A paraphilia, in short, is an intense sexual interest(s) that is often obsessive in nature and can disrupt areas of one’s life or cause social issues. It is important to note that to be categorized as any form of paraphilia, the sexual behavior would be considered emotionally and behaviorally all encompassing, meet the criteria of producing significant anxiety, depression or functional impairment in the individual and/or cause personal harm or a risk of harm to others. If the sexual behavior does not have these above criteria elements then it is NOT considered a sexual obsession (paraphilia) but merely sexual behavior or a way of life. One example of this is the difference between transvestitism and paraphilic transvestitism, the former that is a life style and is simply wearing the clothing of the opposite sex and the latter, which has extreme underlying anxiety related to a fixation of wearing the clothing of the opposite sex, sometimes accompanied by mood problems or social functioning issues that disrupt the person’s life. Some people who have one paraphilia often experiences other sexual obsessions. Also, paraphilias lasts approximately six months or longer.
There are numerous forms of paraphilias, most of which have been categorized into distinct categories. One category includes courtship, such as voyeurism (sexual arousal and fixation related to watching another), exhibitionism (sexual arousal and obsession when displaying ones genitals or breasts) and frotteurism (sexual arousal and obsession when inappropriately touching a person without their consent). Another category includes algolagnic, such as paraphilic sadomasochism (sexual obsessive arousal when inflicting pain on another or receiving pain) and paraphilic sexual sadism (sexual arousal and the obsession of specifically inflicting pain on another). A final category includes anomalous target preferences, such as pedophilia (sexually obsessed by children), paraphilic fetishism (sexual arousal and fixation with wearing, touching or viewing of sexualized objects, including silk, leather, shoes, etc) and paraphilic transvestitism (sexual fixation by wearing the clothes associated with the opposite sex).
Reducing sexual obsessions mostly centers on preventing any harm to self or others and/or by teaching coping skills to decrease any underlying anxiety or depression. If there is no harm to oneself or others, the behavior is not obsessive or causing functioning problems and there is no related anxiety or depression, therapeutic treatment is NOT deemed necessary. Therapy is wide-ranging and includes the use of various techniques, mostly involving the use of psychotherapeutic skills in conjunction with psychiatric medications. Some of the psychotherapeutic skills one might learn includes, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which has been scientifically proven to help with improving the mood and overall quality of life of those with sexual obsessions. In regards to sexual obsessions that pose a harm to others, such as pedophilia (sexual fixation with children), empathy training has proven to be particularly useful with reducing impulsivity, encouraging clients to reflect longer on the potential impact of their behavior and related consequences (i.e., legal problems, long-term emotional pain to others or social shunning). Other forms of therapeutic treatment include:
Written by Rachael Bell, MSW.