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Mounting on the sermon: A beginner’s guide to homilophilia

While reading a list of strange sexual paraphilias in Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, I came across a paraphilia called homilophilia which according to Dr. Aggrawal refers to individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from the hearing or giving of sermons. Unsurprisingly, there is no academic research on this topic (not even a single published case study), so I did start to wonder if the condition was theoretical or actually a real paraphilia. (I was even surprised to find that there was no entry in Wikipedia). Given there is so little written on the topic, I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised that not all academic sources agree on what the paraphilia actually constitutes.

In addition to Dr. Aggrawal’s definition above, I also came across the following. Anne Hooper in her 2009 “Dare To…Sex Guide” describes homilophilia as a “public speaking fetish” and that “some people get turned on by standing up in front of an audience and making a sexually fuelled speech. Others become excited by listening and may end up bouncing compulsively on the edge of his or her seat”. The Right Diagnosis website says that homilophilia refers to “sexual urges, arousal or fantasies involving listening to or giving a speech or sermon”. An online article on the A-Z of paraphilias (A Freaky Kind Of Love) defines homilophilia more broadly as referring to individuals who derive sexual arousal from “giving lectures”. Dr. Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices covers all bases and defines homilophilia as sexual arousal while listening to or giving sermons and speeches”. (She also says the condition is known by another name – autagonistophilia – which I will return to later).

Dr. Brenda Love briefly overviewed homilophilia in a 2005 book chapter entitled “Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing” (in Russ Kick’s book Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong). Her account is mostly speculative and says that the one of the reasons why homilophilia exists is because “public speakers are often dynamic, and this, combined with adrenalin, can produce sexual arousal for both the speaker and the audience”. From a religious perspective, she also claims that people listening to the clergy may get sexually aroused from hearing about the sexual activities they shouldn’t be doing. Dr. Love says “speeches that are about sex do not have to condone it. Often the guilt associated with a minister’s admonitions against this ‘vile’ act can create greater arousal than a lecture discussing its merits”. Dr. Love offers no empirical evidence to support these claims but given there is a complete absence of any scientific research, I can’t say she is wrong.

Most of her article concentrates on the more strict definition of sexual arousal being linked to the giving of religious speeches. She claims that:

“Religious services were once designed to arouse devotees sexually in preparation for the ensuing orgies. Today, tent revivals still appeal to the emotions of those gathered by promising that God will forgive their sins and love them. Occasionally, people will fall to the ground in mild convulsions that are indistinguishable from some Tantra practitioners whose bodies go limp during exercises due to sudden orgasmic vibrations that last ten to twenty minutes”.

She then goes on to note that spiritual arousal at tent revivals, were not always limited to either God or individual worshipers. Quoting from a book called Sex and Race, the author – J.A. Rogers – had tracked down an experiential account of old-time American camp meeting written by D.J. Davis in 1873:

“Those who think that a camp-meeting is no place for love-making are very much mistaken. When passions were aroused and moral restraints gave way for miles around the camp hundreds of couples could be seen prowling around in search of some cozy spot. Since the camp-meeting was a primitive affair, those human beings who were nearest to original Nature, were the leaders, thus the chief stirrers of the sexio-religious emotions of the whites were Negroes, most of whom could neither read nor write. Surcharged with primordial feeling, these totally illiterate blacks would whip their white audiences to the heights of frenzy”.

Dr. Love also makes reference to the fact religious tent revivals in small towns (presumably American) were notorious “cruising spots” for heterosexual prostitutes and gay men during the 1950s and 1960s because there as a lack of more “sophisticated meeting places”. We only have Dr. Love’s word for this but it seems plausible. However, there is then a lot of speculation as Dr. Love moves out of the religious arena and into the court room as another environment in which homilophilia occurs. More specifically, she claims:

“Trial attorneys are another group of speakers who seem to project sexual chemistry. These people have to deliver intense emotional pleas in defense of clients. This responsibility and strong emotional display sometimes induces erection in male attorneys. They are often warned by their professors not to fixate on a female juror because she can pick up on the sexual energy and feel uncomfortable. The ability to emotionally or sexually arouse an audience appears to be necessary; without it an audience will not respond to the desires of the speaker, whether this is to purchase an object, convert, volunteer, or change their position on an issue”.

As I mentioned above, Dr. Love also claims that homilophilia is also known as autagonistophilia. However, in most of the definitions I have come across, very few of them would include being sexually aroused from giving or hearing a sermon or lecture. Almost all definitions of autagonistophilia concern individuals deriving sexual pleasure and arousal from displaying themselves in a sexual act in front of others (particularly on stage). In this sense, it is a form of exhibitionism.

For instance, Dr. Robert Campbell defines autagonistophilia in his Psychiatric Dictionary as “a paraphilia in which sexual arousal and orgasm are contingent upon displaying one’s self in a live show, i.e., being observed performing on stage or on camera”. In the book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Aggrawal defines it as “sexual arousal and orgasm [being] contingent upon displaying one’s self in a live show or while being photographed”. Dr Joel Milner, Dr Cynthia Dopke, and Dr Julie Crouch note in a 2008 review of ‘paraphilias not otherwise specified’ that the erotic focus in autagonistophilia involves being observed by an audience. Professor John Money in his 1986 book Lovemaps also says the source of erotic focus involves being seen on stage or on camera. Both of these latter definitions could (technically) include those giving a sermon or lecture, but personally I have come to the conclusion that homilophilia and autagonistophilia are two separate paraphilic behaviours.

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.

Campbell, R. J. (2004). Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary (8th Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Love, B. (2005). Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.122-129).  New York: The Disinformation Company.

Milner, J.S. Dopke, C.A. & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and Theory In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp. 384-418). New York: Guildford Press.

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

Right Diagnosis (2011). What is homilophilia? Located at:

Wikipedia (2012). Autagonistophilia. Located at: