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Crossing the see: A brief look at ‘strabismusophilia’

Some time ago I came across a 2012 online article entitled ‘18 Sexual Fetishes That Sound Made Up (But They’re Not)’ on The Date Report website. Of the 18 fetishes listed, I knew about 17 of them (15 of which I have written articles on for this blog including emetophilia [sexual arousal from vomit], dendrophilia [sexual arousal from trees], pyrophilia [sexual arpusal from fire], taphephilia [sexual arousal from being buried alive], and arachnephilia [sexual arousal from spiders]). The one that I had little awareness of was ‘cross-eyed fetishism’ (although I was aware of the sexual paraphilia ‘oculophilia’ in which individuals are sexually aroused by eyes and which I also covered in a previous blog). The article contained only one sentence relating to cross-eyed fetishes which read “Not sure what the scientific name for this fetish is, but this is good news for Dannielynn Birkhead, Anna Nicole Smith’s cross-eyed offspring”. If such a fetish exists, I would name it strabismusophilia (as strabismus is the medical condition of having non-aligned eyes).

Having already written my previous blog on eye fetishes more generally, I would argue that strabismusophilia is a sub-type of oculophilia as the condition manifests itself in a desire for actual physical contact and interaction with the eye (albeit a very particular type of eye). An online article at the Page Pulp website about sexual fetishes of famous authors alleged that F. Scott Fitzgerald had a foot fetish, James Joyce had a fart fetish, Lord Byron was a sex addict, Marquis de Sade had a fetish for “anything and everything”, (the most notable being sadomasochism), and that the philosopher Rene Descartes had a cross-eye fetish.

Descartes’ sexual fetish for cross-eyed women is well documented including the work of psychiatric sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing. Descartes himself wrote that:

“As a child I was in love with a girl of my own age, who was slightly cross-eyed. The imprint made on my brain by the wayward eyes became so mingled with whatever else had aroused in me the feeling of love that for years afterwards, when I saw a cross-eyed woman, I was more prone to love her than any other, simply for that flaw…The impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others, simply because they had that defect; and I did not know that was the reason.”

Descartes’ passion for cross-eyed women was also discussed in a 2011 paper in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, (by Alex Voorhoeve, Elie During, David Jopling, Timothy Wilson, and Frances Kamm). In one of the passages by Dr. Voorhoeve, he discussed Queen Christina of Sweden asking Descartes what causes us to “love one person rather than another before we know their merit”. According to Voorhoeve:

“Descartes replied that when we experience a strong sensation, this causes the brain to crease like a piece of paper. And when the stimulus stops, the brain uncreases, but it stays ready to be creased again in the same way. And when a similar stimulus is presented, then we get the same response, because the brain is ready to crease again. And what did he mean by all this? Well, he gave an example. He said that all his life he had had a fetish for cross-eyed women. Whenever he came across a cross-eyed woman, desire would enflame him. And he figured out…after introspection, that this was because his brain had been strongly creased by his first childhood love, who was cross-eyed”.

This classical conditioning type explanation was also alluded to in a 2011 article on the Psychology Today website by Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeév that examined ‘Why Did Descartes Love Cross-Eyed Women?’ Dr. Ben-Zeév noted:

“It would appear that when Descartes fell in love with the young girl, he loved her whole Gestalt, which included other characteristics, but her crossed eyes were the most unique. This feature of the girl distinguished her from most other girls. It is as if he subconsciously thought that every woman who shared that distinctive feature would have the other positive characteristics of the girl with whom he had originally fallen in love and would therefore generate the same profound love. This attitude makes him perceive these women as beautiful…However, the fact that the girl he fell in love had the distinctive feature of crossed eyes did not mean that her other characteristics would be shared by other women who have the same feature. In fact, however, this mistaken association set off a feeling of love when he encountered this characteristic in other women…It is a kind of Pavlovian response which makes us more likely to love this person”.

It appears there are modern day adherents to cross-eyed fetishism as I found these extracts in online forums discussing the fetish:

  • Extract 1: “I get insanely turned on when I see a girl crosses her eyes. I go on video and image sites to see girls crossing their eyes. I have requested custom videos of girls crossing their eyes. I am not sure how to break this fetish. It is something that is hard for me to talk about and I recently revealed it to my girlfriend in a text. I have asked her to cross her eyes for me but she cannot do it. In fact my last two girlfriends have not been able to cross their eyes. I feel like if maybe we could play out that fetish in my personal life it would deter me from looking online at stuff. I am not sure what to do”
  • Extract 2: “I am attracted to people that have lazy eyes. The more lazy their eye, the more attractive it is to me.
It’s a huge turn-on, especially eyes that turn outward (e.g., exotropia)”
  • Extract 3: Them cross-eyed girls drive me wild! I’m a lazy eye man myself. I like when one gets a lil’ googly after they’ve had a few drinks”

Although there is no academic research on cross-eye fetishism, I did come across two other types of fetishistic behavior that overlaps with being cross-eyed. The first is in relation to balloon fetishism (i.e., individuals that get sexually aroused from inflating, deflating and/or popping balloons). I came across online sex videos that were tagged ‘cross-eyed balloon inflation’ comprising women blowing up big balloons where they were also cross-eyed (and to which male ‘looners’ found this both erotic and arousing. After watching one of these idiosyncratic videos, one looner commented: “I for one really enjoyed this [cross-eyed woman inflating a balloon] – makes it looks like she’s really concentrated on the inflation, which I like to see. And variety is nice; I, for one, get tired of clips that are too alike”. Perhaps more worryingly is the association of being cross-eyed with sexually sadistic acts of women being strangled on film on hard-core BDSM videos. As the blurb on one sex video available online noted: “There are women that are strangled, and sometimes become cross-eyed. It’s the stupid impression somehow, you will not ever afford to worry about such a thing is the person being strangled. Your beauty is one of [being] cross-eyed”.

I also wonder whether cross-eyed fetishism is a sub-type of teratophilia – typically defined as being sexually aroused by ugly people? According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, teratophilia is defined as those people who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from “deformed or monstrous people”. The online Urban Dictionary defines it as “the ability to see beauty in the unusual [and] clinically described as a sexual preference for deformed people”. Being cross-eyed could arguably fit these definitions (particularly the one from the Urban Dictionary of seeing beauty in the unusual).

From my own research, I have come to the conclusion that cross-eyed fetishism (that I have termed ‘strabismusophilia’) probably exists but is very rare with an incredibly low prevalence rate among the general population. It may be a sub-type of both oculophilia and teratophilia but further research is needed to confirm such speculations.

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.

Ben-Zeév, A. (2011). Why did Descartes love cross-eyed women? The lure of imperfection, Psychology Today, November 29. Located at:

Descartes, R. (1978). His Moral Philosophy and Psychology (translated by John J. Blom). New York: New York University Press.

Divine Caroline (2012). 18 Sexual Fetishes That Sound Made Up (But They’re Not). The Date Report, September 20. Located at:

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.

Page Pulp (2014). Sexual fetishes of famous authors. Located at:

Voorhoeve, A., During, E., Jopling, D., Wilson, T., & Kamm, F. (2011). Who am I? Beyond “I think, therefore I am”. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1234(1), 134-148.

Wikipedia (2014). Oculophilia. Located at:

Hot flat mate: The unusual case of co-existent pyrophilia and crush fetishism

Over the Christmas period, I was at a family wedding in the Cotswolds when by chance I came across Dr. Raj Persaud’s 2003 book From The Edge of the Couch (subtitled ‘Bizarre psychiatric cases and what they teach us about ourselves’) for sale in a charity shop in nearby Moreton-in-Marsh. As it was selling really cheaply I decided to buy it (even though this was the book where a number of the cases Dr. Persaud recounted were plagiarized from other people’s work).

One of the more interesting case studies in the book concerned a 1998 case study published by Dr. R.S. Shiwach and Dr. J. Prosser in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. The paper concerned the treatment of an “unusual case of masochism (where the individual gained sexual arousal and pleasure from being burnt (i.e., pyrophilia) and crushed (i.e., ‘crush fetishism’) that often meant he was in dangerous and potentially life threatening situations. As the authors summarized:

“Masochistic sexual activity is potentially dangerous, rarely reported voluntarily, and hard to treat. [Our paper] describes a masochist patient who received sexual gratification from being burnt or crushed. Anti-androgen medication [leuprolide acetate], serotonin uptake inhibitor [fluoxetine], and psychodynamic psychotherapy along with sexual education and social-skills training and aversive behavior therapy [covert sensitization and olfactory aversion] were all tried over a period of 9 months. The response was measured by effects of treatments on the frequency of erotic fantasies and masturbation”.

The male masochist was a single 38-year-old man that turned up at a hospital burns unit for treatment to extensive burns on his lower body (around 20% of his total body area) before being referred to the psychiatric unit. His pyrophilic urges and interest in being crushed were long-standing and dated back to mid-adolescence. The incident that led to the hospital admission had involved one of the man’s regular ways of gaining sexual arousal which was to set fire to refuse collecting trucks (i.e., ‘dumpsters’) while he was inside of them and simultaneously masturbating. Dr. Persaud’s reported that:

‘[The man] would then masturbate before getting out [of the dumpster]. His burns had occurred when a plastic dumpster melted and turned over. His first sexual experience at age 15 [years] had occurred when he curled himself up in an oven and ejaculated – an adventure that had been prompted by having been threatened as a child with being roasted ‘like a pig’ as a punishment. A social isolate, he enjoyed watching videos and reading about people being burned at the stake or crushed. He had also attempted autoerotic asphyxia, but relinquished this as ‘too dangerous’”.

The recollection of ejaculating while inside an oven appears to be a critical event in the acquisition and development of the man’s unusual sexual preferences. As Dr. Persaud noted:

“[The man remembered] entering a big unlit oven out of curiosity and liking the warmth and sense of suffocation but did not realize he had ejaculated until the third such instance. He remained a socially isolated virgin and gave a history of sexual disinterest in males or females and of ignorance of sexuality in general…Twice he came close to self-immolation after pouring gasoline on himself…he denied getting any pleasure out of seeing other people suffer…he worked in places where he could have easy access to large waste disposers, ovens, and box compactors”.

Consequently, Dr. Persaud thought (as I do) that learning theory best explained this man’s etiology and that psychoanalytic factors like guilt and punishment may have also been important. This particular case was also reported in a 2006 paper by Dr. D.J. Williams (i.e., ‘Different [painful) strokes for different folks) in the journal Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. Williams noted that the man had been arrested on a number of different occasions for climbing into refuse collecting dumpsters and had also broken his pelvis as a consequence of being crushed by a box compactor. Williams noted that: “clearly, most experts would agree that acting out fantasies in these dangerous situations posed a significant risk of severe physical harm and death, not to mention being illegal”. Dr. Persaud’s account also more specifically reported that:

‘[The man] would climb into refuse collecting trucks and ejaculate at the sensation of being crushed, only escaping at the last possible minute. He admitted masturbating almost daily to deviant sexual fantasies or to pictures of fire, people being burned or crushed, and even just the sight of chimneys. Recently he had been climbing into a large dumpster, pouring alcohol on the refuse and setting it on fire. He managed to masturbate and get out of the refuse bin with minor burns twice, but the plastic dumpster eventually melted and overturned, causing the injuries he now had”.

Despite the many different pharmacological and psychological interventions, none appeared to have any long-lasting effect. The first intervention was pharmacological and involved being injected weekly with an anti-androgen. This treatment resulted in a decrease of his fetishistic sexual fantasies and an overall decrease in his sex drive. However, the man didn’t like the fact that his sex drive has been significantly inhibited and asked to be taken off the medication. He also took anti-depressants over an 18-week period and then had aversive behaviour therapy (olfaction aversion) and psychodynamic therapy, social skills training, and sexual education. He was discharged after 34 weeks of treatment but on follow-up had resumed his fetishistic behaviour. Drs. Shewach and Prosser concluded that: Anti-androgens and aversive behavior therapies may be the most effective treatments for such cases, at least in the short-term, although the underlying social deficits and the need to reshape the sexual behavior ought to be addressed in the long-term”.

One of the observations that Dr. Persaud made about this case was that the masochism in this case did not involve psychological humiliation or any interaction with other people in the man’s life. I would also add that most of the focus and commentary in this particular case has been on the pyrophilic aspects rather than the crush fetishism aspects. This may be because there has been far less in the medical and clinical literature on crush fetishism than pyrophilia. However, this is not the only case where crush fetishism has been associated with another sexual paraphilia. At the end of last year, my case study of eproctophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from flatulence) in the Archives of Sexual Behavior involved an eproctophile that was also a crush fetishist.

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

Further reading

Balachandra, K. & Swaminath, S. (2002). Fire fetishism in a female Aasonist? Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 47, 487-488.

Bourget, D. & Bradford, J.M.W (1987). Fire fetishism, diagnostic and clinical implications: A review of two cases. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 32, 459-462.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Eproctophilia in a young adult male: A case study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1383-1386.

Litman, L.C.  (1999). A case of pyrophilia. Canadian Psychological Association Bulletin, February, 18-20.

Persaud. R. (2003). From The Edge Of The Couch. London: Bantam Press.

Quinsey, V.L., Chaplin, T.C. & Upfold, D. (1989). Arsonists and sexual arousal to fire setting: Correlation unsupported, Canadian Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 20, 203-209.

Shiwach, R. S., & Prosser, J. (1998). Treatment of an unusual case of masochism. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 24, 303-307.

Williams, D. J. (2006). Different (painful) strokes for different folks: A general overview of sexual sadomasochism (SM) and its diversity. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 13, 333-346.

Flaming desire: A beginner’s guide to pyrophilia

Pyrophilia (also known as pyrolagnia and sexual arson) is a sexual paraphilia in which a person derives sexual arousal from fire and/or fire-starting activity. It is sometimes confused with pyromania but pyromaniacs do not get any sexual pleasure when they start fires. Most of what is known academically comes from case studies published in the academic and clinical literature. Writings dating back to the 19th century have suggested that psychosexual factors may sometiems play a role in pyromaniac activities. Pyrophilia is thought to be very rare and there are no incidence or prevalence studies on the condition. Even in major texts on sexual paraphilias such as Richard Laws and William O’Donohue’s Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (2008) it is not even mentioned, and in Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices (2009) it is only given ten lines (and much of that is taken up with the speculation that the Roman Emperor Nero was a possible pyrophiliac).

A 1989 paper by Dr. Vernon Quinsey and colleagues in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry examined arsonists and sexual arousal to fire setting. They wanted to further explore to what extent pyromania was sexually related. They measured and compared the penile responses of 26 arsonists and 15 non-arsonists to audio taped narratives. The narratives were categorized as (i) neutral, (ii) heterosexual activity, and (iii) fire setting motivated by (a) sexual excitement, (b) general (unspecified) excitement, (c) insurance, (d) revenge, (e) heroism, and (f) power. Penile responses to all categories were of small although both the heterosexual activity and the sexual excitement fire setting categories produced more erectile activity than the neutral category. However, Quinsey and colleagues reported there were no significant differences between the arsonists and non-arsonists to any of the story categories. They argued that their data demonstrated no support for the idea that sexual motivation is commonly involved in arson.

In 1979, the psychotherapist Dr D. Cox stated that, having set a fire, the fire fetishist “will claim that he has had his best ever orgasm as he watched the flames leap up” (although the claim was unsubstantiated by anything else in the book chapter). Dr. Stephen Lande arguably published the first case study of a pyrophiliac in a 1980 issue of the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. Lande reported the case of a 20-year-old male with a history of arson associated with masturbation as his sole means of obtaining sexual arousal and gratification. Physiological and subjective measures of sexual arousal were taken while he looked at various photographs. The man was most sexually aroused by those involving fire with lesser sexual arousal when looking at photographs of naked females. He was treated using orgasmic reconditioning to increase heterosexual arousal and covert sensitization to decrease arousal related to fire. At the end of treatment, sexual arousal was greater for heterosexual than for fire stimuli.

In 1987, Dr Dominique Bourget and Dr John Bradford reported two cases pyrophilia in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Their two cases were both adult male arsonists whose intense interest in fire was sexually fetishistic. However, these cases concentrated more on their treatment than the psychological motivations behind such an activity.

In a 1999 issue of the Canadian Psychological Association Bulletin, Dr Larry Litman reported the case of a married 25-year old male pyrophiliac. He voluntarily referred himself for a psychological assessment (at the request of his wife) as a consequence of psychopathology and sexually motivated fire-setting activities. (However, he himself didn’t see his sexually motivated fire setting as a problem). He would set fire to anything at hand when the urge struck him (e.g., paper, clothing, etc.). He reported that for as long as he could remember he had been sexually aroused by fire and had a frequent irresistible compulsive urge to set fires. He recalled that his fascination with fire may have started when helping his mother to shovel lot coal and touching it to see how hot it was. He had also burned himself by accident on a number of occasions. He told Litman that he was “used to pain” as his father had regularly physically abused him when he was a child. Litman reported that:

“He used heat to give himself sexual excitement, and he reached a point where he could be sexually aroused by just talking about fires or having his wife talk about burning things (she reportedly resented having to do this)…The patient’s penile tumescence in response to audiotaped scenarios based on his self-reported sexually arousing fantasies of heat and fire (which I asked him to transcribe) was physiologically assessed via phallometry. Despite his self-reported attempts to not become sexually aroused by the scenarios (as a result of being anxious about the procedure), substantial psychophysiological sexual arousal in response to masochistic sexual scenarios of being forcibly and painfully set on fire by a heterosexual partner or by a mob of sadistic people and subsequent combined intense feelings of love, peace, warmth, pain, and sexual excitement was observed…[He] appeared to be suffering from a longstanding pyrophilic disorder with sexual masochistic features in a personality that revolved around hysteric, obsessive–compulsive, and masochistic dynamics”.

Litman reported that the man had actually engaging in behaviours designed to induce pain with fire for sexual stimulation (including sitting on a hot stove, and wrapping a pair of trousers around his arm and setting fire to them). His anti-depressant medicine helped reduce his thoughts about fire setting but stopped taking it due to other side-effects. His wife subsequently left him because of his sexual fascination with fire.

In a 2002 issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Krishna Balachandra, and Dr. Swaminath described the what they believe is the only case in the literature of a female arsonist (a 29-year old heterosexual woman) with a fire fetishism. The case history revealed she had been sexually abused at the age of 8 years, and that during adolescence she had been cruel to animals, and began setting small fires. She used to scout for places to set fires and focused on setting fire to bins and recycling containers. No-one was ever hurt or burned as a result of the arson. She would hide, watch the fire, and then go home and masturbate (while thinking about the fire she had just started). She also kept a detailed diary of every fire she had started. The behaviour escalated and she had started over 175 fires by the time she received psychiatric help. The authors reported:

“The motives were described as an outlet for anger, sexual motivation and satisfaction, and an intense preoccupation with fire, together with tension and affective arousal that was relieved by setting fires. There was no correlation between the fires and her menstrual cycle or substance abuse”.

These cases studies (when taken together) suggest that pyrophilia doesn’t appear to include behaviours commonly associated with pyromania (such as watching neighbourhood fires, setting off false fire alarms, getting non-sexual satisfaction from being around those who work in the fire services, starting fires to be affiliated with the fire services, showing indifference to human life and property after setting fire to something. It also appears that sexual arousal may not always depend on an actual fire as it may also be facilitated by photographs and verbal stories about fire and/or arson. While seemingly rare, case studies show that pyrophilia is a real and bone fide clinical entity.

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.

Balachandra, K. & Swaminath, S. (2002). Fire fetishism in a female Aasonist? Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 47,

Bourget, D. & Bradford, J.M.W (1987). Fire fetishism, diagnostic and clinical implications: A review of two cases. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 32, 459-462.

Cox, M. (1979). Dynamic psychotherapy with sex-offenders. In I. Rosen (Ed.), Sexual Deviation (pp. 306-350). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (2008), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (Second Edition). New York: Guildford Press.

Litman, L.C.  (1999). A case of pyrophilia. Canadian Psychological Association Bulletin, February, 18-20.

Quinsey, V.L., Chaplin, T.C. & Upfold, D. (1989). Arsonists and sexual arousal to fire setting: Correlation unsupported, Canadian Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 20, 203-209.