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.
Ben-Zeév, A. (2011). Why did Descartes love cross-eyed women? The lure of imperfection, Psychology Today, November 29. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-name-love/201111/why-did-descartes-love-cross-eyed-women-the-lure-imperfection
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: http://www.thedatereport.com/dating/sex/sexual-fetishes-emetophilia-tree-sex/
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: http://www.pagepulp.com/2091/sexual-fetishes-of-famous-authors/
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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oculophilia
I’m sure I will receive a little criticism for today’s blog as it focuses on sex and ugliness, so I apologize in advance if you feel I shouldn’t be talking about such things and feel it is politically incorrect. However, there is a long history of psychological research on attractiveness (which by implication usually means that any findings reported as relating to attractive people would mean the opposite applies for ugly people). I’m the first to admit that sexual attractiveness is highly subjective and can depend on many factors including the physiological state of the viewer (hence the apt pun that ‘beauty is the eye of the beer holder”).
A couple of years ago, the papers here in the UK (such as the one that appeared in the Daily Mail) reported on a story that being ugly might actually help in attracting the opposite sex. The story was based on the work of Australian Dr. Robert Brooks (a Professor of Evolution at the University of New South Wales) who claimed that having an “unusual appearance” can prove a useful asset in attracting a mate. Brooks was quoted as saying that “ugly individuals can sometimes do better than good-looking ones” (although I ought to point out that his research was carried out on animals and not humans). Dr Paul Rainey, a biologist at Oxford University supported Brooks’ view and said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If everyone is going after the most common characteristics, then someone who targets the rare ones, would have an advantage”.
This short introduction brings me on to what I really wanted to focus on – the sexual paraphilia teratophilia. According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 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”. There are various sub-divisions of teratophilia of which the most researched is arguably acrotomophilia (which I looked at in a previous blog) and refers to those people who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from amputees. I would also argue that sexual paraphilias such as stigmatophilia (i.e., individuals that derive sexual pleasure and arousal from a person who is marked [i.e., scarred] in some way) would also qualify as a sub-type of teratophilia.
Although there is empirical research on both acrotomophilia and stigmatophilia, there is nothing (as far as I can tell) published on teratophilia. There are certainly online forums where individuals have discussed their attraction to ugly people and a quick search on the internet shows there is a fair amount of pornographic material that feature physically unusual people (suggesting that there are people put there that find such things sexually arousing). Here are a few online self-confessions by people who would appear to be genuine teraphiliacs:
- Extract 1 (female): “I’ve felt this way for years, it’s not a new thing. I’ve tried to bring it up before on other forums but no one took me seriously. I think that’s my biggest problem is that people always think I’m joking. I’m not sure if it’s a ‘fetish‘ or what but I don’t necessarily think ‘Oh I wanna have sex with that guy look how deformed he is’ as much as I see them as any other person that I find attractive and would want to date. Just like a guy may find skinny girls attractive or a girl likes guys with tattoos, I think deformities are sexy…But I’m not attracted to everyone and anyone who has some kind of deformity. If they have a bad personality it’s unattractive. So does this really make me a ‘teratophiliac’? Why can’t it be that I can just find beauty within the unusual or something like that? It’s always been a fantasy for me to be with someone like this, I’ve had plenty of normal boyfriends over the years but it still hasn’t made my yearning to be with a deformed man go away. I don’t think I’d be doing harm to act upon my urges would I?”
- Extract 2 (male): “For some reason, women with some deformity, specifically gait deformities and hand deformities are interesting…Women with Multiple Sclerosis can be attractive also. I myself have pectus escavatum, which is an inversion deformity of the chest. The chest is strong, but looks strange. Its muscular, but inverted. This may be why I am interested in women with deformities as well”.
- Extract 3 (female): “I’m attracted to people who I know are ‘ugly’. And it’s not personality because it could just be a random boy around school who I’ve never spoken to before and I just see his face and think I’ve fell in love, even though I know he’s not stereotypically ‘hot’ and my friends would laugh if they knew. It means that I can’t attempt to get anywhere with these ‘ugly’ boys because I know my friends would never let me live it down….I can look at them and pick out faults and know why they’re not hot, but I still am strangely attracted to them”.
- Extract 4 (female): “[I’m] a self-confessed teratophiliac. What do others think? I’m harking back to why I just adore that ice bath scene with Stretch and Bubba. Am I the only one who goes all dippy when I see Bub’s eyes there? Bill did an exceptional job instilling all that personality into Leatherface. Shows he’s human and capable of love but torn apart under pressure from his family. When he bangs his head on the cage it really saddens me…I believe this Leatherface is capable of turning good if he wasn’t ill-bred and pressured by his family. Back to the subject of teratophilia. I would gladly reciprocate bubba’s affections!”
Looking at these accounts (of which three out of four are female – not sure if that’s significant but the majority of anecdotal accounts I came across were female), and assuming they are genuine (and I have no way of knowing if they are), there is little insight as to the motivations and reasoning as to why these individuals are attracted to ugly and/or handicapped people. The one male account does admit that he himself has an “inversion deformity” and that this may provide a reason as to why he finds females with deformities of sexual interest. The Sex Obsessed website also speculated (without any empirical evidence) that those attracted to deformed people:
“…may have a strong sense of compassion or fear for a deformed person and may be conditioned to overexcite their feelings and confuse this excitement for sexual arousal. It may also include people who feel emotionally secure or in control of their deformed mates as they do not have the ability to leave them for someone else”.
If the number of female accounts is to be believed, it may be an indicator that females are less concerned with sexual attractiveness in a man (i.e., men value attractiveness in women more than women value attractiveness in men). Given the general lack of research in the area, this is a topic that is certainly worthy of scientific investigation.
Kendall, P. (2010). Why ugly men always attract the prettiest women. Daily Mail. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-70897/Why-ugly-men-attract-prettiest-women.html
Locksley (2010). I’m so ugly I make kids cry. Marry me! October 30. Located at: http://www.locksleynet.com/2010/10/30/im-so-ugly-i-make-kids-cry-marry-me/
Sex Obsessed (2009). Dysmorphophilia. December 4. Located at: http://sexobsessed.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/dysmorphophilia/
Wikipedia (2012). Talk: Teratophilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3ATeratophilia