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Facial a-hair-ness: A brief look at pogonophilia

“Beards are like Marmite…you either love them or you hate them. Perhaps that’s why the gossip magazines go crazy when celebs like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp take the natural approach to facial hair. For some beard afficianados, however, the love of beards goes one step further. Gay men and straight women alike with beard fetish, or pogonophilia, think there’s nothing more sexually attractive than a man with at least a five o’clock shadow”  (Philia Phrenzy, May 2011).

In a previous blog, I looked at trichophilia, which according to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, is a sexual paraphilia (sometimes called trichopathophilia, hirsutophilia, and/or hair fetishism) in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from human hair (most commonly head hair). In that blog I also made reference to various sub-types of trichophilia including pogonophilia, a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from beards. As with trichophilia more generally, the source of sexual arousal in pogonophilia may be derived from viewing, touching, or (in extreme cases) eating beard hair. A few online definitions of pogonophilia claim that it is abnormal affection towards beards”. The online Urban Dictionary defines pogonophilia as:

“The admiration or promotion of people, usually males, who wear a facial beard. From pogon, Greek for beard”

Surprisingly, pogonophilia as an individual sexual paraphilia is not referred to anywhere in either Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices or Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Dr. Love notes that some hair fetishes are more favoured by particular genders. My own research into pogonophilia appears to indicate that sexual arousal for beards can be found among women and gay men. However, I have yet to come across a single piece of empirical research on the topic. Most of the evidence appears to be anecdotal. For instance, the cult novelist and multi-media artist Kris Saknussemm (who has written about various fetishes) recalled:

Once, interviewing a woman with this fetish, I showed her four pictures of naked men: a well-endowed eighteen-year-old model, an extremely thin bearded man in his early thirties, a heavily muscled former professional athlete in his late forties, and Peter North, the porn star. Asked to choose the most ‘virile and masculine’ of the group, she selected the bearded man instantly. What I didn’t tell her was that the bearded man had terminal cancer and was quite seriously ill. Her selection directly defies the view that our choices of “attractiveness” are driven by an instinctual appraisal of health and reproductive capacity. When I presented a Photoshop-modified picture of the man without his beard, she no longer recognized him. In fact, she was repelled”.

To my knowledge, only one academic has written about beard fetishes at any length. Dr. Mark Johnston published a 2011 book entitled Beard Fetish in Early Modern England. I have to admit I didn’t read the book because from the various online summaries I read, I didn’t think there would be much in the way of psychological insight. For those interested, the book focuses on representations of beards in English Renaissance culture. More specifically:

“(The) study elucidates how fetish objects validate ideological systems of power by materializing complex value in multiple registers. Providing detailed discussions of not only bearded men but also beardless boys, bearded women, and half-bearded hermaphrodites, author Mark Albert Johnston argues that attending closely to early modern English culture’s treatment of the beard as a fetish object ultimately exposes the contingency of categories like sex, gender, age, race, and sexuality…Johnston’s reading of Marxist, Freudian, and anthropological theories of the fetish phenomenon acknowledges their divergent emphases—erotic, economic, racial and religious—while suggesting that the imbrication of diverse registers that fetish accomplishes facilitates its cultural and psychic naturalizing function”.

In my search for information about pogonophilia, I came across a few websites run by self-confessed pogonophiles. For instance, the Girls Who Love Beards Club website is dedicated to women’s love for the beard. The website’s homepage offers what is deemed to be the best advice the website’s owner had ever been given:

A man who can grow a beard is the kind of man you want to be with because a man who has the patience to grow a beard, has the patience to deal with your shit”.

The Pogonologist website focuses on “more-or-less interesting, at-times humorous, and always sporadic musings on the Beard as a Medium of Communication”. The Men With Beards website was started by its owner “to nourish a fetish developed in 2011. It has photos of men, known and unknown, but all with beards”. Unfortunately, none of these dedicated pogonophilic websites provided any information on the psychology or etiology of the fetish. I came across dozens of self-confessed sexual love of beards on many different websites. Again, few of these gave any insight as to how and why they have beard fetishes but do add credence to the existence of the fetish.

  • Extract 1: “I have a thing for beards. I think they are ridiculously sexy and mysterious. A boy can hide any imperfections behind it and it’s an instant invitation for a girl like me to touch a man’s face…I do believe that a beard makes a man ten times more attractive than without. Add some glasses and floppy hair, and I’m already imagining you naked”
  • Extract 2: “I don’t know what it is, but I feel this fire burning almost, inside me when I see, or am around a male with a beard. I think it’s absolutely attractive. The sexiest part to a man…I get so excited. It’s odd, but I can’t help it. All my friends think I’m ‘messed up’ that I would be physically and sexually attracted to men with facial hair. I once thought Jesus Christ was sexy, because of his beard. It’s odd”
  • Extract 3: The fixation on bearded men. Guilty as charged. I dig facial hair on men. However I think this is more a preference rather than a fetish. I don’t eliminate men that I date based on their facial hair. Also maybe it’s only a fetish if you can’t sleep with a man or get aroused unless he has a beard”.
  • Extract 4: I have a thing for guys with beards (not the Santa kind of ones, but the not-shaved-for-some-days kind). Unfortunately in this country, the gay guys here have a strange perception ‘HAIR = BAD’…In fact, I am ONLY attracted to guys with le facial hair”
  • Extract 5: “I’m a gay guy and for me a guy’s gotta have [a beard] for it to work. It can be a full beard, mustache, goatee, a soul patch or even 5 o’clock shadow, but there’s gotta be something for it to work for me! My partner of 10 years has a great, neatly trimmed full beard and mustache and he always laughs because he says that even after 10 years together he says that more often than not, when we chat I’m looking at his ‘stache or beard more than into his eyes. I dunno what it is; it’s really masculine and sexy to me, and when a guy with facial hair kisses you or nuzzles your neck – wow!”
  • Extract 6: “I have a confession. I have a fetish….It’s a beard fetish. That’s right – beards excite me, and frankly I don’t think this particular fetish gets enough media attention. Maybe it’s because fetishes are, in general, associated with men, and a beard fetish [is] primarily a chick thing, although I’m sure there are a number of gay men who are familiar with beard power”.
  • Extract 7: “I can’t get enough of [beards]. Some are just down right sexy. They do turn me on so much. MMMMM. They are just wonderful and tasty”

One of the more detailed insights I came across was written by E. Bealmear (a female) in an article simply entitled The Beard Fetish. Below is a small extract which suggests the origin of the fetish began in childhood and was most likely based on the fact that her father had a beard (and was obviously someone she loved):

“Now, I’m not talking about just any kind of facial hair. A mustache never put a bop in my hop…A goatee is a step in the right direction…If you’re interested in seeing a beard that knows how to work it, look no further than the actor Jason Lee…His perfectly shaped beard makes even a silly movie like Vanilla Sky worth watching…I can’t say for sure where or when my beard fetish began, but I have a fairly good idea, and I’m almost ashamed of myself because it’s such a Freudian cliché. My father had a beard while I was growing up, a dark-haired beard, my favorite kind, and much as I hate to admit it, I’m sure that’s the reason I find myself planet struck when I see one. My sister and our friend Holly, whose father also has a beard, have the same sort of peculiar attraction toward facial hair. We constantly badger our male friends and co-workers, telling them that they should grow one, and we spend way too much time imaging what they would look like if they actually indulged our fantasies. It is sort of bizarre; the power beards have over me. I’m such a sucker for facial hair that often my attraction level is completely based around whether a man picks up a razor that morning or not…Men with beards are what I think about when I’m not wearing underwear…I know a number of women who are turned off by beards…Frankly, I don’t really understand these beard hating women, given the fact that beards are part of our primal history”.

Sean Johnson has also produced a series of gay “Beard Love” videos because of his self-admitted fascination with facial hair on men and it’s connection to society. He wrote in an online article on ‘beard love’ that:

“The connection I make with facial hair is that it is usually worn by men of power: the father, the leader, and other iconic masculine figures throughout history, fantasy, and mythology.  This idea of power in the wearer of the beard connects to many ideas I have about masculinity and manliness.  Taking these ideas, I have looked at the way men and facial hair are both connected to masculinity, and how the beard has become fetishized by the bear community. I see the homosexual man with facial hair as a symbol for this masculinity that has been stripped from mainstream gay culture (especially American gay culture).  The queer bearded man then becomes the icon of masculinity and representation of what I feel is somewhat lacking in gay culture. Aside from the social fetish connection to masculinity, I feel that the beard and the role of the father are connected with a form of dominance in the family…The beard is clearly a fetish for me as well.  I love the way it feels on a man’s face, I love how it can grow, change shape, color, size, and make a man look older than he is.  These differences are all dependent on the wearer (how he decides to manipulate his beard’s features), and the shaping and growth of it allows a person to change their look and ultimately their identity, making the way they are viewed by others changeable and fluid”.

As with many other sexual paraphilias and fetishes that I have examined in my blog, we know next to nothing about the incidence, prevalence, and etiology of pogonophilia, and in all honesty, we may never know. Although I am personally interested on the psychology of beards (for obvious reasons given my photos at the top of the page), I doubt pogonophilia will be a topic that ever gets priority in calls for research funding.

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

Further reading

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

The Atlantic (2009). Pogonophilia: Busted. July 12. Located at: http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2009/07/pogonophilia-busted/198899/

Cotton, K. (2011). Who can resist a man with a beard? Philia Phrenzy, May 11. Located at: http://philia-phrenzy.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/who-can-resist-man-with-beard.html

Johnston, M.A. (2011). Beard Fetish in Early Modern England. London: Ashgate.

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

Hair gripped: A beginner’s guide to trichophilia

Back in November 2011, I recalled seeing a Daily Mail headline Ritualistic hair-fetish killer serving life in British prison is convicted in Italy of 1993 teen murder”. The story concerned Danilo Restivo – a man with a fetish for cutting off women’s hair – who was sentenced to 30 years in prison following his killing of 16-year old Elisa Claps in 1993 (in Potenza, Italy). He was also convicted of killing 48-year old Heather Barnett in 2002 (in Bournemouth, UK). The murders were described as ritualistic and both killings involved the victims’ breasts being cut off and strands of their hair being placed in her hands. Another link between the two cases, were that 15 women had reported their hair being involuntarily cut on buses in both Bournemouth and Potenza around the time of the murders. Clearly, Restivo is not a typical trichophile (i.e., hair fetishist), and is not representative of those who enjoy this paraphilia. However, it is one of the few times that hair fetishism has been highlighted by the mass media.

According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, trichophilia is a sexual paraphilia (sometimes called trichopathophilia, hirsutophilia, and/or hair fetishism) in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from human hair (most commonly head hair). The source of sexual arousal may be derived from viewing, touching, or (in extreme cases) eating hair. Although head hair is the most common source for arousal, other types of hair may be equally if not more arousing for some people including pubic hair (i.e., pubephilia), armpit hair, chest hair, or facial hair such as beards (i.e., pogonophilia). Some authors – such as Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices – use the word ‘hirsutophilia’ to refer to fetish for armpit hair only. Dr. Love also claims that some hair fetishes are more favoured by particular genders (e.g., she claims chest hair is more likely to be preferred by females).

The fetish has been observed in both males and females (although as with most fetishes and paraphilia, it appears to be predominantly male). Those with hair fetishes may also have very specific attributes as to what is most sexually arousing (such as the hair being from a stranger rather than someone they know, hair length, hair colour, hair style, and whether the hair is wet or dry). They may also prefer hair to have been washed with a particular shampoo or hairspray suggesting an overlap with olfactophilia (i.e., the deriving of sexual pleasure and arousal from particular smells).

Other variants may include the deriving of sexual pleasure from having hair cut, shaved, and/or washed (in fact, a fetish for manipulating and/or shampooing hair is known as tripsoplagnia). Freud believed that men cutting long female hair may represent a man’s fear of castration (i.e., the woman’s hair represents a symbolic penis and that a male feels dominance by cutting it off). There is absolutely no empirical evidence for such claims but Freud is one of the few people to put forward a psychological explanation. The Fetish Connections website makes a number of assertions about hair fetishes, who engages in it, and different subtypes:

Enthusiasts claim an interest since childhood and are especially interested in shampoo commercials on TV. A few hetero voyeurs like the look of women with hairy underarms, or men with hairy chests, but there’s also a gay sub-community involving “musclebears” with hairy chests. Then, there’s transvestite hair salons or spas where the full treatment involves a haircut, hair massage, shampoo, and rollers. The shampoo and rollers ritual is also shared by straight enthusiasts. Long, upright hair (beehive, flip, etc.) is perhaps the most common fetish, followed by long, straight hair, followed by curly hair, followed by short, stubbly hair. Enthusiasts like to put the hair in their mouth during sex, but many achieve orgasm just by touching the hair or by masturbating (sometimes on the hair itself, but not always)”.

I haven’t come across a single empirical study to support any of these claims but given the absence of any academic research literature, the assertions made (at the very least) provide direction for confirmatory studies to be carried out. In their book Death/Sex, biologist Tyler Volk and author Dorion Sagan claim that the roots (no pun intended) of trichophilia may lie in the physiological feelings that the body experiences when hair is played with in some way. More specifically, they claim that:

“Being groomed, having one’s hair cut, like a massage, caresses, or laughter can produce endogenous endorphins, the body’s own pleasure drugs”

I have yet to track down the study (or studies) demonstrating this, but based on other pleasurable activities that have been shown to produce endorphins, there is no reason not to think this isn’t the case with hair grooming. 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 body part fetishes were most common (33%) with trichophilic fetish sites accounting for 7% of all sites studied (6,707 fetishists in total). A further 864 fetishists comprised other types of body hair including depilation sites, beards, and pubic hair.

To date, there are no detailed accounts of trichophilia in the clinical literature. Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebbing noted the case of a man married to a bearded lady who was distraught after her death and constantly searched for another (although here the trichophilia is implied). However, Dr. Magnus Hirschfield in his book Sexual Anomalies and Perversion recounted a more detailed case of a male (gay) trichophile. He noted:

“When the patient (a highly placed civil servant now aged 50) was seven years old, it happened one night that when he was already in bed the maid-servant, who was leaving, came up to him and embraced him. The patient still remembers quite clearly how he pushed his fingers through her hair. At the age of puberty he begun to experience sexual excitement whenever he saw or touched nicely dressed hair. But from then on, excitement was only induced by the hair of men; the hair of women exercised no effect whatsoever on him, and even in men he was only interested in sleek, dark brown hair, which had to be brushed right back…He derives particular pleasure and sexual excitement from dressing other people’s hair. He executes this operation in the following manner. He stands behind the other man, applies hair oil, which, together with combs, he always carries with him, then he combs the hair back. As the comb reaches the top of the head, ejaculation takes place…the patient, whose behavior has frequently attracted attention, is known by the nickname ‘The Hairdresser’”.

Unfortunately, there is very little information provided by Hirschfield in his case study to make any serious informed speculation as to the causes and/or motivations for his fetish. It obviously started in childhood and developed over the subsequent years. It would also appear that these early experiences appear to have been paired with sexual excitement and that the fetishistic behaviour most likely developed via classically conditioned experiences. 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.

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

Further reading

Allen, E. (2011). Ritualistic hair-fetish killer serving life in British prison is convicted in Italy of 1993 teen murder. Daily Mail, November 12. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2060444/Ritualistic-hair-fetish-killer-serving-life-British-prison-convicted-Italy-1993-teen-murder.html

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

Fetish Connections (2005). Fetish V [Hair fetishes]. Located at: http://www.fetishconnections.com/foot_hair_watersport_fetishes_.html

Hirschfeld, M. (1948). Sexual Anomalies and Perversions. New York: Emerson.

Krafft-Ebing, R. (1977). Psychopathia Sexualis. New York: Paperback Library (1965 reprint).

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

Parfitt, A. (2007). Fetishism, transgenderism, the concept of castration. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 21, 61–89.

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.

Tyler Volk, T. & Sagan, D.  (2009). Death/Sex. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

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