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Stitches brew: A brief look at self-harm lip sewing

In previous blogs I have examined both self-harming behaviour (such as cutting off one’s own genitals, removing one’s own eye, removing one’s own ear, self-asphyxial risk taking in adolescence, and religious self-flagellation) and extreme body modification. One area where these two areas intersect is lip sewing. According to the Wikipedia entry on lip sewing:

“Lip sewing or mouth sewing, the operation of stitching together human lips, is a form of body modification. It may be carried out for aesthetic or religious reasons; as a play piercing practice; or as a form of protest. Sutures are often used to stitch the lips together, though sometimes piercings are made with needle blades or cannulas and monofilament is threaded through the holes. There is usually a fair amount of swelling, but permanent scarring is rare. Lip sewing may be done for aesthetic reasons, or to aid meditation by helping the mind to focus by removing the temptation to speak. BMEzine, an online magazine for body modification culture, published an article about a 23-year-old film student Inza, whose quest for body modifications was very varied. She spoke about her experiences with lip sewing as a form of play piercing”.

My reason for writing this blog was prompted by a case study published by Dr. Safak Taktak and his colleagues in the journal Health Care Current Reviews. (I ought to add that I have read a number of papers by Taktak and his colleagues as they have reported some interesting other interesting case studies including those on shoe fetishism, semen fetishism, and fetishes more generally – see ‘Further reading’ below). In this particular paper, they reported the case of a male prisoner who had continually sewed his lips together. Although they were aware of cases of sewing lips together as a form of protest, they claimed that there had never been any case reported in the medical literature.

lip-sewing

The case report involved a male 37-year old Turkish (imprisoned) farmer, father of two children, with only basic education. After sewing his lips together, the man was brought into the hospital by the police, along with a handwritten note that read: “My jinns imposed speech ban to me and they made me sew my lips unwillingly. Otherwise, they threaten me with my children. I want to meet a psychiatrist urgently”. (Jinns I later learned are – in Arabian and Muslim mythology – intelligent spirits of lower rank than the angels, able to appear in human and animal forms and are able to possess humans). Not only were his lips sown together with black thread but he had also sewn both of his ears to the side of his head (these are also photographed in the paper and you can download the report free from here). This was actually the fourth time the man had sewed his lips together (but the first that he had sewn his ears). Each time, the doctors took out the stitches and dressed the wounds. The authors examined previous documentation about the man and reported that the man had been in prison for four years after injuring someone (no details were provided) and had been diagnosed with both anxiety disorder and anti-social personality disorder. On a prison ward comprising ten other prisoners, he had attempted suicide when trying to hang himself (in fact, you can clearly see the marks on his neck in the paper’s photographs). The authors reported that:

[The man] had blunted affect. He wasn’t able to stay in the [prison] ward because of the directive voices in his head. He declared he needed to stay in the ward alone. He heard all the words as swearing and he was punished by some people as well as some entities. He also said that some jinns in the form of animals threatened him not to speak and listen to anyone; otherwise they were going to kill his kids. He wanted to protect his children [and] he stitched his lips not to speak anyone and stitched his ears not to hear anyone. In his family history, he stated that his uncle committed suicide by hanging himself and saying ‘the birds are calling me’; his father was schizophrenia-diagnosed”.

The authors then reported:

“The patient stated that he sewed his lips with any colour of thread he could find. He had approximately fifteen pinholes on his upper and lower lips. He tended to suicide with directive auditory and visual hallucination (sic) and reference paranoid delirium. As he was imprisoned, he wasn’t able to use drugs. The patient who was thought to have a psychotic disorder was injected [with] 10 mg haloperidol intramuscularly and he was sent to a safe psychiatry hospital”.

As I have noted in my previous blogs on self-harming behaviour (and as noted in this particular paper), there are many different definitions of what constitutes self-destructive behaviour. This particular case was said to be suited to the psychotic behaviours characterised by Dr. Armando Favazza’s three self-destructive behaviours (i.e., compulsive, typical, and psychotic) outlined in his 1992 paper ‘Repetitive self-mutilation’ (published in the journal Psychiatry Annals). In their discussion of the case, the authors noted:

“The cases like sewing one’s own lips which we observe as a different type of destructing oneself in our case are mostly regarded as intercultural expression of feelings. The ones, who sew their lips in order to protest something, show their reactions by blocking the nutrition intake organ to the ones who want to continue their superiority. It can be expected in psychotic cases that the patients or his beloved ones might be harmed, damaged or affected emotionally. Thus, the patient who is furious and anxious might react by [attempting] violence as a reaction to these repetitive threats. Auditory hallucinations giving orders can cause the aggressive behaviours to start…In our psychotic case, this kind of behaviour is a way to prevent the voices coming from his inner world, not to answer them and hence making passive defending to world which he does not want to interact. By this means, he may harmonise with the secret natural powers which affect him and he may protect himself his children…[also] there can be a relief through sewing lips and ears or strangulation against the oppression created by the person not being able to adapt the prison…It should not be forgotten that the prison is a stressful environment and stressful living [increases] the disposition to psychopathologic behaviour that the living difficulties in prisons can affect the way of thinking and the capacity of coping and it may cause different psychiatric incidences”.

As noted at the start of this article, lip sewing is typically attributed to religious reasons, reasons of protest or aesthetic reasons. In this particular case, none of these reasons was apparent (and therefore notable – in the medical and psychiatric literature at the very least). The addition of sewing his ears appears to be even more rare, and thus warrants further research.

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

Further reading

Favazza, A.R. (1992). Repetitive self-mutilation. Psychiatric Annals, 22(2), 60-63.

Taktak, S., Ersoy, S., Ünsal, A., & Yetkiner, M. (2014). The man who sewed his mouth and ears: A case report. Health Care Current Reviews, 2(121), 2.

Taktak, S., Karakus, M., & Eke, S. M. (2015). The man whose fetish object is ejaculate: A case report. Journal of Psychiatry, 18(276), 2.

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

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

Wikipedia (2016). Lip sewing. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lip_sewing

Handy crafts: A brief look at fingernail fetishes

The one thing about sexual fetishes that always amazes me is how specific some people’s sexual likes and interests are. One such fetish is fingernail fetish. According to Dr. Ellen McCallum’s book Object Lessons: How to Do Things With Fetishism, this fetish is a specific sub-type of hand fetishism (as other sub-types include finger fetishism and palm fetishism or include non-sexual specific actions done by the hands such as washing up or drying the dishes). According to the Wikipedia entry on hand fetishism, “this fetish may manifest itself as a desire to experience physical interaction, or as a source of sexual fantasy”. A quick look online suggests that the fetish exists as there are various dedicated websites catering for all sexual fingernail needs such as the Fingernail Fetish website (“a collection of soft-core image galleries and video catering to 
those with a long-nail fetish”) and the one run by the Pinterest website.

Fingernail fetishes are certainly referenced by leading academics and clinicians in the sexology field although most of the references to it point out its existence but give little information with respect to incidence, prevalence, or etiological development. For instance, the Austrian psychologist Dr. Wilhelm Stekel in his 1952 book Sexual Aberrations: The Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex noted:

“The true fetish lover dispenses with a sexual partner and gratifies himself with a symbol. This symbol can be represented by a piece of clothing, a part of the partner’s body (pubic hair, nails braid or pigtail) or any object used by the other person”.

Similarly, Dr. Martin Kafka in one of his many papers in the Archives of Sexual Behavior on sexual fetishism also made reference to the fetishization of fingernails without giving any detail:

“Fetishes tend to be articles of clothing, such as female undergarments, shoes and boots, or, more rarely, parts of the body such as hair or nails. Technically, hair and nails are body products but they are also ‘’non-living objects’ consistent with the DSM-III definition of fetishism. Feet, hands, or other typically non-sexualized parts of the body are not ‘non-living objects,’ however, and there was no diagnostic entity offered in DSM- III to account for persons whose fetishism-like clinical disorder was delimited by an exclusive focus on non-sexual body parts, such as hands or feet…As was noted in DSM-III, body products, such as hair or fingernails, can become obligatory fetish objects”.

Having carried out an extensive literature search on academic databases, the only case of fingernail fetishism that I was able to locate was a 1972 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, by Dr. Austin McSweeny who successfully treated a young male fingernail fetishist using hypnosis. I also came across a 2001 Spanish paper written by Dr. Jaime Tabares that the title translated as “Fetish perversion: From pathological mourning to alienating manic identification” and published in Revista de Psicoanalisis de la Asociacion Psicoanalitica de Madrid. The paper discussed the case of a 24-year Spanish male and the role of depression, paranoid anxiety, and pathological mourning in the development of masculine perversion and fetishism. The only reason I mention this paper is that the author mentioned that one of the fetishes (along with his masochistic fantasies) was for painted nails.

Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) reported a truly bizarre case involving necrophilia and fingernails. Citing from a 1963 book by Dr. R. Masters and Dr. A. Lea (Perverse Crimes in History: Evolving Concepts of Sadism, Lust-Murder, and Necrophilia – From Ancient to Modern Times.), Aggrawal briefly described the case of a man who derived his sexual gratification from eating the nail trimmings of corpses. I have no idea if this would count as a genuine case of fingernail fetishism, but it’s certainly a case of someone who was gained sexual gratification from fingernails (albeit from dead people).

In a previous blog on fetishism, I wrote at length about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish form data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5000 fetishists (but was likely to be a lot more). They devised a scheme whereby a person’s sexual preference could be assigned to one or more of three particular categories (fetishes for particular body parts, fetishes for particular objects, and/or fetishes for different behaviours. Scorrolli and colleagues said: “these were further subdivided to describe, in broad terms preferences for (the examples in parentheses come from our data)” and one of these specifically gave the example of fingernails (in this case, a sexual fetish for the biting of fingernails):

  • A part or feature of the body (e.g., feet or overweight individuals), including body modifications (e.g., tattoos).
  • An object usually experienced in association with the body (e.g., shoes or headphones).
  • An object not usually associated with the body (e.g., dirty dishes, candles).
  • An event involving only inanimate objects (they found no examples).
  • A person’s own behavior (e.g., biting fingernails).
  • A behavior of other persons (e.g., smoking or fighting).
  • A behavior or situation requiring an interaction with others (e.g., domination or humiliation role play).

They reported that some of the sites featured references to nail fetishes comprising a total of 669 group members. This accounted for less than 1% of all fetish site members. I would also add that having read the paper and examined some of the sites given, I’m not convinced that all of these were fingernail fetishists as some of the fetish websites found (like ‘Bed of Nails’) may be sadomasochistic sites where the sexual focus is nails that are hammered rather than nails on the hand.

In my research for this article, I also came across lots of self-confessed fingernail fetishists. Here are a few examples:

  • Extract 1: “I am trying to get out more and understand why my fetish for long nails is big for me. Well it all started when I was 5 years old as a little kid. I was getting babysit by my cousin’s girlfriend and well you know she had nice long natural nails about 1 inch, inch and half, and she always was filing them, round and a little pointy too, and painting them. I used to watch and get hypnotized by that. So one day she was watching her soap operas…I decided to get up and change the channel…She warned me if I changed the channel again, I would know what her long nails are for. So she came to me I ran and hid, after I came back in the living room she surprised me from behind with one of the hardest pinches I ever experienced in my entire life… I almost felt paralysed by that pain, and after that she scratched me, hard enough to cry and it hurt. But a few days after that she tried to scratch me again when she came, and all of a sudden I was getting aroused, so she said ‘I wont hurt you this time, but I would love to be able to scratch you if you let me’. So I let her, and she started very slowly and increased the pressure as time went by, it was getting to be a new experience for me, We had set little rules and boundaries to stick by too. So she would only scratch till I got red, and if I bled…I agreed to that [be]cause she loved to scratch hard and be rough, so she had to see a little blood to be satisfied I guess. [Now] you now know how my long nails fetish got started and was born” (JayG).
  • Extract 2: I definitely became aware of my fetish around 5 or 6 [years old] when I started to become aroused and curious to what the nails must feel like on my skin…A few years later it became more weird when I started to have scratching fantasies before going to sleep giving me my first wave of self-induced erections. Nobody who doesn’t have a fetish like this gets turned on like that at such a young age. It must be highly abnormal. But we ARE freaks of nature I guess” (Saba).
  • Extract 3: “My nail fascination also began when I was quite young, but I most certainly was not physically sexually arousable at the age of 5 [years] by the sight or feel of nails. …Those early encounters I sometimes catch myself re-writing my own history with respect to the arousal part, because it’s hard to imagine myself not being physically aroused by nails, but in reality, I wasn’t, not physically. Nails didn’t do ‘that’ to me until I properly began puberty. What I felt at 5 was the excitement of the danger that nails posed (girls of 5 used their nails as weapons, I had no inkling they could also be instruments of pleasure), and certainly a heightened awareness of the differences between the genders. Even before I knew girls had different genitalia, I recognised they were meant to have long nails and we were not” (Scott).
  • Extract 4: I was around 5 or 6 (years old] is when I got fascinated by girls and women’s nails. This was way back about 55 years ago. I don’t remember seeing [long] nails…until I was 12 or 13. But if a girl had nails, she usually had them as a means of protecting herself. And hard pinching was the preferred technique. And some of the girls were very effective. I remember one girl whose nails weren’t that long, but were filed to a point. Another girl stopped cutting her nails when she was 12. I only saw her once after that time, but most of her nails must have been around 1/2 inch long, and she knew how to use them and she had a real mean streak. I guess there has always been something fascinating about a girl who might be smaller and weaker than any of the boys, but could put real fear into them. Also the thought always occurred that if the young girls could cause so much pain with their relatively short nails, what could an adult woman with much longer nails do to someone?” (MJ2)
  • Extract 5: “I’ve got something with me that started out fun, but has turned into a problem. I’ve got a fetish for long nails. They turn me on so much. First when I was younger it was fun, I’d look at pics every now and then and get off to them. Now it’s turned into a 3 o 4 times a day thing. It’s really annoying. I feel like I’m in bondage to this. My goal is to quit masturbating all together cause I feel as though it’s holding me back spiritually. But everywhere I look I see long nails on women and I get so turned on. I’m having a hard time battling this” (SececaRD)

These are just a few of the many I have come across. There are a number of similarities in the first four extracts (which may be because they all come from the same online forum. The fetish appears to have begun in early childhood, and appears to have developed through associative pairing (i.e., classical conditioning). What’s more, there appears to be a sexually masochistic tendency among those who have the fetish. The final extract comes from a different person who unlike the other fetishists wants to eradicate his fetish. Most fingernail fetishist accounts that I read were happy living with their preferred fetish. This is certainly an area where the amount of clinical and academic research is limited and I can’t see further papers being published except from a treatment perspective should such a fetishist want to eliminate their sexual desire for fingernails.

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

Further reading

Kafka, M. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for fetishism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 357-362.

Masters, R.E.L & Lea A.E.E. (1963). Perverse Crimes in History: Evolving Concepts of Sadism, Lust-Murder, and Necrophilia – From Ancient to Modern Times. New York: The Julian Press.

McCallum. E.L. (1998.) Object Lessons: How to Do Things With Fetishism. New York: State University of New York Press.

McSweeny, A.J. (1972). Fetishism: Report of a case treated with hypnosis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 15, 139-143.

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.

Stekel, W. (1952). Sexual Aberrations: The Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex (Vol. 1) (Trans., S. Parker). New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Tabares, J. (2001). La perversion fetichista: Del duelo patologico a la identification maniaca alienante. Revista de Psicoanalisis de la Asociacion Psicoanalitica de Madrid, 36, 55-78.

Wikipedia (2102). Hand fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_fetishism

Sporn again: A brief look at the evolution of ‘metrosexuality’

Back in 1994, the journalist Mark Simpson coined the term ‘metrosexual’ in an article in the British newspaper The Independent. The Wikipedia entry on metrosexuality notes:

“Metrosexual is a neologism, derived from metropolitan and heterosexual, coined in 1994 describing a man (especially one living in an urban, post-industrial, capitalist culture) who is especially meticulous about his grooming and appearance, typically spending a significant amount of time and money on shopping as part of this. The term is popularly thought to contrast heterosexuals who adopt fashions and lifestyles stereotypically associated with homosexuals, although, by definition given by [Mark Simpson], a metrosexual ‘might be officially gay, straight or bisexual’”

To be honest, I had never come across the term metrosexual until 2005 (although I was well aware of the male grooming, vain, image conscious, and product-consuming males typified by ex-footballer David Beckham). I was doing some consultancy with an online poker firm about different types of poker player and the press campaign that followed the publication of my report was headlined ‘betrosexuals’ (because it highlighted gender swapping by online poker players – an area that I then went on to research more academically – see ‘Further reading’ below). It was only at this point I was told that ‘betrosexual’ was a play on the word ‘metrosexual’.

The reason I mention all of this is because earlier today I did a BBC radio interview about the rise of the ‘spornosexual’ (yet another term I had never heard of until I was asked to appear on the programme). ‘Spornosexual’ is another term coined by Mark Simpson (as noted in the Wikipedia entry):

“A neologism combining sports, porn, and metrosexual, and used to describe an aesthetic adopted by many men who consume both sports and pornography. The spornosexual style emphasises heavy, lean musculature, and certain kinds of tattooing. The term entered the popular lexicon through a 2014 Daily Telegraph article by Mark Simpson…In 2006, Mark Simpson already wrote about ‘sporno’ for Out Magazine: ‘whole new generation of young bucks, from twinky soccer players like Manchester United’s Alan Smith and Cristiano Ronaldo to rougher prospects like Chelsea’s Joe Cole and AC Milan’s Kaká, keen to emulate their success, are actively pursuing sex-object status in a postmetrosexual, increasingly pornolized world”.

In short (and according to an article in the Washington Post), spornosexuals are simply the “hyper-sexualized, body-obsessed cultural offspring of the metrosexual”.To be honest, reading this definition makes me think that ‘spornosexuals’ have been around for a few decades now as these types of men were well described at length by Bret Easton Ellis in his 1991 novel American Psycho (minus the tattooing). Simpson claimed in his recent article in the Daily Telegraph that metrosexuality had evolved and that the “new wave” had put the ‘sexual’ into ‘metrosexuality’, had become “totally tarty”, and that such men should be called ‘spornosexuals’. More specifically, Simpson claimed:

“With their painstakingly pumped and chiselled bodies, muscle-enhancing tattoos, piercings, adorable beards and plunging necklines it’s eye-catchingly clear that second-generation metrosexuality is less about clothes than it was for the first. Eagerly self-objectifying, second generation metrosexuality is totally tarty. Their own bodies (more than clobber and product) have become the ultimate accessories, fashioning them at the gym into a hot commodity – one that they share and compare in an online marketplace. This new wave puts the ‘sexual’ into metrosexuality. In fact, a new term is needed to describe them, these pumped-up offspring of those Ronaldo and Beckham lunch-box ads, where sport got into bed with porn while Mr Armani took pictures. Let’s call them “spornosexuals”…Glossy magazines cultivated early metrosexuality. Celebrity culture then sent it into orbit. But for today’s generation, social media, selfies and porn are the major vectors of the male desire to be desired. They want to be wanted for their bodies, not their wardrobe. And certainly not their minds”

I tracked down Simpson’s 2006 article on ‘sporno’ published in Out magazine in which he claimed sport was the “new gay porn” because (for instance) footballers like David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg had posed for gay magazines. He also made reference to metrosexual Gavin Henson (“rugby’s answer to David Beckham”) who loves shaving his legs and wears fake tan on the pitch. Simpson claimed:

“Sporno-sport that acknowledges and exploits the voyeuristic, usually homoerotic, thrill that fit male bodies throwing themselves against other fit male bodies can generate is already the acceptable, ruddy-cheeked outdoor-broadcasting face of porn. At least in soccer- and rugby-playing pagan Europe and Australia but it can be only a matter of time before it conquers the God-fearing, football-playing United States too…Being equal opportunity flirts, today’s sporno stars want to turn everyone on. Partly because sportsmen, like porn stars, are by definition show-offs, but more particularly because it means more money, more power, more endorsements, more kudos. It acknowledges the consumerist, showbiz direction that sport is moving in and engorges and inflates their career portfolio to gargantuan proportions”.

Simpson asserted that Beckham was a household name in America because he was a sporno star (rather than sports star) due to his high profile body adorning adverts and fetishizing himself. Beckham’s masculinity had become commodified, and in our highly consumerist culture “envy and desire are almost indistinguishable”. As a father of two sons and a daughter, I do worry how the perfect body images they see in the print and broadcast media may affect their own self-esteem. Although I had often thought about the pursuit of bodily perfection in terms of my daughter’s adolescent development, it’s not something I had thought about in relation to my sons. As a psychologist that specializes in addictive and obsessive behaviour, I am only too aware of the rise in male eating disorders, but the rise of the metrosexual is likely to be a contributory factor. In the Washington Post article on spornosexuality, the journalist Abby Phillip interviewed the branding expert (and author of the 2006 book The Future of Men) Marian Salzman. Salzman claimed that metrosexuality had indeed involved but not in the way that Simpson hoped:

“The word metrosexual has outgrown Simpson’s narcissistic depiction and now transcends narrow stereotypes to describe a whole range of traits. And the metrosexuals themselves are now men who don’t unquestioningly assume that there’s just one way of being a man”.

Based on what I have read so far, I don’t think that the term ‘spornosexuality’ will catch the public’s imagination in the same way as metrosexuality (in fact, I’m yet to be convinced that spornosexuality is significantly different from metrosexuality). That doesn’t mean the stereotypes attributed to such a term don’t exist. However, the jury is out on if there will be any long-lasting psychological consequences of identifying oneself as a spornosexual.

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

Further reading

Daily Mirror (2005). Betrosexuals. August 12. Located at: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/betrosexuals-553460

Griffiths, M.D., Parke, J., Wood, R.T.A. & Rigbye, J. (2010). Online poker gambling in university students: Further findings from an online survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 82-89.

Phillip. A. (2014). Step aside, metrosexuals, and make way for…the spornosexual man? Washington Post, June 10. Located at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/style-blog/wp/2014/06/10/step-aside-metrosexuals-and-make-way-for-the-spornosexual-man/

Salzman, M. (2006). The Future of Men: The Rise of the Übersexual and What He Means for Marketing Today. London: Palgrave.

Simpson, M. (2006). Sporno. Out, June 19. Located at: http://www.out.com/entertainment/2006/06/19/sporno?page=0,0

Simpson, M. (2014). The metrosexual is dead. Long live the ‘spornosexual’. Daily Telegraph, June 10. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/fashion-and-style/10881682/The-metrosexual-is-dead.-Long-live-the-spornosexual.html

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

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

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2007). The acquisition, development, and maintenance of online poker playing in a student sample. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 354-361.

Tat’s my girl: Do tattoos on women make them more attractive?

Although I have already written a few blogs on extreme tattooing (including one on the television show My Tattoo Addiction), I have to admit that I don’t find excessive tattoos attractive in the slightest. I don’t mind one or two discreetly placed tattoos but women that are covered in them are a complete turn off for me. Most scientific studies that I have read on women’s tattoos tend to show that I am in the majority as seeing them negatively. For instance, a 1991 study carried out by Dr. Myrna Armstrong and published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship surveyed 137 career women all of who had tattoos. The authors reported that:

“Strong support for the tattoo was expressed by the significant person in the woman’s life and friends, while mild support was perceived from mothers, siblings and children. Respondents cited a lack of, or negative response from their fathers, physicians, registered nurses and the general public. Misunderstanding of what a tattoo means to the individual and stereotyping of women with tattoos continues”.

Dr. Daina Hawkes and her colleagues examined students’ attitudes towards female tattoos in a 2004 study in the journal Sex Roles. They examined both size and visibility of the tattoo. Among the sample, 23% of females and 12% of males were tattooed. The results showed that both men and women had more negative attitudes toward a woman with a visible tattoo than those without. The authors also reported that:

“The size of the tattoo was a predictor of evaluation only for men and women who did not have tattoos themselves. Finally, participants with more conservative gender attitudes evaluated all women more negatively, beyond the effects already accounted for by gender differences”.

In a 2002 issue of Psychological Reports, Dr. Douglas Degelman and Dr. Nicole Price examined what people thought about a photograph of a 24-year-old woman with a black tattoo of a dragon on her left upper arm compared to the same woman without the tattoo. Participants were asked to rate the woman on 13 different personal characteristics and results showed that the compared to the control photograph, the tattooed female was rated as less athletic, less attractive, less motivated, less honest, less generous, less religious, less intelligent, and less artistic. A similar 2005 study using the same technique – also in the journal Psychological Reports – by Dr. John Seiter and Dr. Sarah Hatch, found that a female model with a tattoo was rated as less competent and less sociable than the control photograph of the same woman without a tattoo.

Using a different methodology, Dr. Viren Swami and Dr. Adrian Furnham published a paper in a 2007 issue of the journal Body Image and asked their students to rate social and physical perceptions of blonde and brunette females with different degrees of tattooing. The students were asked to rate how physical attractive and sexual promiscuous the women were as in addition to estimating of the number of alcohol units consumed by the women on a typical night out. The authors reported that:

“Tattooed women were rated as less physically attractive, more sexually promiscuous and heavier drinkers than untattooed women, with more negative ratings with increasing number of tattoos…[Additionally] blonde women in general rated more negatively than brunettes”

This latter study interested Dr. Nicolas Guéguen who has carried out many different studies examining what makes women more attractive. In a 2013 study on the effect that female tattoos have on males published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, he made the following observation about the study by Drs. Swami and Furnham:

“On the one hand, Swami and Furnham’s (2007) results showed that such negative evaluation associated with tattooed women would probably decrease their attractiveness for men. On the other hand, if such women are perceived to be more sexually promiscuous, this could lead men to perceive them as having greater sexual intent. Thus, physical cues that inform them regarding the receptivity of a woman are important. Hence, tattoos could lead male observers to infer that a woman may have greater sexual intent, which, in turn, could lead them to approach such a woman more readily…A survey recently conducted by Guéguen (2012b) showed that tattooed and pierced French women experienced early sexual intercourse. However, the study did not show whether early sexual intercourse can be explained by the fact that women reported interest in both sex and tattoos and piercings or whether women wearing tattoos and piercings experienced more sexual solicitations from men, which, in turn, increased the probability to have sex earlier. Thus, one way of evaluating the mechanism associated with this relation is to test whether men’s behavior changes depending on the presence or absence of a tattoo on a woman’s body”.

As a consequence of these studies and observations, Dr. Guéguen carried out an interesting experimental field study on a French beach and predicted that women with tattoos would be more likely to be approached on the beach by men. To do this, Guéguen placed a temporary tattoo on a woman’s lower back (or not in the control condition), and all the women were asked to read a book while lying flat on their stomach on the beach. Guéguen carried out two experiments and reported:

“The first experiment showed that more men (N = 220) approached the tattooed [women] and that the mean latency of their approach was quicker. A second experiment showed that men (N = 440) estimated to have more chances to have a date and to have sex on the first date with tattooed [women]. However, the level of physical attractiveness attributed to the [woman] was not influenced by the tattoo condition”

Despite the significant results, Dr. Guéguen did note that his studies had a number of limitations. Firstly, the women only had one visible tattoo. The study by Swami and Furnham (outlined above) showed that women were rated as increasingly unattractive the more tattoos they had (i.e., attractiveness was negatively correlated with the number of tattoos). Guéguen also noted that the previous experimental studies involving the visible showing of a single tattoo tended to involve the women’s upper arm. Here, the tattoo was on the woman’s lower back which (according to Guéguen) could have made a difference to the men because it “is near the genital area of female bodies”. Dr. Guéguen also went on to note that:

“It would be worth testing whether a tattoo exerts the same sexual attractiveness effect regardless of the body area where it appears. Only one tattoo design was tested in our two experiments, and it would also be worth testing various designs and the height of the surface area occupied by the tattoo. Furthermore, only attractive women confederates participated in these two studies, and researchers might elect to test the effect of tattoos depending on various levels of female attractiveness. Another issue is that the women confederates were not informed about the real objective of the study and previous research on this topic. However, they may have unconsciously behaved differently when wearing a tattoo, which, in turn, influenced the men’s behavior”.

There are clearly many different avenues that research in this area can go. However, this is one area where public perception may significantly change over time (now that tattoos are in the cultural mainstream). Although my own views on tattoos are unlikely to change, that doesn’t mean others won’t.

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

Further reading

Armstrong, M.L. (1991). Career-oriented women with tattoos. IMAGE: Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 23, 215–230.

Degelman, D., & Price, N.D. (2002). Tattoos and ratings of personal characteristics. Psychological Reports, 90, 507–514.

Gueguen, N. (2012). Tattoos, piercings, and alcohol consumption. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 36, 1253–1256.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Tattoos, piercings, and sexual activity. Social Behavior and Personality, 40, 1543–1547.

Guéguen, N. (2013). Effects of a tattoo on men’s behavior and attitudes towards women: An experimental field study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1517-1524.

Hawkes, D., Seen, C.Y. & Thorn, C. (2004). Factors that influence attitudes toward women with tattoos. Sex Roles, 50, 593–604.

Henss, R. (2000). Waist-to-hip ratio and female attractiveness: Evidence From photographic stimuli and methodological considerations. Personality and Individual Differences, 28, 501–513.

Seiter, J.S. & Hatch, S. (2005). Effect of tattoos on perceptions of credibility and attractiveness. Psychological Reports, 96, 1113–1120.

Swami, V., & Furnham, A. (2007). Unattractive, promiscuous, and heavy drinkers: Perceptions of women with tattoos. Body Image, 4, 343–352.

Self-expression of interest: A brief look at extreme body modification

One of the more noticeable ‘extreme’ trends is that of body modification. Arguably the most common (and socially acceptable) forms of body modification are ear piercing and tattoos, followed by various other types of piercings (e.g., nipple piercings) and various types of plastic surgery (e.g., rhinoplasty [nose jobs] and breast augmentation [boob jobs]). More extreme types include foot binding, extreme corseting, branding, amputation, and genital cutting. Such types of actions are known as ‘acquired characteristics’ as they cannot be genetically passed on to the individuals’ children. As the body modification section of the Wikipedia entry on acquired characteristics notes:

“Body modification is the deliberate altering of the human body for any non-medical reason, such as aesthetics, sexual enhancement, a rite of passage, religious reasons, to display group membership or affiliation, to create body art, shock value, or self-expression. The frequency of occurrence depends on the location, extent, and number of modifications, and, perhaps most importantly, on the mind of each individual being asked to accept the modifications on another”.

In a recent issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Dr. David Veale and Dr. Joe Daniels added that:

“Body modification is a term used to describe the deliberate altering of the human body for non-medical reasons (e.g., self-expression). It is invariably done either by the individual concerned or by a lay practitioner, usually because the individual cannot afford the fee or because it would transgress the ethical boundaries of a cosmetic surgeon. It appears to be a lifestyle choice and, in some instances, is part of a subculture of sadomasochism. It has existed in many different forms across different cultures and age”.

These definitions of body modification would also appear to include such practices as circumcision (although this may of course be done for legitimate medical reasons as well as cultural and/or religious rites of passage). Other ‘extreme’ forms of body modification include:

  • Earlobe stretching: This refers to the gradual stretching of the earlobe through the gradual increase in size of piercing rings. This is typically carried out for aesthetic reasons, self-expression and/or group membership.
  • Branding: This refers to the deliberate burning of the skin to produce an irreversible symbol, sign, ornament and/or pattern on human skin. This is typically carried out for group membership reasons (but can also be carried out for aesthetics and/or self-expression).
  • Subdermal Implants (pocketing): This refers to a type of body jewelry placed underneath the skin and often used in conjunction with other forms of body modification. The body then ‘heals’ over the implant leading to a raised (sometimes 3-D) design. This is almost always done for aesthetic reasons and/or shock value.
  • Extraocular implants: This refers to the placing of small pieces of jewelry in the eye by cutting the surface layer of the eye following a surgical incision. Again, this is almost always done for aesthetic reasons and/or shock value.
  • Corneal tattooing: This is the practice of injecting a colour pigment into the eye. As with the previous two examples, this is almost always done for aesthetic reasons and/or shock value.
  • Tongue splitting: This refers to the splitting of the tongue so that the tongue looks like (for instance) a serpent’s tongue.
  • Tooth filing: This refers to the practice of filing teeth (often into the shape of sharp pointed fangs). This may be done for a variety of reasons including group membership, aesthetics and/or self-expression.
  • Tightlacing (waist training, corset training): This refers to the use of incredibly tight fitting corsets (typically by women) to produce an archetypal ‘hourglass’ figure. This is typically carried out for aesthetic reasons.
  • Pearling (genital beading): This refers to the permanent insertion of small beads beneath the skin of the genitals (such as the labia in women or the foreskin in men). Most of those who engage in pearling do it for aesthetic and/or sexual enhancement reasons (e.g., to increase sexual stimulation during vaginal or anal intercourse).
  • Anal stretching: This refers to the gradual stretching of the anus with the use of specialized built for purpose ‘butt plugs’ (typically carried out for sexual enhancement and stimulation).
  • Penis splitting (penile bisection): This is the cutting and splitting of a person’s penis from the glans towards the penis base (and which I covered at length – no pun intended – in a previous blog). This is typically done for reasons of sexual stimulation and fetishistic enhancement for either the self and/or sexual partner (although it has also been done for both religious and/or aesthetic reasons).

A really great 2007 review paper by Dr. Silke Wohlrab and colleagues in the journal Body Image examined all the known motivations for body modification (including tattoos and piercings) based on scientific studies and concluded almost all motivations fell into one or more of the following ten categories:

  • Beauty, art, and fashion (i.e., body modification as a way of embellishing the body, achieving a fashion accessory and/or as a work of art).
  • Individuality (i.e., body modification as a way of being special and distinctive, and creating and maintaining self-identity).
  • Personal narratives (i.e., body modification as a form of personal catharsis, and/or self-expression. For instance, it was claimed that some abused women “create a new understanding of the injured part of the body and reclaim possession through the deliberate, painful procedure of body modification and the permanent marking”).
  • Physical endurance (i.e., body modification as a way of testing a person’s own threshold for pain endurance, overcoming personal limits, etc.).
  • Group affiliations and commitment (i.e., body modification as part of sub-cultural membership or the belonging to a certain social circle).
  • Resistance (body modification as a protest against parents or society).
  • Spirituality and cultural tradition (i.e., body modification as part of a spiritual or cultural movement).
  • Addiction (i.e., body modification as a physical and/or psychological addiction due to (i) the release of endorphins associated with the pain of undergoing the practice, and/or (ii) the association with memories, experiences, values or spirituality).
  • Sexual motivations (i.e., body modification as a way of enhancing sexual stimulation).
  • No specific reason (i.e., body modification as an impulsive act without forethought or planning).

The review paper was incredibly thorough and these ten motivations cover everything they came across in the academic study of body modification. Unsurprisingly, the most frequently mentioned motivation was the expression of individuality and the embellishment of the own body. Hopefully I’ll cover some of the more specific body modifications in future blogs.

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.

Lemma, A. (2010). Under the skin: A psychoanalytic study of body modification. London: Routledge.

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

Rowanchilde, R. (1996). Male genital modification. Human Nature, 7, 189-215.

Veale, D. & Daniels, J. (2012). Cosmetic clitoridectomy in a 33-year-old woman. Archives of Sex Behavior, 41, 725-730.

Wikipedia (2012). Acquired characteristic. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acquired_characteristic

Wikipedia (2012). Body modification. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_modification

Wikipedia (2012). Penile subincision. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penile_subincision

Wohlrab, S., Stahl, J., & Kappeler, P. M. (2007). Modifying the body: Motivations for getting tattooed and pierced. Body image, 4, 87-95.

Tat’s entertainment: A brief look at ‘My Tattoo Addiction’

Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I have taken a passing interest in body tattoos both in relation to those who are sexually aroused by them (see my previous blog on stigmatophilia) and the representation of tattoos in films. I also have to admit that I’ve been watching the UK Channel 4 television series My Tattoo Addiction (mainly because it had the word ‘addiction’ in the title). Although I aim to look at the issue of ‘tattoo addiction’ in more academic terms in a future blog (so apologies for those of you wanting something empirically-based), but I just wanted to quickly examine whether any of the people featured across the television series could be classed in any way as ‘addicted’ to having tattoos.

Most of the time, the programme simply followed various British people where a story involving a tattoo made good (in this case ‘car crash’) television but had nothing to do with ‘addiction’. For instance, one story involved a trans-gendered individual who had his wife’s name tattooed on his arm but then changed gender so she had it changed into another different tattoo representing a symbolic transformation from man to woman. Another moving case story was of a woman who had a double mastectomy following breast cancer and then had nipples tattooed onto her reconstructed breasts following cosmetic surgery. A regular segment followed the events in one of the many tattoo parlours in Magaluf (in the Spanish island of Majorca) where almost all the people filmed were on ‘18-30’ type holidays. All of these appeared to be completely inebriated and having tattoos they would ultimately regret. Most of the cases featured young men and women having the names of people they had met that night and/or bizarre designs (such as the ‘burger nipple’) tattooed on their buttocks (at least that’s the take home message I took from it).

A number of the cases followed described themselves as having an “obsessive personality” and at least two of the cases were arguably obsessed with fictional literary characters that resulted in lots of tattoos (but I’ll come back to them in a minute). One of the men filmed for the documentary was 34-year old Mark from Buckinghamshire, and described by the programme as a “full blown tattoo addict”. He started off having a sole tattoo done when he was 22 years of age “then two, then three…and now it’s crept up on to [his] head”. Mark’s tattoos included one of the glamour model Jordan (i.e., Katie Price) with the words ‘Rape Me’ written across her chest, another of Audrey Hepburn with a sadomasochistic ball gag in her mouth, and another of a prudish Victorian lady reading a pornographic book about anal sex. When asked the reason for getting such extreme tattoos, Mark simply said he liked “the individuality, the outlet, and the shock factor” of his tattoos. Shocking, arguably. Addicted to tattoos? Not by my criteria.

Arguably one of the most sensational segments of the series was the controversial body art styled by tattooist Woody (who had gained much “notoriety for his challenging artwork”) including a tattoo of Adolf Hitler holding a large piece of paper with the words ‘Gas Bill’ on it. Woody claimed he liked his tattoos to “make statements”. The whole of his chest and stomach was taken up with a single tattoo that simply said “Pure F**king Hate” and his back was taken up with a single tattoo that reads “100% C**T” (without the asterisks – I just thought I’d add those for my readers with a sensitive disposition).

Of all the people featured in the series, two most caught my interest (psychologically), Jay – a 29-year old bodybuilder from Kent, and Kathy – a 52-year old woman from Reading. Jay was first described as having a “secret in his attic”. Since he was a boy, he has been an avid collector of super-hero action figures. His whole attic was full of unopened super-hero action figures (thousands of them it looked to me). His collection obsession was argued by Jay to be no different to someone who collects stamps – “just on a bigger scale”. The programme claimed that his “obsession [was] growing and manifesting itself in a new way” because he was getting his back tattooed with eleven large female super-heroes (the programme showed him having his sixth one done in a marathon 10-hour session). The programme narrator then went on to say that although Jay had only just started getting tattooed, he was already giving as much dedication to his tattoos as he was to his collecting.

Jay claimed that whenever he did anything in life he always ‘gave it his all’ and that his reasons for getting super-hero tattoos ran deeper than most.  He has dedicated his whole life “to the pursuit of physical excellence” and in his early twenties competed in the World’s Strongest Man competition. Unfortunately, he had to give it up after a serious heart failure but now devoted to bodybuilding despite being on heart medication for the rest of his life. It appeared to me that Jay was constantly replacing one highly salient activity with another (much like ‘reciprocity’ found in addicts that give up one addiction only to replace it with another).

He was told by a friend to fill his life with “something positive otherwise you’ll self-destruct”. It was during this period that Jay’s interest in super-heroes took on greater significance. It helped him come to terms that he would never reach his dream of becoming the world’s strongest man. I also noticed that around his house there were many items of super-hero memorabilia and accessories along with loads of super-hero DVDs.  Jay questioned himself as to whether he has an obsessive or compulsive behaviour. His response was something that I would wholeheartedly agree with given my views on the differences between healthy and addictive behaviour: “As long as the obsession doesn’t ruin my life, why is it such a bad thing? With what I’ve done it’s given me the life I’ve got…it’s the will to do what I do, the best I can”.

Kathy began her story by recounting that in 2010 she had “stumbled across the book that would change her life forever [about a] young and unassuming girl that doesn’t fit in, and comes to the attention of [a] family…it’s just a love story”. The narrator claimed the book “spoke to Kathy in a way she had never experienced before”. The book in question was Twilight (the young adult vampire-romance novel by Stephanie Meyer). She went and got The Twilight Saga DVDs and became “totally hooked”. The books and DVDs weren’t enough and she started getting Twilight characters tattooed on her body to the point where her whole back is now covered in them, along with her arms, legs, and upper chest. Kathy’s husband Colin was “very tolerant” of Kathy’s tattoos and his only stipulation was that he didn’t want her to have any tattoos on her face. The interviewer asked Kathy if she had an “obsession with Twilight” to which she simply replied that she did. While being filmed at a local tattoo convention, Kathy says that:

Every two weeks after pay day she got another tattoo. At the time of the programme she had undergone 91 hours of tattooing and was just about to have another tattoo put on some remaining space on one of her legs. Most of her tattoos were of (or related to) the character Edward Cullen (played by Robert Pattinson). Kathy’s husband Colin was “very tolerant” of Kathy’s tattoos and his only stipulation was that he didn’t want her to have any tattoos on her face. The interviewer asked Kathy if she had an “obsession with Twilight” to which she simply replied that she did. While being filmed at a local tattoo convention, Kathy says that:

“Tattooing is addictive. This is my form of getting my fix. It’s not a bad thing. Obviously there’s a certain amount of pain [but] it’s what I get a buzz off now”.

Although a late starter in the tattoo world, Kathy said she couldn’t now imagine a life without tattoos and that without them her life would be “very boring” and that she wouldn’t be the person she now is. However, she admitted the tattoos had caused family conflicts. She hadn’t spoken with her brother in five years because he was too embarrassed by her tattoos, and her father refuses to be seen with her in public. Her sisters were more supportive and noticed that the tattoos had brought Kathy “out of her shell”. The tattoos had apparently turned Kathy from a “wallflower” into someone quite extrovert.

I was interested in how she came to tattoing so late in her life. Kathy revealed that became very depressed after the death of her 63-year old mother in 1999 and it was then that her weight started to balloon through overeating, and she developed a very low self-esteem. She refused to have photographs taken and was “ashamed” of what she looked like. After becoming “hooked” on the first Twilight book, she said it gave her life focus. She had now read it so many times she’s had to buy new copies as well read copies had become dog-eared.

She then bought the music soundtracks and then started exercising to the music. She would even exercise in front of the DVDs for two or three hours at a go. It was then she started losing weight and began getting tattoos. She said that the tattoos gave her focus and was a permanent reminder of how she had got her life “back on track” and kept her “feeling young”. The constant new tattoos were “costing [her] a small fortune – just over eight and a half thousand pounds so far”. She then went on to say that in terms of what she has planned in the future, the total cost of the tattooing will be between £17,000 and £25,000. She says it’s keeping her “permanently broke” but despite the cost she’s “not stopping”.

Based on the information in the documentary, both Jay and Kathy appeared to display elements of addictive and obsessive behaviour. However, I would argue that the addictive elements are more to do with something external to the tattoos (i.e., super-heroes and bodybuilding for Jay, and the Twilight story for Kathy) rather than the tattoos themselves (even though Kathy said that the act of getting tattoos was a buzz and addictive). There appeared to be some conflicts in both of their lives (health, financial, and/or family conflicts) although none that suggested that either were truly addicted to anything (tattoos or otherwise). For both of them, the behaviour they engaged appeared to make them feel better about themselves rather than being something negatively detrimental. As I have said time and time again, the difference between a healthy enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life and addictions take away from them.

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

Further reading

Duggal, H.S. & Fisher, B. (2002). Repetitive tattooing in borderline personality and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 190–192.

Irwin, K. (2003). Saints and sinners: elite tattoo collectors and tattooists as positive and negative deviants. Sociological Spectrum, 23, 27-57.

Raspa, R.F. & Cusack, J. (1990) Psychiatric implications of tattoos. American Family Physician, 41,1481-1486.

Wohlrab, S., Stahl, J. & Kappeler, P.M. (2007). Modifying the body: Motivations for getting tattooed and pierced. Body Image, 4, 87-95.

Split penis-ality: A brief look at genital bisection

One of the most noticeable trends over the last few years is body modification. According to Dr. David Veale and Dr. Joe Daniels in a recent issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior:

“Body modification is a term used to describe the deliberate altering of the human body for non-medical reasons (e.g., self-expression). It is invariably done either by the individual concerned or by a lay practitioner, usually because the individual cannot afford the fee or because it would transgress the ethical boundaries of a cosmetic surgeon. It appears to be a lifestyle choice and, in some instances, is part of a subculture of sadomasochism. It has existed in many different forms across different cultures and age”.

Body modification can range from the relatively minor to the extremely major. On a minor level this may include such modifications as tattooing and minor body piercings to the nipples and genitalia. On a more major level it may include branding of the skin, pearling (i.e., permanent insertion of small beads beneath the skin of the labia or foreskin), major scarification (through controlled skin burning), and tongue splitting (so that it is similar to that of a snake). Other body modifications to the genitals can include the removal of the clitoral hood in women or penile subincision in men (i.e., splitting of the underside of the penis; there’s a photograph on Wikipedia’s page on subincision if you want to see the final result). Some people have gone as far to have their whole faces modified including the infamous examples of Dennis Anver (The Tigerman) and Erik Sprague (The Lizardman).

According to Veale and Daniels, there has been little research on psychological aspects of body modification. They cited the work of psychotherapist Dr. Alessandra Lemma (2010) who suggested that for some individuals, body modification is a way of trying to modify the self that the individual feels to be unacceptable. Arguably one of the most gruesome and extreme forms of body modification is ‘genital bisection’ (the total splitting of the penis where the penis is literally cut into two symmetrical halves). For the interested readers who want some photographic evidence, you could do worse than check out the genital bisection page at the Body Modification E-zine Encyclopedia website that has five examples of real split penises of men who are pleased with the results).

The practice of genital bisection is outlined in Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. She wrote about the practice from a more historical and anthropological perspective and reported that Australian Aborigines used to ritually split their penises from the glans towards the penis base in worship of a totem lizard that had a split penis. She then described the account of one English man who had carried out the procedure over the period of several years and described the results:

‘My decision to surgically remodel my genitals was deliberate, of deep satisfaction to me, highly exciting, sexually adventurous, and erotically exhilarating…Full erections were maintained as previously but now in two complete, separate halves. The erotic zones of my penis are still the same, with orgasms and ejaculations functioning perfectly. Entry into the vagina requires a little extra effort for insertion, but once my penis is inside, its opened effect on the vagina’s inner lining is more pronounced, giving better female orgasmic feelings”.

There is a much more in-depth description of penile splitting on the genital bisection page at the Body Modification E-zine. The article also describes sub-variants of penile bisection including various forms of partial splitting. More specifically, the article noted:

“Partial splitting is either in length (i.e., head splitting) or in axis (the far more common meatotomy and subincision procedures where only the bottom of the shaft is split, or the very rare superincision where only the top is split). Other variations include inversion where the split leaves the glans intact, allowing the penis to be effectively ‘turned inside out’. In most cases, the penis remains fully functional, although some rigidity loss is possible. The penis maintains its form by the two halves of the corpus cavernosum. When they are no longer attached, the penis tends to curve in on itself (as seen in the first photo showing an erect full bisection), making insertion more difficult, but far from impossible” [see glossary of terms at the end of the blog which explains what some of these specialized words and terms mean].

In a 1996 issue of the journal Human Nature, Dr. Raven Rowanchilde wrote a theoretical paper on male genital modification and argued that people modify their bodies in meaningful ways as a deliberate way to establish their identity and social status. More specifically she argues that:

“Lip plugs, ear plugs, penis sheaths, cosmetics, ornaments, scarification, body piercings, and genital modifications encode and transmit messages about age, sex, social status, health, and attractiveness from one individual to another. Through sociocultural sexual selection, male genital modification plays an important role as a sociosexual signal in both male competition and female mate choice. The reliability of the signal correlates with the cost of acquiring the trait. Women use a variety of cues to assess male quality. Male genital modification is one way that some women assess their mates. Extreme male genital modifications not only honestly advertise status, sexual potency, and ability to provide sexual satisfaction, they may provide a reliable index of male-female cooperation through the male’s commitment to endure pain and risk”.

One possible downside of extreme body modification including genital modifications is the association it has with increased risk of suicide. A study by Dr. Julie Hicinbothem and her colleagues in a 2006 issue of the journal Death Studies, surveyed a large sample of individuals who belonged to a website for body modification (e.g., piercings, tattoos, scarification and surgical procedures). They reported that people who had undergone body modification had a higher incidence of prior suicidality (i.e., suicidal ideation and attempted suicide) compared to those who had not undergone body modification. However, they did also note that controls for self-reported depression weakened the strength of the association.

I agree with Veale and Daniel’s assessment that there is little on the psychological aspects of body modification in the academic or clinical literature although I expect it to grow given the seemingly large increase in people undergoing body modification procedures. Just in case you didn’t understand some of the procedures and medical terms earlier in this blog I’ll leave you with a glossary of terms (all taken – almost verbatim – from the BME website):

  • Head splitting is the bisection of the glans of the penis. The procedure is usually carried out using a scalpel or surgical scissors (although cauterizing, electronic cauterizing or laser may also be used). The wound often needs to be cauterized, either with silver nitrate or with heat. Post-procedural bleeding is relatively heavy and tends to last several days.
  • Meatotomy is incision into and enlargement of a meatus. When the subincision is only underneath the glans it is known as a meatotomy (or, if naturally occurring, a hypospadia).
  • Hypospadia is a birth defect where the urethra and urethral groove are malformed, causing the urethra to exit the penis sooner than it normally would (i.e., closer to the base, rather than at the tip of the glans).
  • Subincision is the bisection of the underside of the penis (from the urethra to the raphe; versus a superincision which is the top half).
  • Superincision is a form of bisection that’s opposite to a subincision, splitting only the top half of the shaft and leaving the tissue below the urethra intact.
  • Inversion is a form of genital bisection that involves a combination of subincision and superincision while leaving the glans intact
  • The corpus cavernosum are two areas of erectile tissue which run along the length of the penis, and fill with blood during erection.

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.

Hicinbothem, J., Gonsalves, S. & Lester, D. (2006). Body modification and suicidal behavior. Death Studies, 30, 351-363.

Lemma, A. (2010). Under the skin: A psychoanalytic study of body modification. London: Routledge.

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

Rowanchilde, R. (1996). Male genital modification. Human Nature, 7, 189-215.

Veale, D. & Daniels, J. (2012). Cosmetic clitoridectomy in a 33-year-old woman. Archives of Sex Behavior, 41, 725-730.

Wikipedia (2012). Penile subincision. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penile_subincision

A gender setting: Inside the world of pandrogyny

In a previous blog I briefly examined the extreme art and music of Genesis P-Orridge and Throbbing Gristle. In the last decade P-Orridge began a performance art series called “Breaking Sex” with his partner and second wife Lady Jaye (who died in 2007 of heart failure complications arising from stomach cancer). The culmination of this art project can be seen in the documentary film The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (directed by Marie Losier).

Most of you reading this will be well aware of ‘androgyny’ (i.e., the condition of having both male and female characteristics in either bodily appearance, attitudes and/or behaviour). Those who describe themselves as androgynes often claim they don’t fit into society’s gender roles. Genesis P-Orridge has taken this one stage further and developed the concept of ‘pandrogyny’. According to a posting on the CrossDressers.com website:

“Pandrogyny is the conscious embracing of gender roles, sexual orientations, or cultural traditions so as to render the person’s original identity completely indecipherable. It is the ‘third gender’…a type of gender-neutral living being more akin to the OTHER…a pandrogyne is [about] making one’s life (a brief existence) into an art form. Is [pandrogyny] transvestism, transgendered behavior, or transsexuality? None of the above, as it turns out”

Along with Lady Jaye, Genesis P-Orridge decided to create a third being as both an artistic expression and statement (i.e., life – quite literally – as “a work of art”). They fused their psychological identities and underwent radical and irreversible plastic surgery to look more like each other (including reconstructive facial surgery [cheek impants, rhinoplasty, lip pumping], liposuction, and breast augmentation). In an interview with Tamara Palmer about Lady Jaye and the Pandrogyne project, Genesis said:

“We started out, because we were so crazy in love, just wanting to eat each other up, to become each other and become one. And as we did that, we started to see that it was affecting us in ways that we didn’t expect. Really, we were just two parts of one whole; the pandrogyne was the whole and we were each other’s other half. DNA is really the new battleground for evolution. If we want to survive as a species, if we want to hopefully colonize space and do incredible things, we have to completely reassess how the human body works and realize that it’s not sacred, it’s just stuff”.

The underlying philosophy of pandrogyny is about creating similarity, unification and resolution, rather than difference and separation. Genesis explained the concept further:

“When you consider transexuality, cross-dressing, cosmetic surgery, piercing and tattooing, they are all calculated impulses—a symptomatic groping toward the next phase. One of the great things about human beings is that they impulsively and intuitively express what is inevitably next in the evolution of culture and our species. It is the ‘Other’ that we are destined to become.”

In a different interview he went on to further outline what the pandrogyny project was all about.

“We are not trying to look like twins, though we wouldn’t mind that if it were possible. We are seeking to give an initial impression of visual similarity as far as we can. As a 56 year old biological male who is 5 foot six inches with a 30 inch waist, I can never reasonably expect to look identical to Lady Jaye who is a biological female who is 35 years old and 5 foot 10 inches high with a 24 inch waist. [However] we are committed enough to surrender our bodies to surgeries even if we end up not liking how we look. That is not what we are concerned with. We have no urge to try and ‘look better’, or younger, or more ‘glamourous’. Nor are we changing gender. Pandrogeny is about neutralising gender in order to REPRESENT a future possibility for thee species”

One of the central themes of their work is the “malleability of physical and behavioural identity”. P-Orridge’s work has been influenced by the ‘cut-up’ techniques of both William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin (a technique popularized by David Bowie in the 1970s). As P-Orridge explained:

[Burroughs and Gysin] began to cut-up and, incorporating random chance, re-assembled both their own and co-opted literature…They referred to the phenomena of profound and poetic new collisions and meanings that resulted from their intimate collaborations as the ‘Third Mind’. This was produced with a willingness to sacrifice their own separate, previously inviolate works and artistic ‘ownership’. In many ways they saw the third mind as an entity in and of itself. Something ‘other’, closer to a purity of essence, and the origin and source of a magical or divine creativity that could only result from the unconditional integration of two sources”.

Genesis first met Lady Jaye in the early 1990s and eventually fused their separate (art)works before combining their individuality. They have literally cut up their bodies to create the pandrogyne, a third body that is the sum of their two bodies and minds subsuming each other. Genesis says that the way that he and Lady Jaye look relates directly to the internal dialogue that describes themselves to each other. In an interesting interview with Douglas Rushkoff in the Believer magazine, Genesis was asked what the difference was between pandrogyny, transvestism, and transgnder. He replied that:

“The main difference is that Pandrogeny is not about gender, it’s about union. The union of opposites. One way to explain the difference is very easy: with transgender people the man might feel that he’s trapped – the person feels they’re a man trapped in a woman’s body, or a woman trapped in a man’s body – whereas in Pandrogeny you’re just trapped in the body. So Pandrogeny is very much about the union of opposites, and, through that reunion, the transcendence of this binary world and this illusory, polarized social system…When people have an orgasm together that’s a moment of Pandrogeny. And when people have a baby, the baby is pandrogynous, sexually. Because it is literally two people becoming one”

Genesis and Lady Jaye have both taken body modification to the maximum, but unlike most people that engage in extreme body modification, they have done it in the name of art, not beauty or vanity.

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

Further reading

Ford, S. (1999). Wreckers of Civilization: The Story of Coum Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle. London: Black Dog Publishing.

Frederique (2011). You’ve heard of androgyny, but what about PANdrogyny? CrossDressers.com, September 13. Located at: http://www.crossdressers.com/forums/showthread.php?159912-You%92ve-heard-of-androgyny-but-what-about-PANdrogyny

Palmer, T. (2008). Genesis P-Orridge: The Body Politic. Current.com, December 29. Located at: http://current.com/1lkam4c

P-Orridge, G, (2002). Painful but Fabulous: The Life and Art of Genesis P-Orridge. Soft Skull Press.

P-Orridge, G. (2011). Pandrogyny and the overcoming of DNA. Sex, Gender, Body. Located at: http://sexgenderbody.tumblr.com/post/11588285014/pandrogeny-and-the-overcoming-of-dna

Rushkoff, D. (2012). In conversation with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. The Believer. Located at: http://believermag.com/exclusives/?read=interview_p-orridge_rushkoff

Wikipedia (2012). Genesis P-Orridge. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis_P-Orridge

Tattoo’s company: A beginner’s guide to stigmatophilia

One of the less researched sexual behaviours is stigmatophilia. It is a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual pleasure and arousal from a partner that is marked in some way. Traditional definitions of stigmatophilia referred to such individuals being sexually aroused by scarring but more recent formulations of stigmatophilia includes those who are sexually aroused by tattoos and piercings (i.e., body modifications especially relating to genitals and/or nipples). According to Professor John Money, stigmatophilia can also refer to the reciprocal condition where the sexual focus is on the person who has the scars, tattoos, and/or piercings. Other even more recent definitions claim that a stigmatophile is “a person with this fetish is sexually aroused by body piercing and tattooing but not ear piercing” (Gay Slang Dictionary).

Stigmatophilia is one of many different eligibility (also called stigmatic) types of paraphilia. 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) writes that the strategy adopted by those who have eligibility paraphilias is that:

“To protect the saintly love from sinful lust is to chose his partner who is so base so unqualified, so depraved that he or she is simply unable or ineligible to compete with the saint, their partner must become a pagan infidel or an erotic heathen. The partner must not appear to be a proper or likeable person. This is done by choosing a partner who is very diminutive or towering in stature fat or skinny very young (paedophilia) or very old (gerontophilia), disfigured, deformed (dysmorphophilia), crippled, stigmatized  (stigmatophilia), even an amputee (acrotomophilia) In extreme cases, the paraphilic wants his partner to be from a different species (zoophilia) or dead (necrophilia), or even a dead specimen of a different species (necrozoophilia). Sometimes the paraphilic may want even himself to be deformed (he is also one of the partners in love making). This desire is reflected in paraphilias like apotemnophilia in which the paraphiliac desires to have his own healthy appendages (limb, digit, or genitals) amputated”

In previous blogs on various fetishes and paraphilia, I have written about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5000 fetishists (but was likely to be a lot more). They reported that some of the sites featured references to stigmatophilia (including body modification). This category made up a small minority of all online fetishes (4%).

Brenda Love noted in her book Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices that tattooing was brought back to Europe by sailors (who had become fascinated by this art from). Consequently, Professor Christine Braunberger (Onondaga Community College, Syracuse, US) wrote a paper for the online journal Genders in 2000 examining the cultural and sexual significance of sailor’s tattoos. She asserted that tattoos are “erotic and potentially fetishistic from an experiential level” and that they “also visually mark a conflation of nationalism and sexuality”. She also argues that navy tattoos depicting women illustrate a “heterofamilial fetish of national culture” that encourages tattoos to be viewed as marks of familial desire (in fact she tries to argue that such tattoos are “symbolic surrogates” for wives and girlfriends). These tattoos often contained “naked women, women draped in flags or other patriotic regalia, dancing girls, and the popular ‘Lady Luck’ or ‘Man’s Ruin’ images in which a female form was surrounded by booze bottles, dice and cards”.

While researching this blog, I came across this confession from a male with a tattoo fetish:

Now I almost 30 and I am working on a complete tattoo bodysuit. I still am turned on by the idea of being totally covered in ink. I am almost there and I only have a few blank spots left. Before I get more I really want to understand this. I was never abused. I don’t hate my body. I have lots of confidence and there is no ‘thing’ in my past that I can think of that would make me this way. It also isn’t a rebellion thing because my family is cool with it and so is my job. I just love having ink, I love getting it, I love the pain, I love the healing, I love looking at it and I love when women touch it. Why am I this way? I am a normal guy and I have a normal sex life, normal relationships etc. BUT when I masturbate I usually don’t need porn. I just picture my entire body being covered in tattoos…Sometimes I look at my own ink in the mirror etc. The more I get the happier I am. I just want to know, what would cause this? Where do fetishes come from? Are they bad if they don’t interfere with your life?”

For me, this quote neatly sums up the fact that this person’s fetish is unproblematic but is key to his sexual arousal. He also displays what Dr. Katherine Irwin writing in a 2003 issue of Sociological Spectrum might call a ‘positive deviant’. Her paper examined two groups within the most elite realm of tattooing (i.e., tattoo collectors and tattooists), and identified how they use both positive and negative deviant attributes to maintain a privileged status on the fringe of society. Whilst not concentrating on the fetishistic element, many of her observations may apply to those with tattoo fetishes. However, she does note that:

“Tattooists foster tastes for macabre and bizarre objects. Such products as fetish magazines, medical books depicting congenital abnormalities, and fringe films and art are highly coveted by members of the elite world of tattooing”

Comparatively little is known about intimate body piercing or its relevance to human behaviour. Dr. Charles Moser and his colleagues published a paper in a 1993 issue of Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality on reasons for nipple piercing among 362 participants. The main reasons for nipple piercing were sexual responsiveness and sexual interest. More recently, Professor Carol Caliendo and her colleagues carried out some research on intimate body piercings that they published in a 2005 issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing. They surveyed a convenience sample of intimately pierced individuals (63 women and 83 men) across 29 US states. Participants reported having nipple piercings (43%), genital piercings (25%) or both types (32%). Compared to the general US population those with sexual piercings were significantly younger, less ethnically diverse, better educated, less likely to be married, more often homosexual or bisexual and they initiated sexual activity at a younger age. The average age for first nipple piercing was 25 years, and for genital piercing was 27 years. Their reasons for getting the piercings were uniqueness, self-expression and sexual expression.

Arguably, one of the best papers on motivations for tattooing and body piercing was published by Dr. Silke Wohlrab and colleagues (University of Goettingen, Germany) in a 2007 issue of the journal Body Image. They established ten broad motivational categories, comprising motivations for getting tattooed and body pierced. This they hoped would serve as a reference in future research in the area. The ten categories were: (i) beauty, art, and fashion, (ii) individuality, (iii) personal narratives, (iv) physical endurance, (v) group affiliations and commitment, (vi) resistance, (vii) spirituality and cultural tradition, (viii) addiction, (ix) sexual motivations, and (x) no specific reasons (e.g., doing it on impulse, or doing it while intoxicated). In relation to sexual motivations, the authors noted that:

“Nipple and genital piercings are quite common and serve as decoration, but also for direct sexual stimulation. Expressing sexual affectations or emphasizing their own sexuality through tattooing and body piercing are also common motivations”.

Clearly, the research that is beginning to be carried out in recent years doesn’t really make specific reference to stigmatophilia as it tends to concentrate on specific types of self-inflicted body modification (particularly tattooing and body piercing) rather than those who have been left with inflicted wounds from third parties (e.g., facial scarring).

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.

Braunberger, C. (2000). Sutures of Ink: 
National (Dis)Identification and the Seaman’s Tattoo. Genders (Online Journal). Located at: http://www.genders.org/g31/g31_braunberger.html

Caliendo, C., Armstrong, M.L. & Roberts A.E. (2005). Self-reported characteristics of women and men with intimate body piercings. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 49, 474–484

Irwin, K. (2003). Saints and sinners: elite tattoo collectors and tattooists as positive and negative deviants. Sociological Spectrum, 23, 27-57.

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

Meyer D. (2000) Body piercing: old traditions creating new challenges. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 26, 612–614.

Moser C., Lee J. & Christensen P. (1993) Nipple piercing: an exploratory-descriptive study. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 6(2), 51–61.

Money, J. (1984). Paraphilias: Phenomenology and classification. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 38, 164-78.

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.

Wohlrab, S., Stahl, J. & Kappeler, P.M. (2007). Modifying the body: Motivations for getting tattooed and pierced. Body Image, 4, 87-95

Ch-ch-changes: The weird world of transformation fetishes

While researching some other articles on my blog – most notably those on the furries (sexual pleasure from dressing up as an animal and having sex with others dressed up as an animal), technofetishism (sexual pleasure and arousal arising from humanoid or non-humanoid robots), macrophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from a fascination with giants and/or a sexual fantasy involving giants), and agalmatophilia (sexual arousal from an attraction to statues, dolls, mannequins and/or other similar body shaped objects) – I constantly came across various references to ‘transformation fetish’ (TF). Basically, a transformation fetish is a form of sexual fetishism in which an individual derives sexual arousal from descriptions about (and depictions of) transformations (usually of people being transformed into other beings or objects).

The internet has a very active TF community, although some “TF fans” (as they seem to like being called) have no sexual interest as such but take an active interest in ‘transformation art’ and ‘transformation fiction’. After looking at the posts on such sites, there doesn’t seem to be any distinction between fetish and non-fetish fiction but some members of the online TF community are far more sexually orientated in their postings. For instance, one website I checked out was set up to house fetish inspired work comprising “stories, drawings, renderings, and photo-manipulations depicting many transformation fetishes. These fetishes include, but are not limited to: Transformation into toys, latex/rubber, spandex, balloon, zentai, clowns, toons, mannequins, robots, and statues”.

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) notes that TF can include:

“Examples are animal transformation, fantasies, and doll fetish. The former include fantasies in which human beings change to animals, or behave as animals (e.g., lycanthropy, vampires). Animal transformation fantasies are popular among those who participate in pony play. Doll fetish is a transformation fetish of being transformed into a doll or transforming someone else into a doll. It is often played out as role-play between two or more people. One partner – often the female – is dressed to look like a Barbie doll in shape with bold hair, enhanced breasts small waist, high heels, and a very revealing outfit made from rubber, latex or spandex”.

The posts I have read on various TF websites indicate that the transformations typically involve a human (that can be either gender, but seem to more often involve females) being transformed into some other form. For instance, check out the stories at the Experience Project  or the Fetish Transformation website.

I was interested in how the transformation takes place and there appears to be a lot of thought into how it happens. This might involve having fantasy sex in ritualistic ways with specific people, and/or certain creatures (in fact it is common for TF fans to report transforming into the creature they have had sex with). Other non-sexual ways that people can transform include magic spells, curses, viruses, and strange chemicals. In fact, one TF site provided an innovative list of how the transformation can manifest itself. This included:

  • TFs caused by entering a cursed location
  • TFs by injection
  • TFs by bite or attack
  • TFs from touch (whenever someone is touched by something the person start to turn into them – known as the “TF virus”)
  • Inanimate TFs (e.g., transformations into statues)
  • Second Skin TFs (e.g., where a person picks up a semi-sentient blob that soon covers their body, changing them into something else)
  • Costume TFs (where the person gets trapped in a suit that soon begins to tighten and become their new body)
  • Body alteration TFs (such as only growing fur, having only a face change)

I also read that the transformations are typically non-consensual, with “the transformer often becoming confused, scared, or angry as the changes take place, although some transformations are gladly accepted and even chosen by their victims”.

The most common form of TF appears to be transformation from humans into animals (but I’m only basing that on the number of websites that seem to cater for animal TF compared to other types of TF). As I mentioned in my previous blog on the furry fandom, the most common transformations are from humans to mammals (e.g., dogs, horses, cattle), and less common to other types of animal (e.g., birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles). The primary focus of role-play is often the “voluntary or involuntary reduction” (i.e., transformation) of humans to the status of an animal, and “focus on the altered mind-space created”. For instance, I came across this interesting quote from a TF fan:

“I don’t identify at all with the ‘furry’ thing. I mean, no offense to those of you that do. I think the main difference with my animal-TF interests is that I don’t really identify with any particular animal or animals. For me, it’s merely a curiosity about [a particular] form would physically feel like. And in some cases, there’s even a slight element of humiliation at no longer being ‘entirely human’ which is the only element of the TF that has a possibly erotic element. I’ll say ‘transformation fetish’ but in actuality, transformation alone is mostly just a fascination for me that’s non-sexual in nature. It’s when some element of control (whether being controlled, or just fighting against the changes to one’s body or impulses) and/or some slight humiliation that it becomes erotic. In fact, I’ve noticed one common theme in all the transformation scenes in various shows or movies that have caught my attention growing up. It’s that the scene typically focuses on the character’s reaction which is often a sense of ‘my own body is betraying me!’”

TF websites contain many examples of “conversion” across both animal type and developmental stages. Common conversions include felines (kittens, cats, lions, tigers), canines (puppies, dogs, foxes, wolves), and equines (foals, ponies, horses). However, many are depicted as half-human, half-animal hybrids, with the appealing characteristics of both highlighted. As one TF fansite asserted:

“Furries are usually bipedal and have the ability to speak, walk, talk, and think like a normal human. Many in the TF community, even those with an interest in TFs other than animal, adopt a made-up identity as a furry, known as a fursona. It should be noted that like the TF community not all Furries are involved with the fetish aspects of anthropomorphic media. There are some large differences between the communities”.

Another type of TF is common among ‘technosexuals’ (i.e., robot fetishists). A common fantasy among such people involves transformation into a robot. Some have argued this is most similar to agalmatophilia (i.e., attraction to or transformation into statues or mannequins) and in this sense could be viewed as a form of erotic anthropomorphism.

Looking at TF across the whole sexual fetish spectrum, some would argue that there are many different core types of transformation including transforming into inanimate everyday objects, transforming into other humanoid-looking forms (e.g., statues, dolls, robots), transforming into other living things (e.g., animals, animal hybrids, alien life forms), transforming into different and/or extend versions of the self in either fantasy (e.g., becoming a giant, the body aging years in just a few seconds) or reality (e.g., via body modification and/or gender reassignment sex changes).

Finally, in 1989, Dr. Ray Blanchard introduced the concept of autogynephilia, which refers to ‘‘a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female’’. This formed the basis of Blanchard’s hypothesis that there are two distinct manifestations of male-to-female transsexualism (i.e., homosexual and autogynephilic). It could also be argued that such thinking may be akin to transformation fetishes.

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.

Blanchard, R. (1989). The concept of autogynephilia and the typology of male gender dysphoria. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 177, 616-623.

Holliday, K. (2011). Jimbo explains his transformation fetish. The Beautiful Kind, May 17. Located at: http://thebeautifulkind.com/jimbo-explains-his-transformation-fetish/

Pollack, N. (2004). Wonderlust: My transformation fetish. Nerve, April 21. Located at: http://www.nerve.com/personalessays/pollack/wonderlust