Blog Archives

Stairing at the rude boys: A brief look at climacophilia

In a number of my previous blogs, I have mentioned sexual paraphilias that appear to have been derived from the opposite phobic behaviours. Some examples include defecaloesiophilia (sexual arousal from painful bowel movements), lockiophilia (sexual arousal from childbirth), categelophilia (sexual arousal from being ridiculed), and rupophilia (sexual arousal from dirt). Another one that I could add to this list is climacophilia (sexual arousal from falling down stairs). This particular paraphilia got a lot of media publicity a few years ago when Dr. Jesse Baring was plugging his 2013 book Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All Of Us. (which I will return to below; I ought to confess that I love reading Baring’s populist articles and Professor Paul Bloom [of Yale University] went as far as to describe him as the Hunter S. Thompson of science writing.”). Climacophilia appears to be the opposite of climacophobia. The Wikipedia entry notes that:

“Climacophobia is the fear of climbing, especially using stairs. It is a type of specific phobia. Climacophobia is distinct from bathmophobia the fear of stairs themselves. Climacophobia is usually traced back to a negative experience, like falling down the stairs or having difficult time to climb stairs. The fear is also triggered by others, like witnessing somebody falling down stairs (either in real visualization or through media) or the other people he/she knows is suffering from climacophobia. Sufferers of climacophobia, if left untreated, end up limiting their activities and avoiding occupations that require the use of stairs or ladders. Sufferers tend to rely on elevators or disability-access ramps rather than stairs…Climacophobes tend to suffer from dizziness resembling vertigo when looking down stairs…Climacophobia can be treated using cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT], either independently or in tandem with other techniques. CBT can help sufferers stop negative thoughts about climbing while changing behaviors. Other treatment options include relaxation techniques, talk therapy, and medication for people who suffer severely from climacophobia”.

unknown

In Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, climacophilia makes a seven-word entry between ‘clinical vampirism’ (arousal by drinking human or animal blood) and ‘coitobalnism’ (having sex in the bath), and is simply defined as deriving pleasure from falling down stairs. There was no mention of it all in Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Various websites provide definitions including the Pro Boner website (Climacophilia is an intriguing paraphilia characterised by sexual arousal to falling down the stairs. Climacophiles have their best orgasms when they’re falling down the stairs”) and the Buzz IO website (“Climacophilia is being sexually stimulated by seeing someone fall down a flight of stairs”). When reviewing Baring’s book, the New York Times defined it as the erotic compulsion to tumble down stairs”. Wikipedia also has a short entry and simply states:

“Climacophilia is a rare sexual paraphilia, or fetish in which the subject experiences erotic gratification when falling down the stairs. There hasn’t been a wide body of research conducted on people affected with this particular sexual preference and/or fetish”.

All of these definitions and snippets imply slightly different things relating to the same alleged behaviour. While all involve some kind of sexual arousal from falling down stairs, the New York Times says the behaviour is an “erotic compulsion whereas most others describe the behaviour as arousing, stimulating, and pleasurable (without being compulsive). One definition involves ‘orgasm’ being involved while the rest do not. The Wikipedia entry seems to imply that the paraphilia exists (it says “rare” rather than non-existent). The entry also says there “hasn’t been a wide body of research” suggesting there is some (perhaps a narrow body of research) – but that clearly isn’t the case. There’s none.

The journalist David DiSalvo interviewed Dr. Baring for Forbes magazine in relation to his book Perv, which covers 46 different paraphilias (all of which are listed in an article in the Huffington Post) – with paraphilias being defined by Baring as being primary attraction to a target or activity outside of the statistical norm”. Although I agree that paraphilias tend to be non-normative, I’m not whether I’d ever use the phrase “outside of the statistical norm” as there are some paraphilic behaviours that the majority of sexually active individuals are likely to have engaged in at least peripherally (such as bondage and other milder forms of sadomasochistic behaviour). In relation to the paraphilias outlined in his book, baring told DiSalvo that:

“These included both exceptionally rare paraphilias (such as ‘climacophilia’ in which a person can only get off while tumbling down a flight of stairs) and the more run-of-the-mill ones that are detailed in the DSM-V, such as voyeurism, sadism, and frotteurism (which is gratification by touching people in crowded public places, such as subways). But that’s just a small sampling. The most authoritative list, cobbled together by an Indian psychiatrist named Anil Aggrawal, includes a total of 547 distinct paraphilias”.

If you type in Baring’s name and his book into Google, many articles appear which mention ‘climacophilia’. For instance, in an interview with Vice magazine, the journalist (Nadja Sayej) began her article by saying:

“You may have recently seen the soft-spoken Jesse Baring on Conan recalling the strangest of sexual fetishes. Be it arousal from falling down the stairs (Climacophilia) or feeling steamy from rolling around in stones and gravel (Lithophilia), nothing surprises the Western New York author and psychologist”.

Baring was asked by Sayej what the weirdest fetish he had come across but there was no mention of climacophilia (probably because no-one has ever come across it):

“According to a recent forensic resource by the psychiatrist Anil Aggrawal, there are 547 documented paraphilias. Some of them – actually, most of them – are quite carnival-like. But it’s important to remember that these more exotic manifestations of sexuality might be represented by just one lone figure in the universe: a single, sad, lascivious soul who can only, just to give two random examples, have an orgasm while fondling a mouse (“musophilia”) or while rolling around in ferns (“pteridomania”). It’s virtually impossible for me to pick the weirdest, since so many of them would fit the bill for truly bizarre. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes in this literature, from a sex research pioneer named Wilhelm Stekel – who, incidentally, coined the word ‘paraphilia‘ in the 1920s. “Variatio delectat! How innumerable are the variations which Eros creates in order to make the monotonous simplicity of the natural sex organ interesting to the sexologist”.

I have spent hours online trying to track down any evidence that climacophilia exists and I have drawn a complete blank. Yes, there are lots of mentions of it (particularly in the articles on Baring’s book) but no dedicated articles (except a satirical one that I came across on the Dumb Buzz Feed website which you can read here). There are no online forums where like-minded climacophiles congregate and there are no climacophiles that have written so much as a one-sentence confession of being sexually aroused either by falling down stairs or watching others fall down stairs. In an academic review of Baring’s book, in the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy, Dr. David Ribner made a specific reference about Baring’s inclusion of climacophilia and said it was “incredulous…is there really someone out there who can only achieve orgasm by falling down a flight of stairs?”

Based on my own research I think I can answer that question in two letters. No.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, 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.

Baring, J. (2013). Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All Of Us. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.

Bergner, D. (2013). Acquired tastes. ‘Perv’, by Jesse Baring. New York Times, October 4. Located at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/books/review/perv-by-jesse-bering.html

DiSalvo, D. (2013). Getting in touch with your inner sexual deviant. Forbes, October 24. Located at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2013/10/24/getting-in-touch-with-your-inner-sexual-deviant/#6f0f5548568e

Dumb Buzz Feed (2015). 7 problems only people with climacophilia will understand. May 3. Located at: https://dumbuzzfeed.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/7-problems-only-people-with-climacophilia-will-understand/

Huffington Post (2013). 46 sexual fetishes you’ve never heard of. October 23. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/23/sexual-fetish_n_4144418.html

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

Ribner, D.S. (2013). A review of ‘Perv: The sexual deviant in all of us’, by Jesse Baring. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 30, 297-300.

Fanable Collector: A personal insight into the psychology of a record-collecting completist

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have described myself as a music obsessive and that I am an avid record and CD collector. When I get into a particular band or artist I try to track down every song that artist has ever done – irrespective of whether I actually like the song or not. I have to own every recording. Once I have collected every official recording I then start tracking down unofficially released recordings via bootlegs and fan websites. I have my own books and printed lists (i.e., complete discographies by specific bands and solo artists) that I meticulously tick off with yellow highlighter pen. (In some ways, I am no different to a trainspotter that ticks off train numbers in a book).

I wouldn’t say I am a particularly materialistic person but I love knowing (and feeling) that I have every official recorded output by my favourite musicians. My hobby can sometimes cost me a lot of money (I am a sucker for deluxe box sets) although most of the time I can track down secondhand items and bargains on eBay and Amazon relatively cheaply (plus I have downloaded thousands of bootleg albums for free from the internet). Tracking down an obscure release is as much fun as the listening of the record or CD (i.e., the ‘thrill of the chase’). Almost every record I have bought over the last decade is in mint condition and unplayed (as many records now come with a code to download the record bought as a set of MP3s).

As a record collector, one of the things that make the hobby both fun and (at the same time somewhat) infuriating is the number of different versions of a particular song that can end up being released. As a collector I have an almost compulsive need to own every version of a song that an artist has committed to vinyl, CD, tape or MP3. However, I am grateful that I am not the type of collector that tries to own every physical record/CD released in every country. (My love of The Beatles would mean I would be bankrupt). I only buy releases in other countries if it contains music that is exclusive to that country (e.g., many Japanese CD releases contain one or two tracks that may not be initially released in any other country).

For most artists that I collect from the 1960s to early 1980s, it is fairly easy to collect every officially released song. Artists like The Beatles may have up three to four official versions of a particular song (the single version, the album version, a demo version, a version from another country with a different edit, etc.). With bootleg recordings, the number of versions might escalate to 30 or 40 versions by including live versions, every studio take, etc.). It can become almost endless if you start to collect bootleg recordings of every gig by your favourite artists. (I know this from personal experience).

It was during my avid record buying days in the early 1980s that the ‘completist’ in me started to take hold. Some of you reading this may recall that in 1984, Frankie Goes To Hollywood (FGTH) became only the second band ever to reach the UK No.1 with their first three singles – ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’ and ‘The Power of Love’ (the first band being – not The Beatles, but their Liverpool friends and rivals – Gerry and The Pacemakers). One of the reasons that FGTH got to (and stayed for weeks at) number one was there were thousands of people like me that bought countless different versions of every variation of every single released. For instance, not only did I buy the standard 7”, 12”, cassettes, and picture discs of both ‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’, I bought every new mix that FGTH producer Trevor Horn put out.

Every week, all of the money that I earned from my Saturday job working in Irene’s Pantry would go on buying records from Castle Records in Loughborough. I didn’t care about clothes, sweets, books, etc. All I cared about outside of school was music. Some of my hard earned money went on buying the NME (New Musical Express) every Thursday along with buying other music weeklies if my favourite bands were featured (Melody Maker, Record Mirror, Sounds and Smash Hits to name just a few).

When I got to university to study Psychology at the University of Bradford, my love of music and record buying increased. Not only did I discover other like-minded people but Bradford had a great music scene. One of the first things I did when I got to university was become a journalist for the student magazine (Fleece). Within seven months I was one of the three Fleece editors and I was in control of all the arts and entertainment coverage. The perks of my (non-paid) job was that (a) I got to go to every gig at Bradford University for free, (b) I was sent lots of free records to review for the magazine (all of which I kept and some of which I still have), and (c) I got to see every film for free in return for writing a review. I couldn’t believe my luck.

During this time (1984-1987) my three favourite artists were The Smiths, Depeche Mode, and (my guilty pleasure) Adam Ant. I devoured everything they released (especially The Smiths). As a record collector I not only loved the Smiths music but I loved the record covers, the messages scratched on the vinyl run-out grooves, and Morrissey’s interviews in the music press. It was also during this period that I discovered other bands that later went onto become some of my favourite bands of all time (Propaganda and The Art of Noise being the two that most spring to mind). As a Depeche Mode fan, collecting every track they have ever done has become harder and harder (and more expensive) as they were arguably one of the pioneers of the remix. Although Trevor Horn and the ZTT label took remixing singles to a new level for record collectors, it was Depeche Mode that arguably carried on the baton into the 1990s.

During 1987-1990, my record buying subsided through financial necessity. I was doing my PhD at the University of Exeter and the little money I had went on food, rent, and travel (to see my then girlfriend who lived over 300 miles away). I simply didn’t have the money to buy and collect records the way I had before. Buying singles stopped but I would still buy the occasional album. This was the only period in my life that I didn’t really buy music magazines. (My thinking was that if I didn’t know what was being released I couldn’t feel bad about not buying it).

In the summer of 1990 I landed my first proper job as a Lecturer in Psychology at Plymouth University. For the first time in my life I had a healthy disposable income. My first purchase with my first pay cheque was an expensive turntable and CD player. I also bought loads of CD albums on my growing wish list. What I loved about my hobby was that I could do it simultaneously with my job (i.e., I could listen to my favourite bands at the same time as preparing my lectures or writing my research papers – something that I still do to this day).

When CD singles became popular in the 1990s I became a voracious buyer of music again. Typically bands would release a single across multiple formats with each format containing tracks exclusive to the record, CD and/or cassette. Artists like Oasis and Morrissey (two of my favourites during the 1990s) would release singles in three or four formats (7” vinyl, 10”/12” vinyl, CD single, and cassette single) and I would buy all formats (and to some extent I still do). It was a collector’s paradise but I could afford it. In fact, not only could I afford to buy all the music I wanted, I could buy all the monthly music magazines at the time (Vox, Select, Record Collector, Q, and then a little later Uncut and Mojo), and I could go to gigs and still have money left over.

Since the mid-1990s only one thing has really changed in relation to my music-buying habits and that is there are less and less new bands that I have become a fan of. I still buy lots of new music but I don’t tend to collect the work of contemporary bands. However, the music industry has realized there are huge amounts of money to be made from their back catalogues. I am the type of music buyer that will happily buy a ‘classic’ album again as long as it has an extra disc or two of demo versions, rarities, remixes, and obscure B-sides, that will help me extend and/or complete music collections by the bands I love. Over this year I have already bought box sets by The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Throbbing Gristle, and David Bowie (to name just four). I have become a retro-buyer but I still crave “new” music by my favourite artists. Yes, I love music and it takes up a lot of my life. However, I am not addicted. My obsessive love of music adds to my life rather than detracts from it – and on that criterion alone I will happily be a music collector until the day that I die.

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

Further reading

Belk, R.W. (1995). Collecting as luxury consumption: Effects on individuals and households. Journal of Economic Psychology, 16(3), 477-490.

Belk, R.W. (2001). Collecting in a Consumer Society. New York: Routledge.

Moist, K. (2008). “To renew the Old World”: Record collecting as cultural production. Studies in Popular Culture, 31(1), 99-122.

Pearce, S. (1993). Museums, Objects, and Collections. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Pearce, S. (1998). Contemporary Collecting in Britain. London: Sage.

Reynolds, S. (2004). Lost in music: Obsessive music collecting. In E. Weisbard (Ed.), This Is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project (pp.289-307). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

A world of disc-overy: Record collecting as an addiction

Regular readers of my blog will know that (a) some of my friends describe me as a music obsessive and (b) that I have written blogs on both compulsive hoarding and ‘collecting’ as an addiction‘ (including a separate blog on murderabilia). Today’s blog briefly looks at a really interesting 2008 paper I came across on ‘record collecting’ as an addiction written by Professor Kevin Moist in the journal Studies in Popular Culture. (Moist also has a new co-edited book – Contemporary Collecting: Objects, Practices, and the Fate of Things – that has just been published by Scarecrow Press).

According to research papers and books by Dr. Russell Belk, around one in three people in the United States collects something – yet one of the observations that Moist makes is that collectors (in general and not just relating to record collectors) are often portrayed negatively as obsessive, socially maladjusted oddballs in thrall to acquisitive drives”. I have to admit that those closest to me certainly see my passionate interest in collecting music by certain recording artists as “obsessive” (although arguably not “socially maladjusted”). I’ve also been described as “no different to a trainspotter” (but said in such a way that it obviously relates to something negative).

Research by Dr. Susan Pearce (published in her 1998 book Contemporary Collecting in Britain) shows that collectors as a group are “quite average, socially speaking”. Additionally, Dr. Belk claims that the image of a ‘collector’ acts as “an unwitting metaphor for our own fears of unbridled materialism in the marketplace”. Belk then goes on to say that his research has led him to the conclusion that collectors cherish things about objects “that few others appreciate” and are not necessarily materialistic in their motivations for collecting. Belk also talks about collecting behaviour being on a continuum of the ‘heroic passionate’ collector at one end of the spectrum and the ‘obsessive-compulsive type’ at the other with most collectors falling somewhere between the two. I briefly dealt with the motivations to collect things in my previous blog but in her book Museums, Objects, and Collections, Dr. Pearce argues collecting falls into three distinct (but sometimes overlapping) types. As Moist summarizes:

“One of these she calls ‘souvenirs’, items or objects that have significance primarily as reminders of an individual’s or group’s experiences. The second mode is what she calls ‘fetish objects’ (conflating the anthropological and psychological senses of the term), relating primarily to the personality of the collector; the collector’s own desires lead to the accumulation of objects that feed back into those desires, with the collection playing a central role in defining the personality of the collector, memorializing the development of a personal interest or passion. The third mode, ‘systematics’, has the broader goal of creating a set of objects that expresses some larger meaning. Systematic collecting involves a stronger element of consciously presenting an idea, seen from a particular point of view and expressed via the cultural world of objects”.

When it comes to record collecting, I appear to most fit the second (i.e., fetish) type. The artists that I collect are an extension of my own personality and say something about me. My tastes are diverse and eclectic (to say the least) and range from the obvious ‘classic’ artists (Beatles, David Bowie, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Lou Reed), the not so obvious (Adam Ant, The Smiths, Bauhaus, Heaven 17, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, Divine Comedy), the arguably obscure (Art of Noise, John Foxx, Propaganda, David Sylvian, Nico) and the downright extreme (Throbbing Gristle, Velvet Underground). Arguably, most people’s conceptions of record collecting (if they are not collectors themselves) are likely to be based on media and cultural representations of such individuals (such as John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity, or Steve Buscemi in Ghost World). I agree with Professor Moist who asserts:

“Most record collectors fit well within Belk’s definition, passionately acquiring sets of records both as objects and cultural experiences. As with most types of collecting, the ‘thrill of the chase’ is a major part of the experience…[However] today, with eBay and other online resources, the amount of time required for the hunt has been reduced, and collecting is also less of a face-to-face social activity since one can search in private rather than actually traveling to find records…Music writer Simon Reynolds notes that record collecting also ‘involves the accumulation of data as well as artifacts’, a factor that can be seen in magazines devoted to record collecting such as Goldmine and Record Collector, and that has only increased as collecting has gone online”.

The above paragraph could have been written about me. I am one of those record collectors that collect as much for the cultural experience as for the object itself. I have loads of mint condition singles and LPs that I haven’t even played (but listen to the music on my i-Pod). I have bought Record Collector magazine every month for over 30 years and have never missed an issue. Every month I buy a wide range of other music magazines including Mojo, Q, Uncut, Vive Le Rock, Classic Rock and Classic Pop (as well as the occasional issue of Rolling Stone, NME, The Wire, Future Music and Shindig). In short, almost a lot of my disposable income goes on buying music or reading music. My records, CDs and music magazines can be found in almost every room in my house. To me, my collection is priceless (and I mean that in an emotional sense rather than a financial one). I am an archivist of the artists I collect as much as a collector. Professor Moist comments that: “While such fanatical and obsessed collectors do exist…they are clearly outliers on the scale of collecting passion…For such people collecting is a real problem”. However, I am a true fanatic of music but don’t believe I am addicted (based on my own criteria). My love of music and collecting it adds to my life rather than takes away from it. As Moist also notes (and which I again wholeheartedly agree:

“Most record collectors collect as much for the content as for the object: one is far less likely to find a collector whose collecting criteria is ‘records with yellow labels’ than to find one whose focus is ‘west coast jazz’ or ‘pre-war blues’. Collectors might follow particular artists (Charlie Parker, the Sex Pistols), musical genres (reggae, soul, classical), records from certain cultural/geographic areas (New Orleans, South Africa), records from specific labels (Sun, Stax, Rough Trade), records for special types of use (sound effects, ‘library’ music), records from a historical era (the 1960s), records with covers by particular graphic artists, special editions of records (first/original pressings are again popular), particular types of records (45s, LPs), records that embody memory on a more personal scale (those played by a favorite local DJ, or listened to in one’s youth, etc.), and many more besides. For many collectors, records’ status as bearers of personal and/or collective meaning is most significant”.

Moist’s chapter also features a number of case studies of people that appear to be addicted to record collecting – an activity that completely takes over (and conflicts with) almost every area of their lives. Moist concludes:

“Is there something about recorded music that lends itself to this sort of collecting? It could be that records’ dual levels of significance – objects themselves, and materializations of sound – make such types of activity more likely, that the status and possibilities of the object itself provide for certain approaches to collecting it…more research is needed on other types of collecting before such conclusions can be reached, though certainly the era of mass production has seen popular collecting expand greatly, and the digital era should see even further changes”.

I (for one) would love to carry out research in the area of record collecting but I guess I would get little research funding to carry out such studies. To me, the psychology of record collecting is fascinating but I know only too well that most others I know simply cannot fathom what it is I love about music and collecting music.

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

Further reading

Belk, R.W. (1995). Collecting as luxury consumption: Effects on individuals and households. Journal of Economic Psychology, 16(3), 477-490.

Belk, R.W. (2001). Collecting in a Consumer Society. New York: Routledge.

Moist, K. (2008). “To renew the Old World”: Record collecting as cultural production. Studies in Popular Culture, 31(1), 99-122.

Pearce, S. (1993). Museums, Objects, and Collections. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Pearce, S. (1998). Contemporary Collecting in Britain. London: Sage.

Reynolds, S. (2004). Lost in music: Obsessive music collecting. In E. Weisbard (Ed.), This Is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project (pp.289-307). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gerbil remedies: The fact and fiction of felching

I apologize for what I am about to write as some of you reading this may be disturbed by what you read in this blog about the alleged practice of felching. In the Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, Dr. Brenda Love defines felching as a sexual practice in two very different ways. The first variant is said to refer to the act of sucking semen from the anus of a sexual partner following anal sex. The second variant is said to refer to the stuffing of small animals, typically rodents (e.g., gerbils, hamsters, mice, rats) into the vagina or anus for sexual stimulation. No-one doubts the existence of the first variant. However, there are countless online debates about whether the practice of inserting small animals into bodily orifices really exists. (If felching does exist, it could possibly be a sub-type of musophilia that Dr. Anil Aggrawal defines in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices as involving sexual arousal from mice but makes no reference as to how this sexual arousal might actually occur).

The most infamous felching story involves US actor Richard Gere. An untrue story started circulating in the mid-1980s that Gere had checked into the Cedars-Sinai Hospital in California for an emergency ‘gerbilectomy’. In fact, the Gere story has become so well known that it has been alluded to in popular both mainstream films (e.g., Scream in 1996, and Urban Legend in 1998) and television comedy programmes (e.g., The Vicar of Dibley when Dawn French’s character on commenting on the sex appeal of Richard Gere says she wouldn’t have minded being the hamster). In 2006, US actor Sylvester Stallone stated in public that he believed Richard Gere personally blamed him for starting the rumour. Before this, a Philadelphian KYW TV newscaster (Jerry Penacoli) was rumored to have visited an emergency room to dislodge a gerbil from his colon. Same story, different person.

Jan Harold Brunvand, the author of The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends – and citing an academic paper published by Becky Vorpagel in a 1988 issue of International Folklore Review (“A rodent by Any Other Name: Implications of a Contemporary Legend”) – says the ‘gerbilling’ story began in 1984 started out as a story involving an unknown gay man and a mouse. Over the subsequent years, the unknown gay man became Richard Gere, and the mouse became a gerbil.

There were then two stories that did the rounds online, dating back to as early as 1993. These “news” stories (the first one having constantly been attributed to the Los Angeles Times but no such story ever appeared) have been repeated in many online articles about felching (and here I am repeating them yet again):

  • News story 1: “In retrospect, lighting the match was my big mistake. But I was only trying to retrieve the gerbil,” Eric Tomaszewski told bemused doctors in the Severe Burns Unit of Salt Lake City Hospital. Tomaszewski, and his homosexual partner Andrew “Kiki” Farnum, had been admitted for emergency treatment after a felching session had gone seriously wrong. “I pushed a cardboard tube up his rectum and slipped Raggot, our gerbil, in,” he explained. “As usual, Kiki shouted out ‘Armageddon,’ my cue that he’d had enough. I tried to retrieve Raggot but he wouldn’t come out again, so I peered into the tube and struck a match, thinking the light might attract him.” At a hushed press conference, a hospital spokesman described what happened next. “The match ignited a pocket of intestinal gas and a flame shot out the tube, igniting Mr. Tomaszewski’s hair and severely burning his face. It also set fire to the gerbil’s fur and whiskers which in turn ignited a larger pocket of gas further up the intestine, propelling the rodent out like a cannonball.” Tomaszewski suffered second degree burns and a broken nose from the impact of the gerbil, while Farnum suffered first and second degree burns to his anus and lower intestinal tract”
  • News story 2: “A 26-year-old male arrives at the ER complaining of rectal bleeding. He is too embarrassed to provide an accurate history but provides the examining doctor a clue: “There might be something stuck in my rear end.” Examination reveals a non-tender abdomen, but a rectal exam shows blood coming from his anus. A speculum exam reveals bloody stool and a dead gerbil. Apparently, through the cardboard tubing from a paper towel roll, the rodent had been forced into his rectum. Once the animal was in, the tube was pulled out. The idea is that as the gerbil suffocates, it scratches and claws at the lining of the rectum, providing an intense sensation to the patient. The rodent should then have been defecated, but the swelling and bleeding had caused the retention of the animal. The patient required pain medication and antibiotics after the animal was removed, but was then allowed to go home”.

I carried out a full literature search on academic databases and couldn’t find one example of somebody seeking treatment to remove a rodent from their rectum. However, Dr Siu Fai Lo and colleagues (at the Kwong Wah Hospital, Hong Kong) reported the case of a 50-year old man who had to have a live eel removed from his rectum (If you really don’t believe this, you can check the reference below). The authors specifically stated that the insertion of a live animal into the rectum causing rectal perforation has never been reported in the medical literature previously. It is also worth mentioning at this point that a paper on anorectal trauma in a 1989 issue of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology by Dr. W.G. Eckert and Dr. S. Katchis. They commented on felching. More specifically they said: “A sexual practice has been mentioned recently where living rodents, including gerbils and mice, have been inserted into the rectum; the animal’s futile efforts to claw its way to safety result in mucosal tears in the rectum”. However, they didn’t present any evidence for its existence.

There’s always the chance that the sexual practice has occurred but had never gone awry. Other journalists have tried to find evidence for the practice. For instance, an online essay on felching reported:

“Researchers, including Mike Walker from the National Enquirer, strove in vain to document an instance of gerbil-stuffing by anyone, anywhere. A promising lead popped up in a book published in 1992 by the American Hospital Association. The Hospital Emergency Department: A Guide to Operational Excellence, edited by Theodore A. Matson, included the entry “rectal mass – gerbils” under the category of emergency-room procedures that require 25 minutes to perform. But when an investigator contacted John A. Page, the author of the section in question, he claimed that the proofreader at the AHA obviously had a sense of humor”

My research into the topic came across a 2010 story in the Huffington Post about a convicted cocaine smuggler (Douglas Spink) who was arrested for running a “bestiality farm” in Washington State. State officials found dozens of dogs, horses and pet mice along with thousands of images of bestiality. The report said the mice were euthanized, had their tails cut off, were smothered in Vaseline and had string tied around them. Given the mice were covered in Vaseline and had string tied round their bodies suggests that they were for used for inserting into bodily orifices and for easy retrieval. A case of necro-felching perhaps?

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

Further reading

Adams, C. (1986). Is it true what they say about gerbils? The Straight Dope, March 28. Located at: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/478/is-it-true-what-they-say-about-gerbils

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Brunvand, J.B. (2001). The Colo-Rectal Mouse. In Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. London: W.W. Norton & Company.

Eckert, W.G, & Katchis, S. (1989). Anorectal trauma: Medicolegal and forensic aspects. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 10, 3-9.

Emery, D. About that Thing with Richard Gere and the Gerbil. Urban Legends. http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/celebrities/a/richard_gere.htm

Homosexinfo (2007). Rectal insertion of foreign bodies by male homosexuals. December 7. Located at: http://www.homosexinfo.org/Sexuality/RectalObjects

Huffington Post (2010). Douglas Spink arrested in bestiality case: Mice in Vaseline, dogs, horses Found At Exitpoint Stallions Limitee. June 16. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/16/douglas-spink-arrested-in_n_541379.html

Lo, S.F., Wong, S.H., Leung, L.S, et al. (2004). Traumatic rectal perforation by an eel. Surgery, 135, 110-111.

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

Mikkelson, B. & Mikkelson, D. (2001). From Gere to Eternity. Snopes, November 18, Located at: http://www.snopes.com/risque/homosex/gerbil.asp

The Sneaky Badger (2005). Gerbil felching. October 26. Located at: http://badgerbob.blogspot.co.uk/2005/10/gerbil-felching.html

Vorpagel, B. (1988). A rodent by any other name: Implications of a contemporary legend. International Folklore Review, 6, 53–57.

Wikipedia (2012). Gerbilling. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerbilling