What Is Paraphilia? Justin Theroux's Sex-Obsessed Maniac Character, Explained

Photo: Michele K. Short/Netflix.
In the third episode of Netflix's new show, Maniac, Dr. Azumi Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno) walks in on her former employer Dr. James Mantleray (Justin Theroux) masturbating. But he's not masturbating in a way anyone from the 21st century would consider typical. He's sitting in an office chair with a machine called a suckbot strapped to his penis while he watches a giant, white octopus-version of himself have sex with a purple fairy-alien hybrid woman through virtual reality glasses. As the viewer moves out of Dr. Mantleray's fantasy world and back into the real world, we see his desk piled high with "floppy diks" (the fantasy discs that he inserts into his VR glasses) and a magazine called Paraphilic Monthly.
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Later in the series we find out from his mother that Dr. Mantleray has a condition called paraphilia, which means that he's sexually aroused by objects or activities that most people don't find sexy.
But anyone who was kind of aroused by Dr. Mantleray's alien-woman fantasy may find this definition of paraphilia hard to swallow. After all, what's so strange about lusting after a purple woman with big breasts? Lots of people probably think his fantasy is totally normal. And the distinction between what is and isn't "normal" makes defining paraphilia controversial, according to a group of scientists who wrote a 2013 report on the disorder. Deciding what is or isn't abnormal sexual behavior depends on cultural assumptions about sex. "In some circumstances, such diagnoses can be used to imprison and/or commit an individual based on their future likely danger to society, this adds another dimension to this problem," the scientists wrote.
Before 1973, for example, being gay was considered paraphilic under the DSM (diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders)-II. Because, back then, most straight people couldn't fathom being sexually attracted to someone of the same gender. Classifying homosexuality as a sexual disorder allowed people to justify putting gay people in mental institutions and attempting to change their sexuality through such brutal tactics as electro-shock therapy. When homosexuality was removed from the DSM, some people argued that other sexual interests defined as paraphilic should also be removed.
Currently, the International Society for Sexual Medicine(ISSM) only considers paraphilia a disorder if the paraphiliac's sexual interest "causes the person distress or causes distress, harm, or the risk of harm to others." Exhibitionism — when someone gets aroused by other people watching them have sex or be naked — for example, is considered a paraphilia. But, under the ISSM's definition, it would only be a paraphilic disorder if an exhibitionist made people who had not consented watch them have sex or masturbate. If they only had sex in front of people who wanted to watch, like if they were at a sex party, then they're not causing any harm.
So, in Maniac, Dr. Mantleray's interest in machine-based masturbation and sci-fi fantasy sex does make him a paraphiliac. But, it doesn't mean he has a paraphilia disorder, because his masturbation interests aren't hurting anyone.
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