Monthly Archives: February 2013

Air raising experiences: Gambling as in-flight entertainment

Today’s blog is based on an article I was commissioned to write for The Independent and which was published on November 30, 2012. I originally entitled my piece as ‘Is it right for high flyers to become high rollers?” but The Independent changed it to ‘Casinos on a plane? Fine as long as it’s responsible”.

At the end of November 2012, Simon Calder wrote a report for The Independent about plans for in-flight casinos to be made available on long-haul flights for first and business class passengers. Gambling while airborne is nothing new – in fact I have flown back from Europe a number of times on budget airlines where I was offered scratchcards to play. Given that gambling already takes place on aeroplanes means that there is no moral or regulatory reason for other forms of gambling not to be introduced.

Gambling has always been considered as a revenue generator for many different types of commercial enterprise. Whether it’s playing slot machine in the pub or buying lottery tickets from the supermarket, most commercial businesses are happy to earn extra money by offering gambling products. We can now gamble online, gamble via the red button on our television sets via services like Skybet, and over the summer, the most popular social networking site Facebook launched its first gambling for money game in the shape of Bingo Friendzy. In short, gambling has always been considered as a revenue generator for among many different and diverse commercial operators, and the airline industry is no different.

What’s more, passengers on long-haul flights provide a captive audience. They will want entertainment to stave off the potential boredom. But is this something we should be concerned about? Although I have spent over 25 years studying problem gamblers, I am not anti-gambling in the slightest. I believe that adults should be free to make their own choices about how they spend their disposable income. However, I am also pro-responsible gambling. This means that gaming operators must put in place measures and protocols that protect players from spending too much and protect vulnerable and susceptible individuals (such as children and adolescents). Any service provider that offers gambling should have staff members that are trained in social responsibility.

Gambling is an activity that has the potential to change people’s mood states instantaneously. Just like drinking alcohol or having sex, gambling is a wonderful ‘mood modifier’. It can make us feel high, buzzed up and excited – or it can make us feel low, downbeat and downright depressed. A win (or even a near win) can get the body’s pleasure centre aroused in the form of increased adrenaline and increased endorphins (the body’s own morphine-like substances). Conversely, big losses can lead to irritability and intense frustration. In extreme cases, gambling losses can lead to anger, verbal abuse, and even physical aggression. In this sense, they are no different from someone who may be drunk from drinking too much alcohol. And what about those who drink while they are gambling in the confines of an air flight? Intoxication and large gambling losses are a heady mix that is best avoided as this could cause problems for both passengers and the airline crew.

The current plan appears to be to offer such gambling services to first and business class passengers only. I presume this is because the airline thinks this group of people will have the most disposable income. On the plus side, it may be the case that this group of individuals can afford to lose and are the least likely to be negatively affected (at least financially). On the negative side it could be viewed as targeted exploitation. And not everyone in business class is rich. I often travel business class but my air fares are paid for by the companies that I work for and not me personally. I certainly can’t afford to drop a hundred pounds here and there.

Overall, I am not anti-gambling on aeroplanes particularly if it is another service that passengers want. However, like drinking alcohol, gambling is a consumptive activity that is problematic to a small minority of individuals and that it should be done in moderation. If airlines want to get into the business of being gambling operators as a sideline, they need to have a socially responsible infrastructure in place that maximizes fun for those that want to gamble, and minimizes harm for those who may be vulnerable and susceptible.

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

Further reading

Calder, S. (2012). Wheels up, chips down: French design consortium develops plans for in-flight casino. The Independent, November 30. Located at:

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). An overview of pathological gambling. In T. Plante (Ed.), Mental Disorders of the New Millennium. Vol. I: Behavioral Issues. pp. 73-98. New York: Greenwood.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Addiction and exposure. In W. Donsbach (Ed.), The International Encyclopaedia of Communication (Volume 1). pp. 34-36. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? (pp. 277-292). New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2009). Centralised gaming models and social responsibility. Casino and Gaming International., 5(2), 65-69.

No disguises on the prizes: The Ig Nobels are coming to Nottingham Trent

I apologise in advance, but today’s blog contains a not-so thinly disguised plug (well, a blatant plug actually) for a national event that is being hosted by my university on Thursday 21st March (2013). The blurb I was sent by our local organizer Phil Banyard proclaims:

“Are you dreaming about getting that Nobel prize one day? The acclaim, the achievement, the acknowledgement (and not to forget the money). Well, we don’t have the Nobel prizes coming to Nottingham Trent University but we have the next best thing – The Ig Nobels! The Division of Psychology in the School of Social Sciences is proud to present an evening with the Ig Nobels and we are calling it A Celebration of Science. The Ig Nobel Prizes honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology ( The awards are held each year at Harvard University and each award is presented by a Nobel laureate such is the esteem of this event. Over the past few years Marc Abrahams has brought an Ig Nobels tour to the UK in the spring. The tours highlights some of the key awards from the Ig Nobels’ back catalogue and provides a great opportunity to promote science to a wider audience. They last visited this university 8 years ago and we are delighted to welcome them back this March… Among the Ig Nobel Laureates will be Bob Batty (an alumni of Nottingham Trent University), Anna Wilkinson and Charles Deeming”

If that’s not enough to get you going, I would also like to add that top science journal Nature says: “The Ig Nobel awards are arguably the highlight of the scientific calendar” (and who am I to argue?). For those of you who know nothing about the Ig Nobels, they were initiated and organised by one of my favourite journalists, Guardian columnist Marc Abrams. Abrams writes a weekly column for The Guardian called Improbable Research and he is also the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research.

Back in February 2010, I was delighted when Abrams did a whole column on my research into gambling entitled ‘Slot-machine gamblers are hard to pin down: Why are gamblers such a difficult subject for academic study?’ Secretly, I’m very proud that he dedicated a whole column to my research. (In fact, I’ve just found out while I was researching this blog, is that my research also features in his latest 2012 book This is Improbable: Cheese String Theory, Magnetic Chickens, and Other WTF Research. Here are some of the things he wrote about my research into gambling:

It’s hard to get good payoffs from slot machines, yes. But it’s also hard to get good information from slot machine gamblers, and that made things awkward for psychologists Mark Griffiths, of Nottingham Trent University, and Jonathan Parke, of Salford University. They explained how, in a monograph called Slot Machine Gamblers – Why Are They So Hard to Study? Griffiths and Parke published it a few years ago in the Journal of Gambling Issues. ‘We have both spent over 10 years playing in and researching this area,’ they wrote, ‘and we can offer some explanations on why it is so hard to gather reliable and valid data. Here are three from their long list.

  • First, gamblers become engrossed in gambling. ‘We have observed that many gamblers will often miss meals and even utilise devices (such as catheters) so that they do not have to take toilet breaks. Given these observations, there is sometimes little chance that we as researchers can persuade them to participate in research studies.’
  • Second, gamblers like their privacy. They ‘may be dishonest about the extent of their gambling activities to researchers as well as to those close to them. This obviously has implications for the reliability and validity of any data collected.’
  • Third, gamblers sometimes notice when a person is spying on them. “The most important aspect of non-participant observation research while monitoring fruit-machine players is the art of being inconspicuous. If the researcher fails to blend in, then slot-machine gamblers soon realise they are being watched and are therefore highly likely to change their behaviour.’

The gambling machines go by many names, ‘fruit machine’ and ‘one-armed bandit’ also being popular. But Griffiths and Parke don’t obsess about nomenclature. The two are giants in their chosen profession. The International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction ran a paean from a researcher who said: ‘In the problem gambling field we don’t exhibit the same adulation as music fans for their idols, but we have our superstars and, for me, Mark Griffiths is one.’

Professor Griffiths is one of the world’s most published scholars on matters relating to the psychology of fruit-machine gamblers, with at least 27 published studies that mention fruit machines in their title. These range from 1994’s appreciative Beating the Fruit Machine: Systems and Ploys Both Legal And Illegal to 1998’s admonitory Fruit Machine Gambling and Criminal Behaviour: Issues for the Judiciary*. Women get special attention (Fruit Machine Addiction in Females: a Case Study), as do youths (Adolescent Gambling on Fruit Machines and several other monographs). There is the humanist perspective (Observing the Social World of Fruit-Machine Playing) as well as that of the biomedical specialist (The Psychobiology of the Near Miss in Fruit Machine Gambling). Griffiths and Parke collaborate often. Strangers to their work might wish to begin by reading the classic The Psychology of the Fruit Machine. Their fruitful publication record reminds every scholar that, even when a subject is difficult to study, persistence and determination can yield a rewarding payoff”.

All I can say, is that after re-reading this, I wonder how I can still get my head through the door. Anyway, if you’d like to go see Marc Abrams in person, here are the further details:

Event: The Ig Nobels: A celebration of Science

Time and date: 6.30 pm, Thursday 21st March

Location: The Newton Building on the City Campus of the University.

Booking details: The event is free but booking is essential.

Book at

Details of their UK events and more information about the Ig Nobels can be found on their website (


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


Further reading (i.e., the papers cited by Marc Abrams above)

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). The psychobiology of the near miss in fruit machine gambling. Journal of Psychology, 125, 347-357.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Beating the fruit machine: Systems and ploys both legal and illegal. Journal of Gambling Studies, 10, 287-292.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Observing the social world of fruit-machine playing. Sociology Review, 6(1), 17-18.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Fruit machine addiction in females: A case study. Journal of Gambling Issues, 8. Located at:

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2002).  Slot machine gamblers – Why are they so hard to study? Journal of Gambling Issues, 6. Located at:

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics (revisited). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

* I’ve never actually written a paper with this title bit I think it’s an inadvertent mix of two or three papers I’ve written

Yeoman, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Adolescent machine gambling and crime (I). Journal of Adolescence,  19, 99-104.

Griffiths, M.D. & Sparrow, P. (1998). Fruit machine addiction and crime. Police Journal, 71, 327-334.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Cybercrime: Areas of concern for the judiciary. Justice of the Peace, 165, 296-298.

Pulling muscles: A beginner’s guide to sthenolagnia

Back in 2007, the UK’s best selling tabloid The Sun published an article called Top five freaky fetishes”. The journalist who wrote the article – Josh Burt – wrote that:

“We’ve all gasped with disbelief at the mega-bronzed muscle-bound ladies in those weird bodybuilding competitions, but sthenolagnia is a condition where men find that hugely sexually attractive. These men like to be wrestled, lifted up and even carried around by their big iron-pumping dreamgirls”.

So what is known about this type of fetishistic behaviour? Sthenolagnia is – according to Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices – a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and sexual arousal from displaying strength or muscles. However, there are other slightly different definitions (all of which involve the derivation of sexual pleasure from muscles and/or strength). For instance, in the 2007 book on The Miscellany of Sex, Francesca Twinn defined sthenolagnia as the love of giant, overpowering women”. Here, the definition locates the sexual focus of the paraphilia as being in women only, and is also loose enough to include aspects of macrophilia (i.e., sexual arousal and pleasure from a fascination with giants and/or a sexual fantasy involving giants). There are also related paraphilias such as cratolagnia where – again according to Aggrawal’s book – individuals derive sexual arousal and pleasure more generally from displays of strength.

Reports of sthenolgnia – in both males and females and of all sexual orientations – date back to the 1800s. The term ‘sthenolagnia’ is thought to have been first coined by the German psychologist Magnus Hirschfeld. The term is not in popular usage, and most contemporary sthenolagniacs define themselves as ‘muscle worshippers’ (itself a sub-branch of more general ‘body worship’). In Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices she refers to sthenolagnia (and cratolagnia) but only in an entry on ‘wrestling’ for erotic purposes.

There appears to be different sub-categories of sthenolagnia, such as men who derive sexual arousal from female muscle growth (FMG) – particularly bicep growth – and frequent places where female body builders are found (e.g., gyms, health clubs, bodybuilding tournaments, etc.). However, some of this may be based in fantasy rather than actuality, particularly if it is related to aspects of macrophilia and transformation fetishes (both of which I covered in previous blogs). For instance, Marvel Comics character ‘She-Hulk’ is a popular representation of FMG fantasy and can be found on websites such as the Female Muscle Factory. FMG can also be related to other specific fetishes (such as fetishes surrounding breast expansion fetishism). Although there is little in the way of academic research on the topic, many sthenolagnia devotees appear to be sexually aroused by an equalization (or reversal) of the stereotypical power relationship among heterosexual couples. I also came across an anonymous article online which claimed that:

“The psychology of muscle worship is not fully understood. The practice developed from envy, jealousy, or profound appreciation for excellent muscularity. It is a relatively modern social activity that began to gain popularity with the rise of competitive bodybuilding. When the worshiper is of a less-muscular stature, the aspects of envy or jealousy are more pronounced. Typically, profound appreciation for the achievement of exceptional muscularity and stroking of the muscle god’s ego remain the primary motivations, particularly when muscle worship is done between two or more accomplished bodybuilders in a session”

Muscle worshippers can derive sexual arousal from simply touching those with highly visible muscles (often referred to as the ‘dominator’ – and typically a fitness instructor, bodybuilder, wrestler, etc.). The various tactile activities that can facilitate sexual pleasure include rubbing, massaging, kissing, licking, and/or other more diverse activities including lifting, carrying, and engaging in wrestling moves. Muscle worshippers themselves are typically (but not always) much smaller and skinnier than the dominator. According to Steven Davis and Maglina Lubovich in their 2007 book Hunks, Hotties, and Pretty Boys, those individuals conforming to this stereotype are called schmoos (and often refers to men who worship women’s muscles). According to a Wikipedia:

“The amount of forceful domination and pain used in muscle worship varies widely, depending on the desires of the participants. Sometimes, the dominator uses his or her size and strength to pin a smaller worshipper, forcing the worshipper to praise his or her muscles, while in other cases, the worshipper simply feels and compliments the muscles of a flexing dominator. Both male and female bodybuilders offer muscle worship sessions for a price in order to supplement their low or non-existent income from bodybuilding competitions, although the lack of adequate funding is far more dire in female competitions. Paid sessions rarely involve sexual gratification, especially when well-known competitors are involved, they offer fans – both male and female – the rare chance to meet in person and touch a highly muscular man and especially a muscular woman…Muscle worship engenders a specific type of pornography often produced professionally, but also web cam sessions, an underground erotic literature, and specific internet discussion fora like the gaymuscle IRC channel. A (possibly fictional) account of muscle worship by H.A. Carson combines it with infantilism”.

I tracked down H.A. Carson’s book – called A Roaring Girl: An Interview with the Thinking Man’s Hooker. Part of the book focuses on the ‘muscle girl’ phenomenon, and the interviewee is asked by Carson whether many of her clients fantasize about female bodybuilders. She replied also by making reference to schmoos:

“Female bodybuilders call their groupies schmoos, and a lot of schmoos pay…Most of [them] were into wrestling – you know: the Chyna Syndrome, i.e., the fantasy of being bodyslammed by a muscular woman. But a lot of them are into body and muscle worship. They want to be talked through an entire posing/oiling/pump room routine…Kissing. Licking, tonguing, and rubbing posing oil and Pro Tan all over my muscles while I lift and flex and military press them above my head like a barbell…[One client] liked to picture me as a humongously muscular woman performing serous feats of strength…He also liked muscle worship – especially on my ‘muscle’ boobs…There are also musclegirl fetishists with very specific, custom tailored fantasies. [Two women I know] combined infantilism with humiliation and muscle worship”

As the Wikipedia article notes, there was no telling to what extent the interviewee’s narrative was true but my reading of the book was that it seemed to be based on someone who knew what she was talking about. This is another in a long list of paraphilic and fetishistic behaviours that we know little about empirically. Given the lack of references in the clinical literature, it would appear that treatment is not generally sought and that such people live happily with their fetish.

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.

Assael, S. (2007). Steroid Nation. New York: ESPN Books.

Burt, J. (2007). Top five freaky fetishes. The Sun, September 7. Located at:

Carson, H.A. (2010). A Roaring Girl: An interview with the Thinking Man’s Hooker. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

Davis, S.L. & Lubovich, M. (2008). Hunks, Hotties, and Pretty Boys. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars.

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

Sex and the University (2008). Sthenolagnia: Muscle fetishism. Located at:

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

Wikipedia (2012). Muscle worship. Located at:

Driller thriller: A beginner’s guide to voluntary trepanning‬

Back when I first joined Nottingham Trent University in 1995, one of my colleagues (and now good friend) Phil Banyard introduced me to a book called the Amok Journal: A Compendium of Psycho-physiological Investigations edited by Stuart Swezey (and is quite possibly the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read). Not only has it got some great articles on sexual paraphilias, it was the book that introduced me to voluntary trepanning (drilling a hole through your own skull to feel psychologically better). Before looking at voluntary trepanning, it should be remembered that trepanning for genuine medical complaints has long been practiced.

In medical circles, trepanning (sometimes referred to as trephination or trephining) involves the making a ‘burr hole’ in the skull. Surgical burr holes are usually made by brain surgeons on the human skull or cranium to facilitate surgery (e.g., to drain a haematomas on the brain, or to relieve intra-cranial pressure). Surgeons nowadays are more likely to refer to this procedure as a craniotomy. A trephine is the instrument that is actually used for cutting out a disc-shaped piece of skull bone. According to a 2009 report in the New Scientist by Arran Frood, there is research being undertaken that is looking at the possible benefits of trepanning for those with Alzheimer’s Disease. Frood reported:

“In the early 1960s, a young Russian neurophysiologist called Yuri Moskalenko travelled from the Soviet Union to the UK on a Royal Society exchange programme. During his stay, he co-authored a paper published in Nature. ‘Variation in blood volume and oxygen availability in the human brain’ may not sound subversive, but it was the start of a radical idea. Decades later, having worked in Soviet Russia and become president of the Sechenov Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg, Moskalenko is back in the UK. Now collaborating with researchers at the Beckley Foundation in Oxford, his work is bearing fruit. And strange fruit it is. With funding from the foundation, he is exploring the idea that people with Alzheimer’s disease could be treated by drilling a hole in their skull”.

Trepanning has been carried out among humans since prehistoric times as a way of treating various medical conditions (e.g., severe head wounds, mental disorders, epileptic seizures, bad migraine headaches, etc.). The Wikipedia entry on trepanning claims:

“Trepanation is perhaps the oldest surgical procedure for which there is archaeological evidence, and in some areas may have been quite widespread. Out of 120 prehistoric skulls found at one burial site in France dated to 6500 BC, 40 had trepanation holes. Many prehistoric and pre-modern patients had signs of their skull structure healing, suggesting that many of those subjected to the surgery survived”

There is also an abundance of archeological evidence from unearthed skulls that trepanning was carried out in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica (such as the tribes in Monte Albán), among New World societies (e.g., pre-Incan cultures in Andean civilizations, the Peruvian Ica tribes, etc.), Mexixo (including Tarahumara tribes in north-west Mexico, and Oaxaca tribes in southern Mexico). However, archeologists have been quick to note that skull modification and skull mutilation (i.e., the fashioning of ‘trophy skulls’ from enemies for ritualistic displays) were often carried out post-mortem by some peoples that makes trepanning harder to detect and/or confirm. The Wikipedia entry also notes that a study of ten low-status burials from the Monte Albán region concluded that:

“Trepanation had been applied non-therapeutically, and, since multiple techniques had been used and since some people had received more than one trepanation, concluded it had been done experimentally. Inferring the events to represent experiments on people until they died, the study interpreted that use of trepanation as an indicator of the stressful sociopolitical climate that not long thereafter resulted in the abandonment of Monte Alban as the primary regional administrative center in the Oaxacan highlands”

As outlined above, trepanning is usually done for medical reasons but in extreme cases, trepanning may be carried out by healthy individuals who believe they will experience a variety of physical and/or psychological benefits. Such acts of voluntary trepanation are considered to be pseudoscience but that hasn’t stopped the practice among a minority of adherents who claim that it is helpful in treatment for conditions such as depression and chronic fatigue syndrome (although there is no scientific support for this as far as I am aware).

Two of the most proactive voices in the trepanning field are Peter Halvorsen (who runs the International Trepanation Advocacy Group) and Bart Huges (who wrote the 1962 monograph Homo Sapiens Correctus that advocated the benefits of self-trepanation). Both Halvorson and Huges practiced what they preached and drilled a hole into their own skulls to increase ‘brain blood volume’ (that according to adherents enhances cerebral metabolism in a manner similar to cerebral vasodilators that widen blood vessels). However, having tried to look for academic papers, I haven’t found peer reviewed papers that support the claims in relation to self-trepanation in healthy individuals. Halvorsen’s website has access to a scientific paper he co-authored and published in a 2008 issue the journal Human Physiology. The authors claim that the study (to their knowledge) is “one of the first fundamental physiological studies on craniotomy”. They reported that:

“The sample comprised 11 patients of a neurosurgical clinic in whom a trephine opening in the cranial bones was made for medical indications…We recorded pulse changes in blood circulation (by transcranial Doppler sonography) and in the ratio between the pulse fluctuations in the blood and CSF volumes (by rheoencephalography) before and after surgery…After craniotomy, the cross-flow of CSF between the cranial and spinal cavities decreased significantly, giving way to volumetric compensatory translocations of blood and CSF within the cranial cavity per se during the cardiac cycle, which increased the intracranial utilization of the energy of the cardiac output and con- tributed to the outflow of venous blood from the cranium. The results suggest a beneficial effect of craniotomy on the physiological mechanisms of the circulatory and metabolic maintenance of the brain activity”.

Although this medical paper shows support for the medical benefits of trepanation, the study was carried out on those who needed medical treatment, not those who were healthy. One of the claims often made is that children (whose skulls are not filly closed) have “a higher state of consciousness” and that self-trepanation helps adults return to their prior child-like state (however, I can find no academic research to support the idea that children have a ‘higher state of consciousness’ or how ‘higher state’ in this context is defined).

Arguably the most infamous account of trepanning was that written by Joseph Mellen in his 1975 book Bore Hole (although it’s actually more of a booklet). His partner (Amanda Fielding, a friend of Mick Jagger) also underwent a trepanation procedure (that Mellen filmed for the documentary Heartbeat in the Brain, parts of which appear in the film A Hole in the Head). Mellen had tried a couple of times to drill a hole through his skull but it wasn’t until a third attempt that it was deemed by Mellen as an ‘enlightened state’. In his won words, Mellen wrote:

“After some time there was an ominous sounding schlurp and the sound of bubbling. I drew the trepan out and the gurgling continued. It sounded like air bubbles running under the skull as they were pressed out. I looked at the trepan and there was a bit of bone in it. At last!”

Having tried to read as much on the topic as I can, I have to agree with the conclusions of another online essay about trepanning which said the practice is “unproved, archaic, and even laughable to modern medical thinking, the science of trepination will continue to the hold the fascination of the open-minded, as it has through human history”

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

Further reading

Mellen, J. (1975). Bore Hole. London: Glucrocacy.

Moskalenko, Y.E., Weinstein, G.B., Kravchenko, T.I., Mozhaev, S.V., Semernya, V.N., Feilding, A., Halvorson, P., & S. V. Medvedev, S.V. (2008). The effect of craniotomy on the intracranial hemodynamics and cerebrospinal fluid dynamics in humans. Human Physiology, 34, 299-305.

Swezey, S. (Ed.) (1995). The Amok Journal: A Compendium of Psycho-physiological Investigations. Los Angeles: Amok.

Frood, A. (2009). Like a hole in the head: The return of trepanation. New Scientist, June 17. Located at:

Kook Science Resistance (2010). I drilled a hole into my head. Located at:

From the university of perversity: An A to Z of non-researched sexual paraphilias

One of my students asked me the other day whether I will ever run out of sexual paraphilias to write about. I may run out of paraphilias that have been scientifically researched but the one thing I’ve learned from all my reseach into human sexual behaviour is that human beings appear to have the capacity to become sexually aroused to almost anything. Today’s blog takes a brief A to Z look at 26 paraphilias where (as far as I am aware) there is absolutely no empirical or clinical research on the topic. In fact, in almost all of the paraphilias listed here, I couldn’t even find an anecdotal case study or an online forum where people discuss such issues. The majority of the paraphilias below can be found in either Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices and/or Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Just to make things a little more interesting, one of the 26 paraphilias listed below is one that I made up.

  • Anasteemaphilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal to individuals who are much taller or shorter than themselves (i.e., it is the large difference in height that is the primary source of sexual arousal)
  • Batrachophilia: This is a sub-type of zoophilia where individuals derive sexual arousal from and/or attraction to frogs. The Victorious Vocabulary website says that it relates to an extreme fondness for frogs, or a sexual obsession with frogs.
  • Cratophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from displays of strength. I have only come across one academic paper that makes a specific reference to ‘cratophilia’ and that was a study led by Dr G. Scorolli on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data. They reported that some of the sites featured references to ‘muscle fetishes’ (5% of all sites concerned with bodily features) and that some of these related to cratophilia (although it also featured individuals who were sthenophiles who prefer the look of the muscles rather than acts of bodily strength)
  • Doraphilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from animal fur, leather, and/or skin. The Wikipedia page on clothing and garment fetishes mentions doraphilia in passing but there is no supporting empirical evidence.
  • Endytophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal only from partners who are clothed during sexual intercourse. The only interesting things I found on the internet relating to endytophilia was that (a) it contained the letters for the word ‘depiliation’, and (b) it was claimed in an online article by Tony Leather that the most famous endytophile was Elvis Presley.
  • Fratrilagnia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from having sex with one’s own brother. Although I am aware cases of brother-sister incest, the implication from the behaviour being classified as a sexual paraphilia is that it is the fact being a brother is the primary source of the individual’s sexual behaviour.
  • Geusophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal through taste (presumably of food but none of the definitions I’ve come across make that explicit – seem my previous blog on sitophilia).
  • Hyphephilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from touching skin, hair, leather, fur or fabric. This appears to be very similar to doraphilia (above) but includes a greater number of tactile materials from which an individual derives sexual pleasure.
  • ldrophrodisia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from the odour of perspiration, especially from the genitals. This would appear to be a sub-type of olfactophilia (sexual arousal from smells and odour).
  • Juvenilophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from having sex with juveniles.
  • Knismolagnia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from tickling. Since writing this article I managed to collect enough anecdotal material to write a whole blog on this paraphilia.
  • Lyssophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from becoming angry or upset.
  • Moriaphilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from telling sexual jokes. This may be related to other psychological conditions such as ‘punning mania’ although this sexual paraphilia (if it really exists) could be argued to be a sub-type of narratophilia.
  • Nosolagnia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from knowing partner has terminal illness. Although I have never come across a case of nosolagnia, I would imagine it has psychological overlaps with those individuals who seek sexual arousal from vulnerable individuals (such as those who sexually exploit the learning disabled).
  • Ochlophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from being in a crowd. This would appear to have some overlap with frotteurism (sexual arousal from rubbing up against people and which I examined in a previous blog).
  • Placophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from tombstones. After finding out what placophobia was, the musician and author Julian Cope claimed he must be a placophile on a post at his Head Heritage website (although my guess is that his love for tombstones is not sexual).
  • Quadoshka: OK, I admit this a little bit of a cheat as there are so few sexual paraphilias beginning with the letter ‘Q’ (and I’ve already covered queefing in a previous blog). Quadoshka is where individuals derive sexual arousal American Indian form of tantric sex.
  • Rhytiphilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from facial wrinkles. This would appear to be related to gerontophilia (sexual arousal to people who are much older than the individuals themselves).
  • Septophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal to decaying matter (presumably human or something else that was once living, but none of the definitions I have come across make any specific references). This paraphilia would therefore appear to have clear overlaps with necrophilia (sexual arousal from dead people) and necrobestiality (sexual arousal from dead animals).
  • Timophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal comes from gold or wealth. Given that money and/or wealth are often said to be aphrodisiacs, I would have thought there would be lots of research into this, but I have yet to come across any. However, it is one of the few paraphilias that is listed here that appears on the Right Diagnosis online medical website. This also reminds me of the interview on the Mrs. Merton Show where Debbie McGee was asked So, what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”
  • Uranophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from heavenly thoughts. One online definition claims that uranophilia is the “ultimate expression of faith in that you can take such joy, such pleasure from the mere thought of heaven alone”. I am very doubtful that this paraphilia even exists.
  • Vicarphilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from other people’s sexual experiences. To me, this sounds remarkably like a form of narratophilia (that I covered in a previous blog). One online dictionary goes much further in its definition and defines vicarphilia as vicarious arousal sexual arousal from other peoples’ exciting actions, experiences and behaviors and sexual attraction for people who lead exciting lives, such as influential people, celebrities, gangsters, and people who engage in dangerous sports such as racers, daredevils, and action sportsters”.
  • Wing Fetishism: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from wings – but not from bird or animal wings but from angel or demon wings. I know of no literature on this at all but I am assuming it is a fantasy-based paraphilia like macrophilia (sexual arousal for giants).
  • Xylophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from wooden objects. This may have some overlap with the next sexual paraphilia on this list (i.e., ylophilia).
  • Ylophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from forests. The Fetish News website defines ylophilia as an extreme affinity for forests, including sexual attraction to or arousal from the texture and shape of trees and shrubs. This would therefore seem to overlap with dendrophilia (sexual arousal from trees, that I covered in a previous blog).
  • Zelophilia: This is where individuals derive sexual arousal from jealousy.

So did you spot the one I made up? If you think you know which one it is or want to know, email me directly at: Also, if you have any information on any of the paraphilias listed here I would love to hear from you.

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.

Caust, D. (undated). Sex sense: Unusual sexual behavior. Located at:

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.

Leather, T. (2012). What floats your sexual boat? Wikinut, September 9. Located at:

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

Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E.A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.

Wikipedia (2013). Clothing fetish. Located at:

All dolled up: A peek into the surreal world of reborn baby lovers

Yesterday, my family and I went to a doll and teddy bear fair at Kelham Hall (near Newark). We went to see my relatives who had a couple of tables at the fair selling both dolls and teddy bears (my uncle Frank Webster is a renowned bear maker here in the UK). The reason I mention this is because I witnessed something I have never seen before – the sight of grown adults pushing around prams with one or more ‘reborn’ baby dolls. Although my late mother was a doll collector, I had never seen ‘reborn’ baby dolls before. In fact, there was one whole dedicated room at Kelham Hall just for reborn bay dolls. One of the stalls (Fairytales Reborn Nursery) featured baby dolls that looked so real that I even picked up their business cards and postcards featuring their products. However, it was the sight of middle to older age women (and one older aged couple) pushing around and playing with ‘reborn’ baby dolls that really caught my eye. I asked my aunt (who was there helping my uncle sell his bears) if this was unusual and they told me that ‘reborn mothers’ were a common site at such events.

I am well aware of men who have a sexually paraphilic interest in lifelike adult dolls (that I examined in a previous blog on doll fetishism), but I had never come across a non-sexual interest in lifelike baby dolls among (what appeared to be mainly) women. In fact, my only real “experience” of women treating babies as if they were real was Dawn French’s portrayal of the midwife Joy Aston in the weird but wonderful BBC comedy thriller series Psychoville. In the television series, Aston had a son who died of a cot death. As a way of coping, Aston treats a baby doll (‘Freddy’) as if it is her own child son, forcing her on-screen husband George (played by Steve Pemberton) to help her look after their ‘son’. My partner (jokingly I think) said that the topic of ‘reborn’ baby doll parents would make a good blog, so as soon as I got back home from the doll fair, I was straight onto the internet looking at what was out there on the phenomenon.

The first thing I came across after finding dedicated magazines to lifelike dolls (such as Lifelike Doll Magazine), highlights how realistic the reborn baby dolls look. In Australia, a story in The Courier-Mail reported ‘Frantic rescue effort saves doll, not baby’. The story recalled how Australian police had smashed in a car window in the region of Gympie (Queensland) to rescue what was thought to be an unconscious baby locked inside the car but turned out to be a lifelike doll. A similar incident occurred in the US. The Australian news report said that:

“Selling for up to $1000, the painstakingly hand-painted dolls were so lifelike with eyelashes, fingernails, milk spots and wispy hair that they were constantly fooling people…They’re even weighted to feel like a baby’s weight and they flop like a baby. The dolls can even come with umbilical cords, cord clamps and their own birth certificates. They are so realistic, people do become attached to them”.

The Wikipedia entry on reborn dolls notes that:

“A reborn doll is a manufactured vinyl doll that has been transformed to resemble a human baby with as much realism as possible. The process of creating a reborn doll is referred to as reborning and the doll artists are referred to as reborners. Reborn dolls are also known as living dolls or unliving dolls. The hobby of creating reborn baby dolls began around 1990 when doll enthusiasts wanted more realistic dolls. Since then, an industry surrounding reborn dolls has emerged. Reborn dolls are primarily purchased on the internet but are available at fairs”

Another 2008 story entitled ‘Bogus baby boom: Women who collect lifelike dolls’ was reported by NBC News. The article featured an interview with Lynn Katsaris, an artist who had created well over 1,000 reborn dolls and then sold them to women around the world. Since being created in the US the article claimed that the reborn baby dolls were being sold on eBay for between $500 to $4,000. The article reported:

Some people find the lifelike dolls downright creepy. But collectors, some of whom treat the dolls as real children, feel there’s nothing unusual about their passionate hobby…The vinyl dolls don’t just look exactly like real babies – they also feel real. Their bodies are stuffed and weighted to have the same heft and a similar feel to a live baby. Mohair is normally used for the hair and is rooted in the head strand by strand, a process that can take 30 hours. A magnet may be placed inside the mouth to hold a magnetic pacifier. To add realism, some purchasers opt for a heartbeat and a device that makes the chest rise and fall to simulate breathing…Some customers order special dolls that are exact replicas of their own children who died at birth or in infancy. These are individually made from hand-sculpted clay forms made from photographs of the child. The customers are almost all women. Some buy them because they collect dolls. Others buy them as surrogates for children that were lost or have grown and left the home. Some women dress the dolls, wash their hair, take them for walks in strollers and take them shopping”

A lot of the coverage of the reborn baby doll phenomenon relates to the television documentary My Fake Baby (that was first aired in the UK on Channel 4 back in January 2008, and directed by Victoria Silver). The programme examined what made grown women spend so much money on the lifelike dolls that although bizarre to some, brings great rewards to the women involved”.
The programme showed that some of the reborn dolls have tiny veins, beating hearts, and milk spots. The documentary showed case studies of women who loved the reborn dolls as if they were real babies (e.g., cuddling them, taking them for walks, changing their nappies, etc.). Women in the programme who bought the dolls included women with grown-up children, grandmothers living away from their grandchildren, and women who have left it too late to have their own babies. For instance, one of the women featured (Sue) is a self-confessed perfectionist who says she would love to have the perfect baby but knows that the real thing can be “messy, noisy and unpredictable”. Sue is seen buying designer clothes from Harrods especially for her reborn baby doll. Another woman (Christine) has a reborn baby created in the likeness of her grandson Harry. Harry lived thousands of miles away, but Christine longed for the days when she cared for Harry a newborn. Reaction to the programme (positive and negative) can be found from doll collectors (such as those on Our Doll Community website) and new mothers (such as those on the Baby and Bump Momstastic website). Other case studies of ‘reborners’ were featured on the US show Dr. Phil. There are even reports of reborn baby dolls being made to order into vampires and zombies (check out the story by Today if you are interested).

Academically, there doesn’t appear to be much written or researched on the phenomenon. A.F. Robertson wrote a whole book on dolls (Life Like Dolls: The Collector Doll Phenomenon and the Lives of the Women Who Love Them), but concentrates on porcelain dolls rather than reborn baby dolls. Michele White wrote an interesting chapter entitled ‘Babies who touch you: Reborn dolls, artists, and the emotive display of bodies on eBay’ in the 2010 book Political Emotions. The chapter describes the phenomenon via an analysis of over 300 listings of reborns being sold on the online auction site eBay. She notes that:

“Individuals use the terms ‘reborn’ and ‘reborning’ to describe the processes of making dolls alive, or life-like. This is related to the tendency among doll collectors, as Alexander Foster Robertson suggests of treating the object ‘as a real little person’. The people involved in reborning describe themselves as artists and mothers, indicate that their dolls are ‘adoptions’ and do complicated work in remaking the meaning and values of these objects”.

In her conclusions, White also makes the observation that:

“Women produce an intense and supportive reborn culture but their practices are often denigrated in blogs and Internet forums. Women are labeled as ‘sick’ and ‘morons’, and equated to pedophiles…Victoria Silver’s My Fake Baby (2008) documentary, which made the processes of reborning better known, often informs people’s negative reactions, for the director also unsympathetically depicts participants choosing the cleanliness of reborn babies over the messiness of corporeal babies, presenting their reborn dolls as children, and replacing an absent grandchild with a reborn replica. Reborn dolls trouble understandings of the human because they are often misrecognized as babies when left in cars and other places, women describe them as babies, the boundary distinctions between mother and child are not maintained, and women purportedly deviate from human behavior in mothering them”.

I’m sure the blog I have written here feeds into the negative stereotypes that White talks about in her book chapter. (However, in my defence, there are other blogs that are far more negative than mine such as those on the Stroller Derby website). Amanda Edwards in a recent January 2013 article for Voxxi went as far as to assert:

“A rising number of women around the world are succumbing to the strange addiction of collecting and caring for dolls that look eerily like newborn babies…In the field of mental health, to summarize plainly, a hobby brings joy while an obsession brings destruction…Collecting dolls is absolutely an acceptable hobby, one that dates back hundreds of years and provides work and fulfillment for many people. The fascination with the reborn doll movement is that it’s not simply about collecting and creating these dolls as a hobby, it’s about providing care for them, nurturing them, and sometimes, choosing them over family…Recently, Voxxi reported about Alice Winston, a woman that collects these dolls and has lost her husband in part due to her emotional connection to her “babies.” Despite having five children of her own, she stated that, ‘No relationship will ever come between me and my babies, and I wouldn’t give them up for my children’. Clearly, a woman who chooses her doll collection over her relationships with her husband and children has an obsession”.

Based on what I have read, none of the most extreme cases appear to be what I would define as an addiction, but that doesn’t mean that no-one has ever developed a problem. At the very least, I can now visit doll fairs and call it research!

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

Further reading

Celizic, M. (2008). Bogus baby boom: Women who collect lifelike dolls. NBC Today News, January 10. Located at:

Edwards, A. (2013). Reborn dolls: When a hobby becomes an obsession. Voxxi, January 17. Located at:

Green, G. (2008). Frantic rescue effort saves doll, not baby. The Courier-Mail, July 15. Located at:

O’Reilly, A. (2008). My Fake Baby. The F Word. January 4. Located at:

Robertson, A.F. (2003). Life Like Dolls: The Collector Doll Phenomenon and the Lives of the Women Who Love Them. London: Routledge.

White, M. (2010). Babies who touch you: Reborn dolls, artists, and the emotive display of bodies on eBay. In J. Staiger, A. Cvetkovich, & A. Reynolds (Eds.), Political Emotions. London: Routledge.

Wikipedia (2013). Reborn doll. Located at:

A gender setting: Inside the world of pandrogyny

In a previous blog I briefly examined the extreme art and music of Genesis P-Orridge and Throbbing Gristle. In the last decade P-Orridge began a performance art series called “Breaking Sex” with his partner and second wife Lady Jaye (who died in 2007 of heart failure complications arising from stomach cancer). The culmination of this art project can be seen in the documentary film The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (directed by Marie Losier).

Most of you reading this will be well aware of ‘androgyny’ (i.e., the condition of having both male and female characteristics in either bodily appearance, attitudes and/or behaviour). Those who describe themselves as androgynes often claim they don’t fit into society’s gender roles. Genesis P-Orridge has taken this one stage further and developed the concept of ‘pandrogyny’. According to a posting on the website:

“Pandrogyny is the conscious embracing of gender roles, sexual orientations, or cultural traditions so as to render the person’s original identity completely indecipherable. It is the ‘third gender’…a type of gender-neutral living being more akin to the OTHER…a pandrogyne is [about] making one’s life (a brief existence) into an art form. Is [pandrogyny] transvestism, transgendered behavior, or transsexuality? None of the above, as it turns out”

Along with Lady Jaye, Genesis P-Orridge decided to create a third being as both an artistic expression and statement (i.e., life – quite literally – as “a work of art”). They fused their psychological identities and underwent radical and irreversible plastic surgery to look more like each other (including reconstructive facial surgery [cheek impants, rhinoplasty, lip pumping], liposuction, and breast augmentation). In an interview with Tamara Palmer about Lady Jaye and the Pandrogyne project, Genesis said:

“We started out, because we were so crazy in love, just wanting to eat each other up, to become each other and become one. And as we did that, we started to see that it was affecting us in ways that we didn’t expect. Really, we were just two parts of one whole; the pandrogyne was the whole and we were each other’s other half. DNA is really the new battleground for evolution. If we want to survive as a species, if we want to hopefully colonize space and do incredible things, we have to completely reassess how the human body works and realize that it’s not sacred, it’s just stuff”.

The underlying philosophy of pandrogyny is about creating similarity, unification and resolution, rather than difference and separation. Genesis explained the concept further:

“When you consider transexuality, cross-dressing, cosmetic surgery, piercing and tattooing, they are all calculated impulses—a symptomatic groping toward the next phase. One of the great things about human beings is that they impulsively and intuitively express what is inevitably next in the evolution of culture and our species. It is the ‘Other’ that we are destined to become.”

In a different interview he went on to further outline what the pandrogyny project was all about.

“We are not trying to look like twins, though we wouldn’t mind that if it were possible. We are seeking to give an initial impression of visual similarity as far as we can. As a 56 year old biological male who is 5 foot six inches with a 30 inch waist, I can never reasonably expect to look identical to Lady Jaye who is a biological female who is 35 years old and 5 foot 10 inches high with a 24 inch waist. [However] we are committed enough to surrender our bodies to surgeries even if we end up not liking how we look. That is not what we are concerned with. We have no urge to try and ‘look better’, or younger, or more ‘glamourous’. Nor are we changing gender. Pandrogeny is about neutralising gender in order to REPRESENT a future possibility for thee species”

One of the central themes of their work is the “malleability of physical and behavioural identity”. P-Orridge’s work has been influenced by the ‘cut-up’ techniques of both William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin (a technique popularized by David Bowie in the 1970s). As P-Orridge explained:

[Burroughs and Gysin] began to cut-up and, incorporating random chance, re-assembled both their own and co-opted literature…They referred to the phenomena of profound and poetic new collisions and meanings that resulted from their intimate collaborations as the ‘Third Mind’. This was produced with a willingness to sacrifice their own separate, previously inviolate works and artistic ‘ownership’. In many ways they saw the third mind as an entity in and of itself. Something ‘other’, closer to a purity of essence, and the origin and source of a magical or divine creativity that could only result from the unconditional integration of two sources”.

Genesis first met Lady Jaye in the early 1990s and eventually fused their separate (art)works before combining their individuality. They have literally cut up their bodies to create the pandrogyne, a third body that is the sum of their two bodies and minds subsuming each other. Genesis says that the way that he and Lady Jaye look relates directly to the internal dialogue that describes themselves to each other. In an interesting interview with Douglas Rushkoff in the Believer magazine, Genesis was asked what the difference was between pandrogyny, transvestism, and transgnder. He replied that:

“The main difference is that Pandrogeny is not about gender, it’s about union. The union of opposites. One way to explain the difference is very easy: with transgender people the man might feel that he’s trapped – the person feels they’re a man trapped in a woman’s body, or a woman trapped in a man’s body – whereas in Pandrogeny you’re just trapped in the body. So Pandrogeny is very much about the union of opposites, and, through that reunion, the transcendence of this binary world and this illusory, polarized social system…When people have an orgasm together that’s a moment of Pandrogeny. And when people have a baby, the baby is pandrogynous, sexually. Because it is literally two people becoming one”

Genesis and Lady Jaye have both taken body modification to the maximum, but unlike most people that engage in extreme body modification, they have done it in the name of art, not beauty or vanity.

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

Further reading

Ford, S. (1999). Wreckers of Civilization: The Story of Coum Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle. London: Black Dog Publishing.

Frederique (2011). You’ve heard of androgyny, but what about PANdrogyny?, September 13. Located at:

Palmer, T. (2008). Genesis P-Orridge: The Body Politic., December 29. Located at:

P-Orridge, G, (2002). Painful but Fabulous: The Life and Art of Genesis P-Orridge. Soft Skull Press.

P-Orridge, G. (2011). Pandrogyny and the overcoming of DNA. Sex, Gender, Body. Located at:

Rushkoff, D. (2012). In conversation with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. The Believer. Located at:

Wikipedia (2012). Genesis P-Orridge. Located at:

Lovestruck: A brief look at de Clérambault’s Syndrome

In previous blogs I have looked at both love addiction and obsessional love. Since writing my blog on obsessional love and noting that it is also known as erotomania, I have received a couple of emails from clinicians saying that obsessional love is not necessarily erotomania by definition. The problem with the wider area of obsessions, compulsions and addiction more generally is that academics and clinicians have different definitions of what it is to be obsessed or addicted to something.

In clinical circles, erotomania is known as de Clérambault’s syndrome (DCS), and was named after a paper published in 1921 (Les Psychoses Passionelles) by the French psychiatrist Gaëtan de Clérambault. Those with DCS typically have a delusional belief that another person (typically someone famous, high status and/or a stranger) is in love with them. Some of the scientific literature suggests that DCS sufferers may have experienced loss of people that were emotionally close to them, and that therefore they may feel emotionally and psychologically safer by attaching themselves to people who are unattainable. Such actions prevent any further losses. In a 1983 issue of Psychological Medicine, Dr. P. Taylor and colleagues described the main components of DCS:

  • The presence of a delusion that the individual (usually described as a female) is loved by a specific man;
  • The woman has had little or no contact with the man;
  • The man is unattainable in some way, because he is already married or because he has no personal interest in her;
  • The man is perceived as watching over, protecting or following the woman;
  • Despite the erotic delusion, the woman remains chaste.

One of the reasons I am personally interested in DCS is that back in the early 1990s, my then girlfriend (who was – and still is – a clinical psychologist) was the object of affection by a DCS sufferer. The man who fell in love with my girlfriend was slightly brain damaged following a bad motorcycling accident. The accident had also left him paralyzed and had to use a wheelchair. As part of her job, my girlfriend worked with the charity Headway (a brain injury association), and it was when she was caring for this head injured and paralyzed man that he fell in love with her and believed that the feelings were reciprocal. The condition was so intense that he even booked a wedding date, sent out wedding invitations, and told all his family and friends that he was marrying my girlfriend. I even started to question my girlfriend’s fidelity because I couldn’t comprehend that someone could organize a whole wedding if nothing had ever happened between them. (Even though I was a psychologist when this happened I had never come across DCS).

The research literature on DCS suggests that the delusional behaviour is usually part of psychotic behaviour (typically schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder) and can therefore be treated using atypical anti-psychotics (however, most DCS sufferers do not ask for help or seek treatment as they don’t believe they are doing anything wrong). According to the Wikipedia entry on DCS (and based on a paper published in a 1998 issue of the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience by Dr. C. Anderson and colleagues):

“During an erotomanic episode, the patient believes that a ‘secret admirer’ is declaring his or her affection to the patient, often by special glances, signals, telepathy, or messages through the media. Usually the patient then returns the perceived affection by means of letters, phone calls, gifts, and visits to the unwitting recipient. Even though these advances are unexpected and unwanted, any denial of affection by the object of this delusional love is dismissed by the patient as a ploy to conceal the forbidden love from the rest of the world”.

In a 2002 issue of the journal History of Psychiatry, Dr. German Berrios and Dr. N. Kennedy describe four convergences in the history of erotomania.

  • Convergence 1: From classical times to the early eighteenth century, erotomania was viewed as a ‘general disease caused by unrequited love’.
  • Convergence 2: During the nineteenth century, erotomania was viewed as a disease of ‘excessive physical love (nymphomania)’
  • Convergence 3: During the twentieth century, erotomania was viewed as a form of ‘mental disorder’
  • Convergence 4: Currently, erotomania is viewed as a ‘delusional belief of being loved by someone else’.

Berrios and Kennedy also note that there are differences between Anglo-Saxon and French views surrounding the meaning or coherence of “the much-abused English eponym ‘de Clérambault syndrome’. Erotomania is a construct, a mirror reflecting Western views on spiritual and physical love, sex, and gender inequality and abuse. On account of this, it is unlikely that there will ever be a final, ‘scientific’ definition rendering erotomania into a ‘natural kind’ and making it susceptible to brain localization and biological treatment”.

Empirical research suggests that women are more likely than men to suffer from DCS, and that DCS sufferers tend to have social and intimacy difficulties, and are therefore typically loners. Developmentally, they are likely to have a poor sense of self and may have suffered abuse during childhood and/or adolescence. Much of the published theorizing about erotomania is from a psychodynamic perspective or genetic/neurochemical presispositions. I’m far more eclectic in my approach to understanding human behaviour and believe that environmental, psychological, pharmacological and physiological factors most likely trigger a predisposed person into developing DCS. It’s also been speculated that learning through the media (television, radio, books, etc.) has influenced the development of DCS.

Dr. Louis Schlesinger in his 2004 book Sexual Murder: Catathymic and Compulsive Homicides writes about DCS sufferers in relation to possible stalking behaviour. He notes that: “some stalkers are unable to give up a prior intimate relationship (Zona, Sharma, and Lane, 1993). Some develop delusional beliefs about the target (Goldstein, 1987), while others develop strong obsessional thoughts about virtual strangers (Spitzberg and Cupach, 1994). Meloy (1992) and Kienlen (1998) believe that a disturbance of attachment begins in the offender’s early childhood and stalking starts when some type of loss in adulthood resurrects these early conflicts”

In some individuals, DCS can remain with the person for a long time. For instance, Dr. Harold Jordan and colleagues published a paper in a 2006 issue of the Journal of the National Medical Association. They reviewed two cases of DCS that they had followed for over 30 years making these some of the longest, single-case longitudinal studies yet reported”. They noted that DCS remains a “ubiquitous nosological psychiatric entity with uncertain prognosis”. De Clerambault’s original paper presented the case of a woman whose chronic, erotic delusion remained with her for 37 years, and the cases reported by Dr. Jordan and his colleagues also demonstrated that the delusion can remain unchanged for decades. I have yet to come across any research that estimates the prevalence of DCS among the general population but given most published papers are clinical case reports, it suggests the disorder is relatively rare.

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

Further reading

Anderson CA, Camp J, Filley CM (1998). Erotomania after aneurismal subarachnoid hemorrhage: Case report and literature review. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 10, 330-337.

Berrios G.E. & Kennedy, N. (2002). Erotomania: a conceptual history. History of Psychiatry, 13, 381-400.

Jordan, H.W., Lockert, E.W., Johnson-Warren, M., Cabell, C., Cooke, T., Greer, W. & Howe, G. (2006). Erotomania revisited: Thirty-four years later. Journal of the National Medical Association, 98, 487-793.

Schlesinger, L.B. (2004). Sexual murder: Catathymic and compulsive homicides. London: CRC Press.

Taylor, P., Mahendra, B. & Gunn J. (1983). Erotomania in males. Psychological Medicine, 13, 645-650.

Zona, M., Sharma, K., and Lane, J. (1993). A comparative study of erotomania and obsessional subjects in a forensic sample. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 38, 894–903.

Mounting on the sermon: A beginner’s guide to homilophilia

While reading a list of strange sexual paraphilias in Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, I came across a paraphilia called homilophilia which according to Dr. Aggrawal refers to individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from the hearing or giving of sermons. Unsurprisingly, there is no academic research on this topic (not even a single published case study), so I did start to wonder if the condition was theoretical or actually a real paraphilia. (I was even surprised to find that there was no entry in Wikipedia). Given there is so little written on the topic, I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised that not all academic sources agree on what the paraphilia actually constitutes.

In addition to Dr. Aggrawal’s definition above, I also came across the following. Anne Hooper in her 2009 “Dare To…Sex Guide” describes homilophilia as a “public speaking fetish” and that “some people get turned on by standing up in front of an audience and making a sexually fuelled speech. Others become excited by listening and may end up bouncing compulsively on the edge of his or her seat”. The Right Diagnosis website says that homilophilia refers to “sexual urges, arousal or fantasies involving listening to or giving a speech or sermon”. An online article on the A-Z of paraphilias (A Freaky Kind Of Love) defines homilophilia more broadly as referring to individuals who derive sexual arousal from “giving lectures”. Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices covers all bases and defines homilophilia as sexual arousal while listening to or giving sermons and speeches”. (She also says the condition is known by another name – autagonistophilia – which I will return to later).

Dr. Brenda Love briefly overviewed homilophilia in a 2005 book chapter entitled “Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing” (in Russ Kick’s book Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong). Her account is mostly speculative and says that the one of the reasons why homilophilia exists is because “public speakers are often dynamic, and this, combined with adrenalin, can produce sexual arousal for both the speaker and the audience”. From a religious perspective, she also claims that people listening to the clergy may get sexually aroused from hearing about the sexual activities they shouldn’t be doing. Dr. Love says “speeches that are about sex do not have to condone it. Often the guilt associated with a minister’s admonitions against this ‘vile’ act can create greater arousal than a lecture discussing its merits”. Dr. Love offers no empirical evidence to support these claims but given there is a complete absence of any scientific research, I can’t say she is wrong.

Most of her article concentrates on the more strict definition of sexual arousal being linked to the giving of religious speeches. She claims that:

“Religious services were once designed to arouse devotees sexually in preparation for the ensuing orgies. Today, tent revivals still appeal to the emotions of those gathered by promising that God will forgive their sins and love them. Occasionally, people will fall to the ground in mild convulsions that are indistinguishable from some Tantra practitioners whose bodies go limp during exercises due to sudden orgasmic vibrations that last ten to twenty minutes”.

She then goes on to note that spiritual arousal at tent revivals, were not always limited to either God or individual worshipers. Quoting from a book called Sex and Race, the author – J.A. Rogers – had tracked down an experiential account of old-time American camp meeting written by D.J. Davis in 1873:

“Those who think that a camp-meeting is no place for love-making are very much mistaken. When passions were aroused and moral restraints gave way for miles around the camp hundreds of couples could be seen prowling around in search of some cozy spot. Since the camp-meeting was a primitive affair, those human beings who were nearest to original Nature, were the leaders, thus the chief stirrers of the sexio-religious emotions of the whites were Negroes, most of whom could neither read nor write. Surcharged with primordial feeling, these totally illiterate blacks would whip their white audiences to the heights of frenzy”.

Dr. Love also makes reference to the fact religious tent revivals in small towns (presumably American) were notorious “cruising spots” for heterosexual prostitutes and gay men during the 1950s and 1960s because there as a lack of more “sophisticated meeting places”. We only have Dr. Love’s word for this but it seems plausible. However, there is then a lot of speculation as Dr. Love moves out of the religious arena and into the court room as another environment in which homilophilia occurs. More specifically, she claims:

“Trial attorneys are another group of speakers who seem to project sexual chemistry. These people have to deliver intense emotional pleas in defense of clients. This responsibility and strong emotional display sometimes induces erection in male attorneys. They are often warned by their professors not to fixate on a female juror because she can pick up on the sexual energy and feel uncomfortable. The ability to emotionally or sexually arouse an audience appears to be necessary; without it an audience will not respond to the desires of the speaker, whether this is to purchase an object, convert, volunteer, or change their position on an issue”.

As I mentioned above, Dr. Love also claims that homilophilia is also known as autagonistophilia. However, in most of the definitions I have come across, very few of them would include being sexually aroused from giving or hearing a sermon or lecture. Almost all definitions of autagonistophilia concern individuals deriving sexual pleasure and arousal from displaying themselves in a sexual act in front of others (particularly on stage). In this sense, it is a form of exhibitionism.

For instance, Dr. Robert Campbell defines autagonistophilia in his Psychiatric Dictionary as “a paraphilia in which sexual arousal and orgasm are contingent upon displaying one’s self in a live show, i.e., being observed performing on stage or on camera”. In the book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Aggrawal defines it as “sexual arousal and orgasm [being] contingent upon displaying one’s self in a live show or while being photographed”. Dr Joel Milner, Dr Cynthia Dopke, and Dr Julie Crouch note in a 2008 review of ‘paraphilias not otherwise specified’ that the erotic focus in autagonistophilia involves being observed by an audience. Professor John Money in his 1986 book Lovemaps also says the source of erotic focus involves being seen on stage or on camera. Both of these latter definitions could (technically) include those giving a sermon or lecture, but personally I have come to the conclusion that homilophilia and autagonistophilia are two separate paraphilic behaviours.

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.

Campbell, R. J. (2004). Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary (8th Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Love, B. (2005). Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.122-129).  New York: The Disinformation Company.

Milner, J.S. Dopke, C.A. & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and Theory In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp. 384-418). New York: Guildford Press.

Money, J. (1986). Lovemaps: Clinical concepts of sexual/erotic health and pathology, paraphilia, and gender transposition in childhood, adolescence, and maturity. New York: Irvington.

Right Diagnosis (2011). What is homilophilia? Located at:

Wikipedia (2012). Autagonistophilia. Located at:

Tickled pink: A brief look at knismolagnia

“My friend’s sister always asked me to tickle her, and I would. Then one day I was tickling her and she climaxed and kissed me. It freaked me out because I wasn’t tickling near her private parts. I thought that maybe it was a one time thing, so I tickled her two more times on different occasions, and she climaxed both times” (posting on the Is It Normal? website)

There are hundreds of sexual paraphilias of which little is known. One of the most obscure paraphilias but which is definitely known to exist is knismolagnia. According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, knismophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from tickling or being tickled (and is also known as titillagnia). The Right Diagnosis website claims the symptoms of knismolagnia are (i) sexual arousal gained from being tickled, (ii) sexual interest in tickling, (iii) recurring intense sexual urges involving tickling, and (iv) sexual arousal associated with tickling. A knismolagnia article on another online site (Gay Fetish Goth) claims that different individuals may find tickling of virtually any region of the body to be pleasurable, and that knismolagnia can also involve sexual arousal from simply watching others being tickled. The same article also noted (but without any supporting evidence) that:

However, people who claim to have a tickling fetish are likely to enjoy this activity to the exclusion of other pre-sex activities. For some, the focus is entirely on the tickling, with full intercourse less important or not included at all. People whose sexuality is based almost solely on tickling can be said to have a tickling fixation. This fixation may also exist outside of sexual contexts”.

As far as I can ascertain, there is almost nothing in the academic literature on knismolagnia. However, there are a number of online articles and writings about the sexual side of tickling although there is a common mistake I have spotted which may both have arisen from a single source. Many online sources – including the Acarophilia and Kinky Sex Questions websites – appear to include tickling as part acarophilia (the deriving of sexual arousal and pleasure from scratching or being scratched) when in fact it is not (although there is clearly a fine line between hard tickling and scratching).

In 2006, Dr. Lisa Shaffer and Dr. Julie Penn developed a comprehensive paraphilia classification system and published it as a book chapter in Dr. William Hickey’s book Sex Crimes and Paraphilia. In this chapter, Shaffer and Penn made specific reference to both acarophilia and knismolagnia although these mentions (while in an academic context) were part of a wider theoretical point noting that some paraphilias (specifically acarophilia and knismolagnia – although they used the term ‘titillagnia’ for the latter) were completely “innocuous” and that this demonstrated that not all sexual paraphiliacs were sex offenders (and vice-versa). This appears to be supported by the Right Diagnosis website which claims that treatment for knismolagnia is generally not sought and that individuals with the condition “simply learn to accept their fetish and manage to achieve gratification in an appropriate manner”.

According to a small article on the Kinky Sex Questions website (which also wrongly interchanges acarophilia and knismolagnia), sexual tickling is most “frequently done by fingers, feather and other objects or by licking”. It claims that initially, the person being tickled enjoys and encourages the tickler, but then turns into “helpless laughter”. The article also claims that the preferred tickling areas are “feet, armpits, navel, ribs, breasts and genitals” (although no evidence is given to support the claim). If this is true there is likely to be some crossover with other sexual paraphilias and fetishes including podophilia (i.e., foot fetishes) and maschalagnia (i.e., armpit fetishism).

The Acarophile website also contains an “Acarophilia Dictionary” which appears to relate acarophilia to a more specialized and idiosyncratic sub-type of sexual sadism and sexual masochism (in fact there appear to dozens of websites that cater for ‘tickle torture’ pornography if you do a quick Google search). The website uses the word ‘ticklephile’ to define “anyone, including adults and children of both sexes who have an acute interest, or fetish, about tickling or being tickled”. It also features some more specialized definitions including the ‘Tickle Top’, the ‘Tickle Bottom’, ‘Tickle Torture’ and a ‘Douhini’. These are the verbatim definitions from the Acarophilia Dictionary rather than my own re-wording:

  • Tickle Top: 
This refers to “the person who tickles, or tickle tortures another with the object of forcing the victim, usually restrained and helpless, to laugh hysterically, cry, scream, urinate, ejaculate and even pass out from prolonged intense tickling. Usually done with consent for erotic sexual gratification, but sometimes used as effective torture of prisoners”.
  • Tickle Bottom: 
This refers to “the victim, usually restrained, of tickle torture, either with consent by a tickle top for exercise or sexual gratification or by others as torture to obtain information or for sadistic pleasure. If very ticklish, the ‘bottom’ suffers acute agony from the body’s automatic reflexes, such as hysterical laughter, screaming, crying, muscle spasms, urination, ejaculation, and even convulsions and loss of consciousness. Common in BDSM, (bondage sado-masochism) practice, the tickle bottom should be in good physical health because severe tickling can cause strokes and seizures”.

  • Tickle Torture: 
This refers to a tied-up victim “be it in a rack or with ropes or hand-cuffs, in a strategic method, and tickled mercilessly. Usually, words are written on the victim’s feet, and pictures are taken, both still and moving. Rarely does sex occur, although erections and urination may”.

  • Douhini: 
This refers to a “tickle of the inside of an exposed armpit. The Douhini-er must then yell Douhini to further surprise the victim. Usually accompanied by a slight wave of the pointer finger. In other cases a Douhini can also be a jab to the armpit but that technique is usually frowned upon”.

According to most online sources, the main reason why sexual tickling is popular among those in the BDSM community is because the person is usually already restrained. The dominant partner may also blindfold their victim to enhance the sexual pain/pleasure. However, one online gay fetish site claims it is not popular. It asserted that “although some consider [knismolagnia] a BDSM activity, tickling is not fully recognised by the community and is relatively unknown in the mainstream. In dominance and submission scenarios, sexual partners may agree upon a safeword to signal that the tickling should stop”. According to a Wikipedia entry on tickling games, knismolagnia is derived from the term ‘knismesis’:

“Knismesis refers to the light, feather-like type of tickling. This type of tickling generally does not induce laughter and is often accompanied by an itching sensation. The knismesis phenomenon requires low levels of stimulation to sensitive parts of the body, and can be triggered by a light touch or by a light electrical current. Knismesis can also be triggered by crawling insects or parasites, prompting scratching or rubbing at the ticklish spot, thereby removing the pest”

Knismolagnia also includes ‘gargalesis’ which according to an article on knismolagnia in the (admittedly non-academic) Him and Her Sex Blog refers to:

“…harder, laughter-inducing tickling, and involves the repeated application of high pressure to sensitive areas. This ‘heavy tickle’ is often associated with play and laughter. The gargalesis type of tickle works on humans and primates, and possibly on other species. Because the nerves involved in transmitting ‘light’ touch and itch differ from those nerves that transmit ‘heavy’ touch, pressure and vibration, it is possible that the difference in sensations produced by the two types of tickle are due to the relative proportion of itch sensation versus touch sensation. While it is possible to trigger a knismesis response in oneself, it is usually impossible to produce gargalesthesia, the gargalesis tickle response, in oneself”

This short article also claims that varying forms and varying degrees of knismolagnia “from the pleasure experienced when tickled by a partner, to the sexual need to be tickled to reach orgasm”. It is also one of the few articles to note that knismolagnia doesn’t include non-tickling behaviours such as scratching and cutting. Of all the paraphilias I have examined in my blog, knismophilia appears to have been one of the least researched (academically or clinically).

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.

Hickey, E. (2006). Sex Crimes and Paraphilia. Prentice Hall, New Jersey: Pearson.

Him and Her Sex Blog (2012). Knismolagnia. February 12. Located at:

Right Diagnosis (2012). Knismolagnia. Located at:

Shaffer, L. & Penn J. (2006). A comprehensive paraphilia classification system. In E.W. Hickey (Ed.), Sex Crimes and Paraphilia (pp. 69-93). Prentice Hall, New Jersey: Pearson.

Wikipedia (2012). Tickling game. Located at: