My partner is a Frank Zappa fan and one of her favourite albums is his 1979 rock opera Joe’s Garage. On the LP, Joe is described as an “appliance fetishist” by the ‘Church of Appliantology’ (and ends up having a gay relationship with an industrial vacuum cleaner). Although Joe is a fictional character, appliance and machine fetishes aren’t. According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, being sexually turned on by machines is a sexual paraphilia called mechanophilia. Cynthia Ceilán in her 2008 book Weirdly Beloved: Tales of Strange Bedfellows, Odd Couplings, and Love Gone Bad describes the same sexual paraphilia as ‘mechaphilia’. The online Urban Dictionary has a more encompassing definition, and defines mechanophilia as:
“The love or sexual attraction to computers, cars, robots or androids, washing machines and other domestic appliances, lawn mowers and other mechanised gardening equipment. Sexual relations between living organisms and machines”.
I briefly mentioned mechanophilia in a previous blog on the relationship between sex and cars, but the paraphilia not only includes individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from cars (such as the American man Edward Smith who has who has had sex with over a 1000 cars), but also to bicycles (such as the British man Robert Stewart who ended up in court after being caught having sex with a bicycle), and aeroplanes and helicopters (according to Ray Broadus Browne in his 1982 book Objects of Special Devotion: Fetishism in Popular Culture). A paper published in 2000 by Dr. Steven Thompson in the journal Technology and Culture argued that motorcycles are often portrayed as sexualized fetish objects by their owners. There would also appear to be some structural and psychological overlap with technosexuality/robot fetishism and objectum sexuality (i.e., having sexual and/or romantic relationships with inanimate objects) that I examined in previous blogs.
According to Dr. William Hickey in his 2006 book Sex Crimes and Paraphilias, in some jurisdictions mechanophilic acts are treated as crimes with perpetrators being placed on a sex offenders’ register after prosecution. The Wikipedia entry on mechanophilia mostly concentrates on references to mechanophilia in art, culture, and design. It noted that:
“Mechanophilia has been used to describe important works of the early Modernists such as the 1922 FEKS ‘Eccentric Manifesto’ of Leonid Trauberg, Sergei Yutkevich, Grigori Kozintsev and others,a modernist avant garde movement that spanned Russian futurism and constructivism. The term has entered into the realms of science fiction and popular fiction. Scientifically, in ‘Biophilia, The Human Bond with Other Species’, Edward O. Wilson is quoted describing mechanophilia, the love of machines, as ‘a special case of biophilia”,whereas psychologists such as Erich Fromm would see it as a form of necrophilia. Designers such as Francis Picabia and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti have been said to exploited the sexual attraction of automobiles”.
I have yet to come across any empirical research specifically on mechanophilia beyond case studies. Dr. Ian Kerner, a New York sex therapist told CBS News that among mechanophiles there is generally “an exhibitionistic element for the person being stimulated by machine, as well as general submission [and] domination themes”, although I am unsure as to whether this is based on anyone Dr. Kerner has treated or whether this is just pure speculation. (I suspect the latter).
In a previous blog I mentioned a 1992 case study by Dr Padmal De Silva and Dr Amanda Pernet published in the journal Sex and Marital Therapy. The case involved an unusual sexual deviation in a young 20-year old British man (‘George’) who had little social interaction and was incredibly shy. They reported that his main sexual interest and excitement was from cars – particularly Austin Metro cars. George’s family belonged to a strict religious sect who strongly disapproved of any sexual involvement by their son with women. Things changed for George when his parents bough an Austin Metro car. George began masturbating inside the car, and then outside masturbating outside the car while crouching down next to the car’s exhaust pipe. So that he couldn’t be caught masturbating, he would go to great lengths to find deserted places to engage in his sexual activity with the car.
George used to become very sexually excited when the car’s exhaust pipe was running and pumping out car fumes. This aspect of “elimination” – according to De Silva and Pernet – was an important central element in George’s other sexual preferences – particularly his fascination of urination. As a very young child he had an unusual interest in dogs urinating. After the age of 10 years, he was more interested in children and adult women urinating. The authors also speculated there may have been an increase in George’s arousal due to a “reduction of oxygen intake and related asphyxiation”. This was possibly seen as a mild form of hypoxyphilia.
In 2003, a man simply calling himself ‘Schlessinger’ published a book called Mechaphilia: Sexual Attraction to Machines. The (non-academic) book charts Schlessinger’s “personal journey” of coming to terms with his sexual desire for machines and his quest to seek acceptance from his family and friends about his sexual love of machines. The book is detailed in his description such as his detailing of the curves of a reel-to-reel recorder that he fell in love with. Schlessinger ends the book by saying that he has happily come to accept his ‘quirky sexuality’. In relation to the more cultural aspects of mechanophilia, the Wikipedia entry notes:
“Culturally, critics have described it as an ‘all pervading’ within contemporary Western society and that is seems to overwhelm our society and all too often our better judgement”. Although not all such uses are sexual in intent, the terms are also used for specifically erotogenic fixation on machinery and taken to its extreme in hardcore pornography as Fucking Machines. This mainly involves women being sexually penetrated by machines for male consumption,which are seen as being the limits of current sexual biopolitics. Arse Elektronika (organized by Austrian art-tech group ‘monochrom’) is propagating a DIY/feminist approach to sex machines. Authors have drawn a connection between mechanophilia and masculine militarisation, citing the works of animator Yasuo Otsuka and Studio Ghibli”.
In one of the few articles written on mechanophilia, Symone Nelson appears to speculate about the psychological reasons for engaging in such paraphilic behaviour but claim there is no single reason as to why someone becomes a mechanophile. Nelson claims:
“Some mechanophiliacs enjoy the engineering aspect of their object, how it works, moves and is built. While others are fascinated with the effect it produces for example the noise and warmth that comes off of a drying machine. There is a niche of porn called ‘machine porn’ where women and men are involved in erotic acts with machines that are made for the purpose of sex…You can probably find a mechanophiliac using sex toys and machines on their partners or on themselves during sex…On the extreme end mechanophiliacs NEED the presence of their object to reach sexual gratification or ONLY the presence of their object will bring them sexual gratification and another person is not able to do so…A mechanophiliac will have a relationship with their machine object as a person would with another person. All the elements of dating are involved in a mechanophiliac relationship from courting, to the first date and even the first kiss and sexual encounter…When the hospitals get odd cases like a man being treated on his penis after getting it “stuck” in a vacuum cleaner or a woman who has injured herself using a electric mixing spoon for masturbation doctors usually chalk it up to the fetish”.
These latter speculations about people ending up in hospital when things go wrong don’t appear to be about mechanophilia at all. Personally, I believe that people who use the vibrations of a washing machine or vacuum cleaner as part of masturbatory sex are not mechanophiles (otherwise anyone who used a vibrator would be classed as a mechanophile). Mechanophiles have sex and make love to the machine (and may even develop emotional attachments) rather than using the appliance simply to heighten sexual pleasure during masturbation. Although mechanophilia appears to be rare, as far as I am concerned it’s far from fiction. It’s certainly an area that would benefit from more empirical and/or clinical research, although there needs to be consensus from those working in the field as to what mechanophilia actually is.
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.
Browne, R.B. (1982). Objects of Special Devotion: Fetishism in Popular Culture. Popular Press.
Ceilán, C. (2008). Weirdly Beloved: Tales of Strange Bedfellows, Odd Couplings, and Love Gone Bad. The Lyons Press.
De Silva, P. & Pernet, A. (1992). Pollution in ‘Metroland’: An unusual paraphilia in a shy young man. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 7, 301-306.
Hickey, E.W. (2006), Sex crimes and paraphilia. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Marsh, A. (2010). Love among the objectum sexuals. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 13, March 1. Located at: http://www.ejhs.org/volume13/ObjSexuals.htm
Nelson, S. (2012). Fetish spotlight: Mechanophilia. Located at: http://www.thehoneybunnys.com/fetish-spotlight-mechanophilia/
Schlessinger (2003). Mechaphilia: Sexual Attraction to Machines. Please Press.
Thompson, S.L. (2000). The arts of the motorcycle: Biology, culture, and aesthetics in technological choice. Technology and Culture, 41, 99-115.
Wikipedia (2012). Mechanophilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanophilia