AS we’ve briefly touched upon in previous blog posts, psychosexual behaviours were looked upon as forms of ‘sexual deviancy’ for which was seen as a mental illness, ‘cured’ by a committal to state hospitals and insane asylums- Briarcliffe being a prime example.
‘Illnesses’ such as nymphomania, exhibitionism and chronic masturbation were grounds for the nuthouse, and AHS: Asylum exhibits this well in the guise of various characters. The first we will look at is Shelley, as played by guest actor Chloe Sevigny. We hear her story of life prior to Briarcliffe, and how her ‘proposterous diagnosis from a psychiatrist [of nymphomania]’ – says Sister Jude – is grounds for punishment, then treatment.
Now referred to in psychiatry as hypersexuality, this diagnosis describes an individual who has extremely frequent or sudden increased urges for sexual activity. Jude, however, believes Shelley to simply be a victim of her own lust. In fact, she refers to her as a ‘sexual deviant’ when she goes missing in the storm part way through the series.
Hypersexuality has since been rethought, and has often been imagined as not a psychological condition, but actions of a person who simply doesn’t conform to social sexual expectations or conformities. In the same vain, it can be thought of as an obsessive compulsive disorder or addiction.
Shelley’s story of discovering sexual self-gratification from a young age, and her consequent continued sexual promiscuity unfolds, and we learnt that she is baffled by not only the fact she could be unfairly reprimanded and kept in Briarcliffe because of this, that men can love sex but when women do, they are regarded as sluts (hmmm, I’m not sure if this has changed…!)
Similarly to this, chronic masturbating (another ‘diagnosis’) seen in Briarcliffe represented through character Rudy. Back then, regarded as a mental disorder, can now be seen as a compulsion or addiction, as opposed to mental illness, even if the time/place is inappropriate.
Exhibitionism, paedophelia and (questionably) coprophilia [paraphilia involving sexual arousal and pleasure from faeces, so says http://americanhorrorstory.wikia.com/wiki/Spivey] are seen in Spivey, the supporting character and occasionally seen patient whom we learn would um, pleasure himself in the view of children in the school playground. Exhibitionism (exposing genitals to strangers), paedophelia and voyeurism (a person sexually aroused whilst watching others, i.e. porn or a peeping tom!) were seen as sexual deviancies much like Shelley’s ‘nymphomania’, hence his subsequent placement in Briarcliffe. This builds up quite a picture of sexual actors against cultural ‘norms’ were automatically labelled mental health deficiencies, or perhaps in fact, simply sinful and requiring of repentance.
Sexual deviancy was aroundabout defined as unusual sexual behaviour. Now, of course paedophilia and exhibitionism are illegal and morally unacceptable, but just because someone chooses to undertake an ‘unusual’ sexual activity, doesn’t make you mentally unwell. Well, now of course we know and accept people’s preferences as part of them, but back then, people weren’t so accepting…
- Psychology: A Graphic Guide (Nigel C. Benson) ISBN: 978-184046852-6