Category Archives: Case Studies

Farm assist? A brief look at ‘tractor sex’

One of my good friends, Dr. Mike Sutton, recently sent me a story he’d come across with the headline “Suffolk man had sex with 450 tractors”. Given my academic interest in paraphilias and fetishism, I decided to try and track down the original source of the story and found that it was first published by the Suffolk Gazette back in 2015. According to the news report:

Ralph Bishop, 53, was found by police with his trousers around his ankles “interfering” with a tractor parked in a field outside Saxmundham. He was arrested on suspicion of outraging public decency, and admitted to having had sex with around 450 tractors all over the Suffolk countryside. When officers searched his terraced home they found a collection of more than 5,000 tractor images on his laptop. The photos showed Bishop had a special desire for John Deere and Massey Ferguson tractors, particularly green ones. A police insider said: “We couldn’t believe it when we found him in the field. He was wearing a white t-shirt and Wellington boots and very little else. He was clearly in state of high excitement at the rear of the machine. Thankfully nobody else was around, but the field is close to a village primary school so we had to arrest him and educate him about the error of his ways. He told us he was particularly ‘in to’ axle grease and the presence of this around the back of tractors was all too much for him.” Bishop, twice divorced, was released without charge on condition he sought psychological help. He was put on the sex-offenders’ register. “He is also banned from the countryside and is now forbidden to go within one mile of a farm,” the police insider added. “So he has to live and remain in the middle of Ipswich to comply with that. However, we are watching him because we are worried about the safety of several street-cleaning machines.” Another policeman added: “He’ll also need to keep away from the town’s gardens – if he takes a fancy to a lawn mower he might find he loses more than just his liberty.”

Since the publication of this story, it has been re-reported dozens of times including the Daily Star and has even had follow-up stories (also in the Suffolk Gazette) – just type in the words ‘Ralph Bishop’ and ‘tractor’ and you’ll see what I am referring to. Given that I have written a number of articles on what has been termed ‘objectum sexuality’ (involving individuals who have sexual relationships with cars, trains, and bicycles) I wouldn’t have been overly surprised to hear of such a story, but the story is a hoax. My suspicions were raised by some of the alleged quotes from the nameless police officers in the story but the real clue to the story being a hoax (along with the follow-up stories) was that these stories were written by a ‘Crime correspondent’ called ‘Hugh Dunnett’ (‘whodunit’).

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Despite the story being a hoax I decided to see if there were any real examples of ‘tractor sex’. A quick bit of Googling demonstrated that there is certainly a niche market for pornographic videos featuring individuals having sex in tractors including Porn Hub and elsewhere (please be warned that clicking on these links leads directly to sexually explicit material). I also found the occasional admission in online forums of individuals who had sexual fantasies concerning tractors but these appeared to be nothing more than isolated dreams rather than being a fetish that was enacted. I also discovered that there is a sexual practice colloquially known as a ‘Kentucky Tractor Puller’. According to online sources, the description is as follows:

“The act of a male and a male or male and a female preforming anal sex. During sex the receiver clenches their butt-cheeks tightly and runs with the penis still in the buttocks”.

I then went onto Google Scholar, and a just published 2018 paper appeared after I had typed in the words ‘tractor sex’. A paper in the journal Medical Journal Armed Forces India by Antonio Ventriglio and colleagues entitled ‘Sexuality in the 21st century: Leather or rubber? Fetishism explained’. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by what I found. In the very first paragraph of the paper, the authors repeated the hoax story:

“In the UK, in early October 2015, a man was arrested for having had sex with 450 tractors. According to the news report, he was found to have over 5000 tractor images on his laptop. He had a special desire for John Deere and Massey Ferguson tractors, particularly the green ones. He was into axle grease, which apparently turned him on sexually. He was placed on the Sexual Offenders’ Register”.

Although academics (including myself) can be fooled by hoaxes, the authors of the paper clearly didn’t even check out the original source. In fact, the authors cited the article that appeared in the Daily Star but if they had continued to read the story to the very end, they would have seen the fact that even the newspaper believed the story to be a hoax.

I then found a 2016 paper by Brian Holoyda and William Newman in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry entitled ‘Childhood animal cruelty, bestiality, and the link to adult interpersonal violence’. I knew the word ‘tractor’ appeared in the paper but I had no idea in what context. I emailed Dr. Holoyda who sent me the paper. I had been expecting to read that there was some kind of bestial act relating to a tractor but this wasn’t the case. It cited a paper published in a 1963 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry by Dr. John Macdonald which related sadistic acts by a farmer (the so-called ‘homocidal triad‘) towards animals:

“Macdonald described some patients who were “very sadistic,” including one patient who “derived satisfaction from telling his wife again and again of an incident in which he assisted in the birth of a calf by hitching the cow to a post and tying a rope from the presenting legs of the calf to his tractor,” the result being that he “gunned the motor and eviscerated the cow” (p. 126). He claimed that “in the very sadistic patients, the triad of childhood cruelty to animals, fire setting and enuresis was often encountered” (p. 126–127), though he never explicitly stated how many patients had a history of these comorbid behaviors. Macdonald reported that within six months of his study, two patients killed a person, neither of whom he identified as having a history of animal cruelty (or enuresis or fire setting, for that matter), and that one patient with schizophrenia committed suicide”.

I ought to add that bestial acts by farmers is not uncommon. The Kinsey Reports (of 1948 and 1953) arguably shocked its readers when it reported that 8% of males and 4% females had at least one sexual experience with an animal. As with necrophiliacs who are often employed in jobs that provide regular contact with dead people, the Kinsey Reports provided much higher prevalence for zoophilic acts among those who worked on farms (for instance, 17% males who had worked on farms had experienced an orgasmic episode involving animals). A more recent reference by Dr. Anil Aggrawal outlining his new typology for zoophilia (which I overviewed in a previous blog) noted the cases of what he described as opportunistic zoosexuals who have normal sexual encounters but who Aggrawal argued would not refrain from having sexual intercourse with animals if the opportunity arose. Aggrawal claims that such behaviour occurs most often in incarcerated or stranded persons, or when the person sees an opportunity to have sex with an animal when they are sure no-one else is present (e.g., farmhands). Aggrawal claims that opportunistic zoosexuals have no emotional attachment to animals despite having sex with them.

Thankfully, I did manage to locate one paper in the academic literature where tractors were inextricably linked with paraphilic behaviour. In 1993, a paper by P.E. Dietz and R.L. O’Halloran entitled ‘Autoerotic fatalities with power hydraulics’ published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. They reported two case studies of men who used “the hydraulic shovels on tractors to suspend themselves for masochistic sexual stimulation”. One of the men was an objectophile (although the authors didn’t call him that – I am using Dr. Amy Marsh’s definition in a 2010 paper on objectum sexuality in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality to classify him as such). This man actually developed a romantic attachment to his tractor, and went as far as giving his tractor a name and writing poetry about it. Unfortunately, the man “died accidentally while intentionally asphyxiating himself through suspension by the neck, leaving clues that he enjoyed perceptual distortions during asphyxiation”.

The second case was a man who was found dead in a barn lying on his front pinned under the hydraulic shovel of his tractor. His body was covered with semen stains and there was evidence of masochistic sexual bondage. His clothes were folded neatly away nearby. He was found naked except for a pair of women’s red shoes (with 8 inch heels), knee high stockings and tape duct wrapped around his ankles. Ropes led from his feet to the tractor which when raised would lift his inverted body causing complete suspension. It is not known exactly what happened but it is likely that the engine stalled and he was crushed underneath the tractor shovel. He died of positional asphyxiation by chest compression. This was an atypical autoerotic fatality because he did not purposely use asphyxiation but it did cause his death.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished 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.

Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18, 73-78.

Dietz, P. E., & O’Halloran, R.L. (1993). Autoerotic fatalities with power hydraulics. Journal of Forensic Science, 38(2), 359-364.

“Dunnett, H.” (2015). Suffolk man ‘had sex with 450 tractors’. Suffolk Gazette. Located at: https://www.suffolkgazette.com/news/suffolk-man-sex-with-tractors/

Holoyda, B. J., & Newman, W. J. (2016). Childhood animal cruelty, bestiality, and the link to adult interpersonal violence. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 47, 129-135.

Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C.E., Gebhard, P.H. (1953). Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company.

Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C.E., (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company.

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Macdonald, J. M. (1963). The threat to kill. American Journal of Psychiatry, 120(2), 125-130.

Marsh, A. (2010). Love among the objectum sexuals. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 13, March 1. Located at: http://www.ejhs.org/volume13/ObjSexuals.htm

Rawle, T. (2015). Perv who romped with 450 TRACTORS caught with 5,000 racy pics of farming vehicles. Daily Star, October 21. Located at: https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/latest-news/471306/Pervert-tractor-sex-fetish-farm-vehicles-arrested

Ventriglio, A., Bhat, P. S., Torales, J., & Bhugra, D. (2018). Sexuality in the 21st century: Leather or rubber? Fetishism explained. Medical Journal Armed Forces India. Epub ahead of print. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mjafi.2018.09.009

All cried out: A beginner’s guide to dacryphilia

(Please note: This article was commissioned by The Independent newspaper but was never published after the person who commissioned the article left to go to another newspaper. As I hate for writing to ‘go to waste’ I decided to publish it on my blog)

Dacryphilia is a paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from seeing someone else cry. Back in 2012, I wrote an article on dacryphilia and noted that there hadn’t been a single academic study and started to do a little research of my own by visiting online dacryphilia forums. Based on the anecdotal data collected I speculated that two distinct types may exist within the dacryphilic community: those with sadistic dacryphilic interests and those with voyeuristic dacryphilic interests. Added to this was another dimension in that some dacryphiles appeared to be proactive in getting their sexual partners to cry whereas others were more passive. All of this speculation raises the question of why some individuals might be sexually aroused by crying and tears.

My research colleague Richard Greenhill and I published a study on the topic in the  International Journal of Sexual Health. We interviewed eight dacryphiles (six females and two males aged 20 to 50 years). Five of them were American with the three others from the UK, Romania, and Belgium. We recruited our participants from a dacryphilia forum (CryingLovers), a fetish forum (FetLife) and a sadomasochist forum (Collarchat.com). The data were analysed using thematic analysis.

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Based on the interviews, we proposed there are at least three distinct types of dacryphile. The three types were those whose sexual arousal was based on (i) the compassion of comforting someone crying, (ii) making someone cry in a consenting submissive individual and/or being made to cry by a consenting dominant individual, and (iii) seeing the curled-lips of someone crying.

Among the compassionate dacryphiles (four females) there were a number of important aspects. For these individuals, dacryphilia was comforting and was viewed as a ‘natural role’ and/or ‘their duty’. They also expressed negative feelings towards the dominance/submissive type of dacryphilia. A typical feature of compassionate interests was the presence of childhood fantasies and dreams in which the individual had met someone who’d had a ‘hard life’ and then comforted them. Here, the interest in comforting was grounded in their identities from an early age. Although there was an understanding that dacryphilia can be viewed as deriving pleasure from pain (i.e., crying), there was a clear emphasis placed on the comforting of pain. This contrasts compassionate interests with an interest in pain itself (i.e., sadomasochism) and displays the way in which these participants sought to ease pain rather than gain direct pleasure from it.

Three of our participants (two submissive females and one dominant male) expressed their dacryphilia primarily through dominance and submission. The two most important aspects for these individuals concerned emotional and physical pain, and the tears and crying as a secondary component of the dominance and submission. All three regarded tears and crying as a secondary component of their dacryphilia, citing surrender and the arousal of their sexual partner from tears as the predominant components. The psychological reinforcement appears to lie in the power and control they have over their submissive and compliant partner (referred to as ‘power play’). Knowing that their direct (verbal and/or physical) actions have directly caused the crying appears to be rewarding and reinforcing. 

The remaining male participant didn’t express an interest consistent with either compassion or dominance/submission. Instead, he expressed his dacryphilia primarily through an interest in curled-lips, as he was sexually aroused specifically by the curling of the lip during crying.

“I’m turned on by women who cry with their bottom lip stuck out. I’ve had this weird fetish since I was five. When the bottom lip sticks out, gets bulgy or curls downwards and the chin goes upwards and wrinkles – that’s an immediate turn on. I’ve come across dacryphiliacs who are turned on by tears, or by submission – but for me, it’s about the bottom lip. I’m starting to think I’m the only person on this planet with this problem”

The two most important aspects of this individual’s interest in curled-lips was the attraction to lips during crying, and the rarity of this dacryphilic interest (in fact, he described his interest as unique). This indvidual shows how very specific the sexual focus in dacryphilia can be (i.e., the crying having to be accompanied by the protruding bottom lip). This appears to be indicative of a powerful classically conditioned response as the stimuli for the sexual arousal is so very specific.

There may of course be more than three types of dacryphile as we only interviewed eight individuals. However, our study suggests that dacryphilia may comprise a continuum of interests that can differ from each other, but which are all connected by an overarching enjoyment or arousal from tears and crying.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Additional input: Richard Greenhill

Further reading

Aggrawal, Anil (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unususal Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The use of online asynchronous interviews in the study of paraphilias. SAGE Research Methods Cases. Located at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/978144627305013508526

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Compassion, dominance/submission, and curled lips: A thematic analysis of dacryphilic experience. International Journal of Sexual Health, 27, 337-350.

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Sexual interest as performance, intellect and pathological dilemma: A critical discursive case study of dacryphilia. Psychology and Sexuality, 7, 265-278.

Griffiths, M. D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilias – A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.

Holmes, S.T. & Holmes, R.M. (2002). Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behavior. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Milner, J. S. Dopke, C. A. & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and Theory. In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp. 384-418). New York: Guildford Press.

Monroe, W. (2012). Fetish of the week: Dacryphilia. February 23. Located at: http://www.zzinsider.com/blogs/view/fetish_of_the_week_dacryphilia

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.

Wikipedia (2012). Dacryphilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dacryphilia

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.

Myth world: A brief look at some myths about Gaming Disorder

Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation announced that ‘Gaming Disorder’ (GD) was to be officially been included in the latest (eleventh) edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). The announcement received worldwide media coverage alongside many debates as to whether its inclusion was justified based on the scientific evidence. The extensive media coverage raised many questions but also appeared to give rise to a number of myths. In this blog, I address these myths in the British context but some of these myths also have resonance outside the UK.

GamingDisorder-1

Myth 1 – Gaming Disorder equates to gaming addiction. Almost all of the worldwide press coverage for GD in June 2018 was equated with gaming addiction. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) does not describe GD as an addiction and the WHO criteria for GD do not include criteria that I believe are core to being genuine addictions (such as tolerance and withdrawal symptoms). Confusingly, the criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) in the latest (fifth) edition of the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does include all my core criteria of addiction. However, to be diagnosed with IGD, an individual does not necessarily have to endorse all the core addiction criteria. In short, all genuine gaming addicts are likely to be diagnosed as having GD and/or IGD but not all those with GD and/or IGD are necessarily gaming addicts.

Myth 2 – Gaming has many benefits so should not be classed as a disorder as it will create a ‘moral panic’: Predictably, the videogame industry has not welcomed the WHO’s decision to include GD in the ICD-11 and issued a statement to say gaming has many personal benefits and that GD will create moral panic and ‘abuse of diagnosis’. None of us in the field dispute the fact that gaming has many benefits but many other activities such as work, sex, and exercise can be disordered and addictive for a small minority, and is not a good basis for denying the existence of GD. The videogame industry also claims the empirical basis for GD is highly contested but then ironically uses non-empirical claims (i.e., that the introduction of GD will cause a moral panic and lead to diagnostic abuse by practitioners) as a core argument for why GD should not exist.

Myth 3 – Gaming Disorder is associated with other comorbidities so is not a separate disorder. In coverage concerning GD, those denying the existence of GD sometimes resort to the argument that problematic gaming is typically comorbid with other mental health conditions (e.g., depression, anxiety disorders, etc.) and therefore should not be classed as a separate disorder. However, such an argument is not applied (for instance) to those with alcohol use disorder or gambling disorder which are known to be associated with other comorbidities. In fact, we recently published some case studies in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction highlighting those attending treatment for GD included individuals both with and without underlying comorbidities. Consequently, diagnosis of disorders should be based on the external symptomatic behavior and consequences, not on the underlying causes and etiology.

Myth 4 – Gaming Disorder can now be treated for free by the National Health Service: Unlike many other countries, the UK has a National Health Service (NHS) whose treatment services can be accessed free of charge. A number of British newspapers reported that inclusion of GD in the ICD-11 meant that those with GD can now get free treatment. However, this claim is untenable and is unlikely to happen. All health trusts in the UK have a finite budget and allocate resources to those conditions considered a priority. Treating individuals with GD will rarely (if ever) be given priority over treatment for cancer, heart disease, schizophrenia, depression, etc. In countries where private health insurance is the norm, GD is likely to be a condition excluded for treatment on such policies even though it is now in the ICD-11. 

Myth 5 – The inclusion of Gaming Disorder as a mental disorder will lead to ‘millions’ of children being stigmatized for their videogame playing: This myth has been propagated by a group of scholars (mainly researchers working in the media studies field) but is completely unsubstantiated. The number of children who would ever be officially be diagnosed as having GD is extremely low and – as noted above – millions of children play videogames for enjoyment without any problems or stigma.

(Please note: This article is based on an editorial that I first published earlier this year: Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Five myths about gaming disorder. Social Health and Behavior Journal, 1, 2-3)

Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aarseth, E., Bean, A. M., Boonen, H., Colder Carras, M., Coulson, M., Das, D., … & Haagsma, M. C. (2017). Scholars’ open debate paper on the World Health Organization ICD-11 Gaming Disorder proposal. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6(3), 267-270.

Gentile, D.A., Bailey, K., Bavelier, D., Funk Brockmeyer, J., … & Young, K. (2017). The state of the science about Internet Gaming Disorder as defined by DSM-5: Implications and perspectives, Pediatrics, 140, S81-S85. doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-1758H

Griffiths, M.D.  (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Behavioural addiction and substance addiction should be defined by their similarities not their dissimilarities. Addiction, 112, 1718-1720.

Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Conceptual issues concerning internet addiction and internet gaming disorder. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16, 233-239.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., Lopez-Fernandez, O., & Pontes, H.M. (2017). Problematic gaming exists and is an example of disordered gaming. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6, 296-301.

European Games Developer Foundation. Statement on WHO ICD-11 list and the inclusion of gaming. 2018 June 15. Available from: http://www.egdf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Industry-Statement-on-18-June-WHO-ICD-11.pdf

Király, O., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics Z. (2015). Internet gaming disorder and the DSM-5: Conceptualization, debates, and controversies, Current Addiction Reports, 2, 254–262.

Király, O., Griffiths, M.D., King, D., Lee, H-K., Lee, S-Y., Bányai, F., Zsila, A. Demetrovics, Z. (2018). An overview of policy responses to problematic videogame use. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7, 503-517.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D. & Pontes, H.M. (2017). Chaos and confusion in DSM-5 diagnosis of Internet Gaming Disorder: Issues, concerns, and recommendations for clarity in the field. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6, 103-109.

Kuss, D.J., Pontes, H.M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Neurobiological correlates in Internet Gaming Disorder: A systematic review. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9, 166. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00166

Griffiths, M.D., Van Rooij, A., Kardefelt-Winther, D., Starcevic, V., Király, O…Demetrovics, Z. (2016). Working towards an international consensus on criteria for assessing Internet Gaming Disorder: A critical commentary on Petry et al (2014). Addiction, 111, 167-175.

Rumpf, H. J., Achab, S., Billieux, J., Bowden-Jones, H., Carragher, N., Demetrovics, Z., … & Saunders, J. B. (2018). Including gaming disorder in the ICD-11: The need to do so from a clinical and public health perspective: Commentary on: A weak scientific basis for gaming disorder: Let us err on the side of caution (van Rooij et al., 2018). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7(3), 556-561.

Torres-Rodriguez, A., Griffiths, M.D., Carbonell, X. Farriols-Hernando, N. & Torres-Jimenez, E. (2018). Internet gaming disorder treatment: A case study evaluation of four adolescent problematic gamers. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-017-9845-9.

Young blood: A brief look at ‘Orphan’ and the ‘evil child’ trope in horror films

(Please be warned, this article contains spoilers if you have not watched the films The Bad Seed and Orphan).

Regular readers of my blog know that I enjoy watching horror movies and I’ve written articles on why people enjoy watching horror movies, a look at scary clowns in film and television, as well as more direct and indirect in-depth looks at my personal favourites including the Hannibal Lecter and Alien franchises.

One of the most popular tropes in the horror genre is the ‘evil child’ (often referred to or seen as equivalent to the ‘demonic child’, ‘creepy child’, ‘bad seed’ and ‘demon seed’ trope). This has spawned dozens on online articles looking at celluloid examples of the evil child sub-genre such as ‘Top 25 Evil Child Movies’, ‘Evil Kid Horror Movies’, ‘16 Creepy Child Horror Movies That Will Make You Not Want Kids Ever’, ‘The Top 10 Most Evil Children In Movies’, ‘We’re Baaack: The 20 Most Evil Children From TV And Movies’, and ‘The 50 Spookiest Kids In Horror Movies, Ranked’ (to name just a few).

The film that arguably started the trope was Mervin LeRoy’s 1956 horror-thriller The Bad Seed. The film was based upon Maxwell Anderson’s play of the same name (itself based on the 1954 novel The Bad Seed by William March and – for you trivia fans – the inspiration for the name of Nick Cave’s band The Bad Seeds). The ‘demon child’ of both the book and the film is sociopath Rhoda Penmark, whose mother (Christine) – spoiler alert – learns that she is an adopted child and is the biological daughter of Bessie Denker, an infamous serial killer (and believes that she genetically caused Rhoda’s sociopathy).

As a teenager, the demonic child that had most impact on me was Damien Thorn (in Damien: Omen II) mainly because I shared my middle name with the titular character. However, there are hundreds to choose from that share many of Damien’s chilling characteristics (some horror and some not) including Joshua Cairn (Joshua), Dalton Lambert (Insidious), Lilith Sullivan (Case 39), Brahms (The Boy), Regan MacNeil (The Exorcist), Nicholas and Ann Stewart (The Others), Tomás (The Orphanage), Henry Evan (The Good Son), Delia (The Omen IV), Kevin (We Need To Talk About Kevin), Toshio (Ju-On/The Grudge), Samara (The Ring), Santi (The Devil’s Backbone), The Grady twins (The Shining), and Gage Creed (Pet Sematary). In addition to this there are those films where there are a group of demonic children (e.g., Children Of The Damned, Children Of The Corn, and the ‘psychoplasmic offspring’ of The Brood), as well as ‘demon seed’ children that are yet to be born (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, etc.).

When it comes to ‘evil child’ films, one of my more recent favourites (at least in terms of the film’s twist at the end) is the 2009 US psychological horror film Orphan (directed by Jaume Collet-Serra). When it comes to horror films I much prefer ‘psychological horror’ (which tends to be rooted in reality and is why I like the Hannibal Lecter franchise) as opposed to supernatural thrillers and the archetypal ‘slasher films’ (although I do like watching gory films). Orphan centres on married couple John and Kate Coleman (played by Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga) who after the death of their unborn baby adopt Esther, a nine-year old Russian girl from an orphanage (played by Isabelle Fuhrman).

Unknown

In the scene where a provocatively-dressed nine-year old Esther attempts to seduce her new father (who had been drinking heavily) I began to guess the twist in the film that – spoiler alert – Esther was (because of a hormone disorder called hypopituitarism) a woman in a child’s body. Near the end of the film, it is Esther’s new mother (Kate) that receives a call from the Saarne Institute (a mental institution) and is informed that Esther is in fact a violent murderer from Estonia called Leena Klammer, a 33-year-old woman whose physical growth was stunted and had spent most of her adult life posing as a young girl and had killed at least seven people (including the father of an Estonian family who adopted her and who she killed for rejecting her sexual advances). According to the IMDb ‘Trivia’ page about Orphan:

“Earlier drafts of the script include more information about Esther’s past and explain why she attempts to seduce her adoptive fathers. She was molested by her father for years, starting when she was an infant; this sexualized her at a very young age and destroyed any future chance of her having her own children. Her father later took another lover, telling Esther that, because of her condition, she could never be a real woman. She murdered them both and was ultimately sent to Saarne, a mental institution. After escaping from Saarne, she worked as a prostitute in Estonia for years, mostly catering to wealthy pedophiles. When she was arrested for this, she kept up the pretense of being a child to stay out of jail and was sent to an orphanage. Esther sees herself as trapped inside the body of a child, and it disgusts her. She wants to ‘grow up’ and be a wife, a mother, and a lover (what her father considered a ‘real woman’), and tries to find ‘love’ with her father but she didn’t”.

After the film had been released, there was a lot of debate about whether the medical condition that Esther had really exists. According to Wikipedia entry on the condition:

“Hypopituitarism is the decreased (hypo) secretion of one or more of the eight hormones normally produced by the pituitary at the base of the brain…The signs and symptoms of hypopituitarism vary, depending on which hormones are undersecreted and on the underlying cause of the abnormality…Hypopituitarism is a rare disease but may be significantly underdiagnosed in people with previous traumatic brain injury…The first description of the condition was made in 1914 by the German physician Dr. Morris Simmonds”.

Not only does Esther’s medical condition exist, but her character was actually inspired by the true life case of Barbora Skrlova who was one of the individuals in a 2008 story that the Daily Mail entitled ‘Boy ‘skinned and eaten’ by his cannibal cult family after being held captive in a cellar’. The story in question was a disturbing case involving single parent Klara Mauerova (described as an aggressive schizophrenic) and the physical abuse of her two sons (Yakub and Ondrej). The story was recounted in a 2017 article on the Mundo.com website entitled ‘Barbora Skrlová: The woman who inspired the movie Orphan’. From what I’ve read, Mauerova became depressed after the father of her children left her and she asked her sister (Katerina, who also appears to have had some kind of mental illness) to move in with her to help her look after the children. According to Mundo.com:

“The sisters met Barbora Skrlová at the university, a 33-year-old woman who looked [like a] 13 [year-old] girl because of a difficult disease called hypopituitarism. [Skrlová] was really skilled manipulating, and that’s what she did with the two sisters, they became really good friends because of her tragic childhood stories, she made the sisters take her to live with them. Years before meeting Klara and Katerina, [Skrlová] had been hospitalized for several years in a psychiatric center because she had made herself known as an orphaned child to a family that wanted to adopt her, but they realized about it and sent her to an asylum”.

The story alleged that Skrlová and the Mauerova sisters imprisoned Klara’s two sons (naked) in an iron cage in the basement of their house. It was also alleged that Skrlová wanted “to fatten [the two boys] just as Hansel and Gretel and wanted to commit cannibal acts while filming with a camera”. According to the Daily Mail story:

“An eight year-old boy was skinned and his flesh fed to cannibal relatives after his mother kept him locked in a cellar… Evil Klara Mauerova – a member of a sinister religious cult – wept in court as she admitted torturing her son Ondrej and his ten year-old brother Jakub. The court also heard allegations that relatives had partially skinned eight-year-old Ondrej and then eaten the raw human flesh. The two boys told how their mother and relatives had stubbed cigarettes out on their bare skin, whipped them with belts and tried to drown them. The court heard how the family had sexually abused them and even made them cut themselves with knives. They said they were kept in cages or handcuffed to tables and made to stand in their own urine for days”.

A neighbour alerted the police that there was something suspicious going on in the Mauerova household (having picked up what was happening on his baby monitor). When they police eventually arrived they discovered “the worst scenes they had ever seen” in the Mauerova’s basement. They found the two naked boys in the cage alongside a “little girl crying” (i.e., Barbora Skrlová). Skrlová told the police that her name was ‘Anika’ and that she had been adopted by the Mauerova sisters. The ‘little girl’ was taken to a children’s home by the police but absconded the same night. She was later found many months later living with another couple who had adopted her (but this time as a boy called Adam and described by the couple as a ‘child genius’ who suffered severe anxiety and depression attacks). Skrlová was sentenced to 12 years in prison but released in 2012. Her whereabouts are currently unknown.

Given that the orphan in the titular film was eventually exposed as an adult, it could be argued that the film is not technically about an ‘evil child’ and therefore not part of the ‘evil child’ trope (but I think that’s pedantry and misses the point). For almost all of the film, the audience believes Esther to be a child and on that basis alone it belongs to the ‘evil child’ horror genre. As plot twists go, I think it was one of the better ones, up there with The Usual Suspects, The Crying Game, and The Sixth Sense (which I won’t spoil just in case there are a few of you reading this that haven’t seen these three films).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Ananvisca, V. (2017). Barbora Skrlová: The woman who inspired the movie Orphan. Mundo.com, June 17. Located at: https://en.mundo.com/most_viewed/barbora-skrlova-the-woman-who-inspired-the-movie-orphan/

Daily Mail (2008). Boy ‘skinned and eaten’ by his cannibal cult family after being held captive in a cellar. June 21. Located at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1027962/Boy-skinned-eaten-cannibal-cult-family.html

International Movie Database (2018). Orphan trivia. Located at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1148204/trivia

Orphan Wiki (2018). Leena Klammer. Located at: http://orphan-movie.wikia.com/wiki/Leena_Klammer

Villians Wiki (2018). Esther Coleman. Located at: http://villains.wikia.com/wiki/Esther_Coleman

Wikipedia (2018). Hypopituitarism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypopituitarism

The need to speed: A brief look at ‘speeding addiction’

“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.

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 20.57.23

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

Further reading

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.

Voyeurs and their lawyers: Can ‘upskirting’ be addictive?

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”.

Screen Shot 2018-08-20 at 17.10.18

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

Further reading

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

Paint what you do, it’s the way that you do it: The (not so) secret sex life of Salvador Dali

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)”.

dali_el_gran_masturbador

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

Further reading

Brennan, A. (2016). 11 seriously strange things you didn’t know about Salvador Dali. GQ, May 11. Located at: https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/salvador-dali-facts

Dali, S. (1942). The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. Dial Press.

Dali, S. (1976). The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dali. New York: W.H. Allen.

Fuchs, J. (2014). 10 depraved secrets of Salvador Dali. Listverse, May 26. Located at: http://listverse.com/2014/05/26/10-depraved-secrets-of-salvador-dali/

Gibson, I. (1998). The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali. New York: WW Norton & Company.

Griffiths, M.D. (1989). Salvador Dali and psychology. BPS History and Philosophy Newsletter, 9, 14-17.

Griffiths, M.D. (1989). Salvador Dali, surrealism and psychology. Psychology PAG Quarterly, 4, 15-17.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Heroes: Salvador Dali. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 7, 240.

Kovary, Z. (2009). The enigma of desire: Salvador Dalí and the conquest of the irrational. PsyArt Journal, June 29. Located at: http://www.psyartjournal.com/article/show/kovry-the_enigma_of_desire_salvador_dal_and_th

Lopez, A. I. (2016). Five sadistic and depraved secrets of Salvador Dalí. Cultura Colectivia, August 22. Located at: https://culturacolectiva.com/design/the-sadistic-and-depraved-salvador-dali-secrets/

Maclean, A. (2016). Your ultimate guide to Salvador Dali. Dazed, September 27. Located at: http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/32985/1/your-ultimate-guide-to-salvador-dali

Roget, S. (no date). 17 unbelievably weird stories most people don’t know about Salvador Dali. Ranker. Located at: https://www.ranker.com/list/crazy-salvador-dali-facts/stephanroget

Stranska, Z. (2017). Dali and Gala – the love story. Daily Art Magazine, February 14. Located at: http://www.dailyartmagazine.com/dali-gala-great-love-story/

Sol, M. (2013). 7 eccentric things you didn’t know about Salvador Dali. Loner Wolf. Located at: https://lonerwolf.com/salvador-dali/

Thorpe, V. (2000). Hollywood, sex and the surrealist. The Guardian, February 20. Located at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2000/feb/20/vanessathorpe.theobserver

Thurlow, C. (2004). The Sex Life of Salvador Dali: The Memoirs of Carlos Lozano. Tethered Camel Publishing.

White, J. (2011). The divine anus of Salvador Dali. Living in Philistia, August 5. Located at: http://livinginphilistia.blogspot.com/2011/08/divine-anus-of-salvador-dali.html

Teenage pics: A brief look at ‘selfie addiction’

In March 2014, the Daily Mirror published the story of Danny Bowman, a teenage ‘selfie addict’ who allegedly took up to 10 hours a day taking 200 selfies, dropped out of school, and tried to kill himself when he was unable take the perfect photo of himself. Taking selfies has become a very popular activity, particularly amongst teenagers and young adults. However, selfie-taking is more than just the taking of a photograph and can include the editing of the colour and contrast, changing backgrounds, and adding other effects, before uploading the picture onto a social media platform. These added options and the use of integrative editing has further popularized selfie-taking behaviour. From a psychological perspective, the taking of selfies is a self-oriented action which allows users to establish their individuality and self-importance and is also associated with personality traits such as narcissism. In an interview for the Daily Mirror, Bowman said that:

“I was constantly in search of taking the perfect selfie and when I realised I couldn’t I wanted to die. I lost my friends, my education, my health and almost my life. The only thing I cared about was having my phone with me so I could satisfy the urge to capture a picture of myself at any time of the day. “I finally realised I was never going to take a picture that made the craving go away and that was when I hit rock bottom. People don’t realise when they post a picture of themselves on Facebook or Twitter it can so quickly spiral out of control. It becomes a mission to get approval and it can destroy anyone. It’s a real problem like drugs, alcohol or gambling. I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve been through. People would comment on [my selfies], but children can be cruel. One told me my nose was too big for my face and another picked on my skin. I started taking more and more to try to get the approval of my friends. I would be so high when someone wrote something nice but gutted when they wrote something unkind. [Taking lots of selfies sounds trivial and harmless but that’s the very thing that makes it so dangerous. It almost took my life, but I survived and I am determined never to get into that position again.”

Unknown

While Bowman’s case is extreme, it doesn’t mean that obsessive selfie-taking is a trivial condition. Bowman was diagnosed as having (and eventually treated for) body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) which at its simplest level, is a distressing, handicapping, and/or impairing preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in body appearance that the sufferer perceives to be ugly, unattractive, and/or deformed. Bowman’s psychiatrist, Dr. David Veale (one of the world’s most foreknown experts on BDD) said that: “Danny’s case is particularly extreme. But this is a serious problem. It’s not a vanity issue. It’s a mental health one which has an extremely high suicide rate.”

To date, there has been very little research on ‘selfie addiction’ and most of what has been academically published (both theorizing and empirical research studies) has tended to come from psychiatrists and psychologists in India. The main reasons for this are that (i) no other country has more Facebook users than India, and (ii) India accounts for more selfie deaths in the world compared to any other country with 76 deaths reported from a total of 127 worldwide. For instance, the death on February 1, 2016, of the 16-year old Dinesh Kumar killed by a train in Chennai while taking a selfie was reported widely in the media.

In 2014, there were a handful of separate media reports all reporting that ‘selfie addiction’ had been recognized by psychologists and psychiatrists as a genuine mental disorder. On March 31, 2014, a news story appeared in the Adobo Chronicles website that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) had classed ‘selfitis’ (i.e., the obsessive taking of selfies) as a new mental disorder.

The article claimed that selfitis was “the obsessive compulsive desire to take photos of one’s self and post them on social media as a way to make up for the lack of self-esteem and to fill a gap in intimacy”. The same article also claimed there three levels of the disorder – borderline (“taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day but not posting them on social media”), acute (“taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day and posting each of the photos on social media”), and chronic (“uncontrollable urge to take photos of one’s self round the clock and posting the photos on social media more than six times a day”). The story was republished on numerous news sites around the world but it soon became clear the story was a hoax. However, many of the academic papers exploring the concept of ‘selfie addiction’ have reported the story as genuine.

Other academics claim in a rather uncritical way that ‘selfie addiction’ exists. For instance, in 2015, in an article in theInternational Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience, Shah claimed that selfie-taking behaviour “classically fits” the criteria of addiction but then fails to say what these criteria are. He then goes on to argue that anyone taking more than 3-5 selfies a day “may be considered as a disease” and that spending more than 5 minutes taking a single selfie or more than 30 minutes per day may also be “considered as disease”. Such proposals add little to the credence of excessive selfie-taking being potentially addictive.

In a 2017 editorial entitled ‘Selfie addiction’ (in the journal Internet and Psychiatry), Singh and Lippmann asserted that knowing about the psychology of selfies and their consequences is important for both individuals and the communities in which they live. They claim that the taking of selfies can sometimes be “inconsiderate of other people, especially when ‘getting the perfect shot’ becomes an obsession”. They claim that excessive selfie clicking can become “a troublesome obsession and may be related to different personality traits” such as psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. More specifically, the argue that:

“Narcissistic people exhibit feelings of superiority and perfection, but also often harbor self-doubt. Those with psychopathy have little compassion about harming others. Persons with Machiavellian traits fulfill their wishes with diminished ethics. All three utilize social websites that allow posting and amending pictures. Individuals with low self-esteem, obsession, and/or hyperactivity also sometimes exhibit high rates of “snapping” selfies”.

In a very brief review of the literature on selfie-taking and mental health in a 2016 issue of the Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, Kaur and Vig concluded that selfie addiction was most associated with low self-esteem, narcissism, loneliness and depression. Also in 2016, Sunitha and colleagues also reported similar findings based on their review of selfie-taking in theInternational Journal of Advances in Nursing Management. In an online populist article in 2017 on the rise of the ‘selfie generation’, Tolete and Salarda interviewed a teen development specialist, Dr. Robyn Silverman about how and why adolescents might get hooked on selfie-taking. He said that teens “crave positive feedback to help them see how their see how their identity fits into their world. Social media offers an opportunity to garner immediate information…the selfie generation ends up agonizing over very few likes or one or two negative comments, as if these are the only metrics that will prove they matter. One can only imagine the vulnerability of their still fragile self-esteem in such an environment”.

Other academics have claimed that while the evidence for ‘selfie addiction’ being a social problem is lacking, it does not mean that it could not be a ‘primary pathology’ in times to come. However, there has been very few empirical studies that have examined ‘selfie addiction, and those that have been published suffer from many methodological weaknesses.

For instance, in a 2017 issue of the Journal of Contemporary Medicine and Dentistry, Gaddala and colleagues examined the association between Internet addiction and ‘selfie addiction’ among 402 Indian medical students (262 females). They reported a significant association between selfie dependence and internet dependence. However, they used Shah’s operationalization of ‘selfie addiction’ (the taking of three or more selfies a day; 4% of the total sample), therefore it is unlikely that very few of the participants would have been genuinely addicted to taking selfies.

Singh and Tripathi carried out a very small study on 50 Indian adolescents aged 12-18 years of age (28 females; average age 14.6 years) in 2017 (in the journal SSRN). They found that narcissism and hyperactivity were positively correlated with ‘selfie addiction’ whereas self-image was negatively correlated with ‘selfie addiction’. However, in addition to the very small sample size, the instrument used to assess selfie tendencies had little to do with addiction and simply asked questions about typical selfie behaviour (e.g., how many selfies a day/week are taken, how much time a day is spent taking selfies, are the selfies posted onto social media, etc.)

Finally, a 2017 study in the Journal of Medical Science and Clinical Research by Kela and colleagues examined the more medical effects of excessive selfie-taking. In a survey of 250 Indian students aged 18-25 years (56% females), it was reported that 30% reported lower back ache, 15% suffered stress, 20%, suffered from cervical spondylitis, 25% suffered from headache, and 10% suffered from ‘selfie elbow’ (a tendonitis condition). However, it was unclear from the methodology described to what extent these effects were specifically attributable to selfie-taking.

Taking the academic literature as a whole, there is little evidence – as yet – that ‘selfie addiction’ exists although if stories like Danny Bowman are to be believed, it does appear at least theoretically possible for an individual to become addicted to such an activity.

(Note: some of this material first appeared in the following paper: Griffiths, M.D. & Balakrishnan, J. (2018). The psychosocial impact of excessive selfie-taking in youth: A brief overview. Education and Health, 36(1), 3-5).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK 

Further reading

Balakrishnan, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). An exploratory study of ‘selfitis’ and the development of the Selfitis Behavior Scale. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-017-9844-x.

Barakat, C. (2014). Science links selfies to narcissism, addiction, and low self esteem. Adweek, April 16. Located at: www.adweek.com/socialtimes/selfies-narcissism-addiction-low-self-esteem/147769

Bhattacharyya, R. (2017). Addiction to modern gadgets and technologies across generations. Eastern Journal of Psychiatry, 18(2), 27-37.

Gaddala, A., Hari Kumar, K. J., & Pusphalatha, C. (2017). A study on various effects of internet and selfie dependence among undergraduate medical students. Journal of Contemporary Medicine and Dentistry, 5(2), 29-32.

Grossman, S. (2014). Teenager reportedly tried to kill himself because he wasn’t satisfied with the quality of his selfies. Time, March 24. Located at: http://time.com/35701/selfie-addict-attempts-suicide/

Gupta, R. & Pooja, M. (2016). Selfie an infectious gift of IT to modern society. Global Journal for Research Analysis, 5(1), 278-280.

Kaur, S., & Vig, D. (2016). Selfie and mental health issues: An overview. Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, 7(12), 1149-1152.

Kela, R., Khan, N., Saraswat, R., & Amin, B. (2017). Selfie: Enjoyment or addiction? Journal of Medical Science and Clinical Research, 5, 15836-15840.

Lee, R. L. (2016). Diagnosing the selfie: Pathology or parody? Networking the spectacle in late capitalism. Third Text, 30(3-4), 264-27

Senft, T. M., & Baym, N. K. (2015). Selfies introduction – What does the selfie say? Investigating a global phenomenon. International Journal of Communication, 9, 19.

Shah, P.M. (2015). Selfie – a new generation addiction disorder – Literature review and updates. International Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience, 17, 602.

Singh, D., & Lippmann, S. (2017). Selfie addiction. Internet and Psychiatry, April 2. Located at: https://www.internetandpsychiatry.com/wp/editorials/selfie-addiction/

Singh, S. & Tripathi, K.M. (2017). Selfie: A new obsession. SSRN, 1-3. Located at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2920945

Sunitha, P. S., Vidya, M., Rashmi, P., & Mamatha, M. (2016). Selfy [sic] as a mental disorder – A review. International Journal of Advances in Nursing Management, 4(2), 169-172.

Blown away: A brief look at ‘wind fetishism’

I have to start by saying that this article is not about flatulence fetishes (which I’ve covered in a number of previous blogs, here, here and here) but about individuals who are sexually aroused by the wind. I decided to write this article when I came across a relatively detailed first-person account online. While I cannot guarantee the veracity of the account, the level of specific detail leads me to the conclusion that the account is genuine. Here I include verbatim text followed by my commentary.

  • Case 1, Extract 1: “I’ve never had an outlet where I can speak openly about this aspect of my sexuality before. Sorry if I get too excited. My fetish is unusual and, from what I can tell, exceptionally uncommon. I haven’t even found a proper term for it in the 4 years I’ve been prowling Google for related content. I have a wind fetish. Specifically, I love powerful winds – the stronger, the better, and watching people and objects get blown around. My favorite things to watch are people with long hair and loose clothing, as well as trees. Trees are great. The sound is also a massive component, and is often enough to get me aroused on its own. I do love the idea of being out in strong winds, but the only time it’s windy where I live is when it’s cold or raining. That ruins the fun”.

I agree that the fetish is uncommon because I’ve seen so few references to it either online or in academic texts. In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Anil Aggrawal does list ‘wind fetish’ in his long list of sexual parahilias and defines it as “sexual attraction to being blown by the wind”. In the case described here, the individual also gets sexually aroused from watching other individuals and objects being blow around (which goes beyond the definition defined by Dr. Aggrawal). Interestingly, the sexual attraction has a number of sub-components such as the reference to long hair and loose clothing being a particular turn on. The other aspects I found interesting were the references to trees and the sound the wind makes. Both of these aspects have associations with other paraphilias that I have written about, namely dendrophilia (sexual arousal from trees) and acousticophilia (sexual arousal from auditory stimuli usually from a very specific sound). The fact that the sound of the wind itself is sexually arousing suggests this is more likely to be acousticophilia than wind fetishism. In addition, the source of the sexual arousal (i.e., the wind) has to be contextualized for it to be sexually arousing. In the case described here, wind in the cold and/or the rain dampens the sexual desire (no pun intended). She then goes on to say:

  • Case 1, Extract 2: “I’ve had this fetish for as long as I can remember, and I can’t think of what triggered it. When I was very young, I remember having a dream that involved a tornado; that was the earliest thing. My favorite game growing up was always bringing out our big fan and playing with my Barbie dolls in front of it, and I brought wind into a lot of other imaginative games I played. In elementary school I found one book on meteorology in the school library, and whenever we had library time I would hide in one of the lesser-visited aisles and read over the Beaufort Scale over and over. I remember feeling deeply ashamed about it, but I didn’t know why. I would always have trouble sleeping when it was windy outside. I used to think that my feelings about wind stemmed from a phobia, but I don’t think that was it. Never went through the same pattern with spiders. Anyway, I don’t remember the point when I figured out it was arousal, but the next thing I knew I was getting off to storm chaser videos”.

Unknown

Here, the individual admits she has no idea about the roots of her fetish but does note that wind featured heavily in both her early leisure and educational experiences. The shame element also suggests that her fascination with wind (such as repeatedly reading the Beaufort Scale) was sexual but she didn’t realise it at the time. She then goes on to say:

  • Case 1, Extract 3: “Sex has never done the same things for me. I’ve tried watching regular porn, but it just made me feel numb. I haven’t had too much experience with real sexual acts, but the amount that I’ve done hasn’t gotten me turned on. In that way, I suppose I’m thankful for my fetish. It gives me an avenue into sexual pleasure that my sex-aversion would have denied me otherwise. At the same time though it makes me feel incredibly alienated, especially given its rarity. I managed to find one online community for it, and although it’s tiny (an Experience Project page that gets maybe one post per month), at least I know I’m not completely alone. But it’s hard to talk about sex with other people when your entire sexual identity is wrapped up in something that’s socially unacceptable to discuss openly”.

Here, the account is suggestive of a true fetish (in that no sexual desire is experienced unless the source of the fetish is present). It also indicates that other individuals have the fetish in that she was able to find others online who had the same fetish and that this makes her feel better because she is “not completely alone”. Another individual replies to her post and comments:

  • Case 2, Extract 4: “What you said about fetishes encompassing more than just arousal is absolutely true for me. Mine comes bundled with a host of other emotions – fear, awe, anticipation, excitement, hunger, so on. There’s nothing else in my life quite like it. I am fixated on the wind on multiple levels, to the point where I have trouble separating it from my core identity. I wish I was brave enough to create content like you do, but I’m still too embarrassed and afraid of people finding out. I can’t even bring myself to store related files on my computer in fear of people discovering them…I’ve actually been trying to get myself into macrophilia (I’ve always had an emotional fascination, and having a fetish that people actually produce content of would be nice), and so far results have been only mildly successful. I don’t think it’s ever going to stack up to my love of wind”.

This individual (gender unknown) also finds wind fetishism shameful and is embarrassed by it. The fact that this individual describes it as core to their identity and is fixated at a number of levels underlines that this is something that is far from trivial. The growing interest in macrophilia (sexual arousal from giants – and which I covered in previous blogs here and here) – unlike the interest in wind – is something that the person is trying to develop (which perhaps implicitly means that the wind fetish has been around as long as the individual can remember). A different individual (presumably male but could be female) noted:

  • Case 3, Extract 5: “I’ve been doing a great deal of reflecting on my fetish, and have come to the conclusion that the excitement comes from imagining what out-of-control wind feels like on girls, particularly in regards to their clothing. Weird thing is, this is clearly sexual to me, and yet the idea of a girl lost in a blizzard seems more romantic (I like to imagine rushing out to give her a warm hug and bring her to safety). I think perhaps the whole clothing thing is related somehow – for example, something I find really exciting is a girl wearing a warm hoodie/sweater and wearing a small skirt completely out of control due to wind. Contrast, perhaps? Maybe I’m overanalysing again”.

Here, the wind is perhaps associated with a type of clothes fetishism and other weather (i.e., a blizzard) as well as ‘damsel in distress fetishism’ (which I looked at in a previous blog and is why I suspect this person to be male as most individuals with this fetish are male). The cross-pollination and/or co-existence of multiple fetishes and paraphilias is well-known in the academic literature. Another person wrote:

  • Case 4, Extract 6: “Ever since I was younger, I’ve always loved watching and hearing trees and grass get blown all around in the wind. All the sexual fantasies and wet dreams I’ve had always had something to do with the wind blowing trees or something. It’s kind of embarrassing, since I always get flustered when it’s really windy out and someone comments on the weather”.

This short account shares similarities with the first case in that the aural element of the fetish is also an important part of the fetish (although the visual elements are equally stressed). Like Case 2, the accompanying embarrassment about having the fetish is also noted. In an online discussion (on Reddit) about the strangest fetishes that people had come across, one discussant claimed that there was a woman on the discussion group who was “sexually aroused by wind and masturbated to videos of tornadoes” although I was unable to locate her.

I did go looking online for further evidence of wind fetishes and managed to locate a few first-person confessions:

  • Case 5, Extract 7: “I am talking about air currents on the surface of our planet. A windy day can, if I let it, get very inside my head, and can drive me crazy. I have seen some very well worded descriptions of it on this and other forum websites”.
  • Case 6, Extract 8: “I have a fetish for strong winds. Watching people struggle against the wind is just about the sexiest thing every to me, although people need not be involved. (In fact, the presence of a human is more of an imagination aid because it helps me imagine how it would feel to be out there myself; I don’t feel any attraction to the person being blown) Just trees getting blown around turns me on. Although visuals are important, the audio is the biggest thing for me. The sound drives me nuts. I’ve found that this is a rather inconvenient fetish to have, for two reasons. The first is that almost no one else has this so very little specialized content is actually produced. More than half of the “porn” I watch ends up being storm chaser videos. The second reason is that I have no control about when it is or isn’t windy outside. It’s annoying when I desperately want a windy day and all I get is a little teasing breeze, but also equally frustrating when a windy day comes along when I have work to be doing and I can’t focus on anything…I don’t seem to have much of a sexuality beyond this. I’ve never been able to masturbate to regular porn, and the only time I’ve orgasmed was during Hurricane Sandy. This might be partially due to other sexual issues I have (I probably have vaginismus), but for now wind stuff is the only thing I can enjoy. I may have a minor thing for macro/micro too, but not enough to get off on”.
  • Case 7, Extract 9: “We’re so small of a group of people that share such a rare fetish, that there isn’t even a scientific term for it. Even the most obscure psychological diseases have a name given to them. It’s kinda depressing for me almost…All in all, finding out about this makes me feel a bit isolated”.
  • Case 8, Extract 10: “Now I do agree with you that we NEED a place where we can safely have fun with our fetish. It would be really fun to be able to interact with people who have the same ‘desire’ we do…Well, compare the amount of people we have in this group compared to how many people known fetishes are associated with. We’re an extremely small group compared to them. Also just because you get delighted looks from wearing certain clothes in the wind, doesn’t really mean that they have a fetish of it like we do…Maybe this fetish is ‘rare’ because ours is not socially highlighted like others…I think the reason for my fetish is an extremely rare set of conditions when I was about 2 to 3 years old. I remember seeing wind push people in at least two episodes of a show I used to watch, and there was this movie where there was this wind that was sentient and blew stronger every day or something, I think it was the ‘Neverending Story’ or something. I don’t know. However, remembering back right know the physics were all wrong and would probably cause goose bumps to me now at how horribly executed I remember them as. Of Course back then they were perfect”.

All of these snippets provide useful information concerning wind fetishes. The cases appear to be a mixture of both males and females, and one female (Case 6) suspects that her wind fetish is in part determined by the fact that penile-vaginal sex is painful due to a sexual dysfunction and that the fetish she has doesn’t need sexual intercourse to be sexually fulfilled. The rarity of the fetish is again spoken about (Cases 7 and 8), as well as the co-existence of macrophilia (along with microphilia too) is also noted (Case 6). Their visual source of ‘porn’ comprise clips of wind and tornados in TV shows and news footage, and some (Case 8) claim that others don’t really have the fetish if it’s liking clothes that are blown about in the wind. Based on my own research into the topic, I think that wind fetishism exists but as most of the cases I found highlight, it looks to be extremely rare. I would also argue that even among these small number of vase studies, there appear to be different sub-types of wind fetishism and that most individuals’ experiences of wind fetishism began back in childhood. Unlike most fetishes and paraphilias, wind fetishism does not appear to be male-based as some of the cases unearthed are clearly female. As with many fetishes I have looked at, the chances of any academic research into the topic are going to be limited at best.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished 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.

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Mai, F.M.M. (1968). A new psychosexual syndrome – “Ecouteurism” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 2, 261-263.

Term warfare: Another look at ‘behavioural addiction’ and ‘selfitis’ as constructs

I recently published a response to a debate article by Dr. Vladan Starcevic and his colleagues in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. Unfortunately, my response was restricted to a stringent word limit so I am using my personal blog to provide the original version of my response before it was edited. My published version can be found here. Below is the original version:

The article by Starcevic, Billieux and Schimmenti (2018) made a number of assertions concerning my research with various co-authors. While I am always grateful that my work is being read and cited, some of the assertions made were arguably unfair, misguided and/or not stated in context (and could therefore be construed as untrue). In this short article, I first address some of the claims made about our research into the construct of ‘selfitis’. I then address a few of the wider issues made by Starcevic et al. in relation to behavioural addictions more generally because they used some of my other research into various behavioural addictions to make their arguments.

The construct of ‘selfitis’

Starcevic et al. noted that there has been a trend “to medicalize problematic behaviours” (p.1) and used the example of ‘selfitis’ to make their point. The way the article was written it would appear to the naïve reader that I and my co-author (Janarthan Balakrishnan) had coined the term ‘selfitis’. For instance, the article by Starcevic et al. cites our paper in specific reference to the following assertion:

“Instead of labelling an excessive and sometimes dangerous practice of taking selfies a ‘selfie addiction’, this behaviour was conceptualised as an inflammation-like selfitis (Balakrishnan and Griffiths, in press)”.

This sentence clearly gives the impression that it was Dr. Balakrishnan and I who conceptualised ‘selfitis’ and that our conceptualisation was that it was “inflammation-like”. However, we made it very clear to readers in the very first paragraph of our paper that the concept of ‘selfitis’ originally started a hoax claiming that the ‘disorder’ was to be included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The original hoax report defined selfitis as “the obsessive compulsive desire to take photos of one’s self and post them on social media as a way to make up for the lack of self-esteem and to fill a gap in intimacy” which we again made clear in the second sentence of our paper. The two studies in our paper were exploratory and merely set out to examine whether there were individuals who were ‘obsessive selfie-takers’. In many parts of their article, Starcevic et al. appear to insinuate that our paper equates ‘selfitis’ with ‘selfie addiction’. For instance, they wrote:

“Interestingly, the components of selfitis that were identified (environmental enhancement, social competition, attention seeking, mood modification, self-confidence and subjective conformity) have practically nothing in common with behavioural addiction…Therefore, selfitis appears to be a construct that is very different from ‘selfie addiction’, and its purported link with compulsivity also seems tenuous” (p.1).

Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 18.12.52The six components comprising selfitis in our new psychometric tool (the Selfitis Behavior Scale [SBS]) were correctly reported but at no point in our paper did we ever say that ‘selfitis’ was a behavioural addiction. What we did write was that (a) “selfitis is a new construct in which future researchers may investigate further in relation to selfitis addiction and/or compulsion” (p.8), and (ii) “the qualitative focus group data from participants strongly implied the presence of ‘selfie addiction’ although the SBS does not specifically assess selfie addiction” (p.11). They also noted that our published paper on selfitis:

“…did not go unnoticed by the media, always ready to exploit everything that is ‘novel’ and sensational. Thus, one newspaper reported that selfitis, ‘the obsessive need to post selfies’, was a ‘genuine mental disorder’ and quoted one of the authors of the aforementioned article that the existence of selfitis appeared to be confirmed (www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/12/15/selfitis-obsessiveneed-post-selfies-genuine-mental-disorder/)…The word has thus become enriched by one more ‘condition’, complete with an assessment tool to establish its severity and a suggestion that people with selfitis may need professional help” (p.2).

While it is true that our study did not go unnoticed by the media (and was reported in hundreds of news stories around the world), only one newspaper journalist ever interviewed me about the study and at no point either in our published paper or in any conversations with the broadcast media did we ever say that ‘selfitis’ was a mental disorder. Our paper simply concluded that obsessive selfie-taking was a condition that appears to exist and made the observation that selfitis has “psychological consequences (which may be both positive and negative)” (p.12). In fact, we talked about the positive aspects of selfitis throughout the discussion section of our paper. In short, I would like it to be made clear that (i) we did not coin the term ‘selfitis’, (ii) we have never anywhere in published print (academic papers or the print media) claimed selfitis is a mental disorder, (iii) we have never claimed selfitis is a behavioural addiction, and (iv) we have never equated ‘selfitis’ with ‘selfie addiction’ (although we have just published another paper briefly reviewing the studies that have examined the concept of ‘selfie addiction’ [i.e., Griffiths & Balakrishnan, 2018]).

The construct of ‘behavioural addiction’

Starcevic et al. also claimed in their article that the term ‘behavioural addiction’ is “vague, misused and applied to an exceptionally wide variety of activities” (p.1). I would argue that the far from being ‘vague’, behavioural addiction has clearly been defined as any addiction that does not involve the ingestion of a psychoactive substance (Griffiths, 1996, 2005). I agree that it is sometimes misused and I have written dozens of populist articles on my personal blog pointing this out. However, I totally disagree that behavioural addiction has been applied to an ‘exceptionally wide variety of activities’. As I noted in a recent paper: Very few of the thousands of leisure activities that individuals engage in have ever been written about in terms of addiction in peer-reviewed scientific papers” (Griffiths, 2017; p.1719). Starcevic et al. would be hard pushed to name more than about 20 leisure activities that have ever been empirically examined as a possible behavioural addiction. Of the five activities named by Starcevic in an attempt to show the behavioural addiction is being misused three of them were actually just sub-types of more widely researched behavioural addictions (i.e., stock market addiction is a sub-type of gambling addiction, study addiction is a sub-type of work addiction, and dance addiction is a sub-type of exercise addiction) as made clear in my papers on these topics.

Starcevic et al. also noted that a group of scholars (Kardefelt-Winther et al., 2017) “recently made an effort to reach a consensus, promote conceptual rigour and avoid misuse by proposing an open (modifiable) definition of behavioural addiction” (p.1). More specifically, Kardefelt‐Winther et al. provided four exclusion criteria and argued that behaviours should not be classed as a behavioural addiction if:

  1. “The behaviour is better explained by an underlying disorder (e.g. a depressive disorder or impulse-control disorder).
  2. The functional impairment results from an activity that, although potentially harmful, is the consequence of a willful choice (e.g. high-level sports).
  3. The behaviour can be characterized as a period of prolonged intensive involvement that detracts time and focus from other aspects of life, but does not lead to significant functional impairment or distress for the individual.
  4. The behaviour is the result of a coping strategy” (p.1710)

I doubt anyone researching in the behavioural addiction would disagree with the third exclusion criterion because to have a genuine behavioural addiction, the behaviour has to comprise significant functional impairment or distress for the individual. However, I would point out that if these criteria were applied to substance abuse, very few substance users would ever be classed as addicted (Griffiths, 2017). More specifically, I have written elsewhere that three of the four exclusion criteria proposed by Kardefelt‐Winther et al. (2017) are simply untenable:

“For instance, it is proposed that any behaviour in which functional impairment results from an activity that is a consequence of wilful choice should not be considered an addiction. I cannot think of a single addictive behaviour that when the person first started engaging in the behaviour (e.g., drinking alcohol, illicit drug-taking, gambling) was not engaged in wilfully…Also, not being classed as an addiction if the behaviour is secondary to another comorbid behaviour (e.g., a depressive disorder) or is used as a coping strategy again means that some other substance addictions (e.g., alcoholism) would not be classed as genuine addictive behaviours using such exclusion criteria because many substance-based addictions are used as coping strategies and/or are symptomatic of other underlying pathologies” (Griffiths, 2017; pp.1718-1719).

Throughout my 30 years of research into behavioural addiction, I have never simply looked at a behaviour and claimed that it cannot be potentially addictive. Using my own operational criteria for what I believe constitutes a genuine addiction (i.e., salience, conflict, tolerance, withdrawal, mood modification, and relapse; Griffiths, 1966, 2005) very few individuals would be classed as being addicted to activities such as sex, work, exercise, or gaming. However, if there is evidence of what I consider to be the core components of addiction in activities that others believe should not be pathologised (e.g., dancing or academic study), I would not choose to ignore such evidence if such activities caused significant functional impairment and distress for the individuals concerned.

References

Balakrishnan, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). An exploratory study of ‘selfitis’ and the development of the Selfitis Behavior Scale. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. Epub ahead of print. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-017-9844-x

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.

Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Behavioural addiction and substance addiction should be defined by their similarities not their dissimilarities. Addiction 112: 1718-1720.

Griffiths, M.D. & Balakrishnan, J. (2018). The psychosocial impact of excessive selfie-taking in youth: A brief overview. Education and Health 36(1): 3-5.

Kardefelt-Winther D, Heeren A, Schimmenti A, et al. (2017) How can we conceptualize behavioural addiction without pathologizing common behaviours? Addiction 112: 1709–1715.

Starcevic, V., Billieux, J., & Schimmenti, A. (2018). Selfitis, selfie addiction, Twitteritis: Irresistible appeal of medical terminology for problematic behaviours in the digital age. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Epub ahead of print. https://doi.org/10.1177/0004867418763532