Sexual Perversion : Understanding from Psychoanalytic Perspective
Member of Fédération Européenne de Psychanalyse et Ecole Psychanalytique de Strasbourg (FEDEPSY), France.
All most every day reports of rape, sexual assault, manipulation, aggression, molestation, eve teasing onto both children and adults are publishing in print medias. Rape is very common phenomenon here. Gang rape isn’t also infrequent in our cultural context. Though, even reading those news bring us dreadful feelings, but certainly the predators get gratification in the course of their activities. Generally we refer these unusual, unexpected sexual acts as sexual perversion.
The nature of sexual perversion is an important issue for its moral perspective in society as well as its relevance with psychopathology. In analyzing sexual perversion, we need to understand both ‘perversion’ and ‘sexuality’. That is, what creates a sexual desire or urge to commit such act to begin with.
As a female, in our socio-cultural context, experiencing various forms of sexual harassment, aggression, molestation, violence all are too common; by strangers or known faces, outside or inside of one’s own home. It is as common that as a female it’s rare to escape from any kind of direct or indirect bitterness of it; as common that we have started to believe, experiencing those bitterness is part of female fate; as common that we all become used to with it!
Since my adolescence I have been haunted by some questions: how much pleasure do they get from such kind of deviant sexual acts? Why do they choose to victimize other to attain sexual gratification? Do they have any consciousness about the impact of their acts on their victim’s life? Or do they feel sorry or guilty for their sexual crimes anyway?
Answers to these questions are clearly addressed in psychoanalysis, specifically in the works of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan – both who still retain a high degree of influence in contemporary psychoanalysis.
We need to address sexual perversion as a psychic structure rather than as deviant behavior. According to psychoanalytic frame of reference, human psychic structure broadly falls into three categories: psychosis, neurosis and perversion, from normal range to severely pathological. All human beings don’t hold pervert psychic structure, some do. All psychic structures aren’t capable to commit all form of crimes. Conscience, or in psychoanalytic terminology super ego wouldn’t permit most of us to do so, our moral sense guard us.
Aggression, violence, and desire to dominate others are very natural human instincts. But, in such cases of transgression of limits or boundaries, it’s more than natural instinct. It’s a form of perversion, and of course pathological, not sexual. It requires particular psychic structure.
Some questions that need to be addressed are: what does it mean to be a pervert? What is happening within that particular psychic structure? What are the reasons behind those pervasive acts?
In general sense, perversion is unusual, unwanted sexual acts or practices. Pervert acts or activities include sadism, masochism, voyeurism, exhibitionism, rape, pedophilia, necrophilia, incest, sexual violence, sexual manipulation etc. Why particular individuals are involved with particular types of pervert activities, that is another complicated matter to understand. However, whatever the form of perversion is, there are some common characteristics in all cases, one of which is transgression.
Perversion is somehow related with sexuality, always. Sex in these instances isn’t sexual, it’s pathological. Sexual perversion is nothing about sexuality, it’s a sort of game play with power structure. Sexuality is merely a means to control, possess or humiliate someone to an extreme level, and to take away their dignity and respect. Common feature in perversion is always disobedience of social norms, rules, values, laws etc. During whole set of practices, the perpetrator’s efforts are aimed at inflicting physical or psychological power onto their victims, to objectify a subject. Through manipulation, physical or mental aggression, they get full enjoyment of forbidden access. At the moment of exercising fun, pain, violence or violation, they achieve Jouissance. (The term Jouissance used by Jacques Lacan refers a state of extreme pleasure, the moment of attainment of an orgasm.)
Going through the functioning of any psychic structure is a complicated task. However, I am trying to illustrate what is going on in pervert psychic structure in a simplest way possible.
Basically, pervert personality structures are developed throughout the experiences of childhood. Family, precisely mother figures play a significant role behind the formation of pervert structure. Major complexity of their psychic structure is castration anxiety. To adapt with that anxiety, they use some defense mechanisms. Their life revolves around that complexity and their response towards that emasculated feeling is mainly denial. The state of denial is an innermost driving force for perverts. Relationship to law is distorted by denial of castration. Perverts are haunted by castrated feeling or in search for their missing objects, the phallus. In the course of their searching for missing object, they reset symbolic order of their own in place of social order. Thus, they adapt with their pathological state of anxiety. They never feel that they are sick and that’s why they refuse to change.
Beside family influences, social and political forces are also important to enable pervert psychic structure to be nourished. Some cultures are in favor for perverts. That’s why, frequency of pervasive acts are high in some culture rather than other culture. Michel Foucault in his book ‘Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth’* nicely sketches out the form of pleasure behind transgressive acts. He is saying, ‘either the rules are transgressed, or there is an agreement, either explicit or tacit, that makes them aware of certain boundaries. This strategic game as a source of bodily pleasure is very interesting … It is an acting-out of power structures by a strategic game this is able to give sexual pleasure or bodily pleasure’.
(* Cited by Frances L. Restuccia in ‘The Use of Perversion: Secretary or The Piano Teacher?’ Available at http://www.lacan.com/usepervf.htm)
Perverts always deny, ignore or disrespect social orders, and execute their own rules onto their victims. Alternative ways, out of social order to get pleasure allow them to feel empowered whenever they succeed. Perverts are driven by their own laws of desire, and attain pleasure during the moment of victimization, humiliation. Violation is the main source of their jouissance, not the sexual contact or orgasm itself. For them, the other is just as an object for their sexual gratification. Throughout transgression, they steal innocence, freedom, dignity, respect of their victims without having any regret, pity, or shame. Even they don’t have any suffering or guilty feeling which comes out from conscience, they don’t have it. They are not capable of feel guilty, alike color blinds aren’t capable of seeing particular colors. Therefore, we ought to handle perversion in social, political and legal framework, in order to block the way to attain pleasure out of social order.
Currently post-Lacanian theorists, particularly Slavoj Žižek and his followers are engaged in exploring the applicability of psychoanalytic conceptions to the analysis of political situations, conditions and dynamics. Though little work has been done on the relationship of socio-political structure and perversion, but very relevant to our cultural context. In Perversion and the Social Relation (edited by Molly Anne Rothenberg, Dennis Foster, and Slavoj Zizek), Molly Anne Rothenberg and Dennis Foster in their article ‘Beneath the Skin: Perversion and Social Analysis’ have written, ‘In political action, the symbolic space becomes a field in which, under an Imaginary vision, the defenses and jouissance of individual psyches can be activated.’ It’s clear that, if social or political space let them feel that they are successful and empowered, perversion will be reinforced.
All forms of pervert acts are crime against humanity. One pervert is enough to destroy many lives, create suffering, poison society. That’s why perversion is something embedded with moral and ethical stance. That’s why social, political and legal arrangement are important components to handle perversion.
In article 5 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by United Nations states that, ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ In case of its violation, it should be dealt with judicial and legal frame work.
As Bangladesh’s government has been ratified and signed this declaration, it is moral obligation to take attempt against those heinous acts, as early as possible.