Category Archives: Sex

Stammer time: A brief look at psellismophilia

Over the Christmas holiday I received a notification from Google to say that my work on sexual paraphilias had been cited in an article entitled ‘Forget feet, meet the fetishists turned on by insects, stuttering and stairs’ on the Shoofee website. The article was a brief overview of seven paraphilias and fetishes, and many of those listed referred readers to articles on my personal blog. Of the seven listed, I had already written articles on six of them but I had never done one on the seventh – psellismophilia.

According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, psellismophilia is a paraphilia that involves becoming sexually aroused by stuttering. Psellismophilia is another paraphilia whose name has been derived as being the opposite of a specific phobia (i.e., psellismophobia, an irrational and persistent fear of stuttering). According to the Massive Phobia website, the root word ‘psellismo’ is the Greek word for ‘stammering’. The Phobia Source website notes stuttering as:

“A speech disorder wherein sounds, syllables or words are repeated or prolonged and this disrupts the normal flow of speech. This affects a person’s quality of life because people find it difficult to communicate with others and people might have also a hard time understanding people who stutter or might find it even annoying. Stuttering can be a source of ridicule and humiliation and this can lead to a full blown phobia called psellismophobia…We must remember that stuttering is not equivalent to lack of intelligence. In fact, most people who stutter are extremely intelligent and is said to be that their brains process their thoughts too fast and their speech can’t cope up with their thoughts”.

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As with any human behaviour that I know little about, I first did a search on Google Scholar and found that no article had ever been written on the topic. I then did a simple search on Google and again found that no articles had ever been done on the behaviour. However, there were plenty of articles that mentioned it in passing including articles in The Huffington Post (‘46 sexual fetishes you’ve never heard of’), Crave Online (‘15 bizarre sexual fetishes you’ve probably never heard of’), The Buzz (‘15 bizarre/disgusting sexual fetishes you’ve probably never heard of!’), The Thrillist (‘20 bizarre sexual fetishes you never knew existed’), The Sex Health Mag (‘The 10 strange sexual fetishes you’ve probably never heard of’), The Hook Mag (‘20 of the most f**ked up sexual fetishes you’d prefer not to know about’), and The Inked Mag (‘50 shades of weird. 49 of the most bizarre sex fetishes!’). Not one of these articles had anything more than a one-line definition (typically describing the condition as an abnormal affection and/or love for stuttering). The article in Shoofee, did offer a little more in the way of explanation:

“Stuttering affects one percent of the world’s population and many sufferers find themselves the butt of jokes. But if they were to come across a psellismophiliac they could find that their speech is an instant aphrodisiac, for this is a fetish which involves arousal to stuttering. Natalie, a 22-year-old psellismophiliac, explained her condition on an online psychology forum. ‘I feel like I can’t date regularly because I won’t be sexually interested in anyone who doesn’t have a stammer,’ she wrote. Natalie added that when she mentioned it to boyfriends they tried to pretend to stutter but she said it failed to arouse her like the real thing”.

Given the complete lack of information on whether there are individuals who are sexually aroused by stuttering I began trawling various online forums and began to find individuals who confessed online that stuttering was something they found sexually arousing (or claim to know those who are). Obviously I have no way of knowing the veracity of the claims made, but most appeared to be genuine to me. Here are some extracts:

  • Extract 1: “I am a girl who finds listening to a guy stutter and struggle extremely sexy… no there is very little on the internet about it, guess there’s not many of us out there, but you’re not alone” (Lickerish, female, heterosexual).
  • Extract 2: “I’m a guy who gets turned on by listening to a girl stutter, and I’ve never been able to figure out why…There’s hardly anything on the internet about it, other than this thread and a few random ‘stuttering is sexy’ one-liners on other sites…But yeah, there are a few of us out there, and it’s interesting to know that it’s not limited to just one gender” (Wireless Mike, male, heterosexual).
  • Extract 3: “I’ve had this fetish for years (I’m 31 now), but it’s been getting stronger and stronger. I’m a gay guy attracted to other guys who stutter. I’ve met a couple of guys locally and a couple more over Skype. We are still friends with [three] of them – we just drifted apart with the other one since time zones don’t work to our advantage. But I find myself wishing I had more friends who stutter to talk to. It’s both a sexual thing and a non-sexual thing… in some ways I prefer chatting with guys who stutter than fluent guys…Does anyone else feel the same? It’s frustrating that I have to work so hard to convince others I’m not crazy” (Jay, male, gay).
  • Extract 4: “I had a chick ask me to stutter on her nether regions once. It’s about the closest I’ve seen of a “stuttering fetish” (Zachary, male, heterosexual).
  • Extract 5: “I have [a stutter fetish]. I’m female and I like men, but I have this fetish for males and females. I’ve never written this before. Certainly never said it” (Spector, female, bisexual).
  • Extract 6: “I don’t have personal experience with people fetishizing stuttering, but I’ve seen it, particularly in smutty fanfiction with ‘nervous’ submissive characters” (Croagunk, male, sexuality unknown).
  • Extract 7: “I once dated a girl who confessed during our brief relationship that she thought my stutter was ‘cute’. I’m pretty sure she was into ‘different’ kinds of guys. She would always bring it up and stare at my mouth. It was like a fetish. It was like she had a thing for disabled guys! I broke up with her not because I didn’t like her, just because it freaked me out. Made me feel really uncomfortable” (priateproducer, male, heterosexual).
  • Extract 8: The stutter can be sexy. The thing of gasping for air; moving tongues; flailing lips; breathing. These are sexual motions, these are movements of the mouth, the delicate lips, the waving of the soft tongue. To stutter is to wave the soft flesh of the face in rapid succession…Thinking about stuttering as an intimate act, akin to being naked, may change its constructed meaning and turn it into a moment of closeness with our community” (Zach, male, sexuality unknown)
  • Extract 9: “I am a guy who likes guys, and consider myself to have a stuttering fetish…It’s true that there isn’t much [online about] this, but I’ve spoken to 4 or 5 other guys (through the net and on the phone/skype occasionally) who also share this – so I’m not the only one!…I can’t quite explain it, but I really like guys who stutter. Let me say that it has to be more than just that to like a guy, but it helps!…For me, the more severe the stutter the more attractive it is. I’ve spoken to a quite a few guys who stutter and I’ve always been open about this. Some just find it strange or think I’m kidding, but most are really open and relieved to find someone who doesn’t have an issue with it. For me it’s not as simple as just a ‘fetish’, I’ve read a lot about it and can understand a lot about it. I’ve also talked to a couple of guys who like to pretend (even though they’re completely fluent otherwise) and I find that interesting too” (Jay, male, gay).
  • Extract 10: “I have a stuttering fetish…I look for videos of stuttering online to watch. The more severe the stutter, the more struggle and secondary characteristics, the better. I stuttered pretty badly as a child, and occasionally still do…It’s nice to know I’m not the only one” (eglorae, gender and sexuality unknown).
  • Extract 11: “I’m new on this forum so I was just only browsing and saw the stuttering topic and it immediately caught my attention so…yes I guess I have a soft spot for guys who stutter. It’s not quite a fetish, but I find it really cute and sexy. I used to [have] a crush on a guy when I was like 14 years old and he was a stutterer, oh his speaking was so hot!” (Alexandra, female, heterosexual).
  • Extract 12: “Wow, I thought I was the only one and that I was odd! I’m a guy who finds stuttering really sexy in women. No idea why…It’s just something I discovered that I like. I’d love to talk…with some girls who stutter but it seems very unlikely!” (emmanola, male, heterosexual).
  • Extract 13: “I have to tell you, that some of the guys I have met have found it an absolute turn on for them. During intimate moments my stuttering gets a lot worse which can send some guys crazy, although admittedly it is a very small number. I never thought it as being a fetish though, but maybe it is. I can’t say that anyone I have met has been actually looking for someone that stutters but rather looked at is a bonus when they found someone that did” (Kenny, male, gay).
  • Extract 14: “I stutter and it is a BIG turn-on for me. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one. I would love to talk to another stutterer – especially one who thinks it’s a turn-on” (Stutteringdude, male, gay).

Based on these online self-confessions, a few things can be concluded. Obviously I have no idea about whether these are in any way representative of those individuals who like those that stutter, but if it is a genuine fetish or paraphilia (and some of these individuals claim it is something they like strongly or have a preference for rather than it being a fetish as such), the behaviour appears to prevalent in both men and women and not be associated with one particular sexual orientation as it was described by those both gay and straight. Very few appear to know where their fetish for stuttering originates although some describe memories from adolescence and being sexually aroused in the formative stages of sexual development. Most see the fetish as something that they have kept to themselves without ever having talked to others about it. Some appear to be glad that they ‘are not alone’ in having the fetish and find comfort in hearing others’ stories. Some individuals went as far to offer explanations for the fetish or what it’s not about.

  • Extract 15: ‪I think I know what attracts [people] to the stutter. I think it’s most likely the tonality of a stutter. They raise in pitch, repeat syllables that sometimes mirror those of an orgasm or basic sexual moaning. I honestly do think you might find something a bit erotic about how similarly a stutter can mimic that of sexual moan…even the facial expressions made” (aimoo182, gender and sexuality unknown).
  • Extract 16: “I’ve also read a bit about stuttering and can understand a lot more than your average guy. I’ve been asked if it’s a [domination] thing…it’s not. I’d happily dom or be dommed by a guy who stutters. Or just hold a nice conversation. It doesn’t matter” (Jay, male, gay).

My own view is that most fetishes and paraphilias appear to begin developing in early adolescence and that classical conditioning (i.e., associative pairing between sexual arousal and the non-sexual stimulus, in this case the stuttering) is an important part of the acquisition process. Little of what I found fits my opinion on this but that’s more because the individuals themselves have little insight to their own behaviour and how the fetish manifested itself. Whether psellismophilia ever becomes the focus of serious academic study remains to be seen but I doubt that it will unless any negative consequences arise from the behaviour (and I have come across nothing suggesting that the condition – if it genuinely exists – is any way detrimental).

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.

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.

Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books.

Sexed text and lust discussed: Another brief look at cybersex

The advent of the Internet has enabled people’s engagement in a wide variety of online sexual behaviors. The Internet can provide a “safe” space for sexual exploration that presents less physical and social danger than offline activities, and may also provide access to a social community and a support system for non-normative gender and sexual expression (e.g., sexual fetishes and paraphilias). Additionally, a small minority of people may use the Internet excessively to engage in cybersex. Rather than being complementary, their use of cybersex may become a substitute for their offline sexual lives. For a small minority, their behaviors may take on addictive qualities that can be indicative of an online sexual addiction.

I noted in a number of papers that I published in the early 2000s (e.g., Journal of Sex Research [2001] and CyberPsychology and Behavior [2000]; see ‘Further reading’ below) that the Internet can be – and has been – used for a number of diverse activities surrounding sexually motivated online behavior. These include the use of the Internet for (i) seeking out sexually related material for educational use, (ii) buying or selling sexually related goods for further use offline, (iii) visiting and/or purchasing goods in online virtual sex shops, (iv) seeking out material for entertainment/masturbatory purposes for use online, (v) seeking out sex therapists, and (vi) seeking out sexual partners for an enduring relationship.

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Other sexually motivated uses of the Internet include (i) seeking out sexual partners for a transitory relationship (i.e., escorts, prostitutes, swingers) via online personal advertisements/“lonely hearts” columns, escort agencies, and/or chat rooms, (ii) seeking out individuals who then become victims of sexually related Internet crime (online sexual harassment, cyberstalking, pedophilic “grooming” of children), (iii) engaging in and maintaining online relationships via email and/or chat rooms, (iv) exploring gender and identity roles by swapping gender or creating other personas and forming online relationships, and (v) digitally manipulating images on the Internet for entertainment and/or masturbatory purposes (e.g., celebrity fake photographs where heads of famous people are superimposed onto someone else’s naked body)

More recently, in a 2012 issue of the journal Addiction Research and Theory, I noted that online sexual behaviors can be classified as either cybersexual consumption (i.e., downloading and watching sexual content online such as pornography or reading sexual content in forums/chat sites without actively participating), or cybersexual interaction with others (e.g., text-based chat and/or video-linked conversations). Either of these types of online behavior may be accompanied by concurrent masturbation. Furthermore, online activities with a sexual component can be problematic for some because (1) they manifest sexual desires that the person (or their offline sexual partner) disapprove of or feel guilty about; (2) they divert (or distort) sexual energy from offline sexual behavior; and (3) the search for the ideal online sexual material may take up a great deal of time. Therefore, it appears necessary to distinguish not only between consumptive and interactive cybersex, but also between “normal” and “deviant” online sexual behaviors.

The late 1990s and early 2000s experienced a proliferation of studies investigating how human sexual behavior is enacted on the Internet. Some scholars (such as James Quinn and Craig Forsyth in a 2005 issue of the journal Deviant Behavior) claimed that technology transformed vicarious sex into an increasingly viable and attractive substitute for interpersonal forms of sexual fulfilment. Such an assertion suggests that a minority of cybersex users may use the Internet as a substitute for offline behaviours. It also suggests that what happens online may be very fulfilling for some people.

Sex on the Internet is particularly viable because of the inherent qualities of the Internet that the late Dr. Al Cooper referred to as the ‘Triple A Engine’ (access, affordability and anonymity). The online world, including explicit sexual material as well as potential online and offline sexual partners, can be accessed anytime and anywhere. Most of the time, sexual activities can be pursued at virtually no cost online, a point that demarcates online sex from offline sex, considering the expenditures involved in buying sex tapes or paying for sex workers. In comparison, the costs for bandwidth access are relatively low.

As an adaptation to Dr. Cooper’s Triple A Engine, Dr. Kimberley Young and colleagues proposed the ACE model, incorporating anonymity, convenience, and escape as factors salient to the Internet. These factors facilitate the engagement in sex by decreasing the inhibition thresholds present in offline sexual relations. Not only is a person anonymous online, but the Internet is ubiquitous and it can be accessed conveniently from a safe base, such as the person’s home.

Compared to offline sex, the Internet appears to offer the possibility to engage in cybersex anytime and anywhere for little financial cost. Therefore, research studies have found individuals are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors on the Internet rather than offline. The lower threshold associated with perceived lower risks of engaging in online sex may therefore increase the chance of persons who are at risk for developing sex addiction offline to actually develop sex addiction on the Internet. Empirical studies have increased our understanding of specific online sexual activities (e.g., Internet sex addiction). Here, the distinction between people who use Internet sex to improve their offline sex life and those who use it as a substitution may play an important role. Furthermore, cross-cultural differences point to the fact that the sociocultural context plays an important role in influencing people’s attitudes toward sexual behaviors.

In line with this, two potential scenarios materialize. First, one might assume that as views of sex are relatively liberal in some cultures relative to other more conservative cultures, members of the former may be more likely to engage in sex on the Internet because they have more open attitudes toward sexuality in general. Alternatively, particularly because some cultures are relatively conservative when it comes to sex, their members could potentially be more likely to engage in cybersex in order to compensate for the lack of freedoms in expressing their sexuality offline.

Note: This article used material previously published in the following book chapter: Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Internet sex. In Naples, N.A. (Ed.), The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies. Chichester: Wiley. DOI: 10.1002/9781118663219.wbegss408

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

Further reading

Cooper, A. (1998). Sexuality and the internet: Surfing into the new millennium. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 1, 187–193.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for internet sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38(4), 333–342.

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

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

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

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

Quinn, J.F. & Forsyth, C.J. (2005). Describing sexual behavior in the era of the Internet: A typology for empirical research. Deviant Behavior, 26(3), 191–207.

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

Young, K., Pistner, M., O’Mara, J. & and Buchanan, J. (1999). Cyber-disorders: A mental health concern for the new millennium. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3(5), 475 – 479.

 

The born identity: Can online gaming help people with gender dysphoria?

About a year ago, my colleagues and I published what we believe is the very first study of the helping role that video gaming can play in the lives of transgender individuals. Before I get to that, it’s probably worth noting that there have been studies of how gamers and fans play with sexuality, gender, and the video game Minecraft on YouTube as well as papers discussing whether the gaming industry should cater for marginalized groups and develop games for groups where there is little representation within games (e.g., gay and transgendered characters). For instance, there is now a short autobiographical game by Auntie Pixellante called Dys4ia. This is a WarioWare-style game, played only with the arrow keys, chronicling the experiences of a trans woman rectifying her own gender dysphoria. Such videogames raise interesting questions about how those individuals with gender dysphoria utilize gaming as part of their identity.

In a previous blog I briefly looked at gender swapping in online video games including some of my own research. For instance, in 2003 I published a paper in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior using secondary poll data from online gaming forums. The paper reported that of 10,350 players at the Everlore fan site, 15% had swapped the gender of their main in-game playing character. We also reported a similar finding among 8,694 players at the Allakhazam fan site with 15.5% reporting that they had gender swapped their main in-game character (and more specifically, 14.5% males and 1% were females who had changed the gender of their lead character). In a 2004 follow-up survey among 540 Everquest gamers (again in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior) my colleagues and I reported that 60% had swapped their online in-game characters. The prevalence of gender swapping was probably much higher in this study because the question related to the gender swapping of any online game character not just their main playing character.

In a small exploratory study I published in 2008 with Dr. Zaheer Hussain in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, we examined why people engaged in gender swapping in a self-selecting sample of 119 online gamers (mean age of 28.5 years). We reported that 57% of gamers had engaged in gender swapping (any character not just their main character), and that males adopting an online female persona believed there were a number of positive social attributes to becoming female characters in male-oriented gaming environments. The study also reported that significantly more females than males had gender swapped their character – mainly to prevent unsolicited male approaches on their female characters. Some females appeared to gender swap purely out of interest to see what would happen in the game (as a personal experiment), while others claimed that they were treated more favourably by male gamers when they played as a male character. Others reported that gender swapping enabled them to play around with aspects of their identity that would not be possible to explore in real life. Other reasons for gender swapping were that (i) female characters had better in-game statistics, (ii) some specific tools were only available with female characters, (iii) the class of character was sometimes only available in one gender, (iv) they played for fun, and/or (v) they did it to so something that they would not normally do in the game (i.e., they did it for a change in their usual playing behaviour).

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Outside of online gaming, a 2002 paper by Hegland and Nelson in the International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies noted that the Internet more generally can be used as a tool for expressing gender identity because it allows identities to cross cultural boundaries instantly and without regard for real physical space. They examined 30 cross-dressing websites and argued that for most cross-dressers that visited such websites, the online forum was their primary medium of expression. The users of the website used the Internet to nurture the ability to create a feminine identity, and helped them to pass as a woman in the offline public world. More generally, cross-dressers used the Internet to participate in the larger cultural dialogue of gender.

For an adult to meet current criteria for a diagnosis of transsexualism, the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) reports they must express the desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by the wish to make his or her body as congruent as possible with the desired sex through surgery and cross-sex hormones. This transsexual identity must have been present persistently for a minimum of two years and not be a symptom of another mental disorder or a chromosomal abnormality. The latest (fifth) edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association uses the term gender dysphoria to describe people who are uncomfortable and/or distressed regarding their assigned gender, their physical sex characteristics and/or their associated social roles. Depending upon the intensity of this distress, some individuals may wish to transition from one point on a notional gender scale to another. The most common direction is from a man to a woman (individuals known as trans women), or from a woman to a man (individuals known as trans men). The distress intrinsic to gender dysphoria may be focused around anatomy, physiology, and/or being perceived and treated as someone of a gender with which the person does not identify. However, these diagnostic labels do not apply to all trans individuals for a multitude of reasons because some people will not identify themselves as a man or as a woman

The World Health Organisation working group has recommended that the latest ICD replace the term Transsexualism with Gender Incongruence) and remove it from the mental and behavioural disorders chapter. Gender incongruence denotes the incongruence between a person’s gender identity and their assigned sex and/or congenital primary and secondary sex characteristics. The terminology in this field has changed over the years and the terms ‘transgender’ and ‘trans’ have been used in the literature as umbrella terms to cover a wide variety of atypical gender experiences and expressions which may lead to permanent change of social gender role but does not necessarily involve treatment with cross-sex hormones or surgical intervention. A recent study has reported an prevalence for transsexualism of 4.6 in 100,000 individuals; 6.8 for trans women and 2.6 for trans men, which is primarily based on studies looking at individuals attending clinical services. (However, it should be noted that recent population studies have reported a significantly higher prevalence rate of atypical gender experiences and expressions).

The study we published in the journal Aloma originated from initial observations made by Dr. Jon Arcelus that a number of gender dysphoric clients presenting at the national (UK) gender dysphoria clinic admitted that they gender-swapped while playing online games. After I met with Dr. Arcelus I suggested he revisit his case files and and to write them up as case studies (as no study in the gaming field has ever examined online gaming among those with gender dysphoria). The main objectives of our study were to use exemplar case studies to highlight that gaming – in some circumstances – appears to be a functional way of dealing with gender identity issues, and that gender swapping in gaming may help such individuals to come to terms with their gender dysphoria.

Our paper featured four case studies who attended an assessment at the National Centre for Gender Dysphoria in Nottingham. All four individuals described in our paper were given pseudonyms and the content of their histories were anonymised (and included ‘Mary’ a 26-year old natal male who fully transitioned to the female social role six months prior to our study; ‘Mark’ a 20-year old natal female who first attended for an assessment in the female role; ‘Paul’ a 31-year old natal male who would like to be female, but still living full-time as a male; and ‘Harry’ a 23-year old natal male who presented for an assessment as a male). If you want to read about each case in detail, the paper can be downloaded for free from here).

The four case studies outlined in our paper are only a selected sample of the number of cases attending a national clinic for people with gender dysphoria. However, they were in no way unusual to the other clients that have sought help at the Centre. However, these individual accounts were specifically selected to demonstrate the different ways that video gaming may help people with gender dysphoria come to terms with their gender identity. For example, gaming can be used among trans people as a psychological tool to increase one’s awareness of gender identity and/or as part of the self. Gaming may therefore be a useful way to express one’s experienced gender identity in a safe, non-threatening, non-alienating, non-stigmatizing, and non-critical environment. This appears to mirror other the findings of other studies outside of the online gaming environment.

Articles published in the mass media have reported that online games such as World of Warcraft provide a creative space that allows gamers that might be questioning aspects of their identity to explore their lives as different individuals. Some have even gone as far as to argue that this could help gamers transform their ‘offline’ identity, as is the case with some trans gamers. This was also demonstrated in the case studies described in our study. Other authors have asserted that the online medium offers an infinite space for development and resistance to traditional gender roles, and that online interaction enables a transgression of the dichotomous categories of male and female, constructing trans (or even genderless) social identities and relationships. However, although such anonymous online communities may provide trans individuals with the power to subvert their physical sex.

Our case studies also demonstrated the different functions of gaming in trans people (e.g., the function of “testing out” their gender feelings). For instance, using gaming to ‘come out’ to other people, by initially coming out in the online community, which is perceived as a safe environment, and then gradually coming out in real life. Gaming, as for many non-trans individuals, can derive psychological benefits and a sense of escapism. This is even more relevant among trans people as it may be the only time that they feel they can be themselves, allowing them to feel happy, relaxed, and achieving a sense of completeness. This could develop into a powerful coping skill substituting unhealthy behaviours, such as self-harming behaviour. This is particularly important in this population as research shows a strong association between being trans and mental health problems, particularly depression and self-harm as a way to manage one’s trans feelings. This is not surprising as the discomfort and distress about assigned gender and body dissatisfaction may lead to a sense of hopelessness, which can bring low mood, self-injury and even suicide.

Although gaming appears (at least initially) to be a positive and beneficial activity for many trans people, there is also the risk that staying in the game becomes too much of a secure and safe environment. This can create a vicious circle where the trans person does not wish to move out of the secure online world, and back into reality. Spending an increasing amount of time in online gaming carries the risk of developing a gaming dependence or addiction. This may not only affect one’s personal relationships, work and/or study, but may also impair real life social gender role transition, as in many cases, the individual is expected to socially transition before they can be considered for treatment.

Obviously our paper only included four participants and may be perceived by some researchers as ‘anecdotal’ because the data were not collected for this specific study but were retrospectively collated. However, our findings showed that for a trans individual, the online gaming environment was perceived as “safe” but further research is needed to establish what the distinctive elements of online gaming are that help to raise gender awareness (or not as the case may be). With the rates of gender dysphoria attending clinical services increasing significantly, future research should investigate (i) the rates and severity of gaming among this population as well as its function, and (ii) the rates of gender dysphoria among game addiction as coming out may help their addiction. The game industry may also want to consider how they can use games as a way of helping trans people being more accepted within society by developing game industry may want to co-observe how their games can prepare and assist individuals to socially transition. Online games also provide a safe environment that provides people access to a platform where individuals can discuss and experiment with gender identity.

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

Further reading

Arcelus, J., Bouman, W. P., Witcomb, G. L., Van den Noortgate, W., Claes, L., & Fernandez-Aranda, F. (2015). Systematic review and meta-analysis of prevalence studies in transsexualism. European Psychiatry, 30, 807-815.

Arcelus, J., Jones, B., Richards, C., Jimenez-Murcia, S., Bouman, W.P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Video gaming and gaming addiction in transgender people: An exploratory study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6, 21–29.

Dale, L. K. (2014, January 23). How World of Warcraft helped me come out as transgender. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/gamesblog/2014/jan/23/how-world-of-warcraft-game-helped-me-come-out-transgender

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.

Griffiths, M. D., Davies, M.N.O. & Chappell, D. (2003). Breaking the stereotype: The case of online gaming. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 81-91.

Griffiths, M.D., Davies, M.N.O. & Chappell, D. (2004). Demographic factors and playing variables in online computer gaming. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 7, 479-487.

Griffiths, M. D., Kiraly, O., M. Pontes, H. M. & and 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.

Fahs, B., & Gohr, M. (2012). Superpatriarchy meets cyberfeminism: Facebook, online gaming, and the new social genocide. MP: An Online Feminist Journal, 3(6), 1-40.

Hegland, J. E., & Nelson, N. J. (2002). Cross-dressers in cyber-space: Exploring the Internet as a tool for expressing gendered identity. International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies, 7(2-3), 139-161.

Huh, S., & Williams, D. (2010). Dude looks like a lady: Gender swapping in an online game. In Online worlds: Convergence of the real and the virtual (pp. 161-174). London: Springer.

Hussain, Z., & Griffiths, M. D. (2008). Gender swapping and socialising in cyberspace: An exploratory study. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 11, 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, Ciencies de l’Educacio i de l’Esport, 28, 245-272.

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.

Osborne, H. (2012). Performing self, performing character: Exploring gender performativity in online role-playing games. Transformative Works and Cultures, 11. doi:10.3983/twc.2012.0411.

Potts, A. (2015). ‘LOVE YOU GUYS (NO HOMO)’ How gamers and fans play with sexuality, gender, and Minecraft on YouTube. Critical Discourse Studies, 12(2), 163-186.

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

Taylor, T. L. (2003). Multiple pleasures women and online gaming. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 9(1), 21-46.

Todd, C. (2012). ‘Troubling’ gender in virtual gaming spaces. New Zealand Geographer, 68(2), 101-110.

The wows of brows: Eyebrow fetishes and the naming of a new paraphilia

Over the years I have written about many different body part fetishes and paraphilias including a number involving human hair (or the lack of it). These have included individuals that are sexually aroused by (i) human hair in general but usually head hair (trichophilia/hirsutophilia), (ii) female body hair fetishism, (iii) beard fetishism (pogonophilia), (iv) haircut fetishism, (v) armpit hair fetishism (maschalagnia), (vi) depilation and shaving fetishism, and (vii) baldness fetishism (acomophilia). [I’ve also written articles about uncombable hair syndrome and hair dryer dependence].

The reason I mention all this was that a few months ago I got an email from a man asking if I had ever come across individuals with a fetish for eyebrow hair. He claimed he had a fetish for women with “big bushy eyebrows” and gave the example of Cara Delevinge (the model and actress who played the Enchantress June Moone in the film Suicide Squad). I wrote back to him and told him that I had never come across anyone but would have a look into it (and this blog is the consequence).

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As far as I am aware, not only is there no academic or clinical research on the topic of eyebrow fetishes, but there aren’t even any articles (this I believe is the first ever article on the topic). There was nothing between in Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices and nothing in Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Eyebrows weren’t even mentioned in the list of fetishized body parts in Dr. C. Scorolli and colleagues’ excellent paper on the prevalence of fetishes in their 2007 paper in the International Journal of Impotence Research (a study I have cited countless times in relation to my blogs on other sexualized body parts).

As a final resort I went searching on the internet but was unable to locate a single online forum that was dedicated to those who have eyebrow fetishes. However, I did locate a few individuals that claimed they had eyebrow fetishes (or at least some behaviour indicative of some kind of eyebrow fetish). Here are a few examples:

  • Exract 1: “I’m not that attracted to a lot of girls. I mean yeah there’s hot girls but [I’m just not] into them. ([I’m] not gay). But I’ve notice the girls I am interested are while girls with thick wavy eyebrows and I admire those, and yeah the girls are pretty too. But I find it weird that I like eyebrows really much!
  • Extract 2: “I’m not sure, but I think people think I’m weird. I like to stare at other people’s eyebrows, sometimes I reach out to touch them but they run away…One time, I masturbated in class over Casey’s bushy brow and I squirted everywhere. The teacher and everyone were staring with a sort of disgusted look on their faces. I don’t know why though? Is this not normal?”
  • Extract 3: “Okay, is it weird that I find guys with really nice eyebrows sexy or when a guy has a nice beard, not puffy…like Adam Levin’s beard. AND WHEN A GUY HAS BOTH….YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT IT DOES TO ME…When a guy has nice eyebrows, I just want to fangirl over them and stare at them. Too bad, the guys my age don’t have nice eyebrows”
  • Extract 4: “I know I have [a nose and eyebrow fetish], and if someone doesn’t have a nose shape I like I just can’t be attracted to them – same with the eyebrows. It’s the weirdest thing, I could literally pet a man’s eyebrows for prolonged periods of time”.
  • Extract 5: “I have an eyebrow fetish for as long as I can remember…I’ve been through A LOT of different eyebrow stages, caterpillar eyebrows, Yankee eyebrows. Then came the flat eyebrows without much of an arch. And now I finally have eyebrows that people might say are normal”
  • Extract 6: “I have had a fetish with eyebrows. I can’t help but study a woman’s brows when we are talking or am looking at someone at a distance. I have been shaping my brows for over 20 years and over past 10 years my brows have gone from shaped to thin and even shaved off couple times smooth. Yes I said smooth. I currently have very thin eyebrows. Like 2-3 hairs wide from start to end. Usually they are a little thicker like maybe 5 hairs wide. My wife is a hairdresser and she waxes them every 2 weeks or so. I have worn them for a while clippered next to skin and thin. I wax my wife’s brows every 3 weeks but she likes a more natural look and arched. I did however get her to let me clipper cut them shorter so they were not so thick ‘n’ long. looks great now that they are shorter. My ex-wife allowed me to keep her brows fairly thin and that was great”.
  • Extract 7: “I love shaved naked eyebrows on ladies or very thin/pencil thin arched eyebrows on ladies. I think it is very sexy and unique. I myself very thin eyebrows. Like 3 hairs wide from start to finish. [I] have shaved them smooth several times while on vacation from work…I am attracted to ladies with very thin eyebrows. Just something I notice and love”.

Obviously I can’t vouch for the veracity of these quotes but they appeared to be genuine. However, based on the self-confessions I found, there is little in the way of definitive conclusions. All of the individuals appeared to be heterosexual and males were more likely than females to claim they had such a fetish (five of the seven extracts were by males). None of the information I found gave any clue as to the etiology of their love for eyebrows although no-one found their fetish in any way problematic. Two of the individuals said their fetish for eyebrows was not their only focus of sexual attraction (with noses and beards also being cited as an additional source of sexal arousal). Given the apparent rarity, I doubt that this type of fetish or paraphilia will ever be the topic of academic or clinical study.

Given the complete lack of scientific study relating to eyebrow fetishes I have decided to name a new paraphilia – if it exists – based on traditional nosology using the Greek words for ‘eyebrow’ (frýdi) and ‘love’ (philia) – thus this ‘new’ paraphilia is called frýdiphilia.

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.

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.

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

Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E.A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.

Making scents of it all: A brief look at sex, smell and olfactophilia

Olfactophilia (also known as osmolagnia, osphresiolagnia, and ozolagnia) is a paraphilia where an individual derives sexual pleasure from smells and odours. Given the large body of research on olfaction, it is unsurprising that in some cases there should be an association with sexual behavior. The erotic focus is most likely to relate to body odors of a sexual partner, including genital odors. One of my favourite papers examining sex and smell was a 1999 paper by Dr. Alan Hirsch and Dr. Jason Gruss published in the Journal of Neurological and Orthopaedic Medicine and Surgery. As they note in the introduction to their study, sex and smell have a long association:

“Historically, certain smells have been considered aphrodisiacs, a subject of much folklore and pseudoscience. In the volcanic remnants of Pompeii, perfume jars were preserved in the chambers designed for sexual relations. Ancient Egyptians bathed with essential oils in preparation for assignations; Sumarians seduced their women with perfumes. A relationship between smell and sexual attraction is emphasized in traditional Chinese rituals, and virtually all cultures have used perfume in their marriage rites. In mythology, rose petals symbolized scent, and the word ‘deflowering’ describes the initial act of sex…Dramatic literature abounds with sly references to nasal size as symbolic of phallic size, as in the famous play Cyrano De Bergerac…Psychoanalysis has made much of these associations. Fliess, in his concept of the phallic nose, formally described an underlying link between the nose and the phallus. Jungian psychology also connects odors and sex”.

In contemporary society, perfumes for women and colognes for men are marketed aggressively because it is a multi-billion pound business and are advertised in a way that suggests sexual success for those who use such fragrances. Hirsch and Gruss argue that:

“The prominent connection between odors and sex among diverse historical periods and cultures implies a high level of evolutionary importance. Freud suggested that odors are such strong inducers of sexual feelings that repression of smell sensations is necessary to civilization. Anatomy bears out the link between smells and sex: the area of the brain through which we experience smells, the olfactory lobe, is part of the limbic system, the emotional brain, the area through which sexual thoughts and desires are derived. Brill [1932] suggests that people kiss to get their noses close together, so that they can smell each other (the Eskimo kiss). Or possibly they kiss to get their mouths together so they can taste each other since most of what we call taste is dependent upon olfaction”.

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One of the research areas that I have published a couple of papers with Dr. Mark Sergeant (see ‘Further reading’ below) in is on the area of pheromones (i.e., chemical substances “produced and released into the environment by an animal, especially a mammal or an insect, affecting the behaviour or physiology of others of its species”). Pheromones are known to exist across the animal kingdom from insects to primates (possibly including humans but most robust scientific studies have shown the evidence is relatively weak, and if pheromones do exist in humans the effects are likely to be very subtle). As Hirsch and Gruss note:

“Inside the human brain, near the top of the nose is an anatomical feature that gives us reason to believe that human pheromones exist: the vomeronasal organ. Its function is unknown, but in subhuman primates, this is the area where pheromones act to increase the chance of procreation…When we exercise, we sweat through endocrine glands. But when we are embarrassed or sexually excited, we sweat through apocrine glands that release high-density steroids under the arms and around the genitalia; their role is unknown. In subhuman primates, the same apocrine glands release pheromones”.

Other evidence for the existence of pheromones are the studies showing that women’s menstrual cycles tend to synchronize over time when living or working closely together (the so-called ‘McClintock Effect’ named after Martha McClintock, the person who first reported it in a 1971 issue of the journal Nature). Other research by Dr. Hirsch has shown evidence that links smell with sexual response. For instance, in one of his studies, 17% of patients that had “olfactory deficits” had developed some kind of sexual dysfunction.

In Hirsch and Gruss’ 1999 study, they examined the effects of 30 different smells on male sexual arousal of 31 American male participants (aged 18 years to over 60 years). They underwent various (question-based) smell tests and their sexual arousal was assessed experimentally by measuring penile blood flow with a penile plethysmograph. The smells comprised 24 different odourants in addition to six combination odourants. All 30 odours produced an increase in penile blood flow (Table III). They reported that:

“The combined odor of lavender and pumpkin pie had the greatest effect, increasing median penile-blood flow by 40%. Second in effectiveness was the combination of black licorice and doughnut, which increased the median penile-blood flow 31.5%. The combined odors of pumpkin pie and doughnut was third, with a 20% increase. Least stimulating was cranberry, which increased penile blood flow by 2%…Men with below normal olfaction did not differ significantly from those with normal olfaction, nor did smokers differ significantly from nonsmokers”.

The findings supported their hypothesis that positive smelling odours would increase sexual arousal, and then speculated a number of reasons why this might be the case:

“The odors could induce a Pavlovian conditioned response reminding subjects of their sexual partners or their favorite foods. Among persons raised in the United States, odors of baked goods are most apt to induce a state called olfactory-evoked recall. Possibly, odors in the current study evoked a nostalgic recall with an associated positive mood state that affected penile blood flow. Or the odors may simply be relaxing. In others studies, lavender, which increased alpha waves posteriorly, an effect associated with a relaxed state. In a condition of reduced anxiety, inhibitions may be removed and thus penile blood flow increased…Another possibility, odors may act neurophysiologically…Nor can we rule out a generalized parasympathetic effect, increasing penile blood flow rather than specific sexual excitation…The specific odors that affected penile blood flow in our experiment were primarily food odors…Does this support the axiom that the way to a man’s heart (and sexual affection) is through his stomach?…We certainly cannot consider the odors in our experiment to be human pheromones, therefore we believe they acted through other pathways than do pheromones”.

Shortly after this study, Hirsch and his colleagues repeated the study on females (assessing their vaginal blood flow) and found similar effects that they reported in the International Journal of Aromatherapy. In this second study they found that the largest increases in vaginal blood flow were from candy and cucumber (13%), baby powder (13%), pumpkin pie and lavender (11%), and baby powder and chocolate (4%). Obviously there are major limitations with both of these studies (such as small sample sizes, all the odours being selected by the researchers, and blood flow being the sole measure of arousal).

Odours that are sexually arousing are likely to be very specific and (in some cases) strange and/or bizarre. For instance, I published the world’s first case study of eproctophilia (sexual arousal from flatulence and a sub-type of olfactophilia) in a 2013 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior (a topic that I examined in a number of previous blogs such as those here and here). I’ve also come across anecdotal evidence of other strange smells that sexually arouse people. For instance, in an article on ’15 Surprising & Weird Fetishes’, number 11 in the list was ‘air freshener’ fetish:

One Reddit user reports becoming aroused as a teenager whenever he walked into a room that uses a specific brand and scent of air freshener! After some questioning from other conclusions, he suspects that the scent has become associated withe the first time he watched porn. Other users report being turned on by scents such as perfume samples that were included in ‘Playboy’ magazine”.

Some paraphilias may have an element of olfaction. For instance, antholagnia refers to individuals who are sexually aroused by flowers (and the arousal may depend on the sight and/or smell of the flowers). The Kinkly website notes (without empirical evidence to back up any of the claims made):

People with antholagnia typically have a preference for certain flowers, just as most people are sexually aroused by certain body types. They are likely to become aroused while visiting a florist shop, a floral nursery, or a botanical garden. They may also seek out images of flowers online for sexual gratification. Most people with antholagnia learn to manage their condition and enjoy healthy sex lives. They may even use the scent of flowers during foreplay or intercourse. However, if antholagnia starts to interfere with a person’s professional or personal life, he or she may wish to seek treatment. Treatment for antholagnia may consist of cognitive or behavioral therapies, psychoanalysis, or hypnosis”

I also came across an online 2013 article (‘Scents that trigger sexual arousal’) by Susan Bratton that summarized recent research (although she based most of it from material in Dr. Daniel Amen’s 2007 book Sex On The Brain). More specifically, the article note that:

“Current research also suggests the scent of musk closely resembles that of testosterone, the hormone that enhances healthy libido in both sexes. In scent studies at Toho University in Japan, floral and herbal essential oils were found to impact sexual arousal in the nervous system. But depending on whether you need to stimulate or relax your partner to get them in an amorous mood, you would use different scents. To stimulate the Sympathetic Nervous System use jasmine, yang-ylang, rose, patchouli, peppermint, clove and bois de rose. To relax the Parasympathetic Nervous System use sandalwood, marjoram, lemon, chamomile and bergamot…Many of these scents are also commonly found in tea such as peppermint and chamomile. Many candles are scented with rose, jasmine, patchouli, sandalwood and bergamot”.

There are plenty of websites that list various scents that turn people on and a lot of these appear to be based upon on the research carried out by Dr. Hirsch and his colleagues. Research into sex, smell and olfactophilia appears to be a growing area and hopefully my own research has played a small part in stimulating research into the area.

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

Further reading

Amen, D. (2007). Sex on the Brain: 12 Lessons to Enhance Your Love Life. London: Harmony.

Bratton, S. (2013). Scents that trigger arousal. Personal Life Media, October 10. Located at: http://personallifemedia.com/2013/10/scents-that-trigger-arousal/

Brill, A.A. (1932). Sense of smell in the neuroses and psychoses. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1, 7-42

Gilbert, A. N. (2008). What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life. Crown.

Graham, C.A., & McGrew, W.C. (1980). Menstrual synchrony in female undergraduates living on a coeducational campus. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 5, 245-252.

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

Hirsch, A., & Gruss, J. (1999). Human male sexual response to olfactory stimuli. Journal of Neurological and Orthopaedic Medicine and Surgery, 19, 14-19.

Hirsch, A. R., Schroder, M., Gruss, J., Bermele, C., & Zagorski, D. (1999). Scentsational sex Olfactory stimuli and sexual response in the human female. International Journal of Aromatherapy, 9(2), 75-81.

Hirsch, A.R., & Trannel, T.J. (1996). Chemosensory dysfunction and psychiatric diagnoses. Journal of Neurological and Orthopaedic Medicine and Surgery, 17, 25-30.

McClintock, M. (1971). Menstrual synchrony and suppression. Nature, 229, 244-245.

Sergeant, M., Davies, M.N.O., Dickins, T.E. & Griffiths, M.D. (2005). The self-reported importance of olfaction during human mate choice. Sexualities, Evolution and Gender, 7, 199-213.

Sergeant, M.J.T., Dickins, T.E., Davies, M.N.O. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Hedonic ratings by women of body odor in men are related to sexual orientation, Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36, 395-401.

The night stuff: A very brief look at nyctophilia and scotophilia

According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices nyctophilia is a sexual paraphilia where the individual derives sexual pleasure and arousal by a “love of night”. In the same book, Aggrawal defines similar (if not the same conditions) including scotophilia (“turned on by darkness”), lygophilia (“love of darkness”) and achluophilia (“arousal from darkness”). Another related condition is arguably amaurophilia (“arousal by a partner who is blind or unable to see due to artificial means such as being blindfolded or having sex in total darkness”, a paraphilia that I examined in depth in a previous blog). Other sources (such as Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices doesn’t mention any of these, apart from amaurophilia) whereas other medical dictionaries conflate darkness and night together and define nyctophilia as a “preference for the night or darkness. Also called scotophilia”.

As far as I can ascertain, there is no empirical research on this topic at all. There are many references to the similar sounding scopophilia (viewed by many as another term for ‘voyeurism’) but as Dr. Aggrawal notes:

“Several terms have been used as synonyms of voyeurism, although some writers have constantly pointed out subtle differences. The terms scopophilia and scoptophilia are taken as synonyms to voyeurism by most writers. However, others have pointed out a minor difference. If the victim is unsuspecting and non-consenting, the act is voyeurism, but if the other party is consenting, the act is scopophilia or scoptophilia. Furthermore, if the person watched is in the act of disrobing, or nude, the act is voyeurism, but if the person watched is engaged in sex, the act is either mixoscopia (if the watched person is the voyeur’s lover) or allopellia (if the watched persons are complete strangers)”.

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The reason I mention this is because in a paper by Dr. Patrick Mahony on voyeurism in a 1989 issue Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association noted that the “alternate spelling scoptophilia, preferred by some of the older German psychoanalysts, must not be confused with scotophilia or love of darkness”. This appears to have happened in other academic papers I found directly referring to ‘scotophilia’. For instance, one paper dating back almost 70 years was that of Dr. F.S. Caprio who wrote a paper entitled ‘Scotophilia–exhibitionism: A case report’ in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Psychopathology but it was actually a paper about voyeurism. More specifically, the paper reported the cases of a mother and son who constantly watched residents for sexual arousal in the mother’s rooming house via drilled holes in the wall. A 1966 theoretical review paper by Dr. Jerome Sattler on embarrassment and blushing published in the Journal of Social Psychology claimed that “stage-fright and erythrophobia [fear of blushing] are not simply expressions of the warding off of heightened exhibitionism and scotophilia but also develop as a result of previous instinctual conflict”. Here again, scotophilia appears to be a synonym for voyeurism rather than a sexual love of darkness.

I was pleasantly surprised to find dozens of references to nyctophilia in the scientific literature but the overwhelming majority of papers were biological in origin and all referred to non-human species. For instance, a recent 2016 paper Dr. Luis Espinasa and colleagues in the journal Subterranean Biology reported that cave amphipods are eyeless troglobitic crustaceans found in caves located in the Northeastern (Allegheny) region of the United States and who “exhibit nyctophilia” (literally meaning they love darkness, and has absolutely nothing sexual whatsoever).

I only managed to find one non-biological academic reference on nyctophilia and this was a 1994 paper by Dr. Lewis Lawson in the journal Papers on Language and Literature. In actuality, the use of the word ‘nyctophilia’ was mentioned in passing and noted that the term was defined by psychoanalyst Bertram Lewin as “an erotic pleasure in darkness, which enters as a wish-fulfillment element on fantasies of being in the ‘womb,’ or more properly, as the German word Mutterlieb suggests, of being in the mother’s body”. I was unable to track down the original source so I don’t know the context in which Lewin used the word but the definition is certainly used in a sexual sense rather than the general ‘love of darkness’ used in the biologically-based papers.

In a more general search on the internet, located dedicated photographic sites for nyctophilia, a number of fictional books with the title of Nyctophilia (such as the novel by Welsh author K.A. Hambly), and even the name of a 2014 film (although details about it are sketchy to say the least). I also came across one first-person account of nyctophilia online from someone who has written a number of different articles about the condition such as ‘What is nyctophilia?’, ‘What is it like to have nytophilia?’ and ‘Everything you wanted to know about nyctophilia symptoms’. However, detailed reading of these articles suggests that any sexual element is secondary to a general love of darkness. Here are a few extracts from the articles:

Extract 1: “I have a confession to make. I am a nyctophiliac…Well, a lot of people have told me that I am an insomniac. An insomniac is someone who has difficulty sleeping at night. But I have realized over time that I am not just an insomniac. Insomnia is a physical condition, not a psychological one. Nyctophilia, on the other hand, is purely a psychological condition. Many say that nyctophiliacs are sexually aroused by the dark. Is that true? Well, yes and no. I like darkness, but I am not always sexually aroused by it. I just love it for what it is. It gives me a sense of relief and it makes me happy”.

Extract 2: “To help you understand nyctophilia symptoms, [here] I reveal some uncomfortable details of my life. Every night, I try to sleep at 10 pm. I take sleeping pills such as Klonopin and get myself a good book to read. When I do fall asleep, at around 10:30 pm or 10:45 pm, I find myself waking up at 12:00 am sharp, as fresh as the day, as though I’ve been asleep for 9 hours. I am wide awake at this time and no matter what I do, I cannot go to sleep. Unlike an insomniac, who would turn the lights on and perhaps watch TV, that’s the last thing on my mind. I just want to sit in the bedroom chair in the dark, all alone, with just darkness as my company. I love the darkness. It makes me happy. I feel a sense of relief as I sit in the dark and listen to the sound of the clock ticking by. I know it’s not good for me to stay awake like this, like a ghost, in complete darkness. I tell that to myself several times and often I try my very best to sleep. That is when I get those dreams. Those horrible dreams. The nightmares. I find myself in impossible situations, either getting tortured like Mel Gibson in Braveheart or dying of a dreadful disease, like a child affected by the Ebola virus in Africa”.

Extract 3: There isn’t much of an awareness of nyctophilia, or nyctophilia symptoms, out there on the Web…The UrbanDictionnary.com defines nyctophilia as ‘The love of darkness or night, or feeling like you belong in the dark” and adds that the condition ‘usually applies to those who often feel sadness!’ Nyctophilia is a condition that makes you want to sit in the dark all by yourself late at night, wide awake…You may wander off late at night in the dark. This will get you in trouble with the authorities, who do not really understand the nyctophilia meaning and cannot even comprehend how you feel. So you may get mistaken for a sex addict or a pervert, or possibly a criminal. Your neighbors would avoid you and report you to the law enforcement agencies. They would want you to leave the neighborhood and move somewhere else. They would feel distinctly uncomfortable about your condition and word would get around about the fact that you stay up all night in the dark, basically doing nothing”.

Extract 4: “There are many who say that nyctophialiacs find darkness sexually arousing. They compare the condition to a form of sex addiction. Indeed, have been given medication for sex addiction, such as GnRH, a long lasting gonadotropin releasing hormone that suppresses sexual desires. If you feel that you have any of the nyctophilia symptoms…it is important to get yourself treated by a qualified psychiatrist, preferably someone who has experience of working with modern or unusual psychiatric conditions. Take the medications that are suggested to you and ask support from your friends and family”

In all the reading I have done on this topic, there appears to be very little genuine evidence that scotophilia and nyctophilia exist, and if the condition does exist, few people appear to suffer major problems as a consequence, unless their love of the dark leaves the person feeling so sleep-deprived that it interferes with their day-to-day functioning. Maybe this condition is a sub-type of insomnia but that the underlying reasons for not going to sleep are very different from the usual reasons for not being able to sleep.

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.

Caprio, F. S. (1949). Scoptophilia, exhibitionism; a case report. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Psychopathology, 10(1), 50-72.

Espinasa, L., Collins, E., Finocchiaro, A., Kopp, J., Robinson, J., & Rutkowski, J. (2016). Incipient regressive evolution of the circadian rhythms of a cave amphipod. Subterranean Biology, 20, 1-13.

Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books.

Lawson, L. A. (1994). The dream screen in The moviegoer. Papers on Language and Literature, 30(1), 25.

Mahony, P. J. (1989). Aspects of nonperverse scopophilia within an analysis. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 37(2), 365-399.

Sattler, J. M. (1966). Embarrassment and blushing: A theoretical review. Journal of Social Psychology, 69(1), 117-133.

Date crime: A beginner’s guide to ‘love bombing’

Recently, I did an interview with a journalist about ‘love bombing’ described by her as a new phenomenon occurring in online dating and is “when someone showers you with attention, promising the world but when you respond they go cold and stop responding”. However, there is nothing new about ‘love bombing’ because the term has been around since the 1970s except it has traditionally been described as a practice by religious organisations and cults in relation to the indoctrination of new recruits. According to a number of different sources, the term ‘love bombing’ was coined by the Unification Church of the United States founded by Sun Myung Moon (and why individuals in the cult are often referred to as ‘Moonies’). A number of academics have written about ‘love bombing’ within cult movements. For instance, Thomas Robbins in a 1984 issue of the journal Social Analysis noted that:

“Many elements involved in controversies over alleged cultist brainwashing entail trans-valuational conflicts related to alternative internal vs. external perspectives. The display of affection toward new and potential converts (‘love bombing’), which might be interpreted as a kindness or an idealistic manifestation of devotees’ belief that their relationship to spiritual truth and divine love enables them to radiate love and win others to truth, is also commonly interpreted as a sinister ‘coercive’ technique (Singer, 1977)”.

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In a 2002 issue of the journal Human Relations, Dennis Tourish and Ashly Pinnington wrote that the practice of ‘love bombing’ is derived from the interpersonal perception literature and is a form of ‘ingratiation’ (taken from Edward Jones’ 1964 book of the same name). They then cite from Jones’ 1990 book Interpersonal Perception:

“There is little secret or surprise in the contention that we like people who agree with us, who say nice things about us, who seem to possess such positive attributes as warmth, understanding, and compassion, and who would ‘go out of their way’ to do things for us”.

Tourish again (this time with Naheed Vatcha) in a 2005 issue of the journal Leadership noted that cults use ‘love bombing’ as an emotionally draining recruitment strategy and that it is a form of positive reinforcement. More specifically, they noted that:

“Cults make great ceremony of showing individual consideration for their members. One of the most commonly cited cult recruitment techniques is generally known as ‘love bombing’ (Hassan, 1988). Prospective recruits are showered with attention, which expands to affection and then often grows into a plausible simulation of love. This is the courtship phase of the recruitment ritual. The leader wishes to seduce the new recruit into the organization’s embrace, slowly habituating them to its strange rituals and complex belief systems. At this early stage resistance will be at its highest. Individual consideration is a perfect means to overcome it, by blurring the distinctions between personal relationships, theoretical constructs and bizarre behaviors”.

More recently, the practice of ‘love bombing’ has been used in other contexts such by gang leaders or pimps as a way of controlling their victims (as outlined in the 2009 book Gangs and Girls: Understanding Juvenile Prostitution by Michel Dorais and Patrice Corriveau), and within the context of everyday dating and online dating. One article that has been cited a lot in the press relating to the use of ‘love bombing’ in day-to-day relationships is a populist article written for Psychology Today by Dr. Dale Archer. He noted that:

Notorious cult leaders Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and David Koresh weaponized love bombing, using it to con followers into committing mass suicide and murder. Pimps and gang leaders use love bombing to encourage loyalty and obedience as well”.

Dr. Archer says that ‘love bombing’ works because “humans have a natural need to feel good about who we are, and often we can’t fill this need on our own”. He says that there are times of high susceptibility to being ‘love bombed’ such as losing a job or going through a divorce. Irrespective of why or where the susceptibility has arisen, Archer claims that love bombers “are experts at detecting low self-esteem, and exploiting it”. He then goes on to claim that:

“The paradox of love bombing is that people who use it aren’t always seeking targets that broadcast insecurity for all to see. On the contrary, the love bomber is also insecure, so to boost their ego, the target must at least seem like a great “catch.” Maybe she’s the beautiful woman, who’s lonely because her beauty intimidates people, or he’s the guy with the great career whose wife left him for his best friend, or she’s the hard-nosed businesswoman, who’s avoided marriage and motherhood because her childhood was so traumatic. On paper, these folks are attractive, but something makes them doubt their own value. Along comes the love bomber to shower them with affection and attention. The dopamine rush of the new romance is vastly more powerful than it would be if the target had a healthy self-esteem, because the love bomber fills a need the target can’t fill on her own”.

My own expertise on ‘love bombing’ is limited (to say the least). However, I did attempt to answer the questions I was asked, and here are my verbatim replies.

It seems like [‘love bombing’] quite an addictive and compulsive behaviour – what do you make of it?

There is no evidence that love bombing is either addictive or compulsive and is simply a specific behaviour that although may be repetitive and habitual is not something that would be done compulsively (because the love bombing is planned and focused) or addictively (because love bombing not something that they would do that compromises everything else in their life).

Are there any psychological reasons why people behave like this?

I don’t know of any psychological research that has been done on love bombing but the concept is not new as it has been in the academic literature since the 1970s in relation to indoctrinating individuals into religious cults. Love bombing is a manipulative strategy to make individuals more emotionally pliable. My guess is that in a relationship setting (rather than a cult setting) the individuals engaged in love bombing are likely to be egomaniacs and/or narcissists who like to feel dominant and powerful and/or love psychologically humiliating others.

In my experience, and according to some of the people I’ve interviewed who are guilty of ‘love bombing’ – they do it to multiple people at once.

If love bombing is part of an individual’s behavioural repertoire there is no reason why they wouldn’t do it with more than one person at the same time. However, I don’t know of any research that has shown this to be the case but it wouldn’t surprise me if some individuals were unfaithful love bombers (but I’m sure there are serial love bombers who just do it from one relationship to the next without being physically or emotionally unfaithful).

Is it to straightforward to blame tech for such behaviours – is it just an amplification of behaviours people already exhibit in real life? The temptation always seems to be to blame it on the internet.

The internet tends to facilitate pre-existing problematic behaviour rather than cause it. However, it is well known that the internet is a disinhibiting medium and that individuals lower their psychological guard online. In the case of relationships, the perceived anonymity of being online means that individuals reveal things about themselves, often very private things, because the medium is non-face-to-face, non-threatening, non-alienating and non-stigmatising. Individuals can develop deep emotional relationships online without even having met the other person because of the internet’s disinhibiting properties. Consequently, online methods of communication are another tool in love bomber’s armoury in (initially) showering their professed love for somebody and can happen 24/7 (something which couldn’t have happened in the days prior to online ubiquity).

Where and how, if at all, does this sort of problematic behaviour intersect with sex and love addiction?

I don’t see any overlaps between ‘love bombing’ and sex addiction as they are two completely different constructs and have completely different underlying motivations with little in the way of crossover. Obviously, love bombing could be used as a method to increase the likelihood of sex (because flattery goes a long way). However, if the ultimate goal is psychological control of another person’s emotions, sex is simply a by-product of love bombing rather than the main goal.

Anything else you would like to add?

As far as I can tell, there has never been any empirical research on ‘love bombing’ within the context of dating so all my responses to the questions I was asked are speculative. However, I do think this is an area that would benefit from scientific investigation given how important personal relationships are within our lives. At the very least such research might uncover the signs and strategies that ‘love bombers’ typically use and might prevent a lot of emotional pain felt by individuals not rushing head first (or should that be heart first?) into such relationships in the first place.

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

Further reading

Archer, D. (2017). The manipulative partner’s most devious tactic. Psychology Today, March 6. Located at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201703/the-manipulative-partners-most-devious-tactic

Dorais, M. & Corriveau, P. (2009). Gangs and Girls: Understanding Juvenile Prostitution. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Cyber affairs – A new area for psychological research. Psychology Review, 7(1), 28-31.

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

Hassan, S. (1988) Combating Cult Mind Control. Rochester: Park Press.

James, O. (2012). Love bombing: Reset your child’s emotional thermostat. London: Karnac Books.

Jones, E. (1964). Ingratiation. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts

Jones, E. (1990). Interpersonal Perception. New York: WH Freeman.

Robbins, T. (1984). Constructing cultist “mind control”. Sociological Analysis, 45(3), 241-256

Singer, M. (1977). Therapy with ex-cultists. National Association of Private Psychiatric Hospitals Journal, 9(4), 15-18.

Tourish, D., & Pinnington, A. (2002). Transformational leadership, corporate cultism and the spirituality paradigm: An unholy trinity in the workplace? Human Relations, 55(2), 147-172.

Tourish, D., & Vatcha, N. (2005). Charismatic leadership and corporate cultism at Enron: The elimination of dissent, the promotion of conformity and organizational collapse. Leadership, 1(4), 455-480.

Wikipedia (2017). Love bombing. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_bombing

Seedy CD*: A psychologist’s look at the music of Soft Cell

In a previous blog on examining all Adam Ant’s songs about sexual paraphilias, I noted that Soft Cell are probably the only other recording artists who come close to talking about the seedier side of sex. They are also artists that (like one of my other favourite bands, Throbbing Gristle) have never been afraid to sing about taboo topics including prostitution (‘Secret Life’, A Divided Soul’), a housewife’s sexual fantasy about the paper boy (‘Kitchen Sink Drama’), pure hedonism (‘Sensation Nation’), alternative therapies such as colonic irrigation, meditation, and crystal therapy (‘Whatever It Takes’), murder (‘The Best Way To Kill’, ‘Meet Murder My Angel’), suicide (‘Darker Times’, ‘Frustration’ and ‘Down In The Subway’ – “Jump on that train track and die”), incest (‘I Am 16’), psychopathic killers (‘Martin’ based on the story of a serial killer in a film of the same name), shopaholism (‘Whatever It Takes’), anorexia nervosa (‘Excretory Eat Anorexia’), and obsessional cleansing (‘Cleansing Fanatic’), to name but a few.

Soft Cell arguably saw themselves as outside of the norm. Their first official release, an EP entitled ‘Mutant Moments’ EP set out their psychological store (and where ‘Metro Mr. X’ was their “favourite mutant”). They also had a track on the seminal 1980 (various artists) Some Bizarre Album about a disfigured woman (‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’). Very few artists would ever sing about such topics (although there are a few exceptions such as Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Hamburger Lady’ based on the medical case notes of a badly burned woman).

Soft Cell’s reputation as a band that focused on the sleazy side of everyday life was cemented after the release of their 1981 debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (NSEC). The cover featured a photo of the band’s two members (Marc Almond and Dave Ball) taken outside the Raymond Revue Bar, a notorious strip joint in the heart of London’s Soho district.

Just as the Velvet Underground’s debut album was viewed as a ‘sex and drugs’ LP because of a couple of songs about sadomasochistic sex (‘Venus In Furs’) and drug-taking (‘Heroin’), NSEC’s reputation as a ‘sleazy sex’ album also rested on just a few songs – most notably ‘Seedy Films’ (about telephone sex as well as pornographic films), ‘Secret Life’ (about using prostitutes behind a wife’s back), and the (now infamous) ‘Sex Dwarf’ (a song glorifying sadomasochistic sex). Later songs and albums also touched on various aspects of sexuality (their third album This Last Night In Sodom raising a few eyebrows on its’ release in 1984). They wanted to “try all of the vices” (in ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’) and also sang about having sex in cars (‘It’s A Mug’s Game’ and ‘Where Was Your Heart [When You Needed It Most’).

soft-cell-marija-563x353

One of my personal favourite in the Soft Cell canon is the 2002 song ‘Perversity’ which was a bonus track on their comeback single ‘Monoculture’ after reforming in 2001. It talked about studying at the “university of perversity” and provided me with the title to my series of blogs on the A-Z of little known paraphilias and fetishes. As Marc Almond and Friends, there was also a great cover version of Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Discipline’ (a song about sadomasochism) and ‘Sleaze It, Take It, Shake It’ (by Almond’s side-project, Marc and the Mambas)

Soft cell’s second hit single ‘Bedsitter’ summed up my formative years as a teenage clubber and shares some of the same lyrical DNA as The Smiths classic ‘How Soon Is Now?’ (going to nightclubs in search of love and/or sex but going home alone). I’d also argue that Soft Cell sometimes give The Smiths a run for their money when it comes to songs about misery (e.g., ‘Chips On My Shoulder’, ‘Mr. Self-Destruct’, ‘Bleak Is My Favourite Cliché’, ‘Forever The Same’, ‘Down In The Subway’ and ‘Born To Lose’).

But Soft Cell aren’t just about sex, they also like songs about love more generally although their take on love is more about the unrequited love, the disintegration of love (‘Tainted Love’, ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’, ‘All Out Of Love’, ‘Together Alone’, ‘Desperate [For Love]’, ‘L.O.V.E. Feelings’, ‘Whatever It Takes’, ‘Last Chance’, ‘What’, ‘Barriers’, ‘Disease And Desire’, ‘Her Imagination’, ‘Desperate’, and ‘Torch’). In short they focus on (as they describe in their song ‘Loving You, Hating Me’) “the other side of love” and the “devil in my bed” (‘from ‘God-Shaped Hole’). The only other band that have explored the ‘darker’ side of love lyrically in so many different songs are Depeche Mode (which I discussed in a previous blog on obsessional lyrics in pop music). Their songs aren’t afraid to feature one-night stands and casual sex (‘Numbers’, ‘Surrender To A Stranger’, ‘Heat’, ‘Where Was Your Heart [When You Needed It Most’ and ‘Fun City’). It’s also worth noting that Soft Cell were never afraid to talk about drug use in their songs including cocaine (‘Frustration’), LSD (‘Frustration’), alcohol (‘It’s A Mug’s Game’), valium (‘Tupperware Party’, ‘My Secret Life’), heroin (‘L’Esqualita’) and their “dealer in the hall” (‘Divided Soul’).

They also made cover versions that were often better than the originals. They sexed the songs up or made them mean, moody and menacing. Soft Cell were huge fans of Northern soul and is evident in their covers of songs like ‘Tainted Love’, ‘The Night’ and ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ but their other cover versions came from a wide variety of artists including Jimi Hendrix (their 11-minute ‘Hendrix Medley’ comprising ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Voodoo Chile’), Johnny Thunders (‘Born To Lose’), Suicide (‘Ghostrider’), Lou Reed (‘Caroline Says’ as Marc and the Mambas), and John Barry (‘007 Theme’ and ‘You Only Live Twice’). From the very first note, this were instantly Soft Cell even though they didn’t write the songs.

Lyrically (and musically), some of their best songs were on their final 2000 studio album Cruelty Without Beauty. For instance, ‘Caligula Syndrome’ depicts sadomasochism (“crawling down on your hands and knees like slaves”), orgies, and “every kind of deviation on demand”. The song ‘Grand Guignol’ is about the Parisian theatre that operated from 1897 until it closed in 1962. The theatre specialised in naturalistic amoral horror entertainment shows horror shows or as Soft Cell put it: It’s Grand Guignol/It’s rock ‘n’ roll/It’s vaudeville and burlesque/All of human life is here/In the theatre of the grotesque”. A sentiment that (I would argue) also sums up the many of the blogs I have published on this website.

*With thanks to The Passage (one of my favourite bands) who used the homonym ‘Seedy’ when naming their first CD [C-D, geddit?] compilation.

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

Further reading

Almond, M. (1999). Tainted Life. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.

Almond, M. (2004). In Search Of The Pleasure Palace. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.

Fanni Tutti, C. (2017). Art Sex Music. Faber & Faber: London.

Lindsay, M. (2013). Sex music for gargoyles: Soft Cell’s The Art Of Falling Apart. The Quietus, December 12. Located at: http://thequietus.com/articles/14100-soft-cell-interview-marc-almond

Reed, J. (1999). Marc Almond: The Last Star. London: Creation Books.

Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.

Tebbutt, S. (1984). Soft Cell. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.

Wikipedia (2017). Marc Almond. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Almond

Wikipedia (2017). Soft Cell. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_Cell

Car-struck: Another look at mechanophilia and objectum sexuality

“There is no one in the world Darius Monty loves more than Goldie. With her perfect curves and flawless body, she’s a beauty. And the pub boss’s sex life with the hot model less than half his age is better than with any previous girlfriends. But shockingly the object of his full-on passion is a CAR. While many men claim to love their motors, Darius is IN love with his gold-coloured X-Type Jaguar – and makes love to ‘her’” (Sunday Mirror, July 30, 2017).

The opening quote comes from a story that appeared in last weekend’s Sunday Mirror and for which I also supplied some accompanying text in the published article. I described Darius as more of an objectophile than a mechanophile (although he does fit both definitions). According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, mechanophilia refers to those being sexually turned on by machines although Cynthia Ceilán in her 2008 book Weirdly Beloved: Tales of Strange Bedfellows, Odd Couplings, and Love Gone Bad describes the same sexual paraphilia as ‘mechaphilia’.

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Objectum sexuality refers to those individuals who develop deep emotional and/or romantic attachments to (and have relationships with) specific inanimate objects or structures. Such objectophiles express a loving and/or sexual preference and commitment to particular items or structures (and this is why I view Darius as more of an objectophile than a mechanophile). It has also been claimed (by academics such as Amy Marsh – see ‘Further reading’ below) that such individuals rarely (if ever) have sex with humans and they develop strong emotional fixations to the object or structure. Unlike sexual fetishism, the object or structure is viewed as an equal partner in the relationship and is not used to enhance or facilitate sexual behaviour. Some objectophiles even believe that their feelings are reciprocated by the object of their desire. According to the Sunday Mirror article:

“Darius fell in love with his Jaguar after buying the executive saloon two years ago [in 2015]. His second-hand limo, which was built…in 2004, has startled Darius with the feelings it has aroused. Yet Darius could not fight the urge to live out his sexual fantasies with the car. His passion for Goldie soon became a daily ritual after he returned from his night shift at the pub. And eventually he realised he could no longer hide it from his loved ones. Darius resisted professional help because he thought his liaisons with his motor would become less exciting with time. Despite the negative reaction from his mates, Darius refused to give up on Goldie. Bizarrely, Darius says his relationship with Goldie has gone from strength to strength. He has even retired her from life on the road to keep her in pristine condition. Astonishingly, Darius would still like to find a human girlfriend”.

Unlike most objectophiles I have read about, Darius had sexual relationships with women prior to falling in love with Goldie, and still wants sex with women in the future. In his interview with the Sunday Mirror, he was reported as saying:

 “I don’t expect people to understand because it’s not something I fully understand myself. I didn’t choose this but I have fallen for a car, just like other people fall for women. I find her arousing, I love spending time with her and she is very important to me. I don’t see her as an object, I look at her and I see my lover. Before I bought Goldie I was in a normal loving relationship with a woman. I didn’t see anything strange about myself or my sexuality at all. I’ve always been a car lover, but if someone told me it was possible to have sexual feelings towards something that’s not human I’d have laughed them off just like people laugh at me now. I can’t really explain what triggered it, but I went to view Goldie and had always wanted an X-Type Jaguar. Her colour is so unique and after I’d handed over the cash, all I wanted to do was go and polish her. I pulled into the jet wash and was making circular motions on her bonnet with a cleaning cloth when I suddenly felt unexpectedly aroused. It was something about the smooth, shiny paintwork and the perfect curves of the car that got me turned on. I tried to ignore the feeling and just put it down to excitement about having a new car. But when I got home and sat down to watch TV I had a real urge to venture into the garage and visit her in private”.

The unexpected sexual arousal that Darius felt when first polishing Goldie appears to be the initial spark of his relationship with the car. Psychologists like myself would claim that this unexpected associative pairing of polishing the car with sexual arousal is something that repeatedly played on Darius’ mind and that this formed the basis for a classically conditioned response where the car itself ended up causing the sexual arousal. As he also explained in his newspaper interview:

“I had a girlfriend at the time and I didn’t dare tell her what was going through my mind so I used the excuse that I’d left my wallet in the car and headed out. I wasn’t exactly sure what would happen as the feelings were all new to me. I just knew I felt really turned on by the notion of having sexual intercourse with my new car. Immediately afterwards I felt ashamed and guilty, but I knew right then it wouldn’t be the last time. I walked away feeling so confused about what I’d just done. As disturbing as it was, I told myself I couldn’t be the only person in the world who had experienced these kinds of feelings”.

And Darius was right. There are dozens of objectophiles around the world, and while the behaviour is rare, he is certainly not alone. For instance, in a previous blog I recounted the stories of Edward Smith (an American man who has who has had sex with over a 1000 cars), and Robert Stewart (a British man who ended up in court after being caught having sex with a bicycle). It was when Darius started doing his own research on his behaviour that he began to feel better, knowing there were other objectophiles:

“Knowing others had [sexual and romantic] feelings towards cars, bikes or planes definitely put me at ease but it was a really difficult thing for me to accept. I was enjoying having sex with my car more than with my girlfriend. I even missed the car when I went up to bed at night and felt bad for leaving her alone in the garage. When I broke the news to my girlfriend she left me right away. I could understand her thinking my behaviour was odd, but deep down there was a sense of relief there for me in knowing that I had got things out in the open and I was free to pursue my relationship with Goldie”.

Having accepted that the feelings towards his car were not unique, Darius began to share the details of his new love with his closest friends:

“They laughed at first thinking I was joking, but once they realised I was being serious they told me I was weird and that I need to get psychological help. It really upset me knowing I didn’t have any kind of support or understanding from other people. My feelings for [the car] just grew stronger and stronger. I have never had loving or sexual feelings for any other vehicle, and I firmly believe I have something special with Goldie. I realise most people will think what I do is wrong in some way, but I’m not hurting anyone so what’s the harm?”

In my commentary on the case for the newspaper, I claimed that there was nothing wrong with Darius in a psychological sense. Yes, his behaviour is strange, yes his behaviour seems bizarre to most people, and yes it’s unusual, but he Darius doesn’t appear to need psychological treatment. I noted that if Darius wanted to spend the rest of his life living in a non-normative relationship with Goldie that does no harm to him or anybody else, that was OK by me. I have no problems with anybody’s sexual behaviour as long as it’s consensual (and in this case, the car can’t say it’s not OK). If others see his behaviour as bizarre, it is totally irrelevant. Darius can seek treatment if it’s psychologically harming him, but it sounds like he knows it’s unusual and he seems fine with it. As he went on to say:

“[Goldie] doesn’t cheat on me or moan about me not doing the washing up. She doesn’t have the ability to be in a bad mood. I haven’t lost sight of the fact Goldie is a machine and probably doesn’t love me back – I am not delusional in the sense I’d think she has her own mind. I’ve met a few women since falling in love with Goldie and I am always completely open about her from the start. A couple of them have been open to giving things a go, but when I take my trips out to the garage to see her they say they just find it all too weird. I’d love to get married and have a family if I’m honest. But the next woman I date will have to be OK about sharing me with Goldie”.

In a previous blog, I provided details of the only academic paper that has been published concerning a car-loving objectophile but that case was very different to that of Darius. The paper was a case study by Dr Padmal De Silva and Dr Amanda Pernet published in a 1992 issue of the journal Sex and Marital Therapy. The case involved an unusual sexual deviation in a young 20-year old British man (‘George’) who had little social interaction and was incredibly shy. They reported that his main sexual interest and excitement was from cars – particularly Austin Metro cars. George’s family belonged to a strict religious sect who strongly disapproved of any sexual involvement by their son with women. Things changed for George when his parents bought an Austin Metro car. George began masturbating inside the car, and then outside masturbating outside the car while crouching down next to the car’s exhaust pipe. So that he couldn’t be caught masturbating, he would go to great lengths to find deserted places to engage in his sexual activity with the car.

George used to become very sexually excited when the car’s exhaust pipe was running and pumping out car fumes. This aspect of “elimination” – according to De Silva and Pernet – was an important central element in George’s other sexual preferences – particularly his fascination of urination. As a very young child he had an unusual interest in dogs urinating. After the age of 10 years, he was more interested in children and adult women urinating. The authors also speculated there may have been an increase in George’s arousal due to a “reduction of oxygen intake and related asphyxiation”. This was possibly seen as a mild form of hypoxyphilia.

As you can see, the case of ‘George’ and Darius share few similarities apart from the fact they both have sexual relationships with cars. The fact that two case studies can be so different is terms of aetiology and development of the behaviour suggests that car-loving objectophiles should be an avenue of further research because there are likely to be very different explanations and motivations for the behaviour.

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.

Browne, R.B. (1982). Objects of Special Devotion: Fetishism in Popular Culture. Popular Press.

Ceilán, C. (2008). Weirdly Beloved: Tales of Strange Bedfellows, Odd Couplings, and Love Gone Bad. The Lyons Press.

De Silva, P. & Pernet, A. (1992). Pollution in ‘Metroland’: An unusual paraphilia in a shy young man. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 7, 301-306.

Hickey, E.W. (2006), Sex crimes and paraphilia. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Levy, D. (2017). Man’s bizarre medical condition means he’s in love with his CAR and even has sex with motor he calls Goldie. Sunday Mirror, July 29. Located at: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/mans-bizarre-medical-condition-means-10896296

Marsh, A. (2010). Love among the objectum sexuals. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 13, March 1. Located at: http://www.ejhs.org/volume13/ObjSexuals.htm

Nelson, S. (2012). Fetish spotlight: Mechanophilia. Located at: http://www.thehoneybunnys.com/fetish-spotlight-mechanophilia/

Schlessinger (2003). Mechaphilia: Sexual Attraction to Machines. Please Press.

Thompson, S.L. (2000). The arts of the motorcycle: Biology, culture, and aesthetics in technological choice. Technology and Culture, 41, 99-115.

Wikipedia (2017). Mechanophilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanophilia

Group therapy: The psychology of the Beatles

Although I love many musical groups and singers, the Beatles have always been (and always will be) my all-time favourite band. Being an obsessive fan of the group is not cheap because there is almost a never-ending supply of products that can be bought including records, CDs, DVDs, books, and other merchandise such as mugs, t-shirts, coasters, and games. I’m a sucker for it all and as a record collecting completist, I have to have every single track they have ever recorded on both official releases and bootlegs (my latest acquisition being the 6-disc collector’s edition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). It’s both fun and expensive (but thankfully I have few vices) and the Beatles are one of the few artists that I have spent thousands and thousands of pounds indulging my passion for their music (others include David Bowie, Adam Ant, The Smiths [and Morrissey], Gary Numan, Velvet Underground [and Lou Reed and John Cale], John Foxx [and Ultravox], Art of Noise [and other ZTT bands], and Iggy Pop [and The Stooges]).

Sgtpeppergatefold

One of the reasons I chose to study psychology at university was because John Lennon underwent primal therapy (a trauma-based psychotherapy) in 1970 with its’ developer (US psychotherapist Dr. Arthur Janov). I read Janov’s first book (The Primal Scream) in 1983 just because of my love of Lennon’s work, and psychology sounded far more interesting than the ‘A’ levels I was doing at the time (maths, physics, chemistry and biology). As the Wikipedia entry on primal therapy notes:

The musician John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, went through primal therapy in 1970. A copy of the just-released The Primal Scream arrived in the mail at Lennon’s home, Tittenhurst Park (sources differ about who sent the book). Lennon was impressed, and he requested primal therapy to be started at Tittenhurst. Arthur Janov and his first wife, Vivian Janov, went to Tittenhurst in March 1970 to start the therapy, which continued in April in Los Angeles. Arthur Janov went to Tittenhurst after giving instructions in advance about the isolation period and giving instructions to Lennon to be separated from Ono. Lennon and Ono had three weeks of intensive treatment in England before Janov returned to Los Angeles, where they had four months of therapy. According to some sources, Lennon ended primal therapy after four months…Lennon commented after therapy, ‘I still think that Janov’s therapy is great, you know, but I do not want to make it a big Maharishi thing’ and ‘I just know myself better, that’s all. I can handle myself better. That Janov thing, the primal scream and so on, it does affect you, because you recognize yourself in there…It was very good for me. I am still ‘primal’ and it still works.’ and ‘I no longer have any need for drugs, the Maharishi or the Beatles. I am myself and I know why’”.

Lennon didn’t undergo primal therapy until just after the Beatles had split up and it was his 1970 solo LP (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band) that included many songs that were rotted in his primal therapy experiences including ‘Mother’, ‘My Mummy’s Dead’, ‘God’, ‘Working Class Hero’, ‘Remember’, and ‘Well Well Well’. Many describe this LP as Lennon at his most raw and the album is all the better for it.

At university, one of my favourite topics was Gestalt psychology and its basic tenet that ‘the whole is more than the sum of its parts’ to me encapsulates The Beatles as a whole. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were all brilliant in their own musical sphere but little of their best solo work – with the odd exception – was ever as good as the best of their work with the Beatles. For whatever reason, the Beatles working as a foursome – even when the songs had been written individually – produced music as a group that was better than music on their solo LPs. The Beatles early solo recordings (1970-71) included songs that had typically been written while they were still in The Beatles. For instance, many of the songs on George Harrison’s brilliant (and best) album, All Things Must Pass, had been practiced and rehearsed during the making of the Beatles’ final LP Let It Be.

In previous blogs I have looked at celebrities’ use of illicit drugs (one on celebrities in general and whether they are more prone to addiction, one on David Bowie, The Beatles and addiction, and a third one looking at the use of psychoactive substance use on the process of creativity). My first awareness of illicit drugs was reading about the Beatles’ use of various substances in many biographies I read during my early adolescence. When it came to drugs, the Beatles appeared to have seen and done it all. In their pre-fame days in early 1960s Hamburg they all lived on a diet of pills, poppers, and stimulants just to get through their hours of playing every single day. Like many hard working musicians they used a combination of ‘uppers’ and ‘downers’ to regulate their day-to-day living. By the mid-1960s they were all smoking marijuana and taking LSD which may or may not have helped the creative juices to flow. By the end of the 1960s, Lennon was hooked on heroin and recorded one of his most infamous hits about its withdrawal symptoms (‘Cold Turkey’).

By the late 1960s, the Beatles (along with many of the big pop stars of the day) were also searching for other mind altering experiences and the ‘meaning of life’ which led them to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (‘Maharishi’ meaning ‘great seer’) and his teachings on transcendental meditation (TM). I myself dabbled in TM during the early 1990s, and over the last few years I have developed a new line of research on mindfulness meditation with my colleagues Edo Shonin and William Van Gordon (see ‘Further reading’). The Beatles (and George Harrison particularly) stimulated me to learn more about Buddhist philosophy. One of the Beatles most innovative songs ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ – the final track on the 1966 Revolver album – was written by Lennon after reading The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead written by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert. However, it was Harrison who was most swayed and his spiritual beliefs rooted in Buddhism stayed with him until his dying day. Although I am not religious in the slightest, the lyrics to some of Harrison’s best songs while he was in The Beatles dealing with Buddhist philosophy are simply beautiful (‘Within You, Without You’ and ‘The Inner Light’ being the best examples; arguably you could add Lennon’s ‘Across The Universe’ to this list).

When I first started listening to The Beatles at the age of around 5 or 6 years of age, it was the music and the melodies that I loved (particularly the 1962-1965 period). By my late teens it was the later songs (1966-1969) and the more sophisticated musical layers that I loved (and still do). Now when I listen to their songs I am most interested in what the songs are trying to say and their philosophical or psychological underpinnings. Any analysis of their songs over time demonstrates that they went from a repertoire dominated by songs about love and relationships (‘Love Me Do’, ‘Please Please Me’, ‘From Me To You’, ‘She Loves You’, and ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’, ‘Eight Days A Week’) to a much wider range of topics many of which covered psychological topics such as childhood nostalgia (‘In My Life’, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, and ‘Penny Lane’), mind-wandering (‘Fixing A Hole’), domestic violence (‘Getting Better’), jealousy (‘Run For Your Life’, ‘You Can’t Do That’, ‘What Goes On’), casual sex/one-night stands (‘The Night Before’, ‘Day Tripper’), prostitution (‘Polythene Pam’, ‘Maggie Mae’), [alleged] drug use (‘Dr. Robert’, ‘A Day In The Life’, ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’, ‘What’s The New Mary Jane‘), running away from home (‘She’s Leaving Home’), homelessness (‘Mean Mr. Mustard’), insomnia (‘I’m So Tired’), depression due to relationship troubles (‘I’m Down’, ‘I’m A Loser’, ‘Help’, ‘Baby’s In Black’, ‘Yesterday’, ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’, ‘Ticket To Ride’, ‘For No-One’), suicide (‘Yer Blues’), murder (‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’), and death (‘She Said She Said’, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’).

There were also those songs that were overtly political (‘Taxman’, ‘Revolution’), self-referential (‘Glass Onion’), and autobiographical (‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’, ‘Julia’, ‘Dear Prudence’, ‘Norwegian Wood [This Bird Has Flown]) to songs that were rooted in surrealism (most notably ‘I Am The Walrus’, ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’, ‘What’s The New Mary Jane‘) and the experimental avant garde (‘Revolution 9’, ‘You Know My Name [Look Up The Number]‘, and – the yet to be released and holy grail for Beatles collectors – ‘Carnival of Light’).

In short, repeated listening to The Beatles’ output brings me continued pleasure. I feel good when I listen to the Beatles. I can listen to The Beatles and create playlists to reflect the mood I’m in. I can simply read the lyrics to their songs and look for meanings that probably weren’t intended by the songwriter. In short, I am constantly rewarded by listening to (and analysing the lyrics of) The Beatles. For me, listening to The Beatles is quite simply “group therapy”!

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

Further reading

The Beatles (1988). The Beatles Lyrics: The Songs of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr. London: Omnibus Press.

Davies, H. (2009). The Beatles: The Authorised Biography. London: Ebury.

Goldman, A. (1988). The Lives of John Lennon. W. Morrow.

Lewisohn, M. (1990). The Complete Beatles Chronicle. London: Harmony Books.

Janov, A. (1970). The Primal Scream. New York: Dell Books.

Janov A (1977). Towards a new consciousness. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 21, 333–339.

Janov, A. (1980). Prisoners of Pain: Unlocking The Power Of The Mind To End Suffering. New York: Anchor Books.

Norman, P. (2011). Shout! the Beatles in their generation. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Sheff, D., & Golson, G. B. (1982). The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. New York: Penguin Group.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., Compare, A., Zangeneh, M. & Griffiths M.D. (2015). Buddhist-derived loving-kindness and compassion meditation for the treatment of psychopathology: A systematic review. Mindfulness, 6, 1161–1180.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Current trends in mindfulness and mental health. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 113-115.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical psychology: Towards effective integration. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 6, 123-137.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Does mindfulness work? Reasonably convincing evidence in depression and anxiety. British Medical Journal, 351, h6919 doi: 10.1136/bmj.h6919.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Mindfulness and Buddhist-derived Approaches in Mental Health and Addiction. New York: Springer.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Buddhist emptiness theory: Implications for the self and psychology. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, in press.

Van Gordon W., Shonin, E., Griffiths M.D. & Singh, N. (2015). There is only one mindfulness: Why science and Buddhism need to work together. Mindfulness, 6, 49-56.

Wenner, J. (2001). Lennon Remembers. Verso.

Wikipedia (2017). Arthur Janov. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Janov

Wikipedia (2017). Primal therapy. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primal_therapy