Are you a pervert?
I believe you are.
This statement might offend you. Perhaps you wonder what would compel me to say something like that about you, especially since we’ve never met. However, a voice deep down inside of you might wonder if I am right. Maybe that voice is telling you that thing you did or liked may make you abnormal.
Whatever your take on this may be, I invite you to open your mind and explore what might be beyond your comfort zone. Let me entice you with a little bit of what I research as a neuroscientist of sexual behaviour.
Throughout history, those who have not lived under the conformity of social standards of sexuality have been tortured, ostracised, convicted and, in general, have lost their social standing.
In fact, non-conventional sexual practices – and fetishes – are not deviant. Yet there’s a well-established tradition of judging them as if they are. The repercussions of this societal judgment cause the social stigmatisation of people we most likely don’t know at all.
One of the most common targets is the Bondage, Domination/Submission, Discipline and Sado-Masochism (BDSM) culture.
Why has society condemned certain intimate practices between consenting adults but not others? The answer possibly lies in wherever our society sets moral standards — generally biased, limited and sometimes political. Instead, normality should be derived by scientific and quantified results.
The Victorian church set sexual standards
The word ‘pervert’ did not originally mean sexual deviant, but atheist. Pervert described someone who would not ascribe to the normal (church) rules. People who resisted the morality dictated by the church were people who debauched or seduced.
Additionally, the word contains the suffix ‘vert’, meaning to turn, as in, convert. Therefore, pervert described a person who turned away from the right course. The word changed from the moral heretic to the immoral sexual deviant in the Victorian era, when scholars used it to describe patients with “atypical” sexual desires. I imagine in the Victorian era that even a foot fetish would have been considered a perversion.
When it comes to bedroom activities, we often believe that most things we don’t do are wrong and sick. We often judge other people’s realities and behaviours from our limited and biased scope and experience.
Let’s talk about sex and bondage
BDSM is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of consensual sexual or erotic practices. BDSM communities commonly welcome anyone who identifies with their practices. Consider it akin to a book club if you like to read, or like an orchestra if you want to play classical music.
You may imagine or know some of the BDSM practices. But what makes you part of the BDSM culture? Well, there are no rules, but there are three fundamental principles that guide any BDSM practice: consent, safety and respect.
Physical and psychological wellbeing are a priority over anything: There is no pleasure in a sexual act when one of the parties is not enjoying it.
BDSM practices may require painful and risky stimulation carried out with extreme care. Just as in several other fun activities, such as playing a sport, practice makes perfect. There is only one way of doing things — the right way — and anyone who engages in these practices within the community knows health and safety comes first.
Normal and sexually satisfied
BDSM and other non-conventional sexual practices are more familiar than you may know. Research has shown that fetishes and BDSM-like practices are very common in the general population. Normal, everyday people commonly fantasise about BDSM-like experiences.
As well, BDSM practitioners and submissive-identified females in particular appear to be more sexually satisfied than the general population. Other studies have revealed increased pleasure, enjoyment and positive effects during BDSM versus non-BDSM sexual experiences.
Although BDSM practitioners were previously believed to have a history of sexual abuse and trauma, studies by medical researcher and professor Norman Breslow in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality showed these initial ideas were based on hypothetical case studies and not empirical evidence.
As well, more recent studies show that BDSM practitioners do not generally report sexual abuse or childhood trauma. BDSM practitioners also display less depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptoms compared to “normal” population standards. Furthermore, BDSM practitioners report significantly less benevolent sexism, rape myth acceptance and victim-blaming attitudes compared with college students and the general population.
Even male and female rats have been known to develop fetishes.
A universe of possibilities
All these differences do not necessarily mean one needs to embrace more BDSM-like practices. Instead, it’s an invitation to stop judging others, and, instead, embrace and enjoy our sexual lives. Fetishes can simply be the expression of our experiences and versatile sexuality in terms of practices, toys or objects that can be incorporated into our intimacy.
It’s up to each individual to choose what is right for themselves. The notion of abnormality in sexuality — with its medical and psychological labels of illness — came about to explain a deviant pattern in the reproductive aspects of mating. But humans, in general, engage in sex because they like it, not necessarily because they want to reproduce. Thus, in the eyes of those who may believe sex only serves for reproduction, any “deviation from reproductive sex” may be abnormal.
There is a universe of possibilities out there to which only you should set the boundaries. Our time in this world is too short and uncertain to deprive ourselves of the pleasures of the flesh and senses simply because someone has a negative opinion about it.
So, let me ask again, are you a pervert?