On a wet Sunday afternoon, I recently found myself reading through a list of strange paraphilias in Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. I came across a sexual paraphilia called ecouteurism which according to Dr. Aggrawal refers to individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal “by listening to stories of sexual encounters of others or to sounds of others produced during intercourse either live or recorded”. Other slightly different definitions of the behaviour have been noted. For instance, the Right Diagnosis website says that ecouteurism refers to “intentionally listening to other people having sex without them being aware of it or consenting to it” whereas the Dictionary of Psychology and Allied Sciences notes that it refers to the “sexual pleasure obtained from sounds or listening to sexual or toilet activities of others”.
The Intimate Medicine website claims there is no scientific literature on ecouteurism but that is not quite true. The one and only paper the academic literature was written back in 1968 by Australian psychiatrist Dr. F.M. Mai and published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. Dr. Mai’s paper concerned the case of 32-year old single man who derived his sexual satisfaction from covertly tape-recording and then playing back the sounds from female toilets. Over a one-year period he amassed 13 hours of females’ toilet recordings, all of which were made at nights and only when he was feeling lonely and depressed. Dr. Mai argued that this was phenomenologically and psychopathologically similar to voyeurism (i.e., the deriving of sexual pleasure from watching other people typically engaged in sexual behaviour). The Intimate Medicine website concurs with this as they assert that “ecouteurism is the same for the ear as voyeurism is for the eye”.
It was in fact Dr. Mai who termed this condition ‘ecouteurism’. Over a 12-month period, the man in question had regularly frequented female toilets and placed microphones through the windows to record all the sound activity inside the cubicles. The man would then go home and listen to the recordings he had made but strenuously denied that he masturbated while the sound recordings were being played. The furthest that the man would go was to say he “got something out of it”. Dr. Mai noted that despite no admission of using the recordings as masturbatory material, there seemed little doubt in his mind “that this man derived sexual gratification from recording and later listening to the sounds emanating from female toilets”.
Dr. Mai claimed that the roots of the behaviour were due to the man’s sexual inadequacy that was – at least in part – caused by the man’s dysfunctional relationship with his overtly aggressive father. His father had high hopes for his son’s future but his son could not live up to his father’s ambitious plans because of his relatively low intellectual ability. Ultimately, this had led to the man seeking alternative forms of sexual expression manifested in his desire to listen to women going to the toilet. As to more specific causes, Dr. Mai could only speculate. He said that:
“[The man’s] long-standing auditory symptoms may have played some part in localising the symptoms to the organ of hearing rather than any other sense organ. His relative social isolation and passive personality could be a further contributory factor. The passive-aggressive quality of his behaviour is clear, and is in keeping with the personality features he presented on clinical examination. A compulsive aspect is also suggested by his reference to unsuccessful efforts to control his symptom”
In his paper, Dr. Mai also spent some time discussing two other cases of “sexual gratification from auditory stimuli” that were observed by his colleague (Dr. Millar) but not published.
“The first was an “impotent man with a complex history of oddities of behaviour, poor heterosexual adjustment complicated by alcoholism. He remembered as a young child being aroused and stimulated by seeing and hearing his mother urinating”. As an adult he admitted that ‘the sound ofconstant drumming of female urine in a lavatory pan fills me with the greatest excitement’. The other was a criminal trans-sexualist, who when very young witnessed and heard his mother having intercourse with men she picked up in the street. Millar considered that ‘critical imprinting’ may have played an important part in the psychopathogenesis of both these psychosexual disorders”.
Taking all three cases together, it could perhaps be argued that two of the cases perhaps involved some type of urophilia and/or coprophilia (as the sexual excitement was gained from the hearing of female toilet activity. Ecouteurism would appear to be related to other auditory paraphilias listed in both Dr. Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices and Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices This would appear to include both acousticophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from certain sounds), and melolagnia (i.e., sexual arousal from music). According to the Right Diagnosis website, acousticophilia signs and symptoms included: (i) sexual interest in certain sounds, (ii) abnormal amount of time spent thinking about certain sounds, (iii) recurring intense sexual fantasies involving certain sounds, (iv) recurring intense sexual urges involving certain sounds, and/or (v) sexual preference for certain sounds.
According to the Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices (as well as the online Sex Dictionary and Fetish Freedom websites), acousticophilia is defined as being sexually aroused by any auditory stimulus (including music, songs, poetry, verbal abuse, speaking in a particular foreign language, screaming, panting, moaning, groaning, and heavy breathing). The key to defining it as acousticophilia appears to be that the stimulus itself is not necessarily sexualized. Many websites I have come across claim that the character Wanda Gershwitz (in the film A Fish Called Wanda) has acousticophilia as she is sexually turned on whenever she hears a male speaking in Italian. Similarly, in The Addams Family film, Gomez Addams becomes sexually aroused when his wife Morticia speaks in French. Another film character that appears to have acousticophilia is Séverine in Belle De Jour who has several sexual fantasies involving the noise of carriage bells and cats’ mewing.
The Intimate Medicine website cite a book called Sex Variants (by Paul J. Gillette) who wrote about an acousticophile. The
“Gillette came across a young man who confided in him that he gets very much aroused when he can listen to others’, including his girlfriend’s real sex stories. He demanded from the girl to be very clear, use juicy expressions, and tell everything she did. The young man admitted the narration led him to the climax, and he experienced it by accident. He asked one of his friends if anything new was going on in her private life. When she told him that she had two lovers, he got a little curious about it, and then he realised that he had a strong erection and everything drove him wild. Gillette concluded that it was a sort of foreplay, and ecouteurism cannot be considered a disorder, meaning that it is in fact less “dangerous” than voyeurism”.
To me, this account is not acousticiphilia but narratophilia (which I examined in a previous blog – or maybe narratophilia is just a subtype of acousticophilia). Gillette also noted that very few women that he had come across in his research were ecouteurists and that the vast majority of them were men. The lack of empirical research in the area may be more down to the fact that auditory aspects of sex have become so commonplace within traditional sexual practice that they are not considered in any way ‘abnormal’ unless the person engages in such activity without the consent of the other individual(s).
Finally, I will leave you with a snippet that I came across on the Foot Fetish Photography website that seems to suggest there could be an overlap between acousticophilia and some aspects of foot fetishism. The author of the article (Johnny Jaan) is a foot fetishist and made the following observation based on an experience in a hospital waiting room:
“Arousal from sounds. So, could it be a cocktail of three fetishes? Foot fetish, retifism (shoe fetish) and sound fetish all in one…I once recall sitting in a hospital waiting room waiting for someone. It was rather “quiet” as waiting rooms are and no one was in conversation. I remember hearing someone walking through a side corridor approaching the waiting area. From the type of the sound, the heels, I could tell that it was a woman walking towards where we were sitting. It was a slow walk. The sound was getting louder and louder as she approached. She eventually came into the waiting room and walked right by me into another room…what was most striking was the “sticky” slapping sound that the soles of her feet made with the arch of the shoes every time she took a step, rather like the sound that flip-flops make only a bit more “sticky” as if her soles were a little moist with sweat”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Bhatia, M.S. (2009). Dictionary of Psychology and Allied Sciences. Delhi: New Age International.
Fetish Freedom (2012). Acousticophilia: Sound fetish. Located at: http://www.fetishfreedom.co.uk/articles/acousticophilia_sound_fetish_150.htm
Intimate Medicine (2010). Do you like to listen to others having sex? May 10. Located at: http://www.intimatemedicine.com/sex-in-society/do-you-like-to-listen-to-others-having-sex/
Jaan, J. (2006). Foot fetish and acousticophilia. Foot Fetish Photography, February 23. Located at: http://johnnyjaan.blogspot.co.uk/2006/02/foot-fetish-and-acousticophilia.html?zx=f9ebdaebaedaeb33
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Mai, F.M.M. (1968). A new psychosexual syndrome – “Ecouteurism” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 2, 261-263.
Right Diagnosis (2012). Ecouteurism. February 1. Located at: http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/e/ecouteurism/intro.htm
Sex Dictionary (2012). Acousticophilia. Located at: http://www.sexforums.com/adult-forum-help/Sex_Dictionary/A/acousticophilia