The most famous fictional cannibal (Hannibal Lecter)
Amongst humans, sexual cannibalism is extremely rare, and most humans who engage in cannibalistic acts for sexual purposes are generally considered sociopaths. Of course, cannibalism for non-sexual purposes – known I more scientific circles as anthropophagy – has long been known among certain tribes and cultures. Throughout history, cannibalism has been practiced in many forms across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. Though rare today, it is believed to be still practiced in a few remote parts of Asia.
Cannibalism can be classed as either endocannibalism (i.e., consumption of another human being from within the same group or community) or exocannibalism (i.e., consumption of another human being from outside the group or community). Some acts of endocannibalism are actually acts of necro-cannibalism (i.e., the eating of flesh from dead humans also known as necrophagy) where dead people’s body parts are eaten as either part of the grieving process, as a way of guiding the souls of the dead into the bodies of the living, and/or as a way of imbibing the dead person’s ‘life force’ or more specific individual characteristics. Such endocannibalistic practices were common among certain tribes in New Guinea. However, it is known that many males among various tribes would not consume females for fear of emasculation. Exocannibalistic acts were most often carried out as part of a celebration victory after battles with rival tribes. There are various theories from many perspectives on why cannibalism may occur. These have included:
• Religious theories (e.g., religious beliefs involving the need to eat human flesh as a way of sustaining the universe or as part of magical and ritualistic ceremonies).
• Political theories (e.g., eating human flesh as a political tool to intimidate and control potential hostiles or subordinates).
• Socio-psychological theories (e.g., eating human flesh due to unconscious factors such as a response to trauma).
• Ecological theories (e.g., eating human flesh as a way of controlling the size of the population. The Aztecs were said to have eaten no less than 15,000 victims a year as – some have argued – a form of population control).
• Dietary theories (e.g., eating human flesh as a source of protein).
Armin Miewes (The Rotenburg Cannibal)
There are of course other reasons (including sexual ones) that may be the root of someone’s cannibalistic desire to eat human flesh. One reason could be out of necessity. For instance, in 1972, a rugby team from Uruguay was in a plane crash in the Andes. Fifteen people died and the only way they prevented themselves starving to death was to eat the flesh of the deceased (which given the fact it took 72 days for them to be rescued, was one of the few viable options to prevent starvation). At its simplest level, human sexual cannibalism is usually considered a psychosexual disorder and involves individuals’ sexualizing (in some way) the consumption of another human being’s flesh. When it comes to sexual cannibalism in humans, there are arguably different subtypes (although this is based on my own personal opinion and not on something I’ve read in a book or research paper).
• Vorarephilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals are sexually aroused by (i) the idea of being eaten, (ii) eating another person, and/or (iii) observing this process for sexual gratification. However, most vorarephiles’ behavior is fantasy-based, although there have been real cases such as Armin Meiwes, the so-called ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’.
• Erotophonophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals have extreme violent fantasies and typically kill their victims during sex and/or mutilate their victims’ sexual organs (the latter of which is usually post-mortem). In some cases, the erotophonophiles will eat some of their victim’s body parts (usually post-mortem). Many lust murderers – including Jack the Ripper – are suspected of engaging in cannibalistic and/or gynophagic acts, taking away part of the female to eat later. Other examples of murderers who have eaten their victims (or parts of them) for sexual pleasure include Albert Fish, Issei Sagawa, Andrei Chikatilo, Ed Gein, and Jeffrey Dahmer.
• Sexual necrophagy refers to the cannibalizing of a corpse for sexual pleasure. This may be associated with lust murder but Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices says that such cases usually involve “one whose death the molester did not cause. Many cases of reported necrophilia include cannibalism or other forms of sadism and it is believed that many others fantasize about doing it”.
• Vampirism as a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal from the ingestion of blood from a living person
• Menophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which an individual (almost always male) derives sexual arousal from drinking the blood of menstruating females.
• Gynophagia is (according to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) a sexual fetish that involves fantasies of cooking and consumption of human females (gynophagia literally means “woman eating”). There is also a sub-type of gynophagia called pathenophagia. This (according to Dr. Brenda Love) is the practice of eating young girls or virgins. Several lust murderers were known to consume the flesh of young virgins, most notably Albert Fish).
Added to this list, is something I would call ‘sexual autophagy’ which refers to the eating of one’s own flesh for sexual pleasure (and would be a sub-type of autosarcophagy). I am basing this sub-type on an entry I came across in Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices and relating to a case study reported by Krafft-Ebing:
“Krafft-Ebing recorded the case of a man who at 13 [years of age] became infatuated with a young white-skinned girl. However, instead of desiring intercourse, he was overwhelmed by the urge to bite off a piece of her flesh and eat it. He began stalking women, and for years he carried a pair of scissors with him. He was never successful in accosting a woman, but when he came close he would cut off and eat a piece of his own skin instead. This act produced an immediate orgasm for him”.
Albert Fish: Convicted sexual cannibal
This account seems to be confirmed by some articles on sexual cannibalism claiming that cannibals feel a sense of euphoria and/or intense sexual stimulation when consuming human flesh. All of these accounts cite the same article by Clara Bruce (‘Chew On This: You're What's for Dinner’
) that I have been unable to track down (so I can’t vouch for the veracity of the claims made). Bruce’s article claimed that cannibals had compared eating human flesh with having an orgasm, and that flesh eating caused an out-of-body-experience experience with effects comparable to taking the drug mescaline. In another publication that I’ve failed to track down, the following snippet appears on at least 20 websites with articles on sexual cannibalism:
“Lesley Hensel, author of ‘Cannibalism as a Sexual Disorder’ [says] eating human flesh can cause an increase in levels of vitamin A and amino acids, which can cause a chemical effect on the blood and in the brain. This chemical reaction could possibly lead to the altered states that some cannibals have claimed to have experienced. However, this theory has not been substantiated by scientific evidence”.
I tried to do some further research on gynophagia. There is almost nothing written from an academic or clinical perspective about gynophagia (in fact when I typed in ‘gynophagia’ only one reference turned up – a paper on ‘the psychophysical basis of feelings’ published by Dr. C.L. Herrick in an 1892 issue of the Journal of Comparative Neurology that only mentioned gynophagia in passing). However, there are quite a few dedicated gynophagia websites out there so it certainly appears to be a niche interest in and/or for this type of behavior.