Category Archives: Paraphilia

Gonna make you sweat: The weird and wonderful world of the Woolies

“There are some people who love wool so much that they make bodysuits out of them, to wear them constantly. There is even a French wool fetishist forum to discuss their love for wool clothing. Some of these advanced knitters take their clothing experience to the next level” (from ‘8 Freakiest Fetishes’, Oddee website, June 18, 2009).

Today’s blog arguably demonstrates that human beings appear to have the capacity to fetishize almost anything. ‘Woolies’ are individuals that derive sexual pleasure and arousal from wearing wool typically in the form of full body ‘wool suits’. (I also ought to mention that ‘woolies’ appears to be the collective name used in Europe whereas in America such people are often referred to as ‘sweaterers’ – in this blog I will use the term ‘woolies’ irrespective of where such people are located). Given the fact that (i) there is absolutely no scientific research on woolies, and (ii) woolies do not make an appearance in either Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices or Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices suggests one of two things – either that the fetish does not really exist, or that it is a relatively newly realized fetish.

There is certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence that woolies exist. On a personal level, I was recently interviewed for a television documentary about the practice (Discovery Channel’s Forbidden), and was asked to comment on the case studies that appeared in the programme. For instance, one of the woolies featured was an American male, Scott from Florida, who (perhaps unsurprisingly) runs a small company selling sweaters and has had a “lifelong obsession” with wool. As a boy he claimed he would steal sweaters to hide in his school locker and in the woods near his house. He now has a collection of about 3000 sweaters, and claims to be being sexually attracted to anyone wearing a sweater, including men (even though he is heterosexual). The programme’s research team told me that:

“Scott wears a sweater out as much as possible, he’s also got a special two-piece with knitted pants that he wear around the house. Scott describes it as a secret fetish because no one knows that he’s actually getting turned-on just by walking the streets in his sweater. Scott regularly holds sweater photo-shoots. Here he’ll introduce us to other like-minded ‘sweaterers’ who travel to meet up with him and have some sweater fun and model the gear”.

The programme also featured a German woman (‘Lady Mohair’) who sells full-body knitted outfits to people worldwide. She introduces the audience to a few of her more “eccentric” woolies such as ‘Knuti’ who assumes the persona of a woolly polar bear persona.However, there are also various online discussion forums for those who engage in the behaviour (such as the Woolfreaks website). Perhaps the largest collection of sexualized (as opposed to sexy) costumes worn by woolies can be found on the French online fetish forum Doctissimo (be warned, some of the photographs are very sexually explicit in the form of crotchless costumes).

A recent 2013 article on woolies was published on the Sangbleu website. The article claimed that:

“The wool fetish is possibly one of the most mundane but simultaneously bizarre fetishes in existence. ‘Woolies’ as they have become to be known partake in the enjoyment of feeling the warm and fibrous softness of wool in its many different textures and knitted techniques upon their own or others skin. This could be from the subtleness of a woman wearing a turtleneck sweater or to the other extreme of being partially mummified in countless layers of blankets”.

From my own reading of the phenomenon, it is the latter mummified state of dress that appears to be the most fetishized as many of these fully dressed fetishists look like they are wearing woollen gimp suits. The (unnamed) author of the Sangbleu article attempted to join one of the online ‘woolies’ forums. It was noted that admission to the forum was processed by having to highlight whether (say) mohair or angora was the preferred fetish fabric. It was reported that:

“Some people were more particular and get off on the sensation of seeing their partners in particular knitted garments like heavily knitted socks, hats, leg warmers, or scarves. A lot of the images [on the forum site] demonstrate specially created full body suits to fulfill the need of being completely consumed by wool throughout the day. The totally surreal nature of resembling a friendly yeti in soft colours may not be what we all expect of normal sexuality but the amount of depth and variations that this fetish possesses expands on its sensual nature. Whether this constitutes the itchiness of wiry wool against the skin or the way in which clothing can trap the body with its heaviness, this fetish seems to have many more possibilities that how it initially appears”.

There’s also a website (i.e., Sweaterslut) that was set up as a dare and a way of gaining insight to the phenomenon by interviewing one of the leading woolies (i.e., Woolmaster) in the wool fetish community. The (again unnamed) author wrote that:

“For some time now I have been investigating that strange phenomenon called ‘sweater fetish’, a condition where a person is aroused by the sight of, or wearing, a woollen sweater. In the course of my investigations I came across a site maintained by a man named ‘Woolmaster’. In this site, Woolmaster kept a rich repository of stories and pictures depicting women and mostly men in sweaters. It seemed to me that Woolmaster suffered from the schizophrenic character so common among sadomasochists: he could not decide whether to imagine himself as the ‘sweaterer’ or the ‘sweatered’. This was what led me to ask him for details, which in turn led to this strange dare [to set up the Sweaterslut website]”.

I would speculate that on some level, woolies are not really that different from those fetishists into rubber, leather or latex (although I personally see materials like latex and leather as far more inherently ‘sexy’ than wool). The research team on the television show I contributed to told me that:

“This warm, fuzzy, world of wooly lovers is small but diverse. Some fetishize total wooly enclose. They’ll wrap themselves up in layers and layers and sweat it out for hours! It’s often about a feeling of security. Many own specially made full-body knitted suits, and bizarre looking head coverings, designed to keep them covered from head to toe in wool. The demand and desire for these strange outfits is met by a handful of professional knitters around the world who have made it their business to cater to obsessive wool lovers”.

The only other article of any length that I have found on woolies was at the Myshka NYC website. The (presumably female) author Myshka appears to assume that woolies are in some way sexual masochists and claims:

“This branch of huggable submissives have joined warm and fuzzy knit outfits, covering every square inch of the body of course, with the traditional dress codes of shiny, black leather and clear plastic bags as in the S&M community as acceptable, kinky fodder. Are these enthusiasts merely adults that couldn’t bear the postpartum depression that comes with giving up your childhood blanket or are they instinctively stimulated and aroused by the around-the-clock sensation of wool touching skin…Made of wool and mohair, these stifling suits of armor gained popularity among the sexual underground when a French designer and fetishist began knitting full-size costumes for bedroom play. It seems that from their inception, the hand-crafted bodysuits were enough to rouse the more damaged deviants that floated to the surface…You might be thinking ‘Tactile obsession is nothing new to BDSM or fetish culture’ and you’d be right”.

I realize that in the absence of any academic research today’s blog has leaned more towards anecdotal journalism than something more considered and empirical. However, my own view is that wool fetishists exist but that like many other niche fetishes I have covered on my blogs, the incidence and prevalence is likely to be very small.

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

Further reading

Morgan, G. (2009). 8 Freakiest Fetishes. Oddee, June 18. Located at: http://www.oddee.com/item_96718.aspx

Myshka NYC (2011). Woolies and the snuggly wobbly fetish you’ve never heard of. August 10. Located at: http://mishkanyc.com/bloglin/2011/07/23/woolies-and-the-snuggly-wubbly-fetish-ive-never-heard-of/

Sangbleu (2012). Wool fetish. June 7. Located at: http://sangbleu.com/2013/06/07/wool-fetish/

Blood pressures: Interview with a [female] vampire

In a previous blog I briefly examined clinical vampirism as a sexual paraphilia. In that blog I noted that there had been very little empirical research on clinical vampirism and that most of what is known comes from clinical case studies. Furthermore, vampirism (i) is rarely a single clinical condition, (ii) may or may not be associated with other psychiatric and/or psychological disorders (e.g., severe psychopathy, schizophrenia, hysteria, mental retardation), and (iii) may or may not necessarily include sexual arousal. Other related conditions include odaxelagnia (deriving sexual pleasure from biting), haematolagnia (deriving sexual satisfaction from the drinking of blood), and haematophilia (deriving sexual satisfaction from blood in general), and auto-haemofetishism (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from sight of blood drawn into a syringe during intravenous drug practice).

More recently I was contacted by a female ‘vampire’ (I use the term lightly in this instance) who has read my original article wanted to share her story with me. She gave me permission to disseminate her story with my blog readers on the understanding that I guaranteed her anonymity, confidentiality, and used her preferred name of ‘Countess Maria’ (CM) throughout the article. (She also signed herself as ‘The Young Madam’ but I will use CM for the remainder of this article). Obviously, I have no way of verifying anything that CM communicated to me, but on a personal level I have no reason to doubt the veracity of her claims. All of our communication was via email under her real name (which I then checked out online on a specific social networking site and I am 100% sure that she is who she says she is). She also said she “would be honored to have you feature my story.  I have answered your questions…as I honor your intellect and respect…being a professor is indeed a respectable, hardy, and challenging profession which is why I greatly respect an honor such profession”. More specifically, she added:

CM: “Whom I share this information must take it to the grave with them; except for you. You may share my story if and only if you use my name I have used for years ‘Countess Marie’. I do indeed consider myself a Countess due to what I have endured through humanitarian efforts as well as my ever strong want, need, and desire to help humanity – even if humanity shuns me for who I am”.

I asked CM for some socio-demographic information and she told me that she was 23 years of age, described herself as an African American and was currently employed as a Pharmacy Technician. Based on what she told me, she was well educated with various medical qualifications including Pharmacy Technician and Animal Care Certification. I also asked her about her religious beliefs and she responded: “Christian with great noble intent (‘I will gladly share my last piece of bread with my fellow man’). I live by that statement and I intend to follow through”. She also went ion to say: “I am finally in my studied job, as a Pharmacy Technician.  I have always had a thing for helping people…this is just one if the many ways I can help.  My dream in life is to be a great humanitarian and grow to greatness in helping those around me…I love who I am, and I am always wanting to follow my path.

In her account, CM didn’t really label herself a vampire but admitted that she liked drinking blood, and that many of the acts she engaged in would be labelled as vampire-like by others. She also talked about her first experiences of blood-sucking:

CM: “It is my understanding that you wish to hear about my further expansion on my clinical vampirism. Truthfully, I don’t really put a label on what it is I do. I have been consuming blood since I was young. The first cut I ever got was from a tree branch. I sucked my arm for several hours because the taste was delicious”.

At that point, CM didn’t really view her activity as in any way wrong but over time she began to realize that blood sucking was not considered normal behaviour and that she was socially ostracized by those who knew about her love of blood:

CM: “As I furthered in age through the years I noticed that I was considered different and odd, but I kept to myself about it. My love, my best friends, and you are the only people to know I consume blood…I would also like to add I have been called everything in the book for consuming blood; Monster, Demon, Grim’s Helper, and all the names in the middle…[Even] my friends called me [these things] at first because they did not understand what it mean for me”

However, CM went to great lengths to tell me that her love of blood did not involve the sucking of blood from other humans:

CM: “Make no mistake…I have never consumed blood from any human being – [only] myself. I consume pork blood, beef blood, and if that cannot be obtained I buy steaks and cook them very rare just enough for blood to spill out of it. I enjoy eating food, but it’s not really fun if it lacks in my nutrition. I add blood to juice, tea, desserts, cakes, salads, and disguise it in all sorts of ways”.

CM claimed she would never do anything that impacted on other humans and that morally it would be wrong to enforce her own beliefs and desires on others. She also believes that blood consumption is what keeps her alive:

“I never feed anyone else my blood food. I cook human food properly for guests for I know I am the only one who enjoys the taste of blood. To many, it is bitter and irony-metallic tasting. I cannot relate, due to the fact that for me, it tastes like fine wine. Without blood, I know that I would surely die. I need blood to live. I have always felt that way. Nothing on Earth will ever change my thoughts on the matter. I love blood…To me blood is life or death”.

CM also told me she had been diagnosed with anemia and I asked her whether believed that her love of blood may be because she has anemia:

“I will always love blood. I know that as far as my health goes, it actually favors blood consumption. I was told I almost died by slowly falling into a coma from sleeping for almost 4 straight days. The entire time I was asleep it only felt like seconds, but when I awoke, everyone was worried…I was diagnosed with being anemic, as well as hyperthyroidism. My hyperthyroidism is such [that] I will be on Levothyroxin until the day I die. My blood naturally lacks the iron (due to being anemic) so consuming blood helps me in many ways…I feel that my anemia further shows me that when I feel dizzy or “off centered” that I should consume blood.  I only consume pig or beef blood…NEVER human blood”.

As she had read my article clinical vampirism as a sexual paraphilia I also asked CM if her consuming of blood was in any way sexually motivate. She responded by saying:

“The sight of blood is a turn on for me, but only inside of a container.  If someone is bleeding of course I would help aid them and stop the pain.  If I see frozen blood in the grocery store or walk in the meat section at the market for too long, all I can smell is the blood, which causes arousal for me.  I don’t stay in butcher shops long for that reason”.

This suggests that blood for CM (in some circumstances) is sexually arousing and that there may be paraphilic elements in her reason for liking blood. Whether CM is typical of other ‘vampires’ is not clear. But given the little we know about people that love drinking blood, I am grateful to CM for her time in answering my questions and her honesty in relation to the development and motivations underpinning her hobby.

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

Further reading

Benezech, M., Bourgeois, M., Boukhabza, D. & Yesavage, J. (1981). Cannibalism and vampirism in paranoid schizophrenia. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 42(7), 290.

Gubb, K., Segal, J., Khota1, A, Dicks, A. (2006). Clinical Vampirism: a review and illustrative case report. South African Psychiatry Review, 9, 163-168.

Halevy, A., Levi, Y., Ahnaker, A. & Orda, R. (1989). Auto-vampirism: An unusual cause of anaemia. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 82, 630-631.

Hemphill R.E. & Zabow T. (1983) Clinical vampirism. A presentation of 3 cases and a re-evaluation of Haigh, the ‘acid-bath murderer’. South African Medical Journal, 63(8), 278-81.

Kelly, B.D., Abood, Z. & Shanley, D. (1999). Vampirism and schizophrenia. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 16, 114-117.

Jaffe, P., & DiCataldo, F. (1994). Clinical vampirism: Blending myth and reality. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 22, 533-544.

Miller, T.W., Veltkamp, L.J., Kraus, R.F., Lane T. & Heister, T. (1999). An adolescent vampire cult in rural America: clinical issues and case study. Child Psychiatry and Human Development 29, 209-19.

Milner, J.S. Dopke, C.A. & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and Theory In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp. 384-418). New York: Guildford Press.

Noll, R. (1992). Vampires, Werewolves and Demons: Twentieth Century Reports in the Psychiatric Literature. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Prins, H. (1985). Vampirism: A clinical condition. British Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 666-668.

Vanden Bergh, R. L., & Kelly, J. F. (1964). Vampirism: A review with new observations. Archives of General Psychiatry, 11, 543-547.

Wilson N. (2000) A psychoanalytic contribution to psychic vampirism: a case vignette. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 60, 177-86.

Yates, P.M., Hucker, S.J. & Kingston, W.A. (2008). Sexual sadism: Psychopathology and theory. In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment. pp.213-230. New York: Guildford Press.

When push comes to love: A brief look at childbirth fetishism

In a previous blog, I examined maieusiophilia a sexual paraphilia and/or fetish in which an individual derives sexual pleasure and sexual arousal from particular aspects of human female pregnancy. In his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Anil Aggrawal defines maieusiophilia as gaining sexual arousal from pregnant women and/or female childbirth. However, other sources define maieusiophilia more broadly to include sexual attraction to women who also appear pregnant, attraction to lactation and/or attraction to particular stages of pregnancy from impregnation through to childbirth. It is this latter aspect (i.e., childbirth) that today’s blog briefly examines. It was while I was researching that previous blog that I came across various online admissions like the following:

Extract 1: “I don’t know why but I find myself turned on by women giving birth. I am sure I am not a maieusophile (i.e. those who have a fetish for pregnant women), but I have a fetish for the childbirth process itself. I enjoy watching births and the more uncomfortable it is for the mothers, I like it more…I am also a female and straight. I have a boyfriend, and I am looking forward to marrying him and having kids with him in the future. I am excited to experience childbirth also”

Extract 2: “I do have one fetish I have that I guess you could consider sort-of sexual, and I don’t normally tell people about that one, but I have a pregnancy/childbirth fetish.  I feel aroused, I guess you could say, when one of those two topics are brought into play, but I would never, ever want to have sex with a pregnant woman or be pregnant myself. I don’t want kids and I have no desire to even be touched by anybody, much less have sex”

Extract 3: Do some guys get sexually turned on by watching childbirth (of their wife)? Is it much different than just watching a video of it? I’ve heard it can be the woman’s biggest orgasm”.

There are also dedicated websites that provide links to fetish pictures and stories of childbirth. I included the third extract because in my research for this article, I did keep coming across stories where women were claiming that childbirth was the ‘strongest’ orgasm that they had ever had. There was even a television documentary on the topic simply called Orgasmic Birth that was first transmitted in January 2008 and reported in the New York Times. The documentary was made by Debra Pasacli-Bonaro – a childbirth educator – who poses the question: ‘What would happen if women were taught to enjoy birth rather than endure it?’ She says the primary message of her film is that women can “journey through labor and birth” in a variety of different ways and that giving birth can be a positive and pleasurable experience rather than a painful one. Pascal-Brown was quoted as saying:

“I hope women watching and men watching don’t feel that what we’re saying is every woman should have an orgasmic birth. [The film reveals] the best kept secret [of child birth] – that some women report having an orgasm as the baby exits the birth canal”

The film also features Dr. Christine Northrup author of the 2010 book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom who claims that orgasms during childbirth are the results of chemistry and anatomy. More specifically, she claims that:

“When the baby’s coming down the birth canal, remember, it’s going through the exact same positions as something going in, the penis going into the vagina, to cause an orgasm. And labor itself is associated with a huge hormonal change in the body, way more prolactin, way more oxytocin, way more beta-endorphins — these are the molecules of ecstasy”.

As far as I am aware, there is no empirical research on the fetishized aspects of childbirth but I did come across an interesting paper on the pornography of childbirth by Dr. Robyn Longhurst in the journal ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies. The paper focused on the moral issues surrounding the case of New Zealand ‘adult actress’ and former stripper Nikki Devi’s desire to give birth as part of a pornographic film called Ripe. In New Zealand, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services wanted to separate the mother and child if the film was completed, but the New Zealand laws were not clear on whether the act of giving birth in a pornographic film was a form of child abuse. Longhurst noted that the aim of her paper was:

“…to draw on the story of Nikki and pornographic film maker Steve Crow’s quest to have a birth filmed for a pornographic movie to illustrate that certain sexual acts rouse anxieties and even disgust…The moral boundary between what is considered ‘normal’ and what is considered ‘perverse’ is constantly struggled over and is temporally and spatially specific. This pornography of birth shows that what counts as moral is tied up with issues of gender, sexuality, class, race and so on, but also with ‘geographical objects of space, place, landscape, territory, boundary and movement’ (Cresswell, 2005)…This article shows how Nikki, through media discourse, was constructed as a person who belonged in certain places and spaces (brothels, strip clubs) but not in others (hospital birthing wards). The media represented Nikki as immoral but this morality turns out to be based on a very contingent set of societal rules and expectations…There are societal expectations that birthing will be enacted in particular ways. Regardless of whether it be a ‘natural’ birth, a pain-assisted birth, a forceps delivery or a caesarean section the expectation is still that birthing women ought to behave in culturally and gendered ‘appropriate’ ways. Nikki’s plan to be filmed giving birth for a pornographic movie was not seen by most as an ‘appropriate’ way to birth”

Longhurst followed all the media coverage surrounding the case including two dedicated 60 Minutes television documentaries and reports in a wide variety of NZ newspapers to critically examine how the story was reported and portrayed. She also followed all the media interviews with the two main protagonists (i.e. Nikki Devi and the film’s director Steve Crow). She then went on to argue that that the coverage showed there were “unwritten rules and regulations govern what is deemed (in)appropriate behavior for particular bodies in particular spaces producing ‘a changing sexual landscape’”.

After the first documentary (entitled ‘Naked Ambition’) had been aired, Longhurst reported that the NZ media immediately began to debate the issue as well as the rights of unborn children. From the media coverage I read myself, Devi appeared to be vilified by the NZ press (and dubbed the ‘porn mum’). Politicians and the public alike wanted to know whether it was lawful to film the childbirth for a pornographic film. Longhurst made some really interesting observations:

“‘Coupling’ pregnancy and especially birth with sexual gratification challenges mainstream notions of pregnant and birthing women as modest, ‘motherly’, and focused completely on their infant. Becoming mothers’ must not ‘flaunt’ their sexuality even though (or maybe, because) the pregnant, and especially the birthing body is a body that is [assumed to be] clearly marked as having participated in sexual intercourse (Longhurst, 2000). Nikki’s transgression, therefore, prompted something of a moral panic…In examining moral judgments as to whether birthing women ought to be engaged in invoking sexual feelings for commercial gain it is imperative to consider the relationship between bodies and spaces, in this case, a delivery suite in a public hospital. Seeking a court order to stop the filming of the birth of Nikki’s baby could be read as an attempt to reinstate the purity of the delivery suite – a space where mother and child meet, bond, and establish a positive and loving relationship. When it was proposed that the delivery suite would become the site of a pornographic movie, lines between purity and perversity…became blurred. While viewing and shooting pornography might be ‘tolerated’ at sites that are seen to be deviant such as sex shops, clubs, strip joints, warehouses, porn studios, private homes, it was not ‘tolerated’ in a hospital birthing ward”

It does appear that the film was finally made and got a distribution deal as I went online and saw it advertised on various websites. As one website said:

“The controversial new movie they tried to ban. Filmed completely in New Zealand and starring an all-kiwi cast. Nikki, a pregnant wife with time on her hands and a passion for sex, indulges herself behind the back of her workaholic husband. 

A complex web of affairs, desires and obsessions…Follow Nikki through her term of pregnancy as she and her naughty neighbours show you what being neighbourly is all about”.

Similar moral questions about ‘appropriateness’ of giving childbirth outside of ‘traditional’ settings have been raised in the more recent case of the artist Marni Kotak who gave birth in front of a live audience as part of her art installation The Birth of Baby X in Brooklyn’s Microscope Gallery’s ‘birthing room’ (New York). In an interview with New York’s Village Voice newspaper, Kotak said that:

“I hope that people will see that human life itself is the most profound work of art, and that therefore giving birth, the greatest expression of life, is the highest form of art. Real life is the best performance art”.

A Daily Mail article after the birth of her son Ajax reported that a video of the birth has now been added to Kotak’s proposed 18-year project (Raising Baby X) in which Kotak will document her child’s upbringing until college with weekly video podcasts.

From everything that I’ve read, sexual arousal from either experiencing and/or watching childbirth appears to be very rare but does seem to be prevalent in a minority of individuals. Whether it ever becomes the topic of scientific research remains to be seen, although I’m sure more academic articles about the morality issues may appear in philosophy-minded journals in the years to come.

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

Further reading

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

Bastion Works (2012). Maieusiophilia. Located at: http://bastionworks.com/Mikipedia/index.php?title=Maieusiophilia

Cresswell, T. (2005). Moral geographies. In, David Atkinson, Peter Jackson, David Sibley & Neil Washbourne (Eds.) Cultural Geography: A Critical Dictionary of Key Concepts. (pp.128-134). New York: Taurus.

Longhurst, R. (2000). ‘Corporeographies’ of pregnancy: ‘bikini babes’. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18, 453-472.

Longhurst, R. (2006). A pornography of birth: crossing moral boundaries. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 5(2), 209-229.

Northrup, C. (2010). Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing. London: Bantam.

Wikipedia (2012). Pregnancy fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pregnancy_fetishism

Clothes of play: The psychology of fancy dress

Yesterday, my local paper (The Nottingham Post) interviewed me for a Halloween story about the psychology of fancy dress (which you can read here). Before I was interviewed, I did a search of academic literature databases and couldn’t find a single academic paper that had been published on the topic. Although this didn’t surprise me, it did mean that everything I said to the journalist was opinion and speculation (at best). The first thing I did was think all the different situations in which people wear fancy dress costumes and this is what I came up with:

  • Those that wear fancy dress as part of a calendar event or festival (e.g., Halloween or the Mardi Gras)
  • Those who wear fancy dress costumes as part of an organized fancy dress event (e.g., a fancy dress party, a fancy dress competition, a murder mystery party, or a one-off occasion such as an event we had here in Nottingham [March 8, 2008] to break the world record for the most people dressed as Robin Hood (1,119 individuals dressing up breaking the previous record of 607).
  • Those who wear fancy dress costumes as part of their job (e.g., a clown, a strip-o-gram, an actor, Santa in a shop store at Christmas, etc.).
  • Those that wear fancy dress costumes as a form of disguise (such as bank robbers dressed in the masks and clothes to hide their identities).
  • Those who wear fancy dress costumes as a way of raising money (e.g., people in the London marathon who are sponsored while wearing ridiculous costumes).
  • Those who wear fancy dress costumes as part of an external group event such as a group all dressing identically on a hen night/stag night, or groups of people that go to football matches or Test cricket matches. This could also apply to individuals who dress up as characters from plays or musicals while watching the said stage shows (e.g., dressing up like a Rocky Horror Picture Show character (e.g., Frank N. Furter) or dressing up like Dorothy while attending a Wizard of Oz ‘sing-a-long’ show). This might also apply to groups of people like the Furry Fandom who dress up as animals and meet up socially to explore different sides of their ‘fursona’ (i.e., their animal persona).
  • Those that wear fancy dress costumes as part of sexual role-play or other sexual acts (for more detail, see my previous blogs on uniform fetishism and Nazi fetishism).
  • Those that wear fancy dress as part of a cult or ritualistic event such as devil worship (although such people may argue that they are not dressing up but merely wearing their expected ‘uniform’).
  • None of the above (e.g., people that wear fancy dress costumes as the result of losing a bet).

The reason for compiling a list like this was to get a better idea of what the psychological motivation is behind dressing in a fancy dress costume. Although most people might say that the main reason for dressing up in fancy dress is because it’s a fun and/or exciting thing to do, the list I compiled clearly shows the range of motivations is much greater than one might initially suspect. I’m not claiming that my list is exhaustive, but it shows that reasons for wearing costumes are many and varied. Reasons could be financial (to earn money, to raise money for charity), sexual (particular fancy dress outfits being arousing either to the wearer or the observer), psychological (feeling part of a united group, attention-seeking, exploring other facets of an individual’s personality), practical (concealing true identity while engaged in a criminal act), and/or idiosyncratic (trying to break a world record). For others it might be coercive (e.g., being forced to dress up as a form of sexual humiliation, or punishment for losing a bet).

One of the most well known social psychologists, Professor Michael Argyle made a passing reference to fancy dress in relation to self-identity his 1992 book The Social Psychology of Everyday Life. He noted:

“It is not only punks and skinheads who put on fancy dress; Scottish country dancers, bowls players, musicians and many others have their special costumes. Mass forms of leisure do not help to give a sense of identity, with the exception of supporting sports teams, which certainly does. It is the more engrossing and less common forms of leisure that do most for identity”.

It’s debatable whether this really refers to fancy dress but for some people, fancy dress will always be about either self-identity and/or group identity. I also came across an online article by British psychologist Dr. Catherine Tregoning that looked at what people engage in most at Halloween and what it says about them in relation to their occupation (I ought to add that the article was on a job-hunting website). At Halloween, do you watch horror films? Do you carve pumpkins? Do you go on ghost hunts? Do you like dressing up in Halloween costumes? If you do, Dr. Tregoning claimed that:

This may mean you’re the type to keep reinventing yourself and often change career! Or do you operate in different guises in your current role, changing your personality and presenting your outward self differently according to who you’re with or the task in hand? Or do you need some form of escapism from your day job? If you’re good at acting a part on Halloween – then use your skills to “act” confident in an interview or “act” calm under pressure when delivering a presentation”

Another article by Rafael Behr published in The Guardian examined the politics and psychology of fancy dress. In relation the psychology, Behr’s views had some crossover with the interview I did with my local newspaper on the topic: 

“Children love dressing up, especially in clothes that make them feel grown up. Adults like dressing up because it reminds them of that feeling of being children getting excited about dressing like a grownup. What this indicates is that actually being a grownup is generally overrated and involves spending a lot of time in disappointing clothes. Anyone who goes to a party in fancy dress will feel a pang of anxiety immediately before arrival that they have made a mistake and it is not a fancy dress party at all. If you have this feeling before arriving at a wedding or funeral, go home and change. Only senior members of the clergy are allowed to wear ridiculous clothes in churches”.

Finally, another online article that examined dressing up for Halloween was one by psychotherapist Joyce Matter who examined whether fancy dress costumes bring out a person’s alter ego (or as she termed it, an individual’s “shadow side”).

“Do we all reveal our shadow sides with our costume choices?  Do those aspects of self that we have repressed express themselves uncontrollably when we are at Spirit Halloween? Perhaps…Expressive play can be one of the most cathartic experiences as well as giving us the freedom to discover hidden aspects of self that may contain valuable resources we are repressing. A refusal or inability to do so reveals difficulty with self-acceptance and perhaps a preoccupation with the opinions of others…Through my work as a therapist, I have come to believe the shadow side is not necessarily dormant characteristics that are negative—they often contain positive aspects of self which we have not been free to embody. Once we honor and integrate them, they can become powerful strengths”.

As an adult, I have never put on fancy dress for Halloween. In fact, the only time I have dressed up in anything approaching fancy dress was when I played a French butler during a murder mystery evening with friends. As there is no scientific research on the topic I don’t know if I am typical of middle-aged men or whether I am just content with my life that I don’t feel the need to act out or experiment within the confines of costume role-play.

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

Further reading

Argyle, M. (1992). The Social Psychology of Everyday Life. London: Routledge

Behr, R. (2014). The rules: Fancy dress. The Guardian, January 25. Located: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/25/etiquette-guide-to-fancy-dress

Lyons, C. (2014). Dressing for the part. The Stylist. Located at: http://www.stylist.co.uk/life/dressing-for-the-part

Marter, J. (2013). Your Halloween costume may reveal your shadow side. Psych Central, October 6. Located at: http://blogs.psychcentral.com/success/2013/10/your-halloween-costume-may-reveal-your-shadow-side/

Mehmi, N. (2010). How to pick your fancy dress costume to attract the opposite sex. E-Zine Articles, December 3. Located at: http://ezinearticles.com/?How-To-Pick-Your-Fancy-Dress-Costume-To-Attract-The-Opposite-Sex&id=6485736

Tregoning, C. (2013). Halloween is coming!…..What your take on it might say about your career! Jobs.ac.uk, October 6. Located at: https://blogs.jobs.ac.uk/psychology/2013/10/06/halloween-is-coming-what-your-take-on-it-might-say-about-your-career/

Feline purrversions: A beginner’s guide to aelurophilia

In a previous blog on a hoax form of zoophilia (emysphilia – sexual arousal from turtles), I briefly mentioned other various specific sub-types of zoophilia including aelurophilia. In 2006, Dr. Lisa Shaffer and Dr. Julie Penn developed a comprehensive paraphilia classification system and published it as a book chapter in Dr. William Hickey’s book Sex Crimes and Paraphilia. In that chapter they defined aelurophilia deriving sexual gratification from cats. The same definition was also provided by Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his new 2011 classification of zoophilia in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. Before I take a closer academic look at the clinical literature on aelurophilia, I’d like to share this story reported in the Russian newspaper Pravda from March 2004:

 “Two women attempted to experience sexual pleasure from an intimate contact with a cat. The weird endeavor ended rather sad for one of the women [Svetlana]: she was hospitalized with severe genital injuries. Doctors arrived to hospitalize a woman, who had suffered from unexpected bleeding…They saw a woman lying on the sofa. …Streaks of blood could be seen on her legs. The woman’s friend was speechless to explain what happened. The woman was taken to the gynecological department of the local hospital, where doctors determined the unusual character of the genital injuries…When the woman recovered, she confessed that she had been injured during her love act with a cat…Svetlana was bored and she decided to visit her friend, Vera. The two women had some wine and started talking about intimate matters. Vera was the first, who suggested trying something totally unusual…Vera brought in a cat [called Timka]…Vera took her clothes off, put the light out and played an adult movie on the video recorder. She lied down, took a bottle of valerian and poured some on her most intimate body part. When the cat smelled valerian, he started licking it away, putting Vera in the state of ecstasy. Vera told Svetlana…there is nothing better than the cat’s little tongue. When the cat started licking valerian off from Svetlana, something happened to the animal. Timka probably took too much of the medication: he started licking the liquid away but all of a sudden he seized the genitals of the poor woman with his claws and teeth. Svetlana screamed and tried to push the fierce pet lover away from her, but the cat wouldn’t let go. Vera hurried to help her friend: she emptied a bucket of water on the cat and threw the animal out of the house. When she saw that Svetlana was bleeding, she called an ambulance. Boris [Svetlana’s husband] could not take the fact that his wife preferred having oral sex with a cat [and] kicked Svetlana out of the house…It is noteworthy that lonely women often use their pets (cats or dogs, regardless of sex) to satisfy their sexual needs. Such pet adventures often lead to lamentable consequences – not for pets, but for orgasm-craving women, as a rule. An overdose of valerian can make the loveliest cat become a fierce and aggressive animal”.

I did an academic literature search on aelurophilia and thought I had found an article in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery but the editorial by Margie Scherk used the term ‘aelurophilia’ in it most literal sense to refer to introduce a special issue of the journal that had brought together the aelurophilic veterinary community” (i.e., vets who love cats but not in any sexual sense). I also thought I had located a relevant conference paper by Dr. A Franklin about people who go looking for big wild cats in the country. He noted that:

For some reason it appears that people now believe [wild cats] to be there but more than that, they want them to be there, they have become the focus for a new form of aelurophilia, or the love of (wild) cats”.

Again, like the editorial in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, the term ‘aelurophilia’ is used in its’ most literal sense. Thankfully, there are a few references in the more general zoophilia literature to people who have had sexual relationships with cats (although none of these authors mention the word ‘aelurophilia’). For instance, the Kinsey Reports (of 1948 and 1953) reported that 8% of males and 4% females had at least one sexual experience with an animal. The most frequent sexual acts engaged in with animals comprised calves, sheep, donkeys, large fowl (ducks, geese), dogs and cats. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the internet has plenty of websites where people have confessed sexual relationships with cats such as those at the Is It Normal?, Zoklet, Zoo Destiny and Tribal War websites. There are also a number of dedicated websites with advice on engaging in human-cat sex such as the Beast Forum’s ‘The ultimate guide: How to make love to big cats’ and Zoophile.Net’s “How to make love to felines’.

In a 2001 issue of the Journal of Small Animal Practice, Dr. H. Munro and Dr. M. Thrusfield (2001) reported that they had collected data on animal abuse from over 400 British vets. They reported that 6% of their cases involved sexual abuse based on their observations of injuries in the animals’ genital and anal areas. Of these, 21 cases referred to dogs and three to cats.

Dr Andrea Beetz carried out a study comprising 32 male zoophiles. She reported that sex had occurred with dogs (78%), horses (53%), cats (13%) and farm animals (19%). She also reported that many of the zoophiles (including the cat lovers) had a very close emotional attachment to their animals and reported that they love their animal partner as others love their human partner (and are devastated when their animal partner dies). In a later paper in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, she also wrote:

“Besides the whole range of sexual practices with more or less common mammals of a suitable size and anatomy, including deer, tapirs, antelopes, and camels (Massen, 1994), sexual contacts with more unusual species were mentioned in the literature. Insertion of fish – eels seem to be preferred – and snakes into the vagina and sexual stimulation through the movements of the animal (Dekkers, 1994), masturbation of male or female cats and letting cats lick the human genitalia or eat food from the penis or the vagina (Miletski, 2002) are further practices”.

Dr. Hani Miletski (2002) conducted one of the largest studies in this area examining 93 zoophiles (82 men and 11 women). Her study found that most of her sample had sexual contact with dogs (90%). However, she also reported that 19.5% of her participants admitted to having had sexual contact with female felines (large cats or domestic cats) and 17% with male felines (large cats or domestic cats).

Although there are only a few studies that have examined aelurophilia, the data quite clearly show that minorities of both men and women have engaged in human-feline sex although compared to other animals that people have had sex with cats are much lower in the zoophilic preference league.

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

Further reading

Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18, 73-78.

Beetz, A.M. (2000, June). Human sexual contact with animals: New insights from current research. Paper presented at the 5th Congress of the European Federation of Sexology, Berlin.

Beetz, A. (2004): Bestiality/zoophilia: A scarcely investigated phenomenon between crime, paraphilia, and love. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 4(2), 1-36.

Dekkers, M. (1994). Dearest pet: On bestiality. New York: Verso.

Franklin, A, (2011, November). Imagined big cats in the English countryside. Proceedings of 2011 TASA Conference: Local Lives/Global Networks. Newcastle, Australia.

Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C.E., Gebhard, P.H. (1953). Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company.

Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C.E., (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company.

Massen, J. (1994). Zoophilie. Die sexuelle Liebe zu Tieren. Koln: Pinto Press.

Miletski, H. (2002). Understanding bestiality-zoophilia. Bethesda, MD: Author.

Munro, H.M.C., & Thrusfield, M.V. (2001). “Battered pets”: Sexual abuse. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 42, 333-337.

Pravda (2004). Cat rapes woman after performing oral sex on her. November 10. Located at: http://english.pravda.ru/news/society/sex/10-11-2004/60215-0/

Shaffer L, & Penn J. A comprehensive paraphilia classification system. In: E.W. Hickey (Editor). Sex crimes and paraphilia. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Scherk, M.A. (2009). FIP – A disease full of curiosities. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 11, 223.

Palm minimization: An unusual case of Alien Hand Syndrome

In a previous blog I briefly overviewed Alien Hand Syndrome. Since writing that blog I came across an interesting case of alien hand syndrome published in a 2000 issue of the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation by Dr. B. Hai and Dr. I. Odderson. They reported an unusual case in which their patient had a right hemispheric stroke and subsequently experienced what the authors described as embarrassing manifestations of Alien Hand Syndrome in the form of involuntary masturbation. The case involved a 73-year old man who was brought into a hospital emergency ward by his wife because of a sudden loss of movement in the left-hand side of his body (including a slight droop on the left-hand side of his face), slurred speech and poor balance. Furthermore, he could stand if helped but was unable to walk unaided. The man had obviously had a stroke but four days later he started to experience involuntary movements of his left arm and claimed his left hand “has a mind of his own”. The paper reported that:

“He developed a tonic grasp reflex with inability to release. He also had a tendency to reach and grasp onto objects with the left hand, such as the telephone cord or the remote control for the television, and was unable to release despite verbal commands. He would persistently grab his comb or fix the collar of his shirt. He also demonstrated difficulty performing bimanual activities, such as eating

Most worryingly, the man’s wife expressed extreme concern when her husband’s left hand would expose his genitals and start to masturbate in public. The involuntary masturbation happened on numerous occasions when talking with the nurses and doctors in the hospital, and only ever occurred with his left hand (even though the man was right-handed). The man denied that he had any history of “excessive self-stimulation, sexual dysfunction, or exhibitionism. While in hospital, the man was dismayed and frustrated that he was unable to stop his left hand stimulating his genitals in front of other people. The authors reported that:

“A clinical impression of [Alien Hand Syndrome] was made, and magnetic resonance imaging of the brain showed an acute infarct [dead tissue] in the medial right frontal lobe [of his brain] in the anterior cerebral artery distribution involving the right anterior cingulate gyrus and the corpus callosum. After [three weeks] of acute inpatient rehabilitation, the patient was able to walk with a standard walker and negotiate stairs with rails with contact guard assist. He also began to use his left hand for bimanual activities. He was subsequently discharged to home with his family”.

After a month of treatment, the man was able to walk again unassisted but his left hand was still not under his own control (and telling the medical staff that his hand “still has a mind of his own and won’t turn things loose”). However, the good news was that the involuntary masturbation in public subsided and eventually ceased. The authors of the paper claim this is a very rare case because their patient displayed “an unusual and disturbing manifestation of uncontrolled involuntary genital fondling with the nondominant, apraxic hand and with mirroring hand movements during eating”. The authors also noted that the involuntary movements of the man’s left hand never occurred while they were carrying out medical tests and suggested that their findings indicate “the possibility of the presence of a dexterous ‘alien’ mode of control that can be distinguished from a more clumsy and slow ‘voluntary’ mode of control”. Although there is no known treatment for AHS, as I noted in my previous blog on the topic, the symptoms can be minimized and managed to some extent by keeping the affected hand occupied and involved in a task (e.g., by giving it an object to hold in its grasp). This would seem to explain why the man never masturbated while undergoing medical tests (i.e., his hands were being occupied). The authors also noted that:

“So far, at least two types of [Alien Hand Syndrome] have been described. The callosal type, as seen in our patient (lesion involving the corpus callosum with or without frontal damage), is characterized by frequent intermanual conflict and apraxia of the affected limb. The frontal type (lesion involving the left mediofrontal and callosal) is associated with dominant hand grasp reflex, compulsive movements (such as groping), restraining actions, and compulsive manipulation of tool [Feinberg, Schindler & Flanagan, 1992]”.

As I noted in my previous blog on AHS, research indicates that AHS sufferers often personify the alien hand and may believe the hand is ‘possessed’ by some other spirit or alien life form. Their hands may even appear to act in opposition to each other (such as when AHS sufferers who are also cigarette smokers put a cigarette in their mouth to set it alight, only for the alien hand to pull it out and throw the cigarette away). Such behaviour is an example of ‘intermanual conflict’ and has been given the name ‘diagnostic ideomotor apraxia’.

A number of published papers have reported that involuntary masturbation can be associated with other conditions. For instance, it has been associated with temporal lobe epilepsy. Dr. M. Cherian reported the case of excessive masturbation in a young girl in a 1997 issue of the European Journal of Pediatrics. However, until the publication of this case of AHS, it had not ever been associated with having a stroke. Dr. Hai and Dr. Odderson conclude:

Although [Alien Hand Syndrome] is a rare phenomenon, this condition should be considered in patients who present with a feeling of alienation of one or both upper limbs accompanied by complex purposeful involuntary movement. It must be differentiated from limb neglect and anosognosia, which present with dissociation from the limb as perceived object (i.e., where the limb is not perceived as a part of the “self”), but without involuntary movement and without dissociation from control over purposeful complex action of the affected limb (i.e., where the actions of the limb are perceived as self-generated). Further studies are required to elucidate a definite anatomical explanation that can lead to accurate diagnosis, specific treatment, and rehabilitation of these patients”

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

Further reading

Biran, I. & Chatterjee, A. (2004). Alien Hand Syndrome. Archives of Neurology, 61, 292-294.

Cherian, M.P. (1997). Excessive masturbation in a young girl: A rare presentation of temporal lobe epilepsy. European Journal of Pediatrics, 156, 249.

Doody, R.S. & Jankovic, J. (1992). The alien hand and related signs. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 55, 806-810.

Feinberg, T.E., Schindler, R.J. & Flanagan, N.G. (1992). Two alien hand syndromes. Neurology, 42, 19-24.

Hai, B.G.O., & Odderson, I.R. (2000). Involuntary masturbation as a manifestation of stroke-related alien hand syndrome. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 79, 395-398.

Jacome, D.E. & Risko, M.S. (1983). Absence status manifested by compulsive masturbation. Archives of Neurology, 40, 523-524.

Scepkowski, L.A. & Cronin-Golomb, A. (2003). The alien hand: Cases, categorizations, and anatomical correlates. Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews, 2, 261-277.

Ginger rogerers: A very brief look at figging‬

While researching various other blogs (most notably one on urtication and sexual arousal from stinging nettles), I came across the sexual practice of figging. For the uninitiated, figging in the broadest sense refers the act of inserting something (typically ginger) into the body (typically a bodily orifice such as the anus, vagina and/or urethra) that subsequently causes a stinging and/or burning sensation for sexual pleasure and arousal. Figging would appear to be a relatively rare sexual activity, as it doesn’t appear in either Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices or Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Furthermore, there is not a single reference to figging in any academic article or book that I am aware of. According to an online article at the London Fetish Scene website:

“The word [figging] is likely to be a derivative of ‘feague’, the practice during Victorian times of putting a piece of peeled ginger into a horse’s anus to make it appear more sprightly and hold its tail up (for shows and selling). Mostly, figging is still used to mean putting a peeled, shaped piece of ginger root into an anus, but in a BDSM context the anus would be that of a [submissive]. Sometimes ‘figging’ is used to refer to a pervertable other than ginger (for example nettles) and also to cover the insertion into the vagina, athough it may be incorrect to consider these as figging…The ginger root is skinned and may also be carved into the shape of a butt plug. Inserting ginger into a healthy anus for even quite lengthy periods should cause no physical damage…Apart from, or together with, figging, ginger pieces or juice from crushed ginger can be inserted in the vagina or applied to the clitoris or male genitals. Care should be taken here, especially with juice, as the genitals are much more sensitive…Victorian texts on the proper treatment of recalcitrant wives included the instructions for figging as it was considered that a spanking should be received on relaxed buttocks and this was seen as one way to train them to receive the spanking properly. It may be from this practice that the phrase who gives a fig?’ originated”.

(By the way, I had never come across the word ‘pervertible’ but in another article on the London Fetish Scene website, pervertibles are defined as “ordinary non-sexual objects, especially everyday household objects, that can be used sexually, particularly in BDSM play”). The (very short) Wikipedia entry on figging also makes reference to the practice of inserting ginger into the anuses of horses (although they describe this practice as ‘gingering’ rather than figging).

As with other types of pain, sexual masochists can find the painful sensations of figging an erotic experience. In sadomasochistic sexual activity, the dominant partner may use figging as a punishment on their submissive partner. The London Fetish Scene article claims:

“If the sub is made to tighten his/her buttocks with a fig inside the anus, the sensation becomes more intense: thus they will usually try to relax those muscles. This provides a good target for caning or spanking, which will often cause the sub to clench his/her backside, which will immediately increase the feeling of heat and pain, thus causing them to want to un-clench”.

There is also the very similar practice called ‘rhapanidosis’ which refers to the insertion of horseradish into bodily orifices (usually the anus), and was allegedly a punishment given to adulterous wives in ancient Athens. According to Wikipedia:

“There is some doubt as to whether the punishment was ever enforced or whether the references to it in comic plays (such as the debate between Right and Wrong in The Clouds of Aritophanes) should be understood as signifying public humiliation in general. In order to be allowed to apply rhaphanidosis to an adulteror, one must catch the man in the act of adultery with one’s own wife, in one’s own house. Rhaphanidosis was not the only penalty available; sodomy by mulletfish was common as well, or the man could simply be killed on the spot. Following this, the adulterous wife would have to be divorced”.

In my research for this blog I came across more than a few websites that espouse the joys of figging. The Figging (Anal Discipline) website has a surprisingly diverse set of articles (such as one on ‘Why figging enhances sex’) and there are a number of websites that provide a ‘how to’ guide for figging. For instance, one detailed guide on the Live Journal by a BDSM practitioner provides the ‘theory and practice of ginger figging’ and asserts:

“Figging is a fairly rare practice that seems to have declined in popularity recently, which I think is a shame because it’s so easy and the effects are so interesting. It’s a lot of fun, and I encourage people to experiment with it”.

There’s also an interesting first person account by Elizabeth Black on the Sex is Social website who describes in detail the first time she tried it (and liked it). Other first hand accounts didn’t (such as those on A Kinkster’s Guide concluding “Stick to sex toys – don’t try this!”). Although there are many academic articles on sadomasochism and sadomasochistic practices, not one of them mentions figging. Therefore, we know absolutely nothing about the prevalence of the practice (but as I said earlier, it is likely to be very rare).

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

Further reading

Black, E. (2010). The fine art of figging Sex is Social, January 2. Located at: http://www.edenfantasys.com/sexis/sex/figging-0102101/

Figging: Anal Discipline (2005). Why figging enhances sex. November 19. Located at: http://www.figging.com/2005/11/19/why-figging-enhances-sex/

Live Journal (2007). BDSM: Theory and practice of figging. Located at: http://tacit.livejournal.com/225189.html

Wikipedia (2013). Figging. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figging

Wikipedia (2013). Rhaphanidosis. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhaphanidosis

Wipi (2013). Figging. Located at: http://www.londonfetishscene.com/wipi/index.php/Figging

Wipi (2013). Pervertible. Located at: http://www.londonfetishscene.com/wipi/index.php/Pervertable

Belch rare bit: A very brief look at burping fetishes

Over the last couple of years I’ve covered some pretty idiosyncratic fetishes in my blog. Today’s topic is up there with the strangest (and perhaps one of the least commonplace) – burping fetishism. My assertion that it is one of the least commonplace comes from the fact there is (perhaps unsurprisingly) absolutely nothing in the academic or clinical literature on burping fetishism. Furthermore, I was only able locate one online forum that appeared to be solely dedicated to the sexual side of burping – check out the Burp Fetish Forums website. (I ought to also mention that on YouTube there are dedicated collections of people burping on camera. Although these collected clips may be sexually arousing to a burp fetishist, I guess most people who watch them do so because they find them amusing).

However, it was while I was writing a previous blog on sneeze fetishes (in itself a strange and rare fetish) that I came across a few people also admitting that they were also sexually aroused by the thought and/or sight of someone burping and belching. (I’m not sure if there is really any difference between burping and belching although from what I’ve read in a fetishistic sense is that belching appears to be very loud burping whereas burping does not necessarily have to be loud).

Anecdotally, the ‘loudness’ aspect appears to be an important element to burp fetishists. In this sense, it is the noise made rather than the action itself that appears to be what is sexualized and/or interpreted by the fetishist as sexually pleasurable and arousing. In sexual behaviour more generally, hearing quite clearly influences sexual arousal and response. However, this is typically in the form of music that facilitates peoples’ mood in readiness for sex, and/or the sounds that people make while engaging in sexual activity (e.g., ‘talking dirty’ and/or moaning and groaning while making love). One 2002 book chapter I read on sexual response (in a book on human sexuality by Dr. Tina Miracle, Dr. Andrew Miracle and Roy Baumeister) reported some interesting studies on the role of sound in sexual arousal. More specifically it reported that:

“In one study, male college students were shown 60-second erotic videos both with and without the accompanying audio. There was a significant positive correlation between male sexual arousal and sound, as measured by penile plethysmograph and self-report (Gaither & Plaud, 1997). Another study found that a male partner’s silence during lovemaking inhibited the female partner’s sexual response (DeMartino, 1990). However, silence might be preferable to some other sounds, such as your partner burping during an embrace or the ringing of the phone. Many people find the sound of the words ‘I love you’ to be the most arousing of all”.

Interestingly, this extract makes a point of noting that burping during sex would be one of the worst sounds to hear in a sexual situation. However, judging by the extracts I collated below, this is not the case with everyone. I managed to find a small but sizable number of online admissions relating to burp fetishes. Obviously I cannot guarantee the veracity of the content but in the context of the pages that I found them on, they appear to be genuine and heartfelt:

  • Extract 1: “I’m a girl and I have a major fetish for guys that can burp loud. [I don’t know why] but I enjoy it a lot. It’s so sexy. I can also burp really loud so I wish I could find a guy with it so it’s mutual, but no luck so far. I can burp pretty good, and I also have a fetish for burping girls. The girl has to be attractive (not super ultra hot, but that would be nice), and I find it extremely erotic if they can out belch me. I don’t know why I was born with this ‘kink’, or why others are born with it”
  • Extract 2: “I for one love it when I hear a girl burp. In particular, I suppose it has to be a girl who I find attractive in the first place. If I don’t find her attractive then it’s only just as impressive as hearing another male burp. Don’t give up. Your burpin’ lovin’ man is out there somewhere. Fortunately, our mating call is loud and clear so you will eventually find him smiling back at you when you let one roar someday”.
  • Extract 3: Ever since I [can] remember, I’ve been turned on by other women burping! I cant go a day without watching a burping / farting / stuffing video”.
  • Extract 4: I’m a new guy here with some of what I would consider to be general turn ons (muscles, worship, lifting, etc.), but it’s my fetish for burping that I’m curious about. First off, I was wondering if there were other people in this forum who shared a similar fetish for belching and hearing other guys burp…I know in my case, the feeling of air trapped in the stomach tends to feed into another fetish of mine, inflation…YouTube provides a good library of belching guy videos, and I found one other site that deals with the fetish aspect (which I can’t list yet because of the post count limit), but the focus there is primarily for the heterosexual, burping girl enthusiast crowd”.
  • Extract 5: “Has anyone ever successfully gotten a boyfriend/girlfriend that can do/has features of their fetish? I would have no idea how to find a guy who can burp. It’s not something that usually comes up at the first date. But this goes for any fetish. Is it too much to ask to have a boyfriend to fulfill your fetish, and if not, how would you go about dropping the bomb to your boyfriend [or] girlfriend?”
  • Extract 6: “I really get turned on when I hear a men belch or burp. It’s burly and just wrong on so many levels, but it’s real and I love the thought of how much a person can consume to make them do that…Isn’t that so weird?”

There are also various online forums where burp fetishes are discussed (such as the Amber Cutie website). Although these online admissions surrounding the sexiness of burping are short, (if true) they lead to some immediate conclusions. Firstly, the online confessions came from both men and women. Secondly, the online confessions were made both heterosexuals and homosexuals. Thirdly, there appear to be psychological and/or behavioural overlaps with other sexual fetishes including inflation fetishes, feederism (i.e., stuffing) fetishes, and farting fetishes. All of these are arguably connected with the consumption of foodstuffs so perhaps the overlaps are not that surprising. The only other fetishes that I have come across where there is some overlap is sneeze fetishists that also have a burp fetish, and paraphilic infantilism (i.e., adult babies) where being burped by mother/matron figures is sometimes sexually arousing. However, all of these identified overlaps are anecdotal and not based on any scientific or clinical research.

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

Further reading

Miracle, T.S., Miracle, A. & Baumeister, R. (2002). Human Sexuality: Meeting Your Basic Needs. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall/Pearson.

Plaud, J.L., Gaither, G.A., Hegstad, H.J., Rowan, L., & Devitt, M.K. (1999). Volunteer bias in human psychophysiological sexual arousal research: To whom do our research results apply? Journal of Sex Research, 36, 171-179.

Duty bound: A beginner’s guide to mummification fetishes

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how specific some of the objects of erotic and sexual focus are when it comes to sexual fetishes and sexual paraphilias. A case in point is mummification (the wrapping the full body in a manner that prevents movement). In a previous blog on sexual masochism, I briefly mentioned the practice of mummification within a sadomasochistic context. According to Dr. Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, mummification is:

“An extreme form of bondage in which the person is wrapped from head to toe, much like a mummy, completely immobilizing him. Materials used may be clingfilm, cloth, bandages, rubber strips, duct tape, plaster bandages, bodybags, or straitjackets. The immobilized person may then be left bound in a state of effective sensory deprivation for a period of time or sensually stimulated in his state of bondage – before being released from his wrappings”.

The Wikipedia entry on mummification within a BDSM and bondage context includes verbatim text from Dr. Aggrawal’s definition (although doesn’t acknowledge the source of the material whatsoever). However, it does add that those who have undergone the process end up “looking like an Egyptian mummy” and that the act of mummification is typically used to enhance the feelings of total bodily helplessness, and is incorporated with sensation play (i.e., a group of erotic activities that facilitate particular physical sensations upon a sexual partner). Some mummification practitioners completely cover themselves with only one or two body orifices exposed (i.e., nose and/or mouth so that the person mummified can breathe without restriction). Sensation play typically differs from more mental forms of erotic play (e.g., sexual role playing). The Wikipedia entry on sensation play notes that:

“Sensation play can be sensual, where the sensations are generally pleasing and light. Many couples that would not consider themselves active in BDSM are familiar with this kind of play: the use of silk scarves, feathers, ice, massage oils, and other similar implements. Sensation play in BDSM can also involve sadomasochistic play, involving the application of carefully controlled stimuli to the human body so that it reacts as if it were actually hurt. While this can involve the infliction of actual pain, it is usually done in order to release pleasurable endorphins, creating a sensation somewhat like runner’s high or the afterglow of orgasm, sometimes called ‘flying’ or ‘body stress’”.

It’s probably stating the obvious to say that mummification can be risky for those who engage in the activity. Complications may arise if those encased (in materials such as clingfilm) are unable to signal to their sexual partner that they are having trouble breathing, sweating too much, and becoming severely dehydrated, or that their blood supply is being severely restricted. Straight after the ‘unwrapping’ process, body temperature may have significantly decreased so being in a warm environment and/or having warm blankets on hand is an absolute must. Sexual partners are also advised to have ‘panic shears’ (sometimes called ‘trauma shears’ by BDSM regulars) readily available at all times so that mummification binding can be cut through quickly and easily should things go awry. Mummification can also include more ‘innovatory’ techniques. For instance, in an article I read on ‘Shibari’ (Japanese bondage) by Hans Meijer in a 2000 issue of the Secret Magazine, he noted that wet sheets can be a particularly good material for sexual mummification of submissive sexual partners:

“A non-rope Japanese mummification is done with wet sheets. Wrap your sub in wet sheets and pull them tight. As the sheets dry they will shrink and the mummification will become even tighter. By using a hair dryer you can not only speed up the process, but also determine what areas you want to shrink first and by doing so will ass accents to your bondage”.

A 2004 article on the Forbidden Sexuality website claims that mummification bondage is “a new practice related with BDSM that is becoming more and more popular in the recent years”. Unsurprisingly, the article also states that mummification bondage is strongly associated with feelings of domination and submission. The article notes that:

“For some reason, people engaged to mummification bondage feel an intense sexual arousal and pleasure by being wrapped in bandages, and even being bound and encapsulated in a coffin after that…There has to be a strong connection of trust between the dominant part and the person who’s going to be mummified. It’s also a practice that also needs to be completely, 100% consensual, otherwise, it may be even faced as a crime of aggression. Mummification bondage also requires precaution and training to not suffocate the person who’s playing the submissive part. Some people who are engaged to mummification bondage also reports a connection with the feeling of being immortal which was associated with mummification in ancient Egypt, preserving the body youth to immemorial times”.

There would appear to be strong psychological and behavioural overlaps between mummification fetishism and ‘total enclosure’ fetishism (in fact I would argue that mummification fetishes are a sub-type of total enclosure fetishes). The Wikipedia entry on total enclosure fetishism highlights that such individuals find the claustrophobic and helplessness aspects sexually arousing (and would appear to be similar to claustrophilia that I covered in a previous blog). The Wikipedia entry notes that total enclosure sexual activities can include:

  • Rubber fetishism: This refers to fetishists who gain sexual pleasure and arousal from rubber suits, gas masks and similar garments and accessories.
  • Vacuum pack fetishism: This refers to fetishists who gain sexual pleasure and arousal from vacuum beds that rigidly enclose the entire human body inside a rubber sheet (apart from a small breathing tube).
  • Sleepsack/bodybag fetishism: This refers to fetishists who gain sexual pleasure and arousal from sleeping bags and bodybags (some of which increase pressure on the fetishist’s body).
  • Spandex fetishism: This refers to fetishists who gain sexual pleasure and arousal from such things as zentai suits that are used for total enclosure from head-to-toe in skintight fabric. Zentai suits have the advantage that the fetishist can breathe through the loose-woven fabric in a way that is impossible with PVC or rubber.

A few academic studies have examined mummification within the wider gamut of sadomasochistic activities. For instance, a Finnish study on BDSM activities led by Dr Laurence Alison and reported in the Archives of Sexual Behavior described the wide range of activities in which their 184 sadomasochistic participants engaged in (162 men and 22 women). This included flagellation, bondage, piercings, hypoxyphilia, fisting, knifeplay, electric shocks, and mummification. They reported that there were major differences in these activities depending upon sexual orientation (for instance, gay men were more likely to engage in activities such as “cock binding”). Most interestingly, the research team identified four sadomasochistic sub-groups based on the type of pain given and received. These were:

  • Typical pain administration: This involved practices such as spanking, caning, whipping, skin branding, electric shocks, etc.
  • Humiliation: This involved verbal humiliation, gagging, face slapping, flagellation, etc. Heterosexuals were more likely than gay men to engage in these types of activity.
  • Physical restriction: This included bondage, use of handcuffs, use of chains, wrestling, use of ice, wearing straight jackets, hypoxyphilia, and mummifying.
  • Hyper-masculine pain administration: This involved rimming, dildo use, cock binding, being urinated upon, being given an enema, fisting, being defecated upon, and catheter insertion. Gay men were more likely than heterosexuals to engage in these types of activity.

The same authors published a follow-up using the same dataset, and reported that within those who enjoyed physical restriction, 13.4% engaged in mummification activities. In another study published in a 2002 issue of Sexual and Relationship Therapy, the same authors combined the results from five previously published studies on sadomasochistic behaviour. They reported that 12.9% of all their sadomasochistic participants had engaged in mummification as a sexual practice.

These studies seemed to confirm and expand on a previous 1984 study published in the journal Social Problems by Dr. Martin Weinberg and colleagues. They interviewed sadomasochists over an eight-year period and reported that their behaviour comprised five distinct features: (i) dominance/submission, (ii) role-playing, (iii) consensuality, (iv) sexual context, and (v) mutual definition. Although not directly concerning mummification, it is clear that these features are critical in the extent to which those mummified experience the activity as sexually stimulating. A less than academic (but interesting) article on the What To See In Berlin website also observes:

“We must not lose sight that these mummies are used as foreplay, and should provoke pleasure in the submissive, allowing them to enjoy the feeling of subjugation and helplessness caused by having their motion restricted, all the while they resist the ‘evil’ that the dominant may want to practice with them. BDSM enthusiasts tend to fall into the temptation of taking a whip, a cane or tweezers to their mummy, because both participants find it stimulating! To maximize the game’s success, couples who seek to take the game to new erotic heights generally leave their favourite erogenous zones exposed following the sexual mummification (i.e. not covered by bandages, plastic or tape)… The most obvious and usual place of erotic stimulation, either by blows or strokes, are the nipples, genitals and buttocks, although the only limit is the imagination”.

It would appear from both anecdotal evidence and empirical research that mummification within a BDSM context comprises a significant minority interest and is probably nowhere near as rare as some other sexual behaviours that I have covered in previous blogs.

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

Further reading

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

Alison, L., Santtila, P., Sandnabba, N. K., & Nordling, N. (2001). Sadomasochistically oriented behavior: Diversity in practice and meaning. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 1–12.

Forbidden Sexuality (2004). Mummification bondage. Located at: http://www.forbiddensexuality.com/mummification_bondage.htm

Meijer, H. (2000). Shibari: House of Japanese Bondage. Secret Magazine, 18, 23-46.

Sandnabba, N. K., Santtila, P., Alison, L., & Nordling, N. (2002). Demographics, sexual behaviour, family background and abuse experiences of practitioners of sadomasochistic sex: A review of recent research. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 17, 39–55.

Sandnabba, N. K., Santtila, P., & Nordling, N. (1999). Sexual behavior and social adaptation among sadomasochistically oriented males. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 273–282.

Santilla, P., Sandnabba, N.K., Alison, L. & Nordling, G.N. (2002). Investigating the underlying structure in sadomasochistically-oriented behaviour: evidence for partially-ordered scales. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31, 185-196.

Weinberg, M.S., Williams, C.J. & Moser, C. (1984). The social constituents of sadomasochism. Social Problems, 31, 379-389.

Wikipedia (2014). Sensation play (BDSM). Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensation_play_(BDSM)

Wikipedia (2014). Total enclosure fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_enclosure_fetishism

Wikipedia (2014). Mummification (BDSM). Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mummification_(BDSM)

Token gestures: A brief look at ‘sexual trophy collecting’

Back in 2002, I had a little piece published on excessive collecting behaviour in the Guardian newspaper (‘Addicted to hoarding’). In it I wrote:

“I have always been interested in why we have what seems like an innate ability to collect. I would almost go as far as to say that we are ‘natural born hoarders’. Furthermore, there has been surprisingly little research in this area and Freud’s theories on the topic are unfortunately almost empirically untestable. I would also add that for some people, collecting is at the pathological end of the behavioural continuum. There are some that are (for want of a better word) ‘addicted’ to collecting and there are some with obsessive-compulsive disorders who simply cannot throw away anything”.

Since then I’ve published a few articles on the psychology of collecting in this blog and is probably one of the reasons that I have had a few approaches over the last couple months from journalists asking me about the psychology behind various forms of collecting. (In fact, I’ve also been approached to write an academic chapter on the phenomenon too). Two of the most recent media requests included journalists writing articles on why people collect retro video games (which I hope to write about in a future blog) and another on why people collect ‘sexual trophies’.

I have to admit that I am no expert on sexual trophies so I did a little reading on the topic. According to one definition I came across, a sexual trophy is “any item or piece of clothing gained from a sexual encounter as proof of a successful sexual conquest”. To tie in with the release of US comedy I Just Want My Pants Back, MTV conducted a [non-academic] survey and reported that one in three young British people (aged between 18 and 34 years) admitted to owning some sort of sex trophy with one in six of them (16%) claiming they had two or more sex-based trophies (a group that MTV termed ‘Sexual Magpies’).

However, when it comes to the collecting ‘sexual trophies’, I would argue that most academic research that I have come across on the topic relates to more criminal sexual deviance rather than day-to-day sexual encounters. For instance, in the 2010 book Serial Murderers and Their Victims, Dr. Eric Hickey described the case of man – who was a voyeur – from Georgia (US) that used to break into houses and steal women’s underwear. On his eventual arrest they found over 400 pairs of knickers that he had stolen. More disturbing are cases such as this excerpt from a story in the Daily Telegraph. This is arguably more typical of what I perceive to be sexual trophy hunters:

“A company manager and ‘pillar of the community’ has been exposed after 20 years as a serial sex attacker known as the Shoe Rapist. James Lloyd, 49, a long-standing Freemason who took the footwear of his victims as trophies, was finally caught through advances in DNA techniques. Police later found more than 100 pairs of stiletto shoes hidden behind a trap door at the printing works where he was employed… As well as taking their shoes, he often stole jewellery from the women, mainly in their teens and early 20s, between 1983 and 1986” (Daily Telegraph, July 18, 2006).

However, Dr. Hickey’s book describes even worse acts of sexual trophy collecting. He noted that many serial killers are “known for their habits of collecting trophies or souvenirs. Others have collected lingerie, shoes, hats, and other apparel”. A sizeable section of the book concentrates on the types of serial killers that are popular in the media (such as those that commit ‘lust murders‘) and are the subject of many Hollywood films such as the series of films with (my favourite fictional psychopath) Hannibal Lecter. As Hickey notes:

“These are the rapists who enjoy killing and, often, indulging in acts of sadism and perversion. These are the men who have engaged in necrophilia, cannibalism, and the drinking of victims’ blood. Some like to bite their victims; others enjoy trophy collecting – shoes, underwear, and body parts, such as hair clippings, feet, heads, fingers, breasts, and sexual organs…[and] evoke our disgust, horror, and fascination”.

One of the cases discussed is 1950s US serial killer Harvey Glatman (known in the media as ‘The Lonely Hearts Killer’) who used to take photographs of the women he murdered. Citing the work of Dr. Robert Keppel (another expert in serial murder cases and author of Serial Murder: Future Implications for Police Investigations), Dr. Hickey wrote:

“His photos were more than souvenirs, because in Glatman’s mind, they actually carried the power of his need for bondage and control. They showed the women in various poses: sitting up or lying down, hands always bound behind their backs, innocent looks on their faces, but with eyes wide with terror because they had guessed what was to come”.

Other murderers described by Dr. Hickey included a man that liked to surgically remove (and keep) the eyeballs from his sexual victims (most probably 1990s’ serial killer Charles Allbright) and another that skinned his victims and made lampshades, eating utensils, and clothing. In his overview of necrophilic homicide (i.e., those individuals that kill others in order to engage in sexual activity), Hickey also mentions that such necrosadistic murderers often engage in other paraphilias related to necrophilia “including partialism or the desire to collect specific body parts that the offenders finds sexually arousing. This may include feet, hands, hair, and heads, among others”. Hickey also noted that:

“Another important characteristic of these lust killers was the ‘perversion factor’. This subgroup was often prone to carry out bizarre sexual acts. These acts most commonly included necrophilia and trophy collection. Jerry Brudos severed the breasts of some of his victims and made epoxy molds. Brudos, like others, also photographed his victims in various poses, dressed and disrobed. The photos served as trophies and a stimulus to act out again”.

Later in the book, Dr. Hickey examines the case of Jerry Brudos in more detail (please be warned that some of the things written here may offend those of a sensitive nature):

“At an early age, Jerry Brudos developed a particular interest in women’s shoes, especially black, spike-heeled shoes. As he matured, his shoe fetish increasingly provided sexual arousal. At 17, he used a knife to assault a girl and force her to disrobe while he took pictures of her. For his crime he was incarcerated in a mental hospital for 9 months. His therapy uncovered his sexual fantasy for revenge against women, fantasies that included placing kidnapped girls into freezers so he could later arrange their stiff bodies in sexually explicit poses. He was evaluated as possessing a personality disorder but was not considered to be psychotic…He continued to collect women’s undergarments and shoes. Prior to his first murder, he had already assaulted four women and raped one of them. At age 28, Jerry was ready to start killing…He took [his first victim] to his garage, where he smashed her skull with a two-by-four. Before disposing of the body in a nearby river, he severed her left foot and placed it in his freezer. He often would amuse himself by dressing the foot in a spiked-heel shoe. His fantasy for greater sexual pleasure led him…to strangle [another victim] with a postal strap. After killing her, he had sexual intercourse with the corpse, then cut off the right breast and made an epoxy mold of the organ. Before dumping her body in the river, he took pictures of the corpse. Unable to satisfy his sexual fantasies and still in the grasp of violent urges, he found his third victim…After sexually assaulting her, he strangled her in his garage, amputated both breasts, again took pictures, and tossed her body into the river”.

Arguably the most infamous ‘sexual trophy collector’ was 1980s US serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, the so-called ‘Milwaukee Cannibal’. In Dr. Hickey’s account he noted that:

“Restraining Dahmer, the officers looked around the apartment and counted at least 11 skulls (7 of them carefully boiled and cleaned) and a collection of bones, decomposed hands, and genitals. Three of the cleaned skulls had been spray-painted black and silver. These were to be part of the shrine fantasized by Dahmer. A complete skeleton suspended from a shower spigot and three skulls with holes drilled into them were found throughout the apartment…Chemicals, including muriatic acid, ethyl alcohol, chloroform, and formaldehyde, were also discovered, along with several Polaroid photographs of recently dismembered young men. A complete human head sat in the refrigerator”.

Another infamous case from the early 1970s (that I admit I had never heard of until I read Dr. Hickey’s book) was Ed Kemper, a cannibalistic killer who also collected human trophies and keepsakes of his victims. Citing the book Hunting Humans by Dr. Elliot Leyton, it was reported that:

“At the age of 23, Ed started killing again, a task that would last nearly a year and entail eight more victims. He shot, stabbed, and strangled them. All were strangers to him, and all were hitchhikers. He cannibalized at least two of his victims, slicing off parts of their legs and cooking the flesh in a macaroni casserole. He decapitated all of his victims and dissected most of them, saving body parts for sexual pleasure, sometimes storing heads in the refrigerator. Ed collected ‘keepsakes’ including teeth, skin, and hair from the victims. After killing a victim, he often engaged in sex with the corpse, even after it had been decapitated. In his confession Kemper stated five different reasons for his crimes. His themes centered on sexual urges, wanting to possess his victims, trophy hunting, a hatred for his mother, and revenge against an unjust society (Leyton, 1986)”.

The most obvious question related to these depraved acts is why such people do it in the first place. Writing in the Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime, Nicole Mott provides an answer:

“A trophy is in essence a souvenir. In the context of violent behavior or murder, keeping a part of the victim as a trophy represents power over that individual. When the offender keeps this kind of souvenir, it serves as a way to preserve the memory of the victim and the experience of his or her death. The most common trophies for violent offenders are body parts but also include photographs of the crime scene and jewelry or clothing from the victim. Offenders use the trophies as memorabilia, but also to reenact their fantasies. They often masturbate or use the trophies as props in sexual acts. Their exaggerated fear of rejection is quelled in front of inanimate trophies. Ritualistic trophy taking, as is found with serial offenders, acts as a signature. A signature is similar to a modus operandi (a similar act ritualistically performed in virtually all crimes of one offender), yet it is an act that is not necessary to complete the crime”

In one of my previous blogs on the psychology of collecting more generally, I referred to a paper by Dr. Ruth Formanek in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality. She suggested five common motivations for collecting: (i) extension of the self (e.g., acquiring knowledge, or in controlling one’s collection); (ii) social (finding, relating to, and sharing with, like-minded others); (iii) preserving history and creating a sense of continuity; (iv) financial investment; and (v), an addiction or compulsion. She also claimed that the commonality to all motivations to collect was a passion for the particular things collected. Personally, I think that the acquisition of sexual trophies – even in the most deranged individuals – can be placed within this motivational typology in that such individuals clearly have a passion for what they do and I would argue that the behaviour is an extension of the self that to some individuals may be a compulsion or addiction.

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

Further reading

Branagh, N. (2012). Third of UK owns sex trophy. March 26. Located at: http://www.studentbeans.com/mag/en/sex-relationships/third-of-uk-owns-sex-trophy

Du Clos, B. (1993). Fair Game. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Addicted to hoarding. The Guardian (Review Section), August 10, p.19.

Formanek, R. (1991). Why they collect: Collectors reveal their motivations. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6(6), 275-286.

Hickey, E. W. (Ed.). (2003). Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime. London: Sage Publications

Hickey, E. W. (2010). Serial Murderers and Their Victims (Fifth Edition). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Keppel, R. D. (1989). Serial Murder: Future Implications for Police Investigations. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson.

Leyton, E. (1986a). Hunting Humans. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.

Leyton, E. (1986b). Compulsive Killers: The Story of Modern Multiple Murder. New York: New York University Press.

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