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Young, R.M. (2004). The Boundaries of Perversion,. Free Associations, 11(1):36-56.

(2004). Free Associations, 11(1):36-56

The Boundaries of Perversion1,2

Robert M. Young

There are So Many positions, perspectives and ‘takes’ on perversion that it is difficult to find one's bearings whether as a private individual or as a psychotherapist. I cannot hope in the course of one talk to arrive at a clear position, much less persuade all of you that it is a convincing one. I will say, however, that I feel sure that one has to bring several perspectives to bear on any conclusions that are even potentially convincing. Foremost among them, in my opinion, is the moral perspective — which is not, I hasten to add, the same as a moralistic perspective.

The press has of late been full of moral debates about homosexuality, in particular, about the propriety of making Dr Jeffrey John and Canon Gene Robinson bishops in Anglican and Episcopalian dioceses. You may take the view that this is nothing to do with psychotherapeutic ideas about perversion. After all, homosexuality (more precisely, ego-syntonic homosexuality) was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, 20 years after a previous edition of DSM said that it was a pathology (APA, 1987). If, however, you are miserable about your homosexuality you still get a diagnosis in that and successive editions of the DSM. This leads to a second perspective, which I suggest is essential to working out one's own position, that is, the fact that concepts of perversion are historical. They have changed through time and have done so rapidly in recent decades as a result of agitation on the part of gays, lesbians and others, formerly labelled perverts, and by those sympathetic to them. There have always been such people in prominent places in public life, including politics, culture, business and the clergy, but they have only recently been ‘out’ — members of the UK Cabinet, MPs, entertainers, entrepreneurs, clerics.

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