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Die another day: A brief look at ‘addiction to near death’

In previous blogs I have examined both people’s fascination with death and human near death experiences (NDEs). Another aspect to NDEs that I didn’t mention in those articles was the idea of people being “addicted” to NDEs. Arguably, most people’s perceptions of ‘near death addiction’ are probably based on the 1990 US film Flatliners. In that film, a group of five medical students (played by Keifer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt and William Baldwin) attempt to examine whether there is anything beyond death by carrying out experiments into NDEs. Keifer Sutherland’s character (Nelson) is continually made to experience clinical death (i.e., flatlining with no heartbeat) before being brought back to life by his classmates.

This Hollywood portrayal of possible ‘near death addiction’ bears little resemblance to the academic literature – most of which has been written from a psychodynamic perspective – and relates more to continual self-destructive experiences (usually by adolescents or young adults). The concept of ‘addiction to near death’ (ATND) originates from the writings of Dr. Betty Joseph, a distinguished psychoanalytic clinician often lauded as “the psychoanalysts’ psychoanalyst” and known for her work with highly resistant ‘difficult to treat’ patients. Dr. Joseph first wrote about the ‘addiction to near death’ concept in a 1982 issue of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. This form of masochistic pathology was a concept that she found useful when working with psychologically dysfunctional adolescents. As Dr. Janet Shaw noted in a more recent 2012 paper on ATND in the Journal of Child Psychotherapy:

“At [the adolescent] stage of development, there is a tendency for adolescents who are troubled to turn to destructive or self-destructive behaviour, suicidal ideation, self-harm, self-starvation and inappropriate sexual behaviour. This is often profoundly shocking and alarming to others, especially if the young person finds the impact on others pleasurable. [Betty] Joseph described a patient addicted to near death as being caught up in a wish to gain pleasure by destroying both himself and the analytic relationship…[She] described masochistic destruction of the self taking place with libidinal satisfaction, despite much concomitant pain. The masochistic position is deeply addictive and this way of using pain for the purposes of pleasure becomes habitual. She summed this up as, ‘the sheer unequalled sexual delight of the grim masochism’ and described the awful pleasure that is achieved in this way”.

However, as Dr. Shaw rightly points out, not all types of destructive and self-destructive behaviour fall into such a category. In her 1982 paper, Dr. Joseph outlined case studies she had treated psychoanalytically from her private practice. Here, she described the masochistic dynamics of her patients, and how hard it was for them to alter these dynamics and get better. She noted that one of the key aspects of the dynamics she described was that her patients derived immense libidinal satisfaction from engaging in destructive near-death behaviours. More specifically, she wrote:

“There is a very malignant type of self-destructiveness, which we see in a small group of our patients, and which is, I think, in the nature of an addiction – an addiction to near-death. It dominates these patients’ lives; for long periods it dominates the way they bring material to the analysis and the type of relationship they establish with the analyst; it dominates their internal relationships, their so-called thinking, and the way they communicate with themselves. It is not a drive towards a Nirvana type of peace or relief from problems, and it has to be sharply differentiated from this. The picture that these patients present is, I am sure, a familiar one – in their external lives these patients get more and more absorbed into hopelessness and involved in activities that seem destined to destroy them physically as well as mentally, for example, considerable over-working, almost no sleep, avoiding eating properly or secretly over-eating if the need is to lose weight”.

In a 2006 issue of Psychanalytic Psychology, Dr. William Gottdeiner also noted that the ATND is such a strong motive that successful treatment of such individuals is unusually difficult. However, Dr. Gottdeiner asserted that one of the severe weaknesses of Joseph’s writings is that she failed to provide in-depth clinical examples of anyone who had engaged in potentially deadly activities. This, Gottdeiner contended, threatened the validity of the ATND construct. Despite such inherent weaknesses, Gottdeiner still believed the ATND construct had strong face validity (i.e., “there are people who seem to repeatedly engage in potentially lethal behavior, making the ATND construct plausible”). Consequently, Gottdeiner tested the construct validity of ATND on females with substance use disorders (SUDs). His argument was that:

“If individuals who are diagnosed with an SUD are successfully treated and they continue to engage in potentially deleterious behavior, then that finding would support the notion that the individual has an addiction to near-death experiences, and that the individual’s substance abuse was a comorbid disorder”.

Gottdeiner’s paper attempted to validate the ATND construct via secondary analysis “of data from a treatment outcome study of individuals who were in residential therapeutic community treatment for SUDs and who received simultaneous safe-sex education during treatment”. His study findings showed that despite safe-sex education and sexual activity in the therapeutic communities being prohibited, that some of the participants still engaged in risky sexual behaviour (irrespective of whether their sexual partners were HIV-positive or not). Gottdeiner argued that these findings tentatively supported the ATND construct. However, Gottdeiner was the first to admit that his study had inherent weaknesses. As he noted:

The limitations were: data were from retrospective self-reports [and] contained no baseline measures of sexual activity, safe-sex knowledge, condom use, HIV status; it had no male participants, no specific questions about near-death behavior, nor whether alternative safe-sex activities were practice…The limitations of [the] study are considerable, and some might even argue that the connection between the ATND construct and the data presented herein is too much of a stretch to be scientifically useful…Obviously, stronger data would lead to stronger conclusions. Despite the limitations of this study, the findings should motivate clinicians to more seriously consider the existence of an addiction to near-death in their clients”.

More recently, Dr. Janet Shaw examined the ATND construct through the description and evaluation of an in-depth case study account of an adolescent female (‘Susan’). Her paper explored “the way in which pleasure, which is sadistic and masochistic in nature, is associated with cruelty towards the self or others in adolescence”. Dr. Shaw wrote that it felt as if Susan’s main aim was to torment her. As Shaw reported:

“In addition to suicide threats, similar to those she made in the assessment, she made constant reference to systematically starving herself. She was painfully thin, although not actually anorexic and she was poisoning herself by repeatedly taking paracetamol. Susan’s threats to self-harm had a deeply disturbing quality and she clearly enjoyed making them. There was a wish to punish me, as well as herself, through her phantasised attacks…The case material is an example of an adolescent girl with ‘an addiction to near death’ constituting a dominant way of relating to others. Her relentless and manipulative references to self-harm, suicide and dangerous behaviour at various stages of the work were designed to shock and alarm…Susan’s self-destructive behaviour was also continuing in relation to her self- starvation. She said she took laxatives in an attempt to lose more weight. She was becoming dangerously thin and three years into her psychotherapy an appointment with the referring psychiatrist resulted in a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa”.

This quote doesn’t do justice to the very detailed account that Dr. Shaw provided in her lengthy paper. However, her written account is heartfelt and brutally honest. Shaw concludes that the compelling power of addiction overviewed in Susan’s case mustn’t be underestimated. As she notes:

“The narcissistic idealisation of sadistic and masochistic behaviour offers some protection from fear and terror for the patient, but the consequence is to severely limit capacity for thought and imagination, and to restrict awareness. ‘Addition to near death’ forms a small but significant component of the clinical casework of a child and adolescent psychotherapist: it is hoped that Susan’s case material serves to illuminate the phenomenon further and its technical challenges”.

Whether the clinical case of Susan provides any more evidence for validation for Joseph’s ATND construct than the more empirical work of Gottdeiner is debatable. However, this is certainly a fascinating – if somewhat harrowing – area of clinical and academic work that certainly warrants further empirical examination.

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

Further reading

Gottdiener, W.H. (2006). A preliminary test of the Addiction-to-Near-Death construct. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23, 661-666.

Joseph, B. (1982). Addiction to near death. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 449-456.

Joseph, B. (1988). Addiction to near death. In Bott Spillius, E. (Ed.) Melanie Klein Today (pp.311-323). London and New York: Routledge.

Ryle, A. (1993). Addiction to the death instinct? A critical review of Joseph’s paper ‘Addiction to near death’. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 10, 88–92.

Shaw, J. (2012). Addiction to near death in adolescence. Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 38, 111-129.

Horsing around: A beginner’s guide to pony-play

In a previous blog I examined the Furry Fandom (FF) and the people who like to dress up as animals and have sex dressed as animals. One particular subset of the FF is a group of people who engage in ‘pony-play’ (PP). PP is overtly more sexualized than FF and is a form of bondage that involves a person dressed as a ‘pony’ and a ‘rider’. The human pony (the submissive partner) can comprise ‘ponyboys’ or ‘ponygirls’ typically wears stylized horse adornments including riding straps, a leather saddle, reins, and a bit in the mouth. The human rider (the dominant) also wears stylized riding accessories such as a riding crop or a horse-whip. The riders may sit on the human pony and/or get the pony to cart them around. In his 2010 book, Pony training: Five case studies on pony play, ownership and kinky submission, Dr. Garth Mundinger-Klow notes that “Ponygirl, Ponyboy” was:

“A classic [sadomasochistic] fantasy immortalized in the drawings of of John Willie and used in the Sleeping Beauty Triology by Anne Rice. Typical pony garb includes a horsehair tail attached to a butt plug, a bit gag and/or bridle head harness, and reins. Often very high heels, a corset, and feather plumes in the hair are added. The arms are typically bound behind the back”.

However, many people’s views of PP (if they even have them) may have come from the documentary film Born In A Barn. This film was:

“An intimate and occasionally humorous look into the extraordinary erotic lives of four seemingly ordinary people. Born In A Barn takes us deep into the world of pony play, a fetish in which enthusiasts role-play as human ponies and handlers. Revealing the complex motives that drive each character to pursue this unusual passion and following them as they each confront the questions that being an erotic equine present, Born In A Barn is a film about finding an identity in the pursuit of an unconventional desire”.

Role-play is nothing new and the Greek philosopher and polymath Aristotle is alleged to have loved being ridden like a horse. In fact, PP is (in some circles) referred to as ‘The Aristotelian Perversion’. In her 2000 book Deviant Desires, Katharine Gates makes reference to the fact that ponyplay was depicted in Assyrian art dating back to 2000 B.C. More recently Gates notes that in the 19th century human ponyplay existed as an erotic amusement for the upper classes in British colonies.

As mentioned in my previous blog on the FF, the primary theme of such animal role-play is often the voluntary (and sometimes) involuntary reduction (or transformation) of human beings to animals, and a subsequent focus on the altered mind-space created by the transformation. The ponies in PP comprise three different groups although the activities are not mutually exclusive for the participants.

  • Cart ponies: These are human ponies that pull a sulky with their rider (A sulky is a lightweight two-wheeled cart with a seat for the rider). These ponies wear bit-bridles and harnesses, blinkers, walk standing up, and have their hands secured behind their backs.
  • Riding ponies: These are human ponies that are ridden on while they are on all fours or partly standing up on two legs by their rider (custom made saddle or bareback). Some (usually male) ponies prefer their riders to be on their shoulders. Riding ponies are harnessed, bridled and may wear blinkers.
  •  Show ponies: These are human ponies that show off their skills in dressage (e.g., choreographed pony-dance, cantering, etc.), can walk standing up or on their hands and knees, and typically wearing ornate and elaborate harnesses, plumes, etc.).

For the human pony, the sexual thrill rarely involves normal sexual contact. The sexual thrill is the fantasy of actually being a horse under the control of their dominant rider. The only time that actual sex takes place in PP is when the human ponies are engaged in a ‘stud service’ and one pony is bred to another. This requires explicit permission from the human pony’s “owner”. The practice of stud farming may also be role-played and fantasy-based (i.e., no real sexual intercourse taking place). It is believed that many submissive human ponies and their dominant riders are in a romantic, emotional and/or sexual relationship outside of PP although some only know each other in the context of PP.

In an online essay on PP, Malfouka makes the point that this particular fetish is “not for the lazy” as the preparation involved for all PP participants (i.e., trainers, owners, groomers and riders) is time intensive. Malfouka gives a detailed description of the main PP protagonists.

  • Trainers: These are the people who actually train the human pony (and may train many such people). The trainer is responsible for turning those who wish to be pony into an actual pony. Malfouka says “this distinction is important in that in the world of ponyplay, there is protocol to follow”. The most important thing to take on board is that no-one is a pony simply because they pretend to be one. It takes a long time of training for the human pony be taught the appropriate stance, demeanour, behaviour, showmanship and submission. Trainers can also be owners, riders, and/or groomers.
  • Owners: These are the people who “own” the human pony and are typically the riders too (i.e., the masters or mistresses). Owners plan the pony’s schedule, dress, and all associated activities (including which other riders can access the pony). Owners can also be trainers, riders, and/or groomers.
  • Groomers: These are the people (often trainers and/or owners) who take charge of pony care (washing, bathing, petting, massaging, brushing hair), bathing.
  • Riders: These are the people who ride the pony. Riders can comprise anyone that the owner and/or trainer have given permission to ride.

To date, there has been little empirical research on the topic of pony-play. An anthropological paper by Margot Weiss (Wesleyan University, US) in a 2006 issue of Anthropologica, examined the BDSM community in the San Francisco Bay Area (US). Her interviewees included people who identified themselves primarily as a pony (within a BDSM context). She argued that BDSM sexuality (including those who self-identified as a pony) should be conceptualized as a form of ‘working at play’ (WAP). WAP recognizes the ways that BDSM practitioners move between registers of work (productive labour) and play (creative recombination). Weiss’ analysis situates BDSM (and other sexualities) within the shifting cultural geography of U.S. late-modernity, drawing attention to the ways sexuality blurs boundaries between individual-social, real-pretend and leisure-labour)”.

At the end of 2011, Dr Anil Aggrawal (Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India) published an interesting paper on zoophilia in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine (which I examined in a previous blog) and categorized those into pony-play as Class I zoosexuals (i.e., human-animal role-players). According to Aggrawal, Class 1 zoosexuals never have sex with actual animals but become sexually aroused through wanting to have sex with humans who pretend to be animals and who engage in pseudo-zoophilic acts (e.g., pet play, pony play, ponyism or pup-play). Personally, I don’t class this as a type of zoophilia at all but I can see Aggrawal’s logic in including the Furry Fandom and PP communities.

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

Further reading

Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18, 73-78.

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

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

Malfouka (undated). My Little Pony: The Aristotelian Perversion. Maximum Awesome. Located at: http://www.maximumawesome.com/pervfriday/ponypeople.htm

Mundinger-Klow, G. (2010). Pony training: Five case studies on pony play, ownership and kinky submission. Olympia Press.

Weiss, M.D. (2006). Working at Play: BDSM Sexuality in the San Francisco Bay Area. Anthropologica, 48, 229-245.

The salivation army: A brief look at spit fetishes

In previous blogs I have examined many different bodily substances that have formed the basis of paraphilic and/or fetishistic behaviour including urine (urophilia), faeces (coprophilia), blood (menophilia and clinical vampirism), and breast milk (lactophilia). One bodily fluid that has not really been the subject of scientific research is saliva in relation to saliva fetishes and spit fetishes. In fact, the only purely academic reference I could find was from sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel who suggested in a 1991 book that many Americans seem to find sex “morally repugnant” and that it is because of the bodily fluids associated with sex (i.e., saliva and semen) are sticky, a liminal category between solid and liquid.

From my reading on this topic, there appears to be a difference between saliva fetishes and spit fetishes (which I will explain below). In researching this blog I came across two cases of saliva fetishes (one from New Zealand and one from Japan) that were both very similar.

  • Case 1: Back in 2007 in Christchurch (New Zealand), a 28-year old male vineyard worker – Jared Simmonds – was jailed for 32 months because of his “deviant sexual arousal” towards saliva from young girls. He was arrested following an indecent sexual attack on an 11-year old girl. Simmonds had been previously convicted in 2005 for obtaining saliva from four pre-pubescent girls that he would use as a lubricant for masturbatory purposes. He had also been trying to do the same thing with the 11-year old girl. The court was told that Simmonds was incapable of relating to women of his own age and therefore targeted young girls to help maintain his sexual saliva fetish. The court was also told that Simmonds’ behaviour was premeditated as he approached the girls with plastic cups and chewing gum, and pretending to the girls that he was conducting a scientific survey and that their saliva would be analysed at Christchurch Polytechnic. He would give the girls gum to chew to stimulate salivation, and then get the girls to spit into the cup. As soon as the spittle was collected, he would rush back to his house to masturbate using the girls’ saliva as a lubricant.
  • Case 2: More recently, at the end of 2011, there was a news report of a 55-year old Japanese man with an alleged saliva fetish. The man in question – Toshiko Mizuno – was arrested after approaching young women, and asking them to spit into a jar. While they spat into the jars, Mizuno filmed them and then kept their saliva to drink at a later point. To get them to spit in the jar, Mizuno used a cover story that he was doing research on saliva. After searching Mizuno’s house, they found over 200 video taped recordings of women spitting into jars, and dozens of empty jars that had once had women’s saliva in them. The police also found other videos of Mizuno masturbating and using the female saliva as a masturbatory lubricant. The man was charged with indecency as he had not actually caused any knowing harm to the women he had approached.

The online Urantia Book claims that (historically) saliva was a potent fetish. Apparently, “devils could be driven out by spitting on a person” and “for an elder or superior to spit on one was the highest compliment”. Furthermore, it could perhaps be argued that saliva plays a (direct or indirect) role in a lot sexual behaviour that raises the question of how “deviant” saliva fetishes actually are. However, in the case of Simmonds, the use of saliva from prepubescent girls suggests that the behaviour was a paedophilic precursor. There are also cultural variations that need to be taken into account. Few Westerners would disagree that kissing can be erotic and enjoyable. However, other cultures view kissing as simply the human exchange of saliva. For instance, the Amazonian Mehinaku tribe view kissing as disgusting and a sexual abnormality.

The saliva fetishists above don’t really appear to share much in common with spit fetishes that appear to be more a part of sadomasochistic sexual activity. For instance, at the ‘All Experts’ website, one of the female “experts” (“Hollie”) wrote speculatively about spit fetishes in response to one man’s question about what spit fetishes actually involved. Her perspective was clearly from those with an interest in sexual sadism and sexual masochism. She wrote:

“A spit fetish could manifest itself in a number of ways…either partner could have a fetish to be spat on, usually this is always closely linked to that individual seeking domination from the spitter, making the person being spat on submissive. it may also be part of sexual humiliation and other aspects of BDSM [Bondage, Discipline, Submission, Masochism]. Or, an individual could have the need to spit on someone, that would probably make them dominant and to want to control and/or humiliate their partner sexually. Or…both people could either enjoy to be spat on or to be the spitter…this could work both ways and simultaneously”.

In fact much of the online literature on spitting fetishes (as opposed to saliva fetishes) appears to be rooted in BDSM and is usually referred to as ‘spitting domination’. The dominant partner may spit into their submissive partner’s face and/or mouth. The submissive partner may also be forced to swallow the liquid spit if their mouth is spat into. Many of the online articles about spitting fetishes see parallels between the act of spitting and the act of ejaculation – particularly in relation to ‘facials’ (i.e., the act of men ejaculating onto someone’s face) and the practice of bukkake (i.e., the act of many men simultaneously ejaculating onto someone’s face and/or body).

In an online article on “Spit feeding [and] eating”, the [anonymous] writer examines spit fetishes, and asks whether spitting is an aggressive act of degradation, and if being spat on is always humiliating. The response was:

Like any sex act, it all depends upon the attitudes of those involved. A slap can be aggressive or playful, hurtful or stimulating. Likewise, a wad of spit can be contemptuous or loving, depending on the intention. There’s nothing inherently demeaning about wanting to devour your lover’s liquid essences”.

In researching this blog I came across various people’s experiences of spit fetishism. The following quote was typical:

“I actually was in a relationship with a individual who had a spit fetish.  He longed for me, while we were having intercourse, to spit on him, his face all over him, he didn’t mind where but he especially liked it if I was dominant with him in doing so, maybe called him names at the same time, played a Dom to him. His fetish for spit also extended into dribbling, where he liked for me to dribble on myself, preferably across my chest, and for him to rub his face in it, in the spit. He loved the moistness physically, but it was more mental for him, the control aspect, the humiliation of it all, the dominance”.

Compared to all other paraphilic and fetishistic behaviours concerning sexual arousal to human bodily fluids, there is significantly less written about saliva and spitting fetishes. Whether academic and/or clinical research is needed is – at present – debatable.

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

Further reading

All Experts (2004). Fetishism/Spit fetish. January 14. Located at: http://en.allexperts.com/q/Fetishism-2835/spit-fetish.htm

Backdrop.net (2007). Spitting fetishism. Located at: http://www.backdrop.net/sm-201/index.php?title=Spitting_fetishism

Dahmer, J. (2011). The Guy with the Creepiest Fetish Ever! WDRG, December 14. Located at: http://wgrd.com/the-guy-with-the-creepiest-fetish-ever-yuk-bar-stool/

New Zealand Herald (2007). ‘Deviant saliva fetish’ led to attack, court told. July 30. Located at: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10454692

Pervscan (2007). Deviant saliva fetish led to attack. August 19. Located at: http://pervscan.com/2007/08/19/deviant-saliva-fetish-led-to-attack/

UB The News (undated). Fetishes, charms and magic. The Urantia Book (Paper 88). Located at: http://www.ubthenews.com/UrantiaBook/papers/p088.htm

World of Sexual Fetishes (2012). Swapping spit. March 5. Located at: http://worldofsexualfetishes.com/wordpress/?p=158

Zerubavel, E. (1991). The Fine Line: Making Distinctions in Everyday Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Rude food? A beginner’s guide to sitophilia

There has long been an association between eating and sexual behaviour on many different levels. Eating and sex are both basic human needs and sometimes interact more directly. Many would also agree that eating (in and of itself) can be a sensual activity. There are also some foods that are considered to be aphrodisiacs. For example, foodstuffs such as oysters and chocolate are considered to have aphrodisiac properties (even if there is a lack of empirical evidence). The important factor is that if people believe the food in question has such arousing properties then there is likely to be some kind of a placebo effect.

In previous blogs I have looked at both feederism (in which sexual arousal and gratification is stimulated through a person gaining body fat) and vorarephilia (in which people are sexually aroused by the idea of being eaten, eating another person, or observing this process for sexual gratification). Another eating-related sexual behaviour is sitophilia. This is a sexual paraphilia in which the individual has an erotic attraction to (and derives sexual arousal from) food. Sitophilia can also include sexual arousal caused by erotic situations involving food. This may comprise many different types of activity including those who:

  • Eat one particular foodstuff from the body of another (e.g., licking chocolate mousse off the breasts of a naked partner).
  • Eat a variety of foods or a whole meal off somebody’s naked body (such as the Japanese practice of nyotaimori – see below).
  • Use a foodstuff to enhance a particular sexual act (e.g., sucking on a lime before engaging in oral sex to swell the taste buds and create more sensitivity when licking genital tissue). This could also technically involve the use of a foodstuff to enhance genital lubrication (e.g., use of olive oil).
  • Use food as a method of control and/or flagellation in sadomasochistic activity (e.g., the throwing of oranges at the buttocks as a from of sexual humiliation or punishment). Dominant partners can also choose to control their submissive partner’s eating habits and food intake as a regular part of their sex play. Some dominant individuals will restrain their submissive partner’s hands, and order them to eat from a dish on the floor. This can be a highly sexually charged situation for those into erotic humiliation.
  • Use food as a masturbatory aid. This may include males hollowing out foodstuffs (such as a pumpkin) into which they simulate intercourse, and females using phallic shaped foods as a penis substitute (e.g., cucumbers).
  • Drink bodily fluids (such as semen) after it has been blended into other foods (e.g., mashed potato) following masturbation.
  • Drink bodily fluids as part of another drink (e.g., adding ice cubes made of semen to a pina colada where the saltiness of the semen counteracts the sweetness of pineapple).
  • Use food as an enhancement to sexual intercourse (e.g., the use of a slitted plum placed over an erect penis and then inserted into a partner’s vagina to add volume and pressure to the sexual act for both partners.
  • Use food to aid sexual stimulation and erotic pleasure (e.g., the insertion of grapes into the rectum). This latter type of act also includes particular foodstuffs such as the insertion of ginger into the rectum (called ‘figging’ – check it out on Wikipedia if you find this hard to believe). The use of ginger has also been documented as being inserted into the vagina and urethral opening.

There are also various sub-types of sitophilia (such as botulinonia that involves the sexual use of sausages). Similarly, as mentioned in the list above, those who use various foods as dildo substitute masturbatory aids (e.g., cucumbers, aubergines, carved out melons, butternet squash, etc.) may also be sitophiles.

Sitophilic acts have appeared in popular films and books. The most infamous are probably (i) the lead character Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) in the film American Pie is caught masturbating into a pie after being told that third base (i.e., fellatio) feels like “warm apple pie”, (ii) the sex scene in the film 9½ Weeks where John Gray (Micky Rourke) spoon feeds Elizabeth McGraw (Kim Basinger) various kinds of food while blindfolded, and (iii) the Philip Roth book Portnoy’s Complaint that features detailed depictions of masturbation – the most infamous being the use of a piece of liver steak by the male protagonist (Alexander Portnoy) to masturbate into and which is later served at a family dinner. However, one of the weirdest sitophilic acts I have come across is in Seijun Suzuki’s film Branded to Kill (1967) where the leading man Goro Hanada (Joe Shishido) has a food fetish where he has to sniff boiling rice in order to become sexually excited.

I have also come across descriptions of food orgy parties. These are:

“Organized by individuals where friends bring either an erotic arrangement of food on a dish to share, or food that feels sensuous when rubbed onto a partner and licked off. Afterwards, everyone soaks in a hot tub. There are also all-male games such as ‘Shoot the Cookie’ and ‘Soggy Biscuit’ where males stand in a circle around a cookie and masturbate. The rule dictates that the last one who ejaculates on the cookie has to eat it”.

There are also those who use foodstuffs to make the sexual act messier (i.e., “sploshing” – a form of salirophilia) that I briefly examined in a previous blog on salirophilia (in which individuals experience sexual arousal from soiling or disheveling the object of their desire). Sitophilia can also play a part in the activity of ‘food play’ (which doesn’t always have sexual connotations so should not be used synonymously). For instance, nyotaimori and nantaimori (the obscure Japanese practice of ‘female body presentation’ and ‘male body presentation’ respectively) is not usually seen as either fetishistic or paraphilic for those who participate. This practice is also known as “body sushi” and involves people eating food from the body of a naked person). Some websites (such as Muki’s Kitchen) have turned such behaviour into an art form.

Some reports claim that the person covered in food has to learn to withstand the coldness of the food and is trained to lie and keep still for hours while those around eat off their body. However, the Guardian journalist Julie Bindel who attended a nyotaimori platter in London says that the women she ate off were models with no prior training.

I have yet to read a single academic or clinical paper that has been published on the topic although there is a lot of online activity surrounding those who get sexually aroused by food (check out the links in the ‘Further reading’ section). For instance, here is one story I found from a homosexual man into both feederism and sitophilia.

“I love to eat. I am a chubby guy, 5’4″ and currently 200 lbs. I attempt to maintain around 200 lbs if I can manage it. Along with sitophilia I am also attracted to other chubby guys. Well I get extremely turned on by food. I love the look of food, the smell of food, the taste of food. The act of eating food also is such a turn on. Feeling food in my mouth, chewing it and the act of swallowing food and feeling it slide down to my stomach gets me totally aroused. I love to indulge in buffets. Going to a buffet is better than any porn I could ever watch. Usually there are lots of chubby men there for me to watch and satisfy my chubby guy fetish too. I have spent several hours at a buffet indulging. I usually walk around half hard the whole time. In private I love to include food in sex. Just earlier I had a piece of chocolate cheescake. It was a very rich, dense and decadent cheescake. I took it out of the fridge and took it into my bedroom. I got naked and laid on the bed. My cock was instantly hard. I took the slice of cheesecake in one hand and my cock in the other hand. I started to masturbate while slowly tasting the cake. I became so aroused that I began to furiously pound my cock and I just stuffed the whole piece of cheesecake into my mouth. It was a huge piece and I could almost not fit it all in. My mouth was stuffed and my cheeks puffed out totally filled with the cheesecake. As I chewed and felt the creamy chocolate cheesecake in my mouth, I felt my arousal build and that familiar sensation of being close to an orgasm. I pounded my cock even harder and then I took one swallow…feeling the bit of cheesecake sliding down my throat brought me just to the edge of orgasm. I could not stand it any longer. I began to chew and swallow all of the cheesecake and I erupted in a very powerful and intense orgasm”

Here are two confessions from female sitophiles. They wrote:

Extract 1: “Something about watching a man eat turns me on like crazy. I like to cook for men just so I can watch them eat my food. When men eat, they attack, and I find it incredibly sexy. If any professional might know the reason for this, I would greatly appreciate your insight. It is not getting in the way of my everyday life, it is just something that gets me going”.

Extract 2: “I used to be bulimic in high school (that’s when I realized I like sticking my fingers in food) and now I’m on a strict diet and my sitophilia is worse than ever! I love watching people eat fatty foods and I want to know what sploshing is like. I lay awake at night fantasizing about being covered in cake batter or spaghetti-o’s and rubbing it onto my skin. I’ve been weird about food since my eating disorder, but sitophilia was not in my vocabulary until very recently”.

Despite such online confessions, sitophilia appears to be one of many paraphilias that have passed the academic and clinical world by. This may be because food play is quite common among ‘normal’ and ‘experimental’ sex, and/or may be seen as academically and/or clinically trivial.

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

Further reading

Bindel, J. (2009). ‘I am about to eat sushi off a naked woman’s body’. The Guardian, February 12. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/feb/12/nyotaimori-eating-sushi-naked-woman

Sense and Sensuality Website (Education and Discussion website). Located at: http://sensesensuality.blogspot.co.uk/2009/06/sex-ed-paraphilia-sitophilia.html?zx=879c2fb6531ed60d

Spiritual BDSM (2011). What is sitophilia? December 6, Located at: http://www.spiritualbdsm.com/2011/12/what-is-sitophilia.html?zx=69b8151a4d2896e3

Messing around: A beginner’s guide to salirophilia and mysophilia

Salirophilia – sometimes called saliromania – is a paraphiic sexual fetish in which individuals experience sexual arousal from soiling or disheveling the object of their desire (typically an attractive person). Salirophilic behaviour may include a range of activities such as tearing or damaging the desired person’s clothing, covering them in mud or filth, or messing their hair or makeup. The fetish never involves harming or injuring the person in any way, only messing up how they look in some way, shape or form. The fetish was thought to be mainly heterosexual in origin although a 1982 book (Human Sexuality, by James McCary and Stephen McCary) said that it was known to occur within same sex relationships.

It is sometimes related to other fetishes and paraphilias including urophilia (deriving sexual pleasure from urine), coprophilia (deriving sexual pleasure faeces), mysophilia (deriving sexual pleasure from filth), sploshing (deriving sexual pleasure from wet substances – but not bodily fluids – being deliberately and generously applied to either naked or scantily clad individuals, and sometimes referred to as ‘wet and messy’ fetishism), bukkake (the act of many men ejaculating over a man or women simultaneously; there are also variations of this where men ejaculate over photographs and pictures and referred to as ‘face painting), and omorashi (deriving sexual pleasure from having a full bladder and/or feeling sexually attracted to someone else who has a full bladder). Salirophilia may also extends to other areas such a forcing a sexual partner to wear torn or poorly fitting clothing that make the person look more unattractive.

Other variations of the fetish may also include people become sexually aroused from acts of vandalism and defacement of statues, photos of attractive people (including celebrities). Videos of individuals ejaculating over celebrity photographs are known as “tributes” within the fetish community.

As far as I have been able to establish, there is not a single piece of empirical research directly on salirophilia. Not even a single case study. All the information, I have compiled in this blog comes from online sources and books on sexuality and sexual paraphilias (where salirophilia is only mentioned in passing, if mentioned at all). Dr. Ian Kerner, a New York City sex therapist, says that salirophilia often involves domination and submission fantasies. McCary and McCary noted that although salirophilia has been described as a category separate from sexual sadism, they claim that most cases of saliromania would meet the criteria for sexual sadism, as described in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. However, as Dr Joel Milner, Dr Cynthia Dopke, and Dr Julie Crouch note in a 2008 review of paraphilias not otherwise specified, it is unclear whether cases exist in which the salirophilic behavior (e.g., the act of damaging clothing) is distinct from a focus on the suffering and humiliation of the sexual partner. They also noted that the extent of overlap of salirophilia with fetishism, bukkake, mysophilia, urophilia, and coprophilia is unknown.

Like salirophilia, there is little empirical data on mysophilia. As mentioned above, mysiophiliacs derive sexual pleasure from filth and unclean items such as soiled knickers (but may also include related activities such as sexual arousal from seeing people wearing the same clothes for days or weeks on end). Magazines such as the Penthouse Forum: The International Journal of Human Relations has (for many years) contained classified advertisements for soiled women’s underwear for mysophiliacs to buy. According to Professor John Money, this focus may involve the “smelling, chewing or other-wise utilizing sweaty or soiled clothing or articles of menstrual hygiene”.  Back in the late 1940s, the American psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Karpman put forward a number of psychodynamic speculations on the etiological factors associated with mysophilia in a couple of papers that focused on coprophilia. One of Karpman’s analytic interpretations concerning mysophilia was that it involves a symbolic association of sex with something that is dirty (i.e., bad). He said that the pairing of sex and filth was functional, because any guilt associated with sexual behavior could be washed away.

In a previous blog on fetishism, I wrote at length about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) 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 body part fetishes were most common (33%), followed by objects associated with the body (30%), preferences for other people’s behavior (18%), own behavior (7%), social behavior (7%), and objects unrelated to the body (5%). Feet (and objects associated with feet) were by far the most common fetishes. They also reported that some of the sites featured references to mysophiliacs but that this particular fetish accounted for less than 1% of all fetishes

As with salirophilia, case studies of mysophilia appear hard to come by. In a paper by Dr John White published in a 2007 in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, he examinedevidence of primary, secondary, and collateral paraphilias left at serial murder and sex offender crime scenes. Two of the cases he reported involved mysophilia. In the first case, the offender was engaged in multiple paraphilias including mysophilia, picquerism (stabbing or cutting victims of sexual attacks), and attempted paraphilic rape intended to degrade the victim. In the second case, the offender manifested an even wider range of paraphilias including mysophilia, pogophilia (fascination with women’s buttocks), paedophilia, masochism, and urophilia. In both of these cases, the mysophilic tendencies did not seem to be central to the crimes committed, and mysophilia was clearly part of a much wider range of paraphilic behaviour.

There are also first person accounts of salirophilia and/or mysophilia on the internet. I came across this account (which I have edited down from a much longer posting on a psychology bulleting board:

“First of, let me say I’m not a dangerous or mean person. I really almost never hurt other people, and I really don’t want to. I’ve never really told anyone about this. When I was younger, I don’t know how young exactly, I had kind of unusual sexual fantasies. I think I was 6/7/8/9 [years old]. I don’t really remember. I used to think about them while lying in bed before I was going to sleep. Things I fantasized about, and this is a really hard part to type out for me, is people wearing diapers, people wearing clothes in weird ways, and people that got messy. Please don’t think I’m a sick person or something. If I could change it, I would, although it didn’t really harm anyone. When I got a little older, I think I was 9 or 10, maybe 11, I searched on the internet for people that got messy. I don’t know if that was because of fetish, or just because of normal interest in that. [After that] I mostly watched videos of game shows in which people got messy. Sometimes they were my age, sometimes they were younger, sometimes they were older. Only recently I started to realize that the fantasies I had when I was younger weren’t normal, and that I could have had a fetish. It kind of shocked me. Sometimes, I dream about it. I start watching those videos again. In others, I get messy myself, and in those dreams, I get aroused by that. Did I do anything wrong? Do I need to get help? Am I a bad person? Will this affect the rest of my life badly? I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just really had to tell this somewhere on some moment”.

Treatment for salirophilia and mysophilia is rarely sought unless the condition becomes problematic for the individual in some way. Although the individual may feel compelled to engage in the paraphilic behaviour, anecdotal evidence suggests that the great majority manage to integrate their fetishistic behaviour within their day-to-day life without harm to anyone (including themselves).

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

Further reading

Butcher, Nancy (2003). The Strange Case of the Walking Corpse: A Chronicle of Medical Mysteries, Curious Remedies, and Bizarre but True Healing Folklore. New York: Avery.

Holmes, R. M. (2009). Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behavior. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Karpman, B. (1948). Coprophilia: A collective review. Psychoanalytic Review, 35, 253–272.

Karpman, B. (1949). A modern Gulliver: A study in coprophilia. Psychoanalytic Review, 36, 260–282.

McCary, J.L. & McCary, S.P. (1982). McCary’s Human Sexuality (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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.

Money, J. (1986). Lovemaps: Clinical concepts of sexual/erotic health and pathology, paraphilia, and gender transposition in childhood, adolescence, and maturity. New York: Irvington.

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.

White, J.H. (2007). Evidence of primary, secondary, and collateral paraphilias left at serial murder and sex offender crime scenes. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 52, 1194-1201.

Trample leaning: A beginner’s guide to crush fetishism

Crush fetishism is a sexual fetish in which an individual derives sexual arousal from watching (or fantasizing about) someone of the opposite sex crushing items (e.g., toys, cigarettes, mobile phones, laptops), food (e.g., fruit), and (in extreme cases) small animals and insects, and/or being stepped on, sat upon, and/or crushed on by a person. The latter variant is a type of sexual masochism. There are also dedicated phone sex services that cater for crush fetishism suggesting overlaps with telephonicophilia (i.e., being sexually aroused from telephone sex talk).

Another similar fetish appears to be ‘trampling fetishism’. This comprises paraphilic fantasies and/or practices of being trampled underfoot by another person (and is found in both homosexual and heterosexual acts). As the trampling often produces pain, trampling fetishes are considered a variant of sado-masochism.

Crush fetishism has also been associated with formicophilia, a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual arousal from insects. For instance, in the journal Cultural Entomology, G.A. Pearson (North Carolina State University, USA), described the fetishistic behaviour where people get sexual pleasure from watching insects, worms and spiders being squashed (particularly men watching women doing it). If the fantasy or behaviour involves giant people, it is often considered a variant of macrophilia (i.e., a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual arousal from a fascination with giants and/or a sexual fantasy involving giants). As Jeremy Biles notes in a 2004 essay on crush fetishists in Janus Head:

“Among the many obscure and bizarre sects of fetishism, few remain so perplexing or so underexamined as that of the ‘crush freaks’. At the cutting edge of the edgy world of sexual fetishistic practices, the crush freaks are notorious for their enthusiasm for witnessing the crushing death of insects and other, usually invertebrate, animals, such as arachnids, crustaceans, and worms. More specifically, crush freaks are sexually aroused by the sight of an insect exploded beneath the pressure of a human foot–usually, but not necessarily, a relatively large and beautiful female foot”

Crush fetishes comprise two types – hard crush and soft crush. Soft crush fetishes are apparently more common and typically refer to the crushing of invertebrates (e.g., spiders, beetles, worms, etc). Hard crush fetishes typically refer to the crushing of larger (vertebrate) animals (e.g., reptiles, birds, mammals). Some crush fetishists are very specific about how they like to see the insects and/or animals crushed (i.e., some prefer the person doing the crushing to be wearing particular types of footwear [e.g., high heels, flip-flops, etc.] or no footwear at all). Hard crush fetish videos have recently attracted worldwide media attention and have prompted criminal actions in a number of jurisdictions.

For instance, back in August 2011, police in the Philippines arrested Vicente Ridon and Dorma Ridon, a married couple that had filmed dozens of ‘crush fetish’ videos (often referred to as ‘animal snuff’ films). These films showed six female teenagers (aged between 12 and 18 years) torturing and killing animals before being posted onto online “crush fetish” websites all over the world. The case was initiated by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who helped track the couple down over the course of a year’s detective work. Mr and Mrs Ridon were eventually charged with animal cruelty, child abuse and human trafficking.

This is by no means an isolated incident and is not the product of mentally ill people. Earlier this year in Milan (April 2012), a 40-year old mother of three children (“Anna B”) was given a $5400 fine and a four-month suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of being sexually aroused by crushing animals while wearing stockings and stiletto heels. She had posted dozens of online videos of herself crushing rabbits, mice and chicks. Following the banning of crush videos in 2010, this case was the first prosecution under the new law in Italy Paolo Iosca, the lawyer representing the Italian Anti Vivisection League said:

“This case was brought to our attention following a tip off to us and we acted immediately to bring this woman to justice. The videos she posted showed her semi-naked, wearing tights and high heels and crushing innocent animals such as rabbits, chicks and mice to death. They were particularly crude and offensive. This woman, who is a mother of three children, was clearly enjoying herself as she was slaughtering these animals and filming their agony”.

The legality of erotic crush films and the actual practice of crushing animals vary by region and country. For instance, China does not have any animal cruelty laws, and therefore no criminal acts are being violated in that jurisdiction. Here in the UK, crush videos are illegal. However, as far as I have been able to ascertain, there are currently no laws forbidding the crushing of insects in any country. In November 2010, a Chinese crush fetish video was posted online featuring a young attractive girl, sitting on the rabbit, and crushing it to death. In a journalistic investigation by China Hush, an online user with the pseudonym “Sound of Heaven” (天堂之音) said that:

“People who like Crush Fetish are not promoting and encouraging violence and murdering people, but it is an extension to [sadomasochism], a state, crushed to death by a woman, a spirit of sacrificing oneself for her”.

Other similar videos including the abusing and killing of cats and dogs have also appeared online. Although these acts of killing could be viewed as acts of zoosadism (because of the sexual element), the person doing the killing of the animals is usually paid for their “services” and does not appear to get any sexual satisfaction from the act itself. It is the person watching the ‘hard crush’ videos that typically derive the sexual pleasure from it. In this sense, the act could be described as a type of ‘zoosadism by proxy’ (at least that’s my own take on this).

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.

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

Inquirer Global Nation (2011). Police nab Filipino ‘crush fetish’ couple. Located at: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/8219/police-nab-filipino-crush-fetish-couple

Intentious (2011). Rabbit crushing outrage – Animal snuff film offends. December 9. Located at: http://intentious.com/2011/12/09/rabbit-crushing-outrage-animal-snuff-film-offends/

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

Pisa, N. (2012). Animal crushing fetish mum fined. Herald Sun, April 25. Located at: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/more-news/animal-crushing-fetish-mum-fined/story-e6frf7lf-1226337848931

Eaten to death: A beginner’s guide to vorarephilia

Vorarephilia – usually shortened to vore – is a sexual paraphilia in which people are sexually aroused by the idea of being eaten, eating another person, or observing this process for sexual gratification. Since the behaviour is unlikely to actually be carried out by the vorarephiliac, the behaviour is more likely to be fantasy-based via different media (e.g., fictional stories, fantasy art, fantasy videos, and bespoke video games). The behaviour doesn’t necessarily involve digestion and/or pain. Probably because it is both rare and fantasy-based, it doesn’t appear in any psychiatric manuals such as the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Vorarephilia can sometimes co-exist with other fetishistic behaviour such as masochism (sexual arousal from receiving pain), hypoxyphilia (sexual arousal from suffocation and oxygen restriction), and ‘snuff’ fetishes (sexual arousal from seeing someone die). In some cases vorarephilia has been argued to be a variant of macrophilia (i.e., sexual fascination and/or fantasy relating to giants). Most of the fantasies of vorarephiliacs involve the person being the ones being eaten (i.e., the ‘prey’, although a few like to be the ‘pred’ taken from the word ‘predator’). Some vorarephiliacs are known to derive pleasure – sometimes sexual – from watching some animals (e.g., snakes) eating other animals whole.

There have been many different types of vorarephilia documented including ‘hard vore’ and ‘soft vore’. Being primarily fantasy-based, almost any orifice or body part can be capable of vore (e.g., ‘vaginal vore’, ‘anal vore’ and ‘cock vore’). Very briefly:

  • Hard vore (sometimes simply called ‘gore’) is where the person is often subjected to horrific injuries and involves lots of blood because of the ripping, cutting, biting, tearing and/or chewing of flesh. It is not typically thought of as either sensually or sexually motivated.
  • Soft vore is where the person (that may not necessarily be a willing victim) is consumed alive and whole and is typically unharmed before reaching the stomach but then may be asphyxiated and/or digested. Compared to ‘hard vore’, soft vore is usually seen as more sensual and sexually oriented because of its relatively non-violent nature.
  • Female genital vore (vaginal vore) is where the person is consumed by the vagina and taken into the womb (and often referred to as ‘unbirthing’ or a ‘reverse birth’).
  • Male genital vore (cock vore) is where the person is consumed by the urethral opening of the penis and taken into the scrotum, prostate, or bladder.
  • Anal vore is where the person is consumed by the anus and taken into the rectum, colon, or stomach.
  • Breast vore is where the person is consumed by the nipples and taken into the breast.

Here’s a confessional piece I found on a psychology forum discussion group:

“I’m almost 17 now. But since I was really young, I’ve been a phagophile (with a specific interest in being swallowed whole). I’ve had a few girlfriends now, but my present one is by far the most engaging and interesting person I have ever met. She’s the only one I’ve engaged in any real sexual contact with. After meeting her, my interests expanded somewhat; she’s the only person I’ve ever been interested in eating. Fortunately this was impossible, for obvious reasons: I was still thinking in terms of “soft vore”, in which no damage is done to either party. This is where things get difficult. We’ve been together a while now and within the past few weeks, I’ve begun to shift towards “hard vore”. This includes cannibalism: I’ve been attracted especially to biting at her neck, hands, and nose. I feel that I’ve done a good job at communicating this to her, so I haven’t crossed any lines because I’ve controlled myself.”

The motivational driving force underlying vorarephilia is some ways appears to resemble that of sadomasochism from a dominance and submission perspective. Devouring someone could be viewed as the ultimate act of dominance by a predator, and the ultimate act of submission by the prey. Paradoxically, most vorarephiliacs have no real interest in cannibalism, although a few do. Possible vorarephiliacs include the Japanese man (Issei Sagawa) who in 1981 killed and then ate a Dutch woman (Renée Hartevelt), and the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer who killed 17 men and boys and engaged in both cannibalistic and necrophilic acts with his many victims between 1978 and 1991.

However, the most infamous vorarephiliac is arguably the German Armin Meiwes. His case was referred to at length in a 2008 essay in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, by Dr Friedemann Pfafflin (a forensic psychotherapist at Ulm University, Germany). Meiwes, a computer technician, gained worldwide media attention as the ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’ for killing and eating a fellow German male victim (also a computer technician). Meiwes had allegedly been fantasizing about cannibalism since his childhood and frequented cannibal fetish websites and posted around 60 advertisements asking if anyone would like to be eaten by him. Meiwes claimed around 200 men responded to his request but only one finally met face-to-face.

In March 2002, Bernd Jürgen Brandes responded to Meiwes’ advertisement on the Internet. At their one and only meeting at Meiwes’ house, their first cannabilistic act was for Meiwes to bite off Brandes’ penis and then jointly cook and eat it. Brandes then drank lots of alcohol, cough syrup, and took sleeping pills, and was stabbed to death by Meiwes in his bath (and videotaped). The body was then stored and over time, Meiwes ate large amounts of it (about 20 kg). The one aspect that shocked most people was not the fact that Meiwes ate a lot of Brande’s body but that Brandes appeared to consent to being eaten. Email exchanges between Meiwes and Brandes were later shared in the court case:

Brandes: “Thanks for your mail. You really turn me on…Winter with the temperature at around 5 to 15 degrees below freezing is good weather for slaughter. Great to be naked and tied in weather like that and to be driven to the slaughter. Where you then stun me and I collapse. You then hang me up, jerking, and cut my carotid artery. Warm blood flows. Everything goes routinely. I don’t have any chance to escape my slaughter at the last moment. It’s a real turn-on, the feeling of being at your mercy being in your possession. Having to give up my flesh”

Meiwes: “It’ll be awesome, anyway. Your tasty body on show like that. Spicing it…Tying you up will be no problem, I’ve got rope and some cuffs for your hands and feet. I’ll really enjoy the bit with the needles. I’ll see if I can get hold of some really long ones. I can’t wait for you to be here”

It wasn’t until about 18 months after Brande had been killed that the German police started to investigate Meiwes. An Austrian student had seen Meiwes boasting that he had successfully killed and eaten another man. The police then arrested Meiwes and found human body parts in the freezer and the videotape of the killing. In court, Brandes’ consent to being killed was accepted by the jury and Meiwes was given an eight and a half year prison sentence for manslaughter. Neither Meiwes or Brandes were deemed mentally ill by the court appointed psychiatrists. Dr Klaus Beier (Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine, Free and Humboldt-University of Berlin, Germany) was the expert witness who twice provided forensic expertise on Miewes. He said that:

“Armin suffered neither from a psychosis nor any other mental illness or any personality disorder. Quite the contrary, he had a normal IQ and his social competence was high. To everybody who had private or professional contact with him, Armin seemed to be an open-minded and friendly contemporary man who, in the forming of contacts, appeared pleasant-natured, flexible, and socially competent, even agile. Even extremely experienced police officers, who could not believe what he had done, had to put on record that, if they had not known about the offence, Armin M. never offered anything conspicuous during the entire period of investigation.”

A later paper by Dr Beier in response to Dr Pfafflin noted that:

“Before the age of 11 years [Armin] was preoccupied by the idea of incorporating another male by eating his flesh. This paraphilia caused him to seek unsolicited partners who pretended to mirror his desire insofar that they should have the wish of being incorporated. It took him years to find such a counterpart using the frighteningly developed subculture on the internet for that purpose, where people with this special inclination can encourage each other.”

Dr Pfafflin outlined some other cases of German cannibalism including cases he was personally involved in. he said that:

From my intensive knowledge of both these case histories just referred to, I have no doubt that every form of cannibalism, excepting at most those which happen in times of extreme hunger and whose only purpose is to secure survival, has a pathological, perverse background.”

Little is known about how prevalent this type of behaviour is although Meiwes claimed that based on his internet activity on cannibal fetish websites that there were at least 800 Germans that shared his passion for wanting to eat another person. The number of people that have a desire to be eaten and actually go through with it is likely to be incredibly small – but the internet helped Meiwes locate a willing victim.

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

Further reading

Adams, C. (2004). Eat or be eaten: Is cannibalism a pathology as listed in the DSM-IV? The Straight Dope, July 2. Located at: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2515/eat-or-be-eaten

Beier, K. (2008). Comment on Pfafflin’s (2008) “Good enough to eat”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 164-165

Brundage, S. (2002).  Fetish confessions. The Wave Magazine 2(15). Located at: http://web.archive.org/web/20070927061721/http://www.thewavemag.com/pagegen.php?articleid=22026&pagename=article

Pfafflin, F. (2008). Good enough to eat. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 286-293.

Pfafflin, F. (2009). Reply to Beier (2009). Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 166-167.

Hit me baby, one more time: A brief overview of sexual masochism

In a previous blog, I briefly examined the psychological literature on sexual sadism. Today’s blog looks at its counterpart – sexual masochism – often viewed as two sides of the same coin. Sexual masochists comprise those individuals who derive sexual gratification from receiving physical and/or psychological pain. The sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing coined the term ‘masochism’ in his 1886 sexology book Psychopathia Sexualis deriving the name from the 19th-century novelist Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose book Venus in Furs (well known to us that are big Velvet Underground fans) depicts a man’s humiliation and suffering by a female dominatrix. There are other names for the same phenomenon – such as ‘algolagnia’ – that refer to those people who have a craving for pain. Algolagnia was coined by the German physician in the late 1880s but never caught on in the same way as the term ‘masochism’.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) acknowledges the overlap between masochism and sadism but they are classed as two distinct entities. The DSM-IV defines masochism as when the individual experiences “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving the act (real, not simulated) of being humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer” over a six-month period. To distinguish it as a disorder rather than a non-problematic sexual preference, the masochistic sexual urges, fantasies and/or behaviours have to cause “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”. Interestingly, other paraphilic behaviours such as hypoxyphilia (examined in a previous blog) come under the rubric of sexual masochism.

Early empirical studies such as those published in the Kinsey Reports in the late 1940s and early 1950s reported that a quarter of both males and females had experienced sexual arousal from being bitten by their partner during sex although later studies have reported much lower figures of around 3% to 5%. In a late 1980s, a study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, by Dr Ethel Person (Columbia University, New York, USA) and colleagues surveyed college students about their sexual behaviours and fantasies. Results showed that around 4% had been tied up or sexually degraded during sex, and that 1% had spanked, whipped, or hit a consenting partner during sex (although ‘consenting partner’ does not necessarily mean they enjoyed being smacked, whipped or beaten). Dr Charles Moser (Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, California, USA) claims about 10% of the adult population engages in sadomasochistic activity.

Masochistic fantasies are not uncommon. For instance, in a 1980s study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Dr Claude Crépault and Marcel Couture (University of Quebec, Canada) reported that 46% of men had sexual fantasies of being kidnapped and raped by a woman, 12% had fantasies relating to being humiliated, and 36% fantasized about being bound and sexually stimulated by a woman.

Although there is a lot of evidence showing that sexually masochistic desires, fantasies and behaviours are relatively common among men, there has been some dispute about women’s interest in sexual masochism. Research certainly indicates that consensual sexually masochistic behaviour by females can occur and some authors argue that there is a biologically based tendency towards submissiveness in females. However, some claim that it is very rare in women. Back in 1977, Dr Andreas Spengler (University of Hamburg, Germany) has claimed that almost all women who participate in sadomasochist activities are prostitutes that have no personal preference for such activity. However, a number of more recent studies among sadomasochists (1985-2002) have all indicated that a small but significant minority of women engage in both sexually masochistic and sadistic activities (13% to 30%) – very few of which were prostitutes. However, when compared to male sadomasochists, female counterparts were less likely to need sadomasochist activity to fulfil their sexual satisfaction.

Research has also indicated that men are more likely than women to experience masochistic desires during adolescence although a significant minority of male masochists do not express an interest in such behaviour until they have reached adulthood. Studies of sadomasochists show little difference in sexual orientation. For instance, Spengler’s study of 245 male sadomasochists reported that 30% were heterosexual, 31% were bisexual and 38% homosexual. Other studies have found much higher levels of heterosexuality although amongst female sadomasochists there tends to be higher levels of bisexuality than in the study by Spengler.

In a 1985 study carried out by academics at California State University and led by Dr Norman Breslow, 182 sadomasochists (of which 52 were women) were surveyed. One-third of the men (33%) were dominant, 41% were submissive, and 26% were both. Similar results were found among the females. Spanking and ‘master-slave relationships’ were the most preferred sexual activities for both male and female sadomasochists although there were some minor differences. More females preferred bondage and restraint whereas more men preferred pain and whipping. Klismaphilia may also have been a co-morbid paraphilia as 33% men and 22% of females made sexual use of enemas.

A more recent Finnish study led by Dr Laurence Alison reported in the Archives of Sexual Behavior reported that flagellation and bondage were among the most popular activities among sadomasochists. However, there was a wide range of lesser activities that carried greater risk of physical harm including piercings, hypoxyphilia, fisting, knifeplay, and electric shocks. There were also major differences depending upon sexual orientation (for instance, gay men were more likely to engage in activities such as “cock binding”). Most interestingly, the research team identified four sadomasochistic sub-groups based on the type of pain given and received. These were:

  • Typical pain administration: This involved practices such as spanking, caning, whipping, skin branding, electric shocks, etc.
  • Humiliation: This involved verbal humiliation, gagging, face slapping, flagellation, etc. Heterosexuals were more likely than gay men to engage in these types of activity.
  • Physical restriction: This included bondage, use of handcuffs, use of chains, wrestling, use of ice, wearing straight jackets, hypoxyphilia, and mummifying.
  • Hyper-masculine pain administration: This involved rimming, dildo use, cock binding, being urinated upon, being given an enema, fisting, being defecated upon, and catheter insertion. Gay men were more likely than heterosexuals to engage in these types of activity.

There are many theories on why people engage in such behaviours from traditional learning theories (based on both operant and classical conditioning) through to psychoanalytic interpretations. Most of these theories place the origins of the behaviour within a developmental framework and argue that the root of the paraphilic behaviour begins in childhood. Somewhere in childhood and adolescence, the individual starts to associate pleasure with pain, and then become sexualized in adulthood.

In a 1995 paper published by the sexologist Kurt Freund and colleagues, they noted there was a distinct difference between commonplace consensual and play-oriented sadomasochistic activities and more dangerous and potentially fatal practices of a small minority of hardcore sadomasochists. As with many paraphilias, sexual masochism would only classified as a mental disorder if it causes significant psychological and physical impairment (that in very extreme circumstances may be life threatening). This has been echoed by Dr Richard Krueger (New York State Psychiatric Clinic, USA) who noted in a 2010 review on the diagnostic criteria for sexual masochism that the main criticisms and concerns surrounding this behaviour (and paraphilias more generally) is that they should not be included in the DSM because they are not mental disorders, they are unscientific, they are unnecessary, and to do so pathologizes groups who engage in alternative sexual practices” (p.348).

However, in 2006, Dr Charles Moser and Peggy Kleinplatz (Carleton University, Canada) argued in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality that there is no evidence that sadomasochists more often need emergency services “than practitioners of other sexual behaviours” (p. 106), although this has been disputed by others in the field. The review by Dr Krueger concludes that:

“While masochistic and/or sadomasochistic behavior occur with some frequency in the population and is associated with generally good psychological or social functioning, there are a very small number of cases where masochistic fantasy and behavior result in severe harm or even death. These cases clearly indicate a sexual interest pattern that has become pathological. Since so little is know about this behavior, further research is indicated, and inclusion in the DSM would facilitate this” (p.353).

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

Further reading

Alison, L., Santtila, P., Sandnabba, N. K., & Nordling, N. (2001). Sadomasochistically oriented behavior: Diversity in practice and meaning. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 1–12.

Baumeister, R. F. (1988). Masochism as escape from self. Journal of Sex Research, 25, 28–59.

Breslow, N., Evans, L., & Langley, J. (1985). On the prevalence of roles of females in the sadomasochistic subculture: Report of an empirical study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 14, 303–317.

Crépault, C., & Couture, M. (1980). Men’s erotic fantasies. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 9, 565–576.

Donnelly, D., & Fraser, J. (1998). Gender differences in sado-masochistic arousal among college students. Sex Roles, 39, 391-407.

Freund, K., Seto, M. C., & Kuban, M. (1995). Masochism: A multiple case study. Sexuologie, 4, 313-324.

Hucker, S. J. (2008). Sexual masochism: Psychopathology and theory. In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp. 250-263). New York: Guildford Press.

Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C. E., & Gebhard, P. H. (1953). Sexual behavior in the human female. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Krueger, R.B. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for sexual masochism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 346–356.

Moser, C., & Kleinplatz, P. J. (2006). DSM-IV-TR and the paraphilias: An argument for removal. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 17, 91-109.

Ormerod, D. (1994). Sado-masochism. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 5, 123–136.

Paclebar, A. M., Furtado, C., & McDonald-Witt, M. (2006). Sadomasochism: Practices, behaviors, and culture in American society. In E. W. Hickey (Ed.), Sex crimes and paraphilia (pp. 215–227). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Person, E.S., Terestman, N., Myers, Goldberg, E.L. & Salvadori,  C. (1989). Gender differences in sexual behaviors and fantasies in a college population. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 15, 187-198.

Sandnabba, N. K., Santtila, P., Alison, L., & Nordling, N. (2002). Demographics, sexual behaviour, family background and abuse experiences of practitioners of sadomasochistic sex: A review of recent research. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 17, 39–55.

Sandnabba, N. K., Santtila, P., & Nordling, N. (1999). Sexual behavior and social adaptation among sadomasochistically oriented males. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 273–282.

Spengler, A. (1977). Manifest sadomasochism of males: Results of an empirical study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 6, 441–456.

Sexy sadism: Entertainment through pain

Sadism (the act of obtaining sexual arousal through the giving of physical or psychological pain) and masochism (the act of obtaining sexual arousal through the receiving of physical or psychological pain) are paraphilias that are often viewed as two variations of the same phenomenon. However, this blog briefly examines sexual sadism in isolation.

The psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing is often credited with introducing the term “sadism” in his 1886 sexology book Psychopathia Sexualis deriving the name from the Marquis de Sade, whose French novels often featured such behaviour. Despite the increase in knowledge of (and theorizing about) sexual sadism, the psychopathology of the behaviour is still uncertain, and an all encompassing theory of the etiology of sexual sadism has yet to be developed and empirically tested. Furthermore, the labelling and defining of sexually sadistic behaviour is further complicated by the fact that many people enjoy some form of aggressive behaviour during sex (e.g., spanking, the gentle biting of nipples, love bites) making the label sadomasochism seem somewhat inappropriate.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that sexual sadists require “psychological or physical suffering (including humiliation)” of their victims to induce sexual excitement, whereas the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases defines sadism as the “preference for sexual activity that involves bondage or the infliction of pain or humiliation”. However, those that have carried out research in the field claim that such definitions are difficult to apply in practice, resulting in experienced clinicians interpreting screening criteria inconsistently in the diagnosis of sexual sadism.

The situation was complex even when Krafft-Ebing first wrote on the topic. For instance, he described what he believed were distinct subtypes of sexual sadism including (i) lust murder (where sexual arousal is integral to the act of killing), (ii) necrophilia (discussed in a previous blog), (iii) injury to women through flagellation or stabbing, (iv) defilement of women; (iv) other types of assaults on women, such as cutting off their hair; (v) whipping of boys; (vi) sadism toward animals; and (vii) sadistic fantasies without the occurrence of any actual sadistic acts. Another sadistic act that has been reported in more recent times is ‘piqeurism’ where the assailant stabs a female victim (typically breasts or buttocks) and then runs away.

The true prevalence of sexual sadism among the general population is unknown. Alfred Kinsey’s seminal studies of human sexual behaviour in the late 1940s and early 1950s reported that 22% of the males and 12% of the females responded erotically to stories with sadistic themes. Other research studies estimate that 10-20% of couples have engaged in sadomasichistic activities during sex but that much of this is symbolic. However, most of the little research that has been published on sexual sadism tends to be based on sex offenders and sexual killers.

Among sex offenders, the prevalence of sexual sadism is estimated to occur in between 2% and 5% of offences. However, these estimates have been reported to be much higher (as much as 50%) depending upon the criteria that are used to define and diagnose sexual sadism in the first place. Prevalence estimates are further complicated because some in the area note that sadism and masochism are complementary disorders or separate poles of the same disorder. There is certainly a lot of empirical support that sadism and masochism often co-occur such as psychiatrist Dr Andreas Spengler’s study of 245 German sadomasochists published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Spengler’s study reported that among his sample, 30% were heterosexual, 31% bisexual and 38% homosexual. Just under a half (43%) developed their sadomasochistic desires after adolescence, and – perhaps surprisingly given the link to compulsive behaviour – sado-masochism was low frequency activity (with a median average of only five SM experiences per year among the respondents).

In a study led by Dr Gene Abel (now Director of the Behavioral Medicine Institute of Atlanta, US), it was reported that 18% of sadists were also masochistic, 46% had raped, 21% had exposed themselves, 25% had engaged in voyeurism and frottage, and 33% had molested children. Similarly, other researchers the Institute of Psychiatry, London) have noted an overlap among various paraphilias. Their sample comprised 87 rubberites, 38 leatherites, 133 sadomasochists, 205 transvestites (including transsexuals) and 25 dominant females. They found that 4% of sadomasochists were also transvestites, 29% of sadomasochists were also fetishists, and 35% of sadomasochists were also fetishists and transvestites. Gosselin and Wilson also reported that the most common objects used by sadists to inflict pain on their sexual partners were belts, whips, canes, shoes and paddles.

There is a wide variety of psychological explanations relating to the etiology of sexual sadism although most recent reviews have claimed there has been little new contemporary theorizing. Most branches of psychology (psychophysiological, psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioural) have developed their own theories but little research has confirmed them. Psychobiological explanations of sexual sadism (including serial sex murderers) that have examined chromosomal, endocrine, hormonal, and/or neurological abnormalities have typically been based on single case studies or very small samples. Therefore results remain tentative and inconclusive.

Early behaviourist theories argued that sexual sadism begins during childhood development. Through both operant and classical conditioning, sexual urges, excitation, and/or arousal are consistently paired with aggressive stimuli. Sexual fantasy and masturbation then reinforce and maintain the sadistic behaviour. Other psychologists claim that personality may play a role in the conditioning process, along with social modelling and disinhibition.

More recently, Dr Malcom MacCulloch (probably best know as Moors murderer Ian Brady’s psychiatrist) claimed that behavioral explanations of the development of sadistic sexual fantasy don’t adequately explain the initial development of sadistic sexual fantasy. McCullogh and his colleagues attempted to explain the initial development of sexual sadism using research on early childhood abuse and animal models of conditioning. They claimed that sadistic fantasies resulted from a combination of early childhood abuse, classical conditioning, and operant conditioning.

Back in 1986, Katie Busch and James Cavanagh (who were both at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center, US) stated that most of the work in this area consisted of unfounded statements unsupported by data, unevaluated case reports lacking rigorous evaluation of other contributory factors, and scientific case reports of individuals or small groups. A recent literature review by Canadian consultant Dr Pamela Yates and colleagues of the current research concluded that: “Regrettably, the same can be said today, over 20 years later”.

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

Further reading

Abel, G. G., Becker, J., Cunningham-Rathner, J., Mittelman, M., & Rouleau, J. (1988). Multiple paraphilic diagnoses among sex offenders. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 16, 153–168.

Busch, K.A., & Cavanagh, J.R. (1986). The study of multiple murder: Preliminary examination of the interface between epistemology and methodology. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1, 5–23.

Gosselin, C. C. (1987). The sado-masochistic contract. In G.D. Wilson (Ed.), Variant sexuality: Research and theory (pp. 229–257). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gosselin, C. C., & Wilson, G. D. (1980). Sexual variations. London: Faber & Faber.

Kinsey, A., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C. E., & Gebhard, P. H. (1953). Sexual behavior in the human female. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Langevin, R. (2003). A study of the psychosexual characteristics of sex killers: Can we identify them before it is too late? International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 47, 366–382.

MacCulloch, M., Gray, N., & Watt, A. (2000). Brittain’s sadist murderer syndrome reconsidered: An associative account of the aetiology of sadistic sexual fantasy. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 11, 401–418.

MacCulloch, M., Snowden, P., Wood, P., & Mills, H. (1983). Sadistic fantasy, sadistic behavior, and offending. British Journal of Psychiatry, 143, 20–29.

Marshall, W. L., & Kennedy, P. (2003). Sexual sadism in sexual offenders: An elusive diagnosis. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 8, 1–22.

Marshall, W. L., & Yates, P. M. (2004). Diagnostic issues in sexual sadism among sexual offenders. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 10, 21–27.

Spengler, A. (1977). Manifest sadomasochism of males: Results of an empirical study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 6, 441–456

Yates, P.M., Hucker, S.J. & Kingston, W.A. (2008). Sexual sadism: Psychopathology and theory. In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment. pp.213-23o. New York: Guildford Press.

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