Sexual Health Q&A

What are paraphilias?

When a person has a paraphilia, he or she is sexually aroused by an object or activity that most people don’t consider sexually stimulating, such as feces or making obscene telephone calls.

If the paraphilia causes the person distress or causes distress, harm, or the risk of harm to others, it is classified as a paraphilic disorder.

Paraphilias can occur at any age, but they are most common in people aged 15 to 25 years. Men are more likely to have paraphilias than women are.

Some of the most common paraphilias include the following:

Voyeurism. Sometimes called a “peeping Tom,” a voyeur becomes sexually aroused by watching a non-consenting person who is disrobing, naked, or having sex.

Transvestitism. Transvestites are sexually stimulated by dressing as a member of the opposite sex.

Exhibitionism. “Flashers” are aroused by showing their genitals to strangers.

Fetishism. A fetish is a non-living object, such as a woman’s shoe, that excites someone sexually. Partialism is a term used to describe sexual arousal by a specific body part, like the foot.

Frotteurism. This paraphilia involves rubbing one’s genitals against a non-consenting person, often in public.

Sexual sadism. A person with sexual sadism derives sexual pleasure from causing physical or psychological pain to a partner (e.g., beating, humiliating, etc.)

Sexual masochism. Masochists become aroused when someone else inflicts physical or psychological pain on them. In other words, they are the receiver of the pain.

Pedophilia. Pedophiles are aroused by sexual activity with children, usually age 13 or younger. Infantophilia is a type of pedophilia involving infants and toddlers.

Less common paraphilias include:

Somnophilia – arousal caused by fondling a person who is asleep or unconscious. In some cases, drugs are used to induce this sleepy or unconscious state.

Telephone scatalogia – sexual pleasure derived from making obscene phone calls to people who don’t consent

Necrophilia – sexual attraction to dead bodies

Coprophilia – arousal from feces

Urophilia – arousal from urine

Zoophilia – sexual activity with animals

Some paraphilias may be acceptable between consenting partners when neither partner is harmed. However, most paraphilias are not socially acceptable and many are illegal.

Paraphilic disorders are often treated with psychotherapy, group therapy, twelve-step programs, or social skills training. In some cases, medication might be prescribed. Some patients undergo surgery for paraphilic disorders, but this treatment is rare.

People who suspect they have a paraphilic disorder – causing them distress or possible harm to a partner – should speak to their doctor. Partners and family members who suspect a paraphilic disorder in someone else should also seek help, especially if the paraphilia may cause harm to others.