Dead strange: A brief psychological overview of necrophilia

In a previous blog, I briefly examined paraphilias. One of the rarest of known paraphilias is necrophilia in which a person obtains sexual gratification by viewing or having intercourse with a corpse. Given the rarity of necrophilia, there is a lack of systematicaly reported empirical data with almost all knowledge emanating from published case studies.

Based on the case study data, necrophilia almost exclusively involves males who are driven to remove freshly buried bodies or seek employment in funeral parlours or morgues (in fact, in the biggest study of necrophilic behaviour found that 57% of necrophiliacs were employed in a profession that gave then access to dead bodies). However, rare cases of female necrophilia have been documented including the high profile case of Karen Greenlee.

Arguably, the most comprehensive study in the area was published in 1989 by Dr Jonathan Rosman and Dr Phillip Resnick (psychiatrists who were working at Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital, USA). Their review examined 122 cases (comprising 88 from the world literature and 34 unpublished cases of their own). The motivation for engaging in necrophilic behaviour was examined and the results showed that two-thirds of the necrophiliacs reported the desire to possess an unresisting and unrejecting partner (68%). Other lesser motivations reported included wanting to be reunited with their dead romantic partner (21%), being sexually attracted to corpses (15%), comfort or overcoming feelings of isolation (15%), and/or seeking self-esteem by expressing power over a homicide victim (12%). They also classified the behaviour into three sub-types: (i) necrophilic homicide, (ii) “regular” necrophilia, and (iii) necrophilic fantasy. Some British research has also suggested that some necrophiles may opt for a non-living mate through a consistent failure to create normal romantic attachments with people that are alive.

Rosman and Resnick also theorized about the situational antecedents leading to necrophilic behaviour. Their theory was that necrophiliacs develop poor self-esteem that may be due to a significant loss. Furthermore, they suggested that necrophiliacs may be fearful of rejection by others and that they desire a sexual partner who is incapable of rejecting them. Here, necrophiliacs may be socially and/or sexually inept and may hate and/or fear the opposite sex. This causes them to seek out non-threatening, subjugated sexual partners (i.e. non-living people). Alternatively, they also suggested that necrophiliacs may be fearful of dead people, and that they transform their fear into a sexual desire. Perhaps unsurprisingly, necrophiliacs almost always manifest severe emotional disorders.

Dr Martin Kafka (McLean Hospital in Belmont, USA), one of the world’s leading paraphilia experts, argues that necrophilia could technically be considered as a fetish variant because the sexualized object of desire is ‘‘nonliving’’ although there are insufficient data to empirically support the argument. Necrophilia can be accompanied by ‘‘sadistic acts’’ and sexually motivated murder, certainly not behaviors associated with fetishism (as currently defined).

The sadistic side of necrophilia has certainly been reported in some of the more extreme case studies. For instance, Edwin Ehrlich and colleagues (at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany) presented the case of a young man twice convicted on charges of defiling female corpses and who had undergone a long course of psychiatric treatment. All his necrophilic acts were committed over a 15-year period. In three cases, the necrophiliac skinned the trunk of the dead victims, placed the skin on his naked body and then stimulated himself sexually. In several cases, he kept mementos from the victims at his home  (e.g., used burial clothes that he had removed from the coffins).

According to Professor Anil Aggrawal (Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi), cases like the one above indicate that necrophilia exists in many variations. Aggrawal argued that because so many related necrophilic behaviours are used differently by different people, a new classification was needed. Based on case studies in the literature, Aggrawal argued there were ten different types of necrophiliac. These comprised (i) role players, (ii) romantic necrophiles, (iii) necrophilic fantasizers (people having a necrophilic fantasy), (iv) tactile necrophiles, (v) fetishistic necrophiles (i.e., people having a sexual fetish for the dead), (vi) necromutilomaniacs (i.e., people having a necromutilomania), (vii) opportunistic necrophiles, (viii) regular necrophiles, (ix) homicidal necrophiles, and (x) exclusive necrophiles.

Homicidal necrophilia certainly seems to be a distinct sub-category of necrophilia. A recently published study by Michelle Stein (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, USA) and colleagues reviewed 211 sexual homicides. Nearly 8% involved necrophilia (i.e., 16 cases). Their findings suggested that the most common explanation for necrophilia (i.e., the offender’s desire to have an unresisting partner) may not always be applicable in cases where necrophilia is connected to sexual murder.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal, A. (2009). A new classification of necrophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 16, 316-320.

Burg, B.R. (1982). The sick and the dead: The development of psychological theory on necrophilia from Krafft-Ebing to the present. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 18, 242-254.

Ehrlich, E., Rothschild, M.A., Pluisch, F. & Schneider, V. (2000). An extreme case of necrophilia. Legal Medicine, 2, 224-226.

Kafka, M.P. (2010). The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 373-376.

Rosman, J.P. & Resnick, P.J. (1989). Sexual attraction to corpses: A psychiatric review of necrophilia. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 17, 153-163.

Stein, M.L., Schlesinger, L.B. & Pinizzotto, A.J. (2010). Necrophilia and sexual homicide. Journal of Forensic Science, 55, 443-446.

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About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Gambling Studies at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 430 research papers, three books, over 120 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on January 20, 2012, in Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Problem with the whole necrophilia question is the fact that so many of the so called cases are people who are not necrophiles have sex with corpses. Opportunistic people who just got a thrill. Most so called cases of necrophilia i heard or read about are in this group and should like American prison inmates aren’t counted as gays be excluded from the necrophile-population.

    Rosman and Resnick’s study included a lot of these and if i remember correctly (i do not at the moment have access to my material) they also cite the fact that many so called killers where “pseudonecrophiliacs”. False necrophiles i.e not necrophiles at all.

    That would make discussion and classification of varieties of necrophilia much easier and more certain. While the population dwindles it wont be as easy though to get reliable data but as i said i think the data already are corrupt in the studies done. Also it is mostly based on clinical evidence and should also be mistrusted.

    Therefore i have a bone to pick with the academia on this subject. Necrophilia is not an act it’s a state of mind. Where a person’s sexuality is directed to corpses as the main sexual outlet. Exclusive necrophiles only outlet is corpses while others can have satisfying relationships with living but corpses are the preferred sexual outlet. I also know that necrophiles can fall in love with the dead.

    I believe there is as many reasons why someone is a necrophile as there are necrophiles. I have learned that based on all necrophiles i talked to, traded with or had friendships with. I am a necrophile and i can say i have no problem talking to people, create bonds and even be the very charming funny woman at a party. I have no problems getting relationship with living if i want to, i just prefer corpses. As one can read the etiology of my anecdotal evidence it´s unclear how it came to be that i am one but like with my homosexuality i feel i was born with it.

    Also my distinct knowledge in the world of necrophilia (so to speak) i would claim that a seizable chunk if not a majority of the true necrophiles are homosexual. And this is of a non-clinical population.

    I also completely disagree with Kafka that it is a fetish variant because necrophilia is in many ways, at least for me, associated with the fact that the dead woman have been alive once even though i have no interest in who she was as alive. A rubber fetishist probably doesn’t go around and is aroused by the fact that the rubber once came from a three or oil. There is a huge difference.

    Sadism against the fetishistic object are documented. One example are the group of Balloon fetishists, they have a split where one group likes to poke a whole in balloons so the burst. The other group think they kill balloons and love them.

    The ending, homicidical necrophilia i want to point out again, having sex with a corpse do not make you a necrophile. I have not read the study however but i do not disagree there are homicidal necrophiles but the goal is to get a corpse not the murder in itself. That is what differs erotophonophiliacs who kill and have sex with a corpse and necrophiles who kill to aquire a corpse. Big difference.

    Lastly i do not agree with the common conception that Jeffrey Dahmer was a necrophile. He wanted living zombies as sex partners and after read about him he only had sex once with a corpse. Death was a side effect of Jeffrey Dahmers urges to create these sex slave zombies or force the people to stay with him. When he masturbated to the skulls of his kills it was the memoirs of who they have been and the power he had over them.

    When i had sex with human skulls it was because i loved it and them.

    • Muerta, I have read your above post and am really fascinated by what makes you tick, I am not a necrophile myself but I am deeply interested in the subject as well as the complete lack of any acknowledgement of it in wider communities. I would like to write an article for an upcoming webzine which brings taboo topics to the mainstream and think it would be great to show the real deal and straighten out misconceptions about being necro, I will keep your identity 100% confidential of course and would not publish any details you don’t want me to, would you be interested in having a chat? Give me an email at amiraskari030@gmail.com.

  2. If you actually have enough of an interest in this subject to talk to people who are part of this sexual orientation/ subculture you would see a majority are women, and many are capable of profound, loving and emotional connections with their dead partners.

    Continuously regurgitating what Anil Aggrawal writes, with his absurd categorizations does nothing to further understanding of anyone, especially people so misunderstood as necrophiles.

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