Thigh fetishism might appear a somewhat obvious topic to write a blog on given all the previous body part fetishes I have looked at (including foot fetishism, shoulder fetishism). However, there is no academic research on the topic and most non-academic articles that I have read tend to concentrate on thigh-boot fetishism rather than thigh fetishism in, and of, itself. According to the Kinkly website:
“Thigh fetish refers to a sexual arousal by or sexual interest in thighs. Typically, it is a male interest in female thighs. However, it can apply to a woman’s interest in female thighs, a woman’s interest in male thighs, or a male’s interest in male thighs. Usually the fetishist is attracted to the naked thighs. The thighs don’t even need to be extremely sexualized for the fetishist. Often it is the gap between a high boot and edge of skirt, or knee high socks and edge of skirt that arouse the fetishist more than sexualized images of thighs”.
The Self-Help Sexuality website adds that “some men have a thigh fetish where they are turned on by the glimpse of woman’s inner thigh or when a woman opens her thigh. Some men enjoy kissing and licking woman’s inner thigh”. Both of these descriptions are fairly commonsense and arguably don’t need empirical research to back up the claims made.
Thee one piece of empirical research I found with some reference to thigh sexuality was a paper published in a 2014 issue of the journal Cortex by Dr. Oliver Turnbull and colleagues who examined which erogenous zones are the most sensitive in males and females. They surveyed 800 participants (mainly British and Sub-Saharan Africans) and were asked to rate 41 body parts for erogenous intensity on a 10-point scale. Unsurprisingly, the highest rated body parts for sensitivity were the clitoris among women (mean rating 9.17 out of 10) and the penis among men (mean rating 9.0 out of 10). Inner thighs were rated as the fourth most erogenous zone by men (mean rating 5.84 out of 10; back of thigh 2.48 out 10; outer thigh 1.91 out of 10), and the seventh most erogenous zone by women (mean rating 6.7 out of 10; back of thigh 2.6 out 10; outer thigh 1.96 out of 10).
I also found details of a non-academic online survey among Japanese businessmen (mainly those in their thirties and forties) carried out by the marketing research company Goo via an article on the Japanator website. The focus of the survey was favourite “secret fetishes”. Top of the 20 listed fetishes was zettai ryouiki (which translates as “absolute territory”) and refers to the “leg exposure located between the hem of a skirt and the top of thigh-high socks”. The second-placed ‘secret fetish’ was also thigh-related and was being held in the vice-like grip of “athletic thighs”.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m fascinated by the sexual culture in Japan and have written many blogs on various aspects of Japanese sexuality. An article about thigh fetishes on the Venus O’Hara website specifically examined zettai ryouiki:
“In other words, they fantasize most frequently about that piece of exposed flesh between the top of a girl’s thigh-high socks and the bottom of a short skirt. This description fulfils the fetish principle in that no nudity is involved. Zettai ryouiki describes an otherwise mundane detail which, when used as a primer for arousal, assumes a sexual significance that is almost impossible to explain for non thigh-fetishists. The same principle applies to Western men and the expression of their own thigh fetishism when it comes to lingerie and hosiery. Stockings and suspenders make these men’s enjoyment of thighs and their understanding of thigh fetishism that much easier. The combination of panties, a suspender belt and stockings isolates the area of exposed thigh and almost draws a border around it. This focuses the attention on the naked skin as oppose to the erogenous zones that are covered, albeit by material that is often sheer. A garter belt is another magnet for thigh fetishists, as are knee-high socks, thigh-high boots and self-support stockings”.
My own view is that thigh fetishism and other thigh-related fetishes (for thigh boots, thigh socks, etc.) while overlapping, are not the same. The article on the Venus O’Hara website then goes onto talk about another variant of thigh fetishism:
“Thigh fetishism has produced a new variation of itself recently and social media has had a lot to do with it. The trend for promoting and desiring a permanent clearance between the tops of the legs has become a social phenomenon and a modern yardstick for feminine health and beauty. This ‘thigh gap’ is more common, anatomically, in women who are naturally much taller and whose body mass index is lower than the average. The physiques displayed by contemporary fashion models are an obvious ideal where the ‘thigh gap’ is concerned. A much more democratic trend in relation to thigh fetishism has also arisen on social media almost in response to the ‘thigh gap’. ‘Thighbrow’ describes the naturally-occurring crease between the thigh and the hip that appears when you sit or kneel down. Two of these, when observed together, have been said to resemble eyebrows. Whereas the ultimate ‘thigh gap’ seems to be exclusive to young women who wear size 6 jeans, the ‘thighbrow’ is a fetish highlight that everyone can flaunt”.
There was also a recent exhibition in Japan devoted purely to thigh fetishism. A short online article about the exhibition noted that:
“In Japanese Culture there are so many different fetishes that are popular: Swimsuit Fetish, Doorknob Licking Fetish (it’s not a joke), Teeth Fetish…Amongst these Fetishes, there is also Thigh Fetish, and Todays Gallery Studio decided to dedicate an entire photo exhibition about it…More than 500 works and 1000 pair of thighs shot by artist Yuria will be exposed”.
In my own research for this blog I was unable to find any dedicated online discussion forum for thigh fetishism. This could either be because it’s so rare or be because it’s so common that it’s not worth creating a dedicated website to discuss such matters. I found very few first-hand accounts of self-admitted thigh fetishism, in fact I only located two individuals:
- Extract 1: “This is going to sound weird, but I sort of have a thing for women who have strong looking thighs. Size isn’t just what it’s about, but with a muscular tone along with it. It’s not like I get off on it, but I do find it very sexy and is a big turn on for me. It started when I seen a women at this gym who was wearing these spandex looking short pants and I couldn’t help but notice her thighs in them, and they were rather muscular. I don’t have a fetish for female bodybuilders, though I do find spandex sexy…but it wasn’t that, it was her thighs, and I just started noticing things like this more and more afterward”.
- Extract 2: Even before I hit puberty, I always had these strange, excited feeling in me…[When] I was 11, I would imagine these pretty girls getting out of their pants and revealing their legs…One night, I had an extremely arousing dream. It was odd, yet intense. I was hanging out in the park in my neighborhood. A bunch of ladies were hanging out…With no warning, all the ladies in the park started screaming. Their pants were undoing themselves. Afterward, all the ladies’ pants were being pulled off by something invisible and sex crazed. Something that wanted a bunch of ladies have no pants on. Now these scared ladies were in their underwear. The idea of these beautiful ladies going from having their pants on to being taken off them excited me to no end…My women’s thigh fetish was getting more intense…By the time I was 14, I imagined the sex crazed invisible creature taking off random women’s pants and making them cross their naked thighs together, like they were making out…When I was 14, I finally had found a girl…I told her all about my sexy dreams. About my women’s thigh fetish…I kept asking her really warped questions, like how she would feel if something took her pants off in school. How would she feel if her and another girl lost their pants together…[I] finally ejaculated and [was] happy that her legs were the reason…Even now…my women’s thigh fetish dreams were always my favorites to think about”.
I have no idea if these accounts are in any way representative of those who have a thigh fetish but both appear to be heterosexual males, and both can pinpoint where their interests in women’s thighs originated. As with many fetishes I have examined, I can’t see thigh fetishism being the topic of any in-depth empirical research simply because it has the ‘so what?’ factor. Who would be interested in such research and why?
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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Turnbull, O.H., Lovett, V.E., Chaldecott, J., & Lucas, M.D. (2014). Reports of intimate touch: Erogenous zones and somatosensory cortical organization. Cortex, 53, 146-154.
Five years ago I wrote a blog about one of my favourite bands, Throbbing Gristle (TG; Yorkshire slang for a penile erection). In that article, I noted that TG were arguably one of “the most extreme bands of all time” and “highly confrontational”. They were also the pioneers of ‘industrial music’ and in terms of their ‘songs’, no topic was seen as taboo or off-limits. In short, they explored the dark and obsessive side of the human condition. Their ‘music’ featured highly provocative and disturbing imagery including hard-core pornography, sexual manipulation, school bullying, ultra-violence, sado-masochism, masturbation, ejaculation, castration, cannibalism, Nazism, burns victims, suicide, and serial killers (Myra Hindley and Ian Brady).
I mention all this because I have just spent the last few days reading the autobiography (‘Art Sex Music‘) of Cosey Fanni Tutti (born Christine Newbie), one of the four founding members of TG. It was a fascinating (and in places a harrowing) read. As someone who is a record-collecting completist and having amassed almost everything that TG ever recorded, I found Cosey’s book gripping and read the last 350 pages (out of 500) in a single eight-hour sitting into the small hours of Sunday morning earlier today.
TG grew out of the ‘performance art’ group COUM Transmissions in the mid-1970s comprising Genesis P-Orridge (‘Gen’, born Neil Megson in 1950) and Cosey. At the time, Cosey and Gen were a ‘couple’ (although after reading Cosey’s book, it was an unconventional relationship to say the least). TG officially formed in 1975 when Chris Carter (born 1953) and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (1955-2010). Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Fairburn famously called the group “wreckers of civilisation” (which eventually became the title of their 1999 biography by Simon Ford).
As I noted in my previous article, TG are – psychologically – one of the most interesting groups I have ever come across and Cosey’s book pulled no punches. To some extent, Cosey’s book attempted to put the record straight in response to Simon Ford’s book which was arguably a more Gen-oriented account of TG. Anyone reading Cosey’s book will know within a few pages who she sees as the villain of the TG story. Gen is portrayed as an egomaniacal tyrant who manipulated her. Furthermore, she was psychologically and physically abused by Gen throughout their long relationship in the 1970s. Thankfully, Cosey fell in love with fellow band member Chris Carter and he is still the “heartbeat” of the relationship and to who her book is dedicated.
Like many of my favourite groups (The Beatles, The Smiths, The Velvet Underground, Depeche Mode), TG were (in Gestaltian terms) more than the sum of their parts and all four members were critical in them becoming a cult phenomenon. The story of their break up in the early 1980s and their reformation years later had many parallels with that of the Velvet Underground’s split and reformation – particularly the similarities between Gen and Lou Reed who both believed they were leaders of “their” band and who both walked out during their second incarnations.
Cosey is clearly a woman of many talents and after reading her book I would describe her as an artist (and not just a ‘performance artist’), musician (or maybe ‘anti-musician in the Brian Eno sense of the word), writer, and lecturer, as well as former pornographic actress, model, and stripper. It is perhaps her vivid descriptions of her life in the porn industry and as a stripper that (in addition to her accounts of physical and psychological abuse by Gen) were the most difficult to read. For someone as intelligent as Cosey (after leaving school with few academic qualifications but eventually gaining a first-class degree via the Open University), I wasn’t overly convinced by her arguments that her time working in the porn industry both as a model and actress was little more than an art project that she engaged in on her own terms. But that was Cosey’s justification and I have no right to challenge her on it.
What I found even more interesting was how she little connection between her ‘pornographic’ acting and modelling work and her time as a stripper (the latter she did purely for money and to help make ends meet during the 1980s). Her work as a porn model and actress was covert, private, seemingly enjoyable, and done behind closed doors without knowing who the paying end-users were seeing her naked. Her work as a stripper was overt, public, not so enjoyable, and played out on stage directly in front of those paying to see her naked. Two very different types of work and two very different psychologies (at least in the way that Cosey described it).
Obviously both jobs involved getting naked but for Cosey, that appeared to be the only similarity. She never ever had sex for money with any of the clientele that paid to see her strip yet she willingly made money for sex within the porn industry. For Cosey, there was a moral sexual code that she worked within, and that sex as a stripper was a complete no-no. The relationship with Gen was (as I said above) ‘unconventional’ and Gen often urged her and wanted her to have sex with other men (and although she never mentioned it in her book, I could speculate that Gen had some kind of ‘cuckold fetish’ that I examined in a previous blog as well as some kind of voyeur). There were a number of times in the book when Cosey appeared to see herself as some kind of magnet for unwanted attention (particularly exhibitionists – so-called ‘flashers’ – who would non-consensually expose their genitalia in front of Cosey from a young age through to adulthood). Other parts of the book describe emotionally painful experiences (and not just those caused by Gen) including both her parents disowning her and a heartfelt account of a miscarriage (and the hospital that kept her foetus without her knowledge or consent). There are other sections in the book that some readers may find troubling including her menstruation art projects (something that I perhaps should have mentioned in my blog on artists who use their bodily fluids for artistic purposes).
Cosey’s book is a real ‘warts and all’ account of her life including her many health problems, many of which surprisingly matched my own (arrhythmic heart condition, herniated spinal discs, repeated breaking of feet across the lifespan). Another unexpected connection was that her son with Chris Carter (Nick) studied (and almost died of peritonitis) as an undergraduate studying at art at Nottingham University or Nottingham Trent University. I say ‘or’ because at one stage in the book it says that Nick studied at Nottingham University and in another extract it says they were proud parents attending his final degree art show at Nottingham Trent University. I hope it was the latter.
Anyone reading the book would be interested in many of the psychological topics that make an appearance in the book including alcoholism, depression, claustrophobia, egomania, and suicide to name just a few. In previous blogs I’ve looked at whether celebrities are more prone to some psychological conditions including addictions and egomania and the book provides some interesting case study evidence. As a psychologist and a TG fan I loved reading the book.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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Wells, S. (2007). A Throbbing Gristle primer. The Guardian, May 27. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2007/may/29/athrobbinggristleprimer
Last week I watched the South Korean film Lucid Dream (a 2017 Netflix original that premiered on June 2), the directorial debut by Kim Joon-sung. For those who don’t know, lucid dreams are those in “which the dreamer is aware of dreaming. During lucid dreaming, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment” (Wikipedia). The reason I mention this is because one of the characters in the film claims he is ‘addicted’ to lucid dreams. Obviously the use of the word ‘addicted’ in this context piqued my interest (in what must be said was a mediocre film).
I’ve been fascinated by lucid dreams even before I knew what they were. Although I’ve suffered from insomnia for most of my life, I’m also someone that has very vivid dreams when I sleep. I learned a lot more about lucid dreaming during my PhD at the University of Exeter because one of my best friends (Rob Rooksby) was carrying out research into the area. Over the course of a few years, I had many conversations with Rob about the topic (both professional and personal) because I had experienced lucid dreams myself (and still do).
One of the academics that Rob mentioned many times to me was the psychologist Dr. Jayne Gackenbach who at the time was editor of a journal called Lucidity Letter (and in which Rob had a couple of papers published in, see ‘Further reading’ below. By co-incidence, I came to know Dr. Gackenbach professionally in the 1990s and since then I have written three chapters in some of her edited books – two on internet addiction and one on Game Transfer Phenomena – also see ‘Further reading’ below). In a short 1987 paper in Lucidity Letter, Dr. Gackenbach claimed that lucid dreaming could be potentially addictive:
“I would caution against taking an attitude toward the lucid dream state of it being unrelated to waking life. This could result in undue absorption in lucid dreaming, leading potentially to addiction (see the letter by Barroso in [the December, 1987] issue of Lucidity Letter for an excellent example)…After hearing about Tholey’s training of an Olympic athlete with dream lucidity, a colleague spontaneously remarked, “Dream lucidity is really the ultimate drug!” Yes, the state has that potential. But so too comes the potentiality of abuse through ignorance of proper use and possibly addiction”.
Consequently, I managed to track down a copy of Mark Barroso’s 1987 published letter where he asserted that:
“I would like to comment on how lucid dreaming became counterproductive. Like most everything else I’ve enjoyed, too much of it could be very destructive. Living in the dream world became preferable to reality. I would lay in bed, miss work, and wrap myself in a catatonic state in which to spin dreams, dreams, dreams. I would sleep in public places to use various stimuli for my lucid dreams: a park, a downtown bench, the beach, park the car near a school yard of children playing. If you have mastered lucid dreaming, you should try this, it really is incredible. Real and random sounds factor in the dream. Basically, all I did was lucid dream and nothing else. With a life like that it could be hard to pay the rent. So I just stopped. Over time I lost the ability to lucid dream…Although I never regarded myself as having a special ability, it never occurred to me that others did this as well. I finally “O.D.’d” on lucid dreaming when I stayed in bed for 4 or 5 days, only rising to drink and use the bathroom. I was a hermit with no other ambition. I got a job where people were counting on me to show up and found within me the motivation to shake the cobwebs from my eyes”.
Although I am highly sceptical that lucid dreaming can be potentially addictive, Barroso’s letter does contain anecdotal evidence at least suggestive of addiction-like symptoms where lucid dreaming completely took over his life and impacted negatively on every area of his life. These aren’t the only references to ‘lucid dreaming addiction’ in the academic literature. In a 1990 book by Dr. Stephen LaBerge and Dr. Howard Rheingold entitled Exploring The World of Lucid Dreaming, one chapter (‘Preparing for learning lucid dreaming’) featured a ‘Q&A’ section including the following question and answer:
“Q. Lucid dreams are so exciting and feel so good that real life pales by comparison. Isn’t it possible to get addicted to them and not wish to do anything else?
A. It may be possible for the die-hard escapist whose life is otherwise dull to become obsessed with lucid dreaming. Whether or not this deserves to be called addiction is another question. In any case, some advice for those who find the idea of “sleeping their life away” for the sake of lucid dreaming is to consider applying what they have learned in lucid dreams to their waking lives. If lucid dreams seem so much more real and exciting, then this should inspire you to make your life more like your dreams – more vivid, intense, pleasurable, and rewarding. In both worlds your behavior strongly influences your experience”.
Another similar Q&A featured on the World of Lucid Dreaming (WLD) website founded by Rebecca Turner. One of the WLD readers (‘Nikki’) asked Turner: “Is lucid dreaming addictive? I really want to have lucid dreams but I read that lucid dreaming is really addictive and this worries me. Would you compare this need to taking drugs? How do you keep control over it?” Turner responded by saying: “I [too] have read in the media that “lucid dreaming is addictive” but this is a poor use of language. They are trying to say that it’s highly enjoyable and you’ll want to do it more”.
As far as I am aware, no empirical study has ever examined addiction to lucid dreaming although there are plenty of individuals on various lucid dreaming online forums who have claimed that such activity can be addictive from either their own experiences or by those known to them. Here are a few of the more detailed examples I have come across:
- Extract 1: “I first lucid dreamed purposely about 5-6 years ago. For the past year and a half. I’ve lucid dreamed every single night, except when I’m really drunk, I don’t seem to dream then. I have a bit of an addictive personality, I smoke weed every day. I have a sex in my dreams very often, a few times a week, and they almost always end up with an orgasm and a wet awakening later. I always just have the greatest times and see the greatest things while I’m dreaming. But it is getting harder and harder to get up in the morning. I will sleep an extra 2-3 hours after I want to wake up because I don’t want to leave the dream world, and I find if I go to sleep while the dream is fresh in my mind still I can continue it with ease. I have lost many jobs, and fucked up many opportunities because I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning…Now I am on welfare, get money from the government every month, and I sleep all the time, I have no set sleep schedule, I sleep in the day, I sleep at night, I sleep whenever I feel like it. I feel like the second my head hits the pillow I’m sucked into another world in my head. I daydream whenever I’m not sleeping, I’ve lost track of time. My whole world feels like a lucid dream now” (Steezy 233).
- Extract 2: I think I spend at least half of my nights lucid dreaming. I never get tired of it…I love the world my mind creates every night…I have a really long history with lucid dreaming and hallucinations, but if I were to go that in-depth this post would end up being a novel or something. Long story short, I used to have hypnagogic hallucinations and sleep paralysis every night when I was young (4-10, I think)…Then one night I had my first lucid dream, and did some investigating…I became better and better at lucid dreaming, and somehow parts of my dream world have become consistent (architecture, people, holidays even). I love living in the dream world. It’s fun, and horrifying at times, but either way it’s exciting. But in the day, everything is drab. Living feels so dull and dead and repetitive and stressful…I love dreaming. I’m depressed when I’m not dreaming. Sometimes I wish I could dream and never wake up. I’m not suicidal or anything dangerous like that…I don’t really want people I know to know I have this addiction to dreaming” (‘JDBar’).
- Extract 3: “When I first learned how to induce lucid dreams as a teenager, and then program the dream I wanted to have, it was intoxicating! Every night before I went to sleep I would have to decide if I wanted to do something romantic with a hunky male movie star, or save the world as Storm from the X-Men, or work on astral projection, or try to contact my friends who were also lucid dreaming, etc. I was practically living a double life because my night life was vastly different than my waking life. I was becoming addicted to the pleasures of lucid dreaming. That habit led to some unfortunate experiences, however. The more I explored the dream world and different planes of existence, the less connected I was to my waking life. This was not at all healthy. It would take too long to explain everything that happened…but suffice it to say, it nearly destroyed my sanity. I eventually decided I had to plug back into my “real” life and leave some of the other world behind. It took a couple of years to reconnect with the living instead of the astral” (Erin).
- Extract 4: “Well, I’ll admit that I went through a bad stage last year. I had high levels of anxiety and depression and I saw lucid dreaming as a way to escape from everything that was going on at school and in my life. I would even fake sick just to stay home and sleep all day to lucid dream. But something just changed lately and I’m no longer depressed…I don’t rely on lucid dreaming like I used to, instead I just see it as some fun. I wouldn’t say there’s any real reason not to lucid dream, though. It’s a lot of fun and can help with night terrors and nightmares” (Daydreamer14).
Most accounts I have come across online see the benefits of lucid dreaming as far outweighing any negatives. In fact, I came across a few websites claiming that lucid dreaming can be used as a method of overcoming more traditional addictions (similar to the idea of Dr. Bill Glasser’s positive addictions that I examined in a previous blog). For instance, at the Lucid Dream Leaf website it was claimed that:
“Lucid dreaming has a seemingly endless list of benefits attached to it. It can help people who are struggling with emotional pain, end recurring dreams and nightmares, expand consciousness, and so on. In addition to all of this, regular lucid dreaming practice can also be a useful tool to those in recovery (or moving toward recovery) from addictions”.
Other websites (such as the Remedy Free website) provide advice on how to overcome addiction to lucid dreaming or how to overcome problems with lucid dreaming (‘7 nasty side effects of lucid dreaming and how to fix them’ and ‘Lucid dreaming dangers – Obsession [Addiction]’). Although I’ve argued that any activity can be potentially addictive as long as there are constant rewards from the activity, lucid dreaming can only occur when an individual is asleep, so unless someone is constantly sleeping, it doesn’t appear it could be an addiction by my own criteria – but as ever, I am happy to be proved wrong. I ought to add that some online articles (such as one on the Dreaming Life blogsite) claim that lucid dreaming can be a consequence of ‘sleeping addiction’ (but I’ll leave that for another blog).
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Barroso, M., (1987). Letter to the Editor. Lucidity Letter, 6(2). Retrieved from https://journals.macewan.ca/lucidity/article/view/763/704
Gackenbach, J. (1987). Clinical and transpersonal concerns with lucid dreaming voiced. Lucidity Letter, 6(2), 1-4.
Glasser, W. (1976), Positive Addictions. Harper & Row, New York, NY.
Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications (pp. 61-75). New York: Academic Press.
LaBerge, S., & Rheingold, H. (1990). Exploring The World of Lucid Dreaming. New York: Ballantine Books.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An introduction to Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing. In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Video Game Play and Consciousness (pp.223-250). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.
Rooksby, R. (1989). Problems in the historical research of lucid dreaming. Lucidity Letter, 8(2), 75-80.
Rooksby, B., & Terwee, S. (1990). Freud, van Eeden and lucid dreaming. Lucidity Letter, 9(2), 1-10.
Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? (Revisited). In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications (2nd Edition), (pp.141-163). New York: Academic Press.
Wikipedia (2017). Lucid dream. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucid_dream
A study published in the British Journal of General Practice in March 2017 reported that of 1,058 individuals surveyed in GP waiting rooms in Bristol (UK), 0.9% were problem gamblers and that a further 4.3% reported gambling problems that “were low to medium severity”. This is in line with other British studies carried out over the last decade which have reported problem gambling prevalence rates of between 0.5% and 0.9%.
I have long argued that problem gambling is a health issue and that GPs should routinely screen for gambling problems. Back in 2004, I published an article in the British Medical Journal about why problem gambling is a health issue. I argued that the social and health costs of problem gambling were (and still are) large at both individual and societal levels.
Personal costs can include irritability, extreme moodiness, problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, neglect of family, and bankruptcy. Adverse health consequences for problem gamblers and their partners include depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraine, and other stress related disorders. In my BMJ article I also noted that analysis of calls to the GamCare national gambling helpline indicated that a small minority of callers reported health-related consequences as a result of their problematic gambling. These included depression, anxiety, stomach problems, and suicidal ideation. Obviously many of these medical problems arise through the stress of financial problems but that doesn’t make it any less of a health issue for those suffering from severe gambling problems.
Research published in the American Journal of Addictions has also shown that health-related problems can occur as a result of withdrawal effects. For instance, one study by Dr. Richard Rosenthal and Dr. Henry Lesieur found that at least 65% of pathological gamblers reported at least one physical side effect during withdrawal, including insomnia, headaches, loss of appetite, physical weakness, heart racing, muscle aches, breathing difficulty, and chills.
Based on these findings, problem gambling is very much a health issue that needs to be taken seriously by all in the medical profession. GPs routinely ask patients about smoking cigarettes and drinking, but gambling is something that is not generally discussed. Problem gambling may be perceived as a grey area in the field of health, and it is therefore very easy for those in the medical profession not to have the issue on their wellbeing radar. If the main aim of GPs is to ensure the health of their patients, then an awareness of gambling and the issues surrounding it should be an important part of basic knowledge and should be taught in the curriculum while prospective doctors are at medical school. One of the reasons that GPs don’t routinely screen for problem gambling is because they are not taught about it during their medical training and therefore do not even think about screening for it in the first place. As I recommended in a report commissioned by the British Medical Association, the need for education and training in the diagnosis, appropriate referral and effective treatment of gambling problems must be addressed within GP training. More specifically, GPs should be aware of the types of gambling and problem gambling, demographic and cultural differences, and the problems and common co-morbidities associated with problem gambling. GPs should also understand the importance of screening patients perceived to be at increased risk of gambling addiction, and should be aware of the referral and support services available locally.
I also recommended that treatment for problem gambling should be provided under the NHS (either as standalone services or alongside drug and alcohol addiction services) and funded by gambling-derived profit revenue.
Back in 2011, Dr. Jane Rigbye and myself published a study using Freedom of Information requests to ask NHS trusts if they had ever treated pathological gamblers. Only 3% of the trusts had ever treated a problem gambler and only one trust said they offered dedicated help and support. I’m sure if we repeated the study today, little will have changed.
It is evident that problem gambling is not, as yet, on the public health agenda in the UK. NHS services – including GP surgeries – need to be encouraged to see gambling problems as a primary reason for referral and a valid treatment option. Information about gambling addiction services, in particular services in the local area, should be readily available to gamblers and GP surgeries are a good outlet to advertise such services. Although some gambling services (such as GamCare, the gambling charity I co-founded) provide information to problem gamblers about local services, such information is provided to problem gamblers who have already been proactive in seeking gambling help and/or information. Given that very few GPs could probably treat a problem gambler, what they must have is the knowledge of who they can refer their patients to.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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Rosenthal, R., & Lesieur, H. (1992). Self-reported withdrawal symptoms and pathological gambling. American Journal of the Addictions, 1, 150–154.
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The gambling industry has long been trying to perfect techniques that keep players on their premises and gambling on their games longer. In short, their aim is to introduce facilities that maximize their bottom line profits. In super-casinos around the world, restaurants are often positioned in the centre so that customers have to pass the gaming areas before and after they have eaten. Live entertainment areas for music or sporting events (e.g., boxing matches) are also positioned similarly.
This strategy is often combined with the deliberate use of circuitous paths to keep customers in the casino longer, the psychology being that if the patrons are in the casino longer they will spend more money. Large US casinos have got this down to a fine art. A number of years ago I remember going to a live music concert at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and on entering the casino it took me a 20- to 25-minute walk past thousands of slot machines and gaming tables before I even arrived at the auditorium! Although I didn’t gamble during the 45 minutes I was exposed to the slot machines to and from the casino entrance, I did wonder how many of the thousands in the audience had succumbed at some point.
UK gambling venues are now increasingly offering other non-gambling services (such as snack facilities and live entertainment) in a bid to either attract new customers or to keep those already in the venue as long as possible. The 2005 Gambling Act allowed even more of this diversification. It is also worth noting that some forms of gambling (such as slot machines) are far more profitable than other forms (such as table games). What’s more, slot machines don’t need a croupier to deal or spin the roulette ball. This means that most casinos worldwide are now dominated by slot machines in preference to other forms of gambling (although there are places like Macao where table games are preferred over slot machines).
Two of the biggest changes that have occurred in casinos worldwide over the last 20 years that appear to aid such a ‘maximisation’ strategy are the introduction of cash machines onto the gaming floors and the introduction of note acceptors to electronic gaming machines. At a very simplistic level, facilities like these create and enhance convenience gambling.
Note acceptors are very popular in countries like US, Canada and Australia. The gaming industry argues that note acceptors are popular with customers and enhance the playing experience in that they make life a little bit easier for the punter when standing in front of a slot machine not to have to keep going to the cashier for change. However, there is a very fine line between customer enhancement and customer exploitation. Note acceptors have the capacity to increase spending in a number of direct and indirect ways. Firstly, note acceptors increase privacy for the punter. More specifically for the punter, it avoids the potential embarrassment of letting gaming staff, friends, family or even other customers know how much they are spending. Secondly, note acceptors can aid in suspending judgment whereby more cash is transferred to credit in one go. Thirdly, note acceptors minimise breaks as players do not need to leave the machine to get change. Not taking breaks minimises ‘time out’ periods where punters can think more rationally about the money they have spent. A study carried out in Canadian casinos showed that the amount initially put into a slot machine by punters was twice as high on machines that had note acceptors. Although this is only one study, it does seem to suggest that gamblers spend more when a note acceptor is present.
Like note acceptors, the introduction of automated cash dispensers onto the casino floor also increases privacy for the punter. Although studies have found that only a relatively small proportion of casino patrons seldom use cash dispensers at gambling venues, a significantly high proportion of problem gamblers do so. One study in New Zealand carried out by Professor Max Abbott found that only 2% of all adults interviewed in a national survey considered that greater access to these facilities led to an increase in their gambling. Among problem gamblers, this figure was over eight times as high at 17%.
In Australia, a study led by Professor Jan McMillen also found much greater cash dispenser usage at gambling venues by problem gamblers when compared to non-problem gamblers. They also found that problem gamblers withdrew larger amounts. Money accessed in this way was most often for the purchase of both alcohol and gambling. They concluded that convenient access to cash dispenders in gambling venues contributed to greater expenditure and was a contributory factor in the development and persistence of gambling problems.
A number of other studies have reported similar findings. Problem gamblers frequently mention that adjacent access to cash dispensers is one of the most frequently mentioned reasons for gambler’s exceeding their planned spending limit. Research has also shown that both problem and non-problem gamblers would prefer cash dispensers to be located away from gambling venues. It would seem that the only people who want cash dispensers on gambling premises are the operators themselves, mainly because they know it increases revenue.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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