Category Archives: Sex

Surprise, surprise: A brief overview of our recent papers on strange addictions and behaviours

Following my recent blogs where I outlined some of the papers that my colleagues and I have published on mindfulness, Internet addiction, gaming addiction, youth gambling, workaholism, exercise addiction, and sex addiction, here is a round-up of recent papers that my colleagues and I have published on strange and/or surprising addictions and behaviours.

Foster, A.C., Shorter, G.W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Muscle Dysmorphia: Could it be classified as an Addiction to Body Image? Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4, 1-5.

  • Background: Muscle dysmorphia (MD) describes a condition characterised by a misconstrued body image in which individuals who interpret their body size as both small or weak even though they may look normal or highly muscular. MD has been conceptualized as a type of body dysmorphic disorder, an eating disorder, and obsessive–compulsive disorder symptomatology. Method and aim: Through a review of the most salient literature on MD, this paper proposes an alternative classification of MD – the ‘Addiction to Body Image’ (ABI) model – using Griffiths (2005) addiction components model as the framework in which to define MD as an addiction. Results: It is argued the addictive activity in MD is the maintaining of body image via a number of different activities such as bodybuilding, exercise, eating certain foods, taking specific drugs (e.g., anabolic steroids), shopping for certain foods, food supplements, and the use or purchase of physical exercise accessories). In the ABI model, the perception of the positive effects on the self-body image is accounted for as a critical aspect of the MD condition (rather than addiction to exercise or certain types of eating disorder). Conclusions: Based on empirical evidence to date, it is proposed that MD could be re-classified as an addiction due to the individual continuing to engage in maintenance behaviours that may cause long-term harm.

Griffiths, M.D., Foster, A.C. & Shorter, G.W. (2015). Muscle dysmorphia as an addiction: A response to Nieuwoudt (2015) and Grant (2015). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4, 11-13.

  • Background: Following the publication of our paper ‘Muscle Dysmorphia: Could it be classified as an addiction to body image?’ in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, two commentaries by Jon Grant and Johanna Nieuwoudt were published in response to our paper. Method: Using the ‘addiction components model’, our main contention is that muscle dysmorphia (MD) actually comprises a number of different actions and behaviors and that the actual addictive activity is the maintaining of body image via a number of different activities such as bodybuilding, exercise, eating certain foods, taking specific drugs (e.g., anabolic steroids), shopping for certain foods, food supplements, and purchase or use of physical exercise accessories. This paper briefly responds to these two commentaries. Results: While our hypothesized specifics relating to each addiction component sometimes lack empirical support (as noted explicitly by both Nieuwoudt and Grant), we still believe that our main thesis (that almost all the thoughts and behaviors of those with MD revolve around the maintenance of body image) is something that could be empirically tested in future research by those who already work in the area. Conclusions: We hope that the ‘Addiction to Body Image’ model we proposed provides a new framework for carrying out work in both empirical and clinical settings. The idea that MD could potentially be classed as an addiction cannot be negated on theoretical grounds as many people in the addiction field are turning their attention to research in new areas of behavioral addiction.

Maraz, A., Király, O., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Why do you dance? Development of the Dance Motivation Inventory (DMI). PLoS ONE, 10(3): e0122866. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0122866

  • Dancing is a popular form of physical exercise and studies have show that dancing can decrease anxiety, increase self-esteem, and improve psychological wellbeing. The aim of the current study was to explore the motivational basis of recreational social dancing and develop a new psychometric instrument to assess dancing motivation. The sample comprised 447 salsa and/or ballroom dancers (68% female; mean age 32.8 years) who completed an online survey. Eight motivational factors were identified via exploratory factor analysis and comprise a new Dance Motivation Inventory: Fitness, Mood Enhancement, Intimacy, Socialising, Trance, Mastery, Self-confidence and Escapism. Mood Enhancement was the strongest motivational factor for both males and females, although motives differed according to gender. Dancing intensity was predicted by three motivational factors: Mood Enhancement, Socialising, and Escapism. The eight dimensions identified cover possible motives for social recreational dancing, and the DMI proved to be a suitable measurement tool to assess these motives. The explored motives such as Mood Enhancement, Socialising and Escapism appear to be similar to those identified in other forms of behaviour such as drinking alcohol, exercise, gambling, and gaming.

Maraz, A., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics Z. (2015). An empirical investigation of dance addiction. PloS ONE, 10(5): e0125988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0125988.

  • Although recreational dancing is associated with increased physical and psychological well-being, little is known about the harmful effects of excessive dancing. The aim of the present study was to explore the psychopathological factors associated with dance addiction. The sample comprised 447 salsa and ballroom dancers (68% female, mean age: 32.8 years) who danced recreationally at least once a week. The Exercise Addiction Inventory (Terry, Szabo, & Griffiths, 2004) was adapted for dance (Dance Addiction Inventory, DAI). Motivation, general mental health (BSI-GSI, and Mental Health Continuum), borderline personality disorder, eating disorder symptoms, and dance motives were also assessed. Five latent classes were explored based on addiction symptoms with 11% of participants belonging to the most problematic class. DAI was positively associated with psychiatric distress, borderline personality and eating disorder symptoms. Hierarchical linear regression model indicated that Intensity (ß=0.22), borderline (ß=0.08), eating disorder (ß=0.11) symptoms, as well as Escapism (ß=0.47) and Mood Enhancement (ß=0.15) (as motivational factors) together explained 42% of DAI scores. Dance addiction as assessed with the Dance Addiction Inventory is associated with indicators of mild psychopathology and therefore warrants further research.

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Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Compassion, dominance/submission, and curled lips: A thematic analysis of dacryphilic experience. International Journal of Sexual Health, 27, 337-350.

  • Objectives: Dacryphilia is a non-normative sexual interest that involves enjoyment or arousal from tears and crying, and to date has never been researched empirically. The present study set out to discover the different interests within dacryphilia and explore the range of dacryphilic experience. Methods: A set of online interviews were carried out with individuals with dacryphilic preferences and interests (six females and two males) from four countries. The data were analyzed for semantic and latent themes using thematic analysis. Results: The respondents’ statements focused attention on three distinct areas that may be relevant to the experience of dacryphilia: (i) compassion; (ii) dominance/submission; and (iii) curled-lips. The data provided detailed descriptions of features within all three interests, which are discussed in relation to previous quantitative and qualitative research within emotional crying and tears, and the general area of non-normative sexual interests. Conclusions: The study suggests new directions for potential research both within dacryphilia and with regard to other non-normative sexual interests.

Atroszko, P.A., Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D. & Pallesen, S. (2015). Study addiction – A new area of psychological study: Conceptualization, assessment, and preliminary empirical findings. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4, 75–84.

  • Aims: Recent research has suggested that for some individuals, educational studying may become compulsive and excessive and lead to ‘study addiction’. The present study conceptualized and assessed study addiction within the framework of workaholism, defining it as compulsive over-involvement in studying that interferes with functioning in other domains and that is detrimental for individuals and/or their environment. Methods: The Bergen Study Addiction Scale (BStAS) was tested — reflecting seven core addiction symptoms (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, relapse, and problems) — related to studying. The scale was administered via a cross-sectional survey distributed to Norwegian (n = 218) and Polish (n = 993) students with additional questions concerning demographic variables, study-related variables, health, and personality. Results: A one-factor solution had acceptable fit with the data in both samples and the scale demonstrated good reliability. Scores on BStAS converged with scores on learning engagement. Study addiction (BStAS) was significantly related to specific aspects of studying (longer learning time, lower academic performance), personality traits (higher neuroticism and conscientiousness, lower extroversion), and negative health-related factors (impaired general health, decreased quality of life and sleep quality, higher perceived stress). Conclusions: It is concluded that BStAS has good psychometric properties, making it a promising tool in the assessment of study addiction. Study addiction is related in predictable ways to personality and health variables, as predicted from contemporary workaholism theory and research.

Atroszko, P.A., Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D. & Pallesen, S. (2016). Study addiction: A cross-cultural longitudinal study examining temporal stability and predictors of its changes. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 357–362.

  • Background and aims: ‘Study addiction’ has recently been conceptualized as a behavioral addiction and defined within the framework of work addiction.  Using a newly developed measure to assess this construct, the Bergen Study Addiction Scale (BStAS), the present study examined the one-year stability of study addiction and factors related to changes in this construct over time, and is the first longitudinal investigation of study addiction thus far. Methods: The BStAS and the Ten Item Personality Inventory (TIPI) were administered online together with questions concerning demographics and study-related variables in two waves. In Wave 1, a total of 2,559 students in Norway and 2,177 students in Poland participated. A year later, in Wave 2, 1,133 Norwegians and 794 Polish who were still students completed the survey. Results: The test-retest reliability coefficients for the BStAS revealed that the scores were relatively stable over time. In Norway scores on the BStAS were higher in Wave 2 than in Wave 1, while in Poland the reverse pattern was observed. Learning time outside classes at Wave 1 was positively related to escalation of study addiction symptoms over time in both samples. Being female and scoring higher on neuroticism were related to an increase in study addiction in the Norwegian sample only. Conclusion: Study addiction appears to be temporally stable, and the amount of learning time spent outside classes predicts changes in study addiction one year later.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The use of online asynchronous interviews in the study of paraphilias. SAGE Research Methods Cases. Located at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/978144627305013508526

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Sexual interest as performance, intellect and pathological dilemma: A critical discursive case study of dacryphilia. Psychology and Sexuality, 7, 265-278.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Dying for it: Autoerotic deaths. Bizarre, 24, 62-65.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Stumped! Amputee fetishes. Bizarre, 44, 70-74.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Heaven can wait: The psychology of near death experiences. Bizarre, December, 63-66.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilia: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Bizarre sex. New Turn Magazine, 3, 49-51.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Eproctophilia in a young adult male: A case study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1383-1386.

To pee or not to pee? Another look at paraphilic behaviours

Strange, bizarre and unusual human sexual behaviour is a topic that fascinates many people (including myself of course). Last week I got a fair bit of international media coverage being interviewed about the allegations that Donald Trump hired women to perform ‘golden showers’ in front of him (i.e., watching someone urinate for sexual pleasure, typically referred to as urophilia). I was interviewed by the Daily Mirror (and many stories used my quotes in this particular story for other stories elsewhere). I was also commissioned to write an article on the topic for the International Business Times (and on which this blog is primarily based). The IBT wanted me to write an article on whether having a liking for strange and/or bizarre sexual preferences makes that individual more generally deviant.

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Although the general public may view many of these behaviours as sexual perversions, those of us that study these behaviours prefer to call them paraphilias (from the Greek “beyond usual or typical love”). Regular readers of my blog will know I’ve written hundreds of articles on this topic. For those of you who have no idea what parahilias really are, they are uncommon types of sexual expression that may appear bizarre and/or socially unacceptable, and represent the extreme end of the sexual continuum. They are typically accompanied by intense sexual arousal to unconventional or non-sexual stimuli. Most adults are aware of paraphilic behaviour where individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from sex with children (paedophilia), the giving and/or receiving of pain (sadomasochism), dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex (transvestism), sex with animals (zoophilia), and sex with dead people (necrophilia).

However, there are literally hundreds of paraphilias that are not so well known or researched including sexual arousal from amputees (acrotomophilia), the desire to be an amputee (apotemnophilia), flatulence (eproctophilia), rubbing one’s genitals against another person without their consent (frotteurism), urine (urophilia), faeces (coprophilia), pretending to be a baby (infantilism), tight spaces (claustrophilia), restricted oxygen supply (hypoxyphilia), trees (dendrophilia), vomit (emetophilia), enemas (klismaphilia), sleep (somnophilia), statues (agalmatophilia), and food (sitophilia). [I’ve covered all of these (and more) in my blog so just click on the hyperlinks of you want to know more about the ones I’ve mentioned in this paragraph].

It is thought that paraphilias are rare and affect only a very small percentage of adults. It has been difficult for researchers to estimate the proportion of the population that experience unusual sexual behaviours because much of the scientific literature is based on case studies. However, there is general agreement among the psychiatric community that almost all paraphilias are male dominated (with at least 90% of all those affected being men).

One of the most asked questions in this field is the extent to which engaging in unusual sex acts is deviant? Psychologists and psychiatrists differentiate between paraphilias and paraphilic disorders. Most individuals with paraphilic interests are normal people with absolutely no mental health issues whatsoever. I personally believe that there is nothing wrong with any paraphilic act involving non-normative sex between two or more consenting adults. Those with paraphilic disorders are individuals where their sexual preferences cause the person distress or whose sexual behaviour results in personal harm, or risk of harm, to others. In short, unusual sexual behaviour by itself does not necessarily justify or require treatment.

The element of coercion is another key distinguishing characteristic of paraphilias. Some paraphilias (e.g., sadism, masochism, fetishism, hypoxyphilia, urophilia, coprophilia, klismaphilia) are engaged in alone, or include consensual adults who participate in, observe, or tolerate the particular paraphilic behaviour. These atypical non-coercive behaviours are considered by many psychiatrists to be relatively benign or harmless because there is no violation of anyone’s rights. Atypical coercive paraphilic behaviours are considered much more serious and almost always require treatment (e.g., paedophilia, exhibitionism [exposing one’s genitals to another person without their consent], frotteurism, necrophilia, zoophilia).

For me, informed consent between two or more adults is also critical and is where I draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable. This is why I would class sexual acts with children, animals, and dead people as morally and legally unacceptable. However, I would also class consensual sexual acts between adults that involve criminal activity as unacceptable. For instance, Armin Meiwes, the so-called ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’ gained worldwide notoriety for killing and eating a fellow German male victim (Bernd Jürgen Brande). Brande’s ultimate sexual desire was to be eaten (known as vorarephilia). Here was a case of a highly unusual sexual behaviour where there were two consenting adults but involved the killing of one human being by another.

Because paraphilias typically offer pleasure, many individuals affected do not seek psychological or psychiatric treatment as they live happily with their sexual preference. In short, there is little scientific evidence that unusual sexual behaviour makes you more deviant generally.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Abel, G. G., Becker, J. V., Cunningham-Rathner, J., Mittelman, M., & Rouleau, J. L. (1988). Multiple paraphilic diagnoses among sex offenders. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 16, 153-168.

Buhrich, N. (1983). The association of erotic piercing with homosexuality, sadomasochism, bondage, fetishism, and tattoos. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 12, 167-171.

Collacott, R.A. & Cooper, S.A. (1995). Urine fetish in a man with learning disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 39, 145-147.

Couture, L.A. (2000). Forced retention of bodily waste: The most overlooked form of child maltreatment. Located at: http://www.nospank.net/couture2.htm

Denson, R. (1982). Undinism: The fetishizaton of urine. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 27, 336–338.

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Compassion, dominance/submission, and curled lips: A thematic analysis of dacryphilic experience. International Journal of Sexual Health, 27, 337-350.

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Sexual interest as performance, intellect and pathological dilemma: A critical discursive case study of dacryphilia. Psychology and Sexuality, 7, 265-278.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Eproctophilia in a young adult male: A case study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1383-1386.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilias: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Bizarre sex. New Turn Magazine, 3, 49-51.

Massion-verniory, L. & Dumont, E. (1958). Four cases of undinism. Acta Neurol Psychiatr Belg. 58, 446-59.

Money, J. (1980). Love and Love Sickness: The Science of Sex, Gender Difference and Pair-bonding, John Hopkins University Press.

Mundinger-Klow, G. (2009). The Golden Fetish: Case Histories in the Wild World of Watersports. Paris: Olympia Press.

Skinner, L. J., & Becker, J. V. (1985). Sexual dysfunctions and deviations. In M. Hersen & S. M. Turner (Eds.), Diagnostic interviewing (pp. 211–239). New York: Plenum Press.

Spengler, A. (1977). Manifest sadomasochism of males: Results of an empirical study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 6, 441–456.

Under the influence: Ten things I’ve learned from David Bowie

It’s now been a year since the tragic death of David Bowie and this is my fourth blog on him in that period (my others being my personal reflections on the psychology of Bowie, Bowie and the Beatles, and Bowie and the occult). Outside of my own friends and family, it’s still Bowie’s death that has affected me the most psychologically but at least I still have his music to listen to. Bowie inspired millions of people in many different ways. This blog looks at the things that I have learned from Bowie and how he influenced my career.

Persevere with your life goals – Most people are aware that it took years for Bowie to have has first hit single (‘Space Oddity’, 1969), five years after his first single (‘Liza Jane’, 1964). Even after the success of ‘Space Oddity’, it took another three years before he had his second hit single (‘Starman’, 1972) and in the early 1970s there were many who thought he would be a ‘one-hit wonder’ and a small footnote in music history. Bowie never gave up his quest for musical stardom and is arguably one of the best examples of the proverb If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I’ve often told others that they key to success is being able to learn from your mistakes and being able to handle rejection (which for academics is having papers rejected, grant bids rejected, and attempts at promotion rejected, etc.). Bowie personified perseverance and for this quality alone I am very grateful as it has been the bedrock of my career to date.

Encourage teamwork and collaboration – Despite being a solo artist for the vast majority of his post-1969 career (Tin Machine being the most high-profile notable exception), Bowie was (like me) a ‘promiscuous collaborator’ and much of his success would not have been possible without a gifted team around him whether it be his inner circle of musicians (Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Robert Fripp, Mike Garson, etc.), his producers (Tony Visconti, Nile Rogers, Ken Scott, etc.), co-writers and inspirators (Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, John Lennon, etc.), or those he jointly released music with (Mott The Hoople, Queen, Arcade Fire, Pet Shop Boys, Placebo, to name just a few). I have carried out and published research with hundreds of people during my 30-year academic career, and like Bowie, some are one-off collaborations and others are lifelong collaborations. Bowie taught me that although I can do some things by myself, it is the working with others that brings out the best in me.

Experiment to the end – Bowie was never afraid to experiment and try new things whether it was musical, pharmacological, spiritual, or sexual. Mistakes were part of the learning process and he pursued this – especially musically – until the very end of his life (for instance, on his ★ [Blackstar] album where he employed a local New York jazz combo led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin). Failure is success if we learn from it and this is one of the maxims that I live my life by. Bowie taught me that you can have lots of other interests that can be rewarding even if you are not as successful as your day job. Bowie liked to act (and obviously had some success in this area) and also liked to paint (but had much less success here than his other artistic endeavours). By any set of criteria, I am a successful academic but I also like to write journalistically and engage in a wide variety of consultancy (areas that I have had some success) and I like writing poetry (something that I have not been successful financially – although I did win a national Poetry Today competition back in 1997 and have published a number of my poems). Bowie taught me that success in one area of your life can lead to doing other more experimental and rewarding activities even if they are not as financially lucrative.

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Push yourself (even in the bad times) – One of the things I love about Bowie was his ability to carry on working and being productive even when he was not at his physical best. Nowhere is this more exemplified than working on the ★ LP while undergoing chemotherapy for his liver cancer. There are also other times in his life such as when he was at the height of his cocaine addiction in 1975 where he produced some of the best music of his career (most notably the Young Americans and Station to Station LPs, the latter of which is one of my all-time favourite records). I have had a few low periods in my life due to various health, relationship and/or personal issues but I have learned through experience that work is a great analgesic and that even when you are at your lowest ebb you can still be highly productive.

Have a Protestant work ethic – Bowie was arguably one of the most hard-working musicians of all time and had what can only be described as a Protestant work ethic from the early 1960s right up until his heart attack in 2004. I am a great believer in the philosophy that “you get out what you put in” and Bowie exemplified this. Andy Warhol told Lou Reed while he was in the Velvet Underground that he should work hard, because work is all that really matters (and was the subject of the song ‘Work’ on the seminal Songs For Drella LP by Reed and John Cale). Bowie also appeared to live by this mantra and is something that I adhere to myself (and is why I am often described as being a workaholic). While Bowie isn’t my only role model in this regard, he’s certainly the most high-profile.

Lead by example but acknowledge your influences – Bowie had a unique gift in being able to borrow from his own heroes but turn it into something of his own (without ever forgetting his own heroes and influences – his Pin Ups LP probably being the best example of this). One of my favourite phrases is Don’t jump on the bandwagon, create it”, and this has as underpinned a lot of the research areas that I have initiated and is something that I learned from Bowie. Maybe Bowie is a case of the quote often attributed to Oscar Wilde that “talent borrows, genius steals”.

Promote yourself – If there is one thing that Bowie was gifted in as much as his songwriting, it was his own art of self-promotion. Bowie always had the knack to generate news stories about himself and his work without seemingly trying. By the end of his career, it was the act of not saying anything or doing any personal publicity that was just as newsworthy. Bowie intuitively knew how to garner media publicity on his own terms in a way that very few others can. (I also argued that another one of my heroes – Salvador Dali – did the same thing in one of my articles on him in The Psychologist back in 1994). I’d like to think I am good at promoting my work and Bowie is one of my role models in this regard.

Be opportunistic and flexible – If there is one thing besides working hard that sums up my career to date, it is being opportunistic and flexible. As a voracious reader of all things Bowie since my early teens, I always loved Bowie’s sense of adventure and just following paths because they might lead you to something unexpected. Whether it was his use of the ‘cut up’ technique for writing lyrics (developed by Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs), his use of Brian Eno’s ‘oblique strategy’ cards, or his love of studio improvisation (such as on the Berlin trilogy albums and the Outside LP), Bowie showed that inspiration for his musical and lyrical ideas could come from anywhere – from a person, from a fleeting observation, from something he read, from something he heard or saw in film or TV programme, and from his own life experiences. I too have taken this approach to my work and believe I am a much better person for it.

Be a mentor to others – Whatever career path you follow, mentors are key in developing talent and Bowie was a mentor to many people that he personally worked with (including many of the artists I named in the section on encouraging teamwork and collaboration above) as well as being an inspirational influence to those he never met (including myself).

Learn from those younger and less experienced than yourself – Paradoxically, despite being an influence on millions of people across many walks of life, Bowie was never afraid to learn from those much younger than himself and exemplified the maxim that you’re never too old to learn new things. He loved innovation and ideas and would soak it up from whoever was around him. As I have got older, this is something that I value more and am never afraid to learn from those much younger or seemingly less experienced than myself – particularly my PhD students.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Buckley, D. (2005). Strange Fascination: David Bowie – The Definitive Story. London: Virgin Books.

Cann, K. (2010). Any Day Now: David Bowie The London Years (1947-1974). Adelita.

Goddard, S. (2015). Ziggyology. London: Ebury Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Heroes: Salvador Dali. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 7, 240.

Hewitt, P. (2013). David Bowie Album By Album. London: Carlton Books Ltd.

Leigh, W. (2014). Bowie: The Biography. London: Gallery.

Pegg, N. (2011). The Complete David Bowie. London: Titan Books.

Seabrook, T.J. (2008). Bowie In Berlin: A New Career In A New Town. London: Jawbone.

Spitz, M. (2009). Bowie: A Biography. Crown Archetype.

Trynka, P. (2011). Starman: David Bowie – The Definitive Biography. London: Little Brown & Company.

Come undone: The strange case of the ‘ejaculate fetishist’

In a previous blog I briefly examined semen fetishes and the acts of ‘bukkake’ (most commonly seen in hard core pornographic films where a group of men all simultaneously ejaculate over a women or man), and ‘gokkun’ (where a man or woman consumes the semen of one or more men from a drinking receptacle, e.g., cups, glasses, beakers, etc.). In that article I noted that while there is a fair amount of (non-academic) literature about bukkake, references to semen fetishes appear to be rare with nothing published in academic journals.

However, since writing that article, a case study of a 39-year old man with an ‘ejaculate fetish’ was published in the Journal of Psychiatry by three Turkish medics (Dr. Safak Taktak, Dr. Mustafa Karakus and Dr. Salih Murat Eke) –  ‘The Man Whose Fetish Object is Ejaculate: A Case Report’. (In fact, Dr. Taktak has published a number of interesting case studies of paraphilic behaviour including shoe fetishism and paraphilias more generally [see ‘Further reading’ below]). Following a crime of molestation, the man had been arrested by Turkish police. (In fact, it turned out the man had already spent 10 years in prison for armed robbery when he was in his twenties and was released from jail when he was 31 years old).

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The judicial authorities demanded that the man had to undergo a psychiatric assessment because one of his behaviours was the buying of ejaculate from young men that he would then smear on his genitals for sexual satisfaction. The act of smearing semen on his body had begun in prison when he would smear semen on bodily wounds and provided (presumably therapeutic) relief (as the prison did not provide medicine or cream for bodily injuries). The paper also claimed that the act of taking semen from each other and applying it to wounds and sores was commonplace in the prison he was at. Following his release from prison, he continued the habit and “became obsessed with it and he bought semen from different people on a monthly basis and spread it on the genital area”. Fifteen days prior to his psychiatric assessment, he was accused of molesting a 16-year old adolescent while trying to buy semen from him. The adolescent was reported as saying:

“A man held my arm and said that he had a job for me and he would give money if I do that job. I told him if I can do, I would do. He said he would be there [an hour and a half] later, and told me to find him. After he came, he told me that he buys human sperm, and asked me if I give him sperm, which surprised me a lot. Then he took three or four plastic bags out of the pocket of his jacket full of white things. He said these bags are the sperms that he bought from three or four kids. In exchange of sperm, he gave things like money, stereos and televisions”.

The adolescent’s father found out what had happened to his son and caught the man who had wanted his son’s semen. The man told the father that he wanted the semen to alleviate itchiness. During the psychiatric examination by the authors, the man was described as having mildly depressive emotions, natural psychomotor activity, sufficient cognitive function, and no delusions and/or hallucinations. He also had a history of alcohol and marijuana abuse (but since leaving prison he had stopped abusing these substances). Using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) the authors said he had inconsistent behaviour, difficulty in controlling his impulses, was angry and short tempered, displayed antisocial behaviour, was sexually deviant, had obsessive sexual thoughts, was socially isolated, and had a negative self-perception. They also wrote that his psychological profile suggested an antisocial or schizoid personality disorder.

The paper also noted that his father has also been in prison on a number of occasions, and that his mother and her relatives looked after him and his younger brother, and that they had “a hard life” while growing up. From the age of 11-12 years old, he started masturbating regularly (sometimes a few times a day). During early adolescence he began engaging in frotteurism (rubbing his genitals up against other people) particularly on bus journeys. Now, as a man, he claimed he could not masturbate without the use of other people’s semen. He began buying other individuals’ semen when he got out of prison (“from 30 young men in exchanges for money”) and always carried semen with him wherever he went.

The authors noted that unlike most other fetishes, the sexualisation of semen as a fetish did not occur until he was in prison (i.e., adulthood rather than childhood or adolescence). I’m not sure why (based on the evidence in the paper) but they also speculated that the man’s semen fetish was used to overcome low self-esteem and a sense of failure” and that the fetish behaviour “occurred from a trauma caused by the bad attitude of [his] parents at an early age, and [that] such negative experiences contributed to the emergence of fetish behavior”. The paper also claimed that: “He discovered the fetish object to deal with the anger for the negative events he faced when he was in prison for ten years for armed robbery. Impulse control is likely to be impaired because of the adverse conditions created by the prison”.

They also described the man’s semen fetish as a “mental illness” (in fact, the paper seemed to imply that all fetishes are mental illnesses which is clearly not the case as most non-normative sex is non-problematic for those engaging in such behaviour). However, by diagnosing the man has having a mental illness, it meant that he was not mentally competent enough to stand trial. The paper concluded that:

“In our case, the number of [victims] is few, but [our patient is] respectively harmless to the victims and not dangerous. He cannot control his urges and behaviors. For [these] kind of cases, generally, diminished criminal responsibility is decided but for this case, it was decided that he has no criminal responsibility”.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

BBC News (2010). Israel jails man for ‘holy semen’ sex abuse. April 26. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8644637.stm

Kuro5hin (2002). A modern craving. August 5. Located at: http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/8/5/71044/01543

Taktak, S., Karakus, M., & Eke, S. M. (2015). The man whose fetish object is ejaculate: A case report. Journal of Psychiatry, 18(3), 276.

Taktak, S., Karakus, M., Kaplan, A., & Eke, S.M. (2015) Shoe fetishism and kleptomania comorbidity: A case report. European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, 2, 14-19.

Taktak, S., Yılmaz, E., Karamustafalıoglu, O., & Unsal, A. (2016). Characteristics of paraphilics in Turkey: A retrospective study – 20 years. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, in press.

Wikipedia (2012). Bukkake. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bukkake

Wikipedia (2012). Gokkun. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gokkun

Ga(y)ming studies: The importance of sexuality in video gaming

Back in May 2014, hundreds of news outlets reported on Nintendo’s decision not to allow gamers to play as gay characters and form same-sex relationships in the life-simulation game Tomodachi Life. Understandably, there was disquiet and outrage from a number of quarters despite Nintendo’s statement that “Tomodachi Life was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game [and] not trying to provide social commentary”. Their statement at the time appeared to fan the flames rather than silence the critics.

I have been researching video game play for almost three decades and I’ve always found issues surrounding character formation, sexuality, and gender in gaming of great psychological interest. In one of our studies we found that a majority of gamers (57%) had gender-swapped their game character with female gamers (68%) being more likely to gender swap than male gamers (54%). We argued that gender swapping enabled gamers to play around and experiment with various aspects of their in-game character that are not so easy to do in real life. For others it was just fun to see if they felt any different playing a different gendered character. What makes our findings interesting is that in most instances, the gamers had the opportunity to choose the gender of their character and to develop other aspects of their character before they began to play. Choosing to gender swap may have had an effect on the gamers’ styles of play and interaction with other gamers. Whatever the reasons, it was clear from our research that the development of gamers’ online characters and avatars was important to them.

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One of the reasons for the importance of online gaming identities may be because it subverts traditional parasocial interaction (PI). PI is a concept used by psychologists that has traditionally described one-sided, parasocial interpersonal relationships in situations where one individual knows a great deal about someone else, but where the other person knows little about the other (the most common being the relationship between celebrities and their fans).

A study led by Nicholas Bowman (and published in a 2012 issue of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking [CPBSN]) argued that the playing of video games challenges this concept “as the distance between game players and characters is greatly reduced, if not completely removed, in virtual environments.” The study claimed that online gaming encourages the “psychological merging of a player’s and a character’s mind” and is critical in the development of character attachment. In this context, the sexuality of a character for a player may be of fundamental psychological importance.

This appears to be confirmed in a paper by Melissa Lewis and colleagues (also published in CPBSN) who developed a scale to assess ‘character attachment’ (the connection felt by a video game player toward a video game character”). They found that character attachment had a significant relationship with self-esteem, addiction, game enjoyment, and time spent playing games.

American researcher Dr. Adrienne Shaw has carried out a number of studies into lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) representation in video games from a cultural production perspective. She was one of the first academics in the gaming studies field to note that there was a relative lack of LGBT representation in video games. Other areas of the entertainment media (e.g., music, film, and television) appear to have much greater LGBT representation than in video games so it does beg the question of why the gaming industry appears to be behind in this respect. I recall writing a paper back in 1993 (in The Psychologist) where I argued that most video games at the time were designed by males for other males. This arguably alienated female gamers but eventually led to developers introducing strong female characters into video games (the most notable being Lara Croft in Tomb Raider). Maybe the appearance of LGBT characters and role models within games will increase over time but I’m not holding my breath.

In a more recent paper in a 2012 paper in the journal New Media and Society, Dr. Shaw claimed that the demand for minority representation in video games “often focuses on proving that members of marginalized groups are gamers” and that the gaming industry should focus on appealing to such players via targeted content. However, she argues that an individual’s identity as a gamer will intersect with “other identities like gender, race, and sexuality.” She then goes on to say that the negative connotations about being an online gamer may lead to such marginalized groups not wanting to engage in gaming. She concluded that “those invested in diversity in video games must focus their attention on the construction of the medium, and not the construction of the audience…[This] is necessary to develop arguments for representation in games that do not rely on marking groups as specific kinds of gaming markets via identifiers like gender, race, and sexuality.”

Nintendo’s decision not to allow gay relationships to form within Tomodachi Life was ill-judged, ill-informed, and outdated. Games in which identity content can be generated by its users needs to reflect the world in which the gamers’ live. In short, there should be no compromise when it comes to allowing gamers to choose their sexuality within the game.

(N.B. A version of this article first appeared in The Conversation)

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Bowman, N. D., Schultheiss, D., & Schumann, C. (2012). “I’m attached, and I’m a good guy/gal!”: how character attachment influences pro-and anti-social motivations to play massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(3), 169-174

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Are computer games bad for children? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 6, 401-407.

Griffiths, M.D., Arcelus, J. & Bouman, W.P. (2016). Video gaming and gender dysphoria: Some case study evidence. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 34(2), 59-66.

Hussain, Z., & Griffiths, M. D. (2008). Gender swapping and socializing in cyberspace: An exploratory study. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 11(1), 47-53.

Lewis, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Confronting gender representation: A qualitative study of the experiences and motivations of female casual-gamers. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 28, 245-272.

Lewis, M. L., Weber, R., & Bowman, N. D. (2008). “They may be pixels, but they’re MY pixels:” Developing a metric of character attachment in role-playing video games. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 11(4), 515-518.

McLean, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Female gamers: A thematic analysis of their gaming experience. International Journal of Games-Based Learning, 3(3), 54-71.

Shaw, A. (2009). Putting the gay in games cultural production and GLBT content in video games. Games and Culture, 4(3), 228-253.

Shaw, A. (2012). Do you identify as a gamer? Gender, race, sexuality, and gamer identity. New Media and Society, 14(1), 28-44.

Shaw, A. (2015). Gaming at the edge: Sexuality and gender at the margins of gamer culture. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Stairing at the rude boys: A brief look at climacophilia

In a number of my previous blogs, I have mentioned sexual paraphilias that appear to have been derived from the opposite phobic behaviours. Some examples include defecaloesiophilia (sexual arousal from painful bowel movements), lockiophilia (sexual arousal from childbirth), categelophilia (sexual arousal from being ridiculed), and rupophilia (sexual arousal from dirt). Another one that I could add to this list is climacophilia (sexual arousal from falling down stairs). This particular paraphilia got a lot of media publicity a few years ago when Dr. Jesse Baring was plugging his 2013 book Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All Of Us. (which I will return to below; I ought to confess that I love reading Baring’s populist articles and Professor Paul Bloom [of Yale University] went as far as to describe him as the Hunter S. Thompson of science writing.”). Climacophilia appears to be the opposite of climacophobia. The Wikipedia entry notes that:

“Climacophobia is the fear of climbing, especially using stairs. It is a type of specific phobia. Climacophobia is distinct from bathmophobia the fear of stairs themselves. Climacophobia is usually traced back to a negative experience, like falling down the stairs or having difficult time to climb stairs. The fear is also triggered by others, like witnessing somebody falling down stairs (either in real visualization or through media) or the other people he/she knows is suffering from climacophobia. Sufferers of climacophobia, if left untreated, end up limiting their activities and avoiding occupations that require the use of stairs or ladders. Sufferers tend to rely on elevators or disability-access ramps rather than stairs…Climacophobes tend to suffer from dizziness resembling vertigo when looking down stairs…Climacophobia can be treated using cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT], either independently or in tandem with other techniques. CBT can help sufferers stop negative thoughts about climbing while changing behaviors. Other treatment options include relaxation techniques, talk therapy, and medication for people who suffer severely from climacophobia”.

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In Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, climacophilia makes a seven-word entry between ‘clinical vampirism’ (arousal by drinking human or animal blood) and ‘coitobalnism’ (having sex in the bath), and is simply defined as deriving pleasure from falling down stairs. There was no mention of it all in Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Various websites provide definitions including the Pro Boner website (Climacophilia is an intriguing paraphilia characterised by sexual arousal to falling down the stairs. Climacophiles have their best orgasms when they’re falling down the stairs”) and the Buzz IO website (“Climacophilia is being sexually stimulated by seeing someone fall down a flight of stairs”). When reviewing Baring’s book, the New York Times defined it as the erotic compulsion to tumble down stairs”. Wikipedia also has a short entry and simply states:

“Climacophilia is a rare sexual paraphilia, or fetish in which the subject experiences erotic gratification when falling down the stairs. There hasn’t been a wide body of research conducted on people affected with this particular sexual preference and/or fetish”.

All of these definitions and snippets imply slightly different things relating to the same alleged behaviour. While all involve some kind of sexual arousal from falling down stairs, the New York Times says the behaviour is an “erotic compulsion whereas most others describe the behaviour as arousing, stimulating, and pleasurable (without being compulsive). One definition involves ‘orgasm’ being involved while the rest do not. The Wikipedia entry seems to imply that the paraphilia exists (it says “rare” rather than non-existent). The entry also says there “hasn’t been a wide body of research” suggesting there is some (perhaps a narrow body of research) – but that clearly isn’t the case. There’s none.

The journalist David DiSalvo interviewed Dr. Baring for Forbes magazine in relation to his book Perv, which covers 46 different paraphilias (all of which are listed in an article in the Huffington Post) – with paraphilias being defined by Baring as being primary attraction to a target or activity outside of the statistical norm”. Although I agree that paraphilias tend to be non-normative, I’m not whether I’d ever use the phrase “outside of the statistical norm” as there are some paraphilic behaviours that the majority of sexually active individuals are likely to have engaged in at least peripherally (such as bondage and other milder forms of sadomasochistic behaviour). In relation to the paraphilias outlined in his book, baring told DiSalvo that:

“These included both exceptionally rare paraphilias (such as ‘climacophilia’ in which a person can only get off while tumbling down a flight of stairs) and the more run-of-the-mill ones that are detailed in the DSM-V, such as voyeurism, sadism, and frotteurism (which is gratification by touching people in crowded public places, such as subways). But that’s just a small sampling. The most authoritative list, cobbled together by an Indian psychiatrist named Anil Aggrawal, includes a total of 547 distinct paraphilias”.

If you type in Baring’s name and his book into Google, many articles appear which mention ‘climacophilia’. For instance, in an interview with Vice magazine, the journalist (Nadja Sayej) began her article by saying:

“You may have recently seen the soft-spoken Jesse Baring on Conan recalling the strangest of sexual fetishes. Be it arousal from falling down the stairs (Climacophilia) or feeling steamy from rolling around in stones and gravel (Lithophilia), nothing surprises the Western New York author and psychologist”.

Baring was asked by Sayej what the weirdest fetish he had come across but there was no mention of climacophilia (probably because no-one has ever come across it):

“According to a recent forensic resource by the psychiatrist Anil Aggrawal, there are 547 documented paraphilias. Some of them – actually, most of them – are quite carnival-like. But it’s important to remember that these more exotic manifestations of sexuality might be represented by just one lone figure in the universe: a single, sad, lascivious soul who can only, just to give two random examples, have an orgasm while fondling a mouse (“musophilia”) or while rolling around in ferns (“pteridomania”). It’s virtually impossible for me to pick the weirdest, since so many of them would fit the bill for truly bizarre. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes in this literature, from a sex research pioneer named Wilhelm Stekel – who, incidentally, coined the word ‘paraphilia‘ in the 1920s. “Variatio delectat! How innumerable are the variations which Eros creates in order to make the monotonous simplicity of the natural sex organ interesting to the sexologist”.

I have spent hours online trying to track down any evidence that climacophilia exists and I have drawn a complete blank. Yes, there are lots of mentions of it (particularly in the articles on Baring’s book) but no dedicated articles (except a satirical one that I came across on the Dumb Buzz Feed website which you can read here). There are no online forums where like-minded climacophiles congregate and there are no climacophiles that have written so much as a one-sentence confession of being sexually aroused either by falling down stairs or watching others fall down stairs. In an academic review of Baring’s book, in the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy, Dr. David Ribner made a specific reference about Baring’s inclusion of climacophilia and said it was “incredulous…is there really someone out there who can only achieve orgasm by falling down a flight of stairs?”

Based on my own research I think I can answer that question in two letters. No.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, 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.

Baring, J. (2013). Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All Of Us. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.

Bergner, D. (2013). Acquired tastes. ‘Perv’, by Jesse Baring. New York Times, October 4. Located at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/books/review/perv-by-jesse-bering.html

DiSalvo, D. (2013). Getting in touch with your inner sexual deviant. Forbes, October 24. Located at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2013/10/24/getting-in-touch-with-your-inner-sexual-deviant/#6f0f5548568e

Dumb Buzz Feed (2015). 7 problems only people with climacophilia will understand. May 3. Located at: https://dumbuzzfeed.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/7-problems-only-people-with-climacophilia-will-understand/

Huffington Post (2013). 46 sexual fetishes you’ve never heard of. October 23. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/23/sexual-fetish_n_4144418.html

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

Ribner, D.S. (2013). A review of ‘Perv: The sexual deviant in all of us’, by Jesse Baring. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 30, 297-300.

More mass debating: Compulsive sexual behaviour and the internet

The issue of sex addiction as a behavioural addiction has been hotly debated over the last decade. A recent contribution to this debate is a review by Shane Kraus and his colleagues in the latest issue of the journal Addiction that examined the empirical evidence base for classifying compulsive sexual behaviour (CSB) as a behavioural (i.e., non-substance) addiction. The review raised many important issues and highlighted many of the problems in the area including the problems in defining CSB, and the lack of robust data from many different perspectives (epidemiological, longitudinal, neuropsychological, neurobiological, genetic, etc.).

As my regular blog readers will know, I have carried out empirical research into a wide variety of different behavioural addictions (gambling, video gaming, internet use, exercise, sex, work, etc.) and have argued that some types of problematic sexual behaviour can be classed as sex addiction depending upon the definition of addiction used. I was invited by the editors of Addiction to write a commentary on the review and this has just been published in the same issue as the paper by Kraus and colleagues. This blog briefly looks at the issues in that review that I highlighted in my commentary.

For instance, there are a number of areas in Kraus et al.’s paper that were briefly mentioned without any critical evaluation. For instance, in the short section on co-occurring psychopathology and CSB, reference was made to studies claiming that 4%-20% of those with CSB also display disordered gambling behaviour. I pointed out that a very comprehensive review that I published with Dr. Steve Sussman and Nadra Lisha (in the journal Evaluation and the Health Professions) examining 11 different potentially addictive behaviours also highlighted studies claiming that sex addiction could co-occur with exercise addiction (8%-12%), work addiction (28%-34%), and shopping addiction (5%-31%). While it is entirely possible for an individual to be addicted to (say) cocaine and sex concurrently (because both behaviours can be carried out simultaneously), there is little face validity that an individual could have two or more co-occurring behavioural addictions because genuine behavioural addictions consume large amounts of time every single day. My own view is that it is almost impossible for someone to be genuinely addicted to (for example) both work and sex (unless the person’s work was as an actor/actress in the pornographic film industry).

The paper by Kraus et al also made a number of references to “excessive/problematic sexual behavior” and appeared to make the assumption that ‘excessive’ behaviour is bad (i.e., problematic).  While I agree that CSB is typically excessive, excessive sex in itself is not necessarily problematic. Preoccupation with any behaviour in relation to addiction obviously needs to take into account the context of the behaviour, as the context is far more important in defining addictive behaviour than the amount of the activity undertaken. As I have constantly argued, the fundamental difference between a healthy excessive enthusiasms and addictions is that healthy excessive enthusiasms add to life whereas addictions take away from them.

The paper also appeared to have an underlying assumption that empirical research from a neurobiological and genetic perspective should be treated more seriously than that from a psychological perspective. Whether problematic sexual behaviour is described as CSB, sex addiction and/or hypersexual disorder, there are thousands of psychological therapists around the world that treat such disorders. Consequently, clinical evidence from those that help and treat such individuals should be given greater credence by the psychiatric community.

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Arguably the most important development in the field of CSB and sex addiction is how the internet is changing and facilitating CSB. This was not even mentioned until the concluding paragraph yet research into online sex addiction (while comprising a small empirical base) has existed since the late 1990s including sample sizes of up to almost 10,000 individuals. In fact, there have been a number of recent reviews of the empirical data concerning online sex addiction including its treatment including ones by myself in journals such as Addiction Research and Theory (in 2012) and Current Addiction Reports (in 2015). My review papers specifically outlined the many specific features of the Internet that may facilitate and stimulate addictive tendencies in relation to sexual behaviour (accessibility, affordability, anonymity, convenience, escape, disinhibition, etc.). The internet may also be facilitating behaviours that an individual would never imagine doing offline such as cybersexual stalking.

Finally, there is also the issue of why Internet Gaming Disorder was included in the DSM-5 (in Section 3 – ‘Emerging measures and models’) but sex addiction/hypersexual disorder was not, even though the empirical base for sex addiction is arguably on a par with IGD. One of the reasons might be that the term ‘sex addiction’ is often used (and arguably misused) by high profile celebrities as an excuse to justify their infidelity (e.g., Tiger Woods, Michael Douglas, David Duchovny, Russell Brand), and is little more than a ‘functional attribution’. For instance, the golfer Tiger Woods claimed an addiction to sex after his wife found out that he had many sexual relationships during their marriage. If his wife had never found out, I doubt whether Woods would have claimed he was addicted to sex. I would argue that many celebrities are in a position where they are bombarded with sexual advances from other individuals and have succumbed. But how many people would not do the same thing if they had the opportunity? Sex only becomes a problem (and is pathologised) when the person is found to have been unfaithful. Such examples arguably give sex addiction a ‘bad name’, and provides a good reason for those not wanting to include such behaviour in diagnostic psychiatry texts.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Bocij, P., Griffiths, M.D., McFarlane, L. (2002). Cyberstalking: A new challenge for criminal law. Criminal Lawyer, 122, 3-5.

Cooper, A., Delmonico, D.L., & Burg, R. (2000). Cybersex users, abusers, and compulsives: New findings and implications. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 6, 79-104.

Cooper, A., Delmonico, D.L., Griffin-Shelley, E., & Mathy, R.M. (2004). Online sexual activity: An examination of potentially problematic behaviors. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 11, 129-143.

Cooper, A., Galbreath, N., Becker, M.A. (2004). Sex on the Internet: Furthering our understanding of men with online sexual problems. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 18, 223-230.

Cooper, A., Griffin-Shelley, E., Delmonico, D.L., Mathy, R.M. (2001). Online sexual problems: Assessment and predictive variables. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 8, 267-285.

Dhuffar, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). A systematic review of online sex addiction and clinical treatments using CONSORT evaluation. Current Addiction Reports, 2, 163-174.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000).  Excessive internet use: Implications for sexual behavior. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3, 537-552.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2001).  Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 333-342.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Sex addiction on the Internet. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(2), 188-217.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Compulsive sexual behaviour as a behavioural addiction: The impact of the Internet and other issues. Addiction, 111, 2107-2109.

Griffiths, M.D. & Dhuffar, M. (2014). Treatment of sexual addiction within the British National Health Service. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 561-571.

Kraus, S., Voon, V., & Potenza, M. (2016). Should compulsive sexual behavior be considered an addiction? Addiction 111, 2097-2106.

Orzack M.H., & Ross C.J. (2000). Should virtual sex be treated like other sex addictions? Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 7, 113-125.

Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Meditation Awareness Training for the treatment of sex addiction: A case study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 363–372.

 

Sense and sense-ability: A brief look at ‘virtual reality addiction’

Ever since I started researching into technological addictions, I have always speculated that ‘virtual reality addiction’ was something that psychologists would need to keep an eye on. In 1995, I coined the term ‘technological addictions’ in a paper of the same name in the journal Clinical Psychology Forum. In the conclusions of that paper I asserted:

“There is little doubt that activities involving person-machine interactivity are here to stay and that with the introduction of such things [as] virtual reality consoles, the number of potential technological addictions (and addicts) will increase. Although there is little empirical evidence for technological addictions as clinical entities at present, extrapolations from research into fruit machine addiction and the exploratory research into video game addiction suggest that they do (and will) exist”.

Although I wrote the paper over 20 years ago, there is little scientific evidence (as yet) that individuals have become addicted to virtual reality (VR). However, that is probably more to do with the fact that – until very recently – there had been little in the way of affordable VR headsets. (I ought to just add that when I use the term ‘VR addiction’ what I am really talking about is addiction to the applications that can be utilized via VR hardware rather than the VR hardware itself).

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VR’s potential in mass commercial markets appears to be finally taking off because of mass-produced affordable hardware such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and the (ultra-cheap) Google Cardboard (in which a smartphone can be inserted into cardboard VR headset frame). Last year, a report by the marketing and consulting company Tractica claimed that spending on virtual reality hardware could be as much as $21.8 billion (US) by 2020. A more recent report by online and digital market research company Juniper estimated that global sales of VR headsets would rise from 3 million in 2016 to 30 million by 2020. Three markets are likely drive sales, and they all happen to be areas that I research into from an addiction perspective – video gaming, gambling, and sex. I’ve noted in many of my academic papers over the years (particularly my early papers on online gambling addiction and online sex addiction) that when new technological advances occur, the sex and gambling industries always appear to be the first to invest and produce commercial products and services using such technologies, and VR is no different. As an online article in Wareable by Dan Sung on VR sex noted:

“What [VR] headsets offer is immersion; 180-degree (or more), stereoscopic action with you as the star of the show and the adult actors and actresses looking deep and lustfully into your eyes as they tend to your genitalia. It’s small wonder that users have been donning their headsets and earphones in numbers and praying to their god that nobody walks in. Yet gambling and porn are synonymous with addiction, and increasingly, questions are being asked about whether the VR revolution could finally ensnare us humans into virtual worlds”.

I was interviewed by Sung for the same article and I made a number of different observations about VR sex. I commented that in terms of people feeling reinforced, aroused, rewarded, sex is the ultimate in things that are potentially addictive. Sex is one of those activities that is highly reinforcing, it’s highly rewarding and how people feel is probably better than the highs and buzzes from other behaviours. Theoretically, I can see that VR sex addiction would be possible but I don’t think it’s going to be on the same scale as other more traditional addictions. The thing about VR (and VR sex) – and similarly to the internet – is that it’s non-face-to-face, it’s non-threatening, it’s destigmatising, and it’s non-alienating. VR sex could be like that whether it’s with fictitious partners, someone that you’re actually into, or someone that you’ve never met before. Where VR sex is concerned, if you can create a celebrity in a totally fictitious way, that will happen. There may be celebrities out there that will actually endorse this and can make money and commercialise themselves to do that. It can work both ways. Some people might find it creepy while others might see something they can make money from.

In one of my previous blogs I looked at the area of ‘teledildonics’, a VR technology that has been around for over two decades (in fact I was first interviewed on this topic on a 1993 Channel 4 television programme called Checkout ’93). Dan Sung also interviewed Kyle Machulis who runs the Metafetish teledildonics website for his article. He said that in relation to VR sex there is a problem with haptics (i.e., the science of applying tactile sensation and control to interaction with computer applications):

 “We’re good on video and audio but haptics is a really, really hard problem…A lot of toys out there right now are horrible and it’s very hard to come up with something quality. So, instead, what the porn industry is aiming for right now is immersion. It may not feel better but they’re so much closer to the action that it may be better, and I think we’re on the cusp of that right now.” First, we need consumer hardware. We need things to be released and available to customers to see if it’s really going to take off or not. But when this happens – late this year, the beginning of next – as soon as the headsets are available, the media is ready and waiting…Of course, there’s straight women, gay men and gay women to develop for too but, for a lot of people, the perfect porn experience is doing something that’s not even physically possible – either through the laws of physics or the laws of land, and that’s something that only VR can solve…Even so, what we saw in teledildonics in gaming is that people used them to begin with but there’s always a lot of fall off with new technologies like this. So, there’s going to be a hardcore set of people who stay with VR porn but it’s hard to say how popular it will be beyond that. We’re all still guessing at the moment. This time next year it will be a completely different story”.

Another area that we will need to monitor is how the gambling industry will harness VR technology. The most obvious application of VR in the gambling world is in the online gambling sector. I can imagine some online gamblers wanting their gambling experiences to be more immersive and for their online gambling sessions to be more akin to gambling offline surrounded by the sights and sounds of an offline gambling venue. There is no technical reason that I know of why people that gamble via their computers, laptops, smartphones or tablets could not wear VR headsets and be playing poker opposite a virtual opponent while still sat on the sofa at home. As Paul Swaddle (CEO of Pocket App) noted in a recent issue of Gambling Insider:

We already know that participation in online gambling is snowballing, so if the entertainment industry can use VR to simulate the experience of being inside a video game, or social media sites can give you the opportunity to not just see your friends’ pictures, but to walk through them, why shouldn’t online casinos be able to do the same? VR may actually be the hook that mobile and online casinos need to draw in more millennials, with the average age of players in mobile casinos currently being 40 [years old], and the average age of mobile gamblers in general being 35 [years old]. Millennials simply aren’t engaging with mobile and online casinos to the same extent as older generations, and I suspect that this is down to younger players being much more used to immersive and sociable gaming, as a result of the cutting-edge developments that are being constantly rolled out in the video gaming industry”.

I agree with Swaddle’s observations as the gambling industry are constantly thinking about the ways to bring in newer players. Today’s modern screenagers love technology and do not appear to have any hang-ups about using wearable technology including Fitbit and the Apple Watch. As Swaddle goes on to say:

“By using 
VR technology to transport players and their friends to exciting locations for their online gambling experience, such as a famous casino in Las Vegas, or a smoky basement room in 1920s New York, or even to the poker table in the James Bond film Casino Royale, mobile and online casinos may stand a better chance of drawing in younger audiences if they use VR to gamify the casino experience”.

Again, this makes a lot of sense to me and I wouldn’t bet against this happening. Swaddle thinks that such VR gambling experiences will become commonplace in the years to come and that the gambling industry needs to get on the VR bandwagon now. 

Perhaps of most psychological concern is the use of VR in video gaming. There is a small minority of players out there who are already experiencing genuine addictions to online gaming. VR takes immersive gaming to the next level, and for those that use games as a method of coping and escape from the problems they have in the real world it’s not hard to see how a minority of individuals will prefer to spend a significant amount of their waking time in VR environments rather than their real life.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Ashcroft, S. (2015). VR revenue to hit $21.8 billion by 2020. Wareable, July 29. Located at: http://www.wareable.com/vr/vr-revenues-could-reach-dollar-218-billion-by-2020-1451

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Gambling on the internet: A brief note. Journal of Gambling Studies, 12, 471-474.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2001).  Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 333-342.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet gambling: Issues, concerns and recommendations. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 557-568.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D., Király, O., M. Pontes, H.M. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). An overview of problematic gaming. In Starcevic, V. & Aboujaoude, E. (Eds.), Mental Health in the Digital Age: Grave Dangers, Great Promise (pp.27-55). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Juniper Research (2016). White paper: The rise of virtual reality. Available from: http://www.juniperresearch.com/document-library/white-papers/the-rise-of-virtual-reality

Király, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Koronczai, B., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Assessment of problematic internet use and online video gaming. An overview of problematic gaming. In Starcevic, V. & Aboujaoude, E. (Eds.), Mental Health in the Digital Age: Grave Dangers, Great Promise (pp.46-68). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stables, J. (2016).  Gambling, gaming and porn: Research says VR is set to blast off. Wareable, September 15. Located at: http://www.wareable.com/vr/gaming-gambling-and-porn-research-says-vr-is-set-to-blast-off-1682

Swaddle, P. (2016). Is virtual reality the future of mobile and online gambling? Gambling Insider, 23, June 3, p.9

Sung, D. (2015). VR and vice: Are we heading for mass addiction to virtual reality fantasies? Wareable, October 15. Located at: http://www.wareable.com/vr/vr-and-vice-9232

Tractica (2015). Virtual reality for consumer markets. Available at: https://www.tractica.com/research/virtual-reality-for-consumer-markets/

Stars in their eyes: Another look at Celebrity Worship Syndrome

Last week I did a number of media interviews about Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS) including the Metro newspaper (‘From Beyonce to Elvis, here’s the ugly truth about why we worship celebrities’) and the International Business Times (‘Crazy about Kylie Jenner? Professor of Behavioural Addiction explains celebrity obsession’). I also wrote an article for the Huffington Post. The ‘hook’ for all these stories was the DVD release of the film Kill The King (also known by the title Shangri La Suite) which tells the story of two 20-year old damaged lovers – Jack and Karen (played by Luke Grimes and Emily Browning) – who head to Los Angeles to kill rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley in the summer of 1974. While Jack’s obsession with Elvis is somewhat extreme, over the last two decades there has been an increasing amount of research into CWS.

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CWS has been described as an obsessiveaddictive disorder where an individual becomes overly involved and interested (in short, completely obsessed) with the details of the personal life of a celebrity. Any person who is ‘in the public eye’ can be the object of a person’s obsession (e.g., authors, politicians, journalists), but research and criminal prosecutions suggest they are more likely to be someone from the world of television, film and/or pop music. Research suggests that CWS exists and that according to Dr. John Maltby and his colleagues (see ‘Further reading’ below) there are three independent dimensions of celebrity worship. These are on a continuum and named (i) entertainment-social, (ii) intense-personal, and (iii) borderline pathological.

  • The entertainment-social dimension relates to attitudes where individuals are attracted to a celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain and to become a social focus of conversation with likeminded others.
  • The intense-personal dimension relates to individuals that have intensive and compulsive feelings about a celebrity.
  • The borderline-pathological dimension relates to individuals who display uncontrollable behaviours and fantasies relating to a celebrity.

Among adults, their research has shown that there is a correlation between the pathological aspects of CWS and poor mental health such as high anxiety, more depression, high stress levels, increased illness, and poorer body image. Among teenage females there is a relationship between intense-personal celebrity worship and body image (basically, teenage girls who identify with celebrities have much poorer body image compared to other groups). In addition, most celebrity-obsessed individuals often suffer high levels of dissociation and fantasy-proneness. Maltby’s research suggests about 1% of his participants have obsessional tendencies towards celebrities.

Research has also shown that worshipping celebrities can have both positive and negative consequences. People who worship celebrities for entertainment and social reasons have been found to be more optimistic, outgoing, and happy. Those who worship celebrities for personal reasons have been found to be more obsessive, more depressed, more anxious, more solitary, more impulsive, more anti-social and more troublesome. My own thoughts on CWS and celebrity culture are provided below and are from the interviews I did with the Metro and the International Business Times (IBT).

IBT: In a world filled with Kardashians, social media and vast consumerism, why do you think people are more obsessed with celebrities than ever?

MG: The first thing I would say is that most people are not obsessed with celebrities but there are probably a lot more people who are obsessed compared to a couple of decades ago (although this is speculation on my part as no research has ever examined the prevalence of celebrity obsession among a nationally representative sample). One study did estimate about 1% of their sample being obsessed with celebrities but there is no comparative study prior to that. However, I do think that the numbers of people who have celebrity obsessions has increased over the last 20 years and much of this is most likely due to the rise of celebrities using social media (and the fact that celebrities can now interact – if they want – hour by hour with their fan base) and the increase in general media coverage surrounding celebrity and celebrity lives (including a large increase in reality TV starring celebrities and an increase in the number of celebrity gossip magazines). These types of media and social media can give rise to what we psychologists call parasocial relationships. With respect to celebrities, parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships, where fans express interest, time, money, and/or emotion in and/or on the celebrity (while the celebrity is totally unaware of the fan in any singular or specific sense).

IBT: Do you know what happens in the mind when we form an obsession or infatuation with some things? 

MG: Celebrity infatuations are nothing to particularly worry about because they tend to be intense but relatively short-lived admiration for the person. Celebrity obsessions can be of a lot more concern. At their simplest level, a celebrity obsession is when someone constantly thinks about a particular celebrity in a way that most people would describe as abnormal. This can be to the point where the obsession conflicts with most other things in the individual’s life including job or education, other relationships, and other hobbies. A person’s whole life can revolve around the celebrity and such individuals can end up spending way beyond their disposable income by buying their merchandise (CDs, DVDs, books, perfumes, clothing lines, etc.) and/or seeing them live on stage (singing, acting, etc.). There is no single explanation as to why someone might develop a celebrity obsession but many appear to start with a sexual attraction to the celebrity in question and have fantasies of what they would do if they met the object of their desire. Research has shown that there is a correlation between the pathological aspects of celebrity worship and poor mental health such as high anxiety, more depression, high stress levels, increased illness, and poorer body image. Among teenage females there is a relationship between intense-personal celebrity worship and body image (basically, teenage girls who identify with celebrities have much poorer body image compared to other groups). In addition, most celebrity-obsessed individuals often suffer high levels of dissociation and fantasy-proneness.

IBT: What does it have to take about a ‘celebrity’ for people to become obsessed?

MG: At a micro-level, any person who is ‘in the public eye’ can be the object of a person’s obsession (e.g., authors, politicians, journalists), but research and criminal prosecutions suggest they are more likely to be someone from the world of television, film and/or pop music. This is most likely because such celebrities tend to be more popular and have bigger followings in the public eye in media and on social media. At a micro-level, we are all individuals it could be something very idiosyncratic but given that the little research carried out tends to report that celebrity worshippers are sexually attracted to their celebrity of choice, then being good looking (at least in the eyes of the beholder) appears to be a common denominator.

IBT: How do you think today’s modern obsession with celebrity influenced and resounded throughout Kill the King?

MG: One of Jack’s reasons for being sent to a rehab centre – in addition to a drug addiction problem – is because of his “increasingly abnormal obsession” with Elvis Presley. While Jack’s obsession with Elvis is somewhat extreme and arguably a type of ‘Celebrity Worship Syndrome’, his character doesn’t seem to overlap too much with modern day celebrity worshippers. Jack’s character is more akin to celebrity stalkers or celebrity assassins (like John Lennon’s killer Mark Chapman) than the archetypal young female totally obsessed and besotted with their favourite pop star or actor. Given that Kill The King was set in 1974 and celebrity obsession (and Celebrity Worship Syndrome) is a more modern day phenomenon, I wouldn’t have expected that much overlap anyway.

Metro: Should we be worried about this kind of social media ‘bond’, seeing as icons like John Lennon were assassinated by fans who became obsessed with them?

MG: The chances of those things happening are few and far between. If someone is absolutely hooked on the idea of killing a celebrity, they’ll go and do it. I don’t think it’s to do with the rise of the mass media or anything like that. Most research says fandom is actually good for people. It gives them a hobby. Fans talk to other fans. It brings us together, and it can be life-affirming. I’m a massive, massive David Bowie fan. I’m a record collector, too and I’m probably more on the obsessive side than most people. But I don’t think I’m a worse person for that.

Metro: So what’s the difference between you and someone who spends thousands and thousands of pounds on plastic surgery to look more like their idol?

MG: Those are the real extreme cases. The good news is that recent research has shown that less than one per cent of people are really unhealthily obsessed with stars. And of those people, most are not going to do things that have negative effects on their life. In my opinion, the difference between a healthy enthusiasm and an unhealthy obsession is that enthusiasm adds to life, and addictions or obsessions take away from it. For most people, even those who have a compulsive element to their fandom like myself, it doesn’t have a negative effect on their quality of life. It’s probably better to buy records and memorabilia than designer handbags. Sometimes it’s not just about money, it’s about the time you spend as well. For one person, an obsession can be fine, and for another it can be very problematic. If a fan works in Tesco and they’re following their hero around the country, watching them night after night on tour and buying merchandise, they just don’t have the disposable income to do it. I could do that, thanks to my salary, but I can’t afford the time.

Metro: Is there a link between someone’s social background and their preference for celebrity culture?

MG: I don’t know the scientific link there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the lower the socio-economic class you’re in the more likely you are to be involved and like celebrity culture. ‘Gogglebox’ stars, for instance. The middle class, well-to-do people like current affairs, news and politics and those who are less well-off are probably more interested in EastEnders and things like that.

Metro: Are there any psychological issues that lead to celebrity worship?

MG: Those with celebrity worship syndrome tend to have worse mental health. They’re more likely to be anxious, depressed, to have high stress levels, increased bouts of illness and a poor body image. But it’s a case of the chicken or the egg, because these people might self-medicate through these parasocial relationships with celebs they’ll never even meet. 

Metro: What are the effects of celebrity culture? Particularly for young people?

MG: We know that young people are not as engaged with politics. They just don’t trust politicians, and it’s linked to the rise of social media. Celebrities have more pull, and followers, than [British Prime Minister] Theresa May or [leader of the Labour Party] Jeremy Corbyn will ever have. I’m not in a position to say whether people should be more interested in X or Y. Certain things in life make people feel good. As humans we seek out things that get us high, aroused, excited –  or we seek out things which tranquilise and numb us. Celebrities tend to give us a thrill. 

Metro: Are celebrities vulnerable themselves?

MG: I certainly wouldn’t like to be in a position where cameras are waiting outside my house. Stardom can bring positive things, but also a lot of unexpected negatives too. We have to remember at the end of the day that celebrities are just human beings, with all the same emotional foibles and weaknesses we have – and sometimes they’re magnified times a hundred because of the pressure and stress of the spotlight. And the internet, too. It’s no wonder some of them fall prey to serious addictions. 

Metro: People like Amy Winehouse? She’s the most recent example I can think of.

MG: Before she died, Amy Winehouse had got to that stage where she was very famous, and she was earning a lot of money. And that meant she was surrounded by sycophants and ‘yes’ people. Those kinds of people say things they think you want to hear, and they’re not necessarily looking out for you. Amy was surrounded by people thinking about their own wages and careers. No, it’s not a surprise when these things happen, and people could see it coming. Like with Kurt Cobain’s death. Amy didn’t get the help she needed. We can say that in hindsight.’

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

BBC News (2003). Worshipping celebrities ‘brings success. August 13. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3147343.stm

Chapman, J. (2003). Do you worship the celebs? Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-176598/Do-worship-celebs.html

Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Does ‘Celebrity Worship Syndrome’ really exist? Huffington Post, November 18. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-mark-griffiths/does-celebrity-worship-sy_b_13012170.html

McCutcheon, L.E., Lange, R., & Houran, J. (2002). Conceptualization and measurement of celebrity worship. British Journal of Psychology, 93, 67-87.

Maltby, J., Houran, M.A., & McCutcheon, L.E. (2003). A Clinical Interpretation of Attitudes and Behaviors Associated with Celebrity Worship. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 191, 25-29.

Maltby, J., Houran, J., Ashe, D., & McCutcheon, L.E. (2001). The self-reported psychological well-being of celebrity worshippers. North American Journal of Psychology, 3, 441-452.

Maltby, J., Day, L., McCutcheon, L.E., Gillett, R., Houran, J., & Ashe, D. (2004). Celebrity Worship using an adaptational-continuum model of personality and coping. British Journal of Psychology. 95, 411-428.

Maltby, J., Giles, D., Barber, L. & McCutcheon, L.E. (2005). Intense-personal Celebrity Worship and Body Image: Evidence of a link among female adolescents. British Journal of Health Psychology, 10, 17-32.

Maltby, J., Day, L., McCutcheon, L.E,. Gilett, R., Houran, J. & Ashe, D.D. (2004), ‘Personality and Coping: A Context for Examining Celebrity Worship and Mental Health. British Journal of Psychology, 95, 411-428.

Maltby, J., Day, L., McCutcheon, L.E., Houran, J. & Ashe, D. (2006). Extreme celebrity worship, fantasy proneness and dissociation: Developing the measurement and understanding of celebrity worship within a clinical personality context. Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 273-283.

Wikipedia (2012). Celebrity Worship Syndrome. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebrity_Worship_Syndrome

Specific limb: A brief look at ‘restless legs syndrome’

Those that know me well often comment that I have a general inability to sit still and that I am a ‘fidget’. (This is not necessarily a bad thing and in fact there are some positives to fidgeting that I outlined in a previous blog on bad behaviours that are sometimes good for you). There is certainly some truth to the observation that I fidget but sometimes the fidgeting is out of my control. Every few weeks my right lower leg appears to take on a life of its own and I will get strange (uncomfortable) sensations (such as tingling, itching, and aching, and occasionally cramp-like feelings) that force me to move my right leg and foot around. It only happens when I am in a resting and relaxing state and usually lasts about 30 minutes (but can occasionally last much longer). On occasions it disrupts my work and sleep but I find that just getting up and moving around is sometimes enough to alleviate the uncomfortable feelings.

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A few years ago I Googled my ‘symptoms’ and was surprised to find that I am not the only person who appears to experience such effects and that there is a whole medical literature on what has been termed ‘restless legs syndrome’ although in my case it would be in a singular rather than plural form). I’ve had the condition for about 15 years now and it may be related to some of the medication I take for an unrelated chronic degenerative health condition that I have. According to the Wikipedia entry on restless legs syndrome (RLS):

“The first known medical description of RLS was by Sir Thomas Willis in 1672. Willis emphasized the sleep disruption and limb movements experienced by people with RLS…The term ‘fidgets in the legs’ has also been used as early as the early nineteenth century. Subsequently, other descriptions of RLS were published, including those by Francois Boissier de Sauvages (1763), Magnus Huss (1849), Theodur Wittmaack (1861), George Miller Beard (1880), Georges Gilles de la Tourette (1898), Hermann Oppenheim (1923) and Frederick Gerard Allison (1943). However, it was not until almost three centuries after Willis, in 1945, that Karl-Axel Ekbom (1907–1977) provided a detailed and comprehensive report of this condition in his doctoral thesis, Restless legs: clinical study of hitherto overlooked disease. Ekbom coined the term “restless legs” and continued work on this disorder throughout his career. He described the essential diagnostic symptoms, differential diagnosis from other conditions, prevalence, relation to anemia, and common occurrence during pregnancy. Ekbom’s work was largely ignored until it was rediscovered by Arthur S. Walters and Wayne A. Hening in the 1980s. Subsequent landmark publications include 1995 and 2003 papers, which revised and updated the diagnostic criteria”.

As well as being referred to as RLS, it is sometimes referred to as Willis-Ekbom Disease or Willis-Ekbom Syndrome. Since being ‘rediscovered’ in the 1980s, there have been a lot of scientific papers published on the phenomenon although many of these are medical case studies (I don’t think my own experiences are extreme enough or strong enough to appear in any medical textbook. The Wikipedia entry on RLS provides a good summary of what is known medically and empirically:

“Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder that causes a strong urge to move one’s legs. There is often an unpleasant feeling in the legs that improves somewhat with moving them. Occasionally the arms may also be affected. The feelings generally happen when at rest and therefore can make it hard to sleep. Due to the disturbance in sleep, people with RLS may have daytime sleepiness, low energy, irritability, and a depressed mood. Additionally, many have limb twitching during sleep. Risk factors for RLS include low iron levels, kidney failure, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and pregnancy. A number of medications may also trigger the disorder including antidepressants, antipsychotics, antihistamines, and calcium channel blockers. There are two main types. One is early onset RLS which starts before age 45 [years], runs in families and worsens over time. The other is late onset RLS which begins after age 45 [years], starts suddenly, and does not worsen. Diagnosis is generally based on a person’s symptoms after ruling out other potential causes… Females are more commonly affected than males and it becomes more common with age…Some doctors express the view that the incidence of restless leg syndrome is exaggerated by manufacturers of drugs used to treat it. Others believe it is an under-recognized and undertreated disorder…An association has been observed between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and RLS or periodic limb movement disorder. Both conditions appear to have links to dysfunctions related to the neurotransmitter dopamine, and common medications for both conditions among other systems, affect dopamine levels in the brain”.

According to a review by Dr. Richard Allen and Dr. Christopher Earley in the Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology, RLS affects 2.5-15% of the US population. In another review on sleep disorder in the journal American Family Physician, Dr. Kannan Ramar and Dr. Eric Olson reported that RLS is typically characterized by four essential features: These are:

“(1) the intense urge to move the legs, usually accompanied or caused by uncomfortable sensations (e.g., “creepy crawly,” aching) in the legs; (2) symptoms that begin or worsen during periods of rest or inactivity; (3) symptoms that are partially or totally relieved by movements such as walking or stretching; and (4) symptoms that are worse or only occur in the evening or at night”.

Various online articles and papers report a variety of potential treatments based on the notion that RLS might be caused by a dopamine imbalance in the body. Some medics advise a regular sleep routine (such as that advised for those with insomnia), and cutting out the drinking of alcohol and the smoking of cigarettes. Pharmacological treatments include the use of drugs that are also used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease such as L-DOPA and pramipexole, and the use of magnesium sulphate therapy (as reported in a 2006 paper in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine – magnesium is known to be a natural muscle relaxant). In a 2011 issue of the journal Sleep Medicine, In an online article about RLS, Dr Michael Platt, author of the 2014 book Adrenalin Dominance, claims that RLS sufferers can be treated using a progesterone cream:

“Excess adrenalin during the night can cause restless leg syndrome. People often have associated symptoms also resulting from elevated adrenalin, such as teeth grinding, the need to urinate, and tossing and turning, and they often awaken in the morning with low back pain. Characteristically, RLS patients have an excess of adrenaline, may toss and turn all night, be quick to anger, might be workaholics, will usually have fibromyalgia (aches and pains – low back, side of the hips, and grind their teeth), they might drink too much, and will be hypoglycemic (sleepy between 3-4 p.m. or when in a car), and so on. There is an associated over-production of insulin and an under-production of progesterone…[By using a progesterone cream] I have had 100% success with eliminating RLS by getting hormones into balance, often within the first week. Patients feel more relaxed, they can sleep at night, rage disappears, and they can focus more easily”.

Dr. Luis Marin and his colleagues reported a different treatment for RLS altogether. They reported the case of a 41-year-old male RLS sufferer who after being on medication for RLS discovered his own solution – having sex. Following sex, the man reported that all RLS symptoms would disappear. Marin and colleagues speculated that the release of dopamine following orgasm might alleviate RLS symptoms. This appears to be a reasonable speculation given the findings of research published in the Journal of Neuroscience by Dr. Gert Holstege and his colleagues who examined brain activation at the point of ejaculation. In their paper they reported the similarity between ejaculation and using heroin in terms of brain activation:

“We used positron emission tomography to measure increases in regional cerebral blood flow during ejaculation compared with sexual stimulation in heterosexual male volunteers. Manual penile stimulation was performed by the volunteer’s female partner. Primary activation was found in the mesodiencephalic transition zone, including the ventral tegmental area, which is involved in a wide variety of rewarding behaviors. Parallels are drawn between ejaculation and heroin rush”.

It could well be that the increase in dopamine following ejaculation acts in a similar way to the medications that are given to RLS sufferers. Of all the treatments for RLS that I have read about, I think I know which one I would prefer!

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Allen, R.P., & Earley, C.J. (2001). Restless legs syndrome: A review of clinical and pathophysiologic features. Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology, 18(2), 128-147.

Bartell S1, Zallek S. Intravenous magnesium sulfate may relieve restless legs syndrome in pregnancy. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 15, 187-188.

Chaudhuri, K.R., Appiah-Kubi, L.S., & Trenkwalder, C. (2001). Restless legs syndrome. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 71(2), 143-146.

Ekbom, K., & Ulfberg, J. (2009). Restless legs syndrome. Journal of Internal Medicine, 266(5), 419-431.

Holstege, G., Georgiadis, J. R., Paans, A. M., Meiners, L. C., van der Graaf, F. H., & Reinders, A. S. (2003). Brain activation during human male ejaculation. Journal of Neuroscience, 23(27), 9185-9193

Leschziner, G., & Gringras, P. (2012). Restless legs syndrome. British Medical Journal, 344, e3056.

Marin, L.F., Felicio, A.C., & Prado, G.F. (2011). Sexual intercourse and masturbation: Potential relief factors for restless legs syndrome? Sleep Medicine, 12(4), 422.

Ondo, W. G. (2009). Restless legs syndrome. Neurologic Clinics, 27(3), 779-799.

Ramar, K; Olson, EJ (Aug 15, 2013). Management of common sleep disorders. American Family Physician, 88, 231–238.

Satija, P., & Ondo, W. G. (2008). Restless legs syndrome. CNS Drugs, 22(6), 497-518.