Golden showers: What does unusual sexual activity say about your character?

Urophilia is an atypical sexual behaviour considered by psychiatrists to be relatively harmless.

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Strange, bizarre and unusual human sexual behaviour is a topic that fascinates many people. The unverified allegations that Donald Trump hired women to perform 'golden showers' (watching someone urinate for sexual pleasure, typically referred to as urophilia) has again brought unusual sexual activity into the public spotlight. Although the general public may view many of these behaviours as sexual perversions, those of us that study these behaviours prefer to call them paraphilias (from the Greek "beyond usual or typical love").

Paraphilias are uncommon types of sexual expression that may appear bizarre and/or socially unacceptable, and represent the extreme end of the sexual continuum. They are typically accompanied by intense sexual arousal to unconventional or non-sexual stimuli. Most adults are aware of paraphilic behaviour where individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from the giving and/or receiving of pain (sadomasochism), and sex with animals (zoophilia).

However, there are literally hundreds of paraphilias that are not so well known or researched including sexual arousal from food (sitophilia), trees (dendrophilia), flatulence (eproctophilia), tight spaces (claustrophilia), statues (agalmatophilia), and even vomit (emetophilia).

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It is thought that paraphilias are rare and affect only a very small percentage of adults. It has been difficult for researchers to estimate the proportion of the population that experience unusual sexual behaviours because much of the scientific literature is based on case studies. However, there is general agreement among the psychiatric community that almost all paraphilias are male dominated (with at least 90% of all those affected being men).

One of the most asked questions in this field is the extent to which engaging in unusual sex acts is deviant? Psychologists and psychiatrists differentiate between paraphilias and paraphilic disorders. Most individuals with paraphilic interests are people with absolutely no mental health issues whatsoever.

I personally believe that there is nothing wrong with any paraphilic act involving non-normative sex between two or more consenting adults. Those with paraphilic disorders are individuals where their sexual preferences cause another person distress or whose sexual behaviour results in personal harm, or risk of harm, to others. In short, unusual sexual behaviour by itself does not necessarily justify or require treatment.

The element of coercion is another key distinguishing characteristic of paraphilias. Some paraphilias (eg, sadism, masochism or urophilia) are engaged in alone, or include consensual adults who participate in, observe, or tolerate the particular paraphilic behaviour. These atypical non-coercive behaviours are considered by many psychiatrists to be relatively benign or harmless because there is no violation of anyone's rights.

There is a huge difference between these and atypical coercive paraphilic behaviours, which are much more serious, can be illegal, and almost always require treatment (eg, exhibitionism - exposing one's genitals to another person without their consent).

For me, informed consent between two or more adults is critical and is where I draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable. However, I would also class consensual sexual acts between adults that involve criminal activity as unacceptable. For instance, Armin Meiwes, the so-called "Rotenburg Cannibal" gained worldwide notoriety for killing and eating a fellow German male victim (Bernd Jürgen Brande). Brande's ultimate sexual desire was to be eaten (known as vorarephilia). Here was a case of a highly unusual sexual behaviour where there were two consenting adults, but involved the killing of one human being by another.

Because paraphilias typically offer pleasure, many individuals affected do not seek psychological or psychiatric treatment as they live happily with their sexual preference. Leaving aside issues of sanitation, in short, there is little scientific evidence that unusual sexual behaviour makes you more deviant generally.

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Professor Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor at Nottingham Trent University. His main teaching interests are in the areas of abnormal, social and health psychology with particular emphasis on behavioural addictions and the psychology of sexual behaviour.


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