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The eat is on: Cannibalism and sexual cannibalism (revisited)

Recently, I was approached by Ben Biggs, the editor of the Real Crime magazine, who was running an article on the practicalities and psychology of cannibalism, with expert commentary running through it (and with me as the “expert”). The article has just been published in the May 2016 issue and I was assured that the feature would “highlight how nasty cannibalism is, not glorify it”. I responded to the questions as part of an email interview and today’s blog contains the unedited responses to the questions that I was asked.

What are the main reasons a human might eat another human being?

There are a number of possible reasons including:

Out of necessity – For instance, in 1972, a rugby team from Uruguay was in a plane crash in the Andes. Fifteen people died and the only way they prevented themselves starving to death was to eat the flesh of the deceased (which given the fact it took 72 days for them to be rescued, was one of the few viable options to prevent starvation).

As a way of controlling population size – The Aztecs were said to have eaten no less than 15,000 victims a year as – some have argued – a form of population control).

As part of a religious belief – There are some religious beliefs involving the need to eat human flesh as a way of sustaining the universe or as part of magical and ritualistic ceremonies.

As part of the grieving process – Some acts of cannibalism are where dead people’s body parts are eaten as either part of the grieving process, as a way of guiding the souls of the dead into the bodies of the living, and/or as a way of imbibing the dead person’s ‘life force’ or more specific individual characteristics.

As part of tribal warfare – Cannibalistic acts were most often carried out as part of a celebration victory after battles with rival tribes.

For sexual gratification – Some individuals have claimed to get sexually aroused from eating (or thinking about eating) the flesh of others. When it comes to sexual cannibalism in humans, there are arguably different subtypes (although this is based on my own personal opinion and not on something I’ve read in a book or research paper). Most of these behaviours I have examined in previous blogs:

  • Vorarephilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals are sexually aroused by (i) the idea of being eaten, (ii) eating another person, and/or (iii) observing this process for sexual gratification. However, most vorarephiles’ behaviour is fantasy-based, although there have been real cases such as Armin Meiwes, the so-called ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’.
  • Erotophonophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals have extreme violent fantasies and typically kill their victims during sex and/or mutilate their victims’ sexual organs (the latter of which is usually post-mortem). In some cases, the erotophonophiles will eat some of their victim’s body parts (usually post-mortem). Many lust murderers – including Jack the Ripper – are suspected of engaging in cannibalistic and/or gynophagic acts, taking away part of the female to eat later. Other examples of murderers who have eaten their victims (or parts of them) for sexual pleasure include Albert Fish, Issei Sagawa, Andrei Chikatilo, Ed Gein, and Jeffrey Dahmer.
  • Sexual necrophagy refers to the cannibalizing of a corpse for sexual pleasure. This may be associated with lust murder but Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices says that such cases usually involve “one whose death the molester did not cause. Many cases of reported necrophilia include cannibalism or other forms of sadism and it is believed that many others fantasize about doing it”.
  • Vampirism as a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal from the ingestion of blood from a living person.
  • Menophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which an individual (almost always male) derives sexual arousal from drinking the blood of menstruating females.
  • Gynophagia is a sexual fetish that involves fantasies of cooking and consumption of human females (gynophagia literally means “woman eating”). There is also a sub-type of gynophagia called pathenophagia. This is the practice of eating young girls or virgins. Several lust murderers were known to consume the flesh of young virgins, most notably Albert Fish).
  • ‘Sexual autophagy’ refers to the eating of one’s own flesh for sexual pleasure (and would be a sub-type of autosarcophagy).

A recent 2014 paper by Dr. Amy Lykins and Dr. James Cantor in the Archives of Sexual Behavior entitled ‘Vorarephilia: A case study in masochism and erotic consumption’ referred to the work of Dr Friedemann Pfafflin (a forensic psychotherapist at Ulm University, Germany): 

“Pfafflin (2008) commented on the many phrases that exist in the English language to relate sex/love and consumption, including referring to someone as ‘looking good enough to eat’, ’that ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’, and describing a sexually appealing person as ‘sweet’, ‘juicy’, ‘appetizing’, or ‘tasty’. Christian religions even sanction metaphorical cannibalism through their sacrament rituals, during which participants consume bread or wafers meant to represent the ‘body of Christ’ and wine intended to represent the ‘blood of Christ’ – a show of Jesus’s love of his people and, in turn, their love for him, by sharing in his ‘blood’ and ‘flesh’. This act was intended to ‘merge as one’ the divine and the mortal”.

It’s not unusual for a serial killer to cannibalise parts of their victims. Why is this, and what can cause that behaviour? 

I think it’s a rare behaviour, even among serial killers. As noted above, in these instances the eating (or the thought of eating) others is sexually arousing. It has also been claimed that the sexual cannibal may also release sexual frustration or pent up anger when eating human flesh. Some consider sexual cannibalism to be a form of sexual sadism and is often associated with the act of necrophilia (sex with corpses). Others have claimed that cannibals feel a sense of euphoria and/or intense sexual stimulation when consuming human flesh. All of these online accounts cite the same article by Clara Bruce (‘Chew On This: You’re What’s for Dinner’) that I have been unable to track down (so I can’t vouch for the veracity of the claims made). Bruce’s article claimed that cannibals had compared eating human flesh with having an orgasm, and that flesh eating caused an out-of-body-experience experience with effects comparable to taking the drug mescaline.

In the case of Japanese cannibal Issei Sagawa, he said that he might have been satisfied with consuming some, non-vital part of his victim Renee Hartevelt, such as her pubic hair, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask her for it. Does the murder and the consumption of flesh stem from the same mental disorder, or is murder just a necessary evil? 

I have not seen these claims. I have only read that his desire to eat women was to “absorb their energy”.

Do you think Issei Sagawa would have been satisfied with eating her hair?

Again, I have never read about this. He seems to have claimed that he had cannibalistic desires since his youth and that his murder of women was for this reason and no other.

Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer said he liked to eat mens’ biceps, because he was a ‘bicep guy’. Does the body part consumed necessarily bear a direct relation to the part of the victim’s anatomy the cannibal has a sexual preference for?

Not that I am aware of. Most people that are partialists (i.e., derive sexual arousal from particular body parts such has hands, feet, buttocks, etc.) would be unlikely to get aroused if the body part was not attached to something living.

There are rarer cases where, rather than having a fantasy of eating a sexual partner, the ‘victim’ consents to being eaten by the killer. Does this stem from the same psycho-sexual disorder that leads to a cannibal killing?

This is something entirely different and is part of vorarephilia (highlighted earlier). My understanding is that the flesh eating would only occur consensually (as in the case of Armin Meiwes and Bernd Jürgen Brand).

What reason would there be for someone to eat their own body parts? 

The practice is very rare and has only been documented a number of times in the psychological and psychiatric literature (and all are individual case studies). It has sometimes been labeled as a type of pica (on the basis that the person is eating something non-nutritive) although personally I think this is misguided as it could be argued that human flesh may be nutritious (even if most people find the whole concept morally repugnant). However, there are documented cases of autosarcophagy where people have eaten their own skin as an extreme form of body modification. Some authors argue that auto-vampirism (i.e., the practice of people drinking their own blood) should also be classed as a form of autosarcophagy (although again, I think this is stretching the point a little).

The practice has certainly come to the fore in some high profile examples in the fictional literature. Arguably the most infamous example, was in Thomas Harris’ novel Hannibal (and also in the film adaptation directed by Ridley Scott), where Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter psychologically manipulates the paedophile Mason Verger into eating his own nose, and then gets Verger to slice off pieces of his own face off and feed them to his dog. In what many people see as an even more gruesome autosarcophagic scene, Lecter manages to feed FBI agent Paul Krendler slices of his own brain. In real life (rather than fiction), autosarcophagy is typically a lot less stomach churning but in extreme examples can still be something that makes people wince.

Depending on the definition of autosarcophagy used, the spectrum of self-cannibalism could potentially range from behaviours such as eating a bit of your own skin right through eating your own limbs. There are many reasons including for art, for the taste, for body modification, for protest (associated to mental illness), because they had taken mind-altering drugs, and for sexual pleasure. Here are four autosarcophagic examples that have been widely reported in the media but are very different in scope and the public’s reaction to them.

  • Example 1: Following a liposuction operation in 1996, the Chilean-born artist Marco Evaristti held a dinner party for close friends and served up a pasta dish with meatballs made from beef and the fatty liposuction remains. The meal was claimed by Evaristti to be an artistic statement but was highly criticized as being “disgusting, publicity-seeking and immoral”.
  • Example 2: On a February 1998 episode of the Channel 4 British cookery programme TV Dinners, a mother was shown engaging in placentophagy when she cooked her own placenta (with fried garlic and shallots), made into a pate and served on foccacia bread. The programme received a lot of complaints that were upheld by the British Broadcasting Standards Commission who concluded that the act of eating placenta pate on a highly watched TV programme had  “breached convention”.
  • Example 3: In 2009, Andre Thomas, a 25-year old murderer on Texas death row (and with a history of mental problems) pulled out his eye in prison and ate it.
  • Example 4: The German man Bernd Jürgen Brande who engaged in self-cannibalism (cutting off and then eating his own cooked penis) before being killed and eaten by Armin Meiwes, the ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’ (who also shared in the eating of Brande’s cooked penis).

Dr Friedemann Pfafflin (a forensic psychotherapist at Ulm University, Germany) and who has written about Armin Meiwes, the ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’ asserts that “apart from acts of cannibalism arising from situations of extreme necessity…the cannibalistic deeds of individuals are always an expression of severe psychopathology”.

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.

Ahuja, N. & Lloyd, A.J. (2007). Self-cannibalism: an unusual case of self-mutilation. Australian and New Journal of Psychiatry, 41, 294-5.

Arens, William (1979). The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Beneke M. (1999). First report of nonpsychotic self-cannibalism (autophagy), tongue splitting, and scar patterns (scarification) as an extreme form of cultural body modification in a western civilization. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 20, 281-285.

Benezech, M., Bourgeois, M., Boukhabza, D. & Yesavage, J. (1981). Cannibalism and vampirism in paranoid schizophrenia. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 42(7), 290.

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

Betts, W.C. (1964). Autocannibalism: an additional observation. American Journal of Psychiatry 121, 402-403.

Cannon, J. (2002). Fascination with cannibalism has sexual roots. Indiana Statesman, November 22. Located at: http://www.indianastatesman.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2002/11/22/3dde3b6201bc1

de Moore, G.M. & Clement, M. (2006). Self-cannibalism: an unusual case of self-mutilation. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40, 937.

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant desires: Incredibly strange sex. New York: Juno Books.

Huffington Post (2009). Andre Thomas, Texas Death Row inmate, pulls out eye, eats it. TheHuffington Post, September 9. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/09/andre-thomas-texas-death-_n_156765.html

Krafft-Ebing, R. von (1886). Psychopathia sexualis (C.G. Chaddock, Trans.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.

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

Lykins, A.D., & Cantor, J.M. (2014). Vorarephilia: A case study in masochism and erotic consumption. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 181-186.

Mikellides, A.P. (1950). Two cases of self-cannibalism (autosarcophagy). Cyprus Medical Journal, 3, 498-500.

Mintz, I.L. (1964). Autocannibalism: a case study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 120, 1017.

Monasterio, E. & Prince, C. (2011). Self-cannibalism in the absence of psychosis and substance use. Australasian Psychiatry, 19, 170-172.

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.

Prins, H. (1985). Vampirism: A clinical condition. British Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 666-668.

Reuters (1997). Meatballs made from fat, anyone? May 18. Located at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2007/05/18/oukoe-uk-chile-artist-idUKN1724159420070518

Sunay, O. & Menderes, A. (2011). Self cannibalism of fingers in an alzheimer patient. Balkan Medical Journal, 28, 214-215.

Unlimited Blog (2007). Sexual cannibalism and Nithari murders. November. Located at: http://sms-unlimited.blogspot.co.uk/2007/11/sexual-cannibalism-and-nithari-murders.html

Wikipdia (2012). Cannibalism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannibalism

Wikipedia (2012). Sexual cannibalism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_cannibalism

Bad blood: A brief look at zoophagia

In previous blogs on vampirism as a sexual paraphilia and tampon fetishes, I briefly mentioned zoophagia. In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr Anil Aggrawal defines zoophagia as eating live animals for erotic arousal. The online Wiktionary provides the same definition but also adds that it is another name for Renfield’s Syndrome (which I also covered in my blog on vampirism as a sexual paraphilia). Renfield’s Syndrome (as yet) does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders but has been described as consisting of three stages (of which only one stage comprises zoophagia). More specifically:

  • Stage 1 – Autovampirism (autohemophagia): In the first stage, RS sufferers drink their own blood and often bite or cut themselves to do so (although some pay just pick at their own scabs).
  • Stage 2 – Zoophagia: In the second stage, RS sufferers eat live animals and/or drink their blood. The sources animal blood may come from butchers and abbatoirs if they have no direct access.
  • Stage 3 – True vampirism: In the final stage, RS sufferers drink blood from other human beings. The sources of blood may be stolen from blood banks or hospitals or may be direct from other people. In the most extreme cases, RS sufferers may commit violent crimes including murder to feed their craving.

What is clear from the description of zoophagia as part of Renfield’s Syndrome is that sexual pleasure and sexual arousal do not appear to be part of the motivation to engage in the behaviour. Of all the sexual paraphlias I have ever written about, zoophagia is one of the few that I find it hard to imagine what the etiology of the behaviour involves. How does anybody end up developing sexual pleasure from eating animals while they are still alive?

There is very little written about zoophagia from an academic perspective. Most references to the behaviour are found in the forensic crime literature in relation to sexual homicides or as a behaviour associated with specific events such as satanic rituals (although this is more to do with haematophagy – the drinking of animal blood – than zoopahgia). As Dr. Eric Hickey notes in his 2010 book Serial Murderers and Their Victims, in most countries, drinking blood is not a crime. Zoophagia is arguably a sub-type of haematophilia (i.e., a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from the tasting or drinking blood). Dr. Hickey also noted the relationship between zoophagia and haematophilia:

“[Haematophilia] is usually done in the presence of others. Most persons engaging in this form of paraphilia also have participated in or have co-occurring paraphilia often harmful to others. In addition, a true hematolagniacis a fantasy-driven psychopath and to be considered very dangerous. According to Noll (1992), such desires are founded in severe childhood abuse. The child may engage in auto-vampirism in tasting his own blood and during puberty. These acts are eventually sexualized and reinforced through masturbation. A progressive paraphilic stage during adolescence is the sexual arousal of eating animals and drinking their blood (zoophagia) while masturbating. The compulsive, fantasy driven, sexual nature of this paraphilia creates a very dangerous adult”.

One of the most infamous serial killers that engaged in zoophagic activity was the German Peter Kurten (1883-1931), a mass murderer nicknamed the ‘Vampire of Dusseldorf’ (a case study also written about by Dr. Louis Schlesinger in his 2004 book Sexual Murder). Citing the work of criminologist Herschel Prins published in a 1985 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Hickey recalled that:

Kurten was raised in a very physically and sexually abusive home where he witnessed his alcoholic father raping his mother and sisters. He also engaged in sexually abusing his sisters…At age 11 he was taught by the local dog catcher how to torture dogs and sheep while masturbating. He developed multiple paraphilia including vampirism, hematolagnia, necrophilia, erotophonophilia, and zoophagia and was known to drink directly from the severed jugular of his victims. He raped, tortured, and killed at least nine known victims although he was believed to have murdered several others. He used hammers, knives, and scissors to kill both young girls and women and admitted that he was sexually aroused by the blood and violence. Some victims incurred many more stab wounds than others, and when asked about this variation he explained that with some victims his orgasm was achieved more quickly…Before his beheading he asked if he would be able to hear the blood gushing from his neck stump because “that would be the pleasure to end all pleasures”.

Most of the literature on the drinking of blood for sexual pleasure concerns humans and is found in the studies on clinical vampirism (that I reviewed in a previous blog). From the few case studies I have read where zoophagia was mentioned in passing, all of the people written about engage in other sexually paraphilic behaviours (similar to that of Kurten outlined above). There may also be links between zoophagia and sexual cannibalism (which I also covered in a previous blog). For instance, some zoophagic activity might be viewed as omophagic activity in which the act is a form of symbolic ritual where the person consuming the blood and/or flesh of a live animal believes they are incorporating the ‘life force’ of the animal in question. For instance, an entry in Murderpedia claims:

“Some killers have adopted a form of omophagia, which is called zoophagia, as a means of possessing their victims. Zoophagia is the consumption of life forms, as seen in the character of Renfield in Dracula, who progresses from spiders to flies to birds to cats. The idea is to ingest increasingly sophisticated life forms as a way to improve one’s own”

An online article on vampires and the fetish scene by the Occult and Violent Ritual Crime Research Center notes that some of the behaviours that vampires engage in are similar to behaviours engaged in by fetishists. In a section on ‘blood rituals and blood play’, the article notes that throughout history and across cultures, people have attributed sacred and magical qualities to blood, and that blood rituals include drinking and/or pouring blood on the body. It also noted that:

“In some cultures it was believed that drinking the blood of a victim would endow you with the victim’s strength. Similarly by drinking the blood of an animal you would acquire its qualities…The use of blood is commonly referred to as blood sports, blood play, blood lust and blood fetishism”.

Any information that we currently have on zoophagia comes from clinical and/or forensic case studies. It would appear that zoophagia is incredibly rare, usually occurs among males, often coincides with other sexually paraphilic behaviour, and is most likely to occur among those with psychopathic and/or serial killing tendencies (unless the behaviour is part of a satanic and/or other ritualistic event).

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.

Benezech, M., Bourgeois, M., Boukhabza, D. & Yesavage, J. (1981). Cannibalism and vampirism in paranoid schizophrenia. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 42(7), 290.

Gubb, K., Segal, J., Khota1, A, Dicks, A. (2006). Clinical Vampirism: a review and illustrative case report. South African Psychiatry Review, 9, 163-168.

Halevy, A., Levi, Y., Ahnaker, A. & Orda, R. (1989). Auto-vampirism: An unusual cause of anaemia. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 82, 630-631.

Jaffe, P., & DiCataldo, F. (1994). Clinical vampirism: Blending myth and reality. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 22, 533-544.

Noll, R. (1992). Vampires, Werewolves and Demons: Twentieth Century Reports in the Psychiatric Literature. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Occult and Violent Ritual Crime Research Center (2012). Renfield’s Syndrome. Located at: http://www.athenaresearchgroup.org/renfieldsyndrome.htm

Perlmutter, D. (2004). Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes.  Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press LLC.

Prins, H. (1985). Vampirism: A clinical condition. British Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 666-668.

Wilson N. (2000) A psychoanalytic contribution to psychic vampirism: a case vignette. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 60, 177-86.

Turn on the eating: A beginner’s guide to sexual cannibalism

“People who have consumed human blood and flesh reportedly claim to experience an intoxicating euphoric effect. This reaction is similar to that experienced by anyone who satisfies a strong sexual craving that is not considered normal (exhibitionism, necrophilia, rape, etc.). However, in this case, it must have reinforced the beliefs of worshippers that indeed their god was present in the victim” (Dr. Brenda Love, Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices).

Today’s blog takes a brief look at sexual cannibalism in humans. I added “in humans” at the end of the sentence because sexual cannibalism is quite common in some animal species. As Dr. Brenda Love notes in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, sexual cannibalism is known to occur in some types of spider, praying mantis, scorpion, cricket, grasshopper, and fly. The Wikipedia entry also notes that sexual cannibalism has been observed in various types of crustacean (e.g., amphipods, copepods), slugs and snails (i.e., gastropods), and squids and octopuses (i.e., cephalopods). In the non-human species, it is typically the female that kills and eats the male before, during or after sexual union has taken place. Amongst humans, sexual cannibalism is extremely rare, and most humans who engage in cannibalistic acts for sexual purposes are generally considered sociopaths.

Of course, cannibalism for non-sexual purposes – known I more scientific circles as anthropophagy – has long been known among certain tribes and cultures. Throughout history, cannibalism has been practiced in many forms across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. Though rare today, it is believed to be still practiced in a few remote parts of Asia.  Cannibalism can be classed as either endocannibalism (i.e., consumption of another human being from within the same group or community) or exocannibalism (i.e., consumption of another human being from outside the group or community). Some acts of endocannibalism are actually acts of necro-cannibalism (i.e., the eating of flesh from dead humans also known as necrophagy) where dead people’s body parts are eaten as either part of the grieving process, as a way of guiding the souls of the dead into the bodies of the living, and/or as a way of imbibing the dead person’s ‘life force’ or more specific individual characteristics. Such endocannibalistic practices were common among certain tribes in New Guinea (which led to the prion disease kuru that I examined in a previous blog). However, it is known that many males among various tribes would not consume females for fear of emasculation. Exocannibalistic acts were most often carried out as part of a celebration victory after battles with rival tribes. There are various theories from many perspectives on why cannibalism may occur. These have included:

  • Religious theories (e.g., religious beliefs involving the need to eat human flesh as a way of sustaining the universe or as part of magical and ritualistic ceremonies).
  • Political theories (e.g., eating human flesh as a political tool to intimidate and control potential hostiles or subordinates).
  • Socio-psychological theories (e.g., eating human flesh due to unconscious factors such as a response to trauma).
  • Ecological theories (e.g., eating human flesh as a way of controlling the size of the population. The Aztecs were said to have eaten no less than 15,000 victims a year as – some have argued – a form of population control).
  • Dietary theories (e.g., eating human flesh as a source of protein).

There are of course other reasons (including sexual ones) that may be the root of someone’s cannibalistic desire to eat human flesh. One reason could be out of necessity. For instance, in 1972, a rugby team from Uruguay was in a plane crash in the Andes. Fifteen people died and the only way they prevented themselves starving to death was to eat the flesh of the deceased (which given the fact it took 72 days for them to be rescued, was one of the few viable options to prevent starvation). At its simplest level, human sexual cannibalism is usually considered a psychosexual disorder and involves individuals’ sexualizing (in some way) the consumption of another human being’s flesh. One online article claims that:

“This does not necessarily suggest that the cannibal achieves sexual gratification only in the act of consuming human flesh, but also may release sexual frustration or pent up anger. Sexual cannibalism is considered to be a form of sexual sadism and is often associated with the act of necrophilia (sex with corpses)”.

When it comes to sexual cannibalism in humans, there are arguably different subtypes (although this is based on my own personal opinion and not on something I’ve read in a book or research paper). Most of these behaviours I have examined in previous blogs (so click on the links if you want to know more:

  • Vorarephilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals are sexually aroused by (i) the idea of being eaten, (ii) eating another person, and/or (iii) observing this process for sexual gratification. However, most vorarephiles’ behaviour is fantasy-based, although there have been real cases such as Armin Meiwes, the so-called ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’.
  • Erotophonophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals have extreme violent fantasies and typically kill their victims during sex and/or mutilate their victims’ sexual organs (the latter of which is usually post-mortem). In some cases, the erotophonophiles will eat some of their victim’s body parts (usually post-mortem). Many lust murderers – including Jack the Ripper – are suspected of engaging in cannibalistic and/or gynophagic acts, taking away part of the female to eat later. Other examples of murderers who have eaten their victims (or parts of them) for sexual pleasure include Albert Fish, Issei Sagawa, Andrei Chikatilo, Ed Gein, and Jeffrey Dahmer.
  • Sexual necrophagy refers to the cannibalizing of a corpse for sexual pleasure. This may be associated with lust murder but Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices says that such cases usually involve “one whose death the molester did not cause. Many cases of reported necrophilia include cannibalism or other forms of sadism and it is believed that many others fantasize about doing it”.
  • Vampirism as a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal from the ingestion of blood from a living person
  • Menophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which an individual (almost always male) derives sexual arousal from drinking the blood of menstruating females.
  • Gynophagia is (according to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) a sexual fetish that involves fantasies of cooking and consumption of human females (gynophagia literally means “woman eating”). There is also a sub-type of gynophagia called pathenophagia. This (according to Dr. Brenda Love) is the practice of eating young girls or virgins. Several lust murderers were known to consume the flesh of young virgins, most notably Albert Fish). 

Added to this list, is something I would call ‘sexual autophagy’ which refers to the eating of one’s own flesh for sexual pleasure (and would be a sub-type of autosarcophagy discussed in a previous blog). I am basing this sub-type on an entry I came across in Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices and relating to a case study reported by Krafft-Ebing:

“Krafft-Ebing recorded the case of a man who at 13 [years of age] became infatuated with a young white-skinned girl. However, instead of desiring intercourse, he was overwhelmed by the urge to bite off a piece of her flesh and eat it. He began stalking women, and for years he carried a pair of scissors with him. He was never successful in accosting a woman, but when he came close he would cut off and eat a piece of his own skin instead. This act produced an immediate orgasm for him”.

This account seems to be confirmed by some online articles on sexual cannibalism claiming that cannibals feel a sense of euphoria and/or intense sexual stimulation when consuming human flesh. All of these online accounts cite the same article by Clara Bruce (‘Chew On This: You’re What’s for Dinner’) that I have been unable to track down (so I can’t vouch for the veracity of the claims made). Bruce’s article claimed that cannibals had compared eating human flesh with having an orgasm, and that flesh eating caused an out-of-body-experience experience with effects comparable to taking the drug mescaline. In another publication that I’ve failed to track down, the following snippet appears on at least 20 websites with articles on sexual cannibalism:

“Lesley Hensel, author of ‘Cannibalism as a Sexual Disorder’ [says] eating human flesh can cause an increase in levels of vitamin A and amino acids, which can cause a chemical effect on the blood and in the brain. This chemical reaction could possibly lead to the altered states that some cannibals have claimed to have experienced. However, this theory has not been substantiated by scientific evidence”.

As I’ve covered many of the cannibalistic sub-types in previous blogs, I tried to do some further research on gynophagia. There is almost nothing written from an academic or clinical perspective about gynophagia (in fact when I typed in ‘gynophagia’ only one reference turned up – a paper on ‘the psychophysical basis of feelings’ published by Dr. C.L. Herrick in an 1892 issue of the Journal of Comparative Neurology that only mentioned gynophagia in passing). However, there are quite a few dedicated gynophagia websites out there including dedicated pages on the Deviant Art website and an interesting set of cannibalistic links (that you can check out for yourself on the Indie Film website. There is also a reasonably lengthy article in the Urban Dictionary but it features little of any substance. The person writing the article makes the following observations:

“Gynophagia is the fetish of a person becoming food for someone else as a fantasy. As a fantasy it’s just as taboo as BDSM or other kinks…Gynophagia can really be a more gentle fetish than BDSM because torture is almost never applied. Honestly, when you boil it down to its essentials (no pun intended), gynophagia is an extension of the ‘Damsel in Distress’ scenario…Gynophagia is present in a lot of the older media we have, the most widely recognized being a helpless woman being boiled alive by a native tribe when the hero rescues her. Another example would be in Little Red Riding Hood where the wolf devours Red Riding Hood, but this could also be classified as a separate but similar fetish called Vorarephillia. One of the more widely known scenarios of gynophagia is known as the Dolcett method which usually centers around the main female character of a Dolcett comic being spit roasted alive and enjoying every moment of it. But again I must stress that gynophagia is one of those few fetishes that can only be a fantasy and should not be practiced in real life”.

If you really want to find out what gynophagia disciples are into, I suggest you check out the Carnal Consummations fetish website (but you’ve been warned!).

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.

Arens, William (1979). The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Benezech, M., Bourgeois, M., Boukhabza, D. & Yesavage, J. (1981). Cannibalism and vampirism in paranoid schizophrenia. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 42(7), 290.

Cannon, J. (2002). Fascination with cannibalism has sexual roots. Indiana Statesman, November 22. Located at: http://www.indianastatesman.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2002/11/22/3dde3b6201bc1

Krafft-Ebing, R. von (1886). Psychopathia sexualis (C.G. Chaddock, Trans.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.

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

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.

Prins, H. (1985). Vampirism: A clinical condition. British Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 666-668.

Unlimited Blog (2007). Sexual cannibalism and Nithari murders. November. Located at: http://sms-unlimited.blogspot.co.uk/2007/11/sexual-cannibalism-and-nithari-murders.html

Wikipdia (2012). Cannibalism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannibalism

Wikipedia (2012). Human sacrifice in Aztec culture. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sacrifice_in_Aztec_culture

Wikipedia (2012). Sexual cannibalism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_cannibalism

The bite of passion: Vampirism as a sexual paraphilia

Although vampirism as a sexual paraphilia has been noted in the academic literature for many years (in fact there are references to it in Richard van Krafft-Ebing’s 1886 text Psychopathia Sexualis), there has been very little empirical research and most of what is known comes from clinical case studies. To complicate things further, vampirism (i) is rarely a single clinical condition, (ii) may or may not be associated with other psychiatric and/or psychological disorders (e.g., severe psychopathy, schizophrenia, hysteria, mental retardation), and (iii) may or may not necessarily include sexual arousal. Other related conditions have been documented such as odaxelagnia (deriving sexual pleasure from biting), haematolagnia (deriving sexual satisfaction from the drinking of blood), and haematophilia (deriving sexual satisfaction from blood in general), and auto-haemofetishism (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from sight of blood drawn into a syringe during intravenous drug practice).

In 1964, Vandenbergh and Kelly defined vampirism as “the act of drawing blood from an object, (usually a love object) and receiving resultant sexual excitement and pleasure”. In 1983, Bourguignon described vampirism as a clinical phenomenon in which myth, fantasy, and reality converge and that other paraphilic behaviour may be involved including necrophagia, necrophilia, and sadism. Also in 1983, noted that vampirism is a rare compulsive disorder with an irresistible urge for blood ingestion, a ritual necessary to bring mental relief; like other compulsions, its meaning is not understood by the participant”.

In 1985, Herschel Prins published what is arguably the most cited paper in the field (in the British Journal of Psychiatry), and proposed that there were four types of vampirism (although confusingly, one of these sub-types is not actually vampiric as no blood ingestion takes place and some of the satisfaction gained may not necessarily be sexual). These four types were:

  • Necrosadistic vampirism (i.e., deriving satisfaction from the ingestion of blood from a dead person);
  • Necrophilia (i.e., deriving satisfaction from sexual activity with a dead person without the ingestion of blood)
  • Vampirism (i.e., deriving satisfaction from the ingestion of blood from a living person)
  • Autovampirism (deriving satisfaction from the ingestion of one’s own blood).

In Prins’ typology above, vampirism evidently overlaps with that of necrophilia. However, earlier papers (such as Vandenbergh and Kelly’s in 1964) clearly differentiated between necrophilia and vampirism, arguing that vampirism shouldn’t be mixed with necrophilia given that vampirism is often focused on the living. Vandenbergh and Kelly also differentiate vampirism from sexual sadism (due to the fact that vampirism doesn’t always include pain and suffering). In fact, in a literature review of sexual sadism, Yates and colleagues (2008) included the “rare phenomenon” of vampirism in their review. Drawing on the work of Jaffe and DiCataldo (1994), they described those people who get sexual arousal from bloodletting (either through cutting or biting), and for which a small minority enjoy sucking and/or drinking the blood too. Vanden Bergh and Kelly (1964) noted that the sucking or drinking of the blood from the wound is often an important part of the act but not necessarily essential.

Using the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), Dr Joel Milner, Dr Cynthia Dopke, and Dr Julie Crouch (2008) argue that if the individual’s vampirism causes pain and suffering in their victims it should be classed as a sexually sadistic paraphilia. However, if the victim does not suffer in any way, the vampirism should be classed as a paraphilia not otherwise specified (P-NOS). Milner and colleagues argue this approach is consistent with other P-NOS classifications involving other body fluids/substances (other than blood) such as urophilia (urine) and coprophilia (faeces).

Any discussion of vampirism wouldn’t be complete without at least a mention of Renfield’s Syndrome (RS) although it has yet to be included in the DSM. Renfield was a fictional mental patient in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1887) who ate living things (flies, spiders, birds) believing that this would bring him greater ‘life force’ powers. The RS disorder, named in 1992 by clinical psychologist Dr Richard Noll (DeSales University, Pennsylvania, USA), is a rare psychiatric compulsion (not necessarily sexual and often linked with schizophrenia) – in which sufferers feel compelled to drink blood. As with some of the papers written on vampirism as a sexual paraphilia, this has also been called ‘clinical vampirism’. Like the character Renfield, RS sufferers believe that they can obtain increased power or strength (i.e., the ‘life force’) through the imbibing of blood.

RS sufferers are predominantly male (although there are known female vampirists), and like many paraphilias, the disorder often originates from a childhood event in which the affected individual associates the sight or taste of blood with psychological and/or physical excitement. It is during adolescence that the attraction to blood can become sexual in nature. Clinical evidence suggests female RS sufferers are unlikely to assault others for blood, but male RS sufferers are potentially more dangerous. It has been noted that RS usually comprises three stages:

  • Stage 1 – Autovampirism (autohemophagia): In the first stage, RS sufferers drink their own blood and often bite or cut themselves to do so (although some pay just pick at their own scabs).
  • Stage 2 – Zoophagia: In the second stage, RS sufferers eat live animals and/or drink their blood. The sources animal blood may come from butchers and abbatoirs if they have no direct access.
  • Stage 3 – True vampirism: In the final stage, RS sufferers drink blood from other human beings. The sources of blood may be stolen from blood banks or hospitals or may be direct from other people. In the most extreme cases, RS sufferers may commit violent crimes including murder to feed their craving.

In a 1981 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Dr M. Benezech and colleagues reported a case study of cannibalism and vampirism in a French paranoid and psychotic schizophrenic. After trying to kill a number of people (mainly neighbours) between 1969 (when he was aged 29 years) and 1978, he attempted a vampiric rape on a child in 1979. Although he was stopped he went on later that day to murder an elderly man and successfully ate large pieces of the victim’s thigh, and attempted to suck his blood. Here, the vampirism was seen as secondary to the schizophrenia. A similar type case report of a 21-year old eastern European schizophrenic vampirist was published in 1999 by Dr Brendan Kelly (St James Hospital Dublin, Ireland) and colleagues in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine. However, the patient didn’t attempt to suck blood from himself or others but instead frequented a hospital accident and emergency department in search of their supply of blood for transfusion.

In a 1989 issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Dr A. Halevy and his colleagues reported the case of a 21-year old man (who had been in prison since he was 16 years old) who had anaemia and gastrointestinal bleeding as a result of self-inflicted injuries and blood ingestion on multiple occasions (for instance, one incident involved him cutting his arm with a razor blade, draining the blood into a glass, and then drinking it). He was classed by the authors as an ‘autovampirist’ in Prins’ typology although the authors were unable to determine if there was any sexual motivation involved.

In one of the few papers to examine more than one case study, Dr R.E. Hemphill and Dr. T. Zabow (1983, at the University of Cape Town) examined four vampirists in depth, including John Haigh (the English ‘acid-bath murderer’ who killed six people during the 1940s and drunk the blood of his victims), along with reference to other criminal vampirists. Hemphill and Zabow noted that since childhood all four cases had cut themselves, and that to relieve a craving they had drank their own, and others’ (human and/or animal) blood. All four cases were said to be intelligent with no mental instability or psychopathology in any of their family histories.

Most recently Dr K Gubb and his colleagues at the Tara Hospital Johannesburg (South Africa) published a case study of a 25-year old African man suffering from ‘psychic vampirism’ in the South African Psychiatry Review. In this paper, they argued that this particular type of clinical vampirism had never been reported in the literature before. The man was brought in for psychiatric treatment by his mother after he had become withdrawn, stopped socializing, was undressing in public, and started talking to himself. He claimed to hear the voice of ‘Sasha’, a “flame vampire from the scriptures of Geeta”. The man himself beleived he was “Vasever – lord of the vampires”. He claimed to have survived by hunting as a vampire by hurting more than 1000 humans “zooming in and out of them” (rather than biting them). Schizophrenia was diagnosed. The authors claimed that the vampirism was only of academic interest “because of its relative scarcity” but did not influence the diagnosis or treatment in any particular way.

They concluded that vampirism may be representative of some pathology other than schizophrenia (or simply represent an alternative belief system). Unlike other vampirism cases in the clinical literature, there was an absence of a fully developed psychopathic personality, along with a complete absence of sexual and gender identity disorders. This, they speculated, “may have protected the man from developing the homicidal, cannibalistic, libidinal and sexual features of vampirism seen in the other cases”.

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

Further reading

Benezech, M., Bourgeois, M., Boukhabza, D. & Yesavage, J. (1981). Cannibalism and vampirism in paranoid schizophrenia. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 42(7), 290.

Gubb, K., Segal, J., Khota1, A, Dicks, A. (2006). Clinical Vampirism: a review and illustrative case report. South African Psychiatry Review, 9, 163-168.

Halevy, A., Levi, Y., Ahnaker, A. & Orda, R. (1989). Auto-vampirism: An unusual cause of anaemia. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 82, 630-631.

Hemphill R.E. & Zabow T. (1983) Clinical vampirism. A presentation of 3 cases and a re-evaluation of Haigh, the ‘acid-bath murderer’. South African Medical Journal, 63(8), 278-81.

Kelly, B.D., Abood, Z. & Shanley, D. (1999). Vampirism and schizophrenia. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 16, 114-117.

Jaffe, P., & DiCataldo, F. (1994). Clinical vampirism: Blending myth and reality. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 22, 533-544.

Miller, T.W., Veltkamp, L.J., Kraus, R.F., Lane T. & Heister, T. (1999). An adolescent vampire cult in rural America: clinical issues and case study. Child Psychiatry and Human Development 29, 209-19.

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.

Noll, R. (1992). Vampires, Werewolves and Demons: Twentieth Century Reports in the Psychiatric Literature. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Prins, H. (1985). Vampirism: A clinical condition. British Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 666-668.

Vanden Bergh, R. L., & Kelly, J. F. (1964). Vampirism: A review with new observations. Archives of General Psychiatry, 11, 543-547.

Wilson N. (2000) A psychoanalytic contribution to psychic vampirism: a case vignette. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 60, 177-86.

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.213-230. New York: Guildford Press.