Dead strange: A brief psychological overview of necrophilia

In a previous blog, I briefly examined paraphilias. One of the rarest of known paraphilias is necrophilia in which a person obtains sexual gratification by viewing or having intercourse with a corpse. Given the rarity of necrophilia, there is a lack of systematicaly reported empirical data with almost all knowledge emanating from published case studies.

Based on the case study data, necrophilia almost exclusively involves males who are driven to remove freshly buried bodies or seek employment in funeral parlours or morgues (in fact, in the biggest study of necrophilic behaviour found that 57% of necrophiliacs were employed in a profession that gave then access to dead bodies). However, rare cases of female necrophilia have been documented including the high profile case of Karen Greenlee.

Arguably, the most comprehensive study in the area was published in 1989 by Dr Jonathan Rosman and Dr Phillip Resnick (psychiatrists who were working at Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital, USA). Their review examined 122 cases (comprising 88 from the world literature and 34 unpublished cases of their own). The motivation for engaging in necrophilic behaviour was examined and the results showed that two-thirds of the necrophiliacs reported the desire to possess an unresisting and unrejecting partner (68%). Other lesser motivations reported included wanting to be reunited with their dead romantic partner (21%), being sexually attracted to corpses (15%), comfort or overcoming feelings of isolation (15%), and/or seeking self-esteem by expressing power over a homicide victim (12%). They also classified the behaviour into three sub-types: (i) necrophilic homicide, (ii) “regular” necrophilia, and (iii) necrophilic fantasy. Some British research has also suggested that some necrophiles may opt for a non-living mate through a consistent failure to create normal romantic attachments with people that are alive.

Rosman and Resnick also theorized about the situational antecedents leading to necrophilic behaviour. Their theory was that necrophiliacs develop poor self-esteem that may be due to a significant loss. Furthermore, they suggested that necrophiliacs may be fearful of rejection by others and that they desire a sexual partner who is incapable of rejecting them. Here, necrophiliacs may be socially and/or sexually inept and may hate and/or fear the opposite sex. This causes them to seek out non-threatening, subjugated sexual partners (i.e. non-living people). Alternatively, they also suggested that necrophiliacs may be fearful of dead people, and that they transform their fear into a sexual desire. Perhaps unsurprisingly, necrophiliacs almost always manifest severe emotional disorders.

Dr Martin Kafka (McLean Hospital in Belmont, USA), one of the world’s leading paraphilia experts, argues that necrophilia could technically be considered as a fetish variant because the sexualized object of desire is ‘‘nonliving’’ although there are insufficient data to empirically support the argument. Necrophilia can be accompanied by ‘‘sadistic acts’’ and sexually motivated murder, certainly not behaviors associated with fetishism (as currently defined).

The sadistic side of necrophilia has certainly been reported in some of the more extreme case studies. For instance, Edwin Ehrlich and colleagues (at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany) presented the case of a young man twice convicted on charges of defiling female corpses and who had undergone a long course of psychiatric treatment. All his necrophilic acts were committed over a 15-year period. In three cases, the necrophiliac skinned the trunk of the dead victims, placed the skin on his naked body and then stimulated himself sexually. In several cases, he kept mementos from the victims at his home  (e.g., used burial clothes that he had removed from the coffins).

According to Professor Anil Aggrawal (Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi), cases like the one above indicate that necrophilia exists in many variations. Aggrawal argued that because so many related necrophilic behaviours are used differently by different people, a new classification was needed. Based on case studies in the literature, Aggrawal argued there were ten different types of necrophiliac. These comprised (i) role players, (ii) romantic necrophiles, (iii) necrophilic fantasizers (people having a necrophilic fantasy), (iv) tactile necrophiles, (v) fetishistic necrophiles (i.e., people having a sexual fetish for the dead), (vi) necromutilomaniacs (i.e., people having a necromutilomania), (vii) opportunistic necrophiles, (viii) regular necrophiles, (ix) homicidal necrophiles, and (x) exclusive necrophiles.

Homicidal necrophilia certainly seems to be a distinct sub-category of necrophilia. A recently published study by Michelle Stein (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, USA) and colleagues reviewed 211 sexual homicides. Nearly 8% involved necrophilia (i.e., 16 cases). Their findings suggested that the most common explanation for necrophilia (i.e., the offender’s desire to have an unresisting partner) may not always be applicable in cases where necrophilia is connected to sexual murder.

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

Further reading

Aggrawal, A. (2009). A new classification of necrophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 16, 316-320.

Burg, B.R. (1982). The sick and the dead: The development of psychological theory on necrophilia from Krafft-Ebing to the present. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 18, 242-254.

Ehrlich, E., Rothschild, M.A., Pluisch, F. & Schneider, V. (2000). An extreme case of necrophilia. Legal Medicine, 2, 224-226.

Kafka, M.P. (2010). The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 373-376.

Rosman, J.P. & Resnick, P.J. (1989). Sexual attraction to corpses: A psychiatric review of necrophilia. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 17, 153-163.

Stein, M.L., Schlesinger, L.B. & Pinizzotto, A.J. (2010). Necrophilia and sexual homicide. Journal of Forensic Science, 55, 443-446.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on January 20, 2012, in Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Problem with the whole necrophilia question is the fact that so many of the so called cases are people who are not necrophiles have sex with corpses. Opportunistic people who just got a thrill. Most so called cases of necrophilia i heard or read about are in this group and should like American prison inmates aren’t counted as gays be excluded from the necrophile-population.

    Rosman and Resnick’s study included a lot of these and if i remember correctly (i do not at the moment have access to my material) they also cite the fact that many so called killers where “pseudonecrophiliacs”. False necrophiles i.e not necrophiles at all.

    That would make discussion and classification of varieties of necrophilia much easier and more certain. While the population dwindles it wont be as easy though to get reliable data but as i said i think the data already are corrupt in the studies done. Also it is mostly based on clinical evidence and should also be mistrusted.

    Therefore i have a bone to pick with the academia on this subject. Necrophilia is not an act it’s a state of mind. Where a person’s sexuality is directed to corpses as the main sexual outlet. Exclusive necrophiles only outlet is corpses while others can have satisfying relationships with living but corpses are the preferred sexual outlet. I also know that necrophiles can fall in love with the dead.

    I believe there is as many reasons why someone is a necrophile as there are necrophiles. I have learned that based on all necrophiles i talked to, traded with or had friendships with. I am a necrophile and i can say i have no problem talking to people, create bonds and even be the very charming funny woman at a party. I have no problems getting relationship with living if i want to, i just prefer corpses. As one can read the etiology of my anecdotal evidence it´s unclear how it came to be that i am one but like with my homosexuality i feel i was born with it.

    Also my distinct knowledge in the world of necrophilia (so to speak) i would claim that a seizable chunk if not a majority of the true necrophiles are homosexual. And this is of a non-clinical population.

    I also completely disagree with Kafka that it is a fetish variant because necrophilia is in many ways, at least for me, associated with the fact that the dead woman have been alive once even though i have no interest in who she was as alive. A rubber fetishist probably doesn’t go around and is aroused by the fact that the rubber once came from a three or oil. There is a huge difference.

    Sadism against the fetishistic object are documented. One example are the group of Balloon fetishists, they have a split where one group likes to poke a whole in balloons so the burst. The other group think they kill balloons and love them.

    The ending, homicidical necrophilia i want to point out again, having sex with a corpse do not make you a necrophile. I have not read the study however but i do not disagree there are homicidal necrophiles but the goal is to get a corpse not the murder in itself. That is what differs erotophonophiliacs who kill and have sex with a corpse and necrophiles who kill to aquire a corpse. Big difference.

    Lastly i do not agree with the common conception that Jeffrey Dahmer was a necrophile. He wanted living zombies as sex partners and after read about him he only had sex once with a corpse. Death was a side effect of Jeffrey Dahmers urges to create these sex slave zombies or force the people to stay with him. When he masturbated to the skulls of his kills it was the memoirs of who they have been and the power he had over them.

    When i had sex with human skulls it was because i loved it and them.

    • Muerta, I have read your above post and am really fascinated by what makes you tick, I am not a necrophile myself but I am deeply interested in the subject as well as the complete lack of any acknowledgement of it in wider communities. I would like to write an article for an upcoming webzine which brings taboo topics to the mainstream and think it would be great to show the real deal and straighten out misconceptions about being necro, I will keep your identity 100% confidential of course and would not publish any details you don’t want me to, would you be interested in having a chat? Give me an email at amiraskari030@gmail.com.

  2. If you actually have enough of an interest in this subject to talk to people who are part of this sexual orientation/ subculture you would see a majority are women, and many are capable of profound, loving and emotional connections with their dead partners.

    Continuously regurgitating what Anil Aggrawal writes, with his absurd categorizations does nothing to further understanding of anyone, especially people so misunderstood as necrophiles.

  3. I am a sexual sadist who has had fantasies involving necrophilia and erotophonophilia since I was a kid.
    *Just so you know, I haven’t hurt anyone before and I am heterosexual.

    – I had a normal childhood. I grew up in a strict religious home where me and my sibling were forced to live by a lot of rules and ethics. Had few friends, attended school and I wasn’t exposed to violence.My parents were middle class people and they tried their best to provide for my siblings and I.
    But on the flipside, I grew up hating my dad. I felt he didn’t love me. He was very abusive, emotionally and psychologically. He didn’t physically abuse me, but he always destroyed me with words. We were hardly ever in good terms. He wasn’t an achoholic but he had this habit of always picking quarrels with my mum and blaming her for stuff she didn’t do and saying all sorts of things to her and she would always cry, and this always made me angry .My dad was really an ass But when I gained admission into college my dad kind of changed and tried to get close to me and amend things with me. We are in “good” terms now but the damage has already been done.
    Growing up, my mum was this sweet woman who cared about her children and put their needs first. I never had a problem with my mum.
    The more I grow, the more my sadism becomes more intense. Initially, it was just fantasies involving torturing, killing( mostly by strangling) and having sex with a dead lady, but now, I am having these new fantasies of doing things that I wouldn’t want to mention here.
    No, I can’t be turned on by anything that doesn’t involve sadism. When I see an attractive lady, I am turned on not by her physical attributes, but by the thoughts of what I could do to her, considering how physically endowned or beautiful she was.
    Infact, I am not even turned on by normal porn. I don’t watch it cause it’s a waste of time. For me to be be turned on by porn, it must involve violence and necrophilia.

    – I know that it’s wrong to kill someone else and I totally understand this but I don’t think that’s enough to stop me from killing if I eventually decide to. To fulfil my fantasies requires a lot of planning and thinking. A lot of things need to be in place and I have to be fully prepared. I know if I live out my fantasies I would be hurting someone but believe me when I say this, that that’s the least of my concern.
    I am not just a necrophile, I am also an erotophophile and that’s more dominant than the necrophilia. My fantasies involving more of thoughts of killing. So getting a dead body won’t do it for me. For it to work I would have to be the one that makes her dead. I would have to have had contact/talked to her while she was alive and I would have to have seen the fear and pain in her eyes before she died.
    I am turned on by harming women, but it”s nothing compared to killing and having sex with tem. That’s the ultimate fantasy. Think of it as this; toturing and inflicting pain on women is like an appetizer, killing them is like the main course and the necrophilia is like dessert.

    – My sadism is primarily sexual. I don’t derive pleasure or joy in hurting or thinking about hurting everyone I see, like random people I come across on the streets or in my neighborhood. My sadistic thoughts and fantasies just involve doing stuff to and with ladies that I find attractive or the ones that fit my idea victim type. Although, I would still feel some sort of excitement causing harm to people(both male or female) who really deserve it; like the ones who annoy me or people I find annoying. But it’s just psychological gratification, not sexual.

    – Sometimes I feel that some women actually make themeselves vulnerable to all kinds of harm, although I feel some really deserve to be harmed. Like for instance, those proud ones that act bitchy all the time and those that dress really provocativey. I am easily turned on by such women and when I fantasize about doing all kind of stuff to them, I have this conviction that they really deserve it, as opposed to other ladies whom I know, don’t really deserve it, but I just can’t help it.
    Once I see a woman I find attractive, the desire to harm her just fuels up from within me.
    Honestly, I don’t know where this interest came from. Since I was a kid, I have had this fantasies. As a child(about 2-3 years) I always had this weird thoughts of strangling or stabbing my mum or imagining her being killed by someone else and seeing her lifeless. As I grew up, I noticed I was always turned on whenever I watched a woman die in a movie or whenever I thought of a kiling a woman or watching her die. I was always confused as to why I felt like that but I always kept it to myself. In actuality, it’s all but a mystery. Sometimes I feel I was born that way.

    – I don’t think I need to see a therapist.
    First of all, I believe it would be a total waste of time, because I don’t think therapy would change anything. Secondly, I don’t really want this part of me taken away. It’s something I have come to embrace about myself. it’s who I am and it’s what makes me different from everyone else.

    – There is just this feeling I get when I imagine sex and foreplay with a dead woman. When I imagine sex with a living woman I don’t get that feeling, infact, I don’t feel anything. With a lifeless woman, It’s like I own her and can do whatever I want with her. I look at attractive ladies as they are alive and the thought of their limp,cold bodies close beside me is just overwheming.
    Unlike most necrophiliacs, I prefer sex with a woman that I personally tortured and killed, not just any dead woman in the morgue. That way, I have some sort of connection with her.
    I come close to acting out my fantasies everyday. I see a lot of ladies everyday that I want to do a lot of things too, but I have managed to not act out those desires.

    – The urges are always there and I find it hard to concentrate on my academics. The urges are really overwheming and a lot of times I would have to jerk off to violent porn or snuff porn just to calm down these urges.
    And most times when I do this, the urges fade off for about some hours and then I can concentate, but then they come back.
    It’s also difificult being around ladies because when I am with them or around them, those thoughts just creep into my mind.
    So I would say that it’s impossible to keep it ‘seperate’ from my day to day life.

    Now I try to explain better my sadism and necrophilia in an analogy>

    Sadism:
    I feel overwheming negative emotions most of the time, but I have learnt over the years to concentrate all those emotions and channel it into really really sadistic thoughts. I know it sounds a bit weird but that’s the best way I handle emotions like anger, sadness, anxiety, or whatever.
    So if for instance I get really angry, I’ll go take a sit, lie on my bed, or just take a walk, depending on the scenerio, and immerse myself in my ever present sadistic fantasies. I always feel better after that.

    Necrophilia:Just imagine there is this brand of food that you have an overwhelming desire to eat. And you know that when you eat it, it’s going to taste better than anything you’ve ever tasted, although weirdly, you are among a small section of the entire population that has the innate, “abnormal” desire to eat this food. This food comes in different varieties, and within this variety, some taste better than others. But even the one that tastes the least sweet, tastes better than anything you’ve ever tasted before. Interestingly, this food isn’t hard to find. You are practically surrounded by it, in all it’s different varieties. It’s present everywhere you go, and it doesn’t get cold or sour. And when you are around it, you can just perceive it’s tasty aroma, and the closer you are to it, the stronger your hunger for it. When you walk on the street, you walk past it. When you go to the gym, you find it there. When you go to work, it’s right in front of you, staring you in the face, and when you go to the store to buy stuff, it’s also there.
    But there is a problem. This food will kill you if you eat it. Slowly though, but surely. You will definitely enjoy eating it, but it’s massively detrimental to your health, and will cause you a slow, painful death. But there is also a weird antidote to it’s fatal effect – You have to find a variety of this particular food, that taste’s better than the one you initially ate. Failure to find it, would worsen your already deteriorating health, and you’ll then need to find something better than it. But if you succeed in finding it, you begin the circle all over again.
    Also, this particular food and all it’s varieties have been banned from society. If you are caught even tasting of it, you will be arrested or even killed.
    There are people who understand that there are people like you who have this abnormal hunger for this food, and they try to invent a new kind of food that looks and tastes like this food. The kind that’s healthy, safe and legal. So whenever you are overwhelmed with a desperate hungry to eat the original food, and feel like you are about to give in to that hunger, you just eat this new, safe food, to satisfy the hunger. This new food is tasty, but not as tasty and alluring as the original one, in any of it’s varieties.
    Imagine not being able to eat the original food that you so desperately long for. Imagining having a burning, ever present desire to just taste it, but being unable to.
    This analogy summarizes my current predicament.

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