A touch too much? A brief look at hyphephilia

In a previous blog I briefly examined frotteurism (in which a person derives sexual pleasure or gratification from rubbing, especially the genitals, against another non-consensual person, typically in a public place such as a crowded train, or in crowded places such as malls, elevators, on busy sidewalks, and on public transportation vehicles). This behaviour is closely related to (or a sub-type) of ‘toucherism’ depending upon which source you read. Some descriptions of toucherism claim that the individual touches or fondles other people (rather than rubbing) to gain sexual arousal. For instance, the online Psychology Dictionary define toucherism as carnal interest and stimulation gathered from touching a stranger on an erotic area of their body, especially the buttocks, breasts, or genitalia. This is frequently done as an alleged in tight spaces”. Similarly, the Wikipedia entry says that:

“Toucherism refers to sexual arousal based on grabbing or rubbing one’s hands against an unexpecting (and non-consenting) person. It usually involves touching breasts, buttocks or genital areas, often while quickly walking across the victim’s path…[The late Czech-Canadian] sexologist Kurt Freund described toucherism as a courtship disorder”

In fact, Freund wrote numerous papers claiming that behaviours such as toucherism, frotteurism, and exhibitionism are caused by ‘courtship disorders’. According to Freund, normal courtship comprises four phases: (i) location of a partner, (ii) pre-tactile interactions, (iii) tactile interactions, and (iv) genital union. Freund proposed that toucherism is a disturbance of the third phase of the courtship disorder. Similarly, Professor John Money proposed the ‘‘lovemap’’ theory (in his 1986 Lovemaps book) suggesting that paraphiliac behaviour occurs when an abnormal lovemap develops which interferes with the ability to participate in loving sexual intercourse.

The reason why I began this article by briefly re-visiting frotteurism and toucherism is that there is a tactile fetishistic behaviour called ‘hyphephilia’ that I would argue is a sub-type of toucherism but not necessarily a sub-type of frotteurism (suggesting that toucherism and frotteurism may be two separate sexual paraphilias). In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Anil Aggrawal defines hyphephilia as a paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual arousal from touching skin, hair, leather, or fur (although these could be very specific paraphilias – such as trichophilia that describes those individuals that derive sexual arousal from human hair). This is similar (but not the same) to the online English Encyclopedia that notes:

“In psychiatry, [hyphephilia is] a sexual perversion in which sexual arousal and orgasm depend upon touching or rubbing the partner`s skin or hair, or upon the sensations related to feeling fur, leather, fabric, or other substances in association with sexual activity with the partner”.

The Right Diagnosis medical website adds an arguably zoophilic element by claiming that the symptoms of hyphephilia are a (i) sexual interest in the feel and smell of animal skin, fur or leather, (ii) recurring intense sexual fantasies involving the feel and smell of animal skin, fur or leather, (iii) recurring intense sexual urges involving the feel and smell of animal skin, fur or leather, and/or sexual preference for the feel and smell of animal skin, fur or leather. Finally, Dr. George Pranzarone in his 2000 Dictionary of Sexology is a little more technical and says that:

“Hyphephilia [is] one of a group of paraphilias of the fetishistic/talismanic type in which the sexuoerotic stimulus is associated with the touching, rubbing, or the feel of skin, hair, leather, fur, and fabric, especially if worn in proximity to erotically significant parts of the body”.

Dr. Eric Hickey (in his book Serial Murderers and Their Victims) notes that paraphilic behaviour is very common among those that commit sexual crimes but that the two activities (sex offending and paraphilias) may be two independent constructs and that one does not necessarily affect the other. Hickey asserts that hyphephilia is one of the so-called ‘preparatory paraphilias’ (as opposed to the ‘attack paraphilias’). Attack paraphilias are described by Hickey as being sexually violent (towards other individuals including children in extreme circumstances). Preparatory paraphilias are defined by Hickey as those “that have been found as part of the lust killer’s sexual fantasies and activities”. However, Hickey notes that individuals that engage in preparatory paraphilias do not necessarily go on to become serial killers.

Like many paraphilic and fetishistic behaviours, there is no scientific agreement concerning the cause of hyphephilia. This probably depends on the person rather than a single characteristic factor. Most experts would no doubt attribute hyphephilic behaviour to an initially random or accidental touching of the specific item that the individual subsequently finds sexually arousing. Through processes such as classical and operant conditioning, successive repetitions of the associative pairings of the behaviour would then reinforce the behaviour and result in the behaviour being repeated.

One of the few references I came across that mentioned hyphephilia is an interesting paper by Dr. Stephen J. Gould in a 1991 volume of Advances in Consumer Research. He claimed the field of sex research had been overlooked by consumer research, and that John Money’s concept of ‘lovemaps’ could be applied. More specifically, he asserted:

“I want to suggest that there exist what we can call consumer lovemaps. This concept represents an adaptation of Money’s (1984) lovemap theory. He defines a lovemap as that which ‘carries the program of a person’s erotic fantasies and their corresponding practices’. Based on the lovemap concept, Money has developed a typology of paraphilias (perversions) each with their own lovemap (e.g. autonepiophilia – diaperism; hyphephilia – lover of fabrics). Each also follows certain strategies of sexual response – the two examples of autonepiophilia and hyphephilia, for instance, represent a fetishistic sexual strategy. In this context, we may define a consumer lovemap as including those aspects of the more general lovemap which involve consumption, i.e. the purchase and use of products in the process of attracting a mate, engaging in sexual activity, and developing and maintaining sexual-love relationships”.

Here, hyphephilia is simply defined as someone that derives sexual arousal from the touching of fabrics. This is not uncommon as a number of online articles also simply define hyphephilia as such. For instance, an article (‘A passion for fabrics’) by Sylvie Marot began by noting:

“[French psychiatrist Gaëtan Gatian de Clérambault wrote] ‘We love to run our hand across fur; we would like silk to slide itself across the back of our hand. Fur calls for an active caress in its form: silk caresses with a uniform sweetness a skin that becomes passive; then it reveals, so to speak, a nervousness in its breaks and cries’. To classify this specific research on the aphrodisiac virtues of silk, two neologisms appeared necessary to him: hyphephilia – the erotics of fabric – and aptophilia – ecstasy of the touch. The man (the fetishist?), who loved dearly ‘the cry of silk’, was able to identify with a maniacal precision the different points of a hem – ‘scallop, buttonhole, flange, blanket stick, tab, etc.’. Like some of his patients, seamstresses by profession, he was not content to merely enjoy fabrics, conceiving for himself draped figures manufactured at his request according to his own drawings”.

Although hyphephilia is unlikely to be problematic for many, those that want therapy are likely to receive the same types of therapeutic intervention that are recommended for frotteurism (behaviour therapy, reality therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, etc.) – although the most critical thing is that the person that seeks such treatment must want to actively change such behaviour. The Right Diagnosis website claims that:

“Treatment [for hyphephilia] is generally not sought unless the condition becomes problematic for the person in some way and they feel compelled to address their condition. The majority of people simply learn to accept their fetish and manage to achieve gratification in an appropriate manner”

In his 1998 book Gay, Straight, and In-Between, Professor John Money described hyphephilia as a “touchy-feely paraphilia”. The case that Money described was arguably extreme and doesn’t quite fit the definitions I outlined above. He reported:

“In a particular case [a female hyphephilac] entailed the feel of…small dogs placed between the legs and rubbed against the genitals. The way of attaining orgasm surpassed that of ordinary sexual intercourse, which was so aversive that it was discontinued in the marriage. The paraphilic activity had its onset in a dismal history of illegitimacy and childhood neglect and traumatic abuse. In adolescence, there was a history of noncopulatory sexual activity with a middle-aged male relative. In the manner typical for paraphilia, the feel of rubbing a small live creature between the legs was a stratagem for preserving lust as a commodity separate from love, which, in her life experiences, had always been either unattainable or warped. The moral struggle to be rid of the paraphilia was intense and not successful”.

My own reading of this case is that it is more a case of zoophilic frotteurism than hyphephilia (although the criterion of ‘touching of fur’ for sexual arousal is arguably met). In other papers, Professor Money also described formicophilia (i.e., being sexually aroused by insects crawling and/or nibbling on an individual’s genitals) as a ‘touchy-feely’ paraphilia that belongs in the “hyphephilic subgroup of fetishistic paraphilias”. Personally, I wouldn’t class formicophilia as a form of hyphephilia on the basis of any definition that I have come across.

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.

Cantor, J. M., Blanchard, R., & Barbaree, H. E. (2009). Sexual disorders. In P. H. Blaney & T. Millon (Eds.), Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology (2nd ed.) (pp. 527–548). New York: Oxford University Press.

Dewaraja, R. & Money, J. (1986). Transcultural sexology: Formicophilia, a newly named paraphilia in a young Buddhist male. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 12, 139-145.

Freund, K. (1990). Courtship disorders: Toward a biosocial understanding of voyeurism, exhibitionism, toucherism, and the preferential rape pattern. In. L. Ellis & H. Hoffman (Eds.), Crime in biological, social, and moral contexts (pp. 100–114). New York: Praeger.

Freund, K., Seto, M. C., & Kuban, M. (1997). Frotteurism and the theory of courtship disorder. In D. R. Laws & W. T. O’Donohue (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment (pp. 111-130). New York: Guilford Press.

Gould, S. J. (1991). Toward a theory of sexuality and consumption: Consumer Lovemaps. In R.H. Holman & M.R. Solomon (Eds.), Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18 (pp. 381-383). Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research.

Hickey, E. W. (2010). Serial Murderers and Their Victims (Fifth Edition). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

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

Money, J. (1998). Gay, Straight, and In-Between: The Sexology of Erotic Orientation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pranzarone, G.F. (2000). The Dictionary of Sexology. Located at: http://ebookee.org/Dictionary-of-Sexology-EN_997360.html

Psychology Dictionary (2014). What is toucherism? Located at: http://psychologydictionary.org/toucherism/

Wikipedia (2014). Toucherism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toucherism

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on December 14, 2014, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Crime, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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