Statue of limitations: A brief overview of agalmatophilia

In March 2012, the Daily Mail reported the story of Reighner Deleighnie, a 40-year old woman from London who claimed that she had fallen in love with a three-foot statue of the Greek God Adonis that she bought for £395. It was reported that:

“She enjoys reading and talking to her companion, and keeps him close by when she watches television and eats dinner. She also kisses and caresses him, imagining the pair of them walking through meadows of wildflowers or at the seaside. She shares the condition with Amanda Whittaker, a 27-year-old shop assistant from Leeds who has fallen head over heels for the Statue of Liberty”.

Agalmatophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual arousal from an attraction to (usually nude) statues, dolls, mannequins and/or other similar body shaped objects. It is also part of a wider condition known as ‘object sexuality’ (i.e., those individuals who develop deep emotional and/or romantic attachments to specific inanimate objects or structures) that I wrote about in a previous blog. The behaviour can manifest itself in many forms including actual sexual contact with the body-shaped objects, fantasies of having sexual encounters with the body-shaped objects, the act or sexual fantasy of watching encounters between the body-shaped objects themselves, and/or sexual arousal from thoughts of being transformed or transforming into a body-shaped object. (Because of this latter variation, some commentators have noted there are elements of transformation fetishism that I examined in my previous blog on Furry Fandom). It has also been claimed that for some agalmatophiles, the idea of immobility or loss of control can be arousing. For other agalmatophiles, there may also be fantasies about paralysis that may cross over into hypno-fetishism and/or robot fetishism.

Agalmatophilia can also include “Pygmalionism” that is usually defined as a state of love for an object of one’s own creation. Pygmalion was a Greek sculptor and misogynist who fell in love with a statue he had carved. In Greek mythology (and according to Ovid), after seeing the Propoetides prostituting themselves, Pygmalion lost all sexual interest in women. The legend has it that his carved statue was so realistic that he fell in love with it. He prayed to Aphrodite (the Greek godess of love) to bring the statue to life. Aphrodite eventually granted his wish and Pygmalion married the once statue. (I feel duty bound to point out that this view is not universal. A 1978 paper in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences by two New Zealand historians, Dr. A. Scobie and Dr. J. Taylor, state that Pygmalionism is not – and shouldn’t be confused as – a form of agalmatophilia).

Most of the academic writings on agalmatophilia are either case studies and/or historical writings (which are hard to confirm). For instance, Dr. Brenda Love in a 2005 book chapter entitled “Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing” said that Clisyphus allegedly “violated the statue of a goddess in the Temple of Samos, after having placed a piece of meat on a certain part”. Dr. Love also reported that having sex with statues was commonplace among worshippers of Priapus where virgins were first penetrated by him. (For those who don’t know, Priapus was a fertility god, and protector of fruit, gardens, livestock, and male genitalia. All illustrations of Priapus accentuate his oversized, permanent erection that has given rise to the painful medical condition ‘priapism’ in which the penis remains erect for long periods). Even in the twentieth century, Dr. Love reports that young Indian female virgins have been documented as making love to statues as a way to break their hymens.

Arguably the first academically documented case was by Richard Von Krafft-Ebbing in his 1877 text Psychopathia Sexualis. Here, Krafft-Ebbing recounted that case of a male gardener who fell in love with a statue of the Venus de Milo and was discovered attempting to have sexual intercourse with it. In a 1978 issue of the Journal of Sex Research, Murray White, a psychologist based in New Zealand, examined the clinical and literary citations relating to agalmatophilia. Although making reference to case studies outlined by Krafft-Ebbing and Havelock Ellis, he found found only one “single documented instance where this condition existed as part of a complex manifestation of symptoms but a number of instances where it occurred as a pornographic fantasy”. Despite the rarity of the condition, White did at least conform that the condition was a bona fide clinical entity.

More recently, Dr. Brenda Love in her 2005 book chapter outlined two more case studies (one of which I think was originally in Robert Tralin’s 1969 book The Sexual Fetish). The first case was the case a 34-year old man who at the age of 12 years became obsessed with a life size museum statue. He subsequently bought two small statues he spotted in a shop window and began regularly masturbating with them. At the time of the report being written, he had been masturbating with the aid of the statues for 22 years and was still doing it even though he was now happily married.

The second case involved a window dresser who developed overwhelming urges to masturbate every time he saw a naked mannequin. This appeared to be related to his first sexual experience when he was forced to perform fellatio on a man while sitting on mannequins. As time went on, he also developed desires to rub up against mannequins and also liked other men to watch him do it.

There are also cases of what could perhaps be described as ‘pseudo-agalmatophilia’. For instance, Dr. Brenda Love noted that in the sado-masochistic community, some masochists are ordered by their sexually sadistic partners to become a statue and not move while being fondled. There is nothing in the empirical academic literature outside of case studies although one website essay on agalmatophilia claims men who participate in these fetishes outnumber women 10 to 1, but that there are many women who participate as well. It also states that:

“The sexual stimulation results more from a need of control and sexual gratification without emotion from either counterpart. It can be easily misunderstood as a shallow, cruel, and heartless depiction of sexual stimulation, and although this may be true for some, it is not true for all. Some use this as a way of performing derogatory acts without actually harming anyone…Agalmatophilia is a difficult concept to comprehend, especially when considering the mental states behind these fantasies. However, one should always consider whether the actions harm real individuals or not. In some cases, this is just a derogatory fantasy. For others, this is just sexual gratification that stems from loneliness or the lack of confidence in an ability to find a partner”

In the absence of any empirical sources to back this up, it is hard to assess the validity of these claims, but the claims seem plausible. As with most rare paraphilic behaviours, we have no way of knowing whether the published case studies are in any way representative of all people who have such sexual interests.

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

Further reading

Baker, D. (2012). ‘I’m head over heels in love with the Statue of Liberty': Shop assistant has got a new flame! Daily Mail, March 6. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2110198/Amanda-Whittaker-love-Statue-Liberty-Shop-assistant-got-new-flame.html#ixzz1viApQQ1M

Krafft-Ebing, R. (1877). Psychopathia Sexualis. New York: Paperback Library (1965 reprint).

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Love, B. (2005). Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.122-129).  New York: The Disinformation Company.

Scobie, A. & Taylor, J. (1975). Perversions ancient and modern. Agalmatophilia, the statue syndrome. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 11, 49-54.

Strauss, R.S. (2012). I’m in love with a three-foot statue of Adonis: Carer, 40, spends every day with £400 moulding of the Greek god of desire she has dubbed ‘Hans’. Daily Mail, March 23. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2119164/Carer-40-spends-day-400-Adonis-moulding-dubbed-Hans.html#ixzz1vi0JlPvb

Stupid My Cupid (2010). Agalmatophilia: Love in the age of silicon. May 20. Located at: http://stupidmycupid.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/what-is-agalmatophilia-agalmatophilia.html

Tralins, R. (1969). The Sexual Fetish: Case Histories of Bizarre Sexual Hangups. New York: Paperback Library Books.

White, M.J. (1978). The Statue Syndrome: Perversion? Fantasy? Anecdote? Journal of Sex Research, 14, 246-249.

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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 May 31, 2012, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Obsession, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. wow this explains alot.

    You are so very on the right track. But perhaps to find the “norm” aspect of this rare thing, try to understand that it really is lonelyness, personal hopelessness….. wether that sentiment plays out with a psychopathic angery reaction it still starts out as a self-disatisfaction thing.

    Others and most of us internalise our angers and sadness in other ways, we withdraw rather than blame and lash out at others. And for some beset by this rarething, there simply isn’t anyone around who adores us as much as we might like to adore somone.

    I think the “norm” aspect of this thing is most akin to the character “Wilson” in Tom Hank’s Cast Away.

    The acceptnce (or lack there of) of one’s lonelyness, and the invention of ‘someone’ to share our signularity with.

    I believe it’s neural route to be within the same branch of mentaliy that invents perosnal relationships with diety/ spirit….but then isnt that a psychological mine feild.

    I hope your work is fruitful.

  1. Pingback: 7 Strangest Sex Fetishes: Do You Have One? | Put That Cheese Burger Down!

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