One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how specific some of the objects of erotic and sexual focus are when it comes to sexual fetishes and sexual paraphilias. A case in point is mummification (the wrapping the full body in a manner that prevents movement). In a previous blog on sexual masochism, I briefly mentioned the practice of mummification within a sadomasochistic context. According to Dr. Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, mummification is:
“An extreme form of bondage in which the person is wrapped from head to toe, much like a mummy, completely immobilizing him. Materials used may be clingfilm, cloth, bandages, rubber strips, duct tape, plaster bandages, bodybags, or straitjackets. The immobilized person may then be left bound in a state of effective sensory deprivation for a period of time or sensually stimulated in his state of bondage – before being released from his wrappings”.
The Wikipedia entry on mummification within a BDSM and bondage context includes verbatim text from Dr. Aggrawal’s definition (although doesn’t acknowledge the source of the material whatsoever). However, it does add that those who have undergone the process end up “looking like an Egyptian mummy” and that the act of mummification is typically used to enhance the feelings of total bodily helplessness, and is incorporated with sensation play (i.e., a group of erotic activities that facilitate particular physical sensations upon a sexual partner). Some mummification practitioners completely cover themselves with only one or two body orifices exposed (i.e., nose and/or mouth so that the person mummified can breathe without restriction). Sensation play typically differs from more mental forms of erotic play (e.g., sexual role playing). The Wikipedia entry on sensation play notes that:
“Sensation play can be sensual, where the sensations are generally pleasing and light. Many couples that would not consider themselves active in BDSM are familiar with this kind of play: the use of silk scarves, feathers, ice, massage oils, and other similar implements. Sensation play in BDSM can also involve sadomasochistic play, involving the application of carefully controlled stimuli to the human body so that it reacts as if it were actually hurt. While this can involve the infliction of actual pain, it is usually done in order to release pleasurable endorphins, creating a sensation somewhat like runner’s high or the afterglow of orgasm, sometimes called ‘flying’ or ‘body stress’”.
It’s probably stating the obvious to say that mummification can be risky for those who engage in the activity. Complications may arise if those encased (in materials such as clingfilm) are unable to signal to their sexual partner that they are having trouble breathing, sweating too much, and becoming severely dehydrated, or that their blood supply is being severely restricted. Straight after the ‘unwrapping’ process, body temperature may have significantly decreased so being in a warm environment and/or having warm blankets on hand is an absolute must. Sexual partners are also advised to have ‘panic shears’ (sometimes called ‘trauma shears’ by BDSM regulars) readily available at all times so that mummification binding can be cut through quickly and easily should things go awry. Mummification can also include more ‘innovatory’ techniques. For instance, in an article I read on ‘Shibari’ (Japanese bondage) by Hans Meijer in a 2000 issue of the Secret Magazine, he noted that wet sheets can be a particularly good material for sexual mummification of submissive sexual partners:
“A non-rope Japanese mummification is done with wet sheets. Wrap your sub in wet sheets and pull them tight. As the sheets dry they will shrink and the mummification will become even tighter. By using a hair dryer you can not only speed up the process, but also determine what areas you want to shrink first and by doing so will ass accents to your bondage”.
A 2004 article on the Forbidden Sexuality website claims that mummification bondage is “a new practice related with BDSM that is becoming more and more popular in the recent years”. Unsurprisingly, the article also states that mummification bondage is strongly associated with feelings of domination and submission. The article notes that:
“For some reason, people engaged to mummification bondage feel an intense sexual arousal and pleasure by being wrapped in bandages, and even being bound and encapsulated in a coffin after that…There has to be a strong connection of trust between the dominant part and the person who’s going to be mummified. It’s also a practice that also needs to be completely, 100% consensual, otherwise, it may be even faced as a crime of aggression. Mummification bondage also requires precaution and training to not suffocate the person who’s playing the submissive part. Some people who are engaged to mummification bondage also reports a connection with the feeling of being immortal which was associated with mummification in ancient Egypt, preserving the body youth to immemorial times”.
There would appear to be strong psychological and behavioural overlaps between mummification fetishism and ‘total enclosure’ fetishism (in fact I would argue that mummification fetishes are a sub-type of total enclosure fetishes). The Wikipedia entry on total enclosure fetishism highlights that such individuals find the claustrophobic and helplessness aspects sexually arousing (and would appear to be similar to claustrophilia that I covered in a previous blog). The Wikipedia entry notes that total enclosure sexual activities can include:
- Rubber fetishism: This refers to fetishists who gain sexual pleasure and arousal from rubber suits, gas masks and similar garments and accessories.
- Vacuum pack fetishism: This refers to fetishists who gain sexual pleasure and arousal from vacuum beds that rigidly enclose the entire human body inside a rubber sheet (apart from a small breathing tube).
- Sleepsack/bodybag fetishism: This refers to fetishists who gain sexual pleasure and arousal from sleeping bags and bodybags (some of which increase pressure on the fetishist’s body).
- Spandex fetishism: This refers to fetishists who gain sexual pleasure and arousal from such things as zentai suits that are used for total enclosure from head-to-toe in skintight fabric. Zentai suits have the advantage that the fetishist can breathe through the loose-woven fabric in a way that is impossible with PVC or rubber.
A few academic studies have examined mummification within the wider gamut of sadomasochistic activities. For instance, a Finnish study on BDSM activities led by Dr Laurence Alison and reported in the Archives of Sexual Behavior described the wide range of activities in which their 184 sadomasochistic participants engaged in (162 men and 22 women). This included flagellation, bondage, piercings, hypoxyphilia, fisting, knifeplay, electric shocks, and mummification. They reported that there were major differences in these activities depending upon sexual orientation (for instance, gay men were more likely to engage in activities such as “cock binding”). Most interestingly, the research team identified four sadomasochistic sub-groups based on the type of pain given and received. These were:
- Typical pain administration: This involved practices such as spanking, caning, whipping, skin branding, electric shocks, etc.
- Humiliation: This involved verbal humiliation, gagging, face slapping, flagellation, etc. Heterosexuals were more likely than gay men to engage in these types of activity.
- Physical restriction: This included bondage, use of handcuffs, use of chains, wrestling, use of ice, wearing straight jackets, hypoxyphilia, and mummifying.
- Hyper-masculine pain administration: This involved rimming, dildo use, cock binding, being urinated upon, being given an enema, fisting, being defecated upon, and catheter insertion. Gay men were more likely than heterosexuals to engage in these types of activity.
The same authors published a follow-up using the same dataset, and reported that within those who enjoyed physical restriction, 13.4% engaged in mummification activities. In another study published in a 2002 issue of Sexual and Relationship Therapy, the same authors combined the results from five previously published studies on sadomasochistic behaviour. They reported that 12.9% of all their sadomasochistic participants had engaged in mummification as a sexual practice.
These studies seemed to confirm and expand on a previous 1984 study published in the journal Social Problems by Dr. Martin Weinberg and colleagues. They interviewed sadomasochists over an eight-year period and reported that their behaviour comprised five distinct features: (i) dominance/submission, (ii) role-playing, (iii) consensuality, (iv) sexual context, and (v) mutual definition. Although not directly concerning mummification, it is clear that these features are critical in the extent to which those mummified experience the activity as sexually stimulating. A less than academic (but interesting) article on the What To See In Berlin website also observes:
“We must not lose sight that these mummies are used as foreplay, and should provoke pleasure in the submissive, allowing them to enjoy the feeling of subjugation and helplessness caused by having their motion restricted, all the while they resist the ‘evil’ that the dominant may want to practice with them. BDSM enthusiasts tend to fall into the temptation of taking a whip, a cane or tweezers to their mummy, because both participants find it stimulating! To maximize the game’s success, couples who seek to take the game to new erotic heights generally leave their favourite erogenous zones exposed following the sexual mummification (i.e. not covered by bandages, plastic or tape)… The most obvious and usual place of erotic stimulation, either by blows or strokes, are the nipples, genitals and buttocks, although the only limit is the imagination”.
It would appear from both anecdotal evidence and empirical research that mummification within a BDSM context comprises a significant minority interest and is probably nowhere near as rare as some other sexual behaviours that I have covered in previous blogs.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Alison, L., Santtila, P., Sandnabba, N. K., & Nordling, N. (2001). Sadomasochistically oriented behavior: Diversity in practice and meaning. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 1–12.
Forbidden Sexuality (2004). Mummification bondage. Located at: http://www.forbiddensexuality.com/mummification_bondage.htm
Meijer, H. (2000). Shibari: House of Japanese Bondage. Secret Magazine, 18, 23-46.
Sandnabba, N. K., Santtila, P., Alison, L., & Nordling, N. (2002). Demographics, sexual behaviour, family background and abuse experiences of practitioners of sadomasochistic sex: A review of recent research. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 17, 39–55.
Sandnabba, N. K., Santtila, P., & Nordling, N. (1999). Sexual behavior and social adaptation among sadomasochistically oriented males. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 273–282.
Santilla, P., Sandnabba, N.K., Alison, L. & Nordling, G.N. (2002). Investigating the underlying structure in sadomasochistically-oriented behaviour: evidence for partially-ordered scales. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31, 185-196.
Weinberg, M.S., Williams, C.J. & Moser, C. (1984). The social constituents of sadomasochism. Social Problems, 31, 379-389.
Wikipedia (2014). Sensation play (BDSM). Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensation_play_(BDSM)
Wikipedia (2014). Total enclosure fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_enclosure_fetishism
Wikipedia (2014). Mummification (BDSM). Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mummification_(BDSM)