Blog Archives

Higher and higher: A brief look at rock climbing as an addiction

In previous blogs I have looked at the alleged addictiveness of extreme sports including BASE jumping and bungee jumping as well as briefly overviewing so called ‘adrenaline junkies’. Over the last year, a couple of papers by Robert Heirene, David Shearer, and Gareth Roderique-Davies have looked at the addictive properties of rock climbing specifically concentrating on withdrawal symptoms and craving.

In the first paper on withdrawal symptoms published last year in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, the authors highlighted some previous research suggesting that there are similarities in the phenomenology of substance-related addictions and extreme sports. For instance, they noted:

Extreme sports athletes commonly describe a “rush” or “high” when participating in their sport (Buckley, 2012; Price & Bundesen, 2005) and liken these experiences to those of drug users (Willig, 2008). For example, a participant in Willig’ s study described: “It’s like for a drug user, they will take cocaine to get high. For me it’s my addiction, I have to go to the mountains to get high.”  Similarly, skydivers have described their sport as “like an addiction,” stating that they “can’t get enough,” and their “relationships suffer” as a result (Celsi, Rose, & Leigh, 1993).”

They also noted prior research suggesting that athletes may experience withdrawal states during periods of abstinence that are also characteristic of those with an addiction. Heirene and his colleagues claimed that this their study was the first to explore withdrawal experiences of individuals engaged in extreme sports. They carried out a study very similar to one of my own where Michael Smeaton and I published a study where gamblers were specifically interviewed about their experiences of withdrawal (in a 2002 issue of Social Psychological Review).


Young woman lead climbing in cave, male climber belaying

Heirene’s team used semi-structured interviews to explore withdrawal experiences of what they defined as ‘high ability’ and ‘average-ability’ male rock climbers during periods of abstinence (four climbers in each of the two groups). They then investigated the behavioural and psychological and aspects of withdrawal (including craving, anhedonia [i.e., the inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities], and negative affect) and examined the differences in the frequency and intensity of these states between the two rock climbing groups. Based on an analysis of the interview transcripts, they found support for the existence of anhedonia, craving, and negative affect among rock climbers. They also reported that the effects were more pronounced and intense among the high ability rock climbers (apart from anhedonic symptoms). The authors also noted:

“All participants reported negative affective experiences during abstinence, including states of “restlessness” and being “miserable,” “agitated,” or “frustrated.” Similar dysphoric states have been identified in drug users, exercise addicts, and extreme sports athletes during abstinence…In the present study, both groups reported using climbing to alleviate negative affective states, particularly stress. This finding supports previous research that has reported skydivers use their sport in a self-medicating manner (Price & Bundesen, 2005). Similarly, psychopharmacology literature has found individuals engage in substance abuse as a means of coping with stress…suggesting similar participation motives in both drug use and extreme sports”.

The study concluded that based on self-report, rock climbers experienced genuine withdrawal symptoms during abstinence from climbing and that these were comparable to individuals with substance and other behavioral addictions. In a second investigation just published in Frontiers in Psychology, the same team (this time led by Gareth Roderique-Davies) reported the development of the Rock Climbing Craving Questionnaire (RCCQ). The development of this new psychometric instrument directly followed on from the previous study which had found evidence of craving amongst the rock climbers that had been interviewed.

In the second paper, the research team attempted to “quantitatively measure the craving experienced by participants of any extreme sports”. They claimed that the RCCQ could allow “a greater understanding of the craving experienced by extreme sports athletes and a comparison of these across sports (e.g., surfing) and activities (e.g., drug-use)”. To develop the RCCQ, they utilized previously validated craving measures as a template for the new instrument to assess craving in the sports of rock-climbing and mountaineering.

The second paper comprised two studies. The first study investigated the factor structure of the craving measure among 407 climbers who completed the RCCQ. (One of the limitations of the study was that the participant sample was heterogeneous and included climbers and mountaineers from multiple primary climbing disciplines, including indoor climbing, outdoor traditional climbing, alpine climbing, and ice climbing). Despite the heterogeneity of the sample, the results demonstrated that a three-factor model explained just over half the total variance in item scores. The three factors (‘positive reinforcement’, ‘negative reinforcement’ and ‘urge to climb’) each comprised five items. The second study validated the 15-item RCCQ on 254 climbers using confirmatory factor analysis across two conditions (a ‘climbing-related cue’ condition or a ‘cue-neutral’ condition). The authors concluded that:

“[The first study supported] the multi-dimensional nature of rock climbing craving and shows parallels with substance-related craving in reflecting intention and positive (desire) and negative (withdrawal) reinforcement. [The second study confirmed] this factor structure and gives initial validation to the measure with evidence that these factors are sensitive to cue exposure…if as shown here, craving for climbing (and potentially other extreme sports) is similar to that experienced by drug-users and addicts, there is the potential that climbing and other extreme sports could be used as a replacement therapy for drug users”.

This latter suggestion has been made in the literature dating back to the 1970s and the work of Dr. Bill Glasser on ‘positive addictions’ as well as by psychologists such as Iain Brown who suggested in the early 1990s that gambling addicts should replace their addictions with sensation-seeking activities such as sky-diving and parachuting. Critics will claim that these papers are another example of ‘over-pathologizing’ everyday behaviours, but as I have always argued, if any behaviour fulfils all the core criteria for addiction, they should be operationalised as such.

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

Further reading

Brymer, E., & Schweitzer, R. (2013). Extreme sports are good for your health: a phenomenological understanding of fear and anxiety in extreme sport. Journal of health psychology, 18(4), 477-487.

Buckley, R. (2012). Rush as a key motivation in skilled adventure tourism: Resolving the risk recreation paradox. Tourism Management, 33, 961–970.

Castanier, C., Le Scanff, C., & Woodman, T. (2010). Who takes risks in high-risk sports? A typological personality approach. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 81, 478–484.

Celsi, R. L., Rose, R. L., & Leigh, T. W. (1993). An exploration of high risk leisure consumption through skydiving. Journal of Consumer Research, 20(1), 1–23.

Glasser, W. (1976). Positive Addictions. New York: Harper & Row.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. & Smeaton, M. (2002). Withdrawal in pathological gamblers: A small qualitative study. Social Psychology Review, 4, 4-13.

Heirene, R. M., Shearer, D., Roderique-Davies, G., & Mellalieu, S. D. (2016). Addiction in extreme sports: An exploration of withdrawal states in rock climbers. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(2), 332-341.

Larkin, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Dangerous sports and recreational drug-use: Rationalising and contextualising risk. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 14, 215-232.

Monasterio, E., & Mei-Dan, O. (2008). Risk and severity of injury in a population of BASE jumpers. New Zealand Medical Journal, 121, 70–75.

Monasterio, E., Mulder, R., Frampton, C., & Mei-Dan, O. (2012). Personality characteristics of BASE jumpers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 24, 391-400.

Price, I. R., & Bundesen, C. (2005). Emotional changes in skydivers in relation to experience. Personality and Individual Differences, 38, 1203–1211.

Roderique-Davies, G. R. D., Heirene, R. M., Mellalieu, S., & Shearer, D. A. (2018). Development and initial validation of a rock climbing craving questionnaire (RCCQ). Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 204. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00204

Willig, C. (2008). A phenomenological investigation of the experience of taking part in extreme sports. Journal of Health Psychology, 13(5), 690-702.

Rush hour: Can you be addicted to adrenaline?

(N.B. A shorter version of this article was first published in Hopes & Fears magazine).

Conceptualising addiction has been a matter of great debate for decades. For many people the concept of addiction involves the taking of drugs. However, there is now a growing movement that views a number of behaviors as potentially addictive including those that do not involve the ingestion of a drug. These include behaviors diverse as gambling, eating, sex, exercise, videogame playing, love, shopping, Internet use, social networking, and work. The term ‘adrenaline junkies’ has now passed into popular usage and usually refers to potentially dangerous activities such as bungee jumping, sky diving, BASE jumping, etc. My own view is that any activity that features continuous rewards (i.e., constant reinforcement) could be potentially addictive. I have argued in many of my papers that all addictions – irrespective of whether they are chemical or behavioral – comprise six components (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse). More specifically:

  • Salience – This occurs when the activity becomes the single most important activity in the person’s life and dominates their thinking (preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behavior (deterioration of socialized behavior). For instance, even if the person is not actually engaged in the activity they will be constantly thinking about the next time that they will be (i.e., a total preoccupation with the activity).
  • Mood modification – This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of engaging in the activity and can be seen as a coping strategy (i.e., they experience an arousing ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ or paradoxically a tranquilizing feel of ‘escape’ or ‘numbing’).
  • Tolerance – This is the process whereby increasing amounts of the activity are required to achieve the former mood modifying effects. This basically means that for someone engaged in the activity, they gradually build up the amount of the time they spend engaging in the activity every day.
  • Withdrawal symptoms – These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects (e.g., the shakes, moodiness, irritability, etc.) that occur when the person is unable to engage in the activity.
  • Conflict – This refers to the conflicts between the person and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (e.g., work, social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual (e.g., intra-psychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) that are concerned with spending too much time engaging in the activity.
  • Relapse – This is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of excessive engagement in the activity to recur, and for even the most extreme patterns typical of the height of excessive engagement in the activity to be quickly restored after periods of control.

In short, if any ‘adrenaline junkies’ fulfilled all my six criteria I would class them as an addict. However, I have come across very few adrenaline junkies that endorse all of my six criteria. My position is that it is theoretically possible for individuals to become addicted to adrenaline producing activities but in reality, very few actually are.

Addiction is an incredibly complex behavior and always result from an interaction and interplay between many factors including the person’s biological and/or genetic predisposition, their psychological constitution (personality factors, unconscious motivations, attitudes, expectations, beliefs, etc.), their social environment (i.e. situational characteristics such as accessibility and availability of the activity, the advertising of the activity) and the nature of the activity itself (i.e. structural characteristics such as the size of the stake or jackpot in gambling). This ‘global’ view of addiction highlights the interconnected processes and integration between individual differences (i.e. personal vulnerability factors), situational characteristics, structural characteristics, and the resulting addictive behavior. In respect to ‘adrenaline addicts’ the most important factors are likely to be the individual’s personality and the potential of the reinforcing nature of the activity to produce mood modifying experiences.

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

Further reading

Berczik, K., Griffiths, M.D., Szabó, A., Kurimay, T., Urban, R. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Exercise addiction. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.317-342). New York: Elsevier.

Demetrovics, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Behavioral addictions: Past, present and future. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 1-2.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Gambling addictions. In A. Browne-Miller (Ed.), The Praeger International Collection on Addictions: Behavioral Addictions from Concept to Compulsion (pp. 235-257). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Addicted to sex? Psychology Review, 16(1), 27-29

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Behavioural addiction: The case for a biopsychosocial approach. Transgressive Culture, 1(1), 7-28.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Workaholism: A 21st century addiction. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 24, 740-744.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Social networking addiction: An overview of preliminary findings. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.119-141). New York: Elsevier.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Király, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic online gaming. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.61-95). New York: Elsevier.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014).  Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4026-4052.

Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.

Elasticity of demand: Can bungee jumping be addictive?

“Aaaaaaaggggggghhhhhhh” – or something like it – was the sound I made as I jumped from 300 foot above the River Thames with a piece of elastic tied round my ankles in my one and only bungee-jump. Was I brave? No. Insane? No (although others may take issue). Stupid? Possibly. Was I doing it for a bet? No. To raise money for a charity? No. To have a story to tell the grandchildren? No (but I will have). At the end of the day, I really don’t know what possessed me to take that jump. But I did it. I have about a hundred eyewitnesses, the certificate, the photos, and of course the video of my jump (“Drastic Elastic”).

So how did it all come about? Well, it was one of those spur of the moment things. I was with my partner and some of her friends all of whom had congregated at Battersea Power Station to see one of their long-standing friends do a bungee-jump. The bungee-jump at Battersea as I later found out is the highest in the UK but as I sat drinking bottled lager on the riverside boat bar all I was wondering was why the bloody hell is he going to do it? He had a few weeks to think about it. Thankfully when it came to my jump, I had about half an hour for it to sink in. The only bottle I really had was the one I had been holding full of lager.

Before I went on my jump, a couple of radio journalists went up to do a report. A couple of my colleagues have suggested that it was only the presence of the broadcast media that got me to jump. One jumper who came down while I was waiting described it as the worst experience of his life. What a time to tell me! What’s more, the person before me chickened out when she got to the top. I must admit than when I was finally hoisted up to that birds-eye view over London, I did momentarily think there was still time to change my mind. The forms that I signed before going up were certainly food for thought. There is a phrase in the small print that basically says that in the event of my death or serious injury that I do not hold the UK Bungee Club personally responsible.

As the crane slowly ascended to the jump point my heart got a little faster but I was still looking forward to it. The crane suddenly stopped. The door of the cage opened and there I was standing over the Thames. In three seconds time I would be making my oscillating descent downwards. One of the guys in the crane said he would count to three and then tap me on the shoulder which was my cue to jump. The other guy was holding the camcorder recording my every grimace.

“One. Two. Three. Jump”. I dived off the cage’s platform and hurtled towards my friends in the boat below. I bounced up and down for about half a minute before I realised it was nearly over. The rush I got from the whole experience hit me straight after the jump rather than during it. The term “adrenaline junkie” has now passed into everyday usage and although my main research area concentrates on very specific types of risky behaviour (e.g., gambling) and others perceive me to be someone who generally takes risks, I would be the first to admit that bungee jumping is not something that has ever been one of my lifelong desires.

It is therefore something of an irony that one of my ex-PhD students (Dr. Michael Larkin) did his research on the relationship between addiction and identity and interviewed bungee-jumpers about their experiences and whether they view their high-risk behaviour as addictive (research that we eventually published in the Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology). I also realize that if I was interviewing myself about my experiences of bungee jumping I’d be hard pressed to give any kind of rational explanation of why I did it.

Large-scale research in the area of young people and risk-taking has tended to focus on ‘risk-takers’. This term clearly situates the ‘risky-ness’ within a particular kind of person, and captures only the negative aspect of such behaviours (i.e., risk). In our published research, Dr. Larkin and I purposefully used the term ‘risky-but-rewarding activities’ for two reasons. Firstly, the term situates ‘risky-ness’ within activities, rather than the persons engaging in them, and secondly, it captures both the positive and negative aspects of such activities (i.e., risk and reward).

In one of our studies, we used semi-structured interviews to explore the experiences and understandings of two small groups of participants engaging in either dangerous sports (i.e., bungee jumpers) or recreational drug use (i.e., Ecstasy users). We chose these two particular activities because they provided an opportunity to explore an interesting psychological question – how do individuals evaluate and understand the relationship between risk and pleasure?

All participants had what can best be described as ‘non-problematic’ relationships with their respective activities (i.e. they did not consider themselves as ‘addicted’. Furthermore, all of the participants in our study claimed they made informed and educated decisions about the risks involved in their respective activities – even though there were variations in each individual’s appraisal of how great this risk might actually be, and of how well-informed they were.

We found both similarities and differences between the bungee-jumpers and the Ecstasy users. Initiation into bungee jumping was presented as the consequence of an active, rational decision. Perhaps this was possible for the bungee-jumpers, in contrast to the ecstasy users, because they had fewer reservations to overcome. We also reported that there seemed to be no expectation of unknown, long-term risk associated with bungee jumping (as opposed to Ecstasy use). Secondly, bungee jumping does not represent an analogous ‘boundary point’ between relatively minor involvement, and more serious involvement, in dangerous sports, in the way that Ecstasy use and amphetamine use may do within general drug-taking activities. Thus, we can see that ‘contextual decisions’ may have a psychological function for the user, as a means of overcoming reservations (through denial of agency), and a discursive function for the speaker, as a means of rationalizing a ‘risky shift.’ However, even though bungee jumpers did not utilize this strategy, they still presented their activities as participatory, and acknowledged that social elements contributed to the rewards of the activity, and carried out a considerable amount of identity work in the interviews, which collectively suggests that (like Ecstasy-use) participation grants access to an identity, and gives the user a voice within a particular sub-culture.

We also found that first experiences of bungee jumping and Ecstasy-use were often ambivalent, and sometimes even unpleasant. This ambivalence was generally reported as leading to a stage of ‘learning to like it.’ This might be considered a key process in moving from initiation to maintaining use. Our analysis of the data sought to illuminate something of what it means to take risks for pleasure in our culture. From this process, a number of insights have emerged.

Firstly, it seemed that initiation into a risk-taking activity may require numerous strategies in order to overcome one’s own reservations, and also to accommodate perceived disapproval from others. These strategies include momentary denials of agency (such as the construction of ‘contextual decisions’ rather than ‘rational decisions’), emphasis on the value of ‘inclusion’ for maintaining friendship and cultural identity, the use of anticipated regret as a rationale for accepting possible consequences, and emphasis on the intrinsic value of collecting a broad range of experiences.

Secondly, while initiation may involve some denial of agency, once the person is initiated, and it perhaps becomes evident that the activity can be maintained relatively safely (costs; managing risks) and satisfactorily (learning to like it; learning to control it), then engagement in the activity becomes more rationalized. This involves the acquisition of information about the risks involved, espousing certain practices in response to those risks, and explaining accidents in terms of inappropriate engagement in the activity. In these ways, short-term risks can be managed and accepted as appropriate to the pleasure received.

One interesting feature of the accounts we collected is their positive, appetitive and wilful orientation toward risk. Our participants articulated a relationship with risk that allowed us to see it as a source of pleasure and reward, cultural identity and social participation, but also perhaps as a means of expressing resistance to conventional constraints. Risk-taking was not exactly ‘normal’ for our participants. Its very abnormality was part of its transgressive allure, but at the same time it was mediated by attempts to adopt safe practices, and as such it cannot be understood simply as negativistic action either. Instead, it makes more sense to understand the value of these transgressive acts in terms of access granted to both desirable identities and modified mood states. Whatever future research uncovers, I will always have my bungee jumping certificate that takes pride of place in my office and reads:

“This certifies that in a brief moment of bravado, Dr. Mark Griffiths being of sound mind did of their own choice leap from a 300ft platform. When they launched themselves into space their only touch with reality was a bungee cord attached to their ankles. This courageous person has hereby encountered “The Ultimate Adrenalin Experience”. Lesser beings should now show the respect and admiration due to the intrepid Bungee Jumper, who has undertaken to accept their fame with some restraint and modesty”

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

Further reading

Beck, U. (1992). The risk society: Towards a new modernity. London: Sage.

Douglas, M. (1994). Risk and blame. London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Bungee jumping madness: A personal case study. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 61, 34-36.

Larkin, M. (2002). Understandings and experiences: A post-constructionist cultural psychology of addiction and recovery in the 12-step tradition. Unpublished PhD. thesis, Nottingham Trent University.

Larkin, M., & Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Experiences of addiction and recovery: The case for subjective accounts. Addiction Research and Theory, 10, 281–311.

Larkin, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Dangerous sports and recreational drug-use: Rationalising and contextualising risk. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 14, 215-232.

Plant, M., & Plant, M. (1992). Risk-takers: Alcohol, drugs, sex and youth. London: Routledge.

Getting high: A beginner’s guide to acrophilia

In his comprehensive list of sexual paraphilias in the 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr.Anil Aggrawal (Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India) defined acrophilia as sexual pleasure and arousal from heights, high altitudes or being in high places. Dr. Brenda Love has briefly overviewed acrophilia in both her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices and a 2005 book chapter on “Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing” (in Russ Kick’s book Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong). She begins her overviews by claiming:

“Skydiving and bungee-cord-jumping are high-altitude activities that elevate one’s adrenalin. This excitement can then be transferred to passion and sex. Both of these activities include a form of bondage, vertigo, and suspension”

My own research on bungee jumping published in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, certainly suggests that the activity is a ‘risky but rewarding’ behaviour that some people view as potentially addictive. However, in our interviews with bungee jumpers we didn’t find any crossover to their sex lives (although we I ought to mention we didn’t specifically ask).

Brenda Love says that another acrophile behaviour is having sex at a high altitude (the most obvious example being where people have sex on aeroplanes an become a member of the ‘Mile High Club’). Although some people are likely to want to engage in such an activity just to say they have done it, for some people it may be genuinely sexually arousing. Rob Woodburn writing on “sex at altitude” in the Sydney Morning Herald wrote that:

“Sigmund Freud said that images of flying often symbolize sex in our dreams. Does this mean that actually having sex when wide awake and while in the air subconsciously completes some sort of mental circuit? [Sex educator] Dr. Susan Block says that, physiologically speaking, being in an aircraft during flight is like being in a giant vibrator. So passengers, especially men, are easily aroused. This dovetails neatly with comedian Billy Crystal’s observation that “women need a reason to have sex, men just need a place”. 

Others may be sexually excited at the thought of being caught having sex on a plane, while others may have sexual fantasies about the people who work on planes (i.e. the pilots and flight attendants). Keith Lovegrove in his book Airline: Identity, Design and Culture notes that some people actually develop a fetish for the planes themselves. Such people are into ‘objectum sexuality’ (where people develop romantic and/or sexual feelings of inanimate objects or structures, and which I discussed in a previous blog). For what appears the vast majority, the appeal of joining the mile high club appears to be the thrill of engaging in an activity that is taboo. Brenda Love then provides the following story from some personal communication she received in 1980:

“There was a group of pilots in New York that had its own version of a Mile High Club. The requirements were that the pilot and passenger go up in an open-cockpit bi-plane, and when they reached an altitude of 6,500 feet, the passenger would disrobe, climb out onto the wing and into the back seat, returning to the front seat after having sex with the pilot. All without falling off!”

Brenda Love also claims that for some people aerobatics can be sexually arousing. Based on more “personal communication” she had received, she wrote that:

“Stunts in a small plane offer 4-5 negative G-forces and 3-4 positive G’s. These affect the body by pushing the blood into either the head or the lower body, resulting in feelings of lightheadedness, floating, or sinking, depending on the maneuver. There is a tremendous adrenalin rush and a simultaneous sense of power over the airplane and submission to it. The feeling of being bound is greater in stunt flying than with other sports because the belts have to hold both body weight and the chute through every maneuver. There are very few sensations that compare with hanging upside down while one’s weight pulls one toward the glass bubble that separates the pilot from the rapidly approaching ground. This feat provides enough sexual stimulation to cause at least one female pilot to experience spontaneous orgasm”.

Brenda Love (citing a lecture by J.C Collins on ‘Terror’) claims that some sexual sadists who know their masochistic sexual partners suffer from acrophobia, are sometimes forced to wear blindfolds and then made to climb a ladder. She then claimed that if this is done often enough, the phobia eventually dissipates and then being at height becomes sexually arousing. Finally, Love also briefly talks about alien abductions and implicitly argues these are examples of acrophilic activity. There are clearly some people who claim to have had sex in spaceships (check out my previous blog on exophilia that examined the fetish for having sex with aliens). In a 2001 book Extra-terrestrial Sex Fetish by “Supervert”, he argues that:

“Exophilia should be understood as an abnormal desire for that which is outside earth…It is characterized by arousal in the presence of aliens or, less directly, representations of aliens…The exophile is rarely apprehended in the very act of satisfying his fetish. Evidently the reason for this is not the scarcity of exophiles but the lack of extraterrestrials themselves”

However, even if you are someone who actually believes that instances of inter-galactic sex has taken place and/or that there are genuine alien sex fetishes, the source of the sexual arousal is unlikely to be the altitude at which sex took place. Therefore, even at a theoretical level, such activity could not be classed as truly acrophilic.

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.

Larkin, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Dangerous sports and recreational drug-use: Rationalising and contextualising risk. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 14, 215-232.

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

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

Lovegrove, K. (2000). Airline: Identity, Design and Culture. New York: Te Neues Publishing Company

Supervert (2001). Extra-terrestrial Sex Fetish (self-published book). Available at:

Woodburn, R. (2006). Sex at high altitude. Sydney Morning Herald, May 24. Located at: