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Review of "Perv"

By Jesse Bering
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013
Review by Hennie Weiss on May 27th 2014

Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Bering provides an interesting, humorous, and in some cases also rather controversial view of human sexuality and various paraphilias. Bering contends in Chapter 1: We're all perverts that in some ways, we are all deviant when it comes to our sexuality. Throughout the book Bering shares personal, intimate and humorous stories about his own sexual urges and quirks, and contends that, although understandable, most of us rarely share similar stories, which can be very problematic. "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" (p. 4). Bering states that not only is "the story of human sexuality" a lie, but it is also one that is dangerous "...because it convinces us that we're all alone in the world of "perverts" (and hence immoral monsters) should we ever deviate in some ways from this falsely conceived pattern of the normal" (p. 4).

Bering believes that we should be more accepting of others and of their sexual preferences. This view might upset readers who feel that Bering is advocating complete acceptance of for examples pedophiles, and that he condones various forms of paraphilias that can be or are harmful to others. However, early on in the book Bering clarifies his views and his beliefs, focusing intently on the issue of harm. "One point I'd like to make crystal clear at the onset of our journey is that understanding is not the same as condoning. Our sympathies can take us only so far, and entering other minds isn't pleasant when it comes to certain categories of sex offenders. Furthermore, it's one thing to wax theoretical about sexual deviance, but another altogether to be the victim of sex abuse in real life or to know that someone we love, especially a child, has been harmed" (p. 7-8).

In the process of discussing and clarifying various forms of paraphilias, Bering is very interested in the evolutionary aspect of such paraphilias, and feels that further studies are needed to discuss and understand the origins of many sexual behaviors. Therefore, the issue of evolution, of genetics, and also of culture becomes central to the story of the book. In the case of evolutionary studies, both when it comes to focusing on human sexuality and on gender, stating that a particular trait or theory is based solely on evolution can be problematic since the issues of agency and choice is often ignored. As a matter of fact, most researchers know very little about paraphilias due to the fact that it is a sensitive subject that few want to discuss or investigate further and due also to the notion that various "perversions" and paraphilias are thought to be uncommon. What Bering seems to advocate is a greater understanding of human sexuality, no matter its form, to better understand, deal with and prevent pain, suffering, and indeed harm, both when it comes to the people dealing with paraphilias themselves, and those who have in some way or another been harmed by a person with a specific paraphilia. Homosexuality for example, as Bering notes throughout the book, was long viewed ( and still is today by some groups of people) as a form of perversion and indeed a mental disorder until fairly recently in history. A greater understanding and acceptance of human sexuality as varied and of sexual orientations has lad to homosexuality being less stigmatized today, even though many gays and lesbians face various forms of discrimination on a daily basis.

Perv is an interesting addition to the literature and studies on human sexuality today. The book is likely to turn some heads and provoke some readers, but Bering does not seem to mind. He has managed to mix intimate stories with fact and the latest research on sexuality with early beliefs and thoughts about human sexuality in a brave and deeply personal matter. The intended audience is foremost people interested in human sexuality as well as various forms of paraphilias, but most readers will find the book interesting. The language used to describe various theories is easy to follow and entertaining as Bering takes the reader on a journey concerning "perversions" and "deviance". The book can be used in the classroom in various studies such as human sexuality, sociology, psychology, gender studies, and men and masculinities among others.


© 2014 Hennie Weiss


Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.