Category Archives: Case Studies
Last week I watched the South Korean film Lucid Dream (a 2017 Netflix original that premiered on June 2), the directorial debut by Kim Joon-sung. For those who don’t know, lucid dreams are those in “which the dreamer is aware of dreaming. During lucid dreaming, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment” (Wikipedia). The reason I mention this is because one of the characters in the film claims he is ‘addicted’ to lucid dreams. Obviously the use of the word ‘addicted’ in this context piqued my interest (in what must be said was a mediocre film).
I’ve been fascinated by lucid dreams even before I knew what they were. Although I’ve suffered from insomnia for most of my life, I’m also someone that has very vivid dreams when I sleep. I learned a lot more about lucid dreaming during my PhD at the University of Exeter because one of my best friends (Rob Rooksby) was carrying out research into the area. Over the course of a few years, I had many conversations with Rob about the topic (both professional and personal) because I had experienced lucid dreams myself (and still do).
One of the academics that Rob mentioned many times to me was the psychologist Dr. Jayne Gackenbach who at the time was editor of a journal called Lucidity Letter (and in which Rob had a couple of papers published in, see ‘Further reading’ below. By co-incidence, I came to know Dr. Gackenbach professionally in the 1990s and since then I have written three chapters in some of her edited books – two on internet addiction and one on Game Transfer Phenomena – also see ‘Further reading’ below). In a short 1987 paper in Lucidity Letter, Dr. Gackenbach claimed that lucid dreaming could be potentially addictive:
“I would caution against taking an attitude toward the lucid dream state of it being unrelated to waking life. This could result in undue absorption in lucid dreaming, leading potentially to addiction (see the letter by Barroso in [the December, 1987] issue of Lucidity Letter for an excellent example)…After hearing about Tholey’s training of an Olympic athlete with dream lucidity, a colleague spontaneously remarked, “Dream lucidity is really the ultimate drug!” Yes, the state has that potential. But so too comes the potentiality of abuse through ignorance of proper use and possibly addiction”.
Consequently, I managed to track down a copy of Mark Barroso’s 1987 published letter where he asserted that:
“I would like to comment on how lucid dreaming became counterproductive. Like most everything else I’ve enjoyed, too much of it could be very destructive. Living in the dream world became preferable to reality. I would lay in bed, miss work, and wrap myself in a catatonic state in which to spin dreams, dreams, dreams. I would sleep in public places to use various stimuli for my lucid dreams: a park, a downtown bench, the beach, park the car near a school yard of children playing. If you have mastered lucid dreaming, you should try this, it really is incredible. Real and random sounds factor in the dream. Basically, all I did was lucid dream and nothing else. With a life like that it could be hard to pay the rent. So I just stopped. Over time I lost the ability to lucid dream…Although I never regarded myself as having a special ability, it never occurred to me that others did this as well. I finally “O.D.’d” on lucid dreaming when I stayed in bed for 4 or 5 days, only rising to drink and use the bathroom. I was a hermit with no other ambition. I got a job where people were counting on me to show up and found within me the motivation to shake the cobwebs from my eyes”.
Although I am highly sceptical that lucid dreaming can be potentially addictive, Barroso’s letter does contain anecdotal evidence at least suggestive of addiction-like symptoms where lucid dreaming completely took over his life and impacted negatively on every area of his life. These aren’t the only references to ‘lucid dreaming addiction’ in the academic literature. In a 1990 book by Dr. Stephen LaBerge and Dr. Howard Rheingold entitled Exploring The World of Lucid Dreaming, one chapter (‘Preparing for learning lucid dreaming’) featured a ‘Q&A’ section including the following question and answer:
“Q. Lucid dreams are so exciting and feel so good that real life pales by comparison. Isn’t it possible to get addicted to them and not wish to do anything else?
A. It may be possible for the die-hard escapist whose life is otherwise dull to become obsessed with lucid dreaming. Whether or not this deserves to be called addiction is another question. In any case, some advice for those who find the idea of “sleeping their life away” for the sake of lucid dreaming is to consider applying what they have learned in lucid dreams to their waking lives. If lucid dreams seem so much more real and exciting, then this should inspire you to make your life more like your dreams – more vivid, intense, pleasurable, and rewarding. In both worlds your behavior strongly influences your experience”.
Another similar Q&A featured on the World of Lucid Dreaming (WLD) website founded by Rebecca Turner. One of the WLD readers (‘Nikki’) asked Turner: “Is lucid dreaming addictive? I really want to have lucid dreams but I read that lucid dreaming is really addictive and this worries me. Would you compare this need to taking drugs? How do you keep control over it?” Turner responded by saying: “I [too] have read in the media that “lucid dreaming is addictive” but this is a poor use of language. They are trying to say that it’s highly enjoyable and you’ll want to do it more”.
As far as I am aware, no empirical study has ever examined addiction to lucid dreaming although there are plenty of individuals on various lucid dreaming online forums who have claimed that such activity can be addictive from either their own experiences or by those known to them. Here are a few of the more detailed examples I have come across:
- Extract 1: “I first lucid dreamed purposely about 5-6 years ago. For the past year and a half. I’ve lucid dreamed every single night, except when I’m really drunk, I don’t seem to dream then. I have a bit of an addictive personality, I smoke weed every day. I have a sex in my dreams very often, a few times a week, and they almost always end up with an orgasm and a wet awakening later. I always just have the greatest times and see the greatest things while I’m dreaming. But it is getting harder and harder to get up in the morning. I will sleep an extra 2-3 hours after I want to wake up because I don’t want to leave the dream world, and I find if I go to sleep while the dream is fresh in my mind still I can continue it with ease. I have lost many jobs, and fucked up many opportunities because I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning…Now I am on welfare, get money from the government every month, and I sleep all the time, I have no set sleep schedule, I sleep in the day, I sleep at night, I sleep whenever I feel like it. I feel like the second my head hits the pillow I’m sucked into another world in my head. I daydream whenever I’m not sleeping, I’ve lost track of time. My whole world feels like a lucid dream now” (Steezy 233).
- Extract 2: I think I spend at least half of my nights lucid dreaming. I never get tired of it…I love the world my mind creates every night…I have a really long history with lucid dreaming and hallucinations, but if I were to go that in-depth this post would end up being a novel or something. Long story short, I used to have hypnagogic hallucinations and sleep paralysis every night when I was young (4-10, I think)…Then one night I had my first lucid dream, and did some investigating…I became better and better at lucid dreaming, and somehow parts of my dream world have become consistent (architecture, people, holidays even). I love living in the dream world. It’s fun, and horrifying at times, but either way it’s exciting. But in the day, everything is drab. Living feels so dull and dead and repetitive and stressful…I love dreaming. I’m depressed when I’m not dreaming. Sometimes I wish I could dream and never wake up. I’m not suicidal or anything dangerous like that…I don’t really want people I know to know I have this addiction to dreaming” (‘JDBar’).
- Extract 3: “When I first learned how to induce lucid dreams as a teenager, and then program the dream I wanted to have, it was intoxicating! Every night before I went to sleep I would have to decide if I wanted to do something romantic with a hunky male movie star, or save the world as Storm from the X-Men, or work on astral projection, or try to contact my friends who were also lucid dreaming, etc. I was practically living a double life because my night life was vastly different than my waking life. I was becoming addicted to the pleasures of lucid dreaming. That habit led to some unfortunate experiences, however. The more I explored the dream world and different planes of existence, the less connected I was to my waking life. This was not at all healthy. It would take too long to explain everything that happened…but suffice it to say, it nearly destroyed my sanity. I eventually decided I had to plug back into my “real” life and leave some of the other world behind. It took a couple of years to reconnect with the living instead of the astral” (Erin).
- Extract 4: “Well, I’ll admit that I went through a bad stage last year. I had high levels of anxiety and depression and I saw lucid dreaming as a way to escape from everything that was going on at school and in my life. I would even fake sick just to stay home and sleep all day to lucid dream. But something just changed lately and I’m no longer depressed…I don’t rely on lucid dreaming like I used to, instead I just see it as some fun. I wouldn’t say there’s any real reason not to lucid dream, though. It’s a lot of fun and can help with night terrors and nightmares” (Daydreamer14).
Most accounts I have come across online see the benefits of lucid dreaming as far outweighing any negatives. In fact, I came across a few websites claiming that lucid dreaming can be used as a method of overcoming more traditional addictions (similar to the idea of Dr. Bill Glasser’s positive addictions that I examined in a previous blog). For instance, at the Lucid Dream Leaf website it was claimed that:
“Lucid dreaming has a seemingly endless list of benefits attached to it. It can help people who are struggling with emotional pain, end recurring dreams and nightmares, expand consciousness, and so on. In addition to all of this, regular lucid dreaming practice can also be a useful tool to those in recovery (or moving toward recovery) from addictions”.
Other websites (such as the Remedy Free website) provide advice on how to overcome addiction to lucid dreaming or how to overcome problems with lucid dreaming (‘7 nasty side effects of lucid dreaming and how to fix them’ and ‘Lucid dreaming dangers – Obsession [Addiction]’). Although I’ve argued that any activity can be potentially addictive as long as there are constant rewards from the activity, lucid dreaming can only occur when an individual is asleep, so unless someone is constantly sleeping, it doesn’t appear it could be an addiction by my own criteria – but as ever, I am happy to be proved wrong. I ought to add that some online articles (such as one on the Dreaming Life blogsite) claim that lucid dreaming can be a consequence of ‘sleeping addiction’ (but I’ll leave that for another blog).
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Barroso, M., (1987). Letter to the Editor. Lucidity Letter, 6(2). Retrieved from https://journals.macewan.ca/lucidity/article/view/763/704
Gackenbach, J. (1987). Clinical and transpersonal concerns with lucid dreaming voiced. Lucidity Letter, 6(2), 1-4.
Glasser, W. (1976), Positive Addictions. Harper & Row, New York, NY.
Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications (pp. 61-75). New York: Academic Press.
LaBerge, S., & Rheingold, H. (1990). Exploring The World of Lucid Dreaming. New York: Ballantine Books.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An introduction to Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing. In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Video Game Play and Consciousness (pp.223-250). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.
Rooksby, R. (1989). Problems in the historical research of lucid dreaming. Lucidity Letter, 8(2), 75-80.
Rooksby, B., & Terwee, S. (1990). Freud, van Eeden and lucid dreaming. Lucidity Letter, 9(2), 1-10.
Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? (Revisited). In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications (2nd Edition), (pp.141-163). New York: Academic Press.
Wikipedia (2017). Lucid dream. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucid_dream
In previous blogs I have examined a number of extreme behaviours involving hands (both sexual and non-sexual) including hand wear fetishism, fingernail fetishism, ‘hands on hip’ fetishism, alien hand syndrome, ‘touch the truck’ endurance television, and thumb sucking as an addiction. However, it was while I was researching a previous blog on belly inflation fetishes that I came across a man who on the Yahoo! Answers website claimed he had a belly inflation fetish and a thumb fetish along with another person who responded saying he also shared the same fetish:
- Extract 1: “Another weird fetish I have is ‘hitchhiker’s thumb’. Hitchhikers thumb is when the top part of your thumb bends backwards when pushed on or fully extended…The hitchhiker’s thumb fetish developed when I found out that my cousins could do it. I would ALWAYS ask questions about it and I would bend her thumbs back and forth for hours. And I just get turned on by it now…is this weird?” (Male, sexual orientation unknown)
- Extract 2: “I [also] have a fetish for bendy thumbs hence the profile pic. It’s all good I say whatever turns u on and if not hurting anyone then it’s cool” (Male, sexual orientation unknown)
Although I have read about (i) thumb bondage (mentioned in a 2007 book chapter on themes of sadomasochistic expression by Dr. Charles Moser and Dr. Peggy Kleinplatz) and (ii) thumb sucking by adult babies that are into paraphilic infantilism, I had never read anything on standalone thumb fetishes. (I would also point out that the ‘thumb sucking’ is just one of many baby-like behaviours that paraphilic infantilists enjoy but do not necessarily see as a source of arousal in and of itself). There is also those who say that they engage is ‘thumb sex’ and defined by the online Urban Dictionary as “when two people hold hands and run their thumbs around the other persons thumb or twiddle the thumbs”. There are also (for want of a better word) ‘cultural’ references to thumb fetishes such as the instrumental song ‘Mayor Oscar Goodman’s Thumb Fetish’ by US deathcore band Molotov Solution.
As far as I am aware there has never been any empirical research on thumb fetishism. There are various online websites and forums that feature individuals that claim to have very specific types of thumb fetishes. This is one of the more specific that I found:
- Extract 3: “I’m a 34 year old men and I have thin thumbs (each ones have the same width as an American/Canadian penny, that’s 0.74 inch or 19 millimeters). I got a fetish that seems to be pretty rare. It consists of being turn on by comparing my thin thumbs with a woman that has larger ones than mine. Also, the younger the woman is with larger thumbs, the better. It’s pretty inoffensive, but rare I think” (Male heterosexual).
There are also whole webpages dedicated to the sexiness of thumb sucking. Here are some of the online accounts I found on the Thumb Sucking Adults website. They begin by noting that adult thumb sucking is “sexy. This fact shouldn’t be too surprising in that it involves the sensual oral center [and] so much of what is human has become sexualized in one way or another that thumb sucking adults is just another part of the total picture”. They then highlight some of their readers’ experiences:
- Extract 3: “I am a bisexual woman who finds other women sucking their thumbs extremely erotic…First of all, growing up, I had a very close friend who lived down the street from me who also sucked her thumb. Experimenting with sex at a very early age…[she] and I would spend hours together exploring our bodies and touching each other. We learned how to masturbate and although I was so young, I discovered how to reach orgasm. I think perhaps Janice and I shared a certain closeness in our friendship and later in our intimacy because we both sucked our thumbs and felt accepted by each other if not by peers who seemed to ridicule us…I can summarize that my earliest, deepest feelings of sexual desire were connected to both thumb sucking and a female partner. Many years passed and I dated men here and there, but never quite felt emotionally or sexually fulfilled [as with women]…From the e-mails I’ve read on your site, I have also noticed that it is mostly the men who find thumbsucking erotic. Perhaps as a woman who is mostly gay and possesses some traits and attributes more commonly associated with men…I am more turned on by this than other women. And why does it turn me on? I’m sure it has to do with my childhood friend and the feelings associated with that particular behavior”(Bisexual female).
- Extract 4: “The arousal that naturally occurs when I do it. Thumb in mouth…hand on penis. This goes way back. I had contributed an early ‘embarrassment’ to [another website] saying that I watched a home movie in front of all our relatives and there was this shot of me, around 3 years old, standing by the garage, thumb in mouth, hand holding crotch. I had never seen that before. There was devilish laughter. I laughed along, but was shocked. I do remember a dry climax sucking my thumb when I was about 6 or 7. And my first real emission at age 12 or 13 involved thumb sucking in my bed. So it is very ingrained in me. The physical feeling of doing it brings such erotic pleasure. When I first insert my thumb in my mouth, pressing it against my palate and rubbing it back and forth about 1/2″, the stimulus begins. I don’t suck continuously. I do it for 1-2 minutes and take my thumb out for about 20 seconds and then put it back in. Each time it gets better and better. The key thing is that my thumb gets wetter and softer and SMOOTHER against my palate. I am very curious if anyone else sucks their thumb this way. I don’t actually SUCK it. I rub it. The other important part is that as I rub it, my tongue proceeds to pulsate. It’s involuntary. There’s no stopping it as long as I connect with the right spot on my palate. This enhances the feeling greatly. This dual rubbing, pulsating action. My thumb would have to be cut off to stop me from doing it. The last part of sexuality in thumb sucking is observing others doing it. I have to be honest in saying that watching…is an immense turn-on. Fortunately, I know I can control my desires” (Heterosexual male)
- Extract 5: “Larry finds many things attractive in a woman. One of these things, apparently, is that she sucks her thumb. It probably is not essential that she does so (if it was, we’d be talking more along the lines of a fetish) but, if she does suck her thumb, he finds that attractive, whatever the underlying psychodynamics. I propose that his preferences aren’t much different than, say, another man’s predilections for big-breasted women, though both allures aren’t necessarily exclusive…There are societal stigmas associated with the habit. Try sucking your thumb whenever you want to and you’ll see that at least an undue amount of attention will be focused your way for a while. The point is, perhaps as adult thumb sucking becomes more widely known, it is natural that some out there will find it an endearing quality in a person…For the adult thumb sucker, this site has been liberating…And, in the case of Larry, the fact that he has felt solitude in his thumb sucking, all his adult life, it’s certainly understandable to me that among all the feelings that are engendered when he sees it in another for the first time…[This website] simply proposes that adult thumb sucking is more common than otherwise assumed and should be accepted since it is, essentially, harmless and, for those that indulge, beneficial. As for thumb sucking being sexually provocative, I suppose that anything human can be sexualized by others eventually. As long as it’s legal, what’s wrong with that?” (Gender and sexual orientation unknown)
- Extract 6: “I love adult women who still suck on their thumb. Since I was a kid, I felt an attraction for girls sucking their thumbs. My twin sister sucked her thumb till she was 16 years old! When I first started masturbating at age 12, I thought of a girl sucking her thumb. I’ve always looked for women that sucked their thumb and then ask them to suck it for me. When I was 18, I met a girl I suspected of still sucking her thumb. Strangely, I noticed she didn’t have any marks or callus on her thumb. But from time to time, I saw teeth marks and lipstick marks on her thumb…We started to have thumb sucking sex and I loved it. She liked it also. We stayed together four years. It became a habit. She’d suck her thumb for me and then I’d suck her thumb while we made love. I never sucked my thumb but now I suck my thumb while masturbating and thinking about my former girlfriend’s thumb or another girl’s thumb. I always look for women sucking their thumbs in their cars while driving. I have seen three in all the years I have looked. Those times were awesome. I never tried to make contact. I am married now, but my wife never sucks her thumb. She will do it if I ask her, but that isn’t the same. I like it when an adult woman does it naturally…I love a woman with a thumb callus and nice teeth (there are a few). I love to see a wet thumb. I like it when an adult sucks her thumb with the index finger over the nose. I find that very sexy” (Heterosexual male).
- Extract 7: “I find thumb sucking sensual, sexual, erotic, comforting, calming…It’s like catching someone at their most vulnerable. Partly because of its social taboo, it can even be slightly ‘naughty’…But it is an exciting thought to me to perhaps one day ‘catch’ someone else thumb sucking. Thumb sucking provides sensations around the mouth and nose that can be reproduced during sex or loveplay, although thumb sucking is less tiring. It feels nice, smells nice, tickles [the] pleasure centers. It provides the sensations of skin-to-skin warmth that I think everyone of us craves…It’s sensual, it’s intimate. But it’s also sensual and sexual. I find myself sucking my thumb after sex much like I might grab for a cigarette…But I think that thumb sucking is by far more satisfying and truly far less addicting [than smoking]. And definitely far less damaging…Quite honestly I didn’t find out how much I found finger and thumb sucking an exciting part of foreplay and sex until I was 23” (Heterosexual female).
- Extract 8: “I suck my thumb for the usual reasons, tension relief, to go to sleep, it feels good. But, I notice that other contributors here suck their thumb because it also feels erotic, and, I have to say, I agree…When I’m aroused, it enhances the feeling so much more. So it’s obvious that I’ve learned to associate my thumb sucking with something sexual…When I look at the photos of women at this site, sucking away, I just find them so beautiful, so sexually enthralling….First off, there’s the lips. I think most people can understand why lips can be very erotic. I don’t want to get into heavy psychology, but, let’s face it, lips are sexy, especially full lips, parted ever so slightly. They’re like an invitation to something exciting…When I see a woman’s full lips open just a bit, my tongue gets an irresistible urge to explore her sweet mouth…If her teeth were affected by thumb sucking, all the better. The thought that she can’t stop her habit, and the pleasure she derives from it, even if her teeth are affected to the point of obvious buckedness adds that much more to my sensation…She looks like something innocent, childlike but not a child. Her profile, exaggerating her now protrusive lips, wrapped around a phallus-like object that is her compulsion, her requirement, her urgency…I want her thumb to feel comfortable in my mouth as I experience, once again, her essence, her habit as mine” (Heterosexual male).
Obviously this is just a small selection of online accounts of sexual thumb sucking I have come across and I can’t know for sure that they are genuine (but they appear that way to me). Also, I have no idea whether these are typical but I can make a few tentative conclusions. Firstly, both males and females can find thumb sucking sexually stimulating. Secondly, sexual thumb suckers tend to be heterosexual (although one account was from a bisexual woman). Thirdly, most experiences of sexual thumb sucking are rooted in childhood experiences and that the acquisition and development of such behaviour is related with associative pairing (i.e., classical conditioning). Fourthly, no-one pathologizes the behaviour, and as long as the act is consensual, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the behaviour as a sexual preference. Finally, none of the accounts suggest the sexual thumb sucking is fetishistic – just that it is a non-normative sexual expression that fits alongside their other sexual experiences.
While researching this article I also came across the remarkable story of American Rafe Briggs (from Oakland, California) in a 2013 issue of the International Business Times. In 2004, Biggs fell off a roof and broke his neck leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. He obviously thought he would never experience any kind of sexual pleasure again but he was wrong:
“Turns out he can. Biggs, 43, says that his thumb is his ‘surrogate penis’, and that he gets ‘orgasmic sensations’ whenever it’s stimulated. ‘I never thought it would be possible, but massaging and sucking on my thumb, feels a lot like my penis used to feel – it’s really hot” said Biggs, whose girlfriend helped him discover this phenomenon a year after the accident. Sex therapists like Lisa Skye Carle, who works with Biggs, calls it a ‘transfer orgasm – where another place on the body gives the same sensation”. Biggs has made it his mission to helping quadriplegics lead sexually fulfilling lives, working with the group ‘Sexability’ an ‘organization committed to empowering people with disabilities to explore sexuality and creating intimate loving relationships. Since our beginning in 2006, we have been working with individuals, groups and organizations to transform sexuality and disability’. ”
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Huffington Post (2013). Rafe Biggs’ thumb has become his ‘surrogate penis’ after accident left him paralyzed, April 22, Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/22/rafe-biggs-thumb_n_3132325.html?utm_hp_ref=weird-news
Moser, C., & Kleinplatz, P. J. (2007). Themes of SM expression. In D. Langdridge & M. Barker (Eds.) Safe, sane & consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism. (pp. 35-54). Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Thumb Sucking Adults (undated). Why [thumb sucking] is sexy. Located at: http://www.thumbsuckingadults.com/mytsingissexypage.htm
Tungol, J.R. (2013). Paralyzed man Rafe Biggs has ‘orgasmic sensations’ through his thumb, ‘surrogate penis’ International Business Times. April 22. Located at: http://www.ibtimes.com/paralyzed-man-rafe-biggs-has-orgasmic-sensations-through-his-thumb-surrogate-penis-1208099
Most people now accept that weather can affect mood state and for some people can lead to extreme depression in the form of Seasonal Affective Disorder. There also seems to be some evidence that weather can affect people’s sex lives. Being too hot or too cold is likely to lessen the desire to engage in sexual behaviour. Most academic research appears to indicate that sex drives are higher in spring and summer. One of the reasons given for this is that during spring and summer, there is more sun, and that a particular hormone – Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone (MSH) – stimulates sex, particularly in women.
A number of studies have also indicated that during the spring and summer months, the body produces more seretonin (the so-called ‘feel good neurotransmitter’) because increased luminosity of sunlight. During the winter months as the amount of sunlight decreases, the body produces more melatonin, and this appears to inhibit sex drives. However, there is wide individual variation and the weather and subsequent hormone stimulation differs highly from one person to the next. As an online article by Shiv Joshi confirms:
“Sunlight has a direct effect on the brain’s serotonin production, according to researchers at the Human Neurotransmitter Laboratory and Alfred and Baker Medical Unit, Baker Heart Research Institute, Australia. Our serotonin levels increase with increase in luminosity. And how does that matter? Among other things, serotonin also regulates arousal, says Ray Sahelian, MD, author of Mind Boosters…Not just serotonin, but sunlight affects many other hormones in our body as well, some of which are associated with mood and pleasure feelings, according to professor Carmen Fusco, an instructor in pharmacology. It decreases melatonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine and increases cortisol, serotonin, GABA, and dopamine. The summer heat is good for your sex life too. It works on your muscles, by relaxing them and intensifies sensations of the skin. Further, the heat slows us down. This helps us get in touch with our more subdued sensual side, according to psychologist Stella Resnick, PhD, author of The Pleasure Zone”.
German researchers Winfried März and colleagues examined the relationship between vitamin D production (aided by sunny weather) and sex hormones (published a 2010 issue of the journal Clinical Endocrinology). In a study of 2,299 men, the researchers found that levels of Vitamin D were associated with androgen (i.e., testosterone) production with peak levels in August (the sunniest time of year in Germany). They concluded that testosterone and Vitamin D levels “are associated in men and reveal a concordant seasonal variation. Randomized controlled trials are warranted to evaluate the effect of vitamin D supplementation on androgen levels”. The study was replicated by Dr. Katharina Nimptsch and her colleagues among a sample of 1,362 men (also published in the same journal in 2012), and they found the same association between Vitamin D and testosterone production (although they found no seasonal effect). However, a more recent 2014 study published by Dr. Elizabeth Lerchbaim and her colleagues in the journal Andrology found no association (but it was on a much smaller sample of 225 men).
Although I have been unable to track down the academic source, an article by Sam Rider in Coach Magazine claimed that:
“Exposing the skin to sunlight for just 15-20 minutes can raise your testosterone levels by 120%, says a report from Boston State Hospital in the US. The research also found that the hormone increased by a whopping 200% when genital skin was exposed to the sun. Stick to the privacy of your own garden though – we don’t want any arrests”.
In previous blogs I briefly reviewed some of the many studies into courtship requests by Dr. Nicolas Guéguen (which you can read here and here). In one of his studies (published in a 2013 issue of Social Influence), Guéguen examined the effect of sunshine on romantic relationships (reasoning that sunny weather puts people in a better mood than non-sunny weather). In this study, an attractive 20-year old man approached young women walking alone in the street and asked them for their telephone number in two conditions (sunny or cloudy days). The temperature was controlled for and all days of the experiment were dry. The results showed that more women gave the man their telephone numbers on the sunny days. Guéguen concluded that positive mood induction by the sun may explain the success in courtship solicitation.
Finally, in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Aggrawal was quoted as saying that “like allergies, sexual arousal may occur from anything under the sun including the sun”. In fact, Aggrawal’s book arguably contains the most references to fetishes that concern the weather. This includes fetishes and paraphilias in relation to sexual arousal to sunny weather (actirasty), sexual arousal from the cold or winter (cheimaphilia), sexual arousal from snow (chionophilia), sexual arousal from thunderstorms (brontophilia), sexual arousal from thunder and lightning (keraunophilia), sexual arousal from fog (nebulophilia), sexual arousal from rain and being rained upon (ombrophilia and pluviophilia), and love of thunder (tonitrophilia). However, as far as I am aware, no scientific research has ever investigated any of these alleged fetishes.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Amanad, V. (2012). Does weather affect your sex drive? Only My Health, June 29. http://www.onlymyhealth.com/does-weather-affect-your-sex-drive-1340990772
Guéguen, N. (2013). Weather and courtship behavior: A quasi-experiment with the flirty sunshine. Social Influence, 8, 312-319.
Herbert, E. (2009). Sex: Weather-driven desire? Elle, July 28. Located at: http://www.elle.com/life-love/sex-relationships/sex-tips-women
Hurwood, B.J. (1965). The Golden Age of Erotica. Los Angeles, CA: Sherbourne Press.
Joshi, S. (2010). Summer and intimacy: Felling hot, hot, hot. Complete Wellbeing, May 11. Located at: http://completewellbeing.com/article/feeling-hot-hot-hot/
Lerchbaum, E., Pilz, S., Trummer, C., Rabe, T., Schenk, M., Heijboer, A. C., & Obermayer‐Pietsch, B. (2014). Serum vitamin D levels and hypogonadism in men. Andrology, 2(5), 748-754.
Nimptsch, K., Platz, E. A., Willett, W. C., & Giovannucci, E. (2012). Association between plasma 25‐OH vitamin D and testosterone levels in men. Clinical Endocrinology, 77(1), 106-112.
Rider, S. (2015). How to boost your testosterone levels (the natural way). Coach Magazine, October 5. Located at: http://www.coachmag.co.uk/lifestyle/1558/10-ways-boost-testosterone
Wehr, E., Pilz, S., Boehm, B. O., März, W., & Obermayer‐Pietsch, B. (2010). Association of vitamin D status with serum androgen levels in men. Clinical Endocrinology, 73(2), 243-248.
If the many media reports are to be believed, a 2014 study published in the journal Cell claimed that “sunshine can be addictive like heroin”. In an experiment carried out on mice, a research team led by Dr. Gillian Fell at the Harvard Medical School in Boston (US) reported that ultraviolet exposure leads to elevated endorphin levels (endorphins being the body’s own ‘feel good’ endogenous morphine), that mice experience withdrawal effects after exposure to ultraviolet light, and that chronic ultraviolet causes dependency and ‘addiction-like’ behaviour.
Although the study was carried out on animals, the authors speculated that their findings may help to explain why we love lying in the sun and that in addition to topping up our tans, sunbathing may be the most natural way to satisfy our cravings for a ‘sunshine fix’ in the same way that drug addicts yearn for their drug of choice.
Reading the findings of this study took me back to 1998 when I appeared as a ‘behavioural addiction expert’ on Esther Rantzen’s daytime BBC television show that featured people who claimed they were addicted to tanning (and was dubbed by the researchers on the programme as ‘tanorexia’). I have to admit that none of the case studies on the show appeared to be addicted to tanning at least based on my own behavioural addiction criteria (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse) but it did at least alert me to the fact that some people thought sunbathing and tanning was addictive (in fact, the people on the show said their excessive tanning was akin to nicotine addiction).
There certainly appeared to be some similarities between the people interviewed and nicotine addiction in the sense that the ‘tanorexics’ knew they were significantly increasing their chances of getting skin cancer as a direct result of their risky behaviour but felt they were unable to stop doing it (similar to nicotine addicts who know they are increasing the probability of various cancers but also feel unable to stop despite knowing the health risks).
Since then, tanorexia has become a topic for scientific investigation (and I looked at the topic in a previous blog). For instance, in a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology by Dr. Mandeep Kaur and colleagues reported that frequent tanners (those who tanned 8-15 times a month) that took an endorphin blocker normally used to treat drug addictions (i.e., naltrexone) significantly reduced the amount of tanning compared to a control group of light tanners.
A 2005 study published in the Archives of Dermatology by Dr. Molly Warthan and colleagues claimed that a quarter of the sample of 145 “sun worshippers” would qualify as having a substance-related disorder if ultraviolet light was classed as the substance they crave. Their paper also reported that frequent tanners experienced a “loss of control” over their tanning schedule, and displayed a pattern of addiction similar to smokers and alcoholics.
A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Health Behavior by Dr. Carolyn Heckman and colleagues reported that 27% of 400 students they surveyed were classified as “tanning dependent”. The authors claimed that those classed as being tanning dependent had a number of similarities to substance use, including (i) higher prevalence among youth, (ii) an initial perception that the behaviour is image enhancing, (iii) high health risks and disregard for warnings about those risks, and (iv) the activity being mood enhancing.
Another study by Dr. Heckman and her colleagues in the American Journal of Health Promotion surveyed 306 female students and classed 25% of the respondents as ‘tanning dependent’ based upon a self-devised tanning dependence questionnaire. The problem with this and most of the psychological research on tanorexia to date is that almost all of the research is carried out on relatively small convenience samples using self-report and non-psychometrically validated ‘tanning addiction’ instruments.
Based on my own six criteria of behavioural addiction although some studies suggest some of these criteria appear to have been met, I have yet to be convinced that any of the published studies to date show genuine addiction to tanning (i.e., that there is evidence of all my criteria being endorsed) but that doesn’t mean it’s not theoretically possible. However, I’ve just done a study on tanorexia with my research colleagues at the University of Bergen and when we publish our findings I’ll be sure to let my blog readers know about it.
(Please note: A version of this article first appeared in The Conversation and The Washington Post)
Fell, G.L., Robinson, K.C., Mao, J., Woolf, C.J., & Fisher, D.E. (2014). Skin β-endorphin mediates addiction to UV light. Cell, 157(7), 1527-1534.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.
Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Sunshine addiction is a hot topic – but does ‘tanorexia’ really exist? The Conversation. June 20. Located at: https://theconversation.com/sunshine-addiction-is-a-hot-topic-but-does-tanorexia-really-exist-28283
Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Sunshine: As addictive as heroin? Washington Post. June 24. Located at http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/06/24/sunshine-as-addictive-as-heroin/
Heckman, C.J., Cohen-Filipic, J., Darlow, S., Kloss, J.D., Manne, S.L., & Munshi, T. (2014). Psychiatric and addictive symptoms of young adult female indoor tanners. American Journal of Health Promotion, 28(3), 168-174.
Heckman, C.J., Darlow, S., Kloss, J.D., Cohen‐Filipic, J., Manne, S.L., Munshi, T., … & Perlis, C. (2014). Measurement of tanning dependence. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 28(9), 1179-1185 .
Heckman, C.J., Egleston, B.L., Wilson, D.B., & Ingersoll, K.S. (2008). A preliminary investigation of the predictors of tanning dependence. American Journal of Health Behavior, 32(5), 451-464.
Kaur, M., Liguori, A., Lang, W., Rapp, S.R., Fleischer, A.B., & Feldman, S.R. (2006). Induction of withdrawal-like symptoms in a small randomized, controlled trial of opioid blockade in frequent tanners. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 54(4), 709-711.
Warthan, M.M., Uchida, T., & Wagner, R.F. (2005). UV light tanning as a type of substance-related disorder. Archives of Dermatology, 141(8), 963-966.
According to a 2015 review in the journal Frontiers in Psychology by Jan Coebergh and colleagues, musical hallucinations (MHs) “are auditory hallucinations characterized by songs, tunes, melodies, harmonics, rhythms, and/or timbres…and that the mechanisms responsible for the mediation of MH are probably diverse”. While Danilo Vitorovic and Jose Biller reported in a 2013 issue of Frontiers in Neurology that the prevalence rate of MHs among the general population is at present unknown and/or rare, ‘involuntary musical imagery’ (INMI) is thought to be more commonplace. For instance, in a 2012 Finnish study in the journal Psychology of Music, Lassi Liikkanen reported that 89% of the total sample (n=12,519) reported experiencing INMI at least once a week. Music hallucination prevalence rates among various groups have been reported including obsessive-compulsive disorder patients (41%; Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2004), elderly people with auditory problems (2.5%; International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 2002), and general hospital setting patients (0.16%; Psychosomatics, 1998).
Although Coebergh and colleagues described MHs, they were not explicitly defined. In a review in a 2014 issue of the Journal of Medical Case Reports, Woo and colleagues defined MHs as “complex auditory perceptions in the absence of an external acoustic stimulus and are often consistent with previous listening experience” whereas the 2013 review by Vitorovic and Biller (see above) noted that MHs “represent a specific form of auditory hallucinations whereby patients experience formed songs, instrumental music, or tunes, without an external musical stimulus”. In a 2015 paper in the journal Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, Tim Williams provided a classification of INMI and noted they cover a number of different types of involuntary musical experience (including MHs). Despite the lack of detailed definition, it is known that MHs occur within the context of an individual’s culture and are often viewed by those experiencing them as intrusive and sometimes unpleasant.
In 2015, Dr. Angelica Ortiz de Gortari and I wrote a commentary paper on musical hallucinations in videogame playing in response to the review by Coebergh and colleagues. As far as we were aware, we noted that no review paper examining musical hallucinations had ever included papers referring to musical hallucinations arising from playing video games. The earliest report in the psychological literature is by Sean Spence (published in 1993 in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine) who reported the case of a 20-year-old female patient with a family history of psychosis. She presented with persecutory delusions, suicidal ideation, violent behaviour and third-person auditory hallucinations comprising 48 hours of constant MHs from the Mario Brothers videogame that developed into delusional thoughts. No drugs were found in her urinary system and her EEG was normal when MHs occurred. The MHs from the videogame decreased within 48 hours of treatment (using antidepressants and neuroleptics).
More recently, a series of papers by Dr. Ortiz de Gortari and I examined Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP). GTP research has demonstrated how the videogame can keep on playing even after the game has been turned off. GTP are non-volitional phenomena (e.g., altered perceptions, automatic mental processes, and involuntary behaviors). In an analysis of over 1600 gamers’ self-reports, our research has shown that videogame playing can lead to (i) perceptual distortions of physical objects, environments, and/or sounds, (ii) misperceptions of objects and sounds that are similar to those in the videogame, (iii) interpretation of events in real life contexts that utilize the logic of the videogame, (iv) ghost perceptions and sensations of images, sounds, and tactile experiences, and (v) involuntary actions and behaviors based on experiences from the videogame.
One study that we published in a 2014 issue of the International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning specifically examined auditory GTP experiences. Gamers’ experiences identified as GTP in one or more modalities (e.g., visual, auditory) were collected from 60 online videogame forums over seven months. Of these, there were 192 auditory experiences from 155 gamers collected. The largest numbers of experiences (90%) were identified as involuntary auditory imagery. This manifested as hearing music (n = 73), sound (n = 83), or voices from within the game (n = 12). Some experiences were triggered by external cues associated with the game, while others were not. Experiences with music included hearing high pitch music in addition to calm and classical music.
Music from the videogames was usually experienced persistently, while sound effects or voices appeared to have occurred more episodically. Hearing the music persistently provoked sleep deprivation, annoyance, and uncertainty. When the music was re-experienced very vividly, the gamers attributed them to external sources associated with the videogame. More specifically, when auditory cues were associated with adverse videogame content, they resulted in irrational thoughts, reactions and changes in behaviour. In many cases, the gamers said that they had been playing intensively (i.e., either playing long sessions or playing frequently). Previous studies have linked hearing music in absence of auditory stimuli with the recent or repeated exposure to music (see ‘Further reading’ below including: Gardner, 1985; Gerra et al., 1998; Hyman et al., 2012).
In our study, one gamer said that he heard the sound of music coming out from the speakers so he stood up to check them while another heard music from Pokémon when vacuuming. It also appears that musical hallucinations can cross sensory modalities. For instance, some gamers have reported hearing music while seeing images from the video game. An online survey about GTP with a convenience sample of 2,362 gamers found that hearing music from videogames when not playing were the more prevalent (74%) than hearing sounds (65.0%) or voices (46%) when not playing (Ortiz de Gortari & Griffiths, 2015b).
Based on what is known empirically, our paper concluded that (i) MHs from videogame playing – although not well documented – appear to be relatively commonplace among gamers and prevalence appears to be higher than found in other populations, (ii) individual interpretation of MHs from videogames are influenced by the meanings and uses of auditory cues in the videogames, (iii) MHs can manifest beyond one sensory modality and has been reported across-sensory channels (e.g., hearing music while seeing ghost images from the game), (iv) there is little evidence that MHs among videogame players are linked to other underlying pathology (e.g., epilepsy, psychiatric disorder, etc.), (v) those researching in the field of MHs and INMI appear to have overlooked the literature on these phenomena related to videogame playing, and (vi) better definitions are needed for MHs and a distinction between MHs and INMI is required.
(Please note: This blog is based on material used in the following paper: Griffiths, M.D. & Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. (2015). Musical hallucinations: Review of treatment effects. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1885. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01885).
Coebergh, J. A. F., Lauw, R. F., Bots, R., Sommer, I. E. C., & Blom, J. D. (2015) Musical hallucinations: review of treatment effects. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 814.
Cole M.G., Dowson, L., Dendukuri, N., & Belzile, E. (2002). The prevalence and phenomenology of auditory hallucinations among elderly subjects attending an audiology clinic. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (2002) 17, 444–52.
Fukunishi, I., Horikawa, N., & Onai, H. Prevalence rate of musical hallucinations in a general hospital setting. Psychosomatics (1998) 39, 175.
Hermesh H. (2004). Musical hallucinations: prevalence in psychotic and nonpsychotic outpatients. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 65, 191–7. doi:10.4088/JCP.v65n0208
Gardner, M. P. (1985). Mood states and consumer behavior: A critical review. Journal of Consumer Research, 12, 281-300.
Gerra, G., Zaimovic, A., Franchini, D., Palladino, M., Giucastro, G., Reali, N., . . . Brambilla, F. (1998). Neuroendocrine responses of healthy volunteers to `techno-music’: relationships with personality traits and emotional state. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 28(1), 99-111.
Griffiths, M.D. & Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. (2015). Musical hallucinations: Review of treatment effects. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1885. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01885
Hyman, I. E., Burland, N. K., Duskin, H. M., Cook, M. C., Roy, C. M., McGrath, J. C., & Roundhill, R. F. (2012). Going gaga: Investigating, creating, and manipulating the song stuck in my head. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 27, 204-215.
Liikkanen, L. A. (2012). Musical activities predispose to involuntary musical imagery. Psychology of Music, 40(2), 236-256.
Ortiz de Gortari, A. B, Aronsson, K. & Griffiths, M. D. (2011). Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing: A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 1(3), 15-33.
Ortiz de Gortari, A. B. & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Auditory experiences in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 4(1), 59-75.
Ortiz de Gortari, A. B. & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Altered visual perception in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 30, 95-105.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Automatic mental processes, automatic actions and behaviours in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study using online forum data. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 432-452.
Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., Pontes, H. M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). The Game Transfer Phenomena Scale: An instrument for investigating the non-volitional effects of video game playing. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, in press.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D (2015b). Prevalence and characteristics of Game Transfer Phenomena: A descriptive survey study. Manuscript under review.
Spence, S. A. (1993). Nintendo hallucinations: A new phenomenological entity. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 10, 98–99.
Vitorovic, D. & Biller, D. (2013). Musical hallucinations and forgotten tunes – case report and brief literature review. Frontiers in Neurology, 4, 109. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2013.00109
Williams, T. I. (2015). The classification of involuntary musical imagery: The case for earworms. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 25(1), 5-13.
Woo, P. Y. M. Leung, L. N. Y., Cheng, S. T. M. & Chan, K-Y. (2014). Monoaural musical hallucinations caused by a thalamocortical auditory radiation infarct: a case report. Journal of Medical Case Reports, 8, 400.
“[There] is a natural or unexpected form of bondage where girls step into cement, wander into spider webs or sink into quicksand. Often girls find themselves in perilous or humiliating situations like being in danger of sinking under quicksand or unable to stop the advances of a horny teenager after having stepped into superglue” (Weird and Sexy website).
I used the opening quote in a previous blog on ‘stuck fetishism’ but is just as appropriate in the context of this article on quicksand fetishes. Such fetishes appear to be a sub-type of taphephilia (that I also examined in a previous blog on claustrophilia [sexual arousal from being in confined spaces]). Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices defines taphephilia as deriving sexual pleasure and arousal from being buried alive. I noted in my previous blog that when I first read about this paraphilia I had major doubts about it’s existence until I came across groups such as the Six Feet Under Club and the Buried Stories website. As the Buried Stories homepage asserts:
“Buried or burial whilst still alive is a nightmare to some but a joy or fetish to others. The desire to be boxed, bagged and buried is a great turn on for many. The feeling of utter helplessness as the sounds of the first shovel of dirt hits the top of their coffin. The fantasy may also involve being placed in a casket, bodybag, or other enclosure before being buried either on the beach, in dirt or even in quicksand. Encased or entombed, enclosed or just bagged. ‘Buried Stories’ contains stories of people being buried, sunk in quicksand or encased within an enclosure. Some may have acted out their desires whilst others have written about their fantasy to share with you”
An article about ‘stuck fetishism’ (on the now defunct Nation Master website) provided a typology of all the different types of stuck fetishes. There was no empirical evidence supporting the typology but has good face validity based on what I have read about the topic. The different type of stuck fetishism includes (i) sticky substance immobilization fetishes, (ii) non-sticky substance immobilization fetishes, (iii) situational immobilization fetishes, (iv) perceived situational immobilization fetish, (v) stuck clothing fetish, (vi) stuck transport fetish, (vii) stuck transformation fetish, (viii) stuck multi-person fetish, and (ix) stuck conjoinment fetish (for a detailed description of each of these fetishes, see my previous blog on stuck fetishism). These fetishes – while specific – may not be mutually exclusive, and some stuck fetishists may gain sexual arousal from more than one of these scenario. Quicksand fetishes are an example of ‘non-sticky substance immobilization fetishes’ (i.e., the individual is rendered immobile and derives sexual arousal from a substance that is not sticky but stops the individual from being able to move such as quicksand, mud or cement).
In an article on the Cracked.com website, ‘Girls stuck in quicksand’ was one of the six most bizarre safe for work fetishes they listed. The article noted:
“There’s no official name for this weird fetish – yet – but that doesn’t mean the Internet isn’t full of videos and photos depicting it. For some people, the idea of a person, especially a woman, nearly drowning in quicksand is quite the turn on. Perhaps these viewers imagine themselves as a hero who can swoop in and save the day. Or maybe these people are aroused by the woman’s fear. Either way, this is a fetish we hope you won’t experience any time soon. This is a perfect example of a nearly ‘safe for work’ fetish – it requires no nudity or sex, and it in fact involves a situation in which sex would be utterly impossible. It’s people who get aroused at the sight of fully clothed women sinking in quicksand”.
“A cursory search online would reveal tons of sites dedicated to compiling clips from various sources of girls drowning in quicksand, and then there are the niche video sites dedicated to providing original content (there probably is a booming industry in quicksand pit installation these days). On those sites, elaborate storylines are created to justify how these lovely ladies came to be trapped in the unforgiving, bottomless pit of certain-yet-sexy death. So … maybe the quicksand thing triggers some ‘damsel in distress’ response in the [brain’s cortex]? If there’s anything lonely Internet tough guys love, it’s sitting behind their keyboards visualizing all the many ways they would totally jump in and save the unfortunate lady fake drowning in a boggy marsh”.
Reference was made in the paragraph above to a “damsel in distress response”. In a previous blog I examined ‘damsel in distress’ (DiD) fetishes. I noted in thatblog that (like quicksand fetishes) it is mostly males who have DiD fetishes and that they can be very specific including (but not restricted to) such things as (i) ‘kidnap and rescue’ fetishes (sexual pleasure from watching or engaging in women being kidnapped and/or rescued from potentially life-threatening scenarios where they are cuffed, bound and/or controlled by another person or persons), (ii) tickle bondage fetishes (sexual pleasure from watching or tickling women while they are tied up), (iii) quicksand fetishes (sexual pleasure from watching women sink in quicksand), and (iv) ‘pedal pumping’ and ‘cranking’ fetishes (sexual pleasure from watching women stranded in their cars with repeated pressing of the gas pedal and revving up – which also has elements of foot fetishism – while turning the key in an attempt to get the engine to start).
Unsurprisingly, there are no academic papers on quicksand fetishes and very few articles of any description on the topic. One article by Jagger Gravning on the Motherboard news site wrote an interesting article on ‘The fetish for video game characters trapped in quicksand’ (and could arguably be classed as a sub-type of quicksand fetishism). This could also be classed as a type of toonophilia (sexual arousal from cartoon characters) that I also examined in a previous blog.
Gravning’s article concentrated on the ‘quicksand artists’ (and other types of fetish illustrations on the Deviant Art website) rather than the quicksand fetishists (such as A-020, an artist who “draws women trapped in quicksand for the titillation of those with a predilection for such imagery”) as well as interviewing various academics about the fetishistic side of the practice. However, A-020 admitted he was also a quicksand fetishist. When asked about the origins of his fetish, which he claimed were integrated with other types of fetish behaviour: “I think it could be a distant cousin of fetishes like vore and bondage with a combination of muddy and stuck elements. Those similarities may be why I find it interesting mixed with an attractive female”.
Gravning wanted to know whether witnessing human beings stuck in quicksand in cartoons over and over as a child possibly lead to this unusual fetish. She asked Dr. Catherine Salmon, an evolutionary psychologist, who wrote the book Warrior Lovers: Erotic Fiction, Evolution and Female Sexuality:
“It could be something like that. Whether it’s quicksand or tar pits, there are things like that in children’s cartoons. It could be something as simple as that. Part of it is the damsel in distress kind of image. Watching ‘Wonder Woman’ caught in that kind of circumstance when people are younger—[it’s] an image that’s eroticized, a very sexually drawn, very feminine image. And they might enjoy watching that sort of thing or the struggle, as she’s trying to get out of whatever that circumstance is. There are a lot of unusual circumstances in cartoons and fantasy and you may get aroused while you’re watching it and then carry some of that too”.
Gravning also interviewed Dr. Elizabeth Larson, the Director of the Seattle Institute for Sex Therapy, Education and Research. Like me, Dr. Larson sees the development of such fetishes as most likely the consequence of associative pairing early in childhood or adolescence. More specifically she noted:
“These associations that come to be associated with an aroused state and are ‘accidents of learning’. These accidents of learning are most potent in the early sexual learning history, although it’s not impossible later. They don’t have to be exactly like the fantasy that comes. It just has to resemble it…[Quicksand fetishists] probably fantasized and got into the feeling that goes with that, not just watching. It could [also] be identifying with it. The kid imagining himself stuck in quicksand in the victim’s place, for example, could be part of its erotic appeal. You could either be observing it or experiencing it. You could be doing both at the same time in a fantasy. Some evidence certainly suggests that sexual patterns are already there, for sure in males, by the age of eight [years of age]. They may or may not have begun masturbating to fantasies until adolescence but something is going on internally at a very young age”.
Gravning also spoke to the US computational neuroscientist Dr. Ogi Ogas who was quoted as saying:
“While uncommon, the notion of being smothered or trapped is universal in the sense that it exists to greater and lesser degrees ‘all over’ [the world]. It’s not just one or two people that have it. It is found in a lot of places. Clearly our normal brain design is not that far removed from [wanting to be] enveloped. It’s probably something to do with our tactile system, our touch system of the brain, that’s quite naturally wired to our sexual arousal system. The tactile system is also interconnected with sensations like being smothered and being interred, being doused with water. Probably, somehow – and I’m speculating here – that’s what got crossed up for whatever reasons…A quirk in the brain, essentially…As we’re learning more about the genetics of brain construction, we’re coming to understand the genetic expression that leads to different neural wiring is highly variable and dependent on so many things [that] could happen in the womb, things that happen in early life, different environmental things. There’s just myriad, myriad factors that can cause unusual neural wiring to arise. Following this logic, some boy who just happens to have the notion of being smothered or trapped somehow interconnected to his arousal system becomes aroused when he sees an attractive woman struggling in quicksand, and that image burns into his mind”.
I have no idea how common quicksand fetishes are (but I would suspect it’s a very niche fetish), and I doubt whether the fetish is the only type of fetishistic behaviour among such people as there is so much crossover with many other different niche fetishes (stuck fetishism, buried fetishism, etc.). As with many other extreme sexual behaviours I have examined, I can’t see this becoming an area of serious academic study any time soon, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting topic.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Encyclopedia Dramatica (2016). Quicksand fetish. May 4. Located at:https://encyclopediadramatica.se/Quicksand_Fetish
Gravning, J. (2015). The fetish for video game characters trapped in quicksand. Motherboard, March 19. Located at: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/quicksand
Ntumy, E.K. (2013). The 6 most bizarre safe for work fetishes. Cracked.com. November 7. Located at: http://www.cracked.com/article_20691_the-6-most-bizarre-safe-work-fetishes.html
Pop Crunch (2010). Quicksand, pedal pumping, tickle bondage, women in distress in general. May 11. Located at: http://www.popcrunch.com/the-17-most-wtf-fetishes-imaginable/