To me, shoes (and the psychology of them) have always been a trivial topic. However, maybe I just haven’t got my finger on the pulse (or should that be my foot on the pedal?) Here are a few quotes that I came across while researching this blog:
- “Shoes are totems of Disembodied Lust. They are candy for the eyes, poetry for the feet, icing on your soul. They stand for everything you’ve ever wanted: glamour, success, a rapier like wit, a date with the Sex God of your choice…They seem to have the magic power to make you into someone else, someone without skin problems, someone without thin hair, someone without a horsy laugh. And they do” (Mimi Pond, in her 1985 book Shoes Never Lie).
- “Almost every woman is not only conscious of her feet, but sex conscious about them” (Andre Perugia, shoe designer).
- “Shoes are seen by most of those studied as revealing age, sex, and personality and as creating moods and capturing memories. For adolescents, shoes are a key signifier of their identities, and the shoes they desire often conflict what their parents regard as appropriate. Shoes appear as a key vehicle through which adolescents and young adults work out issues of identity, individualism, conformity, lifestyle, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and personality” (Dr. Russell Belk in a 2003 issue of Advances in Consumer Research).
According to Dr. Russell Belk (who has written lots of great papers on the psychology of collecting that I have referred to in a number of my previous blogs), the average woman in the USA owns over 30 pairs of shoes. Citing from William Rossi’s 1976 book The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe, Belk also claimed that 80% of shoes are bought for purposes of sexual attraction. He also noted that:
“Shoes figure prominently in stories and fairytales, including Cinderella (a highly sexualized tale in it’s more original versions), Puss ‘n’ Boots, Seven League Boots, The Wizard of Oz, The Red Shoes, and The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, as well a more contemporary tales. Shoes and our desire for them are the objects of art, satire, museum exhibitions, [and] films. And they are the objects of a growing number of histories, catalogs, essays, and tributes…As all of this attention suggests, what we wear on our feet is far from a matter of indifference or utilitarianism” (Please note that I removed all the academic references and just cited the text).
These selective quotes all seem to point to the special place that shoes seem to hold in some people’s lives, and that there can be a sexualized element to them. For a small minority of people, shoes can become a sexual fetish either on its own or overlapping with other sexual praphilias including clothing fetishes, foot fetishism (podophilia), pedal pumping, transvestite fetishism, sexual sadism, and sexual masochism. Obviously it is the restrictive types of clothing that are most associated with sadomasochistic activity. This includes very high heel shoes (which make it difficult to walk) and which I examined in a previous blog on altocalciphilia (a sexual paraphilia specifically related to high-heeled shoes). As Valerie Steele noted in her 1996 book Fetish, Fashion, Sex and Power, the shoe (like the corset), was one of the first items of clothing to be treated as a fetish.
In a previous blog on sexual fetishism more generally, I wrote about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5,000 fetishists (but was likely to be a lot more). Their results showed that there were 44,722 members of online fetish forums with a fetishistic and/or paraphilic sexual interest in feet (47% of all ‘body part’ fetishists that they encountered). Among those people preferring objects related to body parts, footwear (shoes, boots, etc.) was the second most preferred (26,739 online fetish forum members; 32% of all objects related to body parts) just behind objects wore on the legs and/or buttocks (33%).
A Master’s thesis by Ash Sancaktar explored the “many paradoxes inherent in shoes in collecting, consuming, fashioning, representing, and wearing them”. The thesis also examined the significance of shoes in a number of different disciplines i.e., history, fashion, sociology, psychology and dance) as well as sexuality (with a large part of one chapter devoted to shoe fetishism). The chapter noted:
“Foot fetishism has been a powerful sub-division of sex since shoes were first created. Many scholars accept feet were used as convenient metaphors for the genitalia. Keen, perhaps, to downplay emphasis on the generative process, the belief set of many pagan religions, the ancient Hebrews took the foot and made it a gender icon. According to Brame, the definition of foot fetishism is a pronounced sexual interest in the lower limb or anything that covers portions of them. The allure normally attributed to erogenous zones is literally translocated downward and the fetishist response to the foot is the same as a conventional person’s arousal at seeing genitals. (Brame & Jacobs 1996). Freud considered foot binding as a form of fetishism…Foot fetishists tend to keep their inclination concealed for fear of social ridicule or other apprehensions. Published research indicates fetishists have poorly developed social skills, are quite isolated in their lives and have a diminished capacity for establishing intimacy. Rossi (1990) reported the majority of male fetishists were married, living perfectly conventional lives with their spouse, who in turn was fully aware of partner’s behaviours and preferences”.
Unsurprisingly, Sancaktar asserts that shoe fetishists are similar to foot fetishists but their stimulus (the shoe) becomes the total focus for arousal (rather than the foot within it). He cites Freud and says that he considered the shoe as symbolically representing female genitalia and that the foot symbolically represented a male phallus and when the foot entered the shoe, the union was symbolically complete. (Annoyingly, Freud doesn’t appear in the references so I am unsure which of Freud’s works is being referred to). Quoting from Valerie Steele’s book, he also notes that “The naked foot itself is not as erotically appealing, the shoe raises up the foot and gives it mystery and allure so it’s not just a piece of meat”. He then goes on to say that:
“According to [Steele], since the 1880s, high heeled shoes have been almost entirely associated with femininity with the exception of cowboy boots. Retifists usually collect women’s shoes and have exquisite taste for elegant style. Their preference covers the seven basic shoe styles described by Rossi (1993) and materials such as leather and furs often influence their choice. Retifists will personalize their collection by giving names to their favourite shoes. Freud was convinced all women were clothes fetishist, and believed clothes were worn to provocatively shield the erotic body. Most authorities now acknowledge there is a difference between foot and shoe fetishism and someone who innocently collects shoes…There are degrees of fetishes, according to Steele. Using the example of high heeled shoes, she said that most people are level one or two, finding them appealing. Her example of level three was a French writer who followed women in Paris wearing high heeled shoes. She gave for an example of level four, Marla Maples’ ex-publicist, who was found guilty of stealing Maples’ shoes. ‘He denied being a fetishist, but admitted that he had a sexual relationship with Marla’s shoes’, Steele said”.
Sancaktar uses the work of McDowell (and more specifically his 1989 book Shoes, Fashion and Fantasy) and briefly explores the alleged aphrodisiac qualities of some shoewear including the use of tight lacing:
“Tight lacing excites desire not just because it has a constraining effect but also because it carries the promise of release. This is why stays have always been such a powerful aphrodisiac. Both the tying and untying can have a strong sexual charge – a fact that shoe makers have been aware of for a very long time [McDowell, 1989]”.
Sancaktar also talks about the rise of mules and why they are considered the most seductive shoes and a rival for the traditional sexiest footwear (i.e., the stiletto):
“There are so many kinds of fetish shoes over a long period of time. Mules were originally simple, flat, backless slippers. Originally it evolved as a form of footwear for the boudoir, worn by the most fashionable of ladies and the most exclusive of courtesans. In the Rococo period mules were popular also for men and they had the romantic connotations. By the eighteenth century they had evolved into backless shoes on high heels. Today mules, which are known also as ‘slides’ are believed to be among the most seductive of all shoes, because they leave the foot half undressed. Fetish mules stand tall with the stiletto heel, and are decorate with an unexpected pattern. It is worn by women who don’t entirely realize what they say, historically and presently, to admirers yet know they look sexy”.
As with many other fetishes that I have covered in my blog, there is little empirical research on shoe fetishism. I know of no research that has pathologized the behavior and as such is unlikely to be the focus of scientific and/or clinical enquiry.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Belk, R. W. (2003). Shoes and self. Advances in Consumer Research, 30, 27-33.
Brame, G.G. & Jacobs J. (1996). Different loving: A Complete Exploration of the World of Sexual Dominance and Submission. New York: Villard.
McDowell, C. (1989). Shoes, Fashion and Fantasy. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Pond, Mimi (1985). Shoes Never Lie. New York: Berkley Publishing Group.
Rossi, W.A. (1976). The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing.
Sancaktar, A. (2006). An analysis of shoe within the context of social history of fashion (Doctoral dissertation, İzmir Institute of Technology).
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.
Steele, V, (1996). Fetish, Fashion, Sex and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Weinberg, M.S., Williams, C.J. & Calhan, C. (1995). “If the shoe fits…” Exploring male homosexual foot fetishism. Journal of Sex Research, 32, 17-27.
Displeasures of the flesh: A brief look at anthropophagolagnia and paraphilic behaviour in serial killers
In previous blogs I have examined the psychology of sexual cannibalism and erotophonophilia (aka ‘lust murder’) as well as an article that I wrote on serial killers that collect their victims’ body parts as ‘trophies’. One very rare sub-type of both sexual cannibalism and erotophonophilia is anthropophagolagnia. This particular type of sexual paraphilia has been defined by Dr Anil Aggrawal as the paraphilia of “rape with cannibalism” and by the Right Diagnosis website as “sexual urges, preferences or fantasies involving raping and then cannibalizing the victim”.
The Listaholic website goes as far to say that anthropophagolagnia is one of the ten “most bizarre sexual fetishes on earth” claiming that serial killer is the “poster boy” for these “twisted” individuals. Other serial killers that might be classed as anthropophagolagniacs include Albert Fish, Peter Kirsten, Ottis Toole and Ed Gein. However, there also appear to be cases of what I would call ‘systematic anthropophagolagnia’ if the extract I found online is true:
“While it is easy to dismiss one case as stemming from some sort of neurological aberrations in the participants, we also see sexualized cannibalism in modern day Africa. In the early 2000s in Congo, rape and cannibalism were reported to coincide sporadically across the region. The claims are backed by a UN investigation into the phenomena…Rebels would go into villages and rape the women and children, then dismember them alive while eating their flesh. There are many reports of family members being forced to eat the flesh of other murdered family members after being raped…The men committing these atrocities do not have any neurological aberrations, they simply have the power to exercise this behavior. While cannibalism has been practiced in Africa as part of spiritual traditions for centuries, sadistic sexualized torture is not part of that tradition. So why add it in? Presumably the rebels didn’t all happen to be born child rapists either, yet raping children is part of their terror campaign and they must be able to achieve an erection to carry out the task, and so it must be assumed they learned to like it”.
Last year, I also read about 40-year old preacher Stephen Tari, the leader of a 6,000-strong cannibal rape cult in Papua New Guinea. He was in prison following his conviction for a brutal rape but escaped (only to be killed by people from his village in retaliation for the cannibalistic rape murders he had committed). As a report in The Independent noted:
“[Tari] had previously been accused of raping, murdering and eating three girls in front of their traumatised mothers…The charismatic cult leader, who wore white robes and is said to have regularly drunk the blood of his ‘flower girls’, quickly returned to his home village of Gal after [a prison] escape, but could only manage six months before killing yet again…It has not yet been established if the murdered woman was killed as part of a blood sacrifice, but it is considered likely as Tari was said to have been attempting to resurrect his cult following the spell in prison”.
Dr. Eric Hickey (in his book Serial Murderers and Their Victims) notes that paraphilic behaviour is very common among those that commit sexual crimes (and that more than one is often present) but that the two activities (sex offending and paraphilias) may be two independent constructs and that one does not necessarily affect the other. In fact he notes that:
“Rather than paraphilia being caused by sexual pathology, they may be better understood as one of many forms of general social deviance…For the male serial killer, the paraphilia engaged in usually has escalated from softer forms to those that are considered not only criminal but violent as well. They range from unusual to incredibly bizarre and disgusting. As paraphilia develop, men affected by them often engage in several over a period of time. Most men who engage in paraphilia often exhibit three or four different forms, some of them simultaneously. For those with violent tendencies, soft paraphilia can quickly lead to experimentation with hardcore paraphilia that often involves the harming of others in sexual ways. For example, some paraphilic offenders prefer to stalk and sexually assault their victims in stores and other public places without getting caught. The thrill of hunting an unsuspecting victim contributes to sexually arousing the offender”.
Hickey asserts that anthropophagolagnia is one of the so-called ‘attack paraphilias’ (as opposed to the ‘preparatory paraphilias’). Attack paraphilias are described by Hickey as being sexually violent (towards other individuals including children in extreme circumstances). Preparatory paraphilias are defined by Hickey as those “that have been found as part of the lust killer’s sexual fantasies and activities” (including those that display anthropophagolagnia). However, Hickey notes that individuals that engage in preparatory paraphilias do not necessarily go on to become serial killers. He then goes on to say:
“The process of sexual fantasy development may include stealing items from victims. Burglary, although generally considered to be a property crime, also is sometimes a property crime for sexual purposes. Stealing underwear, toiletries, hair clippings, photographs, and other personal items provides the offender with souvenirs for him to fantasize over”.
Some of the examples Hickey cites are both revealing and psychologically interesting:
“One offender noted how he would climax each time he entered a victim’s home through a window. The thought of being alone with people sleeping in the house had become deeply eroticized. Another offender likes to break into homes and watch victims sleep. He eventually will touch the victim and will only leave when she begins to scream. He ‘began’ his sexual acting out as a voyeur. This paraphilic process was also examined by Purcell and Arrigo (2001), who note that the process consists of mutually interactive elements: paraphilic stimuli and fantasy; orgasmic conditioning process; and facilitators (drugs, alcohol, and pornography). The probability of the offender harming a victim is extremely high given the progressive nature of his sexual fantasies”.
Along with anthropophagolagnia, other ‘attack paraphilias’ that have been associated with serial killers include amokoscisia (sexual arousal or sexual frenzy from a desire to slash or mutilate other individuals [typically women]), anophelorastia (sexual arousal from defiling or ravaging another individual), biastophilia (sexual arousal from violently raping other individuals; also called raptophilia), dippoldism (sexual arousal from abusing children, typically in the form of spanking and corporal punishment), necrophilia (sexual arousal from having sex with acts with dead individuals), paedophilia (sexual arousal from having sex with minors typically via manipulation and grooming), and sexual sadism (empowerment and sexual arousal derived from inflicting pain and/or injuring other individuals).
The ‘preparatory paraphilias’ that typically precede serial killing and attack paraphilias such as anthropophagolagnia include agonophilia (sexual arousal caused by a sexual partner pretending to struggle), altocalciphilia (sexual arousal from high-heeled shoes), autonecrophilia (sexual arousal by imagining oneself as a dead person), exhibitionism (exposing genitals to inappropriate and/or non-consenting people for sexual arousal), frottage (sexual arousal from rubbing up against the body against a sexual partner or object), gerontophilia (sexual arousal from someone whose age is older and that of a different generation), hebephilia (men that are sexually aroused by aroused by teenagers), kleptolagnia (sexual arousal from stealing), retifism (sexual arousal from shoes), scatophilia (sexual arousal via making telephone calls, using vulgar language, and/or trying to elicit a reaction from the other party), scoptophilia (sexual arousal by watching others [typically engaged in sexual behaviour] without their consent, and more usually referred to as voyeurism), and somnophilia (sexual arousal from fondling strangers in their sleep). The multiplicity of co-existent paraphilias (including anthropophagolagnia) is highlighted by the Wikipedia entry on Jeffrey Dahmer:
“Dahmer readily admitted to having engaged in a number of paraphilic behaviors, including necrophilia, exhibitionism, hebephilia, fetishism, pygmalionism, and erotophonophilia. He is also known to have several partialisms, including anthropophagy (also known as cannibalism). One particular focus of Dahmer’s partialism was the victim’s chest area. By his own admission, what caught his attention to Steven Hicks hitchhiking in 1978 was the fact the youth was bare-chested; he also conceded it was possible that his viewing the exposed chest of Steven Tuomi in 1987 while in a drunken stupor may have led him to unsuccessfully attempt to tear Tuomi’s heart from his chest. Moreover, almost all the murders Dahmer committed from 1990 onwards involved a ritual of posing the victims’ bodies in suggestive positions – many pictures taken prior to dismemberment depict the victims’ bodies with the chest thrust outwards. Dahmer also derived sexual pleasure from the viscera of his victims; he would often masturbate and ejaculate into the body cavity and at other times, literally used the internal organs as a masturbatory aid”.
Almost nothing is known empirically about anthropophagolagnia except that it is very rare and that almost all information about it comes from serial killers that have been caught. Explanations for the development of anthropophagolagnia can only be speculated but are likely to be no different from the development of other paraphilic behaviour. Hickey (citing Irwin Sarason and Barbara Sarason’s Abnormal Psychology textbook) notes five key explanations for the development of paraphilias (reproduced below verbatim):
- Psychodynamic – paraphilic behavior as a manifestation of unresolved conflicts during psychosexual development;
- Behavioral – paraphilia is developed through conditioning, modeling, reinforcement, punishment, and rewards, the same process that normal sexual activity is learned;
- Cognitive – paraphilia become substitutes for appropriate social and sexual functioning or the inability to develop satisfying marital relationships;
- Biological – heredity, prenatal hormone environment, and factors contributing to gender identity can facilitate paraphilic interests. Other explanations are linked to brain malfunctioning and chromosomal abnormalities;
- Interactional – that development of paraphilia is a process that results from psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, and biological factors.
As an eclectic, I favour the interactional explanation for the existence of anthropophagolagnia but also believe that the most important influences are the behavioural aspects via classical and operant conditioning processes.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Hall, J. (2013). ‘Black Jesus’ murder: Leader of 6,000-strong cannibal rape cult hacked to death by villagers in Papua New Guinea jungle after killing yet again. The Independent, August 30. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/black-jesus-murder-leader-of-6000strong-cannibal-rape-cult-hacked-to-death-by-villagers-in-papua-new-guinea-jungle-after-killing-yet-again-8791967.html
Hickey, E. W. (Ed.). (2003). Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime. London: Sage Publications
Hickey, E. W. (2010). Serial Murderers and Their Victims (Fifth Edition). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Purcell, C., and B. Arrigo. (2001). Explaining paraphilias and lust murder: Toward an integrated model. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 45(1), 6–31.
Sarason, I. G. and B. R. Sarason. (2004). Abnormal Psychology, 11th Edition. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
Wikipedia (2014). Jeffrey Dahmer. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Dahmer
“Nothing has been invented yet that will do a better job than high heels at making a good pair of legs look great, or great ones look fabulous” (Stuart Weitzman, shoe designer).
“It is hard not to be sexy in a pair of high heels” (Tom Ford, Gucci designer and film director)
According to Dr. Russell Belk in a 2003 article (‘Shoes and Self’) in Advances In Consumer Research, individuals in the USA “buy approximately a billion pairs of footwear a year and 80 percent of these are estimated to be purchased for purposes of sexual attraction”. Belk’s figures come from Dr. William Rossi who has been writing scientific papers on shoes for decades. I have no idea whether these figures are (or were) accurate, but there is little doubt that when it comes to sexual fetishism, shoes – and particularly high heel shoes – are one of the most common types of object that people develop fetishes for.
Individuals with a shoe fetish derive sexual arousal from shoes and footwear as (according to the Wikipedia entry) “a matter of sexual preference, psychosexual disorder, and an alternative or complement to a relationship with a partner”. As I noted in my previous blog on foot fetishism (i.e., podophilia), shoe fetishism is also referred to as retifism (named after French novelist Nicolas-Edme Rétif). The Wikipedia entry on shoe fetishism also notes that:
Individuals with shoe fetishism can be erotically interested in either men’s or women’s shoes. Although shoes may appear to carry sexual connotations in mainstream culture (for example, women’s shoes are commonly sold as being ‘sexy’) this opinion refers to an ethnographic or cultural context, and is likely not intended to be taken literally. Another fetishism, which sometimes is seen as related to shoe fetishism, is boot fetishism”.
In a previous blog on sexual fetishism more generally, I wrote about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum 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). Their results showed that there were 44,722 members of online fetish forums, among those people preferring objects related to body parts, footwear (shoes, boots, etc.) was the second most preferred (26,739 online fetish forum members; 32% of all ‘objects related to body parts) just behind objects wore on the legs and/or buttocks (33%).
As the opening quotes highlight, high heeled footwear is often associated with sexiness. Those that find allure of high heels sexually arousing are said to have altocalciphilia (a sub-type of shoe fetishism). The online medical website Right Diagnosis says that the defining features of altocalciphilia are (i) a sexual interest in high heels, (ii) an abnormal amount of time spent thinking about high heels, (iii) recurring intense sexual fantasies involving high heels, (iv) recurring intense sexual urges involving high heels, and/or (v) a sexual preference for high heels. I am not aware of any empirical research specifically into altocalciphilia but in researching this article, I did come across an interesting 2006 Master’s thesis by Ash Sancaktar who provided an analysis of shoes within the context of social history of fashion (including a chapter on shoe fetishism). In relation to high heel shoes, Sancaktar wrote that:
“There is no solid evidence that definite heels existed anywhere before 1500. According to legend, early 1500s the high heel may have been invented by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). There are earlier records of high heel shoes that served a practical function such as heeled boots horse riders wore to grip their stirrups better. However, 1533 was the year that gave birth to the high heel that served no purpose other than beauty and vanity. Catherine de Medici, when she got married to the Duke of Orleans, wore shoes with two-inch heels because she was sensitive about her lack of height…The development of a proper heel with an arched sole was the dominant feature of shoes in the seventeenth century. Elevated shoes had been known from early Hellenic times however this phase of fashion was the first time shoes were associated with the female sex. It completely altered the posture of the wearer, encouraging both men and women to carry themselves in a way which set off the flowing lines and affected manner of the Baroque period…Practicality has little to do with female high heels. They have always been essentially about allure – as they are today”.
Sancaktar also notes the association between high heeled shoes and sadomasochism by making reference to the (semi-autobiographical) book Venus in Furs by Baron Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch (from whom the term ‘masochism’ originated). Sancaktar reported that Sacher-Masoch] wrote about his experiences with his mistress in which he allowed her to whip and walk on him before kissing the shoes that had caused him pain. Sacher-Masoch’s ideal woman was cruel and wore furs and high heels. Citing the work of Linda O’Keeffe and Valerie Steele, Sancaktar wrote:
“According to [Linda] O’Keeffe ‘Women may wear slippers, put on sneakers and slip into loafers, but they dress in high heels’ (O’Keeffe 1996, p. 72). Psychologically, high heels give permission to lead than to follow. A woman might become a towering seductress or she can choose to become the subject of the object of a male…According to [Valerie] Steele, one reason high heels are considered sexy is because they produce an erect ankle and extended leg. The arch of the foot is radically curved like a ballet dancer on point. The entire lower body is thrown into a state of tension resembling that of female sexual arousal (Steele 1998, p. 18). By tilting the pelvis, her lower back arches, her spine and legs lengthen and her chest thrust out. The breasts thrust forward, and the derriére protrudes. A woman in high heels looks taller and thinner. Her legs are emphasized and the leg muscles tighten, the calves appear shapelier. And because they are at an angle, her feet look smaller and more pointed”.
Valerie Steele also notes that fetishes come in various degrees (which I agree with) and uses the example of high heeled shoe fetishes to make her point and claims there are four different levels. She claims most people are among the two lowest levels (and basically equates to people finding high heels sexually appealing). Steele provides an example of someone at level three (a French writer who would follow high heeled women women in Paris). Her example of level four was the ex-publicist of Marla Maples’ who was found guilty of stealing Maples’ shoes. Steele said the publicist “denied being a fetishist, but admitted that he had a sexual relationship with Marla’s shoes”.
This need to steal shoes appears to be backed up by podophilia and retifism articles on the ToeSlayer website:
“Possession of shoes is important to the retifist and in cases of paraphilia, men may steal the shoes they are attracted to. Kiernan (1917, reported in Rossi, 1990) first described the term kleptomania which was used when theft took place when associated with sexual excitement. ‘Hephephilia’ is a term used when there is an uncontrollable urge to steal the objects of specific focus. Many hephephiliacs are ordinary people with no criminal intention other than a compulsion to possess the object of their desire due to a repressed or complicated sex life…Many retifists keep copious records of their activities all of which adds to their excitement…It is important exploring also the symbolism and fetishism of high heels. The erotic literature on shoe fetishism often associates high heels with the image of the ‘phallic woman’. According to [Valerie] Steele, submission to the powerful ‘phallic woman’ is a very popular fantasy”.
“The allure of high heels (altocalciphilia) for some people is very strong. Subconsciously this may relate to a primal instinct to identify lame prey. Throughout recorded history limping in others has been seen both as a physical weakness as well as a sexually attractive impediment. Wearing high heeled shoes can accentuate the limping characteristics in a very tantalising way…High heels are also thought to place the female pelvis in a precoital position. Whether or not this is true, the idea by itself, may cause arousal. Long legs are thought a strong arousal signal (Lloyd-Elliott, 2006). Men may be attracted to women in heels because it appeals to their superior nature seeing a member of the opposite sex vulnerable…Today, heeled shoes are very much part of the bondage ritual (Rossi, 1997) and sado-masochists maybe attracted to the perceived pain associated with wearing high-heeled shoes”.
Most of the academic writing I have read on this topic is anecdotal at best. There is much speculating and theorizing but little data. However, there is no doubt that high heel fetishism exists and that of all fetishes it appears to be one of the most common.
Belk, R.W. (2003). Shoes and self. Advances In Consumer Research, 30, 27-33.
Kunjukrishnan, R., Pawlak, A. & Varan, L.R. (1988). The clinical and forensic psychiatric issues of retifism. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 33, 819-825.
Kunzie, D. (2013). Fashion and Fetishism: Corsets, Tight Lacing and Other Forms of Body-Sculpture. The History Press
O’Keeffe, L. (1999). Scarpe Una Celebrazione di Scarpe da Sera, Sandali, Pantofole e Altro. Hong Kong: Sing Cheong Printing Company.
Rossi WA (1990). Foot and shoe fetishism: Part one. Journal of Current Podiatric Medicine, 39(9), 9-23.
Rossi WA (1990). Foot and shoe fetishism: Part two. Journal of Current Podiatric Medicine, 39(10), 16-20.
Sancaktar, A. (2006). An analysis of shoe within the context of social history of fashion (Doctoral dissertation, İzmir Institute of Technology)
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.
Steele, V., 1998. Shoes, A Lexicon of Style, (Co & Bear Productions, London).
Steele, V. (2001). Fashion, fetish, fantasy. Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Marginality, 73-82
Wikipedia (2014). Boot fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boot_fetishism
Wikipedia (2014). Shoe fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoe_fetishism
“Okay so I was chatting on a website and this guy approached me saying he wanted to be blackmailed for money. He told me he would give me $100 on Thursday if I logged into his Facebook account and humiliated him. I’m a little freaked out, but what should I tell him??” (query from ‘answers.yahoo.com‘)
In a previous blog I examined hybristophilia (a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal and pleasure from having a sexual partner who is known to have committed serious crimes, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery). Another criminally-related paraphilia is chremastistophilia. In this paraphilia, the individual derives sexual arousal and pleasure from being robbed, conned, cheated, blackmailed and/or being held up by the individual’s sexual partner (or in a few cases, a complete stranger). Some websites (such as kinkify.com) colloquially refer to it as the “hold-up kink”.
Some have speculated that the strong emotions of frustration, fear, annoyance, rage, and/or submission are subconsciously drawn upon by chremastistophiles and then focused into sexual arousal/gratification. This could be viewed as ‘edge play’ (i.e., rough and deviant sexual play enjoyed by sexual masochists and sexual sadists) as the behaviour can be life threatening for chremasistophiles to actively seek out someone to steal from them purely for sexual kicks.
The reciprocal condition where the sexual focus is on charging or robbing one’s sexual partner has not been given a name. Those people who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from breaking and entering a property (and then stealing) is known as kleptophilia (which I overviewed in a previous blog). In my research into chremastistophilia, I have yet to come across a single piece of empirical research on the topic. Most of the evidence appears to be anecdotal. For instance, the cult novelist and multi-media artist Kris Saknussemm has noted:
“I’ve met several chremastistophiles, all of whom had been arrested on petty charges at some point in their lives – drug possession, minor theft, etc. All expressed a strong libido, but also a climax dysfunction. They got aroused, they just didn’t get off easily. What magical thing finally provided that long-awaited release? The experience of being taken advantage of – which is different from out-and-out assault. It’s a variation on biastophilia, the perverse attraction to being raped, but the key distinction seems to lie in the impending threat itself. “Give me your wallet and nobody gets hurt” – that kind of thing. One British gentleman proudly displayed the scar he received from a knife wound in the course of a mugging – an event which he said led to a spontaneous ejaculation, the most powerful and substantial he’d ever experienced”
Dr Billi Gordon and Dr James Elias claim that chremastistophilia is accepted as potentially lethal alongside other criminally related paraphilias such as hybristophilia and autassassinophilia (where the individual derives sexual arousal by the by the risk of being killed). Unfortunately, I cannot find a single academic or clinical study that has ever been published in a peer reviewed journal so this is clearly an area that is crying out for some empirical research. There was a theoretical paper published in 2004 on autassassinophila by Lisa Downing (Queen Mary, University of London). She used used the case of Sharon Lopatka, a Maryland woman who instigated her own sexual murder in 1996. She said:
“It demonstrates that the phenomenon of being murdered for pleasure problematizes commonplace assumptions about the legitimacy to consent. The discussion recalls and refreshes existing debates in feminism and the politics of sadomasochism and reads them alongside the rhetoric surrounding the ethics of medically assisted suicide. Consenting to murder for pleasure is revealed as a formulation that exceeds the terms of informed consent as it is currently understood and thereby constitutes an ethical and logical aporia”.
Another strange paraphilia with a potentially criminally-based sexual focus is symphorophilia. This is a paraphilia that Professor John Money said related to individuals who derive sexual arousal and pleasure from witnessing and/or stage-managing a “disaster, such as a conflagration or traffic accident, and watching for it to happen”. Again, I have yet to come across any empirical research on the topic although I did briefly examine this paraphilia in relation to sex and cars in one of my previous blogs (and another blog I wrote on objectum sexuality). It has been alleged that in very rare cases, an accident that may injure or even kill someone may bring the symphorophile to the point of orgasm quicker. The condition is probably better known in popular culture than in academic terms. For instance, the main characters in the 1973 novel Crash by British author J.G. Ballard (and the subsequent 1996 film adaptation of the same name) were symphorophiles. Part of the Crash Wikipedia entry on Ballard’s Crash novel motes:
“The story is told through the eyes of narrator James Ballard, named after the author himself, but it centers on the sinister figure of Dr. Robert Vaughan, a ‘former TV-scientist, turned nightmare angel of the expressways’. Ballard meets Vaughan after being involved in a car accident himself near London Airport. Gathering around Vaughan is a group of alienated people, all of them former crash-victims, who follow him in his pursuit to re-enact the crashes of celebrities, and experience what the narrator calls ‘a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology’. Vaughan’s ultimate fantasy is to die in a head-on collision with movie star Elizabeth Taylor”.
In the film, the Wikipedia entry notes:
“Ballard becomes one of Vaughan’s followers who fetishise car accidents, obsessively watching car safety test videos and photographing traffic accident sites. Ballard drives Vaughan’s Lincoln convertible around the city while Vaughan picks up and uses street prostitutes, and later Ballard’s wife. In turn, Ballard has a dalliance with one of the other group members, Gabrielle a beautiful woman whose legs are clad in restrictive steel braces, and who has a vulva-like scar on the back of one of her thighs, which is used as a substitute for a vagina by Ballard. The film’s sexual couplings in (or involving) cars are not restricted to heterosexual experiences. While watching videos of car crashes, Dr. Remington becomes extremely aroused and gropes the crotches of both Ballard and Gabrielle, suggesting an imminent ménage a trios”.
As with chremastistophilia, I have been unable to find a single clinical or academic study published in a peer-reviewed journal so it wouldn’t be too much an educated guess that such a paraphilia is incredibly rare.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Downing, L. (2004). On the limits of sexual ethics: The phenomenology of autassassinophilia. Sexuality and Culture, 8, 3-17.
Gordon, W.A. & Elias, J.E. (2005). Potentially lethal modes of sexual expression. Paper presented at the 2005 Western Region Annual Conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.
Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books
Money, J. (1986). Lovemaps: Clinical concepts of sexual/erotic health and pathology, paraphilia, and gender transposition in childhood, adolescence, and maturity. New York: Irvington.
Wikipedia (undated). Crash (1996 film). Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crash_(1996_film)
Wikipedia (undated). Crash (J.G. Ballard novel). Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crash_(J._G._Ballard_novel)
In a review of paraphilias not otherwise specified (P-NOS), Dr Joel Milner and colleagues defined kleptophilia – also known as kleptolagnia – as a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual arousal from illegally entering and stealing from someone’s house. For some kleptophiles, sexual arousal may occur when looking at, thinking about, or engaging in sexual play with the stolen object. If the things stolen (e.g., such as ladies’ knickers) are the sole sexual focus, then it would be classed as fetishism. may be the appropriate diagnosis. If the behaviour itself (e.g., the act of actually stealing something) is the sexual focus (rather than the stolen items), then it would be classed as kleptophilia (i.e., because the sexual arousal derives from either the act of stealing the items or the fact the items were stolen, the object itself is not considered sexual). Furthermore, this would be classed by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as a P-NOS. In extreme cases, kleptophilia is sometimes associated with sexual sadism. For example, a 1991 paper by Dr. Lauren Boglioli and colleagues in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology reported that kleptophiles may sexually assault and/or rape the owner of the house that was burgled.
There has been relatively little research on kleptophilia and much of what is known comes from case studies (typically those who have been caught and arrested for the crime committed). The origin of the stolen item (i.e., whose item it is) may have some personal meaning for the kleptophile but for others it may be of no psychological consequence at all. The item may need to have belonged to someone personally significant for the act of stealing the item to be considered sexually pleasurable to the kleptophile. It has also been said that some kleptophiles may engage in their paraphilic behaviour legally by pre-arranging with a third party to have something stolen from their house. However, it is thought that most kleptophilic events are non-consensual and illegal, and thus result in criminal records for those kleptophiles that are caught.
Early writings by the psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel drew attention to the notion that stealing may have a sexual sense, and that doing a forbidden thing secretly may be a means of masturbation. Fenichel also asserted that for some people who steal, the sexual meaning is in the foreground and are therefore closer to being a paraphilia, and that the stolen object is the fetish itself.
In a 1999 issue of the Journal Of The American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, Dr. Louis Schlesinger and Dr. Eugene Revitch reported that:
“Burglary, the third most common crime after larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft, is rarely the focus of forensic psychiatric study. While most burglaries are motivated simply by material gain, there is a subgroup of burglaries fueled by sexual dynamics. [We] differentiate two types of sexual burglaries: (1) fetish burglaries with overt sexual dynamics; and (2) voyeuristic burglaries, in which the sexual element is often covert and far more subtle. Many forensic practitioners have informally noted the relationship of burglaries to sexual homicide, but this relationship has not otherwise been studied in any detail”
A more recent paper led by by Dr. Michael Vaughan (University of Pittsburgh, USA) examined a sample of 456 adult career criminals. Using a statistical technique called latent profile analysis, Vaughan and colleagues constructed a methodologically rigorous quantitative typology of career burglars. Their findings revealed four distinct types of burglars. These were (i) young versatile burglars, (ii) vagrant burglars, (iii) drug-oriented burglars, and (iv) sexual predator burglars. All four groups showed significant involvement in various criminal activities, but the “sexual predators” were the most violent and had the most serious criminal careers. However, the paper did not isolate the motivations for burglary and so it is not known to what extent any of the sample participants (and particularly the sexual predators) were kleptophiles.
In kleptomania (i.e., the recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects not needed for personal use or their monetary value), the underlying aim is not the stolen item itself but the act of stealing (in the same way that in kleptophilia, the act of stealing is the sexual focus, not the item stolen). In a 1983 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Chalkley and Dr. Powell provided clinical descriptions of 48 of their patients with sexual fetishes, and noted that fetishism is not a criminal act unless accompanied by stealing fetish objects (i.e., kleptophilia). Interestingly, the authors reported that one of their 48 patients stole because he was attracted to stealing clothes, another stole to procure used and stained clothes, and a third stole to obtain something belonging to someone he had desired and followed home. In a review of kleptomania the American Journal of Psychiatry, Dr M.J. Goldman reported that many young people with kleptomania have stolen women’s underwear. He stressed that the ecstasy and urges felt while stealing a fetish object can contribute to sexual arousal and orgasm.
To my knowledge, only one case study in the psychological literature has specifically reported on the relationship between fetishism and kleptomania in a 2009 issue of the Archives of Neuropsychiatry. The paper was written by a group of Turkish psychiatrists led by Dr. Fatih Öncü and reported the case of a 32-year old married male patient suffering from both fetishism and kleptomania who was referred for psychiatric evaluation as a result of multiple stealing of the “fetish” items (mainly ladies’ underwear).
“At the age of 13-14 he had started to steal women’s garments (particularly scarves and skirts) at night. He used to take them to a secret place and masturbated with them while imagining having sex with the women he admired. After ejaculation, he threw the clothes away or burnt them. It was fifteen years ago when he first served a short jail sentence of about 45 days for stealing women’s garments…The same year he was arrested and jailed for 15 more days for the same reason, which was repeated 2-3 times in the next year, when he was jai- led for one month for each act, and four more times in the next ten years…Eight years ago, when he committed a crime similar to those mentioned above, a medical report with a diagnosis of ‘Psychosexual Disorder-Fetishism’ was issued by a state hospital. [He was] unable to control his impulses, repeatedly stole women’s garments (particularly while intoxicated) and had orgasm with these objects despite all social difficulties and punishments, and that he felt distressed, ashamed and regretful about his acts of stealing, he was diagnosed with the mental disease of “Fetishism and Kleptomania (involving only the fetish object)”.
According to the authors, the most important characteristics of this particular case are that (i) the individual stole items (in this case women’s underwear) that were not needed for personal use or their monetary value, and (ii) the act of stealing was recurrent and compulsive, but not preplanned. The authors note that while the intention in this case appears to be to possess the fetish item, the man was additionally gratified by the act of stealing itself. He did not need the items for their monetary value, and people close to him (such as his wife) already had such items.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Boglioli, L. R., Taff, M. L., Stephens, P. J., & Money, J. (1991). A case of autoerotic asphyxia associ- ated with multiplex paraphilia. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 12, 64-73.
Chalkey, A.J. & Powell, G.E (1983). The clinical description of forty-eight cases of sexual fetishism. British Journal of Psychiatry, 142, 292-295.
Goldman, M.J. (1991). Kleptomania: Making sense of the nonsensical. American Journal of Psychiatry, 148, 986-996.
Milner, J.S. Dopke, C.A. & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and Theory In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp. 384-418). New York: Guildford Press.
F Öncü, S Türkcan, Ö Canbek, D Yeşilbursa, N Uygur Fetişizm ve Kleptomani: Bir Adli Psikiyatri Olgu Bildirimi, Nöropsikiyatri Arşivi 2009;46(3):125-128
Revitch, E. (1983). Burglaries with sexual dynamics. In L. B. Schlesinger & E. Revitch (Eds.), Sexual dynamics of anti-social behavior (pp. 173–191). Springfield, IL: Thomas.
Schlesinger, L., & Revitch, E. (1999). Sexual burglaries and sexual homicide: clinical, forensic, and investigative considerations. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, 27, 227-238.
Zavitzianos, G. (1983). The kleptomanias and female criminality. In L. B. Schlesinger & E. Revitch (Eds.), Sexual dynamics of anti-social behavior (pp. 132-158). Springfield, IL: Thomas.