DSM-5 proposed diagnostic criteria for sexual paraphilias: tensions between diagnostic validity and forensic utility

Int J Law Psychiatry. May-Jun 2011;34(3):195-209. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2011.04.012. Epub 2011 May 4.

Abstract

In order to prevent sexual crimes, "sexual predator" laws now allow indefinite preventive civil commitment of criminals who have completed their prison sentences but are judged to have a paraphilic mental disorder that makes them likely to commit another crime. Such proceedings can bypass the usual protections of criminal law as long as the basis for incarceration is the attribution of a mental disorder. Thus, the difficult conceptual distinction between deviant sexual desires that are mental disorders versus those that are normal variations in sexual preference (even if they are eccentric, repugnant, or illegal if acted upon) has attained critical forensic significance. Yet, the concept of paraphilic disorders - called "perversions" in earlier times - is inherently fuzzy and controversial and thus open to conceptual abuse for social control purposes. Consequently, the criteria used in diagnosing paraphilic disorders deserve careful scrutiny. The DSM-5 sexual disorders work group is proposing substantial revisions to the paraphilia diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 nosology. It is claimed that the new criteria provide a reconceptualization that clarifies the distinction between normal variation and paraphilic disorder in a way relevant to forensic settings. In this article, after considering the logic of the concept of a paraphilic disorder, I examine each of the proposed changes to the DSM-5 paraphilia criteria and assess their conceptual validity. I argue that the DSM-5 proposals, while containing a kernel of an advance in distinguishing paraphilias from paraphilic disorders, nonetheless would yield criteria for paraphilic disorders that are conceptually invalid in ways open to serious forensic abuse.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders*
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Humans
  • Paraphilic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Paraphilic Disorders / psychology*
  • Sex Offenses / prevention & control
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Terminology as Topic