In the last two weeks I have been interviewed twice by the British Metro newspaper about different sexual paraphilias. The first interview with Miranda Larbi was on dacryphilia (sexual arousal from crying), a paraphilia on which I’ve already published three papers on and have a fourth in progress, and which the Metro published as ‘There are women who get wet from crying’. The second interview with Yvette Caster was on formicophilia (usually defined as sexual arousal from insects but not strictly accurate as I’ll explain below) and more specifically on melissophilia (sexual arousal from bees, the opposite of melissophobia – a fear of bees and bee stings). I’ve not published academic papers on either formicophilia or melissophilia but have written blogs on both of them, and is the reason I was asked for comment. Much of the information in the Metro’s article came from my blog and was supplemented with quotes from my interview with them. The Metro piece (somewhat ambitiously entitled ‘Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the sexual fetish for bees’) started by saying:
“We all know about the birds and the bees. But some people take this phrase more literally than others when it comes to what they enjoy in the bedroom. Melissophilia is sexual attraction to bees. Yes, while you’ve been getting red-faced trying to chase those critters away from your picnic, others have been going red-faced in their presence for entirely different reasons…Melissophilia is a specific kind of zoophilia (sexual attraction to animals)…The word comes from the Ancient Greek for ‘honey bee’ and ‘love’. It’s not necessarily a case of falling in love with Barry B Benson from Bee Movie. Apparently some people catch bees with the intention of getting them to sting their genitals. This is because they believe this will increase swelling and hypersensitivity, increasing the intensity and duration of their orgasms”.
Following this introduction, the remainder of the article was entitled ‘What do the experts have to say about it?’ and simply featured the (edited) answers to some of the questions that I was asked by the Metro journalist. As I had been interviewed via asynchronous email (a topic that I have co-incidentally written methodological papers about in relation to studying paraphilia behaviour), I have a complete transcript of the whole interview and thought I’d publish it in full as the Metro only used a small selection of what I’d written (and I don’t like to waste any work that I’ve done).
Why might someone develop melissaphilia? I’ve never come across a true case of melissophilia (i.e., sexual arousal specifically from bees), only men that use bees to increase the size of their penis (so they are unlikely to be true melissophiliacs). There may be some masochists who get sexual pleasure from things that sting (including nettles and insects) but the focus of the arousal is pain (not the bees) so these would not be melissophilia. (And by the way, although formicophilia is often used to describe insect fetishes, technically it only relates to ants and the term entomophilia is more accurate).
At what point might having this fetish become a problem? When it comes to non-normative sex, problems are typically defined by context and culture. If sex is consensual with informed consent, no fetish is problematic. If the person themselves thinks it is a problem then it should be treated as such. With insect fetishes, you could argue that the insects are not giving their informed consent and therefore the fetishes are morally wrong (without necessarily being problematic to the person or the insects).
Have you any idea how common melissaphilia is? If it even exists (and I’m not convinced it is) it would be incredibly rare.
When do people develop fetishes like formicophilia and why? There are only two academic papers examining formicophilia in the psychological literature and I think it was actually the same person being written about in each paper. Many fetishes appear to be as a result of associative pairing (classical conditioning) but formicophilia may be more common in cultures where insects are everywhere and where such individuals use insects as a substitute for sex by using insects to arouse erogenous zones (penis, nipples, etc.). The one case study in the literature involved a Buddhist monk that had never had sex or been exposed to pornography. Here the formicophilia may have been culturally learned by accident.
In your opinion, is it a harmless sexual preference or something fans should try to wean themselves off? It’s harmless if there is no problem and people should only seek help if they themselves feel it is a problem. There’s nothing wrong with non-normative sex if it’s consensual. However, as I said above, there may be a moral issue. There are other insect-based and similar fetishes that I have covered in my blog that you can check out (such as spiders [arachnephilia] and worms [vermiphilia]).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal, Anil (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unususal Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18(2), 73-78.
Biles, J. (2004). I, insect, or Bataille and the crush freaks. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(1), 115-131.
Dewaraja, R. (1987). Formicophilia, an unusual paraphilia, treated with counseling and behavior therapy. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 41, 593-597.
Dewaraja, R. & Money, J. (1986). Transcultural sexology: Formicophilia, a newly named paraphilia in a young Buddhist male. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 12, 139-145.
Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The use of online asynchronous interviews in the study of paraphilias. SAGE Research Methods Cases. Located at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/978144627305013508526
Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Compassion, dominance/submission, and curled lips: A thematic analysis of dacryphilic experience. International Journal of Sexual Health, 27, 337-350.
Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Sexual interest as performance, intellect and pathological dilemma: A critical discursive case study of dacryphilia. Psychology and Sexuality, in press.
Griffiths, M. D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilias – A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.
Pearson, G.A. (1991). Insect fetish objects. Cultural Entomology Digest, 4, (November).
I have just had a paper published in the latest issue of the Journal of Behavioral Addictions that outlines the advantages, disadvantages, and other implications of using the Internet to collect data from those people displaying sexually paraphilic behaviour. Up until around 2000, paraphilic behaviour had been relatively little studied outside of published case studies. However, in my new paper I have argued that the internet has provided a new arena in which researchers can collect data from people in much easier ways than prior to the introduction of online technologies. Probably the most used online data collection method for studying paraphilic behaviour is the online questionnaire. Typically in these types of study, online questionnaires are publicized and placed at online paraphilia forums. These forums are a convenient way to communicate information between paraphiliacs.
I argued in my latest paper that the one particular paraphilia where researchers have arguably made the most use of the internet for both recruitment and data collection is that of zoophilia. As Dr. Christopher Earls and Dr. Martin Lalumiere noted in a 2009 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, almost all data on zoophiles since 2000 have come from online recruitment. There have been three notable quantitative studies of zoophilia among non-clinical (i.e., community) samples. This includes studies by Dr. Andrea Beetz (in 2004 with 32 zoophiles), Dr. Colin Williams and Dr. Martin Weinberg (2003; 114 zoophiles), and Dr. Hani Miletski (2004; 93 zoophiles). It could be argued that none of these data sets would have been possible without the advent of the internet, and the internet sites devoted to bestiality and zoophilia. Research into zoophilia via online data collection demonstrated that online samples provided different results to previously reported case studies. Unlike the relatively few published case accounts, online zoophilic studies suggested that there were both men and women who had clear preferences for zoophilic activities and that the behaviour was not a substitute for the absence of other humans in the locality. Online zoophilic studies also showed that far from suffering any kind of mental abnormality or psychiatric condition, that many zoophiles lived both happy and productive lives.
The Internet can also be a rich and complex resource of textual material. As such, it can be invaluable to those researchers interested in specific experiences of particular individuals such as zoophilia. Included in the lived experiences of zoophiles are perceptions, beliefs and feelings, all of which are made sense of by the individual through the process of meaning making. Online forums are often the first port of call for zoophiles to contact and meet other like-minded people. However extreme the sexual behaviour is, the internet arguably provides the best medium in which to facilitate people’s sexual desires. Some of the most interactive and textually rich parts of the Internet are numerous zoophilic forums. Zoophilic forums typically comprise interactive sites where messages can be left or particular topics discussed in real time. These sorts of data are naturalistic and can be collected without identifying oneself as a researcher or even acknowledging a researcher’s presence
In order to understand the nature of the bestiality subculture online, Dr. Robert Jenkins and Dr. Alexander Thomas in their 2004 book Deviance Online: Portrayals of Bestiality on the Internet studied 100 forum websites dedicated to the portrayal of bestiality. The authors claimed that the advent of the internet had facilitated the networking among and marketing to a subculture of participants across time and space. All 100 websites were selected and coded and fell into three main types. These were ‘pornography’ (i.e., sites oriented toward those who enjoyed viewing or participating in bestiality; 80% of the sites), ‘community building’ (i.e., sites oriented toward providing news or encouraging communication among fellow bestiality practitioners and sympathizers; 7%), and ‘exhibitionism’ (sites oriented to showing bestiality for exhibitionist purposes, either as moral judgment or for humour; 9%). The remaining sites were hybrid sites. The authors hypothesized that women would be disproportionately represented on bestiality websites. The study found only one of the 100 websites featured a (human) male in a bestial act (a man receiving fellatio from a goat). They also reported that it was difficult to describe the depictions of women as anything but degrading. They also claim that the:
“The Internet fulfills a similar function as bohemian neighborhoods and red light districts have fulfilled for other (larger) deviant subcultures in the past. By creating a commons for individuals with similar interests and concerns, it is not surprising that a subculture devoted to bestiality has developed”.
Despite the clear advantages of using online forum data to study zoophilic populations (e.g., ease of data collection, cost-efficiency), the collection of zoophilic data by ‘lurking’ (i.e., observing without making presence known) raises some interesting ethical issues. In online research, the lines have become blurred between ‘public’ and ‘private’ spaces. On some level, cyberspace is always a public domain unless specifically designated as private. However, respecting a person’s right to privacy is viewed as a basic ethical requirement of any social science study. Some may argue that it is the perceptions of the participant that defines the domain as public or private, rather than the physicality of the situation. The issue of privacy may become more complicated if the researcher is involved in online participant observation.
Another online methodology that can be utilized to collect data on paraphilic behaviours is online interviewing. Such a methodology is particularly useful for case study research involving paraphiliacs. Online interviewing of zoophiles is advantageous. As with collecting zoophilic data via online questionnaires, online interviewing of zoophiles involves a considerable saving in time for both researchers and participants as there is no travelling involved for either party. Online interviews can also be carried out synchronously (via an instant messenger system) or asynchronously (via email). Asynchronous online interviews may be attractive and convenient for zoophiles allowing them to respond at their own pace and in their own time. Such detailed accounts can also be used to publish case studies that may have not been highlighted in the literature
One of the main advantages with the collection of case study data onlineis that those being interviewed may be very different from those who seek out medical and professional help for their zoophilic behaviour. As with data collected via online surveys, zoophiles divulging information online may be less psychologically disturbed about their behaviour and may be happy and have incorporated their zoophilic behaviour into their day-to-day lives.
Another informative paper in a 2009 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior was by Dr. Christopher Earls and Dr. Martin Lalumiere (2009) whose recruitment of a zoophile via the internet allowed them to establish the veracity of some of their respondents who contacted them online. For instance, one letter from “Possum” was long and detailed. Earls and Lalumiere noted that embedded within the email was a name. By cross-referencing the name with a number of different data banks (e.g., the Social Sciences Citation Index, Google, and Yahoo), they were able to verify several important demographic aspects of the person who sent the email. Possum soon realized he had inadvertently divulged his identity. Earls and Lalumiere were thus satisfied that the information supplied in the initial email was true and (with the person’s permission) published the case in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
The utilization of a variety of online research methods can be a useful and practical way of examining many different aspects of zoophilic behaviour. As Earls and Lalumiere correctly noted, paraphiliacs recruited via medical treatment centres will tend to show more general pathology. Paraphiliacs recruited from prison samples will tend to have greater criminal histories, and paraphiliacs recruited online will tend to show better adjustment and perhaps better intellectual skills. Basically, compared to psychiatric patients and inmates, those recruited online would be expected to be computer sophisticated and more open to discussing their sexuality.
Zoophiles’ familiarity with Internet technology – particularly as being online is often the best way to meet and communicate with other like-minded people – along with the anonymity of the media, may facilitate and enhance such studies being undertaken. The main disadvantages of online methodologies (such as self-selecting samples, issues concerning reliability and validity) are no different to those encountered in more conventional offline research methodologies.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Beetz, A. M. (2004). Bestiality/zoophilia: A scarcely investigated phenomenon between crime, paraphilia, and love. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 4, 1-36.
Earls, C.M. & Lalumiere, M.L. (2009). A case study of preferential bestiality Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 605-609.
Griffiths, M. D. (2010). The use of online methodologies in data collection for gambling and gaming addictions. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 8-20.
Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilia: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.
Jenkins, R.E. & Thomas, A.R. (2004). Deviance Online: Portrayals of Bestiality on the Internet. New York: Center for Social Science Research.
Kim, P., & Bailey, M. (1997). Sidestreets on the information superhighway: Paraphilias and sexual variations on the Internet. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 22, 35-43.
Mangan, M. A. & Reips, U. (2007). Sleep, sex, and the Web: Surveying the difficult-to-reach clinical population suffering from sexsomnia. Behavior Research Methods, 39, 233-236.
Miletski, H. (2000). Bestiality/zoophilia: An exploratory study. Scandinavian Journal of Sexology, 3, 149-150.
Miletski, H. (2005). Is zoophilia a sexual orientation? A study. In A. M. Beetz & A. L. Podberscek (Eds.), Bestiality and zoophilia: Sexual relations with animals (pp. 82–97). Ashland, IN: Purdue University Press.
Mustanski, B.S. (2001). Getting wired: Exploiting the Internet for the collection of sexually valid data. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 292–301.
Williams, C. J., & Weinberg, M. S. (2003). Zoophilia in men: A study of sexual interests in animals. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 523–535.
Wood, R. T. A., & Griffiths, M. D. (2007). Online data collection from gamblers: Methodological issues. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 5, 151–163.