Nailed it: A brief look at onychophilia

In a previous blog, I looked at fingernail fetishism. Since writing that article, I’ve had a few individuals get in touch with me to say that they had very specific fingernail fetishes (such as a keen interest in very long nails). As the Kinkly website notes:

“A fingernail fetish can hinge on the nail color, texture, or length. If the fetish hinges on long nails, the fetish is sometimes referred to as onychophilia. For the fingernail fetishist the excitement is in the details, so nail art is given special attention”.

However, a really short article on ‘Lady Zombie’s World of Pain, Pleasure and Sin’ website also notes that onychophilia as a fingernail fetish but says it only refers to long nails (rather than nails more generally):

“Onychophilia is a fetish for extremely long nails (either real or fake) and/or painted fingernails. As with all fetishes, preferences vary! While some fetishists say, ‘The longer, the better,’ many others find them to be repulsive after a certain length”.

In my previous article I mentioned the the only specific case of fingernail fetishism that I found in the academic literature was a 1972 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, by Dr. Austin McSweeny who successfully treated a young male fingernail fetishist using hypnosis (although other sexologists such as Willem Stekel and Martin Kafka had mentioned such a fetish in passing). The same case study was cited by Dr. Jesse Baring in a blog on fingernail fetishism for Scientific American. He noted:

“He could [only] become sexually aroused and experience penile erection by seeing or fantasizing the fingernails of a woman as they were being bitten by her. Occasionally, the mere sight of a woman’s severely bitten fingernails would cause the patient to experience a spontaneous erection … When the patient experienced the proper fetish situation, he could masturbate to the point of ejaculation and experience gratification. This was his only means of expressing his sex drive…The psychotherapist’s request for the man to picture heterosexual intercourse or a vagina in his mind’s eye was enough to make him vomit”.

A 2019 article by Stephen Alexander (‘Onychophilia: Two types of nail fetish’) notes that fingernail fetishes are subsumed within ‘hand partialism’ (which can arguably include other fetishes I have examined including ‘handwear fetishism’ and ‘hands on hips fetishism’). Alexander asserts:

“I think that [fingernail fetishism] deserves critical attention in its own right. For the nails are not like any other part of the hand in that they are not composed of living material; they are made, rather, of a tough protective protein called alpha-keratin. D. H. Lawrence [in his 1963 essay ‘Why the novel matters’] describes his fingernails as ‘ten little weapons between me and an inanimate universe, they cross the mysterious Rubicon between me alive and things […] which are not alive, in my own sense’. Thus, I think there’s something in the claim that what nail (and hair) fetishists are ultimately aroused by is death; that they are, essentially, soft-core necrophiles. Having said that, the human nail as a keratin structure (known as an unguis) is closely related to the claws and hooves of other animals, so I suppose one could just as legitimately suggest a zoosexual origin to the love of fingernails”.

To support his claim that fingernail fetishists are “soft-core necrophiles”, Alexander noted that there had been a recorded case in the 1963 book Perverse Crimes in History: Evolving concepts of sadism, lust-murder, and necrophilia – from ancient to modern times (by R.E.L. Masters and Eduard Lee) where “an illicit lover derived pleasure from eating the nail trimmings of corpses (necro-onychophagia), thereby lending support to the theory that nail fetishism has a far darker and more ghoulish undercurrent”.

I also learned in Alexander’s article that there is another related paraphilia – amychophilia – which refers to sexual arousal from being scratched (or as Alexander puts it: “a love of the pain [fingernails] can inflict, when grown long and sharp”). I went and checked if amychophilia was in my ‘go to’ book on paraphilias (i.e., Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) – and it was. Dr. Aggrawal defines amychophilia as “deriving sexual pleasure from being scratched” which technically could mean sexual arousal from being scratched by things other than fingernails (e.g., toenails, back-scratcher) although scratching for most people will be synonymous with fingernail scratching. Given these definitions, I would argue that amychophilia is more akin to masochism than onychophilia because the root of amychophilia is in the feeling provided rather than what is doing the scratching. Alexander also quotes at length from Daphne du Maurier’s short story ‘The Little Photographer’ (from The Birds and Other Stories) and says that one scene in the book describes onychophilia in fetishistic detail”. (I won’t reproduce it here but you can check it out in Alexander’s online article here).

Which brings me to the final article I came across on onychophilia by Liz Lapont on The Naked Advice website. She was writing in response to an email she had received:

I’m a guy with a sexual fetish for long fingernails (not too long, usually the length that people get when they get their nails done). I beat off to pictures of nails and I have conversations with female friends about their nails. I wanted to know if you can make a video about this type of fetish. Seeing as not a lot of people talk about or show interest in this fetish, am I weird?”

Lapont replies that the fetish is both atypical and uncommon but not weird (“as in creepy and in need of psychiatric help”). My own take is that this is a non-normative sexual behaviour but agree with Lapont that there is nothing to worry about if the behaviour causes no problems in the individuals’ lives. She concludes by saying:

“Consult any list of the most common sexual fetishes and nails don’t crack the top 10. However it’s not unheard of, and toenails are often an associated turn-on for men with a fetish for feet. The clinical term for a fingernail fetish is onychophilia. For some, it’s the act of biting the fingernails that turn them on. For others, it might be their extreme length that is most erotic. Hands and nails play a big role even during the most vanilla sex in the world…So it’s not a stretch to see how for some men, fixating on fingernails would be IT for them”.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, 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.

Alexander, S. (2019). Onychophilia: Notes on two types of nail fetish. Torpedo The Ark. March 18. Located at: http://torpedotheark.blogspot.com/2019/03/onychophilia-notes-on-two-types-of-nail.html

Baring, J. (2013). Bite those nails, baby: A “quick” tale of fingernail Fetishism. Scientific American, August 14. Located at: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/bite-those-nails-baby-a-e2809cquicke2809d-tale-of-fingernail-fetishism/

Baring, J. (2013). Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All Of Us. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.

Kafka, M. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for fetishism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 357-362.

Kinkly (2020). Fingernails fetish. Located at: https://www.kinkly.com/definition/6664/fingernails-fetish

Lady Zombie (2011). Onychophilia – Long nail fetish. February 4. Located at: http://ladyzombienyc.blogspot.com/2011/02/onychophilia-long-nail-fetish.html

Lapont, L. (2017). Fingernails aren’t just great for back scratching. The Naked Advice, August 21. Located at: https://thenakedadvice.wordpress.com/2017/08/21/fingernails-arent-just-for-great-back-scratching/

Lawrence, D.H. (1985). Why the novel matters. In Steele, B. (Ed.), Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Masters, R.E., & Lea, E. (1963). Perverse crimes in history: Evolving concepts of sadism, lust-murder, and necrophilia, from ancient to modern times. New York: Julian Press.

McSweeny, A.J. (1972). Fetishism: Report of a case treated with hypnosis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 15, 139-143.

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.

Stekel, W. (1952). Sexual Aberrations: The Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex (Vol. 1) (Trans., S. Parker). New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Stekel, W. (1952). Sexual Aberrations: The Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex (Vol. 1) (Trans., S. Parker). New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished 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”. In 2013, he was given the Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 800 research papers, five books, over 150 book chapters, and over 1500 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 3500 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 January 17, 2020, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Pornography, Psychology, Sex and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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