Over the Christmas holiday I received a notification from Google to say that my work on sexual paraphilias had been cited in an article entitled ‘Forget feet, meet the fetishists turned on by insects, stuttering and stairs’ on the Shoofee website. The article was a brief overview of seven paraphilias and fetishes, and many of those listed referred readers to articles on my personal blog. Of the seven listed, I had already written articles on six of them but I had never done one on the seventh – psellismophilia.
According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, psellismophilia is a paraphilia that involves becoming sexually aroused by stuttering. Psellismophilia is another paraphilia whose name has been derived as being the opposite of a specific phobia (i.e., psellismophobia, an irrational and persistent fear of stuttering). According to the Massive Phobia website, the root word ‘psellismo’ is the Greek word for ‘stammering’. The Phobia Source website notes stuttering as:
“A speech disorder wherein sounds, syllables or words are repeated or prolonged and this disrupts the normal flow of speech. This affects a person’s quality of life because people find it difficult to communicate with others and people might have also a hard time understanding people who stutter or might find it even annoying. Stuttering can be a source of ridicule and humiliation and this can lead to a full blown phobia called psellismophobia…We must remember that stuttering is not equivalent to lack of intelligence. In fact, most people who stutter are extremely intelligent and is said to be that their brains process their thoughts too fast and their speech can’t cope up with their thoughts”.
As with any human behaviour that I know little about, I first did a search on Google Scholar and found that no article had ever been written on the topic. I then did a simple search on Google and again found that no articles had ever been done on the behaviour. However, there were plenty of articles that mentioned it in passing including articles in The Huffington Post (‘46 sexual fetishes you’ve never heard of’), Crave Online (‘15 bizarre sexual fetishes you’ve probably never heard of’), The Buzz (‘15 bizarre/disgusting sexual fetishes you’ve probably never heard of!’), The Thrillist (‘20 bizarre sexual fetishes you never knew existed’), The Sex Health Mag (‘The 10 strange sexual fetishes you’ve probably never heard of’), The Hook Mag (‘20 of the most f**ked up sexual fetishes you’d prefer not to know about’), and The Inked Mag (‘50 shades of weird. 49 of the most bizarre sex fetishes!’). Not one of these articles had anything more than a one-line definition (typically describing the condition as an abnormal affection and/or love for stuttering). The article in Shoofee, did offer a little more in the way of explanation:
“Stuttering affects one percent of the world’s population and many sufferers find themselves the butt of jokes. But if they were to come across a psellismophiliac they could find that their speech is an instant aphrodisiac, for this is a fetish which involves arousal to stuttering. Natalie, a 22-year-old psellismophiliac, explained her condition on an online psychology forum. ‘I feel like I can’t date regularly because I won’t be sexually interested in anyone who doesn’t have a stammer,’ she wrote. Natalie added that when she mentioned it to boyfriends they tried to pretend to stutter but she said it failed to arouse her like the real thing”.
Given the complete lack of information on whether there are individuals who are sexually aroused by stuttering I began trawling various online forums and began to find individuals who confessed online that stuttering was something they found sexually arousing (or claim to know those who are). Obviously I have no way of knowing the veracity of the claims made, but most appeared to be genuine to me. Here are some extracts:
- Extract 1: “I am a girl who finds listening to a guy stutter and struggle extremely sexy… no there is very little on the internet about it, guess there’s not many of us out there, but you’re not alone” (Lickerish, female, heterosexual).
- Extract 2: “I’m a guy who gets turned on by listening to a girl stutter, and I’ve never been able to figure out why…There’s hardly anything on the internet about it, other than this thread and a few random ‘stuttering is sexy’ one-liners on other sites…But yeah, there are a few of us out there, and it’s interesting to know that it’s not limited to just one gender” (Wireless Mike, male, heterosexual).
- Extract 3: “I’ve had this fetish for years (I’m 31 now), but it’s been getting stronger and stronger. I’m a gay guy attracted to other guys who stutter. I’ve met a couple of guys locally and a couple more over Skype. We are still friends with [three] of them – we just drifted apart with the other one since time zones don’t work to our advantage. But I find myself wishing I had more friends who stutter to talk to. It’s both a sexual thing and a non-sexual thing… in some ways I prefer chatting with guys who stutter than fluent guys…Does anyone else feel the same? It’s frustrating that I have to work so hard to convince others I’m not crazy” (Jay, male, gay).
- Extract 4: “I had a chick ask me to stutter on her nether regions once. It’s about the closest I’ve seen of a “stuttering fetish” (Zachary, male, heterosexual).
- Extract 5: “I have [a stutter fetish]. I’m female and I like men, but I have this fetish for males and females. I’ve never written this before. Certainly never said it” (Spector, female, bisexual).
- Extract 6: “I don’t have personal experience with people fetishizing stuttering, but I’ve seen it, particularly in smutty fanfiction with ‘nervous’ submissive characters” (Croagunk, male, sexuality unknown).
- Extract 7: “I once dated a girl who confessed during our brief relationship that she thought my stutter was ‘cute’. I’m pretty sure she was into ‘different’ kinds of guys. She would always bring it up and stare at my mouth. It was like a fetish. It was like she had a thing for disabled guys! I broke up with her not because I didn’t like her, just because it freaked me out. Made me feel really uncomfortable” (priateproducer, male, heterosexual).
- Extract 8: “The stutter can be sexy. The thing of gasping for air; moving tongues; flailing lips; breathing. These are sexual motions, these are movements of the mouth, the delicate lips, the waving of the soft tongue. To stutter is to wave the soft flesh of the face in rapid succession…Thinking about stuttering as an intimate act, akin to being naked, may change its constructed meaning and turn it into a moment of closeness with our community” (Zach, male, sexuality unknown)
- Extract 9: “I am a guy who likes guys, and consider myself to have a stuttering fetish…It’s true that there isn’t much [online about] this, but I’ve spoken to 4 or 5 other guys (through the net and on the phone/skype occasionally) who also share this – so I’m not the only one!…I can’t quite explain it, but I really like guys who stutter. Let me say that it has to be more than just that to like a guy, but it helps!…For me, the more severe the stutter the more attractive it is. I’ve spoken to a quite a few guys who stutter and I’ve always been open about this. Some just find it strange or think I’m kidding, but most are really open and relieved to find someone who doesn’t have an issue with it. For me it’s not as simple as just a ‘fetish’, I’ve read a lot about it and can understand a lot about it. I’ve also talked to a couple of guys who like to pretend (even though they’re completely fluent otherwise) and I find that interesting too” (Jay, male, gay).
- Extract 10: “I have a stuttering fetish…I look for videos of stuttering online to watch. The more severe the stutter, the more struggle and secondary characteristics, the better. I stuttered pretty badly as a child, and occasionally still do…It’s nice to know I’m not the only one” (eglorae, gender and sexuality unknown).
- Extract 11: “I’m new on this forum so I was just only browsing and saw the stuttering topic and it immediately caught my attention so…yes I guess I have a soft spot for guys who stutter. It’s not quite a fetish, but I find it really cute and sexy. I used to [have] a crush on a guy when I was like 14 years old and he was a stutterer, oh his speaking was so hot!” (Alexandra, female, heterosexual).
- Extract 12: “Wow, I thought I was the only one and that I was odd! I’m a guy who finds stuttering really sexy in women. No idea why…It’s just something I discovered that I like. I’d love to talk…with some girls who stutter but it seems very unlikely!” (emmanola, male, heterosexual).
- Extract 13: “I have to tell you, that some of the guys I have met have found it an absolute turn on for them. During intimate moments my stuttering gets a lot worse which can send some guys crazy, although admittedly it is a very small number. I never thought it as being a fetish though, but maybe it is. I can’t say that anyone I have met has been actually looking for someone that stutters but rather looked at is a bonus when they found someone that did” (Kenny, male, gay).
- Extract 14: “I stutter and it is a BIG turn-on for me. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one. I would love to talk to another stutterer – especially one who thinks it’s a turn-on” (Stutteringdude, male, gay).
Based on these online self-confessions, a few things can be concluded. Obviously I have no idea about whether these are in any way representative of those individuals who like those that stutter, but if it is a genuine fetish or paraphilia (and some of these individuals claim it is something they like strongly or have a preference for rather than it being a fetish as such), the behaviour appears to prevalent in both men and women and not be associated with one particular sexual orientation as it was described by those both gay and straight. Very few appear to know where their fetish for stuttering originates although some describe memories from adolescence and being sexually aroused in the formative stages of sexual development. Most see the fetish as something that they have kept to themselves without ever having talked to others about it. Some appear to be glad that they ‘are not alone’ in having the fetish and find comfort in hearing others’ stories. Some individuals went as far to offer explanations for the fetish or what it’s not about.
- Extract 15: “I think I know what attracts [people] to the stutter. I think it’s most likely the tonality of a stutter. They raise in pitch, repeat syllables that sometimes mirror those of an orgasm or basic sexual moaning. I honestly do think you might find something a bit erotic about how similarly a stutter can mimic that of sexual moan…even the facial expressions made” (aimoo182, gender and sexuality unknown).
- Extract 16: “I’ve also read a bit about stuttering and can understand a lot more than your average guy. I’ve been asked if it’s a [domination] thing…it’s not. I’d happily dom or be dommed by a guy who stutters. Or just hold a nice conversation. It doesn’t matter” (Jay, male, gay).
My own view is that most fetishes and paraphilias appear to begin developing in early adolescence and that classical conditioning (i.e., associative pairing between sexual arousal and the non-sexual stimulus, in this case the stuttering) is an important part of the acquisition process. Little of what I found fits my opinion on this but that’s more because the individuals themselves have little insight to their own behaviour and how the fetish manifested itself. Whether psellismophilia ever becomes the focus of serious academic study remains to be seen but I doubt that it will unless any negative consequences arise from the behaviour (and I have come across nothing suggesting that the condition – if it genuinely exists – is any way detrimental).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, 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.
Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.
Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books.
One of the more obscure things known about Adolf Hitler was that he suffered from a severe case of syphilophobia (i.e., which – according to a 1956 definition in Blakiston’s New Gould Medical Dictionary – is a morbid fear of the sexually transmitted disease syphilis). Dr. Henry A. Murray in a 1943 report entitled ‘Analysis of the personality of Adolf Hitler with predictions of his future behavior and suggestions for dealing with him now and after Germany’s surrender’ diagnosed Hitler’s neurosis, hysteria, paranoia, Oedipal tendencies, schizophrenia, “infinite self-abasement” and syphilophobia (which he describes as a fear of contamination of the blood through contact with a woman). However, the report is vague on its sources, and presented little in the way of empirical evidence for its conclusions. According to a later 1986 paper in Genitourinary Medicine, by Dr. R. Fitzpatrick and his colleagues, the authors said that Hitler believed that syphilis was a Jewish disease that was transmitted from generation to generation.
Some definitions of the condition also note that it can include people who actually believe they have syphilis even though there is no medical evidence to support the belief (and as such is classed as a form of hypochondria). The phobic condition is also known by various other names including luiphobia (‘leus’ was a former name of syphilis), venereophobia, and venereoneurosis (although the latter technically include the fear of any sexually transmitted disease). The condition has been documented in the medical literature dating back the 16th century including references to venereoneurosis (called ‘noddlepox’). A 1938 paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dr. Frank Cormia (who featured seven case studies of syphilophobia) wrote that:
“A morbid fear of syphilis has been present in the human race ever since the great plague of the early sixteenth century. Authentic written observations were first made by Turner, in 1567. Proksch published his ‘RadlinusVitus, Lues Venerea Imaginaria’in 1698”.
In one of the most detailed ‘modern’ accounts of syphilophobia in a 1957 issue of the British Journal of Venereal Diseases, Dr. Ida McAlpine (who outlined seven case studies in her report) argued that syphilophobia and venereophobia are not unitary conditions but rather non-specific symptoms of a range of psychiatric disorders. McAlpine noted that among 24 cases of ‘venereophobia’ only one was female. An earlier (1953) study by French medics Dr. P. Graciansky and Dr. E. Stern (in the journal La Semaine des Hôpitaux Thérapeutique) also had 24 cases of syphilophobia and reported that 14 were male and 10 female. For Dr. Otto Fenichel, the Viennese psychoanalyst (writing in the 1940s), syphilophobia comprised a “rationalization of unreal dangers connected with sexual activity, which on a deep, unconscious level, may represent disguised sado-masochistic wishes, for it is equally possible to be infected by other persons and to infect them”
In a 1963 study (again published in the British Journal of Venereal Diseases) of the incidence, pattern, and causes of psychiatric illness related to fear of venereal disease among 887 consecutive cases at an STD clinic, Dr. E. Kite and Dr. A. Grimble reported that psychiatric illness occurred in 5% of all patients, and was slightly more frequent in females (6%). Since the early flurry of studies published from the 1940s to the 1960s there was little (if anything published academically until the mid-2000s. A case report of syphilophobia was published in 2006 by Dr Arfan ul Bari and Dr. Ali Zulqernain in the Journal of Pakistan Association of Dermatologists. The authors reported the case of a 28-year old soldier:
“[He complained] of generalized weakness and some lesion over his glans penis and intermittent burning micturation [lasting] about 2 years. He has been visiting various doctors but was never satisfied with the treatment given…He had no history of any extramarital sexual relationship or any significant physical or psychiatric ailment in the past. General physical and systemic examination was unremarkable and on genital examination neither any active lesion, nor any mark of previous healed lesion was found. The patient insisted that he was suffering from the venereal disease (syphilis) and he had a sore over glans penis near urethral meatus…On the basis of absence of any suggested physical signs and symptoms, normal laboratory investigations and repeatedly negative serological tests for syphilis, he was considered to be a case of syphilophobia (hypochondriasis) and was referred to psychiatrist”.
Bari and Zulqernain claim that disorders like syphilophobia are “probably more common than is recognized” (although I’m unsure on what they have based this opinion on). They also provided some psychological insight into the condition:
“Perhaps because of the emotional issues surrounding sexual behavior, anxiety about a sexual encounter may manifest itself as a fear or conviction that one has been infected with a sexually transmitted infection. The problem often significantly impairs the quality of life. It can cause personal distress and keep people apart from loved ones and business associates…At some point in past, there was likely an event linking lues or syphilis and emotional trauma. Whilst the original catalyst may have been a real-life scare of some kind, the condition can also be triggered by myriad, benign events like movies, TV, or perhaps seeing someone else experience trauma”.
The most recent paper I have come across on syphilophobia was published in 2010 by the Russians Dr. A.N. Provizion and colleagues (published in Russian, so I only managed to read the English summary). They believe the condition to be of “importance” and that is a condition that psychiatrists should be more aware of. It may be that the condition has moved with the times and that other sexually transmitted diseases (like AIDS) are now more of a fear than syphilis.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bari, A.U. & Zulqernain, A. (2006). Syphilophobia: a frustrating psychiatric illness presenting to dermatologists. Journal of Pakistan Association of Dermatologists, 16, 236-238.
Cormia, F.E. (1938). Syphilophobia and allied anxiety states. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 39, 361-366
Fenichel, O. (1945). Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis. London: NortonCo.
Fitzpatrick, R., Frost, D., & Ikkos, G. (1986). Survey of psychological disturbance in patients attending a sexually transmitted diseases clinic. Genitourinary Medicine, 62, 111-115.
Graciansky, P. & Stern, E. (1953). [Syphilophobia]. La Semaine des Hôpitaux Thérapeutique, 29, 2911-2915.
Hoerr, N.L. & Osol, A. (1956) Blakiston’s New Gould Medical Dictionary. McGraw-Hill.
Kite, E.d.C. & Grimble, A. (1963). Psychiatric aspects of venereal disease. British Journal of Venereal Disease, 39, 173-180.
McAlpine, I. (1957). Syphilophobia; A psychiatric study. British Journal of Venereal Diseases, 33, 92-99.
Murray, H. A. (1943/2005). Analysis of the personality of Adolf Hitler with predictions of his future behavior and suggestions for dealing with him now and after Germany’s surrender. A report prepared for the Office of Strategic Services, October 1943. Located at: http://archive.org/stream/AnalysisOfThePersonalityOfAdolphHitler/MurrayHenry-AnalysisOfThePersonalityOfAdolphHitler1943240p.Scan_djvu.txt
Provizion A.N., Provizion L.N., Shveduk S.V., Shedania I.E. [To the problem of syphilophobia], Том, 13, 147-149.
Balloon fetishes are (unsurprisingly) sexual fetishes that feature balloons as the source of sexual arousal and pleasure. Such individuals are known as ‘looners’. David Kerekes (editor of Headpress – The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion) wrote that some balloon fetishists “revel in the popping of balloons and [others] may become anxious and tearful at the very thought of popping balloons”. In her book Deviant Desires, Katharine Gates also notes that other looners enjoy particular aspects of balloons such as blowing them up and/or interacting with them (e.g., rubbing up against balloons, sitting and/or lying on balloons, etc.). A quick look at a few balloon fetish websites also indicates that some looners like watching people inflate them until they burst whereas others like gigantic balloons that they can stick their head inside them (for instance, check out the pictures here which also claim that the smell or the colour of the balloon may be an important part of the fetish).
There has been very little empirical research carried out on looners and much of what is known is based on anecdotes and hearsay. Anecdotal case studies suggest that the etiology of the fetish varies from one person to the next although some claim that the behaviour can be explained by sexual imprinting where specific sexual preferences may be acquired through exposure to particular stimuli during a specific period early in life. Some looners recall that in childhood they remember being sexually aroused when they saw balloons being popped by the opposite sex (or people they had a crush on). It has also been alleged that – somewhat paradoxically – looners may have phonophobia (i.e., a fear of loud sounds) as a result of being in the vicinity of balloons popping loudly. As Dr. Ilana Simons claims in a Psychology Today article, there is an unexplained link between fetishes and phobias:
“There is a deep connection between phobias, fetishes, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In each, someone has an emotion that threatens to overwhelm her… A person with a fetish handles the monster of desire by focusing not on whole people but on parts – just a shoe, or the butt, or the slit in skirts. Focus on one thing organizes or restrains multiple feelings. A person with a phobia is similarly able to contain anxiety by condensing emotion to one target”.
In an online essay (So hot and ready to pop: The world of looners), balloon fetishists comprise poppers (where popping the balloon is essential to the fetish) and non-poppers (who avoid the bursting of balloons in all instances). Katherine McIntyre recently published a paper on balloon fetishes (Looners: Inside the world of balloon fetishes) and interviewed a number of looners. One of her interviewees claimed that poppers are generally more dominant and non-poppers more submissive. However, sex therapist Paul Abramson claimed the distinction was trivial and “like trying to distinguish Miller from Bud drinkers”. McIntyre also noted that:
“The balloon fetish community extends beyond porn. Looners share stories and ask questions about their fetish on Facebook, Twitter and other Internet sites. About 1,200 people are regular members of Balloon Buddies, a popular listserv in the looner community where otherwise uncomfortable and often ashamed balloon people gather and discuss their preoccupation. Balloon Buddies was started as a pen pal group in the 1970s by a man from Maine nicknamed Buster Bill. Several thousand people have circulated through over the years”.
Even among looners who don’t have a balloon phobia, it has been claimed that may have no desire to burst the balloon because they have an anthropomorphized emotional attachment to the balloon (i.e., they attribute human characteristics to the balloon). The article also claims that balloon fetish is indirectly related to latex fetishes. Just like latex, balloons are “tactile and supple and imitate the consistency of human skin”. However, balloons have extra properties such as the ability to expand and is said to be akin “the swelling of primary and secondary sexual organs during arousal”. A Wikipedia entry on looners also claims that:
“One hallmark of the distinction between poppers and non-poppers may be in seeing balloons’ bursting either as a metaphor for orgasm, or as a metaphor for death…for fetishists the adrenaline rush associated with the ‘danger’ that a balloon will pop produces a sexual response. This helps to explain why even non-poppers who have an intense phobia of balloons popping in non-sexual contexts may be aroused by the possibility within safe sexual contexts. It may even suggest that balloon fetish, for poppers and non-poppers alike, is part of the BDSM [Bondage, Dominance, Submission, Masochism] spectrum of fetishes in which a controlled amount of danger is used to elicit a pleasurable fight or flight in participants”.
In an article for The Wave Magazine, entitled “Fetish Confessions”, Sandy Brundage interviewed self-confessed looner ‘Mike D’ about his balloon fetish. Brundage simply wanted to know why looners are so sexually aroused by balloons. Mike D – who now runs the balloon fetish video site Mellyloon that has sent out over 1,000 balloon fetish films to the Middle East, Asia, South and North America – said:
“I’m not sure I have the answer to that. There’s always something that goes back to your childhood. Like your babysitter blew up a balloon or your mother popped your balloon. Then along comes puberty and these things that made such an impression on you as a child turn into something erotic….I’m still phobic [about balloons]. That’s where my whole fetish derived from, that fear”.
McIntyre interviewed another male looner (Shaun) who was particularly aroused by balloons because of their smell. He said:
“The smell of a room that has a lot of balloons, especially after they have oxidized over a period of a couple days, is nearly indescribable. Each brand possesses a smell as distinct to looners as perfume. The odor is subtly sweet with a hint of rubber. One sniff can identify a Rifco brand product because its latex smells slightly of chocolate chip cookies. The aroma adds to the experience, as does the feel and sound of balloons. The sensation of swimming through hundreds of balloons in my bedroom was overwhelming and amazing”.
McIntyre also noted that some looners care more about the balloon’s size, colour and brand. Some prefer solid colored balloons and others prefer transparent balloons. One looner said that size was crucial (“the bigger the better”). This particular looner claimed he could orgasm simply by blowing up a balloon until it popped.
McIntyre also interviewed Lynda, a 55-year-old teacher from Los Angeles who said that balloons were “more sensual than sexual” for her. She and her partner own three helium tanks and they sometimes fill their bedroom, living room or shower with balloons. Lynda says she traps herself in a cage she built with balloons, turns on a large fan, and allows the balloons to move around her. This she says stimulates “her senses to invigorating heights” and equates the feeling to a junkie’s high (“so intense, so wild and awesome”), and “collapses in ecstasy afterward like one does after incredible sex”. Lynda says her partner accepts her balloon fetish because “it’s not immoral, not fattening, it’s relatively cheap and brings a smile to her face”.
McIntyre also claimed in her article that most looners grew up ashamed with the belief that no-one else in the world had their sexual fetish. It was only when they found other like-minded people online that they realized they were “not alone”. This helps eliminate the looner’s feelings of isolation. This then becomes easier to tell potential partners about their fetish and helps looners to keep their behaviour under control.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Brundage, S. (2002). Fetish Confessions: Telling loved ones about your fetish is as easy as solving fractured quadratic equations. The Wave Magazine, July 31. Located at: http://web.archive.org/web/20071110095616/http://thewavemagazine.com/pagegen.php?pagename=article&articleid=22026
Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.
Kerekes, D. (2010). Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion, 21, 142.
Malfouka (undated). So hot and ready to pop: The world of looners. Maximum Awesome. Located at: http://www.maximumawesome.com/pervfriday/looners.htm
McIntyre, K.E. (2011). Looners: Inside the world of balloon fetishism. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, 27 April. Located at: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/40c3h6kk
Simons, I. (2009). On fetishes and clean pencil tips. Psychology Today, March 8. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-literary-mind/200903/fetishes-and-clean-pencil-tips
Wikipedia (2012). Balloon fetish. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balloon_fetish