Category Archives: Compulsion
In a number of previous blogs I have made reference to the fact that I am a music obsessive. One of the consequences of my insatiable desire for music is that I often find myself unconsciously singing (either along with the music itself or just spontaneously as the mood takes me). Although I do not believe I have a compulsion to break into song, I was surprised to find that there are a number of case studies in the psychological literature on compulsive singing and other music related compulsions such as compulsive humming and whistling (although these all appear to be consequences of other underlying conditions). As noted in a previous blog, compulsive behaviour typically involves a repetitive and irresistible urge to perform a particular action (or set of actions) where the person feels they have no control to inhibit or stop the habitual behaviour. Compulsivity is part of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but may occasionally occur as stand-alone symptom following the onset of various physiological disorders.
One of the earliest papers I came across on the phenomenon was by Dr. Daniel Jacome in a 1984 issue of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. Dr. Jacome described the case of a “musically naive patient with dominant fronto-temporal and anterior parietal infarct developed transcortical mixed aphasia. From early convalescence, he exhibited elated mood with hyperprosody and repetitive, spontaneous whistling and whistling in response to questions”. In addition to the whistling, Jacome also reported that the individual spontaneously sang without any error in melody, lyrics, pitch, and rhythm. The man also developed the desire to spend long periods of time listening to music.
Compulsive whistling was also reported in a 2012 issue of BMC Psychiatry by Dr. Rosaura Polak and her colleagues. Their paper reported the case of a 65-year-old man who started whistling compulsively following a heart attack. The heart attack had caused some brain damage due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. Prior to the cardiac arrest, the man had never displayed any obsessive-compulsive symptoms or psychiatric complaints. He was treated with clomipramine (a seretonin reuptake inhibitor) and this decreased time spent compulsively whistling. The authors concluded that:
“This case shows that the whistling can be explained in the context of compulsivity with its repetitive character. It illustrates that the compulsive behavior can be present as an independent symptom of cortico-striatal dysfunction, and may not always belong to frontal syndrome, punding or OCD. Finally, this case illustrates that pharmacological treatment with clomipramine is effective and suggests that similar cases of compulsivity may benefit from this treatment”
A paper published in a 2000 issue of the Journal of the Korean Neurological Association examining 25 patients with fronto-temporal dementia (20 women and five men with an average age of 56 years) noted that compulsive behaviour is one of the commonest early manifestations of the condition. The researchers analyzed their symptoms and compulsive behaviours and 22 of the patients (88%) showed various compulsive behaviours including “reading signboards, stereotypy of speech, ordering, hoarding, washing, checking, counting, singing, and wandering a fixed route”. However, no real detail was provided in relation to the compulsive singing. Other papers – such as one in a 2002 issue of European Psychiatry by Dr. F. Muratori and colleagues – have reported compulsive singing in people that have Kleine-Levin syndrome (i.e., recurrent primary hypersomnia where individualscan lapse into a deep sleep at any time without warning, sometimes lasting as long as 16 hours).
One of the most interesting and detailed papers on compulsive singing is a 2007 paper by Dr. Christophe Bonvin and colleagues in the Annals of Neurology. They reported two case studies of individuals with advanced Parkinson’s disease who exhibited “a peculiar and stereotyped behavior characterized by an irrepressible need to sing compulsively when under high-dose dopamine replacement therapy”. They argued that the compulsive singing behaviour shared many features with punding (i.e., repetitive behaviour that is a side effect of some drugs). Here is a brief summary of the two cases:
Patient 1: “A 70-year-old female university professor and amateur piano player while being treated with 1,268 L-dopa equivalent units (LEU)…exhibited a repetitive, compulsive behavior characterized by singing endlessly…It started with an irrepressible urge to hum the rhythm and then the main melody of Francesca di Foix, a jocular opera written in 1831 by Gaetano Donizetti. She had heard this rarely produced piece in Milan years ago, and although she did not particularly like it, she had an obsessive need to repeat this song again and again for hours. Even though it was disruptive, preventing sleep and social interactions, singing was reported as pleasant and associated with a feeling of calmness and relief. If interrupted, she became irritated…All symptoms improved minimally after quetiapine (25mg twice daily) had been introduced”.
Patient 2: “A 71-year-old male painter…[that] grew up in a family of musicians and used to spend time listening to classical music and singing willingly…While being treated with 634 LEU, he started to hum repeatedly the same melody, initially once a week, then several times daily, mostly in the evening…Although he asserted singing exclusively Mozart’s 7th Serenade (‘Haffner’ KV 250), his wife reported also about 10 different poorly elaborated songs. This stereotyped behavior was reported as irrepressible and gave him a sensation of relief and ‘peace of mind’. On demand, he could stop singing for short periods but felt somewhat frustrated, demonstrating some aggressive behavior toward his spouse. There were no concomitant auditory or visual hallucinations. This phenomenon exacerbated dramatically when LD/benserazide was increased to 1,000/250mg daily (1134 LEU)…[This resulted in] the patient losing control over the compulsion and singing almost unendingly all day…Eventually, compulsive singing improved, but did not disappear, when LD/benserazide was reduced to the minimal daily doses (500/125mg)”.
The authors noted that in both of these patients developed a peculiar, stereotyped, and compulsive behaviour characterized by an urge to sing repeatedly the same song. They also concluded that in both cases:
“[The] compulsive singing developed as an isolated, elaborate, and selective feature, unrelated to mania or psychosis…Although the singing behavior was fully recognized by both patients as inadequate and socially disruptive, they were unable to stop singing for more than a few seconds to minutes, partly because the singing-induced sensation of pleasure felt was overwhelming. To the best of our knowledge, this phenomenon has not been consistently identified in [Parkinson’s disease] thus far…Moreover, PET and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies conducted in humans have correlated pleasure and reward from music listening with a significant activation of the ventral tegmental area and accumbens nucleus, as well as of the hypothalamus, insula, and orbitofrontal cortex. These findings suggest that music listening may recruit similar neural circuitry of reward and emotions as other pleasure inducing stimuli like food and sex, and this may also be the case for singing”.
In 2010, Dr. Hiroshi Kataoka and Dr. Satoshi Ueno described the case of an 82-year old woman (also with Parkinson disease) who started to sing compulsively (in the absence of any other types of pathologic behaviour) following treatment with pergolide. In the journal Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, the authors reported that she would hum the same melody and sing songs repeatedly. When she stopped taking her ergolide medication, the compulsive singing and humming considerably subsided. Drs. Kataoka and Ueno suggested that a dopamine agonist in the patient’s medication may have contributed to her compulsive singing. The same phenomenon was also reported in three Parkinson’s patients treated with dopamine agonists by a Dr. C. Borrue-Fernandez at a Spanish conference on treating Parkinson’s disease in 2011.
It would appear from the few papers that have been published on compulsive singing that it almost always occurs alongside or as a consequence of other primary medical conditions and that some excessive or sensitized dopaminergic stimulation is a necessary prerequisite for such musical stereotypies to occur.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bonvin, C., Horvath, J., Christe, B., Landis, T., & Burkhard, P. R. (2007). Compulsive singing: another aspect of punding in Parkinson’s disease. Annals of Neurology, 62, 525-528.
Borrue-Fernandez, C. (2011). Compulsive singing as an Impulse Control Disorder in dopamine agonist treated patients: Review of three cases. The 15th Congress of the European Federation of Neurological Societies.
Jacome, D. E. (1984). Aphasia with elation, hypermusia, musicophilia and compulsive whistling. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 47, 308-310.
Kataoka, H., & Ueno, S. (2010). Compulsive singing associated with a dopamine agonist in Parkinson disease. Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, 23(2), 140-141.
Muratori, F., Bertini, N., & Masi, G. (2002). Efficacy of lithium treatment in Kleine–Levin syndrome. European Psychiatry, 17, 232–3.
Polak, A. R., van der Paardt, J. W., Figee, M., Vulink, N., de Koning, P., Olff, M., & Denys, D. (2012). Compulsive carnival song whistling following cardiac arrest: a case study. BMC Psychiatry, 12(1), 75.
Yoon, S. J., Jeong, J. H., Kang, S. J., & Na, D. L. (2000). Compulsive behaviors and presenting symptoms of frontotemporal dementia. Journal of the Korean Neurological Association, 18, 681-686
While researching previous blogs on harmatophilia (i.e., individuals who derive sexual arousal from those who are sexually incompetent), parthenophilia (i.e., individuals who derive sexual arousal from virgins), cuckold fetish (i.e., individuals – usually men – that derive sexual arousal from the knowledge that their wife is having sex with another man), and veil fetishism (i.e., individuals who derive sexual arousal from those who wear veils), I came across various references for bride fetishism. This fetish does not appear in either Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices or Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. However, a short article on the London Fetish Scene (Wipipedia) website claims that:
“A bride fetish is a sexual fetish in which either a woman (or possibly a man) enjoys dressing in the typical outfit worn by a bride, or someone derives sexual pleasure from viewing women (or possibly men) dressed in this manner. A bride may be regarded as the archetype of a virgin ready and waiting to have sexual intercourse. A bridal outfit can be considered to be full of fetishistic imagery. Brides often wear lingerie such as basques or corsets, stockings and thongs; they also wear stileto shoes. Generally, a bridal dress and lingerie are white or nearly white, denoting purity. For a transvestite, bridal wear may be the ultimate female apparel”.
Similarly, a short piece on bride fetishes at a telephone sex site (Fone Fetish) claims that:
“Bride Fetish is sometimes known as a virgin fetish, where the ideal woman is pure and uninitiated, making her a safe partner in many ways. The bridal fetish extends to the image of an innocent appearing virginal bride being your own total whore, willing and anxious to do anything to please you sexually”.
As far as I am aware there is no academic research on bride fetishism but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that (a) it exists, and (b) that there are specific sub-varieties. For instance, there are dozens of bespoke webpages devoted to bride fetishism including the Deviant Art website page on ‘Bridal Fetish’, the Behance website page on ‘Fetish Bride’, the Goddess Narcissa webpage on ‘Black Fetish Bride’, the Hot Wife Allie website (with a myriad of bride fetish postings such as ‘The Great Wedding Porn Gallery’ and ‘Wedding Night Cuckold’), and the Jim Roe webpage on ‘Nude Bride Fetish’. I also came across dedicated webpages on ‘fetish vampire brides’, ‘mature bride fetish’, ‘bondaged brides’, and ‘bride face sitting fetish’ (please be warned that most of these sites contain very sexually material). In addition to this there are also dedicated websites that make fetish bridal wear (such as the Adixxtion website) and provide online dating services to match up fetish bride and grooms. I’m the first to admit that none of this is in any way academic, but it does at least point to the fact that there appears to be a niche (sexual) market for bride fetishism.
The online articles that I have managed to locate are short and speculative and provide absolutely no facts on the incidence of prevalence of the behaviour or its etiology. For instance, a 2010 entry on the Venus O’Hara website (where the website author dressed herself as a fetish bride) claims that:
“Plenty of men are into the bridal fetish. Traditionally, a bride, dressed in white silks and satins, is a visual metaphor for virginity and exclusivity. Her imminent sexual unavailability isn’t the end of the story…To some, her new status becomes highly attractive and doesn’t put them off of the hunt at all, quite the opposite in fact. In this set [of photos] I wanted to portray myself as a kind of bride who permits those men to lust after me and gives license to their desires because I, and they, are aware that there is no groom to watch over me. Although I felt like a princess when I was dressed-up I understood, quite quickly, that I couldn’t walk very fast while wearing the dress, neither could I sit down easily; my freedom of seductive movement was restricted. Perhaps, I thought, that was the whole point. I don’t like wearing anything that prevents me from flaunting my charms so I began to subvert the dress and its meaning. I didn’t need to clutch a bouquet to pose in it. I found out that I’m more comfortable being provocative and available when I wear white. Modern bridal wear is much more revealing and adaptable these days. Each new pastel-coloured design emphasises the curve of exposed shoulder and the slimness of bare neck instead of hiding them. I approve totally”
In my research for this blog, I have to admit that I didn’t come across a single dedicated online bride fetish forum group, although I did come across discussions on fetish sites where some individuals claimed they had bride fetishes (although not very many). For instance:
- Extract 1: “Any out there with a bridal fetish? Get turned on by a lovely young woman in a bridal outfit? Would you like to watch a bride and her groom make love? Would you like to JOIN in, making it a threesome? Would [you] like to cuckold the poor bridegroom, making love to the bride on the ‘happiest day of her life’? Making love to the bride in front of the groom and all the guests? Too ridiculous? I’ve seen stranger happenings! Has this ever been discussed? Please discuss!”
- Extract 2: “Hell yeah, [brides] drives me crazy! Have you got any photos, or do you know how to get any? Brides are so sexy!”
- Extract 3: “I have a total fetish over Brides! I love it when there all done up and have their wedding dress on, it’s so sexy. There isn’t a single Bride that doesn’t turn me on! Is anyone out there with me or is it just me? Also if any of you out there have got any Wedding day/night photos that you could upload for me then that would blow my mind, naughty or not. What do you think?”
- Extract 4: “I used to belong to a yahoo group that specialized in brides but it seems to have dissipated”.
These few extracts again appear to give credence to the idea that bride fetishism exists but there may (for some people) be an overlap with cuckold fetishes. More recently, there have been a number of online articles that have talked about ‘foreign bride fetishes’. Almost all of the articles I came across (such as one in the New York Times by Mike Hale entitled ‘Foreign Bride as Fetish and a Person’) relate to the television documentary ‘Seeking Asian Women’ directed by Debbie Lum.
“Steven is a 60-year-old parking-garage attendant who lives in a small apartment above a store in the Northern California suburbs. He’s white, which is significant because he has what is politely known as an Asian fetish and popularly known as yellow fever. ‘They’re all so beautiful,’ he says, looking at a display of thumbnail images of prospective Asian brides…Steven manages to persuade Sandy, a 30-year-old office worker from Shenzen, China, to come to the United States to marry him. [The program] profile[s] a man obsessed with Asian women in order to understand a phenomenon…The nature of Asian fetishism remains as mysterious, or perhaps as obvious, as ever. As Steven and Sandy make wedding plans — her K-1 visa gives them four months to marry — fights erupt over money (he doesn’t have much) and whether he’s still infatuated with an earlier Chinese pen pal…The dramatic arc of Steven and Sandy’s relationship is mildly suspenseful but also pretty familiar”.
Personally, this is another instance of using the word ‘fetish’ as meaning ‘intense like for’ rather than its’ meaning within sexology. My own (online) research (relying on non-academic and anecdotal sources) suggests that bride fetishism is a niche sexual market that appears to have at least a handful of genuine adherents. I can’t really see this subject ever being the topic of serious academic research but I’d be happy to be proved wrong.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Blank, H. (2007). Virgin: The Untouched History. New York: Bloomsbury.
Hale, M. (2013). Foreign bride as a fetish and a person. New York Times, May 5. Located at: http://tv.nytimes.com/2013/05/06/arts/television/seeking-asian-female-on-pbs-shows-an-internet-order-bride.html?_r=2&
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Mathonnet-VanderWell, S. (2012). Virgin fetish. The Twelve, April 24. Located at: http://the12.squarespace.com/steve-mathonnet-vanderwell/2012/4/24/virgin-fetish.html
Venus O’Hara (2010). Bridal fetish, July 1. Located at: http://venusohara.org/montjuic-bride.html
Wipipedia (2011). Bride fetish. London fetish Scene, September 6. Located at: http://www.londonfetishscene.com/wipi/index.php/Bride_fetish
One of the recurring questions I am often asked to comment on by the media is whether celebrities are more prone to addiction than other groups of people. One of the problems in trying to answer what looks like an easy question is that the definition of ‘celebrity’ is different to different people. Most people would argue that celebrities are famous people, but are all famous people celebrities? Are well-known sportspeople and politicians ‘celebrities’? Are high profile criminals celebrities? While all of us would say that Hollywood A-Listers such as Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are ‘celebrities’, many of the people that end up on ‘celebrity’ reality shows are far from what I would call a celebrity. Being the girlfriend or relative of someone famous does not necessarily famous.
Another problem in trying to answer this question is what kinds of addiction are the media actually referring to? Implicitly, the question might be referring to alcohol and/or illicit drug addictions but why should other addictions such as nicotine addiction or addiction to prescription drugs not be included? In addition to this, I have often been asked to comment on celebrities that are addicted to sex or gambling. However, if we include behavioural addictions in this definition of addiction, then why not include addictions to shopping, eating, or exercise? If we take this to an extreme, how many celebrities are addicted to work?
Now that I’ve aired these problematic definitional issues (without necessarily trying to answer them), I will return to the question of whether celebrities are more prone to addiction. To me, when I think about what a celebrity is, I think of someone who is widely known by most people, is usually in the world of entertainment (actor, singer, musician, television presenter), and may have more financial income than most other people I know. When I think about these types of people, I’ve always said to the media that it doesn’t surprise me when such people develop addictions. Given these situations, I would argue that high profile celebrities may have greater access to some kinds of addictive substances.
Given that there is a general relationship between accessibility and addiction, it shouldn’t be a surprise if a higher proportion of celebrities succumbs to addictive behaviours compared with a member of the general public. The ‘availability hypothesis’ may also hold true for various behavioural addictions that celebrities have admitted having – most notably addictions to gambling and/or sex. It could perhaps be argued that high profile celebrities are richer than most of us (and could therefore afford to gamble more than you or I) or they have greater access to sexual partners because they are seen as more desirable (because of their perceived wealth and/or notoriety).
Firstly, when I think about celebrities that have ‘gone off the rails’ and admitted to having addiction problems (Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr, Alec Baldwin) and those that have died from their addiction (Whitney Houston, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse) I would argue that these types of high profile celebrity have the financial means to afford a drug habit like cocaine or heroin. For many in the entertainment business such as being the lead singer in a famous rock band, taking drugs may also be viewed as one of the defining behaviours of the stereotypical ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ lifestyle. In short, it’s almost expected. In an interview with an online magazine The Fix, Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, an American psychiatrist based at the University of Florida:
“Some people who become famous and get put on a pedestal begin to think of themselves differently and lose their sense of humility. And this is something you can see with addicts, too. Famous or not, people in the midst of their addiction will behave in a narcissistic, selfish way: they’ll be anti-social and have a disregard for rules and regulations. But that is part of who they as an addict – not necessarily who they would be as a sober person. Then there are some people who are narcissists outside of their disease, who don’t need a drug or alcohol addiction to make them feel like the rules don’t apply to them – and yes, I have seen in this in many athletes and actors. Of course, you also have non-famous people who struggle with both…People with addiction and people with narcissism share a similar emptiness inside. Those who are famous might fill it with achievement or with drugs and alcohol. That’s certainly not the case for everyone. But when you see people who are both famous and narcisstic – people who struggle with staying right-sized or they don’t have a real sense of who they are without the fame – you know that they’re in trouble… People with addiction and people with narcissism both seek outside sources for inside happiness. And ultimately neither the fame nor the drugs nor the drinking will work”.
The same article also pointed out that there is an increase in the number of people who (usually through reality television) are becoming (in)famous but have no discernable talent whatsoever. In my own writings on the psychology of fame, I have made the point that (historically) fame was a by-product of a particular role (e.g., country president, news anchorman) or talent (e.g., captain of the national sports team, a great actor). While the Andy Warhol maxim that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes will never be truly fulfilled, the large increase in the number of media outlets and number of reality television shows suggests that more people than ever are getting their 15 minutes of fame. In short, the intersection between fame and addiction is on the increase. US psychiatrist Dr. Dale Archer was also interviewed for The Fix article and was quoted as saying:
“Fame and addiction are definitely related. Those who are prone to addiction get a much higher high from things – whether it’s food, shopping, gambling or fame – which means it [the behavior or situation] will trigger cravings. When we get an addictive rush, we are getting a dopamine spike. If you talk to anyone who performs at all, they will talk about the ‘high’ of performing. And many people who experience that high report that when they’re not performing, they don’t feel as well. All of which is a good setup for addiction. People also get high from all the trappings that come with fame. The special treatment, the publicity, the ego. Fame has the potential to be incredibly addicting”.
I argued some of these same points in a previous blog on whether fame can be addictive in and of itself. Another related factor I am asked about is the effect of having fame from an early age and whether this can be a pre-cursor or risk factor for later addiction. Dr. Archer was also asked about this and claimed:
“The younger you are when you get famous, the greater the likelihood that you’re going to suffer consequences down the road. If you grow up as a child star, you realize that you can get away with things other people can’t. There is a loss of self and a loss of emotional growth and a loss of thinking that you need to work in relationship with other people”.
I’m broadly in agreement with this although my guess is that this only applies to a minority of child stars rather than being a general truism. However, trying to carry out scientific research examining early childhood experiences of fame amongst people that are now adult is difficult (to say the least). There also seems to be a lot of children and teenagers who’s only desire when young is “to be famous” when they are older. As most who have this aim will ultimately fail, there is always the concern that to cope with this failure, they will turn to addictive substances and/or behaviours.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D. & Joinson, A. (1998). Max-imum impact: The psychology of fame. Psychology Post, 6, 8-9.
Halpern, J. (2007). Fame Junkies. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
McGuinness, K. (2012). Are Celebrities More Prone to Addiction? The Fix, January, 18. Located at: http://www.thefix.com/content/fame-and-drug-addiction-celebrity-addicts100001
Rockwell, D. & Giles, D.C. (2009). Being a celebrity: A phenomenology of fame. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 40, 178-210.
“I was reminded of a scene in the second series of The Thick Of It, where Peter Mannion, an old-school Tory MP, is told by his Steve Hilton-style spin doctor that he needs to start embracing the internet. ‘Have you ever tried Googling your own name?’ he asks. ‘It’s like opening the door to a room where everyone tells you how shit you are.’ I think this nicely encapsulates the relative merits of Googling yourself: namely, that there are none” (from an article by journalist Bryony Gordon, Daily Telegraph, February 29, 2012).
Last year, the actor Dominic West let it be known to the mass media that he regularly Googles himself and was reported as saying: “I like to have chats about myself with people – mainly putting forward the case for the defence. I use my own name but nobody ever believes me”. I have never worked out why it is such a social faux pas to Google yourself and why it is so derided. I’m quite happy to admit that I regularly Google myself, and that I probably do it more than most other people. In my defence, I am regularly interviewed by the print media and I like to check on what gets reported (particularly as it’s not unknown for me to get misquoted or for my words to be taken out of context. In an article published in the Online Journalism Review, Patrick Dent writes in defence of egosurfing:
“If you are a Web professional – whether an online instructor or journalist, Web developer or marketer – you should be aware of your presence on the Web. And perhaps more importantly, the existence of Web namesakes. And if you are active in the job market, being aware of your nom-de-plume’s cyberexistence is crucial. You should be aware of any nefarious deeds or ill impressions Internet namesakes may be performing… This all goes to illustrate that searching for your name on the Internet is more than the self-serving, vanity endeavor that the label ‘ego-surfing’ implies. Beyond being an interesting exercise, and yes in some cases stroking your ego, it is a prudent – if not downright necessary – activity in today’s Web-aware professional world”.
As an academic, being cited by others is something that is seen positively. As of this morning, I had 14,564 citations on Google Scholar (which for the non-academics reading this means that my papers, articles and books have been cited 14,564 times in other papers, articles, and books). Googling myself is just another variation of seeing how I’ve been cited and I do not think there is anything wrong with it. I suppose I just like knowing about the digital footprint I am leaving online. According to the entry on Wikipedia:
“Egosurfing (also referred to as Googling yourself and less frequently called vanity searching, egosearching, egogoogling, autogoogling, self-googling, master-googling, google-bating) is the practice of searching for one’s own given name, surname, full name, pseudonym, or screen name on a popular search engine in order to review the results. Similarly, an egosurfer is one who surfs the Internet for his or her own name to see what information appears. It has become increasingly popular with the rise of internet search engines, as well as free blogging and web-hosting services”.
So, there you have it. According to Wikipedia’s definition I am officially an egosurfer. The same article also claims that the word ‘egosurfing’ was first coined in 1995 by Sean Carton (who’s written many books about online technology) and then featured in a March 1995 issue of Wired magazine (although the Wired definition of egosurfing is more encompassing and says it is “scanning the Net, databases, print media, or research papers looking for mentions of your own name”).
According to a short 1999 article in the British Medical Journal by Professor James Drife, looking yourself up online is “arguably the naffest way of coping with boredom”. Professor Drife’s whole article was a simple account of what he had found by Googling his own name. By doing so, he claimed to have expanded his horizons, and “strengthened [his] belief that the world is not quite ready to do without paper. Nevertheless, universities could be making plans to judge academics on their internet hits and the response rate”. (Something that I believe is already happening and is one of the reason I like to egosurf). Exactly the same thing was carried out by JoAnne Lehman, one of the editors of Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources and published in 2004. She also listed all the things she had discovered egosurfing and concluded:
“If there’s a point to my telling of this story here – beyond the desire to promote a woman writer’s work – perhaps it’s about the satisfaction of connecting with kindred spirits, and how those connections can be made in surprising ways. Oh, and maybe that Internet surfing, even the ego kind, isn’t necessarily a waste of time”.
Writing about ego-surfing appears to be a popular way of writing an article not just in academic journals but also in non-academic publications such as the national press. Bryony Gordon (the journalist I cited at the beginning of this blog) wrote that:
“Now, I am not Dominic West (Hollywood star; 5,030,000 Google results in just 0.18 seconds). I am Bryony Gordon (newspaper journalist; 431,000 Google results in a glacial 0.21 seconds). But I don’t think it matters whether you are a world famous actor or Joe Bloggs; the fact remains that Googling yourself is a dangerous and egoistical exercise that will never end well. The best case scenario for Joe Bloggs is that he finds nothing, thus making him feel like a nobody; the worst that he finds a group of his mates bitching about him on a social networking site. Ditto, on a good day the likes of Dominic West will come away from a self-Googling session with an even bigger sense of self-importance, on a bad one with a miserable neediness that their agents and lackeys will have to pull them out of. As Reese Witherspoon says, ‘it’s an affirmation of every horrible feeling you have about yourself’”.
Articles in Tech Crunch (by Duncan Riley), and Tech News World (by Katherine Noyes) reported that 47% of Americans had Googled themselves based on a study carried out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (up from the previous study in 2002). Using a telephone survey, the study sampled 2,373 adults (of which 1,623 were internet users). Only a very small minority (3%) Googled themselves regularly (and there was nothing on excessive self-Googling). The main reasons given for egosurfing were (i) for entertainment purposes, (ii) as a means of online reputation management (which is probably the category that I would fall under), and (iii) self-promotion and maintenance of a positive online reputation (e.g., locating online inaccuracies and ‘data spills’ and correcting them).
This is certainly an area worthy of further empirical investigation – even if it’s just to examine stereotypes around the kind of person who ego-surfs.
Dent, P. (2000). ‘Ego-Surfing’ derides valid, prudent activity. Online Journalism Review. Located at: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/ethics/1017964102.php
Drife, J.O. (1999). Egosurfing. British Medical Journal, 318, 203.
Gordon, B. (2012). Google and be damned. Daily Telegraph, February 29. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/9111193/Google-and-be-damned.html
Lehman, J. (2004). From the editors. Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources, 26, ii.
Nicolai, T. Kirchhoff, L., Bruns, A., Wilson, J. & Barry Saunders, B. (2008). Google Yourself! Measuring the performance of personalized information resources. Proceedings Association of Internet Researchers 2008: Internet Research 9.0: Rethinking Community, Rethinking Place, Copenhagen, Denmark. Located at: http://en.scientificcommons.org/31968134
Noyes, K. (2007). Pew study: Self-Googling on the rise. Tech News World, December 17. Located at: http://www.technewsworld.com/story/Pew-Study-Self-Googling-on-the-Rise-60810.html
Riley, D. (2007). Do you use Google for vanity searching? You’re not alone. Tech Crunch, December 16. Located at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Media-Mentions/2007/Do-You-Use-Google-For-Vanity-Searching-Youre-Not-Alone.aspx
Wikipedia (2012). Egosurfing. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egosurfing
In a previous blog I examined clothes fetishism and in doing that research, I soon realized that some people’s fetishistic desires are very specific when it comes to clothing (e.g., particular types of uniform or particular types of footwear). One of the more unusual clothing fetishes is ‘veil fetishism’. From the online articles that I have come across, veil fetishism appears to be an almost exclusively male fetish in which the individuals have a fetishistic sexual desire for women wearing veils over their faces (although paradoxically, most women who wear veils for religious reasons do so to stop others lusting after them). A few online articles claim this has lead to tension among online communities where Muslims and veil fetishists share the same virtual space (although I’ve not come across this myself – and I did go looking for it!).
A number of online articles claim that one of the main reasons that veils have permeated into Western consciousness is the increase in the number of media images of veiled women in the news following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the US ‘War on terrorism’. However, as far as I am aware, there is no academic research on veil fetishism although there is much speculation as to the motivational roots including an article on Wipipedia that says it may be a result of “mystery, bondage and the preservation of virginity” and that such fetishists “may be interested in niqabs, burkas and harem-style veils” while “some are attracted to women who wear all-covering Muslim-style veils, while others are attracted to women wearing translucent veils”. A Nation Master online article develops some of these ideas and claims that:
“Control may be behind veil fetishism…Arab and other Muslim women are often seen in the Western world as being veiled against their will; they are only doing it for religious or social reasons (though many contend otherwise). Such control issues may be seen in other fetishes and paraphilias, such as bondage fetishism”.
This is partly confirmed by Professor Mohja Kahf in his 1999 book Western Representations of the Muslim Woman that noted:
“Veiled, secluded, submissive, oppressed – the ‘odalisque’ image has held sway over Western representations of Muslim women since the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Yet during medieval and Renaissance times, European writers portrayed Muslim women in exactly the opposite way, as forceful queens of wanton and intimidating sexuality”
A short online article on the Venus O’Hara website about veil fetishes also makes some bold claims:
“Veil fetishists understand and enjoy the significance of veils and the women who wear them, the effect that this piece of material can have on them is phenomenal. By covering, disguising and obscuring the female face, a sense of importance, power and the thrill of an ancient taboo is brought into focus for them. If the features of the woman can only be guessed at through the veil, the psychological need of a spectators mind to discover them becomes overwhelming. The fantasy of unveiling then becomes the idealised intimate act-not unlike the imagined removal of the clothes of someone desired but out of reach. If the veil remains in place then that understanding is postponed and the pleasure of erotic anticipation is preserved…Women may become sexually aroused by veiling themselves as well. They may feel protected, or experience an enjoyment that is similar to women with more explicit bondage fantasies”.
Despite all this pop psychology insight, I couldn’t find a single piece of evidence (empirical or otherwise) to support any of the speculations made by academics or non-academics. It was also claimed in a couple of the articles that I read that veil fetishists are not from a particular religion and can comprise both Muslims and non-Muslims. In a Wikiquote article on the ‘Hijab’, the British writer Shabbir Akhtar was quoted as saying that the Hijab is creating “a truly erotic culture in which one dispenses with the need for the artificial excitement that pornography provides”.
Of course, veiled woman and sexual lust have been a staple of films and television shows for decades but the situations in which women typically wore veils were often sexually provocative (such as the Dance of the Seven Veils, or the heroines in the Italian films of director Tinto Brass who often wear veils and showcase them as fetishistic objects). An article in Seven Oaks (“a magazine of politics, culture and resistance”) by Rebecca Manski interviewed Middle Eastern Studies scholar Elizabeth Warnock Fernea who was quoted as saying:
“Because ‘western’ men had no access to the female sphere in Middle Eastern society, they were inclined to exoticize or devalue it. Generally the perception of the Middle Eastern woman involved a secluded odalisque – a lazy, sexy lady in a harem veiled from all men but her husband”.
An online essay on the Venus O’Hara website makes some further interesting observations:
“Most people imagine that veils are a way of hiding erotic potentials and alluring features but I know, after making this set, that veils can be ultimate fetish…Sometimes veils would have been used, as an alternative to a mask, as a simple method of hiding the identity of a woman who was traveling to meet a lover, or doing anything she didn’t want other people to find out about…In Judaism, Christianity and Islam the concept of covering the head is or was associated with propriety…An occasion on which a Western woman is likely to wear a veil is on her wedding day, if she follows the traditions of a white wedding. Brides used to wear their hair flowing down their back at their wedding to symbolise their virginity, now the white diaphanous veil is often said to represent this. The lifting of the veil was often a part of ancient wedding ritual, symbolising the groom taking possession of the wife, either as lover or as property, or the revelation of the bride by her parents to the groom for his approval. In ancient Judaism the lifting of the veil took place just prior to the consummation of the marriage in sexual union. The uncovering or unveiling that takes place in the marriage ceremony is a symbol of what will take place in the marriage bed. Just as the two become one through their words spoken in wedding vows, so these words are a sign of the physical oneness that they will consummate later on. The lifting of the veil is a symbol and an anticipation of this”
Additionally, a 2003 book by Faegheh Shirazi (The Veil Unveiled: The Hijab in Modern Culture) highlights that:
“The veil, the garment known in Islamic cultures as the hijab, holds within its folds a semantic versatility that goes far beyond current clichés and homogenous representations. Whether seen as erotic or romantic, a symbol of oppression or a sign of piety, modesty, or purity, the veil carries thousands of years of religious, sexual, social, and political significance”.
Shirazi uses examples from both the East and West (including American erotica) and argues that the veil has become a ubiquitous titillating marketing tool for diverse enterprises, from pornographic magazines like Penthouse and Playboy to advertising companies. She argued that the perceptions of the veil change both with the cultural context of its use as well as over time. Obviously ‘veil fetishism’ has been little studied scientifically (and maybe it never will). However, the phenomenon clearly exists although the prevalence of such behaviour may be very rare (although the incidence may well be on the increase given the number of dedicated websites to such practices are growing).
Kahf, M. (1999). Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant to Odalisque. Texas: University of Texas Press.
Manski, R. (2005). Lifting the veil between women East and West. Seven Oaks, September 20. Located at: http://www.sevenoaksmag.com/features/79_feat1.html
Nation Master (2008). Veil fetishism. Located at: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Veil-fetishism
Shirazi, F. (2003). The Veil Unveiled: The Hijab in Modern Culture. Florida: University of Florida Press
Steele, V, (1996), Fetish, Fashion, Sex and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tales Of The Veils (2012). The lure of the veil: A History and Examination of the practice and pleasures of veiling. September 30. Located at: http://www.talesoftheveils.info/lure/lure.html
Venus O’Hara (2010). Veil fetish. November 20. Located at: http://venusohara.org/veil-fetish.html
Venus O’Hara (2012). Veil fetish. Located at: http://venusohara.org/c/fetish-glossary/veil-fetish-fetish-glossary
Wipipedia (2012). Veil fetishism. Located at: http://www.londonfetishscene.com/wipi/index.php/Veil_fetishism
In a previous blog on exhibitionism (i.e., individuals who expose their genitals to other people), I briefly mentioned a sub-type called candaulism that I defined as referring to people who expose themselves to their sexual partners (e.g., a wife or husband) in a sexually explicit way. Since writing that blog I had an email from one of my regular blog readers saying that the definition I provided wasn’t as detailed as it could have been. In response to my (friendly) critic, I decided to take a more detailed look.
The first place I looked was Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Interestingly she defined candaulism as “a group of three people where only two of them engage in sex and the other watches, sometimes from a closet”. She then spent the rest of her text basically discussing troilism where three people typically comprise a sexual couple and a third person where one of the three (typically the husband or male partner of the couple) watching the other two have sex. Nothing of what was written was based on anything I would call empirical and research-based (although it was an interesting read).
Next it was on to my favourite text on sexual deviation – Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Dr. Aggrawal described candaulism as a “variation of exhibitionism [where] persons do not exhibit themselves but their spouses – usually a male exhibiting his wife”. He also cited the work of Polish psychiatrist Dr. Z. Marten who published a case study in 1986 on candaulism in a Polish psychiatric journal. On the basis of this, Aggrawal said that candaulism also involves “getting sadomasochistic pleasure when the husband exposes his wife, or pictures of her, to other voyeurist people.” I have no idea how representative this case study is of candaulism as this paper appears to be the only academic case study that has ever been published and was published in the author’s native language (so all I have to go on is Aggrawal’s second-hand account). Dr. Aggrawal had also researched where the word ‘candaulism’ was derived. He reported that:
“The term derives its name from Candaules, king of the ancient kingdom of Lydia from 735 to 718 BC, who was so proud of the beauty of his wife, and so much did he want to impress others, that he made a plot to show his unaware naked wife to his bodyguard, Gyges of Lydia. Discovering Gyges while he was watching her naked, Candaules’ wife obviously became enraged and ordered him to choose between killing himself or her husband in order to repair the vicious mischief. Gyges chose to kill the king. The queen married Gyges subsequently and fathered the Mermnad Dynasty”.
It was the German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebbing that then coined the term in his book Psychopathia Sexualis. Aggrawal claimed that husbands (which I am assuming covers all male sexual partners within a heterosexual couple) take the “paraphilia to the extreme and enjoys other people having sex with his wife” (which I am assuming would include a female partner within a heterosexual couple). Aggrawal then adds that: “This practice can take the form of swinging, in which husbands exchange wives for sexual intercourse and watch each other. In certain cases the relation evolves into a stable union of these persons, known as troilism”.
In the third edition of Dr. Ronald Homes and Dr. Stephen Holmes’ Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behaviors, the authors discussed candaulism in their chapter on ‘nuisance sex behaviours’. Holmes and Holmes link candaulism to ‘swinging’ (i.e., the swapping of sexual partners). More specifically, they noted:
“Swingers, or mate swappers, are often termed triolists, and at other times it is termed candaulism. In candaulism, a man exposes his partner, or pictures of her, to others. Sometimes women are coerced into the swinging scene to fulfill the desires of their husbands (Bowman, 1985; Jenks, 1998; McCary, 1978)…There are other triolists who seek pleasure by sharing a sexual partner with another person while the triolist looks on. An estimated 8 million couples have experienced this type of sexual behavior (Avery & Johannis, 1985). Triolism may also take the form of two couples having sexual relations at the same time in sight of each other. While there are single swingers, usually when one speaks of swingers in this con- text we are speaking of married or committed couples (Cargan, 1986)”.
In the description of candaulism by Holmes and Holmes, it is turned into a nuisance sexual behaviour by the addition of coercion (something that isn’t explicitly mentioned in other definitions that I have come across). Having said that, the Wikipedia entry on candaulism has a more negative take on what the behaviour involves and is also the most detailed I have come across:
“Candaulism is a sexual practice or fantasy in which a man exposes his female partner, or images of her, to other people for their voyeuristic pleasure. Such a practice is widely regarded as a breach of implicitly placed by the female in her sex partner. The term may also be applied to the practice of undressing or otherwise exposing a female partner to others, or urging or forcing a female partner to engage in sexual relations with a third person, such as during a swinging activity. There have also been reports of a woman’s partner urging or forcing her into prostitution or pornography such as in the case of Karen Lancaume and others. Similarly, the term may also be applied to the posting of personal images of a female partner on the Internet or to urging or forcing a female partner to wear clothing which reveals her physical attractiveness to others, such as by wearing very brief clothing, such as a microskirt, tight-fitting or see-through clothing or a low-cut top”
Dr. R. Jenks in a review of the ‘swinging’ literature in the Archives of Sexual Behavior reported that swingers are “generally nondescript members of the community” but had a number of common characteristics including the fact that they: (i) had moved often in the past five years, (ii) were relatively new to the community, (iii) were members of the middle class, (iv) were conservative in their political views, (v) identified little with religion, and (vi) belonged to more community groups than non-swingers.
One online list of the ‘most disturbing fetishes lists an alleged fetish they called ‘cuckold fetish’. The snippet of text notes that although the adultery is commonplace “fetishized infidelity is a lot less common”. Cuckold fetish appears to be a form of candaulism as cuckold fetish is “when a man becomes sexually aroused by the knowledge that his wife is having sex with another man. In some cases, this may involve him setting up the affair, but not being around while it occurs, but in other cases, he may watch or even join in”. There is also a fair amount of sexual slang associated with cuckold fetishes. For instance, a ‘Jack Gagger’ is a husband that procures other men to have sex with his wife. Such fetishes may overlap with another sexual paraphilia known as zelophilia (i.e., individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from jealousy or being jealous).
From this brief overview it is clear that although there has been some academic research on ‘swinging’, and a little academic writing on candaulism. However, empirical research into candaulism is close to non-existent. As with other sexual behaviours that I have covered in my blog, one of the first issues to untangle is a more precise and agreed upon definition – particularly around the issue of whether candaulism is a coercive or non-coercive sexual beahviour.
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Avery, C., & Johannis, T. (1985). Love and marriage. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Bowman, H. (1985). Marriage For Moderns (7th Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Cargan, L. (1986). Stereotypes of singles: A cross-cultural comparison. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 27, 200–208.
Harness, J. (2010). The 12 most disturbing fetishes to keep you up at night. Oddee, September 12. Located at: http://www.oddee.com/item_97279.aspx
Holmes, S.T. & Holmes, R.M. (2009). Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behaviors (3rd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Krafft-Ebing, R. von (1886). Psychopathia Sexualis (C.G. Chaddock, Trans.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Jenks, R. (1998). Swinging: A review of the literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 14, 507–521.
Marten, Z. (1986). Candaulesism – Case report Psychiatrica Polska, 20, 235-237.
McCary, J. (1978). McCary’s Human Sexuality. New York: Van Nostrand.
Wikipedia (2012). Candaulism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candaulism
Obesity has become a major problem across the Western world including Great Britain. Some academic scholars claim that obesity is a natural consequence of ‘food addiction’. While I can share this viewpoint, there are many examples of obese people whose eating behaviour would not be classed as addicted using the addiction components model. However, that does not mean obesity is not a problem. Academically, I only became interested in obesity when I was appointed a member of the Department of Health’s Expert Working Group on Sedentary Behaviour, Screen Time and Obesity chaired by Professor Stuart Biddle and led to a major report that we published on obesity and sedentary behaviour in 2010 (see ‘Further reading).
Obesity is measured using a calculation based on a person’s Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight measurement [in kilograms] by the square of their height [in metres]. In adults, a BMI of 25kg/m2 to 29.9kg/m2 means that person is considered to be overweight, and a BMI of 30kg/m2 or above means that person is considered to be obese. A recent 2013 report by the Health and Social Care Information Centre presented a range of information on obesity in England drawn together from a variety of sources. The report noted that:
“NICE [National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] guidelines on prevention, identification, assessment and management of overweight and obesity highlight their impact on risk factors for developing long-term health problems. It states that the risk of these health problems should be identified using both BMI and waist circumference for those with a BMI less than 35kg/m2. For adults with a BMI of 35kg/m2 or more, risks are assumed to be very high with any waist circumference”.
The main source of the report’s data on the prevalence of overweight and obesity is taken from the annual Health Survey for England (HSE) that is written by NatCen Social Research, and published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). Most of the information presented in the 2013 report is taken from the HSE 2011.The main findings were that:
- The proportion of adults with a normal Body Mass Index (BMI) decreased from 41% to 34% among men and from 50% to 39% among women between 1993 and 2011.
- The proportion that were overweight including obese increased from 58% to 65% in men and from 49% to 58% in women between 1993 and 2011.
- There was a marked increase in the proportion of adults that were obese from 13% in 1993 to 24% in 2011 for men and from 16% to 26% for women.
- The proportion of adults with a raised waist circumference increased from 20% to 34% among men and from 26% to 47% among women between 1993 and 2011.
- In 2011, around three in ten boys and girls (aged 2 to 15) were classed as either overweight or obese (31% and 28% respectively), which is very similar to the 2010 findings (31% for boys and 29% for girls).
- In 2011/12, around one in ten pupils in Reception class (aged 4-5 years) were classified as obese (9.5%) which compares to around a fifth of pupils in Year 6 (aged 10-11 years) (19.2%).
- In 2011, obese adults (aged 16 and over) were more likely to have high blood pressure than those in the normal weight group. High blood pressure was recorded in 53% of men and 44% of women in the obese group and in 16% of men and 14% of women in the normal weight group.
- Over the period 2001/02 to 2011/12 in almost every year more than twice as many females than males were admitted to hospital with a primary diagnosis of obesity.
- In 2011, there were 0.9 million prescription items dispensed for the treatment of obesity, a 19% decrease on the previous year.
Using regression analysis, the HSE also examined the risk factors associated with being overweight and obese. For both men and women, being ‘most at risk’ was positively associated with: age; being an ex-cigarette smoker; self-perceptions of not eating healthily; not being physically active; and hypertension. Income was also associated with being ‘most at risk’, with a positive association for men and a negative association for women. It was also reported that among women only, moderate alcohol consumption was negatively associated with being ‘most at risk’.
Another summary report on adult weight published earlier this year by the National Obesity Observatory briefly reviewed the scientific data and concluded that in the UK: (i) an estimated 62% of adults (aged 16 and over) are overweight or obese, and that 2.5% have severe obesity; (ii) men and women have a similar prevalence of obesity, but men (41%) are more likely to be overweight than women (33%); (iii) the prevalence of obesity and overweight changes with age, and prevalence of overweight and obesity is lowest in the 16-24 years age group, and generally higher in the older age groups among both men and women; and (iv) women living in more deprived areas have the highest prevalence of obesity and those living in less deprived areas have the lowest, but there is no clear pattern for men.
The 2013 Health and Social Care Information Centre report also contextualized the obesity problem in the UK by comparing obesity rates with other European countries and worldwide using data published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 2012, the OECD has published a number of ‘Health at a Glance’ reports including one on European health comparisons, and one on worldwide health comparisons (published in 2011). The data from these reports was summarised as follows:
“More than half (52%) of the adult population in the European Union reported that they were overweight or obese. The obesity rate has doubled over the last twenty years in many European countries and stands at between 7.9% in Romania and 10.3% in Italy to 26.1% in the UK and 28.5% in Hungary. The prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults exceeds 50% in 18 of 27 EU member states…[Worldwide] more than half (50.3%) of the adult population in the OECD reported that they were overweight or obese. The least obese countries were India (2.1%), Indonesia (2.4%) and China (2.9%) and the most obese countries were the US (33.8%), Mexico (30.0%) and New Zealand (26.5%). Obesity prevalence has more than doubled over the past 20 years in Australia and New Zealand. Some 20-24% of adults in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom (UK) and Ireland are obese, about the same rate as in the United States in the early 1990s. Obesity rates in many western European countries have also increased substantially over the past decade. The rapid rise occurred regardless of where levels stood two decades ago. Obesity almost doubled in both the Netherlands and the UK, even though the current rate in the Netherlands is around half that of the UK”.
From an addiction perspective, there’s also some interesting data examining the co-relationship between obesity and drinking alcohol. For instance, a 2012 report by Gatineau and Mathrani examining the relationship between obesity and alcohol consumption reviewed the literature and made a number of conclusions. These were that (i) there is no clear causal relationship between alcohol consumption and obesity, although there are associations between alcohol and obesity and these are heavily influenced by lifestyle, genetic and social factors; (ii) many people are not aware of the calories contained in alcoholic drinks; (iii) the effects of alcohol on body weight may be more pronounced in overweight and obese people; (iv) alcohol consumption can lead to an increase in food intake; (v) heavy, but less frequent drinkers seem to be at higher risk of obesity than moderate, frequent drinkers; (vi) the relationships between obesity and alcohol consumption differ between men and women; (vii) excess body weight and alcohol consumption appear to act together to increase the risk of liver cirrhosis; and (viii) there is emerging evidence of a link between familial risk of alcohol dependency and obesity in women.
Biddle, S., Cavill, N., Ekelund, U., Gorely, T., Griffiths, M.D., Jago, R., et al. (2010). Sedentary Behaviour and Obesity: Review of the Current Scientific Evidence. London: Department of Health/Department For Children, Schools and Families.
Gatineau, M & Mathrani, S. (2012). Obesity and alcohol: An overview. Oxford: National Obesity Observatory.
Health and Social Care Information Centre (2013). Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet: England, 2013. London: Health and Social Care Information Centre.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2011). Health at a Glance 2011. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/6/28/491 05858.pdf
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2012). Health at a Glance: Europe 2012. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/health/healthatagla nceeurope.htm
National Obesity Observatory (2013). Adult weight. Oxford: National Obesity Observatory.
In a previous blog I looked at hair fetishism. While researching that blog, I came across what might be considered the opposite (i.e., depilation fetishes – those who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from lack of body hair). The fetish appears to take many different forms and might include being sexually aroused by (i) the sight of a shaved area of the human body such as a bald pubic area, (ii) the sight of someone actually shaving an area of their body (e.g., their pubic region), and/or (iii) the actual act of shaving someone’s body parts. The fetish may overlap with other sexual paraphilias such as olfactophilia (i.e., deriving sexual arousal and pleasure from certain smells) as those individuals with a depilation fetish may find the odour of shaving cream or aftershave products additionally attractive.
Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices devoted a reasonably large section on sexual depilation and claimed that in some countries, the origins of sexual depilation preferences are conditioned by early pre-adolescent experiences. She claimed that:
“Shaving or removal of the pubic hair was practiced in Rome, the Middle East, Japan, China, India, and North Africa. Sex in many of these countries began during pre-pubescence before either partner had developed pubic hair. The male and female became conditioned to respond sexually to bald genitals. Some later in life became impotent at the sight of pubic hair on a partner”.
She also referred to the act of pulling out clusters of pubic hair produce an orgasm in some men. Her research had indicated that this particular type of sexual service was offered in Moorish baths in North Africa, by women who were skilled at this art. A short article on the Alternative Lifestyle website claims that depilation fetishes are usually genitally based and may overlap with those into sexual sadism and sexual masochsim. More specifically:
“Men especially are often attracted to a shaved public area and enjoy watching or performing depilation on a partner. The entire act is often very sensory and erotic. In cases of both female and male depilation, shaving creams usually are applied and lathered which can cause arousal from touch. There is a huge aspect of trust involved in depilation as a fetish too because razors or scissors are in such close proximity to the sensitive genitals. Depilation can also be a fetish is a much different way, especially in BDSM. Because hairstyle is very important in many cultures, dominants often shave the heads of their slaves. This is particularly true in cases when a female is in the submissive role”.
Such practices were also noted in Dr. Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices as she noted that depilation or shaving is used in sex play as part of body worship and bondage. She reported that dominant partners “shave their slaves to put them into a psychological role of submission, exposure, humiliation and shame”. It was also noted that depilation may be a necessary for aesthetics in transvestism, infantilism, and/or body painting.
As far as academic research goes, I have only managed to find one study that has specifically examined depilation practices. A paper published in a 2008 issue of the journal Body Image led by Dr. Yolanda Martins (“Hair today, gone tomorrow”) and compared body hair removal practices among gay and heterosexual men. The team based at Flinders University (Adelaide, Australia) A sample of gay (n=106) and heterosexual men (n=228) participated in a survey assessing “whether they had ever removed their back, buttock or pubic hair, the frequency with which they did so, the methods used and their self-reported reasons for removing this hair”. The results showed that most men had engaged in hair removal practices but that heterosexual men (33%) were much less likely than gay men (63%) to have removed their back and/or buttock hair at least once in their lives. In relation to removal of pubic hair, heterosexual men (66%) were again much less likely than gay men (82%) to have removed their pubic hair at least once.
The authors also reported that the frequency of hair removal “was also associated with the motivational salience component of appearance investment”. In laymen’s terms, men basically removed their back, buttock and pubic hair to improve their appearance (either for themselves or others). The men surveyed also reported that they preferred the feeling and sensitivity of smooth skin. Results also showed that the removal of back and buttock hair was never done for sexual and/or fetishistic reasons. However, in relation to pubic hair removal, 9% of gay men and 20% of heterosexual men had removed their pubic hair for sexual and/or fetishistic reasons. It was also reported that 14% of gay men and 10% of heterosexual men had removed their pubic hair to make their genitals look bigger and/or more appealing. Dr. Martins and her colleagues concluded that their findings offered further support to the premise that gay and heterosexual men exhibit similar body image concerns.
In a previous blog on fetishism, I wrote at length about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5000 fetishists (but was likely to be a lot more). Their results showed that there were 864 fetishists (less than 1% of all fetishists) comprising non-head body hair fetishes including depilation sites, beards, and pubic hair.
As far as I can ascertain, there have been no case studies published examining depilation fetishes. The Sexy Tofu website interviewed ‘Adam’, a 45-year old male depilation fetishist from Illinois (US) about his sexual interest in depilation. Adam was asked about when his interest first occurred:
“It started when I first got pubic hair. I’m not sure why, but my first thought was ‘Shave it’. I did, but I had to be careful as a teenager — having shaved pubes in the boys’ locker room back then would have made me pretty ‘out there’, and I wasn’t ready for that. So I’d shave only during the summers. I didn’t have much chest hair back then but once I got to college and it started growing, I would shave it fairly often. I finally took the plunge and shaved my entire body about 15 years ago. I have remained mostly hairless since…It’s both the act of shaving, changing my body look, and being smooth skinned. I have done some shaving as part of sex. Once I let a woman tie me up and she shaved my pubic hair and my head. That was really a hot scene…Sadly, I have not been able to find too many partners willing to shave me or be shaved”.
Unfortunately, there is too little information provided by Adam in his interview to make any informed speculation as to the causes and/or motivations for his depilation fetish. They obviously started in early adolescence and has developed over the subsequent thirty years. Clearly the visual element is crucial for sexual arousal (but that is the case with most paraphilias and fetishes). Adam’s account also suggests it is a minority interest based on the fact that the number of willing and/or reciprocal partners has been minimal. Like many other fetishes and paraphilias that I have examined in my blogs, this is yet another one where there is a great need for further research.
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
The Bedpost (1999). Depilation for the terrified. Located at: http://www.cleansheets.com/archive/archarticles/bdsm_3.10.99.html
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Martins, Y., Tiggemann, M. & Churchett, L. (2008). Hair today, gone tomorrow: A comparison of body hair removal practices in gay and heterosexual men. Body Image, 5, 312-316.
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Sexy Tofu (2011), Fetish Friday: Trichophilia. December 2. Located at: http://sexytofu.com/2011/12/02/fetish-friday-trichophilia-hair-fetish/
Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I have taken a passing interest in body tattoos both in relation to those who are sexually aroused by them (see my previous blog on stigmatophilia) and the representation of tattoos in films. I also have to admit that I’ve been watching the UK Channel 4 television series My Tattoo Addiction (mainly because it had the word ‘addiction’ in the title). Although I aim to look at the issue of ‘tattoo addiction’ in more academic terms in a future blog (so apologies for those of you wanting something empirically-based), but I just wanted to quickly examine whether any of the people featured across the television series could be classed in any way as ‘addicted’ to having tattoos.
Most of the time, the programme simply followed various British people where a story involving a tattoo made good (in this case ‘car crash’) television but had nothing to do with ‘addiction’. For instance, one story involved a trans-gendered individual who had his wife’s name tattooed on his arm but then changed gender so she had it changed into another different tattoo representing a symbolic transformation from man to woman. Another moving case story was of a woman who had a double mastectomy following breast cancer and then had nipples tattooed onto her reconstructed breasts following cosmetic surgery. A regular segment followed the events in one of the many tattoo parlours in Magaluf (in the Spanish island of Majorca) where almost all the people filmed were on ‘18-30’ type holidays. All of these appeared to be completely inebriated and having tattoos they would ultimately regret. Most of the cases featured young men and women having the names of people they had met that night and/or bizarre designs (such as the ‘burger nipple’) tattooed on their buttocks (at least that’s the take home message I took from it).
A number of the cases followed described themselves as having an “obsessive personality” and at least two of the cases were arguably obsessed with fictional literary characters that resulted in lots of tattoos (but I’ll come back to them in a minute). One of the men filmed for the documentary was 34-year old Mark from Buckinghamshire, and described by the programme as a “full blown tattoo addict”. He started off having a sole tattoo done when he was 22 years of age “then two, then three…and now it’s crept up on to [his] head”. Mark’s tattoos included one of the glamour model Jordan (i.e., Katie Price) with the words ‘Rape Me’ written across her chest, another of Audrey Hepburn with a sadomasochistic ball gag in her mouth, and another of a prudish Victorian lady reading a pornographic book about anal sex. When asked the reason for getting such extreme tattoos, Mark simply said he liked “the individuality, the outlet, and the shock factor” of his tattoos. Shocking, arguably. Addicted to tattoos? Not by my criteria.
Arguably one of the most sensational segments of the series was the controversial body art styled by tattooist Woody (who had gained much “notoriety for his challenging artwork”) including a tattoo of Adolf Hitler holding a large piece of paper with the words ‘Gas Bill’ on it. Woody claimed he liked his tattoos to “make statements”. The whole of his chest and stomach was taken up with a single tattoo that simply said “Pure F**king Hate” and his back was taken up with a single tattoo that reads “100% C**T” (without the asterisks – I just thought I’d add those for my readers with a sensitive disposition).
Of all the people featured in the series, two most caught my interest (psychologically), Jay – a 29-year old bodybuilder from Kent, and Kathy – a 52-year old woman from Reading. Jay was first described as having a “secret in his attic”. Since he was a boy, he has been an avid collector of super-hero action figures. His whole attic was full of unopened super-hero action figures (thousands of them it looked to me). His collection obsession was argued by Jay to be no different to someone who collects stamps – “just on a bigger scale”. The programme claimed that his “obsession [was] growing and manifesting itself in a new way” because he was getting his back tattooed with eleven large female super-heroes (the programme showed him having his sixth one done in a marathon 10-hour session). The programme narrator then went on to say that although Jay had only just started getting tattooed, he was already giving as much dedication to his tattoos as he was to his collecting.
Jay claimed that whenever he did anything in life he always ‘gave it his all’ and that his reasons for getting super-hero tattoos ran deeper than most. He has dedicated his whole life “to the pursuit of physical excellence” and in his early twenties competed in the World’s Strongest Man competition. Unfortunately, he had to give it up after a serious heart failure but now devoted to bodybuilding despite being on heart medication for the rest of his life. It appeared to me that Jay was constantly replacing one highly salient activity with another (much like ‘reciprocity’ found in addicts that give up one addiction only to replace it with another).
He was told by a friend to fill his life with “something positive otherwise you’ll self-destruct”. It was during this period that Jay’s interest in super-heroes took on greater significance. It helped him come to terms that he would never reach his dream of becoming the world’s strongest man. I also noticed that around his house there were many items of super-hero memorabilia and accessories along with loads of super-hero DVDs. Jay questioned himself as to whether he has an obsessive or compulsive behaviour. His response was something that I would wholeheartedly agree with given my views on the differences between healthy and addictive behaviour: “As long as the obsession doesn’t ruin my life, why is it such a bad thing? With what I’ve done it’s given me the life I’ve got…it’s the will to do what I do, the best I can”.
Kathy began her story by recounting that in 2010 she had “stumbled across the book that would change her life forever [about a] young and unassuming girl that doesn’t fit in, and comes to the attention of [a] family…it’s just a love story”. The narrator claimed the book “spoke to Kathy in a way she had never experienced before”. The book in question was Twilight (the young adult vampire-romance novel by Stephanie Meyer). She went and got The Twilight Saga DVDs and became “totally hooked”. The books and DVDs weren’t enough and she started getting Twilight characters tattooed on her body to the point where her whole back is now covered in them, along with her arms, legs, and upper chest. Kathy’s husband Colin was “very tolerant” of Kathy’s tattoos and his only stipulation was that he didn’t want her to have any tattoos on her face. The interviewer asked Kathy if she had an “obsession with Twilight” to which she simply replied that she did. While being filmed at a local tattoo convention, Kathy says that:
Every two weeks after pay day she got another tattoo. At the time of the programme she had undergone 91 hours of tattooing and was just about to have another tattoo put on some remaining space on one of her legs. Most of her tattoos were of (or related to) the character Edward Cullen (played by Robert Pattinson). Kathy’s husband Colin was “very tolerant” of Kathy’s tattoos and his only stipulation was that he didn’t want her to have any tattoos on her face. The interviewer asked Kathy if she had an “obsession with Twilight” to which she simply replied that she did. While being filmed at a local tattoo convention, Kathy says that:
“Tattooing is addictive. This is my form of getting my fix. It’s not a bad thing. Obviously there’s a certain amount of pain [but] it’s what I get a buzz off now”.
Although a late starter in the tattoo world, Kathy said she couldn’t now imagine a life without tattoos and that without them her life would be “very boring” and that she wouldn’t be the person she now is. However, she admitted the tattoos had caused family conflicts. She hadn’t spoken with her brother in five years because he was too embarrassed by her tattoos, and her father refuses to be seen with her in public. Her sisters were more supportive and noticed that the tattoos had brought Kathy “out of her shell”. The tattoos had apparently turned Kathy from a “wallflower” into someone quite extrovert.
I was interested in how she came to tattoing so late in her life. Kathy revealed that became very depressed after the death of her 63-year old mother in 1999 and it was then that her weight started to balloon through overeating, and she developed a very low self-esteem. She refused to have photographs taken and was “ashamed” of what she looked like. After becoming “hooked” on the first Twilight book, she said it gave her life focus. She had now read it so many times she’s had to buy new copies as well read copies had become dog-eared.
She then bought the music soundtracks and then started exercising to the music. She would even exercise in front of the DVDs for two or three hours at a go. It was then she started losing weight and began getting tattoos. She said that the tattoos gave her focus and was a permanent reminder of how she had got her life “back on track” and kept her “feeling young”. The constant new tattoos were “costing [her] a small fortune – just over eight and a half thousand pounds so far”. She then went on to say that in terms of what she has planned in the future, the total cost of the tattooing will be between £17,000 and £25,000. She says it’s keeping her “permanently broke” but despite the cost she’s “not stopping”.
Based on the information in the documentary, both Jay and Kathy appeared to display elements of addictive and obsessive behaviour. However, I would argue that the addictive elements are more to do with something external to the tattoos (i.e., super-heroes and bodybuilding for Jay, and the Twilight story for Kathy) rather than the tattoos themselves (even though Kathy said that the act of getting tattoos was a buzz and addictive). There appeared to be some conflicts in both of their lives (health, financial, and/or family conflicts) although none that suggested that either were truly addicted to anything (tattoos or otherwise). For both of them, the behaviour they engaged appeared to make them feel better about themselves rather than being something negatively detrimental. As I have said time and time again, the difference between a healthy enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life and addictions take away from them.
Duggal, H.S. & Fisher, B. (2002). Repetitive tattooing in borderline personality and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 190–192.
Irwin, K. (2003). Saints and sinners: elite tattoo collectors and tattooists as positive and negative deviants. Sociological Spectrum, 23, 27-57.
Raspa, R.F. & Cusack, J. (1990) Psychiatric implications of tattoos. American Family Physician, 41,1481-1486.
Wohlrab, S., Stahl, J. & Kappeler, P.M. (2007). Modifying the body: Motivations for getting tattooed and pierced. Body Image, 4, 87-95.