In previous blogs I have examined sexual paraphilias involving those individuals who derive sexual stimulation and arousal from ants and/or insects (formicophilia), and individuals who derive sexual stimulation and arousal from bees (melissophilia) and bee stings (as a radical – and painful – way of increasing penis size). Sexually paraphilic interest by humans in insects is also known as entomophilia. As a short article about entomophilia on the Kinky Sex Questions website asserts:
“While some love to have it with spiders, bees and ants, there are those who would prefer a sexy touch of a fly, grasshopper, cockroach or a similar insect. Insects are most of the time positioned on the genitals or the other sensitive parts of the human body such as nipples. Usually by crawling they create a tickling sensation resulting in a sexual arousal. The act itself is not limited to tickling only. It may include stinging or nasty biting depending on the preferences of the individual. Flying insects can be trapped in a container and the opened end of it can be pressed against body, preferably genitals. Mosquitoes and flies are quite popular species”.
One specific insect-related sexual paraphilia is that of arachnephilia (sometimes spelled differently as ‘arachnophilia’). Dr. Anil Aggrawal, in both his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices and his new classification of zoophilia practices in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, simply defines arachnephilia as “[sexual] arousal from spiders”. Dr. Ronald Homes and Dr. Stephen Holmes – in a chapter on ‘nuisance sex behaviours’ in the third edition of their book Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behaviors – also have an identical definition (the only difference being they spell it ‘arachnophilia’ although I’m not quite clear how it is a ‘nuisance sex behaviour’). Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices defines arachnephilia as referring to those individuals who “are aroused by sex play involving spiders”.
The most detailed definition of arachnephilia I have come across is that on the Right Diagnosis website that states it refers to “sexual urges, preferences or fantasies involving playing with spiders” and that the symptoms include (i) sexual interest in playing with spiders, (ii) abnormal amount of time spent thinking about playing with spiders, (iii) recurring intense sexual fantasies involving playing with spiders, and (iv) recurring intense sexual urges involving playing with spiders.
I did an exhaustive literature search trying to locate any empirical and/or clinical research that has been done on the topic and got very excited when I came a cross a paper entitled “A case of arachnophilia” by B.D. Johnson. However, my excitement turned to despair when I then discovered it was a basically a film review of the Sam Raimi directed film Spider-Man (starring Tobey Maguire). Dr. Brenda Love’s entry contains a little information but is not based on any scientific research. She seems to imply there is a sexually masochistic element to arachnephilia, as she notes that: “Spider scenes utilize a person’s fear of spiders to increase adrenalin. The bottom may be tied down and the spider either brought close to them or laced on their body crawl around” Dr. Love’s speculation appears to be (at least in part) backed up by a small online article on arachephilia (again on the Kinky Sex Questions website) that noted:
“So what is it exactly so exciting about spiders? It must be the thrill of it. Especially if the spider is large and venomous. Large spiders such as tarantula, though dangerous, they are unlikely to bite unless provoked. It all depends on the country where we live as well. What is easy to get hold of in Latin America, a paraphiliac’s needs to have a different alternative while on a different continent. Thrill equals adrenaline rush. And that’s most likely the driving force behind this paraphilia. It is an interesting fact that some individuals who practice this fetish are at the same time afraid of the spiders”
There are no statistics on the incidence or prevalence of arachnephilia (in fact there isn’t even a single published case study). In my search for papers on academic databases I did come across a few references in arachnephilia (not including the many papers that referenced a piece of software called ‘arachnophilia’). The first academic paper that mentioned ‘arachnophilia’ was a paper published by Dr. Kenneth Adams (entitled ‘Arachnophobia: Love American style’) in a 1981 issue of the Journal of Psychoanalytic Anthropology. The paper analyzed the tendency to equate female sexual desire, woman’s love, and the female and femininity with the “voracious spider”. This theoretical paper asserted that:
“The ontogenetic origins of arachnophobia can be traced to a dread of the mother that is structurally encouraged by the claustrophobic intensity of the nuclear family. This archaic terror also ultimately reflects the indeterminate boundaries of the ego that are incapable of differentiating self from mother. In comic books arachnophobia and arachnophilia represent the two sides of ‘Love American Style’: an ambivalent attraction to and repulsion from preoedipal, undifferentiated, mother–self, male–female dual unity”.
I can’t say I agree (or even follow) this line of argument, and as with all psychoanalytic theory, it can’t really be empirically tested as it is not falsifiable. The only other direct reference to arachnephilia I came across was in the literal meaning of arachnephilia as ‘love of spiders’ (i.e., a liking or even obsession with them but not in a sexual sense). In this capacity, an academic paper, Dr. Jonathan Sklar and Dr. Andrea Sabbadini published a paper about David Cronenberg’s 2002 film Spider in a 2008 issue of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.
For those of you who have not seen the film, the film’s protagonist, Dennis Cleg (played by Ralph Feinnes) and known as ‘Spider’, is a catatonic schizophrenic man released from a mental institution where he was incarcerated for many years after he had killed his mother. Sklar and Sabbadini discuss the roots of his (non-sexual) ‘arachnophilia’ and spider obsession:
“Related to his interest in cobwebs is Spider’s obsession with collecting and playing with strings, in the hope of making links with reality by tying them together…What fascinates Spider are … spiders! Spider-webs and egg-bags are for him wonderful yet dangerously flimsy containers of reality. His arachnophilia is so marked that his mother had created a whole fantastic spider’s world of images and stories for him. It may be noticed that the word spider sounds like spied her – as if his mother, by so nicknaming her son, was also unconsciously encouraging his oedipal voyeuristic curiosity”.
Finally, getting back to the sexually paraphilic meaning of arachnephilia, the Right Diagnosis website claims that treatment for arachnephilia “is generally not sought unless the condition becomes problematic for the person in some way and they feel compelled to address their condition. The majority of people simply learn to accept their fetish and manage to achieve gratification in an appropriate manner”. I certainly can’t deny this may be the case as there is a complete lack of any reference to treatment in any academic book or journal.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Adams, K.A. (1981). Arachnophobia: Love American style. Journal of Psychoanalytic Anthropology, 4, 157-197.
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18, 73-78.
Holmes, S.T. & Holmes, R.M. (2009). Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behaviors (3rd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Kinky Sex Questions (2012). Arachnephilia. Located at: http://www.kinky-sex-questions.com/arachnephilia.html
Kinky Sex Questions (2012). Entomophilia. Located at: http://www.kinky-sex-questions.com/entomophilia.html
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Right Diagnosis (2013). Arachnephilia. March 1. Located at: http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/a/arachnephilia/intro.htm
Sklar, J. & Sabbadini, A. (2008). David Cronenberg’s Spider: Between confusion and fragmentation. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 89, 427-432.
Wikipedia (2012). Brazilian wandering spider. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazilian_wandering_spider#Toxicity