If you are a constant reader of the Unlaced Librarian, you already know very well that I am a pervert. Lucky for me, I found a book that argues: so are you.
“Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us” (Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is a 2014 book by Jesse Bering that pries apart the elements of sexual expression – from the mundane to the taboo.
As an award-winning columnist and psychologist, Bering delivers a book packed with information that is also fun to read. Furthermore, he gives readers that might be struggling with some aspect of sexuality a very valuable resource for having an open and fair discussion about sex.
By dissecting historical attitudes about sex, developments in psychology and clinical diagnosis, as well as a vast range of paraphilias and fetishes, the author takes particular details to paint a picture about what makes people tick when it comes to sex and arousal. I’m happy to say I picked a few missing puzzle pieces of my own picture from this work.
I was in love with this book within the first few pages. The author has a strong narrative voice that pops with wit and humor. The author begins the book with sharing several personal aspects of his own sexuality and some may take the humor as a sort of shield against vulnerability because of this. But after delving deeper into the work, it is clear that the author is writing from a perspective of security and genuine humanity for the topic at hand.
The humor is used through the entire book, which makes sections heavy on tests and measurements more engaging to read and also explains certain topics in a way that is down to earth and accessible. But the author also knows when to show compassion, respect, and reverence for certain severe topics. I felt the book was successful in conducting a mature conversation about so many taboo topics because of this balance.
Typically when I read a great sexuality book, I always lament that I wish I had read the book sooner. Not the case with this book. I’m an open minded person, but there were things discussed in this book that have made me pause in the past – a nameless, guttural emotion that stopped me from reading further because I hadn’t been exposed to enough information, or I was being confronted with something I didn’t want to think about. Sometimes, even, a defensiveness was my barricade – I’ve only recently come to terms with and come out about the fact that I am a fetishist (male fetishists vastly outnumber female fetishists, and as a female fetishist, this book did worlds to answer a lot of my questions.) None of this is the author’s fault of course – I think Bering writes effectively about these topics. I just know that a lot of people, myself included, might not be in a place to let that writing in. For that, I am glad this book found me after I had worked through some of my own attitudes and feelings.
That being said, I think the author does an excellent job at constructing the discussion around not just taboo topics, but topics that generate a lot of fear and outright hatred. Indeed, he is willing to shine a light on topics that many don’t want to even acknowledge and I learned a lot about sexuality, research, and history from this book. I was exposed to information about the psychologists, sexologists, and other people behind research on controversial topics that I would not have found elsewhere. I think this makes me a better sex educator and gives me a foundation for further research, especially as I delve forward into my research about sexual fetishes.
Some of the chapters are tamer than others. I found the sections about hyper sexuality and hysteria fairly par for the course. But the chapters about paraphilias, sexual imprinting, and erotic age orientation were fascinating, engaging, and taught me the most in my personal reading of the book.
It is worth noting the first chapter of the book is titled, “We’re All Perverts.” While the book does focus on people who have historically been labeled “Deviants,” or “Perverts” (the author refers to us as “sexual outliers”) this is done in a way that is not shunning or exclusionary. The author aims to understand the multitudinous factors that are at work in building our sexual fingerprints, what makes all of us sexual beings. A core assertion of the book is that too many people still live in fear and shame for simply having certain sexual fingerprints. I was one of those people, and reading this book helped me to feel more comfortable in my own head and in my own skin.
Obviously, this book was very valuable to me and it has a permanent home in my collection as one of my favorite sexuality books. I would venture to say that some general readers might not enjoy the book as much as I did because of the topics discussed. But I also venture to say that some general readers have secrets of their own that this work could very well serve to untangle, even if they never share them beyond the pages of this book. On top of that, there’s a lot of history and psychological theories that will likely engage readers from a variety of backgrounds in psychology and sociology.
If you are curious and willing to remain calm in a sea of stigmatized sexuality, definitely give this book a look. I say remain calm, because at any given shift in narration, the person you begin reading about might very well be yourself.