One of my biggest academic interests in the field of human sexuality is that of fetishes, paraphilias, and sexual taboos. The psychology, the societal response, the changing opinions on what is “normal” vs. “perverted” throughout history… I thrive on it. So after hearing Jesse Bering talk about his new book, Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, on an old episode of the Sex Nerd Sandra podcast (#129), I immediately put in a request at my local library.
By page 30, when Bering cracked an amazingly punny joke about bestiality, I knew that my instincts were correct (and that he was basically my new favorite person). The way that he tackles such heavy topics in a nonchalant & nonjudgemental way is extremely refreshing, and it was immediately obvious that nothing was off limits. From harmless taboos that are finally beginning to become normalized (homosexuality) to the most hated individuals in our current culture (pedophiles), Bering examines the research in hopes of understanding what’s behind humanity’s range of sexual orientations — in the broadest sense of the term.
Perv offers up the latest research, a rich history full of case studies, and plenty of uncomfortable questions: How do we define our morality? Are we using the right parameters — or is the very concept preventing us from observing the world as unbiased scholars? Although I can easily get behind Bering’s idea of judging an action based on the presence/absence of harm, I was still forced to challenge my gut reaction again & again in attempts to combat my own “moral dumbfounding.”
A perfect example of this was when I read about Milo & Elijah Peters; two gay adult film performers who not only are biological brothers (twins actually), but also claimed to be in a committed romantic/sexual relationship with each other. With full adult consent and no risk of creating offspring, can we still say that there is “harm?” Or in cases with obvious physical harm, such as that of Armin Meiwes (the cannibal who found a surprisingly willing victim in Bernd Jürgen Armando Brandes), I had to ask myself… How much can we really consent to? Where exactly is the limit?
Perv by Jesse Bering will teach you extremely random sexual trivia (like the definition of “melissaphilia”), make you chuckle at the ridiculous beliefs of our ancestors (perfectly evident in St. Thomas Aquinas’ original definition of the word “prodigy”), and cause an intensely uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach while you slowly begin to challenge your own sexual biases. Buy it, borrow it from the library, do whatever you need to do so that your coworkers can give you strange looks as you proudly read this book in the break room.