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Appliance fiction? A beginner’s guide to mechanophilia

My partner is a Frank Zappa fan and one of her favourite albums is his 1979 rock opera Joe’s Garage. On the LP, Joe is described as an “appliance fetishist” by the ‘Church of Appliantology’ (and ends up having a gay relationship with an industrial vacuum cleaner). Although Joe is a fictional character, appliance and machine fetishes aren’t. According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, being sexually turned on by machines is a sexual paraphilia called mechanophilia. Cynthia Ceilán in her 2008 book Weirdly Beloved: Tales of Strange Bedfellows, Odd Couplings, and Love Gone Bad describes the same sexual paraphilia as ‘mechaphilia’. The online Urban Dictionary has a more encompassing definition, and defines mechanophilia as:

“The love or sexual attraction to computers, cars, robots or androids, washing machines and other domestic appliances, lawn mowers and other mechanised gardening equipment. Sexual relations between living organisms and machines”.

I briefly mentioned mechanophilia in a previous blog on the relationship between sex and cars, but the paraphilia not only includes individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from cars (such as the American man Edward Smith who has who has had sex with over a 1000 cars), but also to bicycles (such as the British man Robert Stewart who ended up in court after being caught having sex with a bicycle), and aeroplanes and helicopters (according to Ray Broadus Browne in his 1982 book Objects of Special Devotion: Fetishism in Popular Culture). A paper published in 2000 by Dr. Steven Thompson in the journal Technology and Culture argued that motorcycles are often portrayed as sexualized fetish objects by their owners. There would also appear to be some structural and psychological overlap with technosexuality/robot fetishism and objectum sexuality (i.e., having sexual and/or romantic relationships with inanimate objects) that I examined in previous blogs.

According to Dr. William Hickey in his 2006 book Sex Crimes and Paraphilias, in some jurisdictions mechanophilic acts are treated as crimes with perpetrators being placed on a sex offenders’ register after prosecution. The Wikipedia entry on mechanophilia mostly concentrates on references to mechanophilia in art, culture, and design. It noted that:

Mechanophilia has been used to describe important works of the early Modernists such as the 1922 FEKS ‘Eccentric Manifesto’ of Leonid Trauberg, Sergei Yutkevich, Grigori Kozintsev and others,a modernist avant garde movement that spanned Russian futurism and constructivism. The term has entered into the realms of science fiction and popular fiction. Scientifically, in ‘Biophilia, The Human Bond with Other Species’, Edward O. Wilson is quoted describing mechanophilia, the love of machines, as ‘a special case of biophilia”,whereas psychologists such as Erich Fromm would see it as a form of necrophilia. Designers such as Francis Picabia and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti have been said to exploited the sexual attraction of automobiles”.

I have yet to come across any empirical research specifically on mechanophilia beyond case studies. Dr. Ian Kerner, a New York sex therapist told CBS News that among mechanophiles there is generally “an exhibitionistic element for the person being stimulated by machine, as well as general submission [and] domination themes”, although I am unsure as to whether this is based on anyone Dr. Kerner has treated or whether this is just pure speculation. (I suspect the latter).

In a previous blog I mentioned a 1992 case study by Dr Padmal De Silva and Dr Amanda Pernet published 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. George began masturbating inside the car, and then outside masturbating outside the car while crouching down next to the car’s exhaust pipe. 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.

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.

In 2003, a man simply calling himself ‘Schlessinger’ published a book called Mechaphilia: Sexual Attraction to Machines. The (non-academic) book charts Schlessinger’s “personal journey” of coming to terms with his sexual desire for machines and his quest to seek acceptance from his family and friends about his sexual love of machines. The book is detailed in his description such as his detailing of the curves of a reel-to-reel recorder that he fell in love with. Schlessinger ends the book by saying that he has happily come to accept his ‘quirky sexuality’. In relation to the more cultural aspects of mechanophilia, the Wikipedia entry notes:

“Culturally, critics have described it as an ‘all pervading’ within contemporary Western society and that is seems to overwhelm our society and all too often our better judgement”. Although not all such uses are sexual in intent, the terms are also used for specifically erotogenic fixation on machinery and taken to its extreme in hardcore pornography as Fucking Machines. This mainly involves women being sexually penetrated by machines for male consumption,which are seen as being the limits of current sexual biopolitics. Arse Elektronika (organized by Austrian art-tech group ‘monochrom’) is propagating a DIY/feminist approach to sex machines. Authors have drawn a connection between mechanophilia and masculine militarisation, citing the works of animator Yasuo Otsuka and Studio Ghibli”.

In one of the few articles written on mechanophilia, Symone Nelson appears to speculate about the psychological reasons for engaging in such paraphilic behaviour but claim there is no single reason as to why someone becomes a mechanophile. Nelson claims:

“Some mechanophiliacs enjoy the engineering aspect of their object, how it works, moves and is built. While others are fascinated with the effect it produces for example the noise and warmth that comes off of a drying machine. There is a niche of porn called ‘machine porn’ where women and men are involved in erotic acts with machines that are made for the purpose of sex…You can probably find a mechanophiliac using sex toys and machines on their partners or on themselves during sex…On the extreme end mechanophiliacs NEED the presence of their object to reach sexual gratification or ONLY the presence of their object will bring them sexual gratification and another person is not able to do so…A mechanophiliac will have a relationship with their machine object as a person would with another person. All the elements of dating are involved in a mechanophiliac relationship from courting, to the first date and even the first kiss and sexual encounter…When the hospitals get odd cases like a man being treated on his penis after getting it “stuck” in a vacuum cleaner or a woman who has injured herself using a electric mixing spoon for masturbation doctors usually chalk it up to the fetish”.

These latter speculations about people ending up in hospital when things go wrong don’t appear to be about mechanophilia at all. Personally, I believe that people who use the vibrations of a washing machine or vacuum cleaner as part of masturbatory sex are not mechanophiles (otherwise anyone who used a vibrator would be classed as a mechanophile). Mechanophiles have sex and make love to the machine (and may even develop emotional attachments) rather than using the appliance simply to heighten sexual pleasure during masturbation. Although mechanophilia appears to be rare, as far as I am concerned it’s far from fiction. It’s certainly an area that would benefit from more empirical and/or clinical research, although there needs to be consensus from those working in the field as to what mechanophilia actually is.

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.

Browne, R.B. (1982). Objects of Special Devotion: Fetishism in Popular Culture. Popular Press.

Ceilán, C. (2008). Weirdly Beloved: Tales of Strange Bedfellows, Odd Couplings, and Love Gone Bad. The Lyons Press.

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

Hickey, E.W. (2006), Sex crimes and paraphilia. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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

Nelson, S. (2012). Fetish spotlight: Mechanophilia. Located at: http://www.thehoneybunnys.com/fetish-spotlight-mechanophilia/

Schlessinger (2003). Mechaphilia: Sexual Attraction to Machines. Please Press.

Thompson, S.L. (2000). The arts of the motorcycle: Biology, culture, and aesthetics in technological choice. Technology and Culture, 41, 99-115.

Wikipedia (2012). Mechanophilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanophilia

Techno notice: A beginner’s guide to robot fetishism

In a previous blog I examined agalmatophilia (in which individuals derive sexual arousal from an attraction to (usually nude) statues, dolls, mannequins and/or other similar body shaped objects). Some scholars claim that robot fetishism is another type (or at least an extension) of agalmatophilia. Robot fetishism is often referred to as ASFR (i.e., alt.sex.fetish.robots, based on the name of a now defunct newsgroup) or technosexuality. it refers more specifically to those individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal arising from humanoid or non-humanoid robots. The original ASFR manifesto stated:

“The alt.sex.fetish.robots (ASFR) newsgroup is dedicated to the discussion of the concept of sex with or sexual attraction to robots and robot-like beings. This can range from metallic, non-humanoid machines to humanoid androids. Discussions can deal with specific fantasies, fiction relating to the topic and connected ideas like people behaving like/turned into human mannequins, dolls, toys, and other hypnosis and mesmerism fantasies that involve the mechanical/monotone response that appeals to the members”

Techno-sexuality can be fantasy-based arousal where the robot fetishist merely thinks about sexual scenarios involving robots and/or can involve sexual activity with people dressed in robot costumes. (Just as an aside, if you are a music fan, check out Frank Zappa’s concept LP, Joe’s Garage that examined robot fetishism).

The sexual arousal may be heightened the more that the person imagined or dressed as a robot sounds and acts in a robotic-like manner. Those into this fetish call themselves ‘ASFRians’ and/or ‘technosexuals’ and some of these individuals like to imagine removing skin or bits of the body to reveal electronic circuitry (so you can imagine that they get turned on by everything from the Six Million Dollar Man through to The Terminator).

Robot fetishism can sometimes include other fetish variants, most notably transformation fetishes where the individuals get sexually excited by imagining themselves turning into a robot. These are conceptually similar to those in the furry fandom who get sexually excited by imagining themselves transform into an animal or animal hybrid. Similar to furries, robot fetishism could be viewed as another form of erotic anthropomorphism. It is also claimed that when transformation and/or role-playing are involved, the activity may be viewed as a form of erotic objectification. There are also similarities to mechanophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from cars or other machines and sometimes referred to as ‘mechasexuality’ that I examined in a previous blog).

According to the ASFR websites that I have visited, techno-fetishists comprise two distinct but not necessarily mutually exclusive types of techno-sexual fantasy. As one online essay on agalmatophilia claims:

“The first of group is simply based off of a desire to have a ready-made android or gynoid [female robot] partner that is desired for sex, companionship, or any combination of the two. The main distinguishing feature of this type is that the android is a completely artificial “built” and manufactured solely to fulfill the desires of its owner. The second type of fantasy is referred to as transformation. This involves a human who is either willingly or unwillingly turned into an android. That person can be either oneself or one’s partner, or sometimes both. It is usually the process of transformation that is the focus of this fantasy. Many people in the ASFR community prefer either one or the other. In some cases, this preference is very strong and divisive within the community. People may even be repulsed by the behaviors of the opposite group. In other cases, there is equal appreciation for built and transformation”.

A survey carried out on the Fembot Central website among 318 technosexual members and that 66% of ASFRians had a preference for built robots while the others preferred transformation (18%) or some combination of both (16%). In her 2000 book Deviant Desires, Katharine Gates also revealed that some techno-fetishists do not like synthetic partners at all, and prefer their fantasies to involve humans dressed as robots as part of fantasy sex play.

The expression of technosexuality is somewhat limited as it can only be acted upon in a few ways (i.e., masturbatory fantasy and/or sexual role-play). As a consequence, a large market for techno-sexual art has developed that caters for (and as an enabler) robot fetishism (i.e., it can help sexually stimulate ASFRians). Visual media is also important for techno-fetishists. As highlighted online:

“The film ‘Metropolis’ also explores this fetish. In this film, the mad inventor Rotwang kidnaps the heroine Maria. He’s created a robot to be a replacement for a woman he loved, but it needed a soul so he imprints the image of Maria onto his Robot. The scene itself is filled with the trappings of the mad scientist film before there ever was a visualized Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. There seems to be a reoccurring theme with mad scientists creating robots or dolls that come to life. There is the Bride of Frankenstein. There are a number of pulp serials full of hypnotized femmes such as Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and My Living Doll…Of course we still see the Frankenstein Complex in such creations such as Blade Runner, Westworld, The Stepford Wives, and Star Trek, but now there is an added tone of eroticism”.

Allison de Fren published an interesting paper in a 2009 issue of the journal Science Fiction Studies. Her essay examined techno-fetishism, particularly in relation to the machine woman, by studying the technosexual community. Her paper argued that A.S.F.R. is less about technology in general, or the artificial woman in particular. To de Fren, techno-fetishism is:

“…a strategy of denaturalization that uses the trope of technological ‘programming’ to underscore subjecthood. Like the trope of “hardwiring” used within cyberpunk as a signal of the constitution of bodies and identities in relation to networked systems of control and power, ‘programming’ serves as a metaphor for the biological and cultural matrices within which desire is articulated and pursued. ASFRians experience pleasure and agency through, in a sense, hacking the system, the visual indicators of which often take the form of a female android who has run amok, an image that is typically read as a threat”.

As far as I am aware, there is no academic research on robot fetishism beyond theoretical essays. While of interest, it would be really useful to know how big the techno-sexual community is and what the motivations are in engaging in such behaviour (submission/dominance is an obvious theme but there’s no literature to confirm or disconfirm such speculation. I’ll leave you with a recent quote by Dr. Glenda Shaw-Garlock (Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada) in Human-Robot Personal Relationships, who probably didn’t have robot fetishists in mind when she wrote it, but which has great resonance with this topic:

“Today, human and sociable-technology interaction is a contested site of inquiry. Some regard social robots as an innovative medium of communication that offer new avenues for expression, communication, and interaction. Other others question the moral veracity of human-robot relationships, suggesting that such associations risk psychological impoverishment. What seems clear is that the emergence of social robots in everyday life will alter the nature of social interaction, bringing with it a need for new theories to understand the shifting terrain between humans and machines”

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

Further reading

de Fren, A. (2009). Technofetishism and the Uncanny Desires of A.S.F.R. (alt.sex.fetish.robots), Science Fiction Studies, 36, 404-440.

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.

Gore, E. (Undated). The technosexuality, Pygmalionist and mind control fetish FAQ 3.0. Located at: http://www.p-synd.com/winterrose/technosexuality.html

Shaw-Garlock, G. (2011). Loving machines: Theorising human and sociable-technology interaction. Human-Robot Personal Relationships, Lecture Notes of the Institute for Computer Sciences, Social Informatics and Telecommunications Engineering, 59, 1-10

Strohecker, D.P. (2011). Robot Fetishism, Synthetic Partners, and Phallogocentrism, The Society Pages, July 22. Located at: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/07/22/robot-fetishism-synthetic-partners-and-phallogocentrism/

Stupid My Cupid (2010). Agalmatophilia: Love in the age of silicon. May 20. Located at: http://stupidmycupid.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/what-is-agalmatophilia-agalmatophilia.html