Mental health, and its subsequent psychiatric disorders, has one deeply-rooted yet fundamental flaw: the ability to learn complex medical definitions and terminology. This complication stems from pop culture and the rest of society in indoctrinatinating slang— a certain connotation and definition of a word— while the medical community arrives at a separate, more technical definition. Social division is thus created when the two parties attempt to communicate with each other. This divide is not bridged in the slightest when you take into account the nature of medicine, in which definitions to any medical term have a chance to change as more information is gathered regarding that term. One such scenario that highlights this convoluted cycle are the interconnected set of terms: normophilia, paraphilia, and paraphilic disorders.
Normophilia refers to sexual interests or desires that fit the expectation of custom, religion, or law (Normophilia, 2012). The reason that “normal” sexual interests have a specific term is due to the evolution of society, which has dictated that norms will change as we progress and become more accepting of once frowned upon behaviors. The best example of this is homosexuality, as it once had a classification as a paraphilia until the DSM-III-R (a manual used for the assessment and diagnosis of mental disorders). However, after new criteria was established to better fit society’s more “progressive” stance on the matter, it became apparent that homosexuality no longer fit under the label of paraphilia and was actually a normophilia. It is also important to note that there is no universal list of normophilic sexual interests because what is considered “normal” changes from culture to culture.
Paraphilia, as defined by the DSM-V, is essentially any intense or persistent sexual interest or preference that includes anything other than genital stimulation or fondling with human partners that are phenotypically normal, physiologically mature, and consenting (Sorrentino, 2021). In layman’s terms, paraphilias are known to the rest of the world as “kinks.” The reason the DSM-V has such a specific definition was to ensure that there is a clear stance between what is considered paraphilia and what is considered a paraphilic disorder.
Paraphilic disorders share the same definition as paraphilia up to the point where there are differences in who or what these sexual urges are targeted towards. Specifically, paraphilic disorders are intense sexual desires aimed at potentially non-human, non-consenting, or non-physiologically mature targets (Brown, 2020). These kinds of disorders may lead to physical or mental injuries to the person who has it and the type of people who that person is fixated on. This specification of what a paraphilic disorder is was introduced with the DSM-V, as the American Psychological Association wanted to stress the legal implications that come with paraphilic disorders that are not necessarily present with paraphilias.
Becoming familiar with these terms is a major step in being able to better navigate the realm of mental health— a realm that has ever changing definitions and classifications being added, making it that much more important to start somewhere tangible. In this way, one can learn about the specific differences in mental health terminology which, regardless of any changes that may be made in the future, allows for a better understanding of some of the struggles faced by people with these conditions. This allows for a more empathetic understanding, hopefully leading to more people being willing to accept those who have a mental condition into their community rather than ostracizing them.
Normophilia. (2012). TheFreeDictionary.com. https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/normophilia
Sorrentino, R. (2021). DSM-5 and Paraphilias: What Psychiatrists Need to Know. Psychiatric Times. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/dsm-5-and-paraphilias-what-psychiatrists-need-know
Brown, G. (2020). Overview of Paraphilic Disorders. Merck Manuals Professional Edition; Merck Manuals.