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Stitches brew: A brief look at self-harm lip sewing

In previous blogs I have examined both self-harming behaviour (such as cutting off one’s own genitals, removing one’s own eye, removing one’s own ear, self-asphyxial risk taking in adolescence, and religious self-flagellation) and extreme body modification. One area where these two areas intersect is lip sewing. According to the Wikipedia entry on lip sewing:

“Lip sewing or mouth sewing, the operation of stitching together human lips, is a form of body modification. It may be carried out for aesthetic or religious reasons; as a play piercing practice; or as a form of protest. Sutures are often used to stitch the lips together, though sometimes piercings are made with needle blades or cannulas and monofilament is threaded through the holes. There is usually a fair amount of swelling, but permanent scarring is rare. Lip sewing may be done for aesthetic reasons, or to aid meditation by helping the mind to focus by removing the temptation to speak. BMEzine, an online magazine for body modification culture, published an article about a 23-year-old film student Inza, whose quest for body modifications was very varied. She spoke about her experiences with lip sewing as a form of play piercing”.

My reason for writing this blog was prompted by a case study published by Dr. Safak Taktak and his colleagues in the journal Health Care Current Reviews. (I ought to add that I have read a number of papers by Taktak and his colleagues as they have reported some interesting other interesting case studies including those on shoe fetishism, semen fetishism, and fetishes more generally – see ‘Further reading’ below). In this particular paper, they reported the case of a male prisoner who had continually sewed his lips together. Although they were aware of cases of sewing lips together as a form of protest, they claimed that there had never been any case reported in the medical literature.


The case report involved a male 37-year old Turkish (imprisoned) farmer, father of two children, with only basic education. After sewing his lips together, the man was brought into the hospital by the police, along with a handwritten note that read: “My jinns imposed speech ban to me and they made me sew my lips unwillingly. Otherwise, they threaten me with my children. I want to meet a psychiatrist urgently”. (Jinns I later learned are – in Arabian and Muslim mythology – intelligent spirits of lower rank than the angels, able to appear in human and animal forms and are able to possess humans). Not only were his lips sown together with black thread but he had also sewn both of his ears to the side of his head (these are also photographed in the paper and you can download the report free from here). This was actually the fourth time the man had sewed his lips together (but the first that he had sewn his ears). Each time, the doctors took out the stitches and dressed the wounds. The authors examined previous documentation about the man and reported that the man had been in prison for four years after injuring someone (no details were provided) and had been diagnosed with both anxiety disorder and anti-social personality disorder. On a prison ward comprising ten other prisoners, he had attempted suicide when trying to hang himself (in fact, you can clearly see the marks on his neck in the paper’s photographs). The authors reported that:

[The man] had blunted affect. He wasn’t able to stay in the [prison] ward because of the directive voices in his head. He declared he needed to stay in the ward alone. He heard all the words as swearing and he was punished by some people as well as some entities. He also said that some jinns in the form of animals threatened him not to speak and listen to anyone; otherwise they were going to kill his kids. He wanted to protect his children [and] he stitched his lips not to speak anyone and stitched his ears not to hear anyone. In his family history, he stated that his uncle committed suicide by hanging himself and saying ‘the birds are calling me’; his father was schizophrenia-diagnosed”.

The authors then reported:

“The patient stated that he sewed his lips with any colour of thread he could find. He had approximately fifteen pinholes on his upper and lower lips. He tended to suicide with directive auditory and visual hallucination (sic) and reference paranoid delirium. As he was imprisoned, he wasn’t able to use drugs. The patient who was thought to have a psychotic disorder was injected [with] 10 mg haloperidol intramuscularly and he was sent to a safe psychiatry hospital”.

As I have noted in my previous blogs on self-harming behaviour (and as noted in this particular paper), there are many different definitions of what constitutes self-destructive behaviour. This particular case was said to be suited to the psychotic behaviours characterised by Dr. Armando Favazza’s three self-destructive behaviours (i.e., compulsive, typical, and psychotic) outlined in his 1992 paper ‘Repetitive self-mutilation’ (published in the journal Psychiatry Annals). In their discussion of the case, the authors noted:

“The cases like sewing one’s own lips which we observe as a different type of destructing oneself in our case are mostly regarded as intercultural expression of feelings. The ones, who sew their lips in order to protest something, show their reactions by blocking the nutrition intake organ to the ones who want to continue their superiority. It can be expected in psychotic cases that the patients or his beloved ones might be harmed, damaged or affected emotionally. Thus, the patient who is furious and anxious might react by [attempting] violence as a reaction to these repetitive threats. Auditory hallucinations giving orders can cause the aggressive behaviours to start…In our psychotic case, this kind of behaviour is a way to prevent the voices coming from his inner world, not to answer them and hence making passive defending to world which he does not want to interact. By this means, he may harmonise with the secret natural powers which affect him and he may protect himself his children…[also] there can be a relief through sewing lips and ears or strangulation against the oppression created by the person not being able to adapt the prison…It should not be forgotten that the prison is a stressful environment and stressful living [increases] the disposition to psychopathologic behaviour that the living difficulties in prisons can affect the way of thinking and the capacity of coping and it may cause different psychiatric incidences”.

As noted at the start of this article, lip sewing is typically attributed to religious reasons, reasons of protest or aesthetic reasons. In this particular case, none of these reasons was apparent (and therefore notable – in the medical and psychiatric literature at the very least). The addition of sewing his ears appears to be even more rare, and thus warrants further research.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Favazza, A.R. (1992). Repetitive self-mutilation. Psychiatric Annals, 22(2), 60-63.

Taktak, S., Ersoy, S., Ünsal, A., & Yetkiner, M. (2014). The man who sewed his mouth and ears: A case report. Health Care Current Reviews, 2(121), 2.

Taktak, S., Karakus, M., & Eke, S. M. (2015). The man whose fetish object is ejaculate: A case report. Journal of Psychiatry, 18(276), 2.

Taktak, S., Karakuş, M., Kaplan, A., & Eke, S. M. (2015). Shoe fetishism and kleptomania comorbidity: A case report. European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, 2, 14-19.

Taktak, S., Yılmaz, E., Karamustafalıoglu, O., & Ünsal, A. (2016). Characteristics of paraphilics in Turkey: A retrospective study – 20years. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, in press.

Wikipedia (2016). Lip sewing. Located at:

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