It’s the pits: A brief look at maschalagnia
Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices defines maschalagnia as a fetish for armpits, and also defines maschalophilous (slightly differently) as arousal from armpits – although a quick internet search will highlight that most sources use these two words interchangeably to mean the same thing. According one (gay) fetish website, the attraction to armpits can be based on a number of factors and senses, but claims it is the olfactory (smell) and visual components are the most common sensory factors involved when it comes to armpit sexual arousal.
Other armpit related sexual practices include hircusophilism (a sexual preference for underarm hair), and axillism (the use of the armpit for sex, and known more colloquially as ‘bagpiping’). There are a surprising number of fetishistic websites purely devoted to the sexual allure of armpits (e.g., Armpit Fetish, Armpit Sex, Armpit Licking, Girl Pits [‘The Original Underarm Fetish Forum”], Man On Man Armpits). Most of these people enjoy kissing, tasting, smelling their partner’s armpits during sexual foreplay. Sometimes they ask their sexual partners not to shower, bathe or wash their armpits, so that the smell is as strong as possible. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices claims that sexual arousal from armpits:
“…is more common in Europe where women allow their armpit hair to grow. This area is very sensitive to the flicker the tongue or the warmth of a penis. Unshaven hair is also said to retain pheremones, the sex hormones that cause arousal when inhaled. The advantages of axillism for men are that of a tight fit, friction against the penis, close proximity to the breasts, and no risk of pregnancy or disease. Axillism, when engaged in within a day of shaving, produces more sensation but later underarm stubble can cause irritation of the penile skin”.
As far as I am aware, there is no empirical evidence suggesting that armpit fetishism is more prevalent in Europe and my feeling that this is educated guesswork on Dr. Love’s part. In Volume 4 of his Studies in the Psychology of Sex from the early 1900s, the British psychologist and early sexologist Havelock Ellis made many references to armpits and sex. For instance, he notes that:“Before coitus the sexual energy seems to be dissipated along all the nerve-channels and especially along the secondary sexual routes, the breasts, nape of neck, eyebrows, lips, cheeks, armpits, and hair”. He then goes on to say later in the book how the focus of sexuality can shift:
“The odour of the body, like its beauty, in so far as it can be regarded as a possible sexual allurement, has in the course of development been transferred to the upper parts. The careful concealment of the sexual region has doubtless favoured this transfer. It has thus happened that when personal odour acts as a sexual allurement it is the armpit, in any case normally the chief focus of odour in the body, which mainly comes into play, together with the skin and the hair”.
He also cites a case study from Féré’s 1902 book L’Instinct Sexuel. Féré is arguably the first academic to mention the fetishistic properties of armpits when he wrote:
“Sometimes the odour of the armpit may even become a kind of fetish which is craved for its own sake and in itself suffices to give pleasure. Féré has recorded such a case, in a friend of his own, a man of 60, with whom at one time he used to hunt…On these hunting expeditions he used to tease the girls and women he met…when he came upon them walking in the fields with their short-sleeved chemises exposed. When he had succeeded in introducing his hand into the woman’s armpit he went away satisfied, and frequently held the hand to his nose with evident pleasure. After long hesitation Féré asked for an explanation, which was frankly given. As a child he had liked the odour, without knowing why. As a young man women with strong odours had stimulated him to extraordinary sexual exploits, and now they were the only women who had any influence on him. He professed to be able to recognize continence by the odour, as well as the most favourable moment for approaching a woman”.
Ellis’ book also contains a section where he claims that some men can detect menstruating women from the smell of their armpits. Although this is not sexual in and of itself, more those men who engage in menophilia (a sexual paraphilia where individuals derive sexual arousal from menstruating females), the armpits may be an indirect sexual stimulus Ellis argues that the attraction is mostly directed towards the “strong pungent odour of the armpit” as it is the most powerful in the body, sufficiently powerful to act as a muscular stimulant even in the absence of any direct sexual association. As one website’s description of armpit fetishism notes:
“Armpit odour is an aphrodisiac for some people. The smell acts as a muscular stimulant, naturally encouraging arousal, reminding armpit lovers of their favourite part of the opposite sex’s body. Compared to other fetishes, it’s not that weird. But don’t tell that to people in Singapore, where an armpit-loving man was recently sentenced to sentenced to 14 years in jail and 18 strokes of the cane”
One online essay at an “adult” site (you’ve been warned if you click on the link) has briefly examined armpit fetishes and had a small section entitled ‘psychological aspects’. However, it really didn’t give any psychological insight at all. The anonymous author speculated that:
“I think the act of licking another person’s armpit or breathing in their odour are a means of striving for intimacy, on a very base level. A person’s musk is very distinctive; very much a product of that individual and how their body processes various consumables…Or it could be a physical reaction having to do with the taste and smell of a man’s underarms, in their natural form: minus cologne, antiperspirant, and the like. Pheromones, commonly believed to trigger a social response in members of the same species, are produced by the skin’s apocrine sebaceous glands, secreted via armpits and found in sweat”
As with many of the paraphilias and fetishes that I’ve examined of late, there is little empirical research on maschalagnia or armpit sexual practices more generally. Reference to sexual aspects of armpits sometimes crop up in the academic literature on gay sexual preferences. For instance, in a 1987 issue of the journal Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, Dr. David Moskowitz and Dr. Michael Roloff examined sexual practices in relation to ‘bug chasing’ (relating to a small group of gay men who attempt to voluntarily contract the HIV virus). They noted that among gay BDSM (bondage, dominance, submission, (sado)masochism) practitioners, a small but significant minority were into dominant and/or submissive ‘armpit play’.
Maybe the area is just too trivial for academic and/or clinical study as it’s not a condition that requires medical, psychiatric and/or psychological intervention. In fact, the only snippet I came across was a 2006 book chapter in Key Topics in Sexual Health by Steve Baguley on ‘pediculosis pubis’ (crab lice) reminding readers that such lice (as part of a sexually transmitted disease) can be found in armpit hair as well as pubic hair.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Baguley. S. (2006). Pediculosis pubis (crab lice). In S. Baguley, S. Kumar & R. Persaud (Eds.), Key Topics in Sexual Health (pp.150-162). London: Taylor and Francis.
Criminal Justice Degrees Guide (2008). 10 unusual fetishes with massive online followings. November 10. Located at: http://www.criminaljusticedegreesguide.com/features/10-unusual-fetishes-with-massive-online-followings.html
Ellis, Havelock (1905). Studies in the Psychology of Sex (Volume 4). Located at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/13613/13613-h/13613-h.htm
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Moskowitz, D.A. & Roloff, M.E. (1997). The ultimate high: Sexual addiction and the bug chasing phenomenon. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 14, 21-40,
Wonderland Burlesque (2011). Acquired Tastes, Chapter II: Armpits, January 22. Located at: http://wonderlandburlesque.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/acquired-tastes-chapter-2-armpits.html
Posted on October 17, 2012, in Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged Armpit fetishism, Axillism, Bagpiping, Crab lice, Hircusophilism, Maschalagnia, Maschalophilous, Menophilia, Sexual fetish, Sexual masochism, Sexual paraphilia, Sexual sadism. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.