Category Archives: Compulsion

Fight club: A brief look at erotic wrestling fetishes

In a previous blog on sthenolagnia (i.e., sexual pleasure and arousal from ‘muscle worship’), I briefly mentioned the overlap with erotic wrestling. In fact, in Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, she specifically refers to sthenolagnia in her entry on ‘wrestling’ for erotic purposes. If you type ‘wrestling fetish’ into Google the first dozen or more pages displays hundreds of dedicated websites that feature pornographic video clips of erotic wrestling. These include websites such as Erotic Vixen’s Wrestling, Wrestling Fetish Club, and Academy Wrestling, as well as a dedicated Facebook site Erotic Wrestling (please be warned that clicking on any of these links will take you to sites featuring explicit sexual content). The Fetish House website is one of many websites that advertises erotic female wrestling services to potential paying customers (presumably male but from what I saw they are happy for paying female customers also). The website says:

“We have left a room fairly sparsely equipped specifically for wrestling purposes. In order to minimise injury we have padded gymnastic mats on which to roll around. Your wrestling partner may be dressed in lingerie or leotards. For your safety and also for the preservation of the mats we do not wear high heeled boots or shoes during wrestling sessions. You wouldn’t want to have an eye gouged out by accident just because you liked the look of your savage Dominatrix in stilettos! You can opt to wrestle on a bed if you prefer for very light sessions, but extra care will need to be taken to not fall from the bed or cause damage to any item in the room. Wrestling sessions are strictly by appointment only. They are extremely physical and therefore have a higher price. Your Mistress, more often than not, will have to completely re-do her hair and makeup after a wrestling session which, of course, takes extra time. Remember that, even though your Mistress may be extremely strong for a female, you are to always allow Her to win – even though you believe at times you may be able to overpower Her. These are the rules of wrestling! The only time it would be acceptable to win during a wrestling bout with a female from Fetish House is when she is a submissive and has consented to this activity before the commencement of the session”

There are clearly overlaps with sexual masochism and there are female domination websites that also cater for those who have erotic wrestling fantasies and fetishes (such as the Get Your Ass In The Ring website). In addition, there is plenty of erotic wrestling fan fiction such as that housed at the Literotica website, as well as various books such as Nikki Novak’s Bring It, Bitch: The Secret Life of a Catfighter Exposed and DVDs such as Women’s Erotic Wrestling: Hardcore Booty Battle and Extreme Chick Fights – Barely Legal. It’s also worth mentioning that in addition to the hundreds of websites catering for heterosexual wrestling fetishes, there are a fair few out there for gay men too (such as the Fight Lads and Bonesutra websites – again be warned that these are sexually explicit should you click on the hyperlinks).

Finding something more academically based has proved much harder to come by, and even finding online self-confessions were hard to come by, but I came across these two:

Extract 1: “I can’t exactly remember where in my life it stemmed from. But I am turned on by women defeating men in wrestling. And this is a fetish I’m very immersed in. I’m still trying real hard to find a girl to do this with me, but I haven’t had any luck yet. I had some girlfriends in the past, but they preferred not to play it out with me. I guess my ultimate fantasy is being trapped in a girl’s head scissor while she’s wearing a leotard. I think the head scissor thrills me the most because in a sense its a very erotic and humiliating hold. And no – don’t tell me to go see a dom[anatrix] because that’s not my thing. Also I can’t meet up with a women session wrestler, because I have no money at the moment”

Extract 2: “I have a wrestling fetish, Like as in erotic wrestling I can’t seem to find any other women into this? Am I weird? Are there any other women out there into putting a man in between their thigh’s and making him do what they want and vise versa?”

In my previous blog on sthenolagnia and muscle worshippers, I noted that such individuals can derive sexual arousal from simply touching those with highly visible muscles (often referred to as the ‘dominator’ – and typically a fitness instructor, bodybuilder, wrestler, etc.). The various tactile activities that can facilitate sexual pleasure include rubbing, massaging, kissing, licking, and/or other more diverse activities including lifting, carrying, and (in the context of this blog) engaging in wrestling moves. The first academic paper that I located that even mentioned erotic wrestling fetishes was a 1984 paper by Dr. Joseph Slade in the Journal of Communication. Slade examined the history of violence in hard-core pornographic film. The reference was only a passing reference about film content, and noted:

“Men ‘punish’ a female for teasing or flirting, for masturbating, or for copulating with another man or woman. Women may spank other women (a bow to the women-wrestling fetish) or humiliate men, taunting their impotence or ordering them to perform acts of submission”.

Dr. Joseph Cautela published a paper in a 1986 issue of the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry that presented a behavioural analysis of a fetish via an interview transcript of a therapy session with a 31-yr-old male who became aroused when he thought about boys’ feet. Obviously the man being treated was primarily a podophile (foot fetishist) with paedophile interests. However, the interview transcript makes clear that the man had masturbatory fantasies about wrestling with boys. However, Dr. Cautela simply pointed out that the pairing of sexual arousal via masturbation while thinking about wrestling with boys only strengthened the associative link and strengthened the persistence of the fetish.

In my previous blog on muscle worshippers, I made reference to a book by H.A. Carson called A Roaring Girl: An Interview with the Thinking Man’s Hooker. Part of that book focused on the ‘muscle girl’ phenomenon, and the interviewee was asked by Carson whether many of her clients fantasize about female bodybuilders. She replied also by making reference to erotic wrestling. More specifically she noted that:

“Female bodybuilders call their groupies schmoos, and a lot of schmoos pay…Most of [them] were into wrestling – you know: the Chyna Syndrome, i.e., the fantasy of being bodyslammed by a muscular woman. But a lot of them are into body and muscle worship”.

In 2008, Dr. Niall Richardson published a paper in the Journal of Gender Studies with a punning title I would have been proud of (i.e., ‘Flex-rated! Female bodybuilding: feminist resistance or erotic spectacle?’). Richardson noted:

“One of the fastest growing forms of erotic representation is the newly-christened form of sexual fetishism termed ‘muscle-worship’ – a form of sexual fetishism which has only recently reached public attention through the new-found availability of videos/DVDs and, most significantly, the Internet…[Various sites sell] videos and DVDs of flexing or wrestling ‘Amazons’, ‘Valkyries’ or ‘Muscle Goddesses’…Like all forms of fetishism, muscle-worship is about the adoration of the fetish object itself rather than copulation. As Krafft-Ebing described, for the fetishist, ‘the fetish itself (rather than the person associated with it) becomes the exclusive object of sexual desire’ and therefore ‘instead of coitus, strange manipulations of the fetish’ are the sexual goal (Krafft-Ebing quoted in Steele 1996, p. 11). For muscle-worshippers, oiling up and massaging muscles, watching a bodybuilder flexing (especially seeing the muscle bulge and swell) and displaying feats of strength is not necessarily a precursor to copulation. Instead, the activity of muscle-worship is, for muscle-worshippers, the satisfying sexual act”.

This extract implies there is some crossover between muscle worship and wrestling fetishes (and appears to have good face validity). However, from all the reading that I have done there appears to be almost no psychological overlap between wrestling fetishes and mud wrestling as the latter is rooted far more in ‘wet and messy’ fetishism and salirophilia as apposed to muscle worship and sthenolagnia, although in the absence of empirical data I might be completely wrong. However, as with many paraphiliac and fetishistic behaviours I have examined, we know nothing about the prevalence or etiology of the behaviour.

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

Further reading

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

Carson, H.A. (2010). A Roaring Girl: An interview with the Thinking Man’s Hooker. Bloomington, IN: Author House.

Cautela, J.R. (1986). Behavioral analysis of a fetish: First interview. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 17, 161-165.

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

Novak, N. (2010). Bring It, Bitch: The Secret Life of a Catfighter Exposed and New Tradition Books.

Richardson, N. (2008): Flex-rated! Female bodybuilding: feminist resistance or erotic spectacle? Journal of Gender Studies, 17, 289-301

Sex and the University (2008). Sthenolagnia: Muscle fetishism. Located at: http://sexandtheuniversity.wordpress.com/2008/05/28/sthenolagnia-muscle-fetishism/

Joseph W. Slade (1984). Violence in the Hard-core Pornographic Film: A Historical Survey. Journal of Communication, 34, 148-163.

Steele, V. (1996). Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wikipedia (2012). Muscle worship. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscle_worship

Disarray of light: A brief look at ‘chaos addiction’

A few weeks ago, three independent things happened that has led me to writing this article. Firstly, I received an email from one of my blog readers who wrote:

“I’m a recovering addict. I still find that hard to admit even after time in therapy and the support of my loved ones, but to say it out loud can sometimes be a help. One part of my therapy, which really did strike a chord was something called ‘Chaos Addiction’. It was suggested to me that my addictive behaviors were fueled by a need to constantly have things in my life that were ‘in flux’ – to experience the ‘predictably unpredictable’. Looking back over my life, it hit home…I’d love it if you might think about sharing this with your site’s readership”.

Secondly, a couple of days later I was given a CD-R by one of my friends that included the song ‘Addicted to Chaos’ by the group Megadeth (from their 1994 album Youthanasia). Thirdly, a couple of days after that I was watching the film Chasing Lanes where the lead character in the film Doyle Gipson (played by Samuel L Jackson) is told by his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor (played by William Hurt) that he was ‘addicted to chaos’ rather than alcohol.

I have never come across the term ‘chaos addiction’ prior to the email I was sent. As far as I am aware, there has never been any empirical research on the topic although Dr. Keith Lee did write a 2007 book (Addicted to chaos: The journey from extreme to serene) of his own experiences on the topic. Using case studies, the book examines individuals that have become “addicted to intensity out of the chaos and toward mind/body harmony, higher consciousness, and a deeply spiritual transformation”. More specifically:

“In a culture where the ‘extreme theme’ has become the norm, people are increasingly seduced into believing that intensity equals being alive. When that happens, the mind becomes wired for drama and the soul is starved of meaningful purpose. This type of life may produce heart-pounding excitement, but the absence of this addictive energy can bring about withdrawal, fear, and restlessness that is unbearable”.

In researching this article I came across a number of online articles dealing with ‘addiction to chaos’. The term has been applied to the actress Lindsay Lohan following a television interview with Oprah Winfrey (and the many articles that followed that honed in on her ‘addiction to chaos).

A short piece in Business Week by Clate Mask claimed that it is entrepreneurs that are frequently addicted to chaos (based on his “experiences and observations working with thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs over the years” along with his top three signs he sees as being addicted to chaos: (i) their business life revolves around the in-box, (ii) they can’t step away from the business, (ii) they are strangely proud they have so little free time. Clate then goes on to claim that:

“If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, you are probably addicted to chaos. Get help. Business ownership should bring you more time, money, and control. If you’re not getting that, make some changes to your mindset and your business systems so you can find the freedom you were looking for when you started your business in the first place”.

However, to me, this appears to be more like addiction to work rather than addiction to chaos (see ‘Further reading’ below for my papers on workaholism).

An online article by Silvia Mordini discussed about her personal experiences and how she now uses yoga to provide grounding and stability in her life. (In fact, there are quite a few papers on treating addictions with yoga including a recent systematic review of randomized control trials by Paul Posadski and his colleagues in the journal Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies – see ‘Further reading’ below). As Mordini confessed:

“My past addiction to chaos simply hurt me too much. I got sick of the constant mental tug-o-war with myself.  I’m not interested in feeling impatient with one thought and having to pull or push at the next one. Impatience promotes chaos and doesn’t feel good. The antidote to this is patience. Patience feels good. It feels like a return to mental stability no matter the chaos around us or what other people are thinking or doing…[The grounding that yoga brings] serves us as a simplifying force in order to stabilize our minds. When grounded, we plug back into our best selves and become fully present and balanced. Our energy stabilizes. Once centered, we are able to clearly see the circumstances of our lives. We no longer over-respond or over-worry because the static noise of chaos doesn’t pull us apart”.

She then goes on to provide her readers with five practical ways to promote stability and overcome addiction to chaos: (i) practice yoga, (ii) meditate, (iii) use a mantra (she suggests “I will let go of the need to be needed/I will let go of the need to be accepted/I will let go of the need to be accomplished), unplug from technology, and (v) get your hands and feet dirty (do some gardening, go for a walk on the beach, etc.). Obviously there is no clinical research confirming that these strategies would help overcome ‘chaos addiction’ but engaging in them certainly won’t do anyone any harm.

Another online article (‘Addicted to Chaos’) by addiction counselor Rita Barsky notes that many addicts grew up within dysfunctional families and noted:

“We never felt safe in our family of origin and the only thing we knew for sure was that nothing was for sure. Life was totally unpredictable and we became conditioned to living in chaos. When I talk about chaos in our lives, it was often not the kind that can be seen. In fact, many alcoholic/addict mothers were also super controllers and on the surface, our lives appeared to be perfect. The unsafe and chaotic living conditions of our lives were not visible or obvious to the outside world. Despite the appearance of everything being under control, we experienced continued chaos, developed a tolerance for chaos and I believe became addicted to chaos. I think it is important to say I have never done a scientific experiment to investigate this theory. It is based on observation of numerous alcoholic/addicts and their behavior”.

This was clearly written from experience and appears to have some face validity. Interestingly, Barsky then goes on to say:

“During the recovery process life becomes more manageable and less chaotic. The alcoholic/addict begins to feel a sense of autonomy and safety. A feeling of calm settles over their life. The paradox for the alcoholic/addict is that feeling calm is so unfamiliar it induces anxiety. There is a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop. When there is a crisis, whether real or perceived, we actually experience a physical exhilaration and it feels remarkably like being active. From there it can be a very short distance to a relapse. Even if we don’t pick up we are not in a sober frame of mind. Addiction to chaos can be very damaging. Once engaged in someone else’s crisis we abandon ourselves and often develop resentments, especially if it is someone we love or are close to. Family chaos is the ‘best’ because it’s so familiar and we can really get off on it. When there is a crisis with family or friends we feel compelled to listen to every sordid detail and/or take action. We are unable to let go, we need to be in the mix even though it is painful and upsetting. It requires tremendous effort to detach and not jump in with both feet to the detriment to our well being”.

I find this account compelling because it’s written by someone that appears to have gone through this herself, and has now applied her therapeutic expertise retrospectively to understand the underlying psychology of what was occurring at the height of the addiction. Another compelling account is at Molly Field’s Yoga Blog.

“My object of desire is Chaos. My therapist told me at the end of my first session ever that I have a Chaos addiction…I’m not kidding: this stuff’s insidious. If it weren’t for my awareness of my ability to lose my temper over little-seeming things (aka scars from my past), I’d never know about the Addiction to Chaos. It’s because I grew up with it, was surrounded by it and trained by some of the world’s finest Chaos foments that I became one myself…My relationship with Chaos had become so much a part of my fabric of being that if I didn’t sense it, I would make it”.

Finally, I’ll leave you with the only tool that I have come across that claims to provide a diagnostic indication of whether someone is addicted to chaos. I need to point out that this came from the website of former psychologist Phil McGraw, the US television host of Dr. Phil. I have reproduced everything below verbatim (so when it says that “you are addicted to chaos” if you endorsed five or more of the ten items, that is the view of Dr. Phil – whenever I have co-developed a scale, I at least add the words “You may have a problem” rather than “You have got a problem”).

“While most people try to avoid drama, research shows that others have figured out how to trigger the body’s stress response, just for the rush. Take the test and find out if you’re creating chaos in your everyday life!

Directions: Answer the following questions ‘True’ or ‘False’

  • Do you usually yell and scream to make your point?
  • Do you ramp things up to win every argument? 

  • If you get sick, do you feel that EVERYONE should know about it?
  • 
When you argue, do you ever break things or knock them over? 

  • Does being calm or bored sound like the worst thing to you? 

  • Do you ever yell at strangers if you feel that they are in your way? 

  • Do you hate it when you are not the center of attention? 

  • Is there usually a crisis to solve in your life? 

  • Do you break up or threaten a break up with a mate often? 

  • Are you usually the one who starts fights?

Results: If you answered ‘True’ to five or more of the questions above, you are addicted to chaos”

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

Further reading

Barsky, R. (2007). Addicted to Chaos. A Sober Mind, December 2. Located at: http://asobermind.blogspot.co.uk/2007/12/addicted-to-chaos.html

Field, M. (2012). Recovering from an addiction to chaos. The Yoga Blog, April 7. Located at: http://www.theyogablog.com/recovering-from-addiction/

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Workaholism is still a useful construct Addiction Research and Theory, 13, 97-100.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Workaholism: A 21st century addiction. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 24, 740-744.

Griffiths, M.D. & Karanika-Murray, M. (2012). Contextualising over-engagement in work: Towards a more global understanding of workaholism as an addiction. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1(3), 87-95.

Jakub, L. Addicted to chaos: Oprah’s interview with Lindsay Lohan. Hello Giggles, August 19. Located at: http://hellogiggles.com/addicted-to-chaos-oprahs-interview-with-lindsay-lohan

Kramer, L. (2015). Are you addicted to chaos? Recovery.org, January, 15. Located at: http://www.recovery.org/pro/articles/are-you-addicted-to-chaos/

Lee, J.K. (2007). Addicted to chaos: The journey from extreme to serene. Transformational Life Coaching and Consultancy.

Mask, C. (2011). Three signs you’re addicted to chaos. Business Week, March 18. Located at: http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/tips/archives/2011/03/three_signs_you_are_addicted_to_chaos.html

Posadzki, P., Choi, J., Lee, M. S., & Ernst, E. (2014). Yoga for addictions: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 19(1), 1-8.

Mordini, S. (2013). Are you addicted to chaos and drama? Mind Body Green, January 15. Located at: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-7395/are-you-addicted-to-chaos-and-drama.html

More tales of heads: A brief look at suicidal decapitation

In a previous blog, I examined non-suicidal decapitations and said that I would look at suicidal decapitations in a future blog (so this is it). In that previous article, I made reference to a paper by Dr. B. Kumral and colleagues who evaluated medico-legal deaths due to decapitation in the Romanian Journal of Legal Medicine. Their paper confirmed that such deaths were indeed rare events in the civilian population accounting for approximately 0.1% of medico-legal autopsies. However, they also reported that the most common method of suicidal decapitation was people jumping in front of trains. Other suicidal decapitation methods included suicidal hanging, vehicle-assisted ligature suicide, and in extremely rare cases, decapitation by guillotine. They carried out a retrospective study investigating characteristic features of decapitation deaths using data collected a 10-year period in autopsies carried out in Istanbul (Turkey).

“A total of 36,270 forensic autopsies were performed over the period of the study and in 19 cases, the bodies were found to be decapitated (0.05%). The age range of decapitated bodies was 18 to 71 years (average 39.1 years), with a male to female ratio of 13/6. There was only one case of suicide and the way used for suicide was a mechanism like guillotine. In this case, a guillotine-like device designed by male victim had been used for deliberately decapitating the body. The age of the suicide case was 41 years”.

A similar study in South Australia by Dr. R.W. Byard and Dr. J.D. Gilbert investigated the characteristic features of deaths due to decapitation between 1986 and 2002 (published 2004 in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology). They reported that suicidal decapitation accounted for less than 1% of total suicides and showed “a striking male predominance”, with the favoured method (as with the Turkish study) being the jumping in front of trains.

A paper published in a 2004 issue of Forensic Science International, headed (no pun intended) by Dr. M. Tsokos analysed the phenomenology and morphology of 10 cases of suicidal decapitation (six male, four female; aged 18-60 years). Eight of the suicides involved decapitation by jumping in front of a train, with the remaining two being suicidal hangings. The paper concluded that:

“In suicidal hanging resulting in complete decapitation, the wound margins were clear-cut with an adjacent sharply demarcated circumferential band-like abrasion zone showing a homogenous width, the latter determined by the thickness of the rope. In decapitations due to railway interference a broad spectrum of pathologic alterations such as the co-existence of irregular, ragged and sharp-edged wound margins, vascular and nervous pathways forming bridges in the depth of the wound and bruising could be observed. In such cases skin abrasion zones were generally not circumferential and showed a heterogenous width. Concerning hanging-related complete decapitations, our findings are well in line with those of other authors, namely that heavy body weight of the suicidal, fall from a great height and in some cases inelastic and/or thin rope material used for the noose are the determining factors decisive for complete decapitation”.

Suicidal decapitations by guillotine are rare but do crop up in the forensic literature. For instance, a paper by Dr. Petr Hejna and colleagues in the Journal of Forensic Sciences reported a case of suicidal decapitation. They described the case of a 31-year old male agricultural machinery technician that had built his own guillotine and killed himself (most likely) as a result of extreme psychological distress caused by the death of his father. They reported that:

“The construction of the guillotine was very interesting and sophisticated. The guillotine-like blade with additional weight was placed in a large metal frame. The movement of the blade was controlled by the frame rails. The steel blade was triggered by a tensioned rubber band after releasing the safety catch”.

Given the man’s occupation, it is perhaps unsurprising that he was able to build his own guillotine. Before killing himself, he tested whether it would work by using the guillotine on animal bones. The death was (obviously) almost immediate because of the severe and dramatic loss of blood. What surprised me more was that there were three other cases in the forensic science literature of suicide by guillotine. Two of these are reported in the German literature (so I was unable to read the original papers and have to rely on the descriptions in the paper by Hejna and colleagues). The first case was published in 1994 by Dr. R. Nowak and Dr. S. Seidl. They reported the case of a 21-year-old man that attempted to kill himself by another self-constructed guillotine. The man initially survived but later died because of his serious neck injury caused by the guillotine blade severing the right carotid artery. The second case (that I did manage to track down) was by Dr. K. Shorrock and published in a 2002 issue of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. As Dr. Shorrock reported:

“A recently widowed man constructed a guillotine in the entrance to his cellar, having previously announced his intention to decapitate himself. A neighbor who saw the device from her house alerted the police. The deceased was found completely decapitated, still holding a pair of pliers that he had used to activate the mechanism”

As in the case reported by Dr. Hejna (above), the functionality of the guillotine was tested (with wood rather than animal bone) and he was also a technical engineer. The third case from 2009 (which again I haven’t read because it was in German) by Dr. J. Sidlo and colleagues involved a 56-year-old male locksmith with large financial problems that constructed a small portable guillotine at his home. He successfully decapitated himself.

Suicidal decapitation by hanging appears to be more common than by guillotine. Another paper by Dr. Hejna (with Dr. M. Bohnert) in a 2013 issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences examined cases of suicidal decapitation by hanging. Their paper investigated four cases of suicidal hanging (three of complete decapitation and one of incomplete decapitation). More specifically, they analysed the personal, circumstantial, autopsy, and toxicological data in an attempt to define basic characteristics of such extreme injuries. They made special reference to two known types of injury associated with hangings and asphyxiations (‘Simon’s hemorrhage’ – bleedings that are ‘stripe-like hemorrhages on the ventral surface of the intervertebral discs of the lumbar part of the spinal column’, and air embolisms – air bubbles in the blood system). They concluded that:

“The crucial factor for the state of decapitation itself is the kinetic energy of the falling body, the strength of the human neck tissue, and the diameter and elasticity of the used ligature. Results of [our study] suggest Simon’s hemorrhage and air embolism as useful autopsy findings in posthanging beheading cases. Simon’s hemorrhage was demonstrated in three cases of four. The test for air embolism was positive in all four cases”.

An earlier 1999 case study report by Dr. M. Rothschild and Dr. V. Schneider in Forensic Science International described a 47-year old man that committed suicide by hanging himself from an apartment’s staircase bannister and decapitated his head in the process. They reported that in this case, all the conditions conspired to result in decapitation. More specifically, they noted that “complete decapitation can occur in rare cases under extreme conditions (heavy body weight, inelastic and/or thin rope material, fall from a great height)”.

Dr. B.L. Zhu and colleagues also reported a case of suicidal decapitation by hanging in a 2000 issue of the journal Legal Medicine. Here, the suicidal hanging took place on a river bridge. They noted that:

“The torso and the head of the victim, respectively, were found apart in a river approximately 100m and 600m, respectively, downstream from the bridge in two days…Torn ligaments between the atlas and axis accompanied by fractures in the axis at the partes interarticulares were indicative of a traction force combined with anteroflexion of the head by falling from a height, and the radial pressure due to a strong, single twisted nylon rope with a slip knot was considered to have contributed considerably to the subsequent skin laceration with wavy marginal abrasions”.

Reading through some of the literature in this area does make gruesome reading (and if you read the papers themselves, almost all of the case study reports actually feature the immediate post-mortem scene of death photographs). However, my guess is that most suicides that result in decapitation are not planned that way apart from the rare cases of suicide by guillotine. From a psychological point of view, I would be interested to find out how the psychological make-up of a suicidal guillotine user differed from a suicidal train jumper and a suicidal hanger.

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

Further reading

Byard, R. W., & Gilbert, J. D. (2004). Characteristic features of deaths due to decapitation. The American journal of forensic medicine and pathology, 25(2), 129-130

Hejna, P., & Bohnert, M. (2013). Decapitation in suicidal hanging – Vital reaction patterns. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 58(s1), S270-S277.

Hejna, P., Šafr, M., & Zátopková, L. (2012). Suicidal decapitation by guillotine: case report and review of the literature. Journal of forensic sciences, 57(6), 1643-1645.

Kumral, B., Büyük, Y., Gündogmus, Ü. N., Sahın, E., & Sahın, M. F. (2012). Medico-legal evaluation of deaths due to decapitation. Romanian Journal of Legal Medicine, 20, 251-254.

Rashid, A. F., Aggarwal, A. D., Aggarwal, O. P., & Kaur, B. (2012). Accidental decapitation – An urban legend turned true. Egyptian Journal of Forensic Sciences, 2, 112-114.

Nowak, R. & Seidl, S. (1994). Suizid mit einer guillotine. Arch Kriminol, 193, 147-152.

Rothschild, M. A., & Schneider, V. (1999). Decapitation as a result of suicidal hanging. Forensic Science International, 106, 55-62.

Shorrock, K. (2002). Suicidal decapitation by guillotine: case report. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 23(1), 54-56.

Sidlo, J, Valko, S. & Valent D. (2009). Suizid durch ein ungewçhnliches Hiebinstrument. Rechtsmedizin, 19, 165-167.

Tsokos, M., Türk, E. E., Uchigasaki, S., & Püschel, K. (2004). Pathologic features of suicidal complete decapitations. Forensic Science International, 139(2), 95-102.

Zhu, B. L., Quan, L., Ishida, K., Oritani, S., Taniguchi, M., Fujita, M. Q.,… & Maeda, H. (2000). Decapitation in suicidal hanging – A case report with a review of the literature. Legal Medicine, 2(3), 159-162.

Blood discussed: A brief look at haematophagia

Haematophagia usually refers to the practice of animals feeding on the blood of another species. However, the term has also been applied to humans that consume blood (something that I have referred to in previous blogs on clinical vampirism and menophilia). Most writings on human haematophagia usually refer to the practice in some sexual and/or vampiric capacity (e.g., some individuals in China and Vietnam believe certain types of snake blood are aphrodisiacs and are drunk with rice wine) but haematophagia can also occur for other reasons.

While I working was in Spain, I was taken to one of the best Castilian restaurants, and as part of the starter I was served morcilla sausage. Morcilla sausage is basically a Spanish version of black pudding (aka ‘blood pudding’) and made from pig’s blood. I absolutely loved it. It did make me wonder what other ‘blood’ foods I might enjoy. I did a bit of research into the making of blood sausages and found out that variations of this dish exist in cultures all over the world (e.g., Europe, Asia, and the Americas), and that all kinds of different animals’ blood can be used (including pigs, sheep, cattle, goats, and ducks). According to the Wikipedia entry on human haematophagia:

“Drinking blood and manufacturing foodstuffs and delicacies with animal blood is also a feeding behavior in many societies. Cow blood mixed with milk, for example, is a mainstay food of the African Massai. Some sources say that Mongols would drink blood from one of their horses if it became a necessity. Black pudding is eaten in many places around the world. Some societies, such as the Moche, had ritual hematophagy, as well as the Scythians, a nomadic people of Russia, who had the habit of drinking the blood of the first enemy they would kill in battle…Psychiatric cases of patients performing hematophagy also exist. Sucking or licking one’s own blood from a wound is also a behavior commonly seen in humans, and in small enough quantities is not considered taboo. Finally, human vampirism has been a persistent object of literary and cultural attention”

There a numerous YouTube videos of the African Massai (in Tanzania) drinking blood directly from the necks of live cattle (such as here and here). Cattle blood drinking typically occurs after special celebrations (such as births, ritual circumcisions, etc.), but the special occasions are not compulsory for blood drinking to occur. The cattle are never killed and the cuts made to drink blood from appear to heal quickly. One report on the Environmental Graffiti website described the practice:

“Half a dozen Maasai warriors wrestle with the struggling cow. Another waits with his bow drawn, arrow at the ready. Finally, they have the straining animal in position. The warrior with the weapon shoots straight for the bovine’s jugular. Warm blood gushes into a waiting bucket, pumped out by the animal’s still-beating heart. The blood keeps flowing, almost filling the container, before the cow is released – its punctured neck sealed with a dab of cow dung. It will live to see another day. Its’ blood-donating job is done, at least for another month. The Maasai men who perform this blood-draining ritual do not intend to kill, or even harm, the animal. They merely want some of its nourishing crimson fluid to drink”.

Another Wikipedia entry focusing on blood as food notes that in addition to blood sausages, animal blood has also been used to thicken, colour, and/or flavour sauces and gravies, and for various types of blood soup (such as ‘czernina’ in Poland, ‘papas de sarrabulho’ in Portugal, and ‘svartsoppa’ made with goose blood in Sweden). Although blood is a taboo food in some cultures, in others it is perfectly acceptable – particularly in times when food has been scarce. Other cultures have other blood foods including blood pancakes (in Scandinavian and Baltic countries), blood tofu (China, Thailand, Vietnam), blood cake (Taiwan), blood potato dumplings (‘blodpalt’ made with reindeer blood in Sweden) and blood bread (‘paltbrod’ in Sweden). Additionally, Wikipedia noted that:

“Blood can also be used as a solid ingredient, either by allowing it to congeal before use, or by cooking it to accelerate the process. In Hungary when a pig is slaughtered in the morning the blood is fried with onions and is served for breakfast. In China, ‘blood tofu’ is most often made with pig’s or duck’s blood, although chicken’s or cow’s blood may also be used. The blood is allowed to congeal and simply cut into rectangular pieces and cooked. This dish is also known in Java as saren, made with chicken’s or pig’s blood. Blood tofu is found in curry mee as well as the Sichuan dish, maoxuewang. In Tibet, congealed yak’s blood is a traditional food”.

The Tanzanian Massai people are not the only culture to consume uncooked animal blood products. For instance, Inuits living in the Arctic Circle consume seal blood and believe it to have health and social benefits. According to a paper on consuming seal blood in a 1991 issue of Medical Anthropology Quarterly, seal blood is “seen as fortifying human blood by replacing depleted nutrients and rejuvenating the blood supply, [and] is considered a necessary part of the Inuit diet”. Another academic paper by Dr. Edmund Searles in a 2002 issue of the journal Food and Foodways reported that in relation to the drinking of seal blood: Inuit food generates a strong flow of blood, a condition considered to be healthy and indicative of a strong body”. Historically, there are accounts of Irish people bleeding cattle as a preventative measure against cattle diseases. The Wikipedia entry on blood as food claims that the Irish mixed the drawn blood with butter, herbs, oats or meal” to provide a “nutritious emergency food”.

During my research I also came across a story in The Atheist Times (with photographic evidence) of Hindus engaged in the practice of decapitating and drinking goat blood directly from its body (a blood sacrifice). The report claimed the practice was widely prevalent throughout India and Malaysia. These Hindus believe that the Hindu goddess Kali descends upon those drinking the goat’s blood.

Staying on the religious theme, there are (of course) many (arguably ‘mainstream’) simulated acts of haemotphagia – most notably in various religious ceremonies and rituals. The most obvious is in the transubstantiation of wine as the blood of Jesus Christ during Christian Eucharist (where religious followers believe they are drinking the blood of Christ). Various religions engage in such pseudo-haemotophagic practices including the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, some Anglican, and Lutheran churches. (Other religions are the exact opposite and consider the drinking of blood taboo such as Jewish and Muslim cultures).

As this brief review demonstrates, non-sexual and non-vampiric human haematophagia and pseudo-haematophagia appear to be common and widespread in many cultures and countries. Academic research on the topic appears to be limited although it certainly warrants further investigation.

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

Further reading

Borré, K. (1991). Seal blood, Inuit blood, and diet: A biocultural model of physiology and cultural identity. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 5, 48-62.

Davidson, A (2006). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Searles, E. (2002). Food and the making of modern Inuit identities. Food and Foodways, 10(1-2), 55-78.

Wikipedia (2013). Blood as food. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_as_food

Wikipedia (2013). Hematophagy. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hematophagy

Flying ‘high’: A brief look at ‘binge flying’ and ‘flying addiction’

As part of my job I do a lot of travel. It’s an occupational necessity. Last year alone I did over 20 work trips abroad that comprised over 50 flights (such as the six flights that I had to take to get to a conference in Uruguay and then back to the UK). One of my research colleagues at a conference in Taiwan jokingly accused me of being ‘addicted’ to flying. Nothing could be further from the truth. For me, flying is little more than a way to get from A to B. However, I have tried to turn my experiences into something more positive and have written a number of short articles providing tips about flying and travelling abroad for outlets such as the British Medical Journal and the PsyPAG Quarterly (see ‘Further Reading’ below).

However, there are a few papers in the academic literature that have proposed the idea of ‘binge flying’ and ‘flying addiction’ in the Annals of Tourism Research. One British research team (Drs. Scott Cohen, James Higham and Christina Cavaliere) have written various papers on flying, particularly the dilemma that many business travellers face in wanting to be ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ but knowing that the amount of flying they are doing is contributing to climate change and leaving a ‘carbon footprint’.

One of the papers published by Cohen and his colleagues was entitled ‘Binge flying: Behavioural addiction and climate change’. In their introduction to the topic, the authors referenced my 1996 paper in the Journal of Workplace Learning on behavioural addictions to argue there was now evidence that many behaviours could be potentially addictive even without the ingestion of a psychoactive substance. They then went on to say:

“[Two] articles in the popular press have further implicated frequent tourist air travel as a practice that may constitute behavioural addiction (Hill, 2007; Rosenthal, 2010). In stark contrast to most behavioural addictions, which are characterised by severe negative consequences for individuals directly, the destructive outcome attributable to excessive flying is premised upon air travel’s growing contribution to global climate change. Both Burns and Bibbings (2009) and Randles and Mander (2009) cite Hill’s (2007) interview in ‘The Observer’ with ‘Rough Guides’ founder Mark Ellingham, who coins the term ‘binge flying’ in critiquing the public’s growing appetite for holidays accessed through air travel”.

They also used my 1996 paper to make a number of points to support their premise that excessive flying can be conceptualized as an addiction. More specifically, they noted:

“Griffiths (1996) notes that behavioural addictions may have ‘normative ambiguity’, in that moderate use is accepted but stigma can result from over-enactment of the behaviour, or compulsive consumption (Hirschman, 1992)…Even though addictions are typically conceptualised as purely negative, Griffiths (1996) distinguishes a number of possible addiction benefits that individuals may perceive, such as changes of mood and feelings of escape, positive experiences of pleasure, excitement, relaxation, disinhibition of behaviour and the activity as a source of identity and/or meaning in life…Not only does excessive tourist air travel meet this basic criterion of behavioural addiction where longer-term outlooks are sacrificed for immediate gratification, but tourist experiences also supply many of the psychological benefits that Griffiths (1996) uses to characterise sites of potential behavioural addiction. These include feelings of escape, heightened experiences of pleasure and excitement (a ‘buzz’ or ‘rush’), relaxation, disinhibition of behaviour and the activity as an arena for identity work and searching for meaning in life”.

To support their argument that flying can be an addiction, they assert there are three key characteristics that can be found in addictive behavior that can be applied to flying: (i) a drive or urge to engage in the behaviour, (ii) a denial of the harmful consequences of the behaviour, and (iii) a failure in attempts to modify the behaviour. As regular readers of my blog will know, I operationally define addictive behaviour as comprising six components (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse), and as such, flying would be unlikely to be classed as an addiction by my own criteria. The authors interviewed 30 participants as part of their research but little of the qualitative data presented made any reference to addiction or elements of addictive behaviour. They somehow concluded that:

“Continued movement in consumer discourses towards a mainstream negative perception of the practice of holiday frequent flying may eventually find tourism consumption the further subject of query as an addictive phenomenon. Frequent air travel may then join gambling, smoking, shopping, video games and Internet use, (Clark & Calleja, 2008), amongst others, as ‘pathologised’ sites of behavioural addiction that reflect society’s (re)positioning of certain types of behaviour as socially dysfunctional”.

The concept of ‘binge flying’ and ‘flying addiction’ were more recently critiqued by Dr. Martin Young and colleagues in a 2014 issue of the Annals of Tourism Research. Their view closely matches my own view (and they also cite my 1996 paper on behavioural addictions) when they asserted:

“We take issue with the application of a behavioural addiction framework in the context of consumption generally, and frequent flying specifically. We argue that while the conceptual lens of behavioural addiction may be seductive to some (cf. Hill, 2007), it is, in contrast to the position of Cohen et al. (2011), ultimately counterproductive to the development of a meaningful critical response to the question of frequent flying and environmental damage… There is, of course, a deep irony in even trying to view frequent flying through the lens of addiction. Tourism, traditionally the realm of freedom, unconstraint and abandon (Crompton, 1979; Sharpley, 2003) is now recast as a pathology, associated with the pernicious tendencies of the human psyche.

Dr. Young and colleagues’ paper asserts that the idea that flying in extreme cases could be classed as a behavioural addiction is “unconvincing” (and again is something that I agree with). The paper also adapts the 2013 DSM-5 criteria for gambling disorder (substituting the word ‘gambling’ with ‘flying’) to highlight that while it is theoretically possible for someone to have an addiction to flying, it is highly unlikely even amongst the most frequent of flyers. As they note:

“A diagnosed flying addict (and some may exist) would appear to differ from the frequent flyer who is feeling guilty about the environmental consequences of flying. Indeed, the latter would appear to be entirely rational. Flying may be associated with feelings of guilt and suppression, but so are many other activities, like driving to work, using plastic bags, and using electricity from coal-powered generators. This does not make flying an addiction as defined by the DSM-5. In addition, a flying addict would be addicted to the act of flying when, in reality, people fly as part of a broader tourism or business journey or experience. Flying may be incidental to the motivations for travel, merely an unavoidable part of attaining a particular experience. In other words, the focus of flying addiction is likely to be complicated and shifting, unlike, for instance, gambling addiction, that is more clear-cut”.

Pathologizing a behaviour like flying may be stretching the addiction analogy a little too far, but I don’t see a theoretical reason why someone could not become addicted. However, it’s unknown as to what the actual object of flying addiction might be. Is it the actual flying and being in the air? The thrill of take-offs and landings? Is it the feeling of being attended and catered for (especially when flying business class) by the airline staff? Is it the anticipation associated of visiting somewhere new? All of these suggestions could be empirically tested but probably from a purely motivational view rather than from an addiction perspective.

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

Further reading

Burns, P., & Bibbings, L. (2009). The end of tourism? Climate change and societal challenges. 21st Century Society, 4(1), 31-51.

Clark, M., & Calleja, K. (2008). Shopping addiction: A preliminary investigation among Maltese university students. Addiction Research and Theory, 16(6), 633-649.

Cohen, S. A., Higham, J. E., & Cavaliere, C. T. (2011). Binge flying: Behavioural addiction and climate change. Annals of Tourism Research, 38(3), 1070-1089.

Crompton, J. (1979). Motivations for pleasure vacation. Annals of Tourism Research, 6(4), 408–424.

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

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

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

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

Higham, J. Cohen, S. & Cavaliere, C. (2013). ‘Climate breakdown’ and the ‘flyer’s dilemma': Insights from three European societies. In: Fountain, J. & Moore, K. (Eds.). CAUTHE 2013: Tourism and Global Change: On the Edge of Something Big (pp. 321-324). Christchurch, N.Z.: Lincoln University.

Hill, A. (2007). Travel: The new tobacco. The Observer, May 6. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2007/may/06/travelnews.climatechange

Hirschman, E. C. (1992). The consciousness of addiction: Toward a general theory of compulsive consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 19(2), 155-179.

Randles, S., & Mander, S. (2009a). Practice(s) and ratchet(s): A sociological examination of frequent flying. In S. Gössling & P. Upham (Eds.), Climate change and aviation: Issues, challenges and solutions (pp. 245-271). London: Earthscan.

Rosenthal, E. (2010, 24 May). Can we kick our addiction to flying? Guardian, May 24. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/24/kick- addiction-flying

Sharpley, R. (2003). Tourism, tourists and society. Huntingdon: Elm Publications.

Young, M., Higham, J.E.S. & Reis, A.C. (2014). ‘Up in the air’: A conceptual critique of flying addiction. Annals of Tourism Research, 49, 51-64.

Played to death: What turns online gaming into a health risk?

Please note that the following article is a slightly extended version of an article that was first published by CNN International

Last month, a 32-year old male gamer was found dead at a Taiwanese Internet café following a non-stop three-day gaming session. This followed the death of another male gamer who died in Taipei at the start of the year following a five-day gaming binge.

While these cases are extremely rare, it does beg the question of why gaming can lead to such excessive behaviour. I have spent nearly three decades studying videogame addiction and there are many studies published in both the medical and psychological literature showing that very excessive gaming can lead to a variety of health problems that range from repetitive strain injuries and obesity, through to auditory and visual hallucinations and addiction. I have to stress that there is lots of scientific research showing the many educational and therapeutic benefits of playing but there is definitely a small minority of gamers that develop problems as a result of gaming overuse.

But what is it that makes gaming so compulsive and addictive for the small minority? For me, addiction boils down to constant reinforcement, or put more simply, being constantly rewarded while playing the game. Gaming rewards can be physiological (such as feeling ‘high’ or getting a ‘buzz’ while playing or beating your personal high score), psychological (such as feeling you have complete control in a specific situation or knowing that your strategic play helped you win), social (such as being congratulated by fellow gamers when doing something well in the game) and, in some cases, financial (such as winning a gaming tournament). Most of these rewards are – at least to some extent – unpredictable. Not knowing when the next reward will come keeps some players in the game. In short, they carry on gaming even though they may not have received an immediate reward. They simply hope that another reward is ‘just around the corner’ and keep on playing.

Added to this is the shift over the last decade from standalone console gaming to massively multiplayer online games where games never end and gamers have to compete and/or collaborate with other gamers in real time (instead of being able to pause the game and come back and play from the point at which the player left it). Many excessive gamers report that they hate logging off and leaving such games. They don’t like it as they don’t know what is going on in the game when they are not online.

The last five years has seen large increase in the number of scientific studies on problematic gaming. In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association published the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). For the first time, the DSM-5 included ‘internet gaming disorder’ (IGD) as a psychological condition that warrants future research. Throughout my research career I have argued that although all addictions have particular and idiosyncratic characteristics, they share more commonalities than differences such as total preoccupation, mood modification, cravings, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict with work, education and other people, and loss of control. These similarities likely reflect a common etiology of addictive behaviour.

So when does a healthy enthusiasm turn into an addiction? At the simplest level, healthy enthusiams add to life and addictions take away from it. But how much is too much? This is difficult to answer as I know many gamers who play many hours every day without any detrimental effects. The DSM-5 lists nine criteria for IGD. If any gamer endorses five or more of the following criteria they would likely be diagnosed as having IGD: (1) preoccupation with internet games; (2) withdrawal symptoms when internet gaming is taken away; (3) the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in internet gaming, (4) unsuccessful attempts to control participation in internet gaming; (5) loss of interest in hobbies and entertainment as a result of, and with the exception of, internet gaming; (6) continued excessive use of internet games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems; (7) deception of family members, therapists, or others regarding the amount of internet gaming; (8) use of the internet gaming to escape or relieve a negative mood;  and (9) loss of a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of participation in internet games.

The good news is that only a small minority of gamers suffer form IGD. Most online games are fun and exciting to play. But like any activity that is taken to excess, in a minority of cases the activity can become addictive. Any activity if done for days on end could lead to severe health problems and even death – and gaming is no exception. Instead of demonizing games, we need to educate gamers about the potential dangers of very excessive use.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Gaming addiction in adolescence (revisited). Education and Health, 32, 125-129.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder needs a unified approach to assessment. Neuropsychiatry, 4(1), 1-4.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

Griffiths, M.D. & Pontes, H.M. (2014). Internet addiction disorder and internet gaming disorder are not the same. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5: e124. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.1000e124.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H., Gradisar, M.S., Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Toward a consensus definition of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review of psychometric assessment tools. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet and gaming addiction: A systematic literature review of neuroimaging studies. Brain Sciences, 2, 347-374.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 278-296.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.

Lopez-Fernandez, O., Honrubia-Serrano, M.L., Baguley, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Pathological video game playing in Spanish and British adolescents: Towards the Internet Gaming Disorder symptomatology. Computers in Human Behavior, 41, 304–312.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Measuring DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: Development and validation of a short psychometric scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 137-143.

Pontes, H., Király, O. Demetrovics, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The conceptualisation and measurement of DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: The development of the IGD-20 Test. PLoS ONE, 9(10): e110137. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110137.

Spekman, M.L.C., Konijn, E.A, Roelofsma, P.H.M.P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Gaming addiction, definition, and measurement: A large-scale empirical study, Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 2150-2155.

Boxing clever? Another look at television binge watching

Last Thursday (January 29), I was watching the newspaper review on Sky News when one of the reviewers referred to a story in the Daily Mail about the negative effects of box-set bingeing (‘Watching TV box-set marathons is warning sign you’re lonely and depressed – and will also make you fat’). Having examined the psychology of box-set bingeing in a previous blog, the story instantly grabbed my attention (and also because I love box-set bingeing when I get the time). (I also discovered in researching this article that in November 2013, the Oxford Dictionary announced that the word ‘binge-watch’ [defined as “to watch multiple episodes of a television programme in rapid succession” was a contender for its word of the year but was eventually beaten by the word ‘selfie’).

The Daily Mail story was based on some research led by doctoral researcher Ms. Yoon Hi Sung (at the University of Texas). Unfortunately, the research is not publicly available as it hasn’t actually been published yet. In fact, the study is from a conference paper that will be presented in May 2015 (at the Conference of the International Communication Association in Puerto Rico in May). Ms. Sung said that his findings “should be a wake-up call”. In typical Daily Mail style, a number of claims were made (which are listed below verbatim):

  • “Watching TV box-set marathons is warning sign you’re lonely and depressed – and will also make you fat
  • Watching TV for long periods of time can lead to obesity and exhaustion.
  • ‘Binge-watchers’ are more likely to lack self-control and have addictions.
  • University of Texas researchers said it’s no longer a ‘harmless addiction’.
  • They said people will watch TV as a distraction when they are feeling low”.

Unfortunately there was little detail of the method used or much about 316 participants aged 18 to 29 years (e.g., how the participants were recruited, how representative the sample was of all those who engage in box-set bingeing, etc.) but the Daily Mail was adamant that box-set bingeing is bad for your health. More specifically, the journalist Daniel Bates wrote:

“People who suffer from low moods are more likely to spend hours or days viewing multiple episodes of their favourite programme online or on DVD box set. But by doing so they could neglect work, relationships and even their family. The researchers from the University of Texas at Austin said that binge-watching should no longer be considered a ‘harmless addiction’ and that people should think twice before settling in for a long session in front of the TV…The findings showed a direct link. The worse somebody felt, the more likely they were to watch a lot of TV in an apparent attempt to avoid their low mood”.

Ms. Sung was quoted as saying:

“Even though some people argue that binge-watching is a harmless addiction, findings from our study suggest that binge-watching should no longer be viewed this way. Physical fatigue and problems such as obesity and other health problems are related to binge-watching and they are a cause for concern. When binge-watching becomes rampant, viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others. Even though people know they should not, they have difficulty resisting the desire to watch episodes continuously”.

Not having access to the details of the study make it difficult to make methodological criticism but as a Professor of Gambling Studies I would bet my bottom dollar that the claims go beyond the data. As far as I am aware there has never been any academic study of box set viewing behaviour (either watching ‘on demand’ via interactive television or DVD box-sets) but I did come across some commercial research carried out by the company MarketCast in 2013 (and reported in a Variety magazine article entitled ’10 insights from studies of binge watchers’ by Marc Fraser). In the study, over 1000 US television viewers, the report claimed that there were “elevated binge levels” when watching box-set television series on demand such as House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Walking Dead, True Blood, and Sons of Anarchy. As Fraser reported:

“As networks grapple with the potential effect of binge-viewing to their bottom line, what they’re starting to learn is less threatening than some early analysts have suggested. The good news for broadcasters is that bingeing actually creates more viewers for TV shows, MarketCast found, which should broaden the audience for advertisers and their commercials when new episodes air. That’s primarily because most binge viewers are just trying to catch up on a series they may have missed, and tend to tune into a series during its regular airings. For example, 65% of those surveyed said they would watch new episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’ without bingeing when the series returned, while another 58% said they would tune into ‘The Walking Dead’ in similar fashion. At the same time, despite the large amount of time required for bingeing, other forms of entertainment aren’t seeing a large decrease as a result of binge-viewing, the study [found]”.

The MarketCast study also reported that 5% of their study participants said bingeing was the only way that they watched their favourite TV shows, and just under one-third of the sample planned to use the bingeing method of viewing their favourite TV series in the future. Here are some of the other key findings listed in the report:

  • There are four types of binge-viewers. Those who binge (i) because they don’t like to wait a week to find out what happens next, (ii) because friends tell them they’re missing out; (iii) to watch TV shows they’ve seen before, and (iv) when they are ill or housebound because of injury,
  • The main reasons for box-set bingeing are to (i) catch up on TV series that were missed when they first aired, (ii) avoid having to watch adverts (and save time), and (iii) avoid waiting to see what happens next.
  • Two-thirds of the sample (67%) claimed to have had at least one binge-watching experience.
  • Those who binge watch only are typically males under the age of 30 years (although there is no overall difference between males and females in binge watching behaviour). (Another piece of market research by Magid Generational Strategies in early 2013 reported tat 70% of binge viewers are aged 16 to 35 years).
  • More binge watching is done alone (56%) and at home (98%). Binge watching is also done while travelling (13%) and/or while on holiday (16%).
  • Box-set bingeing occurs online (e.g., via on-demand services) more than offline (e.g., DVD box-sets).
  • Drama is most watched genre for bingeing (60%), followed by comedy (45%), and reality shows (26%).

Fraser also made reference to another piece of market research by Solutions Research Group that examined 1,200 Canadian subscribers of Netflix and their viewing habits related to the television series House of Cards (that puts all 13 episodes online simultaneously). The study found that one in three viewers watched all 13 episodes within four weeks of first airing).

Another news story I came across (in Australia’s Herald Sun) provided a more positive spin and claimed in the headline ‘Binge-viewing box sets on the couch now the best way to build romance’. The article by journalist Megan Miller reported:

“For more and more couples, churning through a lazy 12-episode series is a romance rekindler that takes less effort than a meal somewhere nice and is cheaper than a beach holiday. It can be done without leaving the comfort of one’s home (or even one’s flannie pyjamas) and provides valuable couple time as well as down time from the rigours of work and family. Everyone’s on board. Barack and Michelle Obama are said to be hooked on spy drama ‘Homeland’ and our own PM Tony Abbott loves sitting down with wife Margie to an [episode] (or three) of ‘Downton Abbey’”.

It appears that the inspiration for the herald Sun story may have been the “couple Phoebe and Mike, both 31 [years of age], were so addicted to cult hit Breaking Bad they took discs with the latest series on their Fijian honeymoon earlier this year, desperate to race back to their villa each night to keep up with the escapades of meth-maker Walter White”. Miller then interviewed Melbourne-based psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack who commented that:

“Doing something you both enjoy is at the heart of engaging in a binge session in front of the box. Shared interests create a bond and connection that’s great for relationships. Cuddling up on the couch and snuggling while watching a show that you both get enjoyment from gives a common interest and some relaxed time together…New partners may watch shows together for the sake of the other, not because they hold a great interest in it. An established relationship is one where the two people have a greater level of comfort together, and don’t depend on the environment to help impress the other. At a later point in a relationship the two are relaxed with one another and can negotiate each other’s interests and needs, and find a mutually interesting series that is exciting for both of them”.

All of the articles I have read on the topic describe binge-watching as an ‘addiction’ (at least in passing). Although there is a small literature on ‘television addiction’ (for a recent review in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions by my colleague Dr. Steve Sussman – see ‘Further reading’ below) I know of no empirical research on the topic of ‘binge-viewing addiction’. However, I did come across an arguably tongue-in-cheek list of signs in an article in the Daily Edge:

  • The thought of a day doing nothing except watching a box set makes you genuinely excited.
  • You have avoided a social engagement to stay in and watch something.
  • At least once, you have woken up early specifically to watch the latest episode.
  • You’ve had this thought – ‘Just one more episode’ or ‘Not sure if an actual memory or something I saw on TV’.
  • You have accidentally drooled on at least one sofa cushion during a binge.
  • You have cheated on your loved one with a box set. By which we mean, watching ahead while they’re out/on the phone to their mam/have gone to bed. AKA ‘Netflix Adultery’.
  • You have had that moment where you get up from the couch, and have to shake food out of the folds of your clothes.
  • You tell yourself you could stop at any time.
  • When it’s all over, you feel confusion, shame and regret.

Even though these signs were probably written in jest, they would probably have good face validity should anyone decide to construct a new instrument to assess binge-watching addiction. However, even with the new study by the researchers at the University of Texas, I’m still to be convinced that box-set bingeing is a serious health concern – at least based on the scientific evidence.

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

Further reading

Bates, D. (2015). Watching TV box-set marathons is warning sign you’re lonely and depressed – and will also make you fat. Daily Mail, January 29. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2931572/Love-marathon-TV-session-warning-sign-lonely-depressed.html

Daily Edge (2014). 11 signs of you’re suffering from a binge-watching problem. Located at: http://www.dailyedge.ie/binge-watching-problem-signs-1391910-Apr2014/

Graser, M. (2013). Marathon TV viewers tend to be millenials playing catch up on shows; say they’ll watch new seasons as they air. Variety, March 7. Located at: http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/10-insights-from-studies-of-binge-watchers-1200004807/

Koepsell, D. (2013). In defence of the box set binge: a global shared culture. New Statesman, December 29. Located at: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2013/12/defence-box-set-binge-global-shared-culture

Kompare, D. (2006). Publishing flow DVD Box Sets and the reconception of television. Television & New Media, 7(4), 335-360.

Miller, M. (2014). Binge-viewing box sets on the couch now the best way to build romance. Herald Sun, December 13. Located at: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/bingeviewing-box-sets-on-the-couch-now-the-best-way-to-build-romance/story-fni0fit3-1226782514245?nk=0ed250e88a2970045f6fc84123b03f10

Spangler, T. (2013). Poll of online TV watchers finds 61% watch 2-3 episodes in one sitting at least every few weeks. Variety, December 13. Located at: http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/netflix-survey-binge-watching-is-not-weird-or-unusual-1200952292/

Sussman, S., & Moran, M.B. (2013). Hidden addiction: Television. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2(3), 125-132.

Gamblers anonymous: The psychology of live online casino gambling

Over the last decade, my research unit has carried out an increasing amount of research into the psychology of online gambling. In some of our recent research interviewing online gamblers, offline gamblers and non-gamblers, we found that people who gambled online did so because of its (i) convenience, (ii) greater value for money, (iii) the greater variety of games, and (iv) anonymity. Perhaps more interestingly, were the inhibiting reasons that stopped people from wanting to gamble online in the first place. The main inhibiting reason that stopped people gambling online was that offline gamblers and non-gamblers said the authenticity of gambling was significantly reduced when gambling online. We also found a number of other inhibitors of online gambling including (i) the reduced realism, (ii) the asocial nature of the internet, (iii) the use of electronic money, and (iv) concerns about the safety of online gambling websites. The reduced authenticity and realism may help to explain why online live action casino games are seen as increasingly popular among some types of gamblers.

This empirical research also chimes with my own personal psychology of online gambling. One of the main reasons I don’t like gambling at Internet casinos is that I believe the majority of game outcome are likely to be pre-programmed and/or predetermined. To me, this is somewhat akin to playing with imaginary dice! Our empirical research findings also help explain the rise of live online casino gambling. Players not only want increased realism and authenticity, but still have the added advantages of online anonymity while playing.

In online live casino gaming, the anonymity of the Internet allows players to privately engage in gambling without the fear of stigma. This anonymity may also provide the gambler with a greater sense of perceived control over the content, tone, and nature of the online experience. Anonymity may also increase feelings of comfort since there is a decreased ability to look for, and thus detect, signs of insincerity, disapproval, or judgment in facial expression, as would be typical in face-to-face interactions. For activities such as gambling, this may be a positive benefit particularly when losing as no-one will actually see the face of the loser. Anonymity may reduce social barriers to engaging in gambling, particularly those activities thought to be more skill-based gambling activities (such as poker or blackjack) that are relatively complex and often possess tacit social etiquette. The potential discomfort of committing a structural or social faux-pas in the gambling environment because of inexperience is minimized because the player’s identity remains concealed.

Furthermore, one of the main reasons why behaviour online is very different from offline is because it provides a ‘disinhibiting’ experience. One of the main consequences of disinhibition is that on the internet people lower their emotional guard and become much less restricted and inhibited in their actions.

The increase in online live casino gambling has happened alongside the rise of online betting exchanges – the type of online gambling where it could be argued that skill can – to some extent – be exercised. For gamblers, having a punt on live sporting events via betting exchanges is a psychologically safer option because punters know (or can check) who won a particular football or horse race. The playing of live action casino games via the Internet shares some of the psychological similarities of online betting exchanges.

The rise of live online gambling has been coupled with increasingly sophisticated gaming software, integrated e-cash systems, and increased realism (in the shape of “real” gambling via webcams, live remote wagering, and/or player and dealer avatars). These are all inter-linked facilitating factors. Another factor that I feel is really important in the rise of online gambling (including online live action casino games) is the inter-gambler competition. Obviously there is an overlap between competitiveness and skill but they are certainly not the same. What’s more recent research has suggested that being highly competitive may not necessarily be good for the gambler. For instance, Professor Howard Shaffer, a psychologist at Harvard University, claims that men are more likely to develop problematic gambling behaviour because of their conventionally high levels of aggression, impulsivity and competitiveness. Clearly, the idea of the competitiveness of the activity being one of the primary motivations to gamble is well supported.

Based on the fact that so little research has systematically examined the links between gambling and competitiveness, our research unit did some research into this area. We speculated that a gambler who is highly competitive will experience more arousal and stimulation, and be drawn to gambling as an outlet to release competitive instincts and drives. This is likely to occur more in activities like online poker and online live action casino games. Our research did indeed show that problem gamblers were significantly more likely than non-problem gamblers to be competitive.

Being highly competitive may help in explaining why in the face of sometimes negative and damaging financial consequences, gamblers persist in their habit. Psychological research in other areas has consistently shown that highly competitive individuals are more sensitive to social comparison with peers regarding their task performance. Applying this to a gambling situation, it is reasonable to suggest that competitive gamblers may be reluctant to stop gambling until they are in a positive state in relation to opposing gamblers, perhaps explaining why excessive gambling can sometimes occur.

Sociologists have speculated that factors of the human instinctual expressive needs, such as competition, can be temporarily satisfied when engaging in gambling activities. Evidence exists supporting gambling as an instrumental outlet for expressing competitive instinctual urges. The US sociologist Erving Goffman developed what he called the ‘deprivation-compensation’ theory to explain the relationship between gambling and competitiveness. He suggested that the stability of modern society no longer creates situations where competitive instincts are tested. Therefore, gambling is an artificial, self-imposed situation of instability that can be instrumental in creating an opportunity to test competitive capabilities. Again, online live action casino gambling is another gambling form that can facilitate such instinctive needs.

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

Further reading

Goffman, I. (1972). Where the action is. In: Interaction Ritual (pp. 149–270). Allen Lane, London.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction on the Internet. In K. Young & C. Nabuco de Abreu (Eds.), Internet Addiction: A Handbook for Evaluation and Treatment. pp. 91-111. New York: Wiley.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2009). Socio-demographic correlates of internet gambling: findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 199-202.

Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2011). Internet gambling, health. Smoking and alcohol use: Findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 1-11.

Kuss, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012).  Internet gambling behavior. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior (pp.735-753). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

McCormack. A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Motivating and inhibiting factors in online gambling behaviour: A grounded theory study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 39-53.

McCormack, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). A scoping study of the structural and situational characteristics of internet gambling. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 3(1), 29-49.

McCormack, A., Shorter, G. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). An examination of participation in online gambling activities and the relationship with problem gambling. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2(1), 31-41.

McCormack, A., Shorter, G. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Characteristics and predictors of problem gambling on the internet. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 11, 634-657.

Wardle, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Defining the ‘online gambler’: The British perspective. World Online Gambling Law Report, 10(2), 12-13.

Wardle, H., Moody, A., Griffiths, M.D., Orford, J. & and Volberg, R. (2011). Defining the online gambler and patterns of behaviour integration: Evidence from the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. International Gambling Studies, 11, 339-356.

Bosom buddies: A brief look at breast fetishism

Over the last year, I have received more than a dozen emails (all male) asking why I have not written a blog on ‘breast fetishism’. The main reason I have resisted writing such a blog is that it’s hard to determine where normal love of breasts ends and abnormal love of breasts begins. It won’t surprise anyone reading this that when it comes to male sexual arousal, female breasts are at the top of many men’s lists as the body part they find most sexually attractive. According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, the sexual paraphilia of being aroused by female breasts is mammagymnophilia or mazophilia and comprises “a pronounced fetishistic sexual interest in the female breasts, their shape, movement, and especially their size”. He goes on to write that:

“[Breast fetishism is] also known as mastofact or breast partialism, it refers to an exclusive or almost exclusive reliance on breasts as a stimulus for sexual arousal. It is such a predominant feature of sexuality in the U.S., that Molly Haskell, a feminist and author from the USA, went as far as to say that ‘the mammary fixation is the most infantile and the most American of the sex fetishes’. British zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris sees breast fetishism as a prime example of biosemiotics, by which human sexuality is influenced through signaling”.

While doing my undergraduate degree I did a project on the psychology of female orgasm and read almost every paper and book that I could on sexuality and female sexuality. I read Desmond Morris’ book The Naked Ape and was very interested in Morris’ theories on sexual signalling. If memory serves me, Morris argued that women’s breasts had evolved to look like female buttocks as humans had slowly changed the way they had sex from males mounting females from the rear to face-to-face sex. In the 1998 book Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology: Ideas, Issues, and Applications by Charles Crawford and Dennis Krebs (1998) it was theorized that humans’ permanently enlarged breasts allows females to “solicit male attention and investment even when they are not really fertile”. These hypotheses was also mentioned in the 2012 book The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction but rejected by the authors. Young and Alexander wrote:

“Biologically speaking the human male’s obsession with breasts is pretty weird. Men are the only male mammals fascinated by breasts in a sexual context. And women are the only female mammals whose breasts become enlarged at puberty, independent of pregnancy. We are also the only species in which males caress, massage and even orally stimulate the female breasts during foreplay and sex. Boys don’t learn on the playground that breasts are something that they should be interested in. It’s biological and deeply engrained in our brain. Man’s obsession with breasts is an unconscious evolutionary drive that helps humans forge loving, nurturing bonds”.

In fact, Young and Alexander forward a more biological explanation and went on to claim that it was oxytocin that best explained why women had developed breasts:

“When a woman gives birth, her newborn will engage in some pretty elaborate manipulations of its mother’s breasts. This stimulation sends signals along nerves and into the brain. There, the signals trigger the release of a neurochemical called oxytocin from the brain’s hypothalamus. This oxytocin release eventually stimulates smooth muscles in a woman’s breasts to eject milk, making it available to her nursing baby. But oxytocin release has other effects, too. When released at the baby’s instigation, the attention of the mother focuses on her baby. The infant becomes the most important thing in the world. Oxytocin and dopamine act together to help ‘imprint’ the newborn’s face, smell and sounds into the mother’s reward circuitry, making breastfeeding and nurturing a pleasurable experience that will motivate her to keep doing those activities to strengthen the mother-infant bond. This bond is not only the most beautiful of all social bonds, it can also be the most enduring, lasting a lifetime. When a lover touches, massages or nibbles a woman’s breasts, it sparks the same process of brain events as nursing.  Humans are also among the very few animals that have sexual intercourse face-to-face, looking into each other’s eyes. This quirk in human sexuality has evolved to exploit the ancient mother-infant bonding brain circuitry as a way to help form bonds between lovers. Because the release of oxytocin forces the brain’s attention to a partner’s face, smell and voice, the combination of oxytocin release during breast stimulation, and the increase of dopamine from the pleasure of foreplay and face-to-face sex, helps to forge an association of the lover’s face and eyes with the pleasurable feelings, building a bond in the women’s brain”

I was surprised to find there had been little empirical research on the role of breast and nipple stimulation in influencing sexual arousal during sex. In 2006, Dr. Roy Levin and Dr. Cindy Meston published a paper in the Journal of Sexual Medicine and claimed that there had never been a study that questioned people about breasts and sexual arousal. Consequently, Levin and Meston surveyed 301 “sexually experienced undergraduates” (148 males and 153 females mostly between the ages of 18 and 22). The authors reported:

“81.5% [of women] reported that stimulation of their nipples/ breasts caused or enhanced their sexual arousal, 78.2% agreed that when sexually aroused such manipulation increased their arousal, 59.1% had asked to have their nipples stimulated during lovemaking, and only 7.2% found that the manipulation decreased their arousal. In regard to the men, 51.7% reported that nipple stimulation caused or enhanced their sexual arousal, 39% agreed that when sexually aroused such manipulation increased their arousal, only 17.1% had asked to have their nipples stimulated, and only 7.5% found that such stimulation decreased their arousal”.

When it comes to breast fetishism, it could be argued that there are many different sub-types. Reading Dr. Aggrawal’s book alone there are many other types of sexual activity surrounding the fetishizing of the breast. This includes lactophilia (arousal from lactating breasts), oenosugia (pouring wine over female breasts and licking it off), mazophallating (the rubbing of the penis between breasts, and also know as coitus a mammilla), mazoperosis (sexual gratification from mutilating of female breasts – arguably the most extreme form of what Dr. Aggrawal describes as “tit torture, the sexual gratification from any of several erotic BDSM activities focusing solely on inflicting pain on the breast, nipples, and areola”), and ‘downblousing’:

“[Downblousing] is a variant of voyeurism where the voyeur is attracted to women bending downward so he can view their breasts down their shirt or blouse. Viewing a woman’s breast while sitting on a. higher level than the woman is also downblousing. A good example is a person sitting on first floor of a restaurant, viewing the breasts of an unsuspecting woman sitting on the ground floor taking surreptitious photographs, especially with camera-enabled cell phones, is also common among voyeurs. Many times, these photographs are then posted on the Internet for all to see. Many nations and jurisdictions have now outlawed downblousing”.

There are also other sexual behaviours that may (or may not) involve breasts as the focus of sexual arousal. For instance, anaclitism refers to “the sexual enjoyment arising from activities, or being exposed to objects normally associated with childhood (e.g., toilet training, breast sucking, playing with dolls)”. One breast-focused sexual fetish not mentioned by Dr. Aggrawal at all is ‘breast expansion fetishism’. According to the Nation Master website:

“Breast expansion fetishism is a sexual fetish characterized by pronounced sexual fantasies involving a woman whose breasts enlarge, either gradually or suddenly, sometimes to gargantuan proportions. Breast expansion fetishism may manifest as a form of inflation fetishism. Many breast expansion fetishists are fascinated by the processes by which women’s breasts can become larger, whether from age progression, pregnancy, weight gain or surgery. It is not uncommon for them to examine closely the careers of adult and mainstream entertainers and their increasing, or decreasing, bust sizes…Many breast-expansion fetishists are morphers. A morph is a photograph, an artwork, an animation which uses morphing techniques to expand a woman’s breasts”.

In the name of research I went onto Google Scholar and unsurprisingly turned up little academic. However, I was surprised to find many breast expansion sites including websites like the Big Breast Expansion, Overflowing Bra, Breast Expansion Grove (with lots of links to other breast expansion websites) and Boob Growth (please be warned these sites are sexually explicit if you click on the links) as well as sites like Literotica with a dedicated breast expansion page of fan fiction. Breast expansion is also very popular in both Manga and Anime cartoons.

I also found various first-person accounts of young adult males admitting to having such fetishes:

“I have a breast expansion fetish. No matter what, I always find myself coming back to this. In so many ways it’s amazing. Slowly, suddenly, sporadically, I like to see them grow. But I have my limits of when it gets stupidly huge (bigger than their body size). But I also have a thing of [breast expansion] on myself, like to be gender changed, then added in bigger boobs. I have been off and on with this stuff for years” (MD12, The Experience Project).

“I am searching for help and I hope I could find it here. My problem is…I have a breast expansion fetish. I [get an] erection when I [see] female breasts are growing. It started when I had seen [the] film ‘The Adventures of Pluto Nash’ in hospital. Since [then I am] always looking [for] comics, videos and pictures with growing breasts. Now I am 18 years old, I have marvelous girlfriend and we love each other. I told her about my problem and understand it, but she has forbidden me to masturbate on growing breasts…We have awesome sex but I still want to watch growing breasts. And don’t know what to do now. I don’t wont to lie, and masturbate when I [am] alone, and I don’t know how to beat this fetish. Often I am imagining [my girlfriend] with growing breasts…I hope you can help me”. (Joishi, PsychForums)

I also found what I thought was an article on the psychology of breast expansion but it was a male on the Overflowing Forum trying to analyse his own behaviour (but I found it of interest). Unfortunately, the original post has disappeared but I managed to cut and paste the self-analysis before it disappeared:

“I´m very interested in the psychology of breast expansion fetish – my obsession. I think the expansion aspect is one of many others. I like expansion stuff, but as a category it does not seem meaningful. To me, these aspects are of relevance (i) deviance [standing out from the norm], sensuality [a focus on the physical body], and emotional sensitivity [for symbolic power and interpersonal processes]. First, I´m generally attracted to stuff that defies the norm, like Lady Gaga and Beth Ditto or Slayer, the Marquis de Sade, monster movies. Second: I am fascinated by the body/mind duality of the human existence…Prominent flesh puts the focus on the body, the animal aspect of our being. And prominent breasts especially have sexual and/or nurturing connotations. Third, body parts can be seen [as] anatomical, but also on a symbolic level, they can be a means to express and execute power over others, or they can be presented as a gift – craving, desire, attention, power…a certain tension, an emotional disbalance is important for me. Big breasts can be just a nuisance for a girl or woman – for good reasons – or something they hardly care about, and then they lose most of their erotic power they could have on me”.

Like many other sexual paraphilias I have written about (such as macrophilia, microphilia, exophilia, and vorarephilia), much of the breast expansion community appears to base a lot of the online activity around fan fiction and fan art. As the Nation Master article on breast expansion notes:

“Breast expansion stories are often fantastical tales of women’s busts being enlarged by air, food, magic, medicine, alien technology or some other unseen force. Generally, the amount of enlargement is limited only by the imagination of the author, from as little as a cup size to as big as room-filling and beyond. Occasionally, there are other types of fetishes included in these stories, such as lactation, anthropomorphism, giantess, transgender, body inflation, penis expansion, or any of the processes under the umbrella term transformation fetish. Stories and pictures associated with breast expansion sometimes contain vivid depictions of sexual activity, but it is not a necessity of the fetish” 

This brief overview has highlighted that when it comes to breast fetishism and its many variants, that there is surprisingly little scientific research.

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

Further reading

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

Crawford, C. & Krebs, D, (1998). How Mate Choice Shaped Human Nature. Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology: Ideas, Issues, and Applications. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,

Levin, R. J. (2006). The breast/nipple/areola complex and human sexuality. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 21, 237-249

Levin, R., & Meston, C. (2006). Nipple/breast stimulation and sexual arousal in young men and women. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 3(3), 450-454.

Nation Master (2014). Breast expansion fetish. Located at: http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Breast-expansion-fetish

Wikipedia (2014). Breast fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breast_fetishism

Young, L. & Alexander, B. (2012). The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction. London: Penguin.

Coming to a different view: The Masturbation Fantasy Paradox

While researching an article on compulsive masturbation, I quite by chance came across a recent paper published by Wolter Seuntjens in the Journal of Unsolved Questions entitled ‘The Masturbation Fantasy Paradox: An Overlooked Phenomenon?’ (And yes, I too was amazed that there was a journal with such a name, although it colloquially calls itself JUNQ).

Seuntjens noted in his paper that masturbation is an activity that is often accompanied by fantasizing. However, he uses anecdotal evidence and material found in biographic and literary works to suggest some people are completely unable to fantasize about the person they are in love with during masturbation. This he describes as the ‘Masturbation Fantasy Paradox’ (MFP), a “putative phenomenon” that “may be a particular case of a more general principle put forward by Sigmund Freud”. Freud wrote an essay in 1912 concerning the paradoxes of love and desire. More specifically, in ‘On the universal tendency to debasement in the sphere of love’ Freud noted that “where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love”.

The whole thesis of the paper appears to rests on a few choice selections from autobiographical material supplied by comic actor and broadcaster (and all-round polymath) Stephen Fry, journalist and columnist Dermod Moore, and French writer and poet (and founder of the Surrealist movement) André Breton. More specifically, the extracts chosen by Seuntjens were:

  • Extract 1: “Although I was to develop, like every male, into an enthusiastic, ardent and committed masturbator, he was never once, nor ever has been, the subject of a masturbatory fantasy. Many times I tried to cast him in some scene. I was directing for the erotic XXX cinema in my head, but it always happened that some part of me banished him from the set, or else the very sight of him on screen in the coarse porn flick running in my mind had the effect of a gallon of cold water. Sex was to enter our lives, but he was never wank fodder, never” (Stephen Fry in Moab is My Washpot).
  • Extract 2: “I have no racy stories about shady events after lights-out in the tent. In fact, having recently discovered masturbation, I found camp frustrating for the lack of opportunity for relief. The fly-infested latrines were the only possible venues, but, unaccountably, self-abuse lost its allure there. However, I was in love with a boy in my patrol. I never really thought about sex with him, but we would roll around on the damp grass in mock combat, laughing and shouting “Help! Homo! Rape!” loudly enough, supposedly, to disguise our covert desire from the others. And from each other” (Dermod Moore in Diary of a Man [about his experience as a Boy Scout]).
  • Extract 3: “In 1930, André Breton, while discussing sexuality in the loosely formed group of surrealists, remarked comparably: What do you think about when you masturbate? André Breton: It is accompanied by a series of fleeting images of different women (dream women) or I knew or know but never a woman I have loved”.

These three selections are presented as “direct observations” and then followed by an extract from a book The Ultimate Aphrodisiac by John Hole. In the novel, the book’s main protagonist Norman Ranburn says:

  • Extract 4: “It didn’t matter that he might be in love with her. Love meant nothing at his age. Except, he discovered with some fascination, that he didn’t want to besmirch and overlay his vision of her with a dirty wanker’s fantasy”.

Unsurprisingly, Seuntjens notes there is no scientific research into the MFP and also claims there is little research on masturbatory fantasizing more generally. His first port of call are Nancy Friday’s books My Secret Garden (the best selling book on female sexual fantasies) and Men in Love, Men’s Sexual Fantasies: The Triumph of Love Over Rage. Two of Friday’s respondents arguably describe the MFP when they are reported as saying:

  • Extract 5: “The funny thing is, when I’m dating someone I really care for, I never fantasize about them…Usually my thoughts center around a man I find fantastically attractive and very nice, i.e., a customer, a stranger on the street, someone I don’t know too well” (‘Beth Anne’).
  • Extract 6: “By age twenty, still a virgin, I had had a succession of enchanting teen-age affairs – but since nice girls didn’t have sexual organs and certainly didn’t fuck, I didn’t even attempt to fondle a breast or introduce ‘French’ kissing. I didn’t even feel free to fantasize my latest love for masturbation purposes, usually resorting to her sister or one of her less attractive girl friends instead. One’s love had to be kept on a special Pedestal” (‘Don’).

Friday then goes onto speculate (in her book Forbidden Flowers: More Women’s Sexual Fantasies) that:

“One of the ironies of fantasy is that the hero of our erotic reveries is rarely the man we love. Perhaps it is the very fulfillment and satisfaction we get from him that leaves nothing to the imagination, and so we need these strangers in the night to people our imaginary sexual worlds. They bring us the excitement of the unknown”.

In an arguably more scientific piece of research, Seuntjens made reference to Dr. Brett Kahr’s 2007 book Sex and the Psyche that included reference to his British Sexual Fantasy Research Project comprising 13,553 participants and additional and in-depth face-to-face interviews with a further 122 people. Dr. Kahr made no direct reference to MFP but did note a more negative reason as to why some people do not fantasize about people they love:

“Many of the people whom I interviewed told me that they did not want to fantasize about the partner with whom they had had a row only hours before, the same partner who had spent all their money and had bored them with endless stories about their tedious work colleagues”.

Although the evidence presented by Seuntjens for the MFP was (at best) arguably anecdotal, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. If it does exist, the obvious question to ask why some people may ‘suffer’ from the MFP while others don’t. As Seuntjens concluded:

“If Freud intended the paradox primarily for the physical act of sex, the Masturbation Fantasy Paradox describes the phenomenon for the mental process of fantasizing. The Masturbation Fantasy Paradox, if it is a genuine phenomenon, may prove to be a special case of the more general paradox of love and desire so pointedly expressed in Freud’s dictum”.

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

Further reading

Freud, S. (1912). On the universal tendency to debasement in the sphere of love’. ‘Contributions to the psychology of love II’ in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1957), Vol. XI, London: Hogarth Press.

Friday, N. (1973). My Secret Garden: Women’s Sexual Fantasies. New York: Pocket Books.

Friday, N. (1975). Forbidden Flowers: More Women’s Sexual Fantasies. London: Arrow Books.

Friday, N. (1980). Men in Love, Men’s Sexual Fantasies: The Triumph of Love Over Rage. London: Arrow Books.

Fry, S. (1997). Moab is My Washpot. London: Hutchinson.

Hole, J. (1996). The Ultimate Aphrodisiac. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Kahr, B. (2007). Sex and the Psyche. London: Allen Lane

Moore, D. (2005). Diary of a Man. Dublin: Hot Press Books.

Pierre, J. (1992). Investigating Sex – Surrealist Discussions 1928-1932 (translated by Malcom Imrie). New York: Verso.

Seuntjens, W. (2013). The Masturbation Fantasy Paradox: An overlooked phenomenon? Journal of Unsolved Questions, 3(1), 9-12

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