= D.: Perversion.-Es.: perversion.-Fr.: perversion.-l.: perversione.-P.: perversao.
Deviation from the 'normal' sexual act when this is defined as coitus with a person of the opposite sex directed towards the achievement of orgasm by means of genital penetration.
Perversion is said to be present: where the orgasm is reached with other sexual objects (homosexuality, paedophilia, bestiality, etc.) or through other regions of the body (anal coitus, etc.); where the orgasm is subordinated absolutely to certain extrinsic conditions, which may even be sufficient in themselves to bring about sexual pleasure (fetishism, transvestitism, voyeurism and exhibitionism, sado-masochism).
In a more comprehensive sense, 'perversion' connotes the whole of the psychosexual behaviour that accompanies such atypical means of obtaining sexual pleasure.
I. It is difficult to comprehend the idea of perversion otherwise than by reference to a norm. Before Freud's time the term was used, as indeed it still is, to denote 'deviations' of instinct (in the traditional sense of predetermined behaviour characteristic of a particular species and comparatively invariable as regards its performance and its object).
Those authors who accept a plurality of instincts are thus brought to make a very broad category out of perversion and to posit a multitude of forms for it to take: perversions of the 'moral sense' (delinquency), of the 'social instincts' (prostitution), of the instinct of nutrition (bulimia, dipsomania) (1). In a similar vein, it is common to speak of perversion in order to qualify the character and behaviour of certain subjects who manifest particular cruelty or malevolence.
In psycho-analysis, the word 'perversion' is used exclusively in relation to sexuality. Where Freud recognises the existence of instincts other than sexual ones, he does not evoke perversion in connection with them. In the domain of what he calls the instincts of self-preservationin the case, say, of hungerhe makes no mention of perversion when he is describing troubles affecting nutrition which many authors would refer to as perversions of the instinct of nutrition. Such troubles, according to Freud, should be ascribed to the impact of sexuality on the alimentary function (libidinisation); one might say, in fact, that this function is 'perverted' by sexuality.
II. The systematic study of the sexual perversions was topical when Freud was beginning to work out his theory of sexuality: Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis dates from 1893, Havelock Ellis's Studies in the Psychology of Sex from 1897. These works already described the whole of the adult sexual perversions, and Freud's originality lies in the fact that he used the existence of perversion as a weapon with which to throw the traditional definition of sexuality into question. This traditional definition he summed up as follows: the sexual instinct is 'understood to be absent in childhood, to set in at the time of puberty in connection with the process of coming to maturity and to be revealed in the manifestation of an irresistible attraction exercised by one sex upon the other; while its aim is presumed to be sexual union, or at all events action leading in that direction' (2a). The frequency of typically perverse types of behaviour, and especially the persistence of perverse tendencies, 'whether these underpin neurotic symptoms or are integrated into the normal 'sexual act in the guise of 'forepleasure', led Freud to the idea that 'the disposition to perversions is itself of no great rarity but must form a part of what passes as the normal constitution' (2b). This conclusion serves as both confirmation and explanation of the existence of an infantile sexuality. This sexuality, in so far as it is subject to the interplay of the component instincts and closely bound up with the diversity of the erotogenic zones, and in so far as it develops prior to the establishment of the genital functions proper, may be described as a 'polymorphously perverse disposition'. Adult perversion appears in this light as the persistence or re-emergence of a component part of sexuality. Freud's subsequent recognition of stages of libidinal organisation within infantile sexuality, and of an evolution in the choice of object, permits this definition to be made more precise (fixation at a particular stage or type of object-choice): perversion can now be seen as a regression to an earlier fixation of libido.
III. It is obvious what repercussions the Freudian conception of sexuality can have upon the actual definition of the term 'perversion'. So-called normal sexuality cannot be seen as an a priori aspect of human nature: ' . . . the exclusive sexual interest felt by men for women is also a problem that needs elucidating and is not a self-evident fact' (2c). A perversion such as homosexuality, for instance, appears as a variant of sexual life: 'Psycho-analytic research is most decidedly opposed to any attempt at separating off homosexuals from the rest of mankind as a group of a special character. [...] it has found that all human beings are capable of making a homosexual object-choice and have in fact made one in their unconscious' (2d). One could pursue this line of reasoning further still and define human sexuality itself as essentially 'perverse' inasmuch as it never fully detaches itself from its origins, where satisfaction was sought not in a specific activity but in the 'pleasure gain' associated with functions or activities depending on other instincts (see 'Anaclisis'). Even in the performance of the genital act itself, it suffices that the subject should develop an excessive attachment to forepleasure for him to slip towards perversion (2e).
IV. Which said, the fact remains that Freud and all psychoanalysts do talk of 'normal' sexuality. Even if we admit that the polymorphously perverse disposition typifies all infantile sexuality, that the majority of perversions are to be found in the psychosexual development of every individual, and that the outcome of this developmentthe genital organisation'is not a selfevident fact' and has to be set up and governed not by nature but by the process of personal evolutioneven if we admit all this, it is still true that the notion of development itself implies a norm.
Are we to conclude that Freud returns to the normative conception of sexuality that he emphatically challenged at the outset of his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexualitybasing it now on genetic criteria? Does he end up by categorising as perversions exactly what has aways been so categorised ?
In answering these questions, it must be said first of all that inasmuch as Freud does accept a norm he does not seek it in a social consensus any more than he reduces perversion to a deviant path in contrast to the dominant tendency of the social group: homosexuality is not considered abnormal because it is condemned, nor does it cease to be a perversion in those societies where it is very widespread and accepted.
Is it then the establishment of the genital organisation that institutes the norm in that it unifies sexuality and subordinates partial sexual activities to the genital act, so that the former are relegated to a preparatory role vis-a-vis the latter? This is the explicit thesis of the Three Essays, and Freud never completely abandoned this view, even after the discovery of the successive pregenital 'organisations' had had the effect of narrowing the rift between infantile and adult sexuality; indeed, Freud writes that 'the complete organisation is only achieved [in the] genital phase' (3a).
It is nonetheless reasonable to ask whether it is merely its unifying characterits force as a 'totality' as opposed to the 'component' instinctsthat confers a normative role upon genitality. Numerous perversions, such as fetishism, most forms of homosexuality and even incest when it is actually practised, presuppose an organisation dominated by the genital zone. This surely suggests that the norm should be sought elsewhere than in genital functioning itself. It is worth recalling that the transition to the complete genital organisation implies for Freud that the Oedipus complex has been transcended, the castration complex assumed and the prohibition on incest accepted. Moreover, Freud's Phallic Stage (or Phase) last researches on perversion show how fetishism is bound up with the 'disavowal' of castration.
V. In a famous formulation, Freud connects and contrasts neurosis and perversion: 'Neuroses are the negative of perversions' (2f). This dictum is too often given in an inverted form: perversion is described as the negative of neurosis; this amounts to treating perversion as the brute, non-repressed manifestation of infantile sexuality. In point of fact, the researches of Freud and the psycho-analysts on the perversions reveal that they are highly differentiated conditions. Of course, Freud does often contrast them with the neuroses in so far as, in the case of perversions, the mechanism of repression is absent; but at the same time he is at pains to show that other forms of defence come into operation here. His last works, especially those on fetishism (3b, 4), emphasise the complexity of these defences: disavowal of reality, splitting (Spaltung) of the ego, etc.; these are mechanisms, moreover, bearing significant resemblance to those found in psychosis. L
(1) Cf. BARDENAT, C., article on 'Perversions' in POROT, A. Manue/ alphab~iq~'e de
psychiatrie (Paris: P.U.F., 1960).
(2) FREUD, S. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexua/ity (1905d): a) G.W., V, 33; S.E., VII,
n. 1- S.E., VII, 144, n. 1. e) Cf. G.W., V, 113-14; S.E., VII, 211-12. f) G.W., V, 65 and 132;
S.E., VII, 165 and 231. ' _
(3) FREUD, S. An Out/ine of Psycho-Analysis (1940a ): a) G.W., XVII, 77; S.E., ';'
XXIII, 155. b) Cf. G.W., XVII, 133-35; S.E., XXIII, 202~. j ~
(4) Cf. FREUD, S. 'Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence' (1940e ), G.W., _