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Let’s talk about sex: A brief overview of narratophilia

Narratophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual pleasure from the use of dirty, pornographic and obscene words or sexual story telling with a sexual partner (and is akin to the watching of filmed obscene and/or pornographic material). This can occur face-to-face with a person or via other synchronous media (such as on the telephone [including telephonic sex chat line services] or via Skype on the internet). This is different from telephone scatophilia as all parties are consenting adults (whereas in telephone scatophilia, the person on the receiving end of the obscene and dirty language is a victim who did not give consent for their involvement). In an internet essay on narratophilia, Michael Furlong says that the different ways in which an individual may achieve narratophilia are:

“Story telling by one partner to another during or before sex, erotic literature, cyber sex, audio tape, or phone sex (Blasingame 2005). Texting has also become a very popular way to cause arousal for the both the person sending and receiving. These stories can occur in a casual or common place, but the stories must also be genito-erotically essential (meaning that the narrative must specifically focus on imagery of the genitalia)”

According to (the late) Professor John Money, narratophilia can also be used to describe the reciprocal condition where an individual’s sexual focus is on the hearing of someone speak erotic, obscene, or pornographic words or stories. Some people have argued that narratophilia also includes the reading and writing of obscene and pornographic material particularly if it is used in synchronous electronic media such as online bulletin boards, online chat rooms and mobile phone texting services (so called ‘sexting’). Obviously, definitions of narratophilia were formulated before the advent of the internet age.

However, as Dr Joel Milner, Dr Cynthia Dopke, and Dr Julie Crouch note in a 2008 review of paraphilias not otherwise specified:

“When the criteria for narratophilia are met, the mode of communication can take any form, including telephone sex services, computer-based erotic bulletin boards, and Internet emails. Thus, although a new paraphilia, “chat-scatophilia,” has been proposed to describe an erotic focus on sending obscene words over the Internet (Abal, Marin, & Sanchez, 2003), we do not believe that a new category for Internet transmission of obscene messages is warranted. Furthermore, the degree of overlap between the existing paraphilic categories of narratophilia and telephone scatophilia remains to be determined”

At present, narratophilia is listed as a “paraphilia not otherwise specified” in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV). Paraphilia listed in the ‘not otherwise specified’ category are said to occur much less frequently than the paraphilias that are individually listed (e.g., necrophilia, zoophilia, klismaphilia) in this category. However, it is thought that many couples use narratophilic elements during their sexual behaviour. Here the use of spoken obscene words or pornographic language heightens the sexual arousal but is not a necessary prerequisite for sexual arousal to occur. As a consequence, narratophilia can be classified into one of three types

  • Exclusive narratophiia: In this type, the individual is unable to get sexually aroused without the telling of a sexual story or obscene language being used. It is thought that this is extremely rare.
  • Preferred narratophilia: In this type, the individual has a preference for narratophilic activities to ‘normal’ and conventional sex. They can still become sexually aroused and have sex without the use of obscene words and/or pornographic stories but would simply prefer to be engaged in narratophilic activity when possible. Again, this is thought to be relatively rare although more common than exclusive narratophilia.
  • Optional narratophilia: In this type, the individual may just engage in narratophilic behaviour as a form of sexual experimentation in an attempt to enhance and facilitate conventional sexual behaviour. This is thought to be fairly common and widespread among consenting sexual couples.

In their 2008 review of paraphilias not otherwise specified, Dr Joel Milner and colleagues said that there was only one other paraphilia that narratophilia potentially overlapped with (i.e., telephone scatophilia). They also differentiated paraphilias into one of four categories: (i) nonhuman objects, (ii) suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, (iii) children or other non-consenting persons, and (iv) atypical focus involving human subjects (self and others). Milner and colleagues classified narratophilia as being in the second category (i.e., suffering or humiliating of oneself or one’s partner). This was presumably because of the humiliation that the individual or their consenting partner might go through by engaging in the story telling or listening of unreal sexual fantasies. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that most individuals (and their partners) experience no feelings of humiliation so being classed in this category seems to be misguided. Personally, I would class it under the ‘atypical focus’ category.

As there are no empirical data on narratophilia, it is thought to be rare. In the 1986 book Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, Ashley Montagu claims that narratophilia is more common in men (which based on other paraphilic behaviour would seem reasonable to assume). However, there is no research evidence to empirically confirm the observation. Michael Furlong says that because paraphilias are stimulated by the brain and not by touch, narratophilia is more likely to occur in men. He argues that:

“Because narratophilia can be achieved without even another person being present, this is why it is most common among men. Feel and contact are essential to a woman’s arousal. Because narratophilia is done through verbal communication, women are not as easily aroused by this”

Given that so many couples appear to use narratophilic elements within the context of their conventional sex lives, there has been controversy as to whether narratophilia should even be considered as a paraphilia. The American Psychiatric Association would only consider narratophilia a disorder if the individual was experiencing personal distress or impairment, or harm to others. An example of where narratophilia might be considered a disorder is when the behaviour leads to marital discord. Furlong briefly recounted one of Professor John Money’s case vignettes:

“A man in Minnesota lost his family and job after he was arrested for engaging in homosexual activity in a men’s bathroom. He acted as a bisexual by having sex with his wife once every Saturday and he would later admit that he aroused himself with his wife by narrating military stories to himself from his days of military service about the masturbatory exploits of soldiers”.

Personally, I feel the negative impact (i.e., loss of job and family) was due to repeated homosexual infidelity rather than the narratophilia. However, this does not mean that narratophilia cannot be considered a bona fide paraphilia in some circumstances.

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

Further reading

Abal, Y.N., Marin, J.A.L., & Sanchez, S.R. (2003). Nueva parafilia del siglo XXI: Chat-escatofilia. Archivos Hispanoamericanos de Sexologia, 9, 81-104.

Blasingame, G. (2005). Developmentally disabled persons with sexual behavior problems: Treatment, management, and supervision (2nd ed.). Oklahoma City, OK: Wood & Barnes Publishing.

Dalby, J.T. (1988). Is telephone scatalogia a variant of exhibitionism? International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 32, 45-50.

Furlong, M. (2011). Narratophilia. Located at: http://sexual-communication.wikispaces.com/Narratophilia

Milner, J.S. Dopke, C.A. & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and Theory In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp. 384-418). New York: Guildford Press.

Montagu, A. (1986). Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. New York: Harper & Row.

Money, J. (1986). Lovemaps: Clinical concepts of sexual/erotic health and pathology, paraphilia, and gender transposition in childhood, adolescence, and maturity. New York: Irvington.

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