In the last two weeks I have been interviewed twice by the British Metro newspaper about different sexual paraphilias. The first interview with Miranda Larbi was on dacryphilia (sexual arousal from crying), a paraphilia on which I’ve already published three papers on and have a fourth in progress, and which the Metro published as ‘There are women who get wet from crying’. The second interview with Yvette Caster was on formicophilia (usually defined as sexual arousal from insects but not strictly accurate as I’ll explain below) and more specifically on melissophilia (sexual arousal from bees, the opposite of melissophobia – a fear of bees and bee stings). I’ve not published academic papers on either formicophilia or melissophilia but have written blogs on both of them, and is the reason I was asked for comment. Much of the information in the Metro’s article came from my blog and was supplemented with quotes from my interview with them. The Metro piece (somewhat ambitiously entitled ‘Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the sexual fetish for bees’) started by saying:
“We all know about the birds and the bees. But some people take this phrase more literally than others when it comes to what they enjoy in the bedroom. Melissophilia is sexual attraction to bees. Yes, while you’ve been getting red-faced trying to chase those critters away from your picnic, others have been going red-faced in their presence for entirely different reasons…Melissophilia is a specific kind of zoophilia (sexual attraction to animals)…The word comes from the Ancient Greek for ‘honey bee’ and ‘love’. It’s not necessarily a case of falling in love with Barry B Benson from Bee Movie. Apparently some people catch bees with the intention of getting them to sting their genitals. This is because they believe this will increase swelling and hypersensitivity, increasing the intensity and duration of their orgasms”.
Following this introduction, the remainder of the article was entitled ‘What do the experts have to say about it?’ and simply featured the (edited) answers to some of the questions that I was asked by the Metro journalist. As I had been interviewed via asynchronous email (a topic that I have co-incidentally written methodological papers about in relation to studying paraphilia behaviour), I have a complete transcript of the whole interview and thought I’d publish it in full as the Metro only used a small selection of what I’d written (and I don’t like to waste any work that I’ve done).
Why might someone develop melissaphilia? I’ve never come across a true case of melissophilia (i.e., sexual arousal specifically from bees), only men that use bees to increase the size of their penis (so they are unlikely to be true melissophiliacs). There may be some masochists who get sexual pleasure from things that sting (including nettles and insects) but the focus of the arousal is pain (not the bees) so these would not be melissophilia. (And by the way, although formicophilia is often used to describe insect fetishes, technically it only relates to ants and the term entomophilia is more accurate).
At what point might having this fetish become a problem? When it comes to non-normative sex, problems are typically defined by context and culture. If sex is consensual with informed consent, no fetish is problematic. If the person themselves thinks it is a problem then it should be treated as such. With insect fetishes, you could argue that the insects are not giving their informed consent and therefore the fetishes are morally wrong (without necessarily being problematic to the person or the insects).
Have you any idea how common melissaphilia is? If it even exists (and I’m not convinced it is) it would be incredibly rare.
When do people develop fetishes like formicophilia and why? There are only two academic papers examining formicophilia in the psychological literature and I think it was actually the same person being written about in each paper. Many fetishes appear to be as a result of associative pairing (classical conditioning) but formicophilia may be more common in cultures where insects are everywhere and where such individuals use insects as a substitute for sex by using insects to arouse erogenous zones (penis, nipples, etc.). The one case study in the literature involved a Buddhist monk that had never had sex or been exposed to pornography. Here the formicophilia may have been culturally learned by accident.
In your opinion, is it a harmless sexual preference or something fans should try to wean themselves off? It’s harmless if there is no problem and people should only seek help if they themselves feel it is a problem. There’s nothing wrong with non-normative sex if it’s consensual. However, as I said above, there may be a moral issue. There are other insect-based and similar fetishes that I have covered in my blog that you can check out (such as spiders [arachnephilia] and worms [vermiphilia]).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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