Category Archives: Compulsion
In January 1995, the Channel 4 television documentary programme Equinox examined sexual paraphilias in a programme called ‘Beyond Love’. One of the many experts interviewed for the programme, Dr. Gene Abel, talked about a man with an unusual fetish. His sexual turn-on was gold wedding rings. In recounting the individual’s story, Dr. Abel said that the fetish was very specific and that the ring had to be of a particular width (6mm to 10mm if I recall correctly) for it to be sexually stimulating to the man in question. The roots of the fetish were established in childhood and arose from the time that the man was a boy and used to sit on his baby-sitter’s knee and play with the ring (twirling it around on her finger). The playing with the ring was accompanied by sexual arousal (from sitting on the knee of an attractive woman) but over time, the ring itself became the source of sexual arousal via continued associative pairing (i.e., sexual arousal from the sight of the female babysitter’s ring became a classically conditioned response).
The man had now married and his wife was unaware of his fetish but the sexologist explained that the man could not get sexually aroused and make love to his wife unless she was wearing her wedding ring and he was twirling it on her finger during sexual intercourse. Dr. Abel also said the man would also walk up to female strangers and comment how lovely their wedding ring was and ask if he could take a photograph of it. He would then use the developed photographs as source material for masturbatory purposes. This anecdotal case story might sound a little bizarre especially as there is no sexual paraphilia that refers to being sexually attracted to gold wedding rings (although Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices does mention timophilia, a sexual paraphilia in which individuals gain sexual pleasure and arousal from gold or wealth – and which I briefly mentioned in a previous blog).
However, Dr. Abel and his colleagues later wrote up this account as one of six unusual case studies in a 2008 issue of the journal Psychiatric Clinics of North America where the man in question was given the pseudonym ‘Mr. Rings’ (the other five being ‘Mr. Cartoons’, ‘Mr. Feet’, ‘Mr. Balloons’, ‘Mr. Cigarettes’, and ‘Mr. Spanking’). In all of these cases (including ‘Mr. Rings’), they noted:
“The fetish objects in these case histories were unique enough, and the attraction to the objects strong enough, that the individuals could clearly track their interest from early childhood through adulthood. It is much easier to retrieve remote, explicit memories, such as events (e.g., a party where balloons popped) or playing with objects, than to recall the process of sexual development with no distinct markers in the individual’s history. Because these distinct experiences predated identified sexuality, became a focus of attention for the individual, and then were incorporated into the individual’s sexual interests and masturbatory fantasies, it was possible to accurately track the patterns of sexual arousal. We were also able to clearly identify how these men attempted to blend their deviant interests into sexual relationships with partners and the consequences of their efforts”.
As far as I am aware, this is the only academic paper to have examined ‘ring fetishism’ but my own research on the topic has led me to the conclusion that ‘Mr. Rings’ case is not unique. Here are a few accounts that I found in various online forums on the internet:
- Extract 1: “[I] have a wedding [ring] on hand fetish. Even more aroused if the woman wears both a wedding and an engagement ring. I don’t like any other kind of ring. Rather than the plain yellow I prefer silver colour (platinum ones)” (Welly11)
- Extract 2: “I have the same type of fetish. I’m turned on by ladies who wear wedding and engagement rings stacked on the same finger, and other simple band (plain gold or pave) rings. That’s why I founded a Yahoo! Group for other fetishists to share their photos” (Saladinthewise)
- Extract 3: “I thought I was the only person on the planet with this (get incredibly aroused when I see a woman wear the plain yellow gold wedding ring) and I couldn’t make any sense of it for ages…Thanks for restoring a bit of my sanity and faith in my normality!” (Heshan1)
- Extract 4: “My husband bought me a wedding ring that looks very similar to the one his mom wears. He later confessed it is a tremendous turn-on for him just seeing me wearing it. He doesn’t remember his mom (who is a wonderful person) doing anything ‘out of line’ with him in the past and it is not essential for me to have it on for sex. Could something have happened as a baby to implant this ‘fascination’ in his mind?” (iDawn491)
These are all fairly short self-confessed admissions and don’t really tell us much except that the fetish appears to be male-based and that the ring (or stacked rings in the case of two of the accounts) have to be worn by women. Extract 4 does point out that her husband can engage in sex without her wearing the ring so in this case, it wouldn’t be a true fetish behaviour (merely a strong sexual preference). There are also some sexually explicit discussions about wedding ring fetishes here. However, I did come across some more detailed accounts:
- Extract 5: “My fetish started a long time ago, I am 55. Women who have worn wide bands have always had my interest. I have been married twice and each time I have told my wife to be about my fetish. Both women have worn wide band. My first wife got deep in to religion and wanted me to quit carrying an off duty side arm, I was a police officer at the time. My second wife said if I wanted her to she would wear a few wide rings if I got her what I wanted. I have been married to her for almost 20 years and she has worn them both day and night. I really dislike the thin plain gold rings that a lot of women wear. I feel all women should wear wide band on one of their ring fingers. My second wife dated a guy before me who had a fetish for bangle bracelets that could not be removed he had her wearing 5 to 6 on each arm that were soldered on and could not pass over the wrist. Even after she broke up with him she continued to wear them for about 10 years and once in a blue moon she would see him somewhere and shake them at him, just to see and you can’t have me” (Edward 5759).
This account hints that the fetish probably started in adolescence and that like ‘Mr. Rings’, the ring has to be of a specific type (in this case a wide band). It is also a fetish that the man in question was happy to tell his wives about, and something that the wives were psychologically comfortable with. This last account is a little more complicated as there are overlaps with other sexually fetishistic behaviours:
- Extract 6: “My longstanding fetish is to be tied up by married women wearing a certain type of wedding ring. These are plain gold, very large 20-25 mms in width, curved like a barrel and smooth, the curve less pronounced as the width increases…All you need to know is that every woman I have ever encountered wearing one I have subsequently fantasized about them tying me up…My fetish even leading me to follow women I know to wear them. I have no idea why these wedding rings turn me on, and continue to do so, but it is a fetish I feel might be a new one and something I have just wanted to tell people about for a very long time. I can only think that the size and shape have something to do with my fetish and would appear to be linked somehow to my desire to always be tied with lots of rope, generously wrapped around the body. I’ve never really viewed my fetish as a problem other than the fact that chancing upon women wearing these rings is something that rarely ever happens, as they are not commonplace, therefore there is practically nothing to satisfy my ‘addiction’, for want of a better description…There was a woman who wore a wedding ring of the kind I have described, a particularly large one, who would shop every Saturday at a certain location at a certain time and I would make sure I’d be there to see it. This went on for three years. That was a long time ago now, and I still fantasize about her tying me up…I simply cannot imagine that ANYONE shares my fetish, so I can’t really expect to meet anyone here who does. The unusual nature of it being the biggest problem, that there is simply no concrete outlet for it” (Brainpan).
This final account is the most interesting one I have come across although is complicated by the fact that there are elements of bondage and sexual masochism added to the fetishistic mix. Although (like the other extracts) there is no insight into the roots and etiology of the behaviour, the size and the shape of the ring are again very specific suggesting that the longstanding desire dates back to a time where the person simply can’t recall where the interest in rings began (i.e., early childhood perhaps). As with other accounts, the fetishistic behaviour is not viewed as a problem by the person who has it (although in this latter case, there is arguably an element of stalking involved).
In all honesty (and although I find this interesting), I can’t see ‘wedding ring fetishism’ ever being the topic of in-depth psychological research particularly as the behaviour appears to be non-problematic in the main.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Abel, G.G., Coffey, L. & Osborn, C.A. (2008). Sexual arousal patterns: normal and deviant. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 31, 643-655.
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
In a previous blog, I briefly looked at ‘quilting addiction’. It was while I was researching that blog that I also came across a number of academic papers on the sociology of knitting and various references in the academic (and non-academic) literature to ‘knitting addiction’. In previous blogs I have written about the work of Dr. Bill Glasser who introduced the concept of ‘positive addiction’ in a 1976 book of the same name.
In a more recent 2012 paper on the topic in the Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Glasser claimed that he had heard numerous stories from many different individuals claiming they were ‘positively addicted “to a variety of activities such as swimming, hiking, bike riding, yoga, Zen, knitting, crocheting, hunting, fishing, skiing, rowing, playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing, and many more”. Glasser (1976) argued that activities such as jogging and transcendental meditation were positive addictions and were the kinds of activity that could be deliberately cultivated to wean addicts away from more harmful and sinister preoccupations. He also asserted that positive addictions must be new rewarding activities that produce increased feelings of self-efficacy.
This idea has actually been put into practice with knitting. Dr. Kathryn Duffy published a paper in a 2007 issue of the Journal of Groups in Addiction and Recovery about knitting as an experiential teaching method for affect management for females in addiction group therapy at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. Duffy claimed her knitting program had been successful in facilitating discussions and beneficial in providing a skill for moderating stress and emotions, both for female inpatient and outpatient drug and alcohol addicts.
A more recent paper by Dr. Betsan Corkhill and colleagues examined knitting and wellbeing (in a 2014 issue of Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture), using the World Health Organisation’s definition of wellbeing as “an ability to realize personal potential, cope with daily stresses, and contribute productively to society”. Their paper argued that knitting contributes to human wellbeing and has therapeutic benefits for those that engage in it because it is a behaviour (like many others) that can be used as a coping mechanism that can help overcome the daily pressures of life. One of the more interesting papers that I read on knitting was one published in a 2011 issue of Utopian Studies by Dr. Jack Bratich and Dr. Heidi Brush about “fabriculture” and “craftivism”:
“When we speak of ‘fabriculture’ or craft culture, we are referring to a whole range of practices usually defined as the ‘domestic arts’: knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking, quilting, embroidery, sewing, doll-making. More than the actual handicraft, we are referring to the recent popularization and resurgence of interest in these crafts, especially among young women. We are taking into account the mainstream forms found in Martha Stewart Living as well as the more explicitly activist (or craftivist) versions such as Cast Off, Anarchist Knitting Circle, MicroRevolt, Anarchist Knitting Mob, Revolutionary Knitting Circle, and Craftivism…When we use the term craft-work, we are specifically referring to the laboring practices involved in crafting, while fabriculture speaks to the broader practices (meaning-making, communicative, community-building) intertwined with this (im)material labor”.
The paper also outlined how women who knit in public (such as during a lecture or a conference) are often castigated and/or ridiculed for their behaviour. They even cited Sigmund Freud in relation to why knitting in public causes discomfort for onlookers:
“Freud institutionalized a concept denoting the jarring and disorienting effect of being spatially out of phase: unheimlich. The queasiness of the unheimlich occurs also when interiors become exteriorized (especially the home, as it also means unhomely). Knitting in public turns the interiority of the domestic outward, exposing that which exists within enclosures, through invisibility and through unpaid labor: the production of home life. Knitting in public also inevitably makes this question of space an explicitly gendered one. One commentator observes that knitting in public today is analogous to the outcry against breast-feeding in public twenty years ago (Higgins 2005). Both acts rip open the enclosure of the domestic space to public consumption. Both acts are also intensely productive and have generally contributed to women’s heretofore invisible and unpaid labor. But could such an innocuous activity as knitting have such social ramifications? How disruptive can fabriculture be when crafting women are more in the public eye than ever before? Many of us may know that Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, and other celebs knit”.
The paper goes on to say that there are various knitting blogs (such as Etherknitter) that “expose the dark side of knitting” including excessive consumption and addiction. I then went onto the Etherknitter website and located an article specifically written on knitting addiction (‘Etherknitter’ turned out to be the pseudonym of the individual that runs the site). Here are some extracts from the article which also notes some of the shared terminology between drug addiction and knitting addiction:
“It’s been a revealing several days. I have discovered that I am incapable of not knitting. The only thing that would have stopped me would have been pain… In college, when I flirted with smoking cigarettes for six weeks…Alcohol has never appealed…In my profession, an uncomfortable number of practitioners succumb to the siren song of drug addiction…Then we get to knitting. I can’t not knit. Well, I can, but it hurts too much to be worth it. (I wonder if that’s why addicts stay addicted.) I was talking to a [fabric store] owner recently…She commented that the staff in the store sees a lot of people at the store who act out their neediness through yarn. She saw it as uncontrolled buying. Since we were talking about obesity in America at the time, she was tying it into alcohol/drug and food addiction. [The Too Much Wool website] pointed out our knitterly use of the word ‘stash’, and its clear crossover to the drug culture. Blogworld is full of knitters describing uncontrolled stash acquistions [such as ‘majorknitter’]. And trying to hide the size of the stash from significant others. And selling parts of their stash to others. The addiction to fiber and knitting is probably more benign, except for the financial aspects, and the time constraints. I really do have to beat myself to fulfill the more boring paperwork obligations in my life since I started knitting. The needles (aha! Another crossover analogy) are more fun. I don’t plan to do anything about my knit-addiction quite yet. But it does bother me”.
In researching this article I came across a number of online accounts of people claiming to be genuinely addicted to knitting. This extract was particularly revealing as this short account seems to highlight many of the core components of addiction such as salience, conflict, and withdrawal symptoms:
“So, I’m 22 and I go through all that typical 22-year old stuff. Sometimes, my life gets rough and I have trouble coping. Rather than going out with friends and drinking till I puke, or going and smoking a few cigarettes or a joint, or having sex with random boys, I turn to my knitting in times of crisis. This might sound like a constructive thing. After all, I’m creating rather than destroying, right? Wrong. I say that I’m addicted because I am. I can’t function on a normal level without my knitting bag at my side. I can’t sit still in class or on a break if I’m not knitting. My head hurts, I sweat, I get jittery if my hands are doing nothing. And it gets worse. I skip classes to go to yarn stores. I come back late from breaks at work because I needed to finish just one more row. I already have one knitting tattoo and another planned. I pay my rent late because I spent my entire paycheck on yarn. My boyfriend’s half of the apartment is slowly being taken over by my stash. My life isn’t complete without knitting. I bought two spinning wheels so I could spin my own yarn. I think that if I ever lost a hand or arm due to an accident I would probably kill myself because I couldn’t knit…I’ve admitted to myself that I have a problem, but most people see knitting as simply my hobby. It goes so much deeper than that and I feel like I finally needed to say something”.
Academically, there is little on knitting addiction. In an unpublished thesis by Christiana Croghan, she noted in one paragraph that:
“Baird (2009) supports the theory that knitting alters brain chemistry, lowering stress hormones and boosting the production of serotonin and dopamine. Dittrich (2001) argues while there are many health benefits associated with knitting there is also a health risk of the possible development of carpal tunnel syndrome. Research suggests knitting may also have an addictive quality that Corkhill (2008) considers to be a constructive addiction that may replace other more severe harmful addictions. Marer (2002) interviewed professional women who knit during lunch hours, and found a consistent theme of relief from anxiety and a sense of clear headedness at work. Marer (2002) also found patients with severe illnesses such as cancer experience a greater sense of coping when they knit”.
More specifically on addiction, a 2011 issue of Asian Culture and History, Hye Young Shin and Dr. Ji Soo Ha examined knitting practice in Korea. Their qualitative research revealed that:
“Immersion in knitting projects can become so intense as to create anxiety for some knitters after the completion of a knitting project. They confess a sense of emptiness or feeling lost after a period of deep mental and physical engagement. This suggests that knitting can become an activity that does not arise out of necessity or has a clear purpose. However, knitters who have a lot of experience with knitting practice tend to say that long experience with knitting has enabled them to handle this urge to indulge in knitting, a typical symptom in the early stage of one’s knitting career”.
Their paper includes the following quotes from knitters that they interviewed:
- Extract 1: “Knitting is a kind of addiction or drug. I feel so bored and empty and a sense of being lost when I’m done with one project.”
- Extract 2: “For example, I check the time when a TV drama begins and I can stop knitting when the drama starts. When I first started knitting, I couldn’t control my urge to keep knitting on and on, but now I can; otherwise I can’t enjoy it as a pleasurable and long-term hobby. I still want to carry on when I sit for knitting, not wanting to stand up to wash the dishes, but now I can control myself.”
I have always argued that is theoretically possible for an individual to become addicted to anything if there are constant reinforcements (i.e., rewards). The anecdotal reports in this article suggest that a few individuals appear to experience addiction-like symptoms but there is too little detail to say one way or another whether knitting addiction genuinely exists.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Baird, M., (2009). Fighting the stress with knitting needles. Located at: http://heal-all.org/art/18/human-body/1999/fighting-the-stress-with-knitting-needles
Bratich, J. Z., & Brush, H. M. (2011). Fabricating activism: Craft-work, popular culture, gender. Utopian Studies, 22(2), 233-260.
Corkhill, B. (2008) Therapeutic knitting. retrieved from www.knitonthenet.com/issue4/features/therapeutic knitting/
Corkhill, B., Hemmings, J., Maddock, A., & Riley, J. (2014). Knitting and Well-being. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 12(1), 34-57.
Croghan, C. (2013). Knitting is the new yoga? Comparing techniques; physiological and psychological indicators of the relaxation response. Unpublished manuscript. Located at: http://esource.dbs.ie/handle/10788/1586
Dittrich, L. R. (2001) Knitting. Academic Medicine, 76(7), 671. Retrieved from: http://knittingbrain.com/results.php
Duffy, K. (2007). Knitting through recovery one stitch at a time: Knitting as an experiential teaching method for affect management in group therapy. Journal of Groups in Addiction and Recovery, 2(1), 67-83.
Glasser, W. (1976), Positive Addictions. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Glasser, W. (2012). Promoting client strength through positive addiction. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 11(4), 173-175.
Etherknitter (2006). Public displays of knitting. Etherknitter Blog. Accessed April 19, 2006, http://etherknitter.typepad.com/etherknitter/2006/03/please_picture_.html
Marer, E. (2002). Knitting: the new yoga. Health, 16(2), 76-78.
Shin, H. Y., & Ha, J. S. (2011). Knitting practice in Korea: A geography of everyday experiences. Asian Culture and History, 3(1), 105-114.
I can’t remember exactly how, but one day last year I came across a website called ‘Hands On Her Hips’ which is totally dedicated to pictures of females posing with their hands on their hips. As the website states:
“The mission statement of this blog is very simple. The blog contains picture of women holding their hands on their hips. To me the pose is very feminine, attractive, powerful and confident. The simple gesture of a woman putting her hands on her hips appeals to me and this blog is dedicated to that pose”
However, I soon discovered on doing a little Googling that there appears to be a niche community of ‘hands on hip’ [HoH] fetishists out there. I’m not aware of any academic research on HoH fetishism but there are a number of online references to the practice. According to a short 2009 online article on ‘eight freaky fetishes’ by Grace Murano, she claims that:
“Hands on the Hip is a type of hand partialism, which means the attraction to a specific action performed by the hands. It’s very hard to explain the presence of a fetish site devoted entirely to women posing with their hands on their hips, standing defiantly and angrily in the way so many mothers do when their children misbehave. Somewhere, deep in the psyche of the site’s creator, he desperately wants to find a mother figure who will discipline him with nothing harsher than a time out and denial of television”.
Murano’s brief description appears to somewhat concur with Wikipedia’s brief entry on hand fetishism (that appears to have come from Dr. Ellen McCallum’s 1998 book Object Lessons: How to Do Things With Fetishism). This entry claims that hand fetishism:
“…may include the sexual attraction to a specific area such as the fingers, palm or nails, or the attraction to a specific action performed by the hands; which may otherwise be considered non-sexual – such as washing or drying dishes. This fetish may manifest itself as a desire to experience physical interaction, or as a source of sexual fantasy”.
Another 2009 short online article by Gloria Brame asserts that HoH fetishism is actually an ‘action fetish’ (i.e., an individual who derives sexual arousal not from an object or body part but from an action that someone performs). Brame then goes on to assert that:
“For most, that includes seeing it, but it isn’t just a branch of voyeurism: the fundamental thrill attaches to the action itself, and not just its visual or auditory pleasures. One very broad example would be spankers who get off on the action (of spanking) itself, and not – as is more common among [sadomasochists] – the pain or humiliation or its place in a power dynamic…Some of us know SM players too who are turned on by the actions but not the psychological space…It’s a bit easier to sort out when the action fetish is highly particularized. For example, a fetish for watching a woman in stockings and high heels step on a car’s brakes, or a fetish for seeing a coed in her underwear bouncing on a big balloon There are scores of barely documented action fetishes, so I’m always happy when I see an enthusiast build a blog to his/her own fetish, like this one [Hands on her hips]”
In another list of ‘weird fetishes’ from 2007, Anthony Burch and Frank Movsesian also listed HoH fetish and tried to add in a bit of psychodynamic psychology into the mix. They claimed that HoH fetish sites prove that Sigmund Freud was right. I personally don’t adhere to this viewpoint at all but given the lack of any psychological insight and theorizing, they go as far as to say:
“There’s no other way to explain the presence of a fetish site devoted entirely to women posing with their hands on their hips, standing defiantly and angrily in the way so many mothers do when their children misbehave. Somewhere, deep in the psyche of the site’s creator, he desperately wants to find and have sex with a mother figure who will discipline him with nothing harsher than a Time Out and denial of television. I guess this fetish is for people who aren’t quite into sadomasochistic discipline, but think they might one day be. Bondage training wheels, if you will”.
There are loads of articles and papers on various aspects of non-verbal communication and to be honest (and because it is not my area of expertise) I haven’t got the time to read everything that’s been written about ‘hands on hips’ gestures, but most online sources appear to indicate that the ‘hands on hips’ stance helps give the appearance of being physically bigger and is a non-verbal cue that shows others that we are “ready for action” (i.e., a ‘readiness gesture’) but is sometimes mistaken for unfriendliness. One website claims that the people most likely to be observed in are “workaholics, athletes and productive people” and can demonstrate a show of authority and superiority. Another website article notes that:
“Hands-on-Hips is used by the child arguing with its parent, the athlete waiting for his event to begin, the boxer waiting for the bout to start and males who want to issue a non-verbal challenge to other males who enter their territory. In each instance the person takes the Hands-on-Hips pose and this is a universal gesture used to communicate that a person is ready for assertive action. It lets the person take up more space and has the threat value of the pointed elbows that act as weapons, preventing others from approaching or passing. The arms being half raised show readiness for attack and this is the position taken by cowboys in a gunfight. Even one hand on the hip will send the intended message, particularly when it’s pointed at the intended victim. It’s used everywhere and in the Philippines and Malaysia it carries the even stronger message of anger or outrage…Its basic meaning carries a subtly aggressive attitude everywhere. It has also been called the achiever stance, related to the goal-directed person who is ready to tackle their objectives or is ready to take action on something. Men often use this gesture around women to display an assertive male attitude”
If these observations are true, it would seem to suggest that those who have HoH fetishes may like being/feeling in submissive positions and being sexually dominated (although that’s pure speculation on my part as there is simply no empirical research whatsoever). I honestly can’t see HoH fetishes ever being the subject of serious scientific study as they are unlikely to have any appreciable negative impact in the lives of such people (if such people even exist).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Brame, G. (2009). Action fetishes and hands on hips. July 28. Located at: http://gloriabrame.typepad.com/inside_the_mind_of_gloria/2009/07/hands-on-her-hips.html
Burch, A. & Movsesian, F. (2007). 10 really weird fetishes. Double Viking, November 9. Located at: http://www.doubleviking.com/bullet-points-10-really-weird-fetishes-6984-p.html
McCallum. E.L. (1998.) Object Lessons: How to Do Things With Fetishism. New York: State University of New York Press.
Murano, G. (2009). 8 freakiest fetishes. Oddee, June 18. Located at: http://www.oddee.com/item_96718.aspx
One Saturday night while my family was watching Strictly Come Dancing, I found myself idly Googling looking for inspiration for a new blog. One of the pages I found myself on was Kinkopedia’s ‘Kink of the Week’ website. This particular page made reference to ten “paraphilias you may never heard of”. The list (in alphabetical order and the website’s definition) included bromidrophilia (sexual attraction to body odours and smells), genuphilia (sexual attraction to knees), mechanophilia (sexual attraction to cars), mythophilia (sexual attraction to myths, stories, or gossip), nasophilia (sexual attraction to noses), onomatophilia (sexual attraction to words, or a certain word), rupophilia (sexual attraction to dirt), sitophilia (sexual attraction to food), spectrophilia (sexual attraction to ghosts) and vorarephilia (sexual attraction to eating or be eaten by another).
Regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised to know that I was aware of almost all the paraphilias on the list (in fact I’ve written blogs on most of these). However, the one that jumped out at me (no pun intended) was genuphilia. Given the fact that (i) there is absolutely no scientific research on genuphilia, and (ii) genuphilia does not make an appearance in either Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices or Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices suggests one of two things – either that this particular paraphilia does not really exist, or that it is a relatively newly realized fetish. It’s also another paraphilia where the name appears to have been derived as the opposite of a known phobia (i.e., genuphobia – an irrational fear of knees).
In researching this article, I have to admit that I almost gave up on trying to put a blog together given the lack of material (academic and anecdotal). I read an online article about sexual paraphilias in the new (fifth edition) of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that referred to genuphilia being related to gender but then quickly realized the article was a funny April Fool’s Day spoof (still worth a read though! See ‘Further reading’ below for a link to the article). Over at the Psyche Time-Lapse website, genuphilia made an appearance in their regular ‘Word Of The Day’ column. The writer of the short article noted:
“Getting on your knees is usually a prelude to some sexy fellatio initiation or submissive roleplay. But sexiness isn’t always just coded into the act of falling to your knees; it can be on the knees themselves Genuphilia refers to a special, sexual attraction for knees: knock-kneed, knobby knees, replaced knees, any one of the jumbly joints that allows our legs to move efficiently and helps support body weight. The area right behind the knee can be a sensitive, often-ignored erogenous zone, and light, tantalizing strokes on and around them with your fingers can bring shivers to a partner’s body. And with fall approaching, showing off your knees with a variety of knee socks, boots, and fall-length coats has never been easier!”
As a last resort I went online searching on various forums and discussion groups and only located a handful of self-admitted accounts of people claiming to have a knee fetish:
Extract 1: “I think I must have had something like this for as long as I can remember. When I was aged 12 [years old] I was nearly always in shorts and there was a near neighbour who was a girl of about the same age who had a mix of boys and girls as friends and she liked us to show our legs as she thought it was cute that boys were in shorts and that we boys showed more leg than the girls. As I got older I always thought that boys in school shorts looked cute and was jealous that their uniforms allowed shorts while the school I was at would not allow shorts. I was attracted to my ex-boyfriend when I moved to another school and saw a guy in shorts which showed off his long sexy smooth legs. As he and I saw each other out of school, he encouraged me to shave my legs so that we could rub our bare legs together. I noticed in particular his knees were turning me on and we took it in turns to feel each other’s legs and I concentrated on rubbing his knees with mine. I love to show off my knees as much as possible and when I see both guys and girls showing theirs, I feel very aroused. There is nothing so good as a pair of sexy knees”
Extract 3: “Hairless Inside Knees on gay men are amazing! That we are agreed that is why you are here at the internet’s premier Hairless Inside Knee Gay Fetish Website! Don’t get us wrong we love hairy legs on our gay men. But there is something about the inside of the knee that when it’s hairless sends our pulses racing. Here at THIKFG you’ll find sexual tips to satisfy your hairless inside knee gay partner as well as fantasies and the best photos and videos of the best hairless inside knees around. So sit back and enjoy!”
Extract 4: “I haven’t explained what my happy page is about yet. Knee Fetishes!…I know you guys are thinking. THIS IS WEIRD! But [you] know what? It is weird. It’s the next big thing. Haven’t you heard? Pretty soon everyone will be having knee, elbow and ankle fetishes…So I would just like to take this moment to tell all you people, look around. There are many knees. Some are ugly, some are beautiful, some are hairy, some are lumpy, some are squishy. Just enjoy yourself. Stop and look at the knees”
Presuming these extracts are genuine (and I have no reason to suspect they’re not), a few tentative conclusions can be drawn (even from such a few extracts). Firstly, based on these accounts, knee fetishes (and genuphilia paraphilias) genuinely exist. (I would also argue that the existence of dedicated websites such as The Knee Pit Gallery also suggest there is an audience and niche market for sexualized knee enthusiasts). Secondly, it appears that both men and women may have this fetish/paraphilia. Thirdly, it appears that genuphilia may occur within different sexual orientations (i.e., heterosexual and homosexual). Fourthly, it appears that genuphilia may overlap with other more established sexual paraphilias (such as hand, leg and foot fetishes [podophilia]). Finally, it would appear that childhood experiences may be critical in explaining the etiology of gunuphilia. The most detailed extract appears to suggest that the sexual liking for knees may be explained by conditioning processes (i.e., classical conditioning). I seriously doubt we’ll see academic research on genuphilia any time soon but that doesn’t mean it’s not a genuine sexual fetish/paraphilia.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, 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.
American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Molay, J. (2011). Crossdreamers, April 1. Located at: http://www.crossdreamers.com/2011/04/paraphiliphilia-makes-it-into-dsm-5.html
In a previous blog I briefly looked at plushophilia. In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Anil Aggrawal defines plushophilia as a “sexual attraction to stuffed toys or people in animal costume, such as theme park characters”. However, as I also noted in my previous blog, other online sources simply define plushophilia as a sexual paraphilia involving stuffed animals. Sexual and pornographic activities involving animal anthropomorphism (including plushophilia), is known among the plushophile community as ‘yiffing’. Plushophiles are often referred to as plushies, although as I noted in a previous blog on the Furry Fandom, the term can also refer to stuffed animal enthusiasts who have no sexual interest at all (i.e., people who just love cuddly toys).
Regular readers of my blog will know that in 2014, I was the resident psychologist on 12-episode television series called Forbidden made for the Discovery Channel. One of the stories that the series reported on concerned Dr. Peter Banki, a plushophile who appeared in the ‘Odd Man Out’ episode. Before I was interviewed for the story, I had to research the story and was also given some production notes as background material.
According to the material I was provided with, Banki has a PhD in German Philosophy and is a member of the Philosophy Research Initiative at the University of Western Sydney (In Australia), where he lectured and tutored in the School of Humanities and Languages. He is also the founder and host of ‘Schwelle’, a non-profit-organization that offers unusual and experimental workshops promoting a ‘different intellectual and sexual culture.’ He is also the curator of ‘Xplore’, an annual sex education event. He lives with his girlfriend and is currently living off profits from the festival and taking Shibari Rope classes at home in Bondi (Shibari is a form of Japanese rope bondage). His hobbies were listed as including cross-dressing, sex education, and reading. The production notes also informed me that:
“Peter Banki has lectured to hundreds of university students. He’s a fully-grown eloquent and intelligent man but he also plays with stuffed toys. In fact Peter sees himself as an advocate for plush play enthusiasts or ‘plushies’ as they’re called. What most would interpret as childish nonsense, Peter sees as a form of self-expression and a creative outlet. With 40 odd animals in his collection, each with their own invented character, profession and history, Peter has created his own fantasy world. His plushies are very important, ‘My close friends all know about it, some of them I even involve in playtime with the animals. But generally I only share this world with people I trust.’ He’s not completely secret about his pastime though. He’s given theatrical performances creating voices and characters for stuffed toys to demonstrate to audiences what plush play is all about”.
Dr. Banki claimed he had been obsessed with plushies ever since he was a child when he would get his parents to talk to his toys.
“It’s something I’ve always done. I once tried to give it up to keep a girlfriend but I couldn’t do it. I got too depressed”.
Instead of trying to repress his urges Dr. Banki embraces it. He regularly sleeps with the toys. Although Dr. Banki is heterosexual he admitted that he’s not a typical man.
“Being a man I think implies being an adult and strong and responsible. When I play with the plushy animals I think I’m like a little boy.”
The programme presented Dr. Banki as what the production notes described as a “quirky dichotomy”. On one hand, he’s a cultured academic, an adult who lectures and curates festivals. On the other, he’s a naughty child that plays with cuddly toys. Banki has created a fantasy world, something that he cultivated from his vivid imagination. Sometimes his behaviour involves erotic role-playing games. It’s the polarity that the documentary wanted to capture (something that Dr. Banki liked the idea of).
On screen, Peter is filmed sitting in his lounge watching television, and relaxing. He casually mentions that there’s no fun when it’s all work and no play, that he enjoys a little downtime with his ‘friends’. The camera then pulls out to a wider screenshot and reveals his furry plush toy friends sitting either side of him on the couch and on the floor. Peter introduces each and every plush toy friend and describes each toy’s back-story. He explained that some of his plush toys are in monogamous relationships, some are in naughty adulterous relationships, and that others are polyamorous. The production notes highlighted that:
“We see how his plush toy relationships manifest into the day-to day. He plays with them on the couch, on the floor of the lounge room, in the laundry, at the dining table, on his balcony/yard and baths them. We see a series of moments where the plush toys are passive participants: he prepares lunch, they’re watching; he works at his desk, they’re watching; he hangs his washing on the line, they’re watching from all the way the balcony. Peter even enjoys the odd social outing with his toys. We see him playing hide and seek in the park, pushing them on the swings”.
Dr. Banki also enjoys playing with other plushie enthusiasts. The documentary filmed other plushies playing with their stuffed animals during Banki’s Plush toy workshop at the Xplore Festival. Bankie also showed the programme makers the ‘Plush Toy Animal Collective’ Facebook page and described their various outings such as dinners and speed dating nights. One of his toys (‘Bunny Junior’, described as an old style Marxist) even has his very own Facebook page featuring photos of his Shibari rope therapy.
Banki was also filmed on his way to buy a new plush toy to add to his collection. He put three of his animal ‘friends’ into the back of his car and put on their seatbelts. He then goes to a restaurant and has dinner with all his plush toys at the table with him. The notes I was given provide a useful case summary:
“Dr Peter Banki has always played with Plush Animals. He used to ask his parents to talk to them and they would invent stories. He carried this play onto adulthood. They were always played with in a more intimate environment with people in the bedroom. Now Peter shares his play with the public and with friends. They go to restaurants, they go to parties. The Plush animals have names, some speak German, some speak French, Junior the rabbit, for instance, is an old style Marxist labor leader. As Peter grew older, the animals developed sexual relationships: some are straight, some are homosexual and some like to be spanked. For Peter, it’s a way of saying things that can’t be expressed otherwise. After simulating sexual play, Peter says he feels really exposed, but in a good way”.
Given the lack of research into plushophilia, case studies such as Dr. Banki give us an insight to the life of a plushophile. We don’t know how representative Dr. Banki is of other plushophiles but at least his story is out there.
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
FoxWolfie Galen’s Plushie Page (2012). Definitions. Located at: http://www.velocity.net/~galen/furrydef.html
Gerbasi, K. C., Paolone, N., Higner, J., Scaletta, L. L., Bernstein, P. L., Conway, S., & Privitera, A. (2008). Furries from A to Z (anthropomorphism to zoomorphism). Society & Animals, 16(3), 197-222.
Hill, D. (2000). Cuddle time: In the world of plushophiles, not all stuffed animals are created equal. Salon, June 19. Located at: http://www.salon.com/2000/06/19/plushies/
Wiki Fur (2015). Animal totem. Located at: http://en.wikifur.com/wiki/Animal_totem
Wiki Fur (2015). Plushophilia. Located at: http://en.wikifur.com/wiki/Plushophilia
In a previous blog on animal hoarding I made a passing reference to Diogenes Syndrome (DS) that is sometimes referred to as ‘senile squalor syndrome’ (as it typically occurs in elderly individuals – although it has occasionally been reported in young adults). According to a paper by Alberto Pertusa and colleagues in a 2010 issue of Clinical Psychology Review:
“Squalor has been defined in various ways including, ‘social breakdown of the elderly’, ‘Diogenes syndrome’ and ‘severe domestic squalor’…These definitions have usually encompassed both domestic neglect and a lack of personal hygiene…The majority of case observations and studies on squalor have focused on elderly populations recruited from nursing or disability services…These studies initially suggested that those living in squalor were likely to be over the age of 60, primarily female, living alone and unmarried…Hypotheses on the etiology of squalor have moved from the phenomenon possibly being uni-dimensional to having heterogeneous causes such as physical disabilities, brain damage, psychiatric conditions, and personality disorders…A study on squalor reported the prevalence to be 0.005% in the United Kingdom”.
Hoarding is often a consequence of having DS but is associated with self-neglect and much of the items excessively hoarded are typically items of trash with little or no value. Like animal hoarders, those with DS often live on their own in severe domestic squalor and unsanitary conditions. As I noted in my previous blog, DS is characterized by extreme self-neglect, apathy, domestic squalor, social withdrawal, compulsive hoarding of rubbish, and lack of shame. Most sufferers refuse help of others and the onset of DS may sometimes be initiated by a stressful event in their lives (such as death of a loved one). According to a 2013 paper on DS by Dr. Projna Biswas and colleagues in the journal Case Reports in Dermatological Medicine:
“DS is named after the Greek Philosopher “Diogenes of Sinope” (4th century BC) who taught about cynicism philosophy. He kept his need for clothing and food to a minimum by begging. He used to follow some ideas like ‘life according to nature’, ‘self-sufficiency’, ‘freedom from emotion’, ‘lack of shame’, ‘outspokenness’, and ‘contempt for social organization’…The approximate annual incidence of Diogenes is 0.05% in people over the age of 60 [years]. Affected individuals come from any socioeconomic status, but are usually of average or above-average intelligence…It is often associated with other mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, mania, and frontotemporal dementia…While no clear etiology exists, it is hypothesized that it may be due to a stress reaction in people with certain pre-morbid personality traits, such as being aloof, or certain personality disorders, such as schizotypal or obsessive compulsive personality disorder. There are suggestions that an orbitofrontal brain lesion may lead to such behaviours…while others state that chronic mania symptoms, such as poor insight, can lead to such a condition”.
DS was not included separately in the latest (fifth) edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) although hoarding (syllogomania) is included as a genuine psychiatric diagnosis. Because of deliberate self-isolation, physical neglect and poor eating, DS mortality rates are high with close to half of sufferers dying within five years of DS onset. Biswas and colleagues also note:
“Diogenes syndrome is also known as dermatitis passivata. The term Diogenes syndrome was coined in 1975 by [Clark and colleagues]…DS has been classified as primary or pure which is not associated with mental illness and secondary or symptomatic. Secondary DS is related to mental illness like schizophrenia, depression, and dementia…Alcohol abuse has been identified as a cofactor…Multiple deficiency states have been associated with DS including iron, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin C, calcium and vitamin D, serum proteins and albumin, water, and potassium…Skin lesions are mainly due to uncleanliness which may result in various infestations and infections. These are ignored by the patient. Dirt, dust, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic debris conglomerate to form thick crusts and scales over various parts of the body”.
The paper by Biswas and colleagues’ asserted that four symptoms have been reported as being in almost all DS sufferers. These are that they: (i) never ask for any help despite possessing nothing; (ii) are unusually fond of certain objects (including rubbish); (iii) display unusual behavior with other people (misanthropy) and (iv) display extreme self-neglect. Although hoarding is often present in those with DS, there have been some cases reported where no hoarding was present. In their 2010 review paper, Dr. Pertusa and colleagues noted:
“Research on hoarding has rarely included assessments of severe domestic squalor. Winsberg et al. (1999) noted that clutter inhibited normal activities of daily living – including personal hygiene. A few studies have provided more direct indications of squalor in hoarding. [one study in 2000] surveyed health department officers in Massachusetts who reported that 38% of their hoarding cases were ‘heavily cluttered with filthy environment, overwhelming’. [Another study] focused on cleanliness ratings of the personal appearance and the homes of 62 elderly hoarding individuals. In their sample, 17% of individuals were described as ‘extremely filthy’ and 33% of residences were rated as ‘extremely filthy and dirty’. For 32% of the residences, there was an overpowering odor from rotten food or animal or human feces. Many subjects could not use their refrigerator (45%), kitchen sink (42%), bathtub (42%), or toilet (10%). Lack of standardized instruments to measure squalor have prevented researchers from understanding squalor in compulsive hoarding”.
Dr. Pertusa and his colleagues claim the data on DS is scarce and that the clinical picture between hoarding and DS needs more clinical research. They do conclude that hoarding within a DS diagnosis is clinically different from other types of hoarding (for instance, compulsive hoarders do not display the same core features as those with DS such as squalor and self-neglect). Like many other clinical conditions, Pertusa’s team assert that longitudinal studies will best help uncovering the natural history and link (if any) between both DS and compulsive hoarding.
Biswas, P., Ganguly, A., Bala, S., Nag, F., Choudhary, N., & Sen, S. (2013). Diogenes syndrome: a case report. Case reports in dermatological medicine, http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/595192
Clark, A. N., Mankikar, G. D., & Gray, I. (1975). Diogenes syndrome. A clinical study of gross neglect in old age. Lancet, 1(7903), 366−368.
Drummond, L.M., Turner, J., Reid, S. (1996). Diogenes’ syndrome – a load of old rubbish? Irish Journal of Psychiatric Medicine, 14(3), 99–102.
Greve, K.W., Curtis, K.L., & Bianchini, K.J. (2004). Personality disorder masquerading as dementia: A case of apparent Diogenes syndrome. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 19, 703–705
Irvine, J. D., & Nwachukwu, K. (2014). Recognizing Diogenes syndrome: a case report. BMC Research Notes, 7(1), 276.
Pertusa, A., Frost, R.O., Fullana, M.A., Samuels, J., Steketee, G., Tolin, D., Saxena, S., Leckman, J.F., Mataix-Cols, D. (2010). Refining the diagnostic boundaries of compulsive hoarding: A critical review. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 371-386.
Rosenthal, M., Stelian, J., & Wagner, J. (1999). Diogenes syndrome and hoarding in the elderly: Case reports. Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 36, 29–34.
In a previous blog, I examined medical fetishism. While researching that blog I came across a number of sub-forms of medical fetishism including ‘dental braces fetishism’. According to an article on the Nation Master website
“Dental braces fetishism is a form of sexual fetishism where a person is sexually aroused or stimulated by the sight, brushing, or feel of dental braces (particularly silver stainless steel braces, but sometimes retainers and headgear). They can be aroused the most by tongue contact with the braces, or by seeing semen ejaculated onto the dental braces (which is common in some pornography). Many are also aroused simply by the bright silver shine of traditional stainless steel braces. The rubber band colors can also stimulate such a reaction in the person with the fetish. Some are aroused by the sight of a woman’s tongue touching her braces. All of these are fetishes mostly associated with males seeing braces on females. A number of pornographic websites that concentrate on this fetish exist. There are also non-pornographic websites that focus simply on the aesthetic qualities of braces – particularly silver stainless steel braces and retainers. Some of these websites are maintained by adult female orthodontic patients for this express purpose and charge expensive membership fees to those wishing to view these sites. Also, there are pornographic websites devoted to auxiliary devices used with braces – particularly headgear. Supposedly, devotees of these devices are sexual bondage buffs and associate these devices with sexual bondage”.
Given the lack of scientific research on the topic, I can neither confirm nor deny any of the claims made by Nation Master, although there are certainly dedicated online websites that specialize in dental brace pornography (for instance, websites such as Fetish Braces, Beauty and Braces and E-Hotsex – please be warned that these are sexually explicit sites). Most of these sites feature scantily clad and/or naked women with braces that seem to indicate that such sexual penchants and fetishes are male-based. There are also discussions about how having braces affects people’s sex lives on online discussion websites such as the Metal Mouth Forum. There are also various online articles about having sex if you wear braces. For instance, an article entitled ‘Braces in the Bedroom’ on the Arch Wired website (a website dedicated to ‘adults in braces’) noted:
“Having braces doesn’t have to mean the end of certain sexual pleasures. It might mean tweaking your technique…or just plain being more careful. In the words of one enlightened Arch Wired reader, ‘practice makes perfect’. And if you decide to abstain…well, as they say, absence…or maybe in this case abstinence…will make it all the fonder until the braces are off”
Arguably one of the strangest articles I came across in researching this blog was one from May 2011 featured on Redath’s website that examined the sexualized use of orthodontic devices (described by the female author as an “oral fetish”) by people she had met in Second Life. The article claimed that there were four or five people in Second Life who had such an orthodontic fetish and the article included lots of images of various avatars (including the author’s) wearing dental braces in a clearly sexualized way (along with all the prices –in Linden dollars – of the costs of buying virtual dental braces and dental headgear).
I also went in search of online case studies and online self-confessions relating to dental brace fetishes, and the best examples I found was in an online discussion forum in the UK Babe Channels website. Here are some extracted quotes that at least suggest such fetishes exist:
Extract 1: “This is a bit of a strange one but i really think it could work. There’s so many xxx sites that LOVE girls with braces so I figure we should have a babeshow that features a girl with braces on. Like me!!!” (Amanda Max)
Extract 2: “I like braces and I know for a fact another forum member does. I may have posed for them in braces once” (RCTV)
Extract 3: “I LOVE braces, they look sexy on a woman, and braces look sexy even when there’s clothes underneath them. I can see how braces can be sexy, and think I would need to see more of them to find them sexy, but they def[initely] no turn off, and I do know two girls with them on and they are both still sexy and both 18 [years old]. Some girls do look young” (MH92)
Extract 4: “Teeth braces is quite a common fetish – largely aimed at the market who like ‘teen’ (18+) porn/glamour, although in some cases some of the models on the pro sites can look disturbingly young, despite the legal 18+ declarations” (Skateguy)
These extracts do not prove the existence of dental braces fetishism but are suggestive that some people find such devices a sexual turn-on. Given that most dental brace wearers are adolescents, it does raise suggestions of paedophilic undertones (although that’s pure speculation on my part, although Extracts 3 and 4 above also seem to be indicative of the same type of thinking). I can’t see this area of fetishistic interest ever being seriously researched in an academic context (but stranger things have happened).
Archwired (undated). Braces in the bedroom: Will braces affect your sex life? Located at: http://www.archwired.com/BracesandSex.htm
Streetsie (2011). Disability fetish and medical fetish. August 19. Located at: http://www.streetsie.com/disability-fetish-medical-fetish/
Nation Master (2013). Dental braces fetishism. Located at: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Dental-braces-fetishism
Redath (2011). Braces, headgear, facebow and other orthodontic devises. May 16. Located at: http://redath.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/braces-headgear-facebow-and-other.html?zx=99f4d98c82b2557a
Wikipedia (2013). Medical fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_fetishism
Last week I was invited to give a keynote talk at an Italian conference on community psychology in Padova. The reason I mention this is because it was at this conference I met another academic – Dr. Tom Ter Bogt – that has a job that I would love to have. Dr. Ter Bogt is a Professor in Popular Music and Youth Culture at the Department of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences of Utrecht University. Regular readers of my blog will know that I have an obsessive love of music and have written about the psychology many of my musical heroes in previous blogs.
It all started when Dr. Ter Bogt innocently asked me what I thought of Noel Gallagher’s latest album (Chasing Yesterday). When I told him that I thought it was great, it sparked a long conversation where we discussed our eclectic love of music taking in a shared appreciation of Oasis, The Beatles, Throbbing Gristle, The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Johnny Cash, and Chic (to name but a few). I also learned that he used to be a club DJ and that he had authored a best selling book on the history of pop music in his home country. In further email conversations, he also shared with me that his most played artists were Television and the Comsat Angels (something I would never have predicted based on out initial conversation but something that I found endearing).
In the nicest way possible, I am envious of Dr. Ter Bogt’s job. He has managed to become a professor through his love of music, and now carries out scientific research on the topic. Our respective research backgrounds – while very different – occasionally intersect. For instance, Dr. Ter Bogt and his colleagues published a paper in a 2002 issue of Contemporary Drug Problems on ‘Dancestasy’ (dance and MDMA use) in Dutch youth culture and I have published papers on both dance as an addiction, and young people’s use of ecstasy as a ‘risky but rewarding behaviour’ (see ‘Further reading below).
As an avid music fan I was interested to read Dr. Ter Bogt’s typology of music listeners in a 2010 paper in the journal Psychology of Music. In this study, Dr. Ter Bogt and his colleagues constructed a typology of music listeners based on the of importance attributed to music and four types of music use (among a sample of nearly a thousand Dutch participants): (i) mood enhancement (e.g., “Music helps me to relax and stop thinking about things”), (ii) coping with problems (e.g., “I always play music when I feel sad”), (iii) defining personal identity (e.g., “Lyrics of my music often express how I feel”), and (iv) social identity (e.g., “I can’t be friends with someone who dislikes my music”).
Using latent class analysis, the study’s participants were classed into three listener groups – High-Involved Listeners (HILs; 19.7% of the sample), Medium-Involved Listeners (MILs; 74.2%), and Low-Involved Listeners (LILs; 6.1%). HILs listened to music most often for mood enhancement, coping with distress, identity construction and social identity formation. MILs and LILs formed predictably attached less importance to music in their lives. HILs liked a wide range of musical genres (e.g., pop, rock, urban, dance, etc.) and experienced the most positive affects when listening to music. Interestingly, both HILs and MILs (when compared to LILs) reported more negative affects (such as anger and sadness) when listening to music. The study also reported that even LILs listened to music frequently and used it as a mood enhancer.
In a 2010 study in the Journal of Adolescence, Dr. Ter Bogt and his colleagues examined the association between music preferences and adolescent substance use. In a nationally representative sample of 7324 Dutch adolescents (aged 12–16 years), the study collected data concerning music preferences, substance use behaviors, and the perceived number of peers using substances. Adolescent music preferences for eight different music genres clustered into four distinct styles labeled as pop (chart music, Dutch pop), adult (classical music, jazz), urban (rap/hip-hop, soul/R&B) and hard (punk/hardcore, techno/hard-house). Adolescent substance use among the participants comprised smoking, drinking, and cannabis use. The results showed that music preference and substance use was either wholly or partially mediated by perceived peer use.
Using the same dataset, a study published in a 2009 issue of Substance Use and Misuse reported that when all other factors were controlled for, higher levels of substance use was more likely among those who liked punk/hardcore, techno/hard-house, and reggae while lower levels of substance use was more likely among those who preferred pop and classical music. According to Ter Bogt and his colleagues, prior empirical research had demonstrated that liking heavy metal and rap predicted substance use. The Dutch data in this study found that “a preference for rap/hip-hop only indicated elevated smoking among girls, whereas heavy metal was associated with less smoking among boys and less drinking among girls”. Consequently, it was concluded that the music genres associated with increased substance use “may vary historically and cross-culturally, but, in general, preferences for nonmainstream music are associated positively with substance use, and preferences for mainstream pop and types of music preferred by adults (classical music) mark less substance use among adolescents”. The authors also noted that the data were correlational therefore the direction of causation of the music–substance use link cannot be drawn.
In a more recent (2013) study published in the journal Pediatrics, Dr. Ter Bogt and colleagues examined the relationship between early adolescents’ musical preferences and minor delinquency. Following 309 adolescents (149 boys, 160 girls) from the age of 12 years over a four-year period, the study found that that early fans of different types of rock (e.g., rock, heavy metal, gothic, punk), African American music (rhythm and blues, hip-hop), and electronic dance music (trance, techno/hard-house) showed elevated minor delinquency both concurrently and longitudinally. Conversely, preferring conventional pop (chart pop) or highbrow music (classic music, jazz) was negatively related to minor delinquency. The study concluded that “early music preferences emerged as more powerful indicators of later delinquency rather than early delinquency, indicating that music choice is a strong marker of later problem behavior”.
On a personal level, I know how important music is in my on life and as a source of my own identity. The many studies carried out by Dr. Ter Bogt and his research colleagues further our understanding of music across the lifespan (particularly its role in adolescence) and I look forward to reading their future work.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Delsing, M. J., Ter Bogt, T. F., Engels, R. C., & Meeus, W. H. (2008). Adolescents’ music preferences and personality characteristics. European Journal of Personality, 22(2), 109-130.
Larkin, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Dangerous sports and recreational drug-use: Rationalising and contextualising risk. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 14, 215-232.
Maraz, A., Király, O., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Why do you dance? Development of the Dance Motivation Inventory (DMI). PLoS ONE, 10(3): e0122866. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0122866
Maraz, A., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics Z. (2015). An empirical investigation of dance addiction. PloS ONE, 10(5): e0125988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0125988.
Mulder, J., Ter Bogt, T. F., Raaijmakers, Q. A., Gabhainn, S. N., Monshouwer, K., & Vollebergh, W. A. (2009). The soundtrack of substance use: music preference and adolescent smoking and drinking. Substance Use and Misuse, 44(4), 514-531.
Mulder, J., Ter Bogt, T. F., Raaijmakers, Q. A., Gabhainn, S. N., Monshouwer, K., & Vollebergh, W. A. (2010). Is it the music? Peer substance use as a mediator of the link between music preferences and adolescent substance use. Journal of Adolescence, 33, 387-394.
Mulder, J., Ter Bogt, T., Raaijmakers, Q., & Vollebergh, W. (2007). Music taste groups and problem behavior. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36(3), 313-324.
Selfhout, M. H., Branje, S. J., ter Bogt, T. F., & Meeus, W. H. (2009). The role of music preferences in early adolescents’ friendship formation and stability. Journal of Adolescence, 32(1), 95-107.
Ter Bogt, T., Engels, R., Hibbel, B., Van Wel, F., & Verhagen, S. (2002). ‘Dancestasy’: Dance and MDMA use in Dutch youth culture. Contemporary Drug Problems, 29, 157–181.
Ter Bogt, T. F., Keijsers, L., & Meeus, W. H. (2013). Early adolescent music preferences and minor delinquency. Pediatrics, 131(2), e380-e389.
Ter Bogt, T.F., Mulder, J., Raaijmakers, Q.A., & Gabhainn, S.N. (2010). Moved by music: A typology of music listeners. Psychology of Music, 39, 147-163.
In a previous blog I looked at sitophilia, a sexual paraphilia in which individuals have an erotic attraction to (and derive sexual arousal from) food. One of the strangest sitophile stories I have read concerns the case of the ‘Swiss Cheese Pervert’. In the run up to Christmas 2013, a chubby man estimated to be in his 40s was driving around the Mayfair district of Philadelphia (USA) and exposing his genitals to a number of women while seated in his Sedan. However, this was no ordinary case of exhibitionism. As the Fortean Times reported:
“He would then dangle a large slice of Swiss cheese over his penis and offers to pay the women to perform sexual acts on him using the snack. At least two other women received messages on [the] OKCupid [online dating website] they believe were from the same man, describing how being unpopular with women drove him to have sex with cheese. He offered to pay $50 for a woman to pleasure him with a slice. The city’s police suspect 41-year-old Chris Pagano, since he was arrested in 2006 and 2009 for allegedly propositioning women with Swiss cheese on the streets of Norristown, Philadelphia. Pagano claimed that the latest incidents had nothing to do with him – but the picture he used on Facebook was the same as the one on the OKCupid profile message sent to a woman asking her to indulge his cheese craving”.
Pagano’s previous arrests were well documented in the local Philadelphia press and one journalist (Victor Fiorello) has written a number of stories about Pagano’s sexual exploits. In one of his stories he obtained the court documents in relation to the 2006 and 2009 arrests and one extract (with the woman’s name removed to protect her identity) read that:
“[The woman] told police that at approximately 0030 hours she was walking home from a store the male approached her from behind and asked her a question. The male removed a large block of cheese from his pocket and told [the woman] that he would pay her $20 to rub the Swiss cheese on his penis. [The woman] became alarmed and fled on foot toward her residence. The male offered [the woman] more money as she fled the area. [The woman] described the male as white, balding, and weighing over 300 pounds”
Following the late 2013 reports in the local press, one woman (Gabby Chest) telephoned the police saying that she had got an email on the OKCupid website from a “really strange guy” fitting the description of Pagano and who in his message wrote that he was “looking for someone to perform masturbation on him with cheese”. In the online message to Ms. Chest, the man admitted that he had great difficulty in initiating relationships with women because of his weight problem. This (he claimed) led to his cheese fetish and helped him to deal with his sexual urges. The whole message was reprinted on the PhillyMag website and I have reprinted it verbatim as I think it provides a good insight into the behaviour:
“Hello, my name is Chris. I am sure you are seeking a relationship, and I am sort of seeking the same, well sort of. You see I am currently content with my life. I enjoy meeting new people and making friends, but I also enjoy looking for women who are just looking for fun, opportunities, and or sex. I am kind of hoping you may be one of those women, who are open to certain activities of a suggestive nature. I realize talking and or requesting anything sexual with a someone you don’t know can be a turn off for most, but would you be interested in getting to know me, and perhaps being involved in a sexual encounter together? I know it’s a bit much to take in, since you really don’t know me. Still I am open to get to know you at first before anything would happen. I want to be up-front with you and tell you what exactly I am looking for. This way you have an idea of what I am into. You see it’s not sex in the traditional sense, it’s more a fetish. Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy traditional sex, but I grown to prefer this more. This fetish is a Sitophilia type fetish. I will give you a short explanation that lead me to discover why I like this type of fetish.
You see, when I was young and even now I seemed to be judged on my looks and not on my personality. So finding women and starting relationships was harder for me then most. Couple that with a strong sex drive, and you get the picture. So I developed this fetish to help me deal with my sexual urges. I found that women tend to like dairy products, and settled on cheese to represent the girl. Thus I started having sex with cheese. I like to use Swiss cheese and would wrap slices of the cheese around penis, then masturbate. Now tho [sic], after finding several girls to do it for me, I prefer having girls do it for me, instead of myself. Still I suppose I was lucky in finding those women, and our relationships did not last long, since our relationship based more on my fetish and me helping them out money wise. When they became comfortable again, we stayed friends, but they seemed to move on with their lives or I moved on because of the drama that sometimes followed some of them. The other problem I encounter is that women tend to be more freaked out over my fetish, then they would be over other questionable activities that are far more disgusting then mine. I don’t understand why using cheese in the way I use it is so disturbing to women, the ones who have done my fetish for me say it’s quite vanilla compared to so things they have encountered, and say I am quite harmless given my kind personality. So my request is, is there any way you would be willing to strike up an arraignment with me to do my fetish for me, if of course you would be open to this sort of activity?
Lastly if I have offended you, I am sorry as it was not my intention to do so. I just hope my fetish with cheese does not disturb you in any way, sorry if it has. Also when I mention arrangement, please don’t think it just has to be money either, I know you are not a prostitute, in fact I don’t want women like that at all. It can be anything you feel is a fair trade. Please if you could please let me know if you might be interested or not, and what you think of my request, I would appreciate it, thanks”.
In another online message, it is alleged that he said: “I am lucky I never became a rapist”. This latter admission suggesting that his cheese infatuation was a less palatable alternative to his cheese infatuation. In an email on the OKCupid website, he wrote to another woman and added:
“I tried many different kinds of cheese, like American, Provolone, chez whiz, jack, and cheddar, but settled on Swiss as the best…because of its eye patterns, texture, and the way it feels against my penis. When I was younger I had far more stamina for cheese sex. I was able to wrap and wear a good 1½ pounds of Swiss cheese against my penis, and wear it for hours at a time before I would climax…One last note, I do not like cheese, except for mozzarella, and that is the one cheese I have never used on myself. So no I do not eat the cheese after I am done using it for pleasure, it is discarded. I am always asked that question”.
I found the online message sent to Ms. Chest of great psychological interest. Pagano obviously knew that his preferred sexual behaviour was sitophilia and that he himself conceptualized his own behaviour as fetishistic. He also provided what I believe to be a plausible explanation as to how cheese became a symbolic female substitute for sex. Using cheese in his early masturbatory experiences would almost certainly created an associative pairing between sex and cheese (to the point where cheese on its own may have caused a classically conditioned response resulting in sexual arousal). Pagano’s own realistic assessment of his sexual attractiveness appears to have led to sexual displacement in which cheese represented an outlet for his sexual urges and desires. He was fully aware that his desires would seem strange to most people and that he was prepared to pay for the activity if that helped women participate. From the newspaper reports I read, it would appear that the criminal exhibitionism (i.e., flashing his genitalia at women he approached in his car) was peripheral to his real desire of soliciting women to engage in ‘cheesy’ sex.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Daily Mail (2014). ‘Swiss Cheese Pervert’ terrorizes Philadelphia asking women to perform sexual acts on him using a slice of fromage. Daily Mail. January 13. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2538687/Swiss-Cheese-Pervert-terrorizing-Philadelphia.html
Fiorello, V. (2014). Is this guy the Swiss Cheese Pervert? PhillyMag, January 11. Located at: www.phillymag.com/news/2014/01/11/norristowns-swiss-cheese-pervert/
Fiorello, V. (2014). Here are mugshots of alleged Swiss Cheese Pervert Chris Pagano. PhillyMag, January 11. Located at: http://www.phillymag.com/news/2014/01/13/mugshots-swiss-cheese-pervert-chris-pagano/
Fortean Times (2014). Please cheese me…Fortean Times, March 1, p.10