Blog Archives

Habitual behaviour: A brief look at nun sexuality

It was while I was researching a previous blog on nun fetishism that I came across a number of academic papers that had written about and/or carried out research into the sex lives of nuns. Given that nuns are meant to be celibate I couldn’t help but be interested in a topic that on the face of it seemed a non-research topic. Having said that, I am aware that there are lots of stereotypes surrounding nuns’ sexuality, and there are certainly lots of sexual jokes at the expense of nuns. For instance, in researching this article I came across a joke that I found in an academic paper by Dr. Christian Hempelmann in a 2003 issue of the journal (appropriately titled) Humor:

“100 nuns live together in a convent. One morning the head nun gets up to make an announcement. ‘Sisters,’ she says, ‘I have terrible news: There has been a man in the convent.’ 99 nuns gasp, 1 nun giggles. ‘Still more,’ says the head nun, ‘we have found a condom.’ 99 nuns gasp, 1 nun giggles. ‘The worst news is,’ says the head nun, ‘we have found a hole in the condom.’ 99 nuns giggle, 1 nun gasps”.

OK, a little frivolous I know, but the joke at least suggests that not all nuns are celibate. One of the most enduring stereotypes of nuns is that they are lesbian. There are certainly examples in the academic literature relating to lesbianism among nuns dating back many centuries. For instance, Dr. Judith Brown published a book in 1984 on the life of seventeenth century Italian nun Benedetta Carlini entitled Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. Carlini’s lesbianism was exposed by her companion Bartolemea Crivelli. According to Crivelli’s account, over a period of two years, Benedetta forced Crivelli to regularly engage in lesbian acts (and gave rise to the ‘immodest acts’ in the title of Brown’s book). Jacqueline Murray reviewed Brown’s book for the journal Renaissance and Reformation, and noted the wider importance and implications of the book:

“[Brown’s book] is a study of unparallelled detail of a lesbian mystic in pre-modern Europe. Benedetta Carlini is the only lesbian from this period for whom any detailed information survives. Recent studies of the history of homosexuality either make fleeting references to lesbians or, despairing of information, define them as outside the parameters of study. Thus Brown’s work is important as the first in-depth study of female homosexuality in the pre-modern period”.

In my previous blog on nun fetishism I made reference to a 2005 book chapter by Richard Zacks (in Russ Kick’s Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong). Zacks described what he claimed was “unquestionably the longest and kinkiest list of medieval sexual practices still in existence”. Zacks managed to uncover a medieval text that refers to having sex with nuns. He wrote that in 1012, a German bishop called Burchard of Worms wrote a 21-volume text including a long section on sexual sins. In Chapter 5 of Volume 19, Burchard lists 194 different sexual sins. In this list there is a section entitled ‘Questions for Men’ relating to the penance for having sex with a nun. More specifically, the entry reads:

“Have you committed fornication with a nun, that is to say, a bride of Christ? If you have done this, you shall do penance for forty days on bread and water, which they call a ‘carina’, and [repeat it] for the next seven years; and as long as you live, you shall observe all six holy days on bread and water”

There are other papers that make passing references to nuns’ sexuality. For instance, a 2009 paper by in the journal Culture, Health and Sexuality Professor Marjorie Muecke examined female sexuality in Thai discourses about ‘lay nuns’ (known as ‘maechii’) by interviewing monks, maechii, and lay persons. The paper noted that although maechii vow to be celibate, the social constructions of their role are grounded in sexuality. More specifically, Professor Muecke reported:

“[My] findings suggest that maechii comprise an ambiguous category linguistically, Buddhistically, and in terms of their sexuality. Case studies of the founders of nunneries conducted in ChiangMai indicate that maechii leaders have been resisting the prevalent views that most maechii are social misfits, yet also are capable of undermining monks’ celibacy and, by extension, the larger social order”.

However, the most interesting academic paper I have come across on the topic of nun’s sexuality was published in a 1978 issue of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy by Margaret Halstead and Lauro Halstead entitled ‘A Sexual Intimacy Survey of Former Nuns and Priests’. Halstead and Halstead’s study reported:

“Men and women who have lived in a celibate religious community experience a unique set of sexual, social, and psychological problems upon resuming a secular life style. In many instances the personality factors and circumstances which led both to a decision to enter and then to leave a celibate religious community are not easily appreciated by the nonreligious professional counselor and do not readily lend themselves to extrapolation from other population groups. [We report] the findings of a preliminary study to identify the sexual experiences and problems of persons who have left religious communities”

The data collected and reported were from the responses to a mailed, anonymous questionnaire. The survey was sent to 223 former nuns and priests living across the United States, and was completed by 126 of them (76 ex-nuns and 50 ex-priests). The survey examined (i) sexual behaviour and enjoyment prior to, while living in, and after leaving a religious community; (ii) current sexual behaviour, satisfaction and problems; (iii) sexual counselling experience; and (iv) general problems and concerns with integrating sexual intimacy into present life styles. The survey asked the participants if they had engaged in various sexual activities before, during, and/or after they had been a nun or priest. It was reported that:

  • In relation to masturbation, the figures were 47% before, 57% during, and 85% after their time as a nun or priest
  • In relation to sexual intercourse, the figures were 11% before, 15% during, and 82% after their time as a nun or priest
  • In relation to oral sex, the figures were 9% before, 5% during, and 75% after their time as a nun or priest
  • In relation to homosexual activity, the figures were 11% before, 21% during, and 16% after their time as a nun or priest
  • In relation to being celibate, the figures were 46% before, 32% during, and 10% after their time as a nun or priest

The results also showed 50% of the ex-nuns (compared to 53% of the ex-priests) reported being less satisfied sexually after relinquishing their religious orders than they would have liked. The reasons most frequently cited for decreased sexual satisfaction were lack of sexual partners (57%), religious and/or moral reasons (44%), feelings of not being desirable  (35%), and/or communication problems (20%). One in five of the nuns also admitted that orgasmic dysfunction was a reason. Despite the relatively small sample, the paper dispels the idea that all nuns are completely celibate. At the very least, a replication study would be a really interesting piece of research to carry out

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

Further reading

Brown, J. C. (1984). Lesbian sexuality in Renaissance Italy: The case of sister Benedetta Carlini. Signs, 751-758.

Murray, J. (1988). Immodest Acts. The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy [Book review]. Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme, 24(2), 132-135.

Gerber, A. (2005). Sex by numbers: Excerpts from The Book of Sex Lists. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.340-344).  New York: The Disinformation Company.

Halstead, M. & Halstead, L. (1978). A sexual intimacy survey of former nuns and priests. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 4, 83-90.

Hempelmann, C. F. (2003). “99 nuns giggle, 1 nun gasps:” The not-all-that-Christian natural class of Christian jokes. Humor, 16(1), 1-32.

Muecke, M. (2004). Female sexuality in Thai discourses about maechii (‘lay nuns’). Culture, Health and Sexuality, 6(3), 221-238.

Murray, J. (1988). Immodest Acts. The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme, 24(2), 132-135.

Visser, R. O. D., Smith, A. M., Richters, J., & Rissel, C. E. (2007). Associations between religiosity and sexuality in a representative sample of Australian adults. Archives of sexual behavior, 36(1), 33-46.

Zacks, R. (2005). Burchard’s Medieval sexual menu. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.327-329). New York: The Disinformation Company.

Habit forming: A brief look at nun fetishism

“In terrible news for nun fetishists everywhere, the nun beauty contest has been cancelled. The Italian priest who had planned the online ‘pageant’ for nuns has suspended the project, saying he was misinterpreted and never had any intention of putting sisters on a beauty catwalk. Apparently, he’s been feeling some heat from the higher-ups.‘My superiors were not happy. The local bishop was not happy, but they did not understand me either,’ Father Antonio Rungi told Reuters by telephone from his convent in southern Italy on Tuesday. ‘It was not at all my intention to put nuns on the catwalk,’ said Rungi, a priest of the Passionists religious order, speaking from his convent in the town of Mondragone. Rungi’s idea appeared in newspapers around the world after he floated the idea of a contest for nuns on his blog, referred to by some as ‘Sister Italy 2008.’ ‘It was interpreted as more of a physical thing. Now, no-one is saying that nuns can’t be beautiful, but I was thinking about something more complete,’ he said” (Metro newspaper, 27/8/2013).

What Does a Squad of Gun-Toting Fetish Nuns Have to Do With Hitman: Absolution? [The] release of the official Hitman: Absolution E3 trailer…teases us with an image depicting eight ladies dressed in vinyl nun costumes wielding a wide variety of powerful firearms. Could Hitman: Absolution feature the world’s first nun-based online multiplayer? God I hope so…There could be any number of explanation as to why [the game’s developer] is rolling out nuns in high heels so late in the game” (Kotaku.com)

Hitman: Absolution‘s 2012 trailer depicting Agent 47 brutally dispatching a group of killers dressed as sexy nuns caused quite a stir. People called it exploitatitive. People called it misogynistic…It seems silly to me that Square Enix decided to play up the fetish nun angle…only to have Agent 47 viciously take them all out in [the] trailer” (Kotaku.com)

I came across these opening stories a few months ago and filed the away as I thought it might make the start to a short blog on ‘nun fetishism’. Obviously, the words ‘nun fetish’ used in these contexts don’t really equate into genuine ‘nun fetishes’ but the news snippets did make me go away and look into the whether such a fetish really exists.

I’ve actually mentioned nuns in a previous blog on ‘uniform fetishes’. In that blog I mentioned the Visual Dictionary of Sex (edited by Dr. Eric J Trimmer) his reference to uniforms and sexual fantasy. Dr. Trimmer reported that in the fetish world of dressing-up, the rough rank order of sexual uniform popularity has nun’s uniforms as the least popular (as the list in order of sexual preference was cheerleader, waitress, nurse, maid, secretary, office worker, schoolgirl, fitness trainer, prison guard, postal worker, military, Cleopatra, ballerina, cab driver, and nun). I have no idea on what empirical basis Dr. Trimmer made his claims although the Wikipedia entry on uniform fetishism also made similar types of claims. It claimed the most popular sexy uniforms were police officer, soldier, schoolgirl, nurse, French maid, waitress, cheerleader and Playboy bunny. However, the article also made reference to some people regarding nun’s habits and aprons as sexy uniforms.

As far as I am aware, there is no academic literature on nun fetishes although there is online anecdotal evidence in the form of dedicated nun fetish sites – such as the (i) Fetish For Nuns, (ii) Whore Nun and (iii) Badjojo websites (please be warned these are sexually explicit sites if you click on the links) – and individuals confessing their sexual arousal towards nuns on various online forums. For instance:

  • Extract 1: “I have a nun fetish. Is that weird? [However], how in the heck would one go about seducing a nun?”
  • Extract 2: “I have a nun fetish. And thank god for the internet. Great times we’re living in, because it would have been hard back in the 80s”
  • Extract 3: “[I have a] fetish for religous outfits (nun habit, Muslim burka, etc.). I was wondering if there are other out there that also find these very restrictive clothes erotic. While this is completely the opposite effect they should have one you I think this is what makes them so appealing to some. I know in some adult shops you can buy sexy latex and PVC version of the nun’s habit…So, which religious outfit do you find the most fetish like? And in what material to you prefer them? Cloth, PVC, Lycra, Latex?”
  • Extract 4: There are fetishes for almost every normal thing you can think of. Wetsuit fetishism falls under the greater section of rubber fetishism. Religious outfits fall into one or more categories depending on what materials they are made off. For example on their own they can be seen as uniform fetish but if you make them of say latex or rubber then would fall into rubber fetishism as well.The reason why I like them is their bondage/submissive qualities…that is really a massive turn on”

In a short 2008 online article on ‘bizarre underground fetish convents’, the Trend Hunter website reported that nuns dressed in rubber are an immensely popular facet of the underground fetish community”. The article highlighted (along with lots of anecdotal photographic evidence) that such people are typically clothed in latex or leather nun uniforms, and may optionally wear a gas mask (see my previous blog on gas mask fetishism). The article also claims that:

“The subversion of a nun, a paragon of religious virtue, by the latex fetish community is both fantastic and messed up. No wonder this underground cultural icon of a nun in a gas mask is found in art that ranges from street art to sculptures. Chances are good that if you start looking, it won’t be long before you see your first rubber nun”.

In a blog post on ‘Latex Nun Fetishists’, the dominatrix ‘Mistress Maryse’ noted that the majority of her clients were Catholic and that within her dominatrix work, religion is always an interesting topic that is up for discussion. More specifically she said that her clients’ religious views:

“…can provide a lot of insight into where their fetishes might have originated, as well as offer some good material for a future scene. I’ve wanted to do a sadistic nun scene for a while, but I haven’t had any takers. That’s until one of my clients, ‘Mike’ recently e-mailed me and expressed interest in either doing a nun or evil school-girl session. The irony (or perhaps it’s not that surprising) is that Mike was raised atheist. I think my Catholic [submissives] still have some fear [and] playing around with this theme is uncomfortable (which, of course, makes it perfect for a scene!). Mike, being the dear that he is, has offered to buy me a new latex nun uniform from Westward Bound

A short article on the Latex Wiki website argues that since nuns are members of a female monastic order taking vows of sexual abstinence and chastity, the fetish community has taken the nun’s image and perverted it. The article claims:

“The fetish nun is now as much of an icon of sexual perversion as a real nun is of sexual purity. Many fetish designers have taken the theme of the nun and produced their own take on the nun’s habit in latex or PVC. Such outfits may include for example a miniskirt, stockings, fishnet tights or high heels. Fetish nuns are a common sight at fetish clubs. Much of the pleasure may derive from the thought of having sexual intercourse with a virgin, or the contrast between the real behaviour of the person and symbols of sexual abstinence”.

In my research for this blog I came across an interesting website that focused on 1970s and 1980s ‘Nunsploitation’ video clips and “nuns behaving badly in bizarre fetish films” such as the trio of Italian films, The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine (1974), Images from a Convent (1979) and Convent of Sinners (1986) 
and the 1975 Mexican film Satánico Pandemonium. As the anonymous author commented that it was particularly the underground cult cinema in Italy, Spain and Mexico where Catholic guilt was most likely transmuted “into sexual fetishism involving naughty nuns, masochism, sadism, whipping and lesbianism”. Pierluigi Puccini has a more mainstream selection of films on his Nun’s Habit’s: A Cinematic Fetish webpage including The Devils (directed by Ken Russell, 1971), Killer Nun (directed by Giulio Berruti, 1978), Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (directed by Jesus Franco, 1977), The Story of a Cloistered Nun (directed by Domenico Paolella, 1973), and To The Devil A Daughter (directed by Peter Sykes, 1976).

In a 2005 book chapter by Richard Zacks in Russ Kick’s Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong, he described what he claimed was “unquestionably the longest and kinkiest list of medieval sexual practices still in existence”. The reason I mention this is because Zacks tracked down a medieval text that refers to having sex with nuns. He wrote that in 1012, a German bishop called Burchard of Worms wrote a 21-volume text including a long section on sexual sins. In Chapter 5 of Volume 19, Burchard lists 194 different sexual sins. In this list there is a section entitled ‘Questions for Men’ relating to the penance for having sex with a nun. More specifically, the entry reads:

“Have you committed fornication with a nun, that is to say, a bride of Christ? If you have done this, you shall do penance for forty days on bread and water, which they call a “carina,” and [repeat it] for the next seven years; and as long as you live, you shall observe all six holy days on bread and water”

In one online opinion piece, Jodi Dean briefly wrote about fetishized religions and claimed the only one that she could think of was Catholicism:

“The Catholic schoolgirl’s uniform is the most obvious, but sexualized nun toys and habits, and games about priests are close behind, traditional fetishist scenes predictable to the point of boredom…I think that charismatic Christianity could probably slink into the category; baptism scenes can have a wet t-shirt quality and the laying on of hands is intense to the point of eroticism. But I almost think this is derivative of Catholicism…What is it about some religions that makes them available for fetishization?”

A fair amount of discussion was generated in response to Dean’s thoughts on religious fetishism. One respondent speculated that the important element was the ‘icon heavy ritualism’ and that any religion in which people were raised in an icon-rich background was ripe for fetishization (and parody). One of the respondents (Mehmet Catagay) made some interesting observations:

“Unlike a fantasy that enables love to pass through the real to field the imaginary, an object of fetishism operates as ‘the return of the repressed’, the substitute material filling the cavity which originates from the act of denial of the symbolic castration. Therefore, the pervert subject of fetishism could cross the boundary of the symbolic only by use of the object of fetishism as the authorization certificate, i.e. the transit visa for the passage from the symbolic to the real…As regards to the Catholicism that you mention as the only fetishized religion that you come up with, for my part, I don’t see an exceptionally distinctive characteristic in the Catholic practice of Christianity that reinforces nunsploitation and nun fetishism. I think any particular outfit, especially uniforms, (the uniform of the women of God in the naughty nun case) that relates the human body with Lacanian big Other has the potential to serve as an object of fetishism that substitute the missing symbolic phallus and make the sexual intercourse possible while the complication of the denial of symbolic castration is still in the view”.

My search for academic material on nun fetishism proved fruitless (although I did come across some interesting research papers on the sex lives of nuns which I will look at in a future blog). Nun fetishism appears to be a niche market when it comes to genuine sexual fetishes but this is purely based on the fact that I found a lack of empirical evidence.

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

Further reading

Gerber, A. (2005). Sex by numbers: Excerpts from The Book of Sex Lists. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.340-344).  New York: The Disinformation Company.

Fahey, M. (2012). What Does a Squad of Gun-Toting Fetish Nuns Have to Do With Hitman: Absolution? Kotaku, May 29. Located at: http://kotaku.com/5913925/what-does-a-squad-of-gun+toting-fetish-nuns-have-to-do-with-hitman-absolution

Fahey, M. (2012). Agent 47 Brutally Slaughters Nuns in the Bizarre Hitman: Absolution E3 Trailer. Kotaku, May 30. Located at: http://kotaku.com/5914211/agent-47-brutally-slaughters-nuns-in-the-bizarre-hitman-absolution-e3-trailer

Metro (2008). Nun beauty contest won’t become a habit. August 27. Located at: http://metro.co.uk/2008/08/27/nun-beauty-contest-wont-become-a-habit-432891/

Latex Wiki (2012). Nun. October 28. Located at: http://www.latexwiki.com/index.php?title=Nun

Trend Hunter (2008). Bizarre underground fetish convents. November 24. Located at: http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/rubber-clad-nuns-underground-convents

Trimmer, E.J. (1978). The Visual Dictionary of Sex. London: Macmillan.

Wikipedia (2013). Uniform fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nun_fetishism

Zacks, R. (2005). Burchard’s Medieval sexual menu. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.327-329). New York: The Disinformation Company.