Fear of Sex and Its Explanation
Professor Timo Airaksinen
This article explains why people are so afraid of sex they do not want or practice. I identify and use seven intuitive psychological principles to explain this fear. These constitute my foundational premises. Pejorative sexual terms are warning signs, but perversion, deviant sex, sexual inversion, and unnatural sexual acts have fallen under criticism. Less judgmental terms like paraphilia and paraphilic disorder replace them in ICD and DSM. Yet, the use of toxic terms is ironically symptomatic when we describe a paradigmatically desirable activity, sex, a significant source of euphoria. The line between supposedly "normal" and "natural" vanilla sex and other varieties of sexual activity is strangely artificial. The latter are precarious in an external sense because they cause fear, dysphoria, and anxiety in their non-intended audiences. I present a detailed argument about how this happens. Sexuality is a powerful motive. But other people's sexuality may feel threatening: we sometimes encounter strange desires that we do not have and are painful to imagine. Sometimes they are intolerable. We do not want to experience them, and yet they are there. We face a psychological state of cognitive dissonance and an existential threat to our sexual identity. We encounter a risk that we may not know how to handle. Perversion or paraphilia creates dysphoria and threatens our ever-so-fragile sense of normality. All this fear isn't easy to tolerate. Paraphilias may also create internal dysphoria: people are unhappy with themselves.
Keywords: deviant sex, fear of sex, imagination, arousal de se, irony, vanilla sex, pornography, sex work, BDSM, ICD, DSM
Introduction: The Problem and Its Import
We control and subdue sexual desires in various ways; this applies to all cultures. We may speak of the fear of sex, and more specifically, horror of deviant sex variously called unnatural and perverted, or paraphilic sex and sexual inversion.1 However, such terms are problematic, and for instance, Alan Soble (1996, p. 146) dismisses the whole issue in a somewhat sarcastic and exaggerated manner. Yet, he may be right. "[E]valuating sexual behavior by a criterion of 'healthy sex' is obsolete, superseded by a reverse definition of health in terms of sex. [...] Having sex is healthy, not having is not, and 'healthy sexuality' is as redundant as 'round circle'." Soble does not mention paraphilic sex at all, which is an unconventional but commendable choice. Instead, he calls voluntary celibacy and other forms of sexual abstinence unhealthy social and psychological practices.2 Another possible liberal strategy concludes that the concept of perversion is best discarded.3 This strategy does not help much because perversions and the related notions die hard, as Janet Weston writes: "Within forensic medicine, the language of 'perversion' largely fell away, but 'paraphilia' took its place. Feminists and gay rights movements from the 1970s began to formulate articulate critiques of this form of abnormality, but it has proved remarkably difficult to dislodge" (Weston 2020, p. 57). Weston is correct, but why is it so difficult to discard? What is the underlying reason for this? I try to answer.
The classifications in various editions of ICD and DSM may have a genuine medical basis. Somehow homosexuality vanished from ICD and DSM, but other forms of sex remain (see Appendix). According to Jerome C. Wakefield,
Currently, the specific DSM paraphilia categories prominently include pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, sadism, masochism, frotteurism (rubbing against strangers), fetishism, and transvestic fetishism. Many other paraphilias, from asphyxiaphilia to zoophilia, can be diagnosed within a "wastebasket" category of "paraphilia not otherwise specified" (paraphilia NOS) that encompasses any condition judged by the clinician to be a paraphilia that does not fall under any of the specific categories provided by the DSM (Wakefield 2011, p. 195).4
A dictionary definition of paraphilia (Merrian-Webster) follows: "[A] pattern of recurring sexually arousing mental imagery or behavior that involves unusual and especially socially unacceptable sexual practices (such as sadism or and pedophilia)." Here is a sketch of the definition of paraphilia in popular media: "A paraphilia is a condition in which a person's sexual arousal and gratification depend on fantasizing about and engaging in sexual behavior that is atypical and extreme. [...] The focus of a paraphilia is usually very specific and unchanging." (Psychology Today, 2019). Michelle A. McManus et al. write in their rather reproving paper as follows. "Paraphilias: definition, diagnosis, and treatment" (2013): "The malleability of sexual pleasure across time and cultures creates problems for those defining and diagnosing paraphilia and the efficacy of treatment of paraphilias synonymous with sexual offending is inconclusive." Paraphilias are socially unacceptable, atypical and extreme, and offending forms of sexuality. Perhaps we want to say that paraphilias are socially rejected forms of sexual behavior. I want to ask why they represent inappropriate sexuality to their non-intended audiences.
As Alan Soble says, non-intended audiences of sexual behavior condemn what is already condemned and praise what is already accepted. Why not first define procreation-style vanilla sex as normal sex and then call everything else deviant? The less it resembles vanilla sex, the more deviant it is - perhaps adding moralistic conditions requiring full mutual respect, cooperative pleasure-seeking, and possibly lasting love. Alas, such moralistic conditions are easily satisfied by, say, BDSM.5 But all this is too well-known to deserve discussion here. The definitions of paraphilia are unconvincing, but yet they seem to be essential; why?
Homosexuality still is a severe offense and a source of great worry in many countries. Even in Europe, for instance, Christian Poland condemns it. BBC reports,
In Poland, dozens of small towns have declared themselves free of "LGBT ideology." Politicians' hostility to gay rights has become a flashpoint, pitting the religious right against more liberal-minded Poles. And gay people living in these areas are faced with a choice: emigrate, keep their heads down - or fight back. / Then he [a Magazine Editor] passes me a sticker that came free with his magazine, the right-wing weekly Gazeta Polska. It shows a rainbow flag with a black cross through it. "We gave out 70,000 of these," says Sakiewicz. "And people congratulated us because we Poles love freedom."
How naïve it is to suggest that the local gays could somehow fight back in a small town where people "love freedom." What can they do when the attitudes towards them grow aggressive? The point I want to make is this. The so-called sexual deviancy is still, independently of ICD and DSM, a cultural, social, and moral problem worldwide, and the gains made by the LGBT and BDSM people are wafer-thin on the global scale. Why are they such a threat? Deviant sex entails negative connotations; instead, we may speak of socially unaccepted sex or u-sex for short. "Unaccepted," unlike "unacceptable," refers to social facts without being condemnatory: facts do not entail values. However, we struggle to coin a neutral term, as we notice when reading comments on CD and DSM.6
The Rejection of U-sex: The Key Principles
Suppose that all people love freedom and, therefore, we ask why so many barriers and constraints exist? Is it not better to live without them, each person in their preferred manner? I introduce a set of principles that apply to the commonly perceived problem of u-sex; but first, a governing background prima facie rule in the liberal spirit:
(P1) If an agent understands what she is doing when her sexual behavior hurts or harms the partner or (inclusive "or" here) violates their fundamental rights, it is a crime; if it hurts the agent herself and brings about significant suffering, it is a medical condition. If the person cannot understand what she is doing, she is mentally challenged and needs psychiatric help. In the first case, the state and society punish. In the second and third cases, they provide medical assistance.7
(P1) applies to any form of sex, including the desire for and practice of vanilla sex, because it can cause severe mental conflicts and much anxiety and lead to personal and social suppression of sexuality, for instance, for religious reasons. Notice that one may struggle with vanilla desires that cause severe dysphoria. Nevertheless, humans are genetically sexual beings: we are vulnerable to sexual desires and their consequences. Many people have found, and still find, vanilla sex a profoundly anxious and dysphoric desire that drives them into abstinence. The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally eulogized such a tendency. All sex acts are sinful per se, and hence we conceive in sin; like the Psalmist says: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5).
The following principles describe and explain the nature and import of sexually channeled dysphoria and anxiety among the non-intended audiences of u-sex: (P2) The Hyperbolic Principle focuses on exaggeration at practical and narrative levels of u-sex. (P3) The Imaginary Principle: imagination has limits beyond which mental narratives become painful or impossible to bear. (P4) The Principle of de se Reading of U-sexual Thought refers to the tendency to apply sexual descriptions personally. (P5) The Principle of Motivation: any sexual description or image is motivating and arousing per se. (P6) According to the Principle of Safety, when a person identifies a desire as u-sexual, she finds it risky and tries to protect herself. Therefore, she condemns and sanctions it.
The final principle is (P7), the Exclusionary Principle; alternatively, we may call it an Ironic Principle: If a person does not recognize a given sexual desire, she will reject it; in other words, indifference is psychologically impossible. The rejection tends to be solid and emotional: it is disgusting to think of and imagine a sexual desire one does not have and the details of the corresponding sexual practice. This principle also applies, say, to pornography and sex work. We may accept a strange sexual image only if we successfully fight against fear and nausea, as liberals are supposed to be able to do, cf. (P6). We should try, but success is limited. We still see (P7) at work wherever sexual "deviants" figure as discussed and described and consequently stigmatized. Accordingly, the nauseous fear felt by the non-intended audiences of the sexual desire they do not have (P7) is the core principle that draws a line between sex and u-sex.8 These principles explain how u-sexual thoughts and images create dysphoria - they bring about a variety of negative emotions connected to risk, fear, nausea, anxiety, and finally, aggression. The long history of violent repression of u-sex is disturbing.9
The High Road to Dysphoria
Next, I define, explain, clarify, and apply the principles I listed above. We can start from (P2), or the hyperbolic principle. Hyperbole means exaggeration and overstatement, including strange and extravagant embellishments - its quantitative and qualitative aspects. The terms grotesque and bizarre describe the applications of (P2).10 In other words, if you combine overstatement and its embellishments, you arrive at the categories of the grotesque and bizarre. You find something that contains mutually incompatible attributes in excess or satisfies the paradigmatic qualifications of weirdness. We celebrate the grotesqueness of u-sex in media narratives, professional accounts, religiously inspired lore, folk tales, court cases, and today's ubiquitous pornography. Hence, gays are a nationwide cultural threat, pedophiles kill babies, pornography makes rapists, BDSM people are criminal sadists and sick masochists, and voluntary prostitution is slavery. It is a dirty world that is worth celebrating.
The lexical antinomy of hyperbole is meiosis, or understatement, underestimation, and, ultimately, irony and sarcasm - when you call what is great and impressive (hyperbole) small and insignificant (meiosis).11 The endpoint of meiosis is null and void, or nothingness, but it is intrinsically ironic to call something void when it is not void or to deny the obvious. Of course, we can use hyperbole ironically, too. Still, its usual endpoint is grotesqueness without irony that is undoubtedly impressive but in a peculiar manner, like a drag queen whose role indeed is an iconic and ironic radical cultural statement. A drag-queen in action is a paradigm of hyperbole, just like a transvestite prostitute. I assume that hyperbole applies to sex instead of meiosis that should apply, as our social mores dictate. Some negative attitudes towards sex depend on this incongruity. Especially u-sex should stay a public secret because of its overly suggestive hyperbolic nature. This tension between de facto hyperbole and de jure meiosis looks irresolvable. How to diminish something that is essentially ostentatious? We should not see it, yet it stays visible. Pornography is a good example. Also, in the American popular culture, a female nipple.
Now, (P2), the principle of hyperbole applies to u-sex. Its image grows in social imagination until it rears its ugly head. For instance, as they believe today in Russia and Poland, gays will take over and ruin their sacred traditional national culture. Gays become the bringers of doom and destruction. They are ever so seductive and treacherous, seeking nothing else but spreading their perilous poison among the young Christian patriots. Or, to take a historical example, those guilty of bestiality should be, according to contemporary criminal law, burned at stake, yet bestiality was common among the sex-starved European peasants. In 1734 bestiality was a capital offense in Finland. 1971 Finland legalized it. Or think of the bizarre child masturbation hysteria in Europe at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.12 Why does the meiotic principle fail? Why cannot we just punish, say, pedophiles and then provide them with the necessary therapy? Instead, we demonize them and brand them perverts. For example, in some communities in the USA, pedophiles must live in specified isolated areas and display a sign that announces that a child molester lives here.13
The principle of imagination (P3) says that a person is unwilling, or even unable, to imagine every epistemically available possible world in detail due to typical psychological resistance caused by emerging dysphoria. Some fictional worlds are too grotesque to be called in and imagined in any definite and continuous narrative detail; instead, one can glimpse at them or visit them superficially in thought and speech.14 In other words, one can mention but not assert them in any narrative detail in mental discourse. One may go to great lengths when trying to avoid contact with such imagery, which is all too obvious a point to warrant more examples. If such nasty imagery is compulsive, one may need psychiatric therapy to handle the ensuing panic. Of course, a mentally healthy person may learn how to cope; but one should not imagine truly revolting u-sex developing its details in a narrative form, adding features and background until it all becomes unbearable. Significant personal differences exist. Obviously, (3) dictates meiosis: it leads to the idea that u-sex should be banned and, in this sense, diminished and minimized. We return to this when we discuss what I call magical safety measures against u-sex.
Pornography informs and stimulates the imagination. This fear is then generalized and rationalized in functionalist terms asking what harm porn produces psychologically and socially.15 Researchers postulate addiction to porn, making the worries more understandable: addiction destroys persons by causing severe dysphoria. Also, a gate theory is popular: porn leads to sexual crime.16 All this produces and reinforces the fear of porn. Why do so many individuals hate porn? Or perhaps the key question is, why do so many people still watch porn even it is so widely condemned?17 Consumers enjoy their favorite porn, regardless of how stigmatizing this may be. Yet, they may find other types of porn offensive and difficult to imagine in detail.
Pornography is an externalized form of sexual imagination or reification of lust. Yet, it involves real action, both vanilla and u-sex. But some people emotionally resist imagining detailed sexual scenes and narratives, perhaps any type of sex, including its vanilla variety, even sex they find personally desirable. In the case of vanilla sex porn, the resisters - perhaps - shun away from a u-sexual voyeuristic experience. Of course, we may not call people who enjoy fictional u-sex perverts, but such consumption patterns look like fringe cases of normality. Some consumers may not have anything against vanilla sex shows as such, except that they condemn voyeurism - which indeed is u-sexual behavior. Porn sells voyeurism, but that will change once virtual sex apparatuses allow personal participation in sex acts without real-life visibility and accountability.18
Ironically, we may not condemn appetite for violent imagery or imaginary cultivation of grossly violent acts and events per se; we blame it only when it transforms via arousal into a u-sexual problem. The person who seeks and enjoys bizarre imaginary violence, violating (P3), is a sadist, a u-sexual disposition. Rape fantasies are u-sexual motives, but the enjoyment of torture narratives initially may look like a non-sexual pleasure that tends to turn into a u-sexual experience.19 Such a metamorphosis is an ironic instance of the meiotic principle applied to bizarre violence as a social and psychological problem: violent images diminish until they reappear as perversions, or sadism, which entails the applicability of (P2). The original violence gives room for subsequent sexual hyperbole, which leads to accusations of grotesque u-sex. Indeed, this process entails a meiotic metamorphosis that fades until it becomes u-sex in its newly acquired, grotesquely exaggerated guise - under the hyperbolic principle (P2).
We transform what we think we can handle psychologically, say violence, into something we cannot, or sadistic u-sex - which counts as a puzzle and a motive for ironic redescription. We do not want to give the different types of violent motives any fancy pseudo-scientific names; instead, we turn the fascination of excessive violence into an illicit sexual problem. If violence is arousing, it must be sexual - and its condemnation depends on this.
(P4), or the principle of de se application of sexual desire, is next. The meaning of de se thought is as follows:
[A]mong singular thoughts in general, thoughts about oneself "as oneself" (de se thoughts, as [David] Lewis called them) raise special issues, and they advanced rival accounts. [John] Perry [. . .] introduces his case with a celebrated example: "I once followed a trail of sugar on a supermarket floor, pushing my cart down the aisle on one side of a tall counter and back the aisle on the other, seeking the shopper with the torn sack to tell him he was making a mess. With each trip around the counter, the trail became thicker. But I seemed unable to catch up. Finally it dawned on me. I was the shopper I was trying to catch." Before his epiphany, Perry has a belief [de re] about [someone, actually] himself (under the individuating concept or mode of presentation the shopper with the torn sack) to the effect that he was making a mess. This, however, is insufficient for him to have the reflexive, self-conscious belief that he would express in accepting "I am making a mess," the one that leads him to rearrange the torn sack in the cart (García-Carpintero 2015) (my italics).
How does this concept apply to u-sex? What about the principle of imagination (P3)? Suppose one imagines a personally nauseating u-sex act. But then one refuses to develop it de se, or to think of oneself involved in it; or one might have a problem with imagining oneself in situ watching and witnessing it knowing what it is - that is, if one is "straight." Suppose a heterosexual person enters a gay bar and witnesses men kissing and caressing each other. He has the thought, "They are gay." Then he realizes that "they" may entail "I," but this overwhelms him when he reaches the idea of completed unprotected male fellatio. In this case, the person may reasonably anticipate the danger or loss of control that allows u-sexual desire to grow and invade his reluctant imagination, like (P2) predicts. De se entails the thought of personal involvement, or I understand the linguistic description to refer to me, too. I am a potential participant. This de se aspect is a key to understanding the dysphoria that follows from (P2) and (P3): suppose I fail to cancel the de se imagined participation that alarmingly tends to intensify until it is an intolerable hyperbole. I lose control of my meiotic method.
To illustrate: When a straight person faces zoophilic narratives, he imagines a bestial act, and he notices that he imagines, de se, himself copulating with an animal, which is unbearable. To perceive is to imagine, and in sexual cases, one tends to imagine de se because sexual thoughts are, as I will argue, intrinsically motivating and arousing.
According to the principle of motivation (P5), all sexual thoughts, perceptions, or mental images are motivating and arousing per se. If you look at a copulating zoophilic pair, a man and his calf, you first check the details and imagine the rest of the act. Still, you tend to adopt a de se thought that entails your knowing participation or active presence in the situation. Such arousal follows from the perception, and the relevant de se attitude follows. We must understand this correctly: all sex entails arousal, which is what sex is all about. The rule is no sex without arousal. Arousal may be denied or blocked, but one can still feel its effects, making u-sex alarming.20 Of course, one can imagine prima facie sexual contents as non-sexual, which entails no arousal. However, what is sexual tends to remain sexual.
Here is a question: why cannot a "normal," straight, and perhaps prudish person avoid the de se thoughts? Sexuality is arousing in a typical motivational manner; hence, thoughts of u-sex are sexual in this sense. Think of a consensual S/M show where submissive slaves are whipped, cut with blades, and burned. They claim they enjoy the pain.21 Why is this skene sexual? No genital play, copulation, orgasm, or semen, yet we assume pleasure is sexual. An S/M act may have no sexual content in a conventional sense. Therefore, I suggest that S/M is sexual because of the typically arousing effect of the show, as I explained above. Why is a woman's high-heeled shoe a sexualized object?
Therefore, u-sexual thoughts are de se, personally arousing, however anxious, forbidden, and hidden they may be. And the principle of hyperbole (P2) guarantees that they grow scary. Anxiety as such does not matter much, as examples of vanilla sex and straight people show. They also tend to be anxious, but they still copulate energetically and enjoy orgasms. One cannot deny that vanilla sex can be wild and even bizarre when a veteran couple is fully motivated. "Normal" copulation exhibits all kinds of weird, u-sex like behavior and desires. All this, of course, applies a fortiori to active u-sex practitioners and their intended audiences. Some of them suffer from deep guilt feelings, but, as I said, vanilla sex practitioners may feel the same. They miss the available euphoria.
What You Do Not Desire is a Personal Risk
We can formulate (P7) as follows: you do not want u-sex because you find it aversive, disgusting, anxious, and scary. Therefore, you hate sex you do not want. Other people's desires create a personal risk for you. Why do you find them aversive etc.? People experience considerable anxiety when they think of sex work and, thus, they insist on banning it. They say they want to protect sex workers, but a fortiori they protect themselves, too (P6).22 A vulnerable young woman and a lecherous middle-aged man look like a grotesque and offensive pair. Their non-intended audiences may report lurid thoughts and feelings to support their negative opinions and pleas for banishment. Yet, sex with a sex worker can be satisfying if one accepts it or has no other way of getting sex. If one does not want such sex, one typically hates it.
The sexual desire that I do not have can bring about dysphoria and spark a set of penal attitudes. Consequently, we use such special terms as "perversion" and its pejorative relatives. Ironically, I am afraid of what I do not have, and yet I am at a loss about what to do about my feelings. I do not have the desire but its idea, as an occurring sexual thought, somehow motivates me, which is disturbing. I do not want sex, I find it repulsive, yet the thought of it motivates me (P4, P5). The result is cognitive dissonance.
I discussed such emerging irony by referring to de se thoughts (P4). Suppose Chuck, a chaste straight person, makes a wrong turn at the door and finds out he is wandering around in an adult store specializing in fetishism, bondage, humiliation, and S/M. He faces a collection of gas masks, rubber suits, toilet equipment, and torture instruments, many of them with a robust scatological touch. These trigger Chuck's imagination and horrify him. He rushes to the door, but it is locked and he panics. Later, Chuck sues the shop owner because the door was difficult to open and did not have a warning sign. He had an S/M experience, free of charge, but he could not appreciate and enjoy it. What happened? 23 Chuck had a sexual experience when he faced the tokens of particular desires of others that he did not have. When he encountered a sexual situation, he also had a sexual experience, which develops into a de se thought, however unacceptable it is from his point of view. The experience is nauseating, anxious, and painful even if he does not have the relevant desire. We can say he had a sexual experience because he panicked. If he did not have it, he would have stayed calm.
Chuck faces a situation that presents him with a risk that he experiences u-sexual arousal, which proves that he is a "pervert." Here it may be helpful to compare sentences with sexual content with those having moral content. Here we have a linguistic and analytical alternative to the psychological explanation above. Both of them point in the same direction. We can apply the basic ideas of the emotive theory of ethics.24 Let us consider the following sentence:
Jane killed Lord Greystoke because she hated him.
What Jane did was morally wrong. The proper attitude towards Jane and her action is (morally) disapproving it. Suppose I learned about Jane, but my evaluation is for some reason positive, so I do not find her action immoral. Nevertheless, the proper and correct attitude towards Jane is moral disapproval. Analogously to the example above, think of the following sentenc
Lord Greystoke repeatedly sodomized Jane.
This sentence is a sexual description that a prudish person does not want to read because reading is understanding and imagining. The reader now has a reason to believe that Lord Greystoke sodomized Jane, which is a disturbing thought. Why is it disturbing? The reader has no evidence of moral wrongdoing. Perhaps Jane wanted it. Sodomy is still wrong because of its u-sexual nature, and now the proper attitude towards it is disapproval. However, the act is sexual, and we must ask the appropriate attitude toward its sexual content? It is arousal. In other words, sexual content entails arousal. Perhaps a person does not feel arousal, it is possible, but the appropriate attitude is arousal. Like in murder, such an attitude is negative and disturbing, first because we discuss u-sex and secondly because it is arousing. We discuss things that are wrong and arousing, and therefore one wants to avoid them. In the sexual case, one feels that the appropriate attitude (arousal) is inappropriate; it is disgusting. Here we have a clear case of cognitive dissonance. Chuck must somehow resolve the conflict.
We also can express the same idea in terms of risk. Chuck is in a sexual situation, hence the appropriate attitude arousal. And arousal entails a de se attitude, as I explained above. Such a position is risky. He may or may not feel arousal, but the risk is evident. If he felt arousal, he would be a "pervert," an unbearable belief and threat. Such a disturbing idea only requires that (i) the proper attitude towards sexual content is arousal, and (ii) experience of arousal tends is de se. Look at the following sentence,
These horrible, disgusting objects are (sexually) arousing to some people.
De se -interpretation would be, because now "some people" include "me":
The horrible, disgusting objects are (sexually) arousing for me.
The second sentence expresses the risk Chuck is now aware of. To report sexual arousal always runs a risk of being aroused de se. Sexual desire is contagious in that it invites a de se -reading. One can verify this by honest introspection.
Suppose that a person witnesses a heterosexual couple having full penetrative vanilla sex on the lawn nearby in full daylight. She may react with vicarious shame or amusement, but this is not the critical point; the point is, the observer may have a de se sexual experience. Chuck was in a similar situation. Their responses may be different, but suppose both had a sexual experience. It involves a kind of proto-desire or an indirect experience of desire and lust, initially expressed in terms of oratio obliqua, or "I see what they desire," that turns into a thought oratio recta, "This is arousing." Chuck panics; the second observer may react differently.
How to connect the idea that sexual contents entail arousal as the appropriate attitude - without entailing that the person has the attitude - and the idea of de se? Arousal entails a de se attitude, to put it roughly. Let us consider the following sentence:
I see a heterosexual couple copulating in front of me on the lawn in broad daylight.
Such a report in present tense invites a de se interpretation if one reads the sentence in a sexual sense - and it seems strange to read it in any other way. The witness sees a sexual act that is sexual to her (de se), which means that what she sees entails arousal as the appropriate attitude. When prudish people condemn, say, pornography, they oppose the logic of language and fear the cognitive dissonance it produces.
The difference between the observer and Chuck is that the relevant de se thought may not be painful if he is unlike Chuck, to whom the case is traumatic. I mean counterfactual thoughts like, "I could have had the desire that I do not have," and then "If I had it, I would hate my desire and a fortiori myself." Notice that the observer witnesses and experiences a vanilla desire. The point is that the observer may not care or worry about the feeling, lust, desire, or the motivation entailed by seeing the copulating vanilla couple on the lawn; it is what she would like to do herself, although in secrecy, and thus she feels vicarious shame plus arousal. Chuck rejected his u-sexual experience. Therefore, according to (P3), he cannot imagine himself wearing one of those rubber suits and going through a vigorous toilet training session accompanied by a sound whipping. It is for him an impossible de se narrative. But he still risks a sexual thought that contains these descriptive elements plus arousal, and possessing them all as a de se thoughts and desires disturbs him profoundly. "I am not like that" somehow alludes to "Perhaps I could be like that" in an unacceptable manner. The result is cognitive dissonance because Chuck imagines something he cannot imagine and has a desire he does not have. Alternatively, he experiences a threat of imagining something impossible, which is equally bad. The first is an actual case and the second a potential one.
Saved by the Magic of Contrafactual Thought
Chuck cannot entertain the relevant BDSM narrative, that is, deliberatively and at will, but this does not mean that it could not occur to Chuck, however briefly and dimly, and this is enough for an emerging panic reaction. And the idea that this can happen if he re-enters the shop is another source of anxiety. It is a risk. "What if I wanted, how would I feel - what kind of a person would I be?" is all that is required to disturb Chuck's idea of his identity and make him lose his sense of personal safety. The following contrafactual conditional works like magic against such risks and fear: "If these shops were illegal, they would no longer threaten people like me." Or, in the case of women, "If heterosexual prostitution were illegal, women like me would be safe."
What Chuck likes to believe is that criminalized business cannot threaten him. Still, because the law does not guarantee its disappearance, nothing can provide total safety to him - except in a magical sense. Yet, he insists that we need a law against such shops as if this somehow made him safe: underground shops do not count. They are invisible, and hence they have no non-intended audiences. Intrinsically pejorative terms, such as perversion, and to a lesser degree pseudo-scientific terms like paraphilia, also provide magical linguistic protection against vice, sin, and depravity by censuring them. The word "perversion" is like a wall between the person and u-sex that she despises. It is a linguistic fetish that protects good people from evil and deviant desires and ultimately those who desire u-sex and carry the virus that infects others, especially the youth (P2). As I said, this represents magical thinking.
In his comprehensive study Offence to Others (1985), Joel Feinberg offers a liberal moral theory concerning some nasty experiences and their social evaluation. His "A Ride on the Bus" catalogs and illustrates those human experiences that "are harmless in themselves and yet so unpleasant that we can rightly demand legal protection from them" (1985, p. 3). Stories 13-33 are sexually loaded, something like my examples of Chuck and the copulating pair in the park - his list deserves a classical status. In my story, the copulating couple forces the passer-by to confront a sexual scene and its arousing potential. Feinberg writes, "To be forced to suffer an offense, be it an affront to the senses, disgust, shock, shame, annoyance, or humiliation is an unpleasant inconvenience, and hence evil, even when it is by no means harmful. [...] Their victims are wronged even though they are not harmed" (1985, 49). What makes a person demand criminalization is the offense he experiences, but he also thinks the experience is harmful. His experience harms him, which may well be true. Chuck needs psychotherapy after his adventure, which means that the incident was not only offensive but harmful, too. Feinberg's idea of offense is unrealistic.
However, unwitnessed offenses occur as well. In this case, the problem is the person's belief that may be true or false. Namely, he believes that u-sexual acts occur unwitnessed behind the walls of his home, and he may still feel seriously offended. Feinberg writes, "When an unwitnessed person defaces flags and mutilates corpses in the privacy in his rooms, the outsider is outraged, but he would not claim to be the victim of the offensive behavior. He thinks that the behavior is wrong whether it has a true victim or not, and that is what outrages him" (1985, 67). Feinberg fails to explain the emerging disgust and other essential elements of the situation. One can be and often is offended by unwitnessed acts that are not wrong per se. I need not see the sex workers in action to be offended by the bordello next door, even when such institutions are legal.
The problem is that the person is offended and suffers from possible images that, when authentic, would affront the senses and produce disgust, shock, shame, anxiety, or humiliation - dysphoric inconveniences. The victim may call the police if she sees something, but what to do with the unwitnessed cases that bother her so profoundly? What if my next-door neighbor is a male prostitute, as I suspect? I do not want to imagine enemas and gay anal penetration, yet this bothers me. I see one way out: only if prostitution in all its forms is illegal can I get some protection against my anxious thoughts. I need firm guarantees.
Juridical arrangements for legalizing porn typically contain a clause that in no circumstances may porn become accidentally visible to a person who does not want to see it. Porn, sex trade, and other vices must stay under the lid that a person must first intentionally lift if she wants to enjoy the contents. This reasonable attitude then applies to both colloquial and learned languages. We speak in terms of unnatural sex, perversions, paraphilias, inversions, and other expressions that refer to u-sex. We provide elaborate scholastic classifications, like those in ICD and DSM. We are sure that we need such terms, they are indispensable, and they are somehow morally, experientially, and scientifically grounded. We cannot imagine or afford life and morality without them because we believe that the world of sex and sexuality is something special - in precisely what sense we fail to explain. Yet, we keep on calling religion, science, and the law for assistance. Here is the final and ultimate irony of sexuality: people hate u-sex, yet they are irredeemably captivated by it. The desires we do not have, or cannot have, keep us in their grips.
Chuck had a bad experience in the shop, but here the word "bad" is used equivocally: his experience was terrible, and the desires of others are nasty. These are two different things, but he confuses the two. Therefore Chuck is so disturbed and panicky - he has a good reason to be because the relevant de se thought concerning his arousal is unbearable. It threatens his identity at many levels, including religious, sexual, moral, etc. He may say he will never recover, and thus he has a right to be angry and vindictive. He would not accept Feinberg's meiotic idea that such offensive experiences cause no harm. Feinberg's liberalism looks unfounded to him. And Chuck has his sympathetic intended audiences.
Appendix on DSM and ICD
The problem of whether unusual sexual behavior is to be prized as diversity and source of euphoria or opposed as psychological defect and mental illness is older than psychology. Above I tried to say something about this dilemma. Also, the ICD and DS have existed a long time and may even reflect the consensus of psychiatrists and psychologists - this we cannot ignore. Yet, my argument in this paper does not rest directly on DSM-5 or ICD-10 or any of their various country-specific versions. Some sexologists and psychologists tend to disagree with them:
The DSM criteria for diagnosis of unusual sexual interests as pathological rests on a series of unproven and more importantly, untested assumptions. Given the explicit intent to produce an empirically valid document, the DSM must provide supporting documentation. Even if future research should verify their current assumptions, they have been inserted into the DSM inappropriately at this time. In the interim, these untested assumptions can be and are being misused (Moser and Kleinplatz 2005, 106).
Harsh words indeed, but Moser and Kleinplatz are not alone with their opinions: sexologists and psychologists have reasons to be critical of psychiatrists' motives and scientific views. Sexuality is an essentially contested field of discourse. Drescher (2010) and Wakefield (2011) contain moderately critical but detailed constructive nosological deliberations. Soble (2004) is equally complex but more acute; see also Blanchard (2013). The conceptual difficulties of DSM-5 nosology are apparent. The relevant literature shows both consensus and disagreement: strange forms of sexuality exist, but the rest is open to debate, but such a wide variety is typical of human behavior. From a moral point of view, the implications to forensic science are apparent: sexual deviants may face legal punishment, in some cultures, death. To make things more complicated: "the revision of the paraphilia criteria is being driven to some extent by the unique features and requirements of the forensic situation" (Wakefield 2011, 197).
My philosophical and psychological approach focuses on how unintended audiences react to "perverted" behavior and desire. Why is the reaction so adverse, emotional, direct, and strong? Hence, I want to avoid the controversies surrounding ICD and DSM. Jack Drescher thoroughly reviews the relevant issues, both historical and systematic (2010; also Zowie and Toze, 2018). Symptomatically, Drescher discusses the politics of GID (Gender Identity Disorder). Yet, GD (Gender Disorder) displaced it. "Some members and advocates of the trans community expressed concern that deleting GID from the DSM-V would lead third party payers to deny access to care for those transgender adults already struggling with inadequate private and public sources of healthcare funding for medical and surgical care."
A disturbing cultural problem concerning psychiatric nosology is its dependence on the Christian Bible:
Traditionally, religion has played a strong role in codifying socially acceptable expressions of gender and equality. Gender beliefs about the proper roles of men and women are firmly rooted in Judeo-Christian and other traditions that regard gender role transgressions as grounds for censure and castigation-even punishment by death (Drescher, 2009).
In some EU countries, the relationship between religious spirituality and psychopathology, especially u-sex, is significant (Prusak, 2016). In other EU countries, such problems are less attractive and certainly not exceptionally important. In the USA, Christian beliefs are still relevant. Drescher (2009) in the chapter "Homosexuality and GID: Contrasts" carefully - much carefully - lists what he calls "Biblical condemnation": Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:7, 22; Leviticus 20:13; Judges 19; I Kings 22:46; I Kings 23:7; Romans 1:27; I Corinthians 6:9; I Timothy 1:9-10. What does this prove? Gay people live in sin. Homosexuality is a permanent Christian theological problem, grave turpitude, and source of negative sanctions, fear, anxiety, and dysphoria. Psychiatrists may remove homosexuality from GID and DSM, but that does not change its widespread dysphoric and sinful nature. Sadomasochism, or F64.1, F65.0, F65.1, F65.5, and F65.6disappeared in 2010 from the Finnish version of ICD, but that does not change its popular dysphoric image as a "perversion," even if S/M may be a fashionable consensual trend in some urban social subgroups. A recently advertised S/M game in Finland pierced the skin with meat hooks and hung the person from them in the air. That kind of sexual pleasure - if it is sexual - is as far as possible from the euphoria of vanilla sex.
Actual science, in the positivist sense, should be independent of such external factors. Its findings are evident, proven, stable, and non-historical. Such scientific knowledge of human sexuality is difficult to achieve. Sexuality is a psychological source of euphoria and dysphoria, and that applies to all forms of sexuality. At the same time, a large part of sexuality becomes politicized by using legislation. Some forms of sex qualify as mental diseases, sins, and moral depravity - because of the intolerable anxiety they produce in their non-intended audiences. They are something one loathes and hates. Priests, legislators, and medical doctors must control them. Yet, they are challenging to stop and cure. Harassing and beating up male homosexuals was an accepted practice in Finland- sociologically, this counts as informal control. The times may have changed, but the controlling interest is still there. Should we start paying attention to the unintended audiences and not only sexual "deviants"? Can psychiatry somehow help and treat the unintended audiences and alleviate their dysphoria and anxiety. By doing so, we promote wider sexual freedoms and their euphoric aspects.25
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