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Ice, ice, baby: A beginner’s guide to psychrocism

In a previous blog, I very briefly looked at pagophagia, a condition where people obsessively and/or compulsively chew on ice (often viewed as a form of pica and which has been viewed by many psychologists as an obsessive-compulsive disorder). Pagophagia is not the only human behaviour that can be done excessively and requires ice. Psychrocism refers to those who individuals who derive sexual pleasure and sexual arousal from either by being cold themselves or by watching someone else who is cold.

The only case that I have come across in the academic literature is one that was in Dr. Magnus Hirschfield’s 1948 book Sexual Anomalies and Perversions. Hirschfeld reported the account of a male who had a sexual cold fetish. The quote below is a self-confessed admission from the man himself:

“The thought and sight of chilly dress or pictorial representations of it, induce in me considerable erotic pleasure. My wife naturally has no idea of my abnormal sensations in this respect, and when I make a drawing of the type with which you are familiar, say, a drawing representing a girl with bare arms and shoulders, and dressed only in the flimsiest of undies, on the ice in the skating rink, she always regards it as a joke, for she naturally does not take seriously the exaggerations in which my imagination revels. Such fantasies, accompanied by masturbation, have frequently come to me at times when sexual intercourse with my wife has been impossible for physiological reasons. These fantasies were confined to a single subject—immature girls wearing the lightest clothes in winter”.

A more recent brief overview of psychrocism by Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices made reference to the fact that some people’s masturbatory practices involve putting a towel in the freezer, and then laying it out on their genitals. Others – she claims – use icicles as part of sex play. She also reported some personal communication from a man in California (US) who told her that that on several occasions after winter swimming in the ocean for over half an hour during, he obtained an erection that lasted two to three hours on average. So what’s the sexual attraction or consequence? Love notes that:

“Exposure to intense cold creates a sharp sensation that is similar to other physical stimuli that produce tension. The mind changes its focus from intellectual pursuits to physical awareness. Many [sadomasochistic] players use cold contact to heighten awareness of skin sensations. They often alternate cold with heat, such as ice cubes and candle wax”

This description is an example of what is known as “temperature play” (a sub-type of ‘sensation play’) which is a form of BDSM (bondage, domination, submission, masochism) sensual play where various substances and/or objects are used to stimulate neuro-receptors in the human body for hot and/or cold for sensual effect. Substances used by BDSM practitioners may include water/ice, various oils, hot wax, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, melted butter, chilled fresh fruit and steamed vegetables. Objects are often chilled in ice-cold water (or pre-heated water) to enhance the sensation and may include items such as cutlery, ball chains, and jewelry (e.g., necklaces). To intensify or amplify the effect in temperature play, bondage and/or blindfolds may sometimes be used. Ice play – a form of temperature play (and sexual foreplay) – typically involves moving ice cubes and the like across a person’s naked body (as was seen in the 1980s Hollywood film 9½ Weeks. Other practices known to occur during ice-play include ice-water enemas, which for some may be more to do with klismaphilia (i.e., sexual arousal from enemas more generally and which I looked at in a previous blog) and the use of ice dildos (where water is frozen inside a condom and then used as a masturbatory tool). BDSM practitioners are warned that ice on (and especially inside) the body can lead to a dramatic reduction in blood flow and in worse case scenarios can result in comas. Ice can cause excessive tissue damage due to the formation of ice crystals in cells and blood vessels. Freeze damage (e.g., frostbite) and other cold injuries (e.g., chilblains) happen at much slower speeds than temperature play involving burn and/or heat injuries.

Dr. Beth Brown (the self-styled ‘Doctor of Perversity’ and contributor to The Lesbian S/M Safety Manual) wrote an article on ‘temperature play’ and reported that:

“Temperature play with cold can be particularly wicked, because it is easy for a bottom to confuse hot and cold sensations. John Varley’s Titan series contains a scene in which a man is interrogated by being shown a hot poker, and then tortured blindfolded. He thinks his testicles are being burned with the hot poker, but when the blindfold is removed, he finds himself sitting in a pool of melted ice…When heat and cold are used together in a scene the feelings are much more intense, because alternating hot and cold sensations can confuse the nerves. Hot and cold nerve endings respond to differences from body temperature, but when rapidly repeated changes in temperature are administered to an area, these calculations can become wildly inaccurate”.

Dr. Brown also makes the point that a person’s psychological state has an impact on how the sensations are experienced as well. Much of how the temperature (hot and/or cold) is experienced is affected by the person’s expectations. She says this is nowhere more true than the anaesthetist’s slogan “pain is in the brain”.

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

Further reading

Brown, B. (1996). Temperature play. Issue 2.4, February. Located at: http://www.black-rose.com/cuiru/archive/2-4/dr2-4.html

Hirschfeld, M. (1948). Sexual Anomalies and Perversions. New York: Emerson.

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.

Wikipedia (2012). Sensation play. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensation_play_(BDSM)

Wikipedia (2012). Temperature play. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperature_play