Category Archives: Sex
While researching a previous blog on condom snorting, I came across an interesting case study of ‘accidental condom inhalation’ (and no, I promise I am not making this up). The case dates back to 2004 and was published by Dr. C.L. Arya and colleagues in the Indian Journal of Chest Diseases and Allied Sciences (IJCDAS).
Anyone who has kids will know that (just out of curiosity) they commonly put things in their mouths. The IJCDAS paper made reference to a number of medical studies that have shown inhaled items include things that can be from the edible (nuts, seeds, beans, etc) to the non-edible (plastic objects, screws, needles, pins, etc). They also note that when inhaling such objects, it doesn’t always lead to immediate medical symptoms or complications (such as choking, wheezing, coughing, etc.). However, the case that Dr. Arya and colleagues reported on was a little out of the ordinary.
The case involved a 27-year-old woman who was a schoolteacher. For a six-month period she had been suffering from a persistent cough where she was coughing up mucus along with some pneumonia symptoms. Initial examination showed nothing of consequence. Further tests took place and the paper reported that:
“The chest radiographs carried out subsequently showed development of a non-homogeneous right upper lobe lesion, not resolving either with antibiotics or a four-month trial of an empirical anti-tuberculosis treatment instituted by various practitioners. No symptomatic relief was obtained with either therapy. [A later] chest radiograph demonstrated a right upper lobe collapse-consolidation of lung. The opacity led us to promptly carry out a video-bronchoscopy, which gave impression of a white membranous object protruding from the collapsed right upper lobe bronchus. On probing further, it was noticed to be an inverted bag-like structure ‘sitting’ in the bronchus and having a flap-like action. A rigid bronchoscopy was then performed and the object was easily removed with biopsy forceps, though, it tore into pieces during procedure”.
As you will have noted from the title of this blog, the pieces were identified as being from a condom. The woman and her husband eventually recalled to the medics (after much probing by the medics) that there was an incident that occurred where a condom had become loosened while the wife was performing oral sex on her husband. During this particular sexual act, the woman had experienced a bout of coughing and sneezing and without her knowing she had accidentally inhaled her husband’s condom.
One of the reasons that the accidental inhalation went unnoticed for so long was because the inhaled object was of “soft, elastic and rubbery consistency that [was] unlikely to cause a direct lung injury”. The authors noted that:
“The airway obstruction of the right upper lobe segments produced by [the condom], could have resulted in the retention of secretions and the infection of corresponding lung segments, which may have become radiologically visible as a non-homogeneous right upper lobe collapse-consolidation. Despite mechanical obstruction, the flap-like action of condom (as noticeable on video-bronchoscopy) probably continued to clear secretions from right upper lobe, contributing to the delay in radiologic presentation of case”.
The medics were unsure whether the woman had genuinely accidentally swallowed the condom or whether she was just too embarrassed to report the incident and/or didn’t relate the incident to her subsequent symptoms. The authors also claimed that the original physicians who examined the woman were responsible for the condition being prolonged as they had failed to suspect that a foreign object (i.e., a condom) was the cause of the non-resolved pneumonia. They then noted that:
“Perhaps, views of physicians were guided by the age of patient (that was less suited for a suspicion of an inhaled foreign body), and also the fact, that a disease like tuberculosis was so highly prevalent in this part of world that a preference for the institution of [anti-tuberculosis treatment] was quite natural”.
Together, all of these reasons are likely to have resulted in a delayed diagnosis. The authors also noted that:
“Even following the condom retrieval [both husband and wife] were understandably hesitant in disclosing it owing to the nature of affair concerned (involving one’s privacy), the unusual nature of coitus performed (via an oral route) and the inhalation of a discrete object (like condom). The possibility of seminal aspiration also taking place simultaneously may not be ruled out…The case has certain atypical features, of which, the foremost relates to the type of inhaled object, i.e., a condom, which has not been reported in the literature to the best of our knowledge…[Another] atypical feature was adult-age of patient, that by any means, would be least expected to be associated with any foreign body inhalation”.
The authors speculated as to whether this incident was a one-off or whether such incidents were more widespread and were being under-reported because the Indian sub-continent has “a traditional conservative culture” where “people tend to have religious attitudes and sex is largely considered to be a subject limited to a person’s private life”. The authors concluded that:
“Perhaps, the young lady in our case was also quite apprehensive about fellatio, a fact that could have played a part in the condom inhalation. It is much desirable that sex taboos prevalent on the sub-continent are curbed and greater sexual awareness created in the people’s minds”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Agarwal, R.K., Banerjee, G., Shembish, N., & Jamal, B.A., Kareemullah, C. & Swaleh, A. (1988). Foreign bodies in the tracheobronchial tree: A review of 102 cases in Benghazi, Libya. Annals of Tropical Paediatrics, 8, 213-16.
Arya, C.L., Gupta, R. & Arora, V.K. (2004). Accidental condom inhalation. Indian Journal of Chest Diseases and Allied Sciences, 46, 55-58.
Ben-Dov, I. & Aelony, Y. (1989). Foreign body aspiration in the adult: An occult cause of chronic pulmonary symptoms. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 65, 299-301.
Causey, A.L., Talton, D.S., Miller, R.C., Warren, E.T. (1997). Aspirated safety pin requiring thoracotomy: Report of a case and review. Pediatric Emergency Care, 13, 397-400.
Lyons, D.J., McClod, D., Prichard, J., Dowd, D., & Clancy L. (1993). Very long retention of bronchial foreign bodies: Two new cases and a review of the literature. Irish Medical Journal, 86, 74-75.
Murthy, P.S., Ingle, V.S., George, E., Ramakrishna S. & Shah, F.A. (2001). Sharp foreign bodies in the tracheobronchial tree. American Journal of Otolaryngology, 22, 154-56.
It was while I was researching a previous blog on nun fetishism that I came across a number of academic papers that had written about and/or carried out research into the sex lives of nuns. Given that nuns are meant to be celibate I couldn’t help but be interested in a topic that on the face of it seemed a non-research topic. Having said that, I am aware that there are lots of stereotypes surrounding nuns’ sexuality, and there are certainly lots of sexual jokes at the expense of nuns. For instance, in researching this article I came across a joke that I found in an academic paper by Dr. Christian Hempelmann in a 2003 issue of the journal (appropriately titled) Humor:
“100 nuns live together in a convent. One morning the head nun gets up to make an announcement. ‘Sisters,’ she says, ‘I have terrible news: There has been a man in the convent.’ 99 nuns gasp, 1 nun giggles. ‘Still more,’ says the head nun, ‘we have found a condom.’ 99 nuns gasp, 1 nun giggles. ‘The worst news is,’ says the head nun, ‘we have found a hole in the condom.’ 99 nuns giggle, 1 nun gasps”.
OK, a little frivolous I know, but the joke at least suggests that not all nuns are celibate. One of the most enduring stereotypes of nuns is that they are lesbian. There are certainly examples in the academic literature relating to lesbianism among nuns dating back many centuries. For instance, Dr. Judith Brown published a book in 1984 on the life of seventeenth century Italian nun Benedetta Carlini entitled Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. Carlini’s lesbianism was exposed by her companion Bartolemea Crivelli. According to Crivelli’s account, over a period of two years, Benedetta forced Crivelli to regularly engage in lesbian acts (and gave rise to the ‘immodest acts’ in the title of Brown’s book). Jacqueline Murray reviewed Brown’s book for the journal Renaissance and Reformation, and noted the wider importance and implications of the book:
“[Brown’s book] is a study of unparallelled detail of a lesbian mystic in pre-modern Europe. Benedetta Carlini is the only lesbian from this period for whom any detailed information survives. Recent studies of the history of homosexuality either make fleeting references to lesbians or, despairing of information, define them as outside the parameters of study. Thus Brown’s work is important as the first in-depth study of female homosexuality in the pre-modern period”.
In my previous blog on nun fetishism I made reference to a 2005 book chapter by Richard Zacks (in Russ Kick’s Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong). Zacks described what he claimed was “unquestionably the longest and kinkiest list of medieval sexual practices still in existence”. Zacks managed to uncover 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”
There are other papers that make passing references to nuns’ sexuality. For instance, a 2009 paper by in the journal Culture, Health and Sexuality Professor Marjorie Muecke examined female sexuality in Thai discourses about ‘lay nuns’ (known as ‘maechii’) by interviewing monks, maechii, and lay persons. The paper noted that although maechii vow to be celibate, the social constructions of their role are grounded in sexuality. More specifically, Professor Muecke reported:
“[My] findings suggest that maechii comprise an ambiguous category linguistically, Buddhistically, and in terms of their sexuality. Case studies of the founders of nunneries conducted in ChiangMai indicate that maechii leaders have been resisting the prevalent views that most maechii are social misfits, yet also are capable of undermining monks’ celibacy and, by extension, the larger social order”.
However, the most interesting academic paper I have come across on the topic of nun’s sexuality was published in a 1978 issue of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy by Margaret Halstead and Lauro Halstead entitled ‘A Sexual Intimacy Survey of Former Nuns and Priests’. Halstead and Halstead’s study reported:
“Men and women who have lived in a celibate religious community experience a unique set of sexual, social, and psychological problems upon resuming a secular life style. In many instances the personality factors and circumstances which led both to a decision to enter and then to leave a celibate religious community are not easily appreciated by the nonreligious professional counselor and do not readily lend themselves to extrapolation from other population groups. [We report] the findings of a preliminary study to identify the sexual experiences and problems of persons who have left religious communities”
The data collected and reported were from the responses to a mailed, anonymous questionnaire. The survey was sent to 223 former nuns and priests living across the United States, and was completed by 126 of them (76 ex-nuns and 50 ex-priests). The survey examined (i) sexual behaviour and enjoyment prior to, while living in, and after leaving a religious community; (ii) current sexual behaviour, satisfaction and problems; (iii) sexual counselling experience; and (iv) general problems and concerns with integrating sexual intimacy into present life styles. The survey asked the participants if they had engaged in various sexual activities before, during, and/or after they had been a nun or priest. It was reported that:
- In relation to masturbation, the figures were 47% before, 57% during, and 85% after their time as a nun or priest
- In relation to sexual intercourse, the figures were 11% before, 15% during, and 82% after their time as a nun or priest
- In relation to oral sex, the figures were 9% before, 5% during, and 75% after their time as a nun or priest
- In relation to homosexual activity, the figures were 11% before, 21% during, and 16% after their time as a nun or priest
- In relation to being celibate, the figures were 46% before, 32% during, and 10% after their time as a nun or priest
The results also showed 50% of the ex-nuns (compared to 53% of the ex-priests) reported being less satisfied sexually after relinquishing their religious orders than they would have liked. The reasons most frequently cited for decreased sexual satisfaction were lack of sexual partners (57%), religious and/or moral reasons (44%), feelings of not being desirable (35%), and/or communication problems (20%). One in five of the nuns also admitted that orgasmic dysfunction was a reason. Despite the relatively small sample, the paper dispels the idea that all nuns are completely celibate. At the very least, a replication study would be a really interesting piece of research to carry out
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Brown, J. C. (1984). Lesbian sexuality in Renaissance Italy: The case of sister Benedetta Carlini. Signs, 751-758.
Murray, J. (1988). Immodest Acts. The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy [Book review]. Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme, 24(2), 132-135.
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.
Halstead, M. & Halstead, L. (1978). A sexual intimacy survey of former nuns and priests. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 4, 83-90.
Hempelmann, C. F. (2003). “99 nuns giggle, 1 nun gasps:” The not-all-that-Christian natural class of Christian jokes. Humor, 16(1), 1-32.
Muecke, M. (2004). Female sexuality in Thai discourses about maechii (‘lay nuns’). Culture, Health and Sexuality, 6(3), 221-238.
Murray, J. (1988). Immodest Acts. The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme, 24(2), 132-135.
Visser, R. O. D., Smith, A. M., Richters, J., & Rissel, C. E. (2007). Associations between religiosity and sexuality in a representative sample of Australian adults. Archives of sexual behavior, 36(1), 33-46.
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.
While researching previous blogs on harmatophilia (i.e., individuals who derive sexual arousal from those who are sexually incompetent), parthenophilia (i.e., individuals who derive sexual arousal from virgins), cuckold fetish (i.e., individuals – usually men – that derive sexual arousal from the knowledge that their wife is having sex with another man), and veil fetishism (i.e., individuals who derive sexual arousal from those who wear veils), I came across various references for bride fetishism. This fetish does not appear in either Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices or Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. However, a short article on the London Fetish Scene (Wipipedia) website claims that:
“A bride fetish is a sexual fetish in which either a woman (or possibly a man) enjoys dressing in the typical outfit worn by a bride, or someone derives sexual pleasure from viewing women (or possibly men) dressed in this manner. A bride may be regarded as the archetype of a virgin ready and waiting to have sexual intercourse. A bridal outfit can be considered to be full of fetishistic imagery. Brides often wear lingerie such as basques or corsets, stockings and thongs; they also wear stileto shoes. Generally, a bridal dress and lingerie are white or nearly white, denoting purity. For a transvestite, bridal wear may be the ultimate female apparel”.
Similarly, a short piece on bride fetishes at a telephone sex site (Fone Fetish) claims that:
“Bride Fetish is sometimes known as a virgin fetish, where the ideal woman is pure and uninitiated, making her a safe partner in many ways. The bridal fetish extends to the image of an innocent appearing virginal bride being your own total whore, willing and anxious to do anything to please you sexually”.
As far as I am aware there is no academic research on bride fetishism but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that (a) it exists, and (b) that there are specific sub-varieties. For instance, there are dozens of bespoke webpages devoted to bride fetishism including the Deviant Art website page on ‘Bridal Fetish’, the Behance website page on ‘Fetish Bride’, the Goddess Narcissa webpage on ‘Black Fetish Bride’, the Hot Wife Allie website (with a myriad of bride fetish postings such as ‘The Great Wedding Porn Gallery’ and ‘Wedding Night Cuckold’), and the Jim Roe webpage on ‘Nude Bride Fetish’. I also came across dedicated webpages on ‘fetish vampire brides’, ‘mature bride fetish’, ‘bondaged brides’, and ‘bride face sitting fetish’ (please be warned that most of these sites contain very sexually material). In addition to this there are also dedicated websites that make fetish bridal wear (such as the Adixxtion website) and provide online dating services to match up fetish bride and grooms. I’m the first to admit that none of this is in any way academic, but it does at least point to the fact that there appears to be a niche (sexual) market for bride fetishism.
The online articles that I have managed to locate are short and speculative and provide absolutely no facts on the incidence of prevalence of the behaviour or its etiology. For instance, a 2010 entry on the Venus O’Hara website (where the website author dressed herself as a fetish bride) claims that:
“Plenty of men are into the bridal fetish. Traditionally, a bride, dressed in white silks and satins, is a visual metaphor for virginity and exclusivity. Her imminent sexual unavailability isn’t the end of the story…To some, her new status becomes highly attractive and doesn’t put them off of the hunt at all, quite the opposite in fact. In this set [of photos] I wanted to portray myself as a kind of bride who permits those men to lust after me and gives license to their desires because I, and they, are aware that there is no groom to watch over me. Although I felt like a princess when I was dressed-up I understood, quite quickly, that I couldn’t walk very fast while wearing the dress, neither could I sit down easily; my freedom of seductive movement was restricted. Perhaps, I thought, that was the whole point. I don’t like wearing anything that prevents me from flaunting my charms so I began to subvert the dress and its meaning. I didn’t need to clutch a bouquet to pose in it. I found out that I’m more comfortable being provocative and available when I wear white. Modern bridal wear is much more revealing and adaptable these days. Each new pastel-coloured design emphasises the curve of exposed shoulder and the slimness of bare neck instead of hiding them. I approve totally”
In my research for this blog, I have to admit that I didn’t come across a single dedicated online bride fetish forum group, although I did come across discussions on fetish sites where some individuals claimed they had bride fetishes (although not very many). For instance:
- Extract 1: “Any out there with a bridal fetish? Get turned on by a lovely young woman in a bridal outfit? Would you like to watch a bride and her groom make love? Would you like to JOIN in, making it a threesome? Would [you] like to cuckold the poor bridegroom, making love to the bride on the ‘happiest day of her life’? Making love to the bride in front of the groom and all the guests? Too ridiculous? I’ve seen stranger happenings! Has this ever been discussed? Please discuss!”
- Extract 2: “Hell yeah, [brides] drives me crazy! Have you got any photos, or do you know how to get any? Brides are so sexy!”
- Extract 3: “I have a total fetish over Brides! I love it when there all done up and have their wedding dress on, it’s so sexy. There isn’t a single Bride that doesn’t turn me on! Is anyone out there with me or is it just me? Also if any of you out there have got any Wedding day/night photos that you could upload for me then that would blow my mind, naughty or not. What do you think?”
- Extract 4: “I used to belong to a yahoo group that specialized in brides but it seems to have dissipated”.
These few extracts again appear to give credence to the idea that bride fetishism exists but there may (for some people) be an overlap with cuckold fetishes. More recently, there have been a number of online articles that have talked about ‘foreign bride fetishes’. Almost all of the articles I came across (such as one in the New York Times by Mike Hale entitled ‘Foreign Bride as Fetish and a Person’) relate to the television documentary ‘Seeking Asian Women’ directed by Debbie Lum.
“Steven is a 60-year-old parking-garage attendant who lives in a small apartment above a store in the Northern California suburbs. He’s white, which is significant because he has what is politely known as an Asian fetish and popularly known as yellow fever. ‘They’re all so beautiful,’ he says, looking at a display of thumbnail images of prospective Asian brides…Steven manages to persuade Sandy, a 30-year-old office worker from Shenzen, China, to come to the United States to marry him. [The program] profile[s] a man obsessed with Asian women in order to understand a phenomenon…The nature of Asian fetishism remains as mysterious, or perhaps as obvious, as ever. As Steven and Sandy make wedding plans — her K-1 visa gives them four months to marry — fights erupt over money (he doesn’t have much) and whether he’s still infatuated with an earlier Chinese pen pal…The dramatic arc of Steven and Sandy’s relationship is mildly suspenseful but also pretty familiar”.
Personally, this is another instance of using the word ‘fetish’ as meaning ‘intense like for’ rather than its’ meaning within sexology. My own (online) research (relying on non-academic and anecdotal sources) suggests that bride fetishism is a niche sexual market that appears to have at least a handful of genuine adherents. I can’t really see this subject ever being the topic of serious academic research but I’d be happy to be proved wrong.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Blank, H. (2007). Virgin: The Untouched History. New York: Bloomsbury.
Hale, M. (2013). Foreign bride as a fetish and a person. New York Times, May 5. Located at: http://tv.nytimes.com/2013/05/06/arts/television/seeking-asian-female-on-pbs-shows-an-internet-order-bride.html?_r=2&
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Mathonnet-VanderWell, S. (2012). Virgin fetish. The Twelve, April 24. Located at: http://the12.squarespace.com/steve-mathonnet-vanderwell/2012/4/24/virgin-fetish.html
Venus O’Hara (2010). Bridal fetish, July 1. Located at: http://venusohara.org/montjuic-bride.html
Wipipedia (2011). Bride fetish. London fetish Scene, September 6. Located at: http://www.londonfetishscene.com/wipi/index.php/Bride_fetish
One of the recurring questions I am often asked to comment on by the media is whether celebrities are more prone to addiction than other groups of people. One of the problems in trying to answer what looks like an easy question is that the definition of ‘celebrity’ is different to different people. Most people would argue that celebrities are famous people, but are all famous people celebrities? Are well-known sportspeople and politicians ‘celebrities’? Are high profile criminals celebrities? While all of us would say that Hollywood A-Listers such as Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are ‘celebrities’, many of the people that end up on ‘celebrity’ reality shows are far from what I would call a celebrity. Being the girlfriend or relative of someone famous does not necessarily famous.
Another problem in trying to answer this question is what kinds of addiction are the media actually referring to? Implicitly, the question might be referring to alcohol and/or illicit drug addictions but why should other addictions such as nicotine addiction or addiction to prescription drugs not be included? In addition to this, I have often been asked to comment on celebrities that are addicted to sex or gambling. However, if we include behavioural addictions in this definition of addiction, then why not include addictions to shopping, eating, or exercise? If we take this to an extreme, how many celebrities are addicted to work?
Now that I’ve aired these problematic definitional issues (without necessarily trying to answer them), I will return to the question of whether celebrities are more prone to addiction. To me, when I think about what a celebrity is, I think of someone who is widely known by most people, is usually in the world of entertainment (actor, singer, musician, television presenter), and may have more financial income than most other people I know. When I think about these types of people, I’ve always said to the media that it doesn’t surprise me when such people develop addictions. Given these situations, I would argue that high profile celebrities may have greater access to some kinds of addictive substances.
Given that there is a general relationship between accessibility and addiction, it shouldn’t be a surprise if a higher proportion of celebrities succumbs to addictive behaviours compared with a member of the general public. The ‘availability hypothesis’ may also hold true for various behavioural addictions that celebrities have admitted having – most notably addictions to gambling and/or sex. It could perhaps be argued that high profile celebrities are richer than most of us (and could therefore afford to gamble more than you or I) or they have greater access to sexual partners because they are seen as more desirable (because of their perceived wealth and/or notoriety).
Firstly, when I think about celebrities that have ‘gone off the rails’ and admitted to having addiction problems (Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr, Alec Baldwin) and those that have died from their addiction (Whitney Houston, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse) I would argue that these types of high profile celebrity have the financial means to afford a drug habit like cocaine or heroin. For many in the entertainment business such as being the lead singer in a famous rock band, taking drugs may also be viewed as one of the defining behaviours of the stereotypical ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ lifestyle. In short, it’s almost expected. In an interview with an online magazine The Fix, Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, an American psychiatrist based at the University of Florida:
“Some people who become famous and get put on a pedestal begin to think of themselves differently and lose their sense of humility. And this is something you can see with addicts, too. Famous or not, people in the midst of their addiction will behave in a narcissistic, selfish way: they’ll be anti-social and have a disregard for rules and regulations. But that is part of who they as an addict – not necessarily who they would be as a sober person. Then there are some people who are narcissists outside of their disease, who don’t need a drug or alcohol addiction to make them feel like the rules don’t apply to them – and yes, I have seen in this in many athletes and actors. Of course, you also have non-famous people who struggle with both…People with addiction and people with narcissism share a similar emptiness inside. Those who are famous might fill it with achievement or with drugs and alcohol. That’s certainly not the case for everyone. But when you see people who are both famous and narcisstic – people who struggle with staying right-sized or they don’t have a real sense of who they are without the fame – you know that they’re in trouble… People with addiction and people with narcissism both seek outside sources for inside happiness. And ultimately neither the fame nor the drugs nor the drinking will work”.
The same article also pointed out that there is an increase in the number of people who (usually through reality television) are becoming (in)famous but have no discernable talent whatsoever. In my own writings on the psychology of fame, I have made the point that (historically) fame was a by-product of a particular role (e.g., country president, news anchorman) or talent (e.g., captain of the national sports team, a great actor). While the Andy Warhol maxim that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes will never be truly fulfilled, the large increase in the number of media outlets and number of reality television shows suggests that more people than ever are getting their 15 minutes of fame. In short, the intersection between fame and addiction is on the increase. US psychiatrist Dr. Dale Archer was also interviewed for The Fix article and was quoted as saying:
“Fame and addiction are definitely related. Those who are prone to addiction get a much higher high from things – whether it’s food, shopping, gambling or fame – which means it [the behavior or situation] will trigger cravings. When we get an addictive rush, we are getting a dopamine spike. If you talk to anyone who performs at all, they will talk about the ‘high’ of performing. And many people who experience that high report that when they’re not performing, they don’t feel as well. All of which is a good setup for addiction. People also get high from all the trappings that come with fame. The special treatment, the publicity, the ego. Fame has the potential to be incredibly addicting”.
I argued some of these same points in a previous blog on whether fame can be addictive in and of itself. Another related factor I am asked about is the effect of having fame from an early age and whether this can be a pre-cursor or risk factor for later addiction. Dr. Archer was also asked about this and claimed:
“The younger you are when you get famous, the greater the likelihood that you’re going to suffer consequences down the road. If you grow up as a child star, you realize that you can get away with things other people can’t. There is a loss of self and a loss of emotional growth and a loss of thinking that you need to work in relationship with other people”.
I’m broadly in agreement with this although my guess is that this only applies to a minority of child stars rather than being a general truism. However, trying to carry out scientific research examining early childhood experiences of fame amongst people that are now adult is difficult (to say the least). There also seems to be a lot of children and teenagers who’s only desire when young is “to be famous” when they are older. As most who have this aim will ultimately fail, there is always the concern that to cope with this failure, they will turn to addictive substances and/or behaviours.
Griffiths, M.D. & Joinson, A. (1998). Max-imum impact: The psychology of fame. Psychology Post, 6, 8-9.
Halpern, J. (2007). Fame Junkies. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
McGuinness, K. (2012). Are Celebrities More Prone to Addiction? The Fix, January, 18. Located at: http://www.thefix.com/content/fame-and-drug-addiction-celebrity-addicts100001
Rockwell, D. & Giles, D.C. (2009). Being a celebrity: A phenomenology of fame. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 40, 178-210.
In a previous blog I examined clothes fetishism and in doing that research, I soon realized that some people’s fetishistic desires are very specific when it comes to clothing (e.g., particular types of uniform or particular types of footwear). One of the more unusual clothing fetishes is ‘veil fetishism’. From the online articles that I have come across, veil fetishism appears to be an almost exclusively male fetish in which the individuals have a fetishistic sexual desire for women wearing veils over their faces (although paradoxically, most women who wear veils for religious reasons do so to stop others lusting after them). A few online articles claim this has lead to tension among online communities where Muslims and veil fetishists share the same virtual space (although I’ve not come across this myself – and I did go looking for it!).
A number of online articles claim that one of the main reasons that veils have permeated into Western consciousness is the increase in the number of media images of veiled women in the news following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the US ‘War on terrorism’. However, as far as I am aware, there is no academic research on veil fetishism although there is much speculation as to the motivational roots including an article on Wipipedia that says it may be a result of “mystery, bondage and the preservation of virginity” and that such fetishists “may be interested in niqabs, burkas and harem-style veils” while “some are attracted to women who wear all-covering Muslim-style veils, while others are attracted to women wearing translucent veils”. A Nation Master online article develops some of these ideas and claims that:
“Control may be behind veil fetishism…Arab and other Muslim women are often seen in the Western world as being veiled against their will; they are only doing it for religious or social reasons (though many contend otherwise). Such control issues may be seen in other fetishes and paraphilias, such as bondage fetishism”.
This is partly confirmed by Professor Mohja Kahf in his 1999 book Western Representations of the Muslim Woman that noted:
“Veiled, secluded, submissive, oppressed – the ‘odalisque’ image has held sway over Western representations of Muslim women since the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Yet during medieval and Renaissance times, European writers portrayed Muslim women in exactly the opposite way, as forceful queens of wanton and intimidating sexuality”
A short online article on the Venus O’Hara website about veil fetishes also makes some bold claims:
“Veil fetishists understand and enjoy the significance of veils and the women who wear them, the effect that this piece of material can have on them is phenomenal. By covering, disguising and obscuring the female face, a sense of importance, power and the thrill of an ancient taboo is brought into focus for them. If the features of the woman can only be guessed at through the veil, the psychological need of a spectators mind to discover them becomes overwhelming. The fantasy of unveiling then becomes the idealised intimate act-not unlike the imagined removal of the clothes of someone desired but out of reach. If the veil remains in place then that understanding is postponed and the pleasure of erotic anticipation is preserved…Women may become sexually aroused by veiling themselves as well. They may feel protected, or experience an enjoyment that is similar to women with more explicit bondage fantasies”.
Despite all this pop psychology insight, I couldn’t find a single piece of evidence (empirical or otherwise) to support any of the speculations made by academics or non-academics. It was also claimed in a couple of the articles that I read that veil fetishists are not from a particular religion and can comprise both Muslims and non-Muslims. In a Wikiquote article on the ‘Hijab’, the British writer Shabbir Akhtar was quoted as saying that the Hijab is creating “a truly erotic culture in which one dispenses with the need for the artificial excitement that pornography provides”.
Of course, veiled woman and sexual lust have been a staple of films and television shows for decades but the situations in which women typically wore veils were often sexually provocative (such as the Dance of the Seven Veils, or the heroines in the Italian films of director Tinto Brass who often wear veils and showcase them as fetishistic objects). An article in Seven Oaks (“a magazine of politics, culture and resistance”) by Rebecca Manski interviewed Middle Eastern Studies scholar Elizabeth Warnock Fernea who was quoted as saying:
“Because ‘western’ men had no access to the female sphere in Middle Eastern society, they were inclined to exoticize or devalue it. Generally the perception of the Middle Eastern woman involved a secluded odalisque – a lazy, sexy lady in a harem veiled from all men but her husband”.
An online essay on the Venus O’Hara website makes some further interesting observations:
“Most people imagine that veils are a way of hiding erotic potentials and alluring features but I know, after making this set, that veils can be ultimate fetish…Sometimes veils would have been used, as an alternative to a mask, as a simple method of hiding the identity of a woman who was traveling to meet a lover, or doing anything she didn’t want other people to find out about…In Judaism, Christianity and Islam the concept of covering the head is or was associated with propriety…An occasion on which a Western woman is likely to wear a veil is on her wedding day, if she follows the traditions of a white wedding. Brides used to wear their hair flowing down their back at their wedding to symbolise their virginity, now the white diaphanous veil is often said to represent this. The lifting of the veil was often a part of ancient wedding ritual, symbolising the groom taking possession of the wife, either as lover or as property, or the revelation of the bride by her parents to the groom for his approval. In ancient Judaism the lifting of the veil took place just prior to the consummation of the marriage in sexual union. The uncovering or unveiling that takes place in the marriage ceremony is a symbol of what will take place in the marriage bed. Just as the two become one through their words spoken in wedding vows, so these words are a sign of the physical oneness that they will consummate later on. The lifting of the veil is a symbol and an anticipation of this”
Additionally, a 2003 book by Faegheh Shirazi (The Veil Unveiled: The Hijab in Modern Culture) highlights that:
“The veil, the garment known in Islamic cultures as the hijab, holds within its folds a semantic versatility that goes far beyond current clichés and homogenous representations. Whether seen as erotic or romantic, a symbol of oppression or a sign of piety, modesty, or purity, the veil carries thousands of years of religious, sexual, social, and political significance”.
Shirazi uses examples from both the East and West (including American erotica) and argues that the veil has become a ubiquitous titillating marketing tool for diverse enterprises, from pornographic magazines like Penthouse and Playboy to advertising companies. She argued that the perceptions of the veil change both with the cultural context of its use as well as over time. Obviously ‘veil fetishism’ has been little studied scientifically (and maybe it never will). However, the phenomenon clearly exists although the prevalence of such behaviour may be very rare (although the incidence may well be on the increase given the number of dedicated websites to such practices are growing).
Kahf, M. (1999). Western Representations of the Muslim Woman: From Termagant to Odalisque. Texas: University of Texas Press.
Manski, R. (2005). Lifting the veil between women East and West. Seven Oaks, September 20. Located at: http://www.sevenoaksmag.com/features/79_feat1.html
Nation Master (2008). Veil fetishism. Located at: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Veil-fetishism
Shirazi, F. (2003). The Veil Unveiled: The Hijab in Modern Culture. Florida: University of Florida Press
Steele, V, (1996), Fetish, Fashion, Sex and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tales Of The Veils (2012). The lure of the veil: A History and Examination of the practice and pleasures of veiling. September 30. Located at: http://www.talesoftheveils.info/lure/lure.html
Venus O’Hara (2010). Veil fetish. November 20. Located at: http://venusohara.org/veil-fetish.html
Venus O’Hara (2012). Veil fetish. Located at: http://venusohara.org/c/fetish-glossary/veil-fetish-fetish-glossary
Wipipedia (2012). Veil fetishism. Located at: http://www.londonfetishscene.com/wipi/index.php/Veil_fetishism
In previous blogs I have examined various culture bound syndromes (CBSs) such as koro and berserkers. CBSs comprise a combination of psychiatric and/or somatic symptoms viewed as a recognizable disease within specific cultures or societies and are often unknown outside of their own local regions. One of the more unusual CBSs is dhat syndrome, typically located in the Indian sub-continent (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladash). Dhat is one of the CBSs listed in the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases.
The term ‘Dhat syndrome’ was first described by Dr. N.N. Wig in a 1960 issue of the (Indian) Journal of Clinical and Social Psychiatry, and then by Dr. J.S. Neki in the British Journal of Psychiatry (1973). A 1975 paper by Dr. H.K. Malhotra and Dr. N.N. Wig in the Archives of Sexual Behavior called dhat “the exotic neurosis of the Orient”. According to a short paper by Dr. Om Prakash in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, dhat syndrome comprises various psychological, somatic and sexual symptoms attributed by the patient to the passing of whitish fluid, believed to be semen in urine (i.e., psychological distress and anxiety related to semen-loss). Prakash says that the word ‘dhat’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘dhatu’ (which has multiple meanings including ‘metal’, ‘elixir’ and ‘constituent part of the body’). He also noted that:
“This notion of seminal loss frightens the individual into developing a sense of doom if a single drop of semen is lost, thereby producing a series of somatic symptoms…fear of semen loss and resulting problems [in India] is so strong that cures are advertised by vaids and hakims everywhere – on walls, on television, in newspapers and on roadside hoardings”.
The anxiety surrounding the semen loss can also relate to the releasing of semen via nocturnal emissions (i.e., ‘wet dreams’) and masturbation. The symptoms include fatigue, listlessness, appetite loss, lack of physical strength, poor concentration, forgetfulness, guilt, and (in some cases) sexual dysfunction. Given the syndrome relates to psychological anxiety surrounding semen loss, the disorder is (necessarily) found among men, but interestingly, the dhat syndrome has also been applied to women who experience similar symptoms relating to white vaginal discharge). According to an online article on CBSs, it claims that:
“The anxiety related to semen loss can be traced back thousands of years to Ayurvedic texts, where the loss of a single drop of semen, the most precious body fluid, could destabilize the entire body”
A 2004 literature review on dhat syndrome by Dr. A. Sumathipala and colleagues in the British Journal of Psychiatry speculated that the disorder was a “hypochondriacal preoccupation”. This may have some validity as a 1990 paper by Dr. R.K. Chadha and Dr. N. Ahuja (also in the British Journal of Psychiatry) reported a study of 52 dhat patients. Three-quarters of their sample were reported as having hypochondriacal symptoms.
Another study in the British Journal of Psychiatry a year later by Dr. M.S. Bhatia and Dr. S.C. Malik reported that 93 (out of 144) consecutive patients attending a sexual dysfunction clinic had dhat syndrome. A number of papers published on the dhat syndrome in the 1980s and 1990s all report that depressive, anxiety and/or somatoform disorders are prevalent in the majority of dhat sufferers. A small 1989 Sri Lankan study by Dr. P. De Silva and Dr. S. Dissanayake in the Sexual and Marital Therapy journal on 38 men with sexual dysfunction, reported that ‘semen loss’ was seen by most of the men as the main reason for their sexual dysfunction. The same study reported that 40% of the sample had hypochondriasis. Similar findings have been reported among Bangladeshi men. (It should also be noted that there are various reports of similar syndromes in other countries. For instance, Prakash’s paper also mentions ‘shen-k’uei’ in Taiwan and China which from the symptoms listed appear almost identical to dhat)
Based on papers published in the British Journal of Psychiatry and Indian Journal of Psychiatry (mainly from the 1980s and 1990s), Prakash presents a profile of those affected with dhat and claims that most are young males, recently married, from rural areas, low to average socioeconomic status (farmers, labourers, farmers), and from families with conservative attitudes towards sex. He also claims (seemingly based on a 2001 book chapter by by Dr. A. Avasthi and Dr. R. Nehra) that there are three types of dhat patients:
- Dhat alone (where their symptoms are attributed to semen loss, and with presenting symptoms that are hypochondriacal, depressive or anxiety-related in nature)
- Dhat with comorbid depression and anxiety (where dhat is seen as a symptom accompanying another disorder)
- Dhat with sexual dysfunction
The duration of the symptoms can be relatively short-lived (e.g., 3-12 months) but some papers report people suffering for up to 20 years. Prakash lists the most common co-morbid disorders and sexual dysfunctions associated with dhat. This included depressive neurosis (40%-42%), anxiety neurosis (21%-38%), somatoform and hypochondriasis (32%-40%), erectile dysfunction (22%-62%), and premature ejaculation (22%-44%). Prakash also reports that the majority (i.e., two-thirds) of dhat sufferers recover (66%), with the remainder either improved (22%) or unchanged (12%). Finally, the most recently published paper on dhat syndrome by Dr. Neena Sanjiv Sawant and Dr. Anand Nath in a 2012 issue of the Sri Lankan Journal of Psychiatry noted that dhat beliefs are often based on misconception and myths:
“These myths and misconceptions which are deeply rooted in Indian culture are passed from generation to generation. Due to the lack of proper information and lack of open communication between parents and children, the only source of knowledge for many remain their peers, who are equally ignorant about the subject, and this leads to widespread misconceptions. Many people consult unqualified practitioners who reinforce their ignorance”
Avasthi, A. & Nehra, R. (2001). Sexual disorders: A review of Indian Research. In: Murthy, R.S. (Ed.), Mental Health in India (1995-2000) (pp.42-53). Bangalore: People’s Action for Mental Health.
Behere, P.B., Natraj, G.S. (1984). Dhat syndrome: The phenomenology of a culture-bound sex neurosis of the orient. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 26, 76-78.
Bhatia, M.S. & Malik, S.C. (1991). Dhat Syndrome – A useful diagnosis entity in Indian Culture. British Journal of Psychiatry, 159, 69-75.
Chadda, R.K. & Ahuja, N. (1990). Dhat syndrome: A sex neurosis of the Indian subcontinent. British Journal of Psychiatry, 156, 577-579.
De Silva, P. & Dissanayake, S.A.W. (1989) The loss of semen syndrome in Sri Lanka. A clinical study. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 4, 195-204.
Malhotra, H.K. & Wig, N.N. (1975). A culture bound sex neurosis in the Orient. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 4, 519-528.
Neki, J.S. (1973). Psychiatry in South East Asia. British Journal of Psychiatry, 123, 257-269.
Prakash, O. (2007). Lessons for postgraduate trainees about Dhat syndrome. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 49, 208–210.
Sawant, N.S. & Nath, A. (2012). Cultural misconceptions and associated depression in Dhat syndrome. Sri Lankan Journal of Psychiatry, 3, 17-20.
Sumathipala, A. Siribaddana, S.H. & Bhugra, D. (2004). Culture-bound syndromes: The story of dhat syndrome. British Journal of Psychiatry, 184, 200-209.
Wig, N.N. (1960). Problems of mental health in India. Journal of Clinical and Social Psychiatry (India), 17, 48-53.
In a previous blog on exhibitionism (i.e., individuals who expose their genitals to other people), I briefly mentioned a sub-type called candaulism that I defined as referring to people who expose themselves to their sexual partners (e.g., a wife or husband) in a sexually explicit way. Since writing that blog I had an email from one of my regular blog readers saying that the definition I provided wasn’t as detailed as it could have been. In response to my (friendly) critic, I decided to take a more detailed look.
The first place I looked was Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Interestingly she defined candaulism as “a group of three people where only two of them engage in sex and the other watches, sometimes from a closet”. She then spent the rest of her text basically discussing troilism where three people typically comprise a sexual couple and a third person where one of the three (typically the husband or male partner of the couple) watching the other two have sex. Nothing of what was written was based on anything I would call empirical and research-based (although it was an interesting read).
Next it was on to my favourite text on sexual deviation – Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Dr. Aggrawal described candaulism as a “variation of exhibitionism [where] persons do not exhibit themselves but their spouses – usually a male exhibiting his wife”. He also cited the work of Polish psychiatrist Dr. Z. Marten who published a case study in 1986 on candaulism in a Polish psychiatric journal. On the basis of this, Aggrawal said that candaulism also involves “getting sadomasochistic pleasure when the husband exposes his wife, or pictures of her, to other voyeurist people.” I have no idea how representative this case study is of candaulism as this paper appears to be the only academic case study that has ever been published and was published in the author’s native language (so all I have to go on is Aggrawal’s second-hand account). Dr. Aggrawal had also researched where the word ‘candaulism’ was derived. He reported that:
“The term derives its name from Candaules, king of the ancient kingdom of Lydia from 735 to 718 BC, who was so proud of the beauty of his wife, and so much did he want to impress others, that he made a plot to show his unaware naked wife to his bodyguard, Gyges of Lydia. Discovering Gyges while he was watching her naked, Candaules’ wife obviously became enraged and ordered him to choose between killing himself or her husband in order to repair the vicious mischief. Gyges chose to kill the king. The queen married Gyges subsequently and fathered the Mermnad Dynasty”.
It was the German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebbing that then coined the term in his book Psychopathia Sexualis. Aggrawal claimed that husbands (which I am assuming covers all male sexual partners within a heterosexual couple) take the “paraphilia to the extreme and enjoys other people having sex with his wife” (which I am assuming would include a female partner within a heterosexual couple). Aggrawal then adds that: “This practice can take the form of swinging, in which husbands exchange wives for sexual intercourse and watch each other. In certain cases the relation evolves into a stable union of these persons, known as troilism”.
In the third edition of Dr. Ronald Homes and Dr. Stephen Holmes’ Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behaviors, the authors discussed candaulism in their chapter on ‘nuisance sex behaviours’. Holmes and Holmes link candaulism to ‘swinging’ (i.e., the swapping of sexual partners). More specifically, they noted:
“Swingers, or mate swappers, are often termed triolists, and at other times it is termed candaulism. In candaulism, a man exposes his partner, or pictures of her, to others. Sometimes women are coerced into the swinging scene to fulfill the desires of their husbands (Bowman, 1985; Jenks, 1998; McCary, 1978)…There are other triolists who seek pleasure by sharing a sexual partner with another person while the triolist looks on. An estimated 8 million couples have experienced this type of sexual behavior (Avery & Johannis, 1985). Triolism may also take the form of two couples having sexual relations at the same time in sight of each other. While there are single swingers, usually when one speaks of swingers in this con- text we are speaking of married or committed couples (Cargan, 1986)”.
In the description of candaulism by Holmes and Holmes, it is turned into a nuisance sexual behaviour by the addition of coercion (something that isn’t explicitly mentioned in other definitions that I have come across). Having said that, the Wikipedia entry on candaulism has a more negative take on what the behaviour involves and is also the most detailed I have come across:
“Candaulism is a sexual practice or fantasy in which a man exposes his female partner, or images of her, to other people for their voyeuristic pleasure. Such a practice is widely regarded as a breach of implicitly placed by the female in her sex partner. The term may also be applied to the practice of undressing or otherwise exposing a female partner to others, or urging or forcing a female partner to engage in sexual relations with a third person, such as during a swinging activity. There have also been reports of a woman’s partner urging or forcing her into prostitution or pornography such as in the case of Karen Lancaume and others. Similarly, the term may also be applied to the posting of personal images of a female partner on the Internet or to urging or forcing a female partner to wear clothing which reveals her physical attractiveness to others, such as by wearing very brief clothing, such as a microskirt, tight-fitting or see-through clothing or a low-cut top”
Dr. R. Jenks in a review of the ‘swinging’ literature in the Archives of Sexual Behavior reported that swingers are “generally nondescript members of the community” but had a number of common characteristics including the fact that they: (i) had moved often in the past five years, (ii) were relatively new to the community, (iii) were members of the middle class, (iv) were conservative in their political views, (v) identified little with religion, and (vi) belonged to more community groups than non-swingers.
One online list of the ‘most disturbing fetishes lists an alleged fetish they called ‘cuckold fetish’. The snippet of text notes that although the adultery is commonplace “fetishized infidelity is a lot less common”. Cuckold fetish appears to be a form of candaulism as cuckold fetish is “when a man becomes sexually aroused by the knowledge that his wife is having sex with another man. In some cases, this may involve him setting up the affair, but not being around while it occurs, but in other cases, he may watch or even join in”. There is also a fair amount of sexual slang associated with cuckold fetishes. For instance, a ‘Jack Gagger’ is a husband that procures other men to have sex with his wife. Such fetishes may overlap with another sexual paraphilia known as zelophilia (i.e., individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from jealousy or being jealous).
From this brief overview it is clear that although there has been some academic research on ‘swinging’, and a little academic writing on candaulism. However, empirical research into candaulism is close to non-existent. As with other sexual behaviours that I have covered in my blog, one of the first issues to untangle is a more precise and agreed upon definition – particularly around the issue of whether candaulism is a coercive or non-coercive sexual beahviour.
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Avery, C., & Johannis, T. (1985). Love and marriage. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Bowman, H. (1985). Marriage For Moderns (7th Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Cargan, L. (1986). Stereotypes of singles: A cross-cultural comparison. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 27, 200–208.
Harness, J. (2010). The 12 most disturbing fetishes to keep you up at night. Oddee, September 12. Located at: http://www.oddee.com/item_97279.aspx
Holmes, S.T. & Holmes, R.M. (2009). Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behaviors (3rd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Krafft-Ebing, R. von (1886). Psychopathia Sexualis (C.G. Chaddock, Trans.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Jenks, R. (1998). Swinging: A review of the literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 14, 507–521.
Marten, Z. (1986). Candaulesism – Case report Psychiatrica Polska, 20, 235-237.
McCary, J. (1978). McCary’s Human Sexuality. New York: Van Nostrand.
Wikipedia (2012). Candaulism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candaulism
In a previous blog I looked at hair fetishism. While researching that blog, I came across what might be considered the opposite (i.e., depilation fetishes – those who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from lack of body hair). The fetish appears to take many different forms and might include being sexually aroused by (i) the sight of a shaved area of the human body such as a bald pubic area, (ii) the sight of someone actually shaving an area of their body (e.g., their pubic region), and/or (iii) the actual act of shaving someone’s body parts. The fetish may overlap with other sexual paraphilias such as olfactophilia (i.e., deriving sexual arousal and pleasure from certain smells) as those individuals with a depilation fetish may find the odour of shaving cream or aftershave products additionally attractive.
Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices devoted a reasonably large section on sexual depilation and claimed that in some countries, the origins of sexual depilation preferences are conditioned by early pre-adolescent experiences. She claimed that:
“Shaving or removal of the pubic hair was practiced in Rome, the Middle East, Japan, China, India, and North Africa. Sex in many of these countries began during pre-pubescence before either partner had developed pubic hair. The male and female became conditioned to respond sexually to bald genitals. Some later in life became impotent at the sight of pubic hair on a partner”.
She also referred to the act of pulling out clusters of pubic hair produce an orgasm in some men. Her research had indicated that this particular type of sexual service was offered in Moorish baths in North Africa, by women who were skilled at this art. A short article on the Alternative Lifestyle website claims that depilation fetishes are usually genitally based and may overlap with those into sexual sadism and sexual masochsim. More specifically:
“Men especially are often attracted to a shaved public area and enjoy watching or performing depilation on a partner. The entire act is often very sensory and erotic. In cases of both female and male depilation, shaving creams usually are applied and lathered which can cause arousal from touch. There is a huge aspect of trust involved in depilation as a fetish too because razors or scissors are in such close proximity to the sensitive genitals. Depilation can also be a fetish is a much different way, especially in BDSM. Because hairstyle is very important in many cultures, dominants often shave the heads of their slaves. This is particularly true in cases when a female is in the submissive role”.
Such practices were also noted in Dr. Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices as she noted that depilation or shaving is used in sex play as part of body worship and bondage. She reported that dominant partners “shave their slaves to put them into a psychological role of submission, exposure, humiliation and shame”. It was also noted that depilation may be a necessary for aesthetics in transvestism, infantilism, and/or body painting.
As far as academic research goes, I have only managed to find one study that has specifically examined depilation practices. A paper published in a 2008 issue of the journal Body Image led by Dr. Yolanda Martins (“Hair today, gone tomorrow”) and compared body hair removal practices among gay and heterosexual men. The team based at Flinders University (Adelaide, Australia) A sample of gay (n=106) and heterosexual men (n=228) participated in a survey assessing “whether they had ever removed their back, buttock or pubic hair, the frequency with which they did so, the methods used and their self-reported reasons for removing this hair”. The results showed that most men had engaged in hair removal practices but that heterosexual men (33%) were much less likely than gay men (63%) to have removed their back and/or buttock hair at least once in their lives. In relation to removal of pubic hair, heterosexual men (66%) were again much less likely than gay men (82%) to have removed their pubic hair at least once.
The authors also reported that the frequency of hair removal “was also associated with the motivational salience component of appearance investment”. In laymen’s terms, men basically removed their back, buttock and pubic hair to improve their appearance (either for themselves or others). The men surveyed also reported that they preferred the feeling and sensitivity of smooth skin. Results also showed that the removal of back and buttock hair was never done for sexual and/or fetishistic reasons. However, in relation to pubic hair removal, 9% of gay men and 20% of heterosexual men had removed their pubic hair for sexual and/or fetishistic reasons. It was also reported that 14% of gay men and 10% of heterosexual men had removed their pubic hair to make their genitals look bigger and/or more appealing. Dr. Martins and her colleagues concluded that their findings offered further support to the premise that gay and heterosexual men exhibit similar body image concerns.
In a previous blog on fetishism, I wrote at length about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5000 fetishists (but was likely to be a lot more). Their results showed that there were 864 fetishists (less than 1% of all fetishists) comprising non-head body hair fetishes including depilation sites, beards, and pubic hair.
As far as I can ascertain, there have been no case studies published examining depilation fetishes. The Sexy Tofu website interviewed ‘Adam’, a 45-year old male depilation fetishist from Illinois (US) about his sexual interest in depilation. Adam was asked about when his interest first occurred:
“It started when I first got pubic hair. I’m not sure why, but my first thought was ‘Shave it’. I did, but I had to be careful as a teenager — having shaved pubes in the boys’ locker room back then would have made me pretty ‘out there’, and I wasn’t ready for that. So I’d shave only during the summers. I didn’t have much chest hair back then but once I got to college and it started growing, I would shave it fairly often. I finally took the plunge and shaved my entire body about 15 years ago. I have remained mostly hairless since…It’s both the act of shaving, changing my body look, and being smooth skinned. I have done some shaving as part of sex. Once I let a woman tie me up and she shaved my pubic hair and my head. That was really a hot scene…Sadly, I have not been able to find too many partners willing to shave me or be shaved”.
Unfortunately, there is too little information provided by Adam in his interview to make any informed speculation as to the causes and/or motivations for his depilation fetish. They obviously started in early adolescence and has developed over the subsequent thirty years. Clearly the visual element is crucial for sexual arousal (but that is the case with most paraphilias and fetishes). Adam’s account also suggests it is a minority interest based on the fact that the number of willing and/or reciprocal partners has been minimal. Like many other fetishes and paraphilias that I have examined in my blogs, this is yet another one where there is a great need for further research.
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
The Bedpost (1999). Depilation for the terrified. Located at: http://www.cleansheets.com/archive/archarticles/bdsm_3.10.99.html
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Martins, Y., Tiggemann, M. & Churchett, L. (2008). Hair today, gone tomorrow: A comparison of body hair removal practices in gay and heterosexual men. Body Image, 5, 312-316.
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.
Sexy Tofu (2011), Fetish Friday: Trichophilia. December 2. Located at: http://sexytofu.com/2011/12/02/fetish-friday-trichophilia-hair-fetish/
Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I have taken a passing interest in body tattoos both in relation to those who are sexually aroused by them (see my previous blog on stigmatophilia) and the representation of tattoos in films. I also have to admit that I’ve been watching the UK Channel 4 television series My Tattoo Addiction (mainly because it had the word ‘addiction’ in the title). Although I aim to look at the issue of ‘tattoo addiction’ in more academic terms in a future blog (so apologies for those of you wanting something empirically-based), but I just wanted to quickly examine whether any of the people featured across the television series could be classed in any way as ‘addicted’ to having tattoos.
Most of the time, the programme simply followed various British people where a story involving a tattoo made good (in this case ‘car crash’) television but had nothing to do with ‘addiction’. For instance, one story involved a trans-gendered individual who had his wife’s name tattooed on his arm but then changed gender so she had it changed into another different tattoo representing a symbolic transformation from man to woman. Another moving case story was of a woman who had a double mastectomy following breast cancer and then had nipples tattooed onto her reconstructed breasts following cosmetic surgery. A regular segment followed the events in one of the many tattoo parlours in Magaluf (in the Spanish island of Majorca) where almost all the people filmed were on ‘18-30’ type holidays. All of these appeared to be completely inebriated and having tattoos they would ultimately regret. Most of the cases featured young men and women having the names of people they had met that night and/or bizarre designs (such as the ‘burger nipple’) tattooed on their buttocks (at least that’s the take home message I took from it).
A number of the cases followed described themselves as having an “obsessive personality” and at least two of the cases were arguably obsessed with fictional literary characters that resulted in lots of tattoos (but I’ll come back to them in a minute). One of the men filmed for the documentary was 34-year old Mark from Buckinghamshire, and described by the programme as a “full blown tattoo addict”. He started off having a sole tattoo done when he was 22 years of age “then two, then three…and now it’s crept up on to [his] head”. Mark’s tattoos included one of the glamour model Jordan (i.e., Katie Price) with the words ‘Rape Me’ written across her chest, another of Audrey Hepburn with a sadomasochistic ball gag in her mouth, and another of a prudish Victorian lady reading a pornographic book about anal sex. When asked the reason for getting such extreme tattoos, Mark simply said he liked “the individuality, the outlet, and the shock factor” of his tattoos. Shocking, arguably. Addicted to tattoos? Not by my criteria.
Arguably one of the most sensational segments of the series was the controversial body art styled by tattooist Woody (who had gained much “notoriety for his challenging artwork”) including a tattoo of Adolf Hitler holding a large piece of paper with the words ‘Gas Bill’ on it. Woody claimed he liked his tattoos to “make statements”. The whole of his chest and stomach was taken up with a single tattoo that simply said “Pure F**king Hate” and his back was taken up with a single tattoo that reads “100% C**T” (without the asterisks – I just thought I’d add those for my readers with a sensitive disposition).
Of all the people featured in the series, two most caught my interest (psychologically), Jay – a 29-year old bodybuilder from Kent, and Kathy – a 52-year old woman from Reading. Jay was first described as having a “secret in his attic”. Since he was a boy, he has been an avid collector of super-hero action figures. His whole attic was full of unopened super-hero action figures (thousands of them it looked to me). His collection obsession was argued by Jay to be no different to someone who collects stamps – “just on a bigger scale”. The programme claimed that his “obsession [was] growing and manifesting itself in a new way” because he was getting his back tattooed with eleven large female super-heroes (the programme showed him having his sixth one done in a marathon 10-hour session). The programme narrator then went on to say that although Jay had only just started getting tattooed, he was already giving as much dedication to his tattoos as he was to his collecting.
Jay claimed that whenever he did anything in life he always ‘gave it his all’ and that his reasons for getting super-hero tattoos ran deeper than most. He has dedicated his whole life “to the pursuit of physical excellence” and in his early twenties competed in the World’s Strongest Man competition. Unfortunately, he had to give it up after a serious heart failure but now devoted to bodybuilding despite being on heart medication for the rest of his life. It appeared to me that Jay was constantly replacing one highly salient activity with another (much like ‘reciprocity’ found in addicts that give up one addiction only to replace it with another).
He was told by a friend to fill his life with “something positive otherwise you’ll self-destruct”. It was during this period that Jay’s interest in super-heroes took on greater significance. It helped him come to terms that he would never reach his dream of becoming the world’s strongest man. I also noticed that around his house there were many items of super-hero memorabilia and accessories along with loads of super-hero DVDs. Jay questioned himself as to whether he has an obsessive or compulsive behaviour. His response was something that I would wholeheartedly agree with given my views on the differences between healthy and addictive behaviour: “As long as the obsession doesn’t ruin my life, why is it such a bad thing? With what I’ve done it’s given me the life I’ve got…it’s the will to do what I do, the best I can”.
Kathy began her story by recounting that in 2010 she had “stumbled across the book that would change her life forever [about a] young and unassuming girl that doesn’t fit in, and comes to the attention of [a] family…it’s just a love story”. The narrator claimed the book “spoke to Kathy in a way she had never experienced before”. The book in question was Twilight (the young adult vampire-romance novel by Stephanie Meyer). She went and got The Twilight Saga DVDs and became “totally hooked”. The books and DVDs weren’t enough and she started getting Twilight characters tattooed on her body to the point where her whole back is now covered in them, along with her arms, legs, and upper chest. Kathy’s husband Colin was “very tolerant” of Kathy’s tattoos and his only stipulation was that he didn’t want her to have any tattoos on her face. The interviewer asked Kathy if she had an “obsession with Twilight” to which she simply replied that she did. While being filmed at a local tattoo convention, Kathy says that:
Every two weeks after pay day she got another tattoo. At the time of the programme she had undergone 91 hours of tattooing and was just about to have another tattoo put on some remaining space on one of her legs. Most of her tattoos were of (or related to) the character Edward Cullen (played by Robert Pattinson). Kathy’s husband Colin was “very tolerant” of Kathy’s tattoos and his only stipulation was that he didn’t want her to have any tattoos on her face. The interviewer asked Kathy if she had an “obsession with Twilight” to which she simply replied that she did. While being filmed at a local tattoo convention, Kathy says that:
“Tattooing is addictive. This is my form of getting my fix. It’s not a bad thing. Obviously there’s a certain amount of pain [but] it’s what I get a buzz off now”.
Although a late starter in the tattoo world, Kathy said she couldn’t now imagine a life without tattoos and that without them her life would be “very boring” and that she wouldn’t be the person she now is. However, she admitted the tattoos had caused family conflicts. She hadn’t spoken with her brother in five years because he was too embarrassed by her tattoos, and her father refuses to be seen with her in public. Her sisters were more supportive and noticed that the tattoos had brought Kathy “out of her shell”. The tattoos had apparently turned Kathy from a “wallflower” into someone quite extrovert.
I was interested in how she came to tattoing so late in her life. Kathy revealed that became very depressed after the death of her 63-year old mother in 1999 and it was then that her weight started to balloon through overeating, and she developed a very low self-esteem. She refused to have photographs taken and was “ashamed” of what she looked like. After becoming “hooked” on the first Twilight book, she said it gave her life focus. She had now read it so many times she’s had to buy new copies as well read copies had become dog-eared.
She then bought the music soundtracks and then started exercising to the music. She would even exercise in front of the DVDs for two or three hours at a go. It was then she started losing weight and began getting tattoos. She said that the tattoos gave her focus and was a permanent reminder of how she had got her life “back on track” and kept her “feeling young”. The constant new tattoos were “costing [her] a small fortune – just over eight and a half thousand pounds so far”. She then went on to say that in terms of what she has planned in the future, the total cost of the tattooing will be between £17,000 and £25,000. She says it’s keeping her “permanently broke” but despite the cost she’s “not stopping”.
Based on the information in the documentary, both Jay and Kathy appeared to display elements of addictive and obsessive behaviour. However, I would argue that the addictive elements are more to do with something external to the tattoos (i.e., super-heroes and bodybuilding for Jay, and the Twilight story for Kathy) rather than the tattoos themselves (even though Kathy said that the act of getting tattoos was a buzz and addictive). There appeared to be some conflicts in both of their lives (health, financial, and/or family conflicts) although none that suggested that either were truly addicted to anything (tattoos or otherwise). For both of them, the behaviour they engaged appeared to make them feel better about themselves rather than being something negatively detrimental. As I have said time and time again, the difference between a healthy enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life and addictions take away from them.
Duggal, H.S. & Fisher, B. (2002). Repetitive tattooing in borderline personality and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 190–192.
Irwin, K. (2003). Saints and sinners: elite tattoo collectors and tattooists as positive and negative deviants. Sociological Spectrum, 23, 27-57.
Raspa, R.F. & Cusack, J. (1990) Psychiatric implications of tattoos. American Family Physician, 41,1481-1486.
Wohlrab, S., Stahl, J. & Kappeler, P.M. (2007). Modifying the body: Motivations for getting tattooed and pierced. Body Image, 4, 87-95.
There are various websites that list hundreds of different types of sexual paraphilias. Many of these paraphilias are simply the names of specific phobias with the suffix ‘-phobia’ replaced by the suffix ‘-philia’. Examples of this include: agoraphobia and agoraphilia (fear of the outdoors; sexual arousal from the outdoors), cremnophobia and cremnophilia (fear of steep cliffs and precipices; sexual arousal from steep cliffs and precipices), and kynophobia and kynophilia (fear of getting rabies; sexual arousal from getting rabies). Another sexual paraphilia that often appears in these lists is coulrophilia (sexual arousal from clowns) that I assumed was just based on the opposite phobia (coulrophobia – fear of clowns) and didn’t really exist (especially as it doesn’t appear in either Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices or Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Furthermore, there is not a single reference to coulrophilia in any academic article or book that I am aware of. The most in-depth piece of text that I came across was this snippet from the online Urban Dictionary that notes:
“Coulrophilia is the paraphilia involving sexual attraction to clowns, mimes and jesters. The most likely reason behind this is because of lack of childhood, but some say the attraction is because the person behind the face paint could be anybody that you may or may not know”
I had all but given writing up a blog on coulrophilia until I (by chance) stumbled upon an online forum where a group of people were discussing their respective clown fetishes. I’ve picked out some of the more interesting admissions and have attempted to provide a little commentary on each extract and then a more general summary at the end of the blog. Obviously I have no way of knowing how truthful any of these accounts are, but they appeared genuine to me (particularly given the detail that some of them go into).
Case 1 (Gay male): “I think my fetish started out as more of a fetish for face painting, which has turned me on [for] as long as I can remember…Until I found this [paraphilia] site I always thought I was pretty much alone. Most of the comments I’ve seen elsewhere revolve around scary clowns. Not for me. My face paint interest has always been about silly, the sillier the better! That goes for clowns too, the clown face always seemed like the goofiest, silliest face paint you could possibly put on. One thing led to another and I went from painting my face to buying a clown nose, to the whole deal, costume, paint, wig, gloves, bow tie, shoes, you name it. I think for me the turn on comes from the willingness to look silly. I’ve always been very stoic and uptight to a fault, I find it very hard to let my hair down and relax. So, I think it’s the fear of being silly in front of other people that gives me a rush. To see someone not only look goofy in front of other people, but to actually want to do it, and enjoy it, is overwhelming to me…Although most people don’t find this stuff sexual and would never know the difference, in my mind I’d be doing something private out in the open. My partner has been wonderful with this. I got up some incredible courage one day and put on a clown nose in front of him and to my surprise he wasn’t the least bit put off. I eventually felt him out a bit more here and there and then just told him everything, since then he’s been very supportive and helped me embrace my fetish and the happiness it brings me”.
Commentary: This person notes that their initial sexual arousal dates back (presumably) to childhood, and was for face painting rather than clowns. It appears there was a gradual generalization process that changed the sexual focus from face painting to clowns. In addiction terminology, this individual seems to have developed a kind of ‘tolerance’ over time as the sexual focus went from just buying a clown nose to gradually buying the whole costume to satisfy their sexual needs. The ‘high’ or ‘buzz’ came from the silliness associated with wearing clown’s clothing although I am unsure as to whether it is genuinely just the ‘silliness’ or whether it might be some sort of feeling humiliated (but that’s pure speculation on my part). Given the partner supports the fetish, there is no problem with the behaviour. The fetish only appears to be manifested when the individual wears the clown outfit himself.
Case 2 (Heterosexual male): “I am a very lucky man. Roughly ten years ago, I completely opened up to my then girlfriend of a few months, admitting everything to her…That I loved seeing girls get pied in the face and have buckets of slime dumped on their heads. And that what I promoted as an irrational fear of clowns was to hide the fact that I actually was heavily aroused whenever I saw a female clown. That I really just wanted to dress in baggy pants, wear greasepaint and a big red nose, hurl pies, spank with rubber chickens and have a good silly ****. She said ‘okay’. It was no big deal. Years of repression and guilt and I had nothing to fear. She loved me and was willing to indulge in my fetish sparingly. I felt like the luckiest guy in the world”.
Commentary: As with Case 1, the partner was supportive of the fetish (following an ‘opening up’ conversation) and therefore there is no problem. Interestingly, the person pretended to be afraid of clowns as a way of masking his true feelings (and is something that is not unusual in the more general fetish literature). The most interesting observation is the fact that there is also a crossover with ‘pie fetish’ (the throwing of pies at people) that is a form of salirophilia (sexual arousal for messiness) that I outlined in a previous blog. The reference to spanking with ‘rubber chickens’ may also suggest (at least in part) a spanking fetish. The fetish appears to be located in the visual attraction to women in clown’s clothing rather than wearing it himself.
Case 3 (Bisexual male): “I have always had a clown fetish as long as I can remember. Even before I knew what arousal was, or fetishes for that matter, any of it, I have been strangely interested in clowns. I used to think of clowns before I went to sleep at night…I honestly thought it was because I hated clowns and wanted to fight them, but I realize it was the other way around. I would imagine myself at an entire circus surrounded by clowns and going on adventures to fight them…So I don’t remember thinking about clowns that much after I was really young until puberty hit…Throughout my teens and beyond, I’ve fantasized about clowns. I’ve also have always liked both sexes of clowns, male and female. My fetish can work with both, honestly…I’ve always been into a classical clown look, circus type, hilarious and silly…In my late teens and early adulthood, when the internet was becoming more common, I would talk to others that had clown feelings like me. It was a shock, at the time, to log online to look up pictures of clowns and suddenly realize that others had your fetish. As tame as my fetish is, it honestly takes up the primary desire of my sexuality and to meet others that felt the same way, it was cool. Clowning also introduced me to the pie fetish, which I like as well but honestly, it’s the clowning that does it for me”.
Commentary: This person’s clown fetish again began at an early age and appears to have built through thinking about clowns before going to sleep every night (and thus sexualizing the content even if the individual was unaware that the content was sexual. There appears to be what Sigmund Freud would call a latent period (the years before puberty) when the sexualization of clowns all but disappeared only to re-appear in his teenage years (i.e., am adolescent ‘awakening’). Like Case 2, it appears the individual is sexually aroused by watching clowns (irrespective of gender) rather than dressing up as a clown himself. Also like Case 2, he mentions an associated ‘pie fetish’ (i.e., a possible salirophilia crossover fetish). He describes is love of clowns as his “primary desire” indicating that it may well be a true fetish rather than just a strong liking for clowns. It appears he has met other like-minded coulrophiles on the internet, and as I argued in one of my recent papers on paraphilias, it is the rise of the internet that has facilitated the growth of this little known paraphilia.
Case 4 (Heterosexual female): “I’m an 18 year old chick and well I’m not sure how it all started. But I’ve always thought of clowns as being so sexual and crazy. I get turned on by the way they act and make perverted jokes. The make-up and clothes are really fun and exciting. Recently I went to Halloween horror nights and had a blast. At the center of the amusement park there were these clowns just messing with people and scaring them…The main clown was on a podium…I went to go get a picture with him and…he said ‘hey how about me and you go behind that ice-cream truck and I give u a little popcicle treat eh?’…He pulled me closer to him with the cane and I almost went crazy. I wanted to **** that guy in the costume so bad. I don’t see clowns as innocent childhood ideas. I see them more as erotic fantasy sex trips”
Commentary: This person is unsure of how her clown fetish began but appears to suggest it started back in her childhood given she “always thought of clowns as sexual”. It is unclear whether this person’s experiences of coulrophilia have gone beyond masturbatory fantasies but does seem to have a clown fetish rooted in make-up and dressing-up (two activities that she may have enjoyed as a child and more likely to be encouraged by parents as she was female rather than male).
Case 5 (Bisexual male): “Well, at first I never really liked clowns. In fact, I hated them but I was never afraid of them…One day, I went to my granny’s house after school. I had this one massage ball/stress ball or whatever and occasionally put it close to my nose and looked in the mirror and thought it looked like a clown nose. But this particular day, I had this odd thought that my math teacher wanted me to dress up as a clown and entertain some younger kids to bring out my happiness or some crap like that. The thought seemed stupid to me at first, but at my granny’s house I was known for being mischievous, curious, overly imaginative, and above all weird. So I had to try it and pretend. I made a hole in the ball so it could fit on my nose, got some of my granny’s old baggy scrubs, some fluff, and markers. I sort of looked like a clown so I danced around a bit and made silly faces in the mirror then I put the costume away. A couple days later I was at my granny’s house again and I had the ball on my nose again and I had the urge to masturbate…After I would go to my granny’s house every now and again and I had the urge to masturbate but with the ball on my nose. It never occurred to me that I needed the ball to masturbate with but without it, it wouldn’t feel as good. Eventually, I started picturing myself in a full clown suit with make-up on when I masturbated…I realised that I had a sexual attraction to clowns and I would fantasise about them…I fought this fetish for years…[At school] in the drama room…I found a real clown nose in there…and I had so much fun with it but I would always feel guilty afterwards…Now I can be attracted to someone without being a clown but if they are dressed as clowns, it turns me on waaaay more. So now I’m bisexual and I have a clown fetish”.
Commentary: This person’s sexual interest in clowns doesn’t appear to have begun until the onset of puberty, and even then it was only through associative arousal where the masturbatory spherical stress ball eventually represented a clown’s nose. The clown’s nose is then becomes central to all masturbatory fantasies so much so that it has to be present for sexual arousal to manifest itself (and thus a true fetish). As with Case 1, there is a kind of ‘tolerance’ behaviour where more and more aspects and items of a clown’s clothing have to be present to feed the sexual fantasies. There also appears to have been some associative pairing (i.e., a classically conditioned response) between an attractive teacher and the thought of him as a clown entertaining the children in his class.
Case 6 (Gay male): “I honestly do not recall when I started liking clowns, I was not a big fan of the circus and I do not remember seeing lots of clowns on TV or in real life… Somewhere in high school, I remember seeing some guys with their faces painted (I recall being at some sort of carnival or fair). One of these guys had his face painted like a clown…I remember being mesmerized by his painted clown face. I started fantasizing about myself painted up like a clown. Then I started having fantasies about a guy dressed up like a clown coming up to me and painting my face like a clown. These fantasies stuck with me for years. I knew they excited me, but was not ready to admit to myself that I found clowns sexy…A couple years later I was in some store, around Halloween…Suddenly my eyes focused on a clown makeup set…I painted my face up like a clown – it was amazing! There is just something about becoming a clown, your face underneath all that makeup, it’s silly, exciting, humiliating, liberating, and sexy all at the same time, at least for me…Several times during college I grew a beard, but I would always end up shaving it off, so I could paint my face up like a clown…I find it is such a turn on to think of a guy protesting, adamantly refusing to wear clown makeup and a clown costume, swearing up and down he is not a clown, will NOT dress up like a clown, yet somehow he ends up dressed and painted up like a clown anyway…Somewhere in my childhood I also discovered I love seeing guys hit in the face with a nice, thick cream pie (and of course getting hit in the face with a pie or twenty myself)…Becoming a clown and being pied is a big turn on for me…I would love to find a guy someday who understood this, who loved to take or throw a pie, loved clowns or loved being a clown”.
Commentary: This person does not recall how his clown fetish developed but given he did not like circuses or clowns in childhood it is something that developed during adolescence. There was clearly a key incident of seeing someone with a painted face and feeling sexually attracted towards that person which initiated the fetish (again through associative pairing). As with Cases 2 and 3, there is also a salirophilic pie fetish and he loves to dress up as a clown himself as well as finding other people dressed as clowns sexually arousing. He also describes the act of dressing in clown’s clothes as simultaneously “silly, exciting, humiliating, liberating and sexy”. Again, this suggests there are some sexually masochistic desires underlying the behaviour. He also says that “being pied” is a sexual turn-on (which again has sexually masochistic undertones).
Case 7 (Male, unknown sexual orientation): “I loved clowns ever since I was about 5 [years old]. I don’t know exactly how it started (probably me seeing them on TV)…but one night I decided that I really wanted to be a clown. This gradually grew into a full-blown fetish as I got older, and I would create fantasies about them and masturbated whenever I had time alone…Above all things, I had always wanted a clown nose. For some reason, that part of the costume just turned me on the most (especially the honking ones)…Oddly enough, when I’m not thinking about clowns, I am a VERY serious, nerdy, and down-to-earth student…After a trip to the grocery store in my mom’s car, I decided to take a detour to a party/costume place nearby and pick up everything clown-related that I wanted. Ironically, most of my fantasies involve other people laughing at my stupidity, despite the fact that my friends are convinced in real life that I can’t take a joke…The few friends who actually know about my fetish are generally supportive”.
Commentary: This person’s clown fetish appears to have started in early childhood as they “loved” clowns from an early age. As with other cases discussed here, masturbatory fantasies appear critical to the development and maintenance of the fetish through repeated associative pairing of fantasies about clowns and sexual arousal. Interestingly, this person appears to use the dressing up in clown’s clothing as an escape from his day-to-day life. As with Case 1, the clown’s nose appears pivotal in the development of their sexual fetish. This person appears to only derive sexual arousal from dressing in clown’s clothing himself (as a form of escape) rather than watching other people dressed as clowns. There is also a masochistic element to the behaviour as he admits that he enjoys others laughing at his “stupidity” at wearing a clown’s outfit.
Looking at all the cases as a whole, there are some commonalities – even among such a small number of cases. On the whole, coulrophilia appears to originate from a young age, mostly male-based, and arguably there appear to have been associative pairings from this young age (between sexual arousal and clowns) resulting in classically conditioned behavioural responses (i.e., sexual attraction to clowns). There also appear to be overlaps with other sexually paraphilic behaviours (i.e., salirophilia in the form of ‘pie fetishes’ and transvestic dressing-up). Also, Halloween appears to be a time that some enjoyed as an annual opportunity to engage in their preferred sexual behaviour. There didn’t seem to be any association between coulrophilia and sexual orientation as even among such a small number of cases, there were homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual orientations. Whether any empirical or clinical research into coulrophilia will ever be carried out remains debatable, but these few cases at least suggest the paraphilia may exist.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.