The one thing about sexual fetishes that always amazes me is how specific some people’s sexual likes and interests are. One such fetish is fingernail fetish. According to Dr. Ellen McCallum’s book Object Lessons: How to Do Things With Fetishism, this fetish is a specific sub-type of hand fetishism (as other sub-types include finger fetishism and palm fetishism or include non-sexual specific actions done by the hands such as washing up or drying the dishes). According to the Wikipedia entry on hand fetishism, “this fetish may manifest itself as a desire to experience physical interaction, or as a source of sexual fantasy”. A quick look online suggests that the fetish exists as there are various dedicated websites catering for all sexual fingernail needs such as the Fingernail Fetish website (“a collection of soft-core image galleries and video catering to those with a long-nail fetish”) and the one run by the Pinterest website.
Fingernail fetishes are certainly referenced by leading academics and clinicians in the sexology field although most of the references to it point out its existence but give little information with respect to incidence, prevalence, or etiological development. For instance, the Austrian psychologist Dr. Wilhelm Stekel in his 1952 book Sexual Aberrations: The Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex noted:
“The true fetish lover dispenses with a sexual partner and gratifies himself with a symbol. This symbol can be represented by a piece of clothing, a part of the partner’s body (pubic hair, nails braid or pigtail) or any object used by the other person”.
Similarly, Dr. Martin Kafka in one of his many papers in the Archives of Sexual Behavior on sexual fetishism also made reference to the fetishization of fingernails without giving any detail:
“Fetishes tend to be articles of clothing, such as female undergarments, shoes and boots, or, more rarely, parts of the body such as hair or nails. Technically, hair and nails are body products but they are also ‘’non-living objects’ consistent with the DSM-III definition of fetishism. Feet, hands, or other typically non-sexualized parts of the body are not ‘non-living objects,’ however, and there was no diagnostic entity offered in DSM- III to account for persons whose fetishism-like clinical disorder was delimited by an exclusive focus on non-sexual body parts, such as hands or feet…As was noted in DSM-III, body products, such as hair or fingernails, can become obligatory fetish objects”.
Having carried out an extensive literature search on academic databases, the only case of fingernail fetishism that I was able to locate was a 1972 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, by Dr. Austin McSweeny who successfully treated a young male fingernail fetishist using hypnosis. I also came across a 2001 Spanish paper written by Dr. Jaime Tabares that the title translated as “Fetish perversion: From pathological mourning to alienating manic identification” and published in Revista de Psicoanalisis de la Asociacion Psicoanalitica de Madrid. The paper discussed the case of a 24-year Spanish male and the role of depression, paranoid anxiety, and pathological mourning in the development of masculine perversion and fetishism. The only reason I mention this paper is that the author mentioned that one of the fetishes (along with his masochistic fantasies) was for painted nails.
Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) reported a truly bizarre case involving necrophilia and fingernails. Citing from a 1963 book by Dr. R. Masters and Dr. A. Lea (Perverse Crimes in History: Evolving Concepts of Sadism, Lust-Murder, and Necrophilia – From Ancient to Modern Times.), Aggrawal briefly described the case of a man who derived his sexual gratification from eating the nail trimmings of corpses. I have no idea if this would count as a genuine case of fingernail fetishism, but it’s certainly a case of someone who was gained sexual gratification from fingernails (albeit from dead people).
In a previous blog on fetishism, I wrote at length about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish form data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5000 fetishists (but was likely to be a lot more). They devised a scheme whereby a person’s sexual preference could be assigned to one or more of three particular categories (fetishes for particular body parts, fetishes for particular objects, and/or fetishes for different behaviours. Scorrolli and colleagues said: “these were further subdivided to describe, in broad terms preferences for (the examples in parentheses come from our data)” and one of these specifically gave the example of fingernails (in this case, a sexual fetish for the biting of fingernails):
- A part or feature of the body (e.g., feet or overweight individuals), including body modifications (e.g., tattoos).
- An object usually experienced in association with the body (e.g., shoes or headphones).
- An object not usually associated with the body (e.g., dirty dishes, candles).
- An event involving only inanimate objects (they found no examples).
- A person’s own behavior (e.g., biting fingernails).
- A behavior of other persons (e.g., smoking or fighting).
- A behavior or situation requiring an interaction with others (e.g., domination or humiliation role play).
They reported that some of the sites featured references to nail fetishes comprising a total of 669 group members. This accounted for less than 1% of all fetish site members. I would also add that having read the paper and examined some of the sites given, I’m not convinced that all of these were fingernail fetishists as some of the fetish websites found (like ‘Bed of Nails’) may be sadomasochistic sites where the sexual focus is nails that are hammered rather than nails on the hand.
In my research for this article, I also came across lots of self-confessed fingernail fetishists. Here are a few examples:
- Extract 1: “I am trying to get out more and understand why my fetish for long nails is big for me. Well it all started when I was 5 years old as a little kid. I was getting babysit by my cousin’s girlfriend and well you know she had nice long natural nails about 1 inch, inch and half, and she always was filing them, round and a little pointy too, and painting them. I used to watch and get hypnotized by that. So one day she was watching her soap operas…I decided to get up and change the channel…She warned me if I changed the channel again, I would know what her long nails are for. So she came to me I ran and hid, after I came back in the living room she surprised me from behind with one of the hardest pinches I ever experienced in my entire life… I almost felt paralysed by that pain, and after that she scratched me, hard enough to cry and it hurt. But a few days after that she tried to scratch me again when she came, and all of a sudden I was getting aroused, so she said ‘I wont hurt you this time, but I would love to be able to scratch you if you let me’. So I let her, and she started very slowly and increased the pressure as time went by, it was getting to be a new experience for me, We had set little rules and boundaries to stick by too. So she would only scratch till I got red, and if I bled…I agreed to that [be]cause she loved to scratch hard and be rough, so she had to see a little blood to be satisfied I guess. [Now] you now know how my long nails fetish got started and was born” (JayG).
- Extract 2: “I definitely became aware of my fetish around 5 or 6 [years old] when I started to become aroused and curious to what the nails must feel like on my skin…A few years later it became more weird when I started to have scratching fantasies before going to sleep giving me my first wave of self-induced erections. Nobody who doesn’t have a fetish like this gets turned on like that at such a young age. It must be highly abnormal. But we ARE freaks of nature I guess” (Saba).
- Extract 3: “My nail fascination also began when I was quite young, but I most certainly was not physically sexually arousable at the age of 5 [years] by the sight or feel of nails. …Those early encounters I sometimes catch myself re-writing my own history with respect to the arousal part, because it’s hard to imagine myself not being physically aroused by nails, but in reality, I wasn’t, not physically. Nails didn’t do ‘that’ to me until I properly began puberty. What I felt at 5 was the excitement of the danger that nails posed (girls of 5 used their nails as weapons, I had no inkling they could also be instruments of pleasure), and certainly a heightened awareness of the differences between the genders. Even before I knew girls had different genitalia, I recognised they were meant to have long nails and we were not” (Scott).
- Extract 4: “I was around 5 or 6 (years old] is when I got fascinated by girls and women’s nails. This was way back about 55 years ago. I don’t remember seeing [long] nails…until I was 12 or 13. But if a girl had nails, she usually had them as a means of protecting herself. And hard pinching was the preferred technique. And some of the girls were very effective. I remember one girl whose nails weren’t that long, but were filed to a point. Another girl stopped cutting her nails when she was 12. I only saw her once after that time, but most of her nails must have been around 1/2 inch long, and she knew how to use them and she had a real mean streak. I guess there has always been something fascinating about a girl who might be smaller and weaker than any of the boys, but could put real fear into them. Also the thought always occurred that if the young girls could cause so much pain with their relatively short nails, what could an adult woman with much longer nails do to someone?” (MJ2)
- Extract 5: “I’ve got something with me that started out fun, but has turned into a problem. I’ve got a fetish for long nails. They turn me on so much. First when I was younger it was fun, I’d look at pics every now and then and get off to them. Now it’s turned into a 3 o 4 times a day thing. It’s really annoying. I feel like I’m in bondage to this. My goal is to quit masturbating all together cause I feel as though it’s holding me back spiritually. But everywhere I look I see long nails on women and I get so turned on. I’m having a hard time battling this” (SececaRD)
These are just a few of the many I have come across. There are a number of similarities in the first four extracts (which may be because they all come from the same online forum. The fetish appears to have begun in early childhood, and appears to have developed through associative pairing (i.e., classical conditioning). What’s more, there appears to be a sexually masochistic tendency among those who have the fetish. The final extract comes from a different person who unlike the other fetishists wants to eradicate his fetish. Most fingernail fetishist accounts that I read were happy living with their preferred fetish. This is certainly an area where the amount of clinical and academic research is limited and I can’t see further papers being published except from a treatment perspective should such a fetishist want to eliminate their sexual desire for fingernails.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Kafka, M. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for fetishism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 357-362.
Masters, R.E.L & Lea A.E.E. (1963). Perverse Crimes in History: Evolving Concepts of Sadism, Lust-Murder, and Necrophilia – From Ancient to Modern Times. New York: The Julian Press.
McCallum. E.L. (1998.) Object Lessons: How to Do Things With Fetishism. New York: State University of New York Press.
McSweeny, A.J. (1972). Fetishism: Report of a case treated with hypnosis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 15, 139-143.
Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E.A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.
Stekel, W. (1952). Sexual Aberrations: The Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex (Vol. 1) (Trans., S. Parker). New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.
Tabares, J. (2001). La perversion fetichista: Del duelo patologico a la identification maniaca alienante. Revista de Psicoanalisis de la Asociacion Psicoanalitica de Madrid, 36, 55-78.
Wikipedia (2102). Hand fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hand_fetishism
Just recently (and quite by accident while I was doing some research into fingernail fetishes – the topic of an upcoming blog) I came across a case study of an allegedly unique sexual paraphilia called ‘Sleeping Beauty’ paraphilia. The paper was by Dr. Francesco Bianchi-Demicheli and three colleagues, and published in a 2010 issue of the journal Medical Science Monitor. The case involved a 34-year old married man who was admitted to a psychiatric unit in February 2007 following a violent physical attack on his wife. The marriage had been failing for a number of years because of the man’s paraphilic actions in which his wife was an unwilling participant.
The man’s sexual focus was arousal from seeing women sleeping. This as I have written about in a previous blog on somnophilia is not unheard of. (Somnophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which sexual arousal is derived from intruding on, caressing, and/or fondling someone – typically a stranger – while they are asleep without force or violence.) However, where the paraphilia differed from ‘classic’ somnophilia was that the man liked to look after the woman’s hands and nails while they were asleep (this helps explain why I came across the case while researching into fingernail fetishism). The man also had an idealized routine and would always start with the women’s right hand before moving on to the left. Over the years of the marriage, the urge to control his paraphilic interest worsened. At the start of his marriage he used to give his wife sleeping pills that she consented to take. However, the wife eventually refused to take the medication given by her husband. Consequently, the man began to surreptitiously administer sleeping pills (the benzodiazepine Bromaezepam) to his wife without her knowledge. In 2006, the man’s wife discovered what her husband had been doing and the relationship deteriorated even further. The authors wrote that:
“Because of the extremely powerful obsession with sleeping women and painting their nails, the patient disguised himself with a latex mask and attacked his wife, as she returned from work, with an Olerosin Capsicum (OC) spray, to anaesthetize her. During this episode, his wife succeeded in taking off his mask, escaped and called the police who brought him to the psychiatric emergencies”.
Following a psychiatric assessment that was deemed “normal” the man revealed that when he was 10 years old he had an incident of head trauma that resulted in a four-day long coma. He subsequently received various neurological evaluations, including neuroimaging brain scans. The authors reported that:
“The cerebral MRI showed a moderate atrophy in the fronto-parietal region with a diffuse and severe white matter injury compatible with his previous head trauma. On a functional viewpoint, this brain network is known to sustain among others, the sense of self, body-image, and attention mechanisms. His neuropsychological exam was in line with this assumption. The patient was diagnosed with a moderate dysexecutive syndrome and a very specific body image disorder characterized by an incomplete mental image of his hands, mostly the right (i.e., personal representational hemineglect), as ascertained by his graphical representation of his body parts. The clinical hypothesis was that the paraphilia might be related to his post-traumatic disturbed body image and more specifically to the incomplete hands representation”.
The authors made reference to a number of studies that suggest paraphilic behaviour can appear following brain damage (see ‘Further reading’ below) and concluded that their case study highlighted “the potential link between paraphilia, deviant and aggressive sexual behaviour, neurological disturbance and self-representation…Presumably, the occurrence of head trauma leading to catatonia in adolescents might have played a critical role on the development of his sexual self and body image”.
A good critique of this particular case study was by The Neurocritic who wrote that:
“One puzzling aspect of this case is why the ‘Sleeping beauty paraphilia’ became uncontrollable only in adulthood, showing a progressive escalation during his marriage. This might be suggestive of a neurodegenerative disorder, but that was not part of his diagnosis. And I’m not sure why an old traumatic brain injury would have lead to ‘moderate’ atrophy in the fronto-parietal region. I might have expected more involvement of the orbitofrintal cortex, given the nature of the patient’s behavioral changes. However, many other examples of impulsive sexual offenses are even less obviously related to neurological status (e.g., after head injuries when the damage might not be visible on an MRI scan, and of course the population of offenders who have never sustained a TBI [traumatic brain injury]). Since the lesions were distributed and not focal, a final mystery is why the body image disturbance was confined to the right hand (implying a left hemisphere origin). This type of personal representational hemineglect (neglect for a mental representation of one side of the body) is most often associated with lesions in the right hemisphere”.
The Neurocritic also makes a point that I have raised in other blogs that I’ve written on various paraphilias concerning the issue of whether something is problematic if there is a willing participant to share the sexual urges. The Neurocritic concludes:
“What is considered acceptable can vary widely across cultures and subcultures (Bhugra et al, 2010) and across individuals. If the patient of Bianchi-Demicheli et al. found a partner willing to have her fingernails done while sedated with sleeping pills, perhaps the classification would change from paraphilic disorder to something that might be considered strange and paraphilic to most people, but causing no distress to the two willing participants”
Personally, I feel this paraphilic behaviour is just a sub-type of somnophilia or somnophilia overlapping with hand fetishism. However. Given the complete lack of case studies ion the clinical literature on somnophilia, who is to say that this case study is not representative of somnophiles more generally?
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bianchi-Demicheli F, Rollini C, Lovblad K, & Ortigue S (2010). “Sleeping Beauty paraphilia”: Deviant desire in the context of bodily self-image disturbance in a patient with a fronto-parietal traumatic brain injury. Medical Science Monitor: International Medical Journal of Experimental and Clinical Research, 16(2), C15-C17.
Bhugra D, Popelyuk D, McMullen I. (2010). Paraphilias across cultures: Contexts and controversies. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 242-56.
Briken, P., Habermann, N., Berner, W. & Hill, A. (2005). The influence of brain abnormalities on psychosocial development, criminal history and paraphilias in sexual murders. Journal of Forensic Science, 50, 1204-1208.
Lehne G.K. (1994). Brain damage and paraphilia treated with medroxyprogesterone acetate. Sex and Disability, 10, 145–158.
Miller, B.L., Cummings, J.L,. McIntyre H et al (1986). Hypersexuality or altered sexual preference following brain injury. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 49, 867–873
The Neurocritic (2010). “Sleeping Beauty Paraphilia” and Body Image Disturbance After Brain Injury. April 11. Located at: http://neurocritic.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/sleeping-beauty-paraphilia-and-body.html