According to Dr. Martin Kafka in a 2010 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, partialism refers to “a sexual interest with an exclusive focus of a specific part of the body” and occurs in both heterosexual and homosexual individuals. Dr. Kafka also noted in the same paper that partialism is categorized as a sexual paraphilia ‘not otherwise specified’ in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and then goes on to say that “individuals with partialism sometimes describe the anatomy of interest to them as having equal or greater erotic attraction for them as do the genitals”. Scientific research indicates that the most prevalent from of partialism is podophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from feet). Historically, partialism was viewed as synonymous with sexual fetishism. However, Dr. Kafka noted that there is a “diagnostic separation of partialism (intense, persistent, and ‘exclusive’ sexual arousal to a non-genital body part) from fetishism (intense and persistent sexual arousal to non-living objects, including some body products)”. Although I accept this very subtle difference, I essentially view partialism and fetishism as one and the same. In the 2008 book Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment, Dr Judith Milner and colleagues noted that:
“In ‘partialism’, the paraphilic focus is on some part of the partner’s body, such as the hands, legs, feet, breasts, buttocks, or hair. Partialism appears to overlap with morphophilia, which is defined as a focus on one or more body characteristics of one’s sexual partner…it is unclear whether these two categories are unique paraphilias or different names for the same paraphilia. Historically, some authors (e.g., Berest, 1971; Wise, 1985) have included partialism as part of the general definition of fetishism, which once included both parts of bodies and nonliving objects (e.g., shoes, underwear, skirts, gloves). Again, however, the [DSM] criteria for fetishism indicate that the focus must involve the ‘use of nonliving objects’, which eliminates body parts from meeting this criterion”.
One of the most bizarre cases of partialism in the academic literature is a case study (of ‘oral partialism’) by Dr. Brian McGuire and colleagues published in a 1998 issue of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. As far as I can see, the case has only been cited three times in the academic literature. One of these sources was Dr. Raj Persaud’s 2003 book From The Edge Of The Couch (and it is from this book that I have taken the case from).
The case in question involved a single and severely obese man in his late teens that lived at home with his father and sister (his parents had separated some years before), and of borderline intellectual disability. The father described his son as a recluse that spent the majority of the day alone in his room with little or no social interaction with anyone except his family (and even then the social interactions were minimal). The man had very poor personal hygiene (described as typically wearing torn and dirty clothes), rarely washed or bathed, and his weight was estimated at around 300 pounds. As a consequence of his very poor hygiene, the teenager “developed ulcerated sores under his arms, above the pubis, and in the groin area” (that he had for most of the teenage years). To treat the sores and skin ulcers he was prescribed a course of antibiotics. However, overall compliance by the man was low (taking just over half of the tablets initially prescribed) – even though he was extensively monitored by the medical staff taking care of him. The man then claimed that he had lost his antibiotics at home. It was then that the medics discovered what was really going on and why he didn’t want to take his medication. The unhealed sores and ulcers had taken on sexual significance for the man. As Dr. Persaud summarized:
“Upon questioning, the patient reported that he was easily sexually aroused and habitually masturbated at least twice a day, and more often four or five times a day. Ejaculation would always occur. He reported interest in the opposite sex and said that he often fantasized. However, the fantasy content and its accompanying behavior never involved sexual intercourse, nor indeed any conventional sexual act. The patient’s primary sexual fantasy stimulus was that of a women’s mouth, although the fantasy never involved kissing or oral stimulation…Rather, he imagined the woman licking her fingers or gently biting her own lips. Simultaneously, the patient would put his own fingers into the ulcers/sores in his groin and/or under his arms and then lick the pus from his fingers. It appears that he ingested the pus and found both the smell and taste exciting, although he was unable to pinpoint exactly the sexually stimulating aspect of this act. He reported that it was the mere sight of a women with her fingers to her mouth or lips was adequately arousing to initiate masturbation with the accompanying fantasy image and oral behaviour”.
As I’ve noted in many of my previous blogs, almost every (seemingly non-sexual) fluid that can come from a human body has a corresponding sexual paraphilia and/or fetish. This includes urine (urophilia), faeces (coprophilia), vomit (emetophilia), blood (menophilia, clinical vampirism, vorarephilia), saliva (spit fetish), breast milk (lactophilia), and pus (acnephilia). Obviously this bizarre case arguable shares some similarities with acnephilia (as both involve sexual arousal to pus) but they are different in terms of its sexualization.
At the outset, the man was given some psycheducation about the unhygienic nature of the sexual behaviour that initially resulted in a behavioural decrease of his strange sexual behavior – although the oral sexual fantasies still persisted. (Such psychoeducation has also been successfully used in the treatment of other sexual paraphilias. For instance, a case reported by Dr. R. Denson in a 1985 issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry used psychoeducation as part of his treatment of a urophile). In his commentary on the case, Dr. Persaud said that it was open to debate as to whether the behaviour should be treated as problematic and/or psychopathological as (despite the arguably unsavoury nature) it had little impact on other people and wasn’t seen by the individual in question as problematic.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Berest, J. J. (1971). Fetishism: Three case histories. Journal of Sex Research, 7, 237–239.
Denson, R. (1982). Undinism: The fetishization of urine. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 27, 336–338.
Kafka, M. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for fetishism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 357–362.
Kafka, M. P. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for paraphilia not otherwise specified. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(2), 373-376.
McGuire, B.E., Choon, G.L., Nayer, P., & Sanders, J. (1998). An unusual paraphilia: Case report of oral partialism. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 13, 207-210.
Milner, J.S., & Dopke, C.A., & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and theory. In D. R. Laws & W. O’Donohue (Eds.), Sexual deviance: Theory, assessment, and treatment (2nd ed., pp. 384-428). New York: Guilford.
Penix, T.M. (2008). Paraphilia not Otherwise Specified: Assessment and treatment. In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp.419-438). New York: Guildford Press.
Persaud. R. (2003). From The Edge Of The Couch. London: Bantam Press.
Wise, T.N. (1985). Fetishism – etiology and treatment: A review from multiple perspectives. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 26, 249–257.
Back in 1991 while I was holidaying in Goa (India), I was lying on the beach with my (then) girlfriend (next to a dead dolphin, but that’s another story) when suddenly I felt something being stuck into my ears. It was a Goan man making a living out of removing earwax from the tourists with a specially designed earpick. At the time, I didn’t think much of it and all I can recall was speaking to one of the staff at the hotel reception about it. She said to me that for some people in the locality, earwax was “almost an obsession”.
Recently, I was re-reminded of this incident when I came across an article on Danny Brown’s webpage called ‘The completely pointless Google experiment’. Brown’s pointless experiment was to find ridiculous and obscure facts by typing various phrases into Google to discover what came back as the number 1 result. One of the phrases he typed in was “What is the weirdest earwax story ever?” He wrote that:
“Now I’m not one of these people that have a fetish for ear wax (and yes, they DO exist!) but this seemed like a rather innocuous question. According to the #1 result on Google, it’s using ear wax as a remedy for cold sores, as found on the Remedicated website, under ’15 of the weirdest home remedies as folk treatments ever’”
I wasn’t interested in the top-rated story (although I did read the Wikipedia entry on earwax and discovered that “many types of whales have a build-up of earwax which increases with time; the size of the deposit is sometimes the only way to determine the age of whales that do not have teeth”). What garnered my interest was Brown’s assertion that earwax fetishes “DO exist” (his emphasis, not mine). My first online search led to websites talking about mimikaki. The term ‘mimikaki’ is a Japanese word and describes the act of picking earwax out of the ears. I also read that the removal of earwax is often done in the context of lover’s grooming customs and rituals with one website claiming that “as with practically every aspect of Japanese culture, mimikaki is often fetishized”. The same website claimed that mimikaki services can be bought in a variety of Japanese establishments that offer massage and other grooming services. Someone else writing on the same website also noted:
“Ear picks are a commonly used item and preferred for earwax removal in East Asia. The person having their ears cleaned would lie down with their head in the lap of the person doing the cleaning. It is generally considered a pleasant feeling, like having one’s back scratched. The cleaning of ears is thus considered an act of intimacy, often performed by a mother to a child or, among adults, by one’s lover. It may also be performed alone or by professional (non-medical) ear cleaners on the streets of cities in countries such as China, India, Japan, Vietnam, and other Asian countries”
Having read this, I decided to see what it out there on earwax obsessions and fetishes. Academically, I found nothing (at least in relation to sexual fetishes). In the online world I came across various snippets relating to sexual earwax fetishes. An article about “five freaky fetishes” on the Daily Radar website included a paragraph on earwax fetishes and noted:
“Earwax. We’ve all heard of shit, piss, puke and so on fetishes. Frankly, I find them a little boring. Been there, done that…But I know there’s a big market out there for bodily fluids, so I came up with one you’ve likely not heard of before: earwax. It tastes like ambrosia if it was all waxy and it fits into many crevices of the body…It’s like naturally occurring honey is what it’s like! I don’t know why other bodily fluid fetishes have been popular enough to inspire Internet ‘memes’ while this earwax thing has yet to gain traction”
A 2010 news item in The Sportsman’s Daily claimed that Bill Belichick, head coach of the American football team New England Patriots had an ear/wax fetish. He was reported to have said: “I’m into Q-Tips. Any kind of swab basically. I enjoy sniffing ear wax. The hard of hearing really get my juices flowing. And I’ve got a headphone collection that would make the folks at Sony sit up and take notice”. In the same story, a sex therapist Dr. Clifton Hamels claimed that ear fetishes are among the rarest of fetishes. More specifically he said: “I’ve only had one patient that was into aural. But perhaps now that a high profile coach has let it all be heard, so to speak, other people will come forward and tell the world how they’re into ear”.
I managed to locate a few individuals on various online forums who claimed to have an earwax fetish. Most (but not all) of these were sexually based. Here are some examples
- Extract 1: “I have a huge earwax fetish…Sometimes I like to have fantasies of swimming in men’s earwax. It makes me super horny and I can get orgasms by just thinking of it…I also have a fantasy where I find this giant guy and I have him shove me in his ear and use me as a Q-tip. Does anyone else have these types of fantasies or is it just me?”
- Extract 2: “My fetish is horrible but I love it. have this earwax fetish. I sometimes daydream about swimming in a guy’s ears and drink the wax out of his ears. It makes me horny as hell. I sometimes imagine a guy pouring wax out of his ears and I start drinking and bathing the wax. I also do this as I’m masturbating and I get orgasms. I think of a lot of things about earwax to get horny. I hope I’m not alone because it is great and fills me with orgasmic energy. Sometimes I go without a month without cleaning my ears and sit on the toilet and pick my ears and eat it while masturbating and imagine its’ a guys ear wax”
- Extract 3: “Which of you ladies gets turned on by a man with lots of hot, yellow goop in his ears? I tend to have a lot of wax in my ears when I wake up and wonder if any pretty mommas around here find that sexy? Do you fantasize looking into my ear seeing something that looks like an apple pie cooking in an oven and just want to shove your tongue in there and dig out all that steamy slop. Sometimes I have so much it falls out and looks like pieces of buttered popcorn laying on my pillow”
- Extract 4: “As it turns out, the guy has an ear wax fetish. Yup, he wanted me to use a Q-tip and clean out his ears. Then, he wanted to clean out mine. I couldn’t handle it and did everything I could to avoid the dreaded Q-tip. In the process of getting to know Ear Wax Boy, G got engaged. I was devastated, Ear Wax could sense I wasn’t ready to move on, and the romance ended”
- Extract 5: “I don’t know if this is a fetish or what but I will explain. I have a earwax problem, I get quite a bit of it in my ears if I don’t keep them cleaned out. I find myself during the day sticking pin lids and other skinny things into my ears and scraping the earwax out, which I’d say is normal but what isn’t normal is I enjoy smelling the ear wax. I really love the smell and I could sit all day with earwax up to my ears. I think smelling someone else’s would be sick, I only enjoy mine”
The first four of these are obviously sexually based while the final one borders more on non-sexual obsession (although I openly admit that it may not be a true obsession). I should also mention that the person in Extract 1 was also a self-admitted coprophile (with sexual fantasies and arousal involving diarrhea), and also appears to have macrophilc tendencies too (i.e., sexual arousal from giants). Additionally, the first two extracts may be the same person writing in two different online forums as the fantasy about being used as a Q-tip also appeared in both accounts (although I edited out this reference in Extract 2). There may be some psychological overlap between earwax fetishes and acnephilia (that I examined in a previous blog). For instance, I observed discussion of “earwax nirvana” on the Pop That Zit website.
Obviously, I have no idea if these online admissions are representative of earwax lovers (or how genuine the accounts are). As I said earlier, there is absolutely no academic or clinical research on the topic of earwax fetishes (and to be honest not likely to be as there doesn’t seem to be any problem associated with such behaviour).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Brown, D. (2008). The completely pointless Google experiment. November 17. Located at: http://dannybrown.me/2008/11/17/the-completely-pointless-google-experiment/
Choo, D. (2007). Japan hygiene. Culture Japan, August 10. Located at: http://www.dannychoo.com/post/en/1026/Japan+Hygiene.html
The Sportsman’s Daily (2010). Belichick one ups Rex Ryan; Admits to rare ear fetish. December 23. Located at: http://sportsmansdaily.com/thescrum/?p=3610
Wikipedia (2012). Earwax. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earwax
I want to start today’s blog with a few quotes that I’ve taken from various online discussion groups:
- Extract 1: “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t enjoy popping blackheads. It’s the ultimate secret pleasure”
- Extract 2: “My ex-girlfriend used to [squeeze my spots] all the time too. I thought it was a little weird also, but what the hell, I let her pick and pop”
- Extract 3: “Zits aren’t fun. Or so the general attitude goes. No one admires a good zit the way you marvel at a perfectly sculpted nose or cheekbone. But for a small group of people, acne isn’t just a mini volcano of pus, it’s a beautiful bump of love juice”
- Extract 4: “So this is kind of gross, but my wife has a fetish for popping zits. She absolutely cannot pop enough. Whether it be whiteheads or blackheads, she can’t get enough. I can’t take my shirt off without watching my back because she will pop around a corner to try to squeeze out a blackhead before I notice and run away. She says it’s like the best feeling ever to feel a zit pop between her fingers”
- Extract 5: “This guy I was talking to on Facebook just told me that he thinks pimples are cute and that he wanted to lick mine. I’m sure that he was serious, he also has a foot fetish. He’s like begging me to like role play with him a situation with me making him lick my pimples”
- Extract 6: “So I would think that this whole pimple popping thing falls under the category of a fetish, wouldn’t you?? And as we all know, groups of people who share a fondness for the same fetish often get together and ‘practice” this fetish, right? Even if it’s sick, twisted, or immoral??”
All of these quotes appear to suggest the existence of acnephilia. The word is made up and it does not appear in either Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices or Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. The only operational definition of the condition I have come across is from the online Urban Dictionary that says acnephilia is:
“Deriving pleasure from popping pimples or zits on either one’s own face or someone close to them. Acnephilia is usually common among girlfriends as they find enjoyment in popping their boyfriend’s pimples, despite the pleas and groans from their mates. Symptoms of Acnephilia could arise anywhere. From one’s own personal home to the public streets. Once Acnephilia takes over a young woman’s body she is not content until every single one of her boyfriend’s pimples are popped and done with”.
Before examining the alleged sexual nature of squeezing spots, I did come across an interesting article in a 2003 issue of Salon magazine where the author (Anna Holmes) interviewed a number of scientists about why women will happily squeeze their sexual partner’s spots. Most of those interviewed conceptualized such behaviour as ‘grooming’. For instance, Dr. Robin Dunbar (professor of Evolutionary Psychology, Liverpool University, UK) was quoted as saying:
“The chief manner in which primates regulate their relationships with one another is through grooming, whereas we more evolved humans rely on verbal and written language. Relationships are negotiations and we use many devious ways and wiles to get close to members of the opposite sex. At the end of the day, grooming and language are part and parcel of the armoury we have to facilitate and build relationships. Language is a very inefficient mechanism in terms of making the social wheel go ’round. Grooming is a much more powerful way of conveying a sort of emotional state; nothing you can say verbally can compare with what you say through touch”.
The article also featured a female psychoanalyst who refused to be named and speculated there may be a ritualistic or purification element at play, and implied that the activity is sadomasochistic. She argued that in the same way that those with obsessive-compulsive disorders engage in rituals in order to overcome their anxiety, picking spots may be something soothing thing in a frenetic life. She then went on to speculate that spot squeezers may be just transferring “the pleasure of picking at themselves to some other person in a sort of sadistic fondling”. I don’t see this at all, and neither did psychologist Dr. Fred Penzel (an expert on dermatological obsessive-compulsive disorders) who said:
“The field of psycho-dermatology has gone nowhere. It’s just a bunch of people trying to come up with psycho-sexual interpretations of why people do this sort of stuff. It’s all symbolism with them, like interpreting poems and literature. In psychology we sort of look at the whole picture, both behavioural and biological, and believe that these compulsive behaviours are neurobiological and maybe even genetic. People use certain grooming behaviours as means to calm themselves during times of stress or anxiety or to provide focus while feeling bored or sedentary. Although these behaviors are most often self-directed, they are sometimes also performed on other people, even animals and objects. Of course I’ve had patients who mention that they pick at their spouses”.
If you type in ‘acnephilia’ or ‘zit fetish’ into any search engine, there is one webpage that almost every other article mentions and that is an undated online essay entitled “Acnephilia: More commonly known as the zit fetish” on the Backwashzine (BWZ) website. The article claims that as the pornography market has expanded, there are an increasing number of fetish videos and films being produced to cater for every sexual fetish and sexual niche imaginable. As I’ve noted in many of my previous blogs, almost every (seemingly non-sexual) fluid that can come from a human body has a corresponding sexual paraphilia and/or fetish. This includes urine (urophilia), faeces (coprophilia), vomit (emetophilia), blood (menophilia, clinical vampirism), saliva (spit fetish), and breast milk (lactophilia). So what about pus and the acnephilia market? The BWZ article gave a detailed overview of an acnephilia film called Pus Poppin’ Forefingers. Here is just the start of the description:
“For 90 minutes this film follows the adventures of Pizza Face Joe and Polly, whose breasts are covered with zits…A romance is budding. Polly invites Pizza Face inside, and they head straight to the bedroom. She turns on a bright lamp, and starts examining Pizza Face’s face. The camera zooms in real tight, giving viewers a good close-up of Pizza Face’s horrid cystic acne. Mounds of pus are just waiting to explode, like little time bombs ticking away. Polly takes a hand and gently caresses the contours of Pizza’s face. They stare each other in the eyes. Pizza then takes Polly’s other finger and brings it up to his face. She takes it from there, bringing her forefingers together, and giving the most monstrous zit a good, hard squeeze…It spurts white goodness all over her face! Blood then seeps out. They grab a bit of tissue and dab it on the opened crater. Polly then aims for another. “I want your warm, white, milky pus in my mouth!” she says in her most sexy whisper. With that, she puts her mouth to his face and squeezes off another pimple with her teeth”.
After this, the article gets very pornographic so you can read it for yourself if you’re interested. The author of the article then interviewed a young male who rented out the film and asked him what he liked about acne and spot squeezing. The interviewee was quoted as saying:
“My favorite is the big, red kind that festers on the back. Guy or girl, I don’t care, I just want to sit back there and squeeze. Sometimes I’ll put on some Oxy first, just for taste. It gives the pimple some real zing. You know, popping, is just like grooming, like the apes do. There’s something primeval about it. And then when it finally pops, I sop up all the gushing goods with my tongue. The ass is a great place too. They can get pretty big down there…I usually make my partner sit on pizzas, and squish around for a bit. In a few days, it’s paydirt”.
After reading the article, I did a bit of my own research on the topic and I can confirm (a) that there are online forums out there that genuinely appear to cater for acnephiles (such as The Pimple Erotic), and (b) there are dedicated ‘spot squeezing’ websites where dozens of videos have been uploaded for acnephile pleasure (such as the ‘zit lovers community’).
Another online article by Naweko San-Joyz on acne fetishes tried to argue that squeezing spots – even if there is no sexual focus – can be a fetish, and that it can be real or imagined. Personally, I don’t agree that this is fetishistic in the way that I conceptualize fetishes but I thought I would give some blog space to this viewpoint:
“A fetish is an object of unreasonably obsessive attention or regard. Thus, extreme attention given to zits and pimples characterize an acne fetish. Two clinical forms of an acne fetish include excoriated acne and imagined acne. Excoriated acne occurs when an acne patient continues to pick at or squeeze acne formations on their face, never allowing the skin to heal. This constant picking aggravates the acne condition and often times leaves severe scarring. Imagined acne happens when a patient is convinced she has acne but in reality does not. This person may have one small pimple and blow the existence of the pimple out of proportion and view it as a severe case of acne.Underlying both of these acne fetishes is the fear of being ugly, or dysmorphophobia. It’s an easy psychological state to acquire in a society that increasingly places more value on superficial looks than personal traits”.
Somewhat predictably, there isn’t a single academic or clinical study on acnephilia as a sexual paraphilia, and any psychological insight into the roots and motivation for engaging in the activity are highly speculative at best. I did come across one site – the Mystery Sex Fetish Theater – that briefly examined the sexual side of squeezing spots and whose anonymous writer compared the eruption of pus from spots with male ejaculation and asked rhetorically “are pimples phallic symbols?” (No, is my response).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Backwashzine (undated). Acnephilia: More commonly known as zit fetish. Located at: http://www.backwashzine.com/acnephilia.html
Holmes, A. (2003). In grossness and in health: Psycho-dermatology, female gorillas, and why women love to pick their boyfriends’ zits. Salon, August 11. Located at: http://www.salon.com/2003/08/11/grooming/
San-Joyz, N. (2004). An acne fetish is no laughing matter. E-Zine Articles, December 4, Located at: http://ezinearticles.com/?An-Acne-Fetish-is-No-Laughing-Matter&id=6684