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Gaming desires: A brief look at ‘venatophilia’

In a previous blog on sexual paraphilias that have yet to be studied empirically, I briefly mentioned ‘venatophilia’.  In an online article about cartoon quicksand fetishes (which I discuss below), there was mention of a fetish group called ‘Giant Video Game Girls’ and they appear to have coined the term ‘venatophilia’ from the Latin venatus, meaning ‘game’ and describes sexual attraction to or fascination with video game characters. Venatophilia also gets a mention on the Wiktionary protologism page (a page that lists prototype neologisms) where it listed alongside venatology (“the study of games, the act of playing them, and the players and cultures surrounding them”), venatomania (an obsession with games), and venatophobia (a fear of games). Personally I find this somewhat strange as most paraphilias derive from Greek (rather than Latin) names. If this paraphilia exists I would argue that it is a sub-type of toonophilia (sexual attraction to cartoon characters) that I examined in a previous blog.

Cartoon quicksand fetishes are an integration of quicksand fetishes (itself a form of ‘stuck fetishism‘ that I examined in a previous blog) and (as mentioned above) cartoon fetishism (‘toonophilia‘). The Motherboard article by Jagger Gravning featured an interview with ‘quicksand artist’ A-020 who draws fictional damsels, women that are stuck in quicksand typically wearing a “tight miniskirt, pantyhose, heels, and boots”. (If you are interested, there is lots of art featuring women stuck in quicksand on the Deviant Art webpage). A-020 said:

 “I’m open with [my quicksand cartoon fetish] online because I’m comfortable under a screenname…Though when it comes to knowing me in person, it’s pretty much a secret! I haven’t been in a situation where I had to reveal this fetish…I was pretty young, maybe 7 or 8, when I started seeing quicksand scenes in a movie or a TV show. Some of those films I recall seeing were Beastmaster, Neverending Story, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and Ursus in the Valley of the Lions…Once in a while, I’d fantasize about it”.

Gravning makes the point that there are other fetishes that cartoonists incorporate into their videogame graphics. Some of these are strange behaviors that I outlined in a previous blog – ‘unbirthing’ (i.e., returning to the womb) such as that featuring ‘Princess Peach’ and Pokemon characters (such as those here and here) and vore (vorarephilia). In fact, Zeus Tipado wrote an online article for The Stoned Gamer about the “vore fetish of game characters swallowing each other whole”. There are also online articles that examine the best sexual moments in videogame history. In an online article entitled ‘Gamers as fetishists‘  by Gus Mastrapa on the Joystick Division website notes:

“Nowadays we equate fetishism with perversity, but the roots of the word are about perceiving power in objects or things. A religious idol is a fetish object. In the days when more and more parts of our lives are digital it is easy to fetishize the physical. Gamers, I think, have a bit of a head start. Because the videogames we play have long been about making our imaginations physical – by embodying and creating the ideals and fantasies we carry around with us. I mean just look at the characters in a Final Fantasy game and tell me that gamers aren’t serious fetishists…There’s a huge swath of the gaming community who love JRPGs [Japanese role playing games] like Final Fantasy and Persona – where characters are defined more by what they wear than their facial features. Costumes are a huge concern for these fans…It is easy to pick on anime nerds and their weird fixation with trench coats, boots and nerdy glasses. But this exercise would be pointless without self-examination…Gamer fetishism goes beyond the aesthetic…Games encourage obsession. They draw it out of us or provide a vessel for us to pour it into. And so it makes sense that they’d also be filled with objects of our obsession. Weapons, riches, vehicles, clothing, other people – they’re all things we want because we fill them with our dreams and desires”

Earlier this year, the makers of World of Warcraft launched a new videogame, Overwatch which according to an article in Maxim magazine by Zeynep Yenisey is “an over-sexualized first-person shooter featuring tons of big-breasted anime chicks”. Yenisey reported that after the game was released, there had been an 817% increase on Pornhub for Overwatch-related searches particularly for the buxom character Tracer.

So what is the psychology behind fetishes and sexual attraction to videogame characters? Gravning interviewed the evolutionary psychologist Dr. Catherine Salmon

“If somebody has attached to a character because they play a game a lot and fantasize about that character, it wouldn’t be surprising that they take that character and stick it somewhere else. It’s not surprising that some of the female characters in video games who are heroines and are portrayed as very sexual characters in terms of the way that they’re drawn might end up as the stars of gamers’ sexual fantasies. The social aspect of using familiar characters is another reason for using them in quicksand imagery and other fetishes. If you use a known character for a fetish, it gives your work some degree of a built-in audience, a device often used for fanfiction…There is a community of men who are creating and sharing these stories or these images. If they share an interest in the original material as well, then using that original material creates an additional commonality of interest. It’s one thing to have your sexual fantasies and it’s another thing to share your sexual fantasies. If you’re creating art or fiction and you’re putting it on the web, you’re not just doing it for yourself, it’s not just your fantasy that you’re jerking off to, you’re giving that to other people as well. To do that, you find a built-in community if you’re using a shared character”.

Gravning notes some of the “shared characters” find themselves in “exactly the same situations that these artists fetishize” and asked Dr. Salmon whether witnessing individuals repeatedly stuck in quicksand when a child could possibly lead to such unusual fetishes:

“It could be something like that. Whether it’s quicksand or tar pits, there’s things like that in children’s cartoons. It could be something as simple as that. Part of it is the damsel in distress kind of image. Watching ‘Wonder Woman’ caught in that kind of circumstance when people are younger – [it’s] an image that’s eroticized, a very sexually drawn, very feminine image. And they might enjoy watching that sort of thing or the struggle, as she’s trying to get out of whatever that circumstance is. There are a lot of unusual circumstances in cartoons and fantasy and you may get aroused while you’re watching it and then carry some of that too”.

Gravning also interviewed the sex therapist Dr. Elizabeth Lars (who shares my own view on this by alluding to classical conditioning). Dr. Lars calls such associations “accidents of learning” in which the associations “don’t have to be exactly like the fantasy that comes, it just has to resemble it”. Furthermore, she went on to speculate:

[Quicksand fetishists] probably fantasized and got into the feeling that goes with that, not just watching. It could [also] be identifying with it. The kid imagining himself stuck in quicksand in the victim’s place, for example, could be part of its erotic appeal. You could either be observing it or experiencing it. You could be doing both at the same time in a fantasy. Some evidence certainly suggests that sexual patterns are already there, for sure in males, by the age of eight. They may or may not have begun masturbating to fantasies until adolescence, but something is going on internally at a very young age. This highly influential period of age eight through adolescence is also probably for many a prime time for the ingestion of the bizarre imagery and situations contained in video games and cartoons, which often also incorporate sexualized heroines. It looks like what we call fetishes are remarkably easy to install in the early learning experiences. Same thing about fears too.”

Back in the late 1990s, I had a regular column with the now defunct magazine Arcade. My very first column (which you can download here) was on the psychology of Tomb Raider and the sexualization of lead character Lara Croft and the influence it might have on young boys and emerging adolescents. This is echoed by the neuroscientist Dr. Ogi Ogas who when interviewed by Gravning said that pubertal males probably spending a lot of time with sexualized videogame characters like Lara Croft.

“They are seeing these characters during their formative time. They are kind of perfect and ideal – and you don’t have to actually interact with them. Psychologically, it’s truly like a stripped-down, pure erotic stimuli. So it’s much easier to imprint on that, to fetishize that. Part of the fascination is simply being culturally exposed to characters like Lara Croft…[In relation to quicksand fetishes], the notion of being smothered or trapped is universal in the sense that it exists to greater and lesser degrees all over. It’s not just one or two people that have it. It is found in a lot of places. Clearly our normal brain design is not that far removed from [wanting to be] enveloped. It’s probably something to do with our tactile system, our touch system of the brain, that’s quite naturally wired to our sexual arousal system. The tactile system is also interconnected with sensations like being smothered and being interred, being doused with water. Probably, somehow – and I’m speculating here – that’s what got crossed up for whatever reasons. How someone’s brain entangles sexual arousal with the notion of being trapped or smothered might simply be a perturbation of the neural system. A quirk in the brain, essentially. It could be some randomness in the seemingly infinite complexity of your DNA. So, from a perspective rooted in computational neuroscience, niche sexual desires needn’t be wholly, or at all, explained as the result of social construction or evolutionary adaptation. As we’re learning more about the genetics of brain construction, “we’re coming to understand the genetic expression that leads to different neural wiring is highly variable and dependent on so many things [that] could happen in the womb, things that happen in early life, different environmental things. There’s just myriad, myriad factors that can cause unusual neural wiring to arise.”

Dr. Ogas also claimed are fundamental to the human condition and that one in particular (domination/submission) seems to underlie many fetishes:

“The most important, underappreciated sexual interest in our species is an interest in domination and submission. This interest in manifestations of domination and submission applies to people worldwide. To men, women, whether they be gay, lesbian, straight, or anything else. Everybody. Whether your mindset is to be dominant or submissive sexually is fundamental to your sexual identity even though this interest is thought of culturally as an atypical fetish. The concept that one person has power, one person doesn’t, runs through all forms of erotica across the world”.

Based on what I’ve seen and read online, venatophilia appears to exist although it could be argued that videogame fetishes are just sub-classes of other types of fetishes and paraphilias such as vorarephilia, unbirthing, and stuck fetishism.

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.

Gravning, J. (2016). The fetish for video game characters trapped in quicksand. Motherboard, March 19. Located at: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/quicksand

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Shrink rap: The Croft Report. Arcade, 1 (November), p. 49.

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

Mastrapa, G. (2011). Gamers are fetishists. Joystick Division, March 9. Located at: http://www.joystickdivision.com/2011/09/gamers_are_fetishists.php

McCombs, E. (2008). Toonophilia: Is it porn? Huffington Post, October 1st. Located at: http://www.asylum.com/2008/10/01/toonophilia-is-it-porn/

Monroe, W. (2012). Fetish of the week: Schediaphilia (toonophilia). ZZ Insider, March 12. Located at: http://www.zzinsider.com/blogs/view/fetish_of_the_week_schediaphilia_toonophilia

Tipado, Z. (2015). Exploring the vore fetish of game characters eating each other whole. The Stoned Gamer, October 25. Located at: http://thestonedgamer.com/features/item/351-exploring-the-vore-fetish-of-game-characters-swallowing-each-other-whole

Yenisey, Z. (2016). How the bizarre ‘overwatch’ fetish is getting gamers hot and bothered. Maxim, May 11. Located at: http://www.maxim.com/entertainment/overwatch-pornhub-2016-5

Getting the heads up: A beginner’s guide to partial unbirthing

In a previous blog, I briefly examined ‘unbirthing’ a fantasy-based sexual paraphilia in which individuals are sexually aroused by the idea of being enveloped and swallowed by a woman’s vagina. This is often termed ‘vaginal vore’ and is commonly viewed as a sub-type of vorarephilia (a sexual paraphilia in which individuals are sexually aroused by the idea of being eaten, eating another person, or observing this process for sexual gratification). While researching the blog on unbirthing, I came across quite a few references to ‘partial unbirthing’. For instance, according to the online Urban Dictionary:

“[Partial unbirthing is the] fetish of an adult head inside a vagina. [The] term was created a few decades ago when the fantasy of unbirthing was broken down into total and partial types with partial unbirthing being the only remotely possible form of the unbirthing fantasy. Even then it is an extremely rare activity and the practice of partial unbirthing, as opposed to the fantasy, is not a form of Vore”.

I had my doubts as to whether partial unbirthing could be anything but a fantasy-based sexual paraphilia until I came across what appear to be actual photographs and videos of the practice online (such as those on the partial unbirthing page of the Encyclopedia Dramatica (ED) website – please be warned that if you click on the hyperlink, the page that opens shows photographs of men with their heads inside female vaginas). In part of an online article on vorarephilia, the Serial Killer Calendar (a surprisingly knowledgeable website on paraphilic behaviours), it noted that partial unbirthing is also known as ‘adult heading’. Looking at the same online photographs as I had looked at, the article claimed “there is controversy about whether it has ever truly happened and disagreements about whether photos of the practice are Photoshop fakes”. The same article also questioned the feasibility of the practice in relation to the restriction of the oxygen supply for the person inserting their head (although this would arguably be an added turn-on for a hypoxyphiliac). The ED article also noted:

“Partial unbirthing (adult head insertion into the vagina) [is a] real practice as opposed to fantasy, it is not a category of ‘vore’. It is only done by sex partners who both find it safe and extremely enjoyable. It is a fetishism that is extremely rare and probably one of the rarest of all human sexual activities. The reason for this is that to be mutually enjoyable and erotic, it requires that the vagina must stretch to enormous size”

I have no evidence to dispute such claims but given the sheer pragmatics involved, the claims don’t seem unreasonable. One of the more in-depth articles on partial unbirthing can be found on the Wikibin (WB) website. It also claims that the activity is (unsurprisingly) “extremely uncommon” and “much more common as a pure fantasy than in actuality”. The WB article also claims that there have been attempts (but it doesn’t say by who or what) to sub-classify partial unbirthing under a new category called ‘endosomatophilia’. The article estimated that less than one in a million sexual partners have actually engaged in partial unbirthing (although personally I think this figure is still too high). The article also claims that it is mutually enjoyable and erotic for couples that engage in the practice:

“It requires that the vagina must stretch to enormous size. This requires a consenting, cooperative, and extended effort between the sexual partners, with both partners considering the same fetish to be erotic…This of course is only possible where the woman has an extremely huge opening of her pelvis. Such a huge or Justo Major Pelvis is also called ‘Giant Pelvis’. This condition is where the minimum pelvis size is enlarged uniformly in every direction by a linear factor of 1.5, or more than the average 11-inch wide pelvis. This 16.5-inch ‘or more’ Justo Major pelvic width is a condition that is only present in less than one in a thousand adult women”.

The article also claims that some normal sized women sometimes stretch their vaginas to facilitate orgasmic stimulation. This is sometimes as a consequence of the woman having a “fullness fetish” that according to the article is also known as a ‘bulk intromission’ fetish (I’ve tried to look for further information on this fetish but have not yet found anything). Although this would appear to be exceedingly rare, the WB article says that with “gradual repeated stretching they occasionally stretch almost to the walls of their pelvic bone opening” to the size of a newborn baby’s head.

There is still the fundamental issue of whether partial unbirthing is humanly possible. A number of partial unbirthing articles all carry exactly the same text about an alleged study that I have been unable to track down. The verbatim text used in most of these articles claims that:

“A well known government Hispanic study included the anthropometry (scientific measurement) of nearly 5000 adult women using anthropometric calipers to measure the largest pelvis at 19 inches bi-iliac width (side-to-side bone width). This made her 19-inch wide Justo Major pelvis have a huge 1.73 ratio when compared to the average size pelvis of only 11 inches width. This was even a larger size pelvis than a pelvis of ‘minimum’ Justo Major size (that requires at least a 1.5 ratio). If a woman with a pelvis of this very large size were to do the same vaginal stretching practice to near her bone opening size, she could then vaginally take inside her vagina a huge 24-inch adult head. That size head would be 24 minus 21 inches, or 3 inches, larger than the 21-inch circumference adult head that a pelvis of the minimum 1.5 ratio Justo Major size pelvis could potentially stretch around. This larger size 19-inch wide pelvis would require a lesser degree of stretching to be comfortable when taking inside a 21-inch (much smaller size) adult head. This degree of comfort might be comparable to a woman of average size being vaginally double fisted by hands of considerably smaller size, or even being fisted by just one large hand. This less common but larger size pelvis (one in five thousand) Justo Major pelvis would have a sufficient size to potentially make partial unbirthing much easier to achieve”. 

There is no academic or clinical research on partial unbirthing fetishes although I did come across a small unscientific poll on the Deviant Art website. The poll asked its clientele of self-admitted ‘sexual deviants’ what the strangest fetish was and 16% of the sample said partial unbirthing was the strangest. Unbirthing topped the poll (22%), followed by neophilia (18%; having sexual intercourse with baby children), and furry infantilism (11%; a form of paraphilic infantilism among the Furry Fandom in which adults pretend to be baby animals). Other strangest fetishes included cement fetishes (8%), necrofurs (5%; Furry fandom necrophilia), vorarephilia (5%), and zoophilia (3%).

After reviewing the scant anecdotal evidence I am convinced that that partial unbirthing fetishes exist at the very least in fantasy form and there are certainly examples of online fictional fantasy stories involving partial unbirthing. However, I remain ambivalent as to whether the practice can be achieved in actuality. The evidence (such that it is) suggests it is theoretically possible but whether there are genuinely recorded cases is suspect at best.

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

Further reading

Encyclopedia Dramatica (2011). Partial unbirthing. May 25. Located at: https://encyclopediadramatica.se/Partial_Unbirthing

Serial Killer Calendar (2012). Vorarephilia. Located at: http://www.serialkillercalendar.com/VORAREPHILIA.html

Urban Dictionary (2012). Partial unbirthing. Located at: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=unbirthing

Wikibin (2012). Partial unbirthing fetishism. Located at: http://wikibin.org/articles/partial-unbirthing-fetishism.html

Wikipedia (2012). Pelvis justo major. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelvis_justo_major

Womb raiders: A brief look at ‘unbirthing’

In a previous blog on vorarephilia and ‘vore’ (individuals who are sexually aroused by the thought of being eaten, eating another person, or observing this process for sexual gratification; sometimes referred to phagophilia), I noted that one of the sub-categories of this sexually paraphilic behaviour was ‘vaginal vore’ in which an individual is sexually aroused by the thought of being consumed by the vagina and taken into the womb. This is commonly referred to as  ‘unbirthing’ or a ‘reverse birth’ if the participants are human. Among the Furry Fandom who dress up and fantasize about being animals, the process is known as being ‘re-whelped’). A short article on unbirthing at the Oh Internet website claims that unbirthing fetishes are most commonly found in the furry community” (although there is no evidence to support the claim).

The simplest definition of unbirthing is that it is a sexual paraphilia that involves being ‘swallowed’ alive by female genitalia. As with most forms of vorarephilia, the paraphilia is fantasy-based as it is not humanly possible to be unborn. Most unbirthing websites feature masses of fan art and fan fiction (such as the Mindless Consumption website). However, there are also some very specialist types of unbirthing website such as the Pony Inside Story website that (predictably) only features unbirthing pony stories and art. According to the Wikifur article on unbirthing:

“A less-common but still significant minority also practice UB-Vore, wherein the female unbirther’s body ultimately consumes the unbirthed. Another variant on this is males absorbing others (generally other males) as a form of male pregnancy. This is known as cock vore and often involves hypertrophilia and/or macrophilia”.

[Macrophilia – which I covered in a previous blog – refers to individuals that are sexually aroused by giants. Hypertrophilia describes individuals – usually macrophiles – who are sexually and/or emotionally attracted to ‘hyper-endowed’ characters. Hypertrophic individuals typically feature over-exaggerated (and impractically large) sexual and erogenous characteristics]. The article on unbirthing in the online Encyclopedia Dramatica says that US grunge group Nirvana may have unwittingly started the fetish in their 1993 hit single Heart-Shaped Box from their final studio LP In Utero when they sang “Broken hymen of ‘Your Highness’/I’m left black/Throw down your umbilical noose/ So I can climb right back”. However, I know of no academic research on unbirthing although there are a number of online articles that examine the phenomena and its underlying motivation and meaning. For instance, the Wikifur article makes a number of interesting observations:

“For many, unbirthing is attractive in its symbolic meaning. The opportunity to trust someone quite literally with one’s entire life, to be nurtured and protected, is what attracts the unbirthed. On the other side, the unbirther can demonstrate her care for another in a deep, trusting way, and enjoy something living inside her, a sensation often attractive in and of itself”.

For others, unbirthing has dominant, controlling and almost sadistic elements where the person being unbirthed becomes dependent upon the vaginal enveloper for oxygen and sustenance. Those undergoing unbirthing become restricted in what they can do as movement is almost totally inhibited and the senses are all but redundant having been enveloped and swallowed. For some, the age regression aspect and returning to the womb is said to be sexually arousing. As the Wikifur article notes:

“Returned to the womb, an unbirthed creature grows younger; the unbirther may choose to rebirth their guest at any point or simply regress the unbirthed past the point of conception, effectively erasing their existence. There are many variations on this theme, some overlapping with the oviposition [paraphilia]. [For others there an] overlap between fans of unbirth and those of vore lies in the endosomatophilia paraphilia, or attraction to fantasies involving complete encapsulation of a living thing within the body of another living thing. A second overlap between the two lies in absorbing or digesting an unbirthed creature: a form of genital vore”.

According to the online Nation Master encyclopedia, the term endosomatophilia (and sometimes shortened to ‘endosoma’) was coined in 2004 (although it doesn’t say by who and in what context), and is a sexual attraction to “fantasies involving complete encapsulation of a living thing within the body of another living thing” and is therefore a critical part of unbirthing and other similarly related behaviours such as vorarephilia and ‘insertion fantasies’. [According to a Wikipedia entry, ‘insertion fantasies’ refer to “the sexual desire or fantasy of having something inserted into a person in the pelvic region; usually referring to something out of the ordinary like specifically shaped foods, abnormal objects, or even people”]. The Nation Master entry also claims that:

“Due to its relative youth as a fetish term, there are currently no known websites or references with focus on endosoma. Because of this, many vore sites host endosoma material unrelated to vorarephilia itself. Because vore fantasies often involve violence and/or snuff, endosomaphiles are often daunted by the overwhelming presence of vore, as opposed to other forms of endosoma. The term was created in the hopes of forming more endosoma-oriented web content, communities, and chat rooms. Endosoma is often associated with macrophilia and microphila [which I also covered in a previous blog] as a large size difference can facilitate bodily containment. Currently, endosomatophilia is most well known among furries…Endosomatophilia is sometimes misdefined as soft vore in which the prey is not digested. Also, it was originally coined as endosomaphilia, which was later found to be incorrect”.

Compared to other sexual paraphilias that have not been researched empirically, the number of online forums that cater for vorarephilia in all its sub-varieties (including unbirthing) appears relatively large with relatively large numbers of members. It is certainly an area that I would personally like to carry out some research.

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

Further reading

Encyclopedia Dramatica (2011). Unbirthing. August 14. Located at: https://encyclopediadramatica.se/Unbirthing

Oh Internet (2012). Unbirthing. Located at: http://ohinternet.com/Unbirthing

Nation Master (2012). Endosomatophilia. Located at: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Endosomatophilia

Nation Master (2012). Unbirthing. Located at: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Unbirthing

Wikifur (2010). Hypertrophilia. November 11. Located at: http://en.wikifur.com/wiki/Hypertrophilia

Wikifur (2009). Unbirth. March 19. Located at: http://en.wikifur.com/wiki/Unbirth

Wikipedia (2011). Insertion fantasies. September 4. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Xomic/Insertion_fantasy