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See you later alligator: A beginner’s guide to herpetophilia

In previous blogs I have examined various sub-types of zoophilia including ornithophilia (sexual attraction to birds) and formicophilia (sexual attraction to insects). It wasn’t until very recently, that I came across an article on herpetophilia that according to the online Urban Dictionary is “the sexual attraction to reptiles, commonly dinosaurs or anthropomorphic lizards”. There is a fairly active online community of herpetophiles including herpy.net (with lots of discussion topics such as “How to please a reptile”). The dinosaur-loving herpetophiles can be found interacting with each other on sites like Lava Dome Five where there is an overt crossover between herpetophilia and macrophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from giants – in this case giant lizards in the form of dinosaurs).

One 2012 online essay I read on the Vivid Random Existence (VRE) website claimed that there was a new emergent form of zoosexuality – human sexual attraction towards lizards (and in particular, monitor lizards) – a subcategory of herpetophilia. It was claimed by VRE that the “lizards of choice” for herpetophilic zoophiles were either the Varanus Salvator (a water monitor lizard) and the Nile Monitor. So you can get an idea of the person putting forward these views, the unnamed VRE author is a 20-year old man who describes himself as the following:

“I am bisexual and zoosexual – I am sexually attracted to multiple genders and multiple species (in other words, I am sexually attracted to male humans, female humans, male non-human animals and female non-human animals). When it comes to sexual attraction, the creature’s gender and species are irrelevant to me. However, I am only attracted to a few species (maybe about 7 or 8)”.

The VRE essay then goes on to talk about the sexual ethics of lizard relationships. VRE claims that lizards do not pair bond in the way that many mammals do and asks the very specific question:

“Is it ethical for a human to have sex with a monitor lizard, even if that lizard only ‘tolerates’ the sex and neither enjoys nor dislikes it? From a utilitarian perspective (a perspective adopted by philosophers such as Peter Singer), there is nothing wrong with having sex with a monitor lizard, so long as no harm occurs…With large animals like horses, such human-horse sexual interactions are clearly acceptable under this philosophy – for example, even if a horse has a neutral opinion regarding sexual encounter with a human, the fact that the horse is larger than the human automatically means that physical ‘abuse’ is less likely to occur to the horse”.

The VRE website also claimed in a previous 2010 online essay (Zoosexuality: Should it be considered acceptable?) that the smaller the animal is, the less ethical the activity becomes. VRE then goes on to say that Nile monitor lizards and Komodo dragons are big enough to accommodate human genitalia but that humans having sex with smaller lizards would be unethical due to anatomical incompatibility. A 2011 VRE essay also claims that there are a sub-group of zoophiles that are sexually attracted to alligators and crocodiles, and that some owners of pet alligators or crocodiles have active sexual relationships with them. The “proof” of this claim was based on a video circulating among online zoophile forums (but I’ve not seen it myself). VRE describes the film’s contents:

“The human in the video is male, and the alligator in the video is also male. The human male is seen anally penetrating the male alligator, who is flipped upside down; the fact that the gator has an erection (and the fact that the gator is not tearing the man to pieces) suggests that the alligator is tolerant of (or possibly even enjoys) the sexual relationship with the human”

The issue of whether it is ethically wrong to have sex with a crocodile is again raised (along with the issue of how dangerous the activity is to start with. In the 2012 essay, VRE then says:

“Many have claimed that zoosexuality is wrong on the grounds that it is physically abusive. Although sex with animals can be abusive depending on the size of the animal, it can also not involve any abuse. In other words, it all depends on the size of the animal, and whether or not it is compatible with a human…When considering other species, it is important to realize that some species are too small for humans to engage in sex with”.

The article also quotes from philosopher Peter Singer’s online essay Heavy Petting (published on the nerve.com website) in which Singer (Princeton University, US) reviews Midas Dekkers’ Dearest Pet. Singer wrote that:

“Some men use hens as a sexual object, inserting their penis into the cloaca, an all-purpose channel for wastes and for the passage of the egg. This is usually fatal to the hen, and in some cases she will be deliberately decapitated just before ejaculation in order to intensify the convulsions of its sphincter. This is cruelty, clear and simple…But sex with animals does not always involve cruelty. Who has not been at a social occasion disrupted by the household dog gripping the legs of a visitor and vigorously rubbing its penis against them? The host usually discourages such activities, but in private not everyone objects to being used by her or his dog in this way, and occasionally mutually satisfying activities may develop”

I can’t say I agree with any of these arguments, as my own view is that sex should always be consensual and inter-species sexual activity is always non-consensual. Being “cruelty-free” does not make sexual activity with animals an acceptable activity. Singer’s arguments suggest that some animals (e.g., dogs) can engage in cruelty-free sex with humans and that no party is harmed. I can think of (admittedly extreme) scenarios where sex between humans could take place where neither party is harmed but it doesn’t mean it is morally acceptable. For instance, a human who has sex with a deceased person (i.e., a necrophile) technically does no harm to either party but that doesn’t make it acceptable. There is also the scenario that appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill where men had sex with Uma Thurman’s character while she was in a coma. Again, this might be perceived by some as “cruelty-free”, but the common denominator in both these extreme situations is that the sex was non-consensual.

Another related paraphilia to herpetophilia, and sub-category of zoophilia, is that of ophidiophilia that is defined in Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices as a sexual attraction to snakes). There are some really quite bizarre snake sexuality websites including those where there is a crossover with vorarephilia (i.e.. sexual arousal from the idea of being eaten, eating another person, or observing this process for sexual gratification). This seems a logical crossover given that snakes swallow their prey whole (check out the Snake Eats website if you don’t believe me).

An act often associated with ophidiophilia is ophidicism. This is where women voluntarily insert snakes (and sometimes eels) tail first into their vagina to get sexual pleasure as it wriggles free. There are also stories of both men and women allegedly receiving sexual pleasure from snakes wriggling free following anal insertion. Acts of ophidicism have been documented going back to Ancient Greek times. Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices also says the practice was prevalent in Roman times except the women put snakes into their vaginas head first. There are more recent references to the activity in the psychological literature including a case study reported in a 1964 issue of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis by Austrian psychoanalyst Dr. Melitta Sperling.

VRE claims that in the case of animals like snakes, only certain sexual acts with them would be considered abusive. VRE asserts that ophidicism is unethical, and that penile penetration of snakes that are physically incompatible with humans (in terms of size) is animal abuse. However, there are some acts that VRE believes could still be ethical involving snakes (e.g., oral sex – although it wasn’t clear whether that was a human performing oral sex on a snake, vice-versa, or either).

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.

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

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

Singer, P. (2001). Heavy petting. Located at: http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/2001—-.htm

Sperling, M. (1964). A case of ophidiophilia: A clinical contribution to snake symbolism. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 45, 227-233.

Vivid Random Existence (2010). Zoosexuality: Should it be considered acceptable? July 20. Located at: http://vividrandomexistence.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/zoosexuality-should-it-be-considered-acceptable-or-not/

Vivid Random Existence (2011). Crocodilian zoosexuality (or zoophilia): The sexual attraction to alligators and crocodiles. December 5. Located at: http://vividrandomexistence.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/crocodilian-zoosexuality-or-zoophilia-the-sexual-attraction-to-alligators-and-crocodiles/

Vivid Random Existence (2012). Lizard zoosexuality (or zoophilia): The sexual attraction to lizards. January 13. Located at: http://vividrandomexistence.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/lizard-zoosexuality-or-zoophilia-the-sexual-attraction-to-lizards/

Ants in your pants? A beginner’s guide to formicophilia

In my blogs I have looked at a wide range of paraphilic behaviours. A quick look through my site statistics revealed that my previous blog on zoophilia has been the most read blog on my site (by quite some margin). Another paraphilia that has been conceptualized as a sub-type of zoophilia is that of formicophilia (i.e., being sexually aroused by insects crawling and/or nibbling on the individual’s genitals). There also appear to some cultural variations such as Genki Genki in Japan. Genki Genki is a style of erotic art and pornography that features women with various creatures, many from the ocean but may also include insects.

According to Dr Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, other areas of the body can also be the focus. It is thought that the desired effect may come from a tickling or stinging sensation, or the infliction of psychological distress on another person. Nancy Butcher in a book on medical mysteries, curious remedies, and bizarre folklore also said that formicophiliacs may smear themselves with honey and have insects feed off them. She also claimed that some formicophiliacs may even place insects in various bodily orifices as they experience sexual pleasure from the insects trying to escape.

To date, only two academic papers have ever been published directly concerning formicophilia. Both of these papers were published in the 1980s by Ratnin Dewaraja (who at the time was at University of Colombo, Sri Lanka). The first paper (co-written with renowned paraphilic expert Professor John Money) was published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. It was in this paper that formicophilia was defined as paraphilia where the focus of sexual arousal is on small creatures, such as “snails, frogs, ants, or other insects creeping, crawling or nibbling on the body, especially the genitalia, perianal area or nipples”. Brenda Love has pointed out that formicophilia should only technically refer to sexual arousal from ants and that paraphilias concerning insects more generally should be named entomophilia. There are other specific insect-related paraphilias such as arachnophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from spiders)

Dewaraja and Money reported that formicophilia is very rare and presented the case of a young Buddhist male who had developed this particular type of paraphilia. In their paper, they suggested that it arises developmentally during childhood, but just how this occurs was unclear. It was also claimed that it is more common in developing countries, perhaps because houses there are more likely to be infested with insects. The desired effect may be a tingling or burning sensation, or the pangs of psychological distress of another person.

They argued that children whose species-specific, juvenile sexual rehearsal play is thwarted or traumatized are at increased risk for developing a compensatory paraphilia (such as formicophilia). Their young Buddhist exemplified what they considered to be a cross-cultural application of this principle. They reported that his paraphilia was endogenously generated without reference to or influence by commercial pornography. They concluded that a “complete causal explanation of [this] paraphilia will require both a phylogenetic (phylismic) and an ontogenetic (life-history) component”.

In a follow-up paper published in the American Journal of Psychotherapy, Dewaraja reported how the same Buddhist male formicophiliac was treated. Rather than trying to completely eliminate the sexual deviation, the man received both counselling and behaviour therapy in an attempt to alleviate his feelings of guilt and depression and improve his self-image. Dewaraja reported that the 12-week course of therapy was successful and resulted in a dramatic reduction of the paraphilic behaviour at one-year follow-up.

However, Brendan Kelly (University College Dublin, Ireland) says that when it comes to the treatment of psychological and psychiatric disorders among Buddhists, the appropriateness of treatment depends on factors related to the individual, the disorder and sociocultural setting in which they live. He specifically notes that sociocultural factors may be “particularly important in the context of psychosexual disorders, and individuals with a Buddhist background may benefit from counselling and cognitive-behavioural approaches that reflect an understanding of such concerns from a Buddhist perspective”.

In a 2005 book chapter by Dr Brenda Love examining some of the strangest sexual behaviours from around the world, she recounted this anecdote related to a man who got his sexual kicks from bee stings. Dr Love noted that:

“Bee stings were once used as a folk remedy for arthritis sufferers. The insects were captured and held on the affected joint until they stung. The poison and the swelling it caused alleviated much of the pain in their joints. One male, having observed his grandparents use bees for this purpose, and later having a female friend throw a bee on his genitals as a joke, discovered that the sting on his penis extended the duration and intensity of his orgasm. Realizing that the bee sting was almost painless, he developed his own procedure, which consisted of catching two bees in a jar, and shaking it to make the bees dizzy to prevent their flying away. They were then grabbed by both wings so that they were unable to twist around and sting. Each bee was placed each side of the glans and pushed to encourage it to sting.  (Stings to the glans do not produce the desired swelling and the venom sac tends to penetrate the skin too deeply, causing difficulty in removing them)…Stings on the penis, unlike other areas, resemble the bite of a mosquito…The circumference of the man’s penis increased from 6.5 inches to 9.5 inches. Swelling is greatest on the second day”

Another insect-related fetish is a variant of crush fetishes. Crush fetishists get sexual pleasure from being walked and trod on and is itself a variant of sexual masochism. G.A. Pearson (North Carolina State University, USA), writing in the online journal Cultural Entomology described a fetish where people get sexual pleasure from watching insects, worms and spiders being squashed (particularly men watching women doing it). As Jeremy Biles notes in a 2004 essay on crush fetishists in Janus Head:

“Among the many obscure and bizarre sects of fetishism, few remain so perplexing or so underexamined as that of the “crush freaks.” At the cutting edge of the edgy world of sexual fetishistic practices, the crush freaks are notorious for their enthusiasm for witnessing the crushing death of insects and other, usually invertebrate, animals, such as arachnids, crustaceans, and worms. More specifically, crush freaks are sexually aroused by the sight of an insect exploded beneath the pressure of a human foot–usually, but not necessarily, a relatively large and beautiful female foot. Sometimes the insects meet their demise under the force exerted by a naked big toe. Other times, it is the impaling heel of a stiletto or the raised outsole of a platform shoe that accomplishes the extermination. The crush freak typically fantasizes identification with the insect as he or she masturbates, and savors the sense of sudden, explosive mutilation attendant upon the sight of the pedal extrusions”.

It’s also been reported that maximum sexual excitement comes the more frightened the woman, and the larger the feet doing the squashing. The preference can also be barefoot, high-heels, flip-flops (depending on the fetishist). Pearson concluded that crush fetishists represent a fascinating example of the human ability to eroticize just about any activity”. Interestingly, in her 2000 book Deviant Desires, Katharine Gates contextualizes crush fetishes as a subset of both foot fetishism and macrophilia (being sexually aroused by giants). Jeremy Biles argues differently and says that these practices are best understood as ambivalent manifestations of technophilia (sexual arousal associated with machinery). Personally, I’m more convinced by Gates’ arguments than those of Biles.

Finally, if you have managed to reach the end of this article and still remain unconvinced that formicophiliacs even exist, you could check out the lovebugz website, or two other websites here and here that have to be seen to be believed (you have been warned!)

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

Further reading

Biles, J. (2004). I, insect, or Bataille and the crush freaks. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(1), 115-131.

Butcher, N. (2004). The Strange Case of the Walking Corpse: A Chronicle of Medical Mysteries, Curious Remedies, and Bizarre but True Healing Folklore. New York: Penguin Books.

Dewaraja, R. (1987). Formicophilia, an unusual paraphilia, treated with counseling and behavior therapy. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 41, 593-597.

Dewaraja, R. & Money, J. (1986). Transcultural sexology: Formicophilia, a newly named paraphilia in a young Buddhist male. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 12, 139-145.

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.

Kelly, B.D. (2008). Buddhist Psychology, Psychotherapy and the Brain: A Critical Introduction. Transcultural Psychiatry, 45(1), 5-30

Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books

Love, B. (2005). Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.122-129).  New York: The Disinformation Company.

Pearson, G.A. (1991). Insect fetish objects. Cultural Entomology Digest, 4, (November).

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