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Web browsing: A brief look at arachnephilia

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

Further reading

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:

Kinky Sex Questions (2012). Entomophilia. Located at:

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Right Diagnosis (2013). Arachnephilia. March 1. Located at:

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:

Ants in your pants? A beginner’s guide to formicophilia

In my blogs I have looked at a wide range of paraphilic behaviours. A quick look through my site statistics revealed that my previous blog on zoophilia has been the most read blog on my site (by quite some margin). Another paraphilia that has been conceptualized as a sub-type of zoophilia is that of formicophilia (i.e., being sexually aroused by insects crawling and/or nibbling on the individual’s genitals). There also appear to some cultural variations such as Genki Genki in Japan. Genki Genki is a style of erotic art and pornography that features women with various creatures, many from the ocean but may also include insects.

According to Dr Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, other areas of the body can also be the focus. It is thought that the desired effect may come from a tickling or stinging sensation, or the infliction of psychological distress on another person. Nancy Butcher in a book on medical mysteries, curious remedies, and bizarre folklore also said that formicophiliacs may smear themselves with honey and have insects feed off them. She also claimed that some formicophiliacs may even place insects in various bodily orifices as they experience sexual pleasure from the insects trying to escape.

To date, only two academic papers have ever been published directly concerning formicophilia. Both of these papers were published in the 1980s by Ratnin Dewaraja (who at the time was at University of Colombo, Sri Lanka). The first paper (co-written with renowned paraphilic expert Professor John Money) was published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. It was in this paper that formicophilia was defined as paraphilia where the focus of sexual arousal is on small creatures, such as “snails, frogs, ants, or other insects creeping, crawling or nibbling on the body, especially the genitalia, perianal area or nipples”. Brenda Love has pointed out that formicophilia should only technically refer to sexual arousal from ants and that paraphilias concerning insects more generally should be named entomophilia. There are other specific insect-related paraphilias such as arachnophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from spiders)

Dewaraja and Money reported that formicophilia is very rare and presented the case of a young Buddhist male who had developed this particular type of paraphilia. In their paper, they suggested that it arises developmentally during childhood, but just how this occurs was unclear. It was also claimed that it is more common in developing countries, perhaps because houses there are more likely to be infested with insects. The desired effect may be a tingling or burning sensation, or the pangs of psychological distress of another person.

They argued that children whose species-specific, juvenile sexual rehearsal play is thwarted or traumatized are at increased risk for developing a compensatory paraphilia (such as formicophilia). Their young Buddhist exemplified what they considered to be a cross-cultural application of this principle. They reported that his paraphilia was endogenously generated without reference to or influence by commercial pornography. They concluded that a “complete causal explanation of [this] paraphilia will require both a phylogenetic (phylismic) and an ontogenetic (life-history) component”.

In a follow-up paper published in the American Journal of Psychotherapy, Dewaraja reported how the same Buddhist male formicophiliac was treated. Rather than trying to completely eliminate the sexual deviation, the man received both counselling and behaviour therapy in an attempt to alleviate his feelings of guilt and depression and improve his self-image. Dewaraja reported that the 12-week course of therapy was successful and resulted in a dramatic reduction of the paraphilic behaviour at one-year follow-up.

However, Brendan Kelly (University College Dublin, Ireland) says that when it comes to the treatment of psychological and psychiatric disorders among Buddhists, the appropriateness of treatment depends on factors related to the individual, the disorder and sociocultural setting in which they live. He specifically notes that sociocultural factors may be “particularly important in the context of psychosexual disorders, and individuals with a Buddhist background may benefit from counselling and cognitive-behavioural approaches that reflect an understanding of such concerns from a Buddhist perspective”.

In a 2005 book chapter by Dr Brenda Love examining some of the strangest sexual behaviours from around the world, she recounted this anecdote related to a man who got his sexual kicks from bee stings. Dr Love noted that:

“Bee stings were once used as a folk remedy for arthritis sufferers. The insects were captured and held on the affected joint until they stung. The poison and the swelling it caused alleviated much of the pain in their joints. One male, having observed his grandparents use bees for this purpose, and later having a female friend throw a bee on his genitals as a joke, discovered that the sting on his penis extended the duration and intensity of his orgasm. Realizing that the bee sting was almost painless, he developed his own procedure, which consisted of catching two bees in a jar, and shaking it to make the bees dizzy to prevent their flying away. They were then grabbed by both wings so that they were unable to twist around and sting. Each bee was placed each side of the glans and pushed to encourage it to sting.  (Stings to the glans do not produce the desired swelling and the venom sac tends to penetrate the skin too deeply, causing difficulty in removing them)…Stings on the penis, unlike other areas, resemble the bite of a mosquito…The circumference of the man’s penis increased from 6.5 inches to 9.5 inches. Swelling is greatest on the second day”

Another insect-related fetish is a variant of crush fetishes. Crush fetishists get sexual pleasure from being walked and trod on and is itself a variant of sexual masochism. G.A. Pearson (North Carolina State University, USA), writing in the online journal Cultural Entomology described a fetish where people get sexual pleasure from watching insects, worms and spiders being squashed (particularly men watching women doing it). As Jeremy Biles notes in a 2004 essay on crush fetishists in Janus Head:

“Among the many obscure and bizarre sects of fetishism, few remain so perplexing or so underexamined as that of the “crush freaks.” At the cutting edge of the edgy world of sexual fetishistic practices, the crush freaks are notorious for their enthusiasm for witnessing the crushing death of insects and other, usually invertebrate, animals, such as arachnids, crustaceans, and worms. More specifically, crush freaks are sexually aroused by the sight of an insect exploded beneath the pressure of a human foot–usually, but not necessarily, a relatively large and beautiful female foot. Sometimes the insects meet their demise under the force exerted by a naked big toe. Other times, it is the impaling heel of a stiletto or the raised outsole of a platform shoe that accomplishes the extermination. The crush freak typically fantasizes identification with the insect as he or she masturbates, and savors the sense of sudden, explosive mutilation attendant upon the sight of the pedal extrusions”.

It’s also been reported that maximum sexual excitement comes the more frightened the woman, and the larger the feet doing the squashing. The preference can also be barefoot, high-heels, flip-flops (depending on the fetishist). Pearson concluded that crush fetishists represent a fascinating example of the human ability to eroticize just about any activity”. Interestingly, in her 2000 book Deviant Desires, Katharine Gates contextualizes crush fetishes as a subset of both foot fetishism and macrophilia (being sexually aroused by giants). Jeremy Biles argues differently and says that these practices are best understood as ambivalent manifestations of technophilia (sexual arousal associated with machinery). Personally, I’m more convinced by Gates’ arguments than those of Biles.

Finally, if you have managed to reach the end of this article and still remain unconvinced that formicophiliacs even exist, you could check out the lovebugz website, or two other websites here and here that have to be seen to be believed (you have been warned!)

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

Further reading

Biles, J. (2004). I, insect, or Bataille and the crush freaks. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(1), 115-131.

Butcher, N. (2004). The Strange Case of the Walking Corpse: A Chronicle of Medical Mysteries, Curious Remedies, and Bizarre but True Healing Folklore. New York: Penguin Books.

Dewaraja, R. (1987). Formicophilia, an unusual paraphilia, treated with counseling and behavior therapy. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 41, 593-597.

Dewaraja, R. & Money, J. (1986). Transcultural sexology: Formicophilia, a newly named paraphilia in a young Buddhist male. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 12, 139-145.

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.

Kelly, B.D. (2008). Buddhist Psychology, Psychotherapy and the Brain: A Critical Introduction. Transcultural Psychiatry, 45(1), 5-30

Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books

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.

Pearson, G.A. (1991). Insect fetish objects. Cultural Entomology Digest, 4, (November).