Dendrophilia (also known as arborphilia) literally translates as a love of trees (in fact, I was originally going to try and get the words “pining for it” in the title of this blog but decided against it in the end). For me, human sexual contact with trees is not something that I think of as naturally going together. The only modern day “cultural” reference I can recall (an I use the word “cultural” in its loosest sense) was in the 1981 film The Evil Dead when the character Cheryl is attacked by trees possessed by the demons, that then come to life and brutally rape her (a scene that director Sam Raimi has since regretted including in the film).
However, the word ‘dendrophilia’ has now been adopted by some in the sexology field to refer to those who have a fetishistic or paraphilic interest in trees (i.e., individuals who derive sexual pleasure, sexual arousal and/or are sexually attracted to trees). This may involve actual sexual contact with trees and/or (as Raymond Corsini notes in his 1999 Dictionary of Psychology) veneration as phallic symbols. In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr Anil Aggrawal (Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India) defines dendrophilia as arousal from trees or fertility worship of them” whereas Dr. G.R. Pranzarone in his online Dictionary of Sexology says it is the love of trees. But categorically states “it is not a paraphilia” (but doesn’t give any reason as to why).
Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices writes about dendrophilia and notes that trees were ancient symbols of fertility and that on designated holy days, men had to go into the fields and ejaculate onto the trees. She also cites the work of anthropologist Thomas Gregor who studied the South American people of Mehinaku (a village of the Amazonian Xingu tribe) and described the following folk tale of a dendrophilic act in his 1985 book Anxious Pleasures; the Sexual Lives Of An Amazonian People:
“I have been able to find only two other stories of masturbation, and in both, men are the principal actors. In one tale we learn of a man who found a remarkably gratifying hole in a tree, which he began to use to the exclusion of his wife and girlfriends. In the second story, a man made an artificial vagina of leaves to which he became similarly attached. In both myths, the culprits were seen by other villagers who hacked away the hole with an axe and tore the leaf vagina to shreds. In both stories, the masturbators behaved as if their leafy companions had been real women. They wailed for the deceased plants, cut their hair short, and took off their belts as a symbol of mourning”.
Just to put these observations into context, Dr. Theodore Lidz in reviewing Gregor’s book for the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, notes that the Xingu tribe are a small society that not only permits extramarital promiscuity (to an extent perhaps never before recorded), but the promiscuity promotes rather than disrupts the societal integration.
A fairly recent British case of dendrophilia came to light when 21-year old Scottish man William Shaw received a lifetime ban from Airdrie’s Central Park for attempting to have sex with one of the trees (with The Sun winning the best headline with “Fancy a treesome?”). He dropped his trousers and underpants and simulated sex with a tree while in the visitor attraction in September 2009. he was subsequently charged with an act of public indecency at the town’s sheriff court. The Sheriff (Frank Pieri) released Shaw on bail on the condition that he did not set foot in Central Park again. I also feel duty bound to point out that there was also a YouTube video posted in March 2012 showing a very intoxicated woman trying to have sex with a tree.
Willow Monrroe in her regular ‘Fetish of the Week’ column also briefly examined dendrophilia (although none of her claims were supported by any evidence). In relation to this fetish she claimed:
“I can see it. The metaphors are obvious and long over-drawn. And experience has proven that sex and the wild world of nature go together like cheese and wine, one being the natural complement of the other”…Dendrophilia is considered a pathology. There are documented cases of persons seeking and receiving treatment for what’s perceived as a psychological disorder. For example, one psychologist reported treating a man who had a long running affair with an oak tree”
The Deviant Minds website also featured an article on dendrophilia and speculated about the condition’s origins. The article asserted that dendrophiles “go beyond simply looking for new textures, for under their hands and other regions. It may involve deep emotional bond towards nature only a few might understand”. However, as with most online articles, there is absolutely no empirical evidence to back up a single claim made, and as far as I am aware, there is not a single academic or clinical study published – not even a case study.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Corsini, Raymond J. (1999). The Dictionary of Psychology. London: Psychology Press.
Daily Telegraph (2010). Tree sex man ordered to leave park. Daily Telegraph, January 21. Located at: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/weird/tree-sex-man-ordered-to-leaf-park/story-e6frev20-1225821689910
Deviant Minds (undated). Dendrophilia. Located at: http://www.deviantminds-central.com/articles/fetisharchives/dendrophilia.php
Gregor, T. (1985). Anxious Pleasures; the Sexual Lives Of An Amazonian People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Monroe, W. (2012). Fetish of the week: Dendrophilia. ZZ Insider, January 6. Located at: http://www.zzinsider.com/blogs/view/fetish_of_the_week_dendrophilia
Pranzarone, G.F. (2000). The Dictionary of Sexology. Located at: http://ebookee.org/Dictionary-of-Sexology-EN_997360.html