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We’re All Perverts

Deviant sex, almost by definition, is bound to gross out more people than normal sex—but disgust doesn’t justify hatred.

The following is an excerpt from PERV: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering, published October 8, 2013 by Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2013 by Jesse Bering. All rights reserved. 

You are a sexual deviant. A pervert, through and through.

Now, now, don’t get so defensive. Allow me to explain. Imagine if some all-powerful arm of the government existed solely to document every sexual response of every private citizen. From the most tempestuous orgasmic excesses, to the slightest twinges of genitalia, to unseen hormonal cascades and sub-cranial machinations, not a thing is missed. Filed under your name in this fictional scientific universe would be your very own scandalous dossier, intricate and exhaustive in its every embarrassing measurement of your self-lubricating loins. What’s more, the records in this nightmarish society extend all the way back to your adolescence, to the days when your desires first began to simmer and boil. I’d be willing to bet that buried somewhere in this relentless biography of yours is an undeniable fact of your sex life that would hobble you instantaneously with shame should the wrong individual ever find out about it.

To break the ice, I’ll go first. And how I wish one of my first sexual experiences were as charming as inserting my phallus into a warm apple pie. Instead, it involves pleasuring myself to an image from my father’s old anthropology textbook. This isn’t even as admirable as those puerile stories about a teenage boy masturbating to some National Geographic–like spread of exotic naked villagers breast-feeding or shooting blow darts in the Amazon. No, it wasn’t anything like that. For me, the briefest of heavens could instead be found in an enormous and hairy representative of the species Homo neanderthalensis. I can still see the lifelike rendering now. The Neanderthal was shown crouching down, pink gonads dangling teasingly between muscular apish thighs, while with all his cognitive might this handsome, grunting beast tried desperately to light a fire in a cobbled pit to warm his equally hirsute family (what looked to be a perplexed woman from whose furry breasts a baby feverishly suckled). The Neanderthal was in fact too brutish for my tastes, but in those pre-Internet days he was the only naked man I had at my fingertips. Well, the only naked hominid, anyway. One must work with the material one has.

So there, I said it. In my adolescence, I derived an intense orgasm (or twenty) from fantasizing about a member of another species. (In my defense, it was a closely related species.) You may have to rack your brains for some similarly indecent memory, or then again, maybe all you need to do is roll over in bed this morning to remind yourself of the hairy specimen of a creature that you brought home last night. Either way, chances are there’s something gossip-worthy in your own sexual past. Maybe it’s not quite as odd as mine. But I’m sure it’s suitably humbling for present purposes. What makes us all the same is our having had certain private moments that could get us blackmailed.

Granted, most of us will never share our own lurid tidbits about our most unusual masturbatory mental aids or the fact that there’s a distinct possibility we had the tongue of a Sasquatch in our nether regions last night (or ours in its). What usually gets out is only what we want others to know. That’s perfectly understandable. We have our reputations to consider. I might never be allowed again into my local museum for fear I’ll debase one of the caveman mannequins, for instance. The problem with zipping up on our dirtiest little secrets, however, is that others are doing exactly the same thing, and this means that the story of human sexuality that we’ve come to believe is true is, in reality, a lie. What’s more, it’s a very dangerous lie, because it convinces us that we’re all alone in the world as “perverts” (and hence immoral monsters) should we ever deviate in some way from this falsely conceived pattern of the normal. A lot of human nature has escaped rational understanding because we’ve been unwilling to be completely honest about what really turns us on and off—or at least what’s managed to do the trick for us before. We cling to facades. We know one another only partially. Much of what lies ahead, therefore, concerns what you don’t want the rest of the world to know about your sexuality. But relax, that will be our little secret.

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