The medical or behavioral science term paraphilia (in Greek para παρά = besides and -philia φιλία = love) describes disorders. Paraphilia is also used to imply non-mainstream sexual practices without necessarily implying sexual dysfunction or deviance.

Used in psychiatry[1], paraphilia is defined as a sexual impulse disorders characterized by intensely arousing, recurrent sexual fantasies, urges and behaviors considered deviant with respect to cultural norms and that produce clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of psychosocial functioning. [2]

A paraphilia can revolve around a nonhuman sexual objects (e.g. shoes, undergarments), a particular nonconsenting sexual object (e.g., children, animals) or a particular sexual act (e.g. inflicting pain, making obscene telephone calls). The nature of a paraphilia is generally specific and unchanging. Most of the paraphilias are more common in men than in women.

Used in psychology[3], paraphilia is defined as a condition in which a person’s sexual arousal and gratification depends on a fantasy theme of an unusual situation or object that becomes the principle focus of sexual behaviour.[4]

Used in a sexual context, a paraphilia is in layman's terms a sexual behaviour that becomes so obsessive to an individual that it impedes on their functioning as a productive individual within societies acceptable parameters.

In the past (e.g. Freud's writings), the same was called perversion - a term which is often considered derogatory and has therefore come out of use in psychological literature.

Psychiatrical paraphiliasEdit

Psychiatric literature discusses eight major paraphilias individually:[5]

Other rarer paraphilias are grouped together.

The results of newer studies have led the American Psychiatric Association to modify the criteria for sexual masochism and sadism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) in 1994 so that consensual sadomasochistic behaviour alone is not considered a sexual disorder anymore. However, in the DSM-IV TR, published in 2000, sexual masochism or sadism will be considered a disorder if theses fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviours cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.[6]

Psychological paraphiliaEdit

As the term sexual perversion has come under wide criticism in recent years, psychologists generally refer to nontraditional sexual behaviour as sexual deviation or, in cases where the specific object of arousal is unusual, as paraphilia or psychosexual disorders. World Health Organisations’ (WHO) International Classification of Diseases (ICD 10) still groups sadomasochism (F65.5) as disorder of sexual preferences (F65)[7]. An initiative known as ReviseF65[8] was established in 1997 to eliminate the diagnoses of Fetishism (F65.0), Fetishistic Transvestism (F65.1), and Sadomasochism (F65.5) from the current version of ICD-10.

Controversy over the term paraphiliaEdit

Labelling non-mainstream consensual sexual activities as paraphilias, diagnose it as disorder of sexual preferences and consider it as illnesses has been met with opposition [9]. Consensual sexual activities to heighten sexual excitement don’t cause distress or impairment in areas of life functioning. They should not being stigmatized and clearly divided from abusive, disrespectful and other harmful sexual behaviours.


A paraphilia is not normally considered clinically important by clinicians unless it is also causing suffering of some kind, or strongly inhibiting a "normal" sex life. The term is sometimes used by non-medical people in a more judgmental or prejudicial sense, to categorize sexual desires or activities lying well outside the current social norm.


  1. Psychiatry is a branch of medicine which exists to study, prevent, and treat mental disorders in humans.
  2. American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV (4th ed., text revision). Pp. 566-567.
  3. Psychology is a science discipline involving the study of mental processes and behaviour.
  4. The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, Thomson Gale | ISBN978-1414403687 | Third Edition - May 2006
  5. "Axis I. Clinical Disorders, most V-Codes and conditions that need Clinical attention". Retrieved: 23 November, 2007.
  6. Letter to the Editor of The American Journal of Psychiatry: Change in Criterion for Paraphilias in DSM-IV-TR. Russell B. Hilliard, Robert L. Spitzer. 2002. Retrieved: 23 November, 2007.
  7. World Health Organization, International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, (2007), Chapter V, Block F65; Disorders of sexual preference.Retrieved 2007-11-29.
  9. Reiersøl/Skeid: The ICD Diagnoses of Fetishism and Sadomasochism, in: Journal of Homosexuality, Volume 50, Issue 2/3, p 243-262 | ISSN 0091-8369 | February 2006

See alsoEdit