Paraphilia: Definition And Types

Paraphilias are sexual preferences that may be common or unusual, and pathological or normal.

Human sexuality is as broad as the range of different personality types that differentiate us from each other. All of this set of sexual behaviors that make up sexuality include practices related to the satisfaction of sexual need and desire.

Although throughout the history this need has been thought as exclusively reproductive, the last centuries have been key to understand that sexuality also has the person's pleasure and enjoyment as the aim of it. 

In this article we are going to describe and analyze which are the main types of paraphilias, both common and unusual, as well as the conception of this kind of sexual preferences as pathologies, that is not always appropriate, as we will see. 

Paraphilia definition

Traditionally, the meaning of paraphilia as a set of sexual behaviors carried out by people that felt sexual pleasure by means other than vaginal penetration.

However, this sexual paraphilia description is behind the times, and it is widely criticized due to considering paraphilic normal behaviors such as homosexual sex or oral sex.

In contrast, and formulating a much more inclusive and respectful conceptualization of sexual philias, we can define a paraphilia as a behavior or a set of human sexual practices in which the person experiments a certain level of sexual excitement and/or gratification by stimulus considered atypical or unusual, always in relation to the social frame of reference.

Specifically, pleasure is experimented with objects, fetishes or specific situations. These stimuli can become the main focus of sexual pleasure, to the point of becoming the only stimulus or motivation for sexual behavior.

Moreover, for sexual behavior to be considered a paraphilia, it should be in the person for a long time and be resistant through situations. This means that if a person experiments the sexual pleasure with an object or an unusual situation only once, it doesn't mean it has to be considered as a paraphilia. 

Pathology or sexual preferences?

On the other hand, the main problem with paraphilias is that they are not always subjected to the person's will, so they experience it as something they are not able to control. This weakening in the person's will can cause intense feelings of discomfort in the person or even harm others.

Not all philias are strange or involve a pathology, but in many cases, they are just a sexual stimulus that can be strong, but that does not interfere in people's daily life. However, when this happens, paraphilia can become a paraphilic disorder. 

Sexual paraphilic behaviors, such as sadism or any kind of fetishism, are only considered problematic if they are performed compulsively or if they cause a deterioration for the person.

To finish, it should also be borne in mind that paraphilias are understood as such according to the culture or society in which the person is found. For example, in homosexuality a list of paraphilic sexual behaviors was eliminated from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 1973; however, in many other countries, it is still considered abnormal.

Most common paraphilias
Fetishism, voyeurism and exhibitionism are some of the most common paraphilias.

Most common paraphilias

As we mentioned before, although the list of paraphilias is as long and complex as the human personality, we can find some types of paraphilia that are more common than others. In the following lines, we will mention and describe some of the most common paraphilias. 

1. Fetishism

One of the most common types of paraphilia is fetishism. In these cases, the person achieves sexual arousal, and even the orgasm, through an object known as "fetish" -which can be a piece of clothing, a specific part of the body, or any everyday object. 

Among the main paraphilias related to fetishism, we find the feet fetishism or podophilia, shoe fetishism or retifism, or high heel fetishism. 

2. Pedophilia

Unfortunately, pedophilia (also spelled paedophilia) is one of the most common paraphilias nowadays. The person experiences sexual or erotic excitement through activities or fantasies with children.

Usually, the target of this paraphilia are children between 8 and 12 years old, although unfortunately, there have been cases in which even younger children were implicated.

3. Exhibitionism

Another very common paraphilia throughout our society is exhibitionism, related to the need to show other people their genitals. However, in these cases, the pleasure is not achieved by doing this, but by the surprise response and by the attention of the people watching.

Unlike other paraphilias, in exhibitionism the person not always has a sexual behavior (usually masturbation) while they are exposed, but they can do it during or after the exhibition, remembering it. 

4. Frotteurism

In the case of frotteurism,  the paraphilic sexual behavior involves rubbing the genitals, or other parts of the body, against another person without consent.

One of the most significant current problems is the vast number of frotteurism cases that happen every day and that have women as their common focus. These abuses tend to occur in public or crowded zones, such as public transports, nightclubs, or concerts. 

5. Sexual masochism

Sexual masochism is another common paraphilia and, together with sexual sadism, is also one of the most widespread. The person finds sexual pleasure participating in sexual activities that involve physical or moral pain. 

This includes humiliation, hitting or tying. However, there are different degrees of masochism, from the most gentle one until the extreme in which the person's life may be endangered.

6. Sexual sadism

Compared to masochism, in sexual sadism, the source of sexual pleasure comes from the act of hurting another person or another living creature.

Although there are loads of paraphilias related to sadism, the most common one is amokoscisia (pleasure in punishing the sexual partner) or electrophilia (arousal when electrocuting the other person).

7. Voyeurism

There are different types of voyeurism; however, they are all based on sexual excitement when observing other people naked or doing some kind of sexual activity.

Within voyeurism, alopelia is the most common type of sexual paraphilia since it is the one that implies excitement when observing other people having sexual relations. However, there is another one that is also frequently performed: candaulism, which consists of observing one's own partner maintaining relationships with other people.

8. Transvestism

It's necessary to clarify that transvestism itself is not a type of paraphilia. We understand by paraphilic transvestism those behaviors in which the person has sexual pleasure or excitement when getting dressed as the opposite gender  or using a specific garment.

The plushophilia is a paraphilia
Among the unusual paraphilias, there is the plushophilia or sexual excitement by stuffed animals.

Types and list of unusual paraphilias

Although there is a long list of sexual behaviors identified as paraphilias (some authors say that more than 550 types have been registered). In the following lines, we will mention some of the most unusual paraphilias:

  • Necrophilia and zoonecrophilia: unusual and distressing or disturbing, in these paraphilias, the person experiments sexual pleasure in contact with dead people or animals, respectively.

  • Formicophilia: in this case, what causes sexual arousal is the feeling of a crawling ant or other insects on the genitals.

  • Pigmalionism: the strange paraphilia in which statues cause sexual pleasure.

  • Hirsutophilia: considered a strange sexual excitement by body hair.

  • Hypnophilia: watching people sleep makes them very sexually excited.

  • Belonephilia: Achieving sexual pleasure with needles is another unusual paraphilia.

  • Hematophilia: related to the above, in hematophilia the origin of sexual pleasure is found in the extraction of one's own blood.

  • Plushophilia: known as the arousal when performing sexual acts with stuffed animals or cloth dolls.

  • Mysophilia: this tendency is becoming more and more widespread, and it is defined as the sexual excitement caused by dirty clothes, especially another person's underwear.

  • Capnolagnia: although the act of smoking has been traditionally considered seductive, in capnolagnia it gets to the point of provoking erotic excitement.

  • Autonepiophilia: considered to be the cause of sexual arousal when wearing diapers.

  • Biastophilia/Raptophilia: sexual arousal by raping or with the fantasy of raping another person.

  • Dendrophilia: erotic arousal caused by trees.

  • Asphyxiophilia: in this philia, the excitement appears when being suffocated by another person or by oneself. Sometimes to the point of losing consciousness.

  • Hoplophilia: sexual arousal by firearms.

  • Abasiophilia: sexual arousal by people with impaired mobility.

  • Dacryphilia: sexual arousal by seeing tears or seeing someone cry.

  • Acrotomophilia: sexual attraction to people with amputations.

  • Emetophilia: erotic arousal caused by vomiting or seeing someone vomit.

  • Anililagnia:  sexual attraction of young men to older women.

  • Narratophilia: sexual excitement by obscene words.


Castelo, C. (2005). Sexualidad humana: una aproximaciĆ³n integral. Madrid: Editorial Panamericana.

Eysenck, H. J. & Wilson, G. (1979). The Psychology of Sex. J.M. Dent & Sons. 

Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. United States: Barricade Books, Inc.