Turtle shell shock: Emysphilia and the paraphilia that never was

Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I have written a number of blogs on zoophilia-related topics. This has included blogs on zoophilia in general, zoophilia classification, zoosadism (sexual pleasure from being sadistic to animals), necrobestiality (sex with dead animals), and very specific forms of zoophilia including delphinophilia (sex with dolphins), herpetophilia (sex with lizards), ophidiophilia (sex with snakes), ornithophilia (sex with birds including avisodomy), musophilia (sexual stimulation from mice including felching), formicophilia (sexual stimulation from insects), and melissophilia (sexual stimulation from bees and bee stings).

There are also loads of specific types of zoophilia that I have yet to devote a whole blog to. Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices list of zoophilia subtypes also includes (in alphabetical order) aelurophilia (sex with cats), arachnephilia (sexual arousal from spiders), batrachophilia (sexual arousal from frogs), cynophilia (sex with dogs), and phthiriophilia (sexual arousal from lice). However, while I was idly researching another blog, I came across a Wikipedia reference to emysphilia. I repeat it here in full:

“Emysphilia (or Turtle Fetish) is a rare sexual fetish in which the practitioner experiences sexual arousal from visual and tactile stimuli relating to turtles and tortoises. It was first discovered by Dr. Daniel Schechner of the University of Hawaii in 1959. Dr. Schechner dedicated a brief portion of his monograph The Varieties of Sexual Experience to this fetish. In the book, he mentions a native Hawaiian islander, known to the reader as ‘Mr. Gor’ who confesses ‘a strong sexual attraction to creatures belonging to the order Testudines’ (2 Schechner 387). Dr. Schechner’s encounter with ‘Mr. Gor’ also finds a brief place in his autobiography No Dull Flesh (1 Schechner 261). Since Dr. Schechner’s discovery, little research has been done on this disorder. As of yet, the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), has not recognized the turtle fetish as a legitimate disorder. References: Schechner, Daniel, M.D. No Dull Flesh. Honolulu: UH Press, 1974. Schechner, Daniel, M.D. The Varieties of Sexual Experience. Honolulu: UH Press, 1959. This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Emysphilia”. This Link may die if entry is finally removed or merged”.

It all sounded very convincing including hyperlinks to the author and his university. However, when I tried to examine this particular paraphilia more closely, I soon discovered that there was no such paraphilia as emysphilia and that it’s existence had been faked. I then read a really interesting article on the topic written by June Torbati in a 2007 issue of the Yale Daily News. She provided the background to the fake paraphilia and tied it to a story about student “dependence” on Wikipedia.

Torbati tracked down the author – Johan Behan – of the Wikipedia entry on emysphilia who admitted it was “totally absolutely fake”. The names of the people in the article were his college room-mates (Dan Schechner and Ankit Gor). Behan claimed to have invented the word ‘emysphilia’ (allegedly basing it on the Greek word for turtle, although I checked this out and that doesn’t seem to be the case although the suffix ‘emys’ does appear in many turtle names such as ‘Chubutemys’, ‘Hangaiemys’ and ‘Judithemys’). Torbarti also reported that:

“Behan said he has created many fake articles for Wikipedia, the most successful of which was the entry on emysphilia. To ensure others would find the article believable, Behan said, he had to do more than just write one entry on ‘emysphilia’ including creating several others relating to the fake fetish. ‘It’s an art of creating a web of phoniness’ he said. Additionally, striking an academic tone was important to creating an air of legitimacy. ‘You need to write it in a way that makes it sounds like it’s something possible’ Behan said. “If you write it like an authoritative pronouncement it tends to work better”.

Torbati claimed that Wikipedia’s editorial system (or rather lack of it) had American professors “concerned that students are citing incorrect information in their academic work”. Torbati interviewed a Yale history professor – Michael Gasper – who had banned the use of Wikipedia as a source of information for his students’ essays.

Any of my regular blog readers will know that I often use Wikipedia as a source of information (although I typically quote verbatim from it and allow readers to make there own judgment about the veracity of any claims made). Personally, I think Wikipedia is a great starting place but wherever possible I like to cite from academically published journal papers. It’s also worth noting that what starts off as a joke may take on legitimate academic currency. For instance, ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’ was originally proposed as a psychiatric disorder by Dr. Ivan Goldberg in the mid-1990s. However, his original online article was a satirical hoax.

I was one of the academics who cited Goldberg’s hoax criteria in a paper I published in Clinical Psychology Forum back in 1996. I was criticized for this by Dr. Susan Hansen in a paper she published in a 2001 issue of the Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy. However, in my reply to her paper, I did point out that I had been writing about internet addiction a year before Goldberg published his hoax criteria, and that the hoax criteria had created a lot of academic debate which subsequently led to a lot of research in the area. I have absolutely no idea if ‘emysphilia’ will ever gain academic or clinical legitimacy, but based on the case of Ivan Goldberg’s hoax, you never know.

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.

Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18, 73-78.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Internet addiction: An issue for clinical psychology? Clinical Psychology Forum, 97, 32-36.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). The pathologification of excessive internet use: A reply to Hansen. Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy, 1, 85-90.

Torbati, J. (2007). Profs question students’ Wikipedia dependency. Yale Daily News,February 27. Located at: http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2007/feb/07/profs-question-students-wikipedia-dependency/

Wikidumper (2006). Emysphilia. December 29. Located at: http://wikidumper.blogspot.co.uk/2006/12/emysphilia.html

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 22, 2012, in Case Studies, Compulsion, I.T., Obsession, Popular Culture, Psychiatry, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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