The skin I’m in: A beginner’s guide to doraphilia

In one of my previous blogs on the ‘A to Z of non-researched sexual paraphilias’ I briefly mentioned doraphila. Most definitions of doraphilia are fairly consistent. For instance, Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices simply defines doraphilia as the love of animal fur, leather or skins”. Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices says doraphilia is the attraction…usually for animal skin or leather, which has been used as clothing throughout human existence. It is considered a fetish when it has to be present during sex”. Other online definitions claim doraphilia is abnormal affection towards fur or skins of animals”. I’ve also come across online definitions that subsume doraphilia as a type of dermophilia (in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from the skin). However, I think it’s more logical to view dermaphilia as a sub-type of doraphilia (or not a sub-type at all if it doesn’t include the love of animal skin).

Somewhat confusingly, Dr. Brenda Love in her account of doraphilia in her sex encyclopedia spends a lot of the entry talking about the sexual aspects of human skin (rather than animal skin). She noted that:

“Human skin holds a fascination for some people. The 1950s sex criminal Edward Gein, who derived pleasure skinning female corpses he exhumed from local graves and then wearing them like a garment, is reported to have become fascinated with the idea of changing himself from a male to female. There have been cases where people have used human skin to make purses, lamp shades, belts, and upholstery. This was apart from similar things doe to men with tattoos during the Holocaust. Captain John Bourke wrote of human flesh being used as girdles or mummies that were worn by pregnant women to assist them in labor”.

Anyone that has read (or watched) The Silence of The Lambs (the third of Thomas HarrisHannibal Lecter quadrilogy) or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre can see where the inspiration for the Jame Gumb character (‘Buffalo Bill’) and the Leatherface character came from. As the Wikipedia entry on Buffalo Bill notes:

“Both the novel and film [of Silence Of The Lambs] tell of Gumb wanting to become a woman but being too disturbed to qualify for gender reassignment surgery. He kills women so he can skin them and create a ‘woman suit’ for himself. He is described as not really transgender but merely believing himself to be because he ‘hates his own identity’.

Personally, I don’t see Ed Gein or the many film characters he has ‘inspired’ as doraphiles. The motive for wearing the human skin of other people was not to get sexually aroused. The wearing of leather is of course commonplace in many sexual practices such as sexual sadism and sexual masochism (in fact, it’s arguably become a uniform or even a stereotype such as ‘The Gimp’ character in the film Pulp Fiction). As Dr. Love notes in her encyclopedia entry:

Erotic leather apparel can be purchased at some lingerie and leather shops or ordered from Europe. Leather jock straps (some with chrome studs), bikini panties with zippered crotches, body suits, bras, corsets, dresses, skirts, pants exposing the rear, costumes, and accessories are all available”.

She also speculates about the psychology of wearing of leather and fur and mentions Dr. Harry Harlow’s classic studies on maternal attachment on rhesus monkeys as evidence (at least in part) for her claims:

“The feel and smell of leather gives many people a feeling of power. Some explain this as subconsciously as taking on the character of the animal with whose skin they cloak themselves. This was a common belief of holy men during their ancient religious ceremonies. The Roman emperor Nero dressed in an animal skin and then emulated the beast’s ferocious behavior as he sexually assaulted the people he had tied to stakes. An explanation for the continued appeal of leather or fur is that some people feel secure and nurtured by being wrapped in skin, a sort of surrogate mother effect. Clinical studies showed that rhesus monkeys who had their mothers replaced by inanimate objects responded better or clung to the ones that were wrapped in some type of fur”

For sexual leather enthusiasts, the colour black appears to be especially important. Although I have carried out research on the importance of colour in gambling (see me previous blog on the topic), I have never thought about it from a sexual clothing perspective. Again, Dr. Love provides some narrative on this (citing Jane Polley’s 1980 book Stories Behind Everyday Things).

“Many people who use leather for erotic feelings or as a symbol for their sexual power prefer the color black. The motives behind this preference are not clear. Historical facts regarding the color reveal that the ancient Egyptians revered the color as a sign of fertility because black was the color of the rich soil along the Nile. This may also be the origin of the black gowns used in witchcraft or other ancient religions. The Japanese, some Egyptians, American Indians, Christians, and Hindus saw it as a sign of destruction or death. Europeans dressed in black garments to attend funerals so that they would not be recognized as human and harmed by ghosts. Conversely, black Africans dressed in white clothing at funeral for the same reason. Today black is perceived as a symbol of evil, elegance, authority, and religion”.

I know of no empirical research into doraphilia although I did come across an interesting paper by Jared Christman published in the journal Society and Animals on zoocidal practices and made these really interesting observations:

“Fur and leather in particular are common tokens of material abun- dance for the doraphilic shopper, the lover of animal skins who yearns for womb-like protection from the frailty of the human frame. Were it not for such a wellspring of doraphilic sentiment in modern consumer culture, marketing strategists would hardly be able to churn out trade publications with titles like ‘The Smell of Success – Exploiting the Leather Aroma’ (Lente & Herman, 2001)…Where sexuality and power converge most implacably, the integuments of animals figure most prominently. Hence, the skins of animals are often indispensable tools in the rites of sadomasochism, adding an all-pervading element of dominion over life and death. Most tellingly of all, the term ‘masochism’ comes eponymously from von Sacher-Masoch (2000). The doraphilic liturgies of sadomasochism, in the bedroom or in the fascist amphitheater, purport to dissolve the participants in a microcosm of divinity, fashioning the milieu of predatory mastery they need to stamp out their fear of futility. Wreathed in animal remains, the sadist has already vanquished the vitality of natural life, the first step in the subjugation of people. The masochist, on the other hand, finds method in the malice of autocratic authority, delegating responsibility for victory over death to the powers that be. Either way, sadomasochists wallow in the skins of animals in order to neutralize their “sense of vital impotence” (Fromm, 1973, p. 326), of an endless ebbing of purpose in a world of boundless putrescence. People who resort so eagerly to the lifeblood of animals to stave off the vicissitudes of their own lives can easily become inured to truculence—if they are not already predisposed to it”.

Finally, examining the paraphilia literature, it could perhaps be argued that doraphilia has overlaps with some types of zoophilia. In 2011, Dr. Anil Aggrawal published a new classification of zoophilia in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine comprising ten different types of zoophile based on their primary erotic focus. One of the ten types was what Aggrawal called fetishistic zoophiles. These are individuals who keep various animal parts (especially fur) that they then use as an erotic stimulus as a crucial part of their sexual activity. Such individuals have been reported in the clinical literature including the case of a woman (reported in a 1990 issue of the American Journal of Forensic Medical Pathology) who used the tongue of a deer as her primary masturbatory aid (and which I examined in detail in a previous blog and was described by the authors as a case of ‘xenolingual autoeroticism’).

Given that most doraphilic practices are non-problematic and (presumably) occur between consensual adults, I don’t foresee much research being done in the area. If data are collected, it’s more likely to come from sexual practices associated with doraphilia (e.g., uniform fetishism, sado-masochism, etc.) than on doraphilia itself.

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

Further reading

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

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

Christman, J. (2008). The Gilgamesh Complex: The Quest for Death Transcendence and the Killing of Animals. Society & Animals, 16(4), 297-315.

Fromm, E. (1973). The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Colour atmospherics and its impact on player behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 6(3), 91-96.

Harlow, H. F. & Zimmermann, R. R. (1958). The development of affective responsiveness in infant monkeys. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 102, 501-509.

Lente, R. V., & Herman, S. J. (2001). The smell of success—Exploiting the leather aroma. In Human factors in automotive design (pp. 21-28). Warrendale, PA: Society of Automotive Engineers.

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

Polley, J. (1980). Stories Behind Everyday Things. London: Readers Digest.

Randall, M.B., Vance, R.P., & McCalmont, T.H. (1990). Xenolingual autoeroticism. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 11, 89-92.

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

von Sacher-Masoch, L. .(2000). Venus in Furs (J. Neugroschel, Trans.). New York: Penguin.

Wikipedia (2015). Buffalo Bill (character). Located at:

Wikipedia (2015). Clothing fetish. Located at:

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 February 5, 2015, in Case Studies, Crime, Pain, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction, Unusual deaths and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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