Five years ago I wrote a blog about one of my favourite bands, Throbbing Gristle (TG; Yorkshire slang for a penile erection). In that article, I noted that TG were arguably one of “the most extreme bands of all time” and “highly confrontational”. They were also the pioneers of ‘industrial music’ and in terms of their ‘songs’, no topic was seen as taboo or off-limits. In short, they explored the dark and obsessive side of the human condition. Their ‘music’ featured highly provocative and disturbing imagery including hard-core pornography, sexual manipulation, school bullying, ultra-violence, sado-masochism, masturbation, ejaculation, castration, cannibalism, Nazism, burns victims, suicide, and serial killers (Myra Hindley and Ian Brady).
I mention all this because I have just spent the last few days reading the autobiography (‘Art Sex Music‘) of Cosey Fanni Tutti (born Christine Newbie), one of the four founding members of TG. It was a fascinating (and in places a harrowing) read. As someone who is a record-collecting completist and having amassed almost everything that TG ever recorded, I found Cosey’s book gripping and read the last 350 pages (out of 500) in a single eight-hour sitting into the small hours of Sunday morning earlier today.
TG grew out of the ‘performance art’ group COUM Transmissions in the mid-1970s comprising Genesis P-Orridge (‘Gen’, born Neil Megson in 1950) and Cosey. At the time, Cosey and Gen were a ‘couple’ (although after reading Cosey’s book, it was an unconventional relationship to say the least). TG officially formed in 1975 when Chris Carter (born 1953) and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (1955-2010). Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Fairburn famously called the group “wreckers of civilisation” (which eventually became the title of their 1999 biography by Simon Ford).
As I noted in my previous article, TG are – psychologically – one of the most interesting groups I have ever come across and Cosey’s book pulled no punches. To some extent, Cosey’s book attempted to put the record straight in response to Simon Ford’s book which was arguably a more Gen-oriented account of TG. Anyone reading Cosey’s book will know within a few pages who she sees as the villain of the TG story. Gen is portrayed as an egomaniacal tyrant who manipulated her. Furthermore, she was psychologically and physically abused by Gen throughout their long relationship in the 1970s. Thankfully, Cosey fell in love with fellow band member Chris Carter and he is still the “heartbeat” of the relationship and to who her book is dedicated.
Like many of my favourite groups (The Beatles, The Smiths, The Velvet Underground, Depeche Mode), TG were (in Gestaltian terms) more than the sum of their parts and all four members were critical in them becoming a cult phenomenon. The story of their break up in the early 1980s and their reformation years later had many parallels with that of the Velvet Underground’s split and reformation – particularly the similarities between Gen and Lou Reed who both believed they were leaders of “their” band and who both walked out during their second incarnations.
Cosey is clearly a woman of many talents and after reading her book I would describe her as an artist (and not just a ‘performance artist’), musician (or maybe ‘anti-musician in the Brian Eno sense of the word), writer, and lecturer, as well as former pornographic actress, model, and stripper. It is perhaps her vivid descriptions of her life in the porn industry and as a stripper that (in addition to her accounts of physical and psychological abuse by Gen) were the most difficult to read. For someone as intelligent as Cosey (after leaving school with few academic qualifications but eventually gaining a first-class degree via the Open University), I wasn’t overly convinced by her arguments that her time working in the porn industry both as a model and actress was little more than an art project that she engaged in on her own terms. But that was Cosey’s justification and I have no right to challenge her on it.
What I found even more interesting was how she little connection between her ‘pornographic’ acting and modelling work and her time as a stripper (the latter she did purely for money and to help make ends meet during the 1980s). Her work as a porn model and actress was covert, private, seemingly enjoyable, and done behind closed doors without knowing who the paying end-users were seeing her naked. Her work as a stripper was overt, public, not so enjoyable, and played out on stage directly in front of those paying to see her naked. Two very different types of work and two very different psychologies (at least in the way that Cosey described it).
Obviously both jobs involved getting naked but for Cosey, that appeared to be the only similarity. She never ever had sex for money with any of the clientele that paid to see her strip yet she willingly made money for sex within the porn industry. For Cosey, there was a moral sexual code that she worked within, and that sex as a stripper was a complete no-no. The relationship with Gen was (as I said above) ‘unconventional’ and Gen often urged her and wanted her to have sex with other men (and although she never mentioned it in her book, I could speculate that Gen had some kind of ‘cuckold fetish’ that I examined in a previous blog as well as some kind of voyeur). There were a number of times in the book when Cosey appeared to see herself as some kind of magnet for unwanted attention (particularly exhibitionists – so-called ‘flashers’ – who would non-consensually expose their genitalia in front of Cosey from a young age through to adulthood). Other parts of the book describe emotionally painful experiences (and not just those caused by Gen) including both her parents disowning her and a heartfelt account of a miscarriage (and the hospital that kept her foetus without her knowledge or consent). There are other sections in the book that some readers may find troubling including her menstruation art projects (something that I perhaps should have mentioned in my blog on artists who use their bodily fluids for artistic purposes).
Cosey’s book is a real ‘warts and all’ account of her life including her many health problems, many of which surprisingly matched my own (arrhythmic heart condition, herniated spinal discs, repeated breaking of feet across the lifespan). Another unexpected connection was that her son with Chris Carter (Nick) studied (and almost died of peritonitis) as an undergraduate studying at art at Nottingham University or Nottingham Trent University. I say ‘or’ because at one stage in the book it says that Nick studied at Nottingham University and in another extract it says they were proud parents attending his final degree art show at Nottingham Trent University. I hope it was the latter.
Anyone reading the book would be interested in many of the psychological topics that make an appearance in the book including alcoholism, depression, claustrophobia, egomania, and suicide to name just a few. In previous blogs I’ve looked at whether celebrities are more prone to some psychological conditions including addictions and egomania and the book provides some interesting case study evidence. As a psychologist and a TG fan I loved reading the book.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Cooper, D. (2012). Sypha presents … Music from the Death Factory: A Throbbing Gristle primer. Located at: http://denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/sypha-presents-music-from-death-factory.html?zx=c19a3a826c3170a7
Fanni Tutti, C. (2017). Art Sex Music. Faber & Faber: London.
Ford, S. (1999). Wreckers of Civilization: The Story of Coum Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle. London: Black Dog Publishing.
Kirby, D. (2011). Transgressive representations: Satanic ritual abuse, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, and First Transmission. Literature and Aesthetics, 21, 134-149.
Kromhout, M. (2007). ‘The Impossible Real Transpires’ – The Concept of Noise in the Twentieth Century: a Kittlerian Analysis. Located at: http://www.mellekromhout.nl/wp-content/uploads/The-Impossible-Real-Transpires.pdf
Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.
Sarig, R. (1998). The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You’ve Never Heard Of. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications.
Walker, J.A. (2009). Cosey Fanni Tutti & Genesis P-Orridge in 1976: Media frenzy, Prostitution-style, Art Design Café, August 10. Located at: http://www.artdesigncafe.com/cosey-fanni-tutti-genesis-p-orridge-1-2009
Wells, S. (2007). A Throbbing Gristle primer. The Guardian, May 27. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2007/may/29/athrobbinggristleprimer
I apologise in advance if this is “too much information” but back in 1985, I had a brief relationship with a woman who had just come out of a long-term relationship with someone in the Hell’s Angels. One of the things she told me was that her ex-boyfriend had earned his ‘red wings’ many times and that he couldn’t wait each month for her to be on her period. For those who are wondering what the hell I am talking about, ‘red wings’ are earned by Hell’s Angel’s members when the perform oral sex on a women while she is menstruating. As I later found out, other groups of males who spend a lot of time together – such as those in the armed services – also engage in such practices to earn their ‘red wings’.
Many reading this might find my first paragraph of today’s blog utterly disgusting. For many, blood is associated with injury, trauma and/or violence. The fact that some may associate blood with sexual arousal sets the stage for an uncomfortable psychological and physical dichotomy.
It wasn’t until I came across a 1966 book by one of my favourite US writers – Hunter S. Thompson – that I first saw this practice written about in print. In the book Hells Angels, A Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Thompson wrote that red wings meant that the “the wearer has committed cunnilingus on a menstruating woman.” There were also other types of ‘wings’ that Hell’s Angels could earn including ‘black wings’ (engaging in oral sex on a black woman) and ‘brown wings’ (for anal sex with a woman).
Such practices were virtually unknown by anyone outside of Hell’s Angels circles until journalists like Thompson started chronicling their activities and interviewing Angels’ members. Although many of the badges, patches and tattoos were worn with pride, they were often earned as part of male initiation rituals (the key components of which are typically pain, sacrifice, disgust and/or a sense of accomplishment). Clearly my own personal anecdote highlights that for a minority (at least), performing oral sex on menstruating women was something to be treasured, celebrated, and enjoyed sexually. What may have started as a ‘rites of passage’ became a regular and – well at least monthly – highly arousing occurrence. The fact that for many women their sexual drives often increase during menstruation may be another reason why some men find this so sexually arousing.
In trying to research this blog, I didn’t come across too much information. In Tantric sex, the practice is mentioned but not encouraged. However, in Karezza (a Westernized form of Tantra), it is viewed as an opportunity for increased intimacy between consenting sexual partners. In voodoo folklore, it is claimed by some that having oral sex with a woman during their period ties the man with that woman for life.
In previous blogs I have examined sexual paraphilias in relation to other activities that have involved blood including sexual vampirism and vorarephilia (i.e., being sexually aroused by the idea of being eaten, eating another person, or observing this process for sexual gratification). Another blood-related paraphilia of direct interest here is menophilia. Menophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which an individual (almost always male) derives sexual arousal from menstruating females. Such individuals (which may have included the ex-boyfriend of the women I mentioned at the start of this article) are also aroused by the smell, image, taste and/or feel of the blood expelled during menstruation. As one female menophile reported online:
“Blood to me is exciting. Thrilling. A visual delight. It has been that way since I was a young girl. Nose bleeds and the sight of blood was exciting to me. I would sit in the mirror and watch the red rivulets run down my face. I began to menstruate and after a period of self loathing and fear of my cycle”
It has also been claimed that some menophiles also enjoy licking used sanitary towels and/or sucking on used tampons. For these individuals, there are some clear overlaps between mysophilia (sexual pleasure from filth and unclean items such as soiled knickers) and sexual vampirism. There was also a case of a man who was both a menophile and a coprophile (i.e., sexually aroused by faeces). He was allegedly caught tampering with public toilets as a way of collecting excreted waste products from female users to fuel his sexual desires. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most menophiles are male, some lesbians are also claimed to enjoy such practices.
I have yet to come across any psychological theorizing about the roots and causes of menophilia in any academic paper or book. I did come across the following online speculation although there was seemingly no empirical evidence backing up such claims:
“Some theorize that men lust after menstruating women because they are envious of the woman’s body which is in constant preparation for fertilization. Contrary to this however is the fact that it is almost impossible for a woman to become pregnant during her menstruation. Either way, a fascination of period blood is a fairly common fetish at [this website]. Luckily for menophiliacs, it is easy to find a female who is willing to have sex during menstruation. Often, women are charmed by men who aren’t disgusted by what is a perfectly normal and healthy body process”
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). They reported that some of the sites featured references to menophiles. However, this particular fetish was included in a ‘body fluids’ fetish category along with coprophilia, urophilia, lactophilia and mucophilia. Although this category made up a sizeable minority of all online fetishes (9%), it is unlikely that menophiles made up more than a handful of websites found compared to the fetishes of other bodily fluids.
As with many of the paraphilias I have examined in my blogs, there is almost a complete absence of any academic study on menophilia. Maybe this is one of those paraphilias that – amongst others – is seen as more trivial and/or devoid of academic merit.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Flow Forum (A website about menstruation). Located at: http://www.dotcomjunkies.com/members/kayo/forum/
Red Wings (undated). The history and culture of red wings. Located at: http://www.red-wings.com/wings-culture.html
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.
Thompson, H.S. (1966). Hells Angels, A Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. London: Random House