Category Archives: Gender differences
Over the past few months, ‘upskirting’ has been in the British news, particularly in relation to making it a criminal offence. A campaign initiated by freelance writer Gina Martin was started after she became a victim of upskirting. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, upskirting refers to taking a photograph (typically with a smartphone) up someone’s skirt without their permission. Martin published an account of her ordeal for the World Economic Forum in April 2018 and reported that:
“Last summer, I was standing in a crowd of 60,000, on a hot summer’s day in London, waiting for The Killers to come on stage, when a man – whose advances I’d rejected – took pictures of my crotch by putting his phone between my legs as I chatted to my sister blissfully unaware. A few minutes later, I saw one of his friends looking at an intrusive picture of a woman’s crotch covered by a thin strip of fabric. I knew it was me. I grabbed the phone off him and checked. Tears filled my eyes and I began drawing attention to him: ‘You guys have been taking pictures of my vagina! What is wrong with you!?’ He grabbed me and pushed his face in front of mine, bellowing that I give him his phone back. I didn’t…The police arrived and were lovely. I was, understandably, a mess and they patiently calmed me down. What the police then did was ask him to delete the images – my evidence – and then, they told me they couldn’t do anything. ‘We had to look at the image, and although it showed far more than you’d want anyone to see, it’s not technically a graphic image. There’s not much we can do. If you weren’t wearing knickers it would be a different story.’ I was completely humiliated and devastated”.
Following this incident, and because upskirting wasn’t an offence, Martin began a campaign to get the act criminalized. Upskirting is currently an offence in Scotland but not in England and Wales. Upskirting is one of many sexual acts that are present among those individuals that have a voyeuristic disorder. In an article for the Law Gazette in July 2017 (‘Fifty shades of sexual offending’), forensic psychologist Dr. Julia Lam made countless references to upskirting in an overview of voyeuristic disorder. She noted that:
“Voyeuristic Disorder is a paraphilic/psychosexual disorder in which an individual derives sexual pleasure and gratification from looking at naked bodies and genital organs, observing the disrobing or sexual acts of others…Instead of peeping in situ using high-powered binoculars, with advances in technology such as camera phones and pin-hole cameras, voyeurs can now record the private moments with their devices: taking upskirt photos of unsuspecting individuals on escalators, or filming women in various states of undress in toilets and changing rooms. Voyeuristic behaviour is on the rise…Learning theory suggests that an initially random or accidental observation of an unsuspecting person who is naked, in the process of disrobing, or engaging in sexual activity, may lead to sexual interest and arousal; with each successive repetition of the peeping act reinforcing and perpetuating the voyeuristic behaviour”.
She reported that voyeurism is the most common type of sexual offence and that voyeurs can be men or women but that “men are commonly the perpetrators in the peeping acts/upskirt, with women being the victims”. She noted that the lifetime prevalence of voyeuristic disorder is around 12% among men and 4% in women, and that the causes of voyeurism are unknown. She then went onto say:
“The new vocabulary ‘upskirt’ is both a verb (the practise of capturing an image/video of an unsuspecting and non-consenting person in a private moment) and a noun (i.e. the actual voyeuristic photos or videos made; referred as “voyeur photography”)…While most voyeurs film for self-gratification (i.e. using upskirt materials for fantasy and masturbation), there are offenders who make upskirt photos and videos specifically for uploading onto the internet (e.g. fetish and pornographic websites and video-sharing sites like YouTube) for monetary profit…Upskirt is considered a ‘serious’ crime in Singapore as it intrudes upon the privacy of unsuspecting and non-consenting individuals. Offences typically take place on escalators, in fitting rooms, public toilets or shower rooms; with the offenders trying to capture what is underneath the ‘skirts’ or private moments of the victims with a recording device which may or may not be disguise”.
She also said that in recent years in Singapore, she had assessed “a considerable number” of voyeurs that had engaged in upskirting and who were arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated for their actions. Most of these criminal voyeurs were ‘first-timers’ (i.e., arrested and charged with upskirting for the first time), had a long history of engaging in excessive masturbation and pornography use, and that the offences were non-violent. However, she did note that although they may have been arrested for the first time, their interest in peeping and upskirting usually stemmed from adolescence. Dr. Lam also claimed that:
“Getting apprehended for [upskirting] is more a norm than an exception in this group, as it is just a matter of time that the offender would be careless or daring enough to invite apprehension. Police arrest usually serves as a final ‘wake-up call’ that breaks the offending pattern, accompanied with a great sense of shame and embarrassment. Many of these voyeurs are amenable to treatment…Most of the sufferers of Voyeuristic Disorder who came for my assessment reported their urges to upskirt and use the materials to masturbate as overwhelming, to the extent that they gave in to temptation without considering the grave consequences of their acts”.
Dr. Lam also talked about her treating upskirting voyeurs and recounted one case which she claimed was a compulsion. The case involved a male university student who was very sport active but who masturbated excessively whenever major sporting events or important exams were imminent as a coping strategy to relieve stress. Upskirting was another one of his coping strategies and he was eventually arrested for his behaviour. Dr. Lam then went on to report”
“Every morning after he woke up, he would feel the urge to go out to find his ‘targets’. Although he knew it was very risky to take upskirt [photos] on MRT escalators, he felt compelled to satiate his urges and gratification, and was oblivious to his surroundings (e.g. passers-by security staff and CCTV) and the risk of being arrested. He could still feel the thrill and excitement, but he no longer enjoyed the act. It had become more like a compulsion…He was prescribed medication to manage his mood and urges to act out, and attended psychotherapy to work on his voyeuristic behaviour and learn more effective coping skills. He has since graduated from university, and has not breached the law with [upskirting] behaviour again”.
Dr. Lam, like other practitioners who treat sex offenders, often view extreme cases of voyeurism as a compulsion, obsession and/or an addiction. If extreme voyeurism (in general) can be seen as an addiction, there is no theoretical reason why upskirting couldn’t be viewed similarly. As far as I am aware, the case described by Dr. Lam is the only one in the academic literature of outlining and treating an individual with an upskirting disorder. As with other sexually non-normative behaviours I went online to see if there were any anecdotal accounts of addiction to upskirting and came across a few self-confessed accounts (particularly on The Candid Forum website):
- Extract 1: “I’m not sure if you could help me. I suppose it’s an addiction. I am obsessed with women’s knickers and constantly try to look up women’s skirts, even schoolgirls. I know it’s wrong but I love to see the secrets. One day I will be caught and arrested. Am I a pervert?” (‘Andy’).
- Extract 2: “I’m really starting to feel overwhelmed by this ‘addiction’ I have to upskirt videos…I just can’t seem to get enough, even when in the big picture, most of them are all the same. I have well over 3000 videos on my computer of just upskirts (not including other types of videos)…It’s also stressful to know that I may very well not get through them all, at least for a very long time (I still have yet to watch 1800 of them). There’s a lot of time involved in downloading them (waiting due to file hosting sites telling you [that] you have reached your daily limit etc., entering captcha codes). But all these videos actually amaze me at the same time, due to just how many times guys have gotten away with it…There’s a certain ‘wow’ factor I guess, but that also derives from the entire voyeur aspect of it to begin with, where a guy is able to creep up on a woman and she doesn’t even realize it…Do any of you share the same addiction as me, and do you want to get rid of it? (‘GD102’).
- Extract 3: “I used to be really addicted [to upskirting] until I made myself understand something you already know – once you’ve seen 200 asses, you’ve pretty much seen them all. There’s no point in wasting your time overindulging in the same thrill over and over again. Yeah, the excitement of seeing something you’re not supposed to see is hot as hell, but you have to set limits for yourself, and not try to fantasize too much about the upskirts you haven’t seen, and spend more time enjoying, and maybe sorting, the upskirts you already have. That’s what I’ve been doing lately” (‘Agent Ika’).
- Extract 4: “[Upskirting] really does get repetitive. For me the thrill now comes from pretending I’m a director of a film – getting new angles, upskirts from the front, whole body shots with the upskirt still showing, and always including faceshots” (‘Stimulus’).
Obviously I have no way of knowing whether these online forum confessions are true (but they seem to be). Based on these extracts, there is certainly the possibility raised that upskirting may be addictive to a very small minority of individuals. Extract 2 was particularly interesting in that the individual had never engaged in upskirting himself but his ‘addiction’ to watching upskirting videos takes up so much time in his life.
Another source suggesting that upskirting may be an addictive activity comes from the details of those arrested and prosecuted. For instance, one infamous example in the UK (in 2015) was the case of Paul Appleby who managed to take 9000 upskirting photos in the space of just five weeks (suggesting that he was doing it all day every day to have taken so many photos). Appleby was finally caught when he was caught bending over to take a photo up a woman’s skirt in a Poundland shop. The Daily Mirror reported that:
“The tubby pervert, who was ‘addicted’ to snapping upskirts, fled the store after he was spotted…when [police] officers found his camera and iPhone a staggering 9,000 ‘upskirt’ images were discovered. The photos had been taken between November 1 and December 4 last year. [Appleby] admitted two counts of committing an act of outraging public decency…and was given a three-year community order…[Appleby] had been prosecuted for a ‘similar matter’ of outraging public decency in London in 2010. Alistair Evans, defending claimed Appleby had committed the crime for ‘sexual gratification’ and his behaviour was a ‘compulsion and an addiction’ he needed treatment for”.
Here, the mitigating factor for Appleby’s behaviour was that he was addicted to upskirting. The fact that Appleby did not receive a custodial sentence suggests the excuse of being ‘addicted’ to the behaviour led to the judge being more lenient. Another individual who avoided a custodial sentence for upskirting offences was Andrew MacRae who claimed he was addicted to sex. MacRae had amassed 49,000 upskirt photos and videos using hidden cameras at his workplace, on trains, and at the beach. He pled guilty to three counts of outraging public decency and seven counts of voyeurism. The judge said he would spare him jail if he was treated for his “compulsive voyeurism”. A report in the Daily Mail recounted what that Judge Jeremy Donne said:
“This was undoubtedly a sophisticated, organised, planned and long-running campaign of voyeurism – again with a significant degree of planning – and members of the general public, female commuters in the main, were caught by your voyeuristic activities. Your activities were undoubtedly despicable and will cause deep revulsion in all who hear them. Women will undoubtedly feel a need to be protected from such behaviour by the knowledge that the courts will deal with offenders severely, and men will thereby be deterred from committing such offences. On the other hand, you suffer from an illness that can be treated and you have submitted to that treatment. You have features of sexual addiction disorder with disorders of sexual preference, namely voyeurism and fetishistic transvestism – all defined in the international classification of diseases. You continue to receive treatment from psychiatrists who consider you to be at low risk of re-offending”.
Another recent British case highlighted the ingenious methods used to aid upskirting. Here, Stafford Cant used spy cameras hidden inside one of his trainers, his key fob, and his wrist watch to engage in upskirting women (as well as filming the backs of their legs) who were shopping in a Cheshire village. Acting on a tip-off, his house was raided and the police found 222,000 videos and pictures dating back seven years. ‘Addiction’ was again used as a mitigating factor in the crimes (along with depression and anxiety disorders) but this time it was not addiction to voyeurism but an addiction to collecting things. However, unlike the two cases above, Cant was jailed for three years after pleading guilty to outraging public decency, voyeurism and possessing and distributing indecent images.
Although there is little psychological literature on upskirting, there appears to be anecdotal evidence that the behaviour (in the extreme) could perhaps be conceptualized as an addiction and/or compulsion among a minority of individuals. The cases of those that have been arrested and prosecuted demonstrate that upskirting behaviour was time-consuming given the sheer number of photos and videos amassed, and that the behaviour was ultimately problem-inducing and undesirable. Given that the relatively recent rise of upskirting appears to mirror the rise in the use of smartphones and spy equipment available at affordable prices, I expect to see more such cases to be written about in psychological and criminological journals in the years to come.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Fight The New Drug (2018). What’s “upskirting”, and how does porn culture feed this twisted trend? July 5. Located at: https://fightthenewdrug.org/whats-upskirting-and-how-does-porn-culture-feed-this-twisted-trend/
Jolly, B. (2015). Upskirt pervert who took 9,000 secret photos in just five weeks avoids jail. Daily Mirror, January 28. Located at: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/upskirt-pervert-who-took-9000-5058048
Keay, L. (2018). Live Nation executive who built-up sordid library of 49,000 upskirt pictures by filming women on trains, the beach and at work is spared jail as his wife stands by him. Daily Mail, January 5. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5239815/LiveNation-executive-Andrew-MacRae-avoids-jail-upskirt.html
Lam, J. (2017). Fifty shades of sexual offending – Part 1. The Law Gazette, July. Located at: http://v1.lawgazette.com.sg/2017-07/1910.htm
Martin, G. (2018). What happened to me was wrong. Time to make it illegal, too. World Economic Forum, April 9. Located at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/04/what-happened-to-me-was-wrong-time-to-make-it-illegal-too/
Petter, O. (2018). Upskirting: What is it and why are people trying to make it illegal” The Independent, June 18. Located at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/upskirting-explained-law-rules-criminal-offence-photos-skirt-consent-women-gina-martin-a8401011.html
Shepherd, R. & Smithers, D. (2018). The public school pervert who spent years secretly filming up women’s skirts in one of Britain’s wealthiest villages. Manchester Evening News, March 29. Located at: https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/alderley-edge-upskirt-film-pervert-14470375
The Strait Times (2016). Taking upskirt photos may be symptomatic of voyeuristic disorder. July 30. Located at: https://adelphipsych.sg/straits-times-taking-upskirt-photos-may-be-symptomatic-of-voyeuristic-disorder/
Wilson, H. (2004). Peeping Tom’s secret weapon. The Independent, July 8. Located at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/peeping-toms-secret-weapon-552402.html
I have to start by saying that this article is not about flatulence fetishes (which I’ve covered in a number of previous blogs, here, here and here) but about individuals who are sexually aroused by the wind. I decided to write this article when I came across a relatively detailed first-person account online. While I cannot guarantee the veracity of the account, the level of specific detail leads me to the conclusion that the account is genuine. Here I include verbatim text followed by my commentary.
- Case 1, Extract 1: “I’ve never had an outlet where I can speak openly about this aspect of my sexuality before. Sorry if I get too excited. My fetish is unusual and, from what I can tell, exceptionally uncommon. I haven’t even found a proper term for it in the 4 years I’ve been prowling Google for related content. I have a wind fetish. Specifically, I love powerful winds – the stronger, the better, and watching people and objects get blown around. My favorite things to watch are people with long hair and loose clothing, as well as trees. Trees are great. The sound is also a massive component, and is often enough to get me aroused on its own. I do love the idea of being out in strong winds, but the only time it’s windy where I live is when it’s cold or raining. That ruins the fun”.
I agree that the fetish is uncommon because I’ve seen so few references to it either online or in academic texts. In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Anil Aggrawal does list ‘wind fetish’ in his long list of sexual parahilias and defines it as “sexual attraction to being blown by the wind”. In the case described here, the individual also gets sexually aroused from watching other individuals and objects being blow around (which goes beyond the definition defined by Dr. Aggrawal). Interestingly, the sexual attraction has a number of sub-components such as the reference to long hair and loose clothing being a particular turn on. The other aspects I found interesting were the references to trees and the sound the wind makes. Both of these aspects have associations with other paraphilias that I have written about, namely dendrophilia (sexual arousal from trees) and acousticophilia (sexual arousal from auditory stimuli usually from a very specific sound). The fact that the sound of the wind itself is sexually arousing suggests this is more likely to be acousticophilia than wind fetishism. In addition, the source of the sexual arousal (i.e., the wind) has to be contextualized for it to be sexually arousing. In the case described here, wind in the cold and/or the rain dampens the sexual desire (no pun intended). She then goes on to say:
- Case 1, Extract 2: “I’ve had this fetish for as long as I can remember, and I can’t think of what triggered it. When I was very young, I remember having a dream that involved a tornado; that was the earliest thing. My favorite game growing up was always bringing out our big fan and playing with my Barbie dolls in front of it, and I brought wind into a lot of other imaginative games I played. In elementary school I found one book on meteorology in the school library, and whenever we had library time I would hide in one of the lesser-visited aisles and read over the Beaufort Scale over and over. I remember feeling deeply ashamed about it, but I didn’t know why. I would always have trouble sleeping when it was windy outside. I used to think that my feelings about wind stemmed from a phobia, but I don’t think that was it. Never went through the same pattern with spiders. Anyway, I don’t remember the point when I figured out it was arousal, but the next thing I knew I was getting off to storm chaser videos”.
Here, the individual admits she has no idea about the roots of her fetish but does note that wind featured heavily in both her early leisure and educational experiences. The shame element also suggests that her fascination with wind (such as repeatedly reading the Beaufort Scale) was sexual but she didn’t realise it at the time. She then goes on to say:
- Case 1, Extract 3: “Sex has never done the same things for me. I’ve tried watching regular porn, but it just made me feel numb. I haven’t had too much experience with real sexual acts, but the amount that I’ve done hasn’t gotten me turned on. In that way, I suppose I’m thankful for my fetish. It gives me an avenue into sexual pleasure that my sex-aversion would have denied me otherwise. At the same time though it makes me feel incredibly alienated, especially given its rarity. I managed to find one online community for it, and although it’s tiny (an Experience Project page that gets maybe one post per month), at least I know I’m not completely alone. But it’s hard to talk about sex with other people when your entire sexual identity is wrapped up in something that’s socially unacceptable to discuss openly”.
Here, the account is suggestive of a true fetish (in that no sexual desire is experienced unless the source of the fetish is present). It also indicates that other individuals have the fetish in that she was able to find others online who had the same fetish and that this makes her feel better because she is “not completely alone”. Another individual replies to her post and comments:
- Case 2, Extract 4: “What you said about fetishes encompassing more than just arousal is absolutely true for me. Mine comes bundled with a host of other emotions – fear, awe, anticipation, excitement, hunger, so on. There’s nothing else in my life quite like it. I am fixated on the wind on multiple levels, to the point where I have trouble separating it from my core identity. I wish I was brave enough to create content like you do, but I’m still too embarrassed and afraid of people finding out. I can’t even bring myself to store related files on my computer in fear of people discovering them…I’ve actually been trying to get myself into macrophilia (I’ve always had an emotional fascination, and having a fetish that people actually produce content of would be nice), and so far results have been only mildly successful. I don’t think it’s ever going to stack up to my love of wind”.
This individual (gender unknown) also finds wind fetishism shameful and is embarrassed by it. The fact that this individual describes it as core to their identity and is fixated at a number of levels underlines that this is something that is far from trivial. The growing interest in macrophilia (sexual arousal from giants – and which I covered in previous blogs here and here) – unlike the interest in wind – is something that the person is trying to develop (which perhaps implicitly means that the wind fetish has been around as long as the individual can remember). A different individual (presumably male but could be female) noted:
- Case 3, Extract 5: “I’ve been doing a great deal of reflecting on my fetish, and have come to the conclusion that the excitement comes from imagining what out-of-control wind feels like on girls, particularly in regards to their clothing. Weird thing is, this is clearly sexual to me, and yet the idea of a girl lost in a blizzard seems more romantic (I like to imagine rushing out to give her a warm hug and bring her to safety). I think perhaps the whole clothing thing is related somehow – for example, something I find really exciting is a girl wearing a warm hoodie/sweater and wearing a small skirt completely out of control due to wind. Contrast, perhaps? Maybe I’m overanalysing again”.
Here, the wind is perhaps associated with a type of clothes fetishism and other weather (i.e., a blizzard) as well as ‘damsel in distress fetishism’ (which I looked at in a previous blog and is why I suspect this person to be male as most individuals with this fetish are male). The cross-pollination and/or co-existence of multiple fetishes and paraphilias is well-known in the academic literature. Another person wrote:
- Case 4, Extract 6: “Ever since I was younger, I’ve always loved watching and hearing trees and grass get blown all around in the wind. All the sexual fantasies and wet dreams I’ve had always had something to do with the wind blowing trees or something. It’s kind of embarrassing, since I always get flustered when it’s really windy out and someone comments on the weather”.
This short account shares similarities with the first case in that the aural element of the fetish is also an important part of the fetish (although the visual elements are equally stressed). Like Case 2, the accompanying embarrassment about having the fetish is also noted. In an online discussion (on Reddit) about the strangest fetishes that people had come across, one discussant claimed that there was a woman on the discussion group who was “sexually aroused by wind and masturbated to videos of tornadoes” although I was unable to locate her.
I did go looking online for further evidence of wind fetishes and managed to locate a few first-person confessions:
- Case 5, Extract 7: “I am talking about air currents on the surface of our planet. A windy day can, if I let it, get very inside my head, and can drive me crazy. I have seen some very well worded descriptions of it on this and other forum websites”.
- Case 6, Extract 8: “I have a fetish for strong winds. Watching people struggle against the wind is just about the sexiest thing every to me, although people need not be involved. (In fact, the presence of a human is more of an imagination aid because it helps me imagine how it would feel to be out there myself; I don’t feel any attraction to the person being blown) Just trees getting blown around turns me on. Although visuals are important, the audio is the biggest thing for me. The sound drives me nuts. I’ve found that this is a rather inconvenient fetish to have, for two reasons. The first is that almost no one else has this so very little specialized content is actually produced. More than half of the “porn” I watch ends up being storm chaser videos. The second reason is that I have no control about when it is or isn’t windy outside. It’s annoying when I desperately want a windy day and all I get is a little teasing breeze, but also equally frustrating when a windy day comes along when I have work to be doing and I can’t focus on anything…I don’t seem to have much of a sexuality beyond this. I’ve never been able to masturbate to regular porn, and the only time I’ve orgasmed was during Hurricane Sandy. This might be partially due to other sexual issues I have (I probably have vaginismus), but for now wind stuff is the only thing I can enjoy. I may have a minor thing for macro/micro too, but not enough to get off on”.
- Case 7, Extract 9: “We’re so small of a group of people that share such a rare fetish, that there isn’t even a scientific term for it. Even the most obscure psychological diseases have a name given to them. It’s kinda depressing for me almost…All in all, finding out about this makes me feel a bit isolated”.
- Case 8, Extract 10: “Now I do agree with you that we NEED a place where we can safely have fun with our fetish. It would be really fun to be able to interact with people who have the same ‘desire’ we do…Well, compare the amount of people we have in this group compared to how many people known fetishes are associated with. We’re an extremely small group compared to them. Also just because you get delighted looks from wearing certain clothes in the wind, doesn’t really mean that they have a fetish of it like we do…Maybe this fetish is ‘rare’ because ours is not socially highlighted like others…I think the reason for my fetish is an extremely rare set of conditions when I was about 2 to 3 years old. I remember seeing wind push people in at least two episodes of a show I used to watch, and there was this movie where there was this wind that was sentient and blew stronger every day or something, I think it was the ‘Neverending Story’ or something. I don’t know. However, remembering back right know the physics were all wrong and would probably cause goose bumps to me now at how horribly executed I remember them as. Of Course back then they were perfect”.
All of these snippets provide useful information concerning wind fetishes. The cases appear to be a mixture of both males and females, and one female (Case 6) suspects that her wind fetish is in part determined by the fact that penile-vaginal sex is painful due to a sexual dysfunction and that the fetish she has doesn’t need sexual intercourse to be sexually fulfilled. The rarity of the fetish is again spoken about (Cases 7 and 8), as well as the co-existence of macrophilia (along with microphilia too) is also noted (Case 6). Their visual source of ‘porn’ comprise clips of wind and tornados in TV shows and news footage, and some (Case 8) claim that others don’t really have the fetish if it’s liking clothes that are blown about in the wind. Based on my own research into the topic, I think that wind fetishism exists but as most of the cases I found highlight, it looks to be extremely rare. I would also argue that even among these small number of vase studies, there appear to be different sub-types of wind fetishism and that most individuals’ experiences of wind fetishism began back in childhood. Unlike most fetishes and paraphilias, wind fetishism does not appear to be male-based as some of the cases unearthed are clearly female. As with many fetishes I have looked at, the chances of any academic research into the topic are going to be limited at best.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished 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.
Mai, F.M.M. (1968). A new psychosexual syndrome – “Ecouteurism” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 2, 261-263.
As the 2018 World Cup kicks in, it’s an opportune time to ask why are we so loyal to our national and club football teams? Whatever the results, we tend to support them week in week out, all year round. They can cause us misery and heartache and yet still we support them. As a Sunderland fan, I know this only too well. In the season just ended I went from agony to even more agony as I saw Sunderland get relegated for the second season in a row.
Could it be that following our clubs is an addiction? It has been argued by academics working in the marketing field that commercial organisations would love to have the kind of brand loyalty shown by football fans – something that Ken Parker and Trish Stuart argued in their award winning paper ‘The ‘West Ham Syndrome’ published in the Journal of the Market Research Society (I’m not making this up, honest!).
Parker and Stuart, working at the time of the study for the company Discovery Research, surveyed 2000 adults and also carried out some focus group interviews with football fans (including some ardent West Ham United supporters). They found that 58% of males had made a commitment to club their team by the age of 11 years. (I just happen to be one of those men having supported Sunderland from the age of 7 years of age after watching them beat Leeds in the 1973 FA Cup Final). More than half of children whose parents supported a team went on to support the same one, while a third of all fans still followed their local team.
Marketeers would love to be able to take the seemingly unstinted loyalty of football fans and somehow transfer that loyalty to the products they are trying to sell. For instance, the brand of coffee we buy tends to be governed by many factors such as television advertising, the taste, the price, the packaging, etc. If we come across coffee that (for whatever reason) is better (cheaper, tastes better, etc.), we automatically switch our ‘allegiance’ to another brand of coffee. Parker and Stuart argued that wherever West Ham finish in the league, Hammers fans would not desert their club and/or switch to another club. So what’s the difference between football clubs as a brand and other commercial products as a brand? Maybe it’s passion and the fact that football can be such an emotional experience for the diehard fan.
Some working in the advertising industry claim many people working in marketing lack passion in their product. Apparently there are other products (such as cars) that consumers get very passionate about and this means that they repeatedly buy a particular make of car despite any acknowledged faults. However, one huge fault can damage a brand’s reputation almost overnight, as Toyota is only too aware. The good news for Toyota is that one of the most interesting things about research on the ‘West Ham Syndrome’ is that it can help to explain why leading brands are able to bounce back from PR disasters in similar ways to football clubs come back from being relegated to a lower division.
However, are football fans really as loyal as most of us assume? A paper by Alan Tapp examined the loyalty of football fans (in the Journal of Database Marketing and Customer Strategy Management) and wondered what it is about football clubs as a brand that makes them so successful – especially as the ‘product’ is so inconsistent and unpredictable? (‘Inconsistent’ and ‘unpredictable are certainly words I would associate with the England team and the England players!). Parker and Stuart claimed that levels of loyalty were “only marginally affected” by West Ham’s fortunes. However, Tapp says this is completely untrue. He cites analysis of football attendance figures since 1945 to show that crowd sizes are related to a team’s position in the league, and that teams lose support when they are doing poorly. Despite the fact that crowd attendance is linked to how well a football club is doing, it’s still probably true to say that football fans are still more loyal to their club than they are to most other products. All this goes to show is that most of us will continue to love England, warts and all.
Just before the 1998 World Cup, I began to carry out some research into football fanaticism and whether football fanatics could be considered ‘addicted’ to following their football team. This is easier said than done as it all depends upon how addiction is defined, and if ‘football fan addiction’ exists, what are people actually addicted to? I define addiction as any behaviour that features what I believe to be the six core components of addiction (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict and relapse). Throughout my career, I have consistently argued that any behaviour that fulfils these six criteria should be considered as a genuine addiction. If you were addicted to following your football team, this is what I would expect:
Salience – This occurs when following your football team (and doing things related to your football team) becomes the most important activity in your life and dominates your thinking (total preoccupation), feelings (cravings) and behaviour (deterioration of socialized behaviour). For instance, even if you are not actually engaged in something football-related, you will be thinking about the next time that you are.
Mood modification – This is the subjective experience that you would feel as a consequence of following your football team (i.e. you experience an arousing ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ – or the exact opposite – a tranquilizing feeling of ‘escape’ or ‘numbing’ when following your team).
Tolerance – This is the process whereby increasing amounts of activity related to your football team are needed to get mood modifying effects. This basically means that if you were engaged in activities related to following your football team, you would gradually build up the amount of the time you spend engaged in those activities.
Withdrawal symptoms – These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects (e.g., the shakes, moodiness, irritability etc.) that occur when you are prevented from following your football team or stopped from engaging in football-related activities.
Conflict – This refers to the conflicts between following your football team and those around you (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (your job, schoolwork, social life, hobbies and interests) or from within yourself (knowing you are doing too much of the activity and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) which are concerned with spending too much time following your football team.
Relapse – This is the tendency to revert back to earlier patterns of behaviour (following your football team and engaging in football-related activity) after a period of abstinence.
Using these criteria, I have come across very few genuine examples of someone addicted to a football team. The most extreme case I have come across was one woman who left her husband because of his ‘addiction’ to Chelsea football club. She told me that their bedroom was a shrine to Chelsea, he watched almost every Chelsea game home and away (including European away matches), spent all their joint savings and ran up huge debts following Chelsea, and eventually got sacked from his job because he kept ringing in sick whenever Chelsea were playing hundreds of miles from home during midweek games. Out of season he would be constantly depressed and would try to alleviate his mood by endlessly watching videos of Chelsea’s greatest games. Once the football season started, his depression would lift. I never met this individual but he appears to have fulfilled my criteria for addiction.
For most people, enthusiastically following your team – even to excess – is unlikely to be an addiction. The main difference between a healthy excessive enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life and addictions take away from it.
(Please note that a version of this article was originally published in The Conversation)
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.
Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Behavioural addiction and substance addiction should be defined by their similarities not their dissimilarities. Addiction, 112, 1718-1720.
Parker, K., Stuart, T. 1997. The West Ham syndrome. Journal of the Market Research Society, 39(3), 509-517.
Tapp, A. (2004). The loyalty of football fans – We’ll support you evermore? Journal of Database Marketing and Customer Strategy Management, 11, 203-215.
According to the online Urban Dictionary, a ‘hucow’ (a portmanteau of ‘human cow’) is “a woman who chooses to be objectified for her large mammaries and ability to lactate constantly”. It also features ‘human cow’ separately and defines it as “a lactating female who allows herself to have her jugs [breasts] hooked up to a cow milking machine, usually wearing a cow mask and cow print leather chaps”. In the writing of my previous blogs on lactation fetishes and furries, I had come across ‘hucow’ fetishism but at the time there was little on which to write about. A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by Mark Hay of Vice magazine who wanted my views about the behaviour so this provided a spur for me to write this article. There is obviously nothing in the academic literature concerning the phenomenon (and to be honest, little anywhere else). A small article on the Kinkly website makes the following observations:
“A hucow is a submissive person, usually a woman, who enjoys participating in forced lactation. A hucow’s breasts are milked by a dominant partner, usually a man, as a real cow is milked by a farmer. Milking techniques can vary…A dominant partner may use a variety of techniques to milk a hucow. They may milk her by hand, by suckling her breasts with their mouth, or by using a breast pump. Some hucows and their partners stick to one preferred technique while others like to mix things up. Some people become hucows following childbirth, when they are lactating naturally. Others bring on lactation using a variety of techniques including using a breast pump, manual stimulation, suckling, and taking supplements including fenugreek powder”.
It’s hard to know where the person writing this article got their information although my own viewing of online hucow videos confirm much of what is claimed above although it’s questionable whether the women in such videos “enjoy” what they are doing because they may just be doing it for money. The article goes on to say:
“Hucows enjoy being cared for like a pet because it takes them away from their regular lives with adult responsibilities. The breast stimulation that comes with lactating is also very sensual. Men with hucows enjoy the dominance and power that comes from their role in the forced lactation. When women lactate, their breasts increase in size, which is also a real perk for many men. Some men also have breastfeeding fetishes and lactation fetishes that their hucows can satisfy. As with many alternative lifestyles, there are communities for hucows and erotic fiction and videos focused on their activities. Several erotic writers and bloggers focus their works on hucows. Their writing might include fictional accounts and scenarios or non-fiction posts about their own experiences as a hucow. Hucows are also represented on niche dating websites, including Fetlife, and social media platforms like Reddit and Tumblr”.
Again, some of this I’ve confirmed for myself as I found many examples of hucow fan fiction online as well as many porn sites catering for hucow fetishism. Another short article on the Manic Love website was written after its anonymous author was reading through the personal ads on Craig’s List and came across a personal ad that “depicted a cow milking machine on a woman and turned into someone’s personal hucow”. They wrote that:
“As you can imagine, a hucow is a woman pantomiming the experiences of a dairy cow. These particular women’s vaginas gush at the thought of having a slave collar put on their neck and having a milking machine hooked up to their nipples for hours at a time. Another facet of this fetish is the concept of breeding the hucows by the hucow milker. This is when the hucows partner (the Bull) mounts her and begins to [have sex with her]. All the while this lovely faux bovine is attached to an industrial device that is collecting her milk from the opened faucets of her [breasts]. The hucow fetish is a marvellous fusion of BDSM and lactation kinks”.
Again, how the writer knows the women involved like such activity is unknown. The author found a personal testimony from a hucow (a “baby-faced blonde with a curvy figure” called ‘Kate’) who described her hucow experiences:
“Once lactation had been induced on Katie the milking began. At first she used a simple breast pump to wring her mammary glands dry, but once Katie was used to the sensation of the pump she graduated to a milking machine that would be at home on a dairy farm. Katie related the sensation she felt while being milked…At first it was uncomfortable but the feeling grew on our dear Katie and before long she loved being a hucow. With the machine being attached to Katie’s nipples for hours she described how her nipples were becoming elongated – all the better for suckling… not only was her milking erotic but it also gave her a sensation of relief. Whenever a milking session was occurring Katie was always restrained; whether handcuffed to a rack or wearing a slave collar…Once the Bull [has sex with] Katie they begin to treat each other like true animals. They begin to rut like they belong on a farm”.
I was contacted by Mark Hay (with whom I’ve done various interviews in the past including ones on sea monster pornography, giantess pornography) who knew I’d written about lactation fetishes in my blog in the past. He asked me if I had ever come across hucow fetishes where “individuals fantasize about or play out scenes in which (usually) men treat (usually) women as livestock, forcibly milking them. Sometimes the women dress up like cows”. I told him that I had but that I’d never written about it. I told him that from a definitional perspective, ‘hucow’ fetishes were originally was the same thing as lactation fetishes. However, I told him that hucow fetishes now appeared to have expanded to include women dressing and/or acting like cows in which the milking was at the core of the fetish. I went on to say that this was not a type of furryism (where individuals dress up as animals and often have sex with other as animals) but was more akin to ‘pony play‘ because both ‘ponyplay’ and ‘hucow’ tend to have women in submissive modes and both have the animals’ most well-known type of behaviour at the heart of the fetish (i.e., milking in cows and riding/equestrianism in horses).
I was aware that there is a big niche market for this type of porn (even on mainstream porn sites like Pornhub). He was interested to hear that I thought the fetish had evolved and asked me (i) when, how, or why that might have happened, and (ii) whether I thought the fetish was especially visible, accessible, or common, and what that might say about the audience for it and the scale of its appeal. I have to admit I hadn’t many answers for these questions. I also had to clarify that I didn’t say the fetish had evolved but the definition of hucow had evolved (in my view, a subtle but important distinction). I believe the internet itself has played a major role in the dispersal of material that individuals can fetishise and hucow appears to be one of them. Most fetishes appear to have sub-divisions and at the edges they sometimes cross over into completely different fetishes. Hucow fetishism clearly has crossovers with lactation fetishism, pregnancy fetishism, infantilism/diaper fetishism (adults dressing up as a baby), transformation fetishism, and sadomasochism/BDSM, as well as having similarities with furries and ponyplay. Personally, I don’t believe it’s a common fetish because individuals have to go looking for it (as I did in researching this article).
Within five minutes of searching on the internet I located dedicated hucow porn (including material at sites including Pornhub, Heavy-R, Xvideos) as well as bespoke hucow fiction (Kobo, Literotica, and Amazon) and fantasy art (on Deviant Art). Hay’s article in Vice reported that the hucow Tumblr site has over 10,000 followers and that the hucow Reddit site has over 23,000 subscribers. Hay interviewed ‘Ed’, the person that runs the hucows.com website. According to Hay:
“[Ed] says his fans seem most excited by women being milked than anything else in his clips. Ditto Sally Anon, an amateur lactation fetish producer, who first encountered HuCow fetishists on lactophilia Reddit communities, who asked her to cross-post to their groups even though she didn’t dress up or act like a cow in the content she produced”.
In addition to interviewing me for the article. Hay also interviewed the ethicist Rebecca Kukla who has written about cultural perceptions of breastfeeding and made some interesting observations. She was quoted as saying:
“Lactation, of course, leads to increased breast size, which explains its appeal to some. Some women enjoy the breast stimulation of milking, so such fetishes are likely to be more about reciprocal pleasure than many others. Consuming breast milk plays into a common kinky urge to be infantilized. Perhaps most importantly, sexualizing something culturally asexual is an appealing form of transgression and re-appropriation. Many kinksters get erotic pleasure from playing at what they fear most, or find most violating of the proper order…[However] cows aren’t only good for milk production. They are the ultimate animals produced specifically for consumption, bred into highly artificial-looking consumer products. In HuCow, the cow-woman is simulating an object produced specifically to be consumed by her partner”.
This concurs with what I have written myself about why dominant and submissive types may enjoy hucow fetishism. As noted in my previous blogs, animal play in general often toys with transforming a complex human into a wholly service-oriented beast. Hay then goes on to say:
“As with many hard submissive fetishes, this may sound terrifying to those looking in from the outside. But even on their own fetishist-facing blogs, HuCow practitioners often acknowledge this is a well-negotiated fantasy, ideally built on mutual respect and desire in participants’ wider lives”.
Hay also quotes Sunny Megatron, an “adult sexuality educator and pleasure advocate” who asserts:
“Remember this is just fantasy role play where turning humans into fantasy cattle is fetishized. And just like any other kind of BDSM or fetish play, this is carefully negotiated by all participants and done consensually. Treating a woman – or anybody – as just a mere object is very wrong if it’s done without their consent. But if objectification is mutually desired by both partners, they’ve thoroughly and clearly talked about it ahead of time and then they play it out in a healthy fun fantasy sense, then that’s different…When BDSM scenes are negotiated they are done so according to the desires and limits of the submissive. The submissive calls the shots”.
As I know from my own empirical studies on eproctophilia (sexual arousal from flatulence) and dacryphilia (sexual arousal from crying), even within very niche fetishes, many sub-types start to develop and cross-fertilise with other more established fetishes and paraphilias, and hucow fetishism appears to be another niche sexual behaviour that (with the help of the internet) is continuing to evolve.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Good Reads (2014). Definition of a Hucow. Goodreads.com, October 3. Located at: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/7114274-definition-of-a-hucow
Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Compassion, dominance/submission, and curled lips: A thematic analysis of dacryphilic experience. International Journal of Sexual Health, 27, 337-350.
Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Sexual interest as performance, intellect and pathological dilemma: A critical discursive case study of dacryphilia. Psychology and Sexuality, 7, 265-278.
Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilias: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Eproctophilia in a young adult male: A case study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1383-1386.
Hay, M. (2018). Inside HuCow, the fetish that imagines women as cows. Vice, April 24. Located at: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/d3599y/inside-hucow-the-fetish-that-imagines-women-as-cows
Kinkly (2018). Kinkly explains Hucow. Kinkly.com. Located at: https://www.kinkly.com/definition/15836/hucow
Manic Love (2017). Learn about hucows. October 12. Located at: https://maniclove.com/free-blog/hucows
In a previous 2014 blog, I looked at the psychology of shoplifting (which I called ‘Men of Steal’) based on the work of American psychologist John C. Brady (who’s upcoming book is also entitled ‘Men of Steal’). Brady is a really engaging writer and he recently published an article in Counsellor magazine on celebrity theft and why for some people it should be classed as an addiction.
Brady briefly recounted the cases of three celebrities who had been caught shoplifting (Lindsay Lohan, Kim Richards, and Winona Ryder – click on the links to get the stories of each of these celebrity shoplifting stories). Other famous celebrity shoplifters include Britney Spears, Megan Fox, Kristin Cavallari, Farrah Fawcett, and WWE Diva Emma (if you’re really interested in these and other celebrity shoplifters, then check out this story in Rebel Circus). According to Dr. Brady “psychological analysis reveals they are not greedy, rather they are addicted to the ‘rush’ associated with theft” and that there is an ‘addictive criminal syndrome’.
Brady’s article used the ‘celebrity’ angle as the ‘hook’ to write more generally about ‘shoplifting addictions’ and briefly outlined the cases of three high profile ‘theft addicts’:
“The first man is Bruce McNall, former LA Kings owner, Hollywood film producer, and a convicted felon. He received five years in Lompoc Federal Prison for stealing $238 million. The second man, John Spano, former owner of the New York Islanders, went off to two terms in federal prisons for stealing $80 million. He is currently an inmate in an Ohio prison doing ten more years for a crime he did not originate. Finally, William “Boots” Del Biaggio III, former Silicon Valley venture capitalist operator and founder of Heritage Bank in San Jose, graduated in 2016 from eight years at Lompoc for fraud. He stole $110 million to buy the Nashville Predators hockey team. He later expressed regret—maybe too little too late”.
Brady believes that these individuals had a behavioural addiction to stealing. The cases he outlined were all true and were examples of what Brady described as “elite offenders who became addicted to the rush connected to stealing”. Some commonalities between the three individuals was noted: they were charming, deceptive, had personalities that were outgoing, never used violence or aggression in the carrying out of their thefts, and (in Brady’s view) were addicted to crime. Like many addicts, they harmed themselves, their families, and their communities as a consequence of their behaviour.
The idea of being addicted to crime is not new, and the addiction components model that I have developed over the last couple of decades was based on that of one of my mentors – Iain Brown – who used such a model to explain addictive criminal offending in a really good book chapter published back in 1997 (in the book Addicted to Crime? edited by the psychologists John Hodge, Mary McMurran and Clive Hollin – see ‘Further reading’ below). Like me, Brady also read Addicted to Crime? in which it was posited that some criminals appear to become addicted to stealing (and that the act of theft made them feel good psychologically by providing a ‘high’ or a ‘rush’ similar to the feelings individuals experience when they ingest psychoactive substances). Brady argues that an addiction to stealing is a behavioural addiction and that it is “functionally equivalent” to substance-based addictions for two main reasons: that theft addicts (i) “generally derive the same initial uplifting, euphoric, and subjective sensations similar to substance abusers”, and (ii) “are almost blindly driven toward their goal and they cannot stop their self-defeating behaviors”.
Brady contends that there are five addictive criminal stages of what he terms “the zone”: (i) criminal triggers, (ii) moral neutralisation, (iii) commission of the criminal act, (iv) post-criminal-act exhilaration, and (v) post-criminal-act confusion. Brady asserts:
“The five addictive stages comprising the criminal addictive zone helps explain why certain offenders arrived at such low points in their lives and progressively became drawn deeper into the addictive zone. Because these three men became frozen into one or more of these stages, they simply could not easily find an exit sign. I have applied this criminal zonal theory to a variety of deviant groups, including white-collar deviants and now to these three elite, nonviolent bank robbers. An analysis of the criminal addictive personality forms the foundation of the addictive zone. This zone is marked with multiple, negative psychological forces evidenced during each of the five stages…The movement through these overlapping stages results in a negative, criminological, transformative process during which theft addicts surrender their prior noncriminal status (positive), thereby adopting a new deviant one (negative)…After entering into this enigmatic zone, offenders often become locked into one or more of these overlapping stages. The one factor that remains constant is that the progression through these five stages dramatically and unalterably changed these men’s lives, their victims’ lives, and the lives of people around them”.
Brady’s five addictive criminal stages are:
- Criminal triggers – In the first stage. these internal triggers revolve around salience and low self-esteem and comprise “confusing and mostly illogical thoughts” that criminals acquire. These negative thoughts are “reflective of peoples’ compromised self-concepts coupled with the desire to overcompensate for perceived personal shortcomings” and primarily originate from feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and inadequacy.
- Moral neutralisation – In the second stage, Brady claims that this stage is the most complex and essential of all the stages and is rooted in conflict. The destructive and self-defeating behaviour that criminals experience is not driven by material (economic) motives but is simply individuals “trying to enrich their empty shell identities” and fuelled by irrational thoughts of wanting to prove to significant others that they are really important. These motives may be completely unconscious
- Commission of the criminal act – In the third stage, the actual carrying out of the criminal acts demands that criminals “neutralize the unsavory aspects of their offenses…and lend meaning to inexplicable behaviors”. The more a criminal engages in the activity the more criminals become “skilled practitioners in the art of self-deception”. Here, the criminal behaviour is paired with “exciting sensations” associated with the risk of engaging in criminal activity (“an anticipated visceral feeling or mental excitement and stimulation, if not an elation, a thrill, a rush, and even a sense of euphoria”). In short, the euphoric sensations experienced reinforce the criminal behaviour.
- Post-criminal-act exhilaration – In the fourth stage, Brady claims there is typically a “flooding of mood-elevating feelings similar to an adrenaline rush, accompanied with thoughts that synthetically increase their sense of well-being” and what my mentor Iain Brown refers to as “hedonic mood management”. In short, the criminal act can help individuals feel like “bigshots” and criminals may justify doing something bad because it makes them feel so good. Brady also claims that many of these exhilarating feelings “manifest themselves on an unconscious level that is easily experienced, yet not easily comprehended by a theft addict”
- Post-criminal-act confusion – In the fifth stage, Brady claims that the mood modifying experiences in the third and fourth stages are “replaced with new, dramatic, and unexpected changes in the offenders’ emotional awareness”. Here, criminals become confused, depressed and socially withdrawn, as well as experiencing withdrawal-like reactions (e.g., sweating, headaches, anxiety, nausea, heart arrhythmia, etc.). Brady says that on a psychological level, the fifth stage five is characterized by “confusion, guilt, afterthoughts, misgivings, anxiety, depression, and dramatic mood shifts ranging from feelings of sadness to hopelessness”. It is also during this stage that criminals might start to show signs of remorse.
Brady concludes that for the criminals he has known and treated “used the stolen money to boost their status and enhance their enormous egos so they could attain ‘big shot’ fame”. I find this last observation interesting given a previous blog that I wrote on fame being addictive. I’ve also written other blogs on addictive criminal behaviour (such as joy-riding).
I am of the opinion that specific types of crime can be classed as an addictive behaviour because addictions rely on constant rewards (i.e., reinforcement) and crime can provide many rewarding experiences (both financially and psychologically), at least in the short-term. I’m not for one-minute condoning such behaviour, just simply stating my opinion that I believe it’s theoretically possible to become addicted to activities such as stealing.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Brady, J.C. (2013). Why Rich Women Shoplift – When They Have It All. San Jose, CA: Western Psych Press.
Brady, J.C. (2017) Celebrity theft: Unmasking addictive criminal intent. Counselor, July/August. Located at: http://www.counselormagazine.com/detailpageoverride.aspx?pageid=1729&id=15032386763
Brown, I. (1997). A theoretical model of the behavioral addictions: Applied to offending. In J.E. Hodge, M. McMurran, & C.R. Hollin (Eds.), Addicted to crime? (pp. 15–63). Chichester: Wiley.
Hodge, J.E., McMurran, M., & Hollin, C.R. (1997). Addicted to crime? Chichester: Wiley.
Shulman, T.D. (2011). Cluttered Lives, Empty Souls – Compulsive Stealing, Spending and Hoarding. West Conshohocken, PA: Infinity Publishing.
Soriano, M. (2015). 15 celebrities who were caught shoplifting. Rebel Circus, May 13. Located at: http://www.rebelcircus.com/blog/celebrities-caught-shoplifting/
“Imagine, a beautiful girl with long silky hair and a seductive expression. She’s standing over a delicious-looking cake. She runs her finger through the frosting. Then after slowly licking it off, she turns around suddenly and sits on the cake. This might sound like a confusing dream, or possibly a nightmare if you’re a baker, but it’s actually a very specific fetish that the internet has given a voice: cake. Cake sitting is a simple pursuit. In fact, I’ve already described the whole thing. A woman, clothed or not, walks up to a cake, and then sits on it. That’s it. Sitting. As you might expect, cake sitting porn is typically a video, sometimes completely innocuous and perfectly suitable for the stuffy YouTube standards. A few feature unclothed women, and it does seem to always feature women, but the squishing and the mess are the primary focus of cake sitting” (from the article ‘The sexy fetish of cake sitting’, (IX) Daily)
Back in 2015, a homemade videotape was obtained by the New York Post showing Father George Passias, a high-ranking Greek Orthodox priest at Washington Heights (in New York), with a younger woman from Peru (Ethel Bouzalas) who voluntarily was caught on camera sitting on cakes to satisfy the priest’s ‘cake-sitting fetish’. Following the publication of the tape by the New York Post, Passias was suspended for having the affair with Bouzalaz. Father Passias (who was married at the time) was having an affair with Bouzalas, his assistant and a parish-school principal. They had allegedly been having an affair for years and it was Passias who baptized Bouzalaz just before her wedding. According to an article in GQ:
“In one scene, the bearded cleric, wearing only a white T-shirt, watches his long-haired brunette lover plant her thong-clad bottom on a piece of banana bread wrapped in cellophane. Bouzalas, wearing stiletto heels, oddly wiggles on the loaf until it is flattened — apparently a fetish known as “cake crush” or “cake sitting…In another video clip, the pretty Peruvian rubs her feet on the priest’s face as they lie under a mirrored ceiling and she records his ecstasy at the encounter. In another tape, the priest performs oral sex on his lover while she is still clad in sheer pantyhose”.
“A fairly new and quite trendy sexual fetish depicting females sitting on their birthday cakes It’s quite the logical combo of ‘wet and messy’ with the food crush fetish. While it shares some similarities with cake fart fetishism, cake sitting does NOT necessarily involve passing of wind or a deliberate discharge of any other bodily fluids into said cake. In recent years it’s become quite the fad in-vogue in Hollywood with Christina Aguilera being the latest and most famous persona to cake-sit, posing for ‘OUT’ magazine”.
The fetish was also featured in a Bustle article ‘8 sexual fetishes you didn’t know existed’ as well as noting the related “cake-farting wherein people literally fart into a cake:
An interesting story about cake-sitting appeared in Refinery 29’s article ‘9 surprisingly delightful photos of a sexual fetish you never knew existed’. The article reported:
“When the founders of Bompass & Parr first opened their London-based jelly confectionary and food-design studio, they were approached with a very specific and unexpected request. One of the first calls [they] got was an inquiry about whether we catered for splosh parties co-founder Sam Bompas. Innocently, [Bompas & Parr] looked online to see what this might involve, and [they found] a steamy scene were folks get turned on by sitting in puddles of baked beans. They didn’t end up catering that event, but Bompas said that he was intrigued by the idea. And nearly a decade after that first inquiry, Bompas & Parr hosted its very first sploshing party – or, more specifically, its first cake-sitting party. After an open call for participants was broadcast through social media, the Bompas & Parr creative team whipped up a variety of elaborate cakes and jellies for the gathering. Photographer Jo Duck was there to interview the participants and capture the moment when they pushed their fully naked bodies into their respective desserts”.
The Refinery 29 article interviewed dominatrix Mistress Shae Flanigan (“BDSM educator and alternative lifestyle coach”) to get her insight into cake-sitting fetishes. She began by talking about ‘sploshing’ and ‘wet and messy fetishism’, both of which I wrote about in a previous blog). She was reported as saying:
“At its most basic, sploshing is sensation play with food. It falls under the more broad type of fetish known as wet and messy play, or W.A.M. Partners may use all types of different foods and drinks (with different textures and temperatures) to engage each other’s senses. Those who enjoy cake-sitting, which is a subcategory of sploshing, specifically use cakes and other types of desserts in their sensation play. So although all sploshers are not cake-sitters, the name of the game remains stimulation through sensation — and what a sensation it is”.
In the same article, Sam Bompas also added: “When a freshly chilled cake first touches your behind, you can’t help but let off a range of squeamish noises. Also, the surprisingly satisfying sound of a bum squashing a meringue is one sound I never thought I would come across, nor will I ever forget.” My own research into the topic confirms there is a niche market for cake-sitting such as bespoke videos at sites like Pornhub (please note that if you click on the link, the material is of a sexually explicit nature).
As far as I am aware (and as I noted in my previous blog on ‘wet and messy’ [WAM] fetishism), there has been no empirical or clinical research published concerning WAM fetishes. Dr. Katharine Gates in her 2000 book Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex notes that individuals who are into WAM fetishes derive sexual arousal from substances that are deliberately and generously applied onto their (or others’) naked skin, predominantly the face, or onto people’s clothes while they are still wearing them. However, cake-sitting was not specifically mentioned. As with many other fetishes I’ve examined over the years, I can’t ever seeing the topic being an area for scientific research (but always happy to be proved wrong).
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Coughlin, S. (2016). 9 surprisingly delightful photos of a sexual fetish you never knew existed. Refinery 29, November 16. Located at: http://www.refinery29.uk/2016/11/130384/sploshing-body-parts-fetish-butt-pictures#slide
Courtois, C. (2012). The sexy fetish of cake sitting. (IX) Daily, November 12. Located at: http://www.ixdaily.com/grind/12ea3c0352fd6e1956e76f6b5321b753287b84a0
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Wikipedia (2013). Wet and messy fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wet_and_messy_fetishism
Last month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that it was planning to include ‘Gaming Disorder’ (GD) in the latest edition of the International Classification of Diseases. This followed the American Psychiatric Association’s decision to include ‘Internet Gaming Disorder’ in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013. According to the WHO, an individual with GD is a person who lets playing video games “take precedence over other life interests and daily activities,” resulting in “negative consequences” such as “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”
I have been researching videogame addiction for nearly 30 years, and during that time I have received many letters, emails, and telephone calls from parents wanting advice concerning videogames. Typical examples include ‘Is my child playing too much?’, ‘Will playing videogames spoil my pupils’ education?’, ‘Are videogames bad for children’s health? and ‘How do I know if a child is spending too long playing videogames?’ To answer these and other questions in a simple and helpful way, I have written this article as a way of disseminating this information quickly and easily.
To begin with parents should begin by finding out what videogames their children are actually playing! Parents might find that some of them contain material that they would prefer them not to be having exposure to. If they have objections to the content of the games they should facilitate discussion with children about this, and if appropriate, have a few rules. A few aims with children should be:
- To help them choose suitable games which are still fun
- To talk with them about the content of the games so that they understand the difference between make-believe and reality
- To discourage solitary game playing
- To guard against obsessive playing
- To follow recommendations on the possible risks outlined by videogame manufacturers
- To ensure that they have plenty of other activities to pursue in their free time besides the playing of videogames
Parents need to remember that in the right context videogames can be educational (helping children to think and learn more quickly), can help raise a child’s self-esteem, and can increase the speed of their reaction times. Parents can also use videogames as a starting point for other activities like painting, drawing, acting or storytelling. All of these things will help a child at school. It needs to be remembered that videogame playing is just one of many activities that a child can do alongside sporting activities, school clubs, reading and watching the television. These can all contribute to a balanced recreational diet.
The most asked question a parent wants answering is ‘How much videogame playing is too much? To help answer this question I devised the following checklist. It is designed to check if a child’s videogame playing is getting out of hand. Ask these simple questions. Does your child:
- Play videogames every day?
- Often play videogames for long periods (e.g., 3 to 6 hours at a time)?
- Play videogames for excitement or ‘buzz’ or as a way of forgetting about other things in their life?
- Get restless, irritable, and moody if they can’t play videogames?
- Sacrifice social and sporting activities to play videogames?
- Play videogames instead of doing their homework?
- Try to cut down the amount of videogame playing but can’t?
If the answer is ‘yes’ to more than four of these questions, then your child may be playing too much. But what can you do if your child is playing videogames too much?
- First of all, check the content of the games. Try and give children games that are educational rather than the violent ones. Parents usually have control over what their child watches on television – videogames should not be any different.
- Secondly, try to encourage video game playing in groups rather than as a solitary activity. This will lead to children talking and working together.
- Thirdly, set time limits on children’s playing time. Tell them that they can play for a couple of hours after they have done their homework or their chores – not before.
- Fourthly, parents should always get their children to follow the recommendations by the videogame manufacturers (e.g., sit at least two feet from the screen, play in a well-lit room, never have the screen at maximum brightness, and never play videogames when feeling tired).
I have spent many years examining both the possible dangers and the potential benefits of videogame playing. Evidence suggests that in the right context videogames can have positive health and educational benefits to a large range of different sub-groups. What is also clear from the case studies displaying the more negative consequences of playing is that they all involved children who were excessive users of videogames. From prevalence studies in this area, there is little evidence of serious acute adverse effects on health from moderate play. In fact, in some of my studies, I found that moderate videogame players were more likely to have friends, do homework, and engage in sporting activities, than those who played no videogames at all.
For excessive videogame players, adverse effects are likely to be relatively minor, and temporary, resolving spontaneously with decreased frequency of play, or to affect only a small subgroup of players. Excessive players are the most at-risk from developing health problems although more research is needed. If care is taken in the design, and if they are put into the right context, videogames have the potential to be used as training aids in classrooms and therapeutic settings, and to provide skills in psychomotor coordination, and in simulations of real life events (e.g., training recruits for the armed forces).
Every week I receive emails from parents claiming that their sons are addicted to playing online games or that their daughters are addicted to social media. When I ask them why they think this is the case, they almost all reply “because they spend most of their leisure time in front of a screen.” This is simply a case of parents pathologising their children’s behaviour because they think what they are doing is “a waste of time.” I always ask parents the same three things in relation to their child’s screen use. Does it affect their schoolwork? Does it affect their physical education? Does it affect their peer development and interaction? Usually parents say that none of these things are affected so if that is the case, there is little to worry about when it comes to screen time. Parents also have to bear in mind that this is how today’s children live their lives. Parents need to realise that excessive screen time doesn’t always have negative consequences and that the content and context of their child’s screen use is more important than the amount of screen time.
(N.B. This article is an extended version of an article that was originally published by Parent Zone)
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Videogames: Advice for teachers and parents. Education and Health, 21, 48-49.
Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Online computer gaming: Advice for parents and teachers. Education and Health, 27, 3-6.
Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.
Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Pontes, H. (2016). A brief overview of Internet Gaming Disorder and its treatment. Australian Clinical Psychologist, 2(1), 20108.
Griffiths, M.D. & Meredith, A. (2009). Videogame addiction and treatment. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 39(4), 47-53.
King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Clinical interventions for technology-based problems: Excessive Internet and video game use. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 26, 43-56.
King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. & Gradisar, M. (2012). Cognitive-behavioural approaches to outpatient treatment of Internet addiction in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68, 1185-1195.
Király, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic online gaming. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.61-95). New York: Elsevier.
Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.
Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gaming addiction: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 278-296.
The advent of the Internet has enabled people’s engagement in a wide variety of online sexual behaviors. The Internet can provide a “safe” space for sexual exploration that presents less physical and social danger than offline activities, and may also provide access to a social community and a support system for non-normative gender and sexual expression (e.g., sexual fetishes and paraphilias). Additionally, a small minority of people may use the Internet excessively to engage in cybersex. Rather than being complementary, their use of cybersex may become a substitute for their offline sexual lives. For a small minority, their behaviors may take on addictive qualities that can be indicative of an online sexual addiction.
I noted in a number of papers that I published in the early 2000s (e.g., Journal of Sex Research  and CyberPsychology and Behavior ; see ‘Further reading’ below) that the Internet can be – and has been – used for a number of diverse activities surrounding sexually motivated online behavior. These include the use of the Internet for (i) seeking out sexually related material for educational use, (ii) buying or selling sexually related goods for further use offline, (iii) visiting and/or purchasing goods in online virtual sex shops, (iv) seeking out material for entertainment/masturbatory purposes for use online, (v) seeking out sex therapists, and (vi) seeking out sexual partners for an enduring relationship.
Other sexually motivated uses of the Internet include (i) seeking out sexual partners for a transitory relationship (i.e., escorts, prostitutes, swingers) via online personal advertisements/“lonely hearts” columns, escort agencies, and/or chat rooms, (ii) seeking out individuals who then become victims of sexually related Internet crime (online sexual harassment, cyberstalking, pedophilic “grooming” of children), (iii) engaging in and maintaining online relationships via email and/or chat rooms, (iv) exploring gender and identity roles by swapping gender or creating other personas and forming online relationships, and (v) digitally manipulating images on the Internet for entertainment and/or masturbatory purposes (e.g., celebrity fake photographs where heads of famous people are superimposed onto someone else’s naked body)
More recently, in a 2012 issue of the journal Addiction Research and Theory, I noted that online sexual behaviors can be classified as either cybersexual consumption (i.e., downloading and watching sexual content online such as pornography or reading sexual content in forums/chat sites without actively participating), or cybersexual interaction with others (e.g., text-based chat and/or video-linked conversations). Either of these types of online behavior may be accompanied by concurrent masturbation. Furthermore, online activities with a sexual component can be problematic for some because (1) they manifest sexual desires that the person (or their offline sexual partner) disapprove of or feel guilty about; (2) they divert (or distort) sexual energy from offline sexual behavior; and (3) the search for the ideal online sexual material may take up a great deal of time. Therefore, it appears necessary to distinguish not only between consumptive and interactive cybersex, but also between “normal” and “deviant” online sexual behaviors.
The late 1990s and early 2000s experienced a proliferation of studies investigating how human sexual behavior is enacted on the Internet. Some scholars (such as James Quinn and Craig Forsyth in a 2005 issue of the journal Deviant Behavior) claimed that technology transformed vicarious sex into an increasingly viable and attractive substitute for interpersonal forms of sexual fulfilment. Such an assertion suggests that a minority of cybersex users may use the Internet as a substitute for offline behaviours. It also suggests that what happens online may be very fulfilling for some people.
Sex on the Internet is particularly viable because of the inherent qualities of the Internet that the late Dr. Al Cooper referred to as the ‘Triple A Engine’ (access, affordability and anonymity). The online world, including explicit sexual material as well as potential online and offline sexual partners, can be accessed anytime and anywhere. Most of the time, sexual activities can be pursued at virtually no cost online, a point that demarcates online sex from offline sex, considering the expenditures involved in buying sex tapes or paying for sex workers. In comparison, the costs for bandwidth access are relatively low.
As an adaptation to Dr. Cooper’s Triple A Engine, Dr. Kimberley Young and colleagues proposed the ACE model, incorporating anonymity, convenience, and escape as factors salient to the Internet. These factors facilitate the engagement in sex by decreasing the inhibition thresholds present in offline sexual relations. Not only is a person anonymous online, but the Internet is ubiquitous and it can be accessed conveniently from a safe base, such as the person’s home.
Compared to offline sex, the Internet appears to offer the possibility to engage in cybersex anytime and anywhere for little financial cost. Therefore, research studies have found individuals are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors on the Internet rather than offline. The lower threshold associated with perceived lower risks of engaging in online sex may therefore increase the chance of persons who are at risk for developing sex addiction offline to actually develop sex addiction on the Internet. Empirical studies have increased our understanding of specific online sexual activities (e.g., Internet sex addiction). Here, the distinction between people who use Internet sex to improve their offline sex life and those who use it as a substitution may play an important role. Furthermore, cross-cultural differences point to the fact that the sociocultural context plays an important role in influencing people’s attitudes toward sexual behaviors.
In line with this, two potential scenarios materialize. First, one might assume that as views of sex are relatively liberal in some cultures relative to other more conservative cultures, members of the former may be more likely to engage in sex on the Internet because they have more open attitudes toward sexuality in general. Alternatively, particularly because some cultures are relatively conservative when it comes to sex, their members could potentially be more likely to engage in cybersex in order to compensate for the lack of freedoms in expressing their sexuality offline.
Note: This article used material previously published in the following book chapter: Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Internet sex. In Naples, N.A. (Ed.), The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies. Chichester: Wiley. DOI: 10.1002/9781118663219.wbegss408
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Cooper, A. (1998). Sexuality and the internet: Surfing into the new millennium. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 1, 187–193.
Dhuffar, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). A systematic review of online sex addiction and clinical treatments using CONSORT evaluation. Current Addiction Reports, 2, 163-174.
Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Excessive internet use: Implications for sexual behavior. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3, 537-552.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for internet sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38(4), 333–342.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Sex addiction on the Internet. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(2), 188-217.
Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111–124.
Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Compulsive sexual behaviour as a behavioural addiction: The impact of the Internet and other issues. Addiction, 111, 2107-2109.
Griffiths, M.D. & Dhuffar, M. (2014). Treatment of sexual addiction within the British National Health Service. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 561-571.
Quinn, J.F. & Forsyth, C.J. (2005). Describing sexual behavior in the era of the Internet: A typology for empirical research. Deviant Behavior, 26(3), 191–207.
Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Meditation Awareness Training for the treatment of sex addiction: A case study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 363–372.
Young, K., Pistner, M., O’Mara, J. & and Buchanan, J. (1999). Cyber-disorders: A mental health concern for the new millennium. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3(5), 475 – 479.
About a year ago, my colleagues and I published what we believe is the very first study of the helping role that video gaming can play in the lives of transgender individuals. Before I get to that, it’s probably worth noting that there have been studies of how gamers and fans play with sexuality, gender, and the video game Minecraft on YouTube as well as papers discussing whether the gaming industry should cater for marginalized groups and develop games for groups where there is little representation within games (e.g., gay and transgendered characters). For instance, there is now a short autobiographical game by Auntie Pixellante called Dys4ia. This is a WarioWare-style game, played only with the arrow keys, chronicling the experiences of a trans woman rectifying her own gender dysphoria. Such videogames raise interesting questions about how those individuals with gender dysphoria utilize gaming as part of their identity.
In a previous blog I briefly looked at gender swapping in online video games including some of my own research. For instance, in 2003 I published a paper in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior using secondary poll data from online gaming forums. The paper reported that of 10,350 players at the Everlore fan site, 15% had swapped the gender of their main in-game playing character. We also reported a similar finding among 8,694 players at the Allakhazam fan site with 15.5% reporting that they had gender swapped their main in-game character (and more specifically, 14.5% males and 1% were females who had changed the gender of their lead character). In a 2004 follow-up survey among 540 Everquest gamers (again in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior) my colleagues and I reported that 60% had swapped their online in-game characters. The prevalence of gender swapping was probably much higher in this study because the question related to the gender swapping of any online game character not just their main playing character.
In a small exploratory study I published in 2008 with Dr. Zaheer Hussain in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, we examined why people engaged in gender swapping in a self-selecting sample of 119 online gamers (mean age of 28.5 years). We reported that 57% of gamers had engaged in gender swapping (any character not just their main character), and that males adopting an online female persona believed there were a number of positive social attributes to becoming female characters in male-oriented gaming environments. The study also reported that significantly more females than males had gender swapped their character – mainly to prevent unsolicited male approaches on their female characters. Some females appeared to gender swap purely out of interest to see what would happen in the game (as a personal experiment), while others claimed that they were treated more favourably by male gamers when they played as a male character. Others reported that gender swapping enabled them to play around with aspects of their identity that would not be possible to explore in real life. Other reasons for gender swapping were that (i) female characters had better in-game statistics, (ii) some specific tools were only available with female characters, (iii) the class of character was sometimes only available in one gender, (iv) they played for fun, and/or (v) they did it to so something that they would not normally do in the game (i.e., they did it for a change in their usual playing behaviour).
Outside of online gaming, a 2002 paper by Hegland and Nelson in the International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies noted that the Internet more generally can be used as a tool for expressing gender identity because it allows identities to cross cultural boundaries instantly and without regard for real physical space. They examined 30 cross-dressing websites and argued that for most cross-dressers that visited such websites, the online forum was their primary medium of expression. The users of the website used the Internet to nurture the ability to create a feminine identity, and helped them to pass as a woman in the offline public world. More generally, cross-dressers used the Internet to participate in the larger cultural dialogue of gender.
For an adult to meet current criteria for a diagnosis of transsexualism, the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) reports they must express the desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by the wish to make his or her body as congruent as possible with the desired sex through surgery and cross-sex hormones. This transsexual identity must have been present persistently for a minimum of two years and not be a symptom of another mental disorder or a chromosomal abnormality. The latest (fifth) edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association uses the term gender dysphoria to describe people who are uncomfortable and/or distressed regarding their assigned gender, their physical sex characteristics and/or their associated social roles. Depending upon the intensity of this distress, some individuals may wish to transition from one point on a notional gender scale to another. The most common direction is from a man to a woman (individuals known as trans women), or from a woman to a man (individuals known as trans men). The distress intrinsic to gender dysphoria may be focused around anatomy, physiology, and/or being perceived and treated as someone of a gender with which the person does not identify. However, these diagnostic labels do not apply to all trans individuals for a multitude of reasons because some people will not identify themselves as a man or as a woman
The World Health Organisation working group has recommended that the latest ICD replace the term Transsexualism with Gender Incongruence) and remove it from the mental and behavioural disorders chapter. Gender incongruence denotes the incongruence between a person’s gender identity and their assigned sex and/or congenital primary and secondary sex characteristics. The terminology in this field has changed over the years and the terms ‘transgender’ and ‘trans’ have been used in the literature as umbrella terms to cover a wide variety of atypical gender experiences and expressions which may lead to permanent change of social gender role but does not necessarily involve treatment with cross-sex hormones or surgical intervention. A recent study has reported an prevalence for transsexualism of 4.6 in 100,000 individuals; 6.8 for trans women and 2.6 for trans men, which is primarily based on studies looking at individuals attending clinical services. (However, it should be noted that recent population studies have reported a significantly higher prevalence rate of atypical gender experiences and expressions).
The study we published in the journal Aloma originated from initial observations made by Dr. Jon Arcelus that a number of gender dysphoric clients presenting at the national (UK) gender dysphoria clinic admitted that they gender-swapped while playing online games. After I met with Dr. Arcelus I suggested he revisit his case files and and to write them up as case studies (as no study in the gaming field has ever examined online gaming among those with gender dysphoria). The main objectives of our study were to use exemplar case studies to highlight that gaming – in some circumstances – appears to be a functional way of dealing with gender identity issues, and that gender swapping in gaming may help such individuals to come to terms with their gender dysphoria.
Our paper featured four case studies who attended an assessment at the National Centre for Gender Dysphoria in Nottingham. All four individuals described in our paper were given pseudonyms and the content of their histories were anonymised (and included ‘Mary’ a 26-year old natal male who fully transitioned to the female social role six months prior to our study; ‘Mark’ a 20-year old natal female who first attended for an assessment in the female role; ‘Paul’ a 31-year old natal male who would like to be female, but still living full-time as a male; and ‘Harry’ a 23-year old natal male who presented for an assessment as a male). If you want to read about each case in detail, the paper can be downloaded for free from here).
The four case studies outlined in our paper are only a selected sample of the number of cases attending a national clinic for people with gender dysphoria. However, they were in no way unusual to the other clients that have sought help at the Centre. However, these individual accounts were specifically selected to demonstrate the different ways that video gaming may help people with gender dysphoria come to terms with their gender identity. For example, gaming can be used among trans people as a psychological tool to increase one’s awareness of gender identity and/or as part of the self. Gaming may therefore be a useful way to express one’s experienced gender identity in a safe, non-threatening, non-alienating, non-stigmatizing, and non-critical environment. This appears to mirror other the findings of other studies outside of the online gaming environment.
Articles published in the mass media have reported that online games such as World of Warcraft provide a creative space that allows gamers that might be questioning aspects of their identity to explore their lives as different individuals. Some have even gone as far as to argue that this could help gamers transform their ‘offline’ identity, as is the case with some trans gamers. This was also demonstrated in the case studies described in our study. Other authors have asserted that the online medium offers an infinite space for development and resistance to traditional gender roles, and that online interaction enables a transgression of the dichotomous categories of male and female, constructing trans (or even genderless) social identities and relationships. However, although such anonymous online communities may provide trans individuals with the power to subvert their physical sex.
Our case studies also demonstrated the different functions of gaming in trans people (e.g., the function of “testing out” their gender feelings). For instance, using gaming to ‘come out’ to other people, by initially coming out in the online community, which is perceived as a safe environment, and then gradually coming out in real life. Gaming, as for many non-trans individuals, can derive psychological benefits and a sense of escapism. This is even more relevant among trans people as it may be the only time that they feel they can be themselves, allowing them to feel happy, relaxed, and achieving a sense of completeness. This could develop into a powerful coping skill substituting unhealthy behaviours, such as self-harming behaviour. This is particularly important in this population as research shows a strong association between being trans and mental health problems, particularly depression and self-harm as a way to manage one’s trans feelings. This is not surprising as the discomfort and distress about assigned gender and body dissatisfaction may lead to a sense of hopelessness, which can bring low mood, self-injury and even suicide.
Although gaming appears (at least initially) to be a positive and beneficial activity for many trans people, there is also the risk that staying in the game becomes too much of a secure and safe environment. This can create a vicious circle where the trans person does not wish to move out of the secure online world, and back into reality. Spending an increasing amount of time in online gaming carries the risk of developing a gaming dependence or addiction. This may not only affect one’s personal relationships, work and/or study, but may also impair real life social gender role transition, as in many cases, the individual is expected to socially transition before they can be considered for treatment.
Obviously our paper only included four participants and may be perceived by some researchers as ‘anecdotal’ because the data were not collected for this specific study but were retrospectively collated. However, our findings showed that for a trans individual, the online gaming environment was perceived as “safe” but further research is needed to establish what the distinctive elements of online gaming are that help to raise gender awareness (or not as the case may be). With the rates of gender dysphoria attending clinical services increasing significantly, future research should investigate (i) the rates and severity of gaming among this population as well as its function, and (ii) the rates of gender dysphoria among game addiction as coming out may help their addiction. The game industry may also want to consider how they can use games as a way of helping trans people being more accepted within society by developing game industry may want to co-observe how their games can prepare and assist individuals to socially transition. Online games also provide a safe environment that provides people access to a platform where individuals can discuss and experiment with gender identity.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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Arcelus, J., Jones, B., Richards, C., Jimenez-Murcia, S., Bouman, W.P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Video gaming and gaming addiction in transgender people: An exploratory study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6, 21–29.
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