Sexual Perversions


By the time of the Great War, most perversions had received names and been described in the medical literature of the Fin-de-Siècle. In various editions of Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia sexualis (there were seventeen German editions between 1886-1924), more and more ‘perverts’ got the chance to tell their sexual stories. Later editions were published by Alfred Fuchs and Albert Moll after the author’s death in 1902, both well-known specialists in the nascent discipline of sexology. Other doctors followed suit in their discussions on sexual variation, most notably in Germany, Austria and France. Henry Havelock Ellis wrote the standard English study on sexuality, which included delineating sexual perversions (Oosterhuis 2000; Sigusch 2008). The main variations discussed in this literature were homosexuals, uranians or sexual inverts; sadists and masochists and fetishists, while the exhibitionists, voyeurs, necrophiles (corpse lovers), coprophiles (scat lovers), zoophiles (animal lovers) and many other erotic specialties got less attention. In the beginning, “sexual inversion” included homosexuals, lesbians and transvestites, with the latter given their own separate place in the work of Magnus Hirschfeld, Die Transvestiten (1910), the topic indicated in the subtitle, the “erotic drive to change clothing”. The book included cases of men who would today be called transgenders, since transsexuals only became namable after the sex change operations started in the ‘20s. The grouping of homosexuals included pedophiles and ephebophiles (men who love prepubescent and adolescent boys, respectively; the Greek ‘pais’ meaning ‘boy’). According to Hirschfeld, 5% of homosexual men were pedophile, 45% ephebophile, 45% preferred men their own age and 5% were gerontophile (the love for the elderly). Such specializations of course also exist among heterosexuals and lesbians.

As the title of Krafft-Ebing’s book indicates, all these perversions, including homosexuality, were framed as psychiatric disorders. Nowadays, homosexuality is no longer a perversion nor a paraphilia (pseudo-Greek meaning ‘next to love'), the new word from the ‘60s for perversion which did not include homosexuality. All the paraphilias remain part of the psychiatric handbooks except for homosexuality which was promoted to normalcy in the USA in 1973. Although many new names (cordophilia for bondage or asphyxiophilia for sexual strangling) have developed since the World War II, notably by John Money and his students (1988; 1991), the main and best-known terms date from the period just before 1900. New and less academic ones have developed more recently like mud wrestling, watersports, pony-play, balloon fetish or fat admiration (Love 1992, Gates 2000, Kulick & Meneley 2005).

Although the Psychopathia sexualis paid attention to lack of sexual desire, as well as strong sexual desire (called nymphomania for women and satyriasis for men), these behaviours were never recorded as perversions that were defined as aberrations in the aim of desire – meaning the object was not simply coitus with the other sex. Because many perversions could also be a part of “normal” sexual practices such as love bites or a predilection for certain underwear, psychiatrists differentiated between perversity where the special desire was an addition or a prelude to the sexual act, and perversion where it was the central aim. The masturbator or onanist was rarely included among the perverts although self-stimulation was generally seen as a vice and a cause or result of psychic aberrations. Oral and anal sex in heterosexual relations may have been frowned upon or seen as sinful from a religious perspective, but they did not attract much attention from doctors.

This chapter will examine pedophilia, bestiality, sadomasochism, fetishism, exhibitionism and voyeurism. Homosexuality is discussed in another chapter of this volume, and although the word transsexuality suggests a sexual content, it is more about gender than about sexuality so that will also be set aside except to say that the most interesting aspect of transsexuals and even more of transgenders is the gender indeterminacy of the persons - this makes it difficult to put them and their lovers in straight forward categories of homo- or heterosexual. Transgenderism not only defies gender, but also sexual dichotomies. We do not even have terms for the lovers of transgenders, the men and women who are attracted to men who look like women, or for women who look like men.

Twentieth century studies of sexual perversions are quite rare, and mainly we have to rely on medical studies for the earlier period. Recently, more information has become available because those people committing acts regarded as sexual perverted have started to speak out for themselves; their cases are no longer accessible merely by way of psychiatrists or journalists who report on sex crime. The development of their perversions was quite different for each one of them, dependent on contents and contexts.

My own view on these sexual variations is straightforward. No sexual relation is morally wrong as long as it is not abusive, which means that it does not go against the wishes of the partner. Regarding pedophilia this raises the question of the age at which youngsters can give consent and, regarding bestiality, whether or not animals can do so. On the first point it is essential that young people learn at an early age what it means to be sexual citizens in order to prepare them for their sexual life so that they can engage with these pleasurable exploits consciously. There is no specific age at which this happens but it is usually experienced sometime at the beginning of puberty. In cases of bestiality, abuse should be forbidden and non-abusive forms allowed. Some people claim animals can express their consent through their behavior, but to discuss such consent seems overblown compared to the nonconsensual mass-murder of animals for the meat industry (see further below).

Love of children and adolescents

Pedophilia is defined in academia as the preference for prepubescent children while ephebophilia stands for the love of adolescents. Most often both are grouped together under pedophilia, especially in the media and by the general public. Although the definitions may seem clear-cut, the age limits of childhood, adolescence and adulthood are much less clear. These ages change throughout time, so the age at which girls start to menstruate has gone down by about 20 months in the twentieth century from around 13.5 to 12 years. Moreover there is a large individual variation in biological development from around 8 to 16 years. Sigmund Freud (1905) assumed all children start as polymorphous-perverse beings. According to him, the question of the age at which children are socially ready for sex depends to a large degree on both their sexual education and their erotic development. Often, moralists defend the idea that children are, and should remain innocent. However, considering the widespread availability of erotic material involving sex scenes and the human capacity to sexualize all kinds of objects and situations, the idea that children are kept innocent is unrealistic and counterproductive. Youths became excited from devices to prevent masturbation, or from being punished by flogging, or seeing others being treated so. Because children will later have to operate as sexual citizens, they need to be prepared for that role by enhancing their sexual knowledge and addressing their intellectual curiosity, not by maintaining their innocence and forbidding them access to sexual knowledge. Sexual education is ‘food for thought’ as eighteenth-century libertines said, and thus ideally serves educational purposes; children’s curiosity stimulates intellectual development and critical thinking about oneself and the world.

In the Western world, relationships between adults and children of both sexes were taboo. However, in many countries, sexual acts with children were not always made into a specific crime as in general the legal focus was on sodomy, extra-marital and non-coital sex. Since children were not married, sex with them would be naturally prohibited under fornication and sodomy laws, since these acts were outside the bounds of licit marital sex.

 Only in the nineteenth century were laws on the age of sexual consent properly developed. The French Penal Code of 1810 forbade rape, public indecency and bringing minors under the age of 21 into habitual debauchery, which meant prostitution (although the jurisprudence sometimes included plural or longer standing adult-minor sex relations). In France, the age of consent was set at 11 years of age in 1832 and at 13 years of age in 1863. In the Netherlands the age of consent was set at 16 years in 1886 for both sexes. The Netherlands was the first country to create different ages of consent for homo- and heterosexual relations, setting them respectively at 21 and 16 years in 1911. Such very different ages of consent tied to legal provisions created different definitions for sexual autonomy of children and for pedosexual relations. These legal ages are of course elusive tools that have little to do with sexual realities of adolescents and create incoherent age lines. They may permit sexual relations between two “minors” that are criminal the moment one of them becomes “adult”. They inevitably produce an unrealistic dichotomy between “innocent” children and “knowing” adults (overviews, see Paidika.The Journal of Paedophilia, 1987-1995, Sandfort c.s. 1991 and Angelides 2004).

The differentiation of sexual relations between minors and adults was not a big issue in the early twentieth century. The work of Freud was criticized not because he discussed desires or real sexual relations between young and old, but because he made clear that young people are sexual beings from birth. Oscar Wilde was considered the embodiment of evil as a sodomite, not because the street urchins he had sex with were male adolescents. André Gide was demonized as a homosexual, not because of his pedophile interests. He was still awarded the Nobel Prize of literature in 1947; it is unlikely he would have received it today. Men who were persecuted for public indecency faced no stiffer penalties for having sex with youngsters – unless it fell under age of consent laws. Rather, abomination was heaped on effeminate homosexuals, or on young male prostitutes, who turned their bodies into a trade and who sometimes robbed or blackmailed their clients. The art work of Wilhelm von Gloeden and his colleagues was printed in male love journals such as Der Eigene and was pedophile in modern terms; but they faced rejection because the pictures showed male nudity, not because they were of adolescents. Von Gloeden was not demonized as a pornographer; his pictures were published in art magazines and adulated by the rich and famous of the Fin-de-Siècle. Thus, we can see that the interest of homosexual men in boys was not specifically differentiated from their interest in men; and the men they were attracted to were also often heterosexual men. Queers were simply weird people to whom many sexual and social ills could be attributed. They recruited boys to fill up their ranks, and they were accused of being weak, untrustworthy, effeminate degenerates and traitors of the nation. They endangered family life and reproduction because, notwithstanding the abjection homosexuals inspired, it was felt that their lifestyle was so attractive that straight people might easily fall into it.

Heterosexual pedophilia remained largely unmarked because it was seen as part of family problems that were the focus of social institutions, such as youth care and psychiatry. For a short period in the late nineteenth-century, the authorties? showed concern about incest but preferred to protect the nuclear family rather than its (incest) victims and saw sexual abuse of children as something done by perverted strangers. Nonetheless, incest of fathers with their daughters was very common and often seen as part of the cramped social conditions of the working classes (Gordon 1988). When incest occurred in the upper classes, it met with a culture of silence or, at best, with recourse to psychiatric help for the abused, rarely for the abuser – as in Freud’s Dora case (Katz 1995). Heterosexuals often had access to pedophile relations by way of the family in the form of incest; this was typically covered up to protect the honor of the family.

Another reason sex and love relations between adults and youngsters created less panic than they do today is because children were seen less as the precious angels they have become in recent years. Remarkable in relevant sexological literature is the idea that women were having sex with adolescents more often than men − according to Stekel (1922: 317-8), more boys were seduced by women, than girls by men. He refers to Havelock Ellis’s statistics that showed similar conclusions, but regrettably, these are without references. These woman-boy relations were part of a traditional sexual culture where older women sexually initiated boys – aunts, female teachers, prostitutes, spinsters. (Sax & Deckwitz 1992)

Not all incest was heterosexual. Fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers also sought sex with their younger male family members. Spanish author Juan Goytisolo describes in his autobiographical Coto vedado (1985) how his grandfather had sex with him in his youth. He speaks of these incidents in neutral terms, showing not all incestuous relations have to have negative results. They were portrayed in very positive terms by François-Paul Alibert in his Le Fils de Loth (1998, The Son of Lot, written in the ‘30s) which opens: “Two young men romp on the beach. They are beautiful, they love each other. The one asks the other a question: ‘Who has initiated you into love?’ The answer comes uneasily: ‘My father.’” This son was amorous of his father and particularly fond of his penis.

Since World War II, there have been several periods of moral panics regarding child sexual abuse and lust murder in the Western world. The first major panic took place immediately after World War II as part of the moral reconstruction of Western societies. In the USA, it preceded the crusade against homosexuals and communists in the so-called McCarthy era. The panic about child abuse and lust murder had not as yet become full-blown attacks directed against pedophiles specifically, but saw attacks against perverts in general. The “sexual psychopath” laws that many states in the USA subsequently enacted, in addition to child abusers, targeted gay cruising and other forms of sexual “aberration”. In fact, most victims of these laws were not child abusers or lust murderers because their crimes were already covered in existing laws but other innocent “perverted” acts which had not been criminalized before (Jenkins 1998: 80-93).

The major novel on heterosexual pedophilia, and for some the best book of the twentieth century, was Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita published in an English version in 1955 as one of the many “scandalous” books of Parisian Olympia Press. The book was forbidden in France and the USA for some years after its publication, but eventually its literary value was acknowledged, censorship laws were alleviated and the book became available for the general public. Its main character Humbert Humbert seduces the nymphet Lolita, and marries her mother in order to stay near the girl. After the mother dies, he sets off with the girl on a tour of the USA and kills a rival for her affections while at the same time giving ironic comments on the USA.

During the ‘50s, pedophiles became differentiated from homo- and heterosexuals in two ways. Firstly, new European age of consent laws not only tended to distinguish between gay and straight sexual relations with minors, but created ‘pedophiles’ who became the ‘real’ sex criminals. Already in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Denmark, Switzerland and Sweden had replaced general laws that criminalized all sodomitical acts, with age of consent legislation that decriminalized homosex but criminalized pedosex. Countries like the Netherlands, France, and Belgium had no general criminalization of homosexuality and produced specific homosexual age of consent laws in 1911, 1942 and 1965 respectively. These countries saw an ongoing differentiation between pedophiles and gay men after arguments within in the worlds of justice and psychiatry. Pedophilia, which had often been presented as a homosexual preference, became differentiated from it.

There were several reasons for mixing up pedo- and homosexuals. In gay history many examples had been given of boy love, most famously seen in the form of Ancient Greek pederasty. Putting a higher age of consent for homo- than for heterosex simply had the effect of creating more gay pedophiles. Heterosexual pedophilia came in the form of incest, because it was so prevalent in families. Moreover, boys were taught to be sexually more curious than girls and many homosexual men were available to offer them the opportunities for sexual exploration. Thus gay pedophilia is another example of how men create greater sexual opportunities among each other than they did with women in heterosexual spheres. Boys had more possibilities to learn how to be sexual beings while girls were compelled to learn the opposite – how not to have sex, how not to become “sluts”. The reason for the new attitudes towards sex between youngsters and adults was a growing rejection of inequality in sexual relations from the ‘50s on. It led to an increasing rejection, even demonization, of pedosexual relations.

Secondly, from the late ‘50s on, pedophiles began to organize and split off from homosexual organizations. Meanwhile, homosexual organizations became eager to get rid of pedophiles within their group as they wanted to be respectable and make clear they were not supporting child abusers. It was around this time that a revolution (see introduction) took place in concepts and practices of sexual desire based on the idea of sexual inequality towards a new ideology that stressed the need for equality in sexual relations. The homosexual rights movement had always integrated men with interests in adolescents as well as “straight” men, such as sailors and soldiers, but now they stressed that modern homosexual men were not effeminate or pedophile and had no interest in “normal” or heterosexual men or in boys. Homosexual men developed into modern gays who adopted a masculine identity, were each other’s equals, lived in couples and had interchangeable sex. In the late ’50s, the journal of the Dutch homophile movement COC Vriendschap changed from a distinctly pedophile to a more masculine imagery. Homosexuals were the winners in this sexual revolution, but other socio-sexual desires based on inequality fared much worse: pedophilia, prostitution, bestiality all continued to be taboo acts while traditional heterosexual marriage based on male privilege and female obedience came under critique.

In the Netherlands, two men began a campaign to defend the pedophile cause. Psychologist Frits Bernard (pseudonym Victor Servatius) founded the publishing house Enclave that produced boy love novels and studies, while lawyer and later state senator for the Labor party Edward Brongersma (pseudonym O. Brunoz) became the intellectual champion of pedophilia. Both men contributed as editors of the COC-journal, and became the main stimulus for pedophile emancipation, hoping they could follow in the steps of the successful example of gay emancipation. Brongersma also contributed as a successful political lobbyist. Both men were also active as producers of pedophile studies, and Bernard wrote two novels.

In the ‘70s pedophile groups and journals started up all over the Western world : the North-American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), British Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), and the Dutch Society for Sexual Reform hosted national and international conferences on the theme. These attracted mainly men interested in boys while the other variations (lesbian and heterosexual) remained largely absent. In the Netherlands these pedophile groups met with some success. Social workers, a main psychiatric organization and the chief of the Rotterdam vice squad, all supported their claims for a lower age of consent and for acceptance of pedophiles whose relations with minors would often be innocent. These spokespersons attributed more damage to police enquiries into pedosexual relations than to these relations themselves. In 1977, the Dutch Center for Mental Health issued a report that supported these claims.

Apart from diverse, small and dispersed groups of pedophiles, journalists, philosophers, film-makers and novelists also discussed the theme of child sexuality and adult-adolescent relations in various ways. The German anarchist Peter Schult, the French novelist Tony Duvert (the best gay writer according to Edmund White, brought to silence because of the demonization of pedophile love) who wrote Quand mourut Jonathan (1978) and several other novels and two books of essays, described and vigorously defended boy love while his compatriot Gabriel Matzneff was more oriented toward girls. The angelic Hervé Guibert combined the themes of boys and cruelty and became famous because of his autobiographical writings on AIDS. The Deleuzian philosopher René Schérer (1974) endorsed the sexual rights of children and described, already before Foucault, the panoptical system, but in this case the school was the prison and the victims the pupils. His apprentice, best friend and close collaborator Guy Hocquenghem wrote the novel Les petits garcons (1983) on the first large pedophile scandal in France, in which both men were implicated, together with France’s minister of culture, Jacques Lang, and many others. Several French academics and artists edited a book Crazy of Childhood: Who is afraid of pedophiles, which would be totally impossible a decade later (Danet 1979). The USA writer Matthew Stadler continued to produce a steady stream of steamy novels that depict boy-man relations such as Alan Stein (1999).

In the ‘80s, the climate changed completely. The rising demonization of unequal age relationships led to moral panics, first of abuse of girls by male family members, in particular fathers; and subsequently of abuse of both girls and boys by unrelated men who would come to be seen not only as sexual child molesters by the general public but also as potential lust murderers. In the USA, then also in Western Europe and Australia, pedophile scandals became the regular fodder of the media. In many cases, such as satanic abuse accusations, no evidence was ever produced – the imagination of youngsters led to many false accusations while police investigations sometimes ran out of hand due to community pressure and innocent men got accused of the most unimaginable sex crimes. Although some pedophiles are considered monsters, there is no reason to classify all older/younger sexual relationships as abusive. But the politicians followed the hue and cry from the media, especially after the scandal of the Belgian Dutroux-case in 1996 in which a married heterosexual man (who allegedly had no special interest in girls and did not consider himself a pedophile) but who abducted both young women and girls because they were easy targets for him. The subsequent Stockholm World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (27-31 August 1996) put the issue high on the agenda – children being defined as under 18 years (Jenkins 1998; Levine 2002). “Pedophile priests” and the hypocritical catholic sexual morality were the next major issue to arise, particularly in the USA and Ireland (Jenkins 1996).

Many countries once more tightened up their laws on age of consent and child pornography, including virtual material depicting imagined children. Before the ‘90s, the main objection to child pornography was that children were abused in its production, and that child porn leads to child abuse. While before the ‘90s, the possession of single samples of such material was not illegal, afterwards any ownership of child porn was deemed a serious criminal offense. French scholars Marcela Iacub and Patrice Maniglier (2005) have pointed out that the percentage of prisoners for sexual crimes in the USA and France more than quadrupled over the last 30 years from about 5 to 20%. In the USA nowadays, about 2 million persons are registered as sex criminals. There are more sex crimes, and moreover definitions have been broadened and penalties have become stiffer. A large proportion of these men are persecuted for crimes related to pedophile issues, they face the harshest penalties, and run high risks of being murdered in US prisons ( Psychiatric programs targeting pedophiles in some countries make it impossible to ever get out of prisons and asylums if the perpetrators do not show regret for their sexual preferences. The pedophile has become the scapegoat of modern times, making reasonable discussion about pedophilia (or even discussions about the positive sides of the sexual life for youngsters) impossible. A Dutch pedophile group which started a political party of mutual love and liberty faced general and immediate demonization; some politicians even asked that the party be forbidden and that the founders be placed behind bars – thus denying even the cherished freedom of expression in liberal states.

Love for animals

Bestiality remained a common sexual practice and was frequently prosecuted in court in the countries that criminalized it, such as Austria and Germany. Grassberger (1968) found some 50 persecutions for sex with animals per year in Austria in the period between 1923 and 1965. Most of those incriminated were male adolescents who received no punishment, as the courts considered it a minor crime. In the beginning of the twentieth century, about half of the about 500 annual prosecutions under the German paragraph 175 (counter-natural intercourse) were for bestiality, with the other half for homosexual practices (Dickinson 2007:225). Criminalization of sex with animals fell under anti-sodomy laws in countries with those provisions, including Austria, Germany, the United Kingdom and Scandinavian countries (for Sweden, see Rydström 2003). In other countries bestiality could be prosecuted as public indecency or cruelty against animals depending on the situation, but in fact prosecutions rarely happened in this period. Kinsey (1948:670-1; 1953:505-6) reports that 8% of the males and 3.5% of the females in the United States had sex with animals once or more. Most men ejaculated, while only 0.4% of all women experienced orgasm. Half of the farm boys had erotic experiences with animals, half of those to orgasm. Of course, none of these people created social movements at that time; in most cases it was a very individual experience in the countryside.

In nineteenth-century France, some bordellos and sex theatres had shows in which prostitutes had sex with animals such as dogs or donkeys. In Thailand a century later, sex between women and dogs was a specialty on offer. Anecdotal evidencein the recent past states that some Mexican bordellos organized competitions for prostitutes to see who could receive the biggest horse or donkey dick, but this may be urban myths – not uncommon with stories about “extreme” sex (Love 1992:299). So what is the object of desire for the public: the prostitute, the animal’s penis or the humiliation? In recent years, some Danish farmers have made their farms into bordello’s where clients can have sex with animals, and they seem to operate successfully (Aftenposten, August 16, 2006).

Although concrete data are rare, it seems likely that the prevalence of bestiality diminished after World War II. With the movement of people from the countryside to cities and towns, the strong diminution of people working in agriculture, and easier relations between young men and women, animals became less prominent in the sexual practices of Westerners. The trend seems to reflect that of homosexual emancipation: fewer men have gay sex, but the decreasing number that continues to practice it, makes it into an identity, creates a lively sexual culture which sees more sexual activities among gay-identified people, more than they had before, when homosex was not exclusive to a homosexual minority. Prostitution seems to follow the same pattern. Similarly, people with a zoophile interest now see their predilection more as an identity and have started to organize themselves as animal lovers. They may not create a subculture but they do have networks and websites that accommodate their preferences. One of them wrote a kind of bestial coming out book under the pseudonym Mark Matthews The Horseman (1994).

Notwithstanding the modernization of sexual cultures, some men and more boys continued to have sex with animals. The French-Algerian pederast poet Jean Sénac, who grew up in Oran in the ‘40s, describes his early sexual experience with a chicken that did not survive his desires: “I penetrated. Warm! Good. A bit difficult. Warm. The shit. Fascinated. At the same time afraid, ashamed. I went in it, slowly, awkward. The point of my thing right into it. A rim of pleasure. Warm and like a skin that replies” (Sénac 1989:121). Marie-Christine Anest (1994) studied how male youngsters in Greece continued to have group sex with animals and with each other as forms of sexual initiation. British Metro (November 16, 2006) reported the arrest of a man who had sex with a dead deer (bestiality plus necrophilia) and the question was whether it was included under existing legal regulations.

The legal persecution of zoophile acts decreased, as such activities were taken less seriously. Most countries decriminalized bestiality - Sweden in 1944, Norway in 1972 and Western-Germany in 1969. Countries that followed the French Penal Code of 1810 including Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium had already abolished the crime in the nineteenth century. In all these cases, it coincided with the decriminalization of homosexuality, as both were punishable under the crime of sodomy, buggery or counter-natural intercourse; homo-anal and bestial practices had always been criminalized together under such biblical laws, although hetero-anal sex most often received no attention from police and the judicial system. In most cases the decriminalization of bestiality occurred without discussion. In Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and half of the states of the USA, sex with animals has remained illegal under different titles ( With the growing movement against sexual inequality, of which the pedophiles were the first main victims, animal lovers now also face growing animosity toward their sexual pastimes.

New laws against sex with animals have recently been enacted or proposed. France criminalized “maltreatment of a sexual nature” in 2004 and The Netherlands made bestiality and bestial porn punishable in 2008, while Sweden intends to do the same. Animal rights movements have been especially strongly opposed to “animal abuse” and engage in coalitions with American Republicans, orthodox Christians and Labour parties. The Dutch parliament was in favor of such laws that the former minister of justice opposed because of their futility, but the present minister of justice was eager to follow the vox populi – both being Christian-Democrats. Midas Dekkers (1992: 164) stated: “As long as neither partner suffers, there is in fact no possible form of sex that is sick, bad or insane.” So far, there appears to be few reasons to criminalize bestiality, since the data support the idea that some animals like such sex. When there is harm or violence undertaken against animals, existing laws on animal abuse can be used for criminal persecution.

It was during the sexual revolution that bestiality received more attention and a few books on the topic were written while pornography of sex between animals and humans became more widely available. The leading Dutch porn producer of those years, Wilhelmus, produced a “report” Bestialiteit (Dordrecht: Chick, 1970) with stories of zoophile love and mainly illustrations of sex of women with various kinds of animals: mainly dogs but also a donkey, a cat, a bear, a gorilla, a cow.

That love for animals can be mutual, has not only been shown by the Horseman, but also in real cases; one Australian woman was killed by her pet-camel when he jumped onto her for sexual congress (CBS News August 19, 2007). A more common example of dogs loving humans is evident all over when dogs mount the legs of humans; they can also be taught to have sex with male and female humans, sometimes preferring it more than with their own species, particularly when they have lived more closely to human beings than to their own kind in their early years (personal communication, Barbara Noske). Voyeuristic zoophilia arises when people like to watch animals having sex, a popular theme in “nature” documentaries and zoos. People pretending to be animals, as in the cases of plushies and furries, is not considered real bestiality. The same is true for horse and pony play, erotic pastimes that take various forms, of a master riding his human horse, or the ponies, alone or with more, being put to a carriage. Often, the idea is about humiliation which can be extended by ways of breaking, feeding or whipping them, putting them in a stable, having horse races or sales. Leather shops sell stirrups, pig masks and dog collars, but the real material bought from specialized horse shops can be more exciting. Perversions are often mixtures of various fetishes and these examples form a bridge between bestiality and sadomasochism.

Sadism and masochism

In the first editions of his Psychopathia sexualis, Krafft-Ebing discussed lust murder, and in 1890 he coined the terms sadism and masochism after the names of author and philosopher Marquis Donatien A.F. de Sade (1740-1814) and his contemporary, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895). The latter had taught at the same university that Krafft-Ebing left in 1889 for Vienna. In fact, Sade was rather more of a masochist than a sadist but as most people read his work as an exemplifier of sexual violence, he became marked as a sadist. Sadism became the preferential term for sexual pleasure derived from other people’s pain, and masochism became the reverse. The pain can be mentally or physically inflicted. Krafft-Ebing realized that sexual violence was not always undertaken against the wishes of the victim, but that there was also a substantial group of people who enjoyed sexualized violence, both as presumed victims and perpetrators. Lust murderer became established as a different type of pervert than the sadomasochist, but it was the male masochist who became the figure of most medical discussion. According to the doctors, female nature was obedience and male nature dominance and no further explanation was necessary. The female sadist was thought to be more a figure of novels and erotic imagery, “la belle dame sans merci” (Praz 1970).

After the publication of Krafft-Ebing’s work, there developed a lively medical literature on sadism and masochism, while the work of Sacher Masoch inspired a parallel literature. This Austrian author created with his Venus in Fur (1870; German original) a tradition of dominant women in fur who enslaved men, often using the contractual arrangements Sacher-Masoch loved as material proof of his submission. While Sade was a masochist and a passive sodomite, Sacher-Masoch also had his queer side by enjoying a severe beating by a male servant who had been requested to do so by his mistress.

Twentieth-century Germany, France and England (and to a lesser extent in other European countries) developed a S/M subculture with its own bordello’s, small networks, pseudo-serious studies, novels, and illustrative material. Little is known about real-life experiences, because most of the books only depict imaginary situations and rarely the concrete lives of sadomasochists. Thanks to police-reports the existence of bordello’s and specialized prostitutes are known, and some pictures show the abundance of sex toys in houses where sexual cruelty was being performed. In the life of Arabist and military man T.E. Lawrence being beaten up by a soldier was a very private practice, while Marcel Proust described gay SM-scenes in rather prudent terms. The German Ernst Schertel specialized before 1933 in the publication of kinky books that were abundantly illustrated with home-made porn and pictures of sexualized cruelty in times of war, or from the history of Roman games, slavery, corporal punishment or police investigations.

The French who had been leading in the field of kinky literature, continued to do so. After de Sade, Rachilde and Proust, authors and painters connected to the surrealists like George Bataille, Pierre Klossowski and Pierre Molinier produced such material. Bataille’s most famous work was on Sade and Gilles de Rais, in his novels, and also in Eroticism (1957 French; London Moyars 1962) and The Tears of Eros (1961 French, SF City Lights 1989). Jean Genet described in his novels, plays and movie Un chant d’amour (1950) scenes of cruelty and homosexual passion in a world of sailors and prisoners. Pauline Réage, pseudonym of Anne Desclos (1907-1998), scandalized the world with a novel of total female submission to men, L’histoire d’O (1954), which made people wonder whether a woman could write such books of sexual slavery. Twenty years later such books would become more general while academic studies of SM have remained scarce until this day (Spengler 1979; Weinberg & Kamel 1983; Thompson 1994; Sammoun 2004; Elb 2006; Kleinplatz & Moser 2006). The punk and gothic scene copied many symbols, toys and clothing styles from the kinky scene for their own presentations. Finally the fashion world took on symbols of leather and SM in the 1990s, with Jean-Paul Gauthier taking the lead (see for essays on art, Weibel 2003).

After the World War II, the SM-subculture saw some new developments. The major one was in the gay world, where a specialized SM-scene started which included wearing leather of male icons such as motorcyclists, pilots and police-officers, all replacing the more feminine fur. This kinky scene started in tiny bars in the major gay capitals of the world like London, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and San Francisco from the 1950s on. Specialized porn was being produced next to the bars, first in the more common male physique journals that sometimes added a slice of SM with whips and cages and later as a separate product. From the 1950s onwards, Tom of Finland was the illustrator of this leather world with his over-masculine soldiers, sailors and police-officers and their victims. In the ‘60s, Larry Townsend emerged as its main author with porn novels, SM imagery and The Leatherman’s Handbook (1972). Leather shops became another addition to this kinky world since 1970. At the same time, the gay leather men started to organize in “motor clubs” which organized events and parties where kinky sex could be practiced in couples and group-wise. The leather bars of the ‘70s attracted a public from all over the Western world - like the Argos in Amsterdam, the Anvil and Mineshaft in New York, the Gold Coast and Touche in Chicago or the Keller in Paris. Some clubs became world famous for their specialized parties such as the Catacombs in San Francisco, the Vagevuur in Eindhoven, Netherlands, the Boots in Antwerp or the Laboratory in Berlin. The connection between leather and SM was strong, although not all leather men were into SM and some aficionados rather liked military uniforms. Specializations started to develop like mud games or fist-fucking. This world of promiscuous leather-men was more severely hit by AIDS in the ‘80s than other gay subworlds, and SM was itself unjustly seen by some in the beginning of the epidemic as especially risky behavior. Many SM practices are in fact totally safe because they do not include penetration or exchange of sperm and blood. In the ‘90s, the gay leather world started to bloom once more and, apart from the leathery oldies, new groups made their appearance on the kinky scene: first skinheads and men into rubber and later sport fetishists. Sometimes the dogmatism of an older generation devoted to black leather clashed with a younger generation that had a broader spectre of colors, kinky fetishes and sex games. Although SM remains the most visible subculture among gay specializations, this preference never made it to the ever-growing series of acronyms of the gay movement. In fact, all perversions are excluded from this short list of respectability, even among radical queers.

For some gay people the desire for violence and the symbols of gay-oppressive institutions (army, police, prison, sport) made them reject kinky practices, certainly when some men showed nazi-symbols on their outfits. Although some non-kinky people accused the leather world of being desirous of the enemies of the gay world, most kinky men know the problems and risks of sexualized violence so well that they would be the last to promote cruelty or right-wing macho attitudes.

The lesbian SM-world is much smaller than its gay counterpart, but notwithstanding its size, it played a major part in the ‘80s “sex wars” that feminists fought with each other. The issues were pornography, prostitution and SM. Some “radical” or “vanilla” feminists (only interested in soft forms of sex) stood up against feminists who supported prostitution, pornography and SM or who engaged in these practices. In the late ‘70s, several lesbian women organized their own leather-events, created journals such as Off Our Backs and had their own group, Samois, which edited the collection Coming to Power (Boston: Alyson, 1981). This book became an object of controversy, and other feminists published Against Sadomasochism (Linden 1982). These cultural wars abated in the ‘90s but the opposed parties have not changed their minds. Leading feminists Patricia (now Patrick) Califia and Gayle Rubin who defended sadomasochism continue to write stories, novels and studies on the topic. By now the kinky women have a rather steady place in the lesbian world (Duggan & Hunter 1995).

With the advent of the sexual revolution, heterosexual SM-persons started to organize and created organizations such as the Eulenspiegel Society of New York (for a recent uneven overview, see Kleinplatz & Moser 2006). Compared to the gay organizations, these were more timid and remained rather invisible. Also, because no parallel bar culture developed for straights, they resorted to “general” rather than specialized sex toy and clothing stores, or found their favorite toys on the internet. The hetero-organizations mainly catered to the sexual pleasures of their members, not unlike their gay and lesbian counterparts. A major difference between gay and straight SMers relates to the circumstances of their “coming out” as lovers of SM. Gays, like transgenders, have already gone through a coming out as homosexuals; thus their engaging with SM is a kind of repetition of this first outing that takes less effort – an exertion straight people have to surmount for the first time. They often have in fact no desire to come out as SM-people because they restrain their pleasures to leisure time and private spaces and live respectable lives with their perversions in the closet.

The SM-community nowadays prefers the acronyms BDSM which means Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission and Sadism and Masochism or Slave and Master. Some people reject the term sadism because they consider the marquis de Sade a sex abuser. Older terms like algolagnia (pleasure in pain) are forgotten.

The leather scene has been target of police surveillance. On April 10, 1976, the Los Angeles police raided a slave sale in a gay bar, which was not even a serious SM-occasion but rather a fund-raiser (Bean 2005). The main scandal in Britain in 1990 came when police persecuted fifteen gay men for running “a perverted sex ring” including public sex and so-called violent abuse of each other. The police had accidentally found a video-tape with the sex games these men played in various set-ups. Although all the sex had been consensual and no unwilling third party had been witness to these acts, justice prosecuted them in the “Spanner-case” for injury, and public indecency, as in most cases when more than two persons participated (Spanner being the code-word for the police-operation). The court declared that in sports like football and boxing where the violence sometimes leads to serious damage, it is permissible, but ruled against it in cases of sex play (Thompson 1994). Even the European Court for Human Rights decided that the United Kingdom had the right to prosecute these pastimes under the existing legislation, thus denying civil rights to SM-persons. In reaction, Spanner Committees were set up in Britain, France and the Netherlands to defend the rights of kinky people. In general they quietly stopped functioning as no more large-scale cases were persecuted, no other issues came forward in the media, and “kinky” symbols, toys and clothing became fashionable. There is however no doubt that kinky fetish clothes as fashion statements say little about the social acceptance of kinky desires. Most people continue to find the combination of pain and pleasure a bit odd. The lack of acceptance of this sort of fetishism shows itself in the fact that most people hide their kinky fetish clothing in non-sexual formal occasions. Social prejudice is reflected in lack of tolerance as seen when a Belgian judge lost his job after the police discovered his wife was a practicing masochist, with him as a helping hand, despite the fact that they only did so only in private spaces. Sadomasochists irregularly face persecution in the USA because of their erotic interests, and most cases regard child custody battles after a divorce (see for details Kleinplatz & Moser 2006). In 2008, there was a proposal in English parliament to criminalize “extreme” pornography, which would include SM material.

The main problem sadomasochists now face is the rejection of the inequality of their relations and the question of consent. They do everything to explain their sexual relations as being consensual – the performance beforehand agreed upon and using a given code word agreed upon between them in order to stop the act. A better defense could have been discussing liberal and democratic ideals of consent and equality in the political and the sexual field. While they may apply in the first, they have different meanings in the second.

Notwithstanding continuing taboos on SM, there is a substantial group of people who enjoy and admit to kinky desires - according to sex surveys, about 10% of the adult population with more men than women. Because of the lack of visibility of SM, it is probable that many people do not even realize their desires in this direction, or repress them because of the taboos.


Fetishism is diverse in its manifestations. The word stems from religious studies and is used by Karl Marx to describe the overvaluation of products under capitalism and by Binet for sexual theorizing (Squires 1993). It can refer to a special interest in body parts, sex acts (anal, oral, kissing, licking), clothing or clothing material (uniforms, underwear, silk, satin, fur, leather), personal characteristics (boyish, dominant, unmasculine) or situations (bedrooms, beaches, barracks, dark rooms). This definition is so broad that it includes all sexualities; for Binet it is indeed an alternative to the term perversion. There were no criminal laws that persecuted such desires. The main reason why fetishists came into contact with the police was because they stole their beloved objects from shops, clothing-lines or other places. They rarely harassed people to be able to fulfill their sexual desires. The most famous cases concern thefts of underwear, and the very specialist men who cut off the pigtails of women (Garnier 1896: 66-73).

Because most fetishist desires are explored in private environments, often without partners, they rarely came to the attention of the police, and subsequently of psychiatry. Fetishist desires often involve contemporary fashions, so their expressions easily fit into “normal” sex practices. In Garnier’s Les Fétichistes (1896) this doctor discusses mainly heterosexual men who go for female clothing (underwear, silk, various bonnets) and bottoms while the homosexual objects of desire, the topic of half of this study, are boots and genitals. In Wilhelm Stekel’s Der Fetischismus (1923), the same fetishes are present with handkerchiefs, shoes, clothing and special materials, (missing) body parts while his cases are often mixed up with sadism, masochism, transvestism, or homosexuality and sometimes lead to theft. The close connections with fashion make these fetishes obvious indicators of hang-ups of particular periods. Very little historical study has been done on these topics. Why the preferred clothing in the SM-subculture changed from fur to leather after the World War II cannot be easily answered. The best suggestion lies in a change of fashion, where gay men developed an attraction to masculine bikers and pilots (often the type of soldiers who had fought in the World War II) who were dressed in leather. Postwar film stars like James Dean or pop stars like Elvis Presley who wore leather became icons for the new subculture.

The sexual revolution of the ‘60s brought a proliferation of sexual styles for men: from blue jeans and leather to more androgynous long hair, flowery shirts and shiny material. This was a short-lived period of variety for men as they quickly went back to jeans, boots, short hair and white t-shirts. On the heterosexual side there is a great variety of fetish styles, materials and acts ranging from punk and gothic, soft and shiny female underwear, to corsets and body parts. Europeans like big breasts while Brazilians show a greater interest in bigger bottoms. The gay leather scene went from leather to rubber and developed in the ‘90s a wider range of fetishes.

Fetishism receives much attention in postmodern cultural studies because it connects sexual pleasure to the social world where the fetish is picked up, and breaks down the dichotomy of homo- and heterosexual and of subject and object. The fetish is an erotic internalization of an outside world and, when it refers to human objects, breaks them down in their constituent parts, such as breasts, penises, hair or toes, characteristics such as boyish, perverse, kinky, beautiful, or their covering such as clothing and shoes. This specification makes general terms like male and female, homo and hetero unnecessarily general because desires are about quite particular objects or fetishes – including acts like oral, anal and kinky or situations like bedroom and beach that go beyond a certain person. According to McCallum (1999: 154) the fetish challenges “the domination of the subject over the object” and eliminates the need for other subjects. The fetish is not abstract but instrumental and stimulates agency and passion. It goes beyond the genders of sexual object choice. Different from love, sexual pleasures most often have a concrete and accidental aim that the concept of fetish captures nicely. Apter (1993:4) can thus say that “(f)eminist essentialism is resisted through fetishism’s implicit challenge to a stable phallic referent”.

In this broad postmodern perspective all sex is fetishist. Queering sexuality could then mean to break down the homo-hetero dichotomy and make everyone realize that sexual objects are more specific than male or female, and preferences more detailed than homo or hetero. Queer could better refer to concrete erotic specialization than to abstract generalization in terms of human or bisexual. Few people realize the specialness of their preferences - indeed less than 10% will admit to fetish interests. In a recent Dutch sex survey, 10% of the men and 4% of the women did so (Bakker 2006).

Exhibitionism and voyeurism

Exhibitionism is a much persecuted perversion but less demonized than pedophilia. Only in the late nineteenth century, when nude swimming and bathing went out of fashion and nudity became totally excluded from public life, did exhibitionism come into existence as a sexual preference and rose to the forefront of police and psychiatric attention. Laws on public indecencies which had been used against sex in public places were now more often used against flashers (Iacub 2008). Exhibitionism is a prime example of the social construction of social identities and mental disorders, as is its opposite agoraphobia (fear of public places). While some perversions, such as bestiality, fell into oblivion, and while others could expect a more humane attention in the early twentieth century, exhibitionism saw an increased pursuit by police and psychiatry. Yet the intensive interest of the authorities had little effect on prevention of such behaviour and victims were continually arrested, imprisoned and hospitalized as repeat offenders. The continued attack on these offenders has been of no help for exhibitionists or their assumed victims, nor in the prevention of escalating sex crimes of exhibitionists.

An interesting study of the exhibitionist groups that existed in The Netherlands since the ‘70s shows that exhibitionism has many more guises than the typical figure of police and psychiatry reports (Weelden 1993). These groups attracted women who were into nude dancing; a man who wanted to sit like a prostitute in his window in the Amsterdam Red Light District; a woman who, passing trucks in her car, put the light on her denuded genital region; and a transgender who lifted up her skirt standing alongside a highway where no car could stop. The man in his window or the woman dancing in the nude were of course no nuisances to the public, rather a tourist attraction, showing how contextual such a “problem” is. These groups were helpful in providing the “troublesome” exhibitionists with other outlets and showing them ways to avoid persecution by the authorities. Now nudism in some places has become more acceptable, the exhibitionists of the old days are losing their aura of abjection, while other perverts like pedophiles and zoophiles are taking their place.

The same has happened with the voyeurs of old days who had so little chance to enjoy seeing the nudity and sexuality of others. Peeping Toms who peered into the windows of the homes of people expecting to see a live show, were generally disappointed. But with all the erotic material available nowadays, in the media, on internet and in peepshows, the voyeur who pestered his neighbors has now become the client of the commercial sex industry, or more quietly visits nudist beaches and camps.

Sexual acts are a combination of exhibitionism and voyeurism, of showing and looking. Like with fetishism, they are so general that it is hard to name them perversions. Both sexual variations of exhibitionism and voyeurism are main topics in postmodern studies where the “gaze” has become a central theme, the ideal subject of communication and television studies. The media and the internet have made all humans into voyeurs. We now look, sometimes in admiration, other times with abjection, to the many forms of eroticism that are available. People visit sex sites but still more look to erotic imagery on the news; from the stories of Clinton with his oral sex and sperm spots on skirts to the more sinister pictures from Abu Ghraib, the sexual fascination of the Western voyeur has never been restrained to the vanilla images of mainstream pornography. It has always included the more bloody material of Roman gladiators, Christian paintings of crucified and martyred saints with Saint Sebastian becoming an SM icon, or the disaster paintings of Andy Warhol. Voyeurs may become the model type of sexual identity due to Western puritanism: looking at a screen, resisting their own desires, and rarely creating socio-sexual pleasures.


There are many more “perversions” than those mentioned here. A general theme in all these sexual variations is that they address and often bridge major social dichotomies: of consenting adult and innocent child, of human and animal, of subject and object, of body and soul, of showing and seeing, of pain and pleasure, of consent and coercion, of life and death, as in necrophilia (Downing 2003). They have an interest beyond the concrete sexual practices that they refer to. They run from simple fantasies to murderous acts – not different from “normal” sexual preferences that neither offer protection against the violence nor conflicts of social life. It is better to acknowledge than to condemn or pathologize them as has been the tradition in religious, political, legal and medical thinking. They are an intrinsic part of human culture.

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