Strangers on the score: A brief overview of xenophilia

Over the last year, I have examined many different forms of sexual paraphilia in my blog. One of the least researched of these paraphilias is xenophilia. One of the real problems from an academic perspective is that there doesn’t appear to be common agreement on what xenophilia actually is. A number of reputable sources – including Frances Twinn’s 2007 book, Miscellany of Sex, and the Right Diagnosis website – define xenophilia as a sexual attraction to strangers. The Psychologist Anywhere Anytime paraphilia website page defines xenophilia as sexual attraction to foreigners” but also adds that “in science fiction, [xenophilia] can also mean sexual attraction to aliens”. (I actually examined sexually paraphilic attraction to aliens in a previous blog on exophilia – a sexual paraphilia that relates only to alien sex).

Dr. Karen Franklin (in a 2010 paper in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law) also defines xenophilia as “erotic attraction to…foreigners or extraterrestrials”. According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal (arguably the most knowledgeable source of information concerning sexually paraphilic behaviour),  xenophilia is defined as individuals who gain sexual pleasure and arousal “from strangers…foreign customs, traditions, and foreigners” (as defined in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices).

One of the reasons that there are so many different definitions is that xenophilia was probably first termed as the opposite of xenophobia, and the literal translation of xenophilia is the love of anything foreign. From this perspective, “foreign” can mean different things to different people, which is why all of the definitions of xenophilia are slightly different. The Wikipedia entry on xenophilia has (arguably) the widest definition of xenophilia as  it generally refers to a social or sexual attraction to cultures, lands, or beings which are different from one’s native experience”. Given this wide definition, Wikifur (the online encyclopedia for those in the Furry Fandom) claims that human sexual attraction towards furry characters is a form of xenophilia (although I doubt if members of the Furry Fandom would agree).

To date, academic and clinical work into xenophilia has been extremely limited. In a previous blog on sexual fetishism, I wrote about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5000 fetishists (but was likely to be a lot more). Their results showed that there were 2681 fetishists (3% of all fetishists that they encountered) with a fetishistic and/or paraphilic sexual interest in ethnicity (including – but not exclusively – those with xenophilic sexual interests).

In an online essay about xenophilia, Lori Smith described xenophilia as “an affection for unknown objects or people…[and] could be used to describe those who enjoy swinging or cruising”. Personally, I think this stretches the definition of xenophilia beyond what is was originally envisaged as, but both swinging and cruising can include having sex with complete strangers (especially cruising). As the Wikipedia entry on ‘cruising for sex’ notes:

“Cruising for sex, or cruising is the act of walking or driving about a locality in search of a sex partner, usually of the anonymous, casual, one-time variety The term is also used when technology is used to find casual sex, such as using an Internet site or a telephone service”.

Smith also makes reference to xenophilia being associated with people who are sexually attracted to foreigners (and cites the same fictional example included in most online references to xenophilia – Wanda Gershwitz’s [played by Jamie Lee-Curtis] immediate sexual arousal whenever her boyfriend Otto [played by Kevin Kline] spoke in a foreign language (in the film A Fish Called Wanda). I have no idea how prevalent this type of sexual attraction is although I can think of two of my own past girlfriends who found the French language very erotic. (However, being sexually attracted to someone speaking with a foreign accent can hardly be classed as sexually paraphilic and/or fetishistic behaviour). Smith also makes reference to xenophilia involving alien sex (although her main examples are fictional and involve humanoid aliens such as Dr. Who). Other fictional characters are non-subtle including Phil Foglio’s ‘adult’ comic book XXXenophile, and the Harry Potter character Xenophilius Lovegood (in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) who Wikipedia describes as characterized by his interest in unusual or unknown objects, animals, and concepts”.

Smith’s article is similar to an article on xenophilia at the Sex Obsessed website although steers clear of alien sex and restricts all observations to sex with strangers. There are a number of totally unsubstantiated claims made including the assertion that some heterosexual men who use travelling opportunities within their job “to experiment with men and children”. Although homosexuality and paedophilia may be xenophilic, there is no empirical literature to support the claims made in the article. It is also alleged that sexual role play (including dressing up and wearing wigs) satisfies xenophilic needs. The same article also claims (again without citing its sources) that:

“There were reports of English sailors who used to visit the West Indies and it was observed how much they enjoyed black boys on their annual visits. So much in fact that pharmacists had to keep a large supply of lubricant for them (the obvious racist ideologies and pedophile behaviors that were evident in this practice were clearly overlooked for the greater good”.

The Sex Obsessed article is one of the few I have read that speculates about the motivations of xenophiles. It says that xenophiles might be a “group of people who are allergic to commitment”. I very much doubt such motives would be universal to xenophiles, and such a speculation would only apply to a very loose definition of what xenophilia means in sexually paraphilic terms. Obviously this is an area that would benefit from some academic research but any researchers with a desire to examine the area would have to be very clear about the operational definition of xenophilia they used to examine such people.

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.

Franklin, K. (2010). Hebephilia: Quintessence of diagnostic pretextuality, Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 28, 751–768.

Right Diagnosis (2012). Xenophilia, February 1. Located at:

Sex Obsessed (2009). Xenophilia. December 23. Located at:

Smith, L. (2012). The alternative A-Z of sex: Xenophilia. Rarely Wears Lipstick, January 11. Located at:

Twinn, F. (2007). The Miscellany of Sex: Tantalizing Travels Through Love, Lust and Libido. London: Arcturus.

Wikipedia (2012). Cruising for sex. Located at:

Wikipedia (2012). Xenophily. Located at:

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 November 14, 2012, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Mania, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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