No Bones About It: What Motivates Necrophilic Behaviors?

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Given the popularity of Twilight, True Blood, and all of the other vampire books and films out there, it would appear that a large segment of the population is intrigued by the prospect of sex between the living and the dead. In the real world, however, sex with the dead (i.e., necrophilia) isn’t quite as it is depicted in vampire lore and most people would probably find it quite disturbing. Case in point: a 37-year-old woman in Sweden was recently arrested for “violating the peace of the dead.” This woman had apparently collected a series of human bones that she utilized as sex toys. How do we know this? Well, she made videos of her activities, which the police later found. Yeah, not so much like Twilight. Many of you probably have just one question about this case: Why? Let’s take a look at what research on necrophilia has revealed about this extremely rare sexual practice.

First, I should note that the Swedish case is highly unusual because it involves a woman. Research has found that about 95% of necrophiles are men [1]. This is consistent with research on paraphilias in general, which has found that men far outnumber women in almost all unusual sexual interests, including exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, and so on. Why is that? We can’t say for sure, but many psychologists believe it results from male sexuality being somewhat more rigid and female sexuality being somewhat more “flexible.” For whatever reason, men are just more likely to become fixated on a specific sexual target, whereas women tend to become aroused by a wider range of stimuli (for more on this idea see here).

Second, the Swedish case is also unusual in that the woman was aroused by skeletons. In most cases of necrophilia I have read about, the attraction has generally been to corpses of persons who were recently deceased and had not seriously decomposed yet. Thus, an erotic attraction to bones would be quite unique.

Now, as for the question of why someone might be a necrophile, the single most common reason reported is a desire to have an partner who will not resist or reject you [1]. This suggests that there may be some degree of social anxiety or a history of interpersonal difficulties among some necrophiles. However, this is not the only reported reason. Others have indicated a desire to sexually “reconnect” with a deceased partner, a general attraction to corpses, and (in rare cases) the unavailability of a living partner.

How do necrophiles fulfill their desires? Some of them work in places where they will have easy access to bodies, such as morgues. Disturbingly, however, there are a few necrophiles who actually commit homicide in order to have access to a body[1]. Homicidal necrophiles (yes, that’s an actual scientific term) commit murder for the sole purpose of fulfilling their sexual desires. However, there are also pseudonecrophilic killers who do not kill for sexual purposes and actually prefer live partners—but they will take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself, alive or dead. For the pseudonecrophiles, sex with a corpse may actually be a way of boosting their self-esteem by flexing their power over the homicide victim.

One final note about necrophilia—although most people would intuitively think that someone who has sex with dead bodies or skeletons is “crazy,” you will probably be surprised to learn that most of them (aside from the homicidal necrophilies) are not technically insane. In fact, research has found that most necrophiles have normal IQs, are able to hold steady jobs, and do not meet clinical criteria for psychosis [1]. Indeed, the woman in the Swedish case was ruled legally sane after a psychiatric evaluation. Thus, aside from having extremely unusual sexual interests, necrophiles may lead relatively normal lives in most other regards, which means you wouldn’t necessarily know a necrophile if you met one.

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[1] Rosman, J. P., & Resnick, P. J. (1989). Sexual attraction to corpses: A psychiatric review of necrophilia. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, 17, 153-163.

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