Bowling a maiden over: A very brief look at ‘damsel in distress’ fetishes

“I have a fetish for damsels in distress.” “Don’t be sexist.” “Not at all. My services are also available to gentlemen in distress. It’s an equal opportunity fetish.” (From the 2009 book City of Glass, the third book in the Mortal Instruments six-part series of books written by Cassandra Clare)

While researching various other blogs including ones on sexual sadism, sexual masochism, and knismolagnia, I kept coming across references to ‘damsel in distress’ [DiD] fetishes, all of which involve the basic concept of a helpless female victim who may (but sometimes may not) need rescuing from a captor and/or some kind of perilous situation.

“The subject of the damsel in distress or persecuted maiden is a classic theme in world literature, art and film. She is almost inevitably a young, nubile woman, who has been placed in a dire predicament by a villain or a monster and who requires a hero to dash to her rescue. She has became a stock character of fiction, particularly of melodrama. Some claim the popularity of the damsel in distress is perhaps in large measure because her predicaments sometimes contain hints of BDSM fantasy” (Nation Master encyclopedia entry on ‘Damsel in distress’).

“The figure of the damsel in distress is a feature of certain established fetishes within the field of BDSM. In particular, actresses playing damsels in distress in mainstream movies and television shows are often shown bound or restrained, resulting in images that appeal to some bondage fetishists” (Wikipedia entry on ‘Damsel in distress’).

“One specific paraphilia involving a gag relates to video depictions in which the captor gags the damsel in distress to stop her screaming for help. Some people are sexually aroused by such imagery, even if there is no nudity or sexual act present, or even if the victim is only gagged but not restrained in any way” (Wikipedia entry on ‘Gag [BDSM]’).

It is mostly males who have DiD fetishes and can be very specific including (but not restricted to) such things as (i) ‘kidnap and rescue’ fetishes (sexual pleasure from watching or engaging in women being kidnapped and/or rescued from potentially life-threatening scenarios where they are cuffed, bound and/or controlled by another person or persons), (ii) tickle bondage fetishes (sexual pleasure from watching or tickling women while they are tied up), (iii) quicksand fetishes (sexual pleasure from watching women sink in quicksand), and (iv) ‘pedal pumping’ and ‘cranking’ fetishes (sexual pleasure from watching women stranded in their cars with repeated pressing of the gas pedal and revving up – which also has elements of foot fetishism – while turning the key in an attempt to get the engine to start). According to an article on the topic, such fetishists prefer the ‘raw’ and natural ‘non-stylized’ DiD scenarios rather than the ‘glossy’ role-playing type DiD scenarios. The same article also stresses that:

“Sexual menacing or assault is not necessary to create an appealing DiD scene. In fact, in judging DiD scenes in movies and television, violence against the damsel is often a detraction. Blood or bruises make the scene less pretty. More often, it is the idea of a woman being helpless and begging for release. A woman crying, pleading, or trying to speak through a gag, referred to in DiD discussions as “mmphing” is also attractive”.

A quick internet search reveals there is a dedicated DiD fan community that host a range of online forums and discussion groups (such as the Staked Damsels website for anyone
who finds burning at the stake, bondage and damsels in distress erotic” or the Danger Island website where you’ll find all your ‘damsel in distress’ fetish needs met”) as well as a wide range of YouTube video clips (type ’pedal pumping cranking’ into Google and you’ll see what I mean). There are also websites that provide lists of films and television shows that feature DiD scenarios (such as the 1981 made-for-television film Terror Among Us which according to Wikipedia has become a cult film among the DiD fan community because of its lengthy portrayal of bound and gagged women), and links to YouTube clips just showing the relevant DiD video capture (‘vidcap’) scenes from films (called ‘Didcaps’ among the DiD fan community). The Wikipedia entry also notes:

“Outside the mainstream, the fetishistic subculture of specialized bondage magazines and videos that has thrived since the late 1970s is a variation on the damsel in distress of literature, but with one major difference. Here, the helplessness of the bound and gagged victim is eroticized and celebrated as an end in itself, occasionally with no rescuing hero or hope of escape”.

Unsurprisingly, and given the ‘underground’ status of the DiD fetish community, there is no academic research on the topic. I did manage to track down a small (non-scientific) survey carried out on the Deviant Art website where 226 DiD enthusiasts responded to a question relating to their favourite DiD scenario. The results (in order of preference) were cheerleader or schoolgirl in uniform (24%), princess/medieval/dragons (13%), vampire (13%), kidnapped by thugs (13%), ancient mythology (8%), sci-fi alien attack (8%), mad scientist (6%), prisoner of war (4%), monster/troll/ogre (3%), and (non-specific) other (7%). Obviously this was a based on a self-selected sample of DiD enthusiasts who could be bothered to respond so we have no way of knowing if the respondents were representative of all DiD fans. It remains to be seen whether any academic or clinical research ever gets carried out on this particular sub-domain of sadomasochism but I won’t be holding my breath.

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

Further reading

Everything 2 (2002). Damsels in distress bondage. June 25. Located at:

Nation Master (2012). Damsel in distress. Located at:

Pop Crunch (2010). Quicksand, Pedal Pumping, Tickle Bondage, Women in Distress in general. May 11. Located at:

Wikipedia (2015). Damsel in distress. 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 March 26, 2015, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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