I recently came across an online test called “Are you a Pervert?” Here are some of the questions:
- You’re staying at your friends house and their older sibling left his/her dirty underwear laying out, what would you do?
- You see an Apple pie on the counter, what comes to mind?
I find those questions somehow alluding to Freud’s definition of perversion.
“The abandonment of the reproductive function is the common feature of all perversions. We actually describe a sexual activity as perverse if it has given up the aim of reproduction and pursues the attainment of pleasure as an aim independent of it” (Lectures, 392).
What differentiates a pervert from a “normal” person is essentially the aim of conducting sexual activity. A person might be considered as a pervert if, for instance, he or she obtains pleasure from sniffing someone else’s underwear or is able to reproduce sexual sensations by looking at a warm apple pie. A sexuality is only considered “normal” and justified if its aim is reproduction.
By this definition, there are so many ways for perverts to obtain sexual pleasure, whereas a “normal” person only conducts sexual activities that share the purpose of reproduction. Does this mean that perverts have more freedom since they potentially enjoy a wider range of activities that are independent from the consensus of another individual?
To answer this question, I would like to distinguish infantile sexuality from perverse sexuality. Freud argues that infants and adults have the same set of component instincts that bring them pleasure, such as eating, pooping, masturbating etc. The difference is that infants enjoy all these activities equally, while for adults certain things are more satisfying than others. Perversion is a variation of adult sexuality, meaning that they still have dominating component instincts that limits them from enjoying everything equally.
On the other hand, people with normal sexuality are the ones whose dominating component instincts aligns with social values, which appropriate reproduction as the only acceptable aim of sex. In Freud’s language, those primitive component instincts are called libido, and a socially formed ideology is called ego. A normal sexuality is a surrender of libido to ego, which includes a view of sex being only a means of reproduction. This idea is illustrated by the story of a landlord’s daughter. Having been born and raised in a more privileged family, she is expected to behave like a lady. Therefore, “she give up her mastubatory satisfaction” because “she will get an idea that she has done something wrong” (439). As the result, she “came under the influence of education and accepted its demands” (440). Although the example is used to emphasize the cause of her neurosis, which leads to her turning away from sexual intercourse in adulthood, it alludes to how the society dominates and forms one’s sexuality through education. Therefore, the transition, from an infant who always follows its libido to an adult with normal sexuality that restricts him from enjoying any sexual activity against his ego, is a result of social domination.
Freud also recognizes that “incidentally, there are also cases of perverse sexuality which have a much greater resemblance to the infantile kind, since in them numerous component instincts have put through their aims independently of one another” (401). Nevertheless, even in those cases one still cannot claim that people with perverse sexuality have greater freedom. In the case where perverts do have a greater variety of choices that make them sexually satisfied, the answer would still be negative for the fact that being obsessed with a certain objects is not a conscious decision. Rather, fetish or obsession, identified as a symptom of neuroses, is usually shaped by a repressed thought.
A Freudian mind is consist of two stages–one conscious, one unconscious. To adopt Freud’s spatial analogy, conscious thoughts and the unconscious ones locate in two separate rooms that are next to each other. At the entrance that connects both rooms sits a watchman who regulates the traveling of thoughts from unconscious to conscious.
With my understanding of Freud’s theory, I will use an example to show you the relationship between an obsession and the mechanism of repression. Let’s suppose that our patient has foot fetish. When an impulse/libido of sleeping with his sister emerges in the unconscious mind, it travels in the direction of the conscious mind. However, the watchman, who represents a society that denounces romantic relationship between siblings, stops the thought and sends it back to the unconscious mind. Nevertheless, the libido retains all the energy it brought initially and tries to escape “in some direction where it can find a discharge for its cathesix of energy” (447). We call this redirection of energy fixations, which allows the libido to “renounce all the education it has acquired under the ego’s influence” (447). In this specific case, this man develops his foot fetish because he always sees his sister walking around barefoot or something.
Why do we say that he does not have free will in the development of his obsession with foot? Because the thought of his wanting to sleep with his sister never reaches his conscious mind and therefore he never consciously rejects this thought, which is rejected by the watchman. The fact that the watchman represents social values further emphasizes the point that nobody, perverts or normal people, is free from social values.