Five years ago I wrote a blog about one of my favourite bands, Throbbing Gristle (TG; Yorkshire slang for a penile erection). In that article, I noted that TG were arguably one of “the most extreme bands of all time” and “highly confrontational”. They were also the pioneers of ‘industrial music’ and in terms of their ‘songs’, no topic was seen as taboo or off-limits. In short, they explored the dark and obsessive side of the human condition. Their ‘music’ featured highly provocative and disturbing imagery including hard-core pornography, sexual manipulation, school bullying, ultra-violence, sado-masochism, masturbation, ejaculation, castration, cannibalism, Nazism, burns victims, suicide, and serial killers (Myra Hindley and Ian Brady).
I mention all this because I have just spent the last few days reading the autobiography (‘Art Sex Music‘) of Cosey Fanni Tutti (born Christine Newbie), one of the four founding members of TG. It was a fascinating (and in places a harrowing) read. As someone who is a record-collecting completist and having amassed almost everything that TG ever recorded, I found Cosey’s book gripping and read the last 350 pages (out of 500) in a single eight-hour sitting into the small hours of Sunday morning earlier today.
TG grew out of the ‘performance art’ group COUM Transmissions in the mid-1970s comprising Genesis P-Orridge (‘Gen’, born Neil Megson in 1950) and Cosey. At the time, Cosey and Gen were a ‘couple’ (although after reading Cosey’s book, it was an unconventional relationship to say the least). TG officially formed in 1975 when Chris Carter (born 1953) and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (1955-2010). Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Fairburn famously called the group “wreckers of civilisation” (which eventually became the title of their 1999 biography by Simon Ford).
As I noted in my previous article, TG are – psychologically – one of the most interesting groups I have ever come across and Cosey’s book pulled no punches. To some extent, Cosey’s book attempted to put the record straight in response to Simon Ford’s book which was arguably a more Gen-oriented account of TG. Anyone reading Cosey’s book will know within a few pages who she sees as the villain of the TG story. Gen is portrayed as an egomaniacal tyrant who manipulated her. Furthermore, she was psychologically and physically abused by Gen throughout their long relationship in the 1970s. Thankfully, Cosey fell in love with fellow band member Chris Carter and he is still the “heartbeat” of the relationship and to who her book is dedicated.
Like many of my favourite groups (The Beatles, The Smiths, The Velvet Underground, Depeche Mode), TG were (in Gestaltian terms) more than the sum of their parts and all four members were critical in them becoming a cult phenomenon. The story of their break up in the early 1980s and their reformation years later had many parallels with that of the Velvet Underground’s split and reformation – particularly the similarities between Gen and Lou Reed who both believed they were leaders of “their” band and who both walked out during their second incarnations.
Cosey is clearly a woman of many talents and after reading her book I would describe her as an artist (and not just a ‘performance artist’), musician (or maybe ‘anti-musician in the Brian Eno sense of the word), writer, and lecturer, as well as former pornographic actress, model, and stripper. It is perhaps her vivid descriptions of her life in the porn industry and as a stripper that (in addition to her accounts of physical and psychological abuse by Gen) were the most difficult to read. For someone as intelligent as Cosey (after leaving school with few academic qualifications but eventually gaining a first-class degree via the Open University), I wasn’t overly convinced by her arguments that her time working in the porn industry both as a model and actress was little more than an art project that she engaged in on her own terms. But that was Cosey’s justification and I have no right to challenge her on it.
What I found even more interesting was how she little connection between her ‘pornographic’ acting and modelling work and her time as a stripper (the latter she did purely for money and to help make ends meet during the 1980s). Her work as a porn model and actress was covert, private, seemingly enjoyable, and done behind closed doors without knowing who the paying end-users were seeing her naked. Her work as a stripper was overt, public, not so enjoyable, and played out on stage directly in front of those paying to see her naked. Two very different types of work and two very different psychologies (at least in the way that Cosey described it).
Obviously both jobs involved getting naked but for Cosey, that appeared to be the only similarity. She never ever had sex for money with any of the clientele that paid to see her strip yet she willingly made money for sex within the porn industry. For Cosey, there was a moral sexual code that she worked within, and that sex as a stripper was a complete no-no. The relationship with Gen was (as I said above) ‘unconventional’ and Gen often urged her and wanted her to have sex with other men (and although she never mentioned it in her book, I could speculate that Gen had some kind of ‘cuckold fetish’ that I examined in a previous blog as well as some kind of voyeur). There were a number of times in the book when Cosey appeared to see herself as some kind of magnet for unwanted attention (particularly exhibitionists – so-called ‘flashers’ – who would non-consensually expose their genitalia in front of Cosey from a young age through to adulthood). Other parts of the book describe emotionally painful experiences (and not just those caused by Gen) including both her parents disowning her and a heartfelt account of a miscarriage (and the hospital that kept her foetus without her knowledge or consent). There are other sections in the book that some readers may find troubling including her menstruation art projects (something that I perhaps should have mentioned in my blog on artists who use their bodily fluids for artistic purposes).
Cosey’s book is a real ‘warts and all’ account of her life including her many health problems, many of which surprisingly matched my own (arrhythmic heart condition, herniated spinal discs, repeated breaking of feet across the lifespan). Another unexpected connection was that her son with Chris Carter (Nick) studied (and almost died of peritonitis) as an undergraduate studying at art at Nottingham University or Nottingham Trent University. I say ‘or’ because at one stage in the book it says that Nick studied at Nottingham University and in another extract it says they were proud parents attending his final degree art show at Nottingham Trent University. I hope it was the latter.
Anyone reading the book would be interested in many of the psychological topics that make an appearance in the book including alcoholism, depression, claustrophobia, egomania, and suicide to name just a few. In previous blogs I’ve looked at whether celebrities are more prone to some psychological conditions including addictions and egomania and the book provides some interesting case study evidence. As a psychologist and a TG fan I loved reading the book.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Cooper, D. (2012). Sypha presents … Music from the Death Factory: A Throbbing Gristle primer. Located at: http://denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/sypha-presents-music-from-death-factory.html?zx=c19a3a826c3170a7
Fanni Tutti, C. (2017). Art Sex Music. Faber & Faber: London.
Ford, S. (1999). Wreckers of Civilization: The Story of Coum Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle. London: Black Dog Publishing.
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Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.
Sarig, R. (1998). The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You’ve Never Heard Of. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications.
Walker, J.A. (2009). Cosey Fanni Tutti & Genesis P-Orridge in 1976: Media frenzy, Prostitution-style, Art Design Café, August 10. Located at: http://www.artdesigncafe.com/cosey-fanni-tutti-genesis-p-orridge-1-2009
Wells, S. (2007). A Throbbing Gristle primer. The Guardian, May 27. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2007/may/29/athrobbinggristleprimer
In a previous blog I looked at sitophilia, a sexual paraphilia in which individuals have an erotic attraction to (and derive sexual arousal from) food. One of the strangest sitophile stories I have read concerns the case of the ‘Swiss Cheese Pervert’. In the run up to Christmas 2013, a chubby man estimated to be in his 40s was driving around the Mayfair district of Philadelphia (USA) and exposing his genitals to a number of women while seated in his Sedan. However, this was no ordinary case of exhibitionism. As the Fortean Times reported:
“He would then dangle a large slice of Swiss cheese over his penis and offers to pay the women to perform sexual acts on him using the snack. At least two other women received messages on [the] OKCupid [online dating website] they believe were from the same man, describing how being unpopular with women drove him to have sex with cheese. He offered to pay $50 for a woman to pleasure him with a slice. The city’s police suspect 41-year-old Chris Pagano, since he was arrested in 2006 and 2009 for allegedly propositioning women with Swiss cheese on the streets of Norristown, Philadelphia. Pagano claimed that the latest incidents had nothing to do with him – but the picture he used on Facebook was the same as the one on the OKCupid profile message sent to a woman asking her to indulge his cheese craving”.
Pagano’s previous arrests were well documented in the local Philadelphia press and one journalist (Victor Fiorello) has written a number of stories about Pagano’s sexual exploits. In one of his stories he obtained the court documents in relation to the 2006 and 2009 arrests and one extract (with the woman’s name removed to protect her identity) read that:
“[The woman] told police that at approximately 0030 hours she was walking home from a store the male approached her from behind and asked her a question. The male removed a large block of cheese from his pocket and told [the woman] that he would pay her $20 to rub the Swiss cheese on his penis. [The woman] became alarmed and fled on foot toward her residence. The male offered [the woman] more money as she fled the area. [The woman] described the male as white, balding, and weighing over 300 pounds”
Following the late 2013 reports in the local press, one woman (Gabby Chest) telephoned the police saying that she had got an email on the OKCupid website from a “really strange guy” fitting the description of Pagano and who in his message wrote that he was “looking for someone to perform masturbation on him with cheese”. In the online message to Ms. Chest, the man admitted that he had great difficulty in initiating relationships with women because of his weight problem. This (he claimed) led to his cheese fetish and helped him to deal with his sexual urges. The whole message was reprinted on the PhillyMag website and I have reprinted it verbatim as I think it provides a good insight into the behaviour:
“Hello, my name is Chris. I am sure you are seeking a relationship, and I am sort of seeking the same, well sort of. You see I am currently content with my life. I enjoy meeting new people and making friends, but I also enjoy looking for women who are just looking for fun, opportunities, and or sex. I am kind of hoping you may be one of those women, who are open to certain activities of a suggestive nature. I realize talking and or requesting anything sexual with a someone you don’t know can be a turn off for most, but would you be interested in getting to know me, and perhaps being involved in a sexual encounter together? I know it’s a bit much to take in, since you really don’t know me. Still I am open to get to know you at first before anything would happen. I want to be up-front with you and tell you what exactly I am looking for. This way you have an idea of what I am into. You see it’s not sex in the traditional sense, it’s more a fetish. Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy traditional sex, but I grown to prefer this more. This fetish is a Sitophilia type fetish. I will give you a short explanation that lead me to discover why I like this type of fetish.
You see, when I was young and even now I seemed to be judged on my looks and not on my personality. So finding women and starting relationships was harder for me then most. Couple that with a strong sex drive, and you get the picture. So I developed this fetish to help me deal with my sexual urges. I found that women tend to like dairy products, and settled on cheese to represent the girl. Thus I started having sex with cheese. I like to use Swiss cheese and would wrap slices of the cheese around penis, then masturbate. Now tho [sic], after finding several girls to do it for me, I prefer having girls do it for me, instead of myself. Still I suppose I was lucky in finding those women, and our relationships did not last long, since our relationship based more on my fetish and me helping them out money wise. When they became comfortable again, we stayed friends, but they seemed to move on with their lives or I moved on because of the drama that sometimes followed some of them. The other problem I encounter is that women tend to be more freaked out over my fetish, then they would be over other questionable activities that are far more disgusting then mine. I don’t understand why using cheese in the way I use it is so disturbing to women, the ones who have done my fetish for me say it’s quite vanilla compared to so things they have encountered, and say I am quite harmless given my kind personality. So my request is, is there any way you would be willing to strike up an arraignment with me to do my fetish for me, if of course you would be open to this sort of activity?
Lastly if I have offended you, I am sorry as it was not my intention to do so. I just hope my fetish with cheese does not disturb you in any way, sorry if it has. Also when I mention arrangement, please don’t think it just has to be money either, I know you are not a prostitute, in fact I don’t want women like that at all. It can be anything you feel is a fair trade. Please if you could please let me know if you might be interested or not, and what you think of my request, I would appreciate it, thanks”.
In another online message, it is alleged that he said: “I am lucky I never became a rapist”. This latter admission suggesting that his cheese infatuation was a less palatable alternative to his cheese infatuation. In an email on the OKCupid website, he wrote to another woman and added:
“I tried many different kinds of cheese, like American, Provolone, chez whiz, jack, and cheddar, but settled on Swiss as the best…because of its eye patterns, texture, and the way it feels against my penis. When I was younger I had far more stamina for cheese sex. I was able to wrap and wear a good 1½ pounds of Swiss cheese against my penis, and wear it for hours at a time before I would climax…One last note, I do not like cheese, except for mozzarella, and that is the one cheese I have never used on myself. So no I do not eat the cheese after I am done using it for pleasure, it is discarded. I am always asked that question”.
I found the online message sent to Ms. Chest of great psychological interest. Pagano obviously knew that his preferred sexual behaviour was sitophilia and that he himself conceptualized his own behaviour as fetishistic. He also provided what I believe to be a plausible explanation as to how cheese became a symbolic female substitute for sex. Using cheese in his early masturbatory experiences would almost certainly created an associative pairing between sex and cheese (to the point where cheese on its own may have caused a classically conditioned response resulting in sexual arousal). Pagano’s own realistic assessment of his sexual attractiveness appears to have led to sexual displacement in which cheese represented an outlet for his sexual urges and desires. He was fully aware that his desires would seem strange to most people and that he was prepared to pay for the activity if that helped women participate. From the newspaper reports I read, it would appear that the criminal exhibitionism (i.e., flashing his genitalia at women he approached in his car) was peripheral to his real desire of soliciting women to engage in ‘cheesy’ sex.
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.
Daily Mail (2014). ‘Swiss Cheese Pervert’ terrorizes Philadelphia asking women to perform sexual acts on him using a slice of fromage. Daily Mail. January 13. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2538687/Swiss-Cheese-Pervert-terrorizing-Philadelphia.html
Fiorello, V. (2014). Is this guy the Swiss Cheese Pervert? PhillyMag, January 11. Located at: www.phillymag.com/news/2014/01/11/norristowns-swiss-cheese-pervert/
Fiorello, V. (2014). Here are mugshots of alleged Swiss Cheese Pervert Chris Pagano. PhillyMag, January 11. Located at: http://www.phillymag.com/news/2014/01/13/mugshots-swiss-cheese-pervert-chris-pagano/
Fortean Times (2014). Please cheese me…Fortean Times, March 1, p.10
Exhibitionism typically refers to an intense desire or compulsion to expose sexual parts of the body (i.e., genitals, buttocks, breasts) to unwilling observers in public (or semi-public) places. If the behaviour is anti-social or threatening it is typically defined as ‘indecent exposure’ and becomes a matter for the law. Non-threatening exposure of sexual body parts (such as women showing their breasts during the Mardi Gras festival) is usually termed flashing as opposed to indecent exposure. However, there is a whole range of different terms used to describe various exhibitionist acts including (in alphabetical order):
- Anasyrma: Typically refers to the lifting of a skirt or dress by a woman when not wearing any knickers and exposing her genitals.
- Candaulism: Specifically refers to those people who expose themselves to their partners in a sexually explicit way.
- Flashing: Typically the brief display of bare female breasts or the brief showing of genitals by a man or woman.
- Martymachlia: Specifically refers to a paraphilic behaviour that involves being sexually aroused by having others watch the sexual act.
- Mooning: Typically refers to the displaying of bare buttocks by pulling down trousers and/or underwear. Evidence suggests that when performed by women the primary motivation may be sexual whereas for males it may be done for the sake of mockery or humour.
- Streaking: Typically refers to running naked (usually men) or topless (usually female) in a public place (e.g., a cricket or football match).
The American Psychiatric Association defines exhibitionism as “sexual gratification, above and beyond the sexual act itself, that is achieved by risky public sexual activity and/or bodily exposure [and can also include] engaging in sex where one may possibly be seen in the act, or caught in the act.” Exhibitionism is not necessarily a compulsive or impulsive behaviour but in its most extreme and compulsive form it is called apodysophilia. Furthermore, exhibitionism is only considered a psychological disorder if it interferes with a person’s quality of life or their normal functioning capacity.
Apodysophilia, like most paraphilic behaviour, is almost exclusively male and some exhibitionists will even go as far to expose themselves and then masturbate at a later point and/or or replay fantasies while engaging in sex with partner. One recent literature review on exhibitionism found only four papers published with a total of 14 female case studies across a period of 25 years.
Because data about exhibitionists typically come from either those caught offending and/or those that are receiving treatment, the true incidence and prevalence of exhibitionism is unknown. Data from the criminal justice system, small-scale community surveys, and victim surveys, suggest that exhibitionism occurs relatively frequently. A German study published in 1999 found that over a four-year period there were 8,000 to 12,000 reports of exhibitionism to the police, and 16% of those sentenced for sex crimes were exhibitionists. Clearly, such data totally underestimate the incidence of exhibitionism, as research carried out among the general public and victims appears to indicate that most people (approximately 75% in some surveys) don’t report these incidents to the police.
Very few studies have examined the prevalence of exhibitionism among non-sex offender populations. In 1991, Terrel Templeman and Ray Stinnett (Eastern Oregon State University) found that 2% of a very small convenience sample of college males reported exhibitionism. More recently (in 2006), Niklas Långström (Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden) and Michael Seto (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Canada) reported that 3.1% of their national probability sample (2,450 people aged 18 to 60 years) had exposed their genitals to a stranger for sexual pleasure (4.3% for males and 2.1% for females) although there is a high likelihood that very few of these were genuine paraphilic behaviour. Respondents who reported exhibitionistic behaviour were also significantly more likely to report other atypical sexual behavior (sadomasochism and transvestism).
This latter finding seems to be supported by some other evidence that exhibitionists may be generally hypersexual. Dr Martin Kafka and Dr John Hennen (McLean Hospital, affiliated with Harvard University, US) reported on a sample of 143 individuals with paraphilias, of whom 37% were exhibitionists. Of these 143 individuals, 123 also reported paraphilia-related disorders, which include compulsive masturbation, protracted heterosexual/homosexual promiscuity, dependence on pornography or telephone sex, and severe sexual desire in- compatibility.
Gene Abel and Joanne Rouleau reported an American study examining 142 exhibitionists in an outpatient clinic at the at the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences in Memphis, and at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City. They reported that 50% of the exhibitionists reported the onset of their sexual interest before the age of 18 years and that there was little evidence that exhibitionists had high rates of physical or sexual abuse. They also reported that the average number of victims they had exposed themselves to was 500.
A seminal study published in the 1970s by Graham Rooth in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggested there were two distinct groups of exhibitionists based on the case studies he had come across:
- Type 1 (80%): Aged 15-25 years; Inhibited immature and close to their mother; struggle against the impulse to expose and experience guilt; expose flaccid penis
- Type 2 (20%): Aged 20 upwards; Sociopathic tendencies taking sadistic pleasure in exposing erect penis and masturbating; may contact victims afterwards.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, exhibitionists rarely do anything else but expose themselves. However, Some victims are traumatised by the experience. Graham Rooth claims only 20% of those convicted re-offend (and they are usually the Type 2 offenders outlined above)
Although there is no evidence that exhibitionists have a preference for exposing, there is some limited evidence that exhibitionists may be generally hypersexual. A study led by one of the world’s leading experts on paraphilias, Dr Martin Kafka (affiliated to Harvard University, US) reported that in a sample of 143 paraphiliacs (of whom 37% were exhibitionists), a large majority (n=123) also reported paraphilia-related disorders, that included compulsive masturbation, protracted heterosexual/homosexual promiscuity, dependence on pornography or telephone sex, and severe sexual desire in- compatibility.
There are a number of theories as to how exhibitionism develops. Some claim it is the reinforcement of sexual arousal associated with exhibitionism that promotes maintenance of behaviour. others claim the disorder is caused by a disturbance of the pre-tactile interaction phase. More specifically, Kurt Freund, the late Czech-Canadian sexologist wrote numerous papers claiming that behaviours such as exhibitionism are caused by “courtship disorders”. According to Freund, normal courtship comprises four phases: (i) location of a partner, (ii) pre-tactile interactions, (iii) tactile interactions, and (iv) genital union. Freund claims that paraphilias such as voyeurism, exhibitionism, and frotteurism can be viewed as distortions in each of these courtship phases. Freund also proposed that obscene telephone calling, (often viewed as a variant of exhibitionism) is a disturbance of the second phase of the courtship disorder. Freund and his colleagues reported significant correlations between the presence of exhibitionism and the presence of frotteurism or voyeurism (the highest correlation being that between voyeurism and exhibitionism).
Freund also published papers examining the self-reports about the development of exhibitionists’ patterns of erotic behavior. Freund and his associates reported that among exhibitionists: (i) up to a half masturbated while exposing and during fantasies about exposing; (b) nearly two-thirds admitted they had also masturbated in a public place in a place no-one could see them; and (iii) more than half experienced the act of exposing as an invitation to intercourse and about a third as a substitute for intercourse with the target person. The study also confirmed that obscene telephone calling, which occurs also with other anomalous erotic preferences, was particularly associated with exhibitionism.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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