Category Archives: Sex

Shock ‘n’ roll: The art of Allen Jones and sexual fetishism

“I’m a friend of Mr. Pastry/I’m a friend of Allen Jones/I’m a friend of Shirley Bassey/I’m a friend of your chromosomes” (Opening verse to ‘Friends’, song by Adam and the Ants)

It was Adam and the Ants song ‘Friends’ where I first heard the name of the British pop artist Allen Jones. The song was first officially released in 1981 as the B-side of ‘Ant Rap’ but earlier versions had been recorded for a 1978 John Peel session and during the sessions for the 1979 Dirk Wears White Sox album. The Dirk version was eventually released on the 1982 ‘Antmusic EP’ (and ended up being Adam and the Ants last single before Adam Ant went solo).

In two previous blogs, I have looked at both the psychology of Adam Ant and an in-depth look at all his songs about sexual fetishism and paraphilias (based on an academic article that I originally wrote for Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion). In one of those articles, I noted that Adam’s predisposition towards sex came not from musical influences but from figures in the 20th century art world. Adam Ant’s final year thesis was on sexual perversion and he was inspired by the iconographic images of Andy Warhol, the autoerotic paintings of Allen Jones, the neo-sadomasochistic fantasies of Hans Bellmer, and ‘sexpop’ travellers like Eduardo Paolozzi, Francis Bacon and Stanley Spencer. In 1977, Adam said:

The S&M thing stems from (when) I was at College Art School, with John Ellis (of The Vibrators), and all the time I was at Art College I was very influenced by Allen Jones the artist. All my college work is pretty much like this, this is just a musical equivalent of what I was visually doing at college”

As a teenager I collected badges and the ones designed by Adam Ant were clearly indebted to Allen Jones’ interest in fetishism (you can check out the designs in more detail here). Others in the pop world noted this including Justine Frischmann of Elastica. In a Melody Maker article by Simon Reynolds, Frischmann noted that Adam Ant “epitomised the brilliantly elegant side of punk, using all that Allen Jones type imagery like that table which was a woman on all fours with a glass top on her back. All his paintings were developed from Fifties porn – lots of airbrushed women in black leather. The Antz used a lot of that imagery. On one level, it’s very titillating, but it’s also very pop. So we’re gonna make the next album S & M, with us all in black leather. Actually, I think Madonna‘s ruined that for everyone, ruined the concept of pervy sex forever”.

Jones (born in 1937 in Southampton, UK) is arguably Adam’s greatest single influence and has been cited by Adam in many early interviews. He is best known for his use of slick fetishistic and obsessive objects, often of a sexual character (legs, stockings, shoes, etc.) taken from pornographic and women’s fashion magazines (with rubber fetishism and BDSM themes being very prominent). He was an early and leading figure in the pop-art movement as part of the so-called “dynamic generation” at the Royal College of Art (along with David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield, Peter Phillips, and Frank Bowing), and from where he was expelled in 1960 because of his controversial paintings. He was Britain’s ‘shock art’ bad boy decades before Damien Hirst. His early work was influenced by the Futurism school or art, and by reading the psychology of Freud and Jung, as well as the philosophy of Nietzsche. One of Adam’s songs ‘Ligotage’ (French for bondage) was directly inspired by his paintings. In the Wikipedia entry on Jones, he is quoted as saying:

“I wanted to kick over the traces of what was considered acceptable in art. I wanted to find a new language for representation… to get away from the idea that figurative art was romantic, that it wasn’t tough”.

It was in the late 1960s that Jones first started sculpting what art historian Marco Livingstone describes in his 1979 book Sheer Magic by Allen Jones as “life-size images of women as furniture with fetishist and sado-masochist overtones.” The three most (in)famous works (sharing as art curator Edith Devaney argued “a visual language”) were the erotic sculptures Hat Stand, Table and Chair made of fiberglass that featured busty mannequins dressed (or rather barely dressed) in patent leather. These works were met with both acclaim and disdain both in and outside of the art world with critics perceiving the sculptures as being misogynistic. Livingstone later went on to say “these works still carry a powerful emotive charge, ensnaring every viewer’s psychology and sexual outlook regardless of age, gender or experience”. One of the better descriptions of the three pieces was by Zoe Williams of The Guardian in an article provocatively entitledIs Allen Jones’s sculpture the most sexist art ever?’:

“’Hat Stand’ is a mannequin in radial leather knickers and thigh-high boots. ‘Chair’ is the most famous of the three: a woman lies on her back, with her knees against her chest and a cushion on top of her. That’s the seat, her calves make the chair’s back. While all the clothes – black leather gloves, boots and a strap – reference bondage, she also looks dead, trussed up ready for some inept suburban disposal. ‘Table’, being topless, is more classically provocative. It would be pushing it to say the figure was adopting a more active shape, though: she’s on all fours, holding up a pane of glass with her back, her head looking down into a hand mirror. Yet the physics of the position make her look more like a doll than a corpse…Does Allen Jones’s art expose how female stereotypes are performed and maintained, by presenting us with overtly sexualised hyperboles, or is it just another part of the age-old tradition to objectify and sexualise women? The debate goes on… One thing is sure though, Jones’s work still provokes reactions”.

More infamy followed when the sculptures were referenced in one of cinema’s most controversial films of all time – A Clockwork Orange directed by Stanley Kubrick (in 1971). In a later interview, Jones recalled a telephone call from Kubrick. “[Kubrick said], ‘I’m a very famous film director, this will be seen all over the world and your name will be known.’ I held the phone away from my ear, I was just staggered anyone would say that. It showed an ego that dwarfed that of any artist I’ve known”. Because of this, Jones declined Kubrick’s offer but the director’s prop team made copies of his work. His BDSM designs were also a key feature of the 1975 film Maîtresse about a female dominatrix directed by Barbet Schroeder (and which also caused controversy because of its very graphic depictions of sado-masochism). Zoe Williams in her article for The Guardian goes as far to say: Jones’s images have been so influential that almost no image of woman-as-object or woman-as-other-object can be created, even 40 years later, that doesn’t nod to them”.

In 2014, the Royal Academy of Arts hosted a retrospective of Jones’ work and Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph asserted: “you could argue that Jones’s work isn’t really about women; it’s about men and how they look at and think about women. Men use various strategies to neutralise or control desire. One is to fetishise the female body…[while] another is for the man to appropriate it”. The brief biography of Jones on the Artsation website also noted that: Allen Jones was accused of being sexist and depicting women as undignified, mere willing objects of lust. Jones obviously never intended to show women in such a way, he wanted to question prohibitions and moral boundaries. ‘Nothing is as it seems’, the artist once said and also in this case one should not confuse the appearance of the object with its message. With his objects the artist carries trivialities like sexual connotations from advertising and show business into fine art to stylize and satirize them”.

Bizarrely, perhaps one of Jones’ unforeseen legacies is that his work appears to have unwittingly spawned a new sexual paraphilia – namely forniphilia. As I noted in my previous article on forniphilia, it is a form of sexual objectification and is viewed by many as a form of sexual bondage as the human body is typically incorporated into the shape of a piece of furniture where the person has to stay still for extended periods of time. The difference between Jones’ art and forniphilia is that forniphilia involves real humans whereas Jones’ works of art uses ‘humans’ made of fibreglass. The term ‘forniphilia’ was allegedly coined by Jeff Gord, the man behind The House of Gord (“The Home of Ultra Bondage”). In The House of Gord, there are many types of furniture that women had been temporarily turned into. This included many different types of table, lamps, pedestals, various types of chair (office chair, rocking chair, etc.), footstools, ceiling decorations (including chandeliers), lawn sprinklers, and bird tables. If Jones’ art was the direct inspiration for Gord and his followers, I wouldn’t be surprised. But even if it wasn’t, Jones’ work will continue to live on and will continue to garner controversy and feminist critique.

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

Further reading

Ant, A. (2007). Stand and Deliver: The Autobiography. London: Pan.

Artsation (2015). Allen Jones – Biography. Located at: https://artsation.com/en/artists/allen-jones

Deurell, J. (2014). 10 key facts about Allen Jones. AnOther, November 10. Located at: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/4103/10-key-facts-about-allen-jones

Dorment, R. (2014). Allen Jones, Royal Academy, review: ‘dangerous, perverse and brilliant’. Daily Telegraph, November 14. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/11220351/Allen-Jones-Royal-Academy-review-dangerous-perverse-and-brilliant.html

Gregory, H. (2014). Fetish, fantasy & “women as furniture”: The complicated legacy of Allen Jones. Artsy.net, December 3. Located at: https://www.artsy.net/article/editorial-fetish-fantasy-and-women-as-furniture-the

Griffiths, M.D (1999). Adam Ant: Sex and perversion for teenyboppers. Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion, 19, 116-119.

Guadagnini, W. (2004). Pop Art UK: British Pop Art 1956-1972. Milan: Silvana.

Levy, P. (2014). A Fetish for Art. Touring Pop artist Allen Jones’s London workspace. Wall Street Journal, November 14. Located at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303309504579185690844235078

Livingstone. M. (1979). Sheer Magic by Allen Jones. London: Thomas & Hudson.

Wikipedia (2013). Allen Jones (artist). Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allen_Jones_(artist)

Williams, Z. (2014). Is Allen Jones’s sculpture the most sexist art ever? The Guardian, November 10. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/10/allen-jones-sexist-art-royal-academy-review

Check mates: A brief look at courtship requests (Part 2)

In my previous blog on courtship requests (e.g., men asking for a woman’s phone number, men asking women out for a drink, etc.), I examined a number of Dr. Nicolas Guéguen’s studies on the effects that various factors had solicitation success. In this blog, I briefly overview such factors as the role of the weather, music, odour, clothes (uniform and colour), flowers, and social status.

Weather: In a 2013 issue of Social Influence, Guéguen examined the effect of sunshine on romantic relationships (reasoning that sunny weather puts people in a better mood than non-sunny weather). In this study, an attractive 20-year old man approached young women walking alone in the street and asked them for their telephone number in two conditions (sunny or cloudy days). The temperature was controlled for and all days of the experiment were dry. The results showed that more women gave the man their telephone numbers on the sunny days. Guéguen concluded that positive mood induction by the sun may explain the success in courtship solicitation.

Music: In a 2014 issue of Psychology of Music, Guéguen and his colleagues examined the extent to which music can play a role in sexual selection. In their experiment, 300 young females were approached in the street by a young male who asked for their phone number. The same man approached the women in one of three conditions. In the first he carried a guitar case, in the second he carried a sports bag, and in the third he carried nothing. The results showed that the man received the most phone numbers of women while carrying the guitar case which the authors argued showed that musical practice can be associated with sexual selection.

Odour: In a 2011 issue of Chemosensory Perception, Guéguen examined whether a young man in a room (Guéguen’s laboratory) with a pleasant fragrance (the smell of a freshly baked croissant) was more successful asking women out on a date (i.e., a courtship request) than without a pleasant fragrance. Guéguen asserted that the effect of odour on romantic relationships had never been tested experimentally. The results showed that women more likely to agree to a date when they were in the room with the pleasant odour. Guéguen replicated the experiment in a real life situation and published his findings in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology. In the field experiment, young women were approached and asked for their phone number by a young attractive male in an area that had a pleasant aroma (i.e., pastry shops) and in another shopping mall area where there was no such aroma. More women gave their phone number to the man in the pleasant smelling area.

Clothes (uniform): In a 2009 issue of the European Journal of Social Sciences, Guéguen carried out three experiments on whether men wearing a fireman’s uniform made women more receptive to a courtship request. Guéguen’s experiments revealed that men were more successful in getting women’s phone numbers while wearing a fireman’s uniform (compared to when they weren’t). The other experiments showed that women more likely to smile and say ‘hello’ to a man in a fireman’s uniform compared to when they were wearing their normal clothes.

Clothes (colour): In a 2013 issue of the journal Color Research and Application, Guéguen examined the colour red and its association in love and sex. Using data collected on an online dating site, findings showed that women wearing red clothes in their dating photograph received more contacts from men in comparison to those wearing black, white, yellow, blue, and green.

Flowers: In a 2009 issue of Social Influence, Guéguen examined the effect of flowers on mating attractiveness and behaviour in two experiments. In the first experiment, females that were exposed to flowers while watching a dating video of a man rated the man as more sexy and attractive (and more inclined to accept a date from him) compared to the condition where flowers were absent. In the second experiment, females responded more favourably to a courtship solicitation from a male when flowers were present in a social interaction compared to interactions without flowers. In a 2012 issue of the Journal of Social Psychology, Guéguen further examined the effect of flowers on mating behaviour. In this experiment, 600 women in a shopping mall were approached by an attractive young man who asked for their phone number. This was done in three different situations: in the area of a flower shop, a cake shop or a shoe shop. Results showed that the woman was more likely to give her telephone number when in the area of a flower shop.

Social status: In a 2012 issue of the Swiss Journal of Psychology, Guéguen (along with Dr. Lamy) examined men’s social status and attractiveness. In this experimental field study, young men with either low, middle or high incomes asked young women for their phone numbers while walking down the street. The man’s income was positively correlated with request success (i.e., the woman was more likely to give the man her phone number if he was rich). Guéguen and Lamy explained their results using evolutionary theory, suggesting that women select their partners with the greatest resources for them and their children.

Giving compliments: In a 2012 issue of Psychological Reports, Guéguen and his colleagues examined whether giving women compliments on how they looked made them more receptive to a courtship request. In the experiment, 160 women were approached by a man walking down a street and were asked if they would like to go for a drink. In one condition the women were given a compliment on their physical appearance (and in the other they were given no compliment). The results showed that more women said they would go for a drink with the man if they were given a compliment.

Parental investment: In a 2014 issue of Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Guéguen examined whether a man that interacted with a baby before asking women for their phone number were more successful than a control condition where a baby was present but no interaction took place. In the experiment, a man was seated at a pavement bar met his ‘sister’ and her baby (the woman wasn’t really his sister. Straight after the interaction, the man approached a nearby woman and asked them out. Results showed that when the man interacted with the baby, he was more successful and received more positive responses from the woman. Evolutionary theory was again used to explain the results (in terms of men’s parental investment, or at least women’s perceptions of it).

Foot-in-the-door techniques: In a 2008 issue of Psychological Reports, Guéguen examined whether ‘foot-in-the-door’ (FITD) techniques increase compliance to a courtship request. In his experiment, 360 young women were asked by a young male in the street whether they would like to go for a drink. In the FITD condition – prior to the courtship solicitation – the young woman was asked by the man to either provide directions or to give him a light for his cigarette. The findings showed that FITD led to more women saying they would go for a drink with the man.

While many of Guéguen’s studies might seem like common sense or truisms, he does at least provide scientific evidence for many things that are taken for granted as correct (often in the complete absence of empirical evidence).

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

Further reading

Guéguen, N. (2009). Man’s uniform and receptivity of women to courtship request: Three field experiments with a firefighter’s uniform. European Journal of Social Sciences, 12(2), 236-241.

Guéguen, N. (2011). Women’s exposure to pleasant ambient fragrance and receptivity to a man’s courtship request. Chemosensory Perception, 4, 195-197.

Guéguen, N. (2011). “Say it with flowers”: The effect of flowers on mating attractiveness and behavior. Social Influence, 6(2), 105-112.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Gait and menstrual cycle: Ovulating women use sexier gaits and walk slowly ahead of men. Gait and Posture, 35(4), 621-624.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Does red lipstick really attract men? An evaluation in a bar. International Journal of Psychological Studies, 4(2), 206-209.

Guéguen, N. (2012). The sweet smell of…courtship: Effects of pleasant ambient fragrance on women’s receptivity to a man’s courtship request. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32(2), 123-125.

Guéguen, N. (2013). Weather and courtship behavior: A quasi-experiment with the flirty sunshine. Social Influence, 8, 312-319.

Guéguen, N. (2014). Cues of men’s parental investment and attractiveness for women: A Field Experiment. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 24(3), 296-300

Guéguen, N., Fischer-Lokou, J., & Lamy, L. (2013). Compliments and receptivity to a courtship request: A field experiment 1. Psychological Reports, 112(1), 239-242.

Guéguen, N., & Jacob, C. (2013). Color and cyber‐attractiveness: Red enhances men’s attraction to women’s internet personal ads. Color Research & Application, 38(4), 309-312

Guéguen, N., Jacob, C., & Lamy, L. (2010). ‘Love is in the air’: Effects of songs with romantic lyrics on compliance with a courtship request. Psychology of Music, 38(3), 303-307

Guéguen, N., & Lamy, L. (2012). Men’s social status and attractiveness. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 71(3), 157-160

Guéguen, N., Marchand, M., Pascual, A., & Lourel, M. (2008). Foot-in-the-door technique using a courtship request: A field experiment 1. Psychological Reports, 103(2), 529-534.

Guéguen, N., Meineri, S., & Fischer-Lokou, J. (2014). Men’s music ability and attractiveness to women in a real-life courtship context. Psychology of Music, 42(4), 545-549.

Check mates: A brief look at courtship requests (Part 1)

In a previous blog examining whether having a tattoo makes women more attractive, I mentioned two studies carried out by Dr. Nicolas Guéguen on a French beach. He predicted that women with tattoos would be more likely to be approached on the beach by men. In the studies, Guéguen found that compared to non-tattooed women (i) more men approached tattooed women for a date and (ii) more men estimated themselves as having more chances to date and have sex on the first date. After reading this study, I found that Dr. Guéguen has made a very successful research career out of repeatedly doing the same types of field study by examining a wide range of factors that may influence ‘courtship requests’. In short, he has examined whether the chances of successful courtship solicitation requests (e.g., men asking for a woman’s phone number, men asking women out for a drink, etc.) asking can be influenced by the gender of the person, weather, stage of the menstrual cycle, smiling, giving compliments, bust size, cosmetic use, social status, uniforms, music, flowers, and odour (to name just a few).

Gender: In a 2009 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Guéguen examined the effects of solicitor gender and attractiveness on receptivity to sexual offers in a field study. In his study (which took place in France) young men and women of average versus high attractiveness approached potential partners of the opposite sex and simply asked them either one of two questions: “Will you come to my apartment to have a drink?” or “Would you go to bed with me?” Results (perhaps unsurprisingly) showed that most of the men approached by the women were willing to have sex with the woman (more so if she was rated as physically attractive). Females approached by a male were more disinclined to have a drink, and not a single woman accepted the male’s sexual request. Guéguen concluded that “such results confirm that men are apparently more eager for sexual activity than women are”.

Menstrual cycle: In a 2009 issue of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, Guéguen examined the relationship between courtship solicitation and women’s menstrual cycles. In this experiment, 455 young women (200 with normal menstrual cycles and 255 using a contraceptive pill), were approached by 20-year-old man who asked them for their telephone number. Immediately after being approached, the women were surveyed about the number of days since the onset of their last period. The results showed that women in their fertile phase (but not those on the pill) were more likely to give the man their telephone numbers than women in their luteal or menstrual phase.

In a 2012 issue of Gait and Posture, Guéguen examined gait and menstrual cycle using an analysis of nonverbal behavior of women toward men. In his study, the gaits of women walking ahead a male were recorded using a spy-camera. Guéguen measured the amount of time that the females spent walking and the extent to which the females were perceived to be sexually attractive by two independent raters. The women were then compared according to where in her menstrual cycle she was measured with a salivary test. Guéguen reported that: “Near ovulation, it was found that women walked slower and their gait was subjectively rated as sexier. Such behaviors were interpreted as unconscious desires of women near ovulation to reinforce their attractiveness in order to attract more men and to increase their choice of a partner”.

Bust size: In a 2007 issue of the journal Body Image, Gueguen hypothesized that breast size would be related to courtship solicitation. In two experiments, a young female was asked to wear a bra that allowed her to artificially vary her breast size. In the first condition the women simply sat in a nightclub for one hour whereas in the second condition she simply sat in the pavement area of a bar. Results showed that when the woman artificially increased the size of her bust she received more solicitation requests than in the smaller bust size condition. In another study, Gueguen examined effect of a woman’s bust size on the rate of help offered in a hitchhiking situation. In his experiment, a 20-year old woman wore a bra that could be artificially increased in size. A total of 1200 male and female French motorists passed the woman standing at the roadside looking to hitch a ride. Results showed that significantly more male drivers stopped to offer a ride when bust size was increased. No effect was found among female drivers.

Cosmetic use: In a 2007 issue of the North American Journal of Psychology, Guéguen, examined the effect of women wearing make-up and courtship requests by men. In his experiment, females either with or without make-up sat in two coastal French bars for a one-hour period on a Wednesday and Saturday night. Guéguen examined the number of solicitations by men. The results showed that women wearing make-up received more solicitations than those not wearing make-up and men approached the women wearing makeup in a much quicker time after entering the bar compared to those not wearing make-up. In a 2012 issue of the International Journal of Psychological Studies, Guéguen similarly examined whether red lipstick really attracts men. In this study, females wearing different shades of lipstick (red, pink, brown or no lipstick) sat in bars under exactly the same conditions as the previous 2007 make-up study. The results showed that women wearing red lipstick received a higher number of male solicitations and were solicited in a much quicker time by males after they first entered the bar.

Smiling: In a 2008 issue of the journal Social Behavior and Personality, Guéguen published an experiment in which a young woman was simply asked to smile or to not smile at men when they entered a bar. Results showed (perhaps unsurprisingly) that “those men who were smiled at approached the woman and considered her more favorably. This effect is explained in accordance with studies that found smiling enhanced attractiveness and that a smile is interpreted to be a signal of a woman’s interest towards a man”.

Light touching: In a 2007 issue of the journal Social Influence, Guéguen, examined the relationship between light tactile contact and courtship solicitation in a number of experiments. In his one experiment, a young man approached young women in a nightclub while a slow song was being played and asked if they would like to dance. While asking the women to dance, the young man either touched the forearm of the woman for a couple of seconds or did not touch her at all. Women were more likely to dance if their arm had been touched. In another experiment reported in the same paper, a young man approached women in the street and asked for their phone number. The results again showed that the woman was more likely to give their phone number if during the request they were lightly touched on the arm by the man. A similar experiment by Guéguen reported in a 2010 issue of Social Behavior and Personality showed that men made more solicitation requests towards women who had lightly touched them in a bar.

Hair colour: In a 2012 issue of Psychological Studies, Guéguen examined hair colour and courtship in two experiments. In the first study, women wearing blonde, brown, black or red wigs were observed while sitting in a nightclub. In the second study, men with different colored wigs asked females in a nightclub for a dance. The results showed that females with blonde hair were more frequently approached by men. However males with blonde hair didn’t receive any more acceptances of their requests compared to males with other hair colours. In both experiments, red hair was deemed the least attractive (as measured by solicitation requests or success of solicitation requests).

In my next blog, I’ll briefly look at Dr. Guéguen’s findings in relation to courtship requests and weather, music, odour, clothes (type and colour), flowers, giving compliments, parental investment, and social status.

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

Further reading

Gueguen, N. (2007). Women’s bust size and men’s courtship solicitation. Body Image, 4(4), 386-390.

Gueguen, N. (2007). Bust size and hitchhiking: A field study 1. Perceptual and motor skills, 105(3f), 1294-1298.

Guéguen, N. (2007). Courtship compliance: The effect of touch on women’s behavior. Social Influence, 2(2), 81-97.

Guéguen, N. (2008). The effect of a woman’s smile on men’s courtship behavior. Social Behavior and Personality, 36(9), 1233-1236.

Guéguen, N. (2008). Brief report: The effects of women’s cosmetics on men’s approach: An evaluation in a bar. North American Journal of Psychology, 10(1), 221-227

Guéguen, N. (2009). Menstrual cycle phases and female receptivity to a courtship solicitation: an evaluation in a nightclub. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30(5), 351-355.

Guéguen, N. (2010). The effect of a woman’s incidental tactile contact on men’s later behavior. Social Behavior and Personality, 38, 257-266.

Guéguen, N. (2011). Effects of solicitor sex and attractiveness on receptivity to sexual offers: A field study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 915-919.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Makeup and menstrual cycle: Near ovulation, women use more cosmetics. Psychological Record, 62(3), 541-548.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Gait and menstrual cycle: Ovulating women use sexier gaits and walk slowly ahead of men. Gait and Posture, 35(4), 621-624.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Does red lipstick really attract men? An evaluation in a bar. International Journal of Psychological Studies, 4(2), 206-209.

Guéguen, N. (2012). The sweet smell of…courtship: Effects of pleasant ambient fragrance on women’s receptivity to a man’s courtship request. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32(2), 123-125.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Hair color and courtship: Blond women received more courtship solicitations and redhead men received more refusals. Psychological Studies, 57(4), 369-375.

The hold of rolled gold: A brief look at wedding ring fetishes

In January 1995, the Channel 4 television documentary programme Equinox examined sexual paraphilias in a programme called ‘Beyond Love’. One of the many experts interviewed for the programme, Dr. Gene Abel, talked about a man with an unusual fetish. His sexual turn-on was gold wedding rings. In recounting the individual’s story, Dr. Abel said that the fetish was very specific and that the ring had to be of a particular width (6mm to 10mm if I recall correctly) for it to be sexually stimulating to the man in question. The roots of the fetish were established in childhood and arose from the time that the man was a boy and used to sit on his baby-sitter’s knee and play with the ring (twirling it around on her finger). The playing with the ring was accompanied by sexual arousal (from sitting on the knee of an attractive woman) but over time, the ring itself became the source of sexual arousal via continued associative pairing (i.e., sexual arousal from the sight of the female babysitter’s ring became a classically conditioned response).

The man had now married and his wife was unaware of his fetish but the sexologist explained that the man could not get sexually aroused and make love to his wife unless she was wearing her wedding ring and he was twirling it on her finger during sexual intercourse. Dr. Abel also said the man would also walk up to female strangers and comment how lovely their wedding ring was and ask if he could take a photograph of it. He would then use the developed photographs as source material for masturbatory purposes. This anecdotal case story might sound a little bizarre especially as there is no sexual paraphilia that refers to being sexually attracted to gold wedding rings (although Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices does mention timophilia, a sexual paraphilia in which individuals gain sexual pleasure and arousal from gold or wealth – and which I briefly mentioned in a previous blog).

However, Dr. Abel and his colleagues later wrote up this account as one of six unusual case studies in a 2008 issue of the journal Psychiatric Clinics of North America where the man in question was given the pseudonym ‘Mr. Rings’ (the other five being ‘Mr. Cartoons’, ‘Mr. Feet’, ‘Mr. Balloons’, ‘Mr. Cigarettes’, and ‘Mr. Spanking’). In all of these cases (including ‘Mr. Rings’), they noted:

“The fetish objects in these case histories were unique enough, and the attraction to the objects strong enough, that the individuals could clearly track their interest from early childhood through adulthood. It is much easier to retrieve remote, explicit memories, such as events (e.g., a party where balloons popped) or playing with objects, than to recall the process of sexual development with no distinct markers in the individual’s history. Because these distinct experiences predated identified sexuality, became a focus of attention for the individual, and then were incorporated into the individual’s sexual interests and masturbatory fantasies, it was possible to accurately track the patterns of sexual arousal. We were also able to clearly identify how these men attempted to blend their deviant interests into sexual relationships with partners and the consequences of their efforts”.

As far as I am aware, this is the only academic paper to have examined ‘ring fetishism’ but my own research on the topic has led me to the conclusion that ‘Mr. Rings’ case is not unique. Here are a few accounts that I found in various online forums on the internet:

  • Extract 1: “[I] have a wedding [ring] on hand fetish. Even more aroused if the woman wears both a wedding and an engagement ring. I don’t like any other kind of ring. Rather than the plain yellow I prefer silver colour (platinum ones)” (Welly11)
  • Extract 2: “I have the same type of fetish. I’m turned on by ladies who wear wedding and engagement rings stacked on the same finger, and other simple band (plain gold or pave) rings. That’s why I founded a Yahoo! Group for other fetishists to share their photos” (Saladinthewise)
  • Extract 3: “I thought I was the only person on the planet with this (get incredibly aroused when I see a woman wear the plain yellow gold wedding ring) and I couldn’t make any sense of it for ages…Thanks for restoring a bit of my sanity and faith in my normality!” (Heshan1)
  • Extract 4: “My husband bought me a wedding ring that looks very similar to the one his mom wears. He later confessed it is a tremendous turn-on for him just seeing me wearing it. He doesn’t remember his mom (who is a wonderful person) doing anything ‘out of line’ with him in the past and it is not essential for me to have it on for sex. Could something have happened as a baby to implant this ‘fascination’ in his mind?” (iDawn491)

These are all fairly short self-confessed admissions and don’t really tell us much except that the fetish appears to be male-based and that the ring (or stacked rings in the case of two of the accounts) have to be worn by women. Extract 4 does point out that her husband can engage in sex without her wearing the ring so in this case, it wouldn’t be a true fetish behaviour (merely a strong sexual preference). There are also some sexually explicit discussions about wedding ring fetishes here. However, I did come across some more detailed accounts:

  • Extract 5: “My fetish started a long time ago, I am 55. Women who have worn wide bands have always had my interest. I have been married twice and each time I have told my wife to be about my fetish. Both women have worn wide band. My first wife got deep in to religion and wanted me to quit carrying an off duty side arm, I was a police officer at the time. My second wife said if I wanted her to she would wear a few wide rings if I got her what I wanted. I have been married to her for almost 20 years and she has worn them both day and night. I really dislike the thin plain gold rings that a lot of women wear. I feel all women should wear wide band on one of their ring fingers. My second wife dated a guy before me who had a fetish for bangle bracelets that could not be removed he had her wearing 5 to 6 on each arm that were soldered on and could not pass over the wrist. Even after she broke up with him she continued to wear them for about 10 years and once in a blue moon she would see him somewhere and shake them at him, just to see and you can’t have me” (Edward 5759).

This account hints that the fetish probably started in adolescence and that like ‘Mr. Rings’, the ring has to be of a specific type (in this case a wide band). It is also a fetish that the man in question was happy to tell his wives about, and something that the wives were psychologically comfortable with. This last account is a little more complicated as there are overlaps with other sexually fetishistic behaviours:

  • Extract 6: “My longstanding fetish is to be tied up by married women wearing a certain type of wedding ring. These are plain gold, very large 20-25 mms in width, curved like a barrel and smooth, the curve less pronounced as the width increases…All you need to know is that every woman I have ever encountered wearing one I have subsequently fantasized about them tying me up…My fetish even leading me to follow women I know to wear them. I have no idea why these wedding rings turn me on, and continue to do so, but it is a fetish I feel might be a new one and something I have just wanted to tell people about for a very long time. I can only think that the size and shape have something to do with my fetish and would appear to be linked somehow to my desire to always be tied with lots of rope, generously wrapped around the body. I’ve never really viewed my fetish as a problem other than the fact that chancing upon women wearing these rings is something that rarely ever happens, as they are not commonplace, therefore there is practically nothing to satisfy my ‘addiction’, for want of a better description…There was a woman who wore a wedding ring of the kind I have described, a particularly large one, who would shop every Saturday at a certain location at a certain time and I would make sure I’d be there to see it. This went on for three years. That was a long time ago now, and I still fantasize about her tying me up…I simply cannot imagine that ANYONE shares my fetish, so I can’t really expect to meet anyone here who does. The unusual nature of it being the biggest problem, that there is simply no concrete outlet for it” (Brainpan).

This final account is the most interesting one I have come across although is complicated by the fact that there are elements of bondage and sexual masochism added to the fetishistic mix. Although (like the other extracts) there is no insight into the roots and etiology of the behaviour, the size and the shape of the ring are again very specific suggesting that the longstanding desire dates back to a time where the person simply can’t recall where the interest in rings began (i.e., early childhood perhaps). As with other accounts, the fetishistic behaviour is not viewed as a problem by the person who has it (although in this latter case, there is arguably an element of stalking involved).

In all honesty (and although I find this interesting), I can’t see ‘wedding ring fetishism’ ever being the topic of in-depth psychological research particularly as the behaviour appears to be non-problematic in the main.

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

Further reading

Abel, G.G., Coffey, L. & Osborn, C.A. (2008). Sexual arousal patterns: normal and deviant. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 31, 643-655.

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

Take a stance on me: A brief look at ‘hands on hips’ fetish

I can’t remember exactly how, but one day last year I came across a website called Hands On Her Hips which is totally dedicated to pictures of females posing with their hands on their hips. As the website states:

“The mission statement of this blog is very simple. The blog contains picture of women holding their hands on their hips. To me the pose is very feminine, attractive, powerful and confident. The simple gesture of a woman putting her hands on her hips appeals to me and this blog is dedicated to that pose”

However, I soon discovered on doing a little Googling that there appears to be a niche community of ‘hands on hip’ [HoH] fetishists out there. I’m not aware of any academic research on HoH fetishism but there are a number of online references to the practice. According to a short 2009 online article on ‘eight freaky fetishes’ by Grace Murano, she claims that:

“Hands on the Hip is a type of hand partialism, which means the attraction to a specific action performed by the hands. It’s very hard to explain the presence of a fetish site devoted entirely to women posing with their hands on their hips, standing defiantly and angrily in the way so many mothers do when their children misbehave. Somewhere, deep in the psyche of the site’s creator, he desperately wants to find a mother figure who will discipline him with nothing harsher than a time out and denial of television”.

Murano’s brief description appears to somewhat concur with Wikipedia’s brief entry on hand fetishism (that appears to have come from Dr. Ellen McCallum’s 1998 book Object Lessons: How to Do Things With Fetishism). This entry claims that hand fetishism:

“…may include the sexual attraction to a specific area such as the fingers, palm or nails, or the attraction to a specific action performed by the hands; which may otherwise be considered non-sexual – such as washing or drying dishes. This fetish may manifest itself as a desire to experience physical interaction, or as a source of sexual fantasy”.

Another 2009 short online article by Gloria Brame asserts that HoH fetishism is actually an ‘action fetish’ (i.e., an individual who derives sexual arousal not from an object or body part but from an action that someone performs). Brame then goes on to assert that:

“For most, that includes seeing it, but it isn’t just a branch of voyeurism: the fundamental thrill attaches to the action itself, and not just its visual or auditory pleasures. One very broad example would be spankers who get off on the action (of spanking) itself, and not – as is more common among [sadomasochists] – the pain or humiliation or its place in a power dynamic…Some of us know SM players too who are turned on by the actions but not the psychological space…It’s a bit easier to sort out when the action fetish is highly particularized. For example, a fetish for watching a woman in stockings and high heels step on a car’s brakes, or a fetish for seeing a coed in her underwear bouncing on a big balloon There are scores of barely documented action fetishes, so I’m always happy when I see an enthusiast build a blog to his/her own fetish, like this one [Hands on her hips]”

In another list of ‘weird fetishes’ from 2007, Anthony Burch and Frank Movsesian also listed HoH fetish and tried to add in a bit of psychodynamic psychology into the mix. They claimed that HoH fetish sites prove that Sigmund Freud was right. I personally don’t adhere to this viewpoint at all but given the lack of any psychological insight and theorizing, they go as far as to say:

There’s no other way to explain the presence of a fetish site devoted entirely to women posing with their hands on their hips, standing defiantly and angrily in the way so many mothers do when their children misbehave. Somewhere, deep in the psyche of the site’s creator, he desperately wants to find and have sex with a mother figure who will discipline him with nothing harsher than a Time Out and denial of television. I guess this fetish is for people who aren’t quite into sadomasochistic discipline, but think they might one day be. Bondage training wheels, if you will”.

There are loads of articles and papers on various aspects of non-verbal communication and to be honest (and because it is not my area of expertise) I haven’t got the time to read everything that’s been written about ‘hands on hips’ gestures, but most online sources appear to indicate that the ‘hands on hips’ stance helps give the appearance of being physically bigger and is a non-verbal cue that shows others that we are “ready for action” (i.e., a ‘readiness gesture’) but is sometimes mistaken for unfriendliness. One website claims that the people most likely to be observed in are “workaholics, athletes and productive people” and can demonstrate a show of authority and superiority. Another website article notes that:

“Hands-on-Hips is used by the child arguing with its parent, the athlete waiting for his event to begin, the boxer waiting for the bout to start and males who want to issue a non-verbal challenge to other males who enter their territory. In each instance the person takes the Hands-on-Hips pose and this is a universal gesture used to communicate that a person is ready for assertive action. It lets the person take up more space and has the threat value of the pointed elbows that act as weapons, preventing others from approaching or passing. The arms being half raised show readiness for attack and this is the position taken by cowboys in a gunfight. Even one hand on the hip will send the intended message, particularly when it’s pointed at the intended victim. It’s used everywhere and in the Philippines and Malaysia it carries the even stronger message of anger or outrage…Its basic meaning carries a subtly aggressive attitude everywhere. It has also been called the achiever stance, related to the goal-directed person who is ready to tackle their objectives or is ready to take action on something. Men often use this gesture around women to display an assertive male attitude”

If these observations are true, it would seem to suggest that those who have HoH fetishes may like being/feeling in submissive positions and being sexually dominated (although that’s pure speculation on my part as there is simply no empirical research whatsoever). I honestly can’t see HoH fetishes ever being the subject of serious scientific study as they are unlikely to have any appreciable negative impact in the lives of such people (if such people even exist).

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

Further reading

Brame, G. (2009). Action fetishes and hands on hips. July 28. Located at: http://gloriabrame.typepad.com/inside_the_mind_of_gloria/2009/07/hands-on-her-hips.html

Burch, A. & Movsesian, F. (2007). 10 really weird fetishes. Double Viking, November 9. Located at: http://www.doubleviking.com/bullet-points-10-really-weird-fetishes-6984-p.html

McCallum. E.L. (1998.) Object Lessons: How to Do Things With Fetishism. New York: State University of New York Press.

Murano, G. (2009). 8 freakiest fetishes. Oddee, June 18. Located at: http://www.oddee.com/item_96718.aspx

The birds’ and the bees’ knees: A very brief look at genuphilia

One Saturday night while my family was watching Strictly Come Dancing, I found myself idly Googling looking for inspiration for a new blog. One of the pages I found myself on was Kinkopedia’s ‘Kink of the Week’ website. This particular page made reference to ten “paraphilias you may never heard of”. The list (in alphabetical order and the website’s definition) included bromidrophilia (sexual attraction to body odours and smells), genuphilia (sexual attraction to knees), mechanophilia (sexual attraction to cars),
 mythophilia (sexual attraction to myths, stories, or gossip), nasophilia (sexual attraction to noses), onomatophilia (sexual attraction to words, or a certain word),
 rupophilia (sexual attraction to dirt), sitophilia (sexual attraction to food), spectrophilia (sexual attraction to ghosts) and 
vorarephilia (sexual attraction to eating or be eaten by another).

Regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised to know that I was aware of almost all the paraphilias on the list (in fact I’ve written blogs on most of these). However, the one that jumped out at me (no pun intended) was genuphilia. Given the fact that (i) there is absolutely no scientific research on genuphilia, and (ii) genuphilia does not make an appearance in either Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices or Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices suggests one of two things – either that this particular paraphilia does not really exist, or that it is a relatively newly realized fetish. It’s also another paraphilia where the name appears to have been derived as the opposite of a known phobia (i.e., genuphobia – an irrational fear of knees).

In researching this article, I have to admit that I almost gave up on trying to put a blog together given the lack of material (academic and anecdotal). I read an online article about sexual paraphilias in the new (fifth edition) of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that referred to genuphilia being related to gender but then quickly realized the article was a funny April Fool’s Day spoof (still worth a read though! See ‘Further reading’ below for a link to the article). Over at the Psyche Time-Lapse website, genuphilia made an appearance in their regular ‘Word Of The Day’ column. The writer of the short article noted:

“Getting on your knees is usually a prelude to some sexy fellatio initiation or submissive roleplay. But sexiness isn’t always just coded into the act of falling to your knees; it can be on the knees themselves Genuphilia refers to a special, sexual attraction for knees: knock-kneed, knobby knees, replaced knees, any one of the jumbly joints that allows our legs to move efficiently and helps support body weight. The area right behind the knee can be a sensitive, often-ignored erogenous zone, and light, tantalizing strokes on and around them with your fingers can bring shivers to a partner’s body. And with fall approaching, showing off your knees with a variety of knee socks, boots, and fall-length coats has never been easier!”

As a last resort I went online searching on various forums and discussion groups and only located a handful of self-admitted accounts of people claiming to have a knee fetish:

Extract 1: “I think I must have had something like this for as long as I can remember. When I was aged 12 [years old] I was nearly always in shorts and there was a near neighbour who was a girl of about the same age who had a mix of boys and girls as friends and she liked us to show our legs as she thought it was cute that boys were in shorts and that we boys showed more leg than the girls. As I got older I always thought that boys in school shorts looked cute and was jealous that their uniforms allowed shorts while the school I was at would not allow shorts. I was attracted to my ex-boyfriend when I moved to another school and saw a guy in shorts which showed off his long sexy smooth legs. As he and I saw each other out of school, he encouraged me to shave my legs so that we could rub our bare legs together. I noticed in particular his knees were turning me on and we took it in turns to feel each other’s legs and I concentrated on rubbing his knees with mine. I love to show off my knees as much as possible and when I see both guys and girls showing theirs, I feel very aroused. There is nothing so good as a pair of sexy knees”

Extract 2: I got a foot fetish and a leg/knee fetish, but I also got a fetish for a girl’s hands too. Anybody find that to be common out there?”

Extract 3: Hairless Inside Knees on gay men are amazing! That we are agreed that is why you are here at the internet’s premier Hairless Inside Knee Gay Fetish Website! Don’t get us wrong we love hairy legs on our gay men. But there is something about the inside of the knee that when it’s hairless sends our pulses racing. Here at THIKFG you’ll find sexual tips to satisfy your hairless inside knee gay partner as well as fantasies and the best photos and videos of the best hairless inside knees around. So sit back and enjoy!”

Extract 4: “I haven’t explained what my happy page is about yet. Knee Fetishes!…I know you guys are thinking. THIS IS WEIRD! But [you] know what? It is weird. It’s the next big thing. Haven’t you heard? Pretty soon everyone will be having knee, elbow and ankle fetishes…So I would just like to take this moment to tell all you people, look around. There are many knees. Some are ugly, some are beautiful, some are hairy, some are lumpy, some are squishy. Just enjoy yourself. Stop and look at the knees”

Presuming these extracts are genuine (and I have no reason to suspect they’re not), a few tentative conclusions can be drawn (even from such a few extracts). Firstly, based on these accounts, knee fetishes (and genuphilia paraphilias) genuinely exist. (I would also argue that the existence of dedicated websites such as The Knee Pit Gallery also suggest there is an audience and niche market for sexualized knee enthusiasts). Secondly, it appears that both men and women may have this fetish/paraphilia. Thirdly, it appears that genuphilia may occur within different sexual orientations (i.e., heterosexual and homosexual). Fourthly, it appears that genuphilia may overlap with other more established sexual paraphilias (such as hand, leg and foot fetishes [podophilia]). Finally, it would appear that childhood experiences may be critical in explaining the etiology of gunuphilia. The most detailed extract appears to suggest that the sexual liking for knees may be explained by conditioning processes (i.e., classical conditioning). I seriously doubt we’ll see academic research on genuphilia any time soon but that doesn’t mean it’s not a genuine sexual fetish/paraphilia.

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

Further reading

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

American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.

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

Molay, J. (2011). Crossdreamers, April 1. Located at: http://www.crossdreamers.com/2011/04/paraphiliphilia-makes-it-into-dsm-5.html

Cuddly more: Plushophilia revisited

In a previous blog I briefly looked at plushophilia. In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Anil Aggrawal defines plushophilia as a “sexual attraction to stuffed toys or people in animal costume, such as theme park characters”. However, as I also noted in my previous blog, other online sources simply define plushophilia as a sexual paraphilia involving stuffed animals. Sexual and pornographic activities involving animal anthropomorphism (including plushophilia), is known among the plushophile community as ‘yiffing’. Plushophiles are often referred to as plushies, although as I noted in a previous blog on the Furry Fandom, the term can also refer to stuffed animal enthusiasts who have no sexual interest at all (i.e., people who just love cuddly toys).

Regular readers of my blog will know that in 2014, I was the resident psychologist on 12-episode television series called Forbidden made for the Discovery Channel. One of the stories that the series reported on concerned Dr. Peter Banki, a plushophile who appeared in the ‘Odd Man Out’ episode. Before I was interviewed for the story, I had to research the story and was also given some production notes as background material.

According to the material I was provided with, Banki has a PhD in German Philosophy and is a member of the Philosophy Research Initiative at the University of Western Sydney (In Australia), where he lectured and tutored in the School of Humanities and Languages. He is also the founder and host of ‘Schwelle’, a non-profit-organization that offers unusual and experimental workshops promoting a ‘different intellectual and sexual culture.’ He is also the curator of ‘Xplore’, an annual sex education event. He lives with his girlfriend and is currently living off profits from the festival and taking Shibari Rope classes at home in Bondi (Shibari is a form of Japanese rope bondage). His hobbies were listed as including cross-dressing, sex education, and reading. The production notes also informed me that:

“Peter Banki has lectured to hundreds of university students. He’s a fully-grown eloquent and intelligent man but he also plays with stuffed toys. In fact Peter sees himself as an advocate for plush play enthusiasts or ‘plushies’ as they’re called. What most would interpret as childish nonsense, Peter sees as a form of self-expression and a creative outlet. With 40 odd animals in his collection, each with their own invented character, profession and history, Peter has created his own fantasy world. His plushies are very important, ‘My close friends all know about it, some of them I even involve in playtime with the animals. But generally I only share this world with people I trust.’ He’s not completely secret about his pastime though. He’s given theatrical performances creating voices and characters for stuffed toys to demonstrate to audiences what plush play is all about”.

Dr. Banki claimed he had been obsessed with plushies ever since he was a child when he would get his parents to talk to his toys. 

“It’s something I’ve always done. I once tried to give it up to keep a girlfriend but I couldn’t do it. I got too depressed”.

Instead of trying to repress his urges Dr. Banki embraces it. He regularly sleeps with the toys. Although Dr. Banki is heterosexual he admitted that he’s not a typical man.

“Being a man I think implies being an adult and strong and responsible. When I play with the plushy animals I think I’m like a little boy.”

The programme presented Dr. Banki as what the production notes described as a “quirky dichotomy”. On one hand, he’s a cultured academic, an adult who lectures and curates festivals. On the other, he’s a naughty child that plays with cuddly toys. Banki has created a fantasy world, something that he cultivated from his vivid imagination. Sometimes his behaviour involves erotic role-playing games. It’s the polarity that the documentary wanted to capture (something that Dr. Banki liked the idea of).

On screen, Peter is filmed sitting in his lounge watching television, and relaxing. He casually mentions that there’s no fun when it’s all work and no play, that he enjoys a little downtime with his ‘friends’. The camera then pulls out to a wider screenshot and reveals his furry plush toy friends sitting either side of him on the couch and on the floor. Peter introduces each and every plush toy friend and describes each toy’s back-story. He explained that some of his plush toys are in monogamous relationships, some are in naughty adulterous relationships, and that others are polyamorous. The production notes highlighted that:

“We see how his plush toy relationships manifest into the day-to day. He plays with them on the couch, on the floor of the lounge room, in the laundry, at the dining table, on his balcony/yard and baths them. We see a series of moments where the plush toys are passive participants: he prepares lunch, they’re watching; he works at his desk, they’re watching; he hangs his washing on the line, they’re watching from all the way the balcony. Peter even enjoys the odd social outing with his toys. We see him playing hide and seek in the park, pushing them on the swings”.

Dr. Banki also enjoys playing with other plushie enthusiasts. The documentary filmed other plushies playing with their stuffed animals during Banki’s Plush toy workshop at the Xplore Festival. Bankie also showed the programme makers the ‘Plush Toy Animal Collective’ Facebook page and described their various outings such as dinners and speed dating nights. One of his toys (‘Bunny Junior’, described as an old style Marxist) even has his very own Facebook page featuring photos of his Shibari rope therapy.

Banki was also filmed on his way to buy a new plush toy to add to his collection. He put three of his animal ‘friends’ into the back of his car and put on their seatbelts. He then goes to a restaurant and has dinner with all his plush toys at the table with him. The notes I was given provide a useful case summary:

“Dr Peter Banki has always played with Plush Animals. He used to ask his parents to talk to them and they would invent stories. He carried this play onto adulthood. They were always played with in a more intimate environment with people in the bedroom. Now Peter shares his play with the public and with friends. They go to restaurants, they go to parties. The Plush animals have names, some speak German, some speak French, Junior the rabbit, for instance, is an old style Marxist labor leader. As Peter grew older, the animals developed sexual relationships: some are straight, some are homosexual and some like to be spanked. For Peter, it’s a way of saying things that can’t be expressed otherwise. After simulating sexual play, Peter says he feels really exposed, but in a good way”.

Given the lack of research into plushophilia, case studies such as Dr. Banki give us an insight to the life of a plushophile. We don’t know how representative Dr. Banki is of other plushophiles but at least his story is out there.

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

Further reading

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

FoxWolfie Galen’s Plushie Page (2012). Definitions. Located at: http://www.velocity.net/~galen/furrydef.html

Gerbasi, K. C., Paolone, N., Higner, J., Scaletta, L. L., Bernstein, P. L., Conway, S., & Privitera, A. (2008). Furries from A to Z (anthropomorphism to zoomorphism). Society & Animals, 16(3), 197-222.

Hill, D. (2000). Cuddle time: In the world of plushophiles, not all stuffed animals are created equal. Salon, June 19. Located at: http://www.salon.com/2000/06/19/plushies/

Wiki Fur (2015). Animal totem. Located at: http://en.wikifur.com/wiki/Animal_totem

Wiki Fur (2015). Plushophilia. Located at: http://en.wikifur.com/wiki/Plushophilia

The unbelievable tooth: A brief look at dental braces fetishism

In a previous blog, I examined medical fetishism. While researching that blog I came across a number of sub-forms of medical fetishism including ‘dental braces fetishism’. According to an article on the Nation Master website

“Dental braces fetishism is a form of sexual fetishism where a person is sexually aroused or stimulated by the sight, brushing, or feel of dental braces (particularly silver stainless steel braces, but sometimes retainers and headgear). They can be aroused the most by tongue contact with the braces, or by seeing semen ejaculated onto the dental braces (which is common in some pornography). Many are also aroused simply by the bright silver shine of traditional stainless steel braces. The rubber band colors can also stimulate such a reaction in the person with the fetish. Some are aroused by the sight of a woman’s tongue touching her braces. All of these are fetishes mostly associated with males seeing braces on females. A number of pornographic websites that concentrate on this fetish exist. There are also non-pornographic websites that focus simply on the aesthetic qualities of braces – particularly silver stainless steel braces and retainers. Some of these websites are maintained by adult female orthodontic patients for this express purpose and charge expensive membership fees to those wishing to view these sites. Also, there are pornographic websites devoted to auxiliary devices used with braces – particularly headgear. Supposedly, devotees of these devices are sexual bondage buffs and associate these devices with sexual bondage”.

Given the lack of scientific research on the topic, I can neither confirm nor deny any of the claims made by Nation Master, although there are certainly dedicated online websites that specialize in dental brace pornography (for instance, websites such as Fetish Braces, Beauty and Braces and E-Hotsex – please be warned that these are sexually explicit sites). Most of these sites feature scantily clad and/or naked women with braces that seem to indicate that such sexual penchants and fetishes are male-based. There are also discussions about how having braces affects people’s sex lives on online discussion websites such as the Metal Mouth Forum. There are also various online articles about having sex if you wear braces. For instance, an article entitled ‘Braces in the Bedroom’ on the Arch Wired website (a website dedicated to ‘adults in braces’) noted:

“Having braces doesn’t have to mean the end of certain sexual pleasures. It might mean tweaking your technique…or just plain being more careful. In the words of one enlightened Arch Wired reader, ‘practice makes perfect’. And if you decide to abstain…well, as they say, absence…or maybe in this case abstinence…will make it all the fonder until the braces are off”

Arguably one of the strangest articles I came across in researching this blog was one from May 2011 featured on Redath’s website that examined the sexualized use of orthodontic devices (described by the female author as an “oral fetish”) by people she had met in Second Life. The article claimed that there were four or five people in Second Life who had such an orthodontic fetish and the article included lots of images of various avatars (including the author’s) wearing dental braces in a clearly sexualized way (along with all the prices –in Linden dollars – of the costs of buying virtual dental braces and dental headgear).

I also went in search of online case studies and online self-confessions relating to dental brace fetishes, and the best examples I found was in an online discussion forum in the UK Babe Channels website. Here are some extracted quotes that at least suggest such fetishes exist:

Extract 1:This is a bit of a strange one but i really think it could work. There’s so many xxx sites that LOVE girls with braces so I figure we should have a babeshow that features a girl with braces on. Like me!!!” (Amanda Max)

Extract 2: “I like braces and I know for a fact another forum member does. I may have posed for them in braces once” (RCTV)

Extract 3:I LOVE braces, they look sexy on a woman, and braces look sexy even when there’s clothes underneath them. I can see how braces can be sexy, and think I would need to see more of them to find them sexy, but they def[initely] no turn off, and I do know two girls with them on and they are both still sexy and both 18 [years old]. Some girls do look young” (MH92)

Extract 4: “Teeth braces is quite a common fetish – largely aimed at the market who like ‘teen’ (18+) porn/glamour, although in some cases some of the models on the pro sites can look disturbingly young, despite the legal 18+ declarations” (Skateguy)

These extracts do not prove the existence of dental braces fetishism but are suggestive that some people find such devices a sexual turn-on. Given that most dental brace wearers are adolescents, it does raise suggestions of paedophilic undertones (although that’s pure speculation on my part, although Extracts 3 and 4 above also seem to be indicative of the same type of thinking). I can’t see this area of fetishistic interest ever being seriously researched in an academic context (but stranger things have happened).

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

Further reading

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

Archwired (undated). Braces in the bedroom: Will braces affect your sex life? Located at: http://www.archwired.com/BracesandSex.htm

Streetsie (2011). Disability fetish and medical fetish. August 19. Located at: http://www.streetsie.com/disability-fetish-medical-fetish/

Nation Master (2013). Dental braces fetishism. Located at: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Dental-braces-fetishism

Redath (2011). Braces, headgear, facebow and other orthodontic devises. May 16. Located at: http://redath.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/braces-headgear-facebow-and-other.html?zx=99f4d98c82b2557a

Wikipedia (2013). Medical fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_fetishism

Cheesy does it: An unusual case of sitophilia

In a previous blog I looked at sitophilia, a sexual paraphilia in which individuals have an erotic attraction to (and derive sexual arousal from) food. One of the strangest sitophile stories I have read concerns the case of the ‘Swiss Cheese Pervert’.  In the run up to Christmas 2013, a chubby man estimated to be in his 40s was driving around the Mayfair district of Philadelphia (USA) and exposing his genitals to a number of women while seated in his Sedan. However, this was no ordinary case of exhibitionism. As the Fortean Times reported:

“He would then dangle a large slice of Swiss cheese over his penis and offers to pay the women to perform sexual acts on him using the snack. At least two other women received messages on [the] OKCupid [online dating website] they believe were from the same man, describing how being unpopular with women drove him to have sex with cheese. He offered to pay $50 for a woman to pleasure him with a slice. The city’s police suspect 41-year-old Chris Pagano, since he was arrested in 2006 and 2009 for allegedly propositioning women with Swiss cheese on the streets of Norristown, Philadelphia. Pagano claimed that the latest incidents had nothing to do with him – but the picture he used on Facebook was the same as the one on the OKCupid profile message sent to a woman asking her to indulge his cheese craving”.

Pagano’s previous arrests were well documented in the local Philadelphia press and one journalist (Victor Fiorello) has written a number of stories about Pagano’s sexual exploits. In one of his stories he obtained the court documents in relation to the 2006 and 2009 arrests and one extract (with the woman’s name removed to protect her identity) read that:

“[The woman] told police that at approximately 0030 hours she was walking home from a store the male approached her from behind and asked her a question. The male removed a large block of cheese from his pocket and told [the woman] that he would pay her $20 to rub the Swiss cheese on his penis. [The woman] became alarmed and fled on foot toward her residence. The male offered [the woman] more money as she fled the area. [The woman] described the male as white, balding, and weighing over 300 pounds”

Following the late 2013 reports in the local press, one woman (Gabby Chest) telephoned the police saying that she had got an email on the OKCupid website from a “really strange guy” fitting the description of Pagano and who in his message wrote that he was “looking for someone to perform masturbation on him with cheese”. In the online message to Ms. Chest, the man admitted that he had great difficulty in initiating relationships with women because of his weight problem. This (he claimed) led to his cheese fetish and helped him to deal with his sexual urges. The whole message was reprinted on the PhillyMag website and I have reprinted it verbatim as I think it provides a good insight into the behaviour:

“Hello, my name is Chris. I am sure you are seeking a relationship, and I am sort of seeking the same, well sort of. You see I am currently content with my life. I enjoy meeting new people and making friends, but I also enjoy looking for women who are just looking for fun, opportunities, and or sex. I am kind of hoping you may be one of those women, who are open to certain activities of a suggestive nature. I realize talking and or requesting anything sexual with a someone you don’t know can be a turn off for most, but would you be interested in getting to know me, and perhaps being involved in a sexual encounter together? I know it’s a bit much to take in, since you really don’t know me. Still I am open to get to know you at first before anything would happen. I want to be up-front with you and tell you what exactly I am looking for. This way you have an idea of what I am into. You see it’s not sex in the traditional sense, it’s more a fetish. Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy traditional sex, but I grown to prefer this more. This fetish is a Sitophilia type fetish. I will give you a short explanation that lead me to discover why I like this type of fetish.

You see, when I was young and even now I seemed to be judged on my looks and not on my personality. So finding women and starting relationships was harder for me then most. Couple that with a strong sex drive, and you get the picture. So I developed this fetish to help me deal with my sexual urges. I found that women tend to like dairy products, and settled on cheese to represent the girl. Thus I started having sex with cheese. I like to use Swiss cheese and would wrap slices of the cheese around penis, then masturbate. Now tho [sic], after finding several girls to do it for me, I prefer having girls do it for me, instead of myself. Still I suppose I was lucky in finding those women, and our relationships did not last long, since our relationship based more on my fetish and me helping them out money wise. When they became comfortable again, we stayed friends, but they seemed to move on with their lives or I moved on because of the drama that sometimes followed some of them. The other problem I encounter is that women tend to be more freaked out over my fetish, then they would be over other questionable activities that are far more disgusting then mine. I don’t understand why using cheese in the way I use it is so disturbing to women, the ones who have done my fetish for me say it’s quite vanilla compared to so things they have encountered, and say I am quite harmless given my kind personality. So my request is, is there any way you would be willing to strike up an arraignment with me to do my fetish for me, if of course you would be open to this sort of activity? 

Lastly if I have offended you, I am sorry as it was not my intention to do so. I just hope my fetish with cheese does not disturb you in any way, sorry if it has. Also when I mention arrangement, please don’t think it just has to be money either, I know you are not a prostitute, in fact I don’t want women like that at all. It can be anything you feel is a fair trade. Please if you could please let me know if you might be interested or not, and what you think of my request, I would appreciate it, thanks”.

In another online message, it is alleged that he said: “I am lucky I never became a rapist”. This latter admission suggesting that his cheese infatuation was a less palatable alternative to his cheese infatuation. In an email on the OKCupid website, he wrote to another woman and added:

“I tried many different kinds of cheese, like American, Provolone, chez whiz, jack, and cheddar, but settled on Swiss as the best…because of its eye patterns, texture, and the way it feels against my penis. When I was younger I had far more stamina for cheese sex. I was able to wrap and wear a good 1½ pounds of Swiss cheese against my penis, and wear it for hours at a time before I would climax…One last note, I do not like cheese, except for mozzarella, and that is the one cheese I have never used on myself. So no I do not eat the cheese after I am done using it for pleasure, it is discarded. I am always asked that question”.

I found the online message sent to Ms. Chest of great psychological interest. Pagano obviously knew that his preferred sexual behaviour was sitophilia and that he himself conceptualized his own behaviour as fetishistic. He also provided what I believe to be a plausible explanation as to how cheese became a symbolic female substitute for sex. Using cheese in his early masturbatory experiences would almost certainly created an associative pairing between sex and cheese (to the point where cheese on its own may have caused a classically conditioned response resulting in sexual arousal). Pagano’s own realistic assessment of his sexual attractiveness appears to have led to sexual displacement in which cheese represented an outlet for his sexual urges and desires. He was fully aware that his desires would seem strange to most people and that he was prepared to pay for the activity if that helped women participate. From the newspaper reports I read, it would appear that the criminal exhibitionism (i.e., flashing his genitalia at women he approached in his car) was peripheral to his real desire of soliciting women to engage in ‘cheesy’ sex.

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

Further reading

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

Daily Mail (2014). ‘Swiss Cheese Pervert’ terrorizes Philadelphia asking women to perform sexual acts on him using a slice of fromage. Daily Mail. January 13. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2538687/Swiss-Cheese-Pervert-terrorizing-Philadelphia.html

Fiorello, V. (2014). Is this guy the Swiss Cheese Pervert? PhillyMag, January 11. Located at: www.phillymag.com/news/2014/01/11/norristowns-swiss-cheese-pervert/

Fiorello, V. (2014). Here are mugshots of alleged Swiss Cheese Pervert Chris Pagano. PhillyMag, January 11. Located at: http://www.phillymag.com/news/2014/01/13/mugshots-swiss-cheese-pervert-chris-pagano/

Fortean Times (2014). Please cheese me…Fortean Times, March 1, p.10

Extremes of dreams (so it seems): The psychology of ‘Vanilla Sky’

Regular readers of my blog will know that when it comes to certain films and television shows (and their accompanying DVD box sets) I can be somewhat obsessive and fanatical (for instance see, my blog on my love of all things concerning Hannibal Lecter). I’m one of those individuals that will watch some films again and again looking for further insight and deeper meanings (such as Memento, The Usual Suspects, Donnie Darko, Inception, Shutter Island, Seven, and The Shining). One of the films I have watched many times is Cameron Crowe’s psychological thriller Vanilla Sky (starring Tom Cruise, Kurt Russell, Cameron Diaz and Penélope Cruz), a remake of the Spanish film Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes).

One of the reason I like the film is that it prominently features the concept of lucid dreaming. I’d never heard of lucid dreaming until 1988. I was doing my PhD at the University of Exeter at the time and one of my best friends (Robert Rooksby) was doing his PhD on lucid dreaming. As the Wikipedia entry on lucid dreaming notes:

“A lucid dream is any dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming. In relation to this phenomenon, Greek philosopher Aristotle observed: ‘often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream’…The person most widely acknowledged as having coined the term is Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederik (Willem) van Eeden…In a lucid dream, the dreamer has greater chances to exert some degree of control over their participation within the dream or be able to manipulate their imaginary experiences in the dream environment…Lucid dreams can be realistic and vivid. It is shown that there are higher amounts of beta-1 frequency band (13–19 Hz) brain wave activity experienced by lucid dreamers, hence there is an increased amount of activity in the parietal lobes making lucid dreaming a conscious process”.

Much like the films of David Lynch (one of my favourite film directors), Vanilla Sky is a film forces you to think about what is going on and is one of those films that you can come to your own conclusions as to what it all means. As a psychologist, I love films that play with the mind and Vanilla Sky is one of those films, particularly as psychology in the form of dreams, subjective reality, and the unconscious lie at the heart of the film. The director Cameron Crowe added many obscure clues and hidden references throughout the film to help viewers further explain the film and to add more layers.  There are dozens of dedicated websites that have compiled lists of theories, messages and/or hidden clues. In the film’s production notes, Crowe later admitted: “We constructed the movie, visually and story-wise, to reveal more and more the closer you look at it. As deep as you want to go with it, my desire was for the movie to meet you there”. That alone is enough of a hook to get me watching repeatedly.

Another aspect of the film that I love is the perfect use of music. Almost every lyric of every song used throughout the movie interweaves seamlessly between the actors, the in-scene narrative, and the developing story line. The songs are expertly chosen. This is no surprise given that Crowe was formerly a music journalist and a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine. Like me, Crowe is a huge fan of The Beatles, and referred to the “clues” in Vanilla Sky as his own version of the ‘Paul McCartney is Dead’ rumour that swept the world in 1969 (i.e., the notorious Beatles hoax when fans worldwide became convinced through song lyrics, sonic tricks, and album art that Paul McCartney had died and was replaced by a look-alike). As Crowe commented: “Divorcing it from whether Paul was really dead or not, that was a really great parlour game: searching for clues, the excitement of different layers, some of them chilling, some of them really funny. It was a great model for us [on Vanilla Sky]”. One of the homages to The Beatles in the film concerns their song Revolution 9. The film contains countless references to the number (or time) 9:09 (on Aames’ wristwatch, a child’s shirt, the prison chalkboard, and multiple references to cats who, has myth has it, have nine lives).

I’m assuming that anyone that has read this far has seen the film (but if you haven’t – spoiler alert – some of what I’m about to write will likely reduce the enjoyment of watching the film for the first time). The thrust of the plot is as follows:

“From a prison cell where he has been charged for murder, David Aames (Tom Cruise, in a prosthetic mask, tells his life story to court psychologist Dr. Curtis McCabe (Kurt Russell). In flashback, David [who is acrophobic with an irrational fear of heights] is shown to be the wealthy owner of a large publishing firm in New York City which he inherited from his father, leaving its regular duties to his father’s trusted associates. As David enjoys the bachelor lifestyle, he is introduced to Sofia Serrano (Penélope Cruz) by his best friend and author Brian Shelby [who is writing a book on Aames] at a party. David and Sofia spend a night together talking, and fall in love. When David’s former lover, Julianna “Julie” Gianni (Cameron Diaz) hears of Sofia, she attempts to kill herself and David in a car crash. Julie dies but David survives, his face grotesquely disfigured, leading him to wear a mask to hide the injuries. With no hope to use plastic surgery to repair the damage, David cannot come to grips with the idea of wearing the mask for the rest of his life. One night on a night out with Sofia…David gets hopelessly drunk, and [is left by Sophia] to wallow in the street outside” (Wikipedia entry on Vanilla Sky)

It is generally accepted that everything from this point in the film is a dream (although others say the whole film is a dream). Rather than live out the rest of his life in a disfigured state, Aames has his body cryogenically frozen by a company called Life Extension after attempting suicide. He lives the rest of his life as a lucid dream from the moment he was found on the pavement after his drunken night out (“under the ‘vanilla sky’ from a Monet painting”). However, during cryogenic sleep, the lucid dream goes horribly wrong and starts to incorporate elements from his subconscious. After 150 years in suspended sleep, the company that placed Aames into cryogenic suspension calls in ‘Tech Support’ and Aames is offered a choice to either be reinserted into a corrected lucid dream, or to wake up by taking a leap of faith – literally – from the top of a high roof (that forces him to challenge his fear of heights).

Conquering his final fear, David jumps off the building, his life flashing before his eyes, and whites out immediately before hitting the ground. A female voice commands him to ‘open your eyes’ (a recurring theme in the movie), and the film ends with David opening his eyes” (Wikipedia entry on Vanilla Sky).

Many different websites examining the film claim there are five interpretations of the film’s ending (and this is supported by Crowe himself). The five interpretations (taken verbatim from the Wikipedia entry on the film) are:

  • “Tech support is telling the truth: 150 years have passed since Aames killed himself and subsequent events form a lucid dream.
  • The entire film is a dream, evidenced by the sticker on Aames’ car that reads “2/30/01” (February 30 does not occur in the Gregorian Calendar).
  • The events following the crash form a dream that occurs while Aames is in a coma.
  • The entire film is the plot of the book that Brian [Shelby, his best friend] is writing.
  • The entire film after the crash is a hallucination caused by the drugs that were administered during Aames’ reconstructive surgery”.

(I’m most persuaded by the first interpretation). What I also love about the film is that Crowe added lots of little details that take a few viewings of the film before they are usually spotted. All of these help in both trying to interpret the film, as well as becoming a game where repeated watching becomes more rewarding. For instance:

  • In the first scene in which Julianna appears, the tune ringing on her cell phone is Row Row Row Your Boat that features the lyric “life is but a dream”.
  • At his birthday party, Aames is asked how it’s going to which he responds “Livin’ the dream, baby…livin’ the dream”.
  • At the same party, Aames’ best friend Brian Shelby comes into the second apartment wears a t-shirt with the words “fantasy” in sparkly sequins.
  • In one of the prison scenes, the word ‘DREAM’ is spelt out backwards on a chalkboard.
  • In the prison cell, the book, Memories, Dreams, and Reflections (by Carl Jung) is on the table while Aames is talking to his psychiatrist Dr. McCabe. The book concerns Jung’s personal dreams and how they helped uncover his “shadow” and removed his persona (his ‘mask’). In fact one critique of the film by Carlo Cavagna described the whole film as “overtly Jungian”. More specifically, he asserted that Vanilla Sky is fundamentally about the relationship between the ego and the unconscious, and practically a primer on the most fundamental concepts found in any Jungian glossary…For Jung, the unconscious includes desires repressed by our education and socialization, but there is more ‘psychic material that lies below the threshold of consciousness’. The unconscious is the foundation on which the conscious mind is based”.
  • On Aames’ prison uniform the name tag says “Frozen Guy”.
  • His patient number on his Life Extension cryogenic tank says “PL515NT 4R51MS” (which if the numbers are replaced with their corresponding letters of the alphabet, it almost spells “Pleasant Dreams”).
  • As Aames is getting his prison photograph taken, the slate spells ‘When did the dream become a nightmare?’ (in simple code).
  • Sofia calls Aames a “pleasure delayer” twice in the film (but says it so subtly that it’s hard to hear properly).
  • When Aames and Sophia are lying in bed after making love, Sophia asks “Is this is a dream?” and Aames replied “absolutely”.
  • At one point in the film, Dr. McCabe tells Aames that he’d had a nightmare the day before.  Aames replies that “It’s all a nightmare”.

I said earlier in the article that I thought the songs were perfectly chosen. Many fans of the film have noted that the lyrics repeatedly appear to match the emotion of the scene where it is played. As the Uncool website notes:

“For example, the song that plays over David leaving Sophia’s in the morning is Jeff Buckley’s, ‘Last Goodbye’…that morning was there last one true goodbye. Yes, they see each other after this, but after the car wreck when both of their lives are forever changed. ‘Last Goodbye’ also contains the lyrics: ‘Kiss me, please kiss me, but kiss me out of desire, babe not consolation’ which follows David’s plight rather well (as the next time he sees her is after the accident and he wants her affections but not sympathy for his disfigurement)…Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’ album (featured in the closing montage) also has some lyrical significance. One of the best lines from the song ‘The River’ is: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” Also, two R.E.M. songs are featured. Don’t forget what R.E.M. stands for. Rapid eye movement. As in a state of sleep. It’s when you dream”.

It doesn’t take a psychologist to work out that I simply love the level of detail that went into making the film. I am not a great fan of psychodynamic (psychoanalytic) interpretation, but in Vanilla Sky, the mask that Aames wore became his ‘persona’ and the term was used by Carl Jung to describe the face that we as individuals present to society and (in some cases) to ourselves. Carlo Cavagna argues that:

“[Aames] attraction to [Sophie] is irresistible because she is his anima, his archetypal dream lover, the personification of the feminine nature in his own unconscious. Jung posited that all men carry an ideal image of woman in their heads and unconsciously project that image onto “the person of the beloved…David’s disfigured face, which he sometimes hides with his mask, represents his shadow. For Jung, the shadow is the inferior part of the personality, the sum of all personal and collective psychic elements that, because of their incompatibility with the chosen conscious attitude, are denied expression in life and therefore coalesce into a relatively autonomous “splinter personality” in the unconscious. Despite the negative connotations of the word ‘shadow’, Jung meant it to encompass all those qualities that are suppressed, both positive and negative. ‘The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly’… [Aames] reality is subjective, and his shadow is breaking through into consciousness. This is the source of the film’s main conflict. In discussing dream therapy and the difficulty of processing and assimilating the unconscious, Jung wrote that several negative outcomes are possible – eccentricity, infantilism, paranoia, schizophrenia, or regression (the restoration of the persona). The revelation and assimilation of David’s unconscious is essentially the story of Vanilla Sky”.

Although there are many critics who hated the film, I love it on many different levels (including the underlying psychology).

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

Further reading

Cavagna, C. (2001, December). Vanilla Sky. Located at: http://www.aboutfilm.com/movies/v/vanillasky.htm

Jung, C.G. (1961). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vantage.

Kummer, R. (2010). “What is happiness to you?” Vanilla Sky (2001) Film Analysis. Located at: http://rkummer.hubpages.com/hub/What-is-happiness-to-you-Vanilla-Sky-2001-Film-Analysis

Rooksby, R. and Terwee, Sybe J.S. (1990). Freud, van Eeden and lucid dreaming. Lucidity Letter, 9(2), 18–28. Located at: http://www.sawka.com/spiritwatch/freudvan.htm

Turner, R. (2014). Vanilla Sky movie review: Beyond lucid dreams. Located at: http://www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com/vanilla-sky-review.html

The Uncool (2015). Vanilla Sky secrets. Located at: http://www.theuncool.com/films/vanilla-sky/vanilla-sky-secrets

Wikipedia (2015). Vanilla Sky. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Vanilla_Sky

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