Virgin on the ridiculous? A brief look at harmatophilia and parthenophilia

One of the more unusual paraphilias I have come across in my reading is harmatophilia. Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices defines harmatophilia as individuals that derive sexual pleasure and arousal from sexual incompetence or mistakes, usually in female partner. Other definitions I have come across are similar such as the Sensual Swingers website that defines harmatophilia as sexual arousal “from a sexually inadequate partner” whereas the Inspire Jessamae website simply says it is a “penchant for partners who are useless in bed”. The Right Diagnosis online medical website describes harmatophilia more widely as referring to (i) sexual urges, arousal or fantasies involving breaking rules or making mistakes, and (ii) recurring intense sexual fantasies involving breaking rules or making mistakes. However, there is a general consensus amongst most harmatophilia definitions that the mistakes that are most sexually arousing are from sexual inadequacy and/or sexual incompetence. Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices notes that:

“Harmatophilia refers to one who is aroused by mistakes or rules being broken…A great majority of men are aroused by their partner having less sexual knowledge or competence than themselves. This bolsters their self-esteem and makes them feel more secure in the relationship. Of course, this preference for sexually inept females can cause some women to either feign incompetence or prevent them from wanting to experiment or learn more about sex”.

As far as I am aware, there is absolutely no empirical evidence relating to harmatophilia – not even a single case study (although all mentions I have come across assume that it is predominantly male-based), so this appears to be yet another sexual paraphilia that has been created as a theoretical opposite to a legitimately known phobia (i.e., harmatophobia that refers to those people who have an abnormal fear surrounding sin, and making errors and mistakes). However, there is another sexual paraphilia that might be psychologically and conceptually similar to harmatophilia, and that is parthenophilia, which Dr. Aggrawal defines as individuals who are sexually attracted to (and aroused by) virgins.

Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices noted that sex with a virgin is avoided by some people while other individuals “find it novel, feeling honored, enjoy the feeling of power in defiling a virgin, are relieved that they cannot be compared with anyone else, or have a religious ethic that would create prejudice against a partner who was not a virgin”. She also cites some evidence that some brothels and bordellos often catered to men who paid extra to have sex with a virgin female. A brief entry on parthenophilia at the London Fetish Scene website claims that In 18th and 19th century England “there was a somewhat sordid trade in the prostitution of girls or young women who were claimed to be virgins (often involving the attempted reconstruction of the hymen in order to obtain a high price for her deflowering more than once)”. There is an implicit assumption that such practices no longer exist but I have come across more contemporary anecdotal accounts that suggest that some men who regularly visit prostitutes prefer virgins and are willing to pay extra for such a service.

The historian and writer Hanne Blank made a few references to parthenophilia in her 2007 book Virgin: The Untouched History. She describes parthenophilia as “a pronounced sexual interest in virginity or virgins” and that it “is a genuine, observable sexual predilection”. Although she admits there are no studies on the topic, she then goes on to note that:

“The reason I propose we have for so long lacked a term for this particular erotic attraction is that unlike sexual interest in children, a sexual interest in virgins is something our culture considers normal, acceptable, and ideologically correct….We do not know how many people experience it. We do not know when the desire begins to be felt, whether those feel it perceive it as an innate or learned preference. We have no idea how many people have pursued specific sexual encounters on account of this desire, or what kind of sexual encounters they have pursued. No research into its possible role in motivating sexual assault or abuse has been conducted. We do not know to what extent it does or does not play a role in child sexual abuse or child prostitution. Even Sigmund Freud did little more than glance at it”.

There are a few online articles that write about the ‘virginity fetish’ (such as Tracy Clark-Forty’s article for Salon magazine, and Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell’s article in The Twelve) but none of these really concern virginity fetish as such as they are more concerned with the ‘purity’ movement (i.e., people not having sex until they get married) and the ‘fight against pornography’. There are also various online discussions on online sexual forums that discuss parthenophilia (although no-one actually calls it that). For instance, one man posted a question asking if anyone had a virgin fetish and it generated some interesting responses. Here are two extracts:

  • Extract 1: “I have a virgin fetish, but with real virgins! (Born again virgins don’t count!) (Pretending is not the same either!). And not just any virgins, Asian girl virgins!” (Cy83rDra90n).
  • Extract 2: “To tell the truth, this sounds at least very disrespectful, and kind of sick to me. It’s a stereotypical behavior that women have complained about and fought against for centuries. If you’re just looking to carve notches, I think your virgin partners should have a chance to carve a notch also – and I could suggest where they should carve it” (daletom)

According to the Right Diagnosis website, treatment for harmatophilia (and by default parthenophilia) is “generally not sought unless the condition becomes problematic for the person in some way and they feel compelled to address their condition”. If harmatophiles and/or parthenophiles exist, it would appear that they accept their fetish and manage to achieve gratification in an appropriate and non-problematic way.

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.

Blank, H. (2007). Virgin: The Untouched History. New York: Bloomsbury.

Clark-Forty, T. (2009). The virginity fettish. Salon, May 16. Located at:

Cotton, K. (2007). Harmatophilia heaven. Philia Phrenzy, March 2. Located at:

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

Mathonnet-VanderWell, S. (2012). Virgin fetish. The Twelve, April 24. Located at:

Right Diagnosis (2012). What is harmatophilia? November 6. Located at:

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. In 2013, he was given the Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 800 research papers, five books, over 150 book chapters, and over 1500 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 3500 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on June 11, 2013, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. A.K.A. the “Von Trapp” syndrome, and also a major subtext of ‘Dangerous Liaisons’. Rather common in Regency literature, in fact. Aristocrats and gentry had no idea of paternity (therefore inheritance) without knowing the history of the mother/wife.

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