It is impossible to write about erection problems without dealing with the question of abnormal, deviant or perverse sexuality. The modern view is that a sexual act is not perverse provided it is performed by adults and that neither of the partners suffers any physical or mental harm. This makes it extremely difficult to establish criteria for what is supposedly normal and what is perverse. Take anal sex, for example. In the past Dutch farmers were wont to distinguish between their wives’ weekday and Sunday holes (I’m afraid I’ve forgotten which orifice was associated with the Lord’s Day).

Speaking of beastly thoughts: the Roman emperor Nero was subject to waves of incredibly capricious erotic fury. He often cloaked himself in animal skins, disguised now as a wolf, now as a lion, now as a swan, now as a bull. He would then attack chained prisoners, clawing them, biting them or mutilating them for his pleasure. In orgies he sometimes assumed the woman’s role. He was convinced that no one was free of some kind of taint, and that no one was chaste, such are the apocryphal stories surrounding him. The wretched Nero died weeping in the arms of his wife Sporus. She was very careful that her blood did not mingle with that of her bestial husband, whose whole body was covered in stinking sores as a result of his endless sexual dissipation.

Whatever the case, sexual perversity is difficult to define, mainly because opinions differ according to time and place. In his wonderful book The Inner Brothel, Hans Plomp (1944) describes the adventures, as amusing as they are weird, of a perverse art critic. Though Plomp is not usually counted among the ‘greats’ of literature, for initiates he is a woman-friendly writer, which is greatly to his credit. In the book Barels the art critic becomes virtually impotent after a particularly unpleasant experience during intercourse. He has secretly turned the mirrors of his wife’s dressing table in such a way that he will be able to observe himself during copulation. He hopes that she will fall asleep as usual during their lovemaking. That will give him plenty of time to play the voyeur. . .

One evening he is very insistent and though she isn’t in the mood at all, she lets him have his way. As expected, she quickly falls asleep. Actually he quite likes that, as he can’t stand her staring up at him while he is pumping away on top of her: she always has such an uninterested, disdainful expression. He carefully pulls the covers back. The sleeping woman gives a brief grunt when disturbed, but doesn’t wake. Barels looks in the window behind him. There is only one lamp on the bed­side table, but he can still see his pasty white buttocks reflected in the glass. He strains to get a better look, and suddenly he freezes. In the mirror he sees his wife’s lower body, though lying on it is not himself, Barels, but a mangy grey-white dog with bare patches on its back and behind. The animal leers disgustingly at him. Barels catches his breath and lies absolutely still. Barels raises an arm, and a front paw is raised in perfect time. He breaks out in a sweat:

He reaches for the light cord at the head of the bed and pulls on it. In the light he can see the animal quite clearly. It looks like a scurfy jackal. Barels groans in horror and to his aston­ishment it sounds like the growling of a dog. His wife is im­mediately wide awake. ‘What are you lying there howling like a dog for? Please let me get some rest. I’ve got a headache and you’re clammy with sweat.’

‘Can’t you see anything different about me?’ asked Barels.

She looked at him again with that disdain of hers. Then she said: ‘You’re a bit like a drowned dog, but that’s nothing unusual.’

From that that night on Barels is virtually impotent. His few attempts turn into miserable failures. To make matters worse he has weak intestines, which gurgle dreadfully when he has just got into bed. Barels also confesses that he has found the cure for his impotence in the diaries of James Joyce, the Irish genius who knew no greater pleasure than lying under his wife’s bottom so that she could relieve herself over him. Hadn’t Joyce also written: ‘The smallest things give me a wonderful hard-on – a brown stain on the back of your panties.’ After Barels’ con­fession his wife decides to leave.

Hans Plomp’s story shows convincingly that every man is suscep­tible to perverse, bestial fantasies. What matters is what you do or don’t do with them! Shouting them from the rooftops doesn’t seem like a good idea – unless you want to make money out of them, of course.