Monthly Archives: December 2013

Stats entertainment (Part 2): A 2013 review of my personal blog

My last blog of 2013 was not written by me but was prepared by the stats helper. I thought a few of you might be interested in the kind of person that reads my blogs. I also wanted to wish all my readers a happy new year and thank you for taking the time to read my posts.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 860,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 37 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Getting in line for the barber queues: A brief look at ‘haircut fetishism’

In a previous blog I briefly examined trichophilia. According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, trichophilia is a sexual paraphilia (sometimes called trichopathophilia, hirsutophilia, and/or hair fetishism) in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from human hair (most commonly head hair). Since writing that blog, I have come across (what appears to be) a sub-type of trichophilia – ‘haircut fetishism’ that appears to share some behavioural and psychological similarities with depiliation fetishism (that I also examined in a previous blog). According to an article written for Wikipedia:

“A person with a haircut fetish is sexually and/or emotionally aroused by having their head hair cut, by cutting the hair of another, by watching someone get a haircut, or any combination of these. Haircut fetishist can be either male or female. The haircut fetish usually manifests as a desire to see head hair, often long hair, being cut off or even shaved, and often extends to a desire to witness or fantasize about non-consensual haircuts (including punishment, revenge, military/school /prison/religious induction or other kinds of forced haircuts)”.

One of my oldest friends that I was at university with owns a number of barber shops in the north of England and told me that haircut fetishism is well known in hairdressing circles and that there is a real niche market in ‘forced haircut fetishism’. As far as I am aware, there is no published academic or clinical research on haircut fetishism although there is a lot of anecdotal information about its existence. For instance, there hundreds of haircut videos on the internet, with a substantial majority of these that cater for those who are sexually aroused from seeing someone having their hair cut against their will (i.e., non-consensual coercive ‘forced’ haircuts). The article written for Wikipedia appears to confirm my own observations:

“[Haircut fetishism] would appear to be a widespread fetish, as there are many hundreds of websites devoted to it, based in countries all over the world, but it is a seemingly secret fetish, largely unrecognized by or commented upon by the media, or even acknowledged in western culture. There is no evidence to suggest that haircut fetishism extends to any significant practice of actual imposed non-consensual haircuts. Some haircut fetish websites advertise for and pay individuals to be filmed and photographed having their hair cut off. Other websites publish fantasy stories about haircuts, or track the long-to-short hair makeovers of celebrities. Some sites provide lists of haircutting scenes in literature or movies”.

There are (and have been) various hair-fetishist magazines (most of which are American), such as The Yankee Clipper, The Razor’s Edge, and The Bald Truth (although the latter may appeal as much to depiliation fetishists as haircut fetishists). There are certainly loads of websites that haircut fetishists can visit including CutsCuts, Bald Beauties,, Extreme Haircut, and Barber Shop Video (to name just a few). No-one appears to have any idea about the prevalence of haircut fetishism and the claims made in the Wikipedia article on the topic does not contain a single verifiable reference. For instance, the article asserts that:

“The haircut fetish can also extend to a general sexual preference for women or men with short hair or shaved heads. A haircut fetish is essentially pretty benign and harmless. In most cases, you aren’t hurting anyone by engaging in this fetish. In many cases, the fetish can even by a positive thing. It can add a certain degree of excitement to one’s sexual life and can lead one to take notice and care of his appearance. Many haircut fetishists, both male and female, claim their fetish began when their own hair was non-consensually cut short during childhood or puberty”.

One of the real problems in evaluating anything beyond the existence of haircut fetishism is that the paragraph above could apply to almost any niche fetish. I could replace the word ‘haircut’ with (say) ‘nail manicuring’ and the paragraph would still read well and still have face validity. Almost all fetishes are arguably harmless, don’t hurt anyone, and develop during childhood and adolescence and are often associated with a specific incident or event. Despite the lack of empirical research, there are certainly indicators that there are enough haircut fetishists for group events and conventions. For instance, the Wikipedia article notes:

“The first organized haircutting club for women was the ‘Progressive Hair Club’ first established in 1994. It sponsored [four] Ms Bald pageants in the USA and produced numerous haircutting videos. Similar clubs for men, such as the ‘International Leather Men’ have a subgroup of [haircut fetishists]. Some men form national and local groups to arrange ‘Clipper Parties’. In 2000, the first of the new breed of erotic headshaving websites came on the scene, ‘Headshave’, now known as ‘Bald Beauties’. Run by Katt and Wolfe, ‘Bald Beauties’ was the first website to portray head shaving as an erotic art on the Internet. For men, numerous websites have existed since the early 1990s [such as ‘Le Man To Man’, ‘Male Short Cuts’, ‘Slickville‘, and ‘Buzzed Hard‘]”.

In the name of research, I did check out all these sites and they all appear to cater for haircut fetishism (apart from Slickville that is more concerned with the fetishization of male hairstyles with creams and gels). From my own online research visiting these sites, it would appear that haircut fetishism is enjoyed by both males and females, and that such websites cater for both gay and straight individuals. It would also appear that for some people, it is themselves getting haircuts that is the primary source of arousal, whereas for others it is watching someone else get a haircut. There also appear to be individuals that are sexually aroused by both (i.e., themselves or others getting haircuts). The Wikipedia article adds that:

“The fetishist is often aroused by images (pictures, video, or fantasy) of the action of seeing hair being cut, the surrounding environment (barbershop / salon), and the tools used in haircutting (barber chair, barber cape, hair clippers and clipper blades, scissors, combs, hair tonics, pomades, dressings, dryers, shampoo bowls, etc…The haircut fetish finds its roots in both ancient Greece, biblical stories and religious rites. In mythology strength is associated with hair (Samson and Delilah). In Christian, Buddhist and Hindu religions, Tonsure is an established rite combining hair deprivation with purity of the body”

The other dimension in relation to hair fetishism concerns whether the haircut is voluntary or forced upon the individual. This latter dimension overlaps with both sexual sadism and sexual masochism but this aspect appears to have been all but ignored in the few online writings I have come across. The only article of any length on haircut fetishism is an online essay written by Robert Kesse who writes from the perspective of being a hair fetishist himself. Kesse defines haircut fetishism in the same way as found on the Wikipedia page but then goes on to say that the fetish isn’t necessarily harmless or benign:

“[Hair fetishism] CAN compromise one’s quality of life. In my case I no longer could feel an attraction towards my boyfriend because he had longer hair, and found myself compulsively and continually getting extreme haircuts that did not suit me. Suddenly, this interest in haircuts had become more of a curse than a blessing and I became depressed and lonely”.

I found Kesse’s account interesting because he attempted a psychological analysis of his own fetish toward haircuts and described his treatment intervention. He sought therapy for his fetish and also managed to get a number of different psychotherapists to talk about his case on an online forum. According to Kesse, all the therapists agreed that the underlying factor in Kesse’s haircut fetish was a fear of emasculation (i.e., a deprivation of his male identity). This clearly appears to be related to the fact that Kesse was a gay man. For instance, in a section entitled ‘A Portrait of a Typical Haircut Fetishist’, Kesse argued:

“At some point in these [male haircut fetishists’] lives, their subconscious mind made an intrinsic connection between their masculinity, and the length of their hair. They may have felt effeminate in some aspect of their lives. Almost all of those who have this interest are gay men. Society usually associates male homosexuality with effeminacy. In fact, when most people say ‘real man’ what they really mean is ‘a heterosexual man’. Thus, it is quite possibly the case that these men subconsciously internalized a fear of being found not to be a ‘real man’…At some point, their subconscious mind received the idea that their masculinity and hairstyle were unbreakably linked. They may have received such a message from their parents, peers, even the media. Many fetishists remember being forced into a short haircut as a child, or admiring the short haircuts of boys or men who embodied masculinity growing up. Thus, these men came to associate masculinity with short hair, and came to judge their own masculinity and that of other men by the length of their hair. This association can become so strong that many men feel emasculated when they do not have a short hairstyle. They may subconsciously use their hairstyle to feel more masculine in the presence of other men as well as women. As a result, they may feel a compulsive urge to get a haircut more often than is really necessary”.

Kesse goes on to assert that these sub-conscious associations are irrational (i.e., masculinity is not inherently linked to hair length) and that the desire to have one’s haircut (at least in his own case) is compulsive. He then claims that gay men adopt other behaviours to hide the feelings of emasculation (e.g., wearing leather jackets, appearing macho in front of others, talking in a misogynistic fashion, etc.). Kesse then talks about other haircut fetishists and how the internet potentially makes things worse for them:

“Most of the men I have met in the haircut community have been men in their 30s [through to] their 60s. The fetish is not as common among younger men. (Probably because it was more common for people to question a man’s gender identity by the length of his hair in the past than it is today.) Studies have shown that fetishists tend to have poor social skills and tend to become isolated from others. This seems to be the case for many of the haircut fetishists I have met. Most are perpetually single, and can suffer from bouts of loneliness. The internet, which at first seems a blessing, can become these men’s worst enemy as it gives them a means to interact with other fetishists without having to leave their home and no motivation to do anything but indulge in their fetish. We may find that the internet community will only serve to further isolate these individuals, and perpetuate already latent addictive/compulsive tendencies”.

Kesse then went on to describe the intervention used to overcome his irrational thinking (i.e., rational-emotive-behavioural therapy [REBT]). This approach appears to have been successful to Kesse but he does go on to say that there are other methods of treatment for pervasive/invasive fetishism including pharmacotherapy, aversion therapies, and other (unnamed) psychotherapies. However, Kesse found REBT to be “the most direct and fastest means to change” in overcoming his haircut fetishism. I would love to see a more formal (clinically published) account of Kesse’s treatment as such an intervention might be of great utility to others that feel their fetish is not benign and harmless.

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.

Kesse, R. (2007). The anatomy of a fetish. June 27. Located at:

Wikipedia (2013). Haircut fetishism. Located at:

Return to vendor: A brief look at ‘extreme couponing’

Today’s blog began from a tweet by one of my regular readers Mark Holah who suggested that I might like to take a look at ‘extreme couponing’. I have to admit that I didn’t really know what the tweet was referring to but it did pique my interest. Before I look at some of the writings about extreme couponing in both the popular media and academic writing, I thought I would begin with a few extracts about or from self-confessed extreme couponers:

  • Extract 1: “Cole is just 17 years old, but he’s got an addiction so intense that it’s like a drug – couponing! [The] teen boy stepped up to the plate when both his parents lost their jobs and now he helps out financially by using coupons to find the best deals. ‘At first my friends teased me. Now everyone wants to learn how’. Cole said that he’s obsessed with saving money. ‘Couponing is almost like a drug to me. It’s so addicting and intense. If I have a coupon for something, I buy it’. He said he just bought everything for his younger brother’s birthday with coupons and his parents are thrilled with his thriftiness. ‘Most girls are a little offended if you use a coupon on a date.  If I ever find a girl who likes to coupon and likes that I do it I know that I will have found my perfect match’”.
  • Extract 2: Extreme couponer Faatima Exans says “Asking a couponer why they are addicted to couponing is like asking a porn star why they have sex for money – it’s all about the orgasm!
  • Extract 3: “Joyce Hansell, the compulsive couponer set to appear on Monday night’s episode of Extreme Couponing, admits she has a ‘very, very addictive personality’. [She] compares the high of couponing to smoking a crack pipe.

But the real surprise isn’t about her addiction to coupons. Hansell, who previously likened couponing to smoking crack, actually used to be a food addict. After a lifelong battle with her weight, Hansell decided to put down the junk food and pick up the clipping scissors. And she’s dropped 100 pounds in the process”.
  • Extract 4: “It was only ‘extreme couponing’ in that I got a couple of items free or nearly free. That was the only extreme thing about it. But I got such a rush from knowing it was FREE that I can see how going to extremes to get free items could be very addictive…I’m not going to start going to extremes to get free or nearly-free items, but it was a fun feeling to get a product FREE for once”.

According to the Wikipedia entry on extreme couponing, the activity “combines shopping skills with couponing in an attempt to save as much money as possible while accumulating the most groceries”. The Wikipedia entry also claims that the concept of ‘extreme couponers’ began in a March 2010 issue of the Wall Street Journal in the article entitled ‘Hard Times Turn Coupon Clipping Into the Newest Extreme Sport’. There is now even a US television show (on TLC [The Learning Channel] and simply called Extreme Couponing) that follows shoppers that spend all their time accumulating coupons in any way possible to acquire masses of grocery products for next-to-nothing. From what I have read, extreme couponers spend hours and hours scouring rubbish tips or supermarket car parks looking for coupons with money back offers. Alternatively, others spend hours on the internet everyday looking for online coupons and vouchers to print and save money on various consumables. Many British newspapers including the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail have had in-depth stories on the phenomenon. The Telegraph featured the story of 39-year old Judith Wenban from Gravesend in Kent:

“You don’t want to be stuck in the queue behind Judith Wenban when she’s doing her big weekly shop. ‘I’ve got a special little wallet in my handbag with all my vouchers in. I drive supermarkets batty’…Judith thinks nothing of handing a cashier coupons printed from the online money-saving forums that she trawls daily for cut-price deals on non-perishables to feed to her brood. ‘Quite often I will hand over ten coupons at a time, and don’t have any qualms about that. I used to feel a bit nervous. But internet coupons have taken off in the last few years, and the assistants can now just scan them in at the checkout, which has taken away the stigma. If a voucher’s rejected, that’s fine – I won’t take the product if I can’t take it on offer’”.

Wenban exploits all of the supermarkets’ deals. For instance, Asda have an ongoing promotion that if a shooper can buy a product cheaper at another supermarket, they will pay back the customer the price difference plus 10%. Wenban spends hours walking around Asda car parks looking for till receipts that other shoppers have thrown away or left discarded in trolleys and shopping baskets. Codes on the receipts can be inputted into the computer for ‘cashback’ and ‘price matching’ deals. She describes this practice of scouring the car park for receipts as “wombling” (after television characters The Wombles who made their living from making use of every day objects that folks leave behind). She told the story of how she found a receipt with £6.50 off the next spend in store. She said:

“I don’t think it’s illegal…It was left in a shopping basket. If you saw £6.50 on the floor, you wouldn’t leave it there, would you? As I’m tidying up other people’s rubbish, I have no shame in that.”

Wenban also spends hours online every day looking for coupons.

“In the forums, it’s quick, quick, quick. You often have to download the coupons and use them that day…The forums are a step ahead. It does mean I spend a fair bit of time every day online – but I’m not a big television person anyway”.

According to a Time magazine article on extreme couponing, the best coupons have two primary features: (i) discounts on products that people buy anyway, and (ii) discounts that are significant enough to justify the time in hunting them down. However, extreme couponing has impacted on companies giving out coupons with these two key features. The article went on to say:

Extreme couponers [seem to willing] to do almost anything to cut down on their grocery bills. People who do the extreme coupons are generally the most vicious people you will ever meet. They’ll cut off the dates of expired coupons, try to use several coupons per item and will argue when you shut them down”.

An article in the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail claimed the world of extreme couponing was a “no-holds-barred pursuit of savings” and comprises “countless obsessive Internet followers who strive to maximize their savings at the checkout by spotting the best sales and by hoarding coupons”. Another behaviour that extreme couponers are known to engage in is searching supermarkets for incorrectly priced items (even if it is not an item they would normally buy), paying for them, and then contacting customer service departments where they get their money back plus more money and vouchers to spend in store. The Daily Mail featured the story of extreme couponer El Jones. For Jones, extreme couponing gives her a ‘buzz’ particularly when she manages to save lots of money:

“It’s the challenge, the rush and, above all, the buzz that feeds her compulsion. It eats up ten hours every week but her husband Ed doesn’t mind. For there are no side effects, no support groups needed and no casualties…and she’s fiercely proud of it, too”.

The Mail story does at least highlight the differences between extreme couponing in America (that typically involves cutting out loads of coupons from magazines and newspapers) and the UK (that typically involves printing out vouchers online). The difference is claimed to be cultural (that the US just likes paper vouchers as opposed to coupons redeemable by mobile phone or computer). The Mail also made lots of reference to the voucher giveaway website Wowcher (that the Mail part owns!). The report also notes that the one key difference between a casual bargain-hunter and an extreme couponer is the “copious planning the latter is willing to put in”.

The amount of academic work on extreme couponing has been modest (to say the least), but Dr. Joseph Chancellor and Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky have written a number of interesting chapters and papers on the psychology of thrift. One of their upcoming book chapters on the hedonic benefits of thrift mentioned extreme couponing:

“The practice of thrift can be pleasurable and profitable. Although wanton spending surely has its own short-term pleasures, frugality involves feeling the rush of both spending and saving. The name of a popular extreme couponing website, The Grocery Store Game, aptly captures the thrill of frugal shopping. Bargain hunting can be as engrossing and enjoyable as a board game, but the advantage of thrift is that when the game is finished, one can keep the winnings”.

A recent 2012 (unpublished) Master’s thesis by Danish Business Studies student Ketil Schjorterich Skotte examined the use of online discounting but also examined coupon use including extreme couponing (and how such behaviour was bad for marketers). The thesis noted that:

“Coupon use is still widespread in the US and recently a new segment of coupon users has come to the attention of the public eye: extreme couponers who make couponing a way of living. The recent television show ‘Extreme Couponing’ is a good example of this. In the show, different (female) couponers show how they cut up to 95 percent of their grocery bill by using coupons. This segment has been described as the marketers’ worst nightmare because they do not use coupons as a way to try out new products, but instead only buys products they have a coupon for”.

Another 2013 academic paper in the Cinema Journal by Diane Negra examined (among other things) the television programme Extreme Couponing. The aim of the paper was to investigate some of the ways that recession-era representational culture (in the specific form of two reality-television series – one being Extreme Couponing) activate particular vocabularies of gender while suppressing others. Negra argued that the economic recession weighed heavily on the aspirationalism that customarily prevails in US representations, and then analyzed the staging of gendered modes of adaptation and enterprise in the first seasons of Extreme Couponing. She goes on to argue that:

“[Extreme Couponing retains] femininity as fundamentally domestic and recuperate[s] masculinity as a state of territorial expansion while promulgating ideologically ‘safe’ modes of entrepreneurialism that conform to hegemonic gender codes. Ambivalently responsive to the resource gluttony of US consumer culture, [the programs] stage the promise and the frustration of a feminized thrift and a masculinized risk taking. Extreme Couponing’s female focus is hinted at in its tag as a ‘recessionista series’…Another element shared by these [television] series is their sense of localism and regionalism, which plays out against a backdrop of social isolation…In Extreme Couponing we see that recessionary popular culture has latched onto the commodification of domestic femininities in ways continuous with but also distinct from previous eras. Female thrift ‘works’ for an era of adjusted economic realities, it seems, with female consumer resourcefulness becoming a new theme on many fronts. A number of the series’ profile subjects are women who have lost a male breadwinner’s salary (either through unemployment or divorce); they are invariably such assiduous and adept coupon clippers that they can get large amounts of groceries for free. These women are seen as stepping into the income breach without deviating from their domestic roles, and the series sustains a mixed discourse of praise and pathologization around figures inscribed on the one hand as bravura postfeminist housekeepers and on the other hand as intense overconsumers who speak with a worrying casualness about ‘stockpiling’”.

A not-so-academic (but arguably as thought provoking) article in the online Salon magazine made an interesting observation that unlike the mentally ill individuals depicted on television shows like Hoarders, or drug-addicts on programmes like Intervention, the heroines depicted on Extreme Couponing “aren’t ashamed of the obsessive compulsion that has taken control of their lives”.

I was unable to find much psychological thinking about extreme couponing. However, I did find an article on the Psychology Today website by Dr. Goal Auzeen Saedi examining the exhilaration of watching the people on Extreme Couponing (such as the ‘Double Saving Divas’, twin sisters from Chicago) that had stockpiled nappies – even though neither of them have babies. Dr. Saedi claimed she was instantly “hooked” on the show. She then went on to write:

“While a fascinating show indeed, I worry that perhaps the whole story is not being told. Is there something compulsive about this behavior, or at least marginally unhealthy? Why is a man buying up dozens of women’s deodorant? Just because it’s free, does it mean we must have it?…One of the double divas said she saw her stockpile as being analogous to having money in the bank. One of the gentlemen rationalized his couponing by saying he was worried about losing his job. But some of these extreme couponers talked about spending 15-20 hours on this task…I wonder though if I’m the only one who sees possible touches of addiction, obsession, compulsion, and perhaps even hoarding tendencies to some of this behavior. At the very least, I am comfortable to say it seems unhealthy. Hence, I ask this: Is extreme couponing really something that should be celebrated?”

I have to admit that I have only seen clips of the show on YouTube but based on the bits I have seen, I’d be hard-pressed not to at least partly agree with Dr. Saedi’s views. I can’t say that any of the anecdotal accounts I have read display genuine addictive, compulsive and/or obsessive behaviour but that doesn’t mean it’s not theoretically possible.

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

Further reading

Chancellor, J., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). Money for happiness: The hedonic benefits of thrift. In: M. Tatzel (Ed.), Consumer’s dilemma: The search for well-being in the material world (pp.13-47). New York: Springer.

Negra, D. (2013). Gender bifurcation in the recession economy: Extreme couponing and Gold Rush Alaska. Cinema Journal, 53(1), 123-129

Powell, L. (2011). Extreme couponing: It’s highly addictive and takes ruthless dedication (but it can halve the cost of your weekly shop). Daily Mail, November 30. Located at:

Saedi, G.A. (2011). The Exhilaration of “Extreme Couponing?” Is being an “extreme couponer” really such a good thing? Psychology Today, May 10. Located at:

Tuttle, B. (2013). How ‘extreme couponing’ is ruining coupons. Time, May 23. Located at:

Webley, K. (2011). Extreme couponing. Time, 178, (14), 36-37.

Under where shall we look? A brief look at extreme fashion

While I was researching a blog on bride fetishism, I came across a number of articles on fetish bride wear including a paper by Frances Ross on “extreme lingerie design” (Ross is Visiting Lecturer at the London School of Fashion). At the beginning of her paper, Ross asserts that there has been an increasing “academic interest in erotic lingerie as a retail and ethical subject” and citing papers such as ‘Deviation as a key to innovation: Understanding a culture of the future’ (by Trudy Barber in 2004), ‘Ethical perspectives on the erotic in retailing’ (by Tony Kent in 2005), and ‘Erotic retailing in the UK (1963-2003): The view from the marketing mix’ (by Tony Kent and R. Brown Berman in 2006). Ross’ paper examines commodity fetishism for different forms of erotic lingerie (e.g., corset, suspender belt, stockings, etc.). She notes that:

“Previous research on [the retailer] Agent Provocateur had identified the fact that erotic lingerie is generally an under researched fashion segmentation and this became the driver for revisiting the upmarket design-led brand and conducting a comparative study with the more demographically working to lower middle-class lingerie ranges of Ann Summers”.

Ross classes erotic lingerie into one of four categories: (i) fantasy dressing up, (ii) corsets and teddies, (iii) bras, panties, suspender belts and stockings, and (iv) shoes (although I’m not persuaded that ‘shoes’ are a type of lingerie).

Ross argues that the opening of Ann Summers shops (“a sex supermarket [that sells] marital aids and exotic lingerie”) in 1970 resulted in a “cultural shift from sleaze to respectability; private space to public space and deviance to normal sexuality”. Sexy lingerie became something to enhance “lifestyle sexual consumption rather than sordid sleaze purchases” resulting in “High Street respectability” for Ann Summers stores by the 2000s. The chain of Agent Provocateur (AP) stores began selling sexy lingerie in 1994. (I hadn’t realised that AP was co-founded by Joseph Corré, the son of fashion designer Vivian Westwood and Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren; given his parents’ love of bondage fashion wear, I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised).

According to a 2006 article in the Daily Telegraph, Agent Provocateur caused “the second sexual revolution…Lingerie turned from something worn exclusively in the bedroom to seduce your man, into a fashion statement”. Ross also quotes from a 2006 article in The Observer about the shops’ beautifully designed “fetishised female undergarments such as crotchless taffeta knickers, gossamer negligees, epizoic teddies, [and] sternly-boned corsets” and that such lingerie is available to buy along with “S&M accessories that range from bedroom jewellery nipple tassels to handcuffs and bejewelled whips”.

Ross’ paper examines the development of extreme fashion from tight-lacing corsets through to modern erotic lingerie and argues that the meaning of clothing is constantly being redefined. Interestingly, she also historically examines whether the corset was something that women aspired to wear or was a garment that represented psychological and physical oppression. More recently, Ross claims that Bizarre magazine (a magazine that I used to write articles on sexual paraphilias for back in the late 1990s and early 2000s) perpetuated the fetish of tight-lacing throughout all issues often showing women in corsets or wearing clothes with nipped-in waists on the front covers” and listed a number of examples from specific issues. She also notes how corsets used to be limited in colour and how such extreme corset fashion has evolved into luxury wear. More specifically she wrote:

“Corsets come in two main colour ways black and a version of the original pink fabric which has connotations of domesticity and innocence rather than dominatrix fetishism. Black lingerie has often been used to ‘…suggest wantonness and availability…’ (Wilson-Kovacs, 1996 p. 173) but this now also has a post-modern layered meaning of being sophisticated. Both styles of corsets are catered for at Provocateur but Ann Summers focuses on the black dominatrix range, however, the lacing and bones are all codified rather than real. This shows how lingerie has become a luxury fashion item rather than just utility underwear…The original Victorian corset signified respectable morality while also attracting attention to the exaggerated female shape, Wilson-Kovacs says this presented the ‘…female form in an erotically constructed fashion and…become an object of fetishist enthusiasm’ (2001; p. 169). The aesthetic and commodity fetishisation of the corset is popular with both genders in much of the demographic population, because it has in the last 50-60 years been associated with scandal, worn by showgirls, film stars and courtesans”.

According to Ross, it wasn’t until the 19th century that underwear started to move away from the corset to separate undergarments (knickers, bras, suspender belts, stockings, etc.). Suspender belts and stockings served a different (erotic) function to the corset (i.e., they “fetishised the lower erogenous zones of the body” whereas the corset accentuated waists and breasts). Ross also argued that the introduction of red undergarments had “connotations of sexual excitement” as evidenced by retailers such as AP introducing red coloured lingerie. Ross also argues that stockings are back in vogue and argues:

“Clearly the role of the stockings in erotic lingerie is important to the look of the leg and buttocks and despite the 1960s and early 70s shift to tights because of the shortness of the mini-skirt, the stocking has made a definite come-back for many reasons. These include, comfort and hygiene as well as the sensual nature of the nylon which now can be made to feel more like the original silk stocking”.

Ross then turns her academic attentions to bras and panties. Obviously bras have a functional purpose in supporting and shaping breasts (that Ross points out become more important as women age). She claims that men and women both like “the look and feel of well designed erotic bras and pants as the prelude to a sexual encounter”. She then brings in some Freudian sexuality theory and argues that:

“If made in sensual fabrics such as silk, satin or fine cotton this increases the seductiveness. As Hamlyn writes ‘It restricts direct access to the naked object, but it also has the ability to suggest, enhance, and draw attention to what it covers over and adorns’ (2003, p. 11). Both female and male fetishes for fabrics such as velvet and fur can be understood by Freud’s theory that ‘pieces of underclothing, which are so often chosen as a fetish, crystallize the moment of undressing, the last moment in which the woman could not be regarded as phallic’ (Freud, 1977; p. 355)…Bizarre [magazine] codifies Freud’s Oedipal theory with images of ladies wearing fur, frilly pants and sheer see-through garments that expose underwear…Freud considers fur to be symbolic of female genitalia hair, so as commodity fetishism and retail psychology become more sophisticated in their understanding of sex selling, this form of conspicuous consumption trim on erotic lingerie continues to be popular…The knowledge that certain fabrics excite the senses, touch, sight and even smell is again documented by Freud in his discussion on fetishism”.

Ross also takes a sideswipe at Foucault’s concept of “sex being confined to the home and the words not dared to be spoken (Rabinow, 1991)” and claims this is now simply outmoded as evidenced by high street shops such as Ann Summers and Agent Provocateur. She argues that (i) ‘underwear’ has become fashionable ‘outer wear’, (ii) ‘sleaze’ (citing the work of Kent, 2005) has become blurred with ‘respectability’, and (iii) ‘dressing up’ “for sexual pleasure has become normalised so ‘Deviance’ is considered just ‘Normal sexuality’ not perversion”.

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

Further reading

Barber, T. (2004). Deviation as a key to innovation: understanding a culture of the future. Foresight, 6(3),141-152.

Freud, S. (1997). On Sexuality. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

Gamman, L. & Makinen, M. (1994,) Female Fetishism: A New Look. London: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd.

Hamlyn, A. (2003). Freud, Fabric, Fetish. Textile: The Journal of Cloth & Culture 1 (1). March, p. 9.

Kent, T. (2005). Ethical perspectives on the erotic in retailing. in Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 8, 430-439.

Kent, T. & Berman Brown, R. (2006). Erotic retailing in the UK (1963-2003): The view from the marketing mix. Journal of Management History, 12(2), 199-211.

Kunzle, D. (2004). Fashion & Fetishism: Corsets, Tight-Lacing & Other Forms of Body Sculpture. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing.

Ross, F. (2007). Extreme lingerie design: from ‘Bizarre’ fantasy to High Street. In: Extreme Fashion: Pushing the Boundaries of Design, Business and Technology (Conference Proceedings of the International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institute). New Delhi, India: IFFTI.

Ross, F. & Ranchhod, A. (2006, July), ‘eTailing Strategies within the Intimate Apparel Market’, Academy of Marketing Conference London.

Steele, V. (1996). Fetish Fashion, Sex and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Steele, V. (2005). The corset: A cultural history. Yale: Yale University Press.

Storr, M. (2003), Latex & Lingerie: Shopping for pleasure at Ann Summers Parties. Oxford: Berg.

Wilson-Kovacs, D. (2001). The Fall and Rise of Erotic Lingerie. In: William J.F (Ed.), Dressed to Impress: Looking the Part. Oxford: Berg.

What a drag: A brief look at cigarette smoking and nicotine dependence

Cigarette smoking among adults (i.e., those aged 18 years and over) has been a highly prevalent behaviour in Great Britain for decades but overall rates have significantly declined in recent times. Figures show that the highest recorded level of nicotine smoking among British males was in 1948 when four-fifths smoked (82%) although at that time only two-thirds smoked manufactured cigarettes (as the rest smoked pipes and/or cigars). The highest recorded level of nicotine smoking among British females was in the mid-1960s (45%) slightly higher than the prevalence rate of 41% in 1948.

A 2003 study by Dr. M. Jarvis in the journal Addiction reported that since 2000 the overall adult smoking rates in Great Britain had been declining by around 0.4% per year. More recently, the British prevalence rates of smoking remained constant at 21% between 2007 and 2009 (according to a 2013 report by Action on Smoking and Health [ASH]). According to the 2013 Office for National Statistics report, the most recent prevalence rate is 20% (21% of men and 19% of women). This equates to around 10 million British adult cigarette smokers. Smoking prevalence rates are highest in young adults. More specifically, in the 20-24 year age group, the prevalence rate of nicotine smoking is 30% in males and 28% in females. Only 1% of children are nicotine smokers at the age of 11 years. By the age of 15 years, 11% of children are regular smokers. As the 2013 ASH report noted:

“Since the mid 1970s cigarette consumption has fallen among both men and women. The overall reported number of cigarettes smoked per male and female smoker has changed little since the mid 1980s, averaging 13 cigarettes per smoker per day. As in previous years, men smoked slightly more per day on average than women and there was an association between consumption and socio-economic group. In 2011, smokers in manual occupations smoked an average of 14 cigarettes a day compared with 11 a day for those in managerial or professional groups… In 2011, 63% of smokers said they would like to stop smoking altogether. Other ways of measuring dependence include how difficult people would find it to go for a whole day without smoking and how soon they smoke after waking… In 2011, 60% of smokers said they would find it hard to go for a whole day without smoking. Eighty-one per cent of heavier smokers (20 or more a day) said they would find it difficult, compared to 32% of those smoking fewer than 10 cigarettes per day”.

Like drug addictions more generally, nicotine addiction is a complex combination of influences including genetic, pharmacological, psychological, social and environmental factors. In 2010, the US Surgeon General asserted that “there is no established consensus on criteria for diagnosing nicotine addiction” but that there are a number of symptoms can be viewed as addiction indicators such as:

  • Drug use that is highly controlled or compulsive with psychoactive effects
  • Stereotypical patterns of use
  • Continued use despite harmful effects
  • Relapse following abstinence accompanied by recurrent cravings.

A 2000 report by the Royal College of Physicians also noted that nicotine fulfils criteria for defining an addiction and states that:

“It is reasonable to conclude that nicotine delivered through tobacco smoke should be regarded as an addictive drug, and tobacco use as the means of self-administration…Cigarettes are highly efficient nicotine delivery devices and are as addictive as drugs such as heroin or cocaine.”

One of the key characteristics of drug addiction or dependence on a substance is the degree of compulsion experienced by the user. Since 1992, the British General Lifestyle Survey (which typically surveys around 15,000 adults from over 9000 households annually) has asked three questions relevant to nicotine dependence and addiction. The first is whether the person would like to stop smoking, the second is whether person would find it easy or difficult not to smoke for a whole day, and the third is how soon after waking up they smoke their first cigarette. Since 1992, there has been almost no change in any of the three measures.

The latest 2013 survey reported that 63% of smokers said they would like to stop smoking altogether and 60% felt it would be difficult for them to go a day without smoking. Four-fifths (81%) of heavy smokers (i.e., those smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day) said they would find it difficult to give up smoking compared to one-third (32%) of lighter smokers (i.e., those smoking less than 10 cigarettes a day). The average number of cigarettes smoked per day is 13, and 14% smoke a cigarette within five minutes of getting up in the morning, a figure that rises to 35% among heavy smokers who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day. Research consistently shows that approximately two-thirds of smokers want to quit the behaviour yet the majority are unable to do so, which is also suggestive of a genuine addiction. Those that do try to quit smoking typically experience a wide range of withdrawal symptoms including craving for nicotine, irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, sleep disturbances, decreased heart rate, and increased appetite or weight gain.

Outside of Great Britain, tobacco and other drug use prevalence have been examined extensively among youth and adults. For example, by the Monitoring the Future research group in the U.S. ( They reported that daily (20 or more days in last 30 days) cigarette smoking varied from 11.4% among 18 year olds to 17% among 50 year olds. One may infer that daily cigarette smoking is addictive use, though several studies measure tobacco (nicotine) addiction specifically. Tobacco addiction (dependence) among older teenagers has been found to vary between 6% and 8%. Studies have found a prevalence rates of between 1.7% to 9.6% for tobacco addiction among college students.

In a 2004 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, Dr. Jon Grant and colleagues found a prevalence of 12.8% for tobacco addiction among a U.S. national sample of adults. A few years later in a 2009 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, Dr. R.D. Goodwin and colleagues found a prevalence of 21.6% and 17.8% for tobacco addiction among a U.S. national sample of male and female adults, respectively. It appears that daily smoking demonstrates about the same level of prevalence as direct measures of dependence, particularly among adults.

In a 2011 study that I carried out with Dr. Steve Sussman and Nadra Lisha, we estimated that past year nicotine dependence prevalence in the general adult population of the U.S. as being approximately 15%. A different summary of research on the epidemiology of drug dependence has shown that of all people who initiate cigarette use, almost one-third become addicted smokers (32%), a figure that is much higher addiction rate than for users of heroin (23%), cocaine (17%), alcohol (15%) or cannabis (9%).

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

Further reading

Action on Smoking and Health (2012). Nicotine and addiction. London: Action on Smoking and Health.

Action on Smoking and Health (2013). Smoking statistics: Who smokes and how much. London: Action on Smoking and Health.

Benowitz, N. (2010). Nicotine addiction. New England Journal of Medicine, 362, 2295–2303,

Carpenter C.M., Wayne, G.F., & Connolly, G.N. (2007). The role of sensory perception in the development and targeting of tobacco products. Addiction, 102, 136-147.

Goodwin, R.D., Keyes, K.M., & Hasin, D.S. (2009). Changes in cigarette use and nicotine dependence in the United States: Evidence from the 2001-2002 wave of the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcoholism and Related Conditions. American Journal of Public Health, 99, 1471-1477.

Grant, B.F., Hasin, D.S., Chou, P., Stinson, F.S., & Dawson, D.A. (2004a). Nicotine dependence and psychiatric disorders in the United States. Archives of General Psychiatry, 61, 1107-1115.

Information Centre for Health and Social Care (2011). Smoking drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2011. London: Information Centre for Health and Social Care.

Jarvis, M. (2003). Monitoring cigarette smoking prevalence in Britain in a timely fashion. Addiction, 98, 1569-1574.

Office for National Statistics (2012). The 2010 General Lifestyle Survey. London: Office for National Statistics.

Office for National Statistics (2013). The 2011 General Lifestyle Survey. London: Office for National Statistics.

Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.

Wald, N. & Nicolaides-Bouman, A. (1991). UK Smoking Statistics (2nd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Reich Stuff: A brief look at Nazi fetishism

“I love your blonde hair/I kiss your pigtails/And I could not share/The scratch of your nails/And though you mark me/Your eyes so glassy/Oh why did you have/To be so Nazi?/Remember the curls/Of the Deutscher Girls?/A love of mine/From down on the Rhine” (Deutscher Girls, Adam and the Ants).

The first time I ever associated Nazism with sexuality was as a young teenager listening to Adam Ant sing Deutscher Girls in Derek Jarman’s 1978 punk rock film Jubilee. The punk rock movement – and particularly the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees – were arguably the architects of ‘Nazi chic’ (defined by Wikipedia as the approving use of Nazi-era style, imagery, and paraphernalia in clothing and popular culture, especially when used for taboo-breaking or shock value rather than out of genuine sympathies with Nazism”) when one of the Pistols’ entourage appeared on the London-region only television show Today (December 1, 1976) wearing a swastika armband. The Wikipedia entry on Nazi chic notes:

“In the 1970s punk subculture, several items of clothing designed to shock and offend The Establishment became popular…[Johnny] Rotten wore the swastika another time with a gesture that looked like a Nazi salute. In 1976, Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees was also known to wear a Swastika armband with fetish S and M clothing, including fishnets and a whip. These musicians are commonly thought to have worn such clothing for shock value…rather than being genuinely associated with any National Socialist or fascist ideologies”.

As an avid Adam and the Ants fan, I devoured every lyric of every song. One of Adam Ant’s heroes was Dirk Bogarde – as evidenced by the first album being named after him – Dirk Wears White Sox. The song Dirk Wear White Sox (a live favourite at their early gigs) wasn’t actually on the album and was never actually released on any official Ant recording. One of the reasons for this may have been because of the controversial lyrical content that also linked sex and Nazism via concentration camps:

“You gotta concentrate on kink/In a concentration camp/All dressed up like little David/In a concentration camp…You can get a uniform for free/Shiny boots of soft black leather/Oh how proud your mum will be”.

The inspiration for the song may well have been the controversial film The Nightporter starring Bogarde as a former Nazi SS officer (Maximilian Theo Aldorfer) and his “ambiguous” relationship with concentration camp survivor Lucia Atherton (played by Charlotte Rampling). As the Wikipedia entry on the film notes:

“Flashbacks show Max tormenting Lucia, but also acting as her protector. In an iconic scene, Lucia sings a Marlene Dietrich song ‘Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte’ to the concentration camp guards while wearing pieces of an SS uniform, and Max ‘rewards’ her with the severed head of a male inmate who had been bullying the other inmates, a reference to Salome. Thirteen years after World War II, Lucia meets Aldorfer again; he is now the night porter at a Vienna hotel. There, they fall back into their sadomasochistic relationsip relationship…The film depicts the political continuity between wartime Nazism and post-war Europe and the psychological continuity of characters locked into compulsive repetition of the past. On another level it deals with the psychological condition known as Stockholm Syndrome”.

There is obviously a big difference between Nazi chic and Nazi fetishism (although there may be overlaps for some adherents). The online Urban Dictionary defines Nazi fetish as:

“Somebody who becomes sexually aroused when seeing someone of the Aryan race in an SS Nazi, Third Reich uniform or Holocaust/Hitler related uniforms. Charlotte Rampling in ‘The Night Porter’ would be a Nazi Fetish for some men or women”.

Academically there has been little written on Nazi fetishism. I went searching online and found dozens of confessions by people claiming to enjoy and be fans of Nazi fetishism (as well as lots of websites – such as the uniform fetish site at Live Journal – that feature lots of sexually provocative Nazi fetish clothing). Here are some of the online admissions that I found. Obviously I can’t guarantee their veracity but they all seemed genuine to me:

  • Extract 1: “Don’t get me wrong. I DO NOT IN ANY WAY support their murders, torture, or anything of the sort. I would never support such heinous actions. That being said…I like Nazis. I like the uniform, the boots (Yesss, the boots), the fact that they’re German/speak German, as well as the whole ‘Aryan’ look. Neatly combed blonde hair, blue eyes. My friends think I’m insane, because I’m half black and I like blonde Nazis. Anyway, I love the masculinity they seemed to have. It’s very attractive. It’s a fetish I have”.
  • Extract 2: “I am a girl and I am turned on by The Nazi look blonde hair blue eyes and uniform, I can’t help but have thoughts about it is there something wrong with me? I think the holocaust was awful and I hate what the Nazis did but I just can’t help it, am I normal to have a weird fetish?”
  • Extract 3: “Nazi fetishes are actually fairly common in BD/SM. There used to be tons of Nazi-themed pornography and general exploitation movies although as the years following WW2 pass it is becoming more uncommon…The taboo and violence attached to Nazis makes them a popular fetish for people of many races, religions, and sexual orientations. Nazi fetishism is currently most popular in Asian and in gay pornography”.
  • Extract 4: “Lately, I’ve found myself getting a little too excited thinking about what most would call Nazi fetishism. I already had a bit of a German fetish, what with the accents and appearances, but when the SS uniforms started sneaking into my fantasies, when the idea of a little Nazi roleplay started to really appeal, things were different. I even fantasize about my love interest in the uniform (which is ironic because he is quite far from being an Aryan)!…I’ve uncovered other fetishes I have and now see how this fits in. (i) German accents are extremely sexy to me, (ii) I have always liked uniforms and nice clothes. (iii) taboo appeals to me quite a bit, [and] (iv) power and being dominated appeals to me” (z0mbiequeen)
  • Extract 5: “I have a fetish for uniforms and I don’t blame someone for having a Nazi fetish, people who are sharply dressed do look pretty sexy, especially the women’s clothing. I don’t have a fetish for the accents and everything German…It could also be how Nazis are frowned upon, so having a fetish for something so controversial and wrong makes it dirty?” (lovingpegasister)
  • Extract 6: “[Nazi] fetish is so common in many circles, from anime cosplay to gothic culture. They had the most badass uniforms at the time and they still look hot on just about anyone” (derBunker)

The Nazi clothing appears to be a fundamental part of the fetish and would appear to be a sub-type of uniform fetishism (that I outlined in a previous blog). In 2007, Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry appeared to praise the Nazi style (both in fashion and architectural terms) when he was quoted in a German newspaper as saying: ‘The way that the Nazis staged themselves and presented themselves, my Lord!…I’m talking about the films of Leni Riefenstahl…And the buildings of Albert Speer and the mass marches and the flags – just fantastic. Really beautiful”. However, Ferry’s comments caused huge controversy and he then clarified his comments by saying: “I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by my comments on Nazi iconography, which were solely made from an art history perspective”. This type of apology is very similar to the caveats made by Nazi fetishists online in justifying their like of Nazi imagery from a sexual perspective.

Arguably the most high profile case of Nazi fetishism was Max Mosley (youngest son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the former leader of the British Union of Fascists and former head of Formula One’s governing body) who was caught in 2008 on video with five prostitutes playing concentration camp fetish games. One article quoted [unnamed] “experts” saying: “While the Nazi concept is not unusual in sadomasochistic circles, playing both sides in such a kinky ritual is unusual”. Another (less high profile) case was that of Gareth Meade, a senior council officer in London (UK), who lost his job for gross misconduct after his involvement in Nazi fetishism was exposed by a Sunday newspaper. Photos of Meade posing in Nazi regalia was found on a gay sex website. Meade claimed in the newspaper interview that he was “not a racist” and that his sexual activity was “a private fetish”.

A recent 2013 paper published by Dr. David Lopez and Dr. Ellis Godard in the journal Popular Culture Review studied Nazi fetishism using online forum data (a method that I have also been using to study rare paraphilic behaviours and which I have recently published a couple of papers on – see ‘Further Reading’ below). They also view the fetish as a type of uniform fetish. Their paper notes that:

“Nazi uniform fetishists and role-players represent the diversity of BDSM subculture as it is a very unique activity with a specific form of expression. The most salient form of this expression is seen in the style and fashion of these fetishists and role-players. Style and fashion express autonomy, proclaims messages, establishes boundaries, and generates definitions of a subculture (Hebdige, 1979). For uniform fetishists, the uniform creates a context for the BDSM scene. A Nazi uniform is just one type of uniform fetish. We suggest for these participants, they are attracted to Nazism as a movement steeped in violence and evil and the uniform is representative of this movement. BDSM practitioners use the term ‘scene’ when referring to erotic power exchange”.

Lopez and Godard collected data from a BDSM site that had over 900,000 members. They then focused on specific discussion groups within the main site. One of these groups comprised individuals that were interested in ‘Nazi Uniform Fetish and Roleplaying’ [NUFR] and had 617 members. They also noted that there were at least 12 other similar groups with an interest in Nazi fetishism including ‘Females of the Third Reich’ (114 members) and ‘SS [Shutzstaffel] Protection Squad] Uniforms and Those Who Love Them’ (162 members). The NUFR group was chosen as the site to study as it had the biggest number of members and the most detailed postings from its members about Nazi fetishism. The data were content analysed and comprised over 300 threads (approximately 10,000 comments). The authors reported that members discussed the uniforms themselves, including where to acquire them and pointedly disavowed white supremacy and anti-Semitism, emphasizing only the erotlcism associated with the uniforms. They also reported that many posts commented on the sex appeal of the uniforms. In response to a post asking “What makes a sexy Nazi?” one respondent noted that:

“A well cared for athletic, mature female body, subtly made up fair skin and hard steely blue eyes, long dark hair gathered up carefully in a high ponytail. She is very stylish and well groomed, a pristine women’s tailored Black SS uniform laid out for her on the bed beside her as she sits gracefully at her dressing table in her delicate, demure lingerie and Fully fashioned seamed and Cuban heel Nylons leaning elegantly forward and to the side to pull up the zips on her gleaming almost mirror polished Black Leather 5″ heel knee boots. Her visor cap, Black Leather Gloves, 4ft bull whip and SS officer’s belt on her pillow along with the heavy Leather holster that shrouds her 9mm P38. The interest in Nazi role-playing and the Nazi fetish is for most people (I can’t vouch for everyone), is a stimulating response to strong imagery, well tailored uniforms, and notions of power and fear”.

As with the online posts I found online, Lopez and Godard noted that their participants were “very careful and go to great lengths to establish that they are not anti-Semitic or supremacists”, and were fully aware that confusion is possible. For instance, some respondents noted:

  • Example 1: “People tend to automatically assume that someone who finds the uniform or the role-play sexy, is actually a Nazis themselves. Which I’m sure can be the case from time to time but couldn’t be further from the truth for me. I’m actually the exact opposite”
  • Example 2: “There are a lot of Jews in this group, like me. Except we’re clever enough to know the difference between a fetish and actually committing racist acts”
  • Example 3: “The biggest fan of my ex’s SS-uniform was a friend of ours who is Jewish”
  • Example 4: “Jews like to play Nazis and Nazis like to play Jews”
  • Example 5: “I’m a Jew who likes to keep being a Jew in my Nazi torture role-playing”

The authors also noted that not one post they examined expressed explicit anti-Semitism. It was the violent nature of Nazism, not anti-Semitism that motivated the self-presentation of individuals as ‘Nazis’ among Nazi uniform fetishists. They also added that it was the image of violence that was being portrayed, more than the actual violence. This is because BDSM play is highly controlled (as evidenced by, consensual scene negotiation and the use of safe-words). Based on the (mainly) qualitative data collected, Lopez and Godard concluded that:

“Nazi uniform fetish and role-play is just that, the playing of a role. The fetish serves to enhance the BDSM experience and has little to do with white supremacy or anti-Semitism. The world of BDSM is an erotically charged arena that incorporates a variety of interests, desires, and tastes. It is the association with evil that participants in Nazi uniform fetish and role-play find appealing. The self-presentation of erotic evil serves to contribute to the quality of the BDSM experience and allow participants in this subculture a safe and accepting environment in which to explore and express their fetish. This suggests, as oxymoronic as it sounds, that evil isn’t all that bad. The incorporation of evil symbols in a safe, non-harmful, consensual manner to enhance one’s pleasure suggests some performances (i.e., role-playing) serve a purpose in popular culture; it allows us to be bad”.

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

Further reading

Betts, P. (2002). The new fascination with fascism: The case of Nazi modernism. Journal of Contemporary History, 37, 541-558.

Fuchs, M. (2012). Of Blitzkriege and Hardcore BDSM: Revisiting Nazi Sexploitation Camps. In Elizabeth Bridges, Kristin T. Vander Lugt, & Daniel H. Magilow (Eds.), Nazisploitation: The Nazi Image in Low-Brow Film and Culture (pp. 279-294. New York: Continuum.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilia: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.

Griffiths, M.D., Lewis, A., Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Kuss, D.J. (2013). Online forums and blogs: A new and innovative methodology for data collection. Studia Psychologica, in press.

Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture: The Meaning of sSyle. New York: Methuen & Co.

Lopez, D. A., Godard, E. Nazi (2013). Uniform fetish and role-playing: A subculture of erotic evil.  Popular Culture Review, 24(1), 69-78.

Rocker, S. (2010). Council officer sacked for Nazi ‘fetish’. Jewish Chronicle, March 22. Located at:

Wikipedia (2013). Nazi chic. Located at:

My fiction ‘addiction’: The psychology of Hannibal Lecter

If I ever went on the BBC television show Mastermind, one of my potential specialist subjects would be the fictional serial killing psychiatrist Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter (in print and on screen). I have devoured all four of Thomas Harris’ original books and all the DVDs (all five films and the TV series). In short, I am an obsessive Lecterite. While I was at university in the 1980s doing my undergraduate psychology degree, I was also the Entertainment Editor of the University of Bradford’s newspaper (Fleece). One of the perks of my part-time (unpaid) job was that I got to watch all the latest cinema releases for free and review them for Fleece. In 1986, one of the films that I watched (and loved) was Manhunter directed by Michael Mann. At the time, I didn’t realize that the film was based on Thomas Harris’ second book Red Dragon (first published in 1981 following his 1975 non-Lecter novel Black Sunday). However, I do remember the great (and understated) performance by Scottish actor Brian Cox playing the serial killing psychiatrist (spelled ‘Lecktor’ rather than Lecter in that particular film).

It was in 1991 that my real fascination with Lecter began after seeing The Silence of the Lambs directed by Jonathan Demme (and starring Anthony Hopkins as Lecter). I went to see it in the first week it was out as I was a big fan of Demme’s work particularly his musical documentary of Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense (1984), and films such as Melvin and Howard (1980), Swing Shift (1984), and Something Wild (1986). I came out of the cinema and within the space of a few weeks I had seen the film three times (and I was delighted when the film won all five of the main Oscar categories in 1992 – only the third film ever to have done so). At the time, I was a psychology lecturer at the University of Plymouth, and was teaching a weekly criminal psychology module to police inspectors on the university’s BA in Social and Organizational Studies. I was enthralled by the film’s use of behavioural profiling of criminals and the fact that the star of the film was a strange and bizarre paradox – a highly intelligent and highly cultured psychiatrist that also happened to be a serial killing cannibal.

It was at this point that I bought the two Thomas Harris novels that featured Lecter (i.e., Red Dragon and the 1988 sequel The Silence of the Lambs). I was gripped. Harris had clearly done his psychological and criminological research well (and I found the two books even better than the films). From then on I sought out anything Lecter-related and bought Harris’ further sequel (Hannibal, 1999) and prequel (Hannibal Rising, 2006), and watched and bought the big-budget Hollywood films Hannibal (2001, directed by Ridley Scott), Red Dragon (2002, directed by Brett Ratner) and Hannibal Rising (2007, directed by Peter Webber and starring Gaspard Ulliel as the young Hannibal), and most recently the US television series Hannibal (2013, starring Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter). My good friends also started buying me Lecter-related gifts (such as Daniel O’Brien’s excellent 2001 book The Hannibal Files).

So why am I – and millions of others worldwide – so fascinated, and – for want of a better word – ‘hooked’ on Hannibal the Cannibal’s fictional exploits? In 2005, the American Film Institute voted Hannibal Lecter the No.1 villain of all time (and who would argue against?). I suppose one of the scariest things about Lecter is that he’s the composite of real serial killers. People like Lecter actually exist and Harris clearly did his homework in writing his novels. In July 2013, Harris gave a rare interview and claimed that his inspiration for Lecter was a real-life Mexican murdering doctor (that he gave a pseudonym ‘Dr. Salazar’) and that he met in the 1960s while he was a newspaper crime reporter. Harris claimed that ‘Salazar’ had a “certain elegance”. It has also been noted that Harris attended the trial of Pietro Pacciani, a suspected serial killer nicknamed the ‘Monster of Florence’. The Wikipedia entry on Lecter claims that Pacciani’s serial killing modus operandi was used in his Hannibal novel. The Wikipedia entry also went on to say:

“According to David Sexton, author of The Strange World of Thomas Harris: Inside the Mind of the Creator of Hannibal Lecter, Harris once told a librarian in Cleveland, Mississippi, that Lecter was inspired by William Coyne, a local murderer who had escaped from prison in 1934 and gone on a rampage that included acts of murder and cannibalism. In her book Evil Serial Killers, Charlotte Greig asserts that the serial killer Albert Fish was the inspiration, at least in part, for Lecter. Greig also states that to explain Lecter’s pathology, Harris borrowed the story of serial killer and cannibal Andrei Chikatilo’s brother Stepan being kidnapped and eaten by starving neighbours (though she states that it is unclear whether the story was true or whether Stepan Chikatilo even existed)”.

I was surprised to find that there are dozens of academic papers written from many perspectives including psychology, psychiatry, criminology, media/film studies, and literary criticism (and I may well come back and write further blogs on Lecter using some of these). However, the rest of today’s blog concentrates on a really interesting trilogy of papers about Lecter written by Professor James Oleson in the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture (during 2005-2006). Oleson did a thorough review of various academic literatures and noted (in his 2005 paper) the following in relation to (i) the appeal of serial killers, and (ii) the appeal of Lecter more specifically:

“Apter (1992) suggests that serial killers transfix people because dangerous things – like serial killers – tend to create a state of invigorating psychological arousal. To neutralize the feelings of anxiety that accompany dangerous threats – like serial killers – we use protective frames such as narrative explanations or criminological theories. In explaining the serial killer’s behavior, we allow ourselves to succumb to the exciting magnetism of evil (Kloer, 2002) and can thereby ‘experience the excitement of arousal without being overwhelmed by anxiety’ (Ramsland, 2005)…Why do we love Lecter? Perhaps because he is the ‘perfect gothic hero’ (Dunant, 1999) or because he is the perfect gothic antihero (Dery, 1999). Perhaps it is because the heroic and the villainous co-exist within him. Because he is Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader rolled into one (Hawker, 2001), because he is Darth Vader and Superman rolled into one (Cagle, 2002), or because he is Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty rolled into one (Sexton, 2001)”.

Professor Oleson spends a lot of the first paper examining whether Lecter fits any of the serial killer typologies that various criminologists have formulated over the last three or four decades. According to Oleson, various researchers have identified two key precursors that have a high association with serial homicide – a pathological fantasy life and childhood trauma. Oleson argues that Lecter fits “this basic etiological model” because “he enjoys a rich and detailed fantasy life” and “he suffered serious childhood trauma”. Oleson also recounted the FBI’s research into ‘organized’ and ‘disorganized’ serial killers, and argued that there was evidence across all Harris’ books that Lecter displayed all 14 profile characteristics of an organized serial killer: (i) average to above-average intelligence, (ii) socially competent, (iii) skilled work preferred, (iv) sexually competent, (v) high birth order status, (vi) father’s work stable, (vii) inconsistent childhood discipline, (viii) controlled mood during crime, (ix) use of alcohol with crime, (x) precipitating situational stress, (xi) living with partner, (xii) mobility with car in good condition, (xiii) follows crime in news media, and (xiv) may change jobs or leave town.

Oleson also notes there are some models of serial killing that Lecter does not fit at all. For instance, the ‘addiction model’ of killing argues that some serial killers have a compulsion to kill and that they become addicted to killing (as put forward in the 1988 book Serial Killers by Dr. Joel Norris, and the 1996 book The Psychopathology of Serial Murder by Dr. Stephen Giannangelo). Another psychological model associated with serial killers is the concept of ‘sociopathy’ and ‘psychopathy’ (now termed ‘antisocial personality disorder’). Throughout Harris’ novels there are various references to Lecter being a sociopath and in the films he is described as being a psychopath (most notably by the psychiatrist Dr. Frederick Chilton, Director of the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where Lecter was sent after being caught by his former profiling partner at the FBI (Will Graham). Oleson uses Dr. Robert Hare’s commonly used Psychopathy Checklist (first published in a 1980 issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences) and convincingly shows that there is little evidence that Lecter is a psychopath.

Another model that Lecter does not fit is the “homicidal triad” of warning-sign behaviours (i.e., bed-wetting, animal cruelty, and fire starting) outlined in the many books of the FBI’s Dr. John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. This FBI research asserts that these three warning behaviours (particularly when they co-occur in adolescence) signal an elevated risk of subsequent serial homicide. However, Oleson shows that Lecter does not fit this profile at all. In his second (2006) paper, Oleson also assesses to what extent Lecter is insane. According to the M’Naughten test for insanity:

“It must be clearly proved that, at the time of committing the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or that [if] he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong (Finkel, 1988)”.

Oleson argues that Lecter “flunks the M’Naughten test on all counts”. In fact he goes on to say that:

“[Lecter] does not suffer from a defect of reason – if anything, as a genius with an infinitely rare IQ score, he may suffer from a superhuman perfection of the reason… Similarly, Lecter knows perfectly well the nature and quality of the crimes he commits, and he knows that they are denounced as wrong by society…The character of Hannibal Lecter would be deemed sane under more recently developed tests for insanity, as well. Lecter, in perfect command of his will, does not commit his crimes because he is compelled. Accordingly, he would not be insane under any formulation of the irresistible impulse test (Finkel, 1988). Nor would he be found insane under the American Law Institute test. ‘A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law’ (Finkel, 1988). Lecter possesses both near-infallible cognitive ability and an iron will. He in no way fits the categories of insanity articulated under prevailing rules”.

Oleson’s papers also examine the idea that Lecter may be a non-human monster, a vampire, a superhuman, and/or the Devil. He also speculates that his crimes may be the product of his superhuman intellect (as Lecter’s IQ is so high that it cannot be assessed by any instruments that are currently used). As Oleson concludes in the second of his three papers:

“It has been suggested that the character of Hannibal Lecter is so memorable because he emerges from paradox…It could simply be the case, however, that Lecter is such a successful villain because we love monster stories…because we need monsters…and because the Lecter novels skillfully combine the police procedural with particularly resonant elements of the supernatural horror story”.

I (for one) love the paradox of Lecter’s personality and character. Both (super)man and monster. I admire some of his character traits but (of course) despise others. He is a highly flawed criminal genius and polymath. A serial killer and a cannibal. Victim and villain. In his third paper on Lecter, Oleson asserts something that I agree (and will leave you) with:

“By asking why Hannibal Lecter commits his crimes, criminologists may be able to use the Lecter novels and movies as a catalyst for the study of the etiology of serial homicide. The character of Hannibal Lecter is, after all, based on real life serial killers, and provides readers and viewers with an intimate (if hyperbolic) case study of an organized serial killer. Characters drawn from novels can serve as valuable heuristic devices…teaching us a great deal about the nature of crime and evil”.

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

Further reading

American Film Institute. (2005). Heroes and villains. Located at:

Finkel, N. J. (1988). Insanity on Trial. New York: Plenum Press.

Hare, R.D. (1980). A research scale for the assessment of psychopathy in criminal populations. Personality and Individual Differences, 1, 111-119.

Hare, R.D. (1996). Psychopathy: A clinical construct whose time has come. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 23, 25-54.

Hare, R. D. (2003). Manual for the Revised Psychopathy Checklist (2nd ed.). Toronto, ON, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.

Hickey, E. W. (1991). Serial Murderers and Their Victims. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Oleson, J. C. (2003). The celebrity of infamy: A review essay of five autobiographies by three criminal geniuses. Crime, Law, and Social Change, 40, 409-16.

Oleson, J. C. (2005). King of killers: The criminological theories of Hannibal Lecter, part one. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 12, 186-210.

Oleson, J. C. (2006). Contemporary demonology: The criminological theories of Hannibal Lecter, part two. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 13, 29-49.

Oleson, J. C. (2006). The devil made me do it: the criminological theories of Hannibal Lecter, part three. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 13, 117-133.

Raine, A. (1993). The Psychopathology of Crime. New York: Academic Press.

Sexton, D. (2001). The Strange Mind of Thomas Harris. London: Faber and Faber.

Wikipedia (2013). Hannibal Lecter. Located at:

A toning for reward and punishment: A brief look at the impact of colour on gambling behaviour

Researchers and those working in the gambling industry have been interested in the factors that lead to the acquisition, development and maintenance of gambling. Aside from individual differences, the combination of the situational characteristics of the environment, and the structural characteristics of the actual game being played have been highlighted as critical ingredients in determining these behaviours in relation to gambling. This idea parallels with that of store designers who manipulate various features of the environment in shops to encourage purchase behaviour in consumers.

Situational characteristics are typically those features of the environment that may encourage people to gamble in the first place, and in some cases to keep on gambling. Examples of such characteristics could include accessibility (e.g., the number of outlets or opportunities to gamble, membership rules); sensory factors (e.g., atmospherics, light, colour and sound effects); the use of advertising; access to other things (e.g., cash machines, alcohol, food); physical comfort (e.g., seating, temperature); and social facilitation (the presence or absence of other people in the vicinity). These are often acquisition factors and are often important in the initial decision for an individual to gamble. Structural characteristics are features of the game itself that can contribute to the development and maintenance of gambling behaviour. These can be reinforcing to the player as they offer constant rewards. For instance, the ‘aura’ of a slot machine may offer excitement, arousal and tension in terms of its high event frequency, near misses, stake size, and the use of music, lights and colour.

One characteristic that can impact on both a situational and structural level in gambling is colour. For instance, this can be manipulated and/or adapted in terms of the design of a slot machine or scratchcard, an Internet gambling website, or the décor and ambience of a gambling environment. Research more specifically into the psychology of colour has been somewhat controversial in how it affects individual emotions. The majority of literature in the colour psychology field has come from advertising and marketing papers. This is because they are interested in colour selection in the way that it may facilitate the sale of their products. It has been speculated that learning about consumers’ emotional reactions to colour can be a useful predictor of purchase behaviour. This is because certain colours can provoke a particular positive or negative reaction. For instance, red has consistently been found to be stronger, more exciting, and more arousing than blue. This concept has been applied in a variety of situations in an attempt to manipulate people’s behaviours. However, a lot of this evidence is anecdotal, as it is not based on any sort of controlled experimental design.

Colour preference has been explained in terms of cultural significance and associative learning. It has been suggested that associations of colour that have been developed in the past have been forwarded as explanations of perceptions of colour today. For example, blue has been associated with night, dark and quiet. Warm colours, such as red, are used in order to attempt to arouse consumers such as in gambling environments. Across cultures, red has predominantly been found to be the most effective in influencing human emotions. Individual responses to colour have also been explained in relation to the arousal that they produce. It has been suggested that colours that are on the extreme ends of the colour spectrum (e.g., red and violet) generate greater arousal than those in-between. However, when red and blue have been compared in terms of their influences on arousal, differences have been found between them, with red producing greater cortical arousal.

With regards to the gambling literature in this field there has been minimal research conducted looking at the impact of colour on gambling. In an observational  study I published with Helen Swift back in 1992, we reported our findings about various situational characteristics of five English amusement arcades. We noted that the interiors were generally red or towards the red end of the colour spectrum. This observation appears to suggest that gaming venue designers make use of the principle of red light exciting whilst gambling. Light and colour effects have developed in their sophistication over recent years and the gaming and casino industry have taken advantage of this when designing machines, games, and gaming venue interiors.

An old 1982 study by Graham Stark and colleagues in the journal Current Psychological Research provides one of the few empirical contributions assessing the effects of coloured light on gambling behaviour. Their study found that compared to gambling under blue light, gambling under red light leads to more risks taken, higher stakes made, and more frequent bets. They suggested that because blue is less arousing it leads to slower performance, as their attention is not specially focused on the task. As red was highly arousing it caused participants to focus on the salient aspects resulting in faster bets. The arousing effects of red were speculated to increase overt behaviour.

Similar types of research study have also been carried out on computer gaming. For instance, a study led by Dr. Sandy Wolfson in a 2000 issue of Interacting With Computers examined the effects of music and lighting on computer game play. It was found that red lighting led to participants underperforming in the latter games played (compared to blue), although initially both groups improved continuously. The red group’s heart rate also decreased in line with their decline in performance. This was explained in terms of red initially being more arousing, which led to higher concentration and less error rates than blue, but as time went on they became desensitized to its arousal.

A more recent experimental investigation by Jenny Spenwyn, Dr. Doug Barrett and myself in a 2010 issue of the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction reported what we believe was the first ever empirical study into the combined effects of both music and lighting colour on gambling behaviour. While playing an online version of roulette, participants took part in one of four experimental conditions; (1) gambling with fast tempo music under normal (white) light, (2) gambling with fast tempo music under red light, (3) gambling with slow tempo music under normal (white) light, and (4) gambling with slow tempo music under red light. We reported a significant interaction between light and music for betting speed, and that the speed at which participants gambled was increased while playing under red light and fast tempo music.

It is clear that situational characteristics of gambling environments (including colour) appear to have the potential to play a role in the acquisition, development and maintenance of gambling behaviour. The success of the gambling establishment’s situational and structural characteristics (where success is defined as an increase in gambling due to the situational or structural characteristic) depends upon the psycho-situational and/or psychostructural interaction. The importance of a characteristic approach to gambling is the possibility of pinpointing more accurately where an individual’s psychological constitution is influencing gambling behaviour. Such an approach also allows for psychologically context specific explanations of gambling behaviour rather than explanations that focus solely on personality and individual differences.

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

Further reading

Babin, B.J., Hardesty, D.M., & Suter, T.A. (2003). Colour and shopping intentions: The intervening effect of price fairness and perceived affect. Journal of Business Research, 56, 541-551.

Bellizi, J., Crowley, A.E., & Hasty, R.W. (1983). The effects of colour in store design. Journal of Retailing, 59, 21-45.

Bellizi, J. A. & Hite, R.E. (1992). Environmental colour, consumer feelings and purchase likelihood. Psychological Marketing, 9 (5), 347-363.

Friedman, B. (2000). Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition. Reno, NV: Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, University of Nevada.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Fruit machine gambling: The importance of structural characteristics. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 101-120.

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

Griffiths, M.D. & Swift, G. (1992). The use of light and colour in gambling arcades: A pilot study. Society for the Study of Gambling Newsletter, 21, 16-22.

Grossman, R. P., & Wisenblit, J. Z. (1999). What we know about consumers colour choices. Journal of Marketing Practice: Applied Marketing Science, 5 (3), 78-88.

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

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Spenwyn, J., Barrett, D.K.R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of lights and music in gambling behavior: An empirical pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 107-118.

Stark, G.M., Saunders, D.M, & Wookey, P.E. (1982). Differential effects of red and blue coloured lighting on gambling behaviour. Current Psychological Research, 2, 95-99.

Valdez, P. & Mehrabian, A. (1994). Effects of colour on emotion. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 123 (4), 394-409.

Wolfson, S., & Case, G. (2000). The effects of sound and colour on responses to a computer game. Interacting With Computers, 13, 183-192.

Yoto, A., Katsuura, T., Iwanaga, K. & Shimomura, Y. (2007). Effects of object colour stimuli on human brain activities in perception and attention referred to EEG alpha band response. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 26, 373-379.

Sheathing troubles: The strange case of accidental condom inhalation

While researching a previous blog on condom snorting, I came across an interesting case study of ‘accidental condom inhalation’ (and no, I promise I am not making this up). The case dates back to 2004 and was published by Dr. C.L. Arya and colleagues in the Indian Journal of Chest Diseases and Allied Sciences (IJCDAS).

Anyone who has kids will know that (just out of curiosity) they commonly put things in their mouths. The IJCDAS paper made reference to a number of medical studies that have shown inhaled items include things that can be from the edible (nuts, seeds, beans, etc) to the non-edible (plastic objects, screws, needles, pins, etc). They also note that when inhaling such objects, it doesn’t always lead to immediate medical symptoms or complications (such as choking, wheezing, coughing, etc.). However, the case that Dr. Arya and colleagues reported on was a little out of the ordinary.

The case involved a 27-year-old woman who was a schoolteacher. For a six-month period she had been suffering from a persistent cough where she was coughing up mucus along with some pneumonia symptoms. Initial examination showed nothing of consequence. Further tests took place and the paper reported that:

“The chest radiographs carried out subsequently showed development of a non-homogeneous right upper lobe lesion, not resolving either with antibiotics or a four-month trial of an empirical anti-tuberculosis treatment instituted by various practitioners. No symptomatic relief was obtained with either therapy. [A later] chest radiograph demonstrated a right upper lobe collapse-consolidation of lung. The opacity led us to promptly carry out a video-bronchoscopy, which gave impression of a white membranous object protruding from the collapsed right upper lobe bronchus. On probing further, it was noticed to be an inverted bag-like structure ‘sitting’ in the bronchus and having a flap-like action. A rigid bronchoscopy was then performed and the object was easily removed with biopsy forceps, though, it tore into pieces during procedure”.

As you will have noted from the title of this blog, the pieces were identified as being from a condom. The woman and her husband eventually recalled to the medics (after much probing by the medics) that there was an incident that occurred where a condom had become loosened while the wife was performing oral sex on her husband. During this particular sexual act, the woman had experienced a bout of coughing and sneezing and without her knowing she had accidentally inhaled her husband’s condom.

One of the reasons that the accidental inhalation went unnoticed for so long was because the inhaled object was of “soft, elastic and rubbery consistency that [was] unlikely to cause a direct lung injury”. The authors noted that:

“The airway obstruction of the right upper lobe segments produced by [the condom], could have resulted in the retention of secretions and the infection of corresponding lung segments, which may have become radiologically visible as a non-homogeneous right upper lobe collapse-consolidation. Despite mechanical obstruction, the flap-like action of condom (as noticeable on video-bronchoscopy) probably continued to clear secretions from right upper lobe, contributing to the delay in radiologic presentation of case”.

The medics were unsure whether the woman had genuinely accidentally swallowed the condom or whether she was just too embarrassed to report the incident and/or didn’t relate the incident to her subsequent symptoms. The authors also claimed that the original physicians who examined the woman were responsible for the condition being prolonged as they had failed to suspect that a foreign object (i.e., a condom) was the cause of the non-resolved pneumonia. They then noted that:

“Perhaps, views of physicians were guided by the age of patient (that was less suited for a suspicion of an inhaled foreign body), and also the fact, that a disease like tuberculosis was so highly prevalent in this part of world that a preference for the institution of [anti-tuberculosis treatment] was quite natural”.

Together, all of these reasons are likely to have resulted in a delayed diagnosis. The authors also noted that:

“Even following the condom retrieval [both husband and wife] were understandably hesitant in disclosing it owing to the nature of affair concerned (involving one’s privacy), the unusual nature of coitus performed (via an oral route) and the inhalation of a discrete object (like condom). The possibility of seminal aspiration also taking place simultaneously may not be ruled out…The case has certain atypical features, of which, the foremost relates to the type of inhaled object, i.e., a condom, which has not been reported in the literature to the best of our knowledge…[Another] atypical feature was adult-age of patient, that by any means, would be least expected to be associated with any foreign body inhalation”.

The authors speculated as to whether this incident was a one-off or whether such incidents were more widespread and were being under-reported because the Indian sub-continent has “a traditional conservative culture” where “people tend to have religious attitudes and sex is largely considered to be a subject limited to a person’s private life”. The authors concluded that:

“Perhaps, the young lady in our case was also quite apprehensive about fellatio, a fact that could have played a part in the condom inhalation. It is much desirable that sex taboos prevalent on the sub-continent are curbed and greater sexual awareness created in the people’s minds”.

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

Further reading

Agarwal, R.K., Banerjee, G., Shembish, N., & Jamal, B.A., Kareemullah, C. & Swaleh, A. (1988). Foreign bodies in the tracheobronchial tree: A review of 102 cases in Benghazi, Libya. Annals of Tropical Paediatrics, 8, 213-16.

Arya, C.L., Gupta, R. & Arora, V.K. (2004). Accidental condom inhalation. Indian Journal of Chest Diseases and Allied Sciences, 46, 55-58.

Ben-Dov, I. & Aelony, Y. (1989). Foreign body aspiration in the adult: An occult cause of chronic pulmonary symptoms. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 65, 299-301.

Causey, A.L., Talton, D.S., Miller, R.C., Warren, E.T. (1997). Aspirated safety pin requiring thoracotomy: Report of a case and review. Pediatric Emergency Care, 13, 397-400.

Lyons, D.J., McClod, D., Prichard, J., Dowd, D., & Clancy L. (1993). Very long retention of bronchial foreign bodies: Two new cases and a review of the literature. Irish Medical Journal, 86, 74-75.

Murthy, P.S., Ingle, V.S., George, E., Ramakrishna S. & Shah, F.A. (2001). Sharp foreign bodies in the tracheobronchial tree. American Journal of Otolaryngology, 22, 154-56.

Character formation: Another look at addiction to buying virtual in-game items

I was recently interviewed at length by Mike Rose for an article he published on the Gamasutra website entitled Chasing the Whale that examined the ethics and sometimes addicting nature of free-to-play games. The article began with the story of Chris, a man in his mid-20s who played a lot of the game Team Fortress 2 (TF2). While playing TF2 he started to buy virtual items from the online store to use in-game (such as keys to open in-game crates). After opening some of the crates, Chris would share the online booty with other online gamers and “keep the good stuff” for himself. Chris got social benefits from giving away some of the virtual items to other players and this alone was worth paying real money for. Within half a year of buying his first virtual item, he ended up spending all the money he had:

“I’d use birthday money, I’d eat cheaper lunches, I’d ask my wife to pay for dinner so I’d have a spare $10-$20 to spend in the store. Which does mean, I guess, that I was thinking about it even away from the game. [After buying my first ‘unusual’ item marked with a purple seal] I had this unbeatable rush of adulation and excitement. For someone who didn’t get out much I was on cloud nine. And at that point things changed. I started chasing that high. My savings got wiped out pretty quickly – although it should be noted that at the time I didn’t have much put away to begin with. The real trouble wasn’t that it cleaned out my bank account, but that it put me in a really delicate situation. With no savings and every dollar not spent on food, shelter, or utilities going to digital hats, any unexpected expense became a really big deal.It got so bad that at one point Steam actually blocked my credit card, thinking I was some sort of account scammer [playing a] stupid game with fake hats. And like any addicted user, my social element didn’t help – most of my outside-of-work contacts were people I just played TF2 with.

At work I just wanted to be uncrating things, and when I was uncrating things I just wanted to see better results. [This then affected the relationship with my wife]. I’ve never really been addicted to anything else, so I can’t say for certain whether a ‘real’ addiction would be stronger. I would say that it felt akin to what I’d expect a compulsive gambling addiction would feel like – social pressures reinforced a behavior that kept me searching for an adrenaline rush I’d never be able to recapture, even as it kept me from making progress in life. There were nights where I’d be up until 3am drinking beer and playing Team Fortress and chasing those silly hats with purple text, ignoring the gambler’s fallacy and swearing that if I dropped another $50 I’d be sure to win this time. Then I’d wake up the next morning and see that I’d not only spent over a hundred dollars on digital hats, but failed my only objective by uncrating a bunch of junk”.

According to Rose’s account, it was on these mornings that Chris felt the worst. When the reality of what Chris had done hit him, he felt depressed and worthless. He told himself that he wouldn’t spend another penny on buying in-game items but just like a gambler, as soon as he got his next pay cheque, every last penny would go on buying new virtual items. To the game developers and operators, Chris is known colloquially as a ‘whale’ (i.e., one of the 1% of players that spends large amounts of money within free-to-play games and allows the gaming companies to make profits despite the fact that 99% of players don’t buy anything in-game). Chris said:

“I have to question whether a business model built on exploiting ‘whales’ like me isn’t somewhat to blame. Free-to-play games aren’t after everyone for a few dollars – they’re after weak people in vulnerable states for hundreds, if not thousands [of dollars]” 

Rose then started tracking down other ‘whales’ to get their stories. Many 9but by no means all) were similar to that of Chris. Rose questioned how many free-to-play game developers are building their profits on vulnerable players like Chris. More specifically he “pondered whether these ‘whale’ players are fully consenting to the hundreds and thousands of dollars that they are spending, or whether they are being manipulated and exploited by underhanded design that purposely aims to make the player feel like they simply have no choice”.

Rose’s own research highlighted that many whales (even those that had spent thousands of dollars) felt they had got their money’s worth (i.e., they had lots of fun playing and had simply bought their entertainment). Others said they were spending money they could afford and could stop any time they wanted to. Despite Chris being in the minority, Rose asserted that:

“A business model where even the smallest portion of players can find themselves losing control and essentially ruining their lives, is a model that must surely face scrutiny, whether on a industry or governmental level”.

To me, this has a large similarity with the gambling industry that has recently started to put social responsibility at the heart of its business model. Rose interviewed Ben Cousins, industry insider and an outspoken proponent of the free-to-play business model who said:

“I believe that the responsibility to control spending on any product or service lies with the consumer, unless there is some scientifically proven link to addiction as is the case with products and services like alcohol and gambling. When these links are established, I feel industries should self-govern first and if they fail to act responsibly, be subject to governmental control. I would personally like to see wide-ranging independent studies done before we jump to any conclusions about any negative psychological effects. When looking at a small sample size there is always going to be a lack of certainty in extrapolating that data to a larger population. I think if we see a broad proportion of the spending userbase reacting as they claim to have in these accounts, it’s easier to read this as the developers having discovered a damaging method of psychological consumer manipulation. When a very, very small proportion of the userbase react in this manner, while sad, it’s easier to read this as perhaps individual issues with those people which may be expressed in any number of negative ways, not just with spending in free-to-play games. I’m sure small numbers of very negative stories could be found for spending on almost any product or service”.

This line of reasoning was often used by the gambling industry 20 years ago and is currently being used by the video game industry more generally. I certainly believe that all forms of gaming (offline video gaming, social gaming, online gaming, etc.) will eventually embed player protection, harm minimization, and social responsibility into all of its products. In my interview for Rose’s article, I made a number of observations based on my many years studying both gambling and gaming. More specifically, I was quoted as saying:

“On first look, games like FarmVille may not seem to have much connection to gambling, but the psychology behind such activities is very similar. Even when games do not involve money, they introduce players to the principles and excitement of gambling. Companies like Zynga have been accused of leveraging the mechanics of gambling to build their empire. One element particularly key in encouraging gambling-like behaviour in free-to-play games is the act of random reinforcement – that is, the unpredictability of winning or getting other types of intermittent rewards. Small unpredictable rewards lead to highly engaged and repetitive behavior. In a minority of cases, this may lead to addiction. In those instances when there is no money changing hands, players “are learning the mechanics of gambling and there are serious questions about whether gambling with virtual money encourages positive attitudes towards gambling. The introduction of in-game virtual goods and accessories (that people pay real money for) was a psychological masterstroke. It becomes more akin to gambling, as social gamers know that they are spending money as they play with little or no financial return. The one question I am constantly asked is why people pay real money for virtual items in games like FarmVille. As someone who has studied slot machine players for over 25 years, the similarities are striking. The real difference between pure gambling games and some free-to-play games is the fact that gambling games allow you to win your money back, adding an extra dimension that can potentially drive revenues even further. The line between social free-to-play games and gambling is beginning to blur, bringing along with them various moral, ethical, legal, and social issues”.

Given my research background and my interest in gaming convergence, this is certainly an area I will be keeping a close eye on over the coming months and years.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Digital impact, crossover technologies and gambling practices. Casino and Gaming International, 4(3), 37-42.

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). Gaming convergence: Further legal issues and psychosocial impact. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 14, 461-464.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Gambling on Facebook? A cause for concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 11(9), 10-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Social gambling via Facebook: Further observations and concerns. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 104-106.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

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.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C.,Delfabbro, P.H.,Gradisar, M.S., Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Toward a consensus definition of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review of psychometric assessment tools. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Online social networking and addiction: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Excessive online social networking: Can adolescents become addicted to Facebook? Education and Health, 29. 63-66.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.