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Displeasures of the flesh: A brief look at anthropophagolagnia and paraphilic behaviour in serial killers

In previous blogs I have examined the psychology of sexual cannibalism and erotophonophilia (aka ‘lust murder’) as well as an article that I wrote on serial killers that collect their victims’ body parts as ‘trophies’. One very rare sub-type of both sexual cannibalism and erotophonophilia is anthropophagolagnia. This particular type of sexual paraphilia has been defined by Dr Anil Aggrawal as the paraphilia of “rape with cannibalism” and by the Right Diagnosis website as sexual urges, preferences or fantasies involving raping and then cannibalizing the victim”.

The Listaholic website goes as far to say that anthropophagolagnia is one of the ten “most bizarre sexual fetishes on earth” claiming that serial killer is the “poster boy” for these “twisted” individuals. Other serial killers that might be classed as anthropophagolagniacs include Albert Fish, Peter Kirsten, Ottis Toole and Ed Gein. However, there also appear to be cases of what I would call ‘systematic anthropophagolagnia’ if the extract I found online is true:

“While it is easy to dismiss one case as stemming from some sort of neurological aberrations in the participants, we also see sexualized cannibalism in modern day Africa. In the early 2000s in Congo, rape and cannibalism were reported to coincide sporadically across the region. The claims are backed by a UN investigation into the phenomena…Rebels would go into villages and rape the women and children, then dismember them alive while eating their flesh. There are many reports of family members being forced to eat the flesh of other murdered family members after being raped…The men committing these atrocities do not have any neurological aberrations, they simply have the power to exercise this behavior. While cannibalism has been practiced in Africa as part of spiritual traditions for centuries, sadistic sexualized torture is not part of that tradition. So why add it in? Presumably the rebels didn’t all happen to be born child rapists either, yet raping children is part of their terror campaign and they must be able to achieve an erection to carry out the task, and so it must be assumed they learned to like it”.

Last year, I also read about 40-year old preacher Stephen Tari, the leader of a 6,000-strong cannibal rape cult in Papua New Guinea. He was in prison following his conviction for a brutal rape but escaped (only to be killed by people from his village in retaliation for the cannibalistic rape murders he had committed). As a report in The Independent noted:

“[Tari] had previously been accused of raping, murdering and eating three girls in front of their traumatised mothers…The charismatic cult leader, who wore white robes and is said to have regularly drunk the blood of his ‘flower girls’, quickly returned to his home village of Gal after [a prison] escape, but could only manage six months before killing yet again…It has not yet been established if the murdered woman was killed as part of a blood sacrifice, but it is considered likely as Tari was said to have been attempting to resurrect his cult following the spell in prison”.

Dr. Eric Hickey (in his book Serial Murderers and Their Victims) notes that paraphilic behaviour is very common among those that commit sexual crimes (and that more than one is often present) but that the two activities (sex offending and paraphilias) may be two independent constructs and that one does not necessarily affect the other. In fact he notes that:

“Rather than paraphilia being caused by sexual pathology, they may be better understood as one of many forms of general social deviance…For the male serial killer, the paraphilia engaged in usually has escalated from softer forms to those that are considered not only criminal but violent as well. They range from unusual to incredibly bizarre and disgusting. As paraphilia develop, men affected by them often engage in several over a period of time. Most men who engage in paraphilia often exhibit three or four different forms, some of them simultaneously. For those with violent tendencies, soft paraphilia can quickly lead to experimentation with hardcore paraphilia that often involves the harming of others in sexual ways. For example, some paraphilic offenders prefer to stalk and sexually assault their victims in stores and other public places without getting caught. The thrill of hunting an unsuspecting victim contributes to sexually arousing the offender”.

Hickey asserts that anthropophagolagnia is one of the so-called ‘attack paraphilias’ (as opposed to the ‘preparatory paraphilias’). Attack paraphilias are described by Hickey as being sexually violent (towards other individuals including children in extreme circumstances). Preparatory paraphilias are defined by Hickey as those “that have been found as part of the lust killer’s sexual fantasies and activities” (including those that display anthropophagolagnia). However, Hickey notes that individuals that engage in preparatory paraphilias do not necessarily go on to become serial killers. He then goes on to say:

“The process of sexual fantasy development may include stealing items from victims. Burglary, although generally considered to be a property crime, also is sometimes a property crime for sexual purposes. Stealing underwear, toiletries, hair clippings, photographs, and other personal items provides the offender with souvenirs for him to fantasize over”.

Some of the examples Hickey cites are both revealing and psychologically interesting:

“One offender noted how he would climax each time he entered a victim’s home through a window. The thought of being alone with people sleeping in the house had become deeply eroticized. Another offender likes to break into homes and watch victims sleep. He eventually will touch the victim and will only leave when she begins to scream. He ‘began’ his sexual acting out as a voyeur. This paraphilic process was also examined by Purcell and Arrigo (2001), who note that the process consists of mutually interactive elements: paraphilic stimuli and fantasy; orgasmic conditioning process; and facilitators (drugs, alcohol, and pornography). The probability of the offender harming a victim is extremely high given the progressive nature of his sexual fantasies”.

Along with anthropophagolagnia, other ‘attack paraphilias’ that have been associated with serial killers include amokoscisia (sexual arousal or sexual frenzy from a desire to slash or mutilate other individuals [typically women]), anophelorastia (sexual arousal from defiling or ravaging another individual), biastophilia (sexual arousal from violently raping other individuals; also called raptophilia), dippoldism (sexual arousal from abusing children, typically in the form of spanking and corporal punishment), necrophilia (sexual arousal from having sex with acts with dead individuals), paedophilia (sexual arousal from having sex with minors typically via manipulation and grooming), and sexual sadism (empowerment and sexual arousal derived from inflicting pain and/or injuring other individuals).

The ‘preparatory paraphilias’ that typically precede serial killing and attack paraphilias such as anthropophagolagnia include agonophilia (sexual arousal caused by a sexual partner pretending to struggle), altocalciphilia (sexual arousal from high-heeled shoes), autonecrophilia (sexual arousal by imagining oneself as a dead person), exhibitionism (exposing genitals to inappropriate and/or non-consenting people for sexual arousal), frottage (sexual arousal from rubbing up against the body against a sexual partner or object), gerontophilia (sexual arousal from someone whose age is older and that of a different generation), hebephilia (men that are sexually aroused by aroused by teenagers), kleptolagnia (sexual arousal from stealing), retifism (sexual arousal from shoes), scatophilia (sexual arousal via making telephone calls, using vulgar language, and/or trying to elicit a reaction from the other party), scoptophilia (sexual arousal by watching others [typically engaged in sexual behaviour] without their consent, and more usually referred to as voyeurism), and somnophilia (sexual arousal from fondling strangers in their sleep). The multiplicity of co-existent paraphilias (including anthropophagolagnia) is highlighted by the Wikipedia entry on Jeffrey Dahmer:

“Dahmer readily admitted to having engaged in a number of paraphilic behaviors, including necrophilia, exhibitionism, hebephilia, fetishism, pygmalionism, and erotophonophilia. He is also known to have several partialisms, including anthropophagy (also known as cannibalism). One particular focus of Dahmer’s partialism was the victim’s chest area. By his own admission, what caught his attention to Steven Hicks hitchhiking in 1978 was the fact the youth was bare-chested; he also conceded it was possible that his viewing the exposed chest of Steven Tuomi in 1987 while in a drunken stupor may have led him to unsuccessfully attempt to tear Tuomi’s heart from his chest. Moreover, almost all the murders Dahmer committed from 1990 onwards involved a ritual of posing the victims’ bodies in suggestive positions – many pictures taken prior to dismemberment depict the victims’ bodies with the chest thrust outwards. Dahmer also derived sexual pleasure from the viscera of his victims; he would often masturbate and ejaculate into the body cavity and at other times, literally used the internal organs as a masturbatory aid”.

Almost nothing is known empirically about anthropophagolagnia except that it is very rare and that almost all information about it comes from serial killers that have been caught. Explanations for the development of anthropophagolagnia can only be speculated but are likely to be no different from the development of other paraphilic behaviour. Hickey (citing Irwin Sarason and Barbara Sarason’s Abnormal Psychology textbook) notes five key explanations for the development of paraphilias (reproduced below verbatim):

  • Psychodynamic – paraphilic behavior as a manifestation of unresolved conflicts during psychosexual development;
  • Behavioral – paraphilia is developed through conditioning, modeling, reinforcement, punishment, and rewards, the same process that normal sexual activity is learned;
  • Cognitive – paraphilia become substitutes for appropriate social and sexual functioning or the inability to develop satisfying marital relationships;
  • Biological – heredity, prenatal hormone environment, and factors contributing to gender identity can facilitate paraphilic interests. Other explanations are linked to brain malfunctioning and chromosomal abnormalities;
  • Interactional – that development of paraphilia is a process that results from psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, and biological factors.

As an eclectic, I favour the interactional explanation for the existence of anthropophagolagnia but also believe that the most important influences are the behavioural aspects via classical and operant conditioning processes.

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

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Hall, J. (2013). ‘Black Jesus’ murder: Leader of 6,000-strong cannibal rape cult hacked to death by villagers in Papua New Guinea jungle after killing yet again. The Independent, August 30. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/black-jesus-murder-leader-of-6000strong-cannibal-rape-cult-hacked-to-death-by-villagers-in-papua-new-guinea-jungle-after-killing-yet-again-8791967.html

Hickey, E. W. (Ed.). (2003). Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime. London: Sage Publications

Hickey, E. W. (2010). Serial Murderers and Their Victims (Fifth Edition). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Purcell, C., and B. Arrigo. (2001). Explaining paraphilias and lust murder: Toward an integrated model. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 45(1), 6–31.

Sarason, I. G. and B. R. Sarason. (2004). Abnormal Psychology, 11th Edition. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Wikipedia (2014). Jeffrey Dahmer. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Dahmer

A touch too much? A brief look at hyphephilia

In a previous blog I briefly examined frotteurism (in which a person derives sexual pleasure or gratification from rubbing, especially the genitals, against another non-consensual person, typically in a public place such as a crowded train, or in crowded places such as malls, elevators, on busy sidewalks, and on public transportation vehicles). This behaviour is closely related to (or a sub-type) of ‘toucherism’ depending upon which source you read. Some descriptions of toucherism claim that the individual touches or fondles other people (rather than rubbing) to gain sexual arousal. For instance, the online Psychology Dictionary define toucherism as carnal interest and stimulation gathered from touching a stranger on an erotic area of their body, especially the buttocks, breasts, or genitalia. This is frequently done as an alleged in tight spaces”. Similarly, the Wikipedia entry says that:

“Toucherism refers to sexual arousal based on grabbing or rubbing one’s hands against an unexpecting (and non-consenting) person. It usually involves touching breasts, buttocks or genital areas, often while quickly walking across the victim’s path…[The late Czech-Canadian] sexologist Kurt Freund described toucherism as a courtship disorder”

In fact, Freund wrote numerous papers claiming that behaviours such as toucherism, frotteurism, and exhibitionism 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 proposed that toucherism is a disturbance of the third phase of the courtship disorder. Similarly, Professor John Money proposed the ‘‘lovemap’’ theory (in his 1986 Lovemaps book) suggesting that paraphiliac behaviour occurs when an abnormal lovemap develops which interferes with the ability to participate in loving sexual intercourse.

The reason why I began this article by briefly re-visiting frotteurism and toucherism is that there is a tactile fetishistic behaviour called ‘hyphephilia’ that I would argue is a sub-type of toucherism but not necessarily a sub-type of frotteurism (suggesting that toucherism and frotteurism may be two separate sexual paraphilias). In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Anil Aggrawal defines hyphephilia as a paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual arousal from touching skin, hair, leather, or fur (although these could be very specific paraphilias – such as trichophilia that describes those individuals that derive sexual arousal from human hair). This is similar (but not the same) to the online English Encyclopedia that notes:

“In psychiatry, [hyphephilia is] a sexual perversion in which sexual arousal and orgasm depend upon touching or rubbing the partner`s skin or hair, or upon the sensations related to feeling fur, leather, fabric, or other substances in association with sexual activity with the partner”.

The Right Diagnosis medical website adds an arguably zoophilic element by claiming that the symptoms of hyphephilia are a (i) sexual interest in the feel and smell of animal skin, fur or leather, (ii) recurring intense sexual fantasies involving the feel and smell of animal skin, fur or leather, (iii) recurring intense sexual urges involving the feel and smell of animal skin, fur or leather, and/or sexual preference for the feel and smell of animal skin, fur or leather. Finally, Dr. George Pranzarone in his 2000 Dictionary of Sexology is a little more technical and says that:

“Hyphephilia [is] one of a group of paraphilias of the fetishistic/talismanic type in which the sexuoerotic stimulus is associated with the touching, rubbing, or the feel of skin, hair, leather, fur, and fabric, especially if worn in proximity to erotically significant parts of the body”.

Dr. Eric Hickey (in his book Serial Murderers and Their Victims) notes that paraphilic behaviour is very common among those that commit sexual crimes but that the two activities (sex offending and paraphilias) may be two independent constructs and that one does not necessarily affect the other. Hickey asserts that hyphephilia is one of the so-called ‘preparatory paraphilias’ (as opposed to the ‘attack paraphilias’). Attack paraphilias are described by Hickey as being sexually violent (towards other individuals including children in extreme circumstances). Preparatory paraphilias are defined by Hickey as those “that have been found as part of the lust killer’s sexual fantasies and activities”. However, Hickey notes that individuals that engage in preparatory paraphilias do not necessarily go on to become serial killers.

Like many paraphilic and fetishistic behaviours, there is no scientific agreement concerning the cause of hyphephilia. This probably depends on the person rather than a single characteristic factor. Most experts would no doubt attribute hyphephilic behaviour to an initially random or accidental touching of the specific item that the individual subsequently finds sexually arousing. Through processes such as classical and operant conditioning, successive repetitions of the associative pairings of the behaviour would then reinforce the behaviour and result in the behaviour being repeated.

One of the few references I came across that mentioned hyphephilia is an interesting paper by Dr. Stephen J. Gould in a 1991 volume of Advances in Consumer Research. He claimed the field of sex research had been overlooked by consumer research, and that John Money’s concept of ‘lovemaps’ could be applied. More specifically, he asserted:

“I want to suggest that there exist what we can call consumer lovemaps. This concept represents an adaptation of Money’s (1984) lovemap theory. He defines a lovemap as that which ‘carries the program of a person’s erotic fantasies and their corresponding practices’. Based on the lovemap concept, Money has developed a typology of paraphilias (perversions) each with their own lovemap (e.g. autonepiophilia – diaperism; hyphephilia – lover of fabrics). Each also follows certain strategies of sexual response – the two examples of autonepiophilia and hyphephilia, for instance, represent a fetishistic sexual strategy. In this context, we may define a consumer lovemap as including those aspects of the more general lovemap which involve consumption, i.e. the purchase and use of products in the process of attracting a mate, engaging in sexual activity, and developing and maintaining sexual-love relationships”.

Here, hyphephilia is simply defined as someone that derives sexual arousal from the touching of fabrics. This is not uncommon as a number of online articles also simply define hyphephilia as such. For instance, an article (‘A passion for fabrics’) by Sylvie Marot began by noting:

“[French psychiatrist Gaëtan Gatian de Clérambault wrote] ‘We love to run our hand across fur; we would like silk to slide itself across the back of our hand. Fur calls for an active caress in its form: silk caresses with a uniform sweetness a skin that becomes passive; then it reveals, so to speak, a nervousness in its breaks and cries’. To classify this specific research on the aphrodisiac virtues of silk, two neologisms appeared necessary to him: hyphephilia – the erotics of fabric – and aptophilia – ecstasy of the touch. The man (the fetishist?), who loved dearly ‘the cry of silk’, was able to identify with a maniacal precision the different points of a hem – ‘scallop, buttonhole, flange, blanket stick, tab, etc.’. Like some of his patients, seamstresses by profession, he was not content to merely enjoy fabrics, conceiving for himself draped figures manufactured at his request according to his own drawings”.

Although hyphephilia is unlikely to be problematic for many, those that want therapy are likely to receive the same types of therapeutic intervention that are recommended for frotteurism (behaviour therapy, reality therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, etc.) – although the most critical thing is that the person that seeks such treatment must want to actively change such behaviour. The Right Diagnosis website claims that:

“Treatment [for hyphephilia] is generally not sought unless the condition becomes problematic for the person in some way and they feel compelled to address their condition. The majority of people simply learn to accept their fetish and manage to achieve gratification in an appropriate manner”

In his 1998 book Gay, Straight, and In-Between, Professor John Money described hyphephilia as a “touchy-feely paraphilia”. The case that Money described was arguably extreme and doesn’t quite fit the definitions I outlined above. He reported:

“In a particular case [a female hyphephilac] entailed the feel of…small dogs placed between the legs and rubbed against the genitals. The way of attaining orgasm surpassed that of ordinary sexual intercourse, which was so aversive that it was discontinued in the marriage. The paraphilic activity had its onset in a dismal history of illegitimacy and childhood neglect and traumatic abuse. In adolescence, there was a history of noncopulatory sexual activity with a middle-aged male relative. In the manner typical for paraphilia, the feel of rubbing a small live creature between the legs was a stratagem for preserving lust as a commodity separate from love, which, in her life experiences, had always been either unattainable or warped. The moral struggle to be rid of the paraphilia was intense and not successful”.

My own reading of this case is that it is more a case of zoophilic frotteurism than hyphephilia (although the criterion of ‘touching of fur’ for sexual arousal is arguably met). In other papers, Professor Money also described formicophilia (i.e., being sexually aroused by insects crawling and/or nibbling on an individual’s genitals) as a ‘touchy-feely’ paraphilia that belongs in the “hyphephilic subgroup of fetishistic paraphilias”. Personally, I wouldn’t class formicophilia as a form of hyphephilia on the basis of any definition that I have come across.

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

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Cantor, J. M., Blanchard, R., & Barbaree, H. E. (2009). Sexual disorders. In P. H. Blaney & T. Millon (Eds.), Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology (2nd ed.) (pp. 527–548). New York: Oxford University Press.

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.

Freund, K. (1990). Courtship disorders: Toward a biosocial understanding of voyeurism, exhibitionism, toucherism, and the preferential rape pattern. In. L. Ellis & H. Hoffman (Eds.), Crime in biological, social, and moral contexts (pp. 100–114). New York: Praeger.

Freund, K., Seto, M. C., & Kuban, M. (1997). Frotteurism and the theory of courtship disorder. In D. R. Laws & W. T. O’Donohue (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment (pp. 111-130). New York: Guilford Press.

Gould, S. J. (1991). Toward a theory of sexuality and consumption: Consumer Lovemaps. In R.H. Holman & M.R. Solomon (Eds.), Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18 (pp. 381-383). Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research.

Hickey, E. W. (2010). Serial Murderers and Their Victims (Fifth Edition). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

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

Money, J. (1998). Gay, Straight, and In-Between: The Sexology of Erotic Orientation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pranzarone, G.F. (2000). The Dictionary of Sexology. Located at: http://ebookee.org/Dictionary-of-Sexology-EN_997360.html

Psychology Dictionary (2014). What is toucherism? Located at: http://psychologydictionary.org/toucherism/

Wikipedia (2014). Toucherism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toucherism