Monthly Archives: March 2013

Downwardly mobile? A brief look at cell phone addiction

“One in ten people say they are addicted to their smartphone, a poll has revealed. And more owners than ever are seeking expert help. The US study of 2,000 college students found ten per cent claimed to have a full-blown addiction to the gadgets. Eighty-five per cent constantly checked theirs for the time, while three-quarters slept beside it. Meanwhile counsellor Peter Smith reported a ten per cent increase in Brits seeking help for smartphone addiction at his clinic in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset. He said: ‘Smartphone users feel they’ve got more control to communicate with whoever they want, whenever they want. But ironically, it’s that sense of control that creates the anxiety. It’s made younger people more reliant on maintaining those contacts – which can create issues from bullying, to being marginalised and excluded. People lose track of time, becoming socially isolated and before they know it, can’t stop. Not having your phone raises your heart rate and signs of panic. These symptoms are almost identical to alcoholism or addiction to gambling, food or drugs” (The Sun, March 21, 2013)

The news report above appeared in The Sun newspaper last week, and as part of that article I was asked to devise a 10-item ‘smartphone addiction test’ for Sun readers which I did (and can be found at the end of today’s blog). As regular readers of my blog will be aware, I have been studying ‘technological addictions’ for over two decades and I coined the term ‘technological addictions’ in a paper I wrote back in 1995. Although I have published a lot of papers on various technological addictions (e.g., slot machine addiction, video game addiction, internet addiction, etc.), I have only ever published one study on mobile phone addiction (with some of my research colleagues in Ramon Llull University, Barcelona, Spain).

Our study was published last year in the Anales de Psicologia, and comprised 1,879 students from Catalonian educational institutions (322 students of Ramon Llull University, and 1,557 secondary school students). We surveyed the students using the 10-item ‘Questionnaire on Cell Phone Related Experiences’ (Cuestionario de Experiencias Relacionadas con el Movil [CERM]), a psychometric instrument developed by Dr. Marta Beranuy and her colleagues in 2009. The CERM examines two areas of cell phone use conflicts and communicative/emotional use.

Our study reported that frequent problems with cell phone use were reported by 2.8 % of the participants. Problematic use was greatest in the youngest age groups. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most used applications were text-messaging and making calls. We carried out a regression analysis and found that the types of cell phone use that contributed the most to problematic use were text-messaging and playing games, whereas making calls contributed the least. Our results suggest that very few young people have problems with cell phones, in contrast with the findings of previous studies in Spain that reported pathological cell phone rates of 7.9%-10.4%. Our results suggested that females have some difficulties with phone use. Other researchers have also reported that females use cell phones more than males, and perceive their use as more problematic than. We also noted in our paper that cell phones are becoming more varied in their use and new applications such as the playing of games appears to be more attractive to males.

Traditionally, the use of cell phones has been for communication and as such, the risk of problematic use was minimal. However, this risk of problematic use and/or addiction could be potentially higher for smartphones that include applications that promote the altering of user identity (e.g., gaming, social networking, etc.).

We also argued that some people may confuse habitual use of such technology as an addictive behaviour (when in reality it may not be). For instance, some people may consider themselves cell phone addicts because they never go out of the house without their cell phone, do not turn their cell phone off at night, are always expecting calls from family members or friends, and/or over-utilise cell phones in their work and/or social life. There is also the importance of economic and/or life costs. The crucial difference between some forms of cell phone use and pathological cell phone use is that some applications involve a financial cost. If a person is using the application more and is spending more money, there may be negative consequences as a result of not being able to afford the activity (e.g., negative economic, job-related, and/or family consequences). High expenditure may also be indicative of cell phone addiction but the phone bills of adolescents are often paid for by parents, therefore the financial problems may not impact on the users themselves.

It is very difficult to determine at what point cell phone use becomes an addiction. The cautiousness of researchers suggests that we are not yet in a position to confirm the existence of a serious and persistent psychopathological addictive disorder related to cell phone addiction on the basis of population survey data alone. This cautiousness is aided and supported by other factors including: (a) the absence of any clinical demand in accordance with the percentages of problematic users identified by these investigations, (b) the fact that the psychometric instruments used could be measuring ‘concern’ or ‘preoccupation’ rather than ‘addiction, (c) the normalisation of behaviour and/or absence of any concern as users grow older; and (d) the importance of distinguishing between excessive use and addictive use.

All researchers agree in the necessity of longitudinal studies in order to check if perception of the problematic use of cell phones still exists over time. Many university students on the basis of self-report claim to have been ‘addicted’ to texting/instant messaging during some period of their adolescence. Our research suggests they are simply describing a period of their development with strong needs of social ties rather than a true addiction. If any of you reading this really want to know if you may have a problem with your smartphone, then you can take this test I devised. If you answer ‘yes’ to six or more of these statements, it may be indicative of a problematic and/or addictive use of your smartphone.

(1)  “My smartphone is the most important thing in my life”

(2)  “Conflicts have arisen between me and my family and/or my partner about the amount of time I spend on my smartphone”

(3)  “My smartphone use often gets in the way of other important things I should be doing (working, education, etc.)”

(4)  “I spend more time on my smartphone than almost any other activity”

(5)  “I use my smartphone as a way of changing my mood”

(6)   “Over time I have increased the amount of time I spend on my smartphone during the day”

(7)  “If I am unable to use my smartphone I feel moody and irritable”

(8)  “I often have strong urges to use my smartphone”

(9)  “If I cut down the amount of time I spend on my smartphone, and then start using it again, I always end up spending as much time on my smartphone as I did before”.

(10) “I have lied to other people about how much I use my smartphone”

Just remember that excessive use does not necessarily mean addiction, and the difference between a healthy enthusiasm and addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life, and addictions take away from them.

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

Further reading

Beranuy, M., Oberst, U., Carbonell, X., & Chamarro, A. (2009). Problematic Internet and mobile phone use and clinical symptoms in college students: The role of emotional intelligence. Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 1182–1187.

Carbonell, X., Chamarro, A., Beranuy, M., Griffiths, M.D. Obert, U., Cladellas, R. & Talarn, A. (2012). Problematic Internet and cell phone use in Spanish teenagers and young students. Anales de Psicologia, 28, 789-796.

Carbonell, X., Guardiola, E., Beranuy, M., & Belles, A. (2009). A bibliometric analysis of the scientific literature on Internet, video games, and cell phone addiction. Journal of Medical Library Association, 97(2), 102-107.

Beranuy, M., Chamarro, A., Graner, C., & Carbonell, X. (2009). Validacion de dos escalas breves para evaluar la adiccion a Internet y el abuso de movil. Psicothema, 21, 480-485.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Larkin, M., Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Towards addiction as relationship. Addiction Research and Theory, 14, 207-215.

There’s no business like snow business: A brief look at sex and the weather

For the last week or so, the snowy weather has been the main topic of conversation on the lips of most people who live in the UK. This doesn’t surprise me at all as most people now accept that weather can affect mood state, and for some people can lead to extreme depression in the form of Seasonal Affective Disorder. There also seems to be some evidence that weather can affect people’s sex lives. Being too hot or too cold is likely to lessen the desire to engage in sexual behaviour. Most academic research appears to indicate that sex drives are higher in spring and summer. One of the reasons given for this is that during spring and summer, there is more sun, and that a particular hormone – Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone (MSH) – stimulates sex, particularly in women.

A number of studies have also indicated that during the spring and summer months, the body produces more seretonin (the so-called ‘feel good neurotransmitter’) because of increased luminosity of sunlight. During the winter months as the amount of sunlight decreases, the body produces more melatonin, and this appears to inhibit sex drives. However, there is wide individual variation and the weather and subsequent hormone stimulation differs highly from one person to the next. As an online article by Shiv Joshi confirms:

“Sunlight has a direct effect on the brain’s serotonin production, according to researchers at the Human Neurotransmitter Laboratory and Alfred and Baker Medical Unit, Baker Heart Research Institute, Australia. Our serotonin levels increase with increase in luminosity. And how does that matter? Among other things, serotonin also regulates arousal, says Ray Sahelian, MD, author of Mind Boosters…Not just serotonin, but sunlight affects many other hormones in our body as well, some of which are associated with mood and pleasure feelings, according to professor Carmen Fusco, an instructor in pharmacology. It decreases melatonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine and increases cortisol, serotonin, GABA, and dopamine. The summer heat is good for your sex life too. It works on your muscles, by relaxing them and intensifies sensations of the skin. Further, the heat slows us down. This helps us get in touch with our more subdued sensual side, according to psychologist Stella Resnick, PhD, author of The Pleasure Zone”.

Another online article by Emily Herbert notes that the spring and summer months may reduce sex drives in some people – particularly those who suffer Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder and get the ‘summer blues’ (as opposed to the stereotypical ‘winter blues’). She notes that:

“Though rare, Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder is when warmer temperatures make a person feel cooped up instead of carefree. Characterized by anxiety, decreased appetite, insomnia, and irritability, the condition is triggered by longer days and too much heat and/or light. Those who experience Reverse SAD report feeling attacked by the sun and tend to go into Twilight mode – avoiding sunlight at all costs, taking frequent cold showers, and scampering from one air-conditioned environment to the next”

It’s also worth noting that the human body’s own morphine-like chemicals (i.e., endorphins) are also released in certain non-sexual pleasurable activities such as alternating hot saunas with cold plunges. It has been noted by sexologists that is possible that a proper sexual context helps make a potentially painful situation into an erotic one. Regular readers of my blog will know that I take an academic interest in all things sexually paraphilic, and I’ve tried to look at the links (if any) between the weather and sexual parapilias and fetishes. To be honest, this whole blog was initiated by the following online admission of a sexual attraction to rain on the Is It Normal? website:

“I wouldn’t really know if this is considered a fetish or not, but rain really turns me on. The cloudy weather or late night rain makes me really horny. I can be in my room all alone and bored and just the fact that it’s raining really excites me. It’s not to go outside and have sex while rain is pouring on you. It’s to have sex while it rains. This thought is really sexy to me, and I really want to try it. I’ve been told this is a fetish, but I don’t see it that way”

This snippet reminded me of the dark side of rain fetishism as it brought to mind the case of Lam Kor-wan, the so-called ‘Hong Kong Butcher’ (also known as the ‘Rainy Night Butcher’). The case can be found in Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2011 book Necrophilia: Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects. Kor-wan (born in 1955) was brought to trial in 1983 and is Hong Kong’s most notorious necrophile who always attacked his victims during inclement weather. As Dr. Aggrawal reported:

“In 1982, at the age of 27, while working as a taxi driver, [Kor-wan] is known to have abducted and killed at least four women. After killing, he would have sex with their dead bodies, often taking videos of his necrophilic acts. He would then mutilate their bodies and keep their sexual organs in Tupperware containers in his bedroom. For this idiosyncrasy, he was also known as The Jars Murderer. The rest of the bodies were disposed of via his taxi in the New Territories and on Hong Kong Island. As he would often attack his victims during inclement weather, he was also known as The Rainy Night Butcher”.

In the 1965 book The Golden Age of Erotica, Bernhardt J. Hurwood also made a passing reference to the influence of the weather on sexual paraphilia. He wrote that in the Middle Ages, people’s masochistic desires found a sexual outlet via flagellation (which he claimed was the behaviour’s “natural home”). According to Hurwood, “perhaps it was the cold climate which originally aroused in Englishmen a desire for whipping. Nowhere in the world do we find such a deep affection for the rod”.

In his earlier 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Aggrawal was quoted as saying that “like allergies, sexual arousal may occur from anything under the sun including the sun”. In fact, Aggrawal’s book arguably contains the most references to weather fetishes (although nothing on their incidence, prevalence, or etiology). This includes fetishes and paraphilias in relation to sexual arousal to sunny weather (actirasty), sexual arousal from the cold or winter (cheimaphilia), sexual arousal from snow (chionophilia), sexual arousal from thunderstorms (brontophilia), sexual arousal from thunder and lightning (keraunophilia), sexual arousal from fog (nebulophilia), sexual arousal from rain and being rained upon (ombrophilia and pluviophilia), and love of thunder (tonitrophilia).

Whether (or should that be ‘weather’?) these sexual paraphilias genuinely exist is up for debate (I haven’t been able to locate a single academic or clinical case study relating to a single one of those listed by Dr. Aggrawal). However, weather conditions have been shown to affect mood state and ‘normal’ sexual behaviour, so there is no reason to think that on occasions, it may lead to abnormality.

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

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Aggrawal A. (2011). Necrophilia: Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Amanad, V. (2012). Does Weather affect your Sex Drive? Only My Health, June 29.

Herbert, E. (2009). Sex: Weather-driven desire? Elle, July 28. Located at:

Hurwood, B.J. (1965). The Golden Age of Erotica. Los Angeles, CA: Sherbourne Press.

Joshi, S. (2010). Summer and intimacy: Felling hot, hot, hot. Complete Wellbeing, May 11. Located at:

Risky business: A brief look at simulated gambling in video gaming

Recent empirical research studies suggest that children and adolescents access online gambling activities using digital devices such as personal computers, laptops, smartphones, and other portable devices. Three national adolescent gambling surveys carried out for the National Lottery Commission in Great Britain have all shown a small minority of children and adolescents can and do gamble online. A 2011 study by Ipsos MORI reported that 2% of 11-16 year olds had played online lottery games and 2% had gambled on other online games (i.e., online casinos, online poker, online bingo and/or online sports betting). These data suggest that the first gambling experiences by some children and adolescents might occur via the Internet, mobile phones, and/or interactive television rather than in a traditional offline gaming venue such as a casino, amusement arcade or bookmakers.

As gambling on the internet has expanded, a wide range of ‘gambling-like’ activities has emerged on smartphones, social networking sites, and within video games. There are also opportunities to gamble without spending money on both commercial gambling websites and social networking sites. These ‘free play’ simulations of gambling activities provide opportunities for youth to practice or become more familiar with gambling activities without spending real money. Despite the proliferation of non-monetary gambling simulations, there has been little research or policy attention on them. Simulated gambling activities and gambling themes also feature in many modern video games. In a paper published in a 2012 issue of International Gambling Studies, I and my research colleagues (Dr. Paul Delfabbro and Dr. Daniel King of the University of Adelaide [Australia], and Dr. Jeff Derevensky of McGill University [Montreal, Canada]) noted that video games that feature gambling may be categorised according to the following three categories:

  • Standard gambling simulation: A digitally simulated interactive gambling activity that is structurally identical to the standard format of an established gambling activity, such as blackjack or roulette. For instance, Texas Hold ’em (TikGames) is a standard gambling simulation of the poker variant of the same name. Poker is played using virtual credits against a computer opponent or in competition with other online players. Playing poker represents the entirety of the gaming experience in this video game. In contrast, the video game Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar) features a casino situated within the virtual game world that allows players to gamble using in-game credit with or against other players in social competitions. However, the gambling content within this type of video game represents only a small part of the overall gaming experience.
  • Non-standard gambling simulation: An interactive gambling activity that involves the intentional wagering of in-game credits or other items on an uncertain outcome, in an activity that may be partially modelled on a standard gambling activity but which contains distinct player rules or other structural components that differ from established gambling games. For instance, the video game Fable II Pub Games contains three unique casino-style games, partly modelled on craps (dice), roulette, and slot machines. Players can wager ‘gold coins’ on chance-determined outcomes (i.e., patterns in cards, dice throws, spinning wheels, etc.) in order to win greater amounts of gold, as well as other items and prizes.
  • Gambling references: The appearance of non-interactive gambling material or gambling-related paraphernalia/materials within the context of the video game.

Online video games may also feature opportunities to gamble. For example, online games such as EVE Online and World of Warcraft include player-operated gambling activities using the in-game currency. These activities are usually supported through websites adjunctive to the video game (i.e., wagers are placed outside the game), but the gambling activity (i.e., winning and losing) takes place in the game world. Gambling activities include sports betting (e.g., placing bets on the outcome of player duels and battles) and lotteries (e.g., selling raffle tickets for a chance at winning a prize). The relative scarcity of in-game assets, including currency and items, makes them valuable to the game’s community of players. Some players will exchange real money for in-game currency as way of advancing more quickly in the game. The option to exchange in-game currency and other content (virtual goods) to other players for real world money thus gives these activities a limited, albeit indirect, financial element.

Modern video games provide realistic and sophisticated simulated gambling opportunities to youth. According to a paper we published in a 2010 issue of the Journal of Gambling Studies, the potential risks of young people engaging in simulated gambling include:

  • Greater familiarity with gambling and acceptance of gambling as a ‘normal’ entertainment activity;
  • The development of gambling strategies and the ability to practice these strategies without need of money;
  • The development of positive gambling beliefs and thoughts of ‘winning big’ associated with gambling;
  • Exposure to the excitement of gambling wins, including bonuses and jackpots;
  • False expectations about how gambling operates and an inflated sense of its long-term profitability.

Simulated gambling has the potential to offer positive experiences associated with gambling without the typical barriers to entry associated with gambling (e.g., money, age restriction). Although no actual money is involved in simulated gambling, it is recognised that people (including youth) are not only motivated to gamble for financial reasons. Gambling can provides excitement, relief from boredom, a way of coping with problems, and a means of social interaction (i.e., playing with friends). Very simply, gambling is engaged in not only for financial rewards, but for physiological, psychological, and/or social rewards. Simulated gambling activities may also enable youth to feel more comfortable with gambling per se, which may assist the transition from simulated gambling to gambling with real money.

A risk associated with video games that feature simulated gambling is that activities may often combine the skill and fast-paced action of a video game with the chance-based nature of gambling. This combination of skill and chance may set up false expectations about the governing rules and player control involved in gambling activities. For example, younger players may believe that, with sufficient practice, they can overcome and master the challenges of the game.

Youth gambling represents a serious social problem. Therefore, it is important for researchers, health professionals, and parents to be informed about emerging media risk factors for problem gambling. Commercial video gaming technologies provide young people with unrestricted access to realistic gambling and gambling-like experiences. This blog has highlighted that some commercial video games feature casino-style gambling activities that enable players to gamble using in-game credit with or against other players in social competition.

Simulated gambling in video games is often associated with incentives and rewards, such as virtual currency, rare in-game items, and other content of large contextual value in the game. While some video games with simulated gambling may be intended for use by adults only, many video games (e.g., Pokémon) feature content that appeals mainly to a younger audience. This material could therefore be considered a form of gambling advertising targeted at youth. Furthermore, simulated gambling in video games may enhance young players’ familiarity of casino and card games. Given the brief overview presented here, we would recommend that policymakers should critically consider the growing presence of gambling in online gaming and social media technologies, and associated issues of social responsibility as these activities become more monetised and/or promote or otherwise endorse involvement in monetary gambling activities.

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

Additional input: Dr. Daniel King and Dr. Paul Delfabbro

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gaming in social networking sites: A growing concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(5), 12-13.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Technological trends and the psychosocial impact on gambling. Casino and Gaming International, 7(1), 77-80.

Griffiths, M. D., King, D. L., & Delfabbro, P. H. (2009). Adolescent gambling-like experiences: Are they a cause for concern? Education and Health, 27, 27-30.

Griffiths, M. D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2007). Adolescent Internet gambling: Preliminary results of a national survey. Education and Health, 25, 23-27.

Ipsos MORI. (2009). British Survey of Children, the National Lottery and Gambling 2008–09: Report of a quantitative survey. London: National Lottery Commission.

Ipsos MORI. (2011). Underage Gambling in England and Wales: A research study among 11-16 year olds on behalf of the National Lottery Commission. London: National Lottery Commission.

King, D. L., Delfabbro, P. H., & Griffiths, M. D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

Volberg, R., Gupta, R., Griffiths, M.D., Olason, D. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2010). An international perspective on youth gambling prevalence studies. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 3-38.

Web browsing: A brief look at arachnephilia

In previous blogs I have examined sexual paraphilias involving those individuals who derive sexual stimulation and arousal from ants and/or insects (formicophilia), and individuals who derive sexual stimulation and arousal from bees (melissophilia) and bee stings (as a radical – and painful – way of increasing penis size). Sexually paraphilic interest by humans in insects is also known as entomophilia. As a short article about entomophilia on the Kinky Sex Questions website asserts:

“While some love to have it with spiders, bees and ants, there are those who would prefer a sexy touch of a fly, grasshopper, cockroach or a similar insect. Insects are most of the time positioned on the genitals or the other sensitive parts of the human body such as nipples. Usually by crawling they create a tickling sensation resulting in a sexual arousal. The act itself is not limited to tickling only. It may include stinging or nasty biting depending on the preferences of the individual. Flying insects can be trapped in a container and the opened end of it can be pressed against body, preferably genitals. Mosquitoes and flies are quite popular species”.

One specific insect-related sexual paraphilia is that of arachnephilia (sometimes spelled differently as ‘arachnophilia’). Dr. Anil Aggrawal, in both his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices and his new classification of zoophilia practices in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, simply defines arachnephilia as “[sexual] arousal from spiders”. Dr. Ronald Homes and Dr. Stephen Holmes – in a chapter on ‘nuisance sex behaviours’ in the third edition of their book Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behaviors – also have an identical definition (the only difference being they spell it ‘arachnophilia’ although I’m not quite clear how it is a ‘nuisance sex behaviour’). Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices defines arachnephilia as referring to those individuals who “are aroused by sex play involving spiders”.

The most detailed definition of arachnephilia I have come across is that on the Right Diagnosis website that states it refers to “sexual urges, preferences or fantasies involving playing with spiders” and that the symptoms include (i) sexual interest in playing with spiders, (ii) abnormal amount of time spent thinking about playing with spiders, (iii) recurring intense sexual fantasies involving playing with spiders, and (iv) recurring intense sexual urges involving playing with spiders.

I did an exhaustive literature search trying to locate any empirical and/or clinical research that has been done on the topic and got very excited when I came a cross a paper entitled “A case of arachnophilia” by B.D. Johnson. However, my excitement turned to despair when I then discovered it was a basically a film review of the Sam Raimi directed film Spider-Man (starring Tobey Maguire). Dr. Brenda Love’s entry contains a little information but is not based on any scientific research. She seems to imply there is a sexually masochistic element to arachnephilia, as she notes that: “Spider scenes utilize a person’s fear of spiders to increase adrenalin. The bottom may be tied down and the spider either brought close to them or laced on their body crawl around” Dr. Love’s speculation appears to be (at least in part) backed up by a small online article on arachephilia (again on the Kinky Sex Questions website) that noted:

“So what is it exactly so exciting about spiders? It must be the thrill of it. Especially if the spider is large and venomous. Large spiders such as tarantula, though dangerous, they are unlikely to bite unless provoked. It all depends on the country where we live as well. What is easy to get hold of in Latin America, a paraphiliac’s needs to have a different alternative while on a different continent. Thrill equals adrenaline rush. And that’s most likely the driving force behind this paraphilia. It is an interesting fact that some individuals who practice this fetish are at the same time afraid of the spiders”

There are no statistics on the incidence or prevalence of arachnephilia (in fact there isn’t even a single published case study). In my search for papers on academic databases I did come across a few references in arachnephilia (not including the many papers that referenced a piece of software called ‘arachnophilia’). The first academic paper that mentioned ‘arachnophilia’ was a paper published by Dr. Kenneth Adams (entitled Arachnophobia: Love American style’) in a 1981 issue of the Journal of Psychoanalytic Anthropology. The paper analyzed the tendency to equate female sexual desire, woman’s love, and the female and femininity with the “voracious spider”. This theoretical paper asserted that:

“The ontogenetic origins of arachnophobia can be traced to a dread of the mother that is structurally encouraged by the claustrophobic intensity of the nuclear family. This archaic terror also ultimately reflects the indeterminate boundaries of the ego that are incapable of differentiating self from mother. In comic books arachnophobia and arachnophilia represent the two sides of ‘Love American Style’: an ambivalent attraction to and repulsion from preoedipal, undifferentiated, mother–self, male–female dual unity”.

I can’t say I agree (or even follow) this line of argument, and as with all psychoanalytic theory, it can’t really be empirically tested as it is not falsifiable. The only other direct reference to arachnephilia I came across was in the literal meaning of arachnephilia as ‘love of spiders’ (i.e., a liking or even obsession with them but not in a sexual sense). In this capacity, an academic paper, Dr. Jonathan Sklar and Dr. Andrea Sabbadini published a paper about David Cronenberg’s 2002 film Spider in a 2008 issue of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.

For those of you who have not seen the film, the film’s protagonist, Dennis Cleg (played by Ralph Feinnes) and known as ‘Spider’, is a catatonic schizophrenic man released from a mental institution where he was incarcerated for many years after he had killed his mother. Sklar and Sabbadini discuss the roots of his (non-sexual) ‘arachnophilia’ and spider obsession:

“Related to his interest in cobwebs is Spider’s obsession with collecting and playing with strings, in the hope of making links with reality by tying them together…What fascinates Spider are … spiders! Spider-webs and egg-bags are for him wonderful yet dangerously flimsy containers of reality. His arachnophilia is so marked that his mother had created a whole fantastic spider’s world of images and stories for him. It may be noticed that the word spider sounds like spied her – as if his mother, by so nicknaming her son, was also unconsciously encouraging his oedipal voyeuristic curiosity”.

Finally, getting back to the sexually paraphilic meaning of arachnephilia, the Right Diagnosis website claims that treatment for arachnephilia “is generally not sought unless the condition becomes problematic for the person in some way and they feel compelled to address their condition. The majority of people simply learn to accept their fetish and manage to achieve gratification in an appropriate manner”. I certainly can’t deny this may be the case as there is a complete lack of any reference to treatment in any academic book or journal.

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

Further reading

Adams, K.A. (1981). Arachnophobia: Love American style. Journal of Psychoanalytic Anthropology, 4, 157-197.

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

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

Holmes, S.T. & Holmes, R.M. (2009). Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behaviors (3rd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Kinky Sex Questions (2012). Arachnephilia. Located at:

Kinky Sex Questions (2012). Entomophilia. Located at:

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

Right Diagnosis (2013). Arachnephilia. March 1. Located at:

Sklar, J. & Sabbadini, A. (2008). David Cronenberg’s Spider: Between confusion and fragmentation. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 89, 427-432.

Wikipedia (2012). Brazilian wandering spider. Located at:

Transmission impossible? A beginner’s guide to syphilophobia

One of the more obscure things known about Adolf Hitler was that he suffered from a severe case of syphilophobia (i.e., which – according to a 1956 definition in Blakiston’s New Gould Medical Dictionary – is a morbid fear of the sexually transmitted disease syphilis). Dr. Henry A. Murray in a 1943 report entitled ‘Analysis of the personality of Adolf Hitler with predictions of his future behavior and suggestions for dealing with him now and after Germany’s surrender’ diagnosed Hitler’s neurosis, hysteria, paranoia, Oedipal tendencies, schizophrenia, “infinite self-abasement” and syphilophobia (which he describes as a fear of contamination of the blood through contact with a woman). However, the report is vague on its sources, and presented little in the way of empirical evidence for its conclusions. According to a later 1986 paper in Genitourinary Medicine, by Dr. R. Fitzpatrick and his colleagues, the authors said that Hitler believed that syphilis was a Jewish disease that was transmitted from generation to generation.

Some definitions of the condition also note that it can include people who actually believe they have syphilis even though there is no medical evidence to support the belief (and as such is classed as a form of hypochondria). The phobic condition is also known by various other names including luiphobia (‘leus’ was a former name of syphilis), venereophobia, and venereoneurosis (although the latter technically include the fear of any sexually transmitted disease). The condition has been documented in the medical literature dating back the 16th century including references to venereoneurosis (called ‘noddlepox’). A 1938 paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dr. Frank Cormia (who featured seven case studies of syphilophobia) wrote that:

“A morbid fear of syphilis has been present in the human race ever since the great plague of the early sixteenth century. Authentic written observations were first made by Turner, in 1567. Proksch published his ‘RadlinusVitus, Lues Venerea Imaginaria’in 1698”.

In one of the most detailed ‘modern’ accounts of syphilophobia in a 1957 issue of the British Journal of Venereal Diseases, Dr. Ida McAlpine (who outlined seven case studies in her report) argued that syphilophobia and venereophobia are not unitary conditions but rather non-specific symptoms of a range of psychiatric disorders. McAlpine noted that among 24 cases of ‘venereophobia’ only one was female. An earlier (1953) study by French medics Dr. P. Graciansky and Dr. E. Stern (in the journal La Semaine des Hôpitaux Thérapeutique) also had 24 cases of syphilophobia and reported that 14 were male and 10 female. For Dr. Otto Fenichel, the Viennese psychoanalyst (writing in the 1940s), syphilophobia comprised a “rationalization of unreal dangers connected with sexual activity, which on a deep, unconscious level, may represent disguised sado-masochistic wishes, for it is equally possible to be infected by other persons and to infect them”

In a 1963 study (again published in the British Journal of Venereal Diseases) of the incidence, pattern, and causes of psychiatric illness related to fear of venereal disease among 887 consecutive cases at an STD clinic, Dr. E. Kite and Dr. A. Grimble reported that psychiatric illness occurred in 5% of all patients, and was slightly more frequent in females (6%). Since the early flurry of studies published from the 1940s to the 1960s there was little (if anything published academically until the mid-2000s. A case report of syphilophobia was published in 2006 by Dr Arfan ul Bari and Dr. Ali Zulqernain in the Journal of Pakistan Association of Dermatologists. The authors reported the case of a 28-year old soldier:

“[He complained] of generalized weakness and some lesion over his glans penis and intermittent burning micturation [lasting] about 2 years. He has been visiting various doctors but was never satisfied with the treatment given…He had no history of any extramarital sexual relationship or any significant physical or psychiatric ailment in the past. General physical and systemic examination was unremarkable and on genital examination neither any active lesion, nor any mark of previous healed lesion was found. The patient insisted that he was suffering from the venereal disease (syphilis) and he had a sore over glans penis near urethral meatus…On the basis of absence of any suggested physical signs and symptoms, normal laboratory investigations and repeatedly negative serological tests for syphilis, he was considered to be a case of syphilophobia (hypochondriasis) and was referred to psychiatrist”.

Bari and Zulqernain claim that disorders like syphilophobia are probably more common than is recognized” (although I’m unsure on what they have based this opinion on). They also provided some psychological insight into the condition:

“Perhaps because of the emotional issues surrounding sexual behavior, anxiety about a sexual encounter may manifest itself as a fear or conviction that one has been infected with a sexually transmitted infection. The problem often significantly impairs the quality of life. It can cause personal distress and keep people apart from loved ones and business associates…At some point in past, there was likely an event linking lues or syphilis and emotional trauma. Whilst the original catalyst may have been a real-life scare of some kind, the condition can also be triggered by myriad, benign events like movies, TV, or perhaps seeing someone else experience trauma”.

The most recent paper I have come across on syphilophobia was published in 2010 by the Russians Dr. A.N. Provizion and colleagues (published in Russian, so I only managed to read the English summary). They believe the condition to be of “importance” and that is a condition that psychiatrists should be more aware of. It may be that the condition has moved with the times and that other sexually transmitted diseases (like AIDS) are now more of a fear than syphilis.

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

Further reading

Bari, A.U. & Zulqernain, A. (2006). Syphilophobia: a frustrating psychiatric illness presenting to dermatologists. Journal of Pakistan Association of Dermatologists, 16, 236-238.

Cormia, F.E. (1938). Syphilophobia and allied anxiety states. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 39, 361-366

Fenichel, O. (1945). Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis. London: NortonCo.

Fitzpatrick, R., Frost, D., & Ikkos, G. (1986). Survey of psychological disturbance in patients attending a sexually transmitted diseases clinic. Genitourinary Medicine, 62, 111-115.

Graciansky, P. & Stern, E. (1953). [Syphilophobia]. La Semaine des Hôpitaux Thérapeutique, 29, 2911-2915.

Hoerr, N.L. & Osol, A. (1956) Blakiston’s New Gould Medical Dictionary. McGraw-Hill.

Kite, E.d.C. & Grimble, A. (1963). Psychiatric aspects of venereal disease. British Journal of Venereal Disease, 39, 173-180.

McAlpine, I.  (1957).  Syphilophobia; A psychiatric study. British Journal of Venereal Diseases, 33, 92-99.

Murray, H. A. (1943/2005). Analysis of the personality of Adolf Hitler with predictions of his future behavior and suggestions for dealing with him now and after Germany’s surrender. A report prepared for the Office of Strategic Services, October 1943. Located at:

Provizion A.N., Provizion L.N., Shveduk S.V., Shedania I.E. [To the problem of syphilophobia], Том, 13, 147-149.

Split penis-ality: A brief look at genital bisection

One of the most noticeable trends over the last few years is body modification. According to Dr. David Veale and Dr. Joe Daniels in a recent issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior:

“Body modification is a term used to describe the deliberate altering of the human body for non-medical reasons (e.g., self-expression). It is invariably done either by the individual concerned or by a lay practitioner, usually because the individual cannot afford the fee or because it would transgress the ethical boundaries of a cosmetic surgeon. It appears to be a lifestyle choice and, in some instances, is part of a subculture of sadomasochism. It has existed in many different forms across different cultures and age”.

Body modification can range from the relatively minor to the extremely major. On a minor level this may include such modifications as tattooing and minor body piercings to the nipples and genitalia. On a more major level it may include branding of the skin, pearling (i.e., permanent insertion of small beads beneath the skin of the labia or foreskin), major scarification (through controlled skin burning), and tongue splitting (so that it is similar to that of a snake). Other body modifications to the genitals can include the removal of the clitoral hood in women or penile subincision in men (i.e., splitting of the underside of the penis; there’s a photograph on Wikipedia’s page on subincision if you want to see the final result). Some people have gone as far to have their whole faces modified including the infamous examples of Dennis Anver (The Tigerman) and Erik Sprague (The Lizardman).

According to Veale and Daniels, there has been little research on psychological aspects of body modification. They cited the work of psychotherapist Dr. Alessandra Lemma (2010) who suggested that for some individuals, body modification is a way of trying to modify the self that the individual feels to be unacceptable. Arguably one of the most gruesome and extreme forms of body modification is ‘genital bisection’ (the total splitting of the penis where the penis is literally cut into two symmetrical halves). For the interested readers who want some photographic evidence, you could do worse than check out the genital bisection page at the Body Modification E-zine Encyclopedia website that has five examples of real split penises of men who are pleased with the results).

The practice of genital bisection is outlined in Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. She wrote about the practice from a more historical and anthropological perspective and reported that Australian Aborigines used to ritually split their penises from the glans towards the penis base in worship of a totem lizard that had a split penis. She then described the account of one English man who had carried out the procedure over the period of several years and described the results:

‘My decision to surgically remodel my genitals was deliberate, of deep satisfaction to me, highly exciting, sexually adventurous, and erotically exhilarating…Full erections were maintained as previously but now in two complete, separate halves. The erotic zones of my penis are still the same, with orgasms and ejaculations functioning perfectly. Entry into the vagina requires a little extra effort for insertion, but once my penis is inside, its opened effect on the vagina’s inner lining is more pronounced, giving better female orgasmic feelings”.

There is a much more in-depth description of penile splitting on the genital bisection page at the Body Modification E-zine. The article also describes sub-variants of penile bisection including various forms of partial splitting. More specifically, the article noted:

“Partial splitting is either in length (i.e., head splitting) or in axis (the far more common meatotomy and subincision procedures where only the bottom of the shaft is split, or the very rare superincision where only the top is split). Other variations include inversion where the split leaves the glans intact, allowing the penis to be effectively ‘turned inside out’. In most cases, the penis remains fully functional, although some rigidity loss is possible. The penis maintains its form by the two halves of the corpus cavernosum. When they are no longer attached, the penis tends to curve in on itself (as seen in the first photo showing an erect full bisection), making insertion more difficult, but far from impossible” [see glossary of terms at the end of the blog which explains what some of these specialized words and terms mean].

In a 1996 issue of the journal Human Nature, Dr. Raven Rowanchilde wrote a theoretical paper on male genital modification and argued that people modify their bodies in meaningful ways as a deliberate way to establish their identity and social status. More specifically she argues that:

“Lip plugs, ear plugs, penis sheaths, cosmetics, ornaments, scarification, body piercings, and genital modifications encode and transmit messages about age, sex, social status, health, and attractiveness from one individual to another. Through sociocultural sexual selection, male genital modification plays an important role as a sociosexual signal in both male competition and female mate choice. The reliability of the signal correlates with the cost of acquiring the trait. Women use a variety of cues to assess male quality. Male genital modification is one way that some women assess their mates. Extreme male genital modifications not only honestly advertise status, sexual potency, and ability to provide sexual satisfaction, they may provide a reliable index of male-female cooperation through the male’s commitment to endure pain and risk”.

One possible downside of extreme body modification including genital modifications is the association it has with increased risk of suicide. A study by Dr. Julie Hicinbothem and her colleagues in a 2006 issue of the journal Death Studies, surveyed a large sample of individuals who belonged to a website for body modification (e.g., piercings, tattoos, scarification and surgical procedures). They reported that people who had undergone body modification had a higher incidence of prior suicidality (i.e., suicidal ideation and attempted suicide) compared to those who had not undergone body modification. However, they did also note that controls for self-reported depression weakened the strength of the association.

I agree with Veale and Daniel’s assessment that there is little on the psychological aspects of body modification in the academic or clinical literature although I expect it to grow given the seemingly large increase in people undergoing body modification procedures. Just in case you didn’t understand some of the procedures and medical terms earlier in this blog I’ll leave you with a glossary of terms (all taken – almost verbatim – from the BME website):

  • Head splitting is the bisection of the glans of the penis. The procedure is usually carried out using a scalpel or surgical scissors (although cauterizing, electronic cauterizing or laser may also be used). The wound often needs to be cauterized, either with silver nitrate or with heat. Post-procedural bleeding is relatively heavy and tends to last several days.
  • Meatotomy is incision into and enlargement of a meatus. When the subincision is only underneath the glans it is known as a meatotomy (or, if naturally occurring, a hypospadia).
  • Hypospadia is a birth defect where the urethra and urethral groove are malformed, causing the urethra to exit the penis sooner than it normally would (i.e., closer to the base, rather than at the tip of the glans).
  • Subincision is the bisection of the underside of the penis (from the urethra to the raphe; versus a superincision which is the top half).
  • Superincision is a form of bisection that’s opposite to a subincision, splitting only the top half of the shaft and leaving the tissue below the urethra intact.
  • Inversion is a form of genital bisection that involves a combination of subincision and superincision while leaving the glans intact
  • The corpus cavernosum are two areas of erectile tissue which run along the length of the penis, and fill with blood during erection.

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.

Hicinbothem, J., Gonsalves, S. & Lester, D. (2006). Body modification and suicidal behavior. Death Studies, 30, 351-363.

Lemma, A. (2010). Under the skin: A psychoanalytic study of body modification. London: Routledge.

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

Rowanchilde, R. (1996). Male genital modification. Human Nature, 7, 189-215.

Veale, D. & Daniels, J. (2012). Cosmetic clitoridectomy in a 33-year-old woman. Archives of Sex Behavior, 41, 725-730.

Wikipedia (2012). Penile subincision. Located at:

Nettle down: A brief look at sexual urtication

“I find applying stinging nettles to my body highly pleasurable. I’ve tried the web for more information but either get herbalist pages or, when searching the words ‘nettles’ and ‘fetish’ together, get directed to [sado-masochsistic]-type pages. I don’t really go for that. Can you direct me somewhere where I can get advice? Are there any long-term dangers in exposing my ‘delicate areas’ to the little green temptresses?” (Seriously Twisted Into Nettle Games, letter in The Stranger)

In a previous blog I examined the sexual use of bee stings as a method used by men to increase the size of their penis. It was while researching that blog that I came across another sting-related sexual practice called urtication. According to the Wikipedia entry on stinging nettles, urtication, refers to the “flogging with nettles [and] is the process of deliberately applying stinging nettles to the skin in order to provoke inflammation”. In a sexual context, Dr. Anil Aggrawal (in his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) defines urtication as the use of stinging nettles to create extra sexual sensation.

Although there are numerous scientific papers on urtication (particularly in relation to the physiology of nettle stings, the treatment of nettle stings, and medical uses such as the use of stinging nettles to treat joint and back pain), I was unable to locate a single paper on the sexual use of stinging nettles. Dr. Brenda Love (in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices) included a whole section on sexual urtication. She notes that:

“Urtication refers to those who use stinging nettles to stimulate the skin for sex games. The active ingredients in the stinging nettle do not spread to other areas but are restricted to the site at which the plant comes into contact. Nettles have tiny hair-like projections rather than thorns which can break and stick to the skin. The skin becomes sensitized without the injury that certain types of flagellation can produce. Skin exposed to nettles will redden and in a short time produce small bumps. The person will feel a sharp hot sting that fades to a warm tingling glow which may last several hours. Nettles may be applied in various ways. Some lie the stems down and press the hairs into the skin, others hold them in a cluster and tap it against the chosen area, or put them into a bottom’s underwear. Men who wear condoms have found that briefly applying nettles to the penis before putting on the condom can compensate for the sensation lost by the latex barrier”.

Obviously the claim about condom use is anecdotal and there is no empirical evidence that supports the claim made (although I have no reason to doubt it). However, I did come across a semi-corroborative source in a short online article on ‘unusual sex practices’ that included a paragraph on urtication. It noted that:

“The sexual practice which is technically called urtication is concerned with the desire for stinging plants, for example nettles that we use to ‘torture’ the partner’s body. It all depends on our courage, which means that some people who like doing this go very far and ‘burn’ their genitals as well. A confession of a man who admitted he put a nettle leaf on the inside of his condom in also very interesting. Supposedly, this really arouses him during intercourse and provides him with additional pleasure. The same goes for a woman who said that she adores it when her partner stimulates her vagina with nettle during foreplay. It has a similar effect to hot wax and whipping. The skin is naturally much more irritated after contact with the nettle”.

Writing for The Stranger, the US journalist Dan Savage addressed stinging nettle fetishes in one of his columns. His own research (which from what I can gather involved reading Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Herbs) led him to write that the Romans thrashed men “below the navel” to improve their virility. He also interviewed Tracy Mehlin (Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington, US). She was quoted as saying she once knew a farmhand “who occasionally lashed himself with stinging nettles” but never asked him why he did it. She also reported that:

“The leaves and stems of stinging nettles are covered with tiny hollow hairs. When a person comes in contact with the plant, the tips of the hairs break off, stick in the person’s skin, and then, like a lot of little hypodermic needles, pump in a venom that makes the skin itch, swell, tingle, and burn for hours. There are some people who enjoy the effect”.

An online article on ‘Organic S&M’ noted the many different uses of stinging nettles throughout history. The only ones of a sexual nature was their use by English herbwives to ‘encourage’ prize bulls during the mating season, and by English mistresses for much the same purpose. And they were as common in Victorian era erotica as figging, birches, and caning”.

An online article at the London Fetish Scene website discusses the sexual use of stinging nettles. The article notes that stinging nettle effects differ in intensity from variety to variety (and even the soil they are growing in). There is also great individual variation (in that the same stinging nettle used on one person may exact different effects in another). The article also claims that the same person can feel different effects based on other factors such as whether a women is menstruating.

In addition to using stinging nettles for flogging, the article also lists four other sexual uses. These include (i) using stinging nettles as an alternative to ginger for ‘figging’ (i.e., the act of inserting something into the body that will cause a stinging, burning sensation for sexual pleasure), (ii) putting stinging nettles into the victim’s underwear, (iii) applying stinging nettles to the penis just before putting on a condom (as noted above by Dr. Brenda Love), and (iv) forcing a submissive to consume stinging nettles (although the article then adds that the safety of this is very uncertain given that raw nettles are poisonous). Finally, if you’re really interested in learning more about the use of stinging nettles in BDSM practices (from a practical rather than academic point of view), then check out the FAQ page of the Sado-Botany website.

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.

Alford, L. (2007). Urtication for Musculoskeletal Pain? Pain Medicine, 9, 963-965.

Christopher (2000). Organic S&M, December 16. Located at:

Kowalchik, C. & Hylton, W.H. (1999). Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.

London Fetish Scene (2009). Nettle. February 5. Located at:

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

Randall, C., Meethan, K., Randall, H. & Dobbs, F. (1999). Nettle sting of Urtica dioica for joint pain – an exploratory study of this complementary therapy. Complimentary Therapies in Medicine, 7, 126-131.

Savage, D. (2003). Gas huffer. The Stranger, June 12. Located at: (2012). Urtication: Sex & Nettles. Located at:

Wikipedia (2012). Stinging nettle. Located at:

Zee News (2012). Unusual sexual practices: Urtication. Located at:

Contractual arrangements: A brief look at ‘bug chasing’

Despite being fairly well read on sexually extreme behaviour, it wasn’t until relatively recently (in the last 12 months) that I came across the terms ‘bug chasing’ and ‘pozzing’. Both of these slang terms refer to the practice of people (usually gay or bisexual men) deliberately engaging in unprotected (‘bareback’) sex with men who are known to be HIV-positive in an attempt to contract the HIV virus (“bug”) themselves (hence the name ‘pozzing’ deriving from the word ‘positive’). This has led to knowing recipients of bug chasers being called ‘gift givers’ (i.e., those that allow sexual partners to contract the HIV virus). Despite some people believing the practice to be a complete myth, empirical research does indeed conform the existence of the practice.

However, there is a clear distinction concerning intent between those who don’t want to engage in protective sex because they prefer penetrative sex and/or prefer sex without condoms (the so-called ‘barebackers’), and those who don’t want to engage in unprotected sex in order to contract a life-threatening sexually transmitted disease (so-called ‘bug chasers’). The consequence of this clear distinction means that all bug chasers are barebackers but not all barebackers are bug chasers.

Research has been carried out suggesting various reasons for why men would want to deliberately contract HIV. In a 2004 paper in the British Journal of Social Psychology, Dr. Michele Crossley reported some men indicate that the practice is highly exciting because it is such a highly risky behaviour (in that they could ultimately die from contracting the virus). However, such a reason suggests that such individuals don’t actually want to contract HIV (and seems psychologically akin to playing Russian roulette). The same paper also noted that some bug chasers appear to be very lonely people who want to contract AIDS so that they will receive the attention, nurturance and care that they feel they need (and therefore share similarities with those who have Munchausen’s Syndrome). Similarly, others see the contracting of HIV as way becoming part of a community that elicits public sympathy and caretaking.

Writing in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, a paper by Dr. Mark Blechner in 2002 examined the the psychodynamics of barebacking and safer sex. Dr. Blechner argued that the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, gay men had personal experience of multiple deaths and were “terrified by a new, mysterious, and untreatable disease”. This was contrasted with today’s gay men who were much less afraid of contracting HIV and considered condom use as more restrictive, less intimate and less pleasurable than older gay men. There also appears to be a small minority of gay men who are so anxious and overwhelmed about the thought of contracting HIV that actually contracting it would help overcome the negative psychological states they experience.

In 2007, Dr. David Moskowitz and his colleagues carried out a study published in the journal Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity. They compared 284 bug chasers and barebackers. Their results showed that bug chasers were considerably different from barebackers regarding sexually paraphilic activities (for instance, bug chasers were far more likely to engage in sexually sadomasochistic activities), and significantly more likely than barebackers to rank higher on behavioural and psychological measures of sexual addiction. The Wikipedia entry on bug chasing also provides further reasons for wanting to contract HIV: 

“The behavior may stem from a ‘resistance to dominant heterosexual norms and mores’ due to a defensive response by gay men to repudiate stigmatization and rejection by society. Some people consider bug chasing ‘intensely erotic’ and the act of being infected as the “ultimate taboo, the most extreme sex act left’. A number of people who are HIV negative and in a relationship with someone who is HIV positive seek infection as a way to remain in the relationship, particularly when the HIV positive partner may wish to break up to avoid infecting the HIV negative partner. Some contend that this behaviour stems from feelings of inevitability towards HIV among the gay community and the empowerment of choosing when to contract the virus”.

In 1999, Dr. DeAnn Gauthier and Dr. Craig Forsyth published a paper on bareback subculture in the journal Deviant Behavior and noted in their interviews with gay men that a few of their participants wanted to contract the HIV virus. In previous blogs, I have written about how the internet has facilitated the meeting of like-minded people (such as people who are cannibals meeting up with people wanting to be eaten). A paper by Dr. Richard Tewksbury (also published in the journal Deviant Behavior) entitled ‘Bareback sex and the quest for HIV: Assessing the relationship in internet personal advertisements of men who have sex with men’. This was arguably the first academic paper to find empirical evidence that bug chasers had moved with the times and were looking for ‘gift givers’ online.

One of the best (and most interesting) papers published on bug chasers and gift givers was published in a few years ago in an issue of the journal AIDS Education and Prevention by Dr. Christian Grov and Dr, Jeffrey Parsons. Their research examined the online profiles of over a thousand bug chasers and gift givers (n=1228) and classified such people into one of six types. These comprised:

  • Committed Bug Chasers (7.5% of the total sample): This type comprised men who were HIV-negative but actively seeking HIV-positive partners.
  • Opportunistic Bug Chasers (12.1%): This type comprised men who were HIV-negative but were not bothered about the HIV status of their prospective partner.
  • Committed Gift Givers (0.4%): This type comprised men who were HIV-positive and sought HIV-negative partners.
  • Opportunistic Gift Givers (26%): This type comprised men who were HIV-positive but were not bothered about the HIV status of their prospective partner.
  • Serosorters: This type comprised men whose description of being a bug chaser or gift giver did not match their intentions and were seeking partners of equal HIV status. For instance, some HIV-positive men (8.5%) sought other HIV-positive men, whereas some HIV-negative men (12.5%) sought other HIV-negative men.
  • Ambiguous Bug Chasers or Gift Givers (16.3%): This type comprised men who did not know their HIV status. Therefore, it was not determined whether these men were bug chasers or gift givers.

Clearly, the evidence shows that bug chasing is far from being a myth and is engaged in by a small minority of the gay and bisexual community. For some, the research seems to echo one of the most wonderful lines from the song Frankly Mr Shankly by one of my favourite groups The Smiths. I’m sure Morrissey didn’t have bug chasing in mind when he sang the lyrics “I want to live and I want to love/I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of” but it does seem applicable.

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

Further reading

Blechner, M. (2002). Intimacy, pleasure, risk, and safety. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy 6(3), 27–33.

Crossley, M.L. (2004). Making sense of ‘barebacking’: Gay men’s narratives, unsafe sex and the ‘resistance habitus’. British Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 225-244.

Gauthier, D. K.; Forsyth, C. J. (1999). Bareback sex, bug chasing, and the gift of death”. Deviant Behavior 20, 85-100.

Grov, C. (2004). “Make me your death slave”: Men who have sex with men and use the Internet to intentionally spread HIV. Deviant Behavior, 25, 329–349.

Grov, C. (2006). Barebacking websites: Electronic environments for reducing or inducing HIV risk. AIDS Care, 18, 990–997.

Grov, C. & Parsons, J.T. (2006). Bugchasing and Giftgiving: The potential for HIV transmission among barebackers on the Internet” AIDS Education and Prevention, 18, 490-503.

Hatfield, K. (2004). A Quest for belonging: Exploring the story of the bug chasing phenomenon. Paper presented at the National Communication Association Conference, Chicago, Illinois.

LeBlanc, B. (2007). “An Exploratory Study of ‘Bug Chasers'”. Sociological Imagination 43 (2): 13–20.

Moskowitz, D.A. & Roloff, M.E. (2007). The ultimate high: Sexual addiction and the bug chasing phenomenon. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity 14, 21-40.

Moskowitz, D.A. & Roloff, M.E. (2007). The existence of a bug chasing subculture. Culture, Health and Sexuality, 9, 347-358.

Tewksbury, R. (2003). Bareback sex and the quest for HIV: Assessing the relationship in internet personal advertisements of men who have sex with men. Deviant Behavior, 25, 467-482.

Tewksbury, R. (2006). “Click here for HIV”: An analysis of internet-based bug chasers and bug givers. Deviant Behavior, 27, 379–395.

For whom the hell trolls: Harassment in online gaming

Trolling is an online phenomenon that people may witness without necessarily knowing what it is.  The term “troll” appears to have originated from a method of fishing, where one would fish by trailing a baited line behind a boat. However, many internet users often use the description of being a troll as a mythological creature that hides under bridges, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. With the latter definition, one can see the comparison with the modern day world with hiding under bridges being the online world waiting for an opportunity that may warrant a troll to take action. With the first definition, it is clear that casting a baited line as a form of provoking individuals into some form of emotional response.

Trolling appears to be a variably defined concept, with multiple definitions existing. It appears to have been first reported in 1999 by Dr. Judith Donath who argued that “trolling is a game about identity deception”, which suggests that a troll’s personal opinion is often avoided during the act. According to Dr Susan Herring and her colleagues, trolling comprises “luring others into often pointless and time-consuming discussions”. In a 2010 paper, Lochlan Morrissey expanded this even further by saying trolling is an utterer producing an intentionally false or incorrect utterance with high order intention [the plan] to elicit from recipient a particular response, generally negative or violent”. Thus, it appears trolling is an act of intentionally provoking and/or antagonising users in an online environment that creates an often desirable, sometimes predictable, outcome for the troll. Morrissey also states that trolling is a complex intentional act, that some may consider an art. On the other hand, others have included trolling as a form of cyberbullying.

To date, there has been very little empirical research into online trolling, with only two key studies being documented before we carried out our own research (but more of that later). The first of these was published by Dr. Pnina Shachaf and Dr. Norika Hara in the Journal of Information Science, and examined trolling in the context of Wikipedia. The second study by Susan Herring and her colleagues focused on trolling in feminist forums. Despite the lack of research, some key findings have emerged. Firstly, Herring’s study identified three types of messages sent by trolls. These were (i) messages from a sender who appears outwardly sincere, (ii) messages designed to attract predictable responses or flames, and (iii) messages that waste a group’s time by provoking futile argument. From this, it is apparent that trolling often merges with several other online behaviours. They pointed out that a troll is an online user that can be uncooperative, that seeks to confuse and deceive and can be a flamer by using insults.

Shachaf and Hara’s study on trolling within Wikipedia revealed that the main reasons for trolling were boredom, attention seeking, and revenge. Furthermore, they regarded Wikipedia as an entertainment venue, and found pleasure from causing damage to it and the people who used the site. Herring’s paper argued that it is non-mainstream environments that are especially vulnerable (such as forums) as they “provide a new arena for the enactment of power inequities such as those motivated by sexism, racism, and heterosexism”. Due to this, one could suggest that trolling is a behaviour that is facilitated and possibly exacerbated by the anonymity of the internet.

Many authors have argued that relative anonymity facilitates disinhibition, resulting in flaming and harassment. This online disinhibition effect is well established in the literature (particularly in a 2004 paper in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior by Dr. John Suler). As a 2011 paper on internet addiction by Dr. Laura Widyanto myself noted, the internet “might lead to disinhibition, whereby individuals feel more confident as they are protected by their anonymity”. Therefore, internet users have an opportunity to present themselves differently online. From this, the opportunity for trolling is undeniably present as Widyanto and myself make clear, “the internet provides anonymity, which removes the threat of confrontation, rejection and other consequences of behaviour”. This allows individuals to behave online in ways that they would not normally do in the offline world.

Research suggests that anonymity, which is naturally characterised by the internet, may affect a person’s self-esteem. Self-esteem has been consistently associated as an important determinant of adolescent mental health with lower self-esteem being linked to depression and increased levels of anxiety. Therefore, it has been claimed that high self-esteem is psychologically healthy. However, online interactions allow an individual to represent a different self, leading to increased feelings of self-worth and therefore be more psychologically healthy.

However, research into online trolling had not established any association between the effects of trolling and self-esteem, and was one of the main reasons we carried out our own research into the topic. There is quite a lot of research into self-esteem and more general internet use. For instance, research indicates that individuals with low self-esteem prefer to communicate with others through the internet, such as emails, rather than face-to-face. It has also been found that general internet use increases self-esteem, and some research has indicated that video game use decreases self-esteem. This suggests that the internet can be used as a form of social interaction that positively affects self-esteem for those with considerably low self-esteem. However, given the evolution of online gaming in recent years, the effect of self-esteem while playing online video games where social interaction (including trolling) can occur is relatively unknown.

Until recently, trolling had never been studied in an online video game context and there is still little empirically known about it in the most general sense of the term. Trolling often merges other online behaviours such as flaming. Dr. Angela Adrian (in a 2010 issue of Computer Law and Security Review) offers limited, albeit useful, insight into how an individual may troll during online gaming. Adrian names those who enact such behaviour as “griefers”, a term used on those who try to ruin a gaming experience, often by team-killing or obstructing objectives. It could be that griefing is one such behaviour used during trolling in the context of an online video game. Furthermore, given the evolution of online gaming, it is possible that the behaviour of trolling has evolved to fit into the context in which the trolling is being used in (e.g., online forums, Wikipedia, video games), and therefore, contains many other online behaviours that are used to disrupt others’ gaming enjoyment.

Given the little psychological research that had been conducted beyond the fact that it exists Scott Thacker and myself carried out a study to examine the (i) frequency of trolling, (ii) type and reasons for trolling and (iii) the effects trolling may have on self-esteem. Using an online survey, a self-selected sample of 125 gamers participated in our study. Our results showed that trolls tended to play longer gaming sessions. Frequent trolls were significantly younger and male. Types of trolling included griefing, sexism/racism, and faking/intentional fallacy. Reasons for trolling included amusement, boredom, and revenge. Witnessing trolling was positively associated with self-esteem, whereas experiencing trolling was negatively associated. Experience of trolling was positively correlated with frequency of trolling. Although the study used a self-selecting sample, the results appear to provide a tentative benchmark into video game trolling and its potential effects on self-esteem.

Our study has many limitations that need to be taken into account. Firstly, due to the nature of questionnaire design and it being self-report, it may be open to social desirability effects (i.e., participants may answer differently to represent a different self) and any of the other known problems with self-report methods (e.g., unreliable memory and recall biases, etc.). Another major limitation was that the sample was self-selecting and modest in size. This raises questions into its relative generalizability. Despite these limitations, our exploratory study appears to provide several key findings that now provide a preliminary benchmark into video game trolling where there was no previous research. Moreover, it expands the neglected research into online trolling and offers areas and directions for future research.

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

Additional input: Scott Thacker

Further reading

Adrian, A. (2010). Beyond griefing: Virtual crime. Computer Law and Security Review, 26, 640-648.

Donath, J. S. (1999). Identity and deception in the virtual community. In M. A. Smith and P. Kollock (Eds.), Communities in cyberspace (pp. 29–59). London: Routledge.

Herring, S., Job-Sluder, K., Scheckler, R. & Barab, S. (2002). Searching for safety online: Managing “Trolling” in a feminist forum. The Information Society, 18, 371-384.

Morrissey, L. (2010). Trolling is a art: Towards a schematic classification of intention in internet trolling. Griffith Working Papers in Pragmatics and Intercultural Communications, 3(2), 75-82.

Shachaf, P. & Hara, N. (2010). Beyond vandalism: Wikipedia trolls. Journal of Information Science, 36(3), 357-370.

Suler, J. R. (2004). The online dishibition effect. CyberPsychology and Behaviour, 7, 321-326.

Thacker, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An exploratory study of trolling in online video gaming. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 2(4), 17-33.

Widyanto, L., & Griffiths, M. D. (2011). An empirical study of problematic internet use and self-esteem. International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning, 1(1), 13-24.

Willard, N. (2006). Cyberbullying and cyberthreats: responding to the challenge of online social cruelty, threats, and distress. Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use.

Animal magic: The weird and wonderful world of the ‘bronies’

Over the years, I have been contacted a number of times by the national British media asking for a soundbite about whether someone can become ‘addicted’ to a particular television programme. Some academics have even carried out scientific research. For instance, back in 1997, Dr. Sandy Wolfson (University of Northumbria, UK) carried out a survey amongst Star Trek fans (so-called ‘Trekkies’). I saw her present her paper at a British Psychological Society conference and it got a lot of national press publicity (‘Star Trek is an addictive enterprise’, ‘Trekkies ‘hooked like addicts’, ‘Star Trek worse than heroin?’). However, as far as I can ascertain, Dr. Wolfson never formally published her findings in an academic journal. At the time, she reported (to the press) that:

Some of these people are totally immersed in the activity. [The] research shows that about 5 to 10 percent of (Trek) fans meet the psychological criteria of addiction. They show withdrawal symptoms such as agitation and frustration if they miss an episode and develop higher tolerance levels, so they need increasing doses. They see so many positive benefits psychologically from being a Star Trek fan. Loads have met friends and even spouses through Star Trek. People who are normally a bit tongue-tied find it a good source of conversation. People also feel they get a lot of intellectual benefits. It’s a very moral kind of show. Each episode has some kind of ethical dilemma which gives people a lot to think about. I would use the term positive addiction for addictions where people feel they have a positive effect. Star Trek does seem to be something people feel has a positive influence on them and society. It makes them happy”

One story that caught my eye recently was the story of 32-year old Luke Allen, an unemployed computer programmer from Albuquerque (New Mexico, US) who “self-medicates by watching animated ponies have magical adventures”. And he’s not alone as a feature in Wired magazine noted that there was a whole adult male fan community – so called ‘bronies’ (‘bro ponies’) – that are ‘fixated’ on daily watching of the cartoon My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. Luke Allen noted:

“First we can’t believe this show is so good, then we can’t believe we’ve become fans for life, then we can’t believe we’re walking down the pink aisle at Toys R Us or asking for the girl’s toy in our Happy Meal. Then we can’t believe our friends haven’t seen it yet, then we can’t believe they’re becoming bronies too. This weird alchemy that [the show’s creator] Lauren Faust tapped into when she set out to make the show accessible to kids and their parents hooks into the male geek’s reptilian hindbrain and removes a lifetime’s behavioural indoctrination against pink. As a person with Asperger syndrome, I learned more about theory of mind, friendships and social interactions from this season than I had in the previous 31 years of life.”

Most of us have favourite television shows that we don’t like to miss (The Sopranos, Prison Break and A Very Peculiar Practice being among my favourites). However, My Little Pony appears to be (for many people) an “unlikely object of fanboy love”. The Wired article reported that:

“Since the show debuted [in 2010] on cable channel Hub TV, it’s attracted a growing number of male fanatics. Their love of the show is internet neo-sincerity at its best: In addition to watching the show, these teenage, twenty- and thirtysomething guys are creating pony art, posting fan videos on YouTube and feeding threads on 4chan (and their own chan,Ponychan). They also risk life, limb and being trolled to death on the /co/ board to fawn over a small gaggle of ponies with names like Twilight Sparkle, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash”.

Another self-confessed ‘brony’, Henri Yount, a 20-year-old male from Virginia (US) who gets hundreds of thousands of hits on TouTube for his homemade My Little Pony mash-up videos said:

“I believe the fan base for this new generation of [My Little Pony] is one of the most amazing/unexpected things to come out of the internet in a long while. When I say ‘amazing,’ I’m referring to the crazy amount of content and the hard-working people who produce material every day, which I haven’t seen in many other fan bases”.

I had a quick look on YouTube myself and couldn’t believe the number of videos that have been posted and (more unbelievably) how many views they get (yes, I’m jealous). There’s also lots of artwork on the deviantArt website (around 100,000 pieces of art), and there are also a number of dedicated websites (Equestria Daily and PonyChan) being the most popular. Equestria Daily is run by another ‘brony’ (Shaun, a 23-year old male from Arizona, US). Shaun was also quoted in the Wired article and said:

“If someone were to have told me I’d be writing a pony blog seven months ago, I would have called them insane [but] it has, obviously, evolved way past that. The brony hub gets roughly 175,000 page views per day now, up from about 20,000 just a few months ago. I honestly expected everything to die down a bit (mainly so I could finally get a break!), but it seems like the fans are more ravenous than ever for more content”.

According to the many fanboys, My Little Pony’s appeal is down to good illustration, good stories, excellent characters or, as Luke Allen puts it, a “perfect storm of ’80s nostalgia and cultural irony”.

It will come as no surprise that there is no empirical research on bronies and the only academic paper I found in my research was one by Walton Wood (in a 2011 issue of the journal Image Text: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies) although I personally found the media articles more enlightening on the phenomena than Wood’s essay. I seriously doubt that bronies will ever be the focus of mainstream psychological research although studying bronies may be useful as an adjunct to the psychological study of fanship (something that I briefly covered in a previous blog on ‘fanorexia’ and whether being a ‘fanatic’ can be addictive).

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

Further reading

Angel, R. (2012). Adult male My Little Pony fans? Bronies are true rebels. The Guardian, October 1. Located at:

Hoffberger, C. (2011). Becoming a brony: 1 man’s foray into ‘My Little Pony’ fandom. The Daily Dot, October 12. Located at:

Lelis, L. (1998). Normality…the final frontier. Psychology Today, January 1. Located at:

Swain, H. (1997). Drive warps Trekkies. Times Higher Education, June 13. Located at:

Watercutter, A. (2011). My Little Pony corrals unlikely fanboys known as ‘Bronies’. Wired, September 6. Located at:

Wikipedia (2012). My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom‬. Located at:

Wood, W. (2011). The Empirical Twilight: A Pony’s Guide to Science & Anarchism. Image Text: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies, 6(1). Located at: