A key distinguishing characteristic of paraphilias is whether they involve an element of coercion. Several of the paraphilias are strictly solo activities or involve the partici­pation of consensual adults who agree to engage in, observe, or just put up with the particular variant behavior. Because coercion is not involved and a person’s basic rights are not violated, such so-called noncoercive atypical behaviors are considered relatively benign or harmless by many. Clearly, the chapter opening account falls into this category. However, as we will see, these noncoercive behaviors occasionally engender potentially adverse consequences for people drawn into their sphere of influence.

Some paraphilias, such as voyeurism or exhibitionism, are def­initely coercive or invasive, in that they involve unwilling recipients of the behavior. Furthermore, research suggests that such coercive acts can harm their targets, who may be psychologically trauma­tized by the experience. Such recipients may feel that they have been violated or that they are vulnerable to physical abuse, and they may develop fears that such unpleasant episodes will recur. This is one reason that many of these coercive paraphilias are ille­gal. On the other hand, many people who encounter such acts are not adversely affected. Because of this fact, and because many of these coercive behaviors do not involve physical or sexual contact with another person, many authorities view them as minor sex offenses (sometimes called nuisance offenses). However, evidence that some people progress from nuisance offenses to more serious forms of sexual abuse may lead to a reconsideration of whether I these offenses are ‘minor" (Bradford et al., 1992; Fedora et al., 1992). We examine this issue in more detail later in this chapter.

In our discussion of both coercive and noncoercive paraphilias, we examine how each of these behaviors is expressed, common characteristics of people who exhibit the paraphilia, and various factors thought to contribute to the development of the behavior. More severe forms of sexual coercion, such as rape, incest, and child abuse, are discussed in Chapter 17.