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Courtship disorder is a theoretical construct in sexology in which a certain set of paraphilias are seen as specific instances of anomalous courtship instincts in men. The specific paraphilias are exhibitionism, voyeurism, telephone scatologia, toucheurism, frotteurism, and biastophilia (paraphilic rape). According to the Courtship disorder hypothesis, there is a species-typical courtship process in human males consisting of four phases, and anomalies in different phases result in one of these paraphilic sexual interests. That is, instead of being independent paraphilias, this theory sees these sexual interests as individual symptoms of a single underlying disorder.[1]

Courtship disorder hypothesis Edit

According to the courtship disorder hypothesis, there is a species-typical courtship process in human males consisting of four phases.[2][3] These phases are: “(1) looking for and appraising potential sexual partners; (2) pretactile interaction with those partners, such as by smiling at and talking to them; (3) tactile interaction with them, such as by embracing or petting; (4) and then sexual intercourse.”[4]

The associations between these phases and these paraphilias were first outlined by Kurt Freund,[5][6] the originator of the theory: A disturbance of the search phase of courtship manifests as voyeurism, a disturbance of the pretactile interaction phase manifests as exhibitionism or telephone scatologia, a disturbance of the tactile interaction phase manifests as toucheurism or frotteurism, and the absence of the courtship behavior phases manifests as paraphilic rape (i.e., biastophilia). According to Freund, these paraphilias “can be conceptualized as a preference for a pattern of behavior or erotic fantasy in which one of these four phases of sexual interaction is intensified and distorted to such an extent that it appears to be a caricature of the normal, while the remaining phases either are omitted entirely or are retained only in a vestigial way.”[7]

Freund noted that triolism (a paraphilia for observing one’s sexual/romantic partner sexually interacting with a third party, usually unbeknownst to the third party)[8] might also be a courtship disorder,[7][9] triolism being a variant of voyeurism.

Some authors have alerted clinicians in Western societies that some courtship disorder behaviors may be masked or altered in cultures that include festivals that alter normative courtship behaviors.[10]

Evidence and acceptance of the theory Edit

Paraphilias within the Courtship Disorder spectrum co-occur with each other more frequently than with paraphilias outside the courtship disorder spectrum.[11][12][13][14] Courtship disorder offers an underlying common cause for these paraphilias in men to explain this co-occurrence.[5][6]

Courtship disorder is widely cited by sexologists and forensic scientists as one of the predominant models of the paraphilias.[15][16][17][18][19] Another attempt to establish a theoretically-based taxonomy of the paraphilias was made by John Money, who described the range of paraphilic interests as love maps.[20]

The paraphilias spanned by the Courtship disorder theory are little studied; according to Murphy and Page (2008), “The ‘courtship disorder theory’ of Freund is one of the only theories specific to exhibitionism.”[21] According to Lavin (2008), “Freund’s theory, more than the others, makes it clear that the ordering of activities…has clinical significance.”[22]


  1. Freund, K., & Kolářský, A. (1965). Grundzüge eines einfachen bezugsystems für die analyse sexueller deviationen [Basic features of a reference system for considering anomalous erotic preferences]. Psychiatrie, Neurologie, and Medizinische Psychologie, 17, 221-225.
  2. Freund, K. (1976). Diagnosis and treatment of forensically significant anomalous erotic preferences. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Corrections, 18, 181–189.
  3. Freund, K., & Blanchard, R. (1986). The concept of courtship disorder. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 12, 79–92.
  4. Cantor, J. M., Blanchard, R., & Barbaree, H. E. (2009). Sexual disorders. In P. H. Blaney & T. Millon (Eds.), Oxford textbook of psychopathology (2nd ed.) (pp. 527–548). New York: Oxford University Press.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Freund, K. (1988). Courtship disorder: Is the hypothesis valid? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 528, 172–182.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Freund, K., Scher, H., & Hucker, S. (1983). The courtship disorders. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 12, 369–379.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Freund, K. (1990). Courtship disorder. In W. L. Marshall, D. R. Laws, & H. E. Barbaree (Eds.), Handbook of sexual assault: Issues, theories, and treatment of the offender (pp. 195–207). NY: Plenum.
  8. Hirschfeld, M. (1938). Sexual anomalies and perversions: Physical and psychological development, diagnosis and treatment (new and revised ed.). London: Encyclopaedic Press.
  9. Freund, K., & Watson, R. (1990). Mapping the boundaries of courtship disorder. The Journal of Sex Research, 27, 589–606.
  10. Maharajh, H. D., & Konings, M. (2007). Dancing frotteurism and courtship disorder in Trinidad and Tobago. Journal of Chinese Clinical Medicine, 7(2).
  11. Abel, G. G., & Osborn, C. (1992). The paraphilias: The extent and nature of sexually deviant and criminal behavior. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 15, 675-689.
  12. Abel, G. G., Becker, J. V., Cunningham-Rathner, J., Mittelman, M., & Rouleau, J.-L. (1988). Multiple paraphilic diagnoses among sex offenders. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 16, 153-168.
  13. Templeman, T. L., & Stinnet, R. D. (1991). Patterns of sexual arousal and history in a “normal” sample of young men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 20, 137-150.
  14. Fedora, O., Reddon, J. R., Morrison, J. W., Fedora, S. K., Pascoe, H., Yeudall, L. T. (1992). Sadism and other paraphilias in normal controls and nonaggressive sex offenders. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 21, 1-15.
  15. Maea, M., & Coccaro, E. F. (1998). Neurobiology and clinical views on aggression and impulsivity (Clinical & neurobiological advances in psychiatry series). New York: Wiley.
  16. McConaghy, N. (1993). Sexual behavior: Problems and management. New York: Plenum.
  17. Coleman, E., Dwyer, S. M., & Pallone, N. J. (Eds.) (1996). Sex offender treatment: Biological dysfunction, intrapsychic conflict, and interpersonal violence.
  18. Krueger, R. B., Kaplan, M. (2001). The paraphilic and hypersexual disorders: An overview. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 7, 391-403.
  19. Wiederman, M. W. (2003). Paraphilia and Fetishism. The Family Journal, 11, 315-321.
  20. Money, John (1986). Love maps - Clinical concepts of sexual/erotic health and pathology, paraphilia, and gender transpostition in childhood, adolescence, and maturity. New York: Prometheus Books.
  21. Murphy, W. D., & Page, I J. (2008). Exhibitionism: Psychopathology and theory. In D. R. Laws and W. T. O’Donohue (Eds.), Sexual deviance: Theory, assessment, and treatment (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford
  22. Lavin, M. (2008). Voyeurism: Psychopathology and theory. In D. R. Laws and W. T. O’Donohue (Eds.), Sexual deviance: Theory, assessment, and treatment (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford.
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