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Jian Ghomeshi: Forensic psychologist explains non-consensual sex preferences

Some people are aroused by consensual sado-masochistic sex and some are turned on by violating another person’s consent.

In sexual behaviour laboratories in Ottawa, it’s possible to tell the difference.

The high-profile allegations against former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi have raised a lot of questions about consent and S&M.

“There are some people who, besides the fact that they may be interested in S&M sex, may also have arousal or sexual interest, or sexual preference related to non-consensual sex,” said Dr. John Bradford. “When we evaluate people — and we have a sexual behaviours laboratory where we can measure arousal — we can tease out these types of things, to see what the sexual preference actually is.”

Bradford has examined the country’s most infamous sexually motivated serial killers: Paul Bernardo, Robert Pickton and Russell Williams. He is the founder of the Forensic Psychiatry Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in Ottawa, professor of forensic psychiatry at multiple universities and a member of the Order of Canada.

Bradford said that when discussing Ghomeshi, who has publicly acknowledged engaging in “rough sex,” it’s important to recognize that consensual sadomasochism occurs all over the world between consenting people without issue, by following the rules set out to ensure consent is always present.

He has not examined Ghomeshi, and said he could only talk in general terms about the case and about sexual violence.

Nine women and one man have accused Ghomeshi of crimes including sexual harassment to non-consensual sexual violence. Ghomeshi has said through a Facebook posting that all of his sexual activities were consensual.

He is under police investigation, but has not been charged.

Studying sexual preference

Bradford said a preference for non-consensual sex can be determined.

“We have sexual behaviour laboratories where we can measure sexual arousal,” he said.

Bradford said the subject would be presented with different situations — coercive, non-consensual sex and of mutually consensual sex — and his arousal would be measured to determine a sexual interest in violating consent. The subject would also be presented erotic aggression to determine sadistic interest.

Bradford said a preference for non-consensual sex can be determined by measuring physical signs of sexual arousal, such as penis circumference.

If coercion — or non-consensual sexual activity or violence — is arousing to a person, it may be compulsive he said. “At a very high level, you see that in serial rapists and even people who go on to commit sexually motivated homicide. Like all biological things, there is a spectrum there.”

Bradford typically offers his expert evidence at the sentencing stage of a criminal trial after examining the perpetrator. “I suppose in theory, in extremely rare circumstances it could be used as a guilt or innocence thing, but I don’t think it should be. It’s mostly related to treatability or rehabilitation and those components which come out at sentencing.”

Nature or nurture? Choice or compulsion?

Even though Bradford is able to determine what people are aroused by, what’s made them that way remains largely a mystery.

“What we know is that people who have atypical sexual interests, the best way to understand it is the same as anyone else: When we hit puberty, and become sexually — we wake up, if you like — there’s an outpouring of sex hormones, we develop a sex drive and sexual fantasies and urges. That starts mostly with masturbation.”

“This appears to be pre-programmed. In other words, nobody chooses at that point to become pedophilic or have an atypical interest in S&M or things like that,” he said.

There is research into whether developing an atypical sexual interest is nature or nurture, but it’s inconclusive, he said. Most of the nature-versus-nurture research is focused on criminals who commit sexually motivated homicides.

Some of those who commit sexually motivated homicides have been found to have brain damage issues or a chromosome abnormality, such as XYY syndrome — an extra male chromosome.

However, that research can’t explain why some people with atypical sexual preferences only participate in consenting activities, while others don’t. Bradford said there is promising research into how sexuality may be formed by the interaction of genetics and hormones while a person is still in the womb. That research is still too preliminary to be relied upon.

What’s the deal with Big Ears Teddy?

As for one of the odder details of the Ghomeshi allegations — that he turned around his “Big Ears Teddy” so it couldn’t see him become violent — Bradford said he couldn’t know without examining Ghomeshi what it means.

But, if he were involved in a case with that detail, it would certainly be something he’d ask about.

“It may have all kinds of implications to it, it may be something to do with childhood or whatever … it could be, in theory, very important if someone was engaged in a criminal trial and sentencing process, it may make the problems more understandable and may also go to treatability,” he said.

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