Category Archives: Compulsion
In a previous blog on examining all Adam Ant’s songs about sexual paraphilias, I noted that Soft Cell are probably the only other recording artists who come close to talking about the seedier side of sex. They are also artists that (like one of my other favourite bands, Throbbing Gristle) have never been afraid to sing about taboo topics including prostitution (‘Secret Life’, A Divided Soul’), a housewife’s sexual fantasy about the paper boy (‘Kitchen Sink Drama’), pure hedonism (‘Sensation Nation’), alternative therapies such as colonic irrigation, meditation, and crystal therapy (‘Whatever It Takes’), murder (‘The Best Way To Kill’, ‘Meet Murder My Angel’), suicide (‘Darker Times’, ‘Frustration’ and ‘Down In The Subway’ – “Jump on that train track and die”), incest (‘I Am 16’), psychopathic killers (‘Martin’ based on the story of a serial killer in a film of the same name), shopaholism (‘Whatever It Takes’), anorexia nervosa (‘Excretory Eat Anorexia’), and obsessional cleansing (‘Cleansing Fanatic’), to name but a few.
Soft Cell arguably saw themselves as outside of the norm. Their first official release, an EP entitled ‘Mutant Moments’ EP set out their psychological store (and where ‘Metro Mr. X’ was their “favourite mutant”). They also had a track on the seminal 1980 (various artists) Some Bizarre Album about a disfigured woman (‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’). Very few artists would ever sing about such topics (although there are a few exceptions such as Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Hamburger Lady’ based on the medical case notes of a badly burned woman).
Soft Cell’s reputation as a band that focused on the sleazy side of everyday life was cemented after the release of their 1981 debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (NSEC). The cover featured a photo of the band’s two members (Marc Almond and Dave Ball) taken outside the Raymond Revue Bar, a notorious strip joint in the heart of London’s Soho district.
Just as the Velvet Underground’s debut album was viewed as a ‘sex and drugs’ LP because of a couple of songs about sadomasochistic sex (‘Venus In Furs’) and drug-taking (‘Heroin’), NSEC’s reputation as a ‘sleazy sex’ album also rested on just a few songs – most notably ‘Seedy Films’ (about telephone sex as well as pornographic films), ‘Secret Life’ (about using prostitutes behind a wife’s back), and the (now infamous) ‘Sex Dwarf’ (a song glorifying sadomasochistic sex). Later songs and albums also touched on various aspects of sexuality (their third album This Last Night In Sodom raising a few eyebrows on its’ release in 1984). They wanted to “try all of the vices” (in ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’) and also sang about having sex in cars (‘It’s A Mug’s Game’ and ‘Where Was Your Heart [When You Needed It Most’).
One of my personal favourite in the Soft Cell canon is the 2002 song ‘Perversity’ which was a bonus track on their comeback single ‘Monoculture’ after reforming in 2001. It talked about studying at the “university of perversity” and provided me with the title to my series of blogs on the A-Z of little known paraphilias and fetishes. As Marc Almond and Friends, there was also a great cover version of Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Discipline’ (a song about sadomasochism) and ‘Sleaze It, Take It, Shake It’ (by Almond’s side-project, Marc and the Mambas)
Soft cell’s second hit single ‘Bedsitter’ summed up my formative years as a teenage clubber and shares some of the same lyrical DNA as The Smiths classic ‘How Soon Is Now?’ (going to nightclubs in search of love and/or sex but going home alone). I’d also argue that Soft Cell sometimes give The Smiths a run for their money when it comes to songs about misery (e.g., ‘Chips On My Shoulder’, ‘Mr. Self-Destruct’, ‘Bleak Is My Favourite Cliché’, ‘Forever The Same’, ‘Down In The Subway’ and ‘Born To Lose’).
But Soft Cell aren’t just about sex, they also like songs about love more generally although their take on love is more about the unrequited love, the disintegration of love (‘Tainted Love’, ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’, ‘All Out Of Love’, ‘Together Alone’, ‘Desperate [For Love]’, ‘L.O.V.E. Feelings’, ‘Whatever It Takes’, ‘Last Chance’, ‘What’, ‘Barriers’, ‘Disease And Desire’, ‘Her Imagination’, ‘Desperate’, and ‘Torch’). In short they focus on (as they describe in their song ‘Loving You, Hating Me’) “the other side of love” and the “devil in my bed” (‘from ‘God-Shaped Hole’). The only other band that have explored the ‘darker’ side of love lyrically in so many different songs are Depeche Mode (which I discussed in a previous blog on obsessional lyrics in pop music). Their songs aren’t afraid to feature one-night stands and casual sex (‘Numbers’, ‘Surrender To A Stranger’, ‘Heat’, ‘Where Was Your Heart [When You Needed It Most’ and ‘Fun City’). It’s also worth noting that Soft Cell were never afraid to talk about drug use in their songs including cocaine (‘Frustration’), LSD (‘Frustration’), alcohol (‘It’s A Mug’s Game’), valium (‘Tupperware Party’, ‘My Secret Life’), heroin (‘L’Esqualita’) and their “dealer in the hall” (‘Divided Soul’).
They also made cover versions that were often better than the originals. They sexed the songs up or made them mean, moody and menacing. Soft Cell were huge fans of Northern soul and is evident in their covers of songs like ‘Tainted Love’, ‘The Night’ and ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ but their other cover versions came from a wide variety of artists including Jimi Hendrix (their 11-minute ‘Hendrix Medley’ comprising ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Voodoo Chile’), Johnny Thunders (‘Born To Lose’), Suicide (‘Ghostrider’), Lou Reed (‘Caroline Says’ as Marc and the Mambas), and John Barry (‘007 Theme’ and ‘You Only Live Twice’). From the very first note, this were instantly Soft Cell even though they didn’t write the songs.
Lyrically (and musically), some of their best songs were on their final 2000 studio album Cruelty Without Beauty. For instance, ‘Caligula Syndrome’ depicts sadomasochism (“crawling down on your hands and knees like slaves”), orgies, and “every kind of deviation on demand”. The song ‘Grand Guignol’ is about the Parisian theatre that operated from 1897 until it closed in 1962. The theatre specialised in naturalistic amoral horror entertainment shows horror shows or as Soft Cell put it: “It’s Grand Guignol/It’s rock ‘n’ roll/It’s vaudeville and burlesque/All of human life is here/In the theatre of the grotesque”. A sentiment that (I would argue) also sums up the many of the blogs I have published on this website.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Almond, M. (1999). Tainted Life. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.
Almond, M. (2004). In Search Of The Pleasure Palace. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.
Fanni Tutti, C. (2017). Art Sex Music. Faber & Faber: London.
Lindsay, M. (2013). Sex music for gargoyles: Soft Cell’s The Art Of Falling Apart. The Quietus, December 12. Located at: http://thequietus.com/articles/14100-soft-cell-interview-marc-almond
Reed, J. (1999). Marc Almond: The Last Star. London: Creation Books.
Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.
Tebbutt, S. (1984). Soft Cell. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.
Wikipedia (2017). Marc Almond. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Almond
Wikipedia (2017). Soft Cell. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_Cell
A couple of days ago I watched the 2007 US psychological thriller Mr. Brooks. The film is about a celebrated businessman (Mr. Earl Brooks played by Kevin Costner) who also happens to be serial killer (known as the ‘thumbprint killer’). The reason I mention all this is that the explanation given in the film by Earl for the serial killing is that it was an addiction. A number of times in the film he is seem attending Alcoholics Anonymous and quoting from the 12-step recovery program to help him ‘beat his addiction’. With the help of the AA Fellowship, he had managed not to kill anyone for two years but at the start of the film, Earl’s psychological alter-ego (‘Marshall’ played by William Hurt) manages to coerce Earl into killing once again. I won’t spoil the plot for people who have not seen the film but the underlying theme that serial killing is an addiction that Earl is constantly fighting against, is embedded in an implicit narrative that addiction somehow ‘explains’ his behaviour and that he is not really responsible for it. This is not a view I hold myself as all addicts have to take some responsibility for their behaviour.
The idea of serial killing being conceptualized as an addiction in popular culture is not new. For instance, Brian Masters book about British serial killer Dennis Nilsen (who killed at least 12 young men and was also a necrophile) was entitled Killing for Company: The Story of a Man Addicted to Murder, and Mikaela Sitford’s book about Harold Shipman, the British GP (aka ‘Dr. Death’) who killed over 200 people, was entitled Addicted to Murder: The True Story of Dr. Harold Shipman.
One of the things that I have always argued throughout my career, is that someone cannot become addicted to an activity or a substance unless they are constantly being rewarded (either by continual positive and/or negative reinforcement). Given that serial killing is a discontinuous activity (i.e., it happens relatively infrequently rather than every hour or day) how could killing be an addiction? One answer is that the act of killing is part of the wider behaviour in that the preoccupation with killing can also include the re-enacting of past kills and the keeping of ‘trophies’ from the victims (which I overviewed in a previous blog). As the author of the book Freud, Profiled: Serial Killer noted:
“The serial killer is most often described as a kind of addict. Murder is his addiction, the thrill achieved in murder his ‘kick.’ This addiction requires a maintenance ‘fix.’ At first, the experience is wonderfully exhilarating, later the fix is needed to just feel normal again. It is a hard habit to break, the hungering sensation to consume another life returns. Between murders, they often play back video or sound recordings or look at photos made of their previous murders. This voyeurism provides a surrogate death-meal until their next feeding”.
In Eric Hickey’s 2010 book Serial Murderers and Their Victims, Dr. Hickey makes reference to an unpublished 1990 monograph by Dr. Victor Cline who outlined a four-factor addiction syndrome in relation to sexual serial killers who (so-called ‘lust murderers’ that I also examined in a previous blog). More specifically:
“The offender first experiences ‘addiction’ similar to the physiological/psychological addiction to drugs, which then generates stress in his or her everyday activities. The person then enters a stage of ‘escalation’, in which the appetite for more deviant, bizarre, and explicit sexual material is fostered. Third, the person gradually becomes ‘desensitized’ to that which was once revolting and taboo-breaking. Finally, the person begins to ‘act out’ the things that he or she has seen”.
This four-stage model is arguably applicable to serial killing more generally. It also appears to be backed up by one of the most notorious serial killers, Ted Bundy. In an interview with psychologist Dr. James Dobson (found in Harold Schecter’s 2003 book The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World’s Most Terrifying Murderers), Bundy claimed:
“Once you become addicted to [pornography], and I look at this as a kind of addiction, you look for more potent, more explicit, more graphic kinds of material. Like an addiction, you keep craving something which is harder and gives you a greater sense of excitement, until you reach the point where the pornography only goes so far – that jumping-off point where you begin to think maybe actually doing it will give you that which is just beyond reading about it and looking at it”.
Dr. Hickey claims that such urges to kill are fuelled by fantasies that have become well-developed and killers to vicariously gain control of other individual. He also believes that fantasies for lust killers are far greater than an escape, and becomes the focal point of all behaviour. He concludes by saying that “even though the killer is able to maintain contact with reality, the world of fantasy becomes as addictive as an escape into drugs”. In the book The Serial Killer Files, Harold Schechter notes that:
“For homicidal psychopaths, lust-killing often becomes an addiction. Like heroin users, they not only become dependent on the thrilling sensation – the rush – of torture, rape, and murder; they come to require ever greater and more frequent fixes. After a while, merely stabbing a co-ed to death every few months isn’t enough. They have to kill every few weeks, then every few days. And to achieve the highest pitch of arousal, they have to torture the victim before putting her to death. This kind of escalation can easily lead to the killer’s own destruction. Like a junkie who ODs in his urgent quest to satisfy his cravings, serial killers are often undone by their increasingly unbridled sadism, which drives them to such reckless extremes that they are finally caught. Monsters tend to be sadists, deriving sexual gratification from imposing pain on others. Their secret perversions, at first sporadic, often trap them in a pattern as the intervals between indulgences become briefer: it is a pattern whose repetitions develop into a hysterical crescendo, as if from one outrage to another the monster were seeking as a climax his own annihilation”.
Schecter uses the ‘addiction’ explanation for serial killing throughout his writings even for serial killers from the past including American nurse Jane Toppan (the ‘Angel of Death’) who confessed to 33 murders in 1901 and died in 1938 (“she became addicted to murder”), cannibalistic child serial killers Gilles Garnier (died in 1573) and Peter Stubbe (died 1589) (“both became addicted to murder and cannibalism, both preferred to prey upon children”), and Lydia Sherman (died 1878) who killed 8 children including six of her own (“confirmed predator, addicted to cruelty and death”).
In a recent 2012 paper on mental disorders in serial killers in the Iranian Journal of Medical Law, Dr. N. Mehra and A.S. Pirouz quoted the literary academic Akira Lippit who argued that in films, the “completion of each serial murder lays the foundation for the next act which in turn precipitates future acts, leaving the serial subject always wanting more, always hungry, addicted”. They then go on to conclude that:
“Once a killer has tasted the success of a kill, and is not apprehended, it will ultimately mean he will strike again. He put it simply, that once something good has happened, something that made the killer feel good, and powerful, and then they will not hesitate to try it again. The first attempt may leave them with a feeling of fear but at the same time, it is like an addictive drug. Some killers revisit the crime scene or take trophies, such as jewelry or body parts, or video tape the scenario so as to be able to re-live the actual feeling of power at a later date”.
Although I haven’t done an extensive review of the literature, I do think it’s possible – even on the slimmest of empirical bases presented here – to conceptualize serial killing as a potential behavioural addiction for some individuals. However, it will always depend upon how addiction is defined in the first place.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Brophy, J. (1967). The Meaning of Murder. London: Crowell.
Hickey, E.W. (2010). Serial Murderers and Their Victims (Fifth Edition). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Lippit, A.M. (1996). The infinite series: Fathers, cannibals, chemists. Criticism, Summer, 1-18.
Masters, B. (1986). Killing for Company: The Story of a Man Addicted to Murder. New York: Stein and Day.
Mehra, N., & Pirouz, A. S. (2012). A study on mental disorder in serial killers. Iranian Journal of Medical Law, 1(1), 38-51.
Miller, E. (2014). Freud, Profiled: Serial Killer. San Diego: New Directions Publishing.
Schecter, H. (2003). The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World’s Most Terrifying Murderers. New York: Ballantine Books
Sitford, M. (2000). Addicted to Murder: The True Story of Dr. Harold Shipman. London: Virgin Publishing.
Taylor, T. (2014). Is serial killing an addiction? IOL, April 9. Located at: http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/is-serial-killing-an-addiction-1673542
Thigh fetishism might appear a somewhat obvious topic to write a blog on given all the previous body part fetishes I have looked at (including foot fetishism, shoulder fetishism). However, there is no academic research on the topic and most non-academic articles that I have read tend to concentrate on thigh-boot fetishism rather than thigh fetishism in, and of, itself. According to the Kinkly website:
“Thigh fetish refers to a sexual arousal by or sexual interest in thighs. Typically, it is a male interest in female thighs. However, it can apply to a woman’s interest in female thighs, a woman’s interest in male thighs, or a male’s interest in male thighs. Usually the fetishist is attracted to the naked thighs. The thighs don’t even need to be extremely sexualized for the fetishist. Often it is the gap between a high boot and edge of skirt, or knee high socks and edge of skirt that arouse the fetishist more than sexualized images of thighs”.
The Self-Help Sexuality website adds that “some men have a thigh fetish where they are turned on by the glimpse of woman’s inner thigh or when a woman opens her thigh. Some men enjoy kissing and licking woman’s inner thigh”. Both of these descriptions are fairly commonsense and arguably don’t need empirical research to back up the claims made.
Thee one piece of empirical research I found with some reference to thigh sexuality was a paper published in a 2014 issue of the journal Cortex by Dr. Oliver Turnbull and colleagues who examined which erogenous zones are the most sensitive in males and females. They surveyed 800 participants (mainly British and Sub-Saharan Africans) and were asked to rate 41 body parts for erogenous intensity on a 10-point scale. Unsurprisingly, the highest rated body parts for sensitivity were the clitoris among women (mean rating 9.17 out of 10) and the penis among men (mean rating 9.0 out of 10). Inner thighs were rated as the fourth most erogenous zone by men (mean rating 5.84 out of 10; back of thigh 2.48 out 10; outer thigh 1.91 out of 10), and the seventh most erogenous zone by women (mean rating 6.7 out of 10; back of thigh 2.6 out 10; outer thigh 1.96 out of 10).
I also found details of a non-academic online survey among Japanese businessmen (mainly those in their thirties and forties) carried out by the marketing research company Goo via an article on the Japanator website. The focus of the survey was favourite “secret fetishes”. Top of the 20 listed fetishes was zettai ryouiki (which translates as “absolute territory”) and refers to the “leg exposure located between the hem of a skirt and the top of thigh-high socks”. The second-placed ‘secret fetish’ was also thigh-related and was being held in the vice-like grip of “athletic thighs”.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m fascinated by the sexual culture in Japan and have written many blogs on various aspects of Japanese sexuality. An article about thigh fetishes on the Venus O’Hara website specifically examined zettai ryouiki:
“In other words, they fantasize most frequently about that piece of exposed flesh between the top of a girl’s thigh-high socks and the bottom of a short skirt. This description fulfils the fetish principle in that no nudity is involved. Zettai ryouiki describes an otherwise mundane detail which, when used as a primer for arousal, assumes a sexual significance that is almost impossible to explain for non thigh-fetishists. The same principle applies to Western men and the expression of their own thigh fetishism when it comes to lingerie and hosiery. Stockings and suspenders make these men’s enjoyment of thighs and their understanding of thigh fetishism that much easier. The combination of panties, a suspender belt and stockings isolates the area of exposed thigh and almost draws a border around it. This focuses the attention on the naked skin as oppose to the erogenous zones that are covered, albeit by material that is often sheer. A garter belt is another magnet for thigh fetishists, as are knee-high socks, thigh-high boots and self-support stockings”.
My own view is that thigh fetishism and other thigh-related fetishes (for thigh boots, thigh socks, etc.) while overlapping, are not the same. The article on the Venus O’Hara website then goes onto talk about another variant of thigh fetishism:
“Thigh fetishism has produced a new variation of itself recently and social media has had a lot to do with it. The trend for promoting and desiring a permanent clearance between the tops of the legs has become a social phenomenon and a modern yardstick for feminine health and beauty. This ‘thigh gap’ is more common, anatomically, in women who are naturally much taller and whose body mass index is lower than the average. The physiques displayed by contemporary fashion models are an obvious ideal where the ‘thigh gap’ is concerned. A much more democratic trend in relation to thigh fetishism has also arisen on social media almost in response to the ‘thigh gap’. ‘Thighbrow’ describes the naturally-occurring crease between the thigh and the hip that appears when you sit or kneel down. Two of these, when observed together, have been said to resemble eyebrows. Whereas the ultimate ‘thigh gap’ seems to be exclusive to young women who wear size 6 jeans, the ‘thighbrow’ is a fetish highlight that everyone can flaunt”.
There was also a recent exhibition in Japan devoted purely to thigh fetishism. A short online article about the exhibition noted that:
“In Japanese Culture there are so many different fetishes that are popular: Swimsuit Fetish, Doorknob Licking Fetish (it’s not a joke), Teeth Fetish…Amongst these Fetishes, there is also Thigh Fetish, and Todays Gallery Studio decided to dedicate an entire photo exhibition about it…More than 500 works and 1000 pair of thighs shot by artist Yuria will be exposed”.
In my own research for this blog I was unable to find any dedicated online discussion forum for thigh fetishism. This could either be because it’s so rare or be because it’s so common that it’s not worth creating a dedicated website to discuss such matters. I found very few first-hand accounts of self-admitted thigh fetishism, in fact I only located two individuals:
- Extract 1: “This is going to sound weird, but I sort of have a thing for women who have strong looking thighs. Size isn’t just what it’s about, but with a muscular tone along with it. It’s not like I get off on it, but I do find it very sexy and is a big turn on for me. It started when I seen a women at this gym who was wearing these spandex looking short pants and I couldn’t help but notice her thighs in them, and they were rather muscular. I don’t have a fetish for female bodybuilders, though I do find spandex sexy…but it wasn’t that, it was her thighs, and I just started noticing things like this more and more afterward”.
- Extract 2: Even before I hit puberty, I always had these strange, excited feeling in me…[When] I was 11, I would imagine these pretty girls getting out of their pants and revealing their legs…One night, I had an extremely arousing dream. It was odd, yet intense. I was hanging out in the park in my neighborhood. A bunch of ladies were hanging out…With no warning, all the ladies in the park started screaming. Their pants were undoing themselves. Afterward, all the ladies’ pants were being pulled off by something invisible and sex crazed. Something that wanted a bunch of ladies have no pants on. Now these scared ladies were in their underwear. The idea of these beautiful ladies going from having their pants on to being taken off them excited me to no end…My women’s thigh fetish was getting more intense…By the time I was 14, I imagined the sex crazed invisible creature taking off random women’s pants and making them cross their naked thighs together, like they were making out…When I was 14, I finally had found a girl…I told her all about my sexy dreams. About my women’s thigh fetish…I kept asking her really warped questions, like how she would feel if something took her pants off in school. How would she feel if her and another girl lost their pants together…[I] finally ejaculated and [was] happy that her legs were the reason…Even now…my women’s thigh fetish dreams were always my favorites to think about”.
I have no idea if these accounts are in any way representative of those who have a thigh fetish but both appear to be heterosexual males, and both can pinpoint where their interests in women’s thighs originated. As with many fetishes I have examined, I can’t see thigh fetishism being the topic of any in-depth empirical research simply because it has the ‘so what?’ factor. Who would be interested in such research and why?
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E.A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.
Taktak, S., Yılmaz, E., Karamustafalıoglu, O., & Unsal, A. (2016). Characteristics of paraphilics in Turkey: A retrospective study – 20years. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. doi.org/10.1016/j.ijlp.2016.05.004.
Turnbull, O.H., Lovett, V.E., Chaldecott, J., & Lucas, M.D. (2014). Reports of intimate touch: Erogenous zones and somatosensory cortical organization. Cortex, 53, 146-154.
Five years ago I wrote a blog about one of my favourite bands, Throbbing Gristle (TG; Yorkshire slang for a penile erection). In that article, I noted that TG were arguably one of “the most extreme bands of all time” and “highly confrontational”. They were also the pioneers of ‘industrial music’ and in terms of their ‘songs’, no topic was seen as taboo or off-limits. In short, they explored the dark and obsessive side of the human condition. Their ‘music’ featured highly provocative and disturbing imagery including hard-core pornography, sexual manipulation, school bullying, ultra-violence, sado-masochism, masturbation, ejaculation, castration, cannibalism, Nazism, burns victims, suicide, and serial killers (Myra Hindley and Ian Brady).
I mention all this because I have just spent the last few days reading the autobiography (‘Art Sex Music‘) of Cosey Fanni Tutti (born Christine Newbie), one of the four founding members of TG. It was a fascinating (and in places a harrowing) read. As someone who is a record-collecting completist and having amassed almost everything that TG ever recorded, I found Cosey’s book gripping and read the last 350 pages (out of 500) in a single eight-hour sitting into the small hours of Sunday morning earlier today.
TG grew out of the ‘performance art’ group COUM Transmissions in the mid-1970s comprising Genesis P-Orridge (‘Gen’, born Neil Megson in 1950) and Cosey. At the time, Cosey and Gen were a ‘couple’ (although after reading Cosey’s book, it was an unconventional relationship to say the least). TG officially formed in 1975 when Chris Carter (born 1953) and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (1955-2010). Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Fairburn famously called the group “wreckers of civilisation” (which eventually became the title of their 1999 biography by Simon Ford).
As I noted in my previous article, TG are – psychologically – one of the most interesting groups I have ever come across and Cosey’s book pulled no punches. To some extent, Cosey’s book attempted to put the record straight in response to Simon Ford’s book which was arguably a more Gen-oriented account of TG. Anyone reading Cosey’s book will know within a few pages who she sees as the villain of the TG story. Gen is portrayed as an egomaniacal tyrant who manipulated her. Furthermore, she was psychologically and physically abused by Gen throughout their long relationship in the 1970s. Thankfully, Cosey fell in love with fellow band member Chris Carter and he is still the “heartbeat” of the relationship and to who her book is dedicated.
Like many of my favourite groups (The Beatles, The Smiths, The Velvet Underground, Depeche Mode), TG were (in Gestaltian terms) more than the sum of their parts and all four members were critical in them becoming a cult phenomenon. The story of their break up in the early 1980s and their reformation years later had many parallels with that of the Velvet Underground’s split and reformation – particularly the similarities between Gen and Lou Reed who both believed they were leaders of “their” band and who both walked out during their second incarnations.
Cosey is clearly a woman of many talents and after reading her book I would describe her as an artist (and not just a ‘performance artist’), musician (or maybe ‘anti-musician in the Brian Eno sense of the word), writer, and lecturer, as well as former pornographic actress, model, and stripper. It is perhaps her vivid descriptions of her life in the porn industry and as a stripper that (in addition to her accounts of physical and psychological abuse by Gen) were the most difficult to read. For someone as intelligent as Cosey (after leaving school with few academic qualifications but eventually gaining a first-class degree via the Open University), I wasn’t overly convinced by her arguments that her time working in the porn industry both as a model and actress was little more than an art project that she engaged in on her own terms. But that was Cosey’s justification and I have no right to challenge her on it.
What I found even more interesting was how she little connection between her ‘pornographic’ acting and modelling work and her time as a stripper (the latter she did purely for money and to help make ends meet during the 1980s). Her work as a porn model and actress was covert, private, seemingly enjoyable, and done behind closed doors without knowing who the paying end-users were seeing her naked. Her work as a stripper was overt, public, not so enjoyable, and played out on stage directly in front of those paying to see her naked. Two very different types of work and two very different psychologies (at least in the way that Cosey described it).
Obviously both jobs involved getting naked but for Cosey, that appeared to be the only similarity. She never ever had sex for money with any of the clientele that paid to see her strip yet she willingly made money for sex within the porn industry. For Cosey, there was a moral sexual code that she worked within, and that sex as a stripper was a complete no-no. The relationship with Gen was (as I said above) ‘unconventional’ and Gen often urged her and wanted her to have sex with other men (and although she never mentioned it in her book, I could speculate that Gen had some kind of ‘cuckold fetish’ that I examined in a previous blog as well as some kind of voyeur). There were a number of times in the book when Cosey appeared to see herself as some kind of magnet for unwanted attention (particularly exhibitionists – so-called ‘flashers’ – who would non-consensually expose their genitalia in front of Cosey from a young age through to adulthood). Other parts of the book describe emotionally painful experiences (and not just those caused by Gen) including both her parents disowning her and a heartfelt account of a miscarriage (and the hospital that kept her foetus without her knowledge or consent). There are other sections in the book that some readers may find troubling including her menstruation art projects (something that I perhaps should have mentioned in my blog on artists who use their bodily fluids for artistic purposes).
Cosey’s book is a real ‘warts and all’ account of her life including her many health problems, many of which surprisingly matched my own (arrhythmic heart condition, herniated spinal discs, repeated breaking of feet across the lifespan). Another unexpected connection was that her son with Chris Carter (Nick) studied (and almost died of peritonitis) as an undergraduate studying at art at Nottingham University or Nottingham Trent University. I say ‘or’ because at one stage in the book it says that Nick studied at Nottingham University and in another extract it says they were proud parents attending his final degree art show at Nottingham Trent University. I hope it was the latter.
Anyone reading the book would be interested in many of the psychological topics that make an appearance in the book including alcoholism, depression, claustrophobia, egomania, and suicide to name just a few. In previous blogs I’ve looked at whether celebrities are more prone to some psychological conditions including addictions and egomania and the book provides some interesting case study evidence. As a psychologist and a TG fan I loved reading the book.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Cooper, D. (2012). Sypha presents … Music from the Death Factory: A Throbbing Gristle primer. Located at: http://denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/sypha-presents-music-from-death-factory.html?zx=c19a3a826c3170a7
Fanni Tutti, C. (2017). Art Sex Music. Faber & Faber: London.
Ford, S. (1999). Wreckers of Civilization: The Story of Coum Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle. London: Black Dog Publishing.
Kirby, D. (2011). Transgressive representations: Satanic ritual abuse, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, and First Transmission. Literature and Aesthetics, 21, 134-149.
Kromhout, M. (2007). ‘The Impossible Real Transpires’ – The Concept of Noise in the Twentieth Century: a Kittlerian Analysis. Located at: http://www.mellekromhout.nl/wp-content/uploads/The-Impossible-Real-Transpires.pdf
Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.
Sarig, R. (1998). The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You’ve Never Heard Of. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications.
Walker, J.A. (2009). Cosey Fanni Tutti & Genesis P-Orridge in 1976: Media frenzy, Prostitution-style, Art Design Café, August 10. Located at: http://www.artdesigncafe.com/cosey-fanni-tutti-genesis-p-orridge-1-2009
Wells, S. (2007). A Throbbing Gristle primer. The Guardian, May 27. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2007/may/29/athrobbinggristleprimer
Last week I watched the South Korean film Lucid Dream (a 2017 Netflix original that premiered on June 2), the directorial debut by Kim Joon-sung. For those who don’t know, lucid dreams are those in “which the dreamer is aware of dreaming. During lucid dreaming, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment” (Wikipedia). The reason I mention this is because one of the characters in the film claims he is ‘addicted’ to lucid dreams. Obviously the use of the word ‘addicted’ in this context piqued my interest (in what must be said was a mediocre film).
I’ve been fascinated by lucid dreams even before I knew what they were. Although I’ve suffered from insomnia for most of my life, I’m also someone that has very vivid dreams when I sleep. I learned a lot more about lucid dreaming during my PhD at the University of Exeter because one of my best friends (Rob Rooksby) was carrying out research into the area. Over the course of a few years, I had many conversations with Rob about the topic (both professional and personal) because I had experienced lucid dreams myself (and still do).
One of the academics that Rob mentioned many times to me was the psychologist Dr. Jayne Gackenbach who at the time was editor of a journal called Lucidity Letter (and in which Rob had a couple of papers published in, see ‘Further reading’ below. By co-incidence, I came to know Dr. Gackenbach professionally in the 1990s and since then I have written three chapters in some of her edited books – two on internet addiction and one on Game Transfer Phenomena – also see ‘Further reading’ below). In a short 1987 paper in Lucidity Letter, Dr. Gackenbach claimed that lucid dreaming could be potentially addictive:
“I would caution against taking an attitude toward the lucid dream state of it being unrelated to waking life. This could result in undue absorption in lucid dreaming, leading potentially to addiction (see the letter by Barroso in [the December, 1987] issue of Lucidity Letter for an excellent example)…After hearing about Tholey’s training of an Olympic athlete with dream lucidity, a colleague spontaneously remarked, “Dream lucidity is really the ultimate drug!” Yes, the state has that potential. But so too comes the potentiality of abuse through ignorance of proper use and possibly addiction”.
Consequently, I managed to track down a copy of Mark Barroso’s 1987 published letter where he asserted that:
“I would like to comment on how lucid dreaming became counterproductive. Like most everything else I’ve enjoyed, too much of it could be very destructive. Living in the dream world became preferable to reality. I would lay in bed, miss work, and wrap myself in a catatonic state in which to spin dreams, dreams, dreams. I would sleep in public places to use various stimuli for my lucid dreams: a park, a downtown bench, the beach, park the car near a school yard of children playing. If you have mastered lucid dreaming, you should try this, it really is incredible. Real and random sounds factor in the dream. Basically, all I did was lucid dream and nothing else. With a life like that it could be hard to pay the rent. So I just stopped. Over time I lost the ability to lucid dream…Although I never regarded myself as having a special ability, it never occurred to me that others did this as well. I finally “O.D.’d” on lucid dreaming when I stayed in bed for 4 or 5 days, only rising to drink and use the bathroom. I was a hermit with no other ambition. I got a job where people were counting on me to show up and found within me the motivation to shake the cobwebs from my eyes”.
Although I am highly sceptical that lucid dreaming can be potentially addictive, Barroso’s letter does contain anecdotal evidence at least suggestive of addiction-like symptoms where lucid dreaming completely took over his life and impacted negatively on every area of his life. These aren’t the only references to ‘lucid dreaming addiction’ in the academic literature. In a 1990 book by Dr. Stephen LaBerge and Dr. Howard Rheingold entitled Exploring The World of Lucid Dreaming, one chapter (‘Preparing for learning lucid dreaming’) featured a ‘Q&A’ section including the following question and answer:
“Q. Lucid dreams are so exciting and feel so good that real life pales by comparison. Isn’t it possible to get addicted to them and not wish to do anything else?
A. It may be possible for the die-hard escapist whose life is otherwise dull to become obsessed with lucid dreaming. Whether or not this deserves to be called addiction is another question. In any case, some advice for those who find the idea of “sleeping their life away” for the sake of lucid dreaming is to consider applying what they have learned in lucid dreams to their waking lives. If lucid dreams seem so much more real and exciting, then this should inspire you to make your life more like your dreams – more vivid, intense, pleasurable, and rewarding. In both worlds your behavior strongly influences your experience”.
Another similar Q&A featured on the World of Lucid Dreaming (WLD) website founded by Rebecca Turner. One of the WLD readers (‘Nikki’) asked Turner: “Is lucid dreaming addictive? I really want to have lucid dreams but I read that lucid dreaming is really addictive and this worries me. Would you compare this need to taking drugs? How do you keep control over it?” Turner responded by saying: “I [too] have read in the media that “lucid dreaming is addictive” but this is a poor use of language. They are trying to say that it’s highly enjoyable and you’ll want to do it more”.
As far as I am aware, no empirical study has ever examined addiction to lucid dreaming although there are plenty of individuals on various lucid dreaming online forums who have claimed that such activity can be addictive from either their own experiences or by those known to them. Here are a few of the more detailed examples I have come across:
- Extract 1: “I first lucid dreamed purposely about 5-6 years ago. For the past year and a half. I’ve lucid dreamed every single night, except when I’m really drunk, I don’t seem to dream then. I have a bit of an addictive personality, I smoke weed every day. I have a sex in my dreams very often, a few times a week, and they almost always end up with an orgasm and a wet awakening later. I always just have the greatest times and see the greatest things while I’m dreaming. But it is getting harder and harder to get up in the morning. I will sleep an extra 2-3 hours after I want to wake up because I don’t want to leave the dream world, and I find if I go to sleep while the dream is fresh in my mind still I can continue it with ease. I have lost many jobs, and fucked up many opportunities because I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning…Now I am on welfare, get money from the government every month, and I sleep all the time, I have no set sleep schedule, I sleep in the day, I sleep at night, I sleep whenever I feel like it. I feel like the second my head hits the pillow I’m sucked into another world in my head. I daydream whenever I’m not sleeping, I’ve lost track of time. My whole world feels like a lucid dream now” (Steezy 233).
- Extract 2: I think I spend at least half of my nights lucid dreaming. I never get tired of it…I love the world my mind creates every night…I have a really long history with lucid dreaming and hallucinations, but if I were to go that in-depth this post would end up being a novel or something. Long story short, I used to have hypnagogic hallucinations and sleep paralysis every night when I was young (4-10, I think)…Then one night I had my first lucid dream, and did some investigating…I became better and better at lucid dreaming, and somehow parts of my dream world have become consistent (architecture, people, holidays even). I love living in the dream world. It’s fun, and horrifying at times, but either way it’s exciting. But in the day, everything is drab. Living feels so dull and dead and repetitive and stressful…I love dreaming. I’m depressed when I’m not dreaming. Sometimes I wish I could dream and never wake up. I’m not suicidal or anything dangerous like that…I don’t really want people I know to know I have this addiction to dreaming” (‘JDBar’).
- Extract 3: “When I first learned how to induce lucid dreams as a teenager, and then program the dream I wanted to have, it was intoxicating! Every night before I went to sleep I would have to decide if I wanted to do something romantic with a hunky male movie star, or save the world as Storm from the X-Men, or work on astral projection, or try to contact my friends who were also lucid dreaming, etc. I was practically living a double life because my night life was vastly different than my waking life. I was becoming addicted to the pleasures of lucid dreaming. That habit led to some unfortunate experiences, however. The more I explored the dream world and different planes of existence, the less connected I was to my waking life. This was not at all healthy. It would take too long to explain everything that happened…but suffice it to say, it nearly destroyed my sanity. I eventually decided I had to plug back into my “real” life and leave some of the other world behind. It took a couple of years to reconnect with the living instead of the astral” (Erin).
- Extract 4: “Well, I’ll admit that I went through a bad stage last year. I had high levels of anxiety and depression and I saw lucid dreaming as a way to escape from everything that was going on at school and in my life. I would even fake sick just to stay home and sleep all day to lucid dream. But something just changed lately and I’m no longer depressed…I don’t rely on lucid dreaming like I used to, instead I just see it as some fun. I wouldn’t say there’s any real reason not to lucid dream, though. It’s a lot of fun and can help with night terrors and nightmares” (Daydreamer14).
Most accounts I have come across online see the benefits of lucid dreaming as far outweighing any negatives. In fact, I came across a few websites claiming that lucid dreaming can be used as a method of overcoming more traditional addictions (similar to the idea of Dr. Bill Glasser’s positive addictions that I examined in a previous blog). For instance, at the Lucid Dream Leaf website it was claimed that:
“Lucid dreaming has a seemingly endless list of benefits attached to it. It can help people who are struggling with emotional pain, end recurring dreams and nightmares, expand consciousness, and so on. In addition to all of this, regular lucid dreaming practice can also be a useful tool to those in recovery (or moving toward recovery) from addictions”.
Other websites (such as the Remedy Free website) provide advice on how to overcome addiction to lucid dreaming or how to overcome problems with lucid dreaming (‘7 nasty side effects of lucid dreaming and how to fix them’ and ‘Lucid dreaming dangers – Obsession [Addiction]’). Although I’ve argued that any activity can be potentially addictive as long as there are constant rewards from the activity, lucid dreaming can only occur when an individual is asleep, so unless someone is constantly sleeping, it doesn’t appear it could be an addiction by my own criteria – but as ever, I am happy to be proved wrong. I ought to add that some online articles (such as one on the Dreaming Life blogsite) claim that lucid dreaming can be a consequence of ‘sleeping addiction’ (but I’ll leave that for another blog).
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Barroso, M., (1987). Letter to the Editor. Lucidity Letter, 6(2). Retrieved from https://journals.macewan.ca/lucidity/article/view/763/704
Gackenbach, J. (1987). Clinical and transpersonal concerns with lucid dreaming voiced. Lucidity Letter, 6(2), 1-4.
Glasser, W. (1976), Positive Addictions. Harper & Row, New York, NY.
Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications (pp. 61-75). New York: Academic Press.
LaBerge, S., & Rheingold, H. (1990). Exploring The World of Lucid Dreaming. New York: Ballantine Books.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An introduction to Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing. In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Video Game Play and Consciousness (pp.223-250). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.
Rooksby, R. (1989). Problems in the historical research of lucid dreaming. Lucidity Letter, 8(2), 75-80.
Rooksby, B., & Terwee, S. (1990). Freud, van Eeden and lucid dreaming. Lucidity Letter, 9(2), 1-10.
Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? (Revisited). In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications (2nd Edition), (pp.141-163). New York: Academic Press.
Wikipedia (2017). Lucid dream. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucid_dream
A study published in the British Journal of General Practice in March 2017 reported that of 1,058 individuals surveyed in GP waiting rooms in Bristol (UK), 0.9% were problem gamblers and that a further 4.3% reported gambling problems that “were low to medium severity”. This is in line with other British studies carried out over the last decade which have reported problem gambling prevalence rates of between 0.5% and 0.9%.
I have long argued that problem gambling is a health issue and that GPs should routinely screen for gambling problems. Back in 2004, I published an article in the British Medical Journal about why problem gambling is a health issue. I argued that the social and health costs of problem gambling were (and still are) large at both individual and societal levels.
Personal costs can include irritability, extreme moodiness, problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, neglect of family, and bankruptcy. Adverse health consequences for problem gamblers and their partners include depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraine, and other stress related disorders. In my BMJ article I also noted that analysis of calls to the GamCare national gambling helpline indicated that a small minority of callers reported health-related consequences as a result of their problematic gambling. These included depression, anxiety, stomach problems, and suicidal ideation. Obviously many of these medical problems arise through the stress of financial problems but that doesn’t make it any less of a health issue for those suffering from severe gambling problems.
Research published in the American Journal of Addictions has also shown that health-related problems can occur as a result of withdrawal effects. For instance, one study by Dr. Richard Rosenthal and Dr. Henry Lesieur found that at least 65% of pathological gamblers reported at least one physical side effect during withdrawal, including insomnia, headaches, loss of appetite, physical weakness, heart racing, muscle aches, breathing difficulty, and chills.
Based on these findings, problem gambling is very much a health issue that needs to be taken seriously by all in the medical profession. GPs routinely ask patients about smoking cigarettes and drinking, but gambling is something that is not generally discussed. Problem gambling may be perceived as a grey area in the field of health, and it is therefore very easy for those in the medical profession not to have the issue on their wellbeing radar. If the main aim of GPs is to ensure the health of their patients, then an awareness of gambling and the issues surrounding it should be an important part of basic knowledge and should be taught in the curriculum while prospective doctors are at medical school. One of the reasons that GPs don’t routinely screen for problem gambling is because they are not taught about it during their medical training and therefore do not even think about screening for it in the first place. As I recommended in a report commissioned by the British Medical Association, the need for education and training in the diagnosis, appropriate referral and effective treatment of gambling problems must be addressed within GP training. More specifically, GPs should be aware of the types of gambling and problem gambling, demographic and cultural differences, and the problems and common co-morbidities associated with problem gambling. GPs should also understand the importance of screening patients perceived to be at increased risk of gambling addiction, and should be aware of the referral and support services available locally.
I also recommended that treatment for problem gambling should be provided under the NHS (either as standalone services or alongside drug and alcohol addiction services) and funded by gambling-derived profit revenue.
Back in 2011, Dr. Jane Rigbye and myself published a study using Freedom of Information requests to ask NHS trusts if they had ever treated pathological gamblers. Only 3% of the trusts had ever treated a problem gambler and only one trust said they offered dedicated help and support. I’m sure if we repeated the study today, little will have changed.
It is evident that problem gambling is not, as yet, on the public health agenda in the UK. NHS services – including GP surgeries – need to be encouraged to see gambling problems as a primary reason for referral and a valid treatment option. Information about gambling addiction services, in particular services in the local area, should be readily available to gamblers and GP surgeries are a good outlet to advertise such services. Although some gambling services (such as GamCare, the gambling charity I co-founded) provide information to problem gamblers about local services, such information is provided to problem gamblers who have already been proactive in seeking gambling help and/or information. Given that very few GPs could probably treat a problem gambler, what they must have is the knowledge of who they can refer their patients to.
Calado, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Problem gambling worldwide: An update of empirical research (2000-2015). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 592–613.
Cowlishaw, S., Gale, L., Gregory, A., McCambridge, J., & Kessler, D. (2017). Gambling problems among patients in primary care: a cross-sectional study of general practices. British Journal of General Practice, doi: bjgp17X689905
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Gambling – An emerging area of concern for health psychologists. Journal of Health Psychology, 6, 477-479.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.
Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling Addiction and its Treatment Within the NHS. London: British Medical Association (ISBN 1-905545-11-8).
Griffiths, M.D. & Smeaton, M. (2002). Withdrawal in pathological gamblers: A small qualitative study. Social Psychology Review, 4, 4-13.
Rigbye, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Problem gambling treatment within the British National Health Service. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 276-281.
Rosenthal, R., & Lesieur, H. (1992). Self-reported withdrawal symptoms and pathological gambling. American Journal of the Addictions, 1, 150–154.
Wardle, H., Moody. A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M.D., Hussey, D. & Dobbie, F. (2011). British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office.
Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M.D., Constantine, R. & Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey. London: The Stationery Office.
In previous blogs I have examined a number of extreme behaviours involving hands (both sexual and non-sexual) including hand wear fetishism, fingernail fetishism, ‘hands on hip’ fetishism, alien hand syndrome, ‘touch the truck’ endurance television, and thumb sucking as an addiction. However, it was while I was researching a previous blog on belly inflation fetishes that I came across a man who on the Yahoo! Answers website claimed he had a belly inflation fetish and a thumb fetish along with another person who responded saying he also shared the same fetish:
- Extract 1: “Another weird fetish I have is ‘hitchhiker’s thumb’. Hitchhikers thumb is when the top part of your thumb bends backwards when pushed on or fully extended…The hitchhiker’s thumb fetish developed when I found out that my cousins could do it. I would ALWAYS ask questions about it and I would bend her thumbs back and forth for hours. And I just get turned on by it now…is this weird?” (Male, sexual orientation unknown)
- Extract 2: “I [also] have a fetish for bendy thumbs hence the profile pic. It’s all good I say whatever turns u on and if not hurting anyone then it’s cool” (Male, sexual orientation unknown)
Although I have read about (i) thumb bondage (mentioned in a 2007 book chapter on themes of sadomasochistic expression by Dr. Charles Moser and Dr. Peggy Kleinplatz) and (ii) thumb sucking by adult babies that are into paraphilic infantilism, I had never read anything on standalone thumb fetishes. (I would also point out that the ‘thumb sucking’ is just one of many baby-like behaviours that paraphilic infantilists enjoy but do not necessarily see as a source of arousal in and of itself). There is also those who say that they engage is ‘thumb sex’ and defined by the online Urban Dictionary as “when two people hold hands and run their thumbs around the other persons thumb or twiddle the thumbs”. There are also (for want of a better word) ‘cultural’ references to thumb fetishes such as the instrumental song ‘Mayor Oscar Goodman’s Thumb Fetish’ by US deathcore band Molotov Solution.
As far as I am aware there has never been any empirical research on thumb fetishism. There are various online websites and forums that feature individuals that claim to have very specific types of thumb fetishes. This is one of the more specific that I found:
- Extract 3: “I’m a 34 year old men and I have thin thumbs (each ones have the same width as an American/Canadian penny, that’s 0.74 inch or 19 millimeters). I got a fetish that seems to be pretty rare. It consists of being turn on by comparing my thin thumbs with a woman that has larger ones than mine. Also, the younger the woman is with larger thumbs, the better. It’s pretty inoffensive, but rare I think” (Male heterosexual).
There are also whole webpages dedicated to the sexiness of thumb sucking. Here are some of the online accounts I found on the Thumb Sucking Adults website. They begin by noting that adult thumb sucking is “sexy. This fact shouldn’t be too surprising in that it involves the sensual oral center [and] so much of what is human has become sexualized in one way or another that thumb sucking adults is just another part of the total picture”. They then highlight some of their readers’ experiences:
- Extract 3: “I am a bisexual woman who finds other women sucking their thumbs extremely erotic…First of all, growing up, I had a very close friend who lived down the street from me who also sucked her thumb. Experimenting with sex at a very early age…[she] and I would spend hours together exploring our bodies and touching each other. We learned how to masturbate and although I was so young, I discovered how to reach orgasm. I think perhaps Janice and I shared a certain closeness in our friendship and later in our intimacy because we both sucked our thumbs and felt accepted by each other if not by peers who seemed to ridicule us…I can summarize that my earliest, deepest feelings of sexual desire were connected to both thumb sucking and a female partner. Many years passed and I dated men here and there, but never quite felt emotionally or sexually fulfilled [as with women]…From the e-mails I’ve read on your site, I have also noticed that it is mostly the men who find thumbsucking erotic. Perhaps as a woman who is mostly gay and possesses some traits and attributes more commonly associated with men…I am more turned on by this than other women. And why does it turn me on? I’m sure it has to do with my childhood friend and the feelings associated with that particular behavior”(Bisexual female).
- Extract 4: “The arousal that naturally occurs when I do it. Thumb in mouth…hand on penis. This goes way back. I had contributed an early ‘embarrassment’ to [another website] saying that I watched a home movie in front of all our relatives and there was this shot of me, around 3 years old, standing by the garage, thumb in mouth, hand holding crotch. I had never seen that before. There was devilish laughter. I laughed along, but was shocked. I do remember a dry climax sucking my thumb when I was about 6 or 7. And my first real emission at age 12 or 13 involved thumb sucking in my bed. So it is very ingrained in me. The physical feeling of doing it brings such erotic pleasure. When I first insert my thumb in my mouth, pressing it against my palate and rubbing it back and forth about 1/2″, the stimulus begins. I don’t suck continuously. I do it for 1-2 minutes and take my thumb out for about 20 seconds and then put it back in. Each time it gets better and better. The key thing is that my thumb gets wetter and softer and SMOOTHER against my palate. I am very curious if anyone else sucks their thumb this way. I don’t actually SUCK it. I rub it. The other important part is that as I rub it, my tongue proceeds to pulsate. It’s involuntary. There’s no stopping it as long as I connect with the right spot on my palate. This enhances the feeling greatly. This dual rubbing, pulsating action. My thumb would have to be cut off to stop me from doing it. The last part of sexuality in thumb sucking is observing others doing it. I have to be honest in saying that watching…is an immense turn-on. Fortunately, I know I can control my desires” (Heterosexual male)
- Extract 5: “Larry finds many things attractive in a woman. One of these things, apparently, is that she sucks her thumb. It probably is not essential that she does so (if it was, we’d be talking more along the lines of a fetish) but, if she does suck her thumb, he finds that attractive, whatever the underlying psychodynamics. I propose that his preferences aren’t much different than, say, another man’s predilections for big-breasted women, though both allures aren’t necessarily exclusive…There are societal stigmas associated with the habit. Try sucking your thumb whenever you want to and you’ll see that at least an undue amount of attention will be focused your way for a while. The point is, perhaps as adult thumb sucking becomes more widely known, it is natural that some out there will find it an endearing quality in a person…For the adult thumb sucker, this site has been liberating…And, in the case of Larry, the fact that he has felt solitude in his thumb sucking, all his adult life, it’s certainly understandable to me that among all the feelings that are engendered when he sees it in another for the first time…[This website] simply proposes that adult thumb sucking is more common than otherwise assumed and should be accepted since it is, essentially, harmless and, for those that indulge, beneficial. As for thumb sucking being sexually provocative, I suppose that anything human can be sexualized by others eventually. As long as it’s legal, what’s wrong with that?” (Gender and sexual orientation unknown)
- Extract 6: “I love adult women who still suck on their thumb. Since I was a kid, I felt an attraction for girls sucking their thumbs. My twin sister sucked her thumb till she was 16 years old! When I first started masturbating at age 12, I thought of a girl sucking her thumb. I’ve always looked for women that sucked their thumb and then ask them to suck it for me. When I was 18, I met a girl I suspected of still sucking her thumb. Strangely, I noticed she didn’t have any marks or callus on her thumb. But from time to time, I saw teeth marks and lipstick marks on her thumb…We started to have thumb sucking sex and I loved it. She liked it also. We stayed together four years. It became a habit. She’d suck her thumb for me and then I’d suck her thumb while we made love. I never sucked my thumb but now I suck my thumb while masturbating and thinking about my former girlfriend’s thumb or another girl’s thumb. I always look for women sucking their thumbs in their cars while driving. I have seen three in all the years I have looked. Those times were awesome. I never tried to make contact. I am married now, but my wife never sucks her thumb. She will do it if I ask her, but that isn’t the same. I like it when an adult woman does it naturally…I love a woman with a thumb callus and nice teeth (there are a few). I love to see a wet thumb. I like it when an adult sucks her thumb with the index finger over the nose. I find that very sexy” (Heterosexual male).
- Extract 7: “I find thumb sucking sensual, sexual, erotic, comforting, calming…It’s like catching someone at their most vulnerable. Partly because of its social taboo, it can even be slightly ‘naughty’…But it is an exciting thought to me to perhaps one day ‘catch’ someone else thumb sucking. Thumb sucking provides sensations around the mouth and nose that can be reproduced during sex or loveplay, although thumb sucking is less tiring. It feels nice, smells nice, tickles [the] pleasure centers. It provides the sensations of skin-to-skin warmth that I think everyone of us craves…It’s sensual, it’s intimate. But it’s also sensual and sexual. I find myself sucking my thumb after sex much like I might grab for a cigarette…But I think that thumb sucking is by far more satisfying and truly far less addicting [than smoking]. And definitely far less damaging…Quite honestly I didn’t find out how much I found finger and thumb sucking an exciting part of foreplay and sex until I was 23” (Heterosexual female).
- Extract 8: “I suck my thumb for the usual reasons, tension relief, to go to sleep, it feels good. But, I notice that other contributors here suck their thumb because it also feels erotic, and, I have to say, I agree…When I’m aroused, it enhances the feeling so much more. So it’s obvious that I’ve learned to associate my thumb sucking with something sexual…When I look at the photos of women at this site, sucking away, I just find them so beautiful, so sexually enthralling….First off, there’s the lips. I think most people can understand why lips can be very erotic. I don’t want to get into heavy psychology, but, let’s face it, lips are sexy, especially full lips, parted ever so slightly. They’re like an invitation to something exciting…When I see a woman’s full lips open just a bit, my tongue gets an irresistible urge to explore her sweet mouth…If her teeth were affected by thumb sucking, all the better. The thought that she can’t stop her habit, and the pleasure she derives from it, even if her teeth are affected to the point of obvious buckedness adds that much more to my sensation…She looks like something innocent, childlike but not a child. Her profile, exaggerating her now protrusive lips, wrapped around a phallus-like object that is her compulsion, her requirement, her urgency…I want her thumb to feel comfortable in my mouth as I experience, once again, her essence, her habit as mine” (Heterosexual male).
Obviously this is just a small selection of online accounts of sexual thumb sucking I have come across and I can’t know for sure that they are genuine (but they appear that way to me). Also, I have no idea whether these are typical but I can make a few tentative conclusions. Firstly, both males and females can find thumb sucking sexually stimulating. Secondly, sexual thumb suckers tend to be heterosexual (although one account was from a bisexual woman). Thirdly, most experiences of sexual thumb sucking are rooted in childhood experiences and that the acquisition and development of such behaviour is related with associative pairing (i.e., classical conditioning). Fourthly, no-one pathologizes the behaviour, and as long as the act is consensual, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the behaviour as a sexual preference. Finally, none of the accounts suggest the sexual thumb sucking is fetishistic – just that it is a non-normative sexual expression that fits alongside their other sexual experiences.
While researching this article I also came across the remarkable story of American Rafe Briggs (from Oakland, California) in a 2013 issue of the International Business Times. In 2004, Biggs fell off a roof and broke his neck leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. He obviously thought he would never experience any kind of sexual pleasure again but he was wrong:
“Turns out he can. Biggs, 43, says that his thumb is his ‘surrogate penis’, and that he gets ‘orgasmic sensations’ whenever it’s stimulated. ‘I never thought it would be possible, but massaging and sucking on my thumb, feels a lot like my penis used to feel – it’s really hot” said Biggs, whose girlfriend helped him discover this phenomenon a year after the accident. Sex therapists like Lisa Skye Carle, who works with Biggs, calls it a ‘transfer orgasm – where another place on the body gives the same sensation”. Biggs has made it his mission to helping quadriplegics lead sexually fulfilling lives, working with the group ‘Sexability’ an ‘organization committed to empowering people with disabilities to explore sexuality and creating intimate loving relationships. Since our beginning in 2006, we have been working with individuals, groups and organizations to transform sexuality and disability’. ”
Huffington Post (2013). Rafe Biggs’ thumb has become his ‘surrogate penis’ after accident left him paralyzed, April 22, Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/22/rafe-biggs-thumb_n_3132325.html?utm_hp_ref=weird-news
Moser, C., & Kleinplatz, P. J. (2007). Themes of SM expression. In D. Langdridge & M. Barker (Eds.) Safe, sane & consensual: Contemporary perspectives on sadomasochism. (pp. 35-54). Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Thumb Sucking Adults (undated). Why [thumb sucking] is sexy. Located at: http://www.thumbsuckingadults.com/mytsingissexypage.htm
Tungol, J.R. (2013). Paralyzed man Rafe Biggs has ‘orgasmic sensations’ through his thumb, ‘surrogate penis’ International Business Times. April 22. Located at: http://www.ibtimes.com/paralyzed-man-rafe-biggs-has-orgasmic-sensations-through-his-thumb-surrogate-penis-1208099