Monthly Archives: July 2017
A couple of days ago I watched the 2007 US psychological thriller Mr. Brooks. The film is about a celebrated businessman (Mr. Earl Brooks played by Kevin Costner) who also happens to be serial killer (known as the ‘thumbprint killer’). The reason I mention all this is that the explanation given in the film by Earl for the serial killing is that it was an addiction. A number of times in the film he is seem attending Alcoholics Anonymous and quoting from the 12-step recovery program to help him ‘beat his addiction’. With the help of the AA Fellowship, he had managed not to kill anyone for two years but at the start of the film, Earl’s psychological alter-ego (‘Marshall’ played by William Hurt) manages to coerce Earl into killing once again. I won’t spoil the plot for people who have not seen the film but the underlying theme that serial killing is an addiction that Earl is constantly fighting against, is embedded in an implicit narrative that addiction somehow ‘explains’ his behaviour and that he is not really responsible for it. This is not a view I hold myself as all addicts have to take some responsibility for their behaviour.
The idea of serial killing being conceptualized as an addiction in popular culture is not new. For instance, Brian Masters book about British serial killer Dennis Nilsen (who killed at least 12 young men and was also a necrophile) was entitled Killing for Company: The Story of a Man Addicted to Murder, and Mikaela Sitford’s book about Harold Shipman, the British GP (aka ‘Dr. Death’) who killed over 200 people, was entitled Addicted to Murder: The True Story of Dr. Harold Shipman.
One of the things that I have always argued throughout my career, is that someone cannot become addicted to an activity or a substance unless they are constantly being rewarded (either by continual positive and/or negative reinforcement). Given that serial killing is a discontinuous activity (i.e., it happens relatively infrequently rather than every hour or day) how could killing be an addiction? One answer is that the act of killing is part of the wider behaviour in that the preoccupation with killing can also include the re-enacting of past kills and the keeping of ‘trophies’ from the victims (which I overviewed in a previous blog). As the author of the book Freud, Profiled: Serial Killer noted:
“The serial killer is most often described as a kind of addict. Murder is his addiction, the thrill achieved in murder his ‘kick.’ This addiction requires a maintenance ‘fix.’ At first, the experience is wonderfully exhilarating, later the fix is needed to just feel normal again. It is a hard habit to break, the hungering sensation to consume another life returns. Between murders, they often play back video or sound recordings or look at photos made of their previous murders. This voyeurism provides a surrogate death-meal until their next feeding”.
In Eric Hickey’s 2010 book Serial Murderers and Their Victims, Dr. Hickey makes reference to an unpublished 1990 monograph by Dr. Victor Cline who outlined a four-factor addiction syndrome in relation to sexual serial killers who (so-called ‘lust murderers’ that I also examined in a previous blog). More specifically:
“The offender first experiences ‘addiction’ similar to the physiological/psychological addiction to drugs, which then generates stress in his or her everyday activities. The person then enters a stage of ‘escalation’, in which the appetite for more deviant, bizarre, and explicit sexual material is fostered. Third, the person gradually becomes ‘desensitized’ to that which was once revolting and taboo-breaking. Finally, the person begins to ‘act out’ the things that he or she has seen”.
This four-stage model is arguably applicable to serial killing more generally. It also appears to be backed up by one of the most notorious serial killers, Ted Bundy. In an interview with psychologist Dr. James Dobson (found in Harold Schecter’s 2003 book The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World’s Most Terrifying Murderers), Bundy claimed:
“Once you become addicted to [pornography], and I look at this as a kind of addiction, you look for more potent, more explicit, more graphic kinds of material. Like an addiction, you keep craving something which is harder and gives you a greater sense of excitement, until you reach the point where the pornography only goes so far – that jumping-off point where you begin to think maybe actually doing it will give you that which is just beyond reading about it and looking at it”.
Dr. Hickey claims that such urges to kill are fuelled by fantasies that have become well-developed and killers to vicariously gain control of other individual. He also believes that fantasies for lust killers are far greater than an escape, and becomes the focal point of all behaviour. He concludes by saying that “even though the killer is able to maintain contact with reality, the world of fantasy becomes as addictive as an escape into drugs”. In the book The Serial Killer Files, Harold Schechter notes that:
“For homicidal psychopaths, lust-killing often becomes an addiction. Like heroin users, they not only become dependent on the thrilling sensation – the rush – of torture, rape, and murder; they come to require ever greater and more frequent fixes. After a while, merely stabbing a co-ed to death every few months isn’t enough. They have to kill every few weeks, then every few days. And to achieve the highest pitch of arousal, they have to torture the victim before putting her to death. This kind of escalation can easily lead to the killer’s own destruction. Like a junkie who ODs in his urgent quest to satisfy his cravings, serial killers are often undone by their increasingly unbridled sadism, which drives them to such reckless extremes that they are finally caught. Monsters tend to be sadists, deriving sexual gratification from imposing pain on others. Their secret perversions, at first sporadic, often trap them in a pattern as the intervals between indulgences become briefer: it is a pattern whose repetitions develop into a hysterical crescendo, as if from one outrage to another the monster were seeking as a climax his own annihilation”.
Schecter uses the ‘addiction’ explanation for serial killing throughout his writings even for serial killers from the past including American nurse Jane Toppan (the ‘Angel of Death’) who confessed to 33 murders in 1901 and died in 1938 (“she became addicted to murder”), cannibalistic child serial killers Gilles Garnier (died in 1573) and Peter Stubbe (died 1589) (“both became addicted to murder and cannibalism, both preferred to prey upon children”), and Lydia Sherman (died 1878) who killed 8 children including six of her own (“confirmed predator, addicted to cruelty and death”).
In a recent 2012 paper on mental disorders in serial killers in the Iranian Journal of Medical Law, Dr. N. Mehra and A.S. Pirouz quoted the literary academic Akira Lippit who argued that in films, the “completion of each serial murder lays the foundation for the next act which in turn precipitates future acts, leaving the serial subject always wanting more, always hungry, addicted”. They then go on to conclude that:
“Once a killer has tasted the success of a kill, and is not apprehended, it will ultimately mean he will strike again. He put it simply, that once something good has happened, something that made the killer feel good, and powerful, and then they will not hesitate to try it again. The first attempt may leave them with a feeling of fear but at the same time, it is like an addictive drug. Some killers revisit the crime scene or take trophies, such as jewelry or body parts, or video tape the scenario so as to be able to re-live the actual feeling of power at a later date”.
Although I haven’t done an extensive review of the literature, I do think it’s possible – even on the slimmest of empirical bases presented here – to conceptualize serial killing as a potential behavioural addiction for some individuals. However, it will always depend upon how addiction is defined in the first place.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Brophy, J. (1967). The Meaning of Murder. London: Crowell.
Hickey, E.W. (2010). Serial Murderers and Their Victims (Fifth Edition). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Lippit, A.M. (1996). The infinite series: Fathers, cannibals, chemists. Criticism, Summer, 1-18.
Masters, B. (1986). Killing for Company: The Story of a Man Addicted to Murder. New York: Stein and Day.
Mehra, N., & Pirouz, A. S. (2012). A study on mental disorder in serial killers. Iranian Journal of Medical Law, 1(1), 38-51.
Miller, E. (2014). Freud, Profiled: Serial Killer. San Diego: New Directions Publishing.
Schecter, H. (2003). The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World’s Most Terrifying Murderers. New York: Ballantine Books
Sitford, M. (2000). Addicted to Murder: The True Story of Dr. Harold Shipman. London: Virgin Publishing.
Taylor, T. (2014). Is serial killing an addiction? IOL, April 9. Located at: http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/is-serial-killing-an-addiction-1673542
Thigh fetishism might appear a somewhat obvious topic to write a blog on given all the previous body part fetishes I have looked at (including foot fetishism, shoulder fetishism). However, there is no academic research on the topic and most non-academic articles that I have read tend to concentrate on thigh-boot fetishism rather than thigh fetishism in, and of, itself. According to the Kinkly website:
“Thigh fetish refers to a sexual arousal by or sexual interest in thighs. Typically, it is a male interest in female thighs. However, it can apply to a woman’s interest in female thighs, a woman’s interest in male thighs, or a male’s interest in male thighs. Usually the fetishist is attracted to the naked thighs. The thighs don’t even need to be extremely sexualized for the fetishist. Often it is the gap between a high boot and edge of skirt, or knee high socks and edge of skirt that arouse the fetishist more than sexualized images of thighs”.
The Self-Help Sexuality website adds that “some men have a thigh fetish where they are turned on by the glimpse of woman’s inner thigh or when a woman opens her thigh. Some men enjoy kissing and licking woman’s inner thigh”. Both of these descriptions are fairly commonsense and arguably don’t need empirical research to back up the claims made.
Thee one piece of empirical research I found with some reference to thigh sexuality was a paper published in a 2014 issue of the journal Cortex by Dr. Oliver Turnbull and colleagues who examined which erogenous zones are the most sensitive in males and females. They surveyed 800 participants (mainly British and Sub-Saharan Africans) and were asked to rate 41 body parts for erogenous intensity on a 10-point scale. Unsurprisingly, the highest rated body parts for sensitivity were the clitoris among women (mean rating 9.17 out of 10) and the penis among men (mean rating 9.0 out of 10). Inner thighs were rated as the fourth most erogenous zone by men (mean rating 5.84 out of 10; back of thigh 2.48 out 10; outer thigh 1.91 out of 10), and the seventh most erogenous zone by women (mean rating 6.7 out of 10; back of thigh 2.6 out 10; outer thigh 1.96 out of 10).
I also found details of a non-academic online survey among Japanese businessmen (mainly those in their thirties and forties) carried out by the marketing research company Goo via an article on the Japanator website. The focus of the survey was favourite “secret fetishes”. Top of the 20 listed fetishes was zettai ryouiki (which translates as “absolute territory”) and refers to the “leg exposure located between the hem of a skirt and the top of thigh-high socks”. The second-placed ‘secret fetish’ was also thigh-related and was being held in the vice-like grip of “athletic thighs”.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m fascinated by the sexual culture in Japan and have written many blogs on various aspects of Japanese sexuality. An article about thigh fetishes on the Venus O’Hara website specifically examined zettai ryouiki:
“In other words, they fantasize most frequently about that piece of exposed flesh between the top of a girl’s thigh-high socks and the bottom of a short skirt. This description fulfils the fetish principle in that no nudity is involved. Zettai ryouiki describes an otherwise mundane detail which, when used as a primer for arousal, assumes a sexual significance that is almost impossible to explain for non thigh-fetishists. The same principle applies to Western men and the expression of their own thigh fetishism when it comes to lingerie and hosiery. Stockings and suspenders make these men’s enjoyment of thighs and their understanding of thigh fetishism that much easier. The combination of panties, a suspender belt and stockings isolates the area of exposed thigh and almost draws a border around it. This focuses the attention on the naked skin as oppose to the erogenous zones that are covered, albeit by material that is often sheer. A garter belt is another magnet for thigh fetishists, as are knee-high socks, thigh-high boots and self-support stockings”.
My own view is that thigh fetishism and other thigh-related fetishes (for thigh boots, thigh socks, etc.) while overlapping, are not the same. The article on the Venus O’Hara website then goes onto talk about another variant of thigh fetishism:
“Thigh fetishism has produced a new variation of itself recently and social media has had a lot to do with it. The trend for promoting and desiring a permanent clearance between the tops of the legs has become a social phenomenon and a modern yardstick for feminine health and beauty. This ‘thigh gap’ is more common, anatomically, in women who are naturally much taller and whose body mass index is lower than the average. The physiques displayed by contemporary fashion models are an obvious ideal where the ‘thigh gap’ is concerned. A much more democratic trend in relation to thigh fetishism has also arisen on social media almost in response to the ‘thigh gap’. ‘Thighbrow’ describes the naturally-occurring crease between the thigh and the hip that appears when you sit or kneel down. Two of these, when observed together, have been said to resemble eyebrows. Whereas the ultimate ‘thigh gap’ seems to be exclusive to young women who wear size 6 jeans, the ‘thighbrow’ is a fetish highlight that everyone can flaunt”.
There was also a recent exhibition in Japan devoted purely to thigh fetishism. A short online article about the exhibition noted that:
“In Japanese Culture there are so many different fetishes that are popular: Swimsuit Fetish, Doorknob Licking Fetish (it’s not a joke), Teeth Fetish…Amongst these Fetishes, there is also Thigh Fetish, and Todays Gallery Studio decided to dedicate an entire photo exhibition about it…More than 500 works and 1000 pair of thighs shot by artist Yuria will be exposed”.
In my own research for this blog I was unable to find any dedicated online discussion forum for thigh fetishism. This could either be because it’s so rare or be because it’s so common that it’s not worth creating a dedicated website to discuss such matters. I found very few first-hand accounts of self-admitted thigh fetishism, in fact I only located two individuals:
- Extract 1: “This is going to sound weird, but I sort of have a thing for women who have strong looking thighs. Size isn’t just what it’s about, but with a muscular tone along with it. It’s not like I get off on it, but I do find it very sexy and is a big turn on for me. It started when I seen a women at this gym who was wearing these spandex looking short pants and I couldn’t help but notice her thighs in them, and they were rather muscular. I don’t have a fetish for female bodybuilders, though I do find spandex sexy…but it wasn’t that, it was her thighs, and I just started noticing things like this more and more afterward”.
- Extract 2: Even before I hit puberty, I always had these strange, excited feeling in me…[When] I was 11, I would imagine these pretty girls getting out of their pants and revealing their legs…One night, I had an extremely arousing dream. It was odd, yet intense. I was hanging out in the park in my neighborhood. A bunch of ladies were hanging out…With no warning, all the ladies in the park started screaming. Their pants were undoing themselves. Afterward, all the ladies’ pants were being pulled off by something invisible and sex crazed. Something that wanted a bunch of ladies have no pants on. Now these scared ladies were in their underwear. The idea of these beautiful ladies going from having their pants on to being taken off them excited me to no end…My women’s thigh fetish was getting more intense…By the time I was 14, I imagined the sex crazed invisible creature taking off random women’s pants and making them cross their naked thighs together, like they were making out…When I was 14, I finally had found a girl…I told her all about my sexy dreams. About my women’s thigh fetish…I kept asking her really warped questions, like how she would feel if something took her pants off in school. How would she feel if her and another girl lost their pants together…[I] finally ejaculated and [was] happy that her legs were the reason…Even now…my women’s thigh fetish dreams were always my favorites to think about”.
I have no idea if these accounts are in any way representative of those who have a thigh fetish but both appear to be heterosexual males, and both can pinpoint where their interests in women’s thighs originated. As with many fetishes I have examined, I can’t see thigh fetishism being the topic of any in-depth empirical research simply because it has the ‘so what?’ factor. Who would be interested in such research and why?
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
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.
Taktak, S., Yılmaz, E., Karamustafalıoglu, O., & Unsal, A. (2016). Characteristics of paraphilics in Turkey: A retrospective study – 20years. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2016.05.004.
Turnbull, O.H., Lovett, V.E., Chaldecott, J., & Lucas, M.D. (2014). Reports of intimate touch: Erogenous zones and somatosensory cortical organization. Cortex, 53, 146-154.
Five years ago I wrote a blog about one of my favourite bands, Throbbing Gristle (TG; Yorkshire slang for a penile erection). In that article, I noted that TG were arguably one of “the most extreme bands of all time” and “highly confrontational”. They were also the pioneers of ‘industrial music’ and in terms of their ‘songs’, no topic was seen as taboo or off-limits. In short, they explored the dark and obsessive side of the human condition. Their ‘music’ featured highly provocative and disturbing imagery including hard-core pornography, sexual manipulation, school bullying, ultra-violence, sado-masochism, masturbation, ejaculation, castration, cannibalism, Nazism, burns victims, suicide, and serial killers (Myra Hindley and Ian Brady).
I mention all this because I have just spent the last few days reading the autobiography (‘Art Sex Music‘) of Cosey Fanni Tutti (born Christine Newbie), one of the four founding members of TG. It was a fascinating (and in places a harrowing) read. As someone who is a record-collecting completist and having amassed almost everything that TG ever recorded, I found Cosey’s book gripping and read the last 350 pages (out of 500) in a single eight-hour sitting into the small hours of Sunday morning earlier today.
TG grew out of the ‘performance art’ group COUM Transmissions in the mid-1970s comprising Genesis P-Orridge (‘Gen’, born Neil Megson in 1950) and Cosey. At the time, Cosey and Gen were a ‘couple’ (although after reading Cosey’s book, it was an unconventional relationship to say the least). TG officially formed in 1975 when Chris Carter (born 1953) and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (1955-2010). Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Fairburn famously called the group “wreckers of civilisation” (which eventually became the title of their 1999 biography by Simon Ford).
As I noted in my previous article, TG are – psychologically – one of the most interesting groups I have ever come across and Cosey’s book pulled no punches. To some extent, Cosey’s book attempted to put the record straight in response to Simon Ford’s book which was arguably a more Gen-oriented account of TG. Anyone reading Cosey’s book will know within a few pages who she sees as the villain of the TG story. Gen is portrayed as an egomaniacal tyrant who manipulated her. Furthermore, she was psychologically and physically abused by Gen throughout their long relationship in the 1970s. Thankfully, Cosey fell in love with fellow band member Chris Carter and he is still the “heartbeat” of the relationship and to who her book is dedicated.
Like many of my favourite groups (The Beatles, The Smiths, The Velvet Underground, Depeche Mode), TG were (in Gestaltian terms) more than the sum of their parts and all four members were critical in them becoming a cult phenomenon. The story of their break up in the early 1980s and their reformation years later had many parallels with that of the Velvet Underground’s split and reformation – particularly the similarities between Gen and Lou Reed who both believed they were leaders of “their” band and who both walked out during their second incarnations.
Cosey is clearly a woman of many talents and after reading her book I would describe her as an artist (and not just a ‘performance artist’), musician (or maybe ‘anti-musician in the Brian Eno sense of the word), writer, and lecturer, as well as former pornographic actress, model, and stripper. It is perhaps her vivid descriptions of her life in the porn industry and as a stripper that (in addition to her accounts of physical and psychological abuse by Gen) were the most difficult to read. For someone as intelligent as Cosey (after leaving school with few academic qualifications but eventually gaining a first-class degree via the Open University), I wasn’t overly convinced by her arguments that her time working in the porn industry both as a model and actress was little more than an art project that she engaged in on her own terms. But that was Cosey’s justification and I have no right to challenge her on it.
What I found even more interesting was how she little connection between her ‘pornographic’ acting and modelling work and her time as a stripper (the latter she did purely for money and to help make ends meet during the 1980s). Her work as a porn model and actress was covert, private, seemingly enjoyable, and done behind closed doors without knowing who the paying end-users were seeing her naked. Her work as a stripper was overt, public, not so enjoyable, and played out on stage directly in front of those paying to see her naked. Two very different types of work and two very different psychologies (at least in the way that Cosey described it).
Obviously both jobs involved getting naked but for Cosey, that appeared to be the only similarity. She never ever had sex for money with any of the clientele that paid to see her strip yet she willingly made money for sex within the porn industry. For Cosey, there was a moral sexual code that she worked within, and that sex as a stripper was a complete no-no. The relationship with Gen was (as I said above) ‘unconventional’ and Gen often urged her and wanted her to have sex with other men (and although she never mentioned it in her book, I could speculate that Gen had some kind of ‘cuckold fetish’ that I examined in a previous blog as well as some kind of voyeur). There were a number of times in the book when Cosey appeared to see herself as some kind of magnet for unwanted attention (particularly exhibitionists – so-called ‘flashers’ – who would non-consensually expose their genitalia in front of Cosey from a young age through to adulthood). Other parts of the book describe emotionally painful experiences (and not just those caused by Gen) including both her parents disowning her and a heartfelt account of a miscarriage (and the hospital that kept her foetus without her knowledge or consent). There are other sections in the book that some readers may find troubling including her menstruation art projects (something that I perhaps should have mentioned in my blog on artists who use their bodily fluids for artistic purposes).
Cosey’s book is a real ‘warts and all’ account of her life including her many health problems, many of which surprisingly matched my own (arrhythmic heart condition, herniated spinal discs, repeated breaking of feet across the lifespan). Another unexpected connection was that her son with Chris Carter (Nick) studied (and almost died of peritonitis) as an undergraduate studying at art at Nottingham University or Nottingham Trent University. I say ‘or’ because at one stage in the book it says that Nick studied at Nottingham University and in another extract it says they were proud parents attending his final degree art show at Nottingham Trent University. I hope it was the latter.
Anyone reading the book would be interested in many of the psychological topics that make an appearance in the book including alcoholism, depression, claustrophobia, egomania, and suicide to name just a few. In previous blogs I’ve looked at whether celebrities are more prone to some psychological conditions including addictions and egomania and the book provides some interesting case study evidence. As a psychologist and a TG fan I loved reading the book.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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Fanni Tutti, C. (2017). Art Sex Music. Faber & Faber: London.
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Wells, S. (2007). A Throbbing Gristle primer. The Guardian, May 27. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2007/may/29/athrobbinggristleprimer