceccarelli, 2000].
In the late 19th Century and, in a stronger way, in the early 20th Century, Sigmund Freud, in his most important text on sexuality, the “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” published in 1905, sustains that subordinating sexuality to the reproductive function is “a too limited criterion”. In Freudian perspective, sexuality is against nature, that is, as far as sexuality is concerned, there is no “human nature” (Ceccarelli, 2000).
Joyce McDougall and the concept of “Neo-Sexuality”
Contemporary author Joyce McDougall (1997) made an important and innovative reading of Freud, regarding perversion. According to the theoretical perspective of the author, the word “perversion” has a depreciative conotation and points towards negativity, since one never hears of someone who was “perverted” to good. The author maintains that, besides the moralistic implication in the vernacular use of the word, the current standard of psychiatric and psychoanalytic classification is equally questionable. When labeling and diagnosing someone as “neurotic”, “psychotic”, “psychosomatic” or “perverted”, the innumerable variations of psychic structures of each clinical category are not taken into account, losing sight of the most remarkable aspect of human beings in their genetic structure, which is their “singularity” (McDougall, 1997, p 186). Regarding the so-called perverted sexualities like fetishism and sadomasochist practices, she verifies that those occur in the quality of erotic games in sexual activities of non-perverted adults, be they heterosexual or homosexual, so that such practices do not provoke conflict, for they are not experienced as compulsive or as exclusive conditions for sexual pleasure. But heterosexual or homosexual adults who only have fetishist or sadomasochist erotic scripts, for whom those sexual practices are the only means of access to sexual relations, there must be care as to want those people to lose their heterodox versions of desire, simply because they may be considered symptomatic. Instead of “perversion”, McDougall (1997, p 188) prefers to name them “neo-sexualities”. According to the author, the term “perversion” would be more appropriated as a label for acts in which an individual imposes personal desires and conditions on someone who does not wish to be included in that sexual script (as in the case of rape, of voyeurism and exhibitionism) or seduces a non-responsible individual (as a child or a mentally disturbed adult) [McDougall, 1997, p 192].