How To Diagnose A Sex Deviant?

In an excerpt from his new book Perv, Jesse Bering illustrates the ongoing debate over sexual deviancy’s relation to mental illness:

[T]here was the tale of Armin Meiwes. That name might dimly light up in your frontal lobes as a distant headliner best forgotten, but to remind you—and apologies for doing so—Meiwes, a computer repairman by trade, was the German cannibalistic sexual sadist who, in the spring of 2001, found a willingly edible sexual masochist for himself named Bernd Jürgen Brandes. “Looking for a well-built 18- to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed,” read Meiwes’s personal ad on the Cannibal Café website (which, you’ll probably be glad to know, is a website no more). And Brandes, it seems, was looking to be thoroughly digested. That old psychopath Cupid couldn’t have arranged for a more tragic crossing of these lovers’ paths. … From the video footage—the whole awful thing was taped from start to finish—it’s apparent that Meiwes (the eater) didn’t coerce Brandes (the eatee) at all. If anything, the coercion was done by the masochist, not the sadist. Brandes even begged a hesitating Meiwes to bite off his penis. …

I’m by no means suggesting that both the S and the M parts of this equation weren’t disturbed men. You don’t need to be a mental health expert to see that. Yet when we try to apply the ”DSM- 5’s” criteria of pain and non-consent, there’s some tension here, since Meiwes had explicitly sought out a consenting adult partner. And when you combine consent with a masochist’s apparent death wish, well, you can see how a forensic psychiatrist’s job can be daunting.

Bering discusses what he learned from writing his book:

Over the 18 long months in which it was in production, Perv … evolved from being a light scientific treatment of weird sex to a book with an actual moral message. And that message turned out to be embarrassingly obvious, really. As a society, we’ve been dawdling over the irrelevant questions of what’s “normal” and “natural” for far too long. To make any real moral traction, we must abandon the rhetoric of righteousness and instead turn our efforts to clarifying, using science rather than scripture, laws, or even (and especially) our own gut feelings, how a sexual act or orientation is harmful to those involved. In my book, at least, doing harm is the only thing that makes a person a pervert.

Last year he answered a bunch of Ask Anything questions surrounding his previous book, Why is the Penis Shaped Like That? Meanwhile, on the video seen above:

Zoo is a 2007 documentary film based on the life and death of Kenneth Pinyan, an American man who died of peritonitis due to perforation of the colon after engaging in receptive anal sex with a horse. The film’s public debut was at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2007, where it was one of 16 winners out of 856 candidates. Following Sundance, it was selected as one of the top five American films to be presented at the prestigious Directors Fortnight sidebar at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

The film was made with co-operation of the two men who took Pinyan to the hospital, as well as other friends of his, in the attempt to explore the life and death of the man, as well as those who came to the farm near Enumclaw for similar reasons, beyond the public understanding of the media. It does contain explicit material of sexual activities, but only in the view of video footage shown on a small television screen.

Part one is above. The rest is here.