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Crossing the see: A brief look at ‘strabismusophilia’

Some time ago I came across a 2012 online article entitled ‘18 Sexual Fetishes That Sound Made Up (But They’re Not)’ on The Date Report website. Of the 18 fetishes listed, I knew about 17 of them (15 of which I have written articles on for this blog including emetophilia [sexual arousal from vomit], dendrophilia [sexual arousal from trees], pyrophilia [sexual arpusal from fire], taphephilia [sexual arousal from being buried alive], and arachnephilia [sexual arousal from spiders]). The one that I had little awareness of was ‘cross-eyed fetishism’ (although I was aware of the sexual paraphilia ‘oculophilia’ in which individuals are sexually aroused by eyes and which I also covered in a previous blog). The article contained only one sentence relating to cross-eyed fetishes which read “Not sure what the scientific name for this fetish is, but this is good news for Dannielynn Birkhead, Anna Nicole Smith’s cross-eyed offspring”. If such a fetish exists, I would name it strabismusophilia (as strabismus is the medical condition of having non-aligned eyes).

Having already written my previous blog on eye fetishes more generally, I would argue that strabismusophilia is a sub-type of oculophilia as the condition manifests itself in a desire for actual physical contact and interaction with the eye (albeit a very particular type of eye). An online article at the Page Pulp website about sexual fetishes of famous authors alleged that F. Scott Fitzgerald had a foot fetish, James Joyce had a fart fetish, Lord Byron was a sex addict, Marquis de Sade had a fetish for “anything and everything”, (the most notable being sadomasochism), and that the philosopher Rene Descartes had a cross-eye fetish.

Descartes’ sexual fetish for cross-eyed women is well documented including the work of psychiatric sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing. Descartes himself wrote that:

“As a child I was in love with a girl of my own age, who was slightly cross-eyed. The imprint made on my brain by the wayward eyes became so mingled with whatever else had aroused in me the feeling of love that for years afterwards, when I saw a cross-eyed woman, I was more prone to love her than any other, simply for that flaw…The impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others, simply because they had that defect; and I did not know that was the reason.”

Descartes’ passion for cross-eyed women was also discussed in a 2011 paper in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, (by Alex Voorhoeve, Elie During, David Jopling, Timothy Wilson, and Frances Kamm). In one of the passages by Dr. Voorhoeve, he discussed Queen Christina of Sweden asking Descartes what causes us to “love one person rather than another before we know their merit”. According to Voorhoeve:

“Descartes replied that when we experience a strong sensation, this causes the brain to crease like a piece of paper. And when the stimulus stops, the brain uncreases, but it stays ready to be creased again in the same way. And when a similar stimulus is presented, then we get the same response, because the brain is ready to crease again. And what did he mean by all this? Well, he gave an example. He said that all his life he had had a fetish for cross-eyed women. Whenever he came across a cross-eyed woman, desire would enflame him. And he figured out…after introspection, that this was because his brain had been strongly creased by his first childhood love, who was cross-eyed”.

This classical conditioning type explanation was also alluded to in a 2011 article on the Psychology Today website by Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeév that examined ‘Why Did Descartes Love Cross-Eyed Women?’ Dr. Ben-Zeév noted:

“It would appear that when Descartes fell in love with the young girl, he loved her whole Gestalt, which included other characteristics, but her crossed eyes were the most unique. This feature of the girl distinguished her from most other girls. It is as if he subconsciously thought that every woman who shared that distinctive feature would have the other positive characteristics of the girl with whom he had originally fallen in love and would therefore generate the same profound love. This attitude makes him perceive these women as beautiful…However, the fact that the girl he fell in love had the distinctive feature of crossed eyes did not mean that her other characteristics would be shared by other women who have the same feature. In fact, however, this mistaken association set off a feeling of love when he encountered this characteristic in other women…It is a kind of Pavlovian response which makes us more likely to love this person”.

It appears there are modern day adherents to cross-eyed fetishism as I found these extracts in online forums discussing the fetish:

  • Extract 1: “I get insanely turned on when I see a girl crosses her eyes. I go on video and image sites to see girls crossing their eyes. I have requested custom videos of girls crossing their eyes. I am not sure how to break this fetish. It is something that is hard for me to talk about and I recently revealed it to my girlfriend in a text. I have asked her to cross her eyes for me but she cannot do it. In fact my last two girlfriends have not been able to cross their eyes. I feel like if maybe we could play out that fetish in my personal life it would deter me from looking online at stuff. I am not sure what to do”
  • Extract 2: “I am attracted to people that have lazy eyes. The more lazy their eye, the more attractive it is to me.
It’s a huge turn-on, especially eyes that turn outward (e.g., exotropia)”
  • Extract 3: Them cross-eyed girls drive me wild! I’m a lazy eye man myself. I like when one gets a lil’ googly after they’ve had a few drinks”

Although there is no academic research on cross-eye fetishism, I did come across two other types of fetishistic behavior that overlaps with being cross-eyed. The first is in relation to balloon fetishism (i.e., individuals that get sexually aroused from inflating, deflating and/or popping balloons). I came across online sex videos that were tagged ‘cross-eyed balloon inflation’ comprising women blowing up big balloons where they were also cross-eyed (and to which male ‘looners’ found this both erotic and arousing. After watching one of these idiosyncratic videos, one looner commented: “I for one really enjoyed this [cross-eyed woman inflating a balloon] – makes it looks like she’s really concentrated on the inflation, which I like to see. And variety is nice; I, for one, get tired of clips that are too alike”. Perhaps more worryingly is the association of being cross-eyed with sexually sadistic acts of women being strangled on film on hard-core BDSM videos. As the blurb on one sex video available online noted: “There are women that are strangled, and sometimes become cross-eyed. It’s the stupid impression somehow, you will not ever afford to worry about such a thing is the person being strangled. Your beauty is one of [being] cross-eyed”.

I also wonder whether cross-eyed fetishism is a sub-type of teratophilia – typically defined as being sexually aroused by ugly people? According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, teratophilia is defined as those people who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from “deformed or monstrous people”. The online Urban Dictionary defines it as “the ability to see beauty in the unusual [and] clinically described as a sexual preference for deformed people”. Being cross-eyed could arguably fit these definitions (particularly the one from the Urban Dictionary of seeing beauty in the unusual).

From my own research, I have come to the conclusion that cross-eyed fetishism (that I have termed ‘strabismusophilia’) probably exists but is very rare with an incredibly low prevalence rate among the general population. It may be a sub-type of both oculophilia and teratophilia but further research is needed to confirm such speculations.

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.

Ben-Zeév, A. (2011). Why did Descartes love cross-eyed women? The lure of imperfection, Psychology Today, November 29. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-name-love/201111/why-did-descartes-love-cross-eyed-women-the-lure-imperfection

Descartes, R. (1978). His Moral Philosophy and Psychology (translated by John J. Blom). New York: New York University Press.

Divine Caroline (2012). 18 Sexual Fetishes That Sound Made Up (But They’re Not). The Date Report, September 20. Located at: http://www.thedatereport.com/dating/sex/sexual-fetishes-emetophilia-tree-sex/

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

Love, B. (2005). Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.122-129). New York: The Disinformation Company.

Page Pulp (2014). Sexual fetishes of famous authors. Located at: http://www.pagepulp.com/2091/sexual-fetishes-of-famous-authors/

Voorhoeve, A., During, E., Jopling, D., Wilson, T., & Kamm, F. (2011). Who am I? Beyond “I think, therefore I am”. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1234(1), 134-148.

Wikipedia (2014). Oculophilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oculophilia

The Velvet Revolution: Is ‘Venus in Furs’ the most radical song in popular music?

As regular readers of my blog will know, my overriding passion in life is music, and as a music lover my record and CD collecting (at times) borders on obsession. In a previous blog I looked at the extreme music of Throbbing Gristle. In today’s blog I want to make the case that the song Venus in Furs by the Velvet Underground is perhaps the most radical song in the history of popular music. It also happens to be one of my all-time favourite songs and is arguably the song that (along with most of Adam and the Ants’ early recorded output) got me academically interested in sexual paraphilias.

Behavioural and psychological extremes run through the core of the Velvet Underground’s musical philosophy. For those who know nothing about them, the first thing to know is that they named themselves after a 1963 book by the journalist Michael Leigh about the secret sexual subculture in America (there was also a 1968 follow-up book called The Velvet Underground Revisited). In 1967, the book was republished in the UK (although the name of the book had changed to Bizarre Sex Underground). As the Wikipedia entry on the book notes:

“Leigh investigates aberrant sexual behavior between consenting adults, that is, everything other than simple intercourse conducted in privacy by a heterosexual couple, e.g., husband and wife swapping, group sex, sex orgy parties, homosexual activities, sado-masochism. The author reports on the various ways in which such practices are solicited (newspaper advertisements, clubs, etcetera), and by following these leads, manages to get into touch with many of its participants, usually through written correspondence. The book liberally treats us with quotations from this material. This is complemented with quotes from various magazines. The author’s general aim is to establish that a shift in attitude toward sexuality is taking place in society that not only allows a large cross-section of the American population to partake in such non-standard sexual practices, but also allows them to believe that what they are doing is perfectly healthy and normal”

The band was formed in New York in 1965 and grew out of the ‘fictional’ band The Primitives (comprising Lou Reed, John Cale, Walter De Maria, and Angus MacLise) who had a local hit with ‘The Ostrich’ (penned by Reed). They had various names including The Warlocks and The Falling Spikes before settling on The Velvet Underground (suggested by MacLise after finding a copy of Leigh’s book in the street). Following the departures of De Maria and MacLise, Reed and Cale recruited Sterling Morrison and Maureen (‘Mo’) Tucker and it is this incarnation of the band that features what most people consider the ‘classic’ line-up (although even after Cale left and was replaced by Doug Yule, I liked that line-up’s LPs too). Their first manager was the pop-artist Andy Warhol who parted ways with the group after the recording of their first (1967) album The Velvet Underground and Nico (that featured the German chanteuse Nico singing on three of the songs). As ‘non-musician’ Brian Eno once said of the Velvet Underground – they didn’t sell many records [in their lifetime], but everybody who bought their first album went out and formed a band.

During their short career, Reed and Cale penned some of the best and most extreme rock songs of all time. The topics of their songs included sado-masochism, bondage and submission (Venus in Furs), scoring drugs (I’m Waiting For The Man), heroin use (Heroin), amphetamine use (White Light, White Heat), transexualism (Candy Says), death (The Black Angel’s Death Song), accidental death (The Gift), murder (The Murder Mystery), sex-change operations (Lady Godiva’s Operation), female sexual problems (Here She Comes Now), and even one song that features drug use, violence, sexual orgies, homosexuality, transvestism, and fellatio (Sister Ray). Most music commentators often point out that the group’s provocative lyrics presented a nihilistic outlook on life.

Brian Duguid, in his 1995 A Prehistory of Industrial Music, said that the release of the Velvet Underground’s first album was a turning point for rock music as they were the first band to incorporate the avant-garde into their music (thanks to John Cale’s scholarship with La Monte Young and the influence of his ‘drone’ music). Duguid claims that the Velvet Underground combined avant-garde with one of the most alienated, hostile attitudes rock had so far developed”.

Venus in Furs (written by Reed) appeared on the Velvet’s first album and is arguably the group’s greatest and most sexually provocative song, and was based on the 1870 novella of the same name written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (whose name is the basis for the word ‘masochism’ as the book was semi-autobiographical; Sacher-Masoch considered himself the ‘slave’ of Baroness Bogdanoff, his mistress). Most of Sacher-Masoch’s stories featured a woman in furs. As Dr. Anil Aggrawal notes in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices:

“The term masochism was coined in 1886 by the Austro-German psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (1840–1902), after a contemporary writer, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836–1895), whose partially autobiographical novel Venus in Furs (1870) tells of the protagonist Severin von Kusiemski’s desire to be whipped and enslaved by a beautiful woman. Wanda von Dunajew. Severin describes his feelings during these experiences as suprasensuality”.

The song basically tells Sacher-Masoch’s story in music form. As the Wikipedia entry on the Venus in Furs novella notes:

“Wanda von Dunajew, the novel’s central female character, was modelled after Fanny Pistor, who was an emerging literary writer. The two met when Pistor contacted Sacher-Masoch, under assumed name and fictitious title of Baroness Bogdanoff, for suggestions on improving her writing to make it suitable for publication. [The story] concerns a man who dreams of speaking to Venus about love while she wears furs. The unnamed narrator tells his dreams to a friend, Severin, who tells him how to break him of his fascination with cruel women by reading a manuscript, Memoirs of a Suprasensual Man. This manuscript tells of a man, Severin von Kusiemski, who is so infatuated with a woman, Wanda von Dunajew, that he asks to be her slave, and encourages her to treat him in progressively more degrading ways. At first Wanda does not understand or accede to the request, but after humouring Severin a bit she finds the advantages of the method to be interesting and enthusiastically embraces the idea, although at the same time she disdains Severin for allowing her to do so. Severin describes his feelings during these experiences as suprasensuality. Severin and Wanda travel to Florence. Along the way, Severin takes the generic Russian servant’s name of ‘Gregor’ and the role of Wanda’s servant. In Florence, Wanda treats him brutally as a servant, and recruits a trio of African women to dominate him”

Around the time of the song being written, Andy Warhol’s ‘Factory’ crowd were making movies with sadomasochistic themes such as 1965’s Vinyl (in which Edie Sedgwick played a dominatrix and Gerard Malanga played a masochist. Sterling Morrison claimed the song was “the closest [the Velvet Underground] ever came in my mind to being exactly what I thought [they] could be”. A contemporary review of the song in a 1967 issue of Vibrations magazine by Timothy Jacobs noted:

“’Venus in Furs’ is perhaps the best example of the severity of the music. The texture of the song is pure sado-masochism. The music is remarkable in its expression of this message; the words speak of a life of sheer pain and misery, with frequent mention of Severin, a sadistic monk from Justine [sic], by the Marquis de Sade”.

In his 1967 book Coldness and Cruelty, the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze described both sadism and masochism as entire philosophical systems. To Deleuze, Sacher-Masoch and the Marquis de Sade are “great artists in that they discover new forms of expression, new ways of thinking and feeling and an entirely new language”. The same could perhaps be said of the Velvet Underground’s music. In The Post-subcultures Reader, David Muggleton and Rupert Weinzierl (like me) noted the sexually paraphilic overlap in the music of the Velvet Underground and Adam and the Ants:

Musical genealogies of American punk performance often begin with the Velvet Underground (Henry 1989), a band whose name is taken from a masochistic text, and whose song ‘Venus in Furs’ invokes Sacher-Masoch’s (1991) novel of the same title. In London, a decade later, it is Adam and the Ants who bring punk’s masochistic imagery to the fore. Having abandoned his art-college thesis in rubber and leather fetishism, Adam introduced S/M into his stage performances with songs such as ‘Whip my Valise’ and ‘Rubber People’ (Home 1988; Sabin 1999)”.

As far as I am concerned, Venus in Furs is the song that changed rock music forever. It featured subject matter that was so extreme in the 1960s that it sent out a message to any band that rock lyrics don’t have to follow a formula and that no topic is taboo. It let every band know that artistic merit had no boundaries and that record sales are not the be all and end all of musical success (something that John Cale echoed in his speech when the Velvet Underground were inducted into the US Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1996). If you’ve not yet discovered the delights of the Velvet Underground, then hopefully this blog will tempt you into sampling some of their musical wares.

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.

Deleuze, G. (1991). Coldness and Cruelty. In Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty & Venus in Furs (translated by J. McNeil). New York: Zone Books.

Duguid, B. (1995). A Prehistory of Industrial Music. London: ESTWeb.

Henry, T. (1989), Break All Rules! Punk Rock and the Making of a Style, Ann Arbour MI: UMI Research Press.

Heylin, C. (2005). All Yesterday’s Parties – The Velvet Underground In Print 1966-1971. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Hogan, P. (2007). The Rough Guide To The Velvet Underground. London: Penguin.

Home, S. (1988), Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War, London: Aporia Press and Unpopular Books.

Muggleton, D. & Weinzierl, R. (2003). The Post-subcultures Reader. Oxford: Berg

Sabin, R. (1999), ‘Introduction’, in R. Sabin (ed.), Punk Rock: So What? The Cultural Legacy of Punk, London and New York: Routledge.

Sacher-Masoch, L. von. (1989). Venus in Furs. New York: Zone Books.