Author Archives: drmarkgriffiths
Over the Christmas period, I was at a family wedding in the Cotswolds when by chance I came across Dr. Raj Persaud’s 2003 book From The Edge of the Couch (subtitled ‘Bizarre psychiatric cases and what they teach us about ourselves’) for sale in a charity shop in nearby Moreton-in-Marsh. As it was selling really cheaply I decided to buy it (even though this was the book where a number of the cases Dr. Persaud recounted were plagiarized from other people’s work).
One of the more interesting case studies in the book concerned a 1998 case study published by Dr. R.S. Shiwach and Dr. J. Prosser in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. The paper concerned the treatment of an “unusual case of masochism” (where the individual gained sexual arousal and pleasure from being burnt (i.e., pyrophilia) and crushed (i.e., ‘crush fetishism’) that often meant he was in dangerous and potentially life threatening situations. As the authors summarized:
“Masochistic sexual activity is potentially dangerous, rarely reported voluntarily, and hard to treat. [Our paper] describes a masochist patient who received sexual gratification from being burnt or crushed. Anti-androgen medication [leuprolide acetate], serotonin uptake inhibitor [fluoxetine], and psychodynamic psychotherapy along with sexual education and social-skills training and aversive behavior therapy [covert sensitization and olfactory aversion] were all tried over a period of 9 months. The response was measured by effects of treatments on the frequency of erotic fantasies and masturbation”.
The male masochist was a single 38-year-old man that turned up at a hospital burns unit for treatment to extensive burns on his lower body (around 20% of his total body area) before being referred to the psychiatric unit. His pyrophilic urges and interest in being crushed were long-standing and dated back to mid-adolescence. The incident that led to the hospital admission had involved one of the man’s regular ways of gaining sexual arousal which was to set fire to refuse collecting trucks (i.e., ‘dumpsters’) while he was inside of them and simultaneously masturbating. Dr. Persaud’s reported that:
‘[The man] would then masturbate before getting out [of the dumpster]. His burns had occurred when a plastic dumpster melted and turned over. His first sexual experience at age 15 [years] had occurred when he curled himself up in an oven and ejaculated – an adventure that had been prompted by having been threatened as a child with being roasted ‘like a pig’ as a punishment. A social isolate, he enjoyed watching videos and reading about people being burned at the stake or crushed. He had also attempted autoerotic asphyxia, but relinquished this as ‘too dangerous’”.
The recollection of ejaculating while inside an oven appears to be a critical event in the acquisition and development of the man’s unusual sexual preferences. As Dr. Persaud noted:
“[The man remembered] entering a big unlit oven out of curiosity and liking the warmth and sense of suffocation but did not realize he had ejaculated until the third such instance. He remained a socially isolated virgin and gave a history of sexual disinterest in males or females and of ignorance of sexuality in general…Twice he came close to self-immolation after pouring gasoline on himself…he denied getting any pleasure out of seeing other people suffer…he worked in places where he could have easy access to large waste disposers, ovens, and box compactors”.
Consequently, Dr. Persaud thought (as I do) that learning theory best explained this man’s etiology and that psychoanalytic factors like guilt and punishment may have also been important. This particular case was also reported in a 2006 paper by Dr. D.J. Williams (i.e., ‘Different [painful) strokes for different folks) in the journal Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. Williams noted that the man had been arrested on a number of different occasions for climbing into refuse collecting dumpsters and had also broken his pelvis as a consequence of being crushed by a box compactor. Williams noted that: “clearly, most experts would agree that acting out fantasies in these dangerous situations posed a significant risk of severe physical harm and death, not to mention being illegal”. Dr. Persaud’s account also more specifically reported that:
‘[The man] would climb into refuse collecting trucks and ejaculate at the sensation of being crushed, only escaping at the last possible minute. He admitted masturbating almost daily to deviant sexual fantasies or to pictures of fire, people being burned or crushed, and even just the sight of chimneys. Recently he had been climbing into a large dumpster, pouring alcohol on the refuse and setting it on fire. He managed to masturbate and get out of the refuse bin with minor burns twice, but the plastic dumpster eventually melted and overturned, causing the injuries he now had”.
Despite the many different pharmacological and psychological interventions, none appeared to have any long-lasting effect. The first intervention was pharmacological and involved being injected weekly with an anti-androgen. This treatment resulted in a decrease of his fetishistic sexual fantasies and an overall decrease in his sex drive. However, the man didn’t like the fact that his sex drive has been significantly inhibited and asked to be taken off the medication. He also took anti-depressants over an 18-week period and then had aversive behaviour therapy (olfaction aversion) and psychodynamic therapy, social skills training, and sexual education. He was discharged after 34 weeks of treatment but on follow-up had resumed his fetishistic behaviour. Drs. Shewach and Prosser concluded that: “Anti-androgens and aversive behavior therapies may be the most effective treatments for such cases, at least in the short-term, although the underlying social deficits and the need to reshape the sexual behavior ought to be addressed in the long-term”.
One of the observations that Dr. Persaud made about this case was that the masochism in this case did not involve psychological humiliation or any interaction with other people in the man’s life. I would also add that most of the focus and commentary in this particular case has been on the pyrophilic aspects rather than the crush fetishism aspects. This may be because there has been far less in the medical and clinical literature on crush fetishism than pyrophilia. However, this is not the only case where crush fetishism has been associated with another sexual paraphilia. At the end of last year, my case study of eproctophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from flatulence) in the Archives of Sexual Behavior involved an eproctophile that was also a crush fetishist.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Balachandra, K. & Swaminath, S. (2002). Fire fetishism in a female Aasonist? Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 47, 487-488.
Bourget, D. & Bradford, J.M.W (1987). Fire fetishism, diagnostic and clinical implications: A review of two cases. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 32, 459-462.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Eproctophilia in a young adult male: A case study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1383-1386.
Litman, L.C. (1999). A case of pyrophilia. Canadian Psychological Association Bulletin, February, 18-20.
Persaud. R. (2003). From The Edge Of The Couch. London: Bantam Press.
Quinsey, V.L., Chaplin, T.C. & Upfold, D. (1989). Arsonists and sexual arousal to fire setting: Correlation unsupported, Canadian Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 20, 203-209.
Shiwach, R. S., & Prosser, J. (1998). Treatment of an unusual case of masochism. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 24, 303-307.
Williams, D. J. (2006). Different (painful) strokes for different folks: A general overview of sexual sadomasochism (SM) and its diversity. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 13, 333-346.
“There is a monster on the loose, and it is out to eat your brain. Pitiless in its advance and deadly in its cunning, Sudoku, a seemingly simple numbers game, has become the biggest puzzle craze to hit the world since Rubik’s Cube. It’s all over the newspapers, spreading across the Internet and heading for television in Britain, yet its phenomenal popularity raises some puzzling questions. Such as why, in a high-speed, hyper-technological age – without noticeable fanfare or promotion – would millions of people become addicted to a game invented more than 200 years ago by a blind Swiss mathematician?…Yet ominous reports pour in of ‘Sudoku seizure’. In workplaces in Britain, stories are circulating of people unable to make their children’s breakfasts, leave for the office or go to bed at night until they have solved their Sudoku” (The Telegraph of India, June 30, 2013).
In a previous blog I took a brief look at the psychology of doing crosswords. Today’s blog is arguably as frivolous as I thought I would turn my attention to Sudoku puzzles. Anecdotally I have read about people who claim to be ‘hooked’ and ‘addicted’ to Sudoku (such as a US woman – Mrs. C. Mills – who wrote about her ‘addiction’ to playing Sudoku on her i-Pad blog by Violet Njo Dicksonin her blog, and a claiming ‘I was a Sudoku addict’). There have also been various journalistic articles such as ‘Addicted to Sudoku’ in a 2006 issue of Newsweek. However, I haven’t seen any real evidence to convince me that anyone has ever developed a genuine addiction to such puzzles (although I don’t rule out that it’s theoretically possible). I certainly know a few people who spend more than a few hours a day doing Sudoku but they have the time to do them because they are unemployed or retired. In these cases, excessive Sudoku use is something clearly adds to these individuals’ lives rather than takes away from it (and on that criterion alone it is not an addiction for such individuals). According to The Telegraph [of India] news article:
“Sudoku – or something very similar to it – was invented in the 1780s by Leonhard Euler, a mathematical virtuoso from Basle. When he lost his sight in early middle age and was unable to work from books, he developed the ability to compute complex sums in his head and a talent for composing puzzles. He invented a grid-based puzzle and named it ‘Latin squares’. It was, in all material aspects, identical to Sudoku, yet it remained barely noticed until it turned up – renamed the ‘number place game’ – in America in the 1980s. It was spotted by Nobuhiko Kanamoto, employee of a Japanese puzzle magazine. The Japanese made the game slightly more difficult and renamed it Sudoku, meaning ‘number single’. Today there are at least five Japanese Sudoku magazines with a total circulation of 660,000. It began appearing in [British newspaper] The Times and has since spread to every newspaper. A mobile phone version is up and running. TV pilots are being planned. Certainly nothing comparable has been seen since 100 million Rubik’s Cubes were sold in the early 1980s”.
I’m not sure when I first came across Sudoku but I used to do (or at least try to do) the daily puzzle in The Guardian (in the days when I still read a daily newspaper). I had certainly been doing Sudoku puzzles for a while before I did my first media interview about them. I was even more surprised when some of my press comments made it into the preface of Alan Tan’s 2007 book Sudoku for Experts. I was quoted as saying:
“Part of the appeal is that it is relatively easy to play. No mathematics involved. Once grasped, the objective is childishly simple, yet infuriatingly difficult to achieve. It looks easy. But to do it well requires real thought. The rules are fairly simple, but the scope for skill is limitless. When you solve the problem you feel terrific”.
In the article in The Telegraph, Marcel Danesi, professor of semiotics at Toronto University (and author of The Puzzle Instinct) was interviewed about the popularity of Sudoku and was quoted as saying: “You cannot find a culture, no matter how technologically primitive or advanced, that does not have puzzle traditions”. I was also interviewed for the same article and was asked if Sudoku was something we should be worried about from an addiction perspective. My only comments that made it into the article reiterate what I said above:
“I don’t think it will be a problem as long as it remains an enthusiasm and doesn’t become an addiction. An enthusiasm gives you something. An addiction takes something away.”
I’m not aware of much scientific research on Sudoku, although in my blog on crosswords I mentioned a study led by Dr. Joshua Jackson published in a 2012 issue of the journal Psychology and Aging. The paper claimed that doing Sudoku and crosswords could change some aspects of personality among old-aged people. More specifically, they examined whether an intervention aimed to increase cognitive ability in older adults (i.e., doing crossword and Sudoku puzzles) affected the personality trait of openness to experience (i.e., being imaginative and intellectually oriented). In their study, old-aged adults completed a 4-month program in inductive reasoning training that included weekly Sudoku and crossword puzzles. They were then assessed continually over the following 30 weeks. Their findings showed that those who did Sudoku and crossword puzzles increased their openness scores compared to the control group. The authors claimed that this study is one of the very first to demonstrate that personality traits can change through non-psychopharmocological interventions.
On the same kind of theme, a non-academic article by Siski Green for the Saga website reported on how Sudoku, the card game bridge, and board games boost both body and mind. In a small section entitled ‘Sudoku to survive’ the article claimed that:
“A simple game of Sudoku could trigger the activation of ‘survival genes’ in your brain, making cells live longer and helping to fight disease. According to a study conducted at the University of Edinburgh, unused genes in brain cells are activated during stimulation like that caused by completing the puzzles. [The researchers] found that a group of these [survival] genes can make the active brain cells far healthier than lazy, inactive cells”
In my writings on the psychology of games more generally, I have noted that there are a number of key factors that determine whether games like Sudoku become firmly established or simply fade away. This includes the capacity for skill development, a large bibliography, competitions and tournaments, and corporate sponsorship. For instance, all good games are relatively easy to play but can take a lifetime to become truly adept. I would therefore argue that the capacity for continued skill development is important for Sudoku’s continued popularity and future existence. In short, there will always room for improvement. Also, for games of any complexity, there must be a bibliography that people can reference and consult. Without books and magazines to instruct and provide information there will be no development and the activity will die. The sheer number of books on Sudoku is an indication of perhaps how healthy the state of Sudoku play is.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bennett, J. (2006). Addicted to Sudoku. The Daily Beast, February 22. Located at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2006/02/22/addicted-to-sudoku.html
Dickson, V.N. (2013). I was a Sudoku addict. March 13. Located at: http://christianitymalaysia.com/wp/sudoku-addict/
Green, S. Playing games for health: How bridge, sudoku and board games boost both body and mind. Saga, April 14. Located at: http://www.saga.co.uk/health/mind/health-benefits-of-playing-games.aspx
Jackson, J.J., Hill, P.L., Payne, B.R., Roberts, B.W., & Stine-Morrow, E.A. L. (2012). Can an old dog learn (and want to experience) new tricks? Cognitive training increases openness to experience in older adults. Psychology and Aging, 27, 286-292.
Mills, C. (2012). Sudoku addiction solved forever. December 9. Located at: http://claudiamillsanhouraday.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/sudoku-addiction-solved-forever.html
Tan, A. (2007). Sudoku for Experts. Malaysia: M & M Publishers.
The Telegraph (India). Your number’s up. June 30. Located at: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1130630/jsp/sudoku/story_5123700.jsp#.Ug9dmr-9pO1
“Have you ever thought about a woman having sex with an octopus? The Japanese have, in fact they have been thinking about it for almost two hundred years or more. They have painted it, carved it in wood, made elaborate cartoon porn about it. It is known as Cephalerotica, and it is different to say the least” (from online essay Cephloerotica/Octopus Sex by Monkee Armada)
In a previous blog, I examined ‘tentacle erotica’ in Japanese anime and manga cartoons. Today’s blog is arguably a continuation of that article as it examines ‘tentacle erotica’ in real life rather than cartoon fantasy. Over the last year or so I have been collecting bizarre sexual stories from around the globe. A number of these have involved humans watching other humans have sex with cephalopods (e.g., octopus, squid, etc.).
- Case 1: In January 2008, Rodney Scott McLagan, a 48-year old Australian single man from Tasmania was arrested and pleaded guilty after he admitted downloading over 30,000 videos and “depraved images” including video clips of humans engaged in sexual acts with an octopus. (He had also downloaded other videos and images including sexual acts with children aged 5-15-years old, as well as other zoophilic sexual behaviour involving dogs, ponies, tigers and snakes). McLagan’s lawyer David Barclay said his client had no interest in child pornography and that the paedophilic material had been downloaded as part of a larger bundle of zoophilic material (that his client was more interested in – and had actively searched online for – bestial acts). The Supreme Court in Hobart was also told that McLagan, employed as an office worker, had very low self-esteem, a personality disorder, and described himself as “some sort of beast”. McLagan avoided a jail sentence because Justice David Porter said McLagan’s personality disorder had “caused him to avoid interpersonal contact and gave him a pre-occupation with being criticised or rejected…Without the opportunity for normal sexual relationships fantasy is often indulged . It also emerges from the report that [he was] particularly self-conscious about [his] teeth”. McLagan was sentenced to four months in jail (wholly suspended), fined 1500 Australian dollars, and placed on the sex offenders register for four years.
- Case 2: In March 2010, Andrew Charles Dymond a 46-year old Welsh man from Swansea (UK) appeared in court accused of possessing an “extreme pornographic image” of someone “performing an act of [sexual] intercourse with a dead animal, namely an octopus/squid, which was grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character” (along with other zoophilic images of someone having sex with dogs and horses, and of making 14 indecent photos of children and possessing a further 57 photos). The court also heard that five allegations involved images that showed sexual acts that were likely to result in serious injury to breasts or genitals. Dymond was given a conditional discharge, banned from using the internet, and banned from having any contact with a child under the age of 16 years.
- Case 3: In September 2012, Robert Peter Moore, a 31-year old man from Ribblesdale, Yorkshire (UK) pleaded guilty at Bradford Crown Court to possessing child pornography and hundreds of zoophilic images including an octopus, horse, and a dog. Moore admitted 15 charges of possessing pornographic pictures of children and animals on February 17 this year. Moore pleaded guilty to ten offences of possession of indecent photographs of a child, and admitted four allegations of possession of images and videos of bestiality. In court, the bestiality videos were described as “grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character”. Moore was immediately signed on with the police as a convicted sex offender.
There are clear overlaps in all three of these cases. All were middle-aged men, all were found to have videos and images not just of humans having sex with cephalopods, but zoophilic material more generally, as well as varying amounts of paedophilic material. All these similarities point to a global disturbance in normal sexual functioning rather than a specific interest in cephalopods.
There are no reported case studies in the academic or clinical literature of humans having zoophilic sexual relationships with cephalopods although in the name of research I came across five video clips online that I would rather not have seen. (Rather than me provide the links direct, all of these can be found very quickly simply by typing in ‘human zoophilic sex with octopus [or squid] video’ – but you have been warned. I never want to see another clip of a small octopus being placed into a woman’s vagina ever again). There is also a fair amount of ‘erotic fiction’ about human-octopus sex (such as Tentacle, My Tentacle and Octopussy, both on the Zoophilia-Story.Info website – again be warned these are very sexually explicit).
Less blatant (and decidedly less pornographic) are the various literary writings and artworks depicting human-octopus couplings and dating back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Arguably the most famous painting (actually a woodblock print) is The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and depicts a young female ama diver (i.e., someone who dives for pearls) sexually entwined with two octopuses. The Wikipedia entry on the image notes:
“The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife is the most famous image in Kinoe no Komatsu, published in three volumes from 1814, during the Edo period. The book is a work of shunga, a form of erotic art popularized by the ukiyo-e movement. The image, Hokusai’s most famous shunga design, depicts a woman, evidently an ama (a shell diver), enveloped in the arms of two octopuses. The larger of the two mollusks performs cunnilingus on her, while the smaller one, his son, assists on the left by fondling her mouth and nipple. In the text above the image the woman and the creatures express their mutual sexual pleasure from the encounter…The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife is often cited as an early forerunner of tentacle erotica, a motif that has been common in modern Japanese animation and manga since the late 20th century. Modern tentacle erotica similarly depicts sex between human women and tentacled beasts; notably, however, the sex in modern depictions is typically forced, as opposed to Hokusai’s mutually pleasurable interaction”.
I also recommend checking out the Wurzelforum website that has some ‘interesting’ human-octopus photographs which appear more aligned to the work of Hokusai than being overtly depraved and pornographic. There’s also a well researched article entitled ‘Bert Cooper’s Freaky Octopus Picture’ that’s worth two minutes of anybody’s time (especially of you are a fan of television drama Mad Men). A number of different websites also make references to Joshua Handley, an English nineteenth century artist travelled to Japan and developed an obsession with tentacle erotica and inspired a short online essay Tentacles of Desire: The Man Who Loved Cephalopods that can be found on Dr. Kilmarnock’s website The Obscure World of Victorian Erotica. Here are a few excerpts that caught my eye:
“Joshua Handley was a minor artist who made a living by producing a seemingly endless stream of engravings for the publishers of erotic literature, an occupation which demanded some nerve as one could at any time be arrested on charges of obscenity…In 1882 Handley was invited to travel to Japan as an illustrator and photographer, by Sir Neville Thripp, an ardent Japanophile and a distant cousin of Handley. Sir Neville was determined to explore and document the less well-known aspects of Japanese and culture…But what particularly caught his attention was a 3-volume ukiyo-e erotic book Kinoe no Komatsu (Young Pine Shoots) by Hokusai, published around 1814, and most particularly the several woodblock prints of octopi and female pearl divers in intimate situations contained in the work…Handley had discovered the great obsession which was to dominate the rest of his life…Handley, dissatisfied with the erotic literature that he had previously illustrated, and at the crest of his obsession with octopi, began to write and illustrate erotica of his own, but erotica of a most unconventional nature…His tales invariably began quite unremarkably, and the first pages could almost be mistaken for an adventure novel of the period: a female pearl diver, a shipwrecked gentlewomen, or an unwary (lady) bather would fall prey to a wily octopus, and become enmeshed in its vigorous tentacles. But what’s this? Can it possibly be that the ladies in question are not struggling against their cold-blooded captor’s rough advances as wholeheartedly as might be expected? That they are, in fact, succumbing to the rude blandishments of tentacle and sucker?”
The most recent mainstream cultural reference to human-octopus sex that I can think of was in the 1981 film Possession where the actress Isabelle Ajani (playing the dual character of Anna/Helen) has sex with an octopus. The only article that I have come across online that discusses ‘octopus fetishes’ is a December 2012 blog at the Pizza Clubhouse website. The article is a little non-politically correct in places and I don’t want to repeat the author’s speculations here (you can check it out yourself here, if you’re interested). The article does say that:
“Perhaps the most amazing thing about the octopus fetish is how much of it there is in real life. I can somewhat (sadly) understand a fetish with tentacles. It’s kind of a mixture of bondage and a gang bang. That still doesn’t explain a real life octopus. Still, people are turned on by two girls making out with octopuses on both of their heads, and that is pretty mild compared to some other stuff you can find”.
I’m not convinced that there are many (if any) people out there that genuinely enjoy sex with cephalopods although as the cases I highlighted show, there are some people who certainly like to watch others engaged in human-cephalopod sexual acts.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Daily Telegraph (2008). Octopus sex man gets off. July 18, Located at: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/weird/octopus-sex-man-gets-off/story-e6frev20-1111116951246
Pizza Clubhouse (2012). Weird fetish of the day: Octopuses. December 28. Located at: http://pizzaclubhouse.com/2012/12/28/weird-fetish-of-the-day-octopuses/
Rae, M. (2008). Man caught with octopus sex images. [Australian] News.com, July 4. Located at: http://www.news.com.au/news/man-caught-with-octopus-sex-images/story-fna7dq6e-1111116822419
The Sun (2008). Man admits to octopus. July 5. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/1380865/Man-admits-to-Octopus-porn-Octopus.html
Telegraph and Argus (2012). Man in court for possession of child porn and bestiality images. September 11. Located at: http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/9920762.Man_in_court_for_possession_of_child_porn_and_bestiality_images/
This Is South Wales (2010). Swansea man accused of possessing image of someone having sex with a squid. March 4. Located at: http://www.thisissouthwales.co.uk/Swansea-man-accused-possessing-image-having-sex-squid/story-12399534-detail/story.html#axzz2Xo1cTx8C
“The quest to have children can become a vortex that gets faster and faster and sucks people in. Women will sell everything and anything to have the treatment if they are short of funds. They will risk their lives, there’s no doubt about it. I have treated young women with cancer who have refused to have treatment for their illness until they have got pregnant and given birth, knowing they are risking their lives. Some of these women do, indeed, go on to die [from cancer], but they die happy, feeling that they have achieved something greater than their own continued existence. Everyone involved in these scenarios is trying to do the right thing, but the extraordinary energy of a couple’s determination creates a vicious circle. [Some couples are driven by] an urge stronger than addiction and more powerful than obsession” (Professor Sammy Lee, Chief Scientist of the IVF [in-vitro fertilization] programme at Wellington Hospital, London; The Guardian, 2009).
Today’s blog started as an email from one of my PhD students, Manpreet Dhuffar, who sent me an interesting article in the New York Times entitled ‘Addicted to IVF, or addicted to hope?’ The opening quote by one of the UK’s pioneers in IVF egg donation certainly believes that the urge for childless couples to have children is stronger than the urges addicts feel for their drugs or behaviours of choice and that their pursuit is obsessive. In the UK, the maximum number of IVF cycles is three but Professor Lee admitted that some couples had gone through 12 cycles and that he knew of clinicians that had continued providing IVF treatment even when they knew there was little chance of pregnancy success.
On one level, I obviously don’t believe that undergoing IVF can be a genuine addiction. To me, undergoing IVF treatment appears to be similar to those people who claim to be addicted to plastic surgery or having more and more tattoos. These are activities that are salient and preoccupying but are not activities that are engaged in day-in, day-out. Although there are no papers on ‘IVF addiction’ a 2002 paper in the journal Nursing Inquiry by Dr. Sheryl de Lacey analysed the discourse of women with infertility problems and that had undergone IVF and discontinued. Dr. de Lacey reported:
“[IVF treatment was described as] a metaphor of lottery in discourses of infertility…showing how when women are situated as gamblers, the metaphor is instrumental in polarising them into ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ in relation to the subjectivity of motherhood. I further deconstruct these subjectivities, showing how ‘winners’ are valorised and ‘losers’ are pathologised. But importantly, I show how infertile women who are not mothers resisted locating themselves as ‘losers’ in a metaphor of lottery and instead situated themselves in a contesting metaphor of investment as diligent ‘workers’ and as active agents in choosing the best employment of their bodily and monetary resources”.
I found these types of discourse myself in various online parenting and infertility forums. For instance, at websites such as babycenter.com and the Pursuit of Motherhood blog, women wrote:
- Extract 1: “I once read/heard a storyline that started with ‘Addicted to IVF’. I never thought that I might be one of them. The hope that comes with each cycle erases all the negativity, pain, injections, miscarriages, etc. that has already happened. The hope makes you think that it’s possible, even when no one really knows why my babies are sticking around long enough to grow. Each time, I say that I’ve had enough, yet I find myself going back. Even now, I’m ‘taking a break’ to lose the 30 pounds I’ve gained and lower my now raised blood pressure. Now that I’m 4 months off and halfway to my goals, I’m ready to jump in to IVF again. But, really, what’s different? There are no answers to why I can’t seem to hold on to a healthy pregnancy, yet my prognosis is ‘favorable’ since I have always responded ‘textbook’. Am I doing this out of vain, or is there, sometime in my future, a baby waiting to be mine? Thank goodness my insurance limits my tries to 6 fresh cycles because I don’t know if I’ll ever lose hope or stop trying
- Extract 2: “I’ve been thinking about New Year’s resolutions. I know it’s only the 29th of December but there’s nothing I like more than a resolution. I want to be brave enough to make Number 1 on the list: Give up IVF. And if that sounds like IVF is an addiction as much as drugs and alcohol that’s because it is. In fact, it’s definitely more expensive than a Class A habit. Even as I think and write it, my heart starts to palpitate because where IVF is concerned maybe I have become an addict. Just like an alcoholic who is convinced that happiness lies in that next drink, I’ve become convinced that happiness lies in our next round of IVF. I should start a support group. IVF Anonymous”
Some have even gone as far to write a whole book on their ‘addiction’ to IVF (for instance, check out Tertia Albertyn’s (funny, yet moving) book So Close: Infertile and Addicted to Hope). In researching this article, I also came across a good article (‘Are you addicted to IVF?) on the Fertility Lab Insider website written by ‘Carole’. She made reference to the research of Dr. Janet Blenner who developed a stage theory relating to those passing through infertility treatment (in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship). Using grounded theory, Blenner explored the perceptions of 25 couples as they underwent infertility assessment and treatment. Her theory consists of three concepts – engagement, immersion, and disengagement. To me this sounds like something that successfully treated addicts also go through. Blenner also describes eight stages that individuals pass through: (i) experiencing a dawning of awareness, (ii) facing a new reality, (iii) having hope and determination, (iv) intensifying treatment, (v) spiralling down, (vi) letting go, (vii) quitting and moving out, and (viii) shifting the focus. As Carole notes in relation to these eight stages:
“They seem similar to stages of grief or stages of finding sobriety after addiction. Some patients get stuck at Step 5, ‘spiralling down’. They are the patients who are confronted with repeated failures and evidence of new hurdles to their fertility, patients for whom even Herculean efforts in terms of effort and expense can be expected to be successful less than 5% of the time. If someone told you that you should bet $12,000, $15,000, even $20,000 on a horse that has a 5% or less chance of winning the race, you’d tell them to get lost, that’s crazy…Yet, IVF patients that go in for multiple rounds of IVF, beyond two or three are doing exactly that. Most clinics have pulled out all the stops, applied all the tricks they know by the third IVF cycle. If it still isn’t working, either the clinic is incompetent or IVF is not the right solution for that patient”.
Here, there is yet another gambling analogy which – given my ‘day job’ as a Professor of Gambling Studies – didn’t pass me by. Another online article by Mia Freedman also talked of infertility treatment as a form of gambling addiction and echoes the preceding quote. Freedman asserted:
“I am writing to express my extreme distress at what appears to be the most expensive lottery ticket in town for over 40s these days – IVF. I know of four women who have undergoing the process – one for the ninth time – and it appears they are constantly being told the next time they will be lucky. At around $10k a cycle, that is a lot of money on a chance that is less than one in 10. I am seeing marriages crumble, hearts break, hormones go wild and mental and physical devastation as a result of every cycle that doesn’t produced much longed for babies. I am seeing women almost lose their minds and empty their bank accounts to feed their obsession to be pregnant. Don’t get me wrong, I think IVF is a wonderful gift and I don’t deny anyone wanting a baby – no matter what their age – to give it a go. But surely, when chances are so low there should be comprehensive counselling where financial, marital, mental and physical heath issues are discussed before a 40 plus woman buys yet another expensive lottery ticket in hope of a baby?”
Although I personally wouldn’t conceptualize persistent IVF treatment as an addiction, there are certainly addiction-like elements in most of the stories I have read. Furthermore, and irrespective of whether such behaviour can be classed as addictive, there is no doubt that the need and want for a child appears to be the single most important thing in the lives of such individuals and that based on some of the accounts that I have come across, the need for children could perhaps be classed as an obsession – at least at the time of undergoing IVF.
Albertyn, T.L. (2009). So Close: Infertile and Addicted to Hope. Gauteng: Porcupine Press.
Blenner, J. L. (1990). Passage through infertility treatment: A stage theory. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 22(3), 153-158.
De Lacey, S. (2002). IVF as lottery or investment: Contesting metaphors in discourses of infertility. Nursing Inquiry, 9(1), 43-51.
Fertility Lab Insider (2013). Are you addicted to IVF? June 5. Located at: http://fertilitylabinsider.com/2013/06/are-you-addicted-to-ivf/
Freedman, M. (2010). When does IVF become an addiction? Mama Mia, January 18. Located at: http://www.mamamia.com.au/parenting/when-does-ivf-become-a-form-of-gambling-addiction/
Hill, A. (2009). Women are risking their lives to have IVF babies. The Guardian, September 13. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/sep/13/motherhood-fertility-treatment-cancer-ivf
Klein, A. (2014). Addicted to IVF, or addicted to hope? New York Times, January 27. Located at: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/addicted-to-i-v-f-or-addicted-to-hope/
Winslow, A. (2014). Addicted to IVF. Laughter Through Tears, January 29. Located at: http://laughterthroughtearsblog.com/2014/01/29/addicted-to-ivf/
Zoll, M. (2013). Generation IVF. Making a Baby in the Lab: 10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me. Lilith. Located at: http://lilith.org/articles/generation-i-v-f/
In previous blogs I have examined sthenolagnia (a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and sexual arousal from individuals displaying strength or muscles). Another related behaviour is cratolagnia where – according to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices – individuals derive sexual arousal and pleasure more generally from displays of strength (rather than muscles in and of themselves). Following that blog, I received a couple of emails from two males who suggested that I should write a blog on ‘muscle worship’ that although having a sexual aspect, is not the only aspect. According to the Wikipedia entry on muscle worship:
“Muscle worship is a social behaviour, usually with a sexual aspect (a form of body worship), in which a participant, the worshipper, touches the muscles of another participant, the dominator, in sexually arousing ways, which can include rubbing, massaging, kissing, licking, “lift and carry”, and various wrestling holds. The dominator is almost always either a bodybuilder, a fitness competitor, or wrestler, an individual with a large body size and a high degree of visible muscle mass. The worshipper is often, but not always, skinnier, smaller, and more out of shape”.
According to a couple of academic authors, muscle worshippers can be of either gender, and of any sexual orientation, although many authors appear to suggest it is more prevalent among gay men who view bodybuilders as little more than ‘sex objects’ and because bodybuilding is common among members of the gay community (see for instance: Benoit Denizet-Lewis’s 2009 book America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life, or John Edward Campbell’s 2004 book Getting it on Online: Cyberspace, Gay Male Sexuality, and Embodied Identity). A quick search online also suggests there is a large gay pornographic market for muscle worship along with numerous webcam muscle worship sites. Muscle worship appears to have crossovers with other sexually paraphilic behaviour such as sexual masochism. As the Wikipedia entry notes:
“The amount of forceful domination and pain used in muscle worship varies widely, depending on the desires of the participants. Sometimes, the dominator uses his or her size and strength to pin a smaller worshiper, forcing the worshipper to praise the dominator’s muscles, while in other cases, the worshiper simply feels and compliments the muscles of a flexing dominator. Male and female bodybuilders offer muscle worship sessions for a price in order to supplement their low or nonexistent income from bodybuilding competitions. Paid sessions sometimes involve sexual gratification, even when well-known competitors are involved, they offer fans the chance to meet in person and touch a highly muscular man or woman”.
A 2008 paper by Dr. Niall Richardson (2008) in the Journal of Gender Studies also made some interesting (and important) distinctions between muscle worship and two other erotic practices often associated with bodybuilding: ‘hustling’ and ‘sponsorship fantasies’. More specifically, Richardson wrote:
“Alan Klein describes ‘hustling’ as ‘the selling of implicit or explicit sex by a bodybuilder’ (1987, p. 132) and this can range from doing stripogram type work to engaging in full penetrative sex. Likewise muscle-worship is not to be confused with ‘sponsorship’ or ‘growth fantasies’. Katie Arnoldi’s superb first novel, Chemical Pink (a book which will probably become as revered a text for cultural critics of bodybuilding as Sam Fussell’s Muscle ) describes, often in lurid detail, the horrors of female bodybuilding sponsorship. In Chemical Pink, Arnoldi depicts the ‘sponsorship’ agreement between female bodybuilder Aurora and her sponsor Charles. It soon becomes evident that Charles has a Pygmalion fantasy and gains supreme pleasure from his manipulation of Aurora’s body, feeding her endless protein-rich meals and hefty cycles of anabolic steroids and growth hormones (Arnoldi 2001, pp. 100–102, 111). While Henry Higgins delighted in shaping Eliza’s social graces, the muscle sponsor wants to build and shape his idealized female body and, as such, muscle-sponsorship can be compared to other sexual fantasies, such as ‘feederism’, in which the manipulation of the sexual partner’s weight is the sexual pleasure”.
What I found most interesting here is how various aspects of Muscle Worship are compared to both mainstream (i.e., prostitution) and not-so-mainstream (e.g., feederism) sexual behaviours. Another short article I read on muscle fetishism (outside of the gay community as it concerned female muscle growth) on the Sex and the University website suggested that there were also links with macrophilia (sexual arousal from giants) and breast expansion fetishes:
“Female muscle growth (FMG) is a fantasy genre involving muscular growth of a woman. Many who enjoy these fantasies are attracted to Female bodybuilding or other muscular women. This interest frequently centers on the biceps. FMG is related to the growth fantasies giantess and breast expansion fetishism. This fantasy is sometimes about an equalization or reversal of the stereotypical power relationship (that some people imagine/take for granted) in a heterosexual couple”.
As I noted in my previous blog on sthenolagnia, FMG devotees frequent places where female body builders are found (e.g., gyms, health clubs, bodybuilding tournaments, etc.). However, I also noted that some FMG devotion may be based in fantasy rather than actuality, particularly if it is related to aspects of macrophilia and transformation fetishes (both of which I covered in previous blogs). For instance, Marvel Comics character ‘She-Hulk’ is a popular representation of FMG fantasy and can be found on websites such as the Female Muscle Factory. Although there is little in the way of academic research on the topic, many devotees of Muscle Worship appear to be sexually aroused by an equalization (or reversal) of the stereotypical power relationship among heterosexual couples.
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Assael, S. (2007). Steroid Nation. New York: ESPN Books.
Burt, J. (2007). Top five freaky fetishes. The Sun, September 7. Located at: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/21158/Top-five-freaky-fetishes.html
Campbell, E. (2004). Getting it on Online: Cyberspace, Gay male Sexuality, and Embodied Identity. London: Routledge.
Carson, H.A. (2010). A Roaring Girl: An interview with the Thinking Man’s Hooker. Bloomington, Indiana: Author House.
Denizet-Lewis, B. (2009). America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Klein, A.M. (1993). Little Big Men: Bodybuilding Subculture and Gender Construction. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Richardson, N. (2008): Flex-rated! Female bodybuilding: feminist resistance or erotic spectacle? Journal of Gender Studies, 17, 289-301
Sex and the University (2008). Sthenolagnia: Muscle fetishism. Located at: http://sexandtheuniversity.wordpress.com/2008/05/28/sthenolagnia-muscle-fetishism/
Steele, V. (1996). Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wikipedia (2012). Muscle worship. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscle_worship
Like many others around the world, last week I was genuinely shocked when I heard about the death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on February 2 (2014). One of my regular blog readers emailed me a couple of days ago asking if I would be writing a blog on him because of all his well publicized past drug and alcohol addiction. As the Wikipedia entry on his personal life noted:
“In a 2006 interview, Hoffman revealed he had suffered from drug and alcohol abuse and that after graduating from college at age 22, he went to rehab for drug and alcohol addiction. He said he had abused ‘anything I could get my hands on. I liked it all’. Hoffman relapsed more than 20 years later with heroin and addiction to prescription medications. He subsequently checked himself into a drug rehab for about ten days in May 2013”.
I had already decided I would do a belated tribute to Seymour Hoffman but not in relation to his chemical addictions – but in relation to his portrayal of gambling addiction in the 2003 film Owning Mahowny. Although my all-time favourite gambling film is the 1974 movie The Gambler starring James Caan (a film on which I’ve written academically – see ‘Further Reading’ below), Owning Mahowny runs a close second. One of the key strengths of Owning Mahowny was that it was based on a real person. Seymour Hoffman played ‘Dan Mahowny’ (whereas the real life person was Brian Molony).
Brian Malony worked as a Toronto-based bank clerk at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). Over a one-and-a-half year period – and to fund his gambling addiction – Molony embezzled over $10million from the bank. His story was later the subject of a best-selling book by Gary Ross (called Stung: The Incredible Obsession of Brian Molony, and on which the screenplay to Owning Mahowny was based). Ross wrote his book following 4-5 hours of interviewing Molony every day for a month. Ross was asked what made Molony’s story so interesting:
“I was senior editor at ‘Saturday Night’ magazine at the time the fraud was discovered, right across the street from the Bay and Richmond (Toronto) branch of the CIBC. I assumed it was some sophisticated computer scam – how else could you liberate $10.2-million from a big bank? [I] was intrigued to learn from Eddie Greenspan, Brian Molony’s lawyer, that Molony was a compulsive gambler and that the frauds had been acts of improvised desperation rather than an elegant criminal scheme…Gambling addiction can be every bit as devastating, and as hard to treat, as a drug or alcohol dependency. It’s all the more insidious for being invisible, and it’s far more widespread than most people understand. A lot of social security checks, pay checks, and even liquidated homes end up on the casino’s bottom line”.
Additionally, and according to Molony’s Wikipedia entry:
“Molony, who had developed a passion for the race-track and gambling from the age of ten years, and acted as a bookie for his school-mates, graduated from the University of Western Ontario in London with a degree in journalism. Initially planning to be a financial writer, he did so well in a Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce aptitude test that he was put in their management-training program and hired right out of university. Molony spent a few weeks as a teller before working in savings, current accounts, foreign exchange and loan accounting, then ‘floating’ among some of the Bank’s huge network of some 1,600 branches, which gave him a further broad exposure to the bank’s highly regimented workings and familiarity with its systems and internal weaknesses. On a modest annual salary of about $10,000, Molony led an unassuming lifestyle in Toronto, wearing inexpensive, ill-fitting clothes and leaving carefully calculated seven per cent tips in restaurants, at the same time he was embezzling $10.2 million from CIBC to feed his gambling habit, writing loans in the names of both real and fictitious companies. Molony was then able to transfer millions of dollars out of the bank through a company called California Clearing Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Desert Palace, a Las Vegas casino. This corporation’s only purpose was to let people deposit sums of money into the casino without detection”.
After 18 months of spending his employer’s money (including $4,732,000 lost at Caesars between February 7, 1981 to April 23, 1982), Molony lost half a million dollars at the Caesars casino playing table games in Atlantic City (AC). Molony had led the life of a ‘high roller, and was being heavily ‘comped’ with free luxury hotel rooms and access to a Lear jet to fly between AC and Vegas. Molony was eventually arrested (April 27, 1982), the day after he lost the money at Caesars. Later in the year (November 1983), Molony admitted during his trial that he had embezzled all the money from CICB and served 30 months in jail. One of his activities since leaving prison has been to lecture publicly on gambling addiction. At the same time that Molony went to jail, CIBC filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Caesars’ staff members should have realized that the money Molony was gambling with was not his own. The case was eventually settled out of court with the terms of the settlement remaining private.
Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Molony was excellent and provides true insight into life as a problem gambler. Obviously there is some artistic license in the dramatization of Molony’s life but all the key elements in the film were true. The film is noteworthy because (like The Gambler) the story concerns the effects of gambling addiction on the gambler and those around him rather than the glitz and glamour of gambling in Vegas and AC. Gary Ross, author of Stung was asked whether Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal bore similarity with Brian Molony. He replied:
“Remarkably so. They have the same stocky build, bushy moustache, glasses, slightly unkempt look, and earnestness. And Philip somehow managed to assimilate the psychic essence of Molony – a yawning emptiness that nothing except gambling was able to fill…It’s remarkably faithful to what actually happened. I assumed a great many liberties would be taken in the transition from page to screen, and I’m pleased that the changes were minor and inconsequential. The pathos and grimness of what happened is there in the movie”.
Griffiths, M. (2004). An empirical analysis of the film ‘The Gambler’. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1(2), 39-43.
Ross, G. (1987). Stung: The Incredible Obsession of Brian Molony. London: Stoddart.
Wikipedia (2014). Brian Molony. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Molony
Wikipedia (2014). Owning Mahowny. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owning_Mahowny
Wikipedia (2014). Philip Seymour Hoffman. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Seymour_Hoffman