Monthly Archives: August 2018
“Starting to question myself here. Am I totally addicted to speed (not the drug)? [I] am middle age, dabbled a bit with drugs in the past nothing much never found them addictive, but all the time I need to go faster, not in stupid places, schools etc., just country lanes and motorways. I’ve done track days, bit of single stage rallying…But it’s never enough always want more. Trouble is I don’t have the money to spend on loads of track days or rallying again. So where do I get kicks from? Must be loads [on this online forum] in the same boat. So what’s the answer. Is it addictive? And can anything stop it or do I wait for the an inevitable conclusion?” (‘gsr8’ on pistonheads.com)
“There are many folks that love sports cars, super bikes and high speeds. It seems to be a growing trend in these decadent times we live in. I’m not ashamed to say, that I also have a bit of a fetish for exclusive Italian sports cars that I can barely afford. It’s the obvious sex appeal combined with the adrenaline rush of driving at breakneck speeds through a neon-lit city. This is something that can turn from a mere addiction into a lifestyle choice, and an expensive one at that. Are fast cars and high speeds appealing to you? Do you feel that you could ever be addicted?” (Damien Lee on talk.drugabuse.com)
“I discovered something over the past week. I have been addicted to speeding. Like 80% of all other drivers on the road, I have this urge to go 5-10 mph over the limit as if that was the limit. Passing people, sneering at them because they are going the speed limit as if it was so lame to only go 55” (Suso on Suso.org)
These opening quotes that I found online raise the issue of whether ‘speeding’ in cars can be addictive. There’s no shortage of the words ‘addiction’, ‘addictive’ and ‘addicted’ appearing in news articles including the headlines themselves. Examples I found within 60 seconds of online googling included ‘Why the US is addicted to fast cars and street racing?’, ‘Finding a cure for motorists’ addiction to speed’, ‘Driving ‘addict’ Shane Holmes led police car chase along Heworth footpaths’, and ‘Car addict’s 90mph chase’. This latter story reported the case of David Massey, a car salesman, a “banned driver with an ‘addiction’ to cars has been jailed after he led police on a high speed chase. [He] was caught speeding through winding roads while banned for a fourth time”. The case highlights that even being banned and the threat of going to prison if he drove a car while banned was not enough to deter him from driving.
Another story was headlined ‘Company car drivers’ speeding addiction’ based on a survey carried out by the UK RAC (Royal Automobile Club). The story asserted: “It’s been confirmed: company car drivers are addicted to speeding…they are more likely to exceed the 70mph motorway speed limit than private motorists. Almost 90% of company car drivers admitted to breaking the speed limit, compared with nearly 70% of people driving their own vehicle”. Here company car drivers are pathologised by the press and that their ‘need for speed’ is viewed as an addiction almost using it as a mitigating circumstance for their behaviour. In an article written for CNN, amateur car racer Brian Donovan wrote that:
“I’ll never forget that day, back in the 1970s, when I first experienced the intense – and probably addictive – state of mind that would become a powerful force in my life. No, I’m not talking about some drug. I’m remembering the first day I drove a racing car and the new level of consciousness I experienced as I sped down the curvy hill at the old Bridgehampton Race Circuit on Long Island. The experience, some drivers say, can be highly addictive”.
Donovan wrote a book Hard Driving: The Wendell Scott Story, a biography of NASCAR’s first African-American stock car driver. According to an interview with Scott: “Racing cars gets to be about like being a drug addict or an alcoholic. The more you do it, the more you like to do it”. Larry Frank, another NASCAR driver claimed that car racing was “like an addiction…there was many years that you just didn’t know anything existed outside this little racing circle”. However, I would argue that the quote could be as much about addiction to work as it is addiction to speed.
Academically, there’s been little empirical research on the topic although quite a few scholars have claimed and/or made arguments that speeding can be addictive. (I ought to mention that I am not including academic research on joyriding being addictive as I reviewed this literature in a previous blog. Here, the criminality of the activity rather than the speed appears to provide rewards and reinforcements that for a small minority may be addictive). In 1997, René Diekstra (a clinical psychologist) and Martin Kroon (at the time senior policy advisor on Transport and Environment in the Dutch Ministry of the Environment) wrote a book chapter entitled ‘Cars and behaviour: Psychological barriers to car restraint and sustainable urban transport’. They asserted that:
“The car – and the motor bike – allow the individual to expose himself to exactly the level of danger he wants. It is not an overstatement to say that, at these times, drivers are experiencing a kind of narcotic effect, which can produce the same addictive response as more conventional drugs. There is sometimes a very fine line between ‘speeding’ and ‘speeding’! This addiction to speed among some drivers is excellently expressed in the term ‘speedaholics’.”
A few months ago, Gerry Forbes published a paper in the ITE Journal entitled ‘Is speeding an addiction? Saving lives through roadway planning and design’. He noted that “speeders not only break the law, they imperil themselves and other road users. Moreover, people who speed generally know it is against the law, believe that the risk is only to themselves, and do so for personal gain rather than any sort of community good”. For Forbes, this naturally begged the question: “Are chronic speeders addicted to speeding in the same way drug abusers are addicted to illicit drugs?” He then went on to argue:
“Addiction is persistent behavior despite knowledge of adverse consequences. The public perceives speeding as more dangerous than driver distraction and drinking-driving, yet motorists frequently drive faster than the speed limit. Speeding appears to be a behavioral addiction similar to gambling. However, this does not mean motorists are addicted to speeding”.
Forbes then went on to cite my criteria for behavioural addiction and said that if speeding is a genuine addiction, it would be an activity that dominates an individual’s daily life (salience), deliver a mood altering ‘high’ (mood modification), requires “greater doses over time” to achieve the same ‘high’ (tolerance), cause conflict in the individual’s life, and ceasing the activity would lead to withdrawal symptoms and/ or relapses. He then argued that speeding met some of the criteria for addiction: (i) “motorists select faster operating speeds as route familiarity increases” (tolerance); (ii) up to 20% of motorists “exhibit mood modification, stating they enjoy the feeling associated with driving fast and citing this as a reason for speeding” (mood modification), (iii) “speeders in residential areas create conflict with residents, and conflicts between motorists arise when speeders are impeded by slower-moving road users” (conflict); and (iv) over two-thirds of motorists have speeding relapses (relapse). He then went on to make some excellent comparisons between speeding and drug use in relation to the harm they cause on society (using the US as his example:
“Speeders and drug addicts can be compared by using the rational scale of harm – a tool used to compare the harm (of drugs) when considering the physical harm to the individual, the effect of the drug on society, and the tendency for the drug to induce dependence. With respect to personal harm, in the United States in 2015 motor vehicle speed was a factor in 9,557 fatal crashes, whereas overdoses by heroin and cocaine accounted for 12,989 deaths, and 6,784 deaths, respectively. With respect to dependence, 23 percent of individuals who use heroin develop opioid addiction and about 20 percent of motorists enjoy the feeling associated with driving fast. Similarly, 40 to 60 percent of drug addicts relapse, which is comparable to the 69 percent recidivism rate for speeders. Given this, the dependence and personal harm associated with speeding is arguably the same order of magnitude as cocaine or heroin”
However, based on the evidence cited, Forbes reached the same conclusion that I would have:
“Typical motorists are not dominated by a need for speed, precluding a clinical finding of speed addiction. Speeding, it seems, is a behavior that has addictive elements without being an addiction…In the end, while speeding is not necessarily an addiction, it is harmful to individuals and society. The harm produced by speeding is of the same order of magnitude as heroin and cocaine”.
Finally, based on a news report I read (‘The need for speed: Is it an addiction?’), there is a team of university researchers in Sydney (Australia) who began a project a couple of years ago to investigate the concept of speed addiction but I was unable to find any papers that have been published from it yet. The research is being led by Sarah Redshaw of the University of Western Sydney who has been publishing research into driving for many years. She was quoted as saying: “[Individuals who speed are] talking in terms of something they can’t control. That’s why it needs investigating, because it could be an uncontrollable impulse. If there could be such a thing as speed addiction, it would need to be dealt with like other addictions”. Also interviewed for the article was someone whose research I know well (and who I’ve co-published gambling papers with), the psychologist Alex Blaszczynski, who in the article described himself as a “self-professed speed lover”. He was also quoted as saying that:
“The thrill of speeding comes from neurochemical changes in the brain as the result of adrenaline. The question then is whether this particular behaviour leads to an addictive process or whether people just enjoy doing it. Is [speed] fulfilling some need, or is it something he wants? I think it’s something he wants”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Alexander, H. (2016). The need for speed: Is it an addiction? Drive.com, October 3. Located at: https://www.drive.com.au/motor-news/the-need-for-speed-is-it-an-addiction-20100824-13p3i
Diekstra, R., & Kroon, M. (1997). Cars and behaviour: Psychological barriers to car restraint and sustainable urban transport. In Tolley, R.(ed.) The Greening of Urban Transport (pp.147-157). Chichester: Wiley.
Donovan, B. (2008). Hard Driving: The Wendell Scott Story. Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press.
Evans, J. (2014). Company car drivers’ speeding addiction. August 19. Located at: https://www.driving.co.uk/car-clinic/news-company-car-drivers-speeding-addiction-plus-5-quickest-repmobiles/
Forbes, G. (2018). Is speeding an addiction? Saving lives through roadway planning and design. ITE Journal, 88(6), 44-49.
Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.
Husted, D.S., Gold, M.S., Frost-Pineda, K., Ferguson, M.A., Yang, M. C., & Shapira, N.A. (2006). Is speeding a form of gambling in adolescents? Journal of Gambling Studies, 22(2), 209-219.
Redshaw, S., & Nicoll, F. (2010). Gambling drivers: regulating cultural technologies, subjects, spaces and practices of mobility. Mobilities, 5(3), 409-430.
Over the past few months, ‘upskirting’ has been in the British news, particularly in relation to making it a criminal offence. A campaign initiated by freelance writer Gina Martin was started after she became a victim of upskirting. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, upskirting refers to taking a photograph (typically with a smartphone) up someone’s skirt without their permission. Martin published an account of her ordeal for the World Economic Forum in April 2018 and reported that:
“Last summer, I was standing in a crowd of 60,000, on a hot summer’s day in London, waiting for The Killers to come on stage, when a man – whose advances I’d rejected – took pictures of my crotch by putting his phone between my legs as I chatted to my sister blissfully unaware. A few minutes later, I saw one of his friends looking at an intrusive picture of a woman’s crotch covered by a thin strip of fabric. I knew it was me. I grabbed the phone off him and checked. Tears filled my eyes and I began drawing attention to him: ‘You guys have been taking pictures of my vagina! What is wrong with you!?’ He grabbed me and pushed his face in front of mine, bellowing that I give him his phone back. I didn’t…The police arrived and were lovely. I was, understandably, a mess and they patiently calmed me down. What the police then did was ask him to delete the images – my evidence – and then, they told me they couldn’t do anything. ‘We had to look at the image, and although it showed far more than you’d want anyone to see, it’s not technically a graphic image. There’s not much we can do. If you weren’t wearing knickers it would be a different story.’ I was completely humiliated and devastated”.
Following this incident, and because upskirting wasn’t an offence, Martin began a campaign to get the act criminalized. Upskirting is currently an offence in Scotland but not in England and Wales. Upskirting is one of many sexual acts that are present among those individuals that have a voyeuristic disorder. In an article for the Law Gazette in July 2017 (‘Fifty shades of sexual offending’), forensic psychologist Dr. Julia Lam made countless references to upskirting in an overview of voyeuristic disorder. She noted that:
“Voyeuristic Disorder is a paraphilic/psychosexual disorder in which an individual derives sexual pleasure and gratification from looking at naked bodies and genital organs, observing the disrobing or sexual acts of others…Instead of peeping in situ using high-powered binoculars, with advances in technology such as camera phones and pin-hole cameras, voyeurs can now record the private moments with their devices: taking upskirt photos of unsuspecting individuals on escalators, or filming women in various states of undress in toilets and changing rooms. Voyeuristic behaviour is on the rise…Learning theory suggests that an initially random or accidental observation of an unsuspecting person who is naked, in the process of disrobing, or engaging in sexual activity, may lead to sexual interest and arousal; with each successive repetition of the peeping act reinforcing and perpetuating the voyeuristic behaviour”.
She reported that voyeurism is the most common type of sexual offence and that voyeurs can be men or women but that “men are commonly the perpetrators in the peeping acts/upskirt, with women being the victims”. She noted that the lifetime prevalence of voyeuristic disorder is around 12% among men and 4% in women, and that the causes of voyeurism are unknown. She then went onto say:
“The new vocabulary ‘upskirt’ is both a verb (the practise of capturing an image/video of an unsuspecting and non-consenting person in a private moment) and a noun (i.e. the actual voyeuristic photos or videos made; referred as “voyeur photography”)…While most voyeurs film for self-gratification (i.e. using upskirt materials for fantasy and masturbation), there are offenders who make upskirt photos and videos specifically for uploading onto the internet (e.g. fetish and pornographic websites and video-sharing sites like YouTube) for monetary profit…Upskirt is considered a ‘serious’ crime in Singapore as it intrudes upon the privacy of unsuspecting and non-consenting individuals. Offences typically take place on escalators, in fitting rooms, public toilets or shower rooms; with the offenders trying to capture what is underneath the ‘skirts’ or private moments of the victims with a recording device which may or may not be disguise”.
She also said that in recent years in Singapore, she had assessed “a considerable number” of voyeurs that had engaged in upskirting and who were arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated for their actions. Most of these criminal voyeurs were ‘first-timers’ (i.e., arrested and charged with upskirting for the first time), had a long history of engaging in excessive masturbation and pornography use, and that the offences were non-violent. However, she did note that although they may have been arrested for the first time, their interest in peeping and upskirting usually stemmed from adolescence. Dr. Lam also claimed that:
“Getting apprehended for [upskirting] is more a norm than an exception in this group, as it is just a matter of time that the offender would be careless or daring enough to invite apprehension. Police arrest usually serves as a final ‘wake-up call’ that breaks the offending pattern, accompanied with a great sense of shame and embarrassment. Many of these voyeurs are amenable to treatment…Most of the sufferers of Voyeuristic Disorder who came for my assessment reported their urges to upskirt and use the materials to masturbate as overwhelming, to the extent that they gave in to temptation without considering the grave consequences of their acts”.
Dr. Lam also talked about her treating upskirting voyeurs and recounted one case which she claimed was a compulsion. The case involved a male university student who was very sport active but who masturbated excessively whenever major sporting events or important exams were imminent as a coping strategy to relieve stress. Upskirting was another one of his coping strategies and he was eventually arrested for his behaviour. Dr. Lam then went on to report”
“Every morning after he woke up, he would feel the urge to go out to find his ‘targets’. Although he knew it was very risky to take upskirt [photos] on MRT escalators, he felt compelled to satiate his urges and gratification, and was oblivious to his surroundings (e.g. passers-by security staff and CCTV) and the risk of being arrested. He could still feel the thrill and excitement, but he no longer enjoyed the act. It had become more like a compulsion…He was prescribed medication to manage his mood and urges to act out, and attended psychotherapy to work on his voyeuristic behaviour and learn more effective coping skills. He has since graduated from university, and has not breached the law with [upskirting] behaviour again”.
Dr. Lam, like other practitioners who treat sex offenders, often view extreme cases of voyeurism as a compulsion, obsession and/or an addiction. If extreme voyeurism (in general) can be seen as an addiction, there is no theoretical reason why upskirting couldn’t be viewed similarly. As far as I am aware, the case described by Dr. Lam is the only one in the academic literature of outlining and treating an individual with an upskirting disorder. As with other sexually non-normative behaviours I went online to see if there were any anecdotal accounts of addiction to upskirting and came across a few self-confessed accounts (particularly on The Candid Forum website):
- Extract 1: “I’m not sure if you could help me. I suppose it’s an addiction. I am obsessed with women’s knickers and constantly try to look up women’s skirts, even schoolgirls. I know it’s wrong but I love to see the secrets. One day I will be caught and arrested. Am I a pervert?” (‘Andy’).
- Extract 2: “I’m really starting to feel overwhelmed by this ‘addiction’ I have to upskirt videos…I just can’t seem to get enough, even when in the big picture, most of them are all the same. I have well over 3000 videos on my computer of just upskirts (not including other types of videos)…It’s also stressful to know that I may very well not get through them all, at least for a very long time (I still have yet to watch 1800 of them). There’s a lot of time involved in downloading them (waiting due to file hosting sites telling you [that] you have reached your daily limit etc., entering captcha codes). But all these videos actually amaze me at the same time, due to just how many times guys have gotten away with it…There’s a certain ‘wow’ factor I guess, but that also derives from the entire voyeur aspect of it to begin with, where a guy is able to creep up on a woman and she doesn’t even realize it…Do any of you share the same addiction as me, and do you want to get rid of it? (‘GD102’).
- Extract 3: “I used to be really addicted [to upskirting] until I made myself understand something you already know – once you’ve seen 200 asses, you’ve pretty much seen them all. There’s no point in wasting your time overindulging in the same thrill over and over again. Yeah, the excitement of seeing something you’re not supposed to see is hot as hell, but you have to set limits for yourself, and not try to fantasize too much about the upskirts you haven’t seen, and spend more time enjoying, and maybe sorting, the upskirts you already have. That’s what I’ve been doing lately” (‘Agent Ika’).
- Extract 4: “[Upskirting] really does get repetitive. For me the thrill now comes from pretending I’m a director of a film – getting new angles, upskirts from the front, whole body shots with the upskirt still showing, and always including faceshots” (‘Stimulus’).
Obviously I have no way of knowing whether these online forum confessions are true (but they seem to be). Based on these extracts, there is certainly the possibility raised that upskirting may be addictive to a very small minority of individuals. Extract 2 was particularly interesting in that the individual had never engaged in upskirting himself but his ‘addiction’ to watching upskirting videos takes up so much time in his life.
Another source suggesting that upskirting may be an addictive activity comes from the details of those arrested and prosecuted. For instance, one infamous example in the UK (in 2015) was the case of Paul Appleby who managed to take 9000 upskirting photos in the space of just five weeks (suggesting that he was doing it all day every day to have taken so many photos). Appleby was finally caught when he was caught bending over to take a photo up a woman’s skirt in a Poundland shop. The Daily Mirror reported that:
“The tubby pervert, who was ‘addicted’ to snapping upskirts, fled the store after he was spotted…when [police] officers found his camera and iPhone a staggering 9,000 ‘upskirt’ images were discovered. The photos had been taken between November 1 and December 4 last year. [Appleby] admitted two counts of committing an act of outraging public decency…and was given a three-year community order…[Appleby] had been prosecuted for a ‘similar matter’ of outraging public decency in London in 2010. Alistair Evans, defending claimed Appleby had committed the crime for ‘sexual gratification’ and his behaviour was a ‘compulsion and an addiction’ he needed treatment for”.
Here, the mitigating factor for Appleby’s behaviour was that he was addicted to upskirting. The fact that Appleby did not receive a custodial sentence suggests the excuse of being ‘addicted’ to the behaviour led to the judge being more lenient. Another individual who avoided a custodial sentence for upskirting offences was Andrew MacRae who claimed he was addicted to sex. MacRae had amassed 49,000 upskirt photos and videos using hidden cameras at his workplace, on trains, and at the beach. He pled guilty to three counts of outraging public decency and seven counts of voyeurism. The judge said he would spare him jail if he was treated for his “compulsive voyeurism”. A report in the Daily Mail recounted what that Judge Jeremy Donne said:
“This was undoubtedly a sophisticated, organised, planned and long-running campaign of voyeurism – again with a significant degree of planning – and members of the general public, female commuters in the main, were caught by your voyeuristic activities. Your activities were undoubtedly despicable and will cause deep revulsion in all who hear them. Women will undoubtedly feel a need to be protected from such behaviour by the knowledge that the courts will deal with offenders severely, and men will thereby be deterred from committing such offences. On the other hand, you suffer from an illness that can be treated and you have submitted to that treatment. You have features of sexual addiction disorder with disorders of sexual preference, namely voyeurism and fetishistic transvestism – all defined in the international classification of diseases. You continue to receive treatment from psychiatrists who consider you to be at low risk of re-offending”.
Another recent British case highlighted the ingenious methods used to aid upskirting. Here, Stafford Cant used spy cameras hidden inside one of his trainers, his key fob, and his wrist watch to engage in upskirting women (as well as filming the backs of their legs) who were shopping in a Cheshire village. Acting on a tip-off, his house was raided and the police found 222,000 videos and pictures dating back seven years. ‘Addiction’ was again used as a mitigating factor in the crimes (along with depression and anxiety disorders) but this time it was not addiction to voyeurism but an addiction to collecting things. However, unlike the two cases above, Cant was jailed for three years after pleading guilty to outraging public decency, voyeurism and possessing and distributing indecent images.
Although there is little psychological literature on upskirting, there appears to be anecdotal evidence that the behaviour (in the extreme) could perhaps be conceptualized as an addiction and/or compulsion among a minority of individuals. The cases of those that have been arrested and prosecuted demonstrate that upskirting behaviour was time-consuming given the sheer number of photos and videos amassed, and that the behaviour was ultimately problem-inducing and undesirable. Given that the relatively recent rise of upskirting appears to mirror the rise in the use of smartphones and spy equipment available at affordable prices, I expect to see more such cases to be written about in psychological and criminological journals in the years to come.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Fight The New Drug (2018). What’s “upskirting”, and how does porn culture feed this twisted trend? July 5. Located at: https://fightthenewdrug.org/whats-upskirting-and-how-does-porn-culture-feed-this-twisted-trend/
Jolly, B. (2015). Upskirt pervert who took 9,000 secret photos in just five weeks avoids jail. Daily Mirror, January 28. Located at: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/upskirt-pervert-who-took-9000-5058048
Keay, L. (2018). Live Nation executive who built-up sordid library of 49,000 upskirt pictures by filming women on trains, the beach and at work is spared jail as his wife stands by him. Daily Mail, January 5. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5239815/LiveNation-executive-Andrew-MacRae-avoids-jail-upskirt.html
Lam, J. (2017). Fifty shades of sexual offending – Part 1. The Law Gazette, July. Located at: http://v1.lawgazette.com.sg/2017-07/1910.htm
Martin, G. (2018). What happened to me was wrong. Time to make it illegal, too. World Economic Forum, April 9. Located at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/04/what-happened-to-me-was-wrong-time-to-make-it-illegal-too/
Petter, O. (2018). Upskirting: What is it and why are people trying to make it illegal” The Independent, June 18. Located at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/upskirting-explained-law-rules-criminal-offence-photos-skirt-consent-women-gina-martin-a8401011.html
Shepherd, R. & Smithers, D. (2018). The public school pervert who spent years secretly filming up women’s skirts in one of Britain’s wealthiest villages. Manchester Evening News, March 29. Located at: https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/alderley-edge-upskirt-film-pervert-14470375
The Strait Times (2016). Taking upskirt photos may be symptomatic of voyeuristic disorder. July 30. Located at: https://adelphipsych.sg/straits-times-taking-upskirt-photos-may-be-symptomatic-of-voyeuristic-disorder/
Wilson, H. (2004). Peeping Tom’s secret weapon. The Independent, July 8. Located at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/peeping-toms-secret-weapon-552402.html
In a previous blog, I briefly overviewed the influence that the Catalonian surrealist artist Salvador Dali had made on psychology (based on a couple of articles I had published about him earlier in my academic career – see ‘Further reading’ below). In that blog I briefly mentioned some of the strange aspects in his life relating to his sexuality and sexual desires but did not go into any details. In this article, I delve a little deeper into Dali’s sexual psychology and concentrate on some of the more extreme aspects of his life. I’m certainly not the first person to do this given that there are various online articles covering similar ground such as ‘Five sadistic and depraved secrets of Salvador Dali’, ‘10 depraved secrets of Salvador Dali’, and ‘17 unbelievably weird stories most people don’t know about Salvador Dali’. In a nutshell (and if you believe everything you read about him), Dali didn’t like sexual intercourse, was ‘addicted to masturbation’, was a sexual voyeur, was obsessed by buttocks, had an interest in necrophilia, was sexually attracted to Adolf Hitler and hermaphrodites, and was a candaulist (i.e., he liked to watch his wife have sex with other men).
The first observation to make concerning Dali is that he had little interest in sexual intercourse. All Dali’s biographers make reference to this because this was something that Dali admitted himself (for instance in his book The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dali). In Ian Gibson’s (1998) biography The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali, it notes that Dali had been fixated on his unusually complex sexuality since his teenage years. Dali wrote that:
”For a long time I experienced the misery of believing I was impotent…Naked, and comparing myself to my schoolfriends, I discovered that my penis was small, pitiful and soft. I can recall a pornographic novel whose Don Juan machine-gunned female genitals with ferocious glee, saying that he enjoyed hearing women creak like watermelons. I convinced myself that I would never be able to make a woman creak like a watermelon”.
It was in his teenage years that Dali acquainted himself with the pleasures of masturbation even though he had a fear that it would cause homosexuality, impotence, and madness. However, sexual self-gratification became his primary (and many biographers allege only) sexual activity he engaged in throughout his life, often in front of a mirror. It’s also been noted by many authors that Dali “associated sex with decay” and that the roots of this association were due to his father’s strange form of sex education (such as being shown sexually explicit photographs of individuals with advanced, untreated sexually transmitted infections that Dali described as “the color of hell”). After viewing the pictures of grotesque genitalia, Dali started to associate sexual activity with decay and putrefaction (which came to the fore in his paintings). In his 1942 autobiography (The Secret Life of Salvador Dali) he even claimed that he became interested in necrophilia but was then later “cured” of it (but to what level his interest spanned is unknown). Dali had many obsessions including a deep fascination of buttocks (both men’s and women’s) as well as many phobias including female genitalia and a fear of castration (and appears to be the basis of his infamous painting The Great Masturbator). As a 2014 article by Jackie Fuchs noted:
“These fears and obsessions – along with a lifelong fascination with ants – became recurrent motifs in his paintings. In ‘The Great Masturbator’, Dali’s first significant work, a woman believed to be Dali’s future wife Gala rises out of a downward-facing head, which is suspended over a locust swarming with ants. The positioning of the woman’s mouth next to a thinly clad male crotch suggests fellatio, while the trickle of blood on the male figure’s thighs reflects Dali’s castration anxiety (see below)”.
A 2011 online article in Living in Philistia by Joshua White makes other allegations about Dali’s early childhood saying that he might have been sexually abused by one of his schoolteachers and that he might have had an incestuous relationship with his sister (although I’ve found little evidence of these allegations):
“[Dali] later pinned his ‘impotence’ on his father, as well as his mother, and naturally Dali went on to fantasise of sodomising his dying father. This also might explain the direct kind of gynophobia Dali later developed. It has been suggested that he was molested by a teacher who used to have Dali sit on his lap while he stroked him. That would explain the artist’s lifelong hatred of being touched. The subject of twelve of his early paintings was Dali’s sister Ana Maria, a number of which tellingly depict her from the rear, which has led some to conclude that the relationship between them may have been incestuous. The sex life of Salvador Dali was not a common one to say the least”.
An online article by Mateo Sol also alluded to Dali’s poor relationship with his parents. On one occasion Dali exhibited an artwork in which he wrote “Sometimes, I spit for fun on my mother’s portrait.” His father asked him to publicly apologise but Dali declined to do so. Following this incident, Dali sent his father a condom in the post (into which he had added his own semen) with a short note that simply read: “This is all I owe you”.
Dali’s wife and muse Gala (born in Russia as Helena Diakanoff Devulina) appears to have dominated Dali from their first meeting in 1929 (figuratively, psychologically, and arguably sexually given that almost no physical intimacy took place between Dali and Gala). It’s also generally agreed among scholars that Dali was a virgin when he married Gala (at least heterosexually) and they remained married for 53 years until Gala’s death. Gala was ten years older than Dali and had many sexual conquests before they married. Gala might perhaps best be described as a ‘swinger’, and at the time she met Dali was married to Paul Éluard (the poet) who both adhered to the sexual philosophy of ‘free love’.
Many biographers describe Gala as a highly-sexed nymphomaniac. Éluard and Gala were constantly sexually unfaithful to each other and (according to some accounts) encouraged each other’s infidelity. Gibson’s biography recounted Dali and Gala’s ‘mutual degradation’ of each other and Dali became some who tolerated all her extra-marital lovers. According to Zuzanna Stranska in a 2017 article in the Daily Art Magazine, Dali bought Gala a castle in Púbol (Girona) in 1968, but Dali was not allowed to visit without Gala’s written permission (and described in Joshua White’s article as Gala’s “fuck-nest” rather than a ‘love-nest’). It was here that Gala entertained her younger lovers.
It’s also been claimed that Dali had a homosexual relationship with poet Federico García Lorca (but has never been verified). It’s been alleged by a number of authors that Lorca twice tried to seduce Dali (and Dali said “Lorca tried to screw me twice”). Lorca was shocked when Dali married Gala because (according to a 2009 paper in the PsyArt Journal by Zoltán Kováry) “he was convinced that the painter had erection only with a finger in his anus”. Although Dali claims never to have had a relationship with Lorca, it appears they did have one sexual liaison because Dali wrote that: “I tried sex once with a woman and it was Gala. It was overrated. I tried sex once with a man and that man was the famous juggler Frederico Garcia Lorca. It was very painful”. Dali also wrote that:
“Deep down I felt that [Lorca] was a great poet and that I owe him a tiny bit of the Divine Dali’s asshole. He eventually bagged a young girl, and she replaced me in the sacrifice. Failing to get me to put my ass at his disposal, he swore that the girl’s sacrifice was matched by his own: it was the first time he had ever slept with a woman”.
According to the article by Joshua White, Dali was arguably more homosexual than heterosexual. He claimed that:
“[Dali] developed a penchant for persuading youths to drop their trousers and masturbate as he watched. He hoarded thousands of photos with many different lads. There has been a long speculation over the exact sexuality of the exhibitionist painter. We might be able to trace the misogynistic, or more accurately gynophobic, tendencies of Dalinian art down to Dali’s fear of a particular part of the female anatomy. To put it more bluntly, Salvador Dalí was a self-professed worshiper of the female posterior. The extent of this obsession drew the concern of his fellow Surrealists, he denied he was coprophagic one minute and in the next instance would state ‘true love would be to eat one’s partner’s excrement.’ Perhaps we should keep in mind that the Catalonians are a very scatological people, for it is custom before eating to exclaim “Eat well, shit hard.” The specific preference he had was for hermaphrodites, which he never encountered and only ever fantasised about. Not masculine or feminine, androgyne was the order of the day”.
Consequently, masturbation became Dali’s only physical sexual activity throughout his life. While this might be psychologically devastating for most people, his sexual psyche, tortured sexuality, and sexual inadequacy are critical to understanding the great art he produced. It certainly appears he had a great fascination with masturbation. For instance, Brian Sewell, the British art historian, claimed that Dali once asked him strip naked, lie down in the foetal position, and masturbate in front of a sculpture of Christ. Dali’s voyeuristic tendencies have also documented by others, most notably the alleged weekly orgies that Dali used to host which not only catered for Dali’s love of voyeurism but also his candaulism (where he would enjoy other men having sex with his wife). The most infamous story was told by American singer and actress Cher who arrived at Dali’s apartment mid-orgy. She picked up “a beautiful, painted rubber fish. Just fabulous. It has this little remote-control handset, and I’m playing with it, and the tail is going back and forth, and I’m thinking it’s a child’s toy. So I said to Salvador: ‘This is really funny.’ And he said: ‘It’s wonderful when you place it on your clitoris’”.
It has also been claimed that Dali had a perverse obsession with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Most individuals in the surrealist movement were politically left-wing but Dali was expelled for being a Nazi sympathiser (an allegation that Dali strenuously denied). Whether he was a Nazi sympathiser or not, Dali definitely painted a number of artworks featuring the ‘great dictator’ including The Enigma of Hitler and Hitler Masturbating. In his book (The Unspeakable Confessions) Dali also said that he “often dreamed of Hitler as a woman” and that Hitler “turned [him] on in the highest…His fat back, especially when I saw him appear in the uniform with the Sam Browne belt and shoulder straps that tightly held in his flesh, aroused in me a delicious gustatory thrill originating in the mouth and affording me a Wagnerian ecstasy”. An online article by Stephan Roget notes that there’s a good chance that Dali said such things for shock value, but also notes that Dali didn’t appear to have problems with what the Fuhrer was doing in Nazi Germany.
Most Dali scholars believe he was a sexual voyeur and derived great sexual arousal from watching other people (including his wife) have sex. According to the article by Jackie Fuchs:
“[Dali] was attracted to androgynous bodies – women with small breasts and men having feminine lines. Dali wrote of his ‘penetrating voyeur experiences’ during childhood and even titled one of his early paintings ‘Voyeur’.”
Joshua White also noted that:
“Originally [Dali’s] art served as a vent for the eccentricities, fetishes and obsessions that lurked beneath the surface of a shy Catalonian boy. But as he crafted a persona through which he could express these same things with almost the same level of impunity, then the standard of his art went into a steep decline in his later years. The sexual ambiguity, explicit paraphilia and vivid androgyny found so exuberant in Dalinian artwork…The 20th Century leitmotifs of sex and paranoia are conjoined twins in Dali’s work…We find some of the worst nightmares of the 20th Century conjured up by the more sinister works he churned out, while the juxtaposition with sex introduces a sadomasochistic element into the situations portrayed”
Perhaps the best (or worst, depending upon your viewpoint) eye-opener concerning Dali’s alleged sex life was a book first published in 2000 by former dancer and (struggling) actor Carlos Lozano entitled Sex, Surrealism, Dali and Me (and translated into English by Clifford Thurlow; a reprinting of the book in 2004 with new material was published by Thurlow as The Sex Life of Salvador Dali: The Memoirs of Carlos Lozano). Given that Dali had been dead over a decade by the time this book was published it’s hard for any of the stories to be substantiated (particularly as Lozano died shortly after the book was published). After starting out as one of Dali’s nude models, Lozano claimed he became Dali’s young lover and was Dali’s main confidante in the last two decades of his life. Among the book’s revelations were that Dali: (i) orchestrated sex games for his celebrity guests (including the King of Spain, the artist Marcel Duchamp, actor Yul Brynner, and Prince Dado Ruspoli), (ii) was obsessed with humiliating friends for his own amusement and sexual gratification (such as forcing them to strip and then getting them to engage in sexual acts of his choosing) while he masturbated from the side lines, and (iii) forced a famous Hollywood actress to strip naked and crawl through a plastic ‘uterus’ to allow her to re-experience birth.
It is clear from reading about Dali’s various (s)exploits that his sexual behaviour and sexuality were extreme but that much of his early great art derived from his strange sexual psyche. While some of the alleged sexual behaviours may have been embellished over the years, all of the allegations appear to have some truth in them. Many may argue that Dali’s sex life (or absence of it) was as surreal as his paintings, but none of this takes away from the fact that his art is awe-inspiring to many (myself included).
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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