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 V.22 No.48 | November 28 - December 4, 2013 

Book Review

Deviant is the Norm

Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us

Jesse Bering
Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
hardcover
science/sexuality
$26

You’re a pervert. Oh, don’t get so upset; you come from a long line of perverts, as do I, as does everyone everywhere. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat, we’re all pervs here.

Have you ever become aroused by watching others engage in sexual behavior? You’ve taken a step into the realm of voyeurism. Ever seen a cute girl, and then felt bad for looking when you discovered she was only 15? The good news is you’re not a de facto pedophile; you’re not even an ephebophile, the proper term for one aroused by older adolescents.

In Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, Jesse Bering postulates that all of us have, at some point in our lives, experienced a sexual response to someone or something that falls outside of “normal” human sexuality. Dr. Bering supports his arguments with several centuries of studygradually refined by the use of respectable scientific methodsand plenty of in-depth look at the fickle morality we use to define “normal” sexuality in Western culture.

Bering’s own homosexuality was once considered a deviant desire. (To some willfully obtuse minds, it still is.) Women who expressed sexual desire in the Victorian era were considered sick with hysteria. As silly as that seems todayand though we remain grateful that personal vibrating devices were invented as a resultwe share with the Victorians a long history of shifts in morality primarily based on a lack of demonstrable harm. We look with amusement rather than disgust at objectophiles who announce a relationship with the Eiffel Tower; we accept that sadism can be practiced with consent on masochists whose response is pleasure through pain. Bering treats the discussion surrounding pedophilia and non-consensual acts of sadism and assault respectfullywith a desire for understanding and without an excusal of harmful behavior. Heavy doses of research and case studies are tempered with remarkably good humor, and Bering has managed an engaging and absorbing read about the not-boring subject of sex.

Let’s go back to Mr. Carroll. It’s well known Carroll had a fondness for young girls and liked to amuse them with tales of fantastical creatures and imaginary lands. However, there is, at best, only circumstantial evidence Carroll was a pedophile. Now, apply the question of demonstrable harm as posed by Bering. It’s easy to react with typical knee-jerk disgust at the possibility Carroll acted inappropriately with young girls, but unless the possibility becomes a certainty, Bering’s question is a more rational response. If we could look at the expansive realm of sexual desires so, ahem, dispassionately, we might be further along in our personal evolution instead of concerning ourselves with a capricious definition of “normal.”

 

Today's Events

The Piano in a Factory at National Hispanic Cultural Center

Zhang Meng's whimsical film about a father's attempt to build a piano for his daughter in the wake of his unending marriage.

Slow Movies: Countering the Cinema of Action at Bookworks

Poetry Around the World at Tony Hillerman Library

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