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Ghost modernism: A beginner’s guide to spectrophilia

In a previous blog, I briefly examined exophilia (a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from extraterrestrial, robotic, supernatural, or otherwise non-human life forms). Today’s blog has a look at one of these sub-types of exophilia in more detail – more specifically those who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from ghosts and spirits (known as spectrophilia). However, I ought to add that the only academic reference to spectrophilia I have ever come across is in Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices who defines spectrophilia more widely as sexual arousal “from looking at oneself in a mirror; arousal from image in mirrors; coitus with spirits; and sexual attraction to ghosts”.  However, most online sources note that the paraphilia concerning sexual arousal from mirrors is katoptronophilia. Therefore this article will just focus on being sexually aroused by ghosts and spirits.

As with exophilia, online sources claim that the overwhelming majority of spectrophiles never claim to have had sex with a ghost or spirit but are sexually excited and aroused by the thought of doing so. Therefore, the main sexual outlet for spectrophilia would appear to be masturbation. One website featuring a short synopsis on spectrophilia claimed (without any supporting evidence) that those afflicted with the condition:

“…leave their windows open so hopefully a ghost just might be floating on by, and suddenly get in the mood to ravage them…For those seeking sexual union with a ghost, however, the only solution is to seek out haunted mansions and hope for the best, or try to coerce the ghost into experiencing the pleasures of the flesh again”.

There are a number of online sources (including the Wikipedia entry on spectrophilia) that have speculated whether the condition even exists. However, there are numerous historical stories and/or folklore of spirits having sex with humans (e.g., most notably the evil and demon [male] incubus and [female] succubus spirits who take on human forms to seduce humans) in many different cultures. For instance, Carl Sagan in his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World, reported satyrs (Greek), jinns (Arabian), dusii (Celtic), and bhoots (Hindu).

An interesting 2011 article on ‘Paranormal paramours’ by Karen Stollznow makes a number of useful observations:

“In his book ‘Otherworldly Affaires: Haunted Lovers, Phantom Spouses, and Sexual Molesters from the Shadow World’, Brad Steiger writes about hyperdimensional love and sex. There are ‘true stories’ of dead lovers who seek vengeance from beyond the grave, ghostly wives and husbands who return to warn their widows of risky relationships, apparitions of lovers who return for a final “goodbye,” and sex offenders who come back to earth to continue perpetrating their crimes….No-one has ever presented anything other than only anecdotal evidence for paranormal sexual encounters. For example, no woman has ever been impregnated by a ghost. There is no single story and therefore there is no single explanation for these claims. Barring pranks, a number of possible natural explanations can be posited. Our biggest clue is that most of these experiences occur at night when the victim is in bed, suggesting that an erotic dream or hallucination has taken place. Such hallucinations may be associated with a phenomenon known as sleep paralysis, otherwise known as a ‘waking nightmare’. Sleep paralysis is a common experience for many people and is also a symptom of the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Sleep paralysis is an interruption of the REM stage of sleep; the individual awakens prematurely yet remains in a dreaming state. An episode can present a wide range of visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations. This may explain many alleged paranormal encounters, from ghost sightings, vampires, and alien abductions”.

As far as I am aware – and here I agree totally with Stollznow – there is no scientific (i.e., empirical) for spectrophilia. There are various interviews with people claiming to have had spectrophilic experiences, but all of these have been carried out by either television documentaries and/or those claiming to be psychics, ghost hunters and/or paranormal investigators. For instance, the Ghostly Lovers television programme that first aired on the Travel Channel in February 2011 has featured a number of women who claim to have had sex with ghosts (usually their dead husbands) and talked about all the physical consequences of making love with ghosts including orgasm. The most infamous case study is arguably that of Doris Bither in relation to an even that occurred in Culver City (California, US) on August 22, 1974 (and which has since been made into the 1983 film called The Entity).

Dr. Barry Taff and his associate, Kerry Gaynor, conducted a paranormal investigation in the home of Doris Bither, a single mother of four children… The ghost, according to Doris and her children, caused physical harm to Doris (including observable bruises), and raped her…During the Taff-Gaynor investigation of the Doris Bither home, a camera recorded visual anomalies where an orb of light appeared in such a way that no known source within the room could have caused the curvature of light as seen in the photograph. Light, even if it had come from a source within the room, could not bend the way it appears in the photograph”

Others are totally convinced that ghostly sex is a reality but unsurprisingly, these claims come from those who have a vested interest in the topic and who make their living from paranormal phenomena. For instance, an online article by “paranormal investigator” Gina Lainer claims:

“Many have come forward to me over the years and have admitted many strange paranormal sexual encounters. From normal everyday people to trans-gendered Gay-Bi and all flavors in between. It seems sexual encounters with the dead are not limited to just a few and the variety seems to be more then just the normal. I have investigated ghost that practice Bastinado. Foot whipping, variously known as bastinado, falanga (phalanga), and falaka (falaqa), is a form of torture wherein the human feet are beaten with an object such as a cane or rod, a club, a piece of wood, or a whip. It is a form of punishment often favored because, although extremely painful, it leaves few physical marks, though evidence can be detected via ultrasound technology. It exists, alongside other BDSM whipping practices, as a rare fetish/paraphilia. Many French Quarter Ghosts in the New Orleans area seem to favor this as a paranormal foreplay in essence”.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I prefer my evidence to be empirical rather than anecdotal and based on hearsay. The people who have claimed to have had sex with ghosts and/or spirits may well totally believe they have experienced supernatural sex. However, just because the person says they experienced something doesn’t mean that they have. They may just think that they have.

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

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Lanier, G. (undated) Inter-paranormal relationships. Located at:

Sagan, C. (1995). The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark. New York: Random House.

Steiger, B. (2008). Otherworldly Affaires: Haunted Lovers, Phantom Spouses, and Sexual Molesters from the Shadow World. Anomalist Books

Stollznow, K. (2011). Paranormal paramours. The Skeptical Inquirer. March 14. Located at:

Wikipedia (2012). Spectrophilia. Located at:

Xomba (2011). Spectrophilia – Ghostly encounters of the sexual kind. March 4. Located at:–_ghostly_encounters_sexual_kind