Heteronormativity and Repronormativity in Sexological “Perversion Theory” and the DSM-5’s “Paraphilic Disorder” Diagnoses

Lisa Downing*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


The move from “paraphilias” to “paraphilic disorders,” where only the latter constitute mental disorders, has been hailed as a major change to the conception of non-normative sexualities in DSM-5. However, this is a claim that has been criticized by numerous activists and doctors working for removal of all diagnoses of so-called sexual disorders from the APA’s manual. This article, written from a critical humanities, queer theory-inflected perspective, examines the historical and ideological grounds underlying the inclusion of the newly branded “paraphilic disorders” in DSM-5. It argues that the diagnosis does nothing to overturn the conservative and utilitarian view of sexuality as genitally oriented and for reproduction that has colored sexological and psychiatric history. It suggests that despite homosexuality no longer being classed as a disorder, an implicit heteronormativity continues to define psychiatric perceptions of sexuality. In sum, this article proposes that (1) the production of the field of psychiatric knowledge concerning “perversion”/“sexual deviation”/“paraphilia”/“paraphilic disorder” is more ideological than properly scientific; (2) the “normophilic” bias of the DSM is a bias in favor of heteronormativity and reproduction; and (3) some sexual practices are valued above others, regardless of claims that the presence of a paraphilic practice itself is no longer a criterion for a diagnosis of mental disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1139-1145
Number of pages7
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number5
Early online date18 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


  • DSM-5
  • Heteronormativity
  • Paraphilias
  • Paraphilic disorders
  • Reproduction
  • Repronormativity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Medicine(all)


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