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Needle work: A beginner’s guide to belonophilia

A year ago, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reported the case of a 58-year old Australian facial surgeon (Arthur Bosanquet) who was disqualified from practicing as a dentist after admitting to the Dental Tribunal of New South Wales that he had a “needle fetish” with an underlying homosexual/bisexual interest that led to the sexual abuse of three teenage patients. He was initially jailed for nine months for both indecent and common assaults but on appeal these were downgraded to suspended sentences. As the article in the SMH noted:

“[Bosanquet] devised a bogus university study which tricked the young men into masturbating in front of him…The surgeon blamed his behaviour on his needle fetish, sexual interests, and too much work…The tribunal heard evidence that, in several cases, Bosanquet offered the young men money to complete the study, which focused on taking blood pressure readings and blood samples before and after masturbation. The incidents, which spanned an eight-year period, included two occasions where he conducted the ‘study’ at the patients’ homes”

In another case last year reported by Asia One News, a 40-year old man from Kuala Lumpur had pricked “scores of needles into his lover’s body” claiming that he had been performing acupuncture on her. His lover was forced to endure his fetishistic use of needles and was threatened with stabbing if she did not let her become his human pin cushion. He threatened to knife her if she did not submit to his fetish. The report noted:

“The woman was startled from her slumber by a sharp piercing feeling on her body. The man pointed a knife at her and threatened to kill her, saying he was going to perform acupuncture on her. Afraid, she gave in to the agonizing ‘treatment’. The man told her that he, too, needed the treatment and wanted her to prick needles into his body. The victim, worried that the matter could get out of hand, told her boyfriend she needed to wash up and prepare for work. She pleaded with him to remove the needles and pins from her face, hands and body. During the brief respite, the frightened woman stealthily left the house and fled to the Sungai Besi police station to lodge a report”.

In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr Anil Aggrawal defines belonophilia as the deriving of sexual pleasure and arousal from pins or needles and both of the above cases appear to belonophiles (although I only have media stories as ‘evidence’).

In a previous blog on piquerism (sexual arousal from penetrating another person’s body with sharp objects such as pins, razors, knives, etc.) I briefly looked at the case of 25-year-old American (Frank Ranieri) who was accused of paying large amounts of money to at least five young females in exchange for poking their buttocks with sharp objects (e.g., pens, pins, nails, etc.) while masturbating. Although Ranieri was a piquerist, it could also be argued that he was (in part at least a belonophile). As one article on the case noted:

“Ranieri was charged with two counts of second-degree assault as a sexual felony for paying a 17-year-old Richmond Valley teen about $6,000 to be his erotic pincushion for about a year and a half…Ranieri liked to see pins go through muscle and flesh…He didn’t see much wrong with it”.

Although media stories relating to ‘needle fetishes’ appear to be relatively rare, clinical and medical case studies in the academic literature are almost non-existent. One of the very few academic case studies of pin fetishism was published back in a 1954 issue of the medical journal The Lancet. Dr. W. Mitchell and two other colleagues reported the case of an epileptic male with a safety pin fetish (in fact, there is a known association between epilepsy and sexual fetishism). For as long as he could remember, the patient had had a safety pin fetish and often entered a trance-like state when gazing at a safety pin. The man claimed that during his early childhood, contemplation of an actual or imagined safety pin evoked a feeling described by the man as “thought satisfaction”. During his teenage years, the `thought satisfaction’ developed into absence seizures, and then motor automatisms. At the age of 38-years, the patient was given a temporal lobectomy. This completely eliminated both the epilepsy and his fetishistic desire for safety pins.

The sexualization of pin and needles has long been part of sexual sado-masochistic practices and is known as ‘needle play’. The Informed Consent website has an article on the practices and notes that:

Needle play is the practice of inserting needles under the skin of the submissive. Needle play is considered [a form of] Edge Play and care should be taken to follow all appropriate safety precautions when engaging in play in order to avoid injury or infection. Only use sterile needles approved for medical use, and not reuse them after they have been used. The basic idea is that the needle should travel just underneath the surface of ordinary skin, to emerge through the skin a short distance from where it was inserted. The needle tips have a bevel. With regard to the skin being pierced, the bevel may be up or down (it’s personal preference). Shallower [equals] More Pain, Larger Diameter Needle [equals] More Pain. Do not stick needles into internal organs, bones, eyes, etc. Again, the idea is that the needle should travel just underneath ordinary skin, passing only through skin and the subcutaneous layers just underneath the surface”.

The Informed Consent website also makes reference to very specific types of needle play including genital play piercing and nipple piercing. The article claims that those individuals that like “intense nipple play” also like temporary nipple piercing. The article also notes that:

“The needle can be thrust through back of the nipple, taking care to include areolar tissue. An entire rosette of needles can be inserted. This of course can be dangerous, with potential exchange of bodily fluids and other infection. Don’t pierce wrists, hands, or spines, or near them. In general, piercing near a nerve tract (e.g., near joints); avoid piercing where bones are close to the skin surface. Waist to shoulders is usually fine, though one should avoid the armpit and sternum. The primary danger in play piercing is infection. Be sure that the person you are playing with would recognize the signs of infection should they occur”.

The Wikipedia entry on play piercing briefly examines both needle play and recreational acupuncture and defines such practices as temporary where the main reason for engaging in the behaviour is to enjoy the experience rather than permanent body decoration. Other motivations for engaging in needle play include (i) a mode of self-expression, (ii) spiritual self-discovery, (iii) sexual pleasure, (iv) simple entertainment, (v) raising awareness, (vi) relieving boredom, and/or (vii) as “part of a ritual imitating mock tribal cultures”. The article also claims:

“Play piercing can produce an intense natural endorphin high which can last for hours and can induce orgasm in many of the people who experience it. The experience of multiple piercings in an erotically or spiritually charged context is qualitatively very different from the experience most people have had with phlebotomists in medical settings, in part because the needle is placed ‘through’ the skin at a secant so that both ends are accessible, rather than ‘into’ the skin”.

Whether ‘needle play’ can really be classed as a ‘needle fetish’ as part of belonophilia is debatable. The (online non-academic) needle play literature appears to be more rooted in erotic piercing that needle fetishes per se. There are certainly a growing number of academic papers on sexual piercing since Dr. Neil Buhrich’s research in a 1983 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior (so I’ll leave that for another blog). Genuine ‘needle fetishism’ appears to be very rare.

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.

Asia One News (2012). Man has ‘acupuncture’ fetish, January 4. Located at: http://news.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne%2BNews/Malaysia/Story/A1Story20120104-319766.html

Buhrich, N. (1983). The association of erotic piercing with homosexuality, sadomasochism, bondage, fetishism, and tattoos. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 12, 167-171.

Fuller, B. (2012). Dentist disqualified over ‘needle fetish’. Sydney Morning Herald, August 21. Located at: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/dentist-disqualified-over-needle-fetish-20120821-24jdc.html

Informed Consent (2012). Needle play. Located at: https://www.informedconsent.co.uk/dictionary/Needle_play/

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

Mitchell, W. & Falconer, M.A. & Hill, D. (1954). Epilepsy with fetishism relieved by temporal lobe lobectomy. Lancet, 2, 626-630.

PervScan (2007). Piquerism in New York. June 12. Located at: http://pervscan.com/2007/06/12/piquerism-in-new-york/

Spencer, P.N. (2007). Bizarre allegations at pin-fetish arraignment. Staten Island Advance, June 6. Located at: http://blog.silive.com/advanceupdate/2007/06/bizarre_allegations_at_pinfeti.html

Wikipedia (2012). Play piercing. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play_piercing

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