ur genitalia are usually the first areas that come to mind when
we think about having sex. The clitoris, labia and penis are all
erogenous zones considered prominent sites of sexual stimulation.
Yet at times in the past, in the Western world, touching these areas
in certain ways was taboo. The ancient Greeks, for example, thought
that fellatio and cunnilingus were unspeakable crimes, particularly
when the object of desire – the clitoris or vagina – was attached to
a menstruating woman. Similarly, in ancient Rome oral sex was
seen as distasteful. Sextus Cloelius, the scribe and secretary to the
Roman politician Clodius Pulcher, was criticized for performing
cunnilingus on menstruating women; and Quintus Apronius, chief
henchman to the corrupt magistrate of Sicily, Gaius Verres, was
accused of having bad breath in those days, a sure sign of a fellator
or cunnilictor.
A gender distinction existed in relation to oral sex: it was con -
sidered much worse for a man to provide fellatio or cunnilingus than
for a woman to provide the same service. Men should not go down
on other men or women, as it would undermine their status. Yet both
fellatio and cunnilingus, despite being considered vile, commonly
took place. In Pompeii, good fellators were congratulated: ‘Myrtis,
you suck well’, complimented one graffiti writer on the walls in the
On Body Parts: Fellatio,
Fetishism, Infibulations
and Fisting
Then sticking closely to the Text,
He fairly tipt the Velvet next;
And straight the warm salival Juice,
Did wonderful Effects produce
Her Pulse beats High, her Blood’s inflamed,
Symptoms so plain her Love proclaim’d . . .
The Ladies’ Miscellany (1718)
street; ‘Secundus is an excellent fellator’, declared another, although
in truth these comments may just as well have been intended as
insults. Prostitutes offered fellatio but it was not always cheap – it
usually cost two ‘asses’, an ‘ass’ being the equivalent of an ounce of
silver in ancient Rome. One prostitute, Euplia, thought it was worth
more and requested five asses for her oral expertise.¹
By the Middle Ages, oral sex was regarded as sinful both in Chris -
tian pastoralia and canon law, so it was basically off-limits. Any good
Christian had to find other ways of sexual fulfilment. One Irish peni -
tential suggested that seven years of penitence was appropriate for
Fellatio depicted on the rim of an Attic red-figure kylix, c. 510 .
those who had committed fellatio. Yet little about actual oral sex is
mentioned in history, although there are a few references in English
sodomy and pornography trials in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. At a time when few people washed regularly and hygiene
was at a low, oral sex was probably not an exciting prospect. A few
jocu lar references were made to it in bawdy ballads, but these were
usually about the bad smell.
By the nineteenth century, the verb ‘gamahuche’ was used for
oral sex, possibly from the Greek gamo, ‘to fuck’, and the French
hucher, ‘to call’ (‘fuck call’, although just like the English colloqui -
al ism ‘blow job’, it does not mean what it says). ‘Gamahuching’ had
become rife in both French and British pornography and although
pornography cannot be taken as actual proof of the practice, it does
mean that there was an understanding that these events were taking
place. According to the pornographic The Lascivious Hypocrite (c.
1891), boys in boarding schools reportedplenty of details concerning
mutual friggings, and pointed out pretty boys who could be found
in each others beds, and had been detected in gamahuching and every
kind of excess’.² Likewise, in The Quintessence of Birch Discipline
A man performs
cunnilingus on a
woman. Roman
fresco from the
Suburban Baths
in Pompeii,
1st century .
(‘1870’), privately printed in London in 1883, the character Mrs M.
receives cunnilingus from Sir F., ‘gamahuching me most rapturously
as he swallowed every drop as eagerly as a bee sucking honey’.³ The
anonymous Romance of Lust (c. 1876) similarly described the central
characters’ oral activities. ‘We immediately began with a gamahuche,
I taking Mary’s cunt, while Lizzie crossed her legs over her head, and
was gamahuched by Mary.’ Likewise, the Victorian narrator ‘Walter’
in his ‘memoirs’ wrote of gamahuching but did not think it the best
form of activity, claiming, ‘I had early in life and indeed till middle
age as told, been indifferent to having my cock sucked or gama -
huched, had indeed forbidden French women who do it as a matter
of course, either as a preliminary or finish to operate on me.’⁴ His
exception was licking ‘virgin cunts’. There were therefore varied
opinions on just how pleasant or unpleasant oral sex could be.
By the end of the nineteenth century, views had shifted slightly,
but not to any great extent. Like some of the Greeks, Krafft-Ebing
found oral sex repugnant, although he seems to have thought it was
not too disturbing. He declared, ‘Cunnilingus and fellatio (putting
the penis into a woman’s mouth) have not thus far been shown to
depend upon psychopathological conditions’, adding in apparent
disgust, ‘These horrible sexual acts seem to be committed only by
sensual men who have become satiated or impotent from excessive
A woman fellates
a man, Roman
oil lamp found
at Pompeii,
1st century .
Fellatio and cunnilingus scenes from the Marquis de Sade, Juliette (1797).
A man fellates a woman in a group sex scene by Achilles Devéria for Alfred
de Musset, Gamiani, c. 1848.
Woman fellates man, from Peter Fendi, Die Vorstellung im Theater (1910).
indulgence in a normal way.’⁵ How far his feelings about oral sex
were indicative of those of other Victorian and Edwardian men is hard
to judge, but from the extant sources it is clear that there continued
to be a wide variation of opinion. Certainly for sexologists it was
not seen as befitting behaviour for an upstanding gentleman. Rather,
it was seen to be the practice of men of low morality or those who
were mentally unbalanced or already sexually satiated. Ellis linked
cunnilingus to the activities of foreigners (those from Zanzibar, or
the Slavs from the Balkans) and lesbians. He did, however, concede
that ‘cunnilingus and fellatio as practised by either sex, are liable
to occur among healthy or morbid persons, either in heterosexual
or homosexual relationships’.⁶ Nonetheless, he warned that these
oral activities became perversions if they were practised to the
exclusion ofnormal sexual relationships’. Little had changed by the
mid-twentieth century, when one psychiatrist stated of one of his
patients, ‘The wish to degrade women is evidenced in his wanting
to have women perform fellatio which he links up with his incestu -
ous relationship to his mother and sisters.’ It made him feel as
though he was ‘the man and the master’.⁷ Krafft-Ebing would no
doubt have been surprised at the extent of current-day practice of
oral sex, which is now seen as part of a natural, healthy sex life.
Any obsession with certain parts of the body such as fat, hair, hands,
feet, neck and so on was labelled as fetishism by sexologists. These
fetishisms could lead to licking, stroking, sucking, infibulating or
otherwise inserting into or ejaculating on to the focus of lust. Many
fetishists felt a complete lack of the control over their impulses,
and many sought help from psychologists and psychiatrists.
It was the French psychologist Alfred Binet who first identified
sexual fetishism in ‘Le Fétichisme dans l’amour’ (Revue Philoso
phique, 1887) and saw it as a predominant or exclusive interest in
inanimate objects or a particular body part, a type of deviation in
which ‘the person’s libido becomes attached to something that
constitutes a symbol of the love-object’. He remarked, ‘in the life
of every fetishist, there can be assumed to have been some event
which determined the association of lustful feeling with the single
impression.’ He believed that fetishism was normal, declaring,
‘everybody is more or less a fetishist in love’. Identifying between
the petit and the grand fetishism, he saw the latter as a type of ‘geni -
tal madness’. Both Krafft-Ebing and Binet examined many fetishists
and believed that a fetish could be traced back to one’s youth.
Usually, the connection with the love object happened at the time
of first sexual stimulus, or first masturbation. Krafft-Ebing claimed
that in fetishism ‘the pronounced preference for a certain portion
of the body of persons of the opposite sex, particularly for a certain
form of this part, can attain great psychosexual importance.’⁸ He
also identified two sorts of fetishists: body fetishists, who are
obsessed with particular body parts such as hands, feet or hair; and
object fetishists, who might have an obsession with anything from
shoes, boots, stockings and underwear to materials such as fur,
leather or velvet. He stated that we should not regard the fetishist
as a monster of excess, but a monster of weakness. More often than
not, people were worried about having their fetishes revealed,
which made them feel guilty. The problem often led to depression
and suicidal feelings.
Initially, medico-legal experts opined that fetishism was a hered -
itary predisposition, and that acts were involuntary, impulsive and
overpowering. A fetishist had no option but to follow his inclin -
ations.⁹ Many sexologists, including Krafft-Ebing, believed fetishism
to result from a psychopathic constitution which could arise in
combination with other paraphilias, such as sadism, masochism
or inversion. As with other acts perceived as perverted by sexolo -
gists, frequently patients’ case notes refer to epileptic sisters, nervous
mothers, insane uncles and domineering fathers. Echoing many of
his fellow psychologists, Krafft-Ebing surmised that ‘pathological
fetishism seems to arise only on the basis of a psychopathic condition
that is for the most part hereditary, or on the basis of existent mental
disease’, although, significantly, he did believe that there was a single
impression which had determined the association of lustful feelings
with the object of desire’.¹⁰
While Krafft-Ebing had outlined two kinds of fetishism, Havelock
Ellis went further and described three different classifications of
what he called ‘erotic symbolism’:
1 Parts of the body (normal) – hands, feet, breasts, nates
[buttocks], secretions
Parts of the body (abnormal), lameness, squinting,
smallpox scars, paedophilia, presbyophilia [love of the
old], necrophilia
2 Inanimate objects – gloves, shoes, stockings, handker-
chiefs, underwear
3 Acts (active) – whipping, cruelty, exhibitionism
Acts (passive) – being whipped, masochism, voyeurism
For body fetishists, sexual intercourse was not necessarily the
main aim. They could ejaculate by merely placing the object next
to their body or their genitals and masturbating. On the other
hand, some male fetishists were despairing that they could not
have ‘normal’ intercourse with their wife because their fetish had
such a hold over them. Some men took the object of their fetishism
to bed with them in the hope that it would stimulate them if they
felt it while having intercourse with their wives. In the case of the
object fetishist, the item did not need to be connected to a particular
person. Further explanations were to come in psychiatry, when
Freud developed an interest in explaining fetishism. He followed the
line that fixations developed in childhood rather than believing
that they developed as a result of inherited family traits, or ‘taints’.
Although the labelling of fetishism occurred only at the end of
the nineteenth century, all kinds of fetishisms have been described
over the years, involving everything from handkerchiefs, corsets
and knickers to shoes, ribbons and buttons. In the medieval period,
people would not have had a name for desires for a particular body
part or object, although they may have experienced them. The Church’s
guide to illicit sexual acts as used in penitentiaries made no mention
of any sort of sexual behaviour which could be identified as fetishism.
Since the Church authorities expressed prohibitions on most other
sexual acts (dorsal sex, fellatio, masturbation, anal sex and so on),
this lack of interest might indicate the Church’s ignorance of such
possibilities. However, the Church often feigned ignorance of some
sexual behaviour of which it disapproved so long as it brought on
‘normal’ vaginal penetrative sexual intercourse between a married
man and woman. This may have been the case with fetishism; if a
man or woman had a fetish, the Church would be unconcerned so
long as the protocol of ejaculation into a vagina was followed and
conception ensued.
One constant fetishism, stretching from medieval times to its
labelling, was an obsession with hair. Fetishism around a woman’s
hair can be seen in the legends of King Arthur. Chrétien de Troyes’
Lancelot, or the Knight of the Cart, written in the 1170s, was one of
the first books to describe the story of Lancelot’s adulterous love for
Guinevere, but it also describes his love of her hair. After finding a
comb and discovering that the hair on it is Guinevere’s, Lancelot
nearly faints. He extracts the hairs from her comb, careful not to
break any of them:
Never will the eye of man see anything receive such an
honour as when he begins to adore these tresses. A hundred
thousand times he raises them to his eyes and mouth, to
his forehead and face: he manifests his joy in every way,
considering himself rich and happy now. He lays them in
his bosom near his heart, between his shirt and the flesh.
He would not exchange them for a cartload of emeralds
and carbuncles.¹¹
Can this fascination with a part of the body of his loved one be
called fetishism, or is it merely adoration? Was Guinevere’s hair a
fetish object? In the end, Lancelot was not fascinated with anybody
else’s hair, only Guinevere’s and the hair only became a love object
when he discovered it was Guineveres. From his position as a
knight, he could only love her from a distance, so her hair became
a sexual substitute for the whole of her body (although, of course,
the lovers would break this code of honour). Since the relationship
of Lancelot to Guinevere is the one of a subject to his queen, a
position of subservience should be taken up by him; a knight must
revere his lady. Courtly codes dictated behavioural rules; men were
subject to obeying the seemingly capricious whims of ladies in
order to win their love, and knights were continually given dangerous
quests in order to prove their dedication. Adoration of Guinevere’s
hair could be safely undertaken from a noble knight’s position
without the idea of ‘fetishism’.
Yet similar obsessions with hair were detected in the late 1890s,
when sexologists established a long list of similar sexual focuses
on particular body parts. One of the first people to be recorded as
having a problem with hair fetishism was a patient of Krafft-Ebing’s.
As a ten-year-old boy, he began to have erotic feelings at the sight
of a woman’s hair, particularly the hair of young girls. He was soon
taught to masturbate by his schoolfriends. His sister’s twelve-year-
old girlfriend would kiss and hug him and her hair pleased him
enormously. The connection between hair and erotic feeling became
established in his mind and grew more powerful with his advancing
years. Thick, black, luxuriant hair made him particularly excited,
especially if he could kiss and suck it. While out on the streets, he
began to kiss women’s heads, then hurry home to masturbate.
Once he was compelled to cut off a lock of a girl’s hair. His obsession
even tually led him into alcoholism, resulting in an epileptic attack,
and he was hospitalized. This patient was something of an anomaly
for his doctor. Previously, Krafft-Ebing had believed that most of his
‘perverted’ patients had to have some sort of hereditary disability,
but this man was from a healthy family.
More easily explained was another of Krafft-Ebing’s cases, a
man who took sexual gratification from despoiling women’s hair. He
fitted perfectly with Krafft-Ebing’s psychological profile for fetish -
ists, as both his parents suffered from mental disabilitieshis father
was temporarily insane and his mother was of a nervous disposition.
After suffering a febrile disease, the patients nervous system had been
badly affected. Soon after his illness in August 1889, he was arrested
in the Trocadéro in Paris with a pair of scissors in his pocket, forcibly
cutting off a lock of a young girl’s hair. On searching his home,
police found 65 switches’, or tresses of hair, neatly sorted into
packets. He admitted that when he held the tresses he had cut from
the women’s heads, he became sexually excited. Another hair fetish -
ist admitted that it did not matter what a woman looked like so
long as she had ravishing tresses, preferably ‘a woman with over a
yard of jet black hair’. He fantasized about women pulling each
other’s hair and liked to pull his wife’s hair during intercourse. For
the medics, the fact that he performed cunnilingus was proof of
his masochism. Bizarrely, his fantasies of lesbians performing cunni -
lingus were given as evidence of his latent homosexuality.¹²
A more historically specific fetishism had been in vogue with the
wearing of nosegays and carrying of handkerchiefs. In the eighteenth
century a glove or aower was enough for a person to be overcome
with sexual desire. Monstrous bouquets of flowers worn on the lapel
could make both men and women swoon. One prostitute known
for running a agellation brothel told of a scene with another woman:
‘Then she began kissing me again, and smelling at my nosegay, or
rather my sweet broom, the scent of which seemed to augment
her lust: she passed her hands all over my body, and in fact acted
with me as men do with women to excite their desire before they
enjoy them.’¹³ Nosegays were explicitly connected to sex, the larger
the better. Huge bouquets worn on the lapels, known as ‘nosegays
of lechery’, became a sign of the female flagellant.
By Victorian times, ladies’ handkerchiefs were of particular
erotic value, presumably because of their connection with gentility.
Psychiatrist Albert Moll provided an example of the power the
wave of a hanky could produce. One woman told him, ‘I know of a
certain gentleman, and when I see him at a distance I only need to
draw out my handkerchief so that it peeps out of my pocket, and I
am certain that he will follow me as a dog follows its master.’¹⁴ One
32-year-old baker’s assistant was more persistent. He admitted to
stealing between 80 and 90 ladies’ handkerchiefs, but cared only
for handker chiefs belonging to attractive women. When arrested in
August 1890, on searching his house, police found over 400 ladies’
handkerchiefs and he confessed that he had already burned two
bundles of them.¹⁵
Foot fetishism is probably one of the most common fetishes
to persist through the ages. Closely connected to obsession with
shoes, it is found more or less exclusively among men (although
the obsession of many women with shopping for shoes has been
the butt of jokes Imelda Marcos was particularly noted for her
gigantic shoe collection). As with so many other predilections, this
one can be found in antiquity. In ancient Greece, Antiphanes finds
pleasure in a woman rubbing his feet. Lucius, the son of the Roman
emperor Vitellius, carried round one of Messalina’s sandals. Sue -
ton ius tells us that Lucius begged Messalina to grant him the
tremendous privi lege of removing her shoes; whereupon he would
nurse the right shoe inside his gown, and occasionally take it out
to kiss it’.¹⁶ In medi eval literature, the courtly poem Le Roman de
la rose, immen sely popular in thirteenth-century France, rhapsodizes
about the loveli ness of some womens feet the ideal foot was
narrow, high-arched and long-toed. The character of the jealous
husband rec og nizes the delight a woman’s feet can evince when
he berates his wife for showing off her feet to other men, ‘Besides,
you wear your shoes so tight that you often raise your dress to
show your feet to those knaves.’¹⁷
By the eighteenth century, shoe fetishism had taken hold and
many men and women admired other’s perfect feet. Restif de la
Bretonne (1734–1806) admitted to an admiration of girls’ shoes,
and in his first literary success, Le Pied de Fanchette, the narrator is
attracted to a girl he sees in the street sporting charming shoes.
Bretonne traced his fetishism (although he did not call it such)
back to when he was four and found himself admiring the feet of a
young girl where he lived. He preferred his girls neat and clean and
A scene of leather-and--clad  play.
was especially entranced by a young girl from another town ‘whose
shoes were of a fashionable cut, with buckles, and who was a charming
person besides’. The love of his life, Collette Parangon, provided
him with the perfect opportunity for admiration of her feet. She
‘possessed a charm which I could never resist, a pretty little foot;
it is a charm which arouses more than tenderness’. He went into
raptures about her shoes, with descriptions of ‘green heels and a
pretty rosette. On one occasion it became too much to bear, and when
she left the room he masturbated into her shoe. He confessed, ‘my
lip pressed one of these jewels, while the other, deceiving the sacred
end of nature, from excess of exultation replaced the sex object.’¹⁸
By the end of the nineteenth century, foot fetishism had been
categorized by sexologists and was seen as a worthy topic of medical
exploration in its own right. One 29-year-old man described exactly
how his obsession had developed. Like so many others, his family
had a medical history his mother was a neuropath, his father was
a diabetic and he himself was a nervous man. He remembered
distinctly that at the age of six he had had his first sexual stirrings
when watching women’s feet. By the age of sixteen, he was creeping
into his sister’s bedroom to kiss her feet. At eighteen, he had full
sexual intercourse with a woman. At 25 everything suddenly changed
and he became homosexual. ‘The naked foot was his charm. He
often felt impelled to follow men in the street, hoping to find an
occasion to take off their shoes. His doctor saw his constant
masturbation as problematic, suggesting that ‘excessive masturbation
brought about neurosis and invert sexuality’.¹⁹ As a cure, the patient
was subjected to hydrotherapy (cold-water treatment) at a specialist
institute and, as a result, regained some of his inclination towards
women. He was advised to use his fetish as a ‘bridge’, which meant
that he was allowed to indulge his fetishism for feet while having
‘normal’ intercourse with a woman, but only if he abstained from
masturbation and ‘perverse connection with men’. Unsurprisingly,
his treatment had no long-term effect and he relapsed into being
irresistibly attracted to farm labourers and tramps ‘whom he paid
for the favour of kissing their feet’.
More sadistic methods of enjoyment were found by employing
feet as a weapon. One man told Ellis how he liked to be stepped on
by a woman’s foot. The desire was not for intercourse but to lie on
the floor and be trampled on. The patient admitted,
The treading should be inflicted for a few minutes all over
the chest, abdomen, groin, and lastly on the penis; which is,
of course, lying along the belly in a violent state of erection,
and consequently too hard for the treading to do damage to
it. I also enjoy being nearly strangled by a woman’s foot.²⁰
Another patient confessed to having been trampled underfoot by
at least 100 women of good social standing who would never have
dreamt of having intercourse with him.
By the mid-twentieth century, a new group of researchers were
questioning these fetishisms and trying to uncover what caused
them. In a study in 1965, sex researchers suggested that the origins
of fetishisms were to be found in restrictive childhood sex play by
female peers, the fetishism developed by way of compensation.
People have different degrees of fetishism, from a slight preference
to a strong extreme obsession which overtakes their lives, where sex -
ual functioning is no longer possible without the fetishistic quality.
The fetishist traditionally was found to be a loner, usually male,
some one who feels inadequate and who is lacking in social skills with
the opposite sex.²¹ Meanwhile, in the 1980s, societies and clubs were
set up in adoration of the foot, such as The Foot Fraternity, an organi -
zation for homosexual and bisexual foot fetishists. This organization
was the subject of a survey in 1995 in which 262 of its members (all
men) were interviewed. This study is invaluable in that it summed
up many previous studies ranging from the 1950s through the 1980s
tracing the profile of fetishists. It is also important in that it negates
some of the earlier studies. Fetishism was no longer seen to be a result
of hereditary mental disease, but to have emerged through learned
behaviour and experience.²² Other analysts found that in cases of
sexual deviancy, men tended to come from repressive families. A
compulsion overtook them, forcing them to undertake the deviant
behaviour, followed by a feeling of shame, guilt and anxiety, a fact
already revealed in the many cases by earlier sexologists. Yet over
80 per cent of the interviewees believed that foot fetishism did not
relate to negative experiences in childhood; 45 per cent thought
that the fetishism was linked to pleasurable experiences during
childhood. Many men had theirrst feelings of sexual pleasure with
a member of the family’s feet (fathers, uncles, brothers), the experi -
ence connected to innocent activities such as tickling or washing feet,
or through experiences with the feet of others in their peer group.
Masturbatory fantasies reinforced their fetish.
Other items of clothing besides shoes could also be the focus of
fetishistic tendencies. Male transvestites have been obsessed with
beautiful dresses since at least the seventeenth and eighteenth centu -
ries.²³ However, the item of obsession has changed according to
fashion. What was de rigueur in the nineteenth century say corsets,
handkerchiefs and gloveshas changed for the modern-day trans -
vestite to stockings, suspenders and knickers from Victoria’s Secret
or similar lingerie stores. Cases of specific underwear preferences
for example, the wearing of lace knickers, bras and suspenders were
more common in the twentieth century than in earlier periods. In his
study Transvestites (1910), Magnus Hirschfeld found that transvestites
were often obsessed with items of women’s clothing, such as corsets,
gloves or jewellery. Some collected buckles and belts, or veils. All
had an obsession with women’s clothes in general rather than one
item in particular. Hirschfeld himself saw the obsession of trans -
vestites as dressing as a woman fromhead to toe. It was not the item
itself in its abstract form that was the object of attraction, but the
whole ensemble, which was ‘loved as part of themselves’.²⁴
Often various sorts of fetishism were mixed and were not always
confined to one particular item, as seen in Jerome Henry Brudos, who
became both a shoe and an underwear fetishist. His fetishes were
so intense that they resulted in murderous behaviour and he became
known as ‘The Shoe Fetish Slayer’. His problems started from the
day he was born, 31 January 1939, as his mother had wanted a girl.
To indulge her fantasy, she dressed him up in little girl’s clothing,
belittled him, abused him and generally treated him with disdain.
Initially the family moved around but eventually settled in Salem,
Oregon. It was here, when he was only five years old, that Brudos
began to fetishize shoes after finding high heels in a junkyard. He
began to steal underwear from his neighbours and spent his adoles -
cence undergoing psychotherapy in various psychiatric hospitals.
He then moved on to attacking women, choking them and stealing
their shoes and underwear. After threatening to stab a woman if
she did not comply with his orders to perform certain sexual acts, he
ended up in Oregon State Hospital. Doctors concluded that his sexual
fantasies stemmed from his hatred of his mother and he was diag -
nosed as schizophrenic. Despite his mental instability, he was released
and went on to graduate from high school. When he was about 21,
he married a seventeen-year-old girl who bore him two children. His
eccentricities began to show when he started to make her do house -
work naked except for high heels while he took photographs of her.
He began stalking women, and soon graduated to murder, hiding
the bodies in his garage he bludgeoned four women between 1968
and 1969 while dressed in women’s clothing. In order to try out the
shoes he collected, he kept the left foot of one of his victims.²⁵ Even
after he was in prison, he continued to collect shoes, writing to
shoe companies to ask for pairs. He died from liver cancer in prison
on 28 March 2006. This sort of murderous extreme is, however,
relatively rare and fetishism is usually an innocuous activity.
The fetish object has often been associated with a particular
time and place. Hence gas masks became a fetish object for those who
had experienced unusual or unexpected sexual experiences during
or just after the Second World War. In the case of fetishism of fur,
leather, rubber, plastic, rubber, , latex and so on, fetishists revel
in wearing the specific material. Clothing made out of these mate -
rials has become particularly popular in  sex play. Such play might
com bine multiple fetishisms, such as the wearing of masks made
of leather, shoes of suede and silk underwear.
‘Chubby-chasing’ became a hobby for those obsessed with fat.
Whether this has to do with the after-effects of post-Second World
War rationing or with the current preoccupation with diet has yet to
be ascertained. In certain poorer countries, fatness is connected to
wealth but in the West it is thinness that is usually admired. Some
feti shism for particular body parts is more problematic and can be
dangerous. Neck obsessions, for example, have led to choking or
strang ling. Known as hypoxyphilia, strangulation for sexual pleasure
has been classed as a paraphilia in a sub-category of sexual maso -
chism in psychiatrists’ diagnostic manuals. Consenting controlled
strangu la tion was introduced into role-play as it induces a semi-
hallucino genic state called hypoxia. Combined with orgasm, it provides
a rush akin to a cocaine high, so pleasurable that it is highly addictive.
Also known as asphyxiophilia, or sexual asphyxia, this potentially
lethal sexual practice refers to sexual arousal that is produced while
reducing the oxygen supply to the brain. These activities have fre -
quently been known to lead to fatalities and can be traced back at
least as far as the eighteenth century.
Leather bondage hood.
Studded leather codpiece.
Jonathan Swift wrote of ‘Swinging by session upon a Cord, in
order to raise artificial Extasies’, but this seems to have been referring
to non-asphyxial swinging. Sade also wrote about hanging in Justine
where Roland hangs the heroine, wanting her to enjoy the pleasures
he has experienced through strangulation. He declares, ‘it’s the rope
that’s waiting for me: ’tis the same delight I am pleased to have
women savour: that’s the one will serve my undoing; I am firmly
persuaded as I possibly can that this death is infinitely sweeter than
cruel.He is still at the stage of experimentation, but appears to
have discovered the method of erotic auto-asphyxiation, ‘I want to
find out whether it is not very certain this asphyxiation impels, in
the individual who undergoes it, the erectory nerve to produce an
ejaculation.’ He insists on hanging himself, assisted by Thérèse, who
describes as she watches as ‘rapid jets of semen spring nigh . . .
without any assistance whatsoever from me’.²⁶
Few cases of real-life auto-asphyxiation have been passed down
to us in history. It is possible that public hanging put people off the
idea of trying it out for themselves in great numbers (the last public
hanging in England was in 1868). Seeing the victims evacuating their
bodily fluids and writhing and jerking could not have been a pleasant
sight. However, there are two interesting cases of self-strangulation
in the eighteenth century. One involved the Czech musician and
composer Frantisek Kotzwara, who famously died after asking a
prosti tute to hang him. Unfortunately, she left him too long and he
died. The other case related to a ‘Reverend Manacle’, who admini -
stered to those awaiting death sentences. He showed one female
prisoner how exciting hanging could be, but later died after trying it
one too many times.²⁷ There may well have been more cases of auto-
asphyxiation that were were mistakenly judged to be accidental
strangling of a non-sexual sort. It seems that the practice only took
off in any significant numbers in the twentieth century.²⁸
Sometimes auto-asphyxiation was a shared activity, but even
then it was dangerous. When 62-year-old actor Albert Dekker was
found dead in his Hollywood home on 5 May 1968, he was naked,
kneel ing in the bath, with his head in a noose hooked up to the
shower rod. Although the coroner ruled a verdict of autoerotic asphyx -
iation, it is unlikely that Dekker had undertaken the task alone. There
were no signs of forced entry, but money and camera equipment had
been stolen, indicating that he had brought someone to his apartment.
Also, he was blindfold, gagged and handcuffed and had sexually
explicit words scrawled on his body in red lipstick, hardly an act of
a solitary man.
Sexual advice manuals such as Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex
(1972) warned against the activity, while magazines like Hustler
published letters from individuals who had tried it out. One woman
wrote in to the ‘Advice and Consent’ column telling how her lover
had taught her to apply pressure to his neck with her knees until he
lost consciousness. The editorial warned against ‘The Orgasm of
Death’ in a two-page article on the subject, saying it ‘kills 200–300
people a year in the ..’²⁹
Strangulation to orgasm was often undertaken by men alone in
their apartments or hotels and sometimes involved cross-dressing.
One such case of auto-asphyxiation took place on 7 February 1994
when Stephen Milligan, the Member of Parliament for Eastleigh,
Hampshire, was found dead in his flat in Black Lion Lane, Chiswick.
He had self-bondaged with an electrical flex bound round one
ankle. It ran up his body and was wound around his neck with the
other end close by one hand. He was naked but for a pair of stockings
and suspenders and a cover over his head. A piece of orange was
found in his mouth. Such deaths occur usually as a result of a
failure of the get-out strategy when people misjudge their dizziness
or state of semi-consciousness and fail to act quickly enough to
release themselves. Generally, at the scene of death, sexual
paraphernalia or pornography has been found bondage-gear hoods,
masks, blind folds, gags, enema tubes, electric wires or mirrors in
which to watch what is happening.
Love of Inanimate Objects
A desire for a relationship with an inanimate representation of a
human figure is described in the story of Pygmalion, in which a sculp -
tor falls in love with the statue he has carved and names her Galatea.
He prays to Venus, the goddess of love, requesting that she bring
his statue to life, and Venus grants his wish. According to one
anecdote, Klisyphos of Samos was known to have sexually assaulted
the statue of a goddess. The ‘Statue Syndrome’, otherwise known as
agalmatophilia, was recognized when sexologist Krafft-Ebing
recorded a case in 1877 of a gardener falling in love with a statue of
the Venus de Milo and being discovered while attempting coitus with
it. But at least one sex researcher denied that it ever existed, except
in pornographic fantasy.³⁰
The passion for statues was replaced with more pliant models.
Full-bosomed life-size latex or rubber dolls were produced to provide
passive sex for lonely men. The dolls had open spaces for penetra -
tion to take place in either the ‘mouth’ or ‘vagina’ orifices. Perhaps
one of the most ingenious rubber dolls is described in the porn -
ography La Femme endormie (1899), which purports to be the story
of Paul Molaus, a wealthy man of about 40 from Bois-Colombes.
Inspired by the story of Pygmalion, and having become disillusioned
with his mistresses (and with women generally, one assumes), he asks
a designer to make the perfect lover. The creator himself describes
her perfection:
I paid particular attention to her interior, which is tted with three
basins, several boxes and cylinders, and a number of little
ducts, so as to permit the circulation of all sorts of products that
it would please the experimenter to introduce into the silent
goddess’s body. By pulling certain curls of her hair, her eyes
and lips can be made to move. One can place her in every imag -
inable position: standing up, seated, kneeling, lying prone,
lying on her back. By pushing the navel, one provokes indu -
lations in every part of her body. Her sexual organs are as perfect
as those of any live woman. To warm up her body, all one had
to do is to pour boiling milk or hot water in sufficient quantities
into the different receptacles located under her head, behind
her breasts, in her buttocks, stomach, leg, etc¹
Similar lifelike dolls were recorded by Iwan Block, who knew of
a manufacturer of rubber dolls, both male and female. He claimed,
More especially are the genital organs represented in a manner
true to nature. Even the secretion of Bartholin’s glans is imi -
tated, by means of a ‘pneumatic tube’ filled with oil. Similarly,
by means of fluid and suitable apparatus, the ejaculation of
the semen is imitated. Such artificial human beings are actually
offered for sale in the catalogue of certain manufacturers of
Parisian rubber articles.³²
A more life-like, silicone sex doll.
A basic model of blow-up doll.
Since then all sorts of variations of sex dolls have been produced,
from cheap plastic inflatable ones (which barely resemble dolls, let
alone humans) to life-size ones made out of silicone, which appear
amazingly human. They can be brought online from specialized
companies. These ‘real life’ dolls have human hair and are covered
in a material that feels like human skin to the touch.
The relationship between people and rubber dolls was made all
the more poignant in the film Lars and the Real Girl (2007). The lead
male character, the lonely, girlfriendless Lars, invests in a lifelike doll,
takes her everywhere and treats her as a real girlfriend. For the sake
of Lars, everyone in the community treats her as his real girlfriend,
tolerating his taking her for nights out drinking, going bowling with
her and voting her on to various committees. He eventually discards
her when he finds a real girlfriend.
More recently a new kind of sexuality has made the news with
people who call themselves ‘objectum sexuals’ (), or ‘people who
have loving relationships with objects’. The British television docu -
mentary Married to the Eiffel Tower, directed by Agnieszka Piotrowska
(2008), claimed that there are only about 40 such people in the world,
but this may be because they keep quiet about their inclinations as
a result or from fear of persecution. Three women who classified
themselves as  were interviewed about their sexual orientation in
this documentary, each of them telling how they had fallen in love
with objects. Erika LaBrie became a world-champion archer after
she fell in love with her archery bow, which she called Lance. She
says she was ‘attracted to him because of his looks’. Her close rela -
tionship with her bow allowed her to become a champion archer but
her expertise in archery began to fail when her attraction for her bow
diminished. She then fell in love with the Eiffel Tower and went
through a marriage ceremony with it in 2007, which was performed
on the tower itself in front of a group of her friends. She took the
married name of Erika La Tour Eiffel. Before this she had a three-
year relationship with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. She
then fell in love with the Berlin Wall. When challenged about her
behaviour on The Tyra Banks Show, she asserted:I am not broken.’³³
Objectum sexuals say they have been derided and treated as
if they were mad. In the documentary, all of the women were por -
trayed as profoundly distressed and shown to have suffered some
sort of rejection or familial dysfunction in their childhood. Erika was
discharged from the army for post-traumatic stress disorder. In the
programme, she admitted that she identified with the Berlin Wall
and had been built up only to be torn down. She received no love
from her parents and was rejected all her life. To encourage herself,
she says,Stand up and be yourself. I am the Berlin Wall.’ Identifying
with the thing she loves, she tells the Wall, ‘I wish I were an object
like you.’ Aurita from Sweden was at first competition for Erika, as
she was also in love with the Berlin Wall (it had replaced her affec -
tions for a guillotine). However, although they were initially jealous
of each other, Aurita and Erika made friends and, since they are
both polyamorous (having multiple lovers), they have agreed to share
the Berlin Wall as a lover. Another polyamorous objectum sexual,
Amy, fell in love with the Empire State Building and the World Trade
Center, and grieved her loss of the latter as one would a lover. She
also admitted to coming from a dysfunctional family. Her sexual
encounter with a church organ upset one pastor, who banned her from
the congregation, but the succeeding cleric was more understanding
of her love of the church banisters, even allowing her to cut part of
one out and take it home.
Professionals have classied thecondition as a paraphilia, but the
people themselves prefer to see it as an orientation. Erika has since
gone on to found  Internationale, an organization aimed at edu -
cat ing people about objectum sexuality and offering support. She
dismissed the documentary as misleading, saying that she was
manipulated into confessing a childhood trauma. She says that her
 was evident before this trauma, which she believes has nothing
to do with her sexual orientation. She continues to strive for an
acceptance of objectum sexuality.³⁴
Infibulations and Insertions
Historically speaking, dildos were perhaps the inanimate objects
most commonly inserted into body parts. Such insertions were
considered sodomy and seen as a perversion of ‘natural’ sex. Given
the responses of judges in lesbian trial reports, such objects were
regarded as the height of obscenity in the eighteenth century. As seen
in the case of Katherina Hertzeldorfer, womenacting the male role’
showed ingenuity in designing their own dildos They used wooden
poles wrapped in material, or stitched leather stuffed with old rags.
One tribade’s self-fashioned dildo was described at some length in
The True History and Adventures of Catherine Vizzani (1755). After
Vizzani’s death, the book tells us, ‘The leathern Machine, which
was hid under the Pillow, fell into the Hands of the Surgeon’s Mates
in the Hospital, who were immediately for ripping it up, concluding
that it contained Money, or something else of Value, but they found
it stuffed only with old Rags.’³⁶ Glass dildos show up in pornographic
depictions, usually consisting of glass injectors, filled with milky,
warm liquid, with a bulb attached to allow for the simulation of
ejaculation. Adverts for machines thought to be disguised vibrators
were sometimes placed in respectable women’s magazines of the
1950s, with pictures of gadgets that looked like Bakelite hairdryers.
A more advanced vaginal manipulator called the ‘Sybian Saddle’ was
invented in the 1980s: it is a machine that simulates sex for women.
A motorized rod protrudes from a hole while the woman sits on the
saddle accepting it. At the cost of £1,265, despite free next-day delivery,
it is one of the more expensive options. One of the most popular
dildos is a vibrator dubbed theRabbit’, which was introduced in the
1990s and pulses in various ways to give stimulation to the clitoris
at the same time as providing stimulation inside the vagina. Nowadays,
Dildos and a penis assister, 19th century.
gone are the perceptions of vibrator use as a perversity, and many
a modern woman keeps one in her bedside cabinet.
Other objects have been used as attachments to the genitals
and erogenous zones for both convenience and pleasure. In the
West, infibulations took a different form. For example, in ancient
Greece, athletes used penis infibulations with string through the
foreskin mainly in order to tie the penis out of the way when they
exercised naked. These were known as kynodesmes, or dog ties.³⁷
Romans used infibulation as a method of preventing an erection,
closing the foreskin off with their equivalent of a large safety pin or
ring, or thread. Singers, athletes and entertainers were often infibulated
to prevent an untoward erection disturbing their artistic performances.
Generally, though, the Greeks and Romans did not go in for body
modification through piercing, tattoos or resculpting. Instead they
went for a more protracted form of body alteration that they inflicted
on small children, confining them in jars or small cages, stunting their
growth and turning them into midgets. Midgets and dwarfs were
considered comical but were also thought to be good at oral sex.
Indeed, Pliny believed a man could easily develop an obsession
with dwarfs.³⁸
The poet Anacreon is depicted with his genitals infibulated. Marble statue,
Monte Calvo, Italy, 2nd century .
More recently, infibulation has been seen as a perverse practice
undertaken in as a form of torture, such as stabbing with needles,
hammering in nails or stapling folds of the body. This desire for
the insertion of objects into genitalia has spawned a whole new indus -
try in piercing, tattooing and even surgery. Professional piercings
took off with the ‘Prince Albert’, one of the most well-known infib -
ulations for male sexual enhancement, which involves a ring-style
piercing that extends along the underside of the glans from the
urethral opening to where the glans meets the shaft of the penis.
Clitoral rings and nipple piercing have also become popular. As a
result of their concerns over penis size, some men resort to surgical
enhancements, paying thousands of pounds for penis extensions.
Cutting the ligaments that hold the penis in place so that the penis
hangs lower can extend length; weights are then attached to it for
a few months to stretch the organ to ensure the enlargement is
A ‘Prince Albert’
permanent. Men can also extend the girth of their penis with fat
taken from other parts of the body transplanted into its sides
however, since the penis head cannot be fattened this way, the
results sometimes look a little odd. Silicone injections can also be
used to enhance the size of the penis and can cause amazingly fast
results, increasing the penis girth by up to five times. For this reason,
the procedure has been used in the pornographic film industry,
despite the dangers of damage and desensitization. Surgeons have
on occasion suggested penile implants, which involve inserting a rod
or a pipe in cases where a man may have had difficulty in obtaining
erection. A pump is attached to the groin and the penis is pumped
up when he wants an erection. For women there are all sorts of
methods available to enhance their sexual organs breast-enlarging
serums such as ‘Lady’s Secret’, vaginal tightening and oestrogen
creams have become money-spinners worldwide.
Surgery for breast augmentation or reduction is now common -
place, with hundreds of thousands of women worldwide undergoing
cosmetic breast procedures. Operations for making the labia look
smaller andtidier’ are now increasingly fashionable. But have obses -
sions developed beyond the interest of the psychoanalyst or sexual
psychologist? Is it a case of mass body dysmorphia, or are we all
merely taking advantage of new opportunities offered to us? People
who have experienced Body Integrity Identity Disorder (), a
severe type of body dysmorphia in which people desire an ampu -
tation, have requested the removal of limbs and in some cases
doctors have complied with their wishes. But is this ethically accept -
able? New fixations and methods of sex develop with new types of
surgery. Apotemnophilia, a paraphilia in which the subject is aroused
by their being or imagining themselves as an amputee, is related to
: amputation has now become part of the erotic ensemble, with
stumps of arms and legs being used for penetration (acrotomophilia
refers to an erotic interest in amputees).
John Money and his colleagues examined apotemnophilia in
the Journal of Sex Research in 1977, summarizing as follows:
The ndings in two cases show that self-demand amputation
(apotemnophilia) is related to erotization of the stump and
to overachievement despite a handicap. The apotemnophiliac
obsession represents an idée fixe rather than a paranoid
delusion. It may be conceptually related to, though it is
not identical with transsexualism, bisexuality, Münchausen
syn drome, and masochism. As with most paraphilias it un -
doubt edly occurs more frequently, if not exclusively, in men.
The two patients related apotemnophilia to recalled experi -
ences of childhood which were necessary but not sufficient for
a causal explanation. The precise etiology of the condition is
not known, and there is no agreed upon method of treatment.³
One researcher, F. Tomasini, described the condition  in an
ethics journal in 2006:
Self-demand amputees are persons who need to have one
or more healthy limbs or digits amputated to fit the way
they see themselves. They want to rid themselves of a limb
that they believe does not belong to their body-identity.
The obsessive desire to have appendages surgically removed
to fit an alternative body-image is medically and ethically
He provides a number of normative and professional ethical per -
spectives on whether or not it is possible to justify surgery for
self-demand amputees. He concludes that no explanation can fully
incorporate an understanding of what it is like to be a self-demand
amputee.⁴⁰ Other researchers, such as Tim Bayne and Neil Levy,
have added to the debate, arguing that request for self-demand
amputations of healthy limbs should be agreed to if patients ‘are
experiencing signicant distress as a consequence of the rare
psychological disorder named Body Integrity Identity Disorder’.⁴¹
The actual use of amputated limbs in sex for penetration (whether
self-elected amputees or not) has possibly derived from sting,
but little research has been undertaken on this development.
One of the earliest mentions of fisting comes in Aristophanes
Peace, where he uses sporting metaphors for rough sex. In this
surreal comedy of 421 , the hungry vine grower Trygaeus shares
his fantasies of sex with Lady Festival, whom he has just met:
Now that you have her, You can straightaway conduct a
very nice athletic competition tomorrow:
wrestle her to the ground, set her on all fours
throw her on her side, bent forward, onto her knees;
then well oiled up for the pancration,
strike out with vigour, fist burrowing in with the cock.
This might well be hitting or spanking her at the same time as
entering her but more likely, since she has been ‘well oiled’, it refers
to intercourse while simultaneously fisting her anus or vagina.⁴²
Another source in history where we cannd anal fisting no surprise
here is the writings of Sade. In La Philosophie dans le boudoir
(1795) he describes a scene in which the character Dolmance urges
Madame Saint-Ange to insert her fingers into his anus, ‘drive them
in further. To the wrist.’⁴³ There was therefore at least an under -
standing of the act in the eighteenth century, even if was rarely
mentioned. However, if Sade imagined fisting, there is every likeli -
hood that he experimented with it.
Although the term ‘fisting’ (or ‘handballing’) is not used, the
concept was mentioned in 1949 in Larry Flint’s Hustler magazine.⁴⁴
This practice involved inserting the whole hand or arm into the
anus or vagina. As a commonly practised anal activity, it grew popu -
lar sometime in the 1960s in gay leather biker groups in California.
In 1975, a member of the Fist Fuckers of America opened up one of
the first gay male fisting sex clubs, The Catacombs, in San Francisco
where a person could enjoy everything leather andsting had to offer:
any night a person might see (by reservation only) ‘40 men variously
hanging in leather slings, tied down on restraint tables with their
legs raised by shackles, or laid back on waterbeds and mattresses
while 40 other men massage Crisco up their fists to start the one
finger march to a full fist gliding up the asshole to the elbow’.⁴⁵ The
gay male subculture of fisting was also evident in 1960s gay men’s
 porn in which naive young men were tortured by rugged
manly brutes with huge penises and ‘even bigger fists which they
sink up to the armpits in our quivering hero’s sweetly puckered
virgin ass.⁴ In male gay bondage bars in the late 1970s, nger
hygiene was at its best: ‘You cut your nails, then you cut your nails
again, and then you filed them.’ Then you did it again before put -
ting on your surgical gloves. The cover of a 1983 issue of Anal Sex,
published in Copenhagen, although aimed at heterosexual men,
showed one woman fisting another. Although the lesbian magazine
Quim featured fisting between women in 1992, the activity was less
well known in lesbian circles.
Discrimination against fisting came out in the form of 
censorship in 2011, when it was made illegal in America to film the
act of sting.⁴ In response, aficionados of fisting porn banded
together on 25 October for an International Fisting Day. Those against
censorship wondered how the censorship board came to the con -
clusion that it was permissible to film a penis (or even two) in a vagina
but not a hand. Some lesbians and gays saw this as yet another form
An early case of fisting? 19th-century sketch of two figures from Michelangelo’s
Last Judgement.
of social control over their private behaviour. More recently, doctors
and surgeons have investigated the problems presenting in those who
enjoy fisting: rupture of the anal sphincter, perforation of the colon,
the spread of rectal and colon disease and disturbance of heart
rhythms due to vagovagal response. With precautions, these risks
can be minimized.⁴⁸
It is now reasonably common for people to incorporate fellating,
fetishism, infibulating or fisting (or at least one of these activities)
into their usual role-play. What was previously abnormal’ has
become ‘normal’. After conducting interviews in Finland with 164
men and 22 women from two sex-oriented clubs, one researcher
concluded, ‘For many gay men leather is not only a style-item, but
also and especially a sexual fetish.’⁴⁹ It could similarly be argued
that what was once a fetish is now a fashionable pastime. The only
time any of these activities becomes a problem is when it negatively
affects someone who has not consented to inclusion in the activity.
More often, people go to conferences around their predilection
and celebrate it openly, sharing their particular desires with other
like-minded people. For many people at the beginning of the twenty-
first century, few body parts or activities are seen as out of bounds.