Symptoms of Paraphilic Disorders

Controversy surrounds attempts to define paraphilia, and determining what is “normal” vs. “deviant” behavior. Sexual practices may largely vary in their profile when different cultures and religions, as well as time frames are considered. A suggestion for paraphilia definitions are based on perceived nonconformities or preferences that are inappropriate according to socially accepted ideals of sexual norms. Various ‘preferences’ and sexual interests have fallen in and out of being defined as paraphilic because of the changing of the times. A somewhat recent example of this would be the fact that until 1973, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders, listed homosexuality under a paraphilic classification.

Paraphilia is classified under two main areas: atypical sexual interest, and mental disorder. For diagnosis purposes, people with such interests are said to exhibit the following:

  • A feeling within themselves of distress about their interest. This feeling is not a distress due to society’s disapproval of said interests or of them because they have such an interest.


  • Exhibit a sexual desire or indulge in a behavior that involves psychological distress for another person, injury, or death. And/or entertain thoughts of or act upon sexual desires and behaviors with individuals who are unwilling and do not give consent.

The International Classification of Diseases and The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders, both site eight specific paraphilias outlined with an additional unspecified category.


Paraphilias may cause a significant amount of mental distress.

  • Exhibitionism (Exhibitionistic disorder)-a desire to/act of exposing one’s genitalia to an unsuspecting person/people, or performing sexual acts in front of others
  • Frotteurism (Frotteuristic disorder)-touching/rubbing against a non-consenting person
  • Voyeurism (Voyeuristic disorder)-Urges to watch a person while they are naked, undressing, performing sexual acts or activities that are considered private without their knowledge.
  • Fetishism (fetishistic disorder)-sexual excitement obtained from the use of inanimate objects
  • Paedophilia (Pedophilic disorder)-sexual preference for prepubescent children
  • Sexual masochism (Sexual Masochism Disorder)-a desire to be humiliated, beaten, tied-up, or other sufferings to achieve sexual pleasure
  • Sexual sadism (Sexual Sadism Disorder)-receiving sexual pleasure from inflicted pain or humiliation
  • Transvestic fetishism (Transvestic Fetishism)-Sexual arousal associated with clothing and accessories associated with the opposite sex
  • Not otherwise specified (Other Specified Paraphilic Disorder)-include a variety of paraphilic beahiors: partialism; zoophilia; necrophilia; klismaphilia; coprophilia; urophilia; infantilism; telephone scatologia

In some circumstances, diagnoses from these sources can be used to imprison and/or commit an individual based on whether or not they pose a danger to society. Although DSM is written by and for psychiatric clinicians, forensic practitioners also use it as a legal basis for sentencing and/or committing sexually motivated criminals to psychiatric care. Due to societal shift on what is defined as sexually deviant the use of ‘paraphilic’ has significantly changed over time, and within cultures, and thus strict definitions of a paraphilia continue to raise questions as to their validity in today’s society. An ongoing critique of both ICD and DSM is that with each new revision comes more categories and subtypes.


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