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It is often thought of as behaviour indulged by a fringe of society, but it appears sexual deviants may be more common than previously thought.
A study has revealed sexual perversions, also known as paraphilia, are surprisingly widespread – occurring in nearly half of a population.
Psychologists found in a survey of more than 1,000 people from Quebec in Canada, nearly 50 per cent expressed interest in activities such as fetishism, frotteurism, masochism or voyeurism.
The researchers said they were surprised to find that of the eight types of paraphilic behaviour recognised by psychologists, four of them appeared to be remarkably common.
Voyeurism was reported by 35 per cent of men and women while fetishism was reported by a fifth of those questioned.
Masochism was enjoyed by 19 per cent and frotteurism – where sexual pleasure is derived from rubbing the groin against another person without permission – was ranked among the desires or experiences of 26 per cent.
Professor Christian Joyal, a psychologist at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres who led the study, said: ‘Some paraphilic interests are more common than people might think, not only in terms of fantasies but also in terms of desire and behaviour.
‘The main goal of the study was to determine normal sexual desires and experiences in a representative sample of the general population.
‘These facts suggest that we need to know what normal sexual practices are before we label a legal sexual interest as anomalous.’
Professor Joyal and his team conducted telephone interviews with 1,040 people from Quebec about their sex lives.
Of those questions, 46 per cent said they were interested in at least one type of sexual behaviour that is considered anomalous
They found there was a strong relationship between an interest in sexual submission and an interest in other sexual activities.
This suggests the desire to engage in masochism is significantly associated diverse sexual interests.
‘In general, it is true that men are more interested in paraphilic behaviors than women,’ explained Professor Joyal.
‘However, this doesn’t mean that women don’t have these interests at all.
‘In fact, women who report an interest in sexual submission have more varied sexual interests and report greater satisfaction with their sex lives.
‘Sexual submission is therefore not an abnormal interest.’
Although the study, which is published in The Journal of Sex Research, was only conducted in Quebec, Professor Joyal said the findings could also apply to wider populations in North America and Europe.
The researchers argue their findings also indicate clearer distinctions need to be made between normal and abnormal sexual behaviour.
They argued that many paraphilic behaviours seem to be quite common and so should be considered normal, but in some people they can become extreme, turning into disorders.
However, Professor Joyal added: ‘A paraphilic disorder refers to sexual acts that involve non-consenting partners or that cause suffering or confusion in the person who engages in the behaviour.
‘The paraphilia may be absolutely necessary in order for the person to achieve sexual satisfaction.
‘A paraphilia is not a mental disorder but rather a sexual preference for non-normophilic behavior, whereas paraphilic behaviour is non-preferential and only engaged in from time to time.
‘At the same time, this study strongly suggests that some legal paraphilic behaviors are far from abnormal.’