Strange, bizarre and unusual human sexual behaviour is a topic that fascinates many people (including myself of course). Last week I got a fair bit of international media coverage being interviewed about the allegations that Donald Trump hired women to perform ‘golden showers’ in front of him (i.e., watching someone urinate for sexual pleasure, typically referred to as urophilia). I was interviewed by the Daily Mirror (and many stories used my quotes in this particular story for other stories elsewhere). I was also commissioned to write an article on the topic for the International Business Times (and on which this blog is primarily based). The IBT wanted me to write an article on whether having a liking for strange and/or bizarre sexual preferences makes that individual more generally deviant.
Although the general public may view many of these behaviours as sexual perversions, those of us that study these behaviours prefer to call them paraphilias (from the Greek “beyond usual or typical love”). Regular readers of my blog will know I’ve written hundreds of articles on this topic. For those of you who have no idea what parahilias really are, they are uncommon types of sexual expression that may appear bizarre and/or socially unacceptable, and represent the extreme end of the sexual continuum. They are typically accompanied by intense sexual arousal to unconventional or non-sexual stimuli. Most adults are aware of paraphilic behaviour where individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from sex with children (paedophilia), the giving and/or receiving of pain (sadomasochism), dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex (transvestism), sex with animals (zoophilia), and sex with dead people (necrophilia).
However, there are literally hundreds of paraphilias that are not so well known or researched including sexual arousal from amputees (acrotomophilia), the desire to be an amputee (apotemnophilia), flatulence (eproctophilia), rubbing one’s genitals against another person without their consent (frotteurism), urine (urophilia), faeces (coprophilia), pretending to be a baby (infantilism), tight spaces (claustrophilia), restricted oxygen supply (hypoxyphilia), trees (dendrophilia), vomit (emetophilia), enemas (klismaphilia), sleep (somnophilia), statues (agalmatophilia), and food (sitophilia). [I’ve covered all of these (and more) in my blog so just click on the hyperlinks of you want to know more about the ones I’ve mentioned in this paragraph].
It is thought that paraphilias are rare and affect only a very small percentage of adults. It has been difficult for researchers to estimate the proportion of the population that experience unusual sexual behaviours because much of the scientific literature is based on case studies. However, there is general agreement among the psychiatric community that almost all paraphilias are male dominated (with at least 90% of all those affected being men).
One of the most asked questions in this field is the extent to which engaging in unusual sex acts is deviant? Psychologists and psychiatrists differentiate between paraphilias and paraphilic disorders. Most individuals with paraphilic interests are normal people with absolutely no mental health issues whatsoever. I personally believe that there is nothing wrong with any paraphilic act involving non-normative sex between two or more consenting adults. Those with paraphilic disorders are individuals where their sexual preferences cause the person distress or whose sexual behaviour results in personal harm, or risk of harm, to others. In short, unusual sexual behaviour by itself does not necessarily justify or require treatment.
The element of coercion is another key distinguishing characteristic of paraphilias. Some paraphilias (e.g., sadism, masochism, fetishism, hypoxyphilia, urophilia, coprophilia, klismaphilia) are engaged in alone, or include consensual adults who participate in, observe, or tolerate the particular paraphilic behaviour. These atypical non-coercive behaviours are considered by many psychiatrists to be relatively benign or harmless because there is no violation of anyone’s rights. Atypical coercive paraphilic behaviours are considered much more serious and almost always require treatment (e.g., paedophilia, exhibitionism [exposing one’s genitals to another person without their consent], frotteurism, necrophilia, zoophilia).
For me, informed consent between two or more adults is also critical and is where I draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable. This is why I would class sexual acts with children, animals, and dead people as morally and legally unacceptable. However, I would also class consensual sexual acts between adults that involve criminal activity as unacceptable. For instance, Armin Meiwes, the so-called ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’ gained worldwide notoriety for killing and eating a fellow German male victim (Bernd Jürgen Brande). Brande’s ultimate sexual desire was to be eaten (known as vorarephilia). Here was a case of a highly unusual sexual behaviour where there were two consenting adults but involved the killing of one human being by another.
Because paraphilias typically offer pleasure, many individuals affected do not seek psychological or psychiatric treatment as they live happily with their sexual preference. In short, there is little scientific evidence that unusual sexual behaviour makes you more deviant generally.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Abel, G. G., Becker, J. V., Cunningham-Rathner, J., Mittelman, M., & Rouleau, J. L. (1988). Multiple paraphilic diagnoses among sex offenders. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 16, 153-168.
Buhrich, N. (1983). The association of erotic piercing with homosexuality, sadomasochism, bondage, fetishism, and tattoos. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 12, 167-171.
Collacott, R.A. & Cooper, S.A. (1995). Urine fetish in a man with learning disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 39, 145-147.
Couture, L.A. (2000). Forced retention of bodily waste: The most overlooked form of child maltreatment. Located at: http://www.nospank.net/couture2.htm
Denson, R. (1982). Undinism: The fetishizaton of urine. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 27, 336–338.
Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Compassion, dominance/submission, and curled lips: A thematic analysis of dacryphilic experience. International Journal of Sexual Health, 27, 337-350.
Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Sexual interest as performance, intellect and pathological dilemma: A critical discursive case study of dacryphilia. Psychology and Sexuality, 7, 265-278.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Eproctophilia in a young adult male: A case study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1383-1386.
Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilias: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Bizarre sex. New Turn Magazine, 3, 49-51.
Massion-verniory, L. & Dumont, E. (1958). Four cases of undinism. Acta Neurol Psychiatr Belg. 58, 446-59.
Money, J. (1980). Love and Love Sickness: The Science of Sex, Gender Difference and Pair-bonding, John Hopkins University Press.
Mundinger-Klow, G. (2009). The Golden Fetish: Case Histories in the Wild World of Watersports. Paris: Olympia Press.
Skinner, L. J., & Becker, J. V. (1985). Sexual dysfunctions and deviations. In M. Hersen & S. M. Turner (Eds.), Diagnostic interviewing (pp. 211–239). New York: Plenum Press.
Spengler, A. (1977). Manifest sadomasochism of males: Results of an empirical study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 6, 441–456.
According to Dr. Martin Kafka in a 2010 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, partialism refers to “a sexual interest with an exclusive focus of a specific part of the body” and occurs in both heterosexual and homosexual individuals. Dr. Kafka also noted in the same paper that partialism is categorized as a sexual paraphilia ‘not otherwise specified’ in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and then goes on to say that “individuals with partialism sometimes describe the anatomy of interest to them as having equal or greater erotic attraction for them as do the genitals”. Scientific research indicates that the most prevalent from of partialism is podophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from feet). Historically, partialism was viewed as synonymous with sexual fetishism. However, Dr. Kafka noted that there is a “diagnostic separation of partialism (intense, persistent, and ‘exclusive’ sexual arousal to a non-genital body part) from fetishism (intense and persistent sexual arousal to non-living objects, including some body products)”. Although I accept this very subtle difference, I essentially view partialism and fetishism as one and the same. In the 2008 book Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment, Dr Judith Milner and colleagues noted that:
“In ‘partialism’, the paraphilic focus is on some part of the partner’s body, such as the hands, legs, feet, breasts, buttocks, or hair. Partialism appears to overlap with morphophilia, which is defined as a focus on one or more body characteristics of one’s sexual partner…it is unclear whether these two categories are unique paraphilias or different names for the same paraphilia. Historically, some authors (e.g., Berest, 1971; Wise, 1985) have included partialism as part of the general definition of fetishism, which once included both parts of bodies and nonliving objects (e.g., shoes, underwear, skirts, gloves). Again, however, the [DSM] criteria for fetishism indicate that the focus must involve the ‘use of nonliving objects’, which eliminates body parts from meeting this criterion”.
One of the most bizarre cases of partialism in the academic literature is a case study (of ‘oral partialism’) by Dr. Brian McGuire and colleagues published in a 1998 issue of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. As far as I can see, the case has only been cited three times in the academic literature. One of these sources was Dr. Raj Persaud’s 2003 book From The Edge Of The Couch (and it is from this book that I have taken the case from).
The case in question involved a single and severely obese man in his late teens that lived at home with his father and sister (his parents had separated some years before), and of borderline intellectual disability. The father described his son as a recluse that spent the majority of the day alone in his room with little or no social interaction with anyone except his family (and even then the social interactions were minimal). The man had very poor personal hygiene (described as typically wearing torn and dirty clothes), rarely washed or bathed, and his weight was estimated at around 300 pounds. As a consequence of his very poor hygiene, the teenager “developed ulcerated sores under his arms, above the pubis, and in the groin area” (that he had for most of the teenage years). To treat the sores and skin ulcers he was prescribed a course of antibiotics. However, overall compliance by the man was low (taking just over half of the tablets initially prescribed) – even though he was extensively monitored by the medical staff taking care of him. The man then claimed that he had lost his antibiotics at home. It was then that the medics discovered what was really going on and why he didn’t want to take his medication. The unhealed sores and ulcers had taken on sexual significance for the man. As Dr. Persaud summarized:
“Upon questioning, the patient reported that he was easily sexually aroused and habitually masturbated at least twice a day, and more often four or five times a day. Ejaculation would always occur. He reported interest in the opposite sex and said that he often fantasized. However, the fantasy content and its accompanying behavior never involved sexual intercourse, nor indeed any conventional sexual act. The patient’s primary sexual fantasy stimulus was that of a women’s mouth, although the fantasy never involved kissing or oral stimulation…Rather, he imagined the woman licking her fingers or gently biting her own lips. Simultaneously, the patient would put his own fingers into the ulcers/sores in his groin and/or under his arms and then lick the pus from his fingers. It appears that he ingested the pus and found both the smell and taste exciting, although he was unable to pinpoint exactly the sexually stimulating aspect of this act. He reported that it was the mere sight of a women with her fingers to her mouth or lips was adequately arousing to initiate masturbation with the accompanying fantasy image and oral behaviour”.
As I’ve noted in many of my previous blogs, almost every (seemingly non-sexual) fluid that can come from a human body has a corresponding sexual paraphilia and/or fetish. This includes urine (urophilia), faeces (coprophilia), vomit (emetophilia), blood (menophilia, clinical vampirism, vorarephilia), saliva (spit fetish), breast milk (lactophilia), and pus (acnephilia). Obviously this bizarre case arguable shares some similarities with acnephilia (as both involve sexual arousal to pus) but they are different in terms of its sexualization.
At the outset, the man was given some psycheducation about the unhygienic nature of the sexual behaviour that initially resulted in a behavioural decrease of his strange sexual behavior – although the oral sexual fantasies still persisted. (Such psychoeducation has also been successfully used in the treatment of other sexual paraphilias. For instance, a case reported by Dr. R. Denson in a 1985 issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry used psychoeducation as part of his treatment of a urophile). In his commentary on the case, Dr. Persaud said that it was open to debate as to whether the behaviour should be treated as problematic and/or psychopathological as (despite the arguably unsavoury nature) it had little impact on other people and wasn’t seen by the individual in question as problematic.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Berest, J. J. (1971). Fetishism: Three case histories. Journal of Sex Research, 7, 237–239.
Denson, R. (1982). Undinism: The fetishization of urine. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 27, 336–338.
Kafka, M. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for fetishism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 357–362.
Kafka, M. P. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for paraphilia not otherwise specified. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(2), 373-376.
McGuire, B.E., Choon, G.L., Nayer, P., & Sanders, J. (1998). An unusual paraphilia: Case report of oral partialism. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 13, 207-210.
Milner, J.S., & Dopke, C.A., & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and theory. In D. R. Laws & W. O’Donohue (Eds.), Sexual deviance: Theory, assessment, and treatment (2nd ed., pp. 384-428). New York: Guilford.
Penix, T.M. (2008). Paraphilia not Otherwise Specified: Assessment and treatment. In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp.419-438). New York: Guildford Press.
Persaud. R. (2003). From The Edge Of The Couch. London: Bantam Press.
Wise, T.N. (1985). Fetishism – etiology and treatment: A review from multiple perspectives. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 26, 249–257.
Some time ago I came across a 2012 online article entitled ‘18 Sexual Fetishes That Sound Made Up (But They’re Not)’ on The Date Report website. Of the 18 fetishes listed, I knew about 17 of them (15 of which I have written articles on for this blog including emetophilia [sexual arousal from vomit], dendrophilia [sexual arousal from trees], pyrophilia [sexual arpusal from fire], taphephilia [sexual arousal from being buried alive], and arachnephilia [sexual arousal from spiders]). The one that I had little awareness of was ‘cross-eyed fetishism’ (although I was aware of the sexual paraphilia ‘oculophilia’ in which individuals are sexually aroused by eyes and which I also covered in a previous blog). The article contained only one sentence relating to cross-eyed fetishes which read “Not sure what the scientific name for this fetish is, but this is good news for Dannielynn Birkhead, Anna Nicole Smith’s cross-eyed offspring”. If such a fetish exists, I would name it strabismusophilia (as strabismus is the medical condition of having non-aligned eyes).
Having already written my previous blog on eye fetishes more generally, I would argue that strabismusophilia is a sub-type of oculophilia as the condition manifests itself in a desire for actual physical contact and interaction with the eye (albeit a very particular type of eye). An online article at the Page Pulp website about sexual fetishes of famous authors alleged that F. Scott Fitzgerald had a foot fetish, James Joyce had a fart fetish, Lord Byron was a sex addict, Marquis de Sade had a fetish for “anything and everything”, (the most notable being sadomasochism), and that the philosopher Rene Descartes had a cross-eye fetish.
Descartes’ sexual fetish for cross-eyed women is well documented including the work of psychiatric sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing. Descartes himself wrote that:
“As a child I was in love with a girl of my own age, who was slightly cross-eyed. The imprint made on my brain by the wayward eyes became so mingled with whatever else had aroused in me the feeling of love that for years afterwards, when I saw a cross-eyed woman, I was more prone to love her than any other, simply for that flaw…The impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others, simply because they had that defect; and I did not know that was the reason.”
Descartes’ passion for cross-eyed women was also discussed in a 2011 paper in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, (by Alex Voorhoeve, Elie During, David Jopling, Timothy Wilson, and Frances Kamm). In one of the passages by Dr. Voorhoeve, he discussed Queen Christina of Sweden asking Descartes what causes us to “love one person rather than another before we know their merit”. According to Voorhoeve:
“Descartes replied that when we experience a strong sensation, this causes the brain to crease like a piece of paper. And when the stimulus stops, the brain uncreases, but it stays ready to be creased again in the same way. And when a similar stimulus is presented, then we get the same response, because the brain is ready to crease again. And what did he mean by all this? Well, he gave an example. He said that all his life he had had a fetish for cross-eyed women. Whenever he came across a cross-eyed woman, desire would enflame him. And he figured out…after introspection, that this was because his brain had been strongly creased by his first childhood love, who was cross-eyed”.
This classical conditioning type explanation was also alluded to in a 2011 article on the Psychology Today website by Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeév that examined ‘Why Did Descartes Love Cross-Eyed Women?’ Dr. Ben-Zeév noted:
“It would appear that when Descartes fell in love with the young girl, he loved her whole Gestalt, which included other characteristics, but her crossed eyes were the most unique. This feature of the girl distinguished her from most other girls. It is as if he subconsciously thought that every woman who shared that distinctive feature would have the other positive characteristics of the girl with whom he had originally fallen in love and would therefore generate the same profound love. This attitude makes him perceive these women as beautiful…However, the fact that the girl he fell in love had the distinctive feature of crossed eyes did not mean that her other characteristics would be shared by other women who have the same feature. In fact, however, this mistaken association set off a feeling of love when he encountered this characteristic in other women…It is a kind of Pavlovian response which makes us more likely to love this person”.
It appears there are modern day adherents to cross-eyed fetishism as I found these extracts in online forums discussing the fetish:
- Extract 1: “I get insanely turned on when I see a girl crosses her eyes. I go on video and image sites to see girls crossing their eyes. I have requested custom videos of girls crossing their eyes. I am not sure how to break this fetish. It is something that is hard for me to talk about and I recently revealed it to my girlfriend in a text. I have asked her to cross her eyes for me but she cannot do it. In fact my last two girlfriends have not been able to cross their eyes. I feel like if maybe we could play out that fetish in my personal life it would deter me from looking online at stuff. I am not sure what to do”
- Extract 2: “I am attracted to people that have lazy eyes. The more lazy their eye, the more attractive it is to me. It’s a huge turn-on, especially eyes that turn outward (e.g., exotropia)”
- Extract 3: “Them cross-eyed girls drive me wild! I’m a lazy eye man myself. I like when one gets a lil’ googly after they’ve had a few drinks”
Although there is no academic research on cross-eye fetishism, I did come across two other types of fetishistic behavior that overlaps with being cross-eyed. The first is in relation to balloon fetishism (i.e., individuals that get sexually aroused from inflating, deflating and/or popping balloons). I came across online sex videos that were tagged ‘cross-eyed balloon inflation’ comprising women blowing up big balloons where they were also cross-eyed (and to which male ‘looners’ found this both erotic and arousing. After watching one of these idiosyncratic videos, one looner commented: “I for one really enjoyed this [cross-eyed woman inflating a balloon] – makes it looks like she’s really concentrated on the inflation, which I like to see. And variety is nice; I, for one, get tired of clips that are too alike”. Perhaps more worryingly is the association of being cross-eyed with sexually sadistic acts of women being strangled on film on hard-core BDSM videos. As the blurb on one sex video available online noted: “There are women that are strangled, and sometimes become cross-eyed. It’s the stupid impression somehow, you will not ever afford to worry about such a thing is the person being strangled. Your beauty is one of [being] cross-eyed”.
I also wonder whether cross-eyed fetishism is a sub-type of teratophilia – typically defined as being sexually aroused by ugly people? According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, teratophilia is defined as those people who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from “deformed or monstrous people”. The online Urban Dictionary defines it as “the ability to see beauty in the unusual [and] clinically described as a sexual preference for deformed people”. Being cross-eyed could arguably fit these definitions (particularly the one from the Urban Dictionary of seeing beauty in the unusual).
From my own research, I have come to the conclusion that cross-eyed fetishism (that I have termed ‘strabismusophilia’) probably exists but is very rare with an incredibly low prevalence rate among the general population. It may be a sub-type of both oculophilia and teratophilia but further research is needed to confirm such speculations.
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.
Ben-Zeév, A. (2011). Why did Descartes love cross-eyed women? The lure of imperfection, Psychology Today, November 29. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-name-love/201111/why-did-descartes-love-cross-eyed-women-the-lure-imperfection
Descartes, R. (1978). His Moral Philosophy and Psychology (translated by John J. Blom). New York: New York University Press.
Divine Caroline (2012). 18 Sexual Fetishes That Sound Made Up (But They’re Not). The Date Report, September 20. Located at: http://www.thedatereport.com/dating/sex/sexual-fetishes-emetophilia-tree-sex/
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.
Page Pulp (2014). Sexual fetishes of famous authors. Located at: http://www.pagepulp.com/2091/sexual-fetishes-of-famous-authors/
Voorhoeve, A., During, E., Jopling, D., Wilson, T., & Kamm, F. (2011). Who am I? Beyond “I think, therefore I am”. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1234(1), 134-148.
Wikipedia (2014). Oculophilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oculophilia
In a previous blog, I briefly looked at salirophilia – sometimes called saliromania – a sexual paraphilia in which individuals experience sexual arousal from soiling or disheveling the object of their desire (typically an attractive person). I noted in that blog that salirophilia is related to other fetishes and paraphilias such as ‘sploshing’ (deriving sexual pleasure from wet substances – but not bodily fluids – being deliberately and generously applied to either naked or scantily clad individuals) and sometimes referred to as ‘wet and messy’ (WAM) fetishism or ‘wamplay’. The word ‘sploshing’ is thought to have been derived from the UK-based fetish magazine Splosh! that began publishing in 1989, ran for 40 issues, and featured stories and photographs of women is messy situations.
In 2005, ‘wamplay’ made the news here in the UK when Bernard Bertola, a teacher from Halifax in West Yorkshire was given a two-year conditional registration order for searching for WAM-related terms on one of the school computers where he worked. As an article by Brian Coates in the Halifax Evening Courier noted:
“A school’s former head of IT has been disciplined for watching bizarre internet porn where women were covered in beans, spaghetti, pies and trifles. Bernard Bertola, who taught for nearly 20 years at Hipperholme and Lightcliffe High School, was found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct by the General Teaching Council. He was given a two-year conditional registration order, which means he can remain on the register of teachers but must adhere to conditions. Bertola used a school computer to view Internet sites such as ‘Messy and Wet’, ‘Gunge Tank’’ and ‘Messy Mania’…The council said he had knowingly accessed sites inappropriate for a school environment. ‘If he hadn’t expected sexual images you would not expect to see words such as ‘sexy blonde actress gets pie after pie’, said presenting officer Bradley Albuery. An IT manager had spotted Bertola viewing food fetish websites in June 2003 from a monitoring computer in another room”.
Interestingly, this news story also mentions Bertola’s viewing of food fetish sites. Food fetishes and paraphilias (i.e., sitophilia) are different from wamplay (and was a topic I examined in a previous blog). However, there are clearly behavioural (and possibly psychological) overlaps between the two fetishistic behaviours.
As far as I am aware, there has been no empirical or clinical research published concerning WAM fetishes. Dr. Katharine Gates in her 2000 book Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex notes that individuals who are into WAM fetishes derive sexual arousal from substances that are deliberately and generously applied onto their (or others’) naked skin, predominantly the face, or onto people’s clothes while they are still wearing them. According to the Wikipedia entry on WAM fetishes, the messy substances typically used in such encounters include various foodstuffs (custard, ice cream, ketchup, whipped cream, baked beans, liquid puddings, chocolate sauce, peanut butter, cake batter, etc.), drinking beverages (e.g., milk, fruit juices, beers, etc.) and/or other non-foodstuffs (e.g., shaving foam, mud, paint, oil, gunge, slime, Japanese style lotion, etc.). There are many other substances (mostly foodstuffs) that I have come across being mentioned and/or used on other WAM websites including honey, marshmellow spread, chocolate spread, mousses (edible and non-edible), jelly, meringue, lard, margarine, and butter.
An important thing to note in relation to WAM fetishes is that they do not involve body fluids as such bodily substances are part of other distinct sexual paraphilias such as coprophilia (faeces), urophilia (urine), lactophilia (breast milk), menohilia (menstruated blood), and emetophilia (vomit). The Wikipedia entry also notes:
“Videos of the fetish made by both fans and companies can be seen frequently on YouTube. Some of these videos are flagged, but most of them remain available despite the sexual undertones, mainly because a large majority of wet and messy videos on the site do not include nudity and are therefore safe for all audiences to view”.
I also came across an online posting that featured lots of information about lots of sexual fetishes and paraphilias that included some information on ‘wamming’ that I have not come across anywhere else. I reproduce it here but cannot vouch for the veracity of the information as there are no supporting references (however, the information had good face validity which is why I thought I would include it in this blog):
“Body painting, whipped cream licking, and food fighting are milder forms of wamming. The goal is usually to find common household items that are slippery, edible, and don’t stain or sting the skin. Jello stains, for example, while pudding doesn’t. Margarine is better than butter, for example, because butter and milk products stink on the skin. Alcohol and sugar products should be kept away from the vaginal area. Trash bags or dropcloths are usually placed on the floor, and shaved pubic hair is often a prerequisite. Wamming can be done with one sexual partner at a time or in orgy fashion, although most wammers prefer one partner at a time. The appeal is that it stimulates all five senses at the same time”.
The Seattle-based journalist Dan Savage who used to have a newspaper column related to strange sexual behaviour (and who I mentioned in previous blogs on pregnancy fetishism and sexual urtication) also briefly covered WAM-related sexual behaviour in a letter he was sent by one of his readers. The letter read:
“My roommate uses condiments to lubricate his penis when he beats off. He tries to be sneaky when he takes mayonnaise or ketchup out of the kitchen, but I’ve seen him do it. When he does, a rhythmic slurping sound can soon be heard over the radio that he only turns up loud when he beats off. I am seriously disgusted because he puts the condiments back into the refrigerator when he’s finished…How do I make him stop?”
Savage’s reply was hardly the most serious, but it did at least acknowledge that this sort of behaviour appears to be one of a WAM fetishist as he replied:
“If you just want to make him stop, SS, I suggest you empty a bottle of Tabasco sauce into the bottle of ketchup in your fridge, or a few tubes of BenGay into your mayonnaise. That will put a stop to his condiment abuse. Or you can be a man about it…and tell him to go buy some actual lube or, if he’s a wet-and-messy fetishist, suggest that he buy himself play-time-only condiments and keep ’em in a small fridge in his room”.
Whether WAM fetishes ever become the subject of serious academic research is debatable (probably not) but that doesn’t mean they are not of psychological interest. As with most fetishistic behaviours, my guess is that most wammers’ behaviour will have been reinforced via classical and/or operant conditioning experienced in childhood or adolescence. I would be also interested to know what other fetishistic behaviours co-occur with sploshing (e.g., sitophilia, salirophilia).
Caotes, B. (2005). Teachers naked women and beans. Halifax Evening Courier, February 4. Located at: http://www.halifaxcourier.co.uk/news/local/teacher-s-naked-women-and-beans-1-1959014
Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.
Savage, D. (2004). Savage Love: With a Bang. The Stranger, September 9. Located at: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/savage-love/Content?oid=19248
Wikipedia (2013). Splosh! Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splosh!
Wikipedia (2013). Wet and messy fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wet_and_messy_fetishism
I want to start today’s blog with a few quotes that I’ve taken from various online discussion groups:
- Extract 1: “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t enjoy popping blackheads. It’s the ultimate secret pleasure”
- Extract 2: “My ex-girlfriend used to [squeeze my spots] all the time too. I thought it was a little weird also, but what the hell, I let her pick and pop”
- Extract 3: “Zits aren’t fun. Or so the general attitude goes. No one admires a good zit the way you marvel at a perfectly sculpted nose or cheekbone. But for a small group of people, acne isn’t just a mini volcano of pus, it’s a beautiful bump of love juice”
- Extract 4: “So this is kind of gross, but my wife has a fetish for popping zits. She absolutely cannot pop enough. Whether it be whiteheads or blackheads, she can’t get enough. I can’t take my shirt off without watching my back because she will pop around a corner to try to squeeze out a blackhead before I notice and run away. She says it’s like the best feeling ever to feel a zit pop between her fingers”
- Extract 5: “This guy I was talking to on Facebook just told me that he thinks pimples are cute and that he wanted to lick mine. I’m sure that he was serious, he also has a foot fetish. He’s like begging me to like role play with him a situation with me making him lick my pimples”
- Extract 6: “So I would think that this whole pimple popping thing falls under the category of a fetish, wouldn’t you?? And as we all know, groups of people who share a fondness for the same fetish often get together and ‘practice” this fetish, right? Even if it’s sick, twisted, or immoral??”
All of these quotes appear to suggest the existence of acnephilia. The word is made up and it does not appear in either Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices or Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. The only operational definition of the condition I have come across is from the online Urban Dictionary that says acnephilia is:
“Deriving pleasure from popping pimples or zits on either one’s own face or someone close to them. Acnephilia is usually common among girlfriends as they find enjoyment in popping their boyfriend’s pimples, despite the pleas and groans from their mates. Symptoms of Acnephilia could arise anywhere. From one’s own personal home to the public streets. Once Acnephilia takes over a young woman’s body she is not content until every single one of her boyfriend’s pimples are popped and done with”.
Before examining the alleged sexual nature of squeezing spots, I did come across an interesting article in a 2003 issue of Salon magazine where the author (Anna Holmes) interviewed a number of scientists about why women will happily squeeze their sexual partner’s spots. Most of those interviewed conceptualized such behaviour as ‘grooming’. For instance, Dr. Robin Dunbar (professor of Evolutionary Psychology, Liverpool University, UK) was quoted as saying:
“The chief manner in which primates regulate their relationships with one another is through grooming, whereas we more evolved humans rely on verbal and written language. Relationships are negotiations and we use many devious ways and wiles to get close to members of the opposite sex. At the end of the day, grooming and language are part and parcel of the armoury we have to facilitate and build relationships. Language is a very inefficient mechanism in terms of making the social wheel go ’round. Grooming is a much more powerful way of conveying a sort of emotional state; nothing you can say verbally can compare with what you say through touch”.
The article also featured a female psychoanalyst who refused to be named and speculated there may be a ritualistic or purification element at play, and implied that the activity is sadomasochistic. She argued that in the same way that those with obsessive-compulsive disorders engage in rituals in order to overcome their anxiety, picking spots may be something soothing thing in a frenetic life. She then went on to speculate that spot squeezers may be just transferring “the pleasure of picking at themselves to some other person in a sort of sadistic fondling”. I don’t see this at all, and neither did psychologist Dr. Fred Penzel (an expert on dermatological obsessive-compulsive disorders) who said:
“The field of psycho-dermatology has gone nowhere. It’s just a bunch of people trying to come up with psycho-sexual interpretations of why people do this sort of stuff. It’s all symbolism with them, like interpreting poems and literature. In psychology we sort of look at the whole picture, both behavioural and biological, and believe that these compulsive behaviours are neurobiological and maybe even genetic. People use certain grooming behaviours as means to calm themselves during times of stress or anxiety or to provide focus while feeling bored or sedentary. Although these behaviors are most often self-directed, they are sometimes also performed on other people, even animals and objects. Of course I’ve had patients who mention that they pick at their spouses”.
If you type in ‘acnephilia’ or ‘zit fetish’ into any search engine, there is one webpage that almost every other article mentions and that is an undated online essay entitled “Acnephilia: More commonly known as the zit fetish” on the Backwashzine (BWZ) website. The article claims that as the pornography market has expanded, there are an increasing number of fetish videos and films being produced to cater for every sexual fetish and sexual niche imaginable. As I’ve noted in many of my previous blogs, almost every (seemingly non-sexual) fluid that can come from a human body has a corresponding sexual paraphilia and/or fetish. This includes urine (urophilia), faeces (coprophilia), vomit (emetophilia), blood (menophilia, clinical vampirism), saliva (spit fetish), and breast milk (lactophilia). So what about pus and the acnephilia market? The BWZ article gave a detailed overview of an acnephilia film called Pus Poppin’ Forefingers. Here is just the start of the description:
“For 90 minutes this film follows the adventures of Pizza Face Joe and Polly, whose breasts are covered with zits…A romance is budding. Polly invites Pizza Face inside, and they head straight to the bedroom. She turns on a bright lamp, and starts examining Pizza Face’s face. The camera zooms in real tight, giving viewers a good close-up of Pizza Face’s horrid cystic acne. Mounds of pus are just waiting to explode, like little time bombs ticking away. Polly takes a hand and gently caresses the contours of Pizza’s face. They stare each other in the eyes. Pizza then takes Polly’s other finger and brings it up to his face. She takes it from there, bringing her forefingers together, and giving the most monstrous zit a good, hard squeeze…It spurts white goodness all over her face! Blood then seeps out. They grab a bit of tissue and dab it on the opened crater. Polly then aims for another. “I want your warm, white, milky pus in my mouth!” she says in her most sexy whisper. With that, she puts her mouth to his face and squeezes off another pimple with her teeth”.
After this, the article gets very pornographic so you can read it for yourself if you’re interested. The author of the article then interviewed a young male who rented out the film and asked him what he liked about acne and spot squeezing. The interviewee was quoted as saying:
“My favorite is the big, red kind that festers on the back. Guy or girl, I don’t care, I just want to sit back there and squeeze. Sometimes I’ll put on some Oxy first, just for taste. It gives the pimple some real zing. You know, popping, is just like grooming, like the apes do. There’s something primeval about it. And then when it finally pops, I sop up all the gushing goods with my tongue. The ass is a great place too. They can get pretty big down there…I usually make my partner sit on pizzas, and squish around for a bit. In a few days, it’s paydirt”.
After reading the article, I did a bit of my own research on the topic and I can confirm (a) that there are online forums out there that genuinely appear to cater for acnephiles (such as The Pimple Erotic), and (b) there are dedicated ‘spot squeezing’ websites where dozens of videos have been uploaded for acnephile pleasure (such as the ‘zit lovers community’).
Another online article by Naweko San-Joyz on acne fetishes tried to argue that squeezing spots – even if there is no sexual focus – can be a fetish, and that it can be real or imagined. Personally, I don’t agree that this is fetishistic in the way that I conceptualize fetishes but I thought I would give some blog space to this viewpoint:
“A fetish is an object of unreasonably obsessive attention or regard. Thus, extreme attention given to zits and pimples characterize an acne fetish. Two clinical forms of an acne fetish include excoriated acne and imagined acne. Excoriated acne occurs when an acne patient continues to pick at or squeeze acne formations on their face, never allowing the skin to heal. This constant picking aggravates the acne condition and often times leaves severe scarring. Imagined acne happens when a patient is convinced she has acne but in reality does not. This person may have one small pimple and blow the existence of the pimple out of proportion and view it as a severe case of acne.Underlying both of these acne fetishes is the fear of being ugly, or dysmorphophobia. It’s an easy psychological state to acquire in a society that increasingly places more value on superficial looks than personal traits”.
Somewhat predictably, there isn’t a single academic or clinical study on acnephilia as a sexual paraphilia, and any psychological insight into the roots and motivation for engaging in the activity are highly speculative at best. I did come across one site – the Mystery Sex Fetish Theater – that briefly examined the sexual side of squeezing spots and whose anonymous writer compared the eruption of pus from spots with male ejaculation and asked rhetorically “are pimples phallic symbols?” (No, is my response).
Backwashzine (undated). Acnephilia: More commonly known as zit fetish. Located at: http://www.backwashzine.com/acnephilia.html
Holmes, A. (2003). In grossness and in health: Psycho-dermatology, female gorillas, and why women love to pick their boyfriends’ zits. Salon, August 11. Located at: http://www.salon.com/2003/08/11/grooming/
San-Joyz, N. (2004). An acne fetish is no laughing matter. E-Zine Articles, December 4, Located at: http://ezinearticles.com/?An-Acne-Fetish-is-No-Laughing-Matter&id=6684
“I was drunk while out during New Year’s Eve and I saw a big heap of vomit. Normally this would make me vomit at the sight of it but because I was drunk I lay down on my side next to it and started licking it. I am worried because ever since this I have become addicted and I often go out in the early hours of the morning in the hope to discover vomit to fuel my addiction the more congealed the vomit the better” (Email enquiry to Yahoo! Answers, 2011)
To most people, the opening quote might seem quite sickening (no pun intended). Emetophilia (also called vomerophilia) is a rare paraphilia in which individuals are sexually aroused either by self-induced vomiting or watching others vomit (i.e., there is an erotic focus on the regurgitated contents of a person’s stomach). More specifically, emetophiliacs are reported to love vomiting on their sexual partners. This practice is sometimes referred to as a ‘Roman shower’ based on the often-quoted stories of Romans throwing up between courses so that they could eat even more, and the Roman ‘vomitoriums’.
However, Cecil Adams, in his column in The Straight Dope, briefly examined Roman ‘vomitoriums’ but went on to highlight what vomitoriums really were. Vomitoriums existed but were actually passageways in amphitheatres that opened into a tier of seats from below or behind. Adams claimed that “the vomitoria deposited mobs of people into their seats and afterward disgorged them with equal abruptness into the streets–whence, presumably, the name”. Adams went onto say that although the Romans were no strangers to vomiting, they never did so on purpose. Vomiting does appear to have been part of the fine-dining experience but not done between courses to make way for more space in the person’s stomach.
Although sex and vomiting are somewhat strange bedfellows especially as sex is typically pleasurable and vomiting is typically unpleasurable, there are a number of similarities (although these might be viewed as stretching it a little). Many internet sites quote the same three similarities that sex and vomiting both (i) trigger hormones to be released that make people feel better, (ii) are initiated by a reaction to a stimulus, and (iii) [for men at least] involve the expulsion of fluids through a bodily tube and out of a bodily orifice.
Emetophiles appear to be diverse in which element of vomiting is the most erotic and/or most important. For some, it is the act of vomiting itself that is arousing. For these particular paraphiliacs, it has been claimed that the ‘spasm, ejaculation, relief’ sequence in vomiting is erotically charged. For others, sexual arousal is caused by either just talking about, collecting photographs/videos, seeing, and/or hearing others vomiting. In extreme cases, some individuals may get sexually aroused by their partner actually vomiting on them. Other extreme emetophile practices include the induction of vomiting in a partner (that in some cases may be forced). In these cases involving force, there are certainly shades of dominance and sadism (or if the wish is to be vomited upon by others, submission and masochism). The internet certainly acts as a catalyst to bring these people together (check out http://vomitonline.com/indepth.html) and the internet may also fuel emetophiles’ interest in celebrity vomiting as there are now loads of vomiting scenes from television and films circulating online.
Freud, arguably psychology’s most prolific writer on psychosexual issues, described vomiting as a substitute for moral and physical disgust. However, to my knowledge there is only one academic paper in the sex literature on the topic. This was by the renowned American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Professor Robert Stoller (1924-1991) who published a 1982 paper in the Archives of Sexual Behavior and claimed it was “a previously unreported aberration”. Although Stoller claimed that vomiting paraphilias can occur in both males and females, the three case studies he outlined were all female. He suggested that emetophilia may manifest itself in a variety of ways (real versus imagined; self versus others; facilitative versus obligatory). If individuals have a sexual attraction to the vomit itself (rather than the vomiting process), then the diagnosis would be fetishism.
The first case described a woman that didn’t actually vomit herself but claimed she could reach orgasm “by imagining someone vomiting in a hard, humiliating fashion”. The second woman experienced an orgasm every time she vomited. The third woman said that “vomiting for me is like an orgasm in that I’m tensed, I feel the intense flood of good feelings almost continually throughout the vomiting and experience relief and quiet warmth in my body when I’m finished. It is not identical to an orgasm. I do not feel it intensely in my genitals alone, but I do feel it there as well as the rest of my body and in my mouth”.
Professor Stoller noted that the problem with this particular paraphilia is that the accounts are not based on those requiring treatment and that the stories take on an almost mythic-like quality rather than being “true-to-life”. He went on to say that by “concentrating on exact, naturalistic data collecting would show us how much we do not know…erotic impulses are a never-ending source of ingenious, even wondrous constructions [and] almost every object or body function can be erotized”
No-one really knows how this particular paraphilia develops although the root of most paraphilias lie in maladaptive learning. One online site I came across (‘Frequently Asked Questions About Vomiting’) theorized that “vomiting was probably something either arousing or frightening to emetophiles at some point … it aroused powerful emotions, and the emetophile later called upon these emotions for purpose of sexual gratification”. Some allege that emetophilia is closely related to emetophobia (i.e., the fear of vomiting) since some of these individuals may have developed emetophilia as a result of emetophobia. The thinking here is that (somewhat ironically) many emetophiles continue to fear vomiting themselves despite the amount of time they spend fantasizing about other people vomiting.
No-one knows (empirically) how widespread the practice is and whether it is restricted to certain countries but I will leave you with another quote from an emetophile that I came across online:
“I believe that the way we are affected by our [vomiting] kink transcends international borders and cultural differences, and is something basic to our human nature. I feel strongly that emetophilia is more than ‘just’ a kink, and has deeper origins than most fetishes. However, as an English speaker on an English-speaking board it’s hard for me to confirm that, which is one of the reasons it’s so nice to hear from [non-English speaking emetophiliacs]. So far, everyone else who has posted is from the US, Europe and other Western cultures, but now we’re beginning to get a feel for how international our kink truly is.”
Adams, C. (2002). Were there really vomitoriums in ancient Rome? The Straight Dope. November 1. Located at: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2421/were-there-really-vomitoriums-in-ancient-rome
Aggrawal, Anil (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unususal Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Freud, S. (1953). Studies on Hysteria (Standard Edition). London: Hogarth Press.
Stoller, R.J. (1982). Erotic Vomiting”, Archives of Sexual Behavior 11: 361-365 (1982).