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Crash and turn on: A brief look at chremastistophilia and symphorophilia

“Okay so I was chatting on a website and this guy approached me saying he wanted to be blackmailed for money. He told me he would give me $100 on Thursday if I logged into his Facebook account and humiliated him. I’m a little freaked out, but what should I tell him??” (query from ‘‘)

In a previous blog I examined hybristophilia (a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal and pleasure from having a sexual partner who is known to have committed serious crimes, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery). Another criminally-related paraphilia is chremastistophilia. In this paraphilia, the individual derives sexual arousal and pleasure from being robbed, conned, cheated, blackmailed and/or being held up by the individual’s sexual partner (or in a few cases, a complete stranger). Some websites (such as colloquially refer to it as the “hold-up kink”.

Some have speculated that the strong emotions of frustration, fear, annoyance, rage, and/or submission are subconsciously drawn upon by chremastistophiles and then focused into sexual arousal/gratification. This could be viewed as ‘edge play’ (i.e., rough and deviant sexual play enjoyed by sexual masochists and sexual sadists) as the behaviour can be life threatening for chremasistophiles to actively seek out someone to steal from them purely for sexual kicks.

The reciprocal condition where the sexual focus is on charging or robbing one’s sexual partner has not been given a name. Those people who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from breaking and entering a property (and then stealing) is known as kleptophilia (which I overviewed in a previous blog). In my research into chremastistophilia, I have yet to come across a single piece of empirical research on the topic. Most of the evidence appears to be anecdotal. For instance, the cult novelist and multi-media artist Kris Saknussemm has noted:

“I’ve met several chremastistophiles, all of whom had been arrested on petty charges at some point in their lives – drug possession, minor theft, etc. All expressed a strong libido, but also a climax dysfunction. They got aroused, they just didn’t get off easily. What magical thing finally provided that long-awaited release? The experience of being taken advantage of – which is different from out-and-out assault. It’s a variation on biastophilia, the perverse attraction to being raped, but the key distinction seems to lie in the impending threat itself. “Give me your wallet and nobody gets hurt” – that kind of thing. One British gentleman proudly displayed the scar he received from a knife wound in the course of a mugging – an event which he said led to a spontaneous ejaculation, the most powerful and substantial he’d ever experienced”

Dr Billi Gordon and Dr James Elias claim that chremastistophilia is accepted as potentially lethal alongside other criminally related paraphilias such as hybristophilia and autassassinophilia (where the individual derives sexual arousal by the by the risk of being killed). Unfortunately, I cannot find a single academic or clinical study that has ever been published in a peer reviewed journal so this is clearly an area that is crying out for some empirical research. There was a theoretical paper published in 2004 on autassassinophila by Lisa Downing (Queen Mary, University of London). She used used the case of Sharon Lopatka, a Maryland woman who instigated her own sexual murder in 1996. She said:

“It demonstrates that the phenomenon of being murdered for pleasure problematizes commonplace assumptions about the legitimacy to consent. The discussion recalls and refreshes existing debates in feminism and the politics of sadomasochism and reads them alongside the rhetoric surrounding the ethics of medically assisted suicide. Consenting to murder for pleasure is revealed as a formulation that exceeds the terms of informed consent as it is currently understood and thereby constitutes an ethical and logical aporia”.

Another strange paraphilia with a potentially criminally-based sexual focus is symphorophilia. This is a paraphilia that Professor John Money said related to individuals who derive sexual arousal and pleasure from witnessing and/or stage-managing a “disaster, such as a conflagration or traffic accident, and watching for it to happen”. Again, I have yet to come across any empirical research on the topic although I did briefly examine this paraphilia in relation to sex and cars in one of my previous blogs (and another blog I wrote on objectum sexuality). It has been alleged that in very rare cases, an accident that may injure or even kill someone may bring the symphorophile to the point of orgasm quicker. The condition is probably better known in popular culture than in academic terms. For instance, the main characters in the 1973 novel Crash by British author J.G. Ballard (and the subsequent 1996 film adaptation of the same name) were symphorophiles. Part of the Crash Wikipedia entry on Ballard’s Crash novel motes:

“The story is told through the eyes of narrator James Ballard, named after the author himself, but it centers on the sinister figure of Dr. Robert Vaughan, a ‘former TV-scientist, turned nightmare angel of the expressways’. Ballard meets Vaughan after being involved in a car accident himself near London Airport. Gathering around Vaughan is a group of alienated people, all of them former crash-victims, who follow him in his pursuit to re-enact the crashes of celebrities, and experience what the narrator calls ‘a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology’. Vaughan’s ultimate fantasy is to die in a head-on collision with movie star Elizabeth Taylor”.

In the film, the Wikipedia entry notes:

“Ballard becomes one of Vaughan’s followers who fetishise car accidents, obsessively watching car safety test videos and photographing traffic accident sites. Ballard drives Vaughan’s Lincoln convertible around the city while Vaughan picks up and uses street prostitutes, and later Ballard’s wife. In turn, Ballard has a dalliance with one of the other group members, Gabrielle a beautiful woman whose legs are clad in restrictive steel braces, and who has a vulva-like scar on the back of one of her thighs, which is used as a substitute for a vagina by Ballard. The film’s sexual couplings in (or involving) cars are not restricted to heterosexual experiences. While watching videos of car crashes, Dr. Remington becomes extremely aroused and gropes the crotches of both Ballard and Gabrielle, suggesting an imminent ménage a trios”.

As with chremastistophilia, I have been unable to find a single clinical or academic study published in a peer-reviewed journal so it wouldn’t be too much an educated guess that such a paraphilia is incredibly rare.

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

Further reading

Downing, L. (2004). On the limits of sexual ethics: The phenomenology of autassassinophilia. Sexuality and Culture, 8, 3-17.

Gordon, W.A. & Elias, J.E. (2005). Potentially lethal modes of sexual expression. Paper presented at the 2005 Western Region Annual Conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.

Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books

Money, J. (1986). Lovemaps: Clinical concepts of sexual/erotic health and pathology, paraphilia, and gender transposition in childhood, adolescence, and maturity. New York: Irvington.

Wikipedia (undated). Crash (1996 film). Located at:

Wikipedia (undated). Crash (J.G. Ballard novel). Located at:

A crime of passion: A beginner’s guide to hybristophila

It may be surprising to know that there are many links and associations between criminal behaviour and paraphilic behaviour. There are – of course – many paraphilic behaviours that are criminal offences that I have covered in previous blogs including zoophilia and necrophilia. There are also criminal activities that contain paraphilic elements that are either part of the criminal act itself and/or left at the crime scene. However, today’s blog examines hybristophilia where the source of sexual arousal is actually based in criminal activity.

Hybristophilia was defined by the sexologist Professor John Money as a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal and pleasure from having a sexual partner who is known to have “committed an outrage or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery”. This type of paraphilic behaviour is sometimes colloquially known as ‘Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome’. In some cases, the person who is the focus of the sexual desire is someone who has been imprisoned. In some cases, the hybristophile may urge and coerce their partner to commit a crime.

In other cases, the hybritophile may contact someone who is already in prison that they do not know except by reputation and/or what the have read or seen in the media. For instance, it is well known that serial killers – particularly those who have received lots of media publicity – receive lots of fan mail from female admirers (some of who are likely to be genuine hybristophiles). For instance, high profile murderers and serial killers that are known to have received sexual fan mail include Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez and Ted Bundy. Compared to other paraphilic behaviours, hybristophilia is quite unusual in that it is more common in women than in men. In a 2006 book chapter review by Corey Vitello, he notes that unlike most paraphilic behaviours, hybristophilia is more common among females, and that it varies in both disposition and degree.

According to the Lovearthistory (LAH) website, there are two types of hybristophiles (i.e., ‘passive hybristophilia’ and ‘aggressive hybristophilia’):

Passive hybristophilia comprises those individuals who have no desire to participate in criminal activity themselves but are sexually attracted to criminals (the so-called “prison groupies” or “serial killer groupies”). Although I have yet to see any empirical proof, the LAH website claims that:

“These women are usually delusional and will try to find excuses for what the criminal did. They will develop relationships with a criminal and feel that they are special — that even though their lover may have killed numerous people, he would never harm her. They usually feel that they can “change” their lover and have rescue fantasies. Passive hybristophiliacs “tend to put themselves in positions to be seduced, manipulated, and lied to by the people they fall for”.

Aggressive hybristophilia comprises those individuals who actively help (typically male) criminals to commit the crime(s). Such people (usually female) will (according to the LAH website):

“Help out their lovers with their criminal agenda by luring victims, hiding bodies, covering crimes, or even committing crimes. They are attracted to their lover’s because of their violent actions and want to receive love, yet are unable to understand that their lover’s are psychopaths who are manipulating them. Both passive and aggressive hybristophiliacs tend to end up in abusive or unhealthy relationships”.

Vitello says that many female hybristophiles are the ones who are actually plan all the crimes and that they coax their partner into actually carrying out the crime in order to become sexually aroused.

The reasons put forward as the motivation underlying hybristophilia are highly speculative. It could be that those who are sexually attracted to criminals – particularly those who are infamous and have a high media profile – may love and crave the attention they vicariously receive. Maybe admirers are attracted to serial killers because they view them as ‘ultra-masculine’ and/or ‘overtly male’ because of the horrific and seemingly unimaginable acts they have committed. As Vitello writes (citing from Cara Bruce’s 2002 book ‘The Thrill of the Killer’):

“Women, teens especially, have the unfortunate reputation for wanting to find a partner who fits the ‘bad boy image’. The sexy bad boy is a staple American icon. He embodies machismo, individualism and all that other … potent ideals of the U.S. Bad boys come in differing degrees, and most women would confess to having a minor crush on at least one at the end of the spectrum…Maybe, women fall for the bad boys because they are forbidden. Perhaps it’s the ultimate taboo, thus, the ultimate aphrodisiac. Consequently, those women who do not grow out of the bad-boy fixation become a hybristophile because the image is so strongly paired with sexual arousal; they need to be with a notorious partner to achieve sexual pleasure”.

From an evolutionary perspective, maybe such females have some kind of unconscious biological drive that would view any children of such men as having a better chance of survival. Maybe hybristophiles have submissive traits and (as the LAH website speculates) are “narcissist enablers who are attracted to power”. Professor John Money says the behaviour may be caused by a reverse operant conditioning (a process that he says underlies all paraphilic behaviour). He says:

“[The] opponent process converts negative into positive, tragedy into triumph, and aversion into addiction. Two recreational examples of opponent process reversals are bungee jumping and riding a gravity defying roller coaster. The novice whose apprehension amounts to sheer terror at first may, after very few trials, discover that terror transmogrifies into exhilaration and ecstasy as if the brain had released a flood of its own opiate-like endorphins. Thereafter, the thrill returns with each repeat, totally replacing terror”

Non-fiction author Sheila Isenberg interviewed many hybristophiles for her book Women Who Love Men Who Kill. Some of those interviewed knew that their relationship was morally wrong but others were described as delusional with idealized fantasies. The interviewees comprised ordinary women with ordinary jobs (teachers, nurses) although many had been in relationships where their partner was violent and/or abusive. With the male being in jail, it could be argued that the women felt safe in a way they hadn’t done before and it could perhaps be argued that in this particular situation, it was the woman that was in the position of power. Unsurprisingly, very few of the relationships could be described as normal as most of the women maintained their relationship via the writing of letters and/or seeing the killer only very occasionally.

Academically, much of this is confirmed in Vitello’s review that asserts that hybristophiles often insecure, have low self-esteem have often been victims of physical and sexual abuse. This, according to Vitello makes them more vulnerable to deviant sexual preferences and criminality. However, Vitello also points out that many women are not victims at all and simply “want to sublimate their violent tendencies by collaborating with a perpetrator of violence”. This brief overview demonstrates that this is an area that empirical research is greatly needed as much of what is known is based on anecdotal interview evidence and populist books.

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

Further reading

Linedecker, C.L. (1993). Prison Groupies. New York: Windsor Pub Corp.

Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books

Lovearthistory (undated). The psychology of hybristophilia. Located at:

Isenberg, S. (2000). Women Who Love Men Who Kill.

Mina, D. (2003). Why are women drawn to men behind bars? The Guardian, January 13. Located at:

Money, J. (1986). Lovemaps: Clinical concepts of sexual/erotic health and pathology, paraphilia, and gender transposition in childhood, adolescence, and maturity. New York: Irvington.

Vitello, C. (2006). Hybristophilia: The love of criminals. In Hickey, E.W. (Ed.). Sex Crimes and Paraphilia. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.