Sexual Health Q&A

What causes paraphilias?

A person is said to have a paraphilia when he or she feels sexually aroused by an object or activity that most people don’t find arousing. Voyeurism, exhibitionism, and pedophilia are examples of paraphilias.

Scientists are not sure what causes paraphilias, but there are many theories. For example, behavioral theory suggests that if a person becomes conditioned to believe a nonsexual object (like a shoe) is sexually stimulating, his or her body may react in a sexual way.

Many people with paraphilias have personality or anxiety disorders. They may be substance abusers, have anger management problems, or have low self-esteem. Some have trouble delaying gratification or empathizing with others. Past childhood abuse may also be related to the development of paraphilias.

Causes of paraphilias may also depend on the type of paraphilia. For instance, some experts believe that exhibitionists (those who show their genitals to strangers) can also be narcissists (people who admire themselves excessively). If a man thinks his partner does not admire his genitalia enough, he may feel compelled to show his genitalia to others.

Another example is voyeurism. Children who have seen their parents having sex may grow up to become aroused by viewing others engaged in sexual activity. In other cases, a person who has trouble with relationships may feel sexually gratified in watching others have sex because he or she is not participating in the act.

While there are many theories, none have yet been proven. More research is needed.

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