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Don’t worry, bee happy: Another very brief look at melissophilia

In the last two weeks I have been interviewed twice by the British Metro newspaper about different sexual paraphilias. The first interview with Miranda Larbi was on dacryphilia (sexual arousal from crying), a paraphilia on which I’ve already published three papers on and have a fourth in progress, and which the Metro published as ‘There are women who get wet from crying’. The second interview with Yvette Caster was on formicophilia (usually defined as sexual arousal from insects but not strictly accurate as I’ll explain below) and more specifically on melissophilia (sexual arousal from bees, the opposite of melissophobia – a fear of bees and bee stings). I’ve not published academic papers on either formicophilia or melissophilia but have written blogs on both of them, and is the reason I was asked for comment. Much of the information in the Metro’s article came from my blog and was supplemented with quotes from my interview with them. The Metro piece (somewhat ambitiously entitled ‘Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the sexual fetish for bees’) started by saying:

“We all know about the birds and the bees. But some people take this phrase more literally than others when it comes to what they enjoy in the bedroom. Melissophilia is sexual attraction to bees. Yes, while you’ve been getting red-faced trying to chase those critters away from your picnic, others have been going red-faced in their presence for entirely different reasons…Melissophilia is a specific kind of zoophilia (sexual attraction to animals)…The word comes from the Ancient Greek for ‘honey bee’ and ‘love’. It’s not necessarily a case of falling in love with Barry B Benson from Bee Movie. Apparently some people catch bees with the intention of getting them to sting their genitals. This is because they believe this will increase swelling and hypersensitivity, increasing the intensity and duration of their orgasms”.

Following this introduction, the remainder of the article was entitled ‘What do the experts have to say about it?’ and simply featured the (edited) answers to some of the questions that I was asked by the Metro journalist. As I had been interviewed via asynchronous email (a topic that I have co-incidentally written methodological papers about in relation to studying paraphilia behaviour), I have a complete transcript of the whole interview and thought I’d publish it in full as the Metro only used a small selection of what I’d written (and I don’t like to waste any work that I’ve done).

Why might someone develop melissaphilia? I’ve never come across a true case of melissophilia (i.e., sexual arousal specifically from bees), only men that use bees to increase the size of their penis (so they are unlikely to be true melissophiliacs). There may be some masochists who get sexual pleasure from things that sting (including nettles and insects) but the focus of the arousal is pain (not the bees) so these would not be melissophilia. (And by the way, although formicophilia is often used to describe insect fetishes, technically it only relates to ants and the term entomophilia is more accurate).

At what point might having this fetish become a problem? When it comes to non-normative sex, problems are typically defined by context and culture. If sex is consensual with informed consent, no fetish is problematic. If the person themselves thinks it is a problem then it should be treated as such. With insect fetishes, you could argue that the insects are not giving their informed consent and therefore the fetishes are morally wrong (without necessarily being problematic to the person or the insects).

Have you any idea how common melissaphilia is? If it even exists (and I’m not convinced it is) it would be incredibly rare.

When do people develop fetishes like formicophilia and why? There are only two academic papers examining formicophilia in the psychological literature and I think it was actually the same person being written about in each paper. Many fetishes appear to be as a result of associative pairing (classical conditioning) but formicophilia may be more common in cultures where insects are everywhere and where such individuals use insects as a substitute for sex by using insects to arouse erogenous zones (penis, nipples, etc.). The one case study in the literature involved a Buddhist monk that had never had sex or been exposed to pornography. Here the formicophilia may have been culturally learned by accident.

In your opinion, is it a harmless sexual preference or something fans should try to wean themselves off? It’s harmless if there is no problem and people should only seek help if they themselves feel it is a problem. There’s nothing wrong with non-normative sex if it’s consensual. However, as I said above, there may be a moral issue. There are other insect-based and similar fetishes that I have covered in my blog that you can check out (such as spiders [arachnephilia] and worms [vermiphilia]).

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

Further reading

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

Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18(2), 73-78.

Biles, J. (2004). I, insect, or Bataille and the crush freaks. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(1), 115-131.

Dewaraja, R. (1987). Formicophilia, an unusual paraphilia, treated with counseling and behavior therapy. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 41, 593-597.

Dewaraja, R. & Money, J. (1986). Transcultural sexology: Formicophilia, a newly named paraphilia in a young Buddhist male. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 12, 139-145.

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

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

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

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

Pearson, G.A. (1991). Insect fetish objects. Cultural Entomology Digest, 4, (November).

Crossing the see: A brief look at ‘strabismusophilia’

Some time ago I came across a 2012 online article entitled ‘18 Sexual Fetishes That Sound Made Up (But They’re Not)’ on The Date Report website. Of the 18 fetishes listed, I knew about 17 of them (15 of which I have written articles on for this blog including emetophilia [sexual arousal from vomit], dendrophilia [sexual arousal from trees], pyrophilia [sexual arpusal from fire], taphephilia [sexual arousal from being buried alive], and arachnephilia [sexual arousal from spiders]). The one that I had little awareness of was ‘cross-eyed fetishism’ (although I was aware of the sexual paraphilia ‘oculophilia’ in which individuals are sexually aroused by eyes and which I also covered in a previous blog). The article contained only one sentence relating to cross-eyed fetishes which read “Not sure what the scientific name for this fetish is, but this is good news for Dannielynn Birkhead, Anna Nicole Smith’s cross-eyed offspring”. If such a fetish exists, I would name it strabismusophilia (as strabismus is the medical condition of having non-aligned eyes).

Having already written my previous blog on eye fetishes more generally, I would argue that strabismusophilia is a sub-type of oculophilia as the condition manifests itself in a desire for actual physical contact and interaction with the eye (albeit a very particular type of eye). An online article at the Page Pulp website about sexual fetishes of famous authors alleged that F. Scott Fitzgerald had a foot fetish, James Joyce had a fart fetish, Lord Byron was a sex addict, Marquis de Sade had a fetish for “anything and everything”, (the most notable being sadomasochism), and that the philosopher Rene Descartes had a cross-eye fetish.

Descartes’ sexual fetish for cross-eyed women is well documented including the work of psychiatric sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing. Descartes himself wrote that:

“As a child I was in love with a girl of my own age, who was slightly cross-eyed. The imprint made on my brain by the wayward eyes became so mingled with whatever else had aroused in me the feeling of love that for years afterwards, when I saw a cross-eyed woman, I was more prone to love her than any other, simply for that flaw…The impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others, simply because they had that defect; and I did not know that was the reason.”

Descartes’ passion for cross-eyed women was also discussed in a 2011 paper in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, (by Alex Voorhoeve, Elie During, David Jopling, Timothy Wilson, and Frances Kamm). In one of the passages by Dr. Voorhoeve, he discussed Queen Christina of Sweden asking Descartes what causes us to “love one person rather than another before we know their merit”. According to Voorhoeve:

“Descartes replied that when we experience a strong sensation, this causes the brain to crease like a piece of paper. And when the stimulus stops, the brain uncreases, but it stays ready to be creased again in the same way. And when a similar stimulus is presented, then we get the same response, because the brain is ready to crease again. And what did he mean by all this? Well, he gave an example. He said that all his life he had had a fetish for cross-eyed women. Whenever he came across a cross-eyed woman, desire would enflame him. And he figured out…after introspection, that this was because his brain had been strongly creased by his first childhood love, who was cross-eyed”.

This classical conditioning type explanation was also alluded to in a 2011 article on the Psychology Today website by Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeév that examined ‘Why Did Descartes Love Cross-Eyed Women?’ Dr. Ben-Zeév noted:

“It would appear that when Descartes fell in love with the young girl, he loved her whole Gestalt, which included other characteristics, but her crossed eyes were the most unique. This feature of the girl distinguished her from most other girls. It is as if he subconsciously thought that every woman who shared that distinctive feature would have the other positive characteristics of the girl with whom he had originally fallen in love and would therefore generate the same profound love. This attitude makes him perceive these women as beautiful…However, the fact that the girl he fell in love had the distinctive feature of crossed eyes did not mean that her other characteristics would be shared by other women who have the same feature. In fact, however, this mistaken association set off a feeling of love when he encountered this characteristic in other women…It is a kind of Pavlovian response which makes us more likely to love this person”.

It appears there are modern day adherents to cross-eyed fetishism as I found these extracts in online forums discussing the fetish:

  • Extract 1: “I get insanely turned on when I see a girl crosses her eyes. I go on video and image sites to see girls crossing their eyes. I have requested custom videos of girls crossing their eyes. I am not sure how to break this fetish. It is something that is hard for me to talk about and I recently revealed it to my girlfriend in a text. I have asked her to cross her eyes for me but she cannot do it. In fact my last two girlfriends have not been able to cross their eyes. I feel like if maybe we could play out that fetish in my personal life it would deter me from looking online at stuff. I am not sure what to do”
  • Extract 2: “I am attracted to people that have lazy eyes. The more lazy their eye, the more attractive it is to me.
It’s a huge turn-on, especially eyes that turn outward (e.g., exotropia)”
  • Extract 3: Them cross-eyed girls drive me wild! I’m a lazy eye man myself. I like when one gets a lil’ googly after they’ve had a few drinks”

Although there is no academic research on cross-eye fetishism, I did come across two other types of fetishistic behavior that overlaps with being cross-eyed. The first is in relation to balloon fetishism (i.e., individuals that get sexually aroused from inflating, deflating and/or popping balloons). I came across online sex videos that were tagged ‘cross-eyed balloon inflation’ comprising women blowing up big balloons where they were also cross-eyed (and to which male ‘looners’ found this both erotic and arousing. After watching one of these idiosyncratic videos, one looner commented: “I for one really enjoyed this [cross-eyed woman inflating a balloon] – makes it looks like she’s really concentrated on the inflation, which I like to see. And variety is nice; I, for one, get tired of clips that are too alike”. Perhaps more worryingly is the association of being cross-eyed with sexually sadistic acts of women being strangled on film on hard-core BDSM videos. As the blurb on one sex video available online noted: “There are women that are strangled, and sometimes become cross-eyed. It’s the stupid impression somehow, you will not ever afford to worry about such a thing is the person being strangled. Your beauty is one of [being] cross-eyed”.

I also wonder whether cross-eyed fetishism is a sub-type of teratophilia – typically defined as being sexually aroused by ugly people? According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, teratophilia is defined as those people who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from “deformed or monstrous people”. The online Urban Dictionary defines it as “the ability to see beauty in the unusual [and] clinically described as a sexual preference for deformed people”. Being cross-eyed could arguably fit these definitions (particularly the one from the Urban Dictionary of seeing beauty in the unusual).

From my own research, I have come to the conclusion that cross-eyed fetishism (that I have termed ‘strabismusophilia’) probably exists but is very rare with an incredibly low prevalence rate among the general population. It may be a sub-type of both oculophilia and teratophilia but further research is needed to confirm such speculations.

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

Further reading

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

Ben-Zeév, A. (2011). Why did Descartes love cross-eyed women? The lure of imperfection, Psychology Today, November 29. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-name-love/201111/why-did-descartes-love-cross-eyed-women-the-lure-imperfection

Descartes, R. (1978). His Moral Philosophy and Psychology (translated by John J. Blom). New York: New York University Press.

Divine Caroline (2012). 18 Sexual Fetishes That Sound Made Up (But They’re Not). The Date Report, September 20. Located at: http://www.thedatereport.com/dating/sex/sexual-fetishes-emetophilia-tree-sex/

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

Love, B. (2005). Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.122-129). New York: The Disinformation Company.

Page Pulp (2014). Sexual fetishes of famous authors. Located at: http://www.pagepulp.com/2091/sexual-fetishes-of-famous-authors/

Voorhoeve, A., During, E., Jopling, D., Wilson, T., & Kamm, F. (2011). Who am I? Beyond “I think, therefore I am”. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1234(1), 134-148.

Wikipedia (2014). Oculophilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oculophilia

Web browsing: A brief look at arachnephilia

In previous blogs I have examined sexual paraphilias involving those individuals who derive sexual stimulation and arousal from ants and/or insects (formicophilia), and individuals who derive sexual stimulation and arousal from bees (melissophilia) and bee stings (as a radical – and painful – way of increasing penis size). Sexually paraphilic interest by humans in insects is also known as entomophilia. As a short article about entomophilia on the Kinky Sex Questions website asserts:

“While some love to have it with spiders, bees and ants, there are those who would prefer a sexy touch of a fly, grasshopper, cockroach or a similar insect. Insects are most of the time positioned on the genitals or the other sensitive parts of the human body such as nipples. Usually by crawling they create a tickling sensation resulting in a sexual arousal. The act itself is not limited to tickling only. It may include stinging or nasty biting depending on the preferences of the individual. Flying insects can be trapped in a container and the opened end of it can be pressed against body, preferably genitals. Mosquitoes and flies are quite popular species”.

One specific insect-related sexual paraphilia is that of arachnephilia (sometimes spelled differently as ‘arachnophilia’). Dr. Anil Aggrawal, in both his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices and his new classification of zoophilia practices in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, simply defines arachnephilia as “[sexual] arousal from spiders”. Dr. Ronald Homes and Dr. Stephen Holmes – in a chapter on ‘nuisance sex behaviours’ in the third edition of their book Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behaviors – also have an identical definition (the only difference being they spell it ‘arachnophilia’ although I’m not quite clear how it is a ‘nuisance sex behaviour’). Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices defines arachnephilia as referring to those individuals who “are aroused by sex play involving spiders”.

The most detailed definition of arachnephilia I have come across is that on the Right Diagnosis website that states it refers to “sexual urges, preferences or fantasies involving playing with spiders” and that the symptoms include (i) sexual interest in playing with spiders, (ii) abnormal amount of time spent thinking about playing with spiders, (iii) recurring intense sexual fantasies involving playing with spiders, and (iv) recurring intense sexual urges involving playing with spiders.

I did an exhaustive literature search trying to locate any empirical and/or clinical research that has been done on the topic and got very excited when I came a cross a paper entitled “A case of arachnophilia” by B.D. Johnson. However, my excitement turned to despair when I then discovered it was a basically a film review of the Sam Raimi directed film Spider-Man (starring Tobey Maguire). Dr. Brenda Love’s entry contains a little information but is not based on any scientific research. She seems to imply there is a sexually masochistic element to arachnephilia, as she notes that: “Spider scenes utilize a person’s fear of spiders to increase adrenalin. The bottom may be tied down and the spider either brought close to them or laced on their body crawl around” Dr. Love’s speculation appears to be (at least in part) backed up by a small online article on arachephilia (again on the Kinky Sex Questions website) that noted:

“So what is it exactly so exciting about spiders? It must be the thrill of it. Especially if the spider is large and venomous. Large spiders such as tarantula, though dangerous, they are unlikely to bite unless provoked. It all depends on the country where we live as well. What is easy to get hold of in Latin America, a paraphiliac’s needs to have a different alternative while on a different continent. Thrill equals adrenaline rush. And that’s most likely the driving force behind this paraphilia. It is an interesting fact that some individuals who practice this fetish are at the same time afraid of the spiders”

There are no statistics on the incidence or prevalence of arachnephilia (in fact there isn’t even a single published case study). In my search for papers on academic databases I did come across a few references in arachnephilia (not including the many papers that referenced a piece of software called ‘arachnophilia’). The first academic paper that mentioned ‘arachnophilia’ was a paper published by Dr. Kenneth Adams (entitled Arachnophobia: Love American style’) in a 1981 issue of the Journal of Psychoanalytic Anthropology. The paper analyzed the tendency to equate female sexual desire, woman’s love, and the female and femininity with the “voracious spider”. This theoretical paper asserted that:

“The ontogenetic origins of arachnophobia can be traced to a dread of the mother that is structurally encouraged by the claustrophobic intensity of the nuclear family. This archaic terror also ultimately reflects the indeterminate boundaries of the ego that are incapable of differentiating self from mother. In comic books arachnophobia and arachnophilia represent the two sides of ‘Love American Style’: an ambivalent attraction to and repulsion from preoedipal, undifferentiated, mother–self, male–female dual unity”.

I can’t say I agree (or even follow) this line of argument, and as with all psychoanalytic theory, it can’t really be empirically tested as it is not falsifiable. The only other direct reference to arachnephilia I came across was in the literal meaning of arachnephilia as ‘love of spiders’ (i.e., a liking or even obsession with them but not in a sexual sense). In this capacity, an academic paper, Dr. Jonathan Sklar and Dr. Andrea Sabbadini published a paper about David Cronenberg’s 2002 film Spider in a 2008 issue of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.

For those of you who have not seen the film, the film’s protagonist, Dennis Cleg (played by Ralph Feinnes) and known as ‘Spider’, is a catatonic schizophrenic man released from a mental institution where he was incarcerated for many years after he had killed his mother. Sklar and Sabbadini discuss the roots of his (non-sexual) ‘arachnophilia’ and spider obsession:

“Related to his interest in cobwebs is Spider’s obsession with collecting and playing with strings, in the hope of making links with reality by tying them together…What fascinates Spider are … spiders! Spider-webs and egg-bags are for him wonderful yet dangerously flimsy containers of reality. His arachnophilia is so marked that his mother had created a whole fantastic spider’s world of images and stories for him. It may be noticed that the word spider sounds like spied her – as if his mother, by so nicknaming her son, was also unconsciously encouraging his oedipal voyeuristic curiosity”.

Finally, getting back to the sexually paraphilic meaning of arachnephilia, the Right Diagnosis website claims that treatment for arachnephilia “is generally not sought unless the condition becomes problematic for the person in some way and they feel compelled to address their condition. The majority of people simply learn to accept their fetish and manage to achieve gratification in an appropriate manner”. I certainly can’t deny this may be the case as there is a complete lack of any reference to treatment in any academic book or journal.

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

Further reading

Adams, K.A. (1981). Arachnophobia: Love American style. Journal of Psychoanalytic Anthropology, 4, 157-197.

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

Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18, 73-78.

Holmes, S.T. & Holmes, R.M. (2009). Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behaviors (3rd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Kinky Sex Questions (2012). Arachnephilia. Located at: http://www.kinky-sex-questions.com/arachnephilia.html

Kinky Sex Questions (2012). Entomophilia. Located at: http://www.kinky-sex-questions.com/entomophilia.html

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

Right Diagnosis (2013). Arachnephilia. March 1. Located at: http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/a/arachnephilia/intro.htm

Sklar, J. & Sabbadini, A. (2008). David Cronenberg’s Spider: Between confusion and fragmentation. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 89, 427-432.

Wikipedia (2012). Brazilian wandering spider. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazilian_wandering_spider#Toxicity