Turn on the eating: A beginner’s guide to sexual cannibalism

“People who have consumed human blood and flesh reportedly claim to experience an intoxicating euphoric effect. This reaction is similar to that experienced by anyone who satisfies a strong sexual craving that is not considered normal (exhibitionism, necrophilia, rape, etc.). However, in this case, it must have reinforced the beliefs of worshippers that indeed their god was present in the victim” (Dr. Brenda Love, Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices).

Today’s blog takes a brief look at sexual cannibalism in humans. I added “in humans” at the end of the sentence because sexual cannibalism is quite common in some animal species. As Dr. Brenda Love notes in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, sexual cannibalism is known to occur in some types of spider, praying mantis, scorpion, cricket, grasshopper, and fly. The Wikipedia entry also notes that sexual cannibalism has been observed in various types of crustacean (e.g., amphipods, copepods), slugs and snails (i.e., gastropods), and squids and octopuses (i.e., cephalopods). In the non-human species, it is typically the female that kills and eats the male before, during or after sexual union has taken place. Amongst humans, sexual cannibalism is extremely rare, and most humans who engage in cannibalistic acts for sexual purposes are generally considered sociopaths.

Of course, cannibalism for non-sexual purposes – known I more scientific circles as anthropophagy – has long been known among certain tribes and cultures. Throughout history, cannibalism has been practiced in many forms across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. Though rare today, it is believed to be still practiced in a few remote parts of Asia.  Cannibalism can be classed as either endocannibalism (i.e., consumption of another human being from within the same group or community) or exocannibalism (i.e., consumption of another human being from outside the group or community). Some acts of endocannibalism are actually acts of necro-cannibalism (i.e., the eating of flesh from dead humans also known as necrophagy) where dead people’s body parts are eaten as either part of the grieving process, as a way of guiding the souls of the dead into the bodies of the living, and/or as a way of imbibing the dead person’s ‘life force’ or more specific individual characteristics. Such endocannibalistic practices were common among certain tribes in New Guinea (which led to the prion disease kuru that I examined in a previous blog). However, it is known that many males among various tribes would not consume females for fear of emasculation. Exocannibalistic acts were most often carried out as part of a celebration victory after battles with rival tribes. There are various theories from many perspectives on why cannibalism may occur. These have included:

  • Religious theories (e.g., religious beliefs involving the need to eat human flesh as a way of sustaining the universe or as part of magical and ritualistic ceremonies).
  • Political theories (e.g., eating human flesh as a political tool to intimidate and control potential hostiles or subordinates).
  • Socio-psychological theories (e.g., eating human flesh due to unconscious factors such as a response to trauma).
  • Ecological theories (e.g., eating human flesh as a way of controlling the size of the population. The Aztecs were said to have eaten no less than 15,000 victims a year as – some have argued – a form of population control).
  • Dietary theories (e.g., eating human flesh as a source of protein).

There are of course other reasons (including sexual ones) that may be the root of someone’s cannibalistic desire to eat human flesh. One reason could be out of necessity. For instance, in 1972, a rugby team from Uruguay was in a plane crash in the Andes. Fifteen people died and the only way they prevented themselves starving to death was to eat the flesh of the deceased (which given the fact it took 72 days for them to be rescued, was one of the few viable options to prevent starvation). At its simplest level, human sexual cannibalism is usually considered a psychosexual disorder and involves individuals’ sexualizing (in some way) the consumption of another human being’s flesh. One online article claims that:

“This does not necessarily suggest that the cannibal achieves sexual gratification only in the act of consuming human flesh, but also may release sexual frustration or pent up anger. Sexual cannibalism is considered to be a form of sexual sadism and is often associated with the act of necrophilia (sex with corpses)”.

When it comes to sexual cannibalism in humans, there are arguably different subtypes (although this is based on my own personal opinion and not on something I’ve read in a book or research paper). Most of these behaviours I have examined in previous blogs (so click on the links if you want to know more:

  • Vorarephilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals are sexually aroused by (i) the idea of being eaten, (ii) eating another person, and/or (iii) observing this process for sexual gratification. However, most vorarephiles’ behaviour is fantasy-based, although there have been real cases such as Armin Meiwes, the so-called ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’.
  • Erotophonophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals have extreme violent fantasies and typically kill their victims during sex and/or mutilate their victims’ sexual organs (the latter of which is usually post-mortem). In some cases, the erotophonophiles will eat some of their victim’s body parts (usually post-mortem). Many lust murderers – including Jack the Ripper – are suspected of engaging in cannibalistic and/or gynophagic acts, taking away part of the female to eat later. Other examples of murderers who have eaten their victims (or parts of them) for sexual pleasure include Albert Fish, Issei Sagawa, Andrei Chikatilo, Ed Gein, and Jeffrey Dahmer.
  • Sexual necrophagy refers to the cannibalizing of a corpse for sexual pleasure. This may be associated with lust murder but Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices says that such cases usually involve “one whose death the molester did not cause. Many cases of reported necrophilia include cannibalism or other forms of sadism and it is believed that many others fantasize about doing it”.
  • Vampirism as a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal from the ingestion of blood from a living person
  • Menophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which an individual (almost always male) derives sexual arousal from drinking the blood of menstruating females.
  • Gynophagia is (according to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) a sexual fetish that involves fantasies of cooking and consumption of human females (gynophagia literally means “woman eating”). There is also a sub-type of gynophagia called pathenophagia. This (according to Dr. Brenda Love) is the practice of eating young girls or virgins. Several lust murderers were known to consume the flesh of young virgins, most notably Albert Fish). 

Added to this list, is something I would call ‘sexual autophagy’ which refers to the eating of one’s own flesh for sexual pleasure (and would be a sub-type of autosarcophagy discussed in a previous blog). I am basing this sub-type on an entry I came across in Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices and relating to a case study reported by Krafft-Ebing:

“Krafft-Ebing recorded the case of a man who at 13 [years of age] became infatuated with a young white-skinned girl. However, instead of desiring intercourse, he was overwhelmed by the urge to bite off a piece of her flesh and eat it. He began stalking women, and for years he carried a pair of scissors with him. He was never successful in accosting a woman, but when he came close he would cut off and eat a piece of his own skin instead. This act produced an immediate orgasm for him”.

This account seems to be confirmed by some online articles on sexual cannibalism claiming that cannibals feel a sense of euphoria and/or intense sexual stimulation when consuming human flesh. All of these online accounts cite the same article by Clara Bruce (‘Chew On This: You’re What’s for Dinner’) that I have been unable to track down (so I can’t vouch for the veracity of the claims made). Bruce’s article claimed that cannibals had compared eating human flesh with having an orgasm, and that flesh eating caused an out-of-body-experience experience with effects comparable to taking the drug mescaline. In another publication that I’ve failed to track down, the following snippet appears on at least 20 websites with articles on sexual cannibalism:

“Lesley Hensel, author of ‘Cannibalism as a Sexual Disorder’ [says] eating human flesh can cause an increase in levels of vitamin A and amino acids, which can cause a chemical effect on the blood and in the brain. This chemical reaction could possibly lead to the altered states that some cannibals have claimed to have experienced. However, this theory has not been substantiated by scientific evidence”.

As I’ve covered many of the cannibalistic sub-types in previous blogs, I tried to do some further research on gynophagia. There is almost nothing written from an academic or clinical perspective about gynophagia (in fact when I typed in ‘gynophagia’ only one reference turned up – a paper on ‘the psychophysical basis of feelings’ published by Dr. C.L. Herrick in an 1892 issue of the Journal of Comparative Neurology that only mentioned gynophagia in passing). However, there are quite a few dedicated gynophagia websites out there including dedicated pages on the Deviant Art website and an interesting set of cannibalistic links (that you can check out for yourself on the Indie Film website. There is also a reasonably lengthy article in the Urban Dictionary but it features little of any substance. The person writing the article makes the following observations:

“Gynophagia is the fetish of a person becoming food for someone else as a fantasy. As a fantasy it’s just as taboo as BDSM or other kinks…Gynophagia can really be a more gentle fetish than BDSM because torture is almost never applied. Honestly, when you boil it down to its essentials (no pun intended), gynophagia is an extension of the ‘Damsel in Distress’ scenario…Gynophagia is present in a lot of the older media we have, the most widely recognized being a helpless woman being boiled alive by a native tribe when the hero rescues her. Another example would be in Little Red Riding Hood where the wolf devours Red Riding Hood, but this could also be classified as a separate but similar fetish called Vorarephillia. One of the more widely known scenarios of gynophagia is known as the Dolcett method which usually centers around the main female character of a Dolcett comic being spit roasted alive and enjoying every moment of it. But again I must stress that gynophagia is one of those few fetishes that can only be a fantasy and should not be practiced in real life”.

If you really want to find out what gynophagia disciples are into, I suggest you check out the Carnal Consummations fetish website (but you’ve been warned!).

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.

Arens, William (1979). The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Beier, K. (2008). Comment on Pfafflin’s (2008) “Good enough to eat”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 164-165.

Benezech, M., Bourgeois, M., Boukhabza, D. & Yesavage, J. (1981). Cannibalism and vampirism in paranoid schizophrenia. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 42(7), 290.

Cannon, J. (2002). Fascination with cannibalism has sexual roots. Indiana Statesman, November 22. Located at: http://www.indianastatesman.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2002/11/22/3dde3b6201bc1

Krafft-Ebing, R. von (1886). Psychopathia sexualis (C.G. Chaddock, Trans.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Pfafflin, F. (2008). Good enough to eat. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 286-293.

Pfafflin, F. (2009). Reply to Beier (2009). Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 166-167.

Prins, H. (1985). Vampirism: A clinical condition. British Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 666-668.

Unlimited Blog (2007). Sexual cannibalism and Nithari murders. November. Located at: http://sms-unlimited.blogspot.co.uk/2007/11/sexual-cannibalism-and-nithari-murders.html

Wikipdia (2012). Cannibalism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannibalism

Wikipedia (2012). Human sacrifice in Aztec culture. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sacrifice_in_Aztec_culture

Wikipedia (2012). Sexual cannibalism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_cannibalism

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 30, 2012, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Culture Bound Syndromes, Eating disorders, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychiatry, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I wonder… a fetish for biting, but not actually ingesting human flesh, does that have a name too?
    I know someone who is incredibly turned on by biting me, any body part really, leaving marks and big bruises. I like it (masochist and stuff) but reading this I wondered if it perhaps classifies as a paraphilia too…

  2. DMG, are you familiar with Dolcett?

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