Category Archives: Case Studies

Slow pain coming: A brief look at benign masturbatory cephalalgia

In a previous blog, I examined the medical research on individuals that suffer severe headaches as a result of having sex (known in the clinical and medical literature as ‘coital cephalalgia’ and ‘benign coital headache’). In such circumstances, the headache typically occurs at the brink of orgasm. While researching that particular blog, I also came across a number of papers (mainly case studies) that reported that these types of headache could also occur during masturbation (known as ‘benign masturbatory cephalalgia’ (BMC). (Here, the term ‘benign’ defines a primary headache syndrome not caused by any intracranial disorder).

The first paper that I read on BMC was a case account by Dr. Frederick Vincent in a 1982 issue the Archives of Neurology. Although benign orgasmic cephalgia had already been well described in the medical literature (particularly among males), Dr. Vincent reported the case of a 28-year old woman with orgasmic cephalalgia that developed during masturbation. This was reported by Dr. Vincent as the first ever case of BMC. The young woman “suffered a sudden throbbing occipital headache as she became orgasmic by masturbation”. The headache lasted an hour accompanied by mild nausea, but no other neurologic symptoms. As a result of this case, Dr. Vincent argued that the term ‘coital cephalagia’ should be dropped and simply called ‘orgasmic cephalagia’ irrespective of whether the headache was self-induced (i.e., masturbatory) or caused by having sexual intercourse.

Following the publication of Vincent’s case study, Dr. James Lance immediately responded in the same journal saying that he had reported the cases of three of his patients whose headaches were brought on by masturbation. Lance also agreed that the term coital cephalalgia was too restrictive, but then argued that:

“Orgasmic cephalalgia ignores the premonitory headache that may build up as sexual excitement mounts before orgasm. Benign sex headache (using ‘sex’ in the popular sense) is an all-embracing, albeit unpoetic, term and is comparable with benign cough headache. It is worth emphasizing that neither condition is always benign”.

A 2004 case study published by Dr. Marcelo Valenca and colleagues in the journal Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain noted that only five cases of patients with thunderclap headache precipitated by sexual activity had been identified in the medical literature. In their paper, they reported the case of a 44-year-old woman that suffered both coital and masturbatory headaches during orgasm. After carrying out a number of medical tests they concluded that the women had experienced cerebral arterial narrowing shortly after her orgasmic headache attacks and that this “supported the hypothesis that segmental vasospasm may exert a role in the pathogenesis of this uncommon type of headache”.

A number of papers on orgasmic cephalagia have been published by Dr. Achim Frese and his colleagues. In a 2004 issue of the journal Neurology, Frese led a study examining the demography, clinical features, and comorbidity of headache associated with sexual activity (HSA) in interviews of 51 participants. They reported that HSA was not dependent on specific sexual habits and most often occurred during sexual activity with the usual partner (94%) and during masturbation (35%).

A 1998 paper by Dr. Daniel Jacome in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain reported something slightly different but related to BMC. More specifically, Dr. Jacome reported the cases of two single men described as having masturbatory-orgasmic extracephalic pain (i.e., an ice-pick like pain that occurred in the neck of one of the men, and in the groin and genitalia of the other). Both men had pre-existing medical conditions (i.e., compressive spondylitic cervical myelopathy in the first case, and a tethered cord and intraspinal lipoma in the second case). These two unusual cases represent examples of extracephalic ice picklike pain triggered by sexual activity, in the absence of orgasmic cephalgia.

A more recent 2012 paper by Dr. Amy Gelfand and Dr. Peter Goadsby in the journal Pediatrics examined primary sexual headaches in two male adolescents. One of the two cases (a 16-year-old boy) developed headaches at the moment of orgasm, building up in intensity over 5 to 10 seconds, and then continuing for between 10 seconds to 2 minutes before stopping. The authors also reported that headaches occurred irrespective of whether orgasm was achieved through intercourse or masturbation. He was not formally treated because after several months, the patient no longer experienced the headaches with orgasm.

Finally, a 2006 paper by Dr. Ambar Chakravarty in the journal Cephalalgia examined data from 24 Indian patients (18 males and 6 females) over a 20-year period (1985–2004) that suffered preorgasmic headaches. Dr. Ambar reported that three of the youngest male patients (aged 19–23 years) had experienced masturbatory headache. One of the female patients (aged 30 years) only experienced orgasmic headache during masturbation (i.e., she never experienced headaches during sexual intercourse).

Summarizing the medical literature on orgasmic cephalagia as a whole (i.e., on coital and masturbatory cephalagia), the 2012 paper by Gelfand and Goadsby concluded that:

“The orgasmic subtype of primary sex headache is more common than the gradual onset pre-orgasm type and has received more attention in the medical literature…In the orgasmic subtype, headache onset is explosive and severe. Orgasms achieved through either sexual intercourse or masturbation can trigger the headache. The headache location is variable, although most often bilateral. The quality is typically pounding or throbbing. Duration of headache ranges from minutes to several hours. Age at onset is classically in the late thirties or early forties, and there is a male predominance. The natural history of the disorder is that after several months it typically remits, although some patients will have a chronic course lasting over a year, and recurrences are possible”.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Chakravarty, A. (2006). Primary headaches associated with sexual activity—some observations in Indian patients. Cephalalgia, 26(2), 202-207.

Frese, A., Eikermann, A., Frese, K., Schwaag, S., Husstedt, I. W., & Evers, S. (2003). Headache associated with sexual activity: Demography, clinical features, and comorbidity. Neurology, 61(6), 796-800.

Gelfand, A.A., & Goadsby, P.J. (2012). Primary sex headache in adolescents. Pediatrics, 130(2), e439-e441.

Jacome, D.E. (1998). Masturbatory-orgasmic extracephalic pain. Headache: Journal of Head and Face Pain, 38(2), 138-141.

Lance, J. W. (1976). Headaches related to sexual activity. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 39(12), 1226-1230.

Lance, J. W. (1983). Benign masturbatory cephalalgia. Archives of Neurology, 40(6), 393.

Østergaard, J. R., & Kraft, M. (1992). Benign coital headache. Cephalalgia, 12(6), 353-355.

Redelman, M. (2010). What if the ‘sexual headache’ is not a joke. British Journal of Medical Practitioners, 3(1), 40-44.

Valenca, M. M., Valenca, L. P., Bordini, C. A., Da Silva, W. F., Leite, J. P., Antunes‐Rodrigues, J., & Speciali, J. G. (2004). Cerebral vasospasm and headache during sexual intercourse and masturbatory orgasms. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 44(3), 244-248.

Vincent, F. M. (1982). Benign masturbatory cephalalgia. Archives of Neurology, 39(10), 673.

Getting a leg up: A brief look at pantyhose fetishism

“As far as I can remember I have been easily aroused by women wearing pantyhose. At the age of about 14 or 15 [years] I started wearing pantyhose and masturbating with them. At the time I was ashamed to tell my girlfriend at the time about it. I continued this up until about 19 or 20, when I finally had a girlfriend who I told about my fetish. I thought that by sharing this with my significant other at the time that it would help but it did not. I would just want it more and more. Now I am in a long-term relationship with a woman that I love. I have told her about my fetish and how I masturbate with her pantyhose and she said that she did not have a problem with it. She wears pantyhose for me rather frequently because she knows that I really like them…My obsession has really intensified to the point that I am doing more to achieve a stronger orgasm…I really feel like my fetish is out of control. In general my fetish for pantyhose has lead me to do immoral things that I would not do unless pantyhose are involved” (Letter sent to Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker)

For the benefit of my non-UK readers, here in the UK, ‘pantyhose fetishism’ is more commonly known as ‘tights fetishism’ (and is very similar to ‘stocking fetishism’, the commonality being the fact they are both clothing items worn on the legs that are often made of nylon and that have a silky veneer). The few online articles concerning pantyhose fetishism make similar claims although empirical evidence for such claims are generally lacking. For instance, the articles claim that pantyhose fetishism is (i) commonplace and (ii) usually first begins in childhood and/or early adolescence (after seeing pantyhose being worn by a significant person in the fetishist’s life such as their mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, family friend, neighbour and/or teacher).

One of the best studies published in a 2007 issue of the International Journal of Impotence Research by Dr G. Scorolli and his colleagues on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data did not report the specific existence of pantyhose fetishism at all, although around 12% had fetishes concerning something associated with the body such as legs (which could have included pantyhouse). However, if you type ‘pantyhose fetishism’ into Google lots of dedicated pornographic photography and video sites can be found on the first few pages.

According to Wikipedia men may have a preference for pantyhose because unlike stocking, pantyhose has direct contact with female genitalia. An article on the Kinkly website claims individuals with a pantyhose fetish most commonly become sexually aroused by wearing pantyhose, watching other people wear (or undress wearing) pantyhose, or both. The Wikipedia article is a little more detailed and claims that the fetish manifests in one or more of the following ways (and which I have repeated verbatim):

  • “Tearing or cutting holes in pantyhose to modify the garment or gain access to the wearer’s body.
  • Wearing of pantyhose by either or both partners during sexual activity.
  • A male wearing pantyhose alone or in front of others who may praise or humiliate him.
  • Using pantyhose as bondage restraints.
  • Interacting with pantyhose in any other way or form during sexual activity.
  • Simply observing/admiring and experiencing heightened arousal/interest of females or males who are wearing pantyhose.
  • Viewing material from store catalogues to pornography of models and actors wearing pantyhose.
  • A man or woman in pantyhose encasement”.

As far as I am aware, only one paper solely devoted to pantyhose fetishism has ever been published in the psychological literature. This was a 1997 paper written from a psychodynamic perspective by Dr. L.M. Lothstein in the journal Gender and Psychoanalysis. In her paper, Lothstein describes this unique fetish” using clinical vignettes of gender dysphoric men (i.e., transgendered males). The paper claims the pantyhose served a number of different functions (such as the repairing of psychic structure, and an expression and defence against underlying aggression). More specifically, Lothstein refers to pantyhose as a functional ‘magic skin’ or ‘second skin’ in repairing a defective ego and acting as a transitional object to allay annihilation and separation anxiety.

The Wikipedia and Kinkly articles claim that there are many sub-types of pantyhose fetish and that such fetishes often co-occur with other fetishes and sexual paraphilias such as shoe fetishes, transvestism, sadomasochism, and schoolgirl fetishes. For instance, the Wikipedia article notes that pantyhose fetishism can include:

  • A focus on certain areas of the body while wearing pantyhose, [such as] feet, a variation of the very common foot fetishism.
  • Wearing pantyhose with other specific garments, e.g. shoes, boots, or skirts, uniforms that usually include pantyhose (girl at work, secretary, flight stewardess, policewoman, Hooters waitress, girl next door etc.)
  • Certain styles e.g. sheer-to-waist, opaque, patterned or specific deniers, certain brands or shades.
  • Simply admiring women who wear pantyhose (a mild form of voyeurism).
  • Finding the wearing of them to be a primarily sensual comforting experience, rather than sexual.
  • The act of purchasing pantyhose, especially when aided by a female assistant, can also generate a degree of arousal”.

One of the problems with the Wikipedia article as that it is included in the entry on underwear fetishism and the section concerning pantyhose fetishes specifically notes that the section “does not cite any references or sources”. It then goes on to claim:

“The pantyhose covered foot can be extremely arousing to men who often find satisfaction in just looking at or more in that of rubbing, sucking/licking, and massage of the penis with the nylon clad feet. Others find arousal in sniffing the sour and pungent smell of soles made by excessive sweat when in pantyhose. Foot-jobs can be very intense and stimulating and covering a woman in pantyhose in semen is a common fantasy with some men. Pantyhose fetish can also be linked to that of the women dressing as the schoolgirl where stockings, knee high socks and pantyhose can be worn with a short skirt”.

The same article also lists a number of reasons why females wear pantyhose and then claims that these reasons as to why women wear pantyhose provides possible reasons for the allure of pantyhose fetishism:

  • They remove the appearance of blemishes, making the legs ‘perfect’.
  • The reflectiveness of the material, coupled with the way they appear less transparent at the edges, often gives legs more contrast and definition, as though lit by dramatic lighting. This accentuates the curves of the legs, making them less ‘flat’, and can also make legs appear slimmer (with dark pantyhose).
  • They often have a silky texture which is pleasing to both the wearer and her partner.
  • They enhance the pleasure (and anticipation) associated with the removal of a woman’s clothes. Not only serving as an additional item to be removed; they allow the exciting moment of exposure to be drawn out much longer than other clothing items, as the pantyhose are slowly pulled down the legs. In addition to this, they do not actually hide what they cover.
  • The slipperiness and smoothness of sheer pantyhose and stockings also makes women’s low cut court shoes slip off more easily. This vulnerability is often sexually attractive, and can often result in the women engaging in shoe dangling or shoe play which is also appealing to shoe and foot fetishists”.

Although I mentioned above I only knew of one academic paper on pantyhose fetishism, there are a few academic writings that have mentioned it in passing. For instance, in a 1979 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, Dr. W.L. Marshall reported the treatment of two male paedophiles with satiation therapy, one of who was also a pantyhose fetishist (but no detail was given on this aspect of their sexual behaviour except he was also a shoe fetishist). A paper by Dr. L.F. Lowenstein in a 2002 issue of Sexuality and Disability claimed that pantyhose fetishism was “very common” but the only evidence given for this was a reference to Lothstein’s paper (which contained no information on the prevalence of the fetish). Finally, in a 2008 book chapter on themes of sadomasochism self-expression by Dr. Charles Moser and Dr. Peggy Kleinplatz, they used the example of pantyhose to define and explain what fetishes are:

A fetish is characterized by sexual arousal to an inanimate object…Individuals who enjoy SM accessories often describe their interests as fetishes. They find wearing or touching the preferred articles highly arousing. The articles themselves are rarely arousing, but if they are worn by a partner, it heightens the partner’s attractiveness and heightens the eroticism of the sex. For example, pantyhose can be a fetish object, but brand new pairs, never worn, rarely become a focus of erotic interest. The same pantyhose worn by the participant or a partner can elicit a strong erotic response. Similarly an article of clothing that reminds the person of a partner or a specific erotic interlude can become a fetish object”.

Again, this simply confirms that pantyhose fetishes exist (or theoretically exist) but there is no information on incidence, prevalence, or their psychosocial impact. I did come across one online account written by someone who confesses to being a pantyhose fetishist on the Act Sensuous blog site, and which I found a lot more enlightening that anything academic that I have read on the topic:

I had tried several times before, but during my research to find scientific facts…I wanted to learn where pantyhose rank on a list of the most prevalent fetishes, but I couldn’t find credible material that could be documented.  I did find one thing I expected – that the foot fetish is still No. 1, apparently, the most common.  Suffice it to say that pantyhose are high up there somewhere. And, thankfully, pantyhose and foot fetishes seem to go hand-in-hand, or make that foot-in-hand…Obviously, there’s more to a pantyhose fetish than [what is on Wikipedia]…To me, pantyhose always have been about three things: the way they look, the way they feel to the touch, and the very concept of them in the first place. Maybe it’s just that they are designed to enhance the beauty of everything they cover. To me, there’s a profound dichotomy about pantyhose, which I find very exciting. Pantyhose possess enormous power, yet, by design, they are extremely delicate and feminine, causing an irresistible vulnerability for the wearer. This is never more evident than in the way the nylon fabric moves to the touch on a woman’s legs and feet. It’s almost as if she has a second, delicate, delicious skin. It’s as if the pantyhose are a living, breathing intimate part of the wearer. You can physically manipulate that lifeforce, and you have to be careful not to hurt it. Once on, any item of clothing a person wears, sort of disappears. You stop feeling it on your body. And even though you can touch the pantyhose on yourself, it isn’t the same as feeling them on someone else. Want your lover to feel what you feel when you caress her legs in pantyhose? All it takes is to move that delicate nylon fabric over her skin. The sensation is incredible for both parties”.

Maybe we will never know how common pantyhose fetish is but there appears to be a lot of anecdotal evidence that it exists, is male-dominated, and that there is some crossover with other more (empirically) established fetishes (such as foot fetishes).

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

Further reading

The Act Sensuous Blog (2010). What drives our pantyhose fetish? April 11. Located at:

Kinkly (2015). Pantyhose fetish. Located at:

Lothstein, L.M. (1997). Pantyhose fetishism and self cohesion: A Paraphilic Solution? Gender and Psychoanalysis, 2(1), 103-121.

Lowenstein, L.F. (2002). Fetishes and their associated behaviour. Sexuality and Disability, 20, 135-147.

Moser, C., & Kleinplatz, P.J. (2007). Themes of SM expression. In D. Langbridge, & Meg Barker (Eds.), Safe, sane and consensual: Contemporary perspectives on SM (pp.35-54). Hampshire, UK: MacMillan.

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 (2015). Underwear fetishism. Located at:

Write back: A brief look at Oshouji and sexual calligraphy

Anyone that has followed my blogs will know that I have more than a passing interest in Japanese sexual culture. For instance, in previous blogs I have briefly examined various Japanese sexual practices and sex-related topics including Tamakeri (i.e., the masochistic practice of getting sexual pleasure and arousal from being kicked in the testicles), Hentai (i.e., Japanese hardcore Manga cartoon pornography), Shokushu Goukan (i.e., tentacle rape), Nyotaimori (i.e., eating a variety of foods or a whole meal off somebody’s naked body), Omorashi (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from having a full bladder or a sexual attraction to someone else experiencing the discomfort of a full bladder), and Burusera (i.e., Japanese shops that sell [amongst other things] soiled female undergarments and fetishist school uniforms). There are also some sexually paraphilic behaviours that have their own names within the Japanese sexual culture (such as frotteurism being known as chikan)

While reading an online article on ‘[Ten] sex fetishes you won’t believe exist’ I spotted one on the list that I had not written about before – Oshouji – the other nine being: dendrophilia (sexual arousal from trees), exophilia (sexual attraction for aliens and non-human life forms), objectum sexuality (sexual attraction to inanimate objects), eproctophilia (sexual arousal from flatulence), hybristophilia (sexual arousal from criminals), menophilia (sexual arousal from menstruation), acrotomophilia (sexual arousal from amputees), dacryphilia (sexual arousal from crying), and lactophilia (sexual arousal from breast feeding). In fact, not only had I not written about oshouji in a previous blog but I had never even heard of it before.

Oshouji is a calligraphy fetish (calligraphy being the art of producing decorative handwriting or lettering with a pen or brush). Oshouji specifically involves calligraphy where the decorative writing is done on a person’s (usually naked) body. According to many online websites (that all basically use the same defintion), oshouji is “an ancient tradition and refers to the writing of degrading words in calligraphy on your partner [and is] one of the more artistic fetishes Japan has to offer”. As sex blog writer Coco La More notes: “I am intrigued. Such rich beauty and absolute pleasure. The artistic passion the calligrapher must be feeling. I can just imagine the intense emotion felt by both. I will be adding this one to my list”

According to the Exapamicron website, oshouji dates back to the Edo period of feudal Japan (the Edo period – sometimes referred to as the Tokugawa period – being the period between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan). Like other Edo forms of eroticism (such as Shunga, a Japanese term for erotic art) oshouji is considered traditional, rich and decadent. The website also claims that oshouji is “not a fetish in the sense that the painted person becomes aroused by the paint, it’s more about the thrill of degrading someone”.

As far as I am aware there is no academic writing or research on the topic (although there are academics with the surname ‘Oshouji’ which was annoying having to wade through paper after paper to see if there was anything written on the practice). Like me, someone else (Zichao) was researching into this topic and was finding the same things as me online. His research questioned whether the word ‘oshouji’ even existed (although he did admit that the act of sexual calligraphy existed):

“I’m writing a catalogue/book for an exhibition on modern Chinese calligraphy, including references to work by Zhang Qiang…This got me interested in trying to work out the history of writing on girls in Chinese, Japanese [and] Korean culture. On various non-Japanese language sites it’s referred to as ‘oshouji’ and described as something that goes back to Edo times, but these all seem to be cribbing the information from the [Tokyo Damage Report] Hentai Dictionary…Making the idea look even more dubious is the fact that typing おしょうじ, オショウジ or even (last-ditch attempt) お書字 into Japanese Google brings up nothing helpful as far as I can see. This makes me suspect that if there’s a name for the practice it’s something else…Obviously it’s something that people do – not just Zhang Qiang, but also the characters in rape and S&M manga (though in magic marker) and there’s even a film about it [The Pillow Book]. It doesn’t help that I know very little about classical Chinese [and] Japanese porn/erotica. Does the writing-on-girls-fetish have a name and a history, or is it just something that crops up spontaneously now and then?”

Another online Hentai dictionary (the Yuribou Hentai Dictionary) noted that the

“Oshouji ‘calligraphy character’ fetish [is] fairly commonly seen in Domination-submissive play in which the Dominant writes characters on the submissive’s body in order to inflict shame and embarrassment to heighten the submissive role. Commonly seen is the writing of “niku” (“meat”) on the forehead”.

As noted in the extract from Zichao above, the most high profile example of oshouji body calligraphy is the 1996 film The Pillow Book film (directed by Peter Greenaway) in which a Japanese model (Nagiko) “goes in search of pleasure and new cultural experience from various lovers. The film is a rich and artistic melding of dark modern drama with idealised Chinese and Japanese cultural themes and settings, and centres on body painting (Wikipedia entry on The Pillow Book)

Sexual calligraphy has also crept into the world of modern art via the work of Pokras Lampas. Lampras has a background in graffiti and street art. As an online Wide Walls profile piece on him notes:

“Lampas works in various spaces and using different mediums, from canvas and walls to the naked body. To a certain extent, the artist is involved in the art of tattoo, providing council and creating sketches when it comes to calligraphy work. However, the aspect of the artist’s practice which is most interesting, resonates the new possibilities of calligraphy within the world of digital urban art. This notion is part of one of his biggest projects…Recently, the artist became involved in a project called Calligraphy on Girls, which aims to show his calligraphy skills to a wider audience through sessions of body painting and photography. The project is an exploration of the female human form, executed with a particular aesthetics and a unique visual language of the artist”.

Whether Lampas’ work can be called an example of oshouji is debatable because it doesn’t appear to involve the use of degrading words (in fact there are few words at all as far as I can see). Oshouji (if it really exists) appears to be a much less prevalent activity than some of the other Japanese sexual practices I have written about although in the absence of any research papers on most forms of Japanese sexual subculture no-one can be really sure how widespread any of these activities are.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, 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.

Tokyo Damage Report (2009). Hentai dictionary. February 27. Located at:

Wide Walls (2014). Calligraphy on girls, February 1. Located at:

Wikipedia (2015). Shunga. Located at:

Yuribou Hentai Dictionary (2008). Welcome to the Yuribou Hentai Dictionary! July 11. Located at:

Packed punch: A very brief look at “gastergastrizophilia”

One of the weirdest sounding sexual paraphilias that I have come across is gastergastrizophilia in which individuals allegedly derive sexual pleasure and arousal from bellypunching. I use the word ‘allegedly’ as I have never seen this sexual paraphilia listed in any reputable academic source (and it certainly does not appear in either Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices or Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices). The lengthiest article on that I have come across on gastergastrizophilia is on the Full Wiki website. The article claims that:

“Bellypunchers, as they are known, derive erotic and/or aesthetic pleasure from the sight of and sensation associated with a woman physically struck in the stomach usually with a bare fist. The specifics associated with this paraphilia vary considerably, sometimes with the woman possessing a toned and muscular stomach, other with the woman possessing a soft and even chubby stomach. Often fetishists desire her to receive blows to the lower stomach specifically; other times, to the upper stomach. Often the woman is struck by other women, but many times the fetishists will fantasize about doing the beating themselves. With the rise of the internet, a wide variety of websites and online groups have risen which house related fiction, photos, stories, and videos, the latter either custom-made or copied from a variety of films and videos. The male-to-male variety of the fetish is frequently called gutpunching, or abspunching”

The fact that someone has written about sexual bellypunching in no way proves that the behaviour exists. In a previous blog I examined a hoax paraphilia called emysphilia (sexual arousal from turtles). In researching that blog, I came to the conclusion that the paraphilia simply didn’t exist as there was no evidence of any kind except the originally published article (plus the fact that the author later admitted it was a hoax). Sexual bellypunching as a fetish or paraphilia is something that I do not think can easily be so dismissed. I managed to collect a few first-hand accounts of sexual bellypunching (such as those at the online at the Dark Fetish website). For instance:

  • Extract 1: “[I am a] masochist [and] let people thump me in my belly. Although it hurts (and it hurts like hell sometimes) the pain does give me an erotic buzz. BUT (and this is the other side of the coin) I do get to punch other women and that also gives me a buzz – it turns me on.
  • Extract 2: “There is a difference between a ‘friendly’ (I use the word advisedly) punch up between two women (which might even end in sex) and a really heated contest where there maybe some prize, physical or emotional. Then it’s a pure pain contest… just to see which woman can take the most pain in her guts. In such contests there is a moment when having delivered a punch, I watch my opponent’s face crease in agony, watch her fight the pain, watch her desperately trying to keep her hands from going to her belly… hear her panting for breath as she tries to control the agony in her guts. Oh so delicious…it’s a real turn-on for me. The downside is that I have to take and absorb the punishment too. [However], that turns me on too!!”
  • Extract 3: My ex-boyfriend loved being punched in the belly. We both went to couples therapy and [this is] how the psychologist explained it to me…The physical flow-on effect of bellypunching is peptic reflux, which triggers the brain to release a sudden adrenalin rush to cope with the shock of (temporarily) depriving the brain of oxygen. This adrenalin rush can be experienced as sexual arousal for those with a fetish complex for feeling ‘subverted’ or ‘abused’”

Based on the research I did for this blog, it would appear that there used to be a Wikipedia entry on sexual bellypunching but it was removed back in 2006. Some people claimed that the information provided in the original webpage was unable to be verified, and that it might even have been made up by the person who created the original Wikipedia entry. As one person noted in the Wikipedia discussion, the original author of the bellypunching article had:

“…added a bunch of links, but they consist of Yahoo! groups, personal websites, and a couple [of] porn sites which themselves are non-notable. None of these are reliable sources, none of them help with the fact that this article still violates Wikipedia’s verifiability. Unverifiable content can’t stay on Wikipedia, no matter how much some people might like said content”.

Comments were also made along the lines that Wikipedia does not need to have a separate page for every single obscure fetish. Personally, I don’t see this as an argument for not having a Wikipedia entry. However, the original author of the page countered by saying:

It’s not about liking (or in your case, disliking) [the bellpunching] entry, but about showing diligence in mapping out within Wikipedia all these various concepts that exist in the world. Some concepts are better cited than others, it’s true. However that doesn’t mean that some things, which are perhaps more ephemeral, or which came into their own with the rise of the internet, can’t be listed…I suggest that if one can prove that a lot of people are involved in a concept, and that this concept exists as such, then the concept must surely merit some inclusion, even if that inclusion is limited only to what one can source…I have shown that thousands of people have taken it upon themselves to join public groups around this [bellypunching] fetish; and found any number of websites, most which have been around for years, creating a sort of community…It would be a mistake to make an article called bellypunching videos on the basis of the fact of such videos existing, because that would ignore the evident existence of the concept of the fetish”.

I have to admit that having done my own search on the internet, I can certainly vouch for the fact that there are hundreds of sexual bellypunching videos available online (e.g., websites such as Belly Punching Fetish, Heroine Movies, and Teen Bellypunch – please be warned that these are sexually explicit sites), and there are online discussion groups that discuss bellypunching as a sexual preference and/or sexual fetish. Personally, I think there’s enough to suggest that the activity exists and that there is no reason why a separate Wikipedia page should not exist. The fact that sexual bellypunching videos are for sale online suggests there is a market for it. I also came across some Japanese anime that featured sexual bellypunching (along with anecdotal evidence that bellypunching is part of Japanese sexual culture). However, I am the first to admit that such videos might appeal to sadists and masochists who are simply sexually turned on by the giving or receiving of pain (rather than being sexually aroused by bellypunching per se. The author of the original Wikipedia entry on sexual bellypunching then goes on to say:

“If [someone] starts a blog on any obscure fetish, it can’t be included [on Wikipedia]; but if 30 or 40 different organizations and people start websites, both personal websites and business websites, combined with free public groups that require membership (membership to which groups as I’ve stated reaches the thousands) I suggest that a certain minimum has been reached to make it a bona fide concept that some people hold…If you really believe that only things that show up in journals are worthy of existence in Wikipedia, I think Wikipedia will be much the poorer for it. It seems unreasonable to ignore the existence of something that is obvious and evident, from the links I’ve found (which were incidentally only a small percentage)”.

My guess is that the original article on sexual bellypunching was removed because the evidence base did not fulfil Wikipedia’s minimum evidence threshold. As the Wikipedia page on verifiability points out:

“Posts to bulletin boards, Usenet, and wikis, or messages left on blogs, should not be used as primary or secondary sources. This is in part because we have no way of knowing who has written or posted them, and in part because there is no editorial oversight or third-party fact-checking…The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth”.

Another contributor to the debate on whether sexual bellypunching should have its own Wikipedia entry shares my own view on this topic and stated:

Our inability to find gastergastrizophilia on the net neither proves nor disproves anything – detailed texts on sexual paraphilia aren’t left around laying open on the net, and a mild amount of Googling for ‘erotic punching’, ‘belly punishment’ or ‘rough body play”’… will show that the practice is neither ‘unlikely’ nor even uncommon. Some of it is obviously sex play with a consenting partner; some is not so consensual, and there is a shaded continuum…Even in this supposedly liberated age, nobody has any real numbers, in part because the participants themselves don’t know where the line actually divides consent and abuse. I think it’s an important topic, and a research failure isn’t a good reason to have no article in this instance”

The one thing that is made up is the name given to describe the love of sexual bellypunching (‘gastergastrizophilia’). The author if the original Wikipedia article (who goes by the pseudonym ‘Brokerthebank’) wrote that:

“I made up the word gastergastrizophilia, since I’ve studied classical languages a lot (in this case Greek) and it seemed like the appropriate move to put this article in the list of sexual paraphilias on such a page. Maybe I should have not done that; in any case bellypunching still is a known term”.

However, as regular readers of my blog will know, I too have coined the names of at least three sexual paraphilias (porciniphilia – sexual arousal from pigs, epiplophilia, sexual arousal from furniture, and glossophilia – sexual arousal from tongues) so I can’t really complain if someone also created the name of a sexual paraphilia based on their own anecdotal observations.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, 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.

The Full Wiki (2013). Bellypunching. Located at:

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

Sowing the seeds of love: A brief look at impregnation fetishes

In a previous blog I examined maieusiophilia that according to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, is defined as gaining sexual arousal from pregnant women and /or female childbirth. However, other sources define maieusiophilia more broadly to include sexual attraction to women who also appear pregnant, attraction to lactation and/or attraction to particular stages of pregnancy from impregnation through to childbirth. This blog briefly examines impregnation fetishes that may or may not (depending upon the definition used) be a sub-type of maieusiophilia.

In researching this article I was unable to locate a single academic paper that had examined impregnation fetishes (not even a passing reference) so all of this blog is based on non-academic (and mainly online) sources. The following three definitions – not identical but all having overlaps – were found on the Kinkipedia website, the online Free Dictionary, and the Psychology Wiki website:

  • “Impregnation fetish is where an individual (generally a male) has a fetish for impregnating someone, with this end result being all they think of during the act of sex. Similarly related fetishes would involve an individual having a sexual interest in pregnant women, or in some cases even having a fetish for being pregnant themselves” (Kinkopedia)
  • “Impregnation fantasies are characterized by the arousal or gratification from the possibility, consequences or risk of impregnation through unprotected vaginal sex. Impregnation fantasies are often indulged by reading erotic literature and role playing with a partner” (Free Dictionary)
  • “An impregnation fetish is a paraphilia characterized by arousal or gratification from the possibility or risk of impregnation through unprotected vaginal sex. Those with an impregnation fetish may indulge in their fantasy through erotic stories, chat with like-minded persons or actually act out the fantasy with a partner. Role-playing is often a large part of this sexual fetish, as many do not actually wish to have a child but rather are aroused by the possibility during intercourse. Responsibility for birth control in this case is usually accepted by the female, as condom use destroys the impregnation fantasy” (Psychology Wiki)

The Psychology Wiki also claims that impregnation fetish should not be confused with maiesiophilia because people that have a “pure” impregnation fetish are only interested in conception, and “have no interest in a woman who is already pregnant, as there is no possibility of impregnating her”. However, the article does go on to say that “a number of impregnation fetishists are aroused by pregnant women as well, and indulge in pregnant sex or pregnant sex fantasy as part of their gratification” (although I have no idea on what evidence such an assertion is made, even though it appears to have good face validity). In a short article on pregnancy fetishism at the Heart and Soul Midwifery website, it argues that “there are no particular or preferred elements within maiesiophilia that are common to all maiesiophiliacs”. This would at least suggest that the thought of impregnation alone might be enough for impregnation fetishes to be a sub-type of maiesiophilia.

Having spent an idle Sunday afternoon scouring lots of ‘adult’ websites in the name of research for this article, I am in no doubt that there is a niche market for impregnation fetishes. There are a number of dedicated websites that cater specifically for such fetishists, the most popular (at least in terms of number of visitors) appears to be the ImpregNation website. There are also general fetish sites (such as the Dark Fetish website) that contain dedicated groups such as the ‘Breeding and Forced Impregnation’ group. There are also a number of dedicated erotic fiction websites and blogs that have dedicated impregnation fetish stories such as the Kristen Archives and Breeder’s Erotica (please be warned that if you click on the hyperlinks they feature words and pictures of sexual activity). For instance:

“Breeder’s Erotica is a blog which has a high-focus on the idea of ‘Breeders’, dominant men inseminating breedee women. The webmistress Kitty has compiled tons of high-end pictures, videos, articles, and has her story universes ‘The Farm’ and ‘The Colony” posted for your viewing pleasure”.

I also visited lots of online forums and found dozens of people admitting that they had an impregnation fetish. While I can’t guarantee the veracity of the claims, they appeared genuine and heartfelt to me. Here is a selection:

  • Extract 1: “Lately I have been thinking about getting impregnated more and more and it turned into a deep obsession for me. It appeals to me on so many different levels. For one I’d love to have a family and kids but I also find pregnancy highly erotic and I want to make the experience but I also want to get used by a strong man who would take me and fill me with his seed”
  • Extract 2: “I am 24 [years of age and female] and I know my biological clock is ticking but for four or so years now I have had an extreme interest in sex that would get me pregnant. I DONT actually want to GET pregnant, I just like thinking about it when I’m having sex with my [boyfriend]. Do any other girls think like this??”
  • Extract 3: One of my first [role-playing] experiences was part of a ‘knocked up’ fetish. I was role-playing with a guy that I thought just had a pregnancy fetish but turns out he was more interested in the actual aspect of making me pregnant, which was fine. We role-played a fantasy where he got me pregnant, but sadly it ended there. His fantasy was just the knocking up part, after all – mine was the actual being pregnant part. Oh well… still an interesting experience”
  • Extract 4: “Pregnancy/impregnation role-play. Any takers? Please be 18-26 years old…. Looking for a MAN to do this with…maybe girls”.
  • Extract 5: “I’m 19 and have thoughts about [impregnation] a lot. It makes me feel like a mindless animal but at the same time entices me. Am I too young to be thinking like this? I’m a guy”.
  • Extract 6: “I’m 22 and very passionate. I’d love to impregnate someone. The thought drives me insane, I just want your legs wrapped around me pulling me in. I want to feel that wanted and desired to make someone a mommy. I’d do anything for that, even if it’s role play”
  • Extract 7: “Well I’m a girl who has this weird [impregnation] fetish that I have only met a few other guys who have it, but never any women. I wish to know how common it is for both women and men, what the reasons are for developing such a fetish, and how to help with how ashamed I feel”
  • Extract 8: “I’m 21 and live in Sydney but I’ve had these irrepressible [impregnation] desires and fantasies probably since when I was around 17…I love sex and intimacy, the feeling of touching and exploring each other’s body and my ultimate desire of laying with a young, fertile woman who can conceive my children. I’ve got an extreme desire when I am and not sleeping with a woman to impregnate them, to breed them and just deposit as much semen as possible inside her to guarantee probability of conception…I have no child yet but I want to see a woman carrying my baby and seeing it grow inside her”.
  • Extract 9: “I got a bad fetish for impregnation [seriously]. It first started almost seven years when I read this story on Kristin’s Impregnation Forum about impregnating women and I ended up making a Yahoo name and contacting women with a fake name. This led to meeting several women and I impregnated one of themThis only emboldened me and led me to knocking up three more women…I am currently seeing a girl who is about to move back home and I feel like I should knock her up. Is this insane?”
  • Extract 10: “I love the animalistic nature of thinking of getting pregnant, like being told ‘I’m filling you with my seed’ or ‘I want to breed with you’ really gets me excited. I don’t want children in the slightest, but sperm and egg diagrams in doctor’s offices will turn me on. I’m embarrassed to be like this especially as a woman and having no desire to have a child, like I’m unworthy of liking the thought of pregnancy because I don’t actually want to be pregnant. I only feel excited when I believe the guy actually wants to breed with me…The intense need I feel for having no contraceptives is a big part of what worries me because I’ve developed a hatred for condoms and an aversion to birth control. Most guys I tell this to think I’m weird or a needy baby-crazed lady, though my fetish has nothing to do with having a living being inside me”
  • Extract 11: “I’m a 20 year-old woman and I think I’m crazy. I have a fetish that revolves around pregnancy. I get massively turned on by the idea of getting pregnant. I also get turned on by the idea of my sexual partner sucking on my breasts and drinking my milk. In my deepest fantasies I am a perpetually pregnant woman who exists for no other purpose than to be knocked up and milked by anyone who cares to breed me. Basically, a broodmare. This fantasy is beyond degrading to women and I hate that I have it. I also should point out that I am totally infertile (I had a hysterectomy when I was in my very early teens), so I will never actually be pregnant in my life. What should I do? Am I insane?”

Based on the many accounts that I read, it would appear that both young men and women can have impregnation fetishes but there was little to explain the etiology. On the Is It Normal? website, 15 out of 16 people that participated in a discussion thread on impregnation fetishes said that such fetishes are ‘normal’. In fact one discussion participant went as far as to claim If you look like it from an evolutionary point of view, it’s probably the most normal fetish thinkable” that certainly has some face validity. Unfortunately, we can only speculate as to how such fetishes develop. Most fetishistic behaviour begins in childhood or adolescence and many appear to be rooted in early associative pairings (e.g., classical conditioning). There is no reason to suggest that is not the case here, but few of the accounts I came across mentioned early formative experiences. The jury is still out on whether impregnation fetishes are a sub-type of pregnancy fetishism but my own reading is that they may overlap within individuals but are two separate phenomena.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, 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.

Bastion Works (2012). Maieusiophilia. Located at:

Gates, K. (1999). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. Juno Books.

Kinkipedia (2013). Impregnation fetishes. January 21. Located at:

Psychology Wiki Impregnation fetish. Located at:

Wikipedia (2012). Pregnancy fetishism. Located at:

Shock ‘n’ roll: The art of Allen Jones and sexual fetishism

“I’m a friend of Mr. Pastry/I’m a friend of Allen Jones/I’m a friend of Shirley Bassey/I’m a friend of your chromosomes” (Opening verse to ‘Friends’, song by Adam and the Ants)

It was Adam and the Ants song ‘Friends’ where I first heard the name of the British pop artist Allen Jones. The song was first officially released in 1981 as the B-side of ‘Ant Rap’ but earlier versions had been recorded for a 1978 John Peel session and during the sessions for the 1979 Dirk Wears White Sox album. The Dirk version was eventually released on the 1982 ‘Antmusic EP’ (and ended up being Adam and the Ants last single before Adam Ant went solo).

In two previous blogs, I have looked at both the psychology of Adam Ant and an in-depth look at all his songs about sexual fetishism and paraphilias (based on an academic article that I originally wrote for Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion). In one of those articles, I noted that Adam’s predisposition towards sex came not from musical influences but from figures in the 20th century art world. Adam Ant’s final year thesis was on sexual perversion and he was inspired by the iconographic images of Andy Warhol, the autoerotic paintings of Allen Jones, the neo-sadomasochistic fantasies of Hans Bellmer, and ‘sexpop’ travellers like Eduardo Paolozzi, Francis Bacon and Stanley Spencer. In 1977, Adam said:

The S&M thing stems from (when) I was at College Art School, with John Ellis (of The Vibrators), and all the time I was at Art College I was very influenced by Allen Jones the artist. All my college work is pretty much like this, this is just a musical equivalent of what I was visually doing at college”

As a teenager I collected badges and the ones designed by Adam Ant were clearly indebted to Allen Jones’ interest in fetishism (you can check out the designs in more detail here). Others in the pop world noted this including Justine Frischmann of Elastica. In a Melody Maker article by Simon Reynolds, Frischmann noted that Adam Ant “epitomised the brilliantly elegant side of punk, using all that Allen Jones type imagery like that table which was a woman on all fours with a glass top on her back. All his paintings were developed from Fifties porn – lots of airbrushed women in black leather. The Antz used a lot of that imagery. On one level, it’s very titillating, but it’s also very pop. So we’re gonna make the next album S & M, with us all in black leather. Actually, I think Madonna‘s ruined that for everyone, ruined the concept of pervy sex forever”.

Jones (born in 1937 in Southampton, UK) is arguably Adam’s greatest single influence and has been cited by Adam in many early interviews. He is best known for his use of slick fetishistic and obsessive objects, often of a sexual character (legs, stockings, shoes, etc.) taken from pornographic and women’s fashion magazines (with rubber fetishism and BDSM themes being very prominent). He was an early and leading figure in the pop-art movement as part of the so-called “dynamic generation” at the Royal College of Art (along with David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield, Peter Phillips, and Frank Bowing), and from where he was expelled in 1960 because of his controversial paintings. He was Britain’s ‘shock art’ bad boy decades before Damien Hirst. His early work was influenced by the Futurism school or art, and by reading the psychology of Freud and Jung, as well as the philosophy of Nietzsche. One of Adam’s songs ‘Ligotage’ (French for bondage) was directly inspired by his paintings. In the Wikipedia entry on Jones, he is quoted as saying:

“I wanted to kick over the traces of what was considered acceptable in art. I wanted to find a new language for representation… to get away from the idea that figurative art was romantic, that it wasn’t tough”.

It was in the late 1960s that Jones first started sculpting what art historian Marco Livingstone describes in his 1979 book Sheer Magic by Allen Jones as “life-size images of women as furniture with fetishist and sado-masochist overtones.” The three most (in)famous works (sharing as art curator Edith Devaney argued “a visual language”) were the erotic sculptures Hat Stand, Table and Chair made of fiberglass that featured busty mannequins dressed (or rather barely dressed) in patent leather. These works were met with both acclaim and disdain both in and outside of the art world with critics perceiving the sculptures as being misogynistic. Livingstone later went on to say “these works still carry a powerful emotive charge, ensnaring every viewer’s psychology and sexual outlook regardless of age, gender or experience”. One of the better descriptions of the three pieces was by Zoe Williams of The Guardian in an article provocatively entitledIs Allen Jones’s sculpture the most sexist art ever?’:

“’Hat Stand’ is a mannequin in radial leather knickers and thigh-high boots. ‘Chair’ is the most famous of the three: a woman lies on her back, with her knees against her chest and a cushion on top of her. That’s the seat, her calves make the chair’s back. While all the clothes – black leather gloves, boots and a strap – reference bondage, she also looks dead, trussed up ready for some inept suburban disposal. ‘Table’, being topless, is more classically provocative. It would be pushing it to say the figure was adopting a more active shape, though: she’s on all fours, holding up a pane of glass with her back, her head looking down into a hand mirror. Yet the physics of the position make her look more like a doll than a corpse…Does Allen Jones’s art expose how female stereotypes are performed and maintained, by presenting us with overtly sexualised hyperboles, or is it just another part of the age-old tradition to objectify and sexualise women? The debate goes on… One thing is sure though, Jones’s work still provokes reactions”.

More infamy followed when the sculptures were referenced in one of cinema’s most controversial films of all time – A Clockwork Orange directed by Stanley Kubrick (in 1971). In a later interview, Jones recalled a telephone call from Kubrick. “[Kubrick said], ‘I’m a very famous film director, this will be seen all over the world and your name will be known.’ I held the phone away from my ear, I was just staggered anyone would say that. It showed an ego that dwarfed that of any artist I’ve known”. Because of this, Jones declined Kubrick’s offer but the director’s prop team made copies of his work. His BDSM designs were also a key feature of the 1975 film Maîtresse about a female dominatrix directed by Barbet Schroeder (and which also caused controversy because of its very graphic depictions of sado-masochism). Zoe Williams in her article for The Guardian goes as far to say: Jones’s images have been so influential that almost no image of woman-as-object or woman-as-other-object can be created, even 40 years later, that doesn’t nod to them”.

In 2014, the Royal Academy of Arts hosted a retrospective of Jones’ work and Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph asserted: “you could argue that Jones’s work isn’t really about women; it’s about men and how they look at and think about women. Men use various strategies to neutralise or control desire. One is to fetishise the female body…[while] another is for the man to appropriate it”. The brief biography of Jones on the Artsation website also noted that: Allen Jones was accused of being sexist and depicting women as undignified, mere willing objects of lust. Jones obviously never intended to show women in such a way, he wanted to question prohibitions and moral boundaries. ‘Nothing is as it seems’, the artist once said and also in this case one should not confuse the appearance of the object with its message. With his objects the artist carries trivialities like sexual connotations from advertising and show business into fine art to stylize and satirize them”.

Bizarrely, perhaps one of Jones’ unforeseen legacies is that his work appears to have unwittingly spawned a new sexual paraphilia – namely forniphilia. As I noted in my previous article on forniphilia, it is a form of sexual objectification and is viewed by many as a form of sexual bondage as the human body is typically incorporated into the shape of a piece of furniture where the person has to stay still for extended periods of time. The difference between Jones’ art and forniphilia is that forniphilia involves real humans whereas Jones’ works of art uses ‘humans’ made of fibreglass. The term ‘forniphilia’ was allegedly coined by Jeff Gord, the man behind The House of Gord (“The Home of Ultra Bondage”). In The House of Gord, there are many types of furniture that women had been temporarily turned into. This included many different types of table, lamps, pedestals, various types of chair (office chair, rocking chair, etc.), footstools, ceiling decorations (including chandeliers), lawn sprinklers, and bird tables. If Jones’ art was the direct inspiration for Gord and his followers, I wouldn’t be surprised. But even if it wasn’t, Jones’ work will continue to live on and will continue to garner controversy and feminist critique.

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

Further reading

Ant, A. (2007). Stand and Deliver: The Autobiography. London: Pan.

Artsation (2015). Allen Jones – Biography. Located at:

Deurell, J. (2014). 10 key facts about Allen Jones. AnOther, November 10. Located at:

Dorment, R. (2014). Allen Jones, Royal Academy, review: ‘dangerous, perverse and brilliant’. Daily Telegraph, November 14. Located at:

Gregory, H. (2014). Fetish, fantasy & “women as furniture”: The complicated legacy of Allen Jones., December 3. Located at:

Griffiths, M.D (1999). Adam Ant: Sex and perversion for teenyboppers. Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion, 19, 116-119.

Guadagnini, W. (2004). Pop Art UK: British Pop Art 1956-1972. Milan: Silvana.

Levy, P. (2014). A Fetish for Art. Touring Pop artist Allen Jones’s London workspace. Wall Street Journal, November 14. Located at:

Livingstone. M. (1979). Sheer Magic by Allen Jones. London: Thomas & Hudson.

Wikipedia (2013). Allen Jones (artist). Located at:

Williams, Z. (2014). Is Allen Jones’s sculpture the most sexist art ever? The Guardian, November 10. Located at:

Small talk: Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (Revisited)

Last week, I was contacted by the journalist Abigail Moss about a previous blog that I wrote on Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS). AIWS is a non-contagious disorientation disorder and refers to when a person’s sense of body image, vision, hearing, touch, space, and/or time are distorted. AIWS sufferers typically experience micropsia (a neurological condition that affects human visual perception in which objects are perceived to be smaller than they actually are and make people feel bigger than they are) or macropsia (a neurological condition that affects human visual perception in which objects are perceived to be larger than they actually are and makes people feel smaller than they actually are).

Moss suffers from AIWS herself and has described her experiences both on camera (for instance in a short YouTube news piece and in numerous news articles such as one in the Daily Mail). Moss also sent me a first-person account of AIWS that she published in the online magazine Planet Ivy. Here are some of the things she recounted:

Extract 1: “When I was about five years old, I started to experience strange visual and sensory hallucinations. My hands and legs would seem too big for my body and the room around me would start to shrink inwards. All movements and sounds would seem extremely fast and hugely exaggerated, giving everything an odd feeling of urgency. This would last about 20 minutes and slowly fade away, and happened about four or five times a week…Luckily, my dad knew exactly what I was describing…He’d experienced the same thing as a kid. I haven’t outgrown it…but it doesn’t happen as often – maybe only five times a year”.

The first doctor suggested she might have a form of epilepsy but after that proved negative she was never diagnosed with anything official. Since then, other medics have suggested that she may have a sleep disorder or some kind of schizophrenia. It wasn’t until she was in her early twenties that she came across something that fitted her symptoms:

Extract 2: “Last year a tiny 50-word inset in a newspaper supplement caught my eye. ‘Alice in Wonderland Syndrome’ the heading read, and underneath it, a perfect description of my experience…I joined a Yahoo forum for ‘AIWS sufferers’…Countless fellow sufferers got in contact, all describing the same thing. Their descriptions were remarkably unvaried and it was immediately obvious this was the same thing I experience: ‘My body felt minuscule’, ‘Sounds were amplified’, ‘Everything was bigger and smaller at the same time’.”

The article outlined the many psychiatrists and psychologists Moss had visited about her condition with all the experts she saw claiming that they had never heard of AIWS. While the condition is rare, the condition has been well documented in the medical and clinical literature (see ‘Further reading’ below) so I was quite surprised that the experts she visited couldn’t have at least spent some time reading up on the syndrome. She then went on to say:

Extract 3: “My brain does something extremely weird, and nobody – not even the world’s leading bodies in the study of brains – can tell me what this is or why it happens. For me, this isn’t a problem, I don’t want to get rid of my episodes – they’re an interesting talking point and everyone knows writers are basically quite boring people. The experience, when it does pop up, doesn’t actually bother me or affect my day-to-day life”.

Moss wanted to ask me a few questions about my understanding of AIWS and how much is now known about it. She knew this wasn’t my primary area of expertise, but said that any opinions I might be able to offer would be invaluable to the article she was writing. I told her that my article on AIWS was written in a journalistic capacity rather from any position of expertise but she still wanted me to answer a few questions. Moss asked me three questions and I thought I would use this blog to share my full answers with my readers.

Question 1: “In my research I’ve found it almost impossible to find solid answers about what causes AIWS. Can you offer a view on what makes this condition so difficult to pin down?”

AIWS has been reported in the psychiatric and psychological literature since the early 1950s. However, since the first papers in the topic less than 20 papers have ever been published and all of them are case reports. Finding ‘solid answers’ based on so few cases is therefore inevitable. The literature is also biased because it is (a) based on those sufferers who seek out medical assistance, and (b) based on those doctors or clinicians that have written the cases for publication. If people don’t seek help and/or there cases remain unwritten, there is little chance if finding ‘solid answers’.

Secondly, the symptoms are not always identical which is why it is referred to as syndrome (that is, a group of symptoms that together are characteristic of a specific disorder or disease, or a predictable, characteristic condition or pattern of behavior that tends to occur under certain circumstances). Syndromes typically have many different causes which again means it is difficult to find ‘solid answers’.

Finally, given that the experiences (like your own) are often short-lived, it is very rare to be able to monitor people neurologically. The few published cases are based on chronic sufferers (who may not be representative of the vast majority of AIWS sufferers). Several neurologists have done M.R.I.s on patients with the condition, though once the bout has passed, there’s usually no sign of unusual brain activity. I read that Dr. Sheena Aurora was the first to scan the brain of someone — a 12-year-old girl — in the middle of an episode. According to Dr. Aurora, electrical activity caused abnormal blood flow in the parts of the brain that control vision and process texture, shape and size.

The case studies that I have read have provided lots of possible reasons for AIWS but there is no consensus and they could all be true (as having the same symptoms doesn’t mean there has to be the same cause). Some research appears to indicate that AIWS can be due to abnormal amounts of electrical activity that causes blood to flow abnormally in the brain areas that process texture and visual perception. AIWS has been associated with migraines, severe depression, and (in extreme cases) brain tumours. Case study research has indicated that AIWS manifestations are due to disturbed function of either medial temporal, hippocampal, tempro-occipital or tempro-parieto-occipital regions of the brain. Unfortunately, chronic AIWS is untreatable and time is the only healer. However, sharing experiences with other sufferers is also thought to be therapeutically beneficial

Question 2: “Is academic disagreement just part and parcel of all psychological conditions or does AIWS seems particularly open to discussion?”

I don’t think there is ‘disagreement’ as no two clinicians or psychiatrists have ever published papers examining the same individuals. They have all published papers based on the AIWS sufferers that they themselves saw and that who came in seeking help. All of the explanations could be correct as syndromes have multiple causes. This is not disagreement. It’s simply a case of multiple possible causes.

Question 3: “I have spoken to a large number of people who also say they also experience AIWS – how useful or valid do you think it would be to think of AIWS as more of a mental phenomenon than a syndrome, comparable with something like déjà vu, for example?”

The word ‘large’ is what we psychologists call a ‘fuzzy quantifier’ as ‘large’ to one individual is small to another. If you have spoken to 100 other sufferers worldwide I would say this is very very small. The condition appears to be rare although in one of my other areas of research, we have demonstrated that a small proportion of video gamers experience disorienting visual effects (that we call game transfer phenomena) like AIWS so such phenomena may be multi-faceted and may arise from specific activities (such as excessive and immersive game playing).

AIWS should not be compared with déjà vu as most scientific evidence suggests that déjà vu is an anomaly of memory and totally different from AIWS on a neurological level (but I’m not an expert on déjà vu and am only basing my opinion on what I have read in the psychological literature). However, there may be some conditions (such as schizophrenia and temporal lobe epilepsy) where individuals may experience both AIWS and déjà vu but these are symptoms of a specific medical disorder. Most individuals that have experienced déjà vu (as many as two-thirds of the population in some studies) and AIWS (very rare) do not have any underlying serious medical conditions.

I don’t know if any of my responses to Moss were of help either in relation to her own experiences or in writing her article but I was pleased with the observations I had made.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Bui, E., Chatagner, A. & Schmitt, L. (2010). Alice in Wonderland Syndrome in major depressive disorder. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 22, 352.e16-352.e16.

Cinbis, M. & Aysun, S. (1992). Alice in Wonderland syndrome as an initial manifestation of Epstein-Barr virus infection (case report). British Journal of Ophthalmology, 76, 316.

Eshel, G.M., Eyov, A., & Lahat, E., et al (1987). Alice in Wonderland syndrome, a manifestation of acute Epstein-Barr virus infection (brief report). Pediatric Infectious Diseases Journal, 6, 68.

Kew, J., Wright, A., & Halligan, P.W. (1998). Somesthetic aura: The experience of “Alice in Wonderland”. The Lancet, 351, 1934.

Kitchener, N. (2004). Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. International Journal of Child Neuropsychiatry, 1, 107-112.

Kuo, Y, Chiu, N.C., Shen, E.Y., Ho, C.S., Wu, M.C. (1998). Cerebral perfusion in children with “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome. Pediatric Neurology, 19, 105-108.

Lahat, E., Eshel, G., & Arlazoroff A (1990). “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome and infectious mononucleosis in children (letter). Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 53, 1104.

Lambert, M.V., Sierra, M., Phillips, M.L. & David, A.S. The spectrum of organic depersonalization: A review plus four new cases. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 14, 141-154.

Podoll, K., Ebel, H., Robinson, D., & Nicola, U. (2002). Obligatory and facultative symptoms of the Alice in wonderland syndrome. Minerva Medicine, 93, 287-293.

Podoll, K. & Robinson, D. (1999). Lewis Carroll’s migraine experiences. The Lancet, 353, 1366.

Rolak, L.A. (1991). Literary neurologic syndromes. Alice in Wonderland. Archives of Neurology, 48, 649–651.

Todd, J. (1955). The syndrome of Alice in Wonderland. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 73, 701–704.

Glum drone pleasures: The psychology of Ian Curtis and Joy Division

“Now there’s a really good book…[by French economist] Jacques Attali wrote in the late [1970s] called ‘Noise: The Political Economy of Music’…and the main tenet of that book is that…music is the best form of prophecy that we have…so that working with music or sound is our best way of divining a future, and being able to show to ourselves what’s round the corner in that psychological, or even psychic sense” (writer and graphic designer Jon Wozencroft being interviewed for the 2007 film Joy Division)

As a poverty stricken teenager in the early 1980s, all of my minimal disposable income was spent on buying records, cassettes, and music magazines (and to be honest, 35 years later nothing much has changed except I now buy far too many CDs instead of cassettes). Unlike most of my friends at the time I refused to be pigeon holed as a new romantic, a punk, a mod, or a goth because I liked music from all those genres. In the early 1980s was as equally as likely to buy a record by Adam and the Ants and Bauhaus as I was to buy records by Secret Affair and The Clash. I was also into city music scenes with my favourites being the ‘Liverpool scene’ (Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Wah! etc.), the ‘Sheffield scene’ (Human League, Heaven 17, Cabaret Voltaire, etc.), and the ‘Manchester scene’ (Magazine, Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, The Passage, etc.).

The Manchester music scene was incredibly buoyant although often portrayed by the music press at the time as psychologically and emotionally ‘miserablist’. My parents could never understand what I saw in the “depressing and alienating music” (as they saw it) of bands like Joy Division and The Smiths. But it was through these bands that I developed an interest in psychology and what could be described as ‘psychgeography of post-punk’. In the case of Joy Division, their geographical location in Manchester and its surrounding area (Salford, Macclesfield) was integral to their music. In fact, a number of commentators (such as Liz Naylor, the co-editor of City Fun fanzine) have asserted that Joy Division “relayed the aura of Manchester” in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

All of my information about Joy Division came from reading the NME, listening to the John Peel Show on Radio 1, and listening to their two studio LPs (Unknown Pleasures and Closer) and assorted singles (that I mainly taped off the radio as most of them were not widely available). I was too young to go to gigs and they rarely appeared on television. Of the four members of Joy Division – Ian Curtis (vocals), Peter Hook (bass guitar), Bernard ‘Barney’ Sumner (guitar), and Stephen Morris (drums) – it was Curtis that captivated my adolescent attention. It was through Curtis’ documented medical conditions that helped develop my interest in psychology. Curtis suffered from epilepsy (like one of musical heroes Jim Morrison of The Doors) and clinical depression. It has also been alleged that he suffered from bipolar disorder (i.e., what used to be called ‘manic depression’) although this was never formally diagnosed (and many of those close to Curtis claim that such a claim is speculative at best).

Descriptions of Curtis’ behaviour on first sight look like bipolar disorder given the reports by his wife and others of his severe mood swings (where on one day he could have feelings of happiness and elation but on the next day could have feelings of intense depression and despair). However, other members of the band claimed that the mood swings were caused by the epilepsy medication Curtis was taking. However, bipolar disorder is not uncommon among musicians given many other high profile rock and pop stars have suffered from it including Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Ray Davies (The Kinks), Sinéad O’Connor, Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), and Adam Ant (to name just a few). Curtis was never afraid to write about psychological and medical conditions and the song ‘She’s Lost Control’ is arguably the most insightful song ever written about epilepsy (based not on his own experiences, but his observations of a female epileptic client who died while he was an Assistant Disablement Resettlement Officer based at the Job Centre in Macclesfield).

As any Joy Division fan knows, as a result of his severe depression, Curtis committed suicide by hanging himself on May 18, 1980 (a date I always remember because it was my favourite gran’s birthday), just two days before Joy Division were due to go on their first US tour. Even as a 14-year old teenager, I remember going to my local library in Loughborough not long after his death to learn more about depression, epilepsy, suicide, and attempted suicide (as he had two previous attempts to commit suicide earlier that year). I’m not saying that this alone was responsible for my career choice but it certainly facilitated my growing interest in psychology and mental health issues.

It was also through Joy Division that I started to read history books (and still do) on various psychological and non-psychological aspects of Nazism (and is evidenced by my previous blogs on the personality of Adolf Hitler and Nazi fetishism). Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Joy Division were often accused of having Nazi tendencies. It didn’t help that their name came from the 1955 novella House of Dolls by Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor Yehiel De-Nu (writing under his pen name Ka-tzetnik 135633). The ‘Joy Division’ was the name given to a group of Jewish women in World War II concentration camps whose only purpose was to provide sexual pleasure to Nazi soldiers. I have to admit I’ve never read any of De-Nu’s books. According to an online article by David Mikies (‘Holocaust Pulp Fiction’), De-Nu’s writings were “often lurid novel-memoirs, works that shock the reader with grotesque scenes of torture, perverse sexuality, and cannibalism“. In the 2006 book Joy Division and the Making of Unknown Pleasures, Jake Kennedy asserted that “Curtis’ fascination with extremes would hint to anyone willing to look beyond the headlines that the choice of name was probably an old fashioned punk exercise,  matter of old habits dying hard”.

One of the bands earliest songs ‘Warsaw’ (which was also their band name prior to becoming Joy Division) is arguably a lyrical biography of Hitler’s deputy Führer Rudolf Hess. The song even begins with the lyric “3 5 0 1 2 5 Go!” (Hess’ prisoner of war serial number after he was captured after flying to the UK in 1941). Another of their early songs ‘No Love Lost’ features a spoken word section with a complete paragraph from The House of Dolls. A 2008 article by music writer Jon Savage in The Guardian newspaper noted that Curtis’ songs “such as ‘Novelty’, ‘Leaders of Men’ and ‘Warsaw’ were barely digested regurgitations of their sources: lumpy screeds of frustration, failure, and anger with militaristic and totalitarian overtones”.

Deborah Curtis (Ian’s wife) also remembered that her husband had a book by John Heartfield that included photomontages of the Nazi Period and that graphically documented the spread of Hitler’s ideals. The cover artwork of the band’s first record, the ‘An Ideal For Living’ EP, also featured a boy member the Hitler Youth drawn by guitarist Barney Sumner banging on a drum. Much of the flirtation with Nazi symbolism was arguably juvenile fascination and playful naivety. It’s also been noted that Joy Division’s early music concentrated on the nihilistic provocations of industrial music’s pioneers Throbbing Gristle (whose music I also examined at length in a previous blog). An interesting 2010 article by Mateo on the A View From The Annex website defended Joy Division’s use of Nazi imagery and lyrics:

“The Labour government´s betrayal of the working class during the 1970s and the rise of Thatcherism at the end of the 1970s heralded a future of mass unemployment, government repression and decaying industry. The perspective taken by Ian Curtis, the band´s sole lyricist, towards this growing authoritarianism and despair is crucial to understand if one is to place the references to fascism found in the band´s album art in the context intended by the artist, that is, a despairing anti-Nazism…Punk at that time was a unique music scene in which battles between anti-racists and neo-nazis were being thrashed out at concerts as the skinheads tried to appropriate the punk aesthetic and hijack the following of alienated, disillusioned working class youth who gravitated towards such a sub-culture in places like Manchester at the beginning of the 1980s…The lyrics of Ian Curtis made it clear that this was a presence suffered and feared as opposed to tolerated or toyed with by the band…Joy Division feared fascism, they did not flirt with it and the artwork and lyrics in ‘An Ideal for Living’ serves as a warning of growing fascistic tendencies in British society…For this, Curtis and his bandmates should be lauded for tackling such a controversial issue and expressing such a well-grounded fear and hostility towards such a veritable enemy of the working class during a swift turn to the right in Britain”.

By all accounts, Curtis was a voracious reader and read books by William Burroughs, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, Nikolai Gogol, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hermann Hesse and J.G. Ballard, many of which made their way into various Joy Division songs (an obvious example being their song ‘Interzone’ taken directly from a collection of short stories by William Burroughs). As Jon Savage noted:

“Curtis’s great lyrical achievement was to capture the underlying reality of a society in turmoil, and to make it both universal and personal. Distilled emotion is the essence of pop music and, just as Joy Division are perfectly poised between white light and dark despair, so Curtis’s lyrics oscillate between hopelessness and the possibility, if not need, for human connection. At bottom is the fear of losing the ability to feel”.

J.G. Ballard was a particular inspiration to Curtis (particularly the books High Rise and Crash, the latter of which was about the suffering of car accident victims and sexual arousal, and which I wrote about in a previous blog on symphorophilia). One of Joy Division’s best known songs (the opening ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ from their second LP Closer) took its’ name from Ballard’s collection of ‘condensed novels’ (and given its focus on mental asylums is of great psychological interest). So distinct is Ballard’s work that it gave rise to a new adjective (‘Ballardian’) and defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J.G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments”. Given this definition, many of Joy Division’s songs are clearly Ballardian as they examine the emotional and psychological effects of everything around them (including personal relationships on songs such as their most well known and most covered song, and only British hit ‘Love Will tear Us Apart’).

The overriding psychology and underlying philosophy of both Ian Curtis and Joy Division are both contradictory and complex but ultimately the band members were a product of the environment they were brought up in and the sum of their musical and literary influences. At the age of 24 years, Curtis’ suicide was undoubtedly tragic and like many other literary and musical ‘artists’, his death has been somewhat romanticized by the mass media. Although he didn’t quite make it into the infamous ‘27 Club’ of ‘rock martyr’ musicians that died when they were 27 years (e.g., Dave Alexander [The Stooges], Chris Bell [Big Star], Kurt Cobain [Nirvana], Richey Edwards [Manic Street Preachers], Pete Ham [Badfinger], Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Brian Jones [Rolling Sones], Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison [The Doors], Amy Winehouse) he is surely a candidate for being a prime honorary member (along with Jeff Buckley). Retrospectively looking at his lyrics (In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more” from ‘Shadowplay’, you can’t help but wonder (given that many of them were autobiographical) whether Curtis’ death could have been prevented by those closest to him.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Curtis, D. (1995). Touching From A Distance. London: Faber and Faber.

Curtis, I., Savage, J. & Curtis, D. (2015). So This Is Permanence: Joy Division Lyrics and Notebooks. London: Faber and Faber.

Gleason. P. (2015). This Is the Way: “So This Is Permanence” by Ian Curtis. Located at:

Hook, P. (2013). Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. London: Simon and Schuster.

Kennedy, J. (2006). Joy Division and the Making of Unknown Pleasures. London: Omnibus.

Mikies, D. (2012). Holocaust pulp fiction. The Tablet, April 19. Located at:

Morley, P. (2007). Joy Division: Piece by Piece: Writing About Joy Division 1977-2007. London: Plexus Publishing.

Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.

Savage, J. (2008). Controlled chaos. The Guardian, May 10. Located at:

The hold of rolled gold: A brief look at wedding ring fetishes

In January 1995, the Channel 4 television documentary programme Equinox examined sexual paraphilias in a programme called ‘Beyond Love’. One of the many experts interviewed for the programme, Dr. Gene Abel, talked about a man with an unusual fetish. His sexual turn-on was gold wedding rings. In recounting the individual’s story, Dr. Abel said that the fetish was very specific and that the ring had to be of a particular width (6mm to 10mm if I recall correctly) for it to be sexually stimulating to the man in question. The roots of the fetish were established in childhood and arose from the time that the man was a boy and used to sit on his baby-sitter’s knee and play with the ring (twirling it around on her finger). The playing with the ring was accompanied by sexual arousal (from sitting on the knee of an attractive woman) but over time, the ring itself became the source of sexual arousal via continued associative pairing (i.e., sexual arousal from the sight of the female babysitter’s ring became a classically conditioned response).

The man had now married and his wife was unaware of his fetish but the sexologist explained that the man could not get sexually aroused and make love to his wife unless she was wearing her wedding ring and he was twirling it on her finger during sexual intercourse. Dr. Abel also said the man would also walk up to female strangers and comment how lovely their wedding ring was and ask if he could take a photograph of it. He would then use the developed photographs as source material for masturbatory purposes. This anecdotal case story might sound a little bizarre especially as there is no sexual paraphilia that refers to being sexually attracted to gold wedding rings (although Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices does mention timophilia, a sexual paraphilia in which individuals gain sexual pleasure and arousal from gold or wealth – and which I briefly mentioned in a previous blog).

However, Dr. Abel and his colleagues later wrote up this account as one of six unusual case studies in a 2008 issue of the journal Psychiatric Clinics of North America where the man in question was given the pseudonym ‘Mr. Rings’ (the other five being ‘Mr. Cartoons’, ‘Mr. Feet’, ‘Mr. Balloons’, ‘Mr. Cigarettes’, and ‘Mr. Spanking’). In all of these cases (including ‘Mr. Rings’), they noted:

“The fetish objects in these case histories were unique enough, and the attraction to the objects strong enough, that the individuals could clearly track their interest from early childhood through adulthood. It is much easier to retrieve remote, explicit memories, such as events (e.g., a party where balloons popped) or playing with objects, than to recall the process of sexual development with no distinct markers in the individual’s history. Because these distinct experiences predated identified sexuality, became a focus of attention for the individual, and then were incorporated into the individual’s sexual interests and masturbatory fantasies, it was possible to accurately track the patterns of sexual arousal. We were also able to clearly identify how these men attempted to blend their deviant interests into sexual relationships with partners and the consequences of their efforts”.

As far as I am aware, this is the only academic paper to have examined ‘ring fetishism’ but my own research on the topic has led me to the conclusion that ‘Mr. Rings’ case is not unique. Here are a few accounts that I found in various online forums on the internet:

  • Extract 1: “[I] have a wedding [ring] on hand fetish. Even more aroused if the woman wears both a wedding and an engagement ring. I don’t like any other kind of ring. Rather than the plain yellow I prefer silver colour (platinum ones)” (Welly11)
  • Extract 2: “I have the same type of fetish. I’m turned on by ladies who wear wedding and engagement rings stacked on the same finger, and other simple band (plain gold or pave) rings. That’s why I founded a Yahoo! Group for other fetishists to share their photos” (Saladinthewise)
  • Extract 3: “I thought I was the only person on the planet with this (get incredibly aroused when I see a woman wear the plain yellow gold wedding ring) and I couldn’t make any sense of it for ages…Thanks for restoring a bit of my sanity and faith in my normality!” (Heshan1)
  • Extract 4: “My husband bought me a wedding ring that looks very similar to the one his mom wears. He later confessed it is a tremendous turn-on for him just seeing me wearing it. He doesn’t remember his mom (who is a wonderful person) doing anything ‘out of line’ with him in the past and it is not essential for me to have it on for sex. Could something have happened as a baby to implant this ‘fascination’ in his mind?” (iDawn491)

These are all fairly short self-confessed admissions and don’t really tell us much except that the fetish appears to be male-based and that the ring (or stacked rings in the case of two of the accounts) have to be worn by women. Extract 4 does point out that her husband can engage in sex without her wearing the ring so in this case, it wouldn’t be a true fetish behaviour (merely a strong sexual preference). There are also some sexually explicit discussions about wedding ring fetishes here. However, I did come across some more detailed accounts:

  • Extract 5: “My fetish started a long time ago, I am 55. Women who have worn wide bands have always had my interest. I have been married twice and each time I have told my wife to be about my fetish. Both women have worn wide band. My first wife got deep in to religion and wanted me to quit carrying an off duty side arm, I was a police officer at the time. My second wife said if I wanted her to she would wear a few wide rings if I got her what I wanted. I have been married to her for almost 20 years and she has worn them both day and night. I really dislike the thin plain gold rings that a lot of women wear. I feel all women should wear wide band on one of their ring fingers. My second wife dated a guy before me who had a fetish for bangle bracelets that could not be removed he had her wearing 5 to 6 on each arm that were soldered on and could not pass over the wrist. Even after she broke up with him she continued to wear them for about 10 years and once in a blue moon she would see him somewhere and shake them at him, just to see and you can’t have me” (Edward 5759).

This account hints that the fetish probably started in adolescence and that like ‘Mr. Rings’, the ring has to be of a specific type (in this case a wide band). It is also a fetish that the man in question was happy to tell his wives about, and something that the wives were psychologically comfortable with. This last account is a little more complicated as there are overlaps with other sexually fetishistic behaviours:

  • Extract 6: “My longstanding fetish is to be tied up by married women wearing a certain type of wedding ring. These are plain gold, very large 20-25 mms in width, curved like a barrel and smooth, the curve less pronounced as the width increases…All you need to know is that every woman I have ever encountered wearing one I have subsequently fantasized about them tying me up…My fetish even leading me to follow women I know to wear them. I have no idea why these wedding rings turn me on, and continue to do so, but it is a fetish I feel might be a new one and something I have just wanted to tell people about for a very long time. I can only think that the size and shape have something to do with my fetish and would appear to be linked somehow to my desire to always be tied with lots of rope, generously wrapped around the body. I’ve never really viewed my fetish as a problem other than the fact that chancing upon women wearing these rings is something that rarely ever happens, as they are not commonplace, therefore there is practically nothing to satisfy my ‘addiction’, for want of a better description…There was a woman who wore a wedding ring of the kind I have described, a particularly large one, who would shop every Saturday at a certain location at a certain time and I would make sure I’d be there to see it. This went on for three years. That was a long time ago now, and I still fantasize about her tying me up…I simply cannot imagine that ANYONE shares my fetish, so I can’t really expect to meet anyone here who does. The unusual nature of it being the biggest problem, that there is simply no concrete outlet for it” (Brainpan).

This final account is the most interesting one I have come across although is complicated by the fact that there are elements of bondage and sexual masochism added to the fetishistic mix. Although (like the other extracts) there is no insight into the roots and etiology of the behaviour, the size and the shape of the ring are again very specific suggesting that the longstanding desire dates back to a time where the person simply can’t recall where the interest in rings began (i.e., early childhood perhaps). As with other accounts, the fetishistic behaviour is not viewed as a problem by the person who has it (although in this latter case, there is arguably an element of stalking involved).

In all honesty (and although I find this interesting), I can’t see ‘wedding ring fetishism’ ever being the topic of in-depth psychological research particularly as the behaviour appears to be non-problematic in the main.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK 

Further reading

Abel, G.G., Coffey, L. & Osborn, C.A. (2008). Sexual arousal patterns: normal and deviant. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 31, 643-655.

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

Needles and the damage done: A brief look at ‘knitting addiction’

In a previous blog, I briefly looked at ‘quilting addiction’. It was while I was researching that blog that I also came across a number of academic papers on the sociology of knitting and various references in the academic (and non-academic) literature to ‘knitting addiction’. In previous blogs I have written about the work of Dr. Bill Glasser who introduced the concept of ‘positive addiction’ in a 1976 book of the same name.

In a more recent 2012 paper on the topic in the Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Glasser claimed that he had heard numerous stories from many different individuals claiming they were ‘positively addicted “to a variety of activities such as swimming, hiking, bike riding, yoga, Zen, knitting, crocheting, hunting, fishing, skiing, rowing, playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing, and many more”. Glasser (1976) argued that activities such as jogging and transcendental meditation were positive addictions and were the kinds of activity that could be deliberately cultivated to wean addicts away from more harmful and sinister preoccupations. He also asserted that positive addictions must be new rewarding activities that produce increased feelings of self-efficacy.

This idea has actually been put into practice with knitting. Dr. Kathryn Duffy published a paper in a 2007 issue of the Journal of Groups in Addiction and Recovery about knitting as an experiential teaching method for affect management for females in addiction group therapy at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. Duffy claimed her knitting program had been successful in facilitating discussions and beneficial in providing a skill for moderating stress and emotions, both for female inpatient and outpatient drug and alcohol addicts.

A more recent paper by Dr. Betsan Corkhill and colleagues examined knitting and wellbeing (in a 2014 issue of Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture), using the World Health Organisation’s definition of wellbeing as “an ability to realize personal potential, cope with daily stresses, and contribute productively to society”. Their paper argued that knitting contributes to human wellbeing and has therapeutic benefits for those that engage in it because it is a behaviour (like many others) that can be used as a coping mechanism that can help overcome the daily pressures of life. One of the more interesting papers that I read on knitting was one published in a 2011 issue of Utopian Studies by Dr. Jack Bratich and Dr. Heidi Brush about “fabriculture” and “craftivism”:

“When we speak of ‘fabriculture’ or craft culture, we are referring to a whole range of practices usually defined as the ‘domestic arts’: knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking, quilting, embroidery, sewing, doll-making. More than the actual handicraft, we are referring to the recent popularization and resurgence of interest in these crafts, especially among young women. We are taking into account the mainstream forms found in Martha Stewart Living as well as the more explicitly activist (or craftivist) versions such as Cast Off, Anarchist Knitting Circle, MicroRevolt, Anarchist Knitting Mob, Revolutionary Knitting Circle, and Craftivism…When we use the term craft-work, we are specifically referring to the laboring practices involved in crafting, while fabriculture speaks to the broader practices (meaning-making, communicative, community-building) intertwined with this (im)material labor”.

The paper also outlined how women who knit in public (such as during a lecture or a conference) are often castigated and/or ridiculed for their behaviour. They even cited Sigmund Freud in relation to why knitting in public causes discomfort for onlookers:

“Freud institutionalized a concept denoting the jarring and disorienting effect of being spatially out of phase: unheimlich. The queasiness of the unheimlich occurs also when interiors become exteriorized (especially the home, as it also means unhomely). Knitting in public turns the interiority of the domestic outward, exposing that which exists within enclosures, through invisibility and through unpaid labor: the production of home life. Knitting in public also inevitably makes this question of space an explicitly gendered one. One commentator observes that knitting in public today is analogous to the outcry against breast-feeding in public twenty years ago (Higgins 2005). Both acts rip open the enclosure of the domestic space to public consumption. Both acts are also intensely productive and have generally contributed to women’s heretofore invisible and unpaid labor. But could such an innocuous activity as knitting have such social ramifications? How disruptive can fabriculture be when crafting women are more in the public eye than ever before? Many of us may know that Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, and other celebs knit”.

The paper goes on to say that there are various knitting blogs (such as Etherknitter) that “expose the dark side of knitting” including excessive consumption and addiction. I then went onto the Etherknitter website and located an article specifically written on knitting addiction (‘Etherknitter’ turned out to be the pseudonym of the individual that runs the site). Here are some extracts from the article which also notes some of the shared terminology between drug addiction and knitting addiction:

“It’s been a revealing several days. I have discovered that I am incapable of not knitting. The only thing that would have stopped me would have been pain… In college, when I flirted with smoking cigarettes for six weeks…Alcohol has never appealed…In my profession, an uncomfortable number of practitioners succumb to the siren song of drug addiction…Then we get to knitting. I can’t not knit. Well, I can, but it hurts too much to be worth it. (I wonder if that’s why addicts stay addicted.) I was talking to a [fabric store] owner recently…She commented that the staff in the store sees a lot of people at the store who act out their neediness through yarn. She saw it as uncontrolled buying. Since we were talking about obesity in America at the time, she was tying it into alcohol/drug and food addiction. [The Too Much Wool website] pointed out our knitterly use of the word ‘stash’, and its clear crossover to the drug culture. Blogworld is full of knitters describing uncontrolled stash acquistions [such as ‘majorknitter’]. And trying to hide the size of the stash from significant others. And selling parts of their stash to others. The addiction to fiber and knitting is probably more benign, except for the financial aspects, and the time constraints. I really do have to beat myself to fulfill the more boring paperwork obligations in my life since I started knitting. The needles (aha! Another crossover analogy) are more fun. I don’t plan to do anything about my knit-addiction quite yet. But it does bother me”. 

In researching this article I came across a number of online accounts of people claiming to be genuinely addicted to knitting. This extract was particularly revealing as this short account seems to highlight many of the core components of addiction such as salience, conflict, and withdrawal symptoms:

“So, I’m 22 and I go through all that typical 22-year old stuff. Sometimes, my life gets rough and I have trouble coping. Rather than going out with friends and drinking till I puke, or going and smoking a few cigarettes or a joint, or having sex with random boys, I turn to my knitting in times of crisis. This might sound like a constructive thing. After all, I’m creating rather than destroying, right? Wrong. I say that I’m addicted because I am. I can’t function on a normal level without my knitting bag at my side. I can’t sit still in class or on a break if I’m not knitting. My head hurts, I sweat, I get jittery if my hands are doing nothing. And it gets worse. I skip classes to go to yarn stores. I come back late from breaks at work because I needed to finish just one more row. I already have one knitting tattoo and another planned. I pay my rent late because I spent my entire paycheck on yarn. My boyfriend’s half of the apartment is slowly being taken over by my stash. My life isn’t complete without knitting. I bought two spinning wheels so I could spin my own yarn. I think that if I ever lost a hand or arm due to an accident I would probably kill myself because I couldn’t knit…I’ve admitted to myself that I have a problem, but most people see knitting as simply my hobby. It goes so much deeper than that and I feel like I finally needed to say something”.

Academically, there is little on knitting addiction. In an unpublished thesis by Christiana Croghan, she noted in one paragraph that:

“Baird (2009) supports the theory that knitting alters brain chemistry, lowering stress hormones and boosting the production of serotonin and dopamine. Dittrich (2001) argues while there are many health benefits associated with knitting there is also a health risk of the possible development of carpal tunnel syndrome. Research suggests knitting may also have an addictive quality that Corkhill (2008) considers to be a constructive addiction that may replace other more severe harmful addictions. Marer (2002) interviewed professional women who knit during lunch hours, and found a consistent theme of relief from anxiety and a sense of clear headedness at work. Marer (2002) also found patients with severe illnesses such as cancer experience a greater sense of coping when they knit”.

More specifically on addiction, a 2011 issue of Asian Culture and History, Hye Young Shin and Dr. Ji Soo Ha examined knitting practice in Korea. Their qualitative research revealed that:

“Immersion in knitting projects can become so intense as to create anxiety for some knitters after the completion of a knitting project. They confess a sense of emptiness or feeling lost after a period of deep mental and physical engagement. This suggests that knitting can become an activity that does not arise out of necessity or has a clear purpose. However, knitters who have a lot of experience with knitting practice tend to say that long experience with knitting has enabled them to handle this urge to indulge in knitting, a typical symptom in the early stage of one’s knitting career”.

Their paper includes the following quotes from knitters that they interviewed:

  • Extract 1: “Knitting is a kind of addiction or drug. I feel so bored and empty and a sense of being lost when I’m done with one project.”
  • Extract 2: “For example, I check the time when a TV drama begins and I can stop knitting when the drama starts. When I first started knitting, I couldn’t control my urge to keep knitting on and on, but now I can; otherwise I can’t enjoy it as a pleasurable and long-term hobby. I still want to carry on when I sit for knitting, not wanting to stand up to wash the dishes, but now I can control myself.”

I have always argued that is theoretically possible for an individual to become addicted to anything if there are constant reinforcements (i.e., rewards). The anecdotal reports in this article suggest that a few individuals appear to experience addiction-like symptoms but there is too little detail to say one way or another whether knitting addiction genuinely exists.

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

Further reading

Baird, M., (2009). Fighting the stress with knitting needles. Located at:

Bratich, J. Z., & Brush, H. M. (2011). Fabricating activism: Craft-work, popular culture, gender. Utopian Studies, 22(2), 233-260.

Corkhill, B. (2008) Therapeutic knitting. retrieved from knitting/

Corkhill, B., Hemmings, J., Maddock, A., & Riley, J. (2014). Knitting and Well-being. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 12(1), 34-57.

Croghan, C. (2013). Knitting is the new yoga? Comparing techniques; physiological and psychological indicators of the relaxation response. Unpublished manuscript. Located at:

Dittrich, L. R. (2001) Knitting. Academic Medicine, 76(7), 671. Retrieved from:

Duffy, K. (2007). Knitting through recovery one stitch at a time: Knitting as an experiential teaching method for affect management in group therapy. Journal of Groups in Addiction and Recovery, 2(1), 67-83.

Glasser, W. (1976), Positive Addictions. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Glasser, W. (2012). Promoting client strength through positive addiction. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 11(4), 173-175.

Etherknitter (2006). Public displays of knitting. Etherknitter Blog. Accessed April 19, 2006,

Marer, E. (2002). Knitting: the new yoga. Health, 16(2), 76-78.

Shin, H. Y., & Ha, J. S. (2011). Knitting practice in Korea: A geography of everyday experiences. Asian Culture and History, 3(1), 105-114.


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