This essay reviews three recent books on perversion—a term that psychology has replaced with the ostensibly less-pathologizing term paraphilia, but which remains operative in popular discourse. Besides exploring the reasons for and limitations of this replacement, this essay analyzes the relationship between the concept of perversion and liberal politics—a politics of individualism, liberty, and consent. As one book reveals, efforts to defend BDSM as “safe, sane, and consensual” participate in liberal political discourse, but certain aspects of BDSM also pressure connections between sex and identity, safety and self-interest, that this discourse often assumes. Two of the books reviewed here specifically explore psychoanalytic concepts of perversion, which are often misogynistic and homophobic, but which have also been turned to queer ends. The essay ends with a discussion of the Lacanian concept of perversion, which, James Penney argues, might offer a way beyond current stalemates in queer politics underwritten by Michel Foucault's critique of liberalism.

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