Here’s what a sex therapist says about the alleged “Swiss cheese pervert”
You’ve certainly heard about this by now: Earlier in the month, a man dubbed the “Swiss cheese pervert” allegedly began randomly exposing himself to women in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia. Described as a “heavyset white man estimated to be in his late 40s or early 50s” in a Daily News story before a suspect, Chris Pagano, was subsequently arrested on Jan. 17th, the offender in question reportedly would drive up to women in a black sedan with his genitals out, show the women a piece of Swiss cheese, and then ask the women to put the cheese on his penis and do stuff to it.
One neighborhood woman immediately recognized the strikingly specific fetish from an encounter she’d had online. In 2012, a member of the dating website OKCupid using a profile photo resembling the Mayfair suspect had sent a message to the then-19 year-old Gabby Chest. She provided Philadelphia Magazine with the message, some of which read:
“I want to be up-front with you and tell you what exactly I am looking for. This way you have an idea of what I am into. You see it’s not sex in the traditional sense, it’s more a fetish. Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy traditional sex, but I grown to prefer this more. This fetish is a Sitophilia type fetish… I developed this fetish to help me deal with my sexual urges. I found that women tend to like dairy products, and settled on cheese to represent the girl. thus I started having sex with cheese. I like to use Swiss cheese and would wrap slices of the cheese around penis, then masturbate. Now tho, after finding several girls to do it for me, I prefer having girls do it for me, instead of myself. Still I suppose I was lucky in finding those women, and our relationships did not last long, since our relationship based more on my fetish and me helping them out money wise.”
I couldn’t help noticing how calmly self-aware about his fetish this person seemed—how he sounded more in control of his urges than one might expect of a street harasser. So I contacted Dr. Thomas Wood, a relationship and sex therapist at the Philadelphia Institute for Individual, Relational and Sex Therapy, to see if he might offer some insight into the mindset behind it.
After reading several articles about the suspect’s alleged behavior, Wood suggested that these kinds of actions might reflect “some cross between exhibitionistic paraphilic disorder and paraphilia.” Paraphilia, he explains, “is the desire, fantasy and behavior around atypical sexual acts” — whereas paraphilic disorder “is the desire [and] fantasy around atypical behavior and acts with non-consenting partners, or at a level that creates personal distress or interpersonal distress.”
In addition to the sitophilia mentioned in the OKCupid message — that’s the technical term for sexual “food play” — Wood says that the alleged Mayfair offender found a “really unique way” to combine his fetishistic disorder and his exhibitionistic disorder, by driving around Northeast Philly with his slice of Swiss.
What’s more, Wood was particularly surprised by the message Chest received describing the cheese-lover’s fetish. “I actually felt a deep sense of compassion with this man,” he says. “I actually had the thought that he had been in counseling before this—or he had done a lot of reading. He sounds very educated on his fetish, to the level that he can explain it very well.” It’s a rare degree of self-insight for this kind of fetishist, Wood says, noting that they often don’t understand exactly how their fetish developed and aren’t able to communicate it in a rational way.
OK, but is it normal for someone who’s been through therapy to fall off the wagon as hard as the suspect is accused of having done, going around Northeast Philly and allegedly exposing himself? “Even if he was in therapy, there could be slips and regression,” Wood suggests. “When you’re living that level of isolation or rejection or sadness or fear, you can begin to think of doing things or plan to do things without considering how it might affect others very easily.”
He suggests that therapy might be more useful in a case like this than prison time. “We pay a significant amount of our tax dollars to have safety and security through our police force to protect us from harm as a society. I think we value that. I’m happy about the notion that this man… might actually get psychiatric or therapeutic attention for what might be very deep for him.”
Wood says there are actually things we might learn—about enjoying sex—from those with paraphilia.
“One thing we’ve learned from the fetish or paraphilia community is that they’re more in touch with their sensual selves than the rest of us,” he says. “We have five senses, and most of us, during sex, focus on two—which are touch and sight. Many individuals with fetishes incorporate the entire realm of the sense to heighten their sexual pleasure. What this gentleman [allegedly] had, he gets highly aroused from the smell, the taste or the feel of it, the entire sensational experience. It kind of makes the rest of us feel limited by comparison.”
In this case, Wood says, the suspect allegedly wasn’t able to “balance humanizing and objectifying his partners;” after apparently looking for partners among both online daters and prostitutes, he ended up exposing himself to strangers on the street. That obviously can’t be justified by any stretch of the imagination, Wood says, “but it doesn’t disregard the fact that there are some parts of his sexuality that are good and something we could all improve upon if we knew the secret.”
Follow @RandyLoBasso on Twitter