The less public and yet maybe more important part of my job consists in lecturing at two specialization courses in sexology and one in criminology. The students are mental health professionals, doctors, jurists and police wishing to correctly understand and manage atypical sexualities in their jobs.
Encountering such a public often leads to interesting observations, so I thought it would be nice to share my latest with the readers of my website or newsletter.
A new age for kink education
What struck me the most with the latest classes was… the number of students, that in 2021 in particular grew faster than ever. They are still mostly female, but the growth of the general interest in a better knowledge of sexuality is clear. You also notice this in the approach toward the subject: it might be just me, but I have the feeling that in the past most students begrudgingly endured any hint at unusual forms of sex just to obtain their professional certification, while today the topic is more heartfelt even in a personal capacity.
Indeed, every time there is no shortage of people serenely declaring their kinky or LGBTQ+ experiences. Compared to my first lecture at the European Federation of Sexology conference, about 15 years ago, I have to smile thinking about that gynecologist (Hungarian, maybe? Who knows!) infuriated by the sex-positive treatment of BDSM, which he considered as inconceivable as an apology of genocide.
The credit goes to a decidedly changed cultural climate. After all, Måneskin and their dungeon aesthetic are topping the world charts, the national media have been covering a law against homotransphobia for months, the debate on linguistic inclusivity for non-normative genders has become mainstream, and among the many improvised “experts” on social networks real activists have begun to appear, spreading among the young those ideas of ethical and conscious sexuality that I have been pushing for years.
Above all, however, I am pleasantly surprised to no longer be alone even on my side of the desk. The two or three enlightened sexologists who already shared the mission of a more progressive education are being joined by more and more professionals – usually trained in these very same specialization courses – sharing a positive vision of the “atypical variants” of the oldest pastime in the world.
How the study of alternative sexualities is changing
More sex-positive teachers and students obviously stimulate new reflections on the entire theme of unusual sexualities, also in the way they are addressed. First of all, because of the topics covered: in fact, for a long time the focus has been mainly on the so-called “major paraphilias”.
This family – which includes sadism, masochism, pedophilia, incest, necrophilia and zoophilia – groups those sexual deviances that constitute a crime… and this alone should have made you raise an eyebrow or two. Because several crimes, such as frotteurism (i.e. groping or masturbating on non-consenting people), are missing from the list but also because it is obvious that most sadists and masochists happily enjoy their passions without breaking any laws nor causing any harm to worry about.
A little by little then, the concept spread of a big difference between a paraphilia – that is an abnormal erotic interest, whatever it means – and a paraphilic disorder, or an expression of that paraphilia such as to cause discomfort to the subject or to those around him. Above all, however, the scope has expanded to all other unusual expressions of sexuality.
Today, fortunately, it is rare to meet mental health professionals who still condemn outright what lies beyond normative sexuality. Nevertheless, there still is some resistance to ideas that even many social networks – or even banal porn sites – users take for granted.
Training courses have thus also evolved to realign, in a certain sense, the professionals’ attitudes with the general sentiment of the population; at least of that part that does not spend its time hating one “enemy” after another in order to avoid questioning itself. For example, by learning to know and understand all the many variations on the theme.
Until a few years ago, for example, asexuality (lack of interest in sexual contact) was considered in the same way as homosexuality in the time of our great-great-grandparents: as a symptom of some serious mental problem, trauma or physiological deficit. As one asexual speaker said at the last course I attended, «I was allowed to own the sexuality I always knew I had only when all other possible pathologizing diagnoses failed.»
The new goal is to guide therapists – or judges, lawyers, and law enforcement, in the case of criminology – to see atypical sexualities as a normal expression of the variety of the human soul. This also means to avoid identifying a person with their possible paraphilias. For example, it is quite possible that a polyamorous person may require psychological assistance because they suffer from depression or anxiety… which has nothing to do with their preferences in the way they live their relationships.
This, of course, cannot happen without knowing at least in broad terms the characteristics – which sometimes constitute entire subcultures – of the many unusual forms of sex. On the other hand, this kind of knowledge helps to develop greater sensitivity toward the interlocutors.
Keeping in the context of polyamory, a specialist then recommended asking ‘do you have any relationships?’ rather than ‘do you have a boyfriend?’, simply because this small lexical attention allows a person (of the female gender, in this case) who has more than one ongoing relationship, or has partners of her own gender, or queer, not to feel judged. Sure, you have to study and work harder for this sort of inclusivity, however the benefits are obvious.
This also applies to the students and future professionals themselves. One recurring issue is, for example, the reproach of professional orders against their members who publicly declare they have a positive attitude towards alternative sexualities or – goodness gracious me! – even claim to have atypical preferences themselves.
Even these cases, however, are less and less frequent, a sign that the whole educational effort towards greater inclusivity and open-mindedness is slowly bearing good fruit.
No reasoning on the past and present can escape some hypothesis on the future, although history teaches us that predictions are rarely reliable. In this case, however, I seem to see a clear path. Not because some committee defined it, nor any secret cabal or mysterious lobby: for the first time, I simply feel surrounded by so many people marching in my same direction that I cannot believe that at least some of them won’t reach the common goal.
There is no question that old and new obstacles will crop up, that some glory-seeking imbecile will get in the way, and that, as has always happened, the political and cultural climate will make one of those about-turns toward obscurantism that occur on average every sixty years. Still, when today’s residents completely undermine the last relics of last century’s moralizing psychology, their values will begin to transfer to the rest of society as well.
The first to receive them will finally be the mass media. Not by conviction, of course, but out of simple calculation: following the tastes of the public is their only hope not to completely disappear in an increasingly fragmented landscape – so keep an eye on the moment when even the State television evening news will resign themselves to admitting that yes, even those depraved people who are obsessed with equal rights and freedom of expression are not so bad after all. From there to conquer even your racist and no-vax uncles is but a blink of the eye.
Then it will be the institutions’ turn. Again for their convenience, but I hope also in part because sooner or later somebody will be elected in Parliament among those who are currently following certain Instagram profiles, attending certain parties, or who have been exposed to “revolutionary” concepts such as those that we have internalized for a while.
The effect could be the introduction of sexual and affective education in school curricula (in Italy it exists only in theory, and is taught in less than 10% of schools) or the application of real anti-discrimination laws – utopian ideas today in a country for which ‘G8’ only means ‘students massacred with impunity’ instead of being one of the most developed nations on the planet.
Finally, in a future that I suspect I won’t get to see in my life, there will be real change. A society made up of people born and raised in the culture defined by those media and institutions that are being formed today. People for whom it is inconceivable to kill someone because they love a partner who seems strange to us, to induce someone else to suicide because they are questioning their identity, to bully yet another one because they express their sexuality in a curious way, or to not recognize the family status of someone who loves more than one person.
Can you imagine a world like that? Usually these conversations end sadly agreeing that «eh, we should start with education». If you only knew how strange it feels to look back and realize that such education actually started already a while ago – and that a little bit of the credit is even mine.