Paraphilia is a very general term used by psychologists to refer to any kind of unusual sexual interest. The number of desires that have been deemed paraphilic has grown substantially over the years to the point where hundreds of things have now been classified as unusual turn-ons. As it turns out, though, a lot of these desires aren’t so uncommon after all. In this article, we’ll take a look at three specific sexual desires that are typically considered to be paraphilic, but that are actually quite common in terms of the number of people who have fantasized about them before.
First, far from being rare, BDSM (which stands for bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism) is actually something that most people appear to have had fantasies about. However, certain elements of BDSM seem to be more popular than others.
According to a 2014 survey of over 1,500 Canadian adults, most women (65%) and men (53%) have fantasized about being sexually dominated; likewise, a majority of men (60%) and nearly half of women (47%) have fantasized about sexually dominating someone else. In addition, roughly half of women and men have fantasized about being tied up during sex, or tying someone else up.
The desire to mix pleasure and pain was a little less popular, but still common, with 44% of men and 24% of women reporting fantasies about spanking or whipping someone else during sex, and 36% of women and 29% of men reporting fantasies about being spanked or whipped.
As you can see, BDSM is a pretty common activity to find sexually arousing, especially the dominance-submission and bondage aspects of it.
Having sex in public is another fantasy most men and women have had before, too. According to the same survey, 66% of men and 57% of women have been turned on by the thought of public sex. This desire to “put on a show” is something that many refer to as exhibitionism. To be clear, though, this desire is different from the strict clinical definition of exhibitionism, which involves using nudity or sexual activity to offend or harass others. That is quite rare. Instead, what’s common is the desire to perform in front of a willing audience.
One other fantasy that is quite popular, particularly among men, is voyeurism, or the act of watching an unknowing person undress or have sex. This same survey revealed that approximately two-thirds of men and one-third of women have previously fantasized about voyeurism.
Together, what these numbers tell us is that psychologists should take more care when classifying a given sexual desire as unusual because many so-called paraphilic desires actually appear to represent very common fantasy themes.
Whether a given sexual desire is classified as common or uncommon has no bearing on whether that desire should be considered healthy or unhealthy, though—that’s a completely different question. Just because a desire is common—like voyeurism—doesn’t mean that it’s something people should be encouraged to practice. Likewise, just because a desire is rare doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s harmful to anyone. Whether a sexual interest is healthy or unhealthy therefore has little to do with how many people are turned on by it and far more to do with its effects, especially whether the behavior is consensual or non-consensual.
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To learn more about this research, see: Joyal, C. C., Cossette, A., & Lapierre, V. (2015). What exactly is an unusual sexual fantasy? The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12(2), 328-340. doi:10.1111/jsm.12734
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