Category Archives: Psychology
In a previous blog, I examined Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). At its simplest level, BDD is a distressing, handicapping, and/or impairing preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in body appearance that the sufferer perceives to be ugly, unattractive, and/or deformed. BDD sufferers can think about their perceived defect for hours and hours every day. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) criteria for BDD is:
- Persistent belief in the presence of at least one serious physical illness underlying the presenting symptom(s), even though repeated investigations and examinations have identified no adequate physical explanation, or a persistent preoccupation with a presumed deformity or disfigurement.
- Persistent refusal to accept the advice and reassurance of several different doctors that there is no physical illness or abnormality underlying the symptoms.
One particular body part that has been the focus of some research in the BDD field is that of genitalia. Many men worry about the size of their penis and think it is too small. This is perfectly normal and the worry or concern is highly unlikely to be a symptom of BDD. In a 2004 issue of the Postgraduate Medical Journal, British psychiatrist Dr David Veale reported that although there are broad similarities between the genders in BDD, there are some differences. For instance, men with BDD show a greater preoccupation with their genitals, and women with BDD are more likely to have a co-morbid eating disorder. Dr. David Sarwer (writing in a 2006 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery) asserted that the rate of body dysmorphic disorder should be examined among patients re-questing atypical procedures and cites the example of those individuals requesting genital surgery.
Back in 2008, Channel 4 in the UK had a television series called Penis Envy. The first episode (The Perfect Penis) featured a US psychology student who paid $4000 to have his penis lengthened by cutting the ligament in his pubis. Such actions might be indicative of BDD but the programme didn’t explore this facet. Following such operations, men then have to spend the following weeks suspending a weight from their penis for at least eight hours a day. For all the financial and physical burdens faced, the average increase in length is only 0.5-3cm (with official statistics being closer to 0.5cm than 3cm). Other methods of increasing genital size include the injection of silicon into the penis (although this is dangerous and can result in a silicon embolism).
Dr. Stephen Snyder (Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, US) was interviewed about (so-called) ‘Penile Dysmorphic Disorder’ (PDD) in an online Psychology Today article. He was quoted as saying:
“I don’t know of any statistics on [PDD]. Anxiety or insecurity about penis size is extremely common in men. It would be difficult to determine how frequently the more serious condition of penis-focused BDD occurs. People with BDD tend to avoid mental health specialists…It’s much more likely I think that a man with penile BDD will purchase penis enlargement equipment or consult a surgeon than consult someone like me…Some people seem to have an innate tendency for obsessive thinking. Why some of these people develop BDD, and others OCD or Anorexia Nervosa is unknown…A man who begins to obsess about the size of his penis may begin to compulsively and repeatedly measure his erections, and to avoid dating because he’s convinced he’ll be humiliated. Then the whole thing can spiral out of control, until ultimately he’s online studying penis enlargement techniques”.
A 2006 study led by Dr. J. Lever and published by Psychology of Men and Masculinity reported that in an online survey of over 52,000 participants, most male participants rated their penis as average (66%) and only 22% as large and 12% as small. Among the female participants, around 85% of women were satisfied with their partners’ penile size, while only 55% of men were satisfied, with 45% wanting to be larger (and 0.2% to be smaller).
Just recently, Dr. Warren Holman highlighted the case of ‘Sam’, a 17-year-old white male from a middle-class Jewish family living in Midwest USA with penile dysmorphic disorder (in a 2012 issue of Social Work in Mental Health). As Dr. Holman reported:
“Sam had stopped attending school several weeks earlier, and on many days would not even leave his home. He said he wanted to remain at home and away from school because, ‘My penis is shrinking and people can tell.’ Sam reported he had had his anxiety about his penis for about a year, but until recently had been able to reason himself out of it…Sam was well related, and his mental status was unremarkable except for his belief about his penis”.
Dr. Holman believed that Sam’s conviction that his penis was shrinking (and people could tell) suggested three possible diagnoses (i.e., social phobia; BDD and/or delusional disorder of the somatic type; or schizophrenia). Holman eventually reached the conclusion that Sam’s beliefs were due to BDD although did say that it “may be in a prodromal phase of schizophrenia”. Sam was treated via a form of psychodynamic counselling (which much to the disappointment of Holman ultimately failed perhaps because of initial misdiagnosis).
In 2007, British urologists Dr. Kevan Wylie and Dr. Ian Eardley published a review on penile size in BJU International. They summarized all of the studies on penile size that have examined flaccid penis length, stretched penis length, erect penis length, flaccid penis girth and erect penis girth. They reported that:
“Stretched penile length in these studies was typically 12–13 cm, with an erect length of 14–16 cm. For girth, there was again remarkable consistency of results, with a mean girth of 9–10 cm for the flaccid penis and 12–13 cm for the erect penis…Concern over the size of the penis, when such concern becomes excessive, might present as the ‘small penis syndrome’ [SPS], an obsessive rumination with compulsive checking rituals, body dysmorphic disorder, or as part of a psychosis”.
However, they did also assert that more research was required on the effects of race and age on penile length. Wylie and Eardley speculate that SPS (or ‘locker room syndrome’ as they also call it) originates in childhood following the sight of their father’s, elder sibling’s and/or older friend’s penis. This appears to have support from a 2005 study (also published in BJU International). Dr. N. Mondaini and Dr. P. Gontero surveyed men who thought they had a small penis at an andrology clinic and reported that nearly two-thirds said their SPS had begun in childhood (63%) with the rest saying it began in adolescence (37%).
Wylie and Eardley also examined the treatment options of men with SPS and also examined the evidence of commercial penis extending techniques. They concluded that:
“It is recommended that the initial approach to a man who has SPS is a thorough urological, psychosexual, psychological and psychiatric assessment that might involve more than one clinician…Conservative approaches to therapy, based on education and self-awareness, as well as short-term structured psychotherapy [cognitive-behavioural therapy] are often successful, and should be the initial interventions in all men. Of the physical treatments available, there is poorly documented evidence to support the use of penile extenders. More information is need on the outcomes with these devices. Similarly, there is emerging evidence about the place of surgery and there are now several reports suggesting that dividing the suspensory ligament can increase flaccid penile length”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Goodman, M.P. (2009). Female Cosmetic Genital Surgery. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 113, 154-159.
Holman, W.D. (2012). “My Penis Is Shrinking and People Can Tell”: A Confusing Case of Apparent Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Social Work in Mental Health, 9, 319-335.
Morrison, T.G., Bearden, A., Ellis, S.R. & Harriman, R. (2005). Correlates of genital perceptions among Canadian post- secondary students. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 8. Located at: http://www.ejhs.org/volume8/GenitalPerceptions.htm
Lever, J., Fredereicjk, D.A. & Peplau, L.A. (2006). Does size matter? Men’s and women’s views on penis size across the lifespan. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 3,129-143.
Mondaini, N. & Gontero, P. (2005). Idiopathic short penis: myth or reality? BJU International, 95, 8–9.
Sarwer, D.B. (2006). Body Dysmorphic Disorder and cosmetic surgery. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, December, 168e-180e.
Snyder, S. (2011). When size obsession gets out of hand. Psychology Today, June 11. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sexualitytoday/201106/when-size-obsession-gets-out-hand
Sondheimer, A. (1988). Clomipramine treatment of delusional disorder-somatic type. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27, 188-192.
Veale, D. (2004). Body dysmorphic disorder. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 80, 67-71.
Wylie, K.R. & Eardley, I. (2007). Penile size and the ‘small penis syndrome’. BJU International, 99, 1449–1455.
According to both Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices and Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, odontophilia is a sexual paraphilia that refers to individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal involving teeth. The online Urban Dictionary goes a little further and describes it as a sexual fetish where individuals are sexually aroused by (i) licking a sexual partner’s teeth, (ii) leaving the imprint of teeth on their lover’s skin (or vice versa), (iii) pulling out a sexual partner’s teeth (or anything concerning dentistry). The online medical website Right Diagnosis defines odontophilia as referring to sexual urges, preferences or fantasies involving teeth. Given these definitions (particularly the one in the Urban Dictionary) they suggest an overlap with sexual biting fetishes (i.e., odaxelagnia, which I covered in a previous blog).
Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices spends quite a lot of time looking at odontophilia from a historical and literary perspective and recounts the work of the Marquis de Sade. It is said that de Sade based his writings on the sex life of others, and Dr. Love selected one of de Sade’s passages to exemplify odontophilia relating to a tooth extraction:
“The passion of Bonifice is also singular. He loves pulling out the teeth of his victims, while fucking them and being simultaneously sodomized. One who becomes the victim of these gentlemen is Fosine, fourteen years old, with a beautiful form, and a rich family. She promises the ideal combination of lust and profit. Both Boniface and Chrysostome wish to indulge themselves with her, and after pulling out her thirsty two beautiful teeth, she is subjected to the Superior, who immolates her in his own fashion”.
Dr. Love then goes on to say that it’s highly doubtful whether anyone today would practice odontophilia in the form described by de Sade. She then says:
“However, it is possible that an occasional tooth extraction scene occurred in 1797 when de Sade wrote his book. Nitrous oxide and ether were not used to extract teeth until 1840 and Novocain was not produced until the beginning of this century; therefore people during de Sade’s lifetime were accustomed to having their teeth removed without effective painkillers. The pulling of teeth may be arousing even with the advent of anesthesia as noted in Erich von Stroheim’s film Greed. Here the beautiful patient is kissed by her dentist as the blood still flows from her mouth”.
In researching this blog, I only located a couple of articles on the topic. The Everyday Entropy website features a first-hand account by someone who claims that “teeth get me hot” but after reading their story, it was quite clear that the person writing the article is far from being an odontophile. A better article on odontophilia was written by Billie Rosie who links the condition with vampirism. He noted:
“Perhaps the closest we get to identifying an obsession with teeth is through vampire stories and films. These equate teeth, especially long canine teeth with danger. The vampire will pierce your vein and sip your blood straight from the jugular – if the vampire takes too much you will die and according to some vampire lore, you will become a vampire, roaming the night in search of prey. Vampires are sexy. Anne Rice, I think, made them sexy. Following the predatory Lestat, came True Blood, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries – the list goes on”.
“[Egaeus] suffers from a type of obsessive disorder, a monomania that makes him fixate on objects. She, originally beautiful, suffers from some unspecified degenerative illness, with periods of catalepsy a particular symptom, which he refers to as a trance…One afternoon, Egaeus sees Berenice as he sits in the library. When she smiles, he focuses on her teeth. His obsession grips him, and for days he drifts in and out of awareness, constantly thinking about the teeth. He imagines himself holding the teeth and turning them over to examine them from all angles. At one point a servant tells him that Berenice has died and shall be buried. When he next becomes aware, with an inexplicable terror, he finds a lamp and a small box in front of him. Another servant enters, reporting that a grave has been violated, and a shrouded disfigured body found, still alive. Egaeus finds his clothes are covered in mud and blood, and opens the box to find it contains dental instruments and ‘thirty-two small, white and ivory-looking substances’ – Berenice’s teeth”.
I’ve only come across one academic research paper that makes any mention of odontophilia. In a previous blog on fetishism, I wrote at length about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5000 fetishists (but was likely to be considerably more). Their results showed that there were 1697 fetishists (2% of all fetishists) with a sexual interest in odontophilia on the websites they studied (although their definition of odontophilia not only included teeth but also mouth and lips so the number of ‘true’ odontophiles was likely to be a lot lower).
According to the Right Diagnosis website, treatment is generally not sought for odontophilia unless it becomes problematic for the individual and they feel compelled to address the condition. As I have noted in my previous blogs, the majority of sexual fetishists and paraphiliacs simply learn to accept their condition and manage to achieve sexual gratification in an appropriate manner with no problem for the individual or their sexual partners.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Everyday Entropy (2009). Odentophilia. July 12. Located at: http://www.everydayentropy.com/2009/07/odontophilia-mouthful-of-blood.html
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Rosie, B. (2012). Odontophilia: A fetish for teeth. November 30. Located at: http://billierosie.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/odontophilia-fetish-for-teeth_30.html?zx=e29fd1eddbccbd8c
Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E.A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.
In one of my previous blogs, I looked at one of the world’s rarest behaviours – male genital self-mutilation (GSM). As I noted in that article, there have only been about 125 cases ever recorded in the clinical and/or medical literature. (Having said that, it may be that this number of cases relates to those published in the English language as I did come across a Japanese case study of male GSM by M. Tomita and colleagues published in 2002 in the Japanese journal Hinyokika Kiyo, that noted that their case study was the 24th case of male GSM in the Japanese scientific literature). A 1988 study by Dr. C. Tobias and colleagues published in the South Medical Journal reported that self-mutilators (including all types of self-mutilation not just GSM) were most likely to suffer from schizophrenia, religious preoccupation, substance abuse, and/or social isolation.
Today’s blog specifically looks at genital self-mutilators who engage in the behaviour because of a religious belief, and are typically diagnosed as having Klingsor Syndrome. The name of the syndrome was derived from the character Klingsor in Parsifol (a Wagner opera) who engaged in an act of self-castration to gain entry into the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Holy Grail.
In a 1990 issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. I. Schweitzer wrote a paper called ‘Genital self-amputation and the Klingsor syndrome’. In his paper, he described two psychotic individuals, who had carried out GSM on themselves (one of which had done it in an attempt to kill himself). He noted that those most at risk from committing GSM were similar to self-mutilators more generally and comprised:
“Psychotic patients with delusions (often religious), sexual conflict associated with guilt, past suicide attempts or other self-destructive behaviour and depression, severe childhood deprivation, and major premorbid personality disorder”.
Dr. Schweitzer tried to argue that ‘Klingsor syndrome’ should be applied to anyone that carries out GSM as a result of psychotic illness and not just those with religious delusions. However, this does not appear to have been taken up that widely in more recent published case studies. A couple of (seemingly) genuine cases of the ‘archetypal’ Klingsor Syndrome, were reported in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry. The first one was by Malay Dave and colleagues in 1997, and described the case of a 22-year old unmarried schizophrenic Muslim male:
“[He] was admitted in the urology department with self-inflicted traumatic amputation of the penis At that time some Muslim men accosted him and told him not to be seen in that locality again. After this incident the patient became fearful, started hearing voices belonging to the devil and Allah which would tell him that he was not… At the initial interview the patient was uncommunicative and rapport was difficult to establish. He had a perplexed affect…As the patient gradually became more controlled delusions of persecution, reference and control were elicited along with thought insertion and broadcast. His concept formation was average and auditory hallucinations (2 voices belonging to the God and the devil talking amongst themselves and to him, saying derogatory things) were elicitable. These voices had initially commanded the patient to cut off his penis”.
The second one was published in 2001 by Dr. Subhash Bhargava and colleagues. They wrote that:
“A 25-year old unmarried male presented to the emergency services as he had severed off his penis with a knife. Patient reported of feeling no pain at that time and explained this act as carrying out the orders given to him by the goddess. The voice had assured him that by doing so his sins would be expiated and that he would attain sainthood. His family reported that he had disturbed sleep, a decline in work performance, increased talking, mainly religious in content and disinhibited behaviour off and on for the past seven months…Mental status examination revealed bizarre sexual and religious delusions and auditory hallucinations. The latter were accusatory as well as commanding in nature and mainly religious in content. A diagnosis of schizophrenia was made”.
A 2010 paper in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences by Turkish clinicians led by Dr. Erol Ozan outlined four cases of GSM (three schizophrenics, and one with psychotic bipolar depression) forwarded some other symptoms that appear to put men at risk of GSM including (i) failures in the male role, (ii) problems in the early developmental period, (iii) such as experiencing difficulties in male identification and persistence of incestuous desires, (iv) depression, and (v) having a history of GSM. They also proposed a new concept in formulating religiously themed psychotic male GSM – atonement.
Another more recent (2012) paper in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences by Indian researchers Dr. Ranjan Bhattacharyya and colleagues described a case of male GSM who was a paranoid schizophrenic who castrated himself at a time when no psychotic symptoms were present (but were enacted during a period of what the authors described as “post-psychotic depression”). Following a review of the psychological literature on male GSM, they considered that their case “best [fitted] the description for Klingsor Syndrome” probably because their case study was of a man “recovering from a psychotic episode with possible sexual guilt, religiosity and intense hatred towards women”. The religiosity in this case didn’t seem to be as pronounced as the two cases published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry (outlined above). Given the rarity of any kind of GSM, it would appear that Klingsor Syndrome is arguably one of the world’s rarest syndromes. Every new case study appears to add to our knowledge of this strange (and potentially life threatening) behaviour.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Ajape, A.A., Issa, B.A., Buhari, O.I.N., Adeoye, P.O., Babata, A.L. & Abiola, O.O. (2010). Genital self-mutilation. Annals of African Medicine, 9, 31-34.
Bhargava, S.C., Sethi, S., & Vohra, A.K. (2001). Klingsor syndrome: a case report. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 43, 349-350
Bhattacharyya, R., Sanyal, D. & Roy, K. (2011). A case of Klingsor Syndrome: when there is no longer psychosis. Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 48, 30-33.
Dave, M., Apte, J., Dhavale, H.S. & Pinto, C. (1997). The Klingsor Syndrome. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 39, 341-342.
Martin, T. & Gattaz, W.F. (1991). Psychiatric aspects of male genital mutilations. Psychopathology, 24, 170.
Murota-Kawano, A, Tosaka, A. & Ando, M. (2001). Autohemicastration in a man without schizophrenia. International Journal of Urology, 8, 257-259.
Ozan, E., Deveci, E., Oral, M., Yazici, E., & Kirpinar, I. (2010). Male genital self-mutilation as a psychotic solution. Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 47, 297-303.
Rao, K.N., Bharathi, G., & Chate S. (2002). Genital self-mutilation in depression: A case report. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 44, 297-300.
Russell, D.B., McGovern, G. & Harte, F.B. (2005). Genital self-mutilation by radio frequency in a male-to-female transsexual. Sexual Health, 2, 203-204.
Schweitzer, I. (1990). Genital self-amputation and the Klingsor syndrome. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 24, 566-569.
Stunnell, H., Power, R.E., Floyd, M., & Quinlan, D.M. (2006). Genital self-mutilation. International Journal of Urology, 13, 1358-1360.
Tobias, C.R., Turns, D.M., Lippmann., S., Pary, R. & Oropilla, T.B. (1988) Evaluation and management of self-mutilation. South Medical Journal, 81(10), 1261-1263.
Tomita, M., Maeda, S., Kimura, T., Ikemoto, I. & Oishi, Y. (2002). [A case of complete self-mutilation of penis]. Hinyokika Kiyo, 48, 247-249.
Waugh, A.C. (1986). Autocastration and biblical delusions in schizophrenia. British Journal of Psychiatry, 149, 656-658.
“Sixty-four million people do it at least once a week. Nabokov wrote about it. Bill Clinton even did it in the White House” (Marc Romano, 2005).
I’m sure many of you reading this opening quote will think that it refers to sexual infidelity but it doesn’t. I was also deliberately obtuse in the title of today’s blog to throw you off the scent of what today’s blog is about. Well, to put some of you out of your misery, the topic under the microscope today is crossword puzzles. For those who don’t know, a cruciverbalist is an enthusiast of word games (especially of crosswords). According to Michael Quinion in his excellent World Wide Words website:
“[The word ‘cruciverbalist’] seems to have appeared in English about 1980 (the first reference I can find is to the Compleat Cruciverbalist of 1981 by Stan Kurzban and Mel Rosen, subtitled ‘how to solve, compose and sell crossword puzzles for fun and profit’). However, Stan Kurzban tells me that Mel Rosen had encountered the word some years earlier in the title of a directory of crossword puzzle notables that was not widely circulated. Whatever its origin, cruciverbalist has spread into the wider language as a result of their efforts to the extent that it now appears in some larger recent US dictionaries. The word is a modern mock-Latin invention, being a translation back into Latin of the English crossword (using Latin crucis, cross, as in words like cruciform, plus verbum, word, as in verbose or verbatim).There is also cruciverbalism, for the art of crossword compilation or crossword fandom generally, but that is much rarer”.
The opening quote comes from Marc Romano’s 2005 book The Crossword Obsession: The History and Lore of the World’s Most Popular Pastime who asserted that: “the crossword puzzle has arguably been our national obsession since its birth almost a century ago”. Seeing the word ‘obsessive’ was enough to make me think it was a topic worthy of consideration of writing a blog about it (especially when reading the accompanying blurb for Romano’s book):
“Saying this is a book about puzzles is to tell only half the story. It is also an explanation into what crosswords tell us about ourselves – about the world we live in, the cultures that nurture us, and the different ways we think and learn. If you’re a puzzler, Crossworld will enthrall you. If you have no idea why your spouse send so much time filling letters into little white squares, Crossworld will tell you – and with luck, save your marriage”.
On a personal note, I ought to declare a vested self-interest in that I been doing cryptic crosswords since I was taught to do them by my father in my mid-teens. In the early 1990s until the late 1990s I did (or rather attempted) The Guardian’s cryptic crossword almost every day (the birth of my daughter put a stop to daily crosswords and what little spare time I had outside of my job). On the way to a conference in Bristol in 1998, I had a race on the train with one of my departmental colleagues (Bob Rotheram) as to who could complete that day’s Guardian crossword first. I even got a letter in The Guardian (November 26, 2002) about a crossword puzzle set by my favourite crossword setter (John Galbraith Graham, better known under his crossword compiling pseudonym ‘Araucaria’). Many of the clues in the prize crossword I had just completed related to an anagram of the word ‘presbyterians’. The letter I had published said:
“I don’t know what is worse. The fact that some clues in the prize crossword related to Britney Spears and her hit singles, or the sad fact that I knew the answers to them all!”
The fact that ‘presbyterians’ is an anagram of singer ‘Britney Spears’ I found amazing (although my favourite anagram in one of Araucaria’s crosswords was ‘synthetic cream’ being an anagram of the football team ‘Manchester City’). I am also a huge fan of crossword homophones (words that are pronounced the same but are completely different in definition and meaning) and on which most forms of punning are based. This includes many of my blog titles such as my articles on body dysmorphic disorder (‘Flaw management’), biting fetishes (‘Bit sighs’), pandrogyny (‘A gender setting’), and gambling spending (‘Stake and chips’), as well as my blogs on the psychology of revulsion (‘Disgust discussed’), Exploding Head Syndrome (‘A noise that annoys’) and Jerusalem Syndrome (‘Wholly holy’). I love crosswords so much that I even have an all-time favourite clue (“Late opening” [seven letters]; Answer: AUTOPSY). Total genius!
Doing crosswords appears to be a very popular hobby. According to Dean Olsher in his 2009 book, From Square One: A Meditation, with Digressions, on Crosswords, about 50 million American people do crosswords. Olsher says that for some, crosswords are a pastime and for others it is a form of escapism (suggesting that crosswords may produce psychological feelings and motivations associated with addictive behaviours). Olsher noted that some people like the film director Alfred Hitchcock “didn’t get” crosswords. Hitchcock told film actor, director and screenwriter Francois Truffaut that:
“I don’t really approve of whodunits because they’re rather like a jigsaw or crossword puzzle. No emotion. You simply wait to found out who committed the murder”
Olsher claims Hitchcock fell prey to a common false dichotomy that thinking and feeling are an either/or proposition. Olsher claims they are inextricable, and that cerebral and emotional satisfaction are not at odds with each other. For Olsher, crosswords can be an exhilarating experience and akin to seated meditation. However, he also notes that doing crosswords (based on his own personal experience) could be an addiction:
“It is more honest, though, to think of crosswords as a habit, like smoking. It’s just something to do, every day, because it’s there. When finished with a puzzle, I don’t pump my fists in triumph or congratulate myself for my perseverance. I solve crosswords because they bring on a feeling of emptiness, and paradoxically, that feeling seems to fill a hole deep inside. It’s not a release, it’s not a flushing out, although both those terms grasp at some aspect of it. Norman Mailer said that for him, solving the crossword every day was like combing his brain. This simile is strong because it has nothing to do with usual mental fitness. It’s not about intelligence or holding onto memory. Crosswords bring about a focused state of mind, the elusive ‘flow state’. Then there are days when I decide that this is all an elaborate self-deception. That the puzzle is indeed an escape mechanism. The crossword addiction is not a metaphor but a destructive literal truth”
I was surprised to find there has been quite a lot of academic research on the benefits of doing crosswords (although very little on whether doing crosswords can be obsessive and/or addictive). However, the psychologist Dr. Howard Rachlin does mention in a number of his writings on addiction that there are many activities that could be described as ‘positive addictions’ including “listening to classical music, collecting stamps, exercise, reading novels, doing crossword puzzles”. Dr. Rachlin also noted in a paper published in a 2002 issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS):
“Patterns of behavior may be maintained without extrinsic rewards. For example, on a relatively small scale, activities such as solving jigsaw or crossword puzzles are valuable in themselves. People, like me, who like to do crossword puzzles, find value in the whole act of doing the puzzle. When I sit down on a Sunday morning to do the puzzle I am not beginning a laborious act that will be rewarded only when it is completed. Yet, despite the lack of extrinsic and intrinsic reward for putting in that last particular letter, completing the puzzle is, for me, a necessary part of its value. Like listening to symphonies, the pattern is valuable only as a whole. Extrinsic rewards may initially put together the elements of these patterns but the patterns, once formed, are maintained by their intrinsic value. The cost of breaking the pattern is the loss of this value – even that of the parts already performed”.
However, Rachlin is not without his critics. In responses to the BBS paper, Dr. Stephen Kaplan and Dr. Raymond De Young claimed that Rachlin’s interpretation of intrinsic motivation as arising from a string of habits was far from convincing. More specifically, they noted that the “fascination with crossword and jigsaw puzzles seems far more likely to be an expression of the human inclination to solve problems, a tendency humans share with nonhuman primates”. Another response to the BBS paper by Dr. Thomas R. Zentall claimed that the concept of intrinsic reinforcement is needed to explain the variety of behaviour that has no extrinsic material or social reward, such as crossword puzzle solving. He argues that:
“Intrinsic reinforcers are difficult to assess. They are what [are] left once you have ruled out extrinsic reinforcers, and in the case of humans, typically we assess them by means of verbal behavior (e.g., ‘I just like doing it’). But this sort of definition can easily become circular, especially when we are talking about behavioral patterns that are themselves not clearly defined. One can hypothesize that extrinsic reinforcers become internalized, but that does not explain, it only describes”.
Doing crosswords may even be of psychological and practical benefit. For instance, Dr. Mike Murphy and Dr. Roisin Cunningham published a paper last year in the Irish Journal of Psychology claiming that: “a crossword a day improves verbal fluency”. More specifically they examined ‘semantic verbal fluency’ (SVF) an important contributor to general communication ability. In their study, 34 final year students completed a daily crossword for one month and compared this to a control group of 40 students who did not do any crosswords. Their results indicated that the crossword group experienced greater improvement in SVF than the control group. They concluded that doing simple crosswords may be a relatively straightforward way improving SVF among students who are about to enter the job market and need good transferable skills.
Dr. Graham Pluck and Dr. Helen Johnson writing in a 2011 issue of Education Science and Psychology claim that stimulating curiosity (with activities such as crosswords) can enhance learning. They drew on the work of Dr. Ludwig Lowenstein who noted that many features of human behaviour appear counter-productive on the surface but are not. For instance:
“Lowenstein discusses the interest that many people have in completing puzzles such as crosswords, or why soap operas end on cliff-hangers. According to the theory, the information gaps that people are exposed to act to motivate them to obtain the missing information, either by persevering to complete the puzzle or tuning in to watch the next episode of the soap opera”.
Another study led by Dr. Joshua Jackson and published in a 2012 issue of the journal Psychology and Aging claimed doing crosswords could change some aspects of personality among old-aged people. More specifically, they examined whether an intervention aimed to increase cognitive ability in older adults (i.e., doing crossword and Sudoko puzzles) affected the personality trait of openness to experience (i.e., being imaginative and intellectually oriented). In their study, old-aged adults completed a 4-month program in inductive reasoning training that included weekly crossword and Sudoku puzzles. They were then assessed continually over the following 30 weeks. Their findings showed that those who did crossword and Sudoko puzzles increased their openness scores compared to the control group. The authors claimed that this study is one of the very first to demonstrate that personality traits can change through non-psychopharmocological interventions.
Although there are a number of people online who have confessed as to being ‘crossword addicts’, (including the US rock singer and record producer Todd Rundgren in a June 2013 interview with Uncut magazine), I have yet to find any empirical evidence that it is negatively detrimental in people’s lives. For most, even those who describe themselves as ‘crossword obsessives’, it is a behaviour that adds to and enhances their lives.
Amende, C. (2001). The Crossword Obsession: The History and Lore of the World’s Most Popular Pastime. New York: Berkeley.
Davis, T.M., Shepherd, B. & Zwiefelhofer, T. (2009). Reviewing for exams: Do crossword puzzles help in the success of student learning? Journal of Effective Teaching, 9, 4-10.
Jackson, J.J., Hill, P.L., Payne, B.R., Roberts, B.W., & Stine-Morrow, E.A. L. (2012). Can an old dog learn (and want to experience) new tricks? Cognitive training increases openness to experience in older adults. Psychology and Aging, 27, 286-292.
Kaplan, S. & De Young, R. (2002). Toward a better understanding of prosocial behavior: The role of evolution and directed attention Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 263-264.
Murphy, M. & Cunningham, R.K. (2102). A crossword a day improves verbal fluency: A report of an intervention study. Irish Journal of Psychology, 133, 193-198.
Olsher, D. (2009). From Square One: A Meditation, with Digressions, on Crosswords. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Pluck, G. & Johnson, H. (2011). Stimulating curiosity to enhance learning. Education Science and Psychology, 2(19), 24-31.
Rachlin, H. (2002). Altruism and selfishness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 239-250.
Rachlin, H. (2003). Economic concepts in the behavioural study of addiction. In R.E. Vuchinich & N. Heather (Eds.), Choice, Behavioural Economics and Addiction. (pp.129-149). Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press.
Romano, M. (2005). Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession. Blackpool: Broadway.
Underwood, G., Deihim, C. & Batt, V. (1994). Expert performance in solving word puzzles: From retrieval cues to crossword clues. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 8, 531-548.
Zentall, T.R. (2002). A potentially testable mechanism to account for altruistic behavior Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 282.
In the 2000 film American Psycho, the anti-hero Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale) contains a scene in which while having sex with two female escorts, looks at himself in the mirror admiringly. Even when one of the escort girls tries to attract his attention, he seemingly prefers to look at himself rather than the women he is making love to. Quite clearly a narcissist, Bateman may have also been a kataptronophile. According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, katoptronophilia is a sexual paraphilia defined as sexual pleasure and arousal from having sex in front of mirrors.
Having said that, somewhat confusingly, Aggrawal also says that individuals who derive sexual arousal “from looking at oneself in a mirror [and] arousal from image in mirrors” is called spectrophilia. (However, I examined this in a previous blog and most credible sources state that spectrophilia relates to those who derive sexual arousal and pleasure from having sex or sexual thoughts about ghosts). A short online article on katoptronophilia on the Wikipedia website goes a little further and defines it as:
“…a paraphilia for mirrors (the Greek word for mirror is katoptron). It may include activities such as having sex in front of mirrors, masturbating in front of mirrors, enacting other paraphilias in front of a mirror, having an orgy in front of a mirror, or enacting stripping fetishism in front of mirrors. Enacting katoptronophiliac fantasies may involve constructing environments for erotic activity in which one is completely surrounded by mirrors, sometimes including even on the ceiling. A person who is a katoptronophiliac may put mirrors all over their house so they can have sex in any room in the house”.
On first look, katoptronophilia appears to be a sub-type of voyeurism where the key distinguishing feature is the use of mirrors as part of the voyeuristic act. However, voyeurism is usually defined as the act of gaining sexual arousal from the watching of others either naked and/or engaging in sexual behaviour. I stressed the word ‘others’ as katoptronophila involves the watching of oneself having sex via the use of mirrors. Technically, kataptronophilia is a sub-type of scoptophilia (sometimes called scopophilia). According to Dr. George Pranzarone in his 2000 Dictionary of Sexology, scoptophilia/scopophilia is
“A paraphilia of the solicitational [and] allurative type in which sexuoerotic arousal and facilitation or attainment of orgasm are responsive to, and contingent on watching others engaging in sexual activity, including sexual intercourse [from Greek, skopein, to view + -philia]. The condition in which a person is dependent on looking at sexual organs and watching their coital performance in order to obtain erotic arousal and facilitate and achieve orgasm. It is not surreptitious, as in voyeurism. The reciprocal paraphilic condition is sometimes also referred to as scoptophilia; or by its own name, autagonistophilia. Synonyms, mixophilia; mixoscopia; scopophilia”.
Just complicate things a little further, many online definitions of mixophilia (which as in the definition by Dr. Pranzarone above appears to be another word for scoptophilia) often mention mirrors in the definitions. For instance, the Fetish List website defines mixophilia as gaining sexual arousal and pleasure from watching “their partner or themselves engage in sexual activity. Usually this means watching themselves in a mirror”. This is similar to the definition for mixophilia in the online Gay Slang Dictionary that notes:
“A person with this fetish [mixophilia] likes to watch his partner or the both of them engage in sexual activity. Usually this means watching themselves perform in a mirror. A common theme in gay porn pictures is the presence of a mirror in which part or all of the action is reflected”
I’ve yet to come across a single academic article on the topic and most of the theorizing is speculative to say the least. In 2003, Mark Pendergrast published his cultural history of mirrors (Mirror, Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection), but did not specifically examine katoptronophilia (although did mention the sexual use of mirrors). The one thing I learned was that the Etruscans [an ancient Italian civilization originating around what is now known as Tuscany] often featured sex scenes painted on the back of their mirrors). In relation to why katoptronophilia exists, one online snippet I came across claimed that:
“Theories suggest that katoptronophilia is fed from a basal narcissistic instinct. It is a combination of narcissism and degradation and a feeling of over powering dominance. It’s like watching a live porno of yourself. The most advanced stage of voyeur there is”
This appears to be somewhat corroborated by the Wikipedia entry (and the fictionalized account that opened this blog) that notes that:
“Many pornographic films show porn stars having sex in front of mirrors. Many people enjoy having sex in front of mirrors and have mirrors in their bedrooms in which they can watch themselves have sex. They sometimes engage in this activity for their personal enjoyment. On a deeper level this could relate to the person’s need to reflect and critique themselves, and also being on a mental state of narcissism. The person often is solely absorbed in themselves and likes to watch their actions so as to admire”.
A 2007 online article on kataptronophilia at the Journals of an Intelsexual website argues that the fetish is evolving and that “technology is also expanding on this fetish; live stream cameras, multiple cameras, big screen monitors…the possibilities are limitless”. I’m not convinced that evolving technology providing more ways to watch yourself having sex is actually katoptronophilia as the key distinguishing feature of the paraphilia is the use of mirrors (not the watching of yourself). I seriously doubt if this type of paraphilic behaviour (and I have some doubts as to whether it is a paraphilic behaviour anyway) will ever be the subject of serious academic research as it’s highly unlikely that such behaviour is problematic un any way.
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
DeMure, K. (2007). Word of the week: Katoptronophilia. Lust Puddle, November 6. Located at: http://lustpuddle.blogspot.co.uk/2007/11/word-of-week-katoptronophilia.html
Forbidden Light (2007). Katoptronophilia: Love for mirrors. Journals of an Intelsexual, December 4. Located at: http://intelsexualism.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/katoptronophilia-love-for-mirrors.html?zx=ac769a5283ebf462
Milner, J.S., & Dopke, C.A., & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and theory. In D. R. Laws & W. O’Donohue (Eds.), Sexual deviance: Theory, assessment, and treatment (2nd ed., pp. 384-428). New York: Guilford.
Pendergrast, M. (2003). Mirror, Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection. New York: Basic Books.
Pranzarone, G.F. (2000). The Dictionary of Sexology. Located at: http://ebookee.org/Dictionary-of-Sexology-EN_997360.html
Wikipedia (2012). Kataptronophilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katoptronophilia
I’m sure many of you reading this have received bogus e-mails notifying them they have won a lottery. The majority of these scams are either the ‘Dutch Lottery’, ‘Spanish Lottery’ and ‘Canadian Lottery’ schemes (although there are many others). The theme is always the same and they appear to make a lot of money for those that instigate the scam. According to press reports a few years ago, the Canadian Lottery scam netted over $5 billion from US victims and was making around £500,000 a month in the UK. Typically, a person receives an e-mail saying that they have won a lottery and they need to reply to claim their winnings. If the person replies, they will then receive emails and/or phone calls that move the person on to the next phase of the fraud. The person will be told that they need to pay a fee – which can be variable – to cover transfer and administration costs (sometimes termed an ‘unlocking fee’). Sometimes the fraudsters ask for a person’s bank details so that they can deposit the winnings. When this happens, the fraudsters can also steal money directly from a person’s account. The obvious reason why such e-mails are fraudulent is that the person has not bought a lottery ticket. However, frausdsters have started to use slightly different tactics. Below is an extract from an e-mail that I received in my inbox:
“We are pleased to inform you of the result of the Lottery Winners International programs held on the 14th of January. You have therefore been approved a sum pay out of US $500,000. CONGRATULATIONS!!! Due to mix up of some numbers and names, we ask that you keep your winning information very confidential until your claim has been processed and your prize/money remitted to you. This is part of our security protocol to avoid double claiming and unwarranted abuse of this program by some participants. All participants were selected through a computer ballot system drawn from over 200,000,000 company and 300,000,000 individual email addresses and names from all over the world”
Here, the person appears to have had their e-mail address randomly selected into a prize draw (rather than having to have bought a ticket). To claim the prize, recipients of the e-mail are again asked to pay an administration fee. One of the more worrying aspects is that those people who have responded to these types of schemes and frauds before will find themselves named on “mooch” and “sucker” lists that are sold by specialist brokers to the fraudsters. If a person has been duped once, they will almost certainly be targeted again.
Frauds rely on gullibility of the victim and the credibility of the criminal engaging in the fraudulent activity. On the Internet, this might perhaps translate into having very state-of-the-art webpage forgeries on the Internet with credible and trustworthy sounding materials/products. One of the most common fraudulent practices is when unscrupulous individuals steal materials from legitimate online gambling sites. Whole website designs can be stolen including the graphics and general design. Others may just use accreditation logos from legitimate accreditation organizations such as GamCare or the Internet Gambling Commission. Such people rely on the fact that many gamblers have made the decision to gamble even before logging on. The urge and desire to gamble can help overcome a person’s ability to think rationally and/or their instinctive mistrust of the Internet. Fake sites have to look safe, reputable, and trustworthy. To avoid spending money on website design and development, the fraudsters simply steal existing designs. Some fake sites even go as far as making identical copies of winners’ pages and testimonial pages of legitimate sites. This reinforces the idea that the site has hundreds of happy and satisfied customers. Only those who are intimately familiar with the “host” or original site would notice such a fraud.
Many online gambling sites offer incentives to get the gambler to play on their site. These include legitimate schemes such as VIP membership, loyalty schemes, and various types of deposit bonuses (i.e., the gamblers get a cash bonus if they register with the site). One of the legal (but highly exploitative) ploys to get people to gamble, are those sites which require excessive play (or to have gambled a pre-set amount of money) before the cash bonus is awarded. However, there are some ‘bonus’ practices that go beyond exploitation and are clearly fraudulent. One of the simplest, and most effective of the bonus scams is targeted at players that have been banned from a casino. Since online casinos are always in need of known paying customers, this works by drawing in banned gamblers who have moved on to other sites. The gamblers receive an e-mail offering them a cash bonus if they deposit money into their existing account. However, after the gambler has deposited the money, they do not get their bonus. The online casinos tell the player they are not eligible to receive a bonus because they were banned. Gamblers then tend to play their deposit anyway – which is exactly what the operators were hoping for. Furthermore, some online casinos cite ‘bonus abuse’ as the reason for not paying winnings, knowing there is no governing body that can act against them.
Another unscrupulous tactic is where online gambling sites that have conned a gambler once, do it again (a “two-for-one” scam). If a gambler has signed up to a particular online casino that takes all their money and then disappears, there is little a gambler can do. Quite often, months after being ripped off, a gambler may start to get e-mails from a new gambling site set up by the fraudsters who conned the gambler in the first place (although the gambler is unlikely to know it is the same organisation). They know where to reach the gambler because of the registration form that the gambler initially filled out to join the now disbanded online casino. The fraudsters will e-mail compelling offers, rewards packages, and CD software (basically anything to get the gambler back). The fraudsters then do exactly the same again. Another variation of the ‘twofer’ scam is when gambling operators invite their former scammed customers (by using the information the gambler provided before at a previous site) under the ruse of ‘bonuses’ telling the gamblers how sympathetic they are about them being scammed, and offering a bonus if they play on their website instead.
There appears to be one major reason why gambling is such a growth area for fraud. This is the fact that many gamblers themselves want to get a huge reward from a small outlay (just as the fraudsters do). As long as there are people who are prepared to risk money on chance events, there will be those out there who will want to fraudulently take their money from them. To date, there is almost no empirical data on any of these criminal practices and it is hard to assess the extent to how widespread any of these fraudulent online gambling practices are. There is clearly a need to examine this area empirically and for research to be initiated in this emerging area of criminological concern.
Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Dot cons: Exploitation and Fraud on the Internet (Part 2). The Criminal Lawyer, 134, 3-5.
Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Exploitation and fraud on the Internet: Some common practices, The Criminal Lawyer, 132, 5-7.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Hi-tech gambling scams. The Criminal Lawyer, 140, 4-5.
Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Online trust and Internet gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 8(4), 14-16.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Crime and gambling: A brief overview of gambling fraud on the Internet. Internet Journal of Criminology. Located at: http://www.internetjournalofcriminology.com/Griffiths_%20Gambling_Fraud_Jan_2010.pdf
Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2008). Gambling loyalty schemes: Treading a fine line? Casino and Gaming International, 4(2), 105-108.
McMullan, J. & Rege, A. (2007). Cyberextortion at online gambling sites: Criminal organization and legal challenges. Gaming Law Review, 11, 648-665.
Whitty, M. & Joinson, A. (2009). Truth, Lies and Trust on The Internet. Hove: Routledge.
Recently, I was sent an email by one of my regular blog readers saying that there were “two obvious” topics” that I had not covered in my writings so far. The first one was paedophilia (which I have mentioned in passing but have never devotes a whole article to) and the second one was on semen fetish. I’m not going to go into my reasons why I have yet to devote a blog to the topic of paedophilia but the topic of ‘semen fetish’ was honestly not something that had crossed my mind. The email I was sent pointed out that my blog had covered paraphilias and fetishes concerning almost every other bodily fluid (i.e., urine, faeces, blood, menstrual blood, saliva, tears, breast milk, snot, phlegm, vomit, pus and earwax) “apart from the most obvious – namely semen”. Therefore, today’s blog looks ‘semen fetish’ although I know of no academic research or clinical studies on the topic (so not a lot of material to work with).
There is a lot of talk on the internet about almost mythical status that semen has been afforded. This is typified by a story I came across while researching this blog. In April 2010, the BBC reported the case of an Israeli man – Nissim Aharon – who was jailed for 10 years after tricking five women of various ages into various sexual acts (including rape and sodomy) by claiming that his semen was “holy and had healing powers”. Aharon pretended to be a holy rabbi and other authority figures (such as working for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency) and claimed to the unsuspecting women that his “holiness” could be passed to those who touched him physically, cleansing their bodies. He was eventually arrested in August 2009. A statement by the Israeli Justice Ministry reported that:
“Over many years [Aharon] presented himself as a righteous man, as a saint with healing powers, who exploited the naïvity of women and teenage girls, while carrying out appalling sexual acts and obtaining large sums of money by fraud. He would claim to be a rabbi, and impersonate figures in authority who would then refer women and teenage girls to himself. He would give these people different explanations: among others, that a holy scent comes from him, and that his semen is a holy fluid, which by contact could heal body and soul”.
Another seemingly relevant topic that I found online in relation to semen fetish was talk on various sexual forums about the love of ‘bukkake’ and ‘gokkun’ in pornographic films. I’m aware that some of you reading this will be well aware of these semen-related sexual acts but for the benefit of those who have no idea what I am talking about, I feel duty bound to tell you (but please be warned that my descriptions are sexually explicit).
Bukkake is a sexual act (most commonly seen in hard core pornographic films) where a group of men all simultaneously ejaculate over a women or man. Original bukkake videos are Japanese in origin and date back to the advent of videos in the 1980s. However, bukkake videos (while still arguably a minority market) have been made for both European and American audiences (with an increasing number of such films made for the gay market). The Wikipedia entry on bukkake claims that the sexual act involves “the implied or overt humiliation of the person ejaculated upon” because typically the receiving person is a passive recipient and not sexually stimulated. Some commentators have pointed out that the recipients in Japanese films tend to be much more passive and submissive than the recipients in American films. Feminist campaigner Gail Dines says the act of bukkake “marks the woman as used goods”, conveys a sense of ownership and is “one of the most degrading acts in porn”. Other reactions to bukkake were summarized in the Wikipedia entry:
“A number of authors have described bukkake as premised on humiliation. Forensic psychologist Karen Fanklin has described bukkake as symbolic group rape, characterising its primary purpose as the humiliation, degradation and objectification of women. Lisa Jean Moore and Juliana Weissbein view the use of ejaculation in bukkake as part of a humiliation ritual, noting that it generally does not involve any of the female participants experiencing orgasm”.
Gokkun is also a sexual act that is Japanese in origin and is where a man or woman consumes the semen of one or more men from a drinking receptacle (e.g., cups, glasses, beakers, etc.). The Wikipedia entry on gokkun claims that as the makers of hard-core pornography attempt to outdo each other, the number of men participating in gokkun videos has increased to as many as 140 in American films and 200 on Japanese films.
While there is much written about bukkake, references to semen fetish appear to be rare. The following extract from a self-confessed semen fetishist is one of a few that I have come across online. I chose the following quote because of the level of reflective introspection at the end of the quote. (Again, I also need to point out that the quote is sexually explicit):
“I have come to terms with the fact that I have a semen fetish. This manifests itself in many ways. Obviously, it is important in my sex life. My current girlfriend is quite open-minded, so she doesn’t have a problem with facials and swallowing. She is also open to some semen play, for example drinking it from a spoon or a wine glass. I have dozens of other semen-related fantasies which I want to try out too…Another manifestation of this fetish is my taste in porn. It’s almost exclusively semen-related movies that I watch because they are the biggest turn on for me. I mostly watch bukkake, gokkun and regular facial movies…I know that I’ll probably be heckled as being gay or whatever, but I don’t mind. The fact is that guys don’t turn me on, but girls do. Perhaps the fact that I like to see girls covered in sperm is more to do with my own desire for women to accept my own semen. I’ve thought that through a lot and it seems likely. Humans tend to associate the face with the identity. And I think on some level, men associate their semen with their personal manhood and identity. To have a girl let you shoot semen onto her face is a symbolic act of acceptance of your identity. There is almost certainly a domination aspect to the act too”
One online article on semen entitled ‘A Modern Craving’ talked about “semen addiction”, “semen fetish” and those “obsessed” with semen. The article claimed it was written to “raise issue and bring to the floor the concept of semen addiction”. Without any apparent empirical support the article claimed that:
“In order to relate with semen addiction, it’s important to understand the mentality of those obsessed. Semen addiction is not the pleasure of having your lover swallow your semen following oral sex, nor is it simple pleasure from pornography involving it. Instead, it is a very real sexual necessity for semen, be it digestion, foreplay or a combination of both. Why those who crave semen do so is widely a mystery. The taste, while enjoyable for some, seems not so important as the act, the eroticism, involved in swallowing semen from a man’s sexual organ. In addition, semen fetishes are not by any means limited to a single gender. While it’s debatable of which group is more outspoken of their semen obsession, it’s not such with reference to the fact they can develop in anyone; from homosexual males to heterosexual females to even heterosexual males, to a lesser extent. The insatiable desire for semen is often so unrelated to ordinary sexual addiction that while it’s possible for someone with the condition to enjoy sex without semen, the true climax of the experience can often be better represented as the reception of semen from one’s lover than as the orgasm of his or herself”
As I noted above, there is almost no empirical research on semen fetish, and the “evidence” I have collated in this blog is (at best) anecdotal. The fetish may well exist, but compared to other bodily fluid fetishes, semen fetish appears to be either much more rare or just much less reported both online and in academic journals. Finally, by my reckoning, the only bodily fluids I have left to write about are sweat, bile, and vaginal secretions.
BBC News (2010). Israel jails man for ‘holy semen’ sex abuse. April 26. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8644637.stm
Kuro5hin (2002). A modern craving. August 5. Located at: http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/8/5/71044/01543
Wikipedia (2012). Bukkake. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bukkake
Wikipedia (2012). Gokkun. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gokkun
It was only a few months ago that I watched the 2006 film Bug for the very first time. Directed by William Friedkin, it tells the story of a mentally ill drifter called Peter Evans (with a great performance by Michael Shannon). Evans ends up having a sexual relationship with Agnes White, a bisexual alcoholic junkie (played surprisingly well by Ashley Judd). During the film, Peter confides in Agnes his belief that he has a colony of microscopic bugs infested one of his molar teeth (and then in one ‘memorable’ scene starts pulling his own teeth out). Evans’ paranoia becomes increasingly erratic and becomes a shared belief with White (who also comes to believe that they are both infested with microscopic bugs; this sharing of a delusional belief is known as a ‘folie à deux’ [French for ‘a madness shared by two people’, a shared psychosis] and would make a good blog topic). However, today’s blog focuses on imagined bug infestation (i.e., delusional parasitosis) that is known in psychological and psychiatric terms as Ekbom’s syndrome (named after the Swedish neurologist Karl Ekbom who first described the condition in a number of published papers in the late 1930s).
As you have probably gathered from my quick film synopsis above, Ekbom’s syndrome (ES) is a type of psychosis in which sufferers have a vehement delusional belief that they are infested with parasites that those affected describe as bugs or insects crawling around under their skin (when in reality they simply do not exist). I ought to add that the characters in Bug also appeared to be suffering from ‘delusory cleptoparasitosis’ (DC) another type of insect psychosis in which the sufferer thinks the place where they live is infested with parasites (rather than from within their body). As a consequence, both ES and DC sufferers are more likely to seek the help of skin specialists (e.g., dermatologists) and insect specialists (e.g., pest control, entomologists) than psychologists.
In essence, ES is a tactile hallucination and is also known as ‘formication’ (which is the word that describes the feeling of insects crawling and/or burrowing underneath the skin’s surface. Formication is also one form of parasthaesia (of which other examples include the ‘pins and needles’ tingling sensations that many people experience regularly). Parasthaesia includes any non-permanent skin sensation including tickling, pricking, tingling, numbness, and/or burning. ES sufferers will focus on any unusual body mark on their skin as ‘evidence’ that they have a parasitic infection. It is not uncommon for obsessive and/or compulsive checking of the body to occur. The prevalence of ES is unknown although Dr. J. Koo and Dr. C. Gambla reported in the journal Dermatologic Clinic that they see around 20 new cases per year in the large US referral clinic.
In some psychological circles, ES has been used synonymously with Wittmaack-Ekbom syndrome that is more associated with ‘restless leg syndrome’ (RLS; something that I myself have suffered from due to a chronic spinal condition that I have). When I get my bouts of RLS, it really does feel as though I have tiny insects moving about inside my right leg. The difference between ES and RLS is that RLS is a real physical condition that has bona fide physical basis whereas the basis for ES is an imaginary delusion. Clinical and medical research has shown that ES is associated with a number of comorbid conditions including affective psychosis, paranoid schizophrenia, organic brain disease, neurosis, and anankastic/paranoid personality disorder. It has also been reported in some people undergoing alcohol withdrawal, cocaine misuse, cerebrovascular disease, senile dementia, and thalamic brain lesions.
There can also be medical complications for ES sufferers. The fictional example of someone pulling their teeth out is not unknown although the gouging or digging out of the perceived parasites is more common. However, a paper by Dr. M. Nel and colleagues in the Journal of the South African Veterinary Association, most ES sufferers are able to function normally in all other aspects of their lives, in spite of their fixed parasitic delusions. They also noted that:
“The typical history often describes numerous attempts at eradicating the infestation. These could include taking medication, applying topical treatments, using pesticides, making use of exterminators, discarding clothing and possessions and even relocating…In a study of 94 patients (Ohtaki, 1991), most patients complained of itching and/or a tickling sensation. In order to rid themselves of the so-called parasites, patients often scratch, pick and wash frequently or use caustic agents on their skin, almost invariably leading to traumatic skin lesions”.
According to one meta-analytic study of 1,223 ES cases (published by Dr. W. Trabart in the journal Psychopathology), the occurrence of ES as a shared psychotic disorder is an uncommon phenomenon. He reported only about 5-15% of such cases were found. It was also reported that ES was more common amongst females (two-thirds female, one-third male), and is more prevalent in those over the age of 40 years. The symptoms had lasted three to four-and-a-half years. ES can be classified into three sub-types (primary; secondary-functional; and secondary-organic) based on the presenting symptoms:
- Primary ES refers to individuals that have the delusional parasitic infestation but no other comorbid conditions (i.e., other mental functioning is normal). Those where ES occurs by suggestion from another individual (e.g., the folie a deux case mentioned above) would be included in this ES sub-type. (It’s also worth noting that at least three studies have reported either the folie à deux or folie à trois among family members or loved ones including papers in the British Journal of Psychiatry and Dermatologica). Treatment is usually pharmacotherapy-based and utilizes drugs that are used in the treatment of other delusional-based syndromes (e.g., atypical antipsychotic drugs such as risperidone and olanzapine.
- Secondary-functional ES refers to individuals that have the delusional parasitic infestation and are associated with another psychiatric condition (e.g., clinical depression, schizophrenia).
- Secondary-organic ES refers to individuals that have the delusional parasitic infestation that is caused by another medical illness (e.g., cancer, diabetes, tubercolosis, hyperthyroidism, vitamin deficiency, cerebrovascular disease, neurological disorders). Other conditions can also facilitate ES including drug abuse (including stimulant psychosis), various allergies, and the menopause). Treating the primary disorder will often lead to a reduction or elimination of the ES symptoms.
The most recent review of the literature I came across was by Dr. Andrea Boggild and colleagues, and published in a 2010 issue of the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, they concluded that:
“In summary, [delusional parasitosis] is one of the more challenging entities that infectious diseases specialists will be enlisted to help treat. Unfortunately, optimal therapeutic regimens leading to sustained remission are lacking, and assurances on the part of the clinician do little to ameliorate patient suffering”.
Berrios GE (1985). Delusional parasitosis and physical disease. Comprehensive Psychiatry 26, 395-403.
Boggild, A.K., Nicks, B.A., Yen, L., Voorhis, W.V., McMullen, R., Buckner, F.S., & Liles, W.C. (2010). Delusional parasitosis: six-year experience with 23 consecutive cases at an academic medical center. International Journal of Infectious Diseases, 14, e317–e321.
Bourgeois, M.L., Duhamel, P. & Verdoux, H. (1992). Delusional parasitosis: Folie à deux and attempted murder of a family doctor. British Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 709-711.
Frances, A. & Munro, A. (1989). Treating a woman who believes she has bugs under her skin. Hospital and Community Psychiatry, 40, 1113–1114.
Freinhar, Jack P (1984). Delusions of parasitosis. Psychosomatics, 25, 47-53.
Gieler, U. & Knoll, M. (1990). Delusional parasitosis as ‘folie à trois’. Dermatologica, 181, 122-125.
Goddard J (1995). Analysis of 11 cases of delusions of parasitosis reported to the Mississippi Department of Health. Southern Medical Journal 88, 837-839.
Gould, W.M. & Gragg, T.M. (1976). Delusions of parasitosis. Archives of Dermatology 112, 1745–1748.
Grace, K.J. (1987). Delusory cleptoparasitosis: Delusions of arthropod infestation in the home. Pan-Pacific Entomologist, 63, 1-4.
Koblenzer, C.S. (1993). The clinical presentation, diagnosis and treatment of delusions of parasitosi: A dermatologic perspective. Bulletin of the Society of Vector Ecologists 18, 6-10.
Koo, J. & Gambla, C (1996). Delusions of parasitosis and other forms of monosymptomatic hypochondriacal psychosis. General discussion and case illustrations. Dermatologic Clinic, 14, 429-438.
Morris, M. (1991). Delusional manifestation. British Journal of Psychiatry, 159, 83-87.
Hinkle, N.C. (2000). Delusory parasitosis. American Entomologist 46, 17-25.
Ohtaki, N. (1991). Ninety four cases with delusions of parasitosis. Japanese Journal of Dermatology, 101, 439-446.
Rasmussen, J.E. & Voorhees, J.J. (1990). Psychosomatic dermatology. Archives of Dermatology, 126, 90-93.
Nel, M., Schoeman, J.P. & Lobetti, R.G. (2001). Delusions of parasitosis in clients presenting pets for veterinary care. Journal of the South African Veterinary Association, 72, 167-169.
Trabert, W. (1995). 100 years of delusional parasitosis. Meta-analysis of 1,223 case reports. Psychopathology, 28, 238-46
Webb, J.P. (1993). Case histories of individuals with delusions of parasitosis in southern California and a proposed protocol for initiating effective medical assistance. Bulletin of the Society of Vector Ecologists 18, 16-24.
“In terrible news for nun fetishists everywhere, the nun beauty contest has been cancelled. The Italian priest who had planned the online ‘pageant’ for nuns has suspended the project, saying he was misinterpreted and never had any intention of putting sisters on a beauty catwalk. Apparently, he’s been feeling some heat from the higher-ups.‘My superiors were not happy. The local bishop was not happy, but they did not understand me either,’ Father Antonio Rungi told Reuters by telephone from his convent in southern Italy on Tuesday. ‘It was not at all my intention to put nuns on the catwalk,’ said Rungi, a priest of the Passionists religious order, speaking from his convent in the town of Mondragone. Rungi’s idea appeared in newspapers around the world after he floated the idea of a contest for nuns on his blog, referred to by some as ‘Sister Italy 2008.’ ‘It was interpreted as more of a physical thing. Now, no-one is saying that nuns can’t be beautiful, but I was thinking about something more complete,’ he said” (Metro newspaper, 27/8/2013).
“What Does a Squad of Gun-Toting Fetish Nuns Have to Do With Hitman: Absolution? [The] release of the official Hitman: Absolution E3 trailer…teases us with an image depicting eight ladies dressed in vinyl nun costumes wielding a wide variety of powerful firearms. Could Hitman: Absolution feature the world’s first nun-based online multiplayer? God I hope so…There could be any number of explanation as to why [the game’s developer] is rolling out nuns in high heels so late in the game” (Kotaku.com)
Hitman: Absolution‘s 2012 trailer depicting Agent 47 brutally dispatching a group of killers dressed as sexy nuns caused quite a stir. People called it exploitatitive. People called it misogynistic…It seems silly to me that Square Enix decided to play up the fetish nun angle…only to have Agent 47 viciously take them all out in [the] trailer” (Kotaku.com)
I came across these opening stories a few months ago and filed the away as I thought it might make the start to a short blog on ‘nun fetishism’. Obviously, the words ‘nun fetish’ used in these contexts don’t really equate into genuine ‘nun fetishes’ but the news snippets did make me go away and look into the whether such a fetish really exists.
I’ve actually mentioned nuns in a previous blog on ‘uniform fetishes’. In that blog I mentioned the Visual Dictionary of Sex (edited by Dr. Eric J Trimmer) his reference to uniforms and sexual fantasy. Dr. Trimmer reported that in the fetish world of dressing-up, the rough rank order of sexual uniform popularity has nun’s uniforms as the least popular (as the list in order of sexual preference was cheerleader, waitress, nurse, maid, secretary, office worker, schoolgirl, fitness trainer, prison guard, postal worker, military, Cleopatra, ballerina, cab driver, and nun). I have no idea on what empirical basis Dr. Trimmer made his claims although the Wikipedia entry on uniform fetishism also made similar types of claims. It claimed the most popular sexy uniforms were police officer, soldier, schoolgirl, nurse, French maid, waitress, cheerleader and Playboy bunny. However, the article also made reference to some people regarding nun’s habits and aprons as sexy uniforms.
As far as I am aware, there is no academic literature on nun fetishes although there is online anecdotal evidence in the form of dedicated nun fetish sites – such as the (i) Fetish For Nuns, (ii) Whore Nun and (iii) Badjojo websites (please be warned these are sexually explicit sites if you click on the links) – and individuals confessing their sexual arousal towards nuns on various online forums. For instance:
- Extract 1: “I have a nun fetish. Is that weird? [However], how in the heck would one go about seducing a nun?”
- Extract 2: “I have a nun fetish. And thank god for the internet. Great times we’re living in, because it would have been hard back in the 80s”
- Extract 3: “[I have a] fetish for religous outfits (nun habit, Muslim burka, etc.). I was wondering if there are other out there that also find these very restrictive clothes erotic. While this is completely the opposite effect they should have one you I think this is what makes them so appealing to some. I know in some adult shops you can buy sexy latex and PVC version of the nun’s habit…So, which religious outfit do you find the most fetish like? And in what material to you prefer them? Cloth, PVC, Lycra, Latex?”
- Extract 4: “There are fetishes for almost every normal thing you can think of. Wetsuit fetishism falls under the greater section of rubber fetishism. Religious outfits fall into one or more categories depending on what materials they are made off. For example on their own they can be seen as uniform fetish but if you make them of say latex or rubber then would fall into rubber fetishism as well.The reason why I like them is their bondage/submissive qualities…that is really a massive turn on”
In a short 2008 online article on ‘bizarre underground fetish convents’, the Trend Hunter website reported that nuns dressed in rubber are “an immensely popular facet of the underground fetish community”. The article highlighted (along with lots of anecdotal photographic evidence) that such people are typically clothed in latex or leather nun uniforms, and may optionally wear a gas mask (see my previous blog on gas mask fetishism). The article also claims that:
“The subversion of a nun, a paragon of religious virtue, by the latex fetish community is both fantastic and messed up. No wonder this underground cultural icon of a nun in a gas mask is found in art that ranges from street art to sculptures. Chances are good that if you start looking, it won’t be long before you see your first rubber nun”.
In a blog post on ‘Latex Nun Fetishists’, the dominatrix ‘Mistress Maryse’ noted that the majority of her clients were Catholic and that within her dominatrix work, religion is always an interesting topic that is up for discussion. More specifically she said that her clients’ religious views:
“…can provide a lot of insight into where their fetishes might have originated, as well as offer some good material for a future scene. I’ve wanted to do a sadistic nun scene for a while, but I haven’t had any takers. That’s until one of my clients, ‘Mike’ recently e-mailed me and expressed interest in either doing a nun or evil school-girl session. The irony (or perhaps it’s not that surprising) is that Mike was raised atheist. I think my Catholic [submissives] still have some fear [and] playing around with this theme is uncomfortable (which, of course, makes it perfect for a scene!). Mike, being the dear that he is, has offered to buy me a new latex nun uniform from Westward Bound”
A short article on the Latex Wiki website argues that since nuns are members of a female monastic order taking vows of sexual abstinence and chastity, the fetish community has taken the nun’s image and perverted it. The article claims:
“The fetish nun is now as much of an icon of sexual perversion as a real nun is of sexual purity. Many fetish designers have taken the theme of the nun and produced their own take on the nun’s habit in latex or PVC. Such outfits may include for example a miniskirt, stockings, fishnet tights or high heels. Fetish nuns are a common sight at fetish clubs. Much of the pleasure may derive from the thought of having sexual intercourse with a virgin, or the contrast between the real behaviour of the person and symbols of sexual abstinence”.
In my research for this blog I came across an interesting website that focused on 1970s and 1980s ‘Nunsploitation’ video clips and “nuns behaving badly in bizarre fetish films” such as the trio of Italian films, The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine (1974), Images from a Convent (1979) and Convent of Sinners (1986) and the 1975 Mexican film Satánico Pandemonium. As the anonymous author commented that it was particularly the underground cult cinema in Italy, Spain and Mexico where Catholic guilt was most likely transmuted “into sexual fetishism involving naughty nuns, masochism, sadism, whipping and lesbianism”. Pierluigi Puccini has a more mainstream selection of films on his Nun’s Habit’s: A Cinematic Fetish webpage including The Devils (directed by Ken Russell, 1971), Killer Nun (directed by Giulio Berruti, 1978), Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (directed by Jesus Franco, 1977), The Story of a Cloistered Nun (directed by Domenico Paolella, 1973), and To The Devil A Daughter (directed by Peter Sykes, 1976).
In a 2005 book chapter by Richard Zacks in Russ Kick’s Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong, he described what he claimed was “unquestionably the longest and kinkiest list of medieval sexual practices still in existence”. The reason I mention this is because Zacks tracked down a medieval text that refers to having sex with nuns. He wrote that in 1012, a German bishop called Burchard of Worms wrote a 21-volume text including a long section on sexual sins. In Chapter 5 of Volume 19, Burchard lists 194 different sexual sins. In this list there is a section entitled ‘Questions for Men’ relating to the penance for having sex with a nun. More specifically, the entry reads:
“Have you committed fornication with a nun, that is to say, a bride of Christ? If you have done this, you shall do penance for forty days on bread and water, which they call a “carina,” and [repeat it] for the next seven years; and as long as you live, you shall observe all six holy days on bread and water”
In one online opinion piece, Jodi Dean briefly wrote about fetishized religions and claimed the only one that she could think of was Catholicism:
“The Catholic schoolgirl’s uniform is the most obvious, but sexualized nun toys and habits, and games about priests are close behind, traditional fetishist scenes predictable to the point of boredom…I think that charismatic Christianity could probably slink into the category; baptism scenes can have a wet t-shirt quality and the laying on of hands is intense to the point of eroticism. But I almost think this is derivative of Catholicism…What is it about some religions that makes them available for fetishization?”
A fair amount of discussion was generated in response to Dean’s thoughts on religious fetishism. One respondent speculated that the important element was the ‘icon heavy ritualism’ and that any religion in which people were raised in an icon-rich background was ripe for fetishization (and parody). One of the respondents (Mehmet Catagay) made some interesting observations:
“Unlike a fantasy that enables love to pass through the real to field the imaginary, an object of fetishism operates as ‘the return of the repressed’, the substitute material filling the cavity which originates from the act of denial of the symbolic castration. Therefore, the pervert subject of fetishism could cross the boundary of the symbolic only by use of the object of fetishism as the authorization certificate, i.e. the transit visa for the passage from the symbolic to the real…As regards to the Catholicism that you mention as the only fetishized religion that you come up with, for my part, I don’t see an exceptionally distinctive characteristic in the Catholic practice of Christianity that reinforces nunsploitation and nun fetishism. I think any particular outfit, especially uniforms, (the uniform of the women of God in the naughty nun case) that relates the human body with Lacanian big Other has the potential to serve as an object of fetishism that substitute the missing symbolic phallus and make the sexual intercourse possible while the complication of the denial of symbolic castration is still in the view”.
My search for academic material on nun fetishism proved fruitless (although I did come across some interesting research papers on the sex lives of nuns which I will look at in a future blog). Nun fetishism appears to be a niche market when it comes to genuine sexual fetishes but this is purely based on the fact that I found a lack of empirical evidence.
Gerber, A. (2005). Sex by numbers: Excerpts from The Book of Sex Lists. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.340-344). New York: The Disinformation Company.
Fahey, M. (2012). What Does a Squad of Gun-Toting Fetish Nuns Have to Do With Hitman: Absolution? Kotaku, May 29. Located at: http://kotaku.com/5913925/what-does-a-squad-of-gun+toting-fetish-nuns-have-to-do-with-hitman-absolution
Fahey, M. (2012). Agent 47 Brutally Slaughters Nuns in the Bizarre Hitman: Absolution E3 Trailer. Kotaku, May 30. Located at: http://kotaku.com/5914211/agent-47-brutally-slaughters-nuns-in-the-bizarre-hitman-absolution-e3-trailer
Metro (2008). Nun beauty contest won’t become a habit. August 27. Located at: http://metro.co.uk/2008/08/27/nun-beauty-contest-wont-become-a-habit-432891/
Latex Wiki (2012). Nun. October 28. Located at: http://www.latexwiki.com/index.php?title=Nun
Trend Hunter (2008). Bizarre underground fetish convents. November 24. Located at: http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/rubber-clad-nuns-underground-convents
Trimmer, E.J. (1978). The Visual Dictionary of Sex. London: Macmillan.
Wikipedia (2013). Uniform fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nun_fetishism
Zacks, R. (2005). Burchard’s Medieval sexual menu. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.327-329). New York: The Disinformation Company.
I apologize in advance for the rather frivolous nature of today’s blog but the topic I am going to briefly talk about comes under the banner of ‘extreme’ behaviour. Back in the early 2000s, I would be the first to admit that I was a bit of a ‘rent-a-quote’ when it came to national newspaper interviews here in the UK. It was when Dr. Rachel Bromnick (a psychologist at Lincoln University) wrote into the Guardian newspaper with this letter under the headline ‘The Prolific Professor’ that I realised I needed to start being a little more selective with who I gave interviews with:
“I was interested to read Professor Mark Griffiths’ confession [in the August 10, 2002 edition of The Guardian] that he was a collector (I knew he was a psychologist). I wonder if he hoards his own cuttings? If so, he must have a house full of paper to add to his stamps, postcards, books etc, because whenever I read a paper, magazine or journal, there he is. For those who wish to add to their Professor Griffiths cutting collection, he was also to be found quoted on the same day in the main section of the Guardian (Labour’s big gamble on casino debts, page 3)”.
The reason I mention this because I recently came across a newspaper article that I had written for my local newspaper (the Nottingham Evening Post, now re-named to the shorter Nottingham Post) that in all honesty I don’t even recall writing. At the time, I was constantly being asked by the British media about reality television shows (particularly about the new Big Brother programme), because at the time I was doing research into the psychology of fame with Dr. Adam Joinson).
One of the television shows that was aired back in 2001 on Channel 5 was a bizarre show called Touch the Truck which I would define as an ‘physical endurance game show’ that was part of the channel’s reality television programming. If you have no idea what I am talking about (and I guess most of you won’t as the series was never re-commissioned in the UK), the Wikipedia entry says:
“Touch the Truck was a British Channel 5 endurance gameshow which aired in 2001. It was hosted by Dale Winton and involved a group of 20 contestants holding onto a truck with the last person left touching the truck winning it. The show was filmed at the Lakeside Shopping Centre, Thurrock, Essex. Jerry Middleton, 39, from Winchester, Hampshire, was the winner who managed to stay awake touching the vehicle for 81 hours 43 minutes and 31 seconds…The format was devised by Glenn Barden and Dave Hills and is owned by Vashca. It has been subsequently licensed to the Philippines, Indonesia, Portugal and Turkey”.
The show only ran for five episodes and the format of the show was arguably based on an annual competition that is held in the US, and was turned into a 1990s film (Hands on a Hardbody). I also saw a similar ‘touch the car’ competition on a recent repeat (2005) episode of the wonderful US comedy My Name Is Earl (check out Episode 10, Season 1: White Lie Christmas). The Wikipedia entry on the film said that:
“Hands on a Hard Body: The Documentary is a 1997 film directed by S.R. Bindler documenting an endurance competition that took place in Longview, Texas. The yearly competition pits twenty-four contestants against each other to see who can keep their hand on a pickup truck for the longest amount of time. Whoever endures the longest without leaning on the truck or squatting wins the truck. Five minute breaks are issued every hour and fifteen minute breaks every six hours. The documentary follows the 1995 competition which lasted for seventy-seven continuous hours”.
When the show hit the airwaves on March 11 (2001), I remember doing various radio interviews and being asked about the psychological motivations of the contestants taking part, and about the psychological effects of the participants as the competition progressed. I honestly can’t recall what I said to the broadcast media but (as I said earlier) I came across an article that I wrote for the Nottingham Evening Post about the show. I’m a little embarrassed at re-reading what I wrote but here are some of the things I said. Obviously my thoughts were for my local paper and not an academic paper:
“What a bizarre piece of television but what compelling television…It’s an endurance test and people want to almost share the agonies and the miseries that people go through. In a way, you live vicariously through them. It’s emotional and sometimes draining to watch them. As long as there is medical supervision, there is no problem in what they are doing…People aren’t bonkers for doing it, they want to win [the car], they want to win a big prize. It might be equivalent to a year’s salary, so it’s quite an incentive. The only thing I would say is that you would need training to do it. All of us may think it’s easy, but it’s not…People were hallucinating, and an Albanian-born man started speaking in Albanian, even though he didn’t realise it. Daydreams, headaches, these are all known side effects. On the Channel 5 show there was a woman who was so tired, she was forgetting to breathe and her blood pressure was dropping, so you do need medical people on hand who can stop you if necessary. It’s a person’s own choice if they want to do something like this. Hopefully no-one is going to have long-term damage from this. Certainly no long-term psychological harm. It seems that [Channel 5] has chosen people who are used to standing for long periods. Personally, I couldn’t do it for more than an hour”.
The show only lasted one series on British television (presumably because the viewing figures were not as good as the channel expected). Over at the UK Game Shows website, the overview of the show said:
“Touch the Truck is a typical attempt by people who don’t normally commission [or] make game shows to do a game show. Such people think that game shows should be all about (a) tacky sets and lighting, (b) fabulous prizes, (c) cheesy catchphrases by the bucket-load, (d) real ‘characters’ as contestants. With the prospect of truckers, tonnes of throbbing metal and 20 members of the public who can’t run away, they’ve been able to wheel in Dale Winton, the consummate professional, to try and generate mass hysteria…The programme is more like a documentary on the effects of trying to stay awake as long as possible. People going mad is quite interesting, although there wasn’t as much of that as perhaps the producers were hoping for…Ultimately, the concept lost all credibility on day 2 when the favourite was pulled out of the competition against his own will for ‘medical reasons’ whereas he looked and sounded perfectly fine”.
My own vague recollection was that the show was compelling to watch (I was going to say it was ‘car crash TV’ but it didn’t seem like a good analogy to use), but maybe it was because I knew I was going to be asked to make comments on it by the media.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Driving test not a mini marathon: A psychologist’s view. Nottingham Evening Post, March 22, p.19.
UK Game Shows (2013). Touch the Truck. Located at: http://www.ukgameshows.com/ukgs/Touch_the_Truck
Wikipedia (2013). Hands on a Hardbody. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hands_on_a_Hardbody
Wikipedia (2013). Touch the truck. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Touch_the_Truck