Friends of the Forensic Science Club, this week we present the paper “The impact of childhood trauma, personality and sexuality on the development of paraphilias”, by Longpré, N.; Galiano, C. B. and Guay, J. P. (2022), in which authors carry out a study to investigate which elements related to sexuality, personality and trauma are the most influential regarding the development of paraphilias.

The World Health Organization defines paraphilic disorders as a series of patterns of atypical sexuality that relate to sexual thoughts, fantasies or behaviors involving others whose age or condition makes them unable of giving real consent, or sexual behaviors that, in general, cause distress and anxiety.

Although there are several definitions of paraphilic disorders, it is true that there is a basic categorization of sexual interests: the normal or common ones would be the normaphilic behavior and, at the opposite extreme, we would have the paraphilic conducts.

One of the most important conflicts is the conceptual definition of paraphilic disorder. There are people who feel sexual arousal in an atypical way, but this does not necessarily imply that they suffer from a mental disorder. For this reason, the DSM-5 has clarified that there is a distinction between paraphilia (atypical sexual behavior) and paraphilic disorder. The latter can be defined as a mental disorder resulting from atypical sexual behaviors that lasts longer than 6 months and is causing distress to the sufferer, causing injury or even death, or involving people who are unwilling or unable to give legal consent.

While research has been conducted on human sexuality and paraphilias, there is still limited scientific understanding of paraphilic and normophilic behaviors. Furthermore, most research focuses on paraphilic disorders and leaves paraphilia, which is not considered a disorder, behind.

The present article aimed to study the normological network of paraphilia and explored possible developmental factors that increase the likelihood of developing atypical sexual interest or behavior, focusing on childhood victimization, hypersexuality, problematic pornography use, and personality traits.

The first thing to note again is, having atypical sexual preferences does not mean that someone has a disorder. A 2004 study found that more than 60% of male college students had fantasies related to sadism; females, to submission.

In recent decades, new studies have investigated the prevalence of paraphilic desires and behaviors among the general population. For example, voyeurism has been found to be the most common paraphilic fantasy and behavior, followed by fetishism, exhibitionism and masochism. So what exactly is considered normal and abnormal sexual behavior?

On the other hand, it is very important to understand the dynamics of a person’s psychosocial history because it may be closely related to the development of his or her sexual desires.

For example, the impact of neglect and physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse has sometimes been considered a relevant factor. However, research on this is scarce.

Emotional abuse was found to be a risk factor for exhibitionistic, pedophilic and sadistic behaviors. In addition, paraphilic disorder was associated with child physical abuse, sexual abuse and psychological abuse, especially by the male caregiver.

The study aimed to fill in some gaps in the understanding of paraphilias by using a sample of 372 adult participants. The subjects answered a series of questions in the form of a survey, which was distributed through social networks.

The results showed that most of the paraphilic interests investigated were neither rare nor unusual in a non-clinical sample of adults. This is aligned with previous studies that revealed that paraphilic interests are more common than they first appear.

On the other hand, the relationship between childhood trauma, personality traits, and the development of paraphilias is supported by some investigations, although they are not many. Authors’ results revealed a relationship between childhood trauma and the development of certain personality traits, such as, for example, antisocial disorder. However, the relationship between personality traits and paraphilia was weaker, and paraphilia is often mediated by hypersexuality and problematic pornography use.

Authors suggest that more research is needed to understand the causes of unusual sexual fantasies, arousal, and practices. To develop effective prevention and treatment strategies, it is important to understand what individual factors are involved, especially if we are talking about risky behaviors.

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