We may not want to admit it, but as the award-winning columnist and psychologist Jesse Bering reveals in Perv, there is a spectrum of perversion along which we all sit. Whether it’s voyeurism, exhibitionism, or your run-of-the-mill foot fetish, we all possess a suite of sexual tastes as unique as our fingerprints—and as secret as the rest of the skeletons we’ve hidden in our closets.
Combining cutting-edge studies and critiques of landmark research and conclusions drawn by Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey, and the DSM-5, Bering pulls the curtain back on paraphilias, arguing that sexual deviance is commonplace.
Bering confronts hypocrisy, prejudice, and harm as they relate to sexuality on a global scale. Humanizing so-called deviants while at the same time asking serious questions about the differences between thought and action, he presents us with a challenge: to understand that our best hope of solving some of the most troubling problems of our age hinges entirely on the amoral study of sex.
Jesse Bering is an experimental psychologist and a leading scholar in the cognitive science of religion. He is also an essayist and science writer specializing in evolution and human behavior. His first book, The Belief Instinct (W. W. Norton, 2011), was included in the American Library Association’s Top 25 Books of the Year and voted one of the “11 Best Psychology Books of 2011” by The Atlantic. This was followed by a collection of his Webby-award nominated essays, Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012), and Perv (2013, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), a taboo-breaking work that received widespread critical acclaim and was named as a New York Times Editor’s Choice. His most recent book was A Very Human Ending (Doubleday, 2018).
Bering’s writings have been translated into many different languages and reviewed in The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and many other outlets. He has also been featured in numerous documentaries and radio programs, including Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, Conan, Chelsea Lately, Q&A (Australia), and NPR’s All Things Considered.
Bering is Director of the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago. He lives in Dunedin, New Zealand with his partner, Juan, and their two cheeky border terriers, Hanno and Kora.
If this book teaches anything, it’s that every kink you can possibly imagine actually exists. In Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, the author describes a wide range of paraphilias (which stands for experiencing intense sexual arousal to atypical objects, situations or individuals). A few examples: there are people who are intensely attracted to a building like Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Others experience crazy good orgasms when tumbling down the stairs and even fantasizing about and actually cutting off your own genitalia is something that arouses some people. Let's just say that human sexuality can be somewhat of a paradox.
I thought it was interesting to read that, as far as they know, most paraphilias are instilled in the brain at a very young age, usually before someone’s tenth year. Once there, you might as well compare them to your sexual orientation; they are not something you can get rid of with lots of willpower or therapy.
Something else I found intriguing is that women seldom develop paraphilias. It’s very much a guy thing. This can partly be explained by the differences between the male and female brain, but the author also mentions that women are, in a way, even more perverted than men (should or shouldn’t I act surprised here? 0_o). Women tend to get physically aroused from a wide range of stimuli. Where men often need pretty specific stimuli to get in the mood for luvin’, women - despite stressing not being into this at all - will also become physically aroused when watching a documentary with smexing apes. Our brains and genitalia apparently give off mixed signals. This also means that in the rare cases that women develop paraphilias, they are less dependent on them.
Of course, all of this is extremely fascinating, amusing, delightfully horrifying and – some of these fetishes – are downright disturbing. The author intersperses Perv with enough juicy tidbits and examples to make you laugh, shudder and often just stare at your Kindle while your brain is trying to process that there are actually people...who....
Perhaps the most important and comforting thing to take away from Perv though, is that we are all perverted in one way or another. There is no sexual norm, no mold to fit into. No matter how normal or socially accepted certain sexual behavior is in today’s society, there have been times in history where you would’ve been condemned for expressing the very same behavior (and vice versa). For example, the author points out that when you’re an average heterosexual woman and are attracted to males of the same age, you’d have been considered sick in the 16th century in France for having sexual desires at all.
I suppose it's so easy to go ‘eww’ and be disgusted or even enraged when learning about certain sexual desires and kinks, but really, why shouldn’t someone be allowed to get aroused from urine or the Eiffel Tower or amputated limbs? I agree with the author that as long as kinks aren’t harmful to others (open door example: practicing pedophiles), why condemn or judge?
See here for a nowhere near complete list of paraphilias.
The wonderfully witty and delightfully informative Jesse Bering is back with another look and what makes our pants tick...well what is inside them anyway. This volume looks at non-"normal" sexual behaviour, or anything that does not just involve one penis, one vagina and a few glasses of wine. And yes, he tackles homosexuality, which educated people in this day and age would class as normal, but there seems to be some part of the community that still holds onto the dire wish that it is a sin (while sleeping with male prostitutes mind you). He covers the whole range of "perversions", shoe fetishists, rubber fetishists, people who love animals, children, adolescents, old people. And all throughout he is asking why, but more importantly he is showing that these do occur in the population and discusses their relative harm to society.
But Jesse starts the book by calling the reader a Perv. And he goes on to explain how he had his own perversion as a youth. Everyone is a perv in their own little way. Jesse's story goes back to his youth in pre-internet days when a boy just discovering his new found toy has trouble getting his hands on visual stimuli and finds himself with some weird alternatives. I'll not spoil his story at all, but coming from the same time I can sympathise. But anyone born after the internet bubble will have their adolescent hands on a variety of perversions right from the start.
Jesse argues that perversions originate from the combination of multiple factors including genetic predisposition, environmental factors and exposure. I guess just like all of human behaviours. It's just that we still live in an age when these things are taboo.
I very much enjoyed this book. I learnt a lot more about sexual behaviours. I learnt that I am a perv, but that's OK because so are you. And I have learnt a lot more about the human brain and what a wonderfully fallible and stupid piece of engineering it is. But it sure gives us a laugh. While I'd love for everyone to read this book I really think that the only people who may enjoy it are intelligent, liberal-minded people. The people who who don't really need to change their behaviours. But like me they could always stand to learn a lot more about it.
It's about time we had laws and values based upon science and reasoning rather that tradition and religion.
How could a book on sexual behavior be boring? The author has managed that just fine. There are two severe problems here. First is the lack of science. Either there is very little going on in research about human sexuality, or the author simply failed to bring us up to date. There is very little here that wasn't explored by Kinsey in the 1940's. The second problem seems to be the laziness of the journalism. The author obviously simply sat in a library perusing material that interested him. He failed to do the hard journalistic work that would have made this thing interesting and up to date. Visit a real laboratory. Interview the researchers. Quote them. Despite the implied promise of the book, there seems to be no scientific knowledge of the causes of various sexual predilections. Still the author trots out old Freudian speculations, apparently because Freudians will speculate on anything. Aren't researchers available to speculate on their findings? This is a very small book, but despite this, some portions--particularly the seemingly endless and pointless final chapter--seem long and tedious. The only take-home point I got was in the first chapter, and repeated often throughout: Any sexual act that doesn't hurt anyone is OK. Not breakthrough thinking.
*WARNING: DO not read this book if you are the type that is offended by...almost anything. More specifically by things of a frank sexual nature. Don't say I did not warn you. However, if you are perv like me that is disturbed by little and finds humour in negative spaces, then please by all means, proceed.*
This is an interesting book. I mean interesting in multiple ways. While clearly the author is highly educated and knows quite a lot about human sexuality and the forces that drive deviant behaviour, this is not your typical textbook look at said situation.
Instead, this author uses a humorous approach to recounting his own experiences and gives his opinion on the matters at hand. He is very open, honest and I found him entertaining, although it should be noted that his non-religious views may offend some as he does not hold back when speaking of his disbelief in a higher power.
I am not sure there is a single subject in the realm of deviance that this author did not explore. There are moments that will make you blush, a few that might make your stomach turn and many more still that will make you think about civilisation as a whole and how we came to be how we are. One thing I really did enjoy about this book was his nonpartisan attitude. This author does not make harsh judgments against anyone, but simply gives the reader a chance to view things from an objective perspective. He does not try to influence your beliefs, yet feels comfortable enough to offer his own opinion.
While I did not agree with all of the author's views, I did see things his way a good number of times. I was happy to see that he had included the findings of the psychologist Daniel Wegner, as his study has shed light on a number of different fields through the theories he has formed and the evidence he has provided to support those theories.
Overall, this was the interesting type of book that will invade your thoughts (for the good and bad) for a long time after reading it. If you can look at things analytically without feeling too emotionally attached or becoming easily enraged, this would be a good book for you. I would not recommend it to those who offend easily, but the title should have told you that much anyway.
This review is based off of a digital ARC from the publisher and Netgalley.
It's a relatively interesting topic, but he doesn't actually bring anything new to the table--this has all been written about elsewhere (much of it in a much more palatable way in Mary Roach's Bonk).
It was poorly organized (why were paraphilia and age of consent in the same chapter?) and worst of all, completely unsubjective. For a topic that lends itself to strong opinions in any reader to begin with, why continually insert oneself into the narrative like an egotistical friend who feels the need to turn every conversation topic to be about themselves? There were too many subtle hints of judgment about various topics contrasted by odd enthusiasm in other places. The author never lets you forget that he is a gay man, both through CONSTANT reminders and personal stories and asides but also in his almost complete lack of mention of women throughout the book. The title is very misleading, and in fact, the topics in the book are in fact very limited, given the broad variety of options he could have written about.
“Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us” is an uncomfortable yet fascinating and thought-provoking look into the world of sexual deviancy that is actually more common than we’d care to admit.
It is engaging, well researched and at times humorous. It is incredibly informative. When I say it’s well researched, I mean it. The notes, the science, all mentioned.
I went in thinking I had an open mind. Thinking “yea, I know i’m a pervert, and pretty open-minded, hit me with your best shot” and I was STILL taken aback, made uncomfortable and to actually spend time thinking about it. I don’t recommend inhaling this book. It’s one to take your time with and think on. For this book that is a huge compliment.
This book is a compassionate look into why sexual deviancy is more common than we’d like to believe. Why people have the paraphilias that they do, why people can’t help what turns them on.
“Morally, all that matters – and allow me to reiterate that because I feel it’s quite important, all that matters – is whether a person’s sexual deviancy is demonstrably harmful. If it’s not, and we reject the person anyway, then we’re not the good guys in this scenario; we’re the bad guys.”
It doesn’t say to go ahead with stuff that is actually harmful, it doesn’t say that’s ok. What it does is explain where it comes from, the science behind it, why people don’t choose what turns them on. It also makes us look at “is it ACTUALLY harmful, or is it just making us uncomfortable for other reasons?” Obviously, sometimes something is harmful, but that doesn’t mean we can’t understand and have some compassion. Because not doing so...is actually harming more people, even the ones we are desperately trying to protect the most. Sometimes meaning well, isn't enough.
I do feel this needs to be more widely read, but that the people who need to read it the most will be turned off by the title or what it’s about. It’s not for the prudish or easily offended, but I also think it’s one of those books where the people “it’s not for” are the ones that need to read it the most.
I don’t think I can do this book justice to be honest. Highly recommended.
This book was written by a gay psychology professor. Entertaining book, but let me stress to everyone that just because someone is gay, it doesn't mean that they are organically qualified to write a serious book about what the modern world would define as sexual perversion. Bering thought that he had a right to write this book because gays are still considered perverted by many people. At the same time, he is a very mainstream gay man--in a committed relationship with another man (married, even) in a socially acceptable career field, living in suburbia.
I expected to learn more about why people had unusual sexual attractions to animals, body parts, particular sensations or experiences, and so forth. Instead Bering provides a scattered history of when these perversions were first noted in literature, medical and legal records, and left me more confused and disgusted than I was before.
Bering barely touched on the big perversions of our time right now, such as pedophilia (although he does address adult attraction to teenagers, which the law still identifies as pedophilia if the teens are under the age of consent). He focused a great deal on bestiality and certain fetishes, but not hair fetishes or BDSM. He provides no reason for why he hopscotched all over the realm of "perversions", so I have to chalk it up to sloppiness.
While not perversions by any means, Bering does nothing to address bisexuality or asexuality, orientations considered perverted by gay and straight people alike in the 21st century. Worst of all, Perv is the most transphobic book that a gay psychologist could ever write and somehow get away with. In quite a few areas of the book, Bering expresses a disgust toward "cross-dressing", "transvestites", and "drag queens". The only "fact" (uncited) that he provides about transgender people is that FtoM transgender people are more likely to identify as homosexual than heterosexual...then he moves on to another topic!
While Perv is entertaining, don't look here for theory or empathy...Bering is no Andrew Solomon.
Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All of Us by Jesse Bering
“Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All of Us" is the uncomfortable, relentless, fearless look into the not-so-uncommon devious world of human sexuality. Dr. Jesse Bering is on a courageous quest to expose the full spectrum of erotic manifestations. The fascinating topic is equaled only by Bering's innate ability to use scientific research into a narrative that provokes, shocks and ultimately educates. This entertaining 289-page book includes the following seven chapters: 1. We're All Perverts, 2. Damn Dirty Apes, 3. Sister Nymph and Brother Satyr, 4. Cupid the Psychopath, 5. It's Subjective, My Dear, 6. A Suitable Age, and 7. Life Lessons for the Lewd and Lascivious.
Positives: 1. A very engaging writing style that relies on good research, sound science and humor. Refreshingly open resulting from years of having to live in fear for no other reason other than being. 2. The fascinating yet surprisingly neglected topic of human sexuality in the fearless hands of one Dr. Jesse Bering. Sexual perversions...oh my. 3. This book in many respects is a plea to stop judging people's sexual preferences on what is considered normal and instead on what is considered harmful. It's a book in defense of "erotic outliers". 4. Making clear what you are going to get out of this book besides being thoroughly entertained, "What you’re going to discover along the way is that you have a lot more in common with the average pervert than you may be aware. I’ll be sharing with you a blossoming new science of human sexuality, one that’s revealing how “sexual deviancy” is in fact far less deviant than most of us assume." 5. The origin and evolution of the word perversion...who knew? I'm not going to spoil it for you, you perv. 6. Dr. Bering provides much insight into what it's like to be gay in his own unique way. The education is appreciated. "For almost a hundred years to follow, psychiatrists saw gays and lesbians as quite obviously mentally ill." 7. Don't let the humor and self deprecation fool you...this book is surprisingly deep. "We’ve become so focused as a society on the question of whether a given sexual behavior is evolutionarily “natural” or “unnatural” that we’ve lost sight of the more important question: Is it harmful?" 8. Interesting scientific research, "Research on the “white bear effect” by the social psychologist Daniel Wegner has shown, for instance, that forcing a person to suppress specific thoughts leads to those very thoughts invading the subject’s consciousness even more than they otherwise would." 9. Some of the stories will just blow you away! Fascinating, disgusting..."You’ve heard of the witch hunts in Salem, but I’m guessing you’re not as familiar with the pig-man hunts of New Haven." Oh and wait until you find out the origins of the word "prodigy". Oh my science! So much more... 10. The problem of sexual harm. Dr. Bering is very careful to distinguish what is an allowable form of sexual perversions and what is harmful. "One reason it’s so difficult for us to exercise our mental faculties in a proper way when it comes to the subject of deviant sex, instead being ruled by emotional reactions that fail to give accurate weight to the question of harm, is what we might call “the disgust factor." 11. The correlation between podophilia and social diseases. Interesting, find out what psychologist Giannini had to say about this. 12. Good use of science to make points and honestly where would we be without evolution? "This overall pattern of findings makes some sense in evolutionary terms. When the system works smoothly, sexual arousal can serve to anesthetize the otherwise adaptive disgust response long enough for people to get on with the Darwinian business of reproduction." 13. Cultural differences as they relate to human sexuality. Find out about the shocking ritual of the Sambia of Papua New Guinea. "Very little is universal when it comes to human sexuality." 14. Misogyny rears its ugly head. "When we hear the phrase “female genital mutilation,” our thoughts usually sail over to Africa, but the practice of eliminating a woman’s capacity for sexual pleasure by removing critical parts of her anatomy has a distinctively Western history, too." 15. Everything you wanted to know about paraphilia. "It was Stekel who coined the term “paraphilia.” The first part of the word, para-, is Greek for “other” or “outside of,” and -philia translates roughly to “loving.”" 16. Example after example of paraphilia...from the strange to the oh my science! "The cause of melissaphilia, and of every other paraphilia, indeed exists, but how to establish that cause ethically is the bane of every science-minded sexologist." 17. Defining illnesses. "The basic rule is this: no matter how deviant your deviant desires, if you’re not hurting anyone (or anything), and if your sexuality isn’t causing you personal distress, then you don’t meet the criteria for a mental illness connected to your paraphilia." 18. The differences between the sexes. "Once a man’s sexual tastes emerge, they are less susceptible to change or adaptation than a woman’s." "Again, a woman’s genitals can be in stark disagreement with her desires." 19. An interesting look at age-of-consent laws. 20. One of the most important themes of the book, "Morally, all that matters—and allow me to reiterate that because I feel it’s quite important, all that matters—is whether a person’s sexual deviancy is demonstrably harmful." 21. Notes included.
Negatives: 1. This book is not for the prudish. It is guaranteed to disgust and make you uncomfortable, there is no way around this. Certain topics are in fact very difficult to get through. 2. This is not so much a negative on the book but on the lack of scientific research on human sexuality. We need more scientific research on human sexuality! 3. Notes included were helpful but a separate formal bibliography would have added value. 4. With so many terms a glossary of at the very least of all the paraphilias presented in the book would have been appreciated. 5. Provocative title but I fear it's going to repel those who need to read this book the most. Oh well their loss! 6. A few cheap shots...in all honesty Santorum had that coming.
In summary, I need a shower! Kudos to Dr. Bering for having the courage to write such an interesting and fearless book on topics considered uncomfortable to say the least. Human sexuality is such a neglected area in science in large part because of lack of sexual ethics and a morality grounded in scientific facts. We need more research and books like this one to help the public gain a better understanding of human sexuality and hence improve society. I highly recommend this book!
Further suggestions: "Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?" and “The Belief Instinct” by the same author, "Sex and Punishment" by Eric Berkowitz, , "Sex at Dawn" by Christopher Ryan, "The Sexual History of London" by Catharine Arnold, "Sex and God" by Darrel Ray, "Bonk" by Mary Roach, "This is Your Brain On Sex" by Kayt Sukel, "Vagina" by Naomi Wolf, "Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality" by Laurence Tancredi, "Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality" by Patricia S. Churchland, and “The Science of Love” by Robin Dunbar ".
A fascinating, frank, and amusing examination of social perspectives on sexual deviance. Awkward AF to read in public because folks on the bus frequently ask me what I'm reading. At times, it did drag though.
I've seen some comparisons to Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex; however, I find a head-to-head comparison of these two books unavailing as Bonk is about performing the science of sex and this is about social perceptions of sexual deviance. Not the same topic at all really.
Jesse Bering, award-winning columnist and psychologist, wants to talk about perversions. We are deviants in one form or another; we may not be paedophiles, or into voyeurism and exhibitionism but there maybe something in our past we rather not discuss. In Perv, Jesse Bering looks at the psychology of having a fetish outside the norm and compares it to the difficulties he faced growing up in the 70s and 80s as a gay man.
This is an interesting book; it doesn’t condone sexual abuse or committing a sex crime. This rather looks at the psychology of paraphilia’s and makes the reader think about it in a different light. Just because someone has a fetish for something unusual doesn’t make them any less human. Bering looks at cultural thought, imprinting, conditioning and compares them to his own struggles as a homosexual.
While he looks at things like zoophiles, paedophiles and bestiality, he also looks at other perversions. Cross dressing, bondage, sadism and tries to get the reader to accept people as human. Just because they have this desire doesn’t mean they are committing crimes, these people are struggling and dealing with the guilt. As Bering states, sometimes they often feel like they have three options in life; depressive sleep, being institutionalised or suicide. Neither of these solutions seems effective at solving the problem.
I thought I had a decent understanding of the GSM (Gender and/or sexual minority or LGBT if you prefer) lifestyle but this just throws so many questions. I’m not comparing GSM with paedophilia, I’m just saying that the psychology of sex is so complicated and how can you treat people with paraphilia without a decent grasp on it. Especially a paraphilia that was so rare that no one bothered to find the Greek name for it.
There wasn’t much about paraphilia’s as I wanted; I was hoping to learn more about these ‘out of the norm’ sexual preferences. Not because I want to make fun of them, the whole thing is just fascinating. My favourite paraphilia discovered from this book is auto-plushophilia (look it up). I think this book looked at paraphilia’s in a new light, I hope this will help me understand them a little better and make it easier to accept them. I now think the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders approach to paraphilia’s are very dated and destructive. If psychologists don’t approach the treatment of these people struggling in a more accepting and human way then these people will never get the help they are seeking.
Hmm this is really quite interesting. No, I did not know that. With bees, you say? Well that's really remarkable and - what? OH GOD THE TRANSPHOBIA. STOP IT STOP IT. Stop misgendering everyone. Stop insisting that it's all some kind of weird fetish. Well that came out of nowhere. I think the trouble is that his interest in weird sexual fetishes means he can't really acknowledge that there's anything gender related that isn't driven by the libido. "People in the trans community are offended by this interpretation" - well, yes. People do get offended when you completely dismiss their lived experiences and insist that you know what's really going on, particularly if you're throwing some tired stereotype that has been used to bully, oppress and pathologise the marginalised group in question. That's not a trans thing. It's a people thing. People are touchy like that. You can't help but wonder about the quality of the research when his understanding of trans people is so shockingly awful - seriously a ten minute read up on this stuff would have improved matters. I was enjoying the book up until that point but this really pissed me off and I'm not even trans.
First off, I would like interested readers of this book to know that this book is NOT academic writing. I am surprised this guy is a well-known columnist since he lacks the basic knowledge or importance of organizing information. It was horrendous, and his constant merging of personal tales with academic data made me cringe... What a let down this book was in that sense. I am quite interested in human sexual deviance and have read numerous books on the subject. I was expecting so much more from this book. Though the author does make an attempt to explain different sexual deviances, he was unable to detach himself from the topic. He kept flaunting his sexual orientation throughout the book. As a heterosexual female, if I had done what he had throughout the book, most people would have called me an overly emotional woman who could not be academic at all. So, yeah. That definitely rubbed me the wrong way. It pissed me off A LOT. How could people praise his writing skill... It made me very upset.
Good things about the book... It was an easy read. He has a good sense of humor. I found myself smiling at times even though his writing skills kept making me cringe. This book does have a lot of information, and his insights aren't particularly BAD... but I didn't like himself attempting to make homosexuality seem like such a non-deviant form of sexuality that he even goes far as to make pedophilia or incest as somewhat of a norm compared to all the other kinds of sexual deviances out there. It turned me off completely. I kept reading the book because I hate not giving a book a chance. That is how much of an avid book lover I am. Anyway, this book was offensive to me not because of the subject matter the author chose to speak about but in the manner he presented his case. If you really want to get a good understanding of sexual deviances, this book isn't necessarily the best book out there to do so.
Are you a perv? Of course you are, you pervy perv, you. At least, that’s the explicit (pun intended) promise in Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us. Jesse Bering grapples with that truism that the only normal is that there is no normal. He catalogues, comments upon, and otherwise investigates the various types of sexual behaviours that are or have previously been labelled as deviant. The purpose of this exposé (pun intended), if you will, appears twofold: firstly, Bering wants to remind and reassure that there are more kinds of kink under the sun than just S&M and foot fetishes; secondly, he wants us to understand the mechanisms in our society that have traditionally been responsible for identifying, labelling, and even censuring kinks and sexual deviance.
This is the sixth (!) book I’ve read for the Banging Book Club, run by Hannah Witton, Lucy Moon, and Leena Norms. Each month’s read provides new insights into the facets of sex and sexuality in human society, whether we’re talking rape culture, attitudes towards vaginas, or in this case, fetishes and other deviations from “the norm”. The inevitable comparison will be with Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. While that’s probably fair, I don’t know if it really does either book justice. Bonk is a tour-de-force of the science of sex buoyed by Mary Roach’s intense commitment to the cause (including both interviews and, ahem, participating in some experiments herself if need be). Perv has a similarly journalistic tone to it but feels much more like a review of literature on the subject.
That being said, I don’t want to give the impression this book is boring! Far from it, for Bering writes with a very accessible style. He’s also quite open, which is important in this type of book. He puts his identity, as a gay man, and his agendas up front so the reader knows the biases with which he approaches this subject matter. And ultimately, the tour that he takes us on is both fascinating and educational, albeit at times somewhat lacking in focus.
Perv documents the shift in our views on the permissibility of sex from regulation by tradition/morality to regulation by science. For a long swath of human history, we allowed, controlled, restricted, and demonized sex and specific sex acts based on whether or not society viewed them as “right” or “wrong”. The specific acts that ended up in either of these categories have varied by time and place, but it was always fuelled by morality. People who sexed it up the right way were good, ordinary members of society; people who went off script were bad, immoral, and possibly possessed by demons. As science became more popular and people began to refine the scientific method, its application to the study of human sexuality offered a new opportunity to recodify sexual behaviour through science. Suddenly, perverts weren’t immoral and sexual deviancy wasn’t a matter of character; rather, they were ill, and deviancy had become a sickness to be treated, possibly cured.
The medicalization of sexuality is ongoing. It has brought with it many great benefits, from the Pill, to that other pill, not to mention various ways to work around infertility. Bering points out that the earlier ways of regulating sexuality were prone to inconsistency and arbitrariness. For example, the age of consent varies widely across countries and is based more in our morals than in any scientific consensus on when someone can consent to sex. That there should be an age, or some other marker determining when one is capable of consent, seems not to be in doubt—but no one seems to know how to quantify it in a way that will satisfy all of us. If anything can offer up an answer, however, it might be neuroscience and our increasing understanding of how the brain works.
Nevertheless, there are also many scary ramifications to the trend of medicalization (female “viagra” and the medicalization of lack of sexual desire always comes to mind). Bering, of course, talks about the various attempts to “cure” homosexuality in the twentieth century, as well as the medical community’s approach to nymphomania. The lesson here: what was once the established norm in medicine with regards to sex has changed quite a bit over the past half-century and continues to change still. Even various psychological manuals can’t quite agree on definitions and which “conditions” to include. So while we know ever more about the science behind sex and have better tools available to help us investigate it, we are still debating how to interpret the results.
Perv spends a chapter or two discussing paraphilias and the various modes of attraction. It is entertaining to read about the woman who married the Eiffel tower or people who become aroused by bees. I had no idea how the DSM-5 classified fetishes and the like (and had not really given it much thought, but it’s a cool thing to know). The world of kink is so very diverse, and Bering does an excellent job of pulling back the curtain to help us understand that there are so many different obsessions, fixations, and attractions. It puts paid to the idea that there is an overwhelmingly “normal” or vanilla approach to sex that most people follow, with only a small minority of the community on the fringes. I appreciate the attempt to challenge the heteronormativity of our society.
Probably the heaviest topic Bering addresses is pedophilia. Firstly, he delves into the way that the popular definition of pedophilia has expanded to cover things like hebephilia (attraction to pubescents) and the difficulty this causes in a medical context. Related is the conflation with pedophilia and child sexual abuse (not all pedophiles have abused children, and not all those who abuse children are actually aroused by children). Then he addresses various attempts to screen or measure attraction through penile plethysmography (he doesn’t really talk much about the controversy around this technique). Bering highlights the conflict between wanting to identify and study potential pedophiles and the consequences of a non-offending pedophile outing himself. This reminded me of an article in Matter about self-identified pedophiles who have come together to form a support group because they acknowledge their attraction but don’t want to hurt children. This is the dilemma we have: how can we help people who are aware of their problem, people who don’t want to offend, when we vilify them for existing?
I only wish Perv had grappled a little harder with issues like this. It’s a fine, interesting book—but it’s also somewhat forgettable. I’ve learned from it, but I’m not sure how much detail I’m going to retain (or how much I really need to retain). Bering presents an adequate survey of various kinks and perversions, certainly proving his thesis that “normal” is an illusion. But it doesn’t seem to amount to much. It’s a book with a subject but no appreciable direction to its narrative. If you’re really into the way Bering explains things, this is probably enough. But I could see people having a lot more trouble getting through this, or considering it dry, if they were looking for something a little more engaging.
Each non-fiction book we read for the Banging Book Club offers its own unique window into sex and sexuality. None of them have been a solid 5-star hit for me yet, but every one was interesting in its own way (even if Vagina was somewhat disappointing by playing fast and loose with science). I’m having a good time learning about all these different aspects of the field and picking up books I might not otherwise have found.
An interesting enough read, but honestly there isn't anything in here that was new to me. I also spent most of this book waiting for him to really get into it and then, before I knew it, I was turning the last page. The whole book read like the opening paragraph of a college essay. Plus, Bering spends just about as much time talking about his personal experience with being an outlier as a gay man as he does talking about people with more unusual orientations, to the detriment of the actual facts he's presenting.
I also cannot wait, can't wait at all, for people to stop referencing Freud like he knew what he was talking about. Freud has been debunked over and over and over again through the years. Please, let him fade into obscurity.
This is not a bad starting point for people who are interested but don't know how to approach the topic, as Bering provides a lot of resources in the back that can be used for further reading, but most of them are probably more interesting (and definitely better organized) than this was.
Absolute genius. This one is really a four-and-a-half star book. Readable and academic all at the same time, which is hard to pull off. Here, Bering sets out to do what Foucault was trying to do in many ways: theorize our secret sex lives. Bring to light all that we do not (and so often cannot) talk about as a way of debunking the idea that vanilla = normal and all else is shocking deviance. I'm not as ready as Bering to chalk things up to evolutionary adaptation, but even here he makes some good points. The only thing thing that stops this from being a five-star book is a structural issue: the sheer volume of footnotes is monotonous. I get that every assertion needs to be qualified when walking a minefield like sexuality, and that illustrative examples are always a good idea, but the amount of footnoted material got overwhelming even for me, and I read academic work constantly. Still, the conversational tone pulled me through. HIGHLY recommended.
As Roy 'Chubby' Brown used to say before his shows - "If easily offended stay away".
Fascinating and irritating in turn. Fascinating in that there's a 'blimey, I didn't know THAT' on just about every page. Irritating in that I lost count of how many times Bering told us he was a gay man (literally dozens) and then we get some snippet from his life breaking into whatever subject he was currently writing about.
Mind you, his early 'encounters' with an illustration of a Neanderthal in a picture book did make me laugh! And no, I'm not going to explain just what those 'encounters' were all about!
Really not sure what to think about the story of Erika Eiffel, a woman who has had a relationship and 'married' the Eiffel Tower although I now understand they have split up and she's in a relationship with a crane!
Maybe I should have expected this from a gay male author, but there's not nearly enough information about women and I saw this as a weakness in the book.
You might imagine that a potted history of the social and religious precedents for ostracising those who were outside the sexual ‘norm’, the medicalisation of perceived deviant sexuality, a review of key psycho-sexual research findings and exposing the hypocrisy of the press-fuelled hysteria around extreme sexual deviants, despite contradictory scientific evidence, might be challenging topics through which to maintain a reader’s interest. Jesse Bering, however, achieves a cheeky. mischievous and playful narration with a smattering of exhibitionistic self-revelation. If you can retain a thoroughly open mind and would love to know the latin name for a paraphilia centred on gravel, look no further – you won’t regret it!
I absolutely LOVED this book. Jesse Bering dared to ask questions that most people consider "Asked and answered!". As Jonathan Haidt has demonstrated ad nauseam, humans tend to have more of a knee-jerk reaction to any moral ideology involving sex. It is one primary way we can signal to others that we are not deviant. Humans have long developed disgust responses to socially unacceptable sexual practices. The curious thing is that depending on where on the globe the humans live and also in what time period, the disgust response varies. Yet, humans believe that certain things are innately wrong. This belief culminates in statements such as, "It's just wrong!" I can recall many times in my own life where I had the feeling that something was just wrong because....... it just is! It was a visceral response, which I assumed was innate. However, I am probably incorrect about my own responses. In a style similar to Chris Ryan in Sex at Dawn, Bering builds a compelling case that such knee-jerk visceral responses are learned.
Like Haidt, Bering wants to override his knee-jerk reaction to really delve into sexuality in all its facets. In a Descartesesque manner, Bering doubts all he thinks he knows. Descartes said we cannot assume that anything is a priori, not even our existence. Bering strips away every assumption and asks about human sexuality, while letting go of all preconceived notions. For me, it reaches the Cartesian destruction of reality. Bering uses wonderful logic (what a great skeptic he is!) to deconstruct each assumption we hold. Unlike Descartes, when Bering builds his argument back up, he uses that same skepticism, logic, and empirical evidence (used in the most responsible way possible), to attempt to understand who we are as sexual beings.
Importantly, Bering goes fishing for minorities -- those who are attracted to children, to old people, to the Berlin wall, to feet, and so on -- in an attempt to understand if there isn't something different about the brains of people who are in a particular minority. Even if Bering fails to provide answers (he seemed to end up with more questions than answers), he asks extremely important questions.
One of the most interesting things in this book was the suggestion that being attracted to children might be a matter of "cross wiring." I had never thought about it in this way. As someone interested in neuroscience, criminology, policy, and treatment for offenders, this suggestion of cross wiring rocked my world. I hope this hypothesis will be well studied. If it pans out, maybe (for the first time) actual, effective treatments can be realized. The cross wiring argument is as follows:
- Normal wiring means, when an adult sees a child, they mount a paternal response.
- When a pedophile sees a child, the wiring does activate the paternal areas and hormones. Rather, it activates the sexual areas of brain, giving the adult an involuntary response of sexual attraction.
The latter internal response is very upsetting for some people, as they *want* to control it, but *can't*.
If we simply sit back and engage in armchair philosophy, how can we ever do anything but catch someone like that after the damage is done? The way we see pedophiles now only encourages them to hide what they feel. We won't even know about them until they have hurt a child. Sure, we can punish them after the fact, and maybe keep them from offending again (that's a big maybe), but can we do better? Not without allowing ourselves to stop judging long enough to try to understand the issues on a deeper level.
Despite my focus on pedophiles in this review, this book is far from simply being about pedophiles. It is about the sexual nature of every one of us. It is about the stuff we are encouraged to not talk about openly. Bering break through so many barriers, when talking about sexuality, which made this an amazing book.
At one point, early on, in addition to including his own personal thoughts and experiences, which I found myself not caring about, Bering discussed Trivers' parental investment hypothesis, and I thought I was going to end up hating the book. But he did such a great job limiting the discussion of Trivers hypothesis to disgust that, for the first time in decades, I liked what someone did with Trivers work.
This book was an excellent academic survey of what we know, and are trying to know, about human sexuality. Bering never gets caught up in so much of the elitist genetic or evolutionary arguments that end up doing more harm that good. This is a book that details the current progress in researching sexuality, in all its facets, and asks important questions we, as a society, need to try to answer in order to come to any type of consensus on what normal sexuality is. We need to answer these questions not only to inform policy (how do we punish sexual crimes; who do we let marry; etc), but also answer within our own selves to even begin to understand ourselves as human beings.
Writing I wasn't super impressed with the writing. On the one hand, the author does a great job of citing his sources, which makes me want to give him a standing ovation. Unfortunately, the quality of the writing just didn't meet those same standards. I thought it was disconnected and didn't flow very well. I would be hard pressed to give a topic sentence or even chapter summary.
Entertainment Value Call me close-minded, but I couldn't get past what seemed to be a large quantity of apologia for pedophilia. I felt like the author let his desire to banish any arguments against homosexuality (he is openly homosexual, as he reminds us continually) color his objectivity. In an attempt to make sure no one can claim homosexuality is deviant, he goes too far in excusing all sexual deviancies, including pedophilia. I just can't get behind that. It really turned me off to the book as a whole.
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.
This is an important book on a sensitive subject. I liked how Bering was knowledgable about all sides of the debates but also unrelenting in his search for rational and humane understanding of "deviants" which as he shows is not always an easy to define category when it comes to sex. I thought the writing was brilliant in this book and even bordering on literary in places. For a science writer he has an unusual rhetorical ability and is a master prose artist. Overall if you're not afraid to go into some dark places, a must read for human nature buffs. But don't be too put off by that anyway because he manages to keep the tone light and highly readable throughout. The humor is self-effacing, sharp and actually caught me off guard in a number of places!
It makes me depressed to see Scientific American published this book. The style was so sleazy—joking and smart-ass—plus the point of view was odd in a number of ways. 1. supposedly this was about the deviant in all of us, but he spent so much time talking about unusual deviancies, including some that are really disgusting, that most people would end the book thinking they aren't a deviant at all, 2. there’s no discussion about why we are so uptight about sex, 3. some of his examples of deviancy took my breath away—like having a threesome. Really? Under whose rules? There's no discussion of who made up the rules.
Our culture needs to have an adult discussion about our ridiculously Puritan attitudes toward sexuality, but this book will be of very little help in getting it started.
I think this review is probably for adults only, due to the nature of the book, so I'm giving it an R rating.
The overall premise of the book is that we shouldn't be so judgmental about other people's private sexual peccadilloes, give that they don't affect us directly. Who cares what consenting adults do in bed, as long as no one is being hurt? (Which isn't always true of consenting adults - the author uses the example of a man who wanted to be killed and eaten and found a cannibal fetish guy to do so - both consenting, but clearly murder is not legal).
I agree with the author that it's none of our business what other people get up to and also any of us might be deemed a pervert if our sexual lives were examined closely. However the author doesn't take into account the handful of people who insist on making their sexual fetishes public knowledge. I have noticed this especially with the S&M community because some of them do not consider what they do to be purely sexual, it extends to every aspect of their lives. And if you insist on leading your wife around on a leash or making your husband wait on you hand and foot at the cocktail party, other people will notice and disapprove, because those behaviours are well outside the realm of normal.
But let's say you are entirely private about your perverted sexual life. Sure, it'd be nice if society was less judgmental when such fetishes do emerge into the public sphere, usually without the consent of the person in question. But the examples the author uses are just terrible. Not many people would dare to stick up for pedophiles, although he does correctly point out that they aren't necessarily choosing to be attracted to children. It is a compulsion. As long as they don't actually harm children, they probably deserve sympathy and treatment rather than hatred and calls for punishment. You can't punish someone for a thought or sexual fantasy. However the author considers purchasing and view child pornography to be a victimless crime. That is ridiculously untrue. Child pornography is documentation of a crime that actually happened. Would he be so quick to defend postcards of lynchings of black people, which were not uncommon well into the 20th century? After all, postcards aren't lynchings. But they could not exist without the crime itself, and the lynchers profited by selling those postcards. The law recognizes that photographic evidence of a crime being committed can't legally be sold. That is profiting from crime. In the case of child porn, it's remarkably callous of the author to suggest that viewing child porn isn't actually hurting children. Without the lucrative market in child porn (which funds many other crimes, including terrorism), there would be far less child rape. If we only had to deal with the handful of criminally-minded pedophiles, not an international supermarket of child porn, it'd be much easier to stop the abuse of children.
The author is no more reasonable about zoophiles, practitioners of bestiality. He uses several flawed logical arguments, the first of which is that we butcher animals and do a lot worse to them than have sex with them. This is true, but you can't justify wrongdoing by pointing to other wrongdoing. It's like saying "too many bad things are done to animals, why bother stopping any of them? it's all too much!" That is a cop out. Or maybe he is saying it's unfair to punish zoophiles while we let butchers practice their trade? But people don't need to have sex with animals to survive. Eating meat is more or less essential. Sure you can get by without meat, but it's been a part of our diet for thousands of years and that is why we have domestic animals. Cows and chickens don't exist in the wild. They were domesticated to provide food. Hardly the same motivation for wanting to have sex with animals.
He also suggests that masturbating a horse is no worse than collecting semen from a stud by electroshocking the prostrate. That sounds quite painful but it's not all that common in the horse world. Very few horses are used for breeding purposes; most male horses are geldings. Even the ones that are used for breeding, it's far more common for breeding to happen in the usual way, or for semen to be collected via other means such as a dummy horse or cow sprayed with hormones. The electroshock method is used only a small number of high-priced successful racehorse studs. Probably less than are attacked by zoophiles every year. And once again, if electroshocking the prostrate is wrong, that doesn't make masturbating a horse right. It's not a mutually exclusive situation. Both acts can be wrong.
Finally, the author points out that we don't know whether or not animals actually enjoy sex with humans and maybe they would give consent if they can speak, after all, if a horse is masturbated to its natural conclusion, surely that means the horse enjoyed it? And with just a few sentences, the author completely eliminates the very notion that men can be raped. If a man has an erection, he should enjoy sex with whoever happens to come along, male or female, doesn't matter, he has an erection, therefore, he desires sex. It's like the author completely eliminates the notion of mechanical friction causing a sexual reaction even if it's not wanted. Likewise, female rape victims who experience orgasm must have enjoyed it, right? I mean, who doesn't like orgasms? Women who experience orgasm during rape also experience a great deal of guilt and shame, while men who have been raped typically don't even report it. Both see themselves as complicit because they apparently "enjoyed" it even though biologically, their bodies were simply on autopilot responding to mechanical friction.
This is the exact same reasoning criminal pedophiles use: "The kid enjoyed it. He wanted it. He had an erection, therefore, it was okay." It's not a particularly convincing argument. With this premise, a person who is mute or developmentally disabled can't express whether or not they want sex, so we should assume they want sex from random strangers? Animals can't speak, they cannot give consent, and it's horribly evil to think it's okay to rape animals because the possibility exists that they would consent if they could.
I stopped reading the book due to these logical flaws in reasoning. The author really should have taken a course in logic or debating to learn how to argue for his points. Even though he's just speculating, not actually pushing for legislation to make it legal to rape animals, it still comes across as ignorant speculation about why we're so uptight about animal rapists, pedophiles, and other sexual criminals who take sex by force from those who cannot give consent.
Is that really the group that the author is keen to defend? Rapists and child abusers? I think not, but unfortunately that's how it comes across.
هذا كتاب "تبصيري" لجزء مهم و مدهش في الجسد و النفس البشرية ... الممارسة الجنسية
يبدأ الكاتب بسرد مشهد عايشه في احدى باصات المدن السياحية الايطالية عندما رصد نظرات شهوانية على وجه رجل خمسيني تتجه لفتاة في الثانية عشر او الثالثة عشر على اقصى تقدير بدأ جسدها رحلته في النمو و التشكل لجسد امرأة .... من دون شك انه منظر يثير الغثيان
يفاجئنا الكاتب لاحقا انه ذو ميول جنسية مثلية ... و ان المجتمع الغربي الذي قد يكون اقل حدة في التعامل مع المثلية الآن في يوم من الايام كان يعتبر المثلية شيء يدعو للاشمئزاز و قضية يتم معالجتها بقتل أصحابها او علاجهم نفس��ا على أحسن تقدير ... ما الذي يجعل تصرف جنسي خطا او صحيح؟!
نبدأ في التعرف على أصل الكلمة (عنوان الكتاب) و كيف تتطورت من "خارج عن الدين" الى المعنى الحالي "خارج عن الممارسات المألوفة جنسيا" و كيف يشرح التغير في الاستخدام اللغوي التطور الديني و المجتمعي بالضروري لممارستنا الجنسية
يعرج الكتاب لاحقا عبر فصول متعددة في وصف معظم التصرفات الجنسية المختلفة (الشاذة) عبر التاريخ
يؤكد الكاتب في معظم اجزاء الكتاب ان نظرتنا الجنس لا يجب ان تكون حول اذا كانت الممارسة مشابهة لما ألفناه في حياتنا و معتقداتنا بقدر ما اذا كانت هذه الممارسة مضرة لاي من طرف من أطراف العلاقة
---------------------------------------------------------------- ملاحظات طريفة على هامش الكتاب:
- تم عرض مجموعة من الممارسات المختلفة عن المألوف على مجموعة من الرجال في احدى الدراسات، و بعد ان قاموا برفضها جميعا، طلب الباحثون منهم ان يحاولوا الاجابة على هذه المقترحات مرة أخرى في المنزل عندما يصلوا لمرحلة عالية من الانتصاب اثناء مشاهدتهم الأفلام الاباحية المفضلة لديهم .... المفاجأة ان الرجال موضوع التجربة قاموا بتغير آرائهم السابقة في كثير من الاقتراحات التي تضمنتها الدراسة
أفكارنا الجامدة تكون تحت اختبار حقيقي في هكذا حالات من الضعف (سطوة الرغبة الجنسية)
- تقوم القوانين في المجتمعات المنفتحة جنسيا على حماية الأطرف التي قد تقع في علاقة جنسية غير متكافئة مثل المرأة و الطفل و كبار السن و حتى الحيوانات
- هناك نادي يجتمع فيه رجال و نساء يضمهم حبهم لممارسة الجنس مع الأموات!!! هذا من دون شك فعل شائن من وجهة نظرنا.... لكن ما هي وجهة نظرنا اذا كتب احد المتوفين او المتوفيات من هذا النادي انه يوصي بان يتاح جسده لرفاقه من النادي للفعل الجنسي ؟! هل لازال يعتبر الأمر شائن اخلاقيا عوضا عن الجانب القانوني
- الرجال و النساء المتعددو العلاقات و الأشكال الجنسية كانوا دائما يتصفون بتفوق في المهارات و الأعمال التي تطلب قدرا من الخيال و الابداع و الفن .... ليوناردو ديفنشي كانت متعدد العلاقات الجنسية مع النساء ... و ايضا الرجال :)
I had high hopes for this book but was left a little disappointed.
Bering's writing style is great and I powered through the text. And there was a lot of interesting content.
But in the end I didn't come out feeling like there was a strong theme or message I could take from the work. For example, Bering speaks at length about how we shouldn't base our judgements of sexual preferences on whether they are 'natural' or not, we should just use a measure of 'harm'. In other words, a sexual practice can only be considered bad if it causes 'harm'. But then he spends most of the book talking about the science of sexuality, setting up the opposing narrative (i.e. that paraphilias are 'natural') for the book. While the science is there he fails in his own moral claims.
Secondly, I found Bering's humour a little off-putting. Throughout the book Bering tries to be quite funny but occasionally it just comes off as insensitive. Instead of being funny he ends up insulting people with paraphilias, which is exactly the opposite of what he wants to do.
The biggest problem I had though was that this book rambled too much. I didn't get a sense of where we were going to only find that I'd gotten to the end without even realising we'd been on a journey. I wish he put more structure to it and laid out some of the chapters better. And on top of that I wish he covered topics that weren't in there -- the BDSM community in particular, which was basically left out.
Interesting at times but unfortunately a bit of a let down.
Pretty interesting stuff. The cited research demonstrating that humans are essentially born with not only a sexual preference (male, female, both, or neither) as well as an internal sexual identity was basically reinforcing information I was already aware of. However it's also been demonstrated that the age range of who a person is sexually attracted to is innate in our genetics; moreover, the person or objects that others are sexually attracted to is also imprinted in genes and stamped into our behavior early in life. So overall there was some really fascinating information about human sexuality but ultimately the book circled around pedophilia and lots of homosexual issues which sort of lost me. Not sure what I expected (was reading it for a book group) but I definitely expected something slightly different.
This book is more of a history of what is/ was considered sexual deviation. I enjoyed learning about some of information which I was not already aware of. I recognized more of the fairly recent history. However, it got a bit preaching on acceptance. I also disagree with some of what Mr. Berling claims. For example, he claims someone is harmless that views child porn, but does not physically/ sexually harm a child themselves. Someone is harming the child in the child porn. To purchase the child porn is to support harm to a child. Plus. he seems unaware that having sex with someone that can't say no during sex, either asleep or dead, than that is rape, which is harmful. He also didn't even out the various deviant topics, choosing to focus more on certain areas than others. For example, continually going back to homosexuallity.
This book doesn't really cover anything new. Too much of a focus on paedophiles. Poorly organized. The author almost completely ignores women despite the title saying the book is about the perv in us all. Bonk by Mary Roach is a much better book on this subject.