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Glum drone pleasures: The psychology of Ian Curtis and Joy Division

“Now there’s a really good book…[by French economist] Jacques Attali wrote in the late [1970s] called ‘Noise: The Political Economy of Music’…and the main tenet of that book is that…music is the best form of prophecy that we have…so that working with music or sound is our best way of divining a future, and being able to show to ourselves what’s round the corner in that psychological, or even psychic sense” (writer and graphic designer Jon Wozencroft being interviewed for the 2007 film Joy Division)

As a poverty stricken teenager in the early 1980s, all of my minimal disposable income was spent on buying records, cassettes, and music magazines (and to be honest, 35 years later nothing much has changed except I now buy far too many CDs instead of cassettes). Unlike most of my friends at the time I refused to be pigeon holed as a new romantic, a punk, a mod, or a goth because I liked music from all those genres. In the early 1980s was as equally as likely to buy a record by Adam and the Ants and Bauhaus as I was to buy records by Secret Affair and The Clash. I was also into city music scenes with my favourites being the ‘Liverpool scene’ (Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Wah! etc.), the ‘Sheffield scene’ (Human League, Heaven 17, Cabaret Voltaire, etc.), and the ‘Manchester scene’ (Magazine, Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, The Passage, etc.).

The Manchester music scene was incredibly buoyant although often portrayed by the music press at the time as psychologically and emotionally ‘miserablist’. My parents could never understand what I saw in the “depressing and alienating music” (as they saw it) of bands like Joy Division and The Smiths. But it was through these bands that I developed an interest in psychology and what could be described as ‘psychgeography of post-punk’. In the case of Joy Division, their geographical location in Manchester and its surrounding area (Salford, Macclesfield) was integral to their music. In fact, a number of commentators (such as Liz Naylor, the co-editor of City Fun fanzine) have asserted that Joy Division “relayed the aura of Manchester” in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

All of my information about Joy Division came from reading the NME, listening to the John Peel Show on Radio 1, and listening to their two studio LPs (Unknown Pleasures and Closer) and assorted singles (that I mainly taped off the radio as most of them were not widely available). I was too young to go to gigs and they rarely appeared on television. Of the four members of Joy Division – Ian Curtis (vocals), Peter Hook (bass guitar), Bernard ‘Barney’ Sumner (guitar), and Stephen Morris (drums) – it was Curtis that captivated my adolescent attention. It was through Curtis’ documented medical conditions that helped develop my interest in psychology. Curtis suffered from epilepsy (like one of musical heroes Jim Morrison of The Doors) and clinical depression. It has also been alleged that he suffered from bipolar disorder (i.e., what used to be called ‘manic depression’) although this was never formally diagnosed (and many of those close to Curtis claim that such a claim is speculative at best).

Descriptions of Curtis’ behaviour on first sight look like bipolar disorder given the reports by his wife and others of his severe mood swings (where on one day he could have feelings of happiness and elation but on the next day could have feelings of intense depression and despair). However, other members of the band claimed that the mood swings were caused by the epilepsy medication Curtis was taking. However, bipolar disorder is not uncommon among musicians given many other high profile rock and pop stars have suffered from it including Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Ray Davies (The Kinks), Sinéad O’Connor, Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), and Adam Ant (to name just a few). Curtis was never afraid to write about psychological and medical conditions and the song ‘She’s Lost Control’ is arguably the most insightful song ever written about epilepsy (based not on his own experiences, but his observations of a female epileptic client who died while he was an Assistant Disablement Resettlement Officer based at the Job Centre in Macclesfield).

As any Joy Division fan knows, as a result of his severe depression, Curtis committed suicide by hanging himself on May 18, 1980 (a date I always remember because it was my favourite gran’s birthday), just two days before Joy Division were due to go on their first US tour. Even as a 14-year old teenager, I remember going to my local library in Loughborough not long after his death to learn more about depression, epilepsy, suicide, and attempted suicide (as he had two previous attempts to commit suicide earlier that year). I’m not saying that this alone was responsible for my career choice but it certainly facilitated my growing interest in psychology and mental health issues.

It was also through Joy Division that I started to read history books (and still do) on various psychological and non-psychological aspects of Nazism (and is evidenced by my previous blogs on the personality of Adolf Hitler and Nazi fetishism). Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Joy Division were often accused of having Nazi tendencies. It didn’t help that their name came from the 1955 novella House of Dolls by Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor Yehiel De-Nu (writing under his pen name Ka-tzetnik 135633). The ‘Joy Division’ was the name given to a group of Jewish women in World War II concentration camps whose only purpose was to provide sexual pleasure to Nazi soldiers. I have to admit I’ve never read any of De-Nu’s books. According to an online article by David Mikies (‘Holocaust Pulp Fiction’), De-Nu’s writings were “often lurid novel-memoirs, works that shock the reader with grotesque scenes of torture, perverse sexuality, and cannibalism“. In the 2006 book Joy Division and the Making of Unknown Pleasures, Jake Kennedy asserted that “Curtis’ fascination with extremes would hint to anyone willing to look beyond the headlines that the choice of name was probably an old fashioned punk exercise,  matter of old habits dying hard”.

One of the bands earliest songs ‘Warsaw’ (which was also their band name prior to becoming Joy Division) is arguably a lyrical biography of Hitler’s deputy Führer Rudolf Hess. The song even begins with the lyric “3 5 0 1 2 5 Go!” (Hess’ prisoner of war serial number after he was captured after flying to the UK in 1941). Another of their early songs ‘No Love Lost’ features a spoken word section with a complete paragraph from The House of Dolls. A 2008 article by music writer Jon Savage in The Guardian newspaper noted that Curtis’ songs “such as ‘Novelty’, ‘Leaders of Men’ and ‘Warsaw’ were barely digested regurgitations of their sources: lumpy screeds of frustration, failure, and anger with militaristic and totalitarian overtones”.

Deborah Curtis (Ian’s wife) also remembered that her husband had a book by John Heartfield that included photomontages of the Nazi Period and that graphically documented the spread of Hitler’s ideals. The cover artwork of the band’s first record, the ‘An Ideal For Living’ EP, also featured a boy member the Hitler Youth drawn by guitarist Barney Sumner banging on a drum. Much of the flirtation with Nazi symbolism was arguably juvenile fascination and playful naivety. It’s also been noted that Joy Division’s early music concentrated on the nihilistic provocations of industrial music’s pioneers Throbbing Gristle (whose music I also examined at length in a previous blog). An interesting 2010 article by Mateo on the A View From The Annex website defended Joy Division’s use of Nazi imagery and lyrics:

“The Labour government´s betrayal of the working class during the 1970s and the rise of Thatcherism at the end of the 1970s heralded a future of mass unemployment, government repression and decaying industry. The perspective taken by Ian Curtis, the band´s sole lyricist, towards this growing authoritarianism and despair is crucial to understand if one is to place the references to fascism found in the band´s album art in the context intended by the artist, that is, a despairing anti-Nazism…Punk at that time was a unique music scene in which battles between anti-racists and neo-nazis were being thrashed out at concerts as the skinheads tried to appropriate the punk aesthetic and hijack the following of alienated, disillusioned working class youth who gravitated towards such a sub-culture in places like Manchester at the beginning of the 1980s…The lyrics of Ian Curtis made it clear that this was a presence suffered and feared as opposed to tolerated or toyed with by the band…Joy Division feared fascism, they did not flirt with it and the artwork and lyrics in ‘An Ideal for Living’ serves as a warning of growing fascistic tendencies in British society…For this, Curtis and his bandmates should be lauded for tackling such a controversial issue and expressing such a well-grounded fear and hostility towards such a veritable enemy of the working class during a swift turn to the right in Britain”.

By all accounts, Curtis was a voracious reader and read books by William Burroughs, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, Nikolai Gogol, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hermann Hesse and J.G. Ballard, many of which made their way into various Joy Division songs (an obvious example being their song ‘Interzone’ taken directly from a collection of short stories by William Burroughs). As Jon Savage noted:

“Curtis’s great lyrical achievement was to capture the underlying reality of a society in turmoil, and to make it both universal and personal. Distilled emotion is the essence of pop music and, just as Joy Division are perfectly poised between white light and dark despair, so Curtis’s lyrics oscillate between hopelessness and the possibility, if not need, for human connection. At bottom is the fear of losing the ability to feel”.

J.G. Ballard was a particular inspiration to Curtis (particularly the books High Rise and Crash, the latter of which was about the suffering of car accident victims and sexual arousal, and which I wrote about in a previous blog on symphorophilia). One of Joy Division’s best known songs (the opening ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ from their second LP Closer) took its’ name from Ballard’s collection of ‘condensed novels’ (and given its focus on mental asylums is of great psychological interest). So distinct is Ballard’s work that it gave rise to a new adjective (‘Ballardian’) and defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J.G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments”. Given this definition, many of Joy Division’s songs are clearly Ballardian as they examine the emotional and psychological effects of everything around them (including personal relationships on songs such as their most well known and most covered song, and only British hit ‘Love Will tear Us Apart’).

The overriding psychology and underlying philosophy of both Ian Curtis and Joy Division are both contradictory and complex but ultimately the band members were a product of the environment they were brought up in and the sum of their musical and literary influences. At the age of 24 years, Curtis’ suicide was undoubtedly tragic and like many other literary and musical ‘artists’, his death has been somewhat romanticized by the mass media. Although he didn’t quite make it into the infamous ‘27 Club’ of ‘rock martyr’ musicians that died when they were 27 years (e.g., Dave Alexander [The Stooges], Chris Bell [Big Star], Kurt Cobain [Nirvana], Richey Edwards [Manic Street Preachers], Pete Ham [Badfinger], Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Brian Jones [Rolling Sones], Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison [The Doors], Amy Winehouse) he is surely a candidate for being a prime honorary member (along with Jeff Buckley). Retrospectively looking at his lyrics (In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more” from ‘Shadowplay’, you can’t help but wonder (given that many of them were autobiographical) whether Curtis’ death could have been prevented by those closest to him.

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

Further reading

Curtis, D. (1995). Touching From A Distance. London: Faber and Faber.

Curtis, I., Savage, J. & Curtis, D. (2015). So This Is Permanence: Joy Division Lyrics and Notebooks. London: Faber and Faber.

Gleason. P. (2015). This Is the Way: “So This Is Permanence” by Ian Curtis. Located at: http://stereoembersmagazine.com/way-permanence-ian-curtis/

Hook, P. (2013). Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. London: Simon and Schuster.

Kennedy, J. (2006). Joy Division and the Making of Unknown Pleasures. London: Omnibus.

Mikies, D. (2012). Holocaust pulp fiction. The Tablet, April 19. Located at: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/97160/ka-tzetnik?all=1

Morley, P. (2007). Joy Division: Piece by Piece: Writing About Joy Division 1977-2007. London: Plexus Publishing.

Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.

Savage, J. (2008). Controlled chaos. The Guardian, May 10. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/may/10/popandrock.joydivision

Slow train coming: A brief look at siderodromophilia

“[On] February 27th [2012], a man surnamed Cai was taken to court after being arrested by railway police for renting a train lounge car to hold a sex party, with the police preliminarily charging him with violating public decency. [On] February 23rd, Taiwanese [Director of Public Prosecutions] Ye Yijin revealed that someone had booked a [railway] lounge car to hold a “1 woman 18 men” group sex orgy” (China Smack news item, March 1st,2012).

On reading this news item a a year ago, it got me wondering what academic and/or clinical research has been done relating to sexual arousal from and/or in trains. In previous blogs I have examined the relationship between sex and cars (in articles on objectum sexuality, mechanophilia, and symphorophilia), and sex and aeroplanes (in an article on acrophilia), but train sex has not been on my fetishistic radar until I read the Taiwan train orgy story above. Regular readers of my blog probably won’t be surprised to hear that there is a sexual paraphilia relating solely to trains. Both Dr. Anil Aggrawal (in his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) and Dr. Brenda Love (in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices) note that the sexual paraphilia where individuals derive sexual arousal and pleasure from trains is called siderodromophilia. Brenda Love claims in her encyclopedia entry on the topic that:

“Couples sometimes reserve a cabin and will have sex standing in front of the window as the train passes through a town or a station. Others squeeze into bathrooms and sneak quickies in corner. Trains provide more privacy and opportunity to socialize than airplanes and buses”.

Neither Dr. Aggrawal nor Dr. Love appear to distinguish between those people that are sexually aroused by (i) the train itself (i.e., individuals who develop deep emotional and/or romantic attachments to [and have sexual relationships with] specific inanimate objects such as a train), (ii) the potentially sexually stimulating vibrations caused by a travelling on a train (akin to those individuals – usually women – who sit on washing machines in their spin cycles as a source of sexual stimulation), or (iii) having sexual encounters and/or engaging in sexual activity on the train. This latter type of sexual activity may not only include masturbatory acts and consensual sexual activity (like the examples described by Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices) but may also include non-consensual sexual acts by those individuals who are into frotteurism and often frequent very busy trains to facilitate their paraphilic behaviour (i.e., individuals, typically male, that derive sexual pleasure and arousal from non-consensually rubbing up against other people (typically but not always female strangers) particularly with their erect penis and/or pelvis).

There are certainly objectophiles that claim to have emotional and sexual relationships with trains. The most infamous case is that of the German man (‘Joachim A.’) who claims to have had a longstanding “steady relationship” with a steam locomotive train. In a 2007 article in the German magazine Der Spiegel, Jochaim (who was aged 41 years old at the time of his interview) said:

“We’re by no means just straightforward fetishists. For some people, their car becomes a fetish which they use to put themselves in the limelight. For the objectum-sexual, on the other hand, the car itself – and nothing else – is the desired sexual partner, and all sexual fantasies and emotions are focused on it”

The article claimed Joachim had “been pretty faithful to his steam locomotive recently” and that he had recognized and accepted his objectum sexuality inclination just prior to his teenage years. He fell “head over heels” in love with a Hammond organ and had “an emotionally and physically very complex and deep relationship, which lasted for years”. The article went on to say that:

“Since he is particularly aroused by the inner workings of technical objects, repair jobs have often led to infidelity in the past. “A love affair could very well begin with a broken radiator,” the now monogamous lover says, remembering how his earlier affairs began. Joachim gradually realized that ‘you can reveal yourself to an object partner in an intimate way, in a way that you would never reveal yourself to any other person’. That includes the desire to ‘experience sexuality together’”.

Any Freudians reading this will no doubt be aware that according to Sigmund Freud, a train is analogous to the male penis. (I don’t believe any of this myself, but it would be remiss of me not to mention it given the focus of my blog). In a short online article about railways, Christian Hubert also makes reference to Freud and noted that:

“Both Freud and Karl Abraham indicated the connection between mechanical agitation and sexual arousal in the train. This joy found its repressed counterpart in the fear experienced by neurotics in the face of accelerating or uncontrolled motion as the fear of their own sexuality going out of control”.

After reading this I decided to try and track down the original source (and I think that I found it). Freud, in his book ‘Three Contributions to the Sexual Theory’ had a whole section devoted to what he termed ‘mechanical excitation’.  More specifically he noted that:

“[We must] describe here the production of sexual excitation by means of rhythmic mechanical shaking of the body. There are three kinds of exciting influences: those acting on the sensory apparatus of the vestibular nerves, those acting on the skin, and those acting on the deep parts, such as the muscles and joints…As we know, rocking is regularly used in putting to sleep restless children. The shaking sensation experienced in wagons and railroad trains exerts such a fascinating influence on older children, that all boys, at least at one time in their lives, want to become conductors and drivers. They are wont to ascribe to railroad activities an extraordinary and mysterious interest, and during the age of phantastic activity (shortly before puberty) they utilize these as a nucleus for exquisite sexual symbolisms. The desire to connect railroad travelling with sexuality apparently originates from the pleasurable character of the sensation of motion”.

The (unnamed) editor of the Ventura County Reporterhas his own blog (Fir & Main) and wrote an online article entitled ‘Siderodromophilia and other loves”. In it, he appeared to concur with Freud by noting that:

“Yes, I enjoy trains, and there is a certain sensuality in the rhythmic motions (and let’s not mention stock footage and visual double entendres of trains entering tunnels…Fortunately, Googling the word siderodromophilia wasn’t as disturbing as I’d feared”

After searching all the usual academic databases, I didn’t manage to locate a single paper that has examined siderodromophilia. Maybe this is because the definition is so ill-defined and/or it has little academic or clinical relevance. I’ll leave you with another issue that I’ll throw into the mix. Siderodromophilia would appear to be part of a more wide-ranging paraphilia called ‘hodophilia’. Dr. Aggrawal simply describes it as “sexual arousal from travelling” whereas Dr. Love has a slightly expanded definition and says it is the “sexual arousal people feel while traveling to new or strange places”. Dr. Love goes a little further and concludes that:

“Travel often entails anxiety, pleasure, autonomy, and additional hours for entertainment. People feel more tempted to break out of their normal routine and experience their new environment to the fullest, especially if the country has a legal red light district”.

I have to be honest and say that no evidence was presented to support these assertions but given the lack of empirical evidence in the whole area, speculation is the best we have at the current time.

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.

Fauna (2012). Sex party on Taiwan train involved 17-year-old  girl and 18 men. China Smack, March 31. Located at: http://www.chinasmack.com/2012/stories/sex-orgy-on-taiwan-train-involved-17-year-old-girl-and-18-men.html

Fir & Main (2008). Siderodromophilia and other loves, April 24. Located at: http://vcredit.wordpress.com/2008/04/24/siderodromophilia-and-other-loves/

Freud, S. (1930). Civilization and its Discontents. London: Hogarth Press.

Freud, S. (1962). Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, trans. James Strachey. New York: Basic Books.

Hubert, C. (undated). Railway. Located at: http://christianhubert.com/writings/railway.html

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

Marsh, A. (2010). Love among the objectum sexuals. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 13, March 1. Located at: http://www.ejhs.org/volume13/ObjSexuals.htm

Stopera, M. (2010). The 15 hottest objectum-sexual relationships. Buzz Feed. Located at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/the-15-hottest-objectum-sexual-relationships

Thadeusz, F. (2007). Objectophilia, Fetishism and Neo-Sexuality: Falling in Love with Things. Der Spiegel, November 5. Located at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,482192,00.html

Crash and turn on: A brief look at chremastistophilia and symphorophilia

“Okay so I was chatting on a website and this guy approached me saying he wanted to be blackmailed for money. He told me he would give me $100 on Thursday if I logged into his Facebook account and humiliated him. I’m a little freaked out, but what should I tell him??” (query from ‘answers.yahoo.com‘)

In a previous blog I examined hybristophilia (a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal and pleasure from having a sexual partner who is known to have committed serious crimes, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery). Another criminally-related paraphilia is chremastistophilia. In this paraphilia, the individual derives sexual arousal and pleasure from being robbed, conned, cheated, blackmailed and/or being held up by the individual’s sexual partner (or in a few cases, a complete stranger). Some websites (such as kinkify.com) colloquially refer to it as the “hold-up kink”.

Some have speculated that the strong emotions of frustration, fear, annoyance, rage, and/or submission are subconsciously drawn upon by chremastistophiles and then focused into sexual arousal/gratification. This could be viewed as ‘edge play’ (i.e., rough and deviant sexual play enjoyed by sexual masochists and sexual sadists) as the behaviour can be life threatening for chremasistophiles to actively seek out someone to steal from them purely for sexual kicks.

The reciprocal condition where the sexual focus is on charging or robbing one’s sexual partner has not been given a name. Those people who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from breaking and entering a property (and then stealing) is known as kleptophilia (which I overviewed in a previous blog). In my research into chremastistophilia, I have yet to come across a single piece of empirical research on the topic. Most of the evidence appears to be anecdotal. For instance, the cult novelist and multi-media artist Kris Saknussemm has noted:

“I’ve met several chremastistophiles, all of whom had been arrested on petty charges at some point in their lives – drug possession, minor theft, etc. All expressed a strong libido, but also a climax dysfunction. They got aroused, they just didn’t get off easily. What magical thing finally provided that long-awaited release? The experience of being taken advantage of – which is different from out-and-out assault. It’s a variation on biastophilia, the perverse attraction to being raped, but the key distinction seems to lie in the impending threat itself. “Give me your wallet and nobody gets hurt” – that kind of thing. One British gentleman proudly displayed the scar he received from a knife wound in the course of a mugging – an event which he said led to a spontaneous ejaculation, the most powerful and substantial he’d ever experienced”

Dr Billi Gordon and Dr James Elias claim that chremastistophilia is accepted as potentially lethal alongside other criminally related paraphilias such as hybristophilia and autassassinophilia (where the individual derives sexual arousal by the by the risk of being killed). Unfortunately, I cannot find a single academic or clinical study that has ever been published in a peer reviewed journal so this is clearly an area that is crying out for some empirical research. There was a theoretical paper published in 2004 on autassassinophila by Lisa Downing (Queen Mary, University of London). She used used the case of Sharon Lopatka, a Maryland woman who instigated her own sexual murder in 1996. She said:

“It demonstrates that the phenomenon of being murdered for pleasure problematizes commonplace assumptions about the legitimacy to consent. The discussion recalls and refreshes existing debates in feminism and the politics of sadomasochism and reads them alongside the rhetoric surrounding the ethics of medically assisted suicide. Consenting to murder for pleasure is revealed as a formulation that exceeds the terms of informed consent as it is currently understood and thereby constitutes an ethical and logical aporia”.

Another strange paraphilia with a potentially criminally-based sexual focus is symphorophilia. This is a paraphilia that Professor John Money said related to individuals who derive sexual arousal and pleasure from witnessing and/or stage-managing a “disaster, such as a conflagration or traffic accident, and watching for it to happen”. Again, I have yet to come across any empirical research on the topic although I did briefly examine this paraphilia in relation to sex and cars in one of my previous blogs (and another blog I wrote on objectum sexuality). It has been alleged that in very rare cases, an accident that may injure or even kill someone may bring the symphorophile to the point of orgasm quicker. The condition is probably better known in popular culture than in academic terms. For instance, the main characters in the 1973 novel Crash by British author J.G. Ballard (and the subsequent 1996 film adaptation of the same name) were symphorophiles. Part of the Crash Wikipedia entry on Ballard’s Crash novel motes:

“The story is told through the eyes of narrator James Ballard, named after the author himself, but it centers on the sinister figure of Dr. Robert Vaughan, a ‘former TV-scientist, turned nightmare angel of the expressways’. Ballard meets Vaughan after being involved in a car accident himself near London Airport. Gathering around Vaughan is a group of alienated people, all of them former crash-victims, who follow him in his pursuit to re-enact the crashes of celebrities, and experience what the narrator calls ‘a new sexuality, born from a perverse technology’. Vaughan’s ultimate fantasy is to die in a head-on collision with movie star Elizabeth Taylor”.

In the film, the Wikipedia entry notes:

“Ballard becomes one of Vaughan’s followers who fetishise car accidents, obsessively watching car safety test videos and photographing traffic accident sites. Ballard drives Vaughan’s Lincoln convertible around the city while Vaughan picks up and uses street prostitutes, and later Ballard’s wife. In turn, Ballard has a dalliance with one of the other group members, Gabrielle a beautiful woman whose legs are clad in restrictive steel braces, and who has a vulva-like scar on the back of one of her thighs, which is used as a substitute for a vagina by Ballard. The film’s sexual couplings in (or involving) cars are not restricted to heterosexual experiences. While watching videos of car crashes, Dr. Remington becomes extremely aroused and gropes the crotches of both Ballard and Gabrielle, suggesting an imminent ménage a trios”.

As with chremastistophilia, I have been unable to find a single clinical or academic study published in a peer-reviewed journal so it wouldn’t be too much an educated guess that such a paraphilia is incredibly rare.

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

Further reading

Downing, L. (2004). On the limits of sexual ethics: The phenomenology of autassassinophilia. Sexuality and Culture, 8, 3-17.

Gordon, W.A. & Elias, J.E. (2005). Potentially lethal modes of sexual expression. Paper presented at the 2005 Western Region Annual Conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.

Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books

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

Wikipedia (undated). Crash (1996 film). Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crash_(1996_film)

Wikipedia (undated). Crash (J.G. Ballard novel). Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crash_(J._G._Ballard_novel)

Autoerotic sex drives! What is the relationship between sex and cars?

“I have a friend that get’s sexually excited by cars and rims, I’ve seen her melt down at the sight of a nice car and big rims. Funny – her mom is like that too, and I always thought she was just a gold digger!”

This opening quote hopefully highlights that for some there is a relationship between sex and cars. This relationship has been written about in both academic and non-academic books for many years (and no, this blog will not be looking at the car as a phallic symbol). However, in the world of paraphilias there are much fewer writings. There are a number of different paraphilias that have some association with cars. These include:

  • Mechanophilia: Sexual arousal from cars or other machines (and sometimes referred to as ‘mechasexuality’).
  • Symphorophilia: Sexual arousal from witnessing or staging disasters such as car accidents. (The main characters in the 1973 novel Crash by British author J.G. Ballard, and the subsequent 1996 film adaptation of the same name, are therefore symphorophiles).
  • Amomaxia: Sexual arousal from having sex in parked cars.

(There’s also case study evidence in a 2003 American Journal of Psychiatry review paper by Dr Jennifer Pate and Dr Glenn Gabbard on infantilism [where people get sexual arousal from being ‘adult babies’] that some ‘adult babies’ enjoy playing with toy cars – but even I think that’s stretching it a bit!). Cars have also been central to other paraphilic behaviours – such as hypoxyphilia – but I’ll return to that later.

In 1992, Dr Padmal De Silva and Dr Amanda Pernet (at the time both at the Institute of Psychiatry, London) published a case study in the journal Sex and Marital Therapy. The case involved an unusual sexual deviation in a young 20-year old British man (‘George’) who had little social interaction and was incredibly shy. They reported that his main sexual interest and excitement was from cars – particularly Austin Metro cars. George’s family belonged to a strict religious sect who strongly disapproved of any sexual involvement by their son with women. Things changed for George when his parents bough an Austin Metro car (the front of which reminded George of a smiling child-like face). George began masturbating inside the car, and then outside masturbating outside the car while crouching down next to the car’s exhaust pipe. Although he occasionally engaged in masturbating over scantily dressed pictures of women, he was far more sexually aroused by the Metro photographs in his bedroom.

So that he couldn’t be caught masturbating, he would go to great lengths to find deserted places to engage in his sexual activity with the car. He also became sexually excited by cars that resembled the look of the Metro (including the Fiat Uno, Ford Fiesta, and various makes of Vauxhall cars including the Astra and the Nova). George used to become very sexually excited when the car’s exhaust pipe was running and pumping out car fumes. This aspect of “elimination” – according to De Silva and Pernet – was an important central element in George’s other sexual preferences – particularly his fascination of urination. As a very young child he had an unusual interest in dogs urinating. After the age of 10 years, he was more interested in children and adult women urinating. The authors also speculated there may have been an increase in George’s arousal due to a “reduction of oxygen intake and related asphyxiation”. This was possibly seen as a mild form of hypoxyphilia.

George was eventually treated by a classical conditioning technique known as orgasmic reconditioning. This technique provided the opportunity for George to change the focus of his sexual arousal from cars to women. However, despite the therapy, he still retained a strong sexual interest in Metro cars. This type of therapy has been used in the treatment of other sexually fetishistic behaviours, but as reported in a number of published papers, overcoming the main fetish is very difficult for affected individuals.

More recently, there was worldwide media interest following a television programme in which Edward Smith, a 57-year old man from Washington State in the US, admitted to having had sex with over 1,000 cars. He also claimed he no longer had sexual interest in humans. His last normal relationship had been an unconsummated affair with a woman when he was 45-years old but he had not had sex since he was a young man. At the time of the programme, Smith was living with ‘Vanilla’ (a white Volkswagon Beetle) but was also having sexual relationships with ‘Cinnamon’ (an Opal GT) and ‘Ginger’ (a Ford Ranger Splash). His previous relationship to ‘Vanilla’ was another VW Beetle called ‘Victoria’. Smith went on to comment:

“I appreciate beauty and I go a little bit beyond appreciating the beauty of a car only to the point of what I feel is an expression of love. I’m a romantic. I write poetry about cars, I sing to them and talk to them just like a girlfriend. I know what’s in my heart and I have no desire to change. I’m not sick and I don’t want to hurt anyone, cars are just my preference. It’s something that grew as a part of me when I was a kid and I could not shake it. I just loved cute cars right from the beginning, but over the years it got stronger once I got into my teenage years and was my first having sexual urges. “When I turned 13 and the famous Corvette Stingray came about, that car was pure sex and just an incredible machine. I wanted it. I didn’t fully understand it myself except that I know I’m not hurting anyone and I do not intend to. There are moments way out in the middle of nowhere when I see a little car parked and I swear it needs loving. There have been certain cars that attracted me and I would wait until nighttime, creep up to them and just hug and kiss them. As far as women go, they never really interested me much. And I’m not gay”

At the age of 15 years, Smith first had sex with a car but had also had sex with other forms of transportation. In fact Smith claimed that his best sexual experience was having sex with a helicopter from the US television series Airwolf. Smith went on to claim he is part of a global community of more than 500 mechasexual “car lovers” that communicate via online forums. Dr. Ian Kerner, a New York City sex therapist commented that in general “there is an exhibitionistic element for the person being stimulated by machine, as well as general submission/domination themes”.

In a 2010 issue of the Internet Journal of Human Sexuality, Amy Marsh described what she claims is the first ever research study conducted on a group of 40 “objectophiles” (i.e., “people who experience emotional, romantic, affectionate and/or sexual relationships with objects”), of which 21 shared their experiences. One of those who shared their experiences of ‘mechasexuality’.

He had been aware of his mechasexuality for one to five years.

“I’ve been in love with my mom’s car and my own car since I got it bought. My car’s appearance is what attracts me the most. [I enjoy intimacy with the cars] between twice a week and once every three weeks [and] involves cuddling and such affectionate activity, and sometimes masturbation…However, I’d like to mention that although there can be a little amount of mental role play, I am fully aware that objects are inanimate and that this mostly is a one-sided relation. Although I may consider a human relationship eventually, it has not happened yet.”

Finally, it’s worth mentioning the case of the 40-year old US male airline pilot (and also married and father of two children). His case was recounted in the Journal of Forensic Sciences by Dr J.C. Rupp (County Examiner’s Office, Texas, USA). The man left his home at 6am in the morning and told his wife that he was going shooting in the country. He was found naked except for a large-link 10-foot chain harness secured around his body. (The harness was tied around the man’s neck in a moderately tight loop and bolted. The chain then went down his chest and was tied into another loop around his waist. This was tied to the bumper of the car) at 7.30am in the morning in a remote area crushed against the left fender of his car (equivalent of a VW Beetle). The engine was still running, ignition was on and the driver’s door was still open. The steering wheel was tied so that it would go round in anti-clockwise circles. His clothes were in the boot of the car. Reconstruction of the events leading to his death showed that he was either being dragged round by the car or following the car producing feelings of asphyxia. When he had finished his sexual turn-on he had tried to approach the car door but had forgotten to undo the chain from the bumper. The chain had got tangled up in the car’s axle and the man was found strangled to death by the chain. This is clearly a case of a car being used to facilitate another paraphilia (i.e., hypoxyphilia). Clearly, this is a very extreme case, but like the other cases outlined in this article, they do at least show that for some people, cars are an integral part to their sexuality and sex life.

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

Further reading

Daily Telegraph (2008). Man admits having sex with 1,000 cars. May 21. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2000899/Man-admits-having-sex-with-1000-cars.html

De Silva, P. & Pernet, A. (1992). Pollution in ‘Metroland’: An unusual paraphilia in a shy young man. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 7, 301-306.

Marsh, A. (2010). Love among the objectum sexuals. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 13, March 1. Located at: http://www.ejhs.org/volume13/ObjSexuals.htm

Pate, J. & Gabbard, J.O. (2003). Adult baby syndrome. American Journal of Psychiatry, 160, 1932-1936.

Rupp, J.C. (1973). The love bug. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 18, 259-262.