email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAlways Forever MaybeAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond SpeechBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren and the Politics of SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDesire, Love, and IdentityDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting OffGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot My ShameNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePhilosophy of Love, Sex, and Marriage: An IntroductionPhilosophy of Sex and LovePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRelax, It's Just SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in AntiquitySex in CrisisSex in the World of MythSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, Family, and the Culture WarsSex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureTestosterone RexThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Dangerous Art of Blending InThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Evolution of BeautyThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Incurable RomanticThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe PervertThe Phenomenology of Sex, Love, and IntimacyThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe State of AffairsThe Story of SexThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransTransTransgender Children and YouthUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebUntrue VirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Does Consent Really Mean?What Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshYou Know Me WellZen Sex
The Other Side of Desire tells the tale of four people whose paraphilic sexual desires are located firmly "on the other side." Jacob is a middle-aged salesman who is attracted to women's feet. The Baroness is a successful designer of fetish clothing and is a sexual sadist. Roy, a computer technician, is a pedophile who was sentenced to 20 years suspended after 30 days, with 35 years probation for sexually molesting his 11-12 year old step-daughter. And Ron is a successful fashion photographer who is sexually attracted to women amputees.
In lesser hands, this material would have run the risk of being merely titillating or used as a means of moral pontification, either for or against those 'suffering' from atypical sexual desire. But in Bergner's sure hands, and under his penetrating gaze, The Other Side of Desire avoids these pitfalls and instead masterfully succeeds at a number of difficult tasks. He manages to study the particular people who exhibit these paraphilias and to enwrap them in the concrete texture of their lives. Hence, we come to know Jacob, the Baroness, Roy, and Ron as individual people who have struggled with and often continue to struggle with their sexual urges. This in itself is a tricky business. Does one want to understand and feel sympathy for a sexual sadist or a pedophile? Once again, however, Bergner manages successfully to walk a very fine line. In coming to understand his subjects, Bergner never gets sentimental. Roy really did molest his step-daughter thereby tossing her life, as well as those of his (now) ex-wife and many others, into complete turmoil and disarray. And the Baroness actually achieved perhaps her highest degree of sexual pleasure by roasting a man on a spit for several hours (even though it was with his consent). In another encounter, she "threaded the end of her whip through the hoop ring [her lover] Genevieve wore in her clitoris, then ripped the hoop out through the glistening tissue" (57).Bergner does not downplay these facts or attempt to explain them away. And yet we as readers still feel some connection with these people, disquieting though those feelings may be.
This can be explained in part by Bergner's weaving these four personal narratives within an abundance of contemporary research into sexual desire that shows that the gulf between 'normal' and 'perverse' desire may not be as wide as we typically think. For example, with respect to pedophilia, which is clearly the most morally troubling of the four paraphilias considered here, some research shows that pictures of pubescents and children arouse not only pedophiles. "Teleophiles," i.e., 'normal' individuals attracted to adults, are aroused as well (126-127) -- helping to explain, presumably, the otherwise odd strategy of using pubescent looking girls as marketing devices for the general populace. Of course, one needs to keep in mind here a remark originally made by Aristotle that while a person isn't responsible for their desires, they are morally accountable for how they deal with them. Still, one gets the sense from Bergner's book that the difference between someone with a paraphilia and someone without is in degree only, not in kind. And hence one cannot help but feel some sympathy for Jacob and Roy when they wonder and lament why they were cursed with their particular desires.
Sometimes, however, we make a mistake in trying to find commonalities in people's sexual desires. In wondering why so few women are, like the Baroness, true sexual sadists, Bergner explores the issue of the extent to which men and women may differ in their respective sexual desires. Some readers may already be familiar with Bergner's writing on this issue from a New York Times piece he published recently entitled, "What Do Women Want?" There, and in The Other Side of Desire, he refers us to the work, amongst others, of Meredith Chivers who argues that men and women differ in significant ways in their sexual desire. In one fascinating experiment, she measured the physiological responses of men's and women's genitals while showing them video clips and pictures from a wide array of scenes, both sexual and non-sexual -- from bonobo monkeys having sex, and hetero- and homosexual human sex, to people standing in fields. Whilst so engaged, the participants were asked whether the scenes they were witnessing sexually aroused them. From this Chivers discovered that men tend to be what she calls "category specific:" if they are heterosexual, then they respond physiologically only to depictions of women and to heterosexual and lesbian sex. Moreover, this is what they say when asked: hence, their objective and subjective reactions match. Women, however, display a marked difference between their objective and subjective reactions, typically maintaining subjectively that they are not aroused by something when physiologically they are. Even more surprising, however, is that women tend to be physiologically aroused by a much broader range of things than males: even watching bonobos having sex physically aroused them.
This, of course, raises questions about the basis of sexual desire, which is, ultimately, what this book investigates, whether the desire be male or female, straight or gay, 'normal' or paraphilic. As one would expect, there is a great deal of controversy regarding the answers to these questions covering the gamut from nature to nurture and everything in between. Even covering such well traversed terrain, Bergner manages to add something new by showing how different theories give rise to different treatment options, which, in turn, affect quite dramatically the people we've come to know though Bergner's narrative. Hence, for example, Jacob, who has a foot fetish might well have been told that there is nothing inherently wrong with his desire since it harms no one and that he should be open with his wife about his predilection. Instead, however, faced with Jacob's disgust over his paraphilia, he and his therapist agree to a treatment of chemical castration. Such castration is achieved through anti-androgens that work by preventing or inhibiting the biologic effects of androgens, or male sex hormones, typically by blocking the appropriate receptors in the brain thus obstructing the androgens' pathway. Unfortunately, these drugs are "horribly imprecise," and act like "a club" by "bludgeoning the hormonal foundation of desire rather than addressing specific desire" (24). Hence, while someone can experience some sexual desire while on a drug like Lubron, such desire will typically be faint, if extant at all. The hope is that by removing desire for aberrant objects, such as feet, one can allow for the onset of more conventional longings for genital sex. Amazingly -- perhaps bizarrely -- that burgeoning new conventional desire will then be intensified by prescribing a drug such as Viagra! While one can see readily why such a treatment would be employed for pedophiles, the case is less clear for a foot fetishist. One can imagine, then, a quite different treatment for Jacob that began by accepting foot fetishism and then working with him (and his wife) to an accommodation of his desire.
Bergner has said that examining people with extreme sexual desires will tell us not only about their uncommon desires, but of sexual desire in general. The Other Side of Desire demonstrates the wisdom of his insight.
© 2009 Robert Scott Stewart
Robert Scott Stewart, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, Cape Breton University