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Obscene and heard: A brief overview of telephone scatophilia

Telephone scatophilia (sometimes referred to as telephone scatologia and telephonicophilia) is a paraphilia that comprises overt or covert repetitive telephone calls with sexual and/or obscene content to an unsuspecting victim. The behaviour is also known to have a high association with other paraphilic disorders such as voyeurism and exhibitionism. The sexologist Professor John Money defined it as deception and ruse in luring or threatening a telephone respondent, known or unknown, into listening to, and making personally explicit conversation of a sexual nature”. It is also worth noting as with some other paraphilias (e.g., such as exhibitionism, voyeurism), it is not the act itself that is deviant, but that it involves an interpersonal transgression involving a non-consenting victim.

At present, telephone scatophilia is listed as a “paraphilia not otherwise specified” in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV). Paraphilia listed in the ‘not otherwise specified’ category are said to occur much less frequently than the paraphilias that are individually listed, but it has been noted that telephone scatalophilia occurs on a much wider scale and magnitude than other paraphilias (e.g., necrophilia, zoophilia, klismaphilia) in this category. There are certainly surveys suggesting that relatively large numbers of women have received obscene telephone calls although it is theoretically possible for just one telephone scatophiliac to make hundreds (if not thousands) of telephone calls to different women. Almost all telephone scatophiliacs are male.

The prevalence rate of telephone scatophilia is unknown. One Canadian study reported that 6% of male students and 14% of paid male volunteers admitted to having made obscene phone calls. However, most research relies on case studies or surveys of paraphiliacs. For instance, in a study of 561 non-incarcerated paraphiliacs, Dr Gene Abel and colleagues’ reported that 19 men in the sample (3.3%) said they engaged in telephone scatologia. In a different study of 443 non-incarcerated paraphiliacs, In a study led by Dr John Bradford (Royal Ottawa Hospital, Canada), the authors reported that 37 men in the sample (8.3%) engaged in telephone scatalogia. Dr Marilyn Price and colleagues at the Harvard Medical School (USA) examined an outpatient sample of 206 men with paraphilias and paraphilia-related disorders and reported that 20 men in their sample (9.7%) had a lifetime diagnosis of telephone scatolophilia. This study reported that there was a significant comorbidity between telephone scatologia and compulsive masturbation, voyeurism, telephone sex dependence, and exhibitionism. Compared to other paraphiliacs, telephone scatolophiliacs had a greater number of lifetime paraphilias. Similar findings have also been reported in other studies. Professor Ord Matek (formerly of the University of Illinois, Chicago) suggests that the methods associated with both telephone scatophilia and paraphilias such as exhibitionism demonstrate the person’s attempts to express aggression, to exhibit power and control, and to gain recognition. However, unlike exhibitionists, telephone scatophiliacs usually want complete anonymity.

In 1975, Dr B.T. Mead developed an initial typology of obscene callers comprising three types:

  • Type 1: These comprise telephone callers who immediately swear and/or make obscene propositions, and are typically adolescents.
  • Type 2: These comprise telephone callers described as “ingratiating seducers” that use a more approach (saying they have mutual friends) before becoming more offensive.
  • Type 3: These comprise telephone callers described as “tricksters” that use a ruse (e.g., pretending they are conducting a survey) in order to discuss personal matters. This eventually leads to obscene and sexual suggestions.

Professor Ord Matek claims there is a fourth type of obscene telephone caller. These are men who ring telephone crisis lines in order to request help from female volunteers, talks about sexual material, and masturbates while talking to the female on the other end of the telephone. Professor Matek also reported the most common features of obscene telephone callers were low self-esteem and anger toward women. Other associations reported were brain damage, mental retardation, intoxication and psychosis.

There are a number of theories as to how telephone scatophilia develops. Kurt Freund, the late Czech-Canadian sexologist wrote numerous papers claiming that behaviours such as telephone scatophilia are caused by “courtship disorders”. According to Freund, normal courtship comprises four phases: (i) location of a partner, (ii) pre-tactile interactions, (iii) tactile interactions, and (iv) genital union. Freund also proposed that obscene telephone calling is a disturbance of the second phase of the courtship disorder. Similarly, Professor John Money proposed the ‘‘lovemap’’ theory suggesting that paraphiliac behaviour occurs when an abnormal lovemap develops which interferes with the ability to participate in loving sexual intercourse. In this model, telephone scatologia, is classified as an allurement paraphilia involving the preparatory or courtship phase prior to genital intercourse. Although these models describe many cases of telephone scatophilia, there is some empirical evidence that some obscene telephone callers have normal courtship behaviour.

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

Further reading

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

Bradford, J.M.W., Boulet, J. & Pawlak, A. (1992). The paraphilias: A multiplicity of deviant behaviors. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 37, 104-108.

Dalby, J.T. (1988). Is telephone scatalogia a variant of exhibitionism? International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 32, 45-50.

Kafka, M.P. (2010). The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 373-376.

Kafka, M. P., & Hennen, J. (1999). The paraphilia-related disorders: An empirical investigation of nonparaphilic hypersexuality disorders in 206 outpatient males. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 25, 305-319.

Krueger, R.B., & Kaplan, M.S. (2000). The nonviolent serial offender: Exhibitionism, frotteurism, and telephone scatalogia. In L.B. Schlesinger (Ed.), Serial offenders: Current thought, recent findings (pp. 103–118). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Kaur, A.A. & Pankaj, G. (2009). Telephone scatologia: An aural assault. Journal of Punjab Academy of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 9(2), 87-91.

Matek, O. (1988). Obscene phone callers. Journal of Social Work and Human Sexuality, 7, 113–130.

Mead, B.T. (1975). Coping with obscene phone calls. Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality, 9, 127-128.

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

Price, M., Kafka, M., Commons, M. L., Gutheil, T. G., & Simpson, W. (2002). Telephone scatologia: Comorbidity with other paraphilias and paraphilia-related disorders. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 25, 37-49.