In Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, Jesse Bering tackles some of the most sensitive issues in our society—rape, pedophila, and sexual fetishism, to name just a few—through science and reason.
What inspired your interest in sexual deviancy?
Growing up gay in conservative 1980s Middle America set the emotional stage for my own anxieties as an “erotic outlier.” Beyond that, I see human sexuality—and particularly sexual deviance—as being a major subject that remains mostly ignored by those who study morality. It’s not just our uptight, overly religious society, but academia as a whole that’s been too cowardly to carefully explore some of the most contentious issues in human sexuality. The fact that this topic was still virgin territory—pardon the pun—in the sense of academic openness, intrigued me.
What surprised you in your research?
There were lots of little surprises alongside some broader ones. The individual case studies exemplifying the more unusual erotic outliers never ceased to amaze me. Generally, I was surprised to discover that paraphilias like these are overwhelmingly a male phenomenon. There are plenty of women who engage in sexually deviant behaviors. From a psychosexual point of view, however, it is exceedingly rare to find a woman with a certifiable sexual paraphilia. The bulk of the data suggest that female sexual arousal is far more fluid than male arousal.
Have you found it difficult to write about such taboo topics such as pedophilia?
Nothing should be intellectually off-limits, but when writing about such a (rightfully) sensitive issue like pedophilia, there are other challenges. On the one hand, it’s imperative to handle any such delicate subject matter with an excess of caution. In the case of pedophilia, we’re dealing with the most vulnerable members of our society. On the other hand, as a science writer I must relay the empirical facts as objectively and as clearly as possible. So the difficulties I faced came from the fact that I had to adopt a defensible moral stance that is both humane and scientifically informed, not simply one that parrots standard social consensus. I quickly realized that every sentence was a potential landmine of misinterpretation, so I strove for absolute clarity about what I was—and wasn’t—saying.
Based on your research, what’s the future of sexual deviancy in America?
I see a comfort level growing slowly as the result of rational thought and honest introspection about our hidden tastes. In my opinion, any social change that is the product of careful moral reasoning—grounded in hard-won scientific knowledge and understanding, not “gut feelings” or religious prescriptions—is moral progress.