Category Archives: Case Studies

On the fly: Travel tips for excessive travellers

In a previous blog on ‘binge flying’, I noted that as part of my job I do a lot of travel. In the past 12 months as part of my job I’ve been lucky enough to go to China, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Argentina, New Zealand (twice), United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Finland, Norway (twice), Spain (twice), Portugal, Belgium, Malta (twice), Bulgaria, and Ireland. For me, travelling has become an occupational necessity.

However, I have tried to turn my experiences into something more positive and have written a number of short articles providing tips about travelling abroad for outlets such as the British Medical Journal and the PsyPAG Quarterly as well as publishing a short paper on ‘addiction’ to flying (see ‘Further Reading’ below). This blog uses material from my previously published articles cited below to provide some tips on making travel a little less stressful. While this blog is aimed at other academics, most of the tips are generic and apply to anyone travelling abroad.

Before you travel

  • Scan important documents electronically: Rather than photocopying all your important travel information (e.g. passports, insurance documents, etc.), scan all of them electronically and then e-mail them to yourself. You will be able to retrieve them from anywhere at any time if things go wrong.
  • Check your plastic: Before your trip, check all your credit cards for wear and tear as you could be stuck in a foreign country without access to cash machines or the ability to buy anything. Also, think about getting credit cards that include air miles, lounge access and upgrades (e.g. Amex cards).
  • Don’t get currency at the airport: Pre-ordering your currency will almost certainly be cheaper than the exchange rate at the airport currency bureaus. Make sure you get some low denomination notes and coinage for tips, taxis, etc. However, if the country you are travelling to has a strong currency, it might be better to exchange large amounts of money there rather than in the UK.
  • Treat yourself to a ‘Priority Pass’ and get premium lounge access: I’m very fortunate that on long-haul flights I travel business class which gives me access to the premium lounges before my flights. However, on most of my European trips I fly economy but I still like to use the business lounges. For this, I buy an annual ‘Priority Pass’ which gets me into 100s of lounges around the world. There are various levels of membership to suit your needs and they are good value for money.
  • Check your insurance: Has the university paid for you or do you need to get it yourself? There is nothing worse than losing your luggage and then discovering that you weren’t properly insured.
  • Check the weather forecast: There’s nothing worse than turning up in a country with the wrong type of clothes. Check the medium range weather forecast so that you know whether you will need that coat or jumper!
  • Know what you will need to pack: In addition to all the academic things you might require (laptop, memory stick, reading material), don’t forget the necessities in addition to passport, tickets and currency (e.g. adaptors, toiletries, medical supplies). Crease-free clothing can also be a help as not every hotel will have an in-room iron and ironing board. Also, pack some plastic carrier bags for your dirty laundry.
  • Check if the hotel has (preferably free) Wi-Fi: There’s nothing worse than turning up to a hotel and finding you have to pay for Wi-Fi access or worse still that there’s no Wi-Fi at all.
  • Travel as lightly as possible preferably hand luggage only: Take as little luggage as you can as you will always come back with far more than you went with (e.g. papers, conference programmes, conference freebies, leaflets etc.). For one or two night trips, take all your items on as hand luggage. This can often save a lot of waiting at the baggage carousel. To avoid bulk in your luggage, decant shampoos, etc. into smaller bottles so that you carry only that which is necessary on your trip. Miniaturise as much as possible including toiletries.
  • Get easily identifiable luggage: If you have to take non-hand luggage, tie a brightly coloured ribbon or something unique to your luggage so that you will easily spot it on the baggage carousel. Others are less likely to pick up your bag by mistake and may save you time.
  • Make sure that people know when and where you are going: Given all the things that can possibly happen abroad, make sure you let both family and the university (supervisor, head of department, etc.) know where you are going to be.
  • Charge up your laptops and mobile telephones: Make sure all your electronic items are charged up. Keep your chargers in your hand luggage as you may be able to charge up at the airport and/or the plane itself.
  • Check-in online: By checking-in online, you will be able to print your boarding pass and select your seat before you even get to the airport. If you have hand luggage only, this will save valuable time – especially if you are stuck in traffic on the airport bus or your train is delayed.

On the plane itself

  • Go vegetarian: If you want to maximise sleep time on long-haul flights, pre-order the vegetarian option as these are usually served first.
  • Take food and water on board with you: If you are flying on a budget airline, buy a ‘meal deal’ at the airport (or make your own sandwiches) as the food on board will be more expensive. Buy a bottle of mineral water at the airport as you cannot get liquids through baggage checks and on-board drinks may by pricey.
  • Book an aisle seat: On long-haul flights, always book or ask for an aisle seat if you’re not in business class. This means you will be able to get up and move round at your convenience rather than have to keep asking people to move.
  • Eat and drink alcohol in moderation: It is very tempting to drink free alcohol and eat anything that’s placed in front of you on long trips. However, you should try and limit yourself as you could suffer both dehydration and indigestion.
  • Beware the in-flight entertainment: The in-flight entertainment service may not be to your liking so take some interesting reading and/or a few DVDs (and play them on your laptop). DVDs and a Netflix account are also useful if you are in a hotel that has no English language television stations!
  • Wear headphones: If you want a peaceful stress-free journey without talking to anyone next to you on the plane, wear mp3 player headphones (even if you are not actually listening to anything). If you are going to actually use headphones, then invest in noise-cancelling ones as they will be better for the journey (and better than the ones provided by the airline itself).
  • Bring your own eye mask and ear plugs: If you are on an overnight long-haul economy flight, bring your own ear plugs and eye mask as the plane may not supply them and even if they do, they may not be of good quality. An inflatable neck pillow can also be very comfortable. Wet-wipes can also be useful in helping you feel refreshed after a few hours of sleep.

At your destination

  • Find the local university: If you are short of money, try to find out where the local universities are in a city. The canteen is likely to sell cheap meals and the students will tell you about the most economical places around.
  • Avoid internet roaming charges: As soon as you are in the country of your visit, turn off your data roaming on your tablet computer (e.g. iPad) or smart phone (e.g. iPhone) to avoid charges for things like emails and web browsing. In European countries there’s free roaming at the moment but that will change after Brexit!
  • Make use of the hotel facilities: If your hotel gives free access to its facilities (e.g. business centre, gym, swimming pool), then take full advantage and use them. Use the business centre to email if the hotel charges in-room Wi-Fi access.
  • Adjust to the local time as soon as possible: On the plane, change your watch to the local time and try to stay up and go to bed at your ‘normal’ time. If you get home in the daytime, resist the urge to have a nap as you will feel much worse for it later. Medical supplements such as melatonin may also help overcome jet-lag.
  • Ask where your room is in the hotel: If you don’t ask where your hotel room is located you might end up being right next to the lift or in an outward facing room where you hear all the noisy traffic. Alternatively, take some ear plugs with you, just in case.
  • Know a few words of the native language: Learning even a few basic words of the country’s language will help you in most situations.

On getting back

  • Have convenience food to hand: Make sure you have something easy to prepare for eating (e.g. a ready meal in the freezer) for when you come back as you may get back late when no shops are open.
  • Get in touch with your new contacts: When you are back home, email your new contacts along with anything you promised to send (like the paper you gave at the conference) to help facilitate new working relationships.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2003).  Tips on…Business travel abroad, British Medical Journal, 327, S38.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Tips on…Conference travel abroad. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 83, 4-6.

Griffiths, M.D. (2017). A brief critique of ‘flying addiction’. Global Journal of Addiction and Rehabilitation Medicine, 3(1), 555602.

“I ink, therefore I am”: A brief look at ‘tattoo addiction’

“When I first told people back in 2016 that I was getting my first tattoo, the most common response I got from those who were already inked themselves was ‘You’re going to get addicted to getting tattoos’. I found this notion a little ridiculous – I was nervous enough just getting a small one on my ankle. I couldn’t imagine getting hooked on something that was not only expensive, but painful and permanent. Fast forward to 2019, and I’ve since gotten two more tattoos, each one progressively larger and more detailed, and I’m already planning my fourth, fifth, sixth, etc. As I was warned, I have indeed gotten hooked. For me, it’s both because I love how it makes me feel about my body, and because I’ve gotten to discover a new form of expression in my mid-30s. According to a 2018 report from Statista, roughly 46 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, and 30 percent of these people have two or three –19 percent have up to four or five. Clearly, other people love getting inked just as much as I do. But while tattoos can be fun to have, are they actually addictive?

This opening quote is by Amy Semigran, a journalist who interviewed me earlier this year for an article she was writing on addictions to tattoos for the online magazine Mic (‘Are tattoos really addictive? There’s a reason you keep coming back for more’). Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I’ve written various articles on the psychology of tattoos over the years including articles on stigmatophilia (sexual arousal from a partner who is marked or scarred in some way, which can also include body tattoos), the use of extreme tattooing in films, a look at the TV programme ‘My Tattoo Addiction’, and an article on whether having tattoos makes women more sexually attractive.

In my interview, I told Semigran that in order for a person’s behaviour to be deemed an addiction, it needs to meet my six specific criteria: salience (where tattooing becomes the most important thing in a person’s life), mood modification (e.g., the euphoric feelings that accompany tattooing), tolerance (the gradual build-up of tattooing with the individual spending more and more time engaged in tattooing), withdrawal symptoms (negative psychological and/or physical consequences as a result of not being able to get tattooed such as extreme moodiness or irritability), conflict (tattooing compromising other areas of the individual’s life such as personal relationships and education/occupation), and relapse (returning to tattooing after a period of abstinence). Therefore, I told Semigran that tattooing does not meet my criteria for addiction. I also added that while many behaviours can become impulsive, addiction relies on constant rewards or reinforcement. Alcoholics, gambling addicts, or drug addicts feed their habits with frequent rewarding experiences (at least in the short-term) but even the most heavily tattooed people are not engaging in the behaviour regularly.

However, it is feasible that tattooing could be a behaviour that results in constant preoccupation (e.g., constantly thinking about getting the next tattoo, looking at tattoo designs, reading tattooing magazines, talking with other heavily tattooed individuals and sharing experiences, working as a tattooist, etc.). However, constantly being preoccupied by tattooing is (in itself) not a problem, unless of course it starts to cause serious conflict with other day-to-day activities. Semigran also interviewed Dr. Daniel Selling (a psychologist at Williamsburg Therapy Group in New York) for her article. He was quoted as saying:

“The word addiction in the context of tattoos is misused…while you can’t have a tattoo addiction, per se, it can be a dependence where you feel some elements of need and withdrawal…and perhaps spend too much time or money getting work…Being tattooed can also lead to an adrenaline rush of sorts. It’s the body tolerating annoyance and pain coupled with excitement and change”.

I agree that some people can spend too much time or money or spend money they don’t have on getting tattoos, but this is not addiction (and I would also argue that it is not dependence either). For many people, getting tattoos might be more of a passion than a problem, and there is nothing wrong with being passionate about what you do. I am passionate about work and some people describe me as being addicted to work or of being a ‘workaholic’ but given there are almost no negative consequences of me working hard and loving my job, it certainly can’t be viewed as an addiction.

As Semigran pointed out in her article, for many people, their passion and interest in tattooing is something that enhances their lives rather than interferes with it (this is exactly the same as my assertion – published in a 2005 issue of the Journal of Substance Use) that healthy excessive enthusiasms add to life whereas addictions take away from it. Semigran interviewed Lisa Orth, a Los Angeles-based tattoo artist Lisa Orth who has around 100 tattoos). She said:

“It’s an incredible feeling to be able to permanently customize yourself with artwork. [The] feeling of self-expression can be an empowering experience…It’s one of the main reasons [my] clients come back again and again. Tattooing can be a way of engaging with, and taking possession of, one’s body in an active way…[It] can allow people to define themselves visually in a way that forces the observer to see a person as they most authentically see themselves. That’s a big draw (so to speak) for those who repeatedly get inked…Getting tattooed is one of the remaining rituals in our culture that are physical, mental and emotional challenges, where you come out transformed on the other side”.

Again, this explanation has nothing to do with addiction and everything to do with self-identity and passion. Many addiction psychologists, would also add that if he behaviour causes harm or injury to the individual, it may also be a sign or symptom of possible addiction. However, Semigran quoted American psychologist, Dr. Tracy Alderman from an article she wrote for Psychology Today examining the extent to which tattooing and body piercings can be classed as self-harm.

“[E]njoying a rush is different than participating in self-harm. Since tattooing is a needle penetrating skin, that can potentially feed someone’s desire to feel pain or change their appearance due to unhappiness with themselves…Once in a while there will be cases in which piercing and/or tattoos do fit the definition of self-injury. But overwhelmingly,self-injury is a distinct behavior, in definition, method and purpose, from tattooing and piercing”.

I read Dr. Alderman’s article and her views mirror my own when it comes to the psychology of tattooing:

“[A] main issue separating self-injurious acts from tattoos and piercings is that of pride. Most people who get tattooed and/or pierced are proud of their new decorations. They want to show others their ink, their studs, their plugs. They want to tell the story of the pain, the fear, the experience. In contrast, those who hurt themselves generally don’t tell anyone about it. Self-injurers go to great lengths to cover and disguise their wounds and scars. Self-injurers are not proud of their new decorations”.

Semigran also quoted Dr. Suzanne Phillips who recently wrote an article for PsychCentral entitled ‘Tattoos after trauma-do they have healing potential’. Dr. Phillips notes:

“[A tattoo being used] to register a traumatic event is a powerful re-doing…It starts at the body’s barrier of protection, the skin, and uses it as a canvas to bear witness, express, release and unlock the viscerally felt impact of trauma”.

There’s no doubt that tattooing has become part of mainstream culture over the past two decades and there are a number of scholars who claim in the scientific literature that getting tattoos can be potentially addictive (such as Dr. Ivan Sosin; Dr. Allyna Murray and Dr. Tanya Tompkins; see ‘Further Reading’ below) but based on my own addiction criteria I remain to be convinced. However, whenever I think about the psychology of tattooing, I am always reminded of the saying: “Tattoos are like potato chips … you can’t have just one”.

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

Further reading

Alderman, T. (2009). Tattoos and piercings: Self-injury? Psychology Today, December 10. Located at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/nz/blog/the-scarred-soul/200912/tattoos-and-piercings-self-injury?amp

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

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

Kovacsik, R., Griffiths, M.D., Pontes, H., Soós, I., de la Vega, R., Ruíz-Barquín, R., Demetrovics, Z., & Szabo, A. (2019). The role of passion in exercise addiction, exercise volume, and exercise intensity in long-term exercisers. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-018-9880-1

Murray, A. M., & Tompkins, T. L. (2013). Tattoos as a behavioral addiction. Science and Social Sciences, Submission 26. Located at: https://digitalcommons.linfield.edu/studsymp_sci/2013/all/26

Phillips, S. (2019). Tattoos after trauma-do they have healing potential? PsychCentral, March 27. Located at: https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/2012/12/tattoos-after-trauma-do-they-have-healing-potential/

Semigran, A. (2019). Are tattoos really addictive? There’s a reason you keep coming back for more. Mic, July 3. Located at: https://www.mic.com/p/are-tattoos-really-addictive-theres-a-reason-you-keep-coming-back-for-more-18166085

Sosin, I. (2014). EPA-0786-Tattoo as a subculture and new form of substantional addiction: The problem identification. European Psychiatry, 29, Supplement 1, 1.

Szabo, A., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z., de la Vega, R., Ruíz-Barquín, R., Soós, I. &Kovacsik, R. (2019). Obsessive and harmonious passion in physically active Spanish and Hungarian men and women: A brief report on cultural and gender differences. International Journal of Psychology, 54, 598-603.

Sound affects: Another look at ‘music addiction’

In a previous blog that I wrote seven years ago, I looked at the concept of ‘music addiction’. As Philip Dorrell pointed out in his 2005 book What is Music? Solving a Scientific Mystery, music (like drugs) acts on our emotions and feelings. Regular readers of my blog will know that I describe myself as a ‘music obsessive’ and have written many articles about my own passion for listening to and collecting music (a few examples here, here, and here). One of the proudest moments of my life was getting a populist article on ‘music addiction’ published in Record Collector, my favourite magazine (see screenshot below and ‘Further reading’ for the full reference).

A 2011 study published by Dr. Valorie Salimpoor and her colleagues in Nature Neuroscience reported that on a neurochemical level, the pleasurable experience of listening to music releases the neurotransmitter dopamine that is important for the pleasures associated with rewards such as food, psychoactive drugs and money. This led to many headlines in newspapers along the lines of ‘people who say that they are addicted to music are not lying’. The team also reported that just the anticipation of pleasurable music led to increased dopamine release. Therefore, this helps explain why individuals (like myself) continually repeat songs or albums all the time as we want to re-experience those sensations repeatedly.

My previous article examined the concept of ‘musomania’ (i.e., an obsession with music). I noted that there had been very little in the way of academic or clinical literature on the topic although since writing my original article I have come across a couple of more recently published studies looking at the concept (one which published shortly after my original blog on the topic).

Dr. Nicolas Schmuziger and his colleagues published a paper in a 2012 issue of Audiology Research entitled ‘Is there addiction to loud music? Findings in a group of non-professional pop/rock musicians’. They hypothesized that listening to loud music may be an addictive behavior and that it could result in hearing damage (which is one of the reasons they published their findings in an audiology journal – also, they probably would have found it harder to publish their study in an addiction journal). They hypothesized that individuals who were members of non-professional pop/rock bands who had regular exposure to loud music would be more likely to show an addictive-like behavior for loud music compared to individuals who were not.

In their study, the researchers recruited 50 non-professional musicians and matched them with 50 control participants. Both groups completed a questionnaire called the Northeastern Music Listening Survey (NEMLS) comprising two basic scales. The first scale was an adaptation of the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST) to study the addictive-like behavior towards loud music. The NEMLS was developed by Dr. Mary Florentine and her colleagues to assess Maladaptive Music Listening (MML). It is a 24 item scale that (in relation to listening to music) examining five distinct areas: “(i) recognition and admission of the problem by self and others; (ii) legal, work and social problems; (iii) seeking involvement with treatment programs; (iv) marital-family difficulties; and (v) medical pathology”. In addition to socio-demographic questions (on age, gender, and level of education), a second component of the NEMLS included “four items assessing three out of seven clinical diagnostic criteria for substance dependence as outlined by the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association…The other four criteria were already embedded within the MAST”.

Findings showed that nine (out of 50) met the DSM-IV criteria for ‘music dependence’ compared to just one individual in the control group. Seven of the nine musicians endorsing DSM criteria also had a positive score on the NEMLS. The researchers concluded that traits of addictive-like behavior to loud music were detected more often in members of nonprofessional pop/rock bands than in matched controls. The authors themselves pointed out that they did not explore the reasons why their participants “with repeated exposure to high-sound levels of electro-amplified music may be more likely to show traits of maladaptive behavior to loud music than the control subjects, and whether they develop such behavior before or after joining a pop/rock band”. They also concluded that only a few participants in their sample may have maladaptive music listening.

A more recent paper by Dr. Christine Ahrends entitled ‘Does excessive music practicing have addiction potential?’ was published in the journal Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain. She noted that:

“A theory that has previously been put forward but has not yet been empirically examined is the idea of “musical addictivity” (Panksepp, 1995)… Panksepp assumes an involvement of the opioid system for the emergence of “chills” when listening to music and concludes from there that listening to emotionally arousing music can be addictive through the release of opioids. On those grounds, Panksepp compares the phenomenon of music-induced chills (defining the main bodily response as a feeling of coldness) with that of drug addiction and its related withdrawal symptoms (like the so-called “cold turkey”). Although this comparison has major limitations, the general hypothesis might provide a new perspective on certain types of music-related behavior”.

Put simply, it has been argued that music has the capacity to activate the reward centres in the human brain and this can lead to behavioural addiction. Dr. Ahrends noted that recent studies supported the idea of addictive music consumption (citing the studies by Schmuziger and colleagues, and the study by Florentine and colleagues, both mentioned above) but not for music practicing. She wrote that:

“Anecdotal evidence has shown that some musicians either continue to practice through practice-induced pain or have psychosomatic disorders at deprivation, thus transforming a former goal-directed behavior into a maladaptive one”.

Based on the small empirical literature and anecdotal evidence, Dr. Ahrends hypothesized that music practice has the potential to be addictive and carried out an exploratory empirical study. To assess music practice addiction, she adapted the Exercise Dependence Scale Revised (EDS-R) (very similar to my own Exercise Addiction Inventory) and investigated the extent to whether musicians fulfilled the criteria to be classified as being “at risk for dependence” in relation to their music practice. A total of 25 musicians were recruited from German conservatories. Based on the scale scores three of the participants were classified as “at risk for dependence,” 20 of the participants were classified as “nondependent-symptomatic,” and two were classified as “nondependent-asymptomatic.” Based on these results, Dr. Ahrends claimed the findings provided tentative support for music practice addiction. She went on to argue that the concept of music practice addiction is a promising concept for further research and “may have implications for the understanding of mental health problems in musicians”.

In relation to this latter study, I would argue that this isn’t a case of ‘music practice addiction’ (if it exists at all) but if it exists, it is actually akin to ‘study addiction’ (a pre-cursor to ‘workaholism’) that I and my colleagues have published a number of papers on over the past few years (see ‘Further reading). The notion of ‘study addiction’ is highly controversial so it’s unsurprising that ‘music practice addiction’ would similarly be seen as controversial by most scholars working in the behavioural addiction field.

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

Further reading

Ahrends, C. (2017). Does excessive music practicing have addiction potential? Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 27(3), 191-202.

Atroszko, P.A., Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D. & Pallesen, S. (2015). Study addiction – A new area of psychological study: Conceptualization, assessment, and preliminary empirical findings. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4, 75–84.

Atroszko, P.A., Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D. & Pallesen, S. (2016). Study addiction: A cross-cultural longitudinal study examining temporal stability and predictors of its changes. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 357–362.

Atroszko, P.A., Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D., Pallesen, S. (2016). The relationship between study addiction and work addiction: A cross-cultural longitudinal study. Journal of Behavioral Addiction, 5, 708–714.

Dorrell, P. (2005). Is music a drug? 1729.com, July 3. Located at: http://www.1729.com/blog/IsMusicADrug.html

Dorrell, P. (2005).What is Music? Solving a Scientific Mystery. Located at: http://whatismusic.info/.

Florentine, M., Hunter, W., Robinson, M., Ballou, M., & Buus, S. (1998). On the behavioral characteristics of loud-music listening. Ear and Hearing, 19(6), 420-428.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Music addiction. Record Collector, 406 (October), p.20.

The Local (2007). Man gets sick benefits for heavy metal addiction. June 19. Located at: http://www.thelocal.se/7650/20070619/

Morrison, E. (2011). Researchers show why music is so addictive. Medhill Reports, January 21. Located at: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=176870

Panksepp, J. (1995). The emotional sources of “chills” induced by music. Music Perception, 13, 171–207.

Salimpoor, V.N., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K. Dagher, A. & Zatorre, R.J. (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature Neuroscience 14, 257–262.

Schmuziger, N., Patscheke, J., Stieglitz, R., & Probst, R. (2012). Is there addiction to loud music? Findings in a group of non-professional pop/rock musicians. Audiology Research, 2(e1), 57-63.

Smith, J. (1989). Senses and Sensibilities. New York: Wiley.

Something really fishy: A brief look at the coelacanth, the ‘living fossil’

In one of my more previous frivolous blogs (‘The beast inside: What does your favourite animal say about you?’) I wrote that my favourite animal is the coelacanth. It’s been my favourite animal ever since I did a junior school project on it when I was nine-years old. At that age I was fascinated by dinosaurs, fossils, and paleontology. Like many boys in my class, I devoured books on dinosaurs. One of the ‘dino-books’ I read talked about a fish called the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish that lived on earth during the late-Devonian period (known as the ‘age of fishes’) dating back 360 million years. What grabbed my attention was mention that a living coelacanth had been caught in the Chalumna River off the east coast of South Africa in 1938. According to fossil records, coelacanths had died out and become extinct 65 million years ago (having lived 200 million years before dinosaurs had even come into existence). I found the idea of a real life coelacanth unbelievable. Although my passion for psychology overtook paleontology in my late teens I still love all things coelacanth. It’s probably one of the subjects I would pick if I ever appeared on the Mastermind television show. I rarely read academic papers outside of psychology but for ones on coelacanths I make exceptions. I must have watched every documentary and video clip on YouTube (and in my opinion, the 2001 Equinoxe documentary ‘The Fish That Time Forgot’ is an excellent primer on the coelacanth. You should also check out the more recent ‘Diving With Dinosaur Fish‘).

The coelacanth has often been dubbed a ‘living fossil’ (in simple terms referring to an organism that closely resembles another organism that is only known from fossil records) and the name ‘coelacanth’ derives from both Greek and modern Latin and means ‘hollow spine’ (one of the fish’s interesting anatomical features). According to Wikipedia, there are two key characteristics of something defined as a living fossil (and some scholars have added a third):

“The first two are required for recognition as a living fossil stasis but some authors include the third. They (i) are members of taxa [a group of one of more organisms] that exhibit notable longevity in the sense that they have remained recognisable in the fossil record over unusually long periods; (ii) show little morphological divergence, whether from early members of the lineage, or among extant species, and (iii) tend to have little taxonomic diversity”.

Based on such characteristics, there are dozens of ‘living fossils’ on the planet including reptiles (e.g., crocodiles, various turtles), birds (e.g., pelicans, magpie geese), many types of shark, and mammals (e.g., aardvarks, red pandas, okapis), as well as bony fish such as the coelacanths and African lungfish. Just as an aside, in 2018, I co-authored a paper (published in the journal Social Sciences, see ‘Further reading’ below) with Dr. Mike Sutton debunking the assertion that Charles Darwin coined the phrase ‘living fossil’. The Oxford English Dictionary claims Charles Darwin (1859) coined the term ‘living fossil’. Using the ‘internet date detection’ method, we highlighted that the term ‘living fossil’ first appeared in the literature at least 147 years earlier in the work of a Welsh Botanist Lhwyd (1712). He used it in Philosophical Transactions, the journal of the Royal Society of London (which was also thefirst ever peer-reviewed scientific journal).

It could be argued that the twentieth century history concerning the coelacanth was due to one man’s obsession, namely Professor James Leonard Brierley Smith (but known to all in the field as ‘J.L.B.’ Smith and who was an ichthyologist at Rhodes University). For those who don’t know, ichthyology is the branch of zoology that concern itself with the scientific study of fish. (And as another aside, when I worked in the University of Plymouth’s psychology department [1990-1995], one of my colleagues [Dr. Phil Gee] described himself – at least at the time – as an ‘ichthyopsychologist’ and published a paper in 1994 from his PhD entitled ‘Temporal discrimination learning of operant feeding in goldfish’ in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior). Smith is credited with formally identifying the coelacanth that was caught in 1938 but the story actually began with Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, the curator at the East London Natural History Museum, who spotted a strange looking blue-finned fish among the catch of a local fisherman (Hendrick Goosen) on December 23, 1938. She made a sketch of the 1.5-metre fish and contacted her friend Smith who instantly knew he was looking at something history-changing. It actually took nearly two months before Smith actually saw the fish in the flesh (he lived over 500 miles away and finally visited Courtenay-Latimer on February 16, 1939).

Courtenay-Latimer had tried to preserve it as best as she could but all the internal organs were disposed of (she had sent it to a taxidermist) before Smith was able to examine the specimen (the refrigeration facilities were poor in the 1930s so she had the fish skinned and mounted). The specimen was eventually named after Courtenay-Latimer and the river where it was found (genus name Latimeria chalumnae). Coelacanths were actually known to the local fishermen who called them ‘gombessa’ or ‘mame’.

Smith knew the importance of the find and spent years trying to find a second West Indian Ocean coelacanth. He distributed leaflets for thousands of miles all along the East African coast and offered a large financial reward to any fisherman who caught one. Fourteen years later, a second coelacanth turned up in the Comoro Islands (followed by over 80 other specimens up to 1975 including catches off the coasts of Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique). Smith managed to persuade the South African Prime Minister (Daniel Malan) to get the military to fly him to the Comoros (islands that were actually owned by France). Smith subsequently began the first ever dissection of a coelacanth and concluded it was different in many ways from all modern fish (see bullet point on ‘Body characteristics’ below).

One of the most interesting features of coelacanths are its fins. They are almost limb-like and because of this anatomical feature, Smith (wrongly) believed that the coelacanth was evidence of the evolutionary ‘missing link’ between fish and land-walking mammals (in fact on December 30, 1952, the New York Times front-page article was headlined ‘14-Year Hunt Yields ‘Missing Link’ Fish’). Much of Smith’s post-1952 career was spent writing about and researching the coelacanth (most notably his 1956 book The Search Beneath the Sea – The Story of the Coelacanth also known as Old Fourlegs: The Story of the Coelacanth).

Remarkably, the story of the coelacanth didn’t end in the east coast of Africa. In September 1997, a different species of coelacanth was identified at a local market in Sulawesi (Indonesia) by Dr. Mark Erdmann (a coral reef ecologist) who was on honeymoon with his wife. Erdmann took photographs but someone bought the fish so was unable to carry out any research on the specimen. Erdmann subsequently returned to Indonesia and in July 1998, local fisherman caught a second Indonesian coelacanth (and was subsequently given the genus name Latimeria menadoensis). The fish was known to local Indonesian fisherman as ‘raja laut’ (king of the sea). So what else do we know about present-day coelacanths? Here’s my brief bluffer’s guide to coelacanths.

  • Maximum size and weight: Coelacanths can be as long as six feet and weigh up to 200 pounds, and females are bigger than males.
  • Life expectancy: It is estimated coelacanths can live up to 80 to 100 years based on the growth rings in the ear bones (called otoliths).
  • Body characteristics: Coelacanths have thick (almost armour-like) scales and a tiny brain (comprising 1.5% of the cranial cavity). They have hinge in their skull (i.e., an intracranial joint) that allows them to open their mouths wide to consume their prey, and instead of a spine they have an oil-filled hollow pressurized tube called a notocord. They also have very primitive hearts described as the most primitive in the vertebrate world. In their nose they have an electro-sensory system (a rostral organ comprising a jelly-filled cavity) that has been speculated to help sense its prey (similar to that found in some sharks – in fact coelacanths and sharks have almost identical blood chemistry). The East African species is blue in colour whereas the Indonesian species is brown in colour.
  • Body metabolism and diet: Coelacanths are carnivorous and also have the lowest metabolism of any fish its size. It is speculated that it is this feature that may have allowed them to survive on earth for so long. They feed on small fish and occasionally squid, eels and small sharks. The low metabolism means they don’t need much food to survive and they live in relatively low-food environments.
  • Number of species: Historically there were over 120 species of coelacanth identified by fossil records but only two extant species have been verified.
  • Movement: J.L.B. Smith speculated that coelacanths ‘walked’ on the sea bed but the four (almost limb-like) facilitate a form of locomotion that is similar to tetrapods (four-legged animals) but ‘walk’ in the water not on the sea bed (Smith described their fins as “paddles”).
  • Habitat: During the daytime they tend to be relatively stationary (inside underground caves and crevices up to 700 metres below the water’s surface although some coelacanths live in shallower depths of 90-150 metres such as those found in Sodwana Bay off the South African coast) and are nocturnal and move around (up to 8 km) during the night. The fact they live so deep underwater means they cannot live in captivity so almost everything known about coelacanths comes from dead specimens or study in-situ.
  • Reproduction and giving birth: Very little was known about how coelacanths until a pregnant coelacanth was dissected in 1975 (at the American Museum of Natural History in New York) and five fully-formed coelacanth ‘pups’ were found inside the female. The gestation period has been estimated to be around 13 to 15 months (the longest among any living fish and some papers claim a gestation period of up to three years) and they give birth to live offspring (i.e., ovoviviparous – producing offspring via eggs which are hatched within the body of their mother). Coelacanth eggs are larger than any other fish (around the size of tennis balls) and are full of nutrients to help the growing embryos. It is thought that coelacanths can give birth to between five and 25 pups. Coelacanths become sexually active at around 20 years of age. However, as far as I am aware, no-one has ever seen coelacanths mate. However, a paper published in a 2013 issue of Nature Communications carried out analysis on pregnant coelacanths and concluded that coelacanths appear to be monogamous and that offspring do not appear to mate with each other.
  • Edibility: Because of the excessive amounts of oil and wax esters within their bodies, they are slimy, ooze a mucus-type substance, coelacanths have a foul flavour (and because of the high urea content in their body they can also smell and taste of urine). In fact, people can become sick after eating coelacanth.
  • World population – It is estimated that there are approximately 350 coelacanths living on the planet and it is now classed as an endangered species which although better than extinct, could still mean they become extinct within a few generations. A genetic study of the two different extant species estimated that they had diverged 30-40 million years ago.

In my research for this article, I did come across a 1997 paper by Hans Fricke (in the Marine Ecology Progress Series) that had a whole section on the psychology of coelacanths. He noted:

“The long evolutionary existence and unchanged appearance of coelacanths since the Devonian provides spiritual insight into our own comparatively short human existence on earth. Furthermore, coelacanths are of interest not only because of their long evolutionary history but also because they remain for the public – and also for many scientists – the nearest living relatives close to our own tetrapod roots. This makes the coelacanth unique among living fossils. We appreciate the timeless existence of this ‘old cousin’ which provides a window into the past. This existence value was nicely expressed in a German youth magazine. Youngsters selected a hit list of reasons ‘Why it is worthwhile living this week’. One entry contained the statement ‘…that coelacanths still exist’.”

The paper also talked about how humans can become emotionally and strongly affected after seeing films about coelacanths. I can attest to this. I was gripped as an adult in my thirties when I first saw a coelacanth on film (and I have never lost that feeling). Their existence is quite simply life-affirming and life-enhancing.

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

Further reading

Amemiya, C. T., Alföldi, J., Lee, A. P., Fan, S., Philippe, H., MacCallum, I., … & Organ, C. (2013). The African coelacanth genome provides insights into tetrapod evolution. Nature, 496(7445), 311-316.

Bates, M. (2015). The feature creature: 10 fun facts about the coelacanth. Wired, February 3. Located at: https://www.wired.com/2015/03/creature-feature-10-fun-facts-coelacanth/

Fricke, H. (1997). Living coelacanths: values, eco-ethics and human responsibility. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 161, 1-15.

Gee, P., Stephenson, D., & Wright, D.E. (1994). Temporal discrimination learning of operant feeding in goldfish (Carassius auratus). Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 62(1), 1-13.

Holder, M.T., Erdmann, M.V., Wilcox, T.P., Caldwell, R. L., & Hillis, D.M. (1999). Two living species of coelacanths? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 96(22), 12616-12620.

Inoue J. G., Miya, M., Venkatesh, B., & Nishida, M. (2005). The mitochondrial genome of Indonesian coelacanth Latimeria menadoensis (Sarcopterygii: Coelacanthiformes) and divergence time estimation between the two coelacanths. Gene, 349, 227–235.

Johanson, Z., Long, J. A., Talent, J. A., Janvier, P., and Warren, J. W (2006). Oldest coelacanth, from the early Devonian of Australia. Biology Letters, 2(3), 443–446.

Lampert, K. P., Blassmann, K., Hissmann, K., Schauer, J., Shunula, P., El Kharousy, Z., … & Schartl, M. (2013). Single-male paternity in coelacanths. Nature communications, 4, 2488.

Lavett Smith, C., Rand, C. S., Schaeffer, B., and Atz, J. W. (1975). Latimeria, the living coelacanth, is ovoviviparous. Science 190(4219), 1105–1106.

Pouyaud, L., Wirjoatmodjo, S., Rachmatika, I., Tjakrawidjaja, A., Hadiaty, R., & Hadie, W. (1999). A new species of coelacanth. Genetic and morphologic proof. Comptes Rendus de l’Academie des Sciences. Serie III, Sciences de la Vie, 322(4), 261-267.

Smith, J.L.B. (1956). The Search Beneath the Sea – The Story of the Coelacanth. New York: Holt.

Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Using date specific searches on Google Books to disconfirm prior origination knowledge claims for particular terms, words, and names. Social Sciences, 7, 66. doi:10.3390/socsci7040066.

From the university of perversity: An A to Z of non-researched sexual paraphilias (Part 5)

Today’s blog is the fifth part in my review of little researched (and in most cases non-researched) sexual paraphilias and strange sexual behaviours. (You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here). I’ve tried to locate information on all of these alleged sexual behaviours listed below and in some cases have found nothing more than a definition (some of which were in Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices and/or Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices).

  • Antholagnia: This refers to deriving sexual arousal from smelling flowers (and the arousal may depend on the sight and/or smell of the flowers), and is a specific form of olfactophilia (sexual arousal from smell which I looked at in a previous blog). The Kinkly website notes (without empirical evidence to back up any of the claims made) that: “People with antholagnia typically have a preference for certain flowers, just as most people are sexually aroused by certain body types. They are likely to become aroused while visiting a florist shop, a floral nursery, or a botanical garden. They may also seek out images of flowers online for sexual gratification”.
  • Blennophilia: This refers to deriving sexual arousal towards slime. It is also known as myxophilia and appears to be a specific form of salirophilia (sexual arousal from mess and dirt), a paraphilia that I recently published a case study about in the Journal of Concurrent Disorders.
  • Chezolagnia:  This refers to deriving sexual arousal from masturbating while defecating. However, some definitions refer to it being a condition in which an individual derives sexual excitation and/or gratification from the act of defecation but this wider definition refers to coprophilia (which I looked at in a previous blog).
  • Dermatophilia: A few websites refer to this as deriving sexual arousal from skin lesions and/or skin diseases although it appears this this is just the lexical opposite of dermatophobia. I did write a previous blog on acnephilia which could arguably be a specific type of dermatophilia.
  • Epistaxiophilia: This refers to deriving sexual pleasure from nosebleeds (presumably seeing others have nosebleeds rather than the individuals themselves). I did write a previous blog on the relationships between sex and nosebleeds but did not mention epistaxiophilia.
  • Febriphilia: This refers to deriving of sexual arousal from fever. I’ve only ever seen this listed on a few websites such as the Alpha Dictionary. I did find one person claiming to have this paraphilia: “I have a very, um, unusual fetish. It’s known as febriphilia. So far, I’ve heard of no one that shares this attraction, and I’m starting to wonder if there are any closet febriphiles out there. I’ve always liked weakness, helplessness, and illnesses in general, but fevers are the biggest thing. Someone being warmer than usual is, for some reason, something I find very attractive”. Someone did eventually respond over four years later and said: “I have to say you are not alone…There are not many febriphiles out there, it’s very hard to find people who share our attraction, but take solace in the fact that you are not alone and you are not a freak”.
  • Geniophilia: Over the years I’ve written blogs on fetishes for almost every body part but I’ve never written one on geniophilia (which refers to deriving sexual arousal from chins). This was listed in the JMAC Times as being among the “19 strangest turn-ons ever”.
  • Hexakosioihexekontahexaphilia: This refers to deriving sexual pleasure from the number ‘666’. This appears to be a hypothetical paraphilia although the band Vulgarizer did have a track of this name on their album Adonyne.
  • Idrophrodisia: This refers to deriving sexual arousal from the odour of perspiration, especially from the genitals. This appears to be a sub-type of osmophilia (deriving sexual pleasure and arousal caused by bodily odours, such as sweat, urine or menses, and which I looked at in a previous blog).
  • Japanophilia: This refers to deriving sexual arousal from Japanese people. However, most people use the word ‘Japanophile’ in a non-sexual context as referring to the love of all things Japanese (in fact, one reader of my blog emailed me to ask if I was a Japanophile given the many blogs I had written on various aspects of Japanese sexual behaviour including Oshouji, Tamakeri, Shokushu Goukan, Nyotaimori, Omorashi, and Burusera).
  • Kymophilia: Sometimes spelt ‘cymophilia’, this refers to deriving sexual arousal towards waves or wave-like motions. I’ve not some across any evidence that this actually exists but it appears on many other online lists of paraphilias.
  • Lutraphilia: This is a very specific type of zoophilia and refers to deriving sexual arousal from otters. I would like to think this is totally hypothetical but there are otter videos on various zoophile online forums. I didn’t click on the videos as you can’t un-see what you have seen. There are also sex toys in the shape of otters. You have been warned.
  • Metrophilia: This refers to deriving sexual arousal from poetry (presumably erotic poetry although definitions never mention this) and could arguably be a sub-type of narratophilia (sexual arousal from sexual story telling).
  • Nosocomephilia: This refers to deriving sexual arousal from hospitals. This may be a sub-aspect of medical fetishism which I have written about at length in a number of different previous blogs).
  • Ochophilia: This refers to deriving sexual arousal from vehicles and is presumably the more generic name for various sub-types of objectum sexuality including individuals who have had sexual relationships with their cars (such as those I have looked at in previous blogs here and here).
  • Porphyrophilia: We all know that the musician Prince appeared to love all things sexual and maybe he had porphyrophilia which refers to deriving sexual pleasure from the colour purple.
  • ‘Queer women’ fetishism: This type of fetishism was outlined in an article in Mel magazine about heterosexual men whose preferred sexual partner is a lesbian.
  • Rheophilia: This refers to deriving sexual arousal from spending time in running water. This may be a sub-type of aquaphilia (sexual arousal from water and/or watery environments including bathtubs or swimming pools) and ablutophilia (sexual arousal from baths or showers) which I looked at in a previous blog.
  • Staurophilia: This refers to deriving sexual arousal from crosses or crucifixes. I haven’t seen any evidence that this is a genuine paraphilia although the band Fetish Altar had a track entitled ‘The Latex Crucifix’ (the b-side of ‘Sodomize Angelic Figures’).
  • Thlipsosis: This refers to deriving sexual arousal from being pinched or pinching others and is a sadomasochistic behaviour. This is not a plug for the Medical Toys website but they have a lot of products on their ‘Thlipsosis’ page.
  • Urethral fetishism: In previous blogs I have examined urethral sex play in its many forms and with its own lexicon (so if you want to read about it in more detail, read more here).
  • Venustraphilia: I’m a little unclear how this is a paraphilia because this refers to deriving sexual arousal from beautiful women.
  • Wiccaphilia: This refers to deriving sexual arousal from witches and witchcraft and I wrote an article on this paraphilia previously.
  • Xyrophilia: This behaviour refers to those individuals who derive sexual arousal from razors (and its name is derived from its opposite condition – xyrophobia). However, there are online forums for razor fetishists and there may be crossover with those that have blood fetishes (which I’ve looked at in various previous blogs).
  • ‘Yellow Fever’ fetish: I don’t want to be accused of being racist or passive racism so I will leave this definition to Yuan Ren writing in the Daily Telegraph: “Ever heard of yellow fever?No, not the disease you can pick up when travelling to certain countries. I’m talking about when Caucasian men develop an acute sexual preference for East Asian women – even becoming a fetish, for some”.
  • Zip fetishism: Recent news stories have highlighted men who have zip fetishes. On the ‘Is It Normal?’ website, a whole thread was devoted to the topic with various individuals claiming they had such a fetish.

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

Further reading

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

Bering, J. (2014). Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All Of Us. London: Doubleday.

Downing, L. (2010). John Money’s ‘Normophilia’: diagnosing sexual normality in late-twentieth-century Anglo-American sexology. Psychology and Sexuality, 1(3), 275-287.

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.

Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Salirophilia and other co-occurring paraphilias in a middle-aged male: A case study. Journal of Concurrent Disorders, 1(2), 1-8.

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

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.

Serrano, R.H. (2004). Parafilias. Revista Venezolana de Urologia, 50, 64-69.

Shaffer, L. & Penn, J. (2006). A comprehensive paraphilia classification system. In E.W. Hickey (Ed.), Sex crimes and paraphilia. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Write World (2013). Philias. Located at: http://writeworld.tumblr.com/philiaquirks

Can you stomach it? Another look at ‘bellypunching’ for sexual arousal

In a previous blog, I briefly looked at gastergastrizophilia (a sadomasochistic sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from bellypunching). I also noted that I had never seen it listed in any reputable academic source (and that it did 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). I also wondered whether it really existed. Since writing that blog I’ve had a few people write to me saying that it definitely exists (see the comment section of my previous blog). I also described it as “one of the weirdest sounding sexual paraphilias that I have come across”. Last week I received some feedback from a man who criticized my article on the topic. I always welcome feedback (however critical) so I thought I would use today’s blog to respond to the criticism I received. I have included all the feedback I received along with my responses. Although I have the name and email address of the man who contacted me, I have decided not to use them in this article as he did not give me permission to do so (although if he does, I will update this accordingly).

Gutpuncher: I must admit – coming from a phycologist [sic] – I find that opening statement (“one of the weirdest sounding sexual paraphilias that I have come across”) to be an exceedingly derogatory and leading comment, immediately stamping all that is to follow with a big, bold stigma… That statement is as perverted as it is pejorative. It erroneously throws all who enjoy and practice this fetish into the fringe of lawlessness and make them sexual deviants without ethics or conscience. It’s the insane equivalent of saying, “we have no idea how many people actually engage in sex, because the participants themselves aren’t really sure of what is consent and what is rape.” REALLY?! EVERYONE with whom I have EVER participated in this fetish, myself very much included, has ALWAYS done so with complete and total CONSENT. The only reason we might not so quickly stand up to be counted –– is we’re not so keen on pointed fingers labeling us as “weird.

My response: Obviously I am a psychologist not a ‘phycologist’. But more seriously, what I actually wrote was that it one of the “weirdest sounding” paraphilias. To me, ‘gastergastrizophilia’ does sound weird compared to hundreds of other paraphilias that I have written about. I used the word ‘weird’ as a synonym for ‘strange’ or ‘unusual’. I think ‘Gutpuncher’ interpreted “one of the weirdest sounding paraphilias” as being “one of the weirdest paraphilias” which is somewhat different. Having said that, even if I had written what ‘Gutpuncher’ appears to think I have written, I would still argue that the use of ‘weird’ is a legitimate word to use (and I think most individuals would agree). Also, ‘Gutpuncher’ appears to think that calling an activity “weird” means that the person doing it is ‘weird’ but this is simply not true. I have a number of self-acknowledged weird hobbies (some of which I’ve written about such as being a record collecting completist who will happily pay lots of money for something that I may not even like) but this does not make me (as an individual) weird. The activity and the individual are two distinct things. But I’d just like to reiterate, what I actually wrote was that ‘gastergastrizophilia’ is weird-sounding.

Gutpuncher: Having just come across your article, though, I honestly don’t even know if the true purpose of your blog is to actually “help” anyone with real questions, concerns, or confusion about their own lives or sexuality. After a quick check and realizing that your expertise lies in gaming and gambling addictions, quite possibly your dealing with matters of sexuality here may just be a fun outlet, a way of creating a relaxed, man-of-the-people presence here on the internet, without any real offerings of advice or council – well, other than proclaiming certain things as “weird.”

My response: My blog page clearly states on every article that I have ever published: “Welcome to my blog! If you are interested in addictive, obsessional, compulsive and/or extreme behaviours, you’ve come to the right place”. The primary purpose of my blog is to write about things that I think people might want to read. My aim is not to help people, but if it does, that’s great, but it’s not the primary purpose. ‘Gutpuncher’ says my “expertise lies in gaming and gambling addictions” and that “dealing with matters of sexuality here may just be a fun outlet”. I do indeed have expertise in gambling and gaming addictions as well as in many other behavioural addictions. While gambling and gaming are among my main areas of expertise, I’ve also published over 50 academic papers (as well as many populist articles) on human sexual behaviour including papers on paraphilias (a small selection of which I list in the ‘Further reading’ section below). I think this more than qualifies me to write about human sexual behaviour. Even if I didn’t have expertise in researching sexual behaviour, it still wouldn’t invalidate me from writing about things that interest me (which sex does).

Gutpuncher: I also take great offense at the included quote (though not your own, but presented nonetheless to be considered) that “nobody has any real numbers, in part because the participants themselves don’t know where the line actually divides consent and abuse.”

My response: Any quotes that I use in blogs are fully referenced and are the views of the person writing it. Quotes used may or may not match my own views. This doesn’t mean I can’t use them. The quote came from the Wikipedia entry on ‘bellypunching’ and it’s the only article on the topic that I found when I wrote the article at the time.

Gutpuncher: But still, as a male who (purely from a homoerotic perspective) finds great pleasure in this fetish (known in male form as “Gutpunching” or “ab punching”), and as one who has personally connected with 60+ other males in the flesh who – most definitely – also find arousal in this sexual proclivity, and as someone who has personally witnessed hundreds and hundreds of other males online (through profile-posting websites and video uploads) who also claim this fetish as their own, I wonder why the male perspective has been entirely ignored here? Since this blog post was to give a look, however “brief,” at the subject, that seems to me a rather large omission. Again, quite possibly, this blog may playfully lean toward titillation instead of factual inclusivity, and “gay” stuff may add a whole other unappealing level of “weird.” But, this fetish IS most assuredly both a female and a MALE subject, to be correct.

My response: This is useful anecdotal information from someone who has first-hand experience of the gutpunching community. I wrote my article on gastergastrizophilia in August 2015 (i.e., four years ago). As with all my blogs, I researched the area and referenced everything I was able to locate scientifically and empirically (I found nothing published on any academic database) and anecdotally (i.e., searching online). I referenced everything that I found and only located one article (on Wikipedia) and also found some first-person accounts on the Dark Fetish website, as well as reference to hundreds of bellypunching videos. I didn’t ignore (or deliberately omit) anything and I wrote about what I found. I look forward to you sending me more information so that I can do a follow-up article.

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

Further reading

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

Bőthe, B., Bartók, R., Tóth-Király, I., Reid, R.C., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z., Orosz, G. (2018). Hypersexuality, gender, and sexual orientation: A largescale psychometric survey study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47, 2265-2276.

Bőthe, B., Kovács, M., Tóth-Király, I., Reid, R.C., Griffiths, M.D., Orosz, G., Demetrovics, Z. (2019). The psychometric properties Hypersexual Behavior Inventory using a large-scale nonclinical sample. Journal of Sex Research, 56, 180-190.

Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Zsila, Á., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z., Orosz, G. (2018). The development of the Problematic Pornography Consumption Scale (PPCS). Journal of Sex Research, 55, 395-406.

Dhuffar, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). A systematic review of online sex addiction and clinical treatments using CONSORT evaluation. Current Addiction Reports, 2, 163-174.

Dhuffar, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Understanding the role of shame and its consequences in female hypersexual behaviours: A pilot study. Journal of Behavioural Addictions, 3, 231–237.

Dhuffar, M.K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Understanding conceptualisations of female sex addiction and recovery using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Psychology Research, 5, 585-603.

Dhuffar, M., Pontes, H.M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The role of negative mood states and consequences of hypersexual behaviours in predicting hypersexuality among university students. Journal of Behavioural Addictions, 4, 181–188.

Dhuffar, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Barriers to female sex addiction treatment in the UK. Journal of Behavioural Addictions, 5, 562–567.

Fernandez, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Psychometric instruments for problematic pornography use: A systematic review. Evaluation and the Health Professions. Epub ahead of print, doi: 10.1177/0163278719861688

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Dying for it: Autoerotic deaths. Bizarre, 24, 62-65.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000).  Excessive internet use: Implications for sexual behavior. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3, 537-552.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2001).  Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 333-342.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Stumped! Amputee fetishes. Bizarre, 44, 70-74.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Addicted to sex? Psychology Review, 16(1), 27-29.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Eproctophilia in a young adult male: A case study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1383-1386.

Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Paraphilias and the press – Don’t always believe what you read. Medical Journal Armed Forces India, 75, 232-233.

Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Salirophilia and other co-occurring paraphilias in a middle-aged male: A case study. Journal of Concurrent Disorders, 1(2), 1-8.

Griffiths, M.D. & Dhuffar, M. (2014). Treatment of sexual addiction within the British National Health Service. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 561-571.

The Full Wiki (2013). Bellypunching. Located at: http://www.thefullwiki.org/Bellypunching

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

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Meditation Awareness Training for the treatment of sex addiction: A case study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 363–372.

Carry on pampering: A brief look at “comfort addiction”

“Comfort addiction is everywhere in 2019. There are TED Talks, rehab treatments and academic articles devoted to this new-age compulsion – just ask Keith Richards or King Salman of Saudi Arabia” (The Tatler, 2019).

This opening quote is from a recent article by Helen Kirwan-Taylor in The Tatler sent to me by psychotherapist Christopher Burn (whose book Poetry Changes Lives I mentioned in a previous article on ‘poetry addiction‘). He thought I might be interested in writing an article on it (and he was right). Anything with the word ‘addiction’ attached to something I have not come across before I always going to arouse my curiosity. I typed in “comfort addiction” to Google and was surprised to find quite a few articles such as ‘Overcome your comfort addiction’ (in The Huffington Post), ‘Are you ready to start conquering your dangerous addiction to comfort?’ (in The Entrepreneur), ‘Are you addicted to comfort?’ (in The New Man), ‘Living in the age of comfort addiction‘ (Patheos.com), and ‘Our crippling addiction to comfort’ (in The Inspirational Lifestyle). I even came across a television news item on Good Morning San Diego (pictured below).

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The thrust of Kirwan-Taylor’s article is that some individuals are addicted to “indulgence” and recounts anecdotes of celebrities (both living and dead such as Queen Victoria, Hillary Clinton and Kate Moss) and a few non-celebrities who apparently suffer or suffered from such an ‘addiction’. A few examples of alleged ‘comfort addiction’ from the article included the following:

Pink Floyd toured with an ‘Ambience Director’ to ensure their every whim was catered for in distant lands. Keith Richards has a shepherd’s pie made for him before every Stones gig…Lionel Richie takes his own scented candle to ward off unsavoury smells and make places ‘feel like home’; and the late AA Gill, a former Tatler writer, used to always request the same table at The Wolseley for breakfast”.

Kirwan-Taylor then goes on to assert that ‘comfort addiction’ is a “vice about which few are willing to go on the record”. The first thing to say is that the examples cited have absolutely nothing to do with any operational definition of addiction that I can think of, and the word ‘addiction’ is being used in a light-hearted or throwaway manner (as well as an arguably sensationalist tactic to get people like myself to read it). One of Kirwan-Taylor’s interviewees was a private banker named only as ‘Simon’ (born with a silver ladle in his mouth):

“Comfort addiction is little talked about because sufferers know that it’s a pretty unattractive condition. I’ve started to decline shooting invitations because you can never be sure whether the mattress will be firm enough, the sheets clean enough or the bathroom en suite. Statelies [stately homes] are particularly uncomfortable”.

The article’s apparent rationale for calling such behaviour an ‘addiction’ is that there are addictive elements such as mood modification, withdrawal symptoms, and interpersonal conflict. More specifically, (i) comfort is similar to addictive substances (such as cocaine, alcohol and sugar) and makes individuals “feel temporarily better [and] soothes away life’s irritants” [mood modification] (ii) any sudden withdrawal of comfort leads the individuals “into a combination of acute anxiety, helplessness and rage” [withdrawal symptoms], and (iii) there are individuals are prepared to forego social events with friends because they are afraid to undergo any type of discomfort (presumably both psychological and physical although the article doesn’t explicitly say) [interpersonal conflict]. To overcome the lack of creature comforts, such individuals will bring their own bedding, food, drink, and eating and drinking utensils when staying at hotels or at friends’ houses. As one (unnamed) hotelier claimed:

“[Such individuals] don’t like the idea of sleeping on the same bed linen a thousand other people have slept on before. They prefer snuggling up in something that feels like home”.

To be honest, I can understand some of the thought processes behind this. I never ever (and I really do mean never) try on clothes or shoes in a shop before buying them because all I can think about is the number of sweaty and/or unclean people who might have tried on the clothing before me. Kirwan-Taylor also makes the claim that:

“There are, of course, varying levels of creature comfort. The late Karl Lagerfeld not only travelled by private jet with his own bookcase, he also went to extraordinary lengths to cosset his guests, too [such as building] a tennis court on his property at Biarritz as an enticement for [Anna Wintour] to visit…It is [also] rumoured that when King Salman of Saudi Arabia was due to stay at the One & Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives in 2017, he asked for exclusive hire of the hotel and that it be repainted and fitted with gold handrails. At his request, a hospital was apparently built on-site, and nannies, personal trainers, security and chefs were flown in by private jet. In the end, the King never turned up”.

According to Kirwan-Taylor, there are other factors that facilitate ‘comfort addiction’ of which age is one. To support this proposition, the article featured quotes from Dr Robert Biswas-Diener (co-author of self-help book The Upside of Your Dark Side as well as a TED Talk on ‘comfort addiction’) who described the phenomenon of ‘comfort inflation’ which turns into an “expectation”. He claimed (and I agree with such claims) that:

“Standards inflate over time. When you’re a student, a futon seems fine. By the time you’re 40, you can only sleep in a super king. It’s a natural progression. Business class gets you off and on the plane first. You sit by yourself. If you’re flying economy and you’re upgraded, you’re elated. If you’re flying business and are downgraded, you’re fuming. It’s easier to adjust upwards than downwards… Comfort is about convenience, privacy and safety. It is all about control. When you’re lumped in economy you have no idea who you will be sitting next to”.

When it comes to flying business class, I can only concur. Because of a degenerative medical condition, I can no longer fly long distances in economy class. If my clients want my services, flying business class is a minimum. I’m not bothered about the service received by the airline staff or boarding the plane first (although that’s admittedly nice), I just want comfort on the plane (and access to the comfortable seating or showers in the business lounge). I could argue (based on my own research) that there is an analogy to the concept of ‘tolerance’ here (the needing of more and more of a particular substance or behaviour to get the same initial mood-modifying effects). Whereas I was once happy to be flying on a plane to get from A to B, now I want the ultimate in comfort. I now discuss which airline’s business class I prefer or which business lounges are best. One of my colleagues once called me a “comfort junkie” (which again plays on the addiction analogy) but all this really means I like my five-star hotels and creature comforts (you will never see me go camping again in my life).

As Kirwan-Taylor’s article points out, “[individuals] quickly adjust to our new standards and [they] want more”. The article also includes a quote from George Harrison who once said “Do you remember when we were so poor we had to fly first class?”. Other signs that individuals have a ‘comfort addiction’ is individuals who “install home gyms, cinemas and hair salons [in their homes] as standard”. And too much comfort may not be a good thing for us. Kirwan-Taylor also interviewed Norman Doidge (author of The Brain That Changes Itself) who asserted:

“Too much comfort lowers resilience and with it the ability to deal with challenges. It is the willingness to leave the comfort zone that is key to keeping the brain new”

Obviously I don’t think ‘comfort addiction’ exists but I don’t deny some people’s experiences relating to comfort (including my own personal experiences) and I could certainly make an argument that there are some addiction-like elements.

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

Further reading

Doidge, N. (2008). The Brain That Changes Itself. London: Penguin.

Haisha, L. (2011). Overcome your ‘comfort addiction’. Huffington Post, November 17. Located at: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/overcome-your-comfort-add_n_637327

Kashdan, T. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2014). The Upside of Your Dark Side. London: Penguin.

Kirwan-Taylor, H. (2019). Are you a comfort addict and utterly addicted to indulgence? The Tatler, May 14. Located at: https://www.tatler.com/article/are-you-a-comfort-addict

Lanier, T. (2015). Are you addicted to comfort? The New Man, June 1. Located at: https://www.thenewmanpodcast.com/2015/06/are-you-addicted-to-comfort/

Munro, D. (2017). Our crippling addiction to comfort. The Inspirational Lifestyle, May 22. Located at: http://www.theinspirationallifestyle.com/our-crippling-addiction-to-comfort/

Schmidt, M. (2017). Living in the age of comfort addiction. Patheos.com, February 28. Located at: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/takeandread/2017/02/living-age-comfort-addiction-qa-erin-straza/

Shore, J. (2015). Are you ready to start conquering your dangerous addiction to comfort? The Entrepreneur, April 2. Located at: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/244480

Needers of the pack: A brief look at addiction to Solitaire

A few days ago I was interviewed by Business Insider about the addictiveness of the card game Solitaire (also known as Klondike and Patience). The ‘hook’ for the Business Insider article (no pun intended) was that May 22 is National Solitaire Day (NSD). A quick look on the online National Day Calendar confirmed that NSD does indeed exist (a celebration day that only began for the first time last year) and the website also pointed out that the game is over 200 years’ old and that Solitaire “truly went viral” in 1990 when Microsoft included the Microsoft Solitaire game in Windows 3.0 (as a way to teach people how to use the mouse on their computers). The NSD webpage notes that:

“Over the past 28 years, Microsoft Solitaire has been providing great entertainment to hundreds of millions of players in every corner of the world…In 2012, Microsoft evolved Solitaire into the Microsoft Solitaire Collection, which features five of the top Solitaire games in one app. Since then, the game has been played by over 242 million people and has become so popular that each year 33 billion games are played with over 3.2 trillion cards dealt!”

Back in 2000, a short article on internet addiction in The Lancet by Peter Mitchell noted that one of the pioneers in internet addiction research, the clinical psychologist Maressa Hecht Orzack claimed to have a problem (a “near addiction”) playing Solitaire. Orzack was quoted in Mitchell’s article as saying: “So now I don’t have a computer at work. [My playing Solitaire] was getting that serious”. Orzack was also quoted in the Business Insider article. Her Solitaire playing was a “growing obsession” and she neglected her work and lost sleep because of her Solitaire playing. She said: “I kept playing solitaire more and more – my late husband would find me asleep at the computer. I was missing deadlines. I knew something had to be done”.

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As far as I am aware, there is no empirical research about addiction to Solitaire, and I’ve never come across a published case study. However, I have mentioned Solitaire in a number of my papers over the years but all of them were in my critique of Dr. Kimberley Young’s taxonomy of the different types of internet addiction. Young claimed there were five different types of internet addiction (‘cyber-sexual addiction’, cyber-relationship addiction, ‘net compulsions’, ‘information overload’ and ‘computer addiction’). In a number of my publications in journals such as the Student British Medical Journal (1999), Addiction Research (2000), and the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (2006), I argued that the typology was flawed and that most of the examples Young provided were addictions on the internet, not addictions to the internet (and echoing my assertion that individuals are no more addicted to the internet than alcoholics are addicted to bottles).

The reference to Solitaire was in relation to Young’s final type of internet addiction – ‘computer addiction’. One of her examples of ‘computer addiction’ as the playing of Solitaire on computers. (I found this strange particularly because the example didn’t even rely on being on the internet – it was merely about individuals being addicted to playing Solitaire on computers and laptops). Young never provided any empirical evidence that she had ever met or treated anyone with an addiction to Solitaire, just that being addicted to Solitaire would be classed as a ‘computer addiction’ in her typology.

Young is not the only social scientist to use Solitaire as an example in an addiction typology. In a 2008 paper published in the Journal of Applied Social Science, Jawad Fatayer outlined what he believes are the four types of addiction – alpha addictions (addictions that impact the body and physical health such as nicotine addiction and food addiction), beta addictions (addictions that impact the mind and the body such as alcohol and other drug addictions), gamma addictions (all behavioural addictions), and delta addictions (two or more addictions experiences simultaneously). Addiction to Solitaire was listed as a gamma addiction (but again, there was no empirical evidence to support the claim that Solitaire addiction actually exists).

Business Insider spoke to two other psychologists in addition to myself. Dr. Chris Ferguson (with whom I have co-authored a few papers) said:

“It’s important to recognize the difference between really liking something and having a clinical addiction. People (say) ‘I’m addicted to cupcakes’, ‘I’m addicted to chocolate’ meaning ‘This is a really fun thing that I like to do a lot’. There’s a huge debate that goes on in the field right now about whether video games can be compared to things like substance abuse, or if video games are more similar to hobby-like activities that many people enjoy — and some people might overdo…a fixation with Solitaire is more of a behavioral addiction – an obsessive behavioral pattern that can be a sign of underlying mental distress or illness. People who have mental health issues, or are simply under stress, tend to be drawn to things that are fun and distracting. And that’s mostly good, actually. It’s just that sometimes, for some individuals, they may begin to really overdo those activities as a form of escapism…It’s not about technology. It’s about mental health”.

A clinical psychologist, Anthony Bean said:

“There are some clear signs that Solitaire might be playing too big a role in your life. (If you’re) noticing you’re putting more time than other areas into the game and, let’s say, not paying attention to your family, not paying attention to work, not paying attention to school”.

My contribution to the Business Insider was taken from an email I sent the journalist. Very little of what I sent was used. I was asked two specific questions: (i) what characteristics of the game Solitaire might make it addicting? and (ii) what should people be aware of as signs of a disruptive addiction to Solitaire (or gaming in general)?

In answer to the first question, I wrote that addictions rely on constant rewards (what psychologists refer to as reinforcement) and each game of Solitaire can be played quickly and individuals can be quickly rewarded if they win (positive reinforcement) but when they lose, the feeling of disappointment or cognitive regret can be eliminated by playing again straight away (negative reinforcement – playing as way to relive a dysphoric mood state). I also stated that addictions typically result as a coping mechanism to other things in a person’s life. They use such behaviours as a way of escape and the repetitive playing of games can help in such circumstances. For the overwhelming majority of people, such playing behaviour will be an adaptive coping mechanism but if the game takes over all other aspects of the person’s life and compromises their relationships and their education/occupation (depending upon their age), this becomes a poor coping strategy because the short-term benefits are heavily outweighed by the long-term costs.

In relation to the second question, I outlined what I believe to be the six core criteria of addictive behaviour and outlined them with what I believed a genuine Solitaire addiction would constitute. My response was purely hypothetical because I have never met or even heard of anyone being genuinely addicted to Solitaire. So, hypothetically, Solitaire addiction would comprise anyone that fulfilled all of the following six criteria:

  • Salience –This occurs when Solitaire becomes the single most important activity in the person’s life and dominates their thinking (preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behaviour (deterioration of socialised behaviour). For instance, even if the person is not actually playing Solitaire they will be constantly thinking about the next time that they will be (i.e., a total preoccupation with Solitaire).
  • Mood modification –This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of playing Solitaire and can be seen as a coping strategy (i.e., they experience an arousing ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ or paradoxically a tranquilizing feel of ‘escape’ or ‘numbing’).
  • Tolerance –This is the process whereby increasing amounts of time spent playing Solitaire are required to achieve the former mood modifying effects. This basically means that for someone engaged in Solitaire, they gradually build up the amount of the time they spend playing Solitaire every day.
  • Withdrawal symptoms– These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects (e.g., the shakes, moodiness, irritability, etc.), that occur when the person is unable to play Solitaire because they are ill, have no computer connection, etc.
  • Conflict – This refers to the conflicts between the person and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual themselves (intra-psychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) that are concerned with spending too much time playing Solitaire
  • Relapse– This is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of excessive Solitaire playing to recur and for even the most extreme patterns typical at the height of excessive Solitaire playing to be quickly restored after periods of control.

Finally, I just want to reiterate that I know of no evidence to support the contention that there are individuals genuinely addicted to Solitaire. However, I do think it’s theoretically possible even though I’ve yet to meet or hear about such individuals.

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

Further reading

Fatayer, J. (2008). Addiction types: A clinical sociology perspective. Journal of Applied Social Science, 2(1), 88-93.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Internet addiction: Internet fuels other addictions. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 428-429.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Internet addiction – Time to be taken seriously? Addiction Research, 8, 413-418.

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

Mitchell, P. (2000). Internet addiction: genuine diagnosis or not? The Lancet, 355(9204), 632.

National Day Calendar (2018). National Solitaire Day. Located at: https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-solitaire-day-may-22/

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: A critical review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 31-51.

Young K. (1999). Internet addiction: Evaluation and treatment. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 351-352.

Down in the bumps: A brief look at mpreg (male pregnancy) fetishism

A few weeks ago I read an article in The Hornet entitled ‘10 unusual fetishes and their psychology, from sploshing to male pregnancy’ by Daniel Villarreal. The ten fetishes and sexual paraphilias included (in alphabetical order), (i) amputation fetishes (sexual arousal from the thought of being an amputee [apotemnophilia] and/or sexual arousal from individuals who are amputees – although the article featured just one specific type of amputee fetishism – ‘toe amputation’), (ii) emetophilia (sexual arousal from vomiting), (iii) entomophilia (sexual arousal from bugs and insects), (iv) eproctophilia (sexual arousal from flatulence), (v) looning (sexual arousal from balloons), (vi) macrophilia (sexual arousal from giants), (vii) mpreg fetishism (sexual arousal from male pregnancy), (viii) sploshing (sexual arousal from being ‘wet and messy’ [WAM] and also known as ‘wamming’), (ix) ursusagalmatophilia (sexual arousal from teddy bears), and (x) vorarephilia (sexual arousal from the thought of being eaten often shortened to ‘vore’).

I have covered all of these fetishes and paraphilias in previous articles on my blog with the exception of mpreg fetishism (although I have covered female pregnancy fetishes [maieusiophilia], childbirth fetishism, and impregnation fetishism, as well as an article on Couvade Syndrome [whereby the male partners of pregnant women experience empathetic pregnancy-like symptoms including loss of appetite, morning sickness, constipation, etc. but the male knows he is not pregnant]). According to a 2015 Mamiverse article on strange fetishes:

“While most sexual fetishes are driven by men, mpreg enthusiasts are said to include a lot kinky ladies. It stands for ‘male pregnancy’ and this sexy fetish was said to born from the evolution of gay themed fanfiction, and fangirls somehow taking it to the next level”.

Many aspects of male pregnancy have featured in the national news a lot over the past few years including stories on male pregnancy suits, how new medical procedures such as womb transplants could facilitate male pregnancy, and pregnancy among transgender men such as the UK’s first pregnant men Scott Parker and Hayden Cross (who stopped transitioning so that they could start families) and the film about Jason Barker’s pregnancy (A Deal With The Universe). On top of this, male pregnancy has occasionally featured in the world of entertainment, most notably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pregnancy in the 1994 film Junior (where he gets pregnant as part of a scientific experiment), Billy Crystal’s pregnancy in the 1978 film Rabbit Test, Commander Trip Tucker’s pregnancy in an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, the French film A Slightly Pregnant Man (where a taxi driver suddenly discovers he is four months pregnant), the 2017 comedy MamaBoy, and the and an episode in Futurama where the male alien Kif Kroker gets pregnant (‘Kif Gets Knocked Up A Notch’), as well as Israeli reality TV show Manbirth.

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Based on what I have read online, mpreg in fan fiction is a popular topic and some of the more considered writing about reasons for writing about male pregnancy comes down to a subversion of gender stereotypes. A couple of the better essays I found were by Slayer McCoy (‘Mysogyny and the fetishization of queer identities in fan fiction’) and Lady Geek Girl (‘Sexualized Saturdays: Male pregnancy in fanfiction’). I didn’t agree with everything that was said but they did at least try to look at some reasons for the growth and fascination in mpreg fan fiction. As Lady Geeky Girl opines:

“There is fetishism that happens in many mpreg stories. Now again, this isn’t all that much weirder than porn that shows pregnant women having sex, but that doesn’t make either of them okay. Both fetishize pregnancy, which can be rather demeaning, and mpreg has even fetishized conception… And of course there is one thing all mpreg fics have in common—the male characters are reduced to their biological functions. A biological function that in reality isn’t even theirs. They are magically or “scientifically” changed to be able to give birth and then the entire focus of the fic is on the fact that they are pregnant. Most mpreg fics make the entire focus of the fic on the pregnancy and rarely have any outside plot, putting the entire focus on this pregnancy and baby. Furthermore, these fics often take away the male character’s very identity as a man, not just because he gets pregnant, but usually everything about the character is feminized in the most stereotypical and sexist way possible”.

A couple of years ago, another article by Villarreal in The Hornet briefly looked at mpreg fetishes and featured five videos of “sexy men pretending to be pregnant” with some pretending to be in labour, while briefly overviewing the niche gay pornography Film911 website who specialize in other fetish areas that I have written about including muscle worship, vore, belly button fetishes (alvinophilia), and various aspects of medical fetishism, as well as mpreg fetishism. None of these videos depict gay sex and all of them feature gay models who would never entertain the idea of having gay sex on film. In his 2019 article, Villarreal claims that:

“For some, MPREG is entirely about emotional closeness and intimacy between men; MPREG videos and art show male couples being very sweet, vulnerable and nurturing, something rarely seen in porn. For others, MPREG remains inherently erotic and sexual as it involves literal daddies and breeding. MPREG fantasies can also bleed over into ‘feeder’ fantasies of men growing large with food. The MPREG fetish also contains a noteworthy gender component that idealizes sexual equality”.

Villarreal claims that “MPREG fetishists have dreamed up the idea of a secret ‘male vagina’ hiding directly in the anus with its own female-like reproductive system, though some MPREG babies actually get delivered through the male urethra. There’s even a fantasy taxonomy known as the ‘omegaverse’ where omega ‘carriers’ are impregnated by alpha or beta ‘seeders’. The fantasy sex can involve ‘knotting’ where the top’s penis gets so engorged that it gets trapped in the bottom until climax, much like with dogs. There’s even a lesbian omegaverse where female alphas have female penises”.

The largest online mpreg community is ‘MPREG Central’ and whose administrator goes under the pseudonym ‘Lyric’. Lyric was interviewed by Villarreal and was quoted as saying:

“There is a culture of people out there who are drawn to that idea – men and women who, on some level, wish men could really become pregnant just like women. Some women like the idea of having their man carry and birth their kids, while some gay men wish they could have kids together with their own bodies. [My own reason for getting into MPreg fetishism was a] fascination for stomachs and bellybuttons [and] feeling drawn to the mystery of pregnancy”.

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Academically, there appears to be very little on mpreg fetishism, and what has been published appears to only concentrate on the fan fiction element of mpreg within slash fiction (i.e., a genre of fan fiction that focuses on romantic and/or sexual relationships between fictional characters of the same sex). In a 2018 book chapter by Kristina Busse and Alexis Lothian entitled ‘A history of slash sexualities: Debating queer sex, gay politics and media fan cultures’ (in The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality), there is a section on ‘queerer, kinkier worlds exploring desire’ where MPreg is briefly mentioned but not expanded upon:

“The Fanlore entry for ‘kink’ notes that the term ‘usually refers to various non-normative sexual practices or desires, such as voyeurism, fetishism, and the many activities included under the BDSM umbrella’…Fans may also ‘refer to other, non-sexual preferences as ‘kinks’ meaning particular imagery, story-tropes, or elements that they enjoy so much they are worth considerable effort to find and collect’…Within this frame mpreg and domestic romance become ‘kinks’ whose preference ranks on the same order as love for fiction featuring rope bondage, sexual slavery or water sports”.

Christina Yatrakis wrote a 2013 thesis on fan fiction and again mentioned mpreg in relation to it being a new development among fan fiction writers:

“Within slash communities, new norms or ways of writing have emerged that are widely accepted without much question. Two such creations are male pregnancies (mpreg) and women with male reproductive parts (G!P), either permanently or in lieu of periods. While not all slash readers enjoy, or even accept, these mystical deviations, a subsection of slash producers and consumers have coalesced around these biological anomalies. While there is no record of when such narrative devices first emerged or became common knowledge in different fandoms and online communities, they are no longer only posted on fetish or kink sites. One explanation is that they came from fandoms with supernatural source texts, i.e. Harry Potter or Star Trek. Within a supernatural context, both of these tools can make sense and through their continued reproduction in supernatural fanfics they could have become accepted and spread throughout different fandoms. Additionally, their popularity could be explained by the prevalence of heterosexual girls writing slash fan fiction. By allowing one partner of a same-sex relationship to have natural reproductive abilities, heterosexual female authors can still act out relationship fantasies with childbearing remaining a natural option”.

Kristina Busse also had a chapter on fan fiction in Anne Jamison’s 2013 book Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World. She noted that:

“Mpregs come in all shapes and sizes and, as a result, can fulfil a vast variety of fan desires: a romantic need to create a love child between male lovers, an interest in pregnancy’s emotional and physical fallout on a partnership, or even a fascination with the horrors of forced breeding…mpreg allows a female writer to play out themes of female bodies, concerns of gender in relationships, and issues of reproduction. And she can interrogate all these ideas in a setting that allows for a certain emotional distance by divorcing the pregnancy from the female body. At the same time, one of the criticisms of mpreg is that it often replicates rather than critiques the portrayal of women by embracing stereotypical gender roles”.

Based on my own brief research into the topic, there doesn’t appear to be any empirical evidence as to the popularity or prevalence of individuals’ involvement in mpreg fetishism. Reading about mpreg doesn’t itself mean that readers have a fetish concerning it although membership of online forums suggest small but dedicated communities that love all things mpreg.

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

Further reading

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

Busse, K. (2013). Pon Farr, mpreg, bonds, and the rise of the omegaverse. In A. Jamison (Ed.), Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World (pp. 316-322). BenBella Books.

Busse, K. & Lothian, A. (2018). A history of slash sexualities: Debating queer sex, gay politics and media fan cultures. In: Smith, C., Attwood, F. & McNair, B. (Eds.). The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality. Oxford: Routledge

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.

Lady Geek Girl (2012). Sexualized Saturdays: Male pregnancy in fanfiction. October 13. Located at: https://ladygeekgirl.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/sexualized-saturdays-male-pregnancy-in-fanfiction/

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

Mamiverse (2015). 10 kinds of sexual fetishism that make you say WTF? April 12. Located at: http://mamiverse.com/crazy-forms-of-fetishism-90424/7/

McCoy, S. (2016). Mysogyny and the fetishization of queer identities in fan fiction. WattPad.com. Located at: https://www.wattpad.com/692573853-misogyny-and-the-fetishization-of-queer-identities/page/8

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.

Villarreal, D. (2016). 5 videos of sexy men pretending to be pregnant. The Hornet, April 28. Located at: https://hornet.com/stories/5-videos-of-sexy-men-pretending-to-be-pregnant/

Villarreal, D. (2019). 10 unusual fetishes and their psychology, from sploshing to male pregnancy. The Hornet, March 19. Located at: https://hornet.com/stories/10-unusual-fetishes/

Yatrakis, C. (2013). Fan fiction, fandoms, and literature: or, why it’s time to pay attention to fan fiction. College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations. 145. https://via.library.depaul.edu/etd/145

The (not so) beautiful game: A brief look at problematic videogame playing among professional football players

Today’s blog briefly looks at the issue of problematic gaming amongst footballers and whether it is an issue that professional football clubs must take seriously. In a previous article I wrote about gambling (and gambling addiction) among professional footballers which has become a well-known issue over the last couple of decades. The reasons for why professional footballers gamble have similarities to why they play videogames.

It is the night before a big match. Professional football players are confined to staying in a hotel. No sex. No alcohol. No junk food. Basically, no access to all the things they might love. To pass time, footballers may watch television, play cards for money, or play a video game believing these are ‘healthier’ for them. The difficulty in detecting problematic gaming is likely to be one factor in its growth over other forms of potential addiction – especially as many players are more health-conscious and the testing for alcohol and drugs is now more rigorous. However, any of these ‘healthier’ activities when taken to excess can cause problems. Many years ago, England goalkeeper David James once claimed his loss of form was because of his round-the-clock video game playing. In short, the top players are very well paid and inevitably have lots of time on their hands.

During my career, I have been asked a handful of times by the press to comment on why footballers play videogames. For instance, I was recently interviewed by The i newspaper about the medical consequences of excessive gaming after a story emerged that Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil frequent back problems may have been related to the excessive amount of time he spent playing Fortnite (at least according to Professor Ingo Frobose at the Sport University Cologne in Germany).

mesut-ozil

Although the English Football Association has strict rules on gambling by footballers, there are none (as far as I am aware) on the playing of videogames (and to be honest there is no real need to do so). There are many reasons why footballers may gamble or play videogames to excess compared to other less ‘healthy’ behaviours like excessive drinking or drug taking. It is a shame that addictions to drugs and alcohol tend to generate more sympathy among the general public as many people view gambling and gaming as self-inflicted vices. But gambling or gaming to excess can be just as destructive because of the huge consequences on time and/or money.

According to a story earlier this week in The Sun newspaper, an “English football star” (who wanted to remain anonymous so as not to damage his reputation) had allegedly been playing the Fortnite videogame for up to 16 hours a day which he said was threatening his career (and his relationship) and causing him to miss training sessions. He also claimed there are many more in the sport” just like him. By speaking out about the issue, his motive is to “raise awareness about an addiction which has been described as a ‘silent epidemic’ in football”. The Sun claimed that the footballer’s story was “likely to resonate with dozens of his fellow professionals, who also while away their free time on consoles”. Other footballers such as Mesut Ozil and Harry Kane have claimed to big fans of playing Fortnite. The Sun also claimed that the Professional Footballers’ Association had been contacted by football clubs concerned about the amount of gaming habits by players. In the footballer’s interview with The Sun, he said that:

 “[My] gaming has become a massive problem. When I get back from training, the first thing I do is turn the Xbox on to play Fortnite. I play for about eight to ten hours a day, but I once played 16 hours non-stop the day before a match. When we have away matches and we travel by coach, I am gaming from the moment we leave and then I carry on in my hotel room at night. It is quite normal for me to stay up playing until two o’clock or three o’clock in the morning. I get a lot of eye strain, I am tired the next day and I miss training sometimes. When I started missing training, that was when I knew I needed help as I was getting in trouble from my club. This has been going on for about a year now. If I get told to come off the game, I am sometimes quite aggressive. I have mood swings. If I keep gaming, I worry that it could potentially finish my career. It is also affecting my relationship with my girlfriend because I play on the Xbox instead of seeing her…I think some of my team-mates need help as well. About 50 per cent of our squad are into gaming. And I know they play for a lot of hours because I play Fortnite with them – as well as with players from other clubs.”

The Sun also spoke to the footballer’s psychotherapist Steve Pope. He is currently treating five professional footballers who have problematic gaming and he was quoted as saying:

“Over the last few years, we have probably treated more than 20 footballers for this problem alone. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. They are all at it. It is the biggest scourge of our times. It’s a silent epidemic because footballers can’t be tested for it. I don’t think clubs realise what a big problem this is and the debilitating effect excessive gaming has on a player’s psyche. They wouldn’t let a footballer have a bottle of vodka in their hotel room the night before a game, so why would they let him loose with an Xbox?…If it’s a national problem, which gaming is, then why shouldn’t it affect footballers who have hours and hours to kill on planes, trains and coaches, and then sit in hotel rooms by themselves? For footballers, the real appeal about computer games is that, unlike with other addictions, they can’t be tested for it. It is a problem that needs to be outed to save players’ careers”.

Pope then went on to say:

“Footballers have an addictive personality because that’s what makes them good at their job. From an early age at academies, they are conditioned to work for a high, whether that is making a great pass or scoring a great goal. That is the work-for high. The brain likes that feeling, likes that elation, likes that rush. But if they are not getting that high from football, they are getting it from something else – alcohol, drugs, gambling or gaming. That is the lazy high. Footballers are trained to be competitive and with the kind of games they are playing, Fortnite or Fifa, they are continually in a competition. It’s a follow on from playing football. The trouble is they are playing the games all night and use up all their happy chemicals so their brain is imbalanced. So come the match the following day, they are as flat as a pancake. They are a jangled wreck, trying to clear their head. When I worked in-house at Fleetwood, we banned game stations the night before matches. I would walk the hotel corridors at night time nicking PlayStations and Xboxes to stop them using them”.

Whilst I don’t subscribe to the idea of an addictive personality, much of what Pope says I agree with. It’s not hard to see how professional footballers can get hooked into gaming. Consequently, time rich and money rich young footballers need to be educated about the potential downsides of excessive videogame playing.

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

Further reading

Coverdale. D. (2019). Football’s silent addiction: Gaming makes me aggressive and I’m worried it’ll end my career. The Sun, march 28. Located at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/8735239/football-silent-addiction-gaming-fortnight-addiction-career/

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). All in the game. Inside Edge: The Gambling Magazine, July (Issue 28), p. 67.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction among footballers: causes and consequences. World Sports Law Report, 8(3), 14-16.

Wigmore, T. (2018). If Mesut Ozil really is addicted to Fortnite then Arsenal have a problem. The i, December 14. Located at: https://inews.co.uk/sport/football/mesut-ozil-fortnite-addicted-gaming-arsenal-injury-news/