Sick note: A (very) brief overview of emetophilia

“I was drunk while out during New Year’s Eve and I saw a big heap of vomit. Normally this would make me vomit at the sight of it but because I was drunk I lay down on my side next to it and started licking it. I am worried because ever since this I have become addicted and I often go out in the early hours of the morning in the hope to discover vomit to fuel my addiction the more congealed the vomit the better” (Email enquiry to Yahoo! Answers, 2011)

To most people, the opening quote might seem quite sickening (no pun intended). Emetophilia (also called vomerophilia) is a rare paraphilia in which individuals are sexually aroused either by self-induced vomiting or watching others vomit (i.e., there is an erotic focus on the regurgitated contents of a person’s stomach). More specifically, emetophiliacs are reported to love vomiting on their sexual partners. This practice is sometimes referred to as a ‘Roman shower’ based on the often-quoted stories of Romans throwing up between courses so that they could eat even more, and the Roman ‘vomitoriums’.

However, Cecil Adams, in his column in The Straight Dope, briefly examined Roman ‘vomitoriums’ but went on to highlight what vomitoriums really were. Vomitoriums existed but were actually passageways in amphitheatres that opened into a tier of seats from below or behind. Adams claimed that “the vomitoria deposited mobs of people into their seats and afterward disgorged them with equal abruptness into the streets–whence, presumably, the name”. Adams went onto say that although the Romans were no strangers to vomiting, they never did so on purpose. Vomiting does appear to have been part of the fine-dining experience but not done between courses to make way for more space in the person’s stomach.

Although sex and vomiting are somewhat strange bedfellows especially as sex is typically pleasurable and vomiting is typically unpleasurable, there are a number of similarities (although these might be viewed as stretching it a little). Many internet sites quote the same three similarities that sex and vomiting both (i) trigger hormones to be released that make people feel better, (ii) are initiated by a reaction to a stimulus, and (iii) [for men at least] involve the expulsion of fluids through a bodily tube and out of a bodily orifice.

Emetophiles appear to be diverse in which element of vomiting is the most erotic and/or most important. For some, it is the act of vomiting itself that is arousing. For these particular paraphiliacs, it has been claimed that the ‘spasm, ejaculation, relief’ sequence in vomiting is erotically charged. For others, sexual arousal is caused by either just talking about, collecting photographs/videos, seeing, and/or hearing others vomiting. In extreme cases, some individuals may get sexually aroused by their partner actually vomiting on them. Other extreme emetophile practices include the induction of vomiting in a partner (that in some cases may be forced). In these cases involving force, there are certainly shades of dominance and sadism (or if the wish is to be vomited upon by others, submission and masochism). The internet certainly acts as a catalyst to bring these people together (check out http://vomitonline.com/indepth.html) and the internet may also fuel emetophiles’ interest in celebrity vomiting as there are now loads of vomiting scenes from television and films circulating online.

Freud, arguably psychology’s most prolific writer on psychosexual issues, described vomiting as a substitute for moral and physical disgust. However, to my knowledge there is only one academic paper in the sex literature on the topic. This was by the renowned American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Professor Robert Stoller (1924-1991) who published a 1982 paper in the Archives of Sexual Behavior and claimed it was a previously unreported aberration”. Although Stoller claimed that vomiting paraphilias can occur in both males and females, the three case studies he outlined were all female. He suggested that emetophilia may manifest itself in a variety of ways (real versus imagined; self versus others; facilitative versus obligatory). If individuals have a sexual attraction to the vomit itself (rather than the vomiting process), then the diagnosis would be fetishism.

The first case described a woman that didn’t actually vomit herself but claimed she could reach orgasm “by imagining someone vomiting in a hard, humiliating fashion”. The second woman experienced an orgasm every time she vomited. The third woman said that “vomiting for me is like an orgasm in that I’m tensed, I feel the intense flood of good feelings almost continually throughout the vomiting and experience relief and quiet warmth in my body when I’m finished. It is not identical to an orgasm. I do not feel it intensely in my genitals alone, but I do feel it there as well as the rest of my body and in my mouth”.

Professor Stoller noted that the problem with this particular paraphilia is that the accounts are not based on those requiring treatment and that the stories take on an almost mythic-like quality rather than being “true-to-life”. He went on to say that by “concentrating on exact, naturalistic data collecting would show us how much we do not know…erotic impulses are a never-ending source of ingenious, even wondrous constructions [and] almost every object or body function can be erotized”

No-one really knows how this particular paraphilia develops although the root of most paraphilias lie in maladaptive learning. One online site I came across (‘Frequently Asked Questions About Vomiting’) theorized that “vomiting was probably something either arousing or frightening to emetophiles at some point … it aroused powerful emotions, and the emetophile later called upon these emotions for purpose of sexual gratification”. Some allege that emetophilia is closely related to emetophobia (i.e., the fear of vomiting) since some of these individuals may have developed emetophilia as a result of emetophobia. The thinking here is that (somewhat ironically) many emetophiles continue to fear vomiting themselves despite the amount of time they spend fantasizing about other people vomiting.

No-one knows (empirically) how widespread the practice is and whether it is restricted to certain countries but I will leave you with another quote from an emetophile that I came across online:

“I believe that the way we are affected by our [vomiting] kink transcends international borders and cultural differences, and is something basic to our human nature. I feel strongly that emetophilia is more than ‘just’ a kink, and has deeper origins than most fetishes. However, as an English speaker on an English-speaking board it’s hard for me to confirm that, which is one of the reasons it’s so nice to hear from [non-English speaking emetophiliacs]. So far, everyone else who has posted is from the US, Europe and other Western cultures, but now we’re beginning to get a feel for how international our kink truly is.”

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

Further reading

Adams, C. (2002). Were there really vomitoriums in ancient Rome? The Straight Dope. November 1. Located at: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2421/were-there-really-vomitoriums-in-ancient-rome

Aggrawal, Anil (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unususal Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Freud, S. (1953). Studies on Hysteria (Standard Edition). London: Hogarth Press.

Stoller, R.J. (1982). Erotic Vomiting”, Archives of Sexual Behavior 11: 361-365 (1982).

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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 March 29, 2012, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Eating disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Psychiatry, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Great well written article and a great website. I wish I would of found this website much sooner. I certainly will be bookmarking it and checking back in the near future for more articles.

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