Autassassinophilia is a paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual pleasure and arousal by the thought and/or risk of being killed. The paraphilia may on occasion overlap with other paraphilias such as autoerotic asphyxiation (i.e., sexual suffocation) where there is a risk to their life. In some instances, the autassassinophile may also derive sexual pleasure and arousal from planning their own death. Given these facts, it is clear that autassassinophilia is exceedingly rare and very dangerous. The condition was first written about in a clinical (and academic) context by Professor John Money in his 1986 book Lovemaps. He wrote that:
“Autassassinophilia [is] a paraphilia of the sacrificial/exploratory type in which sexuerotic arousal and facilitation or attainment of orgasm are responsive to, and dependent upon stage-managing the possibility if one’s own masochistic death by murder. The reciprocal paraphilic condition is lust murder or erotophonophilia…Erotophonophilia [is] a paraphilia of the sacrificial/exploratory type in which sexuerotic arousal and facilitation or attainment of orgasm are responsive to, and dependent upon stage-managing and carrying out the murder of an unsuspecting sexual partner. The erotophonophiliac’s orgasm coincides with the expiration of the partner. The reciprocal paraphilic condition is autassassinophilia”
Brenda Love cites one of Money’s own cases in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices:
“The masochistic drama of erotic death and atonement may be enacted not as an autoerotic monologue, but as a dialogue with a co-opted partner in collusion. The partner is not necessarily a paraphilic sadist, but rather a daredevil hustler or mercenary given to trying almost anything for kicks, or for profit. This was not the type of hustler whom a young man with a paraphilia of homosexual masochism would pick up, one or more at a time, on the waterfront. With his beguiling brand of macho, he would cue the hustlers into their roles in his masochistic drama. First he would supply them with squeeze bottles of mustard or ketchup and a spray can of shaving cream to squirt on him as he lay naked, masturbating. Then he would direct them to bind him up with rope, urinate on him, degrade and abuse him verbally, hit him, and kick him harder with heavy boots, harder and harder, until he would ejaculate, not knowing whether a blow on the head would wound him or kill him.”
A paper on the phenomenology of autassassinophilia by Dr. Lisa Downing in a 2004 issue of Sexuality and Culture questioned the definitions provided by Money and argued that the reciprocal conditions outlined by Money were fundamentally flawed. Downing made the interesting observation that:
“The autassassinophiliac, for Money, is more interested in his orgasm than in his death, resulting in a compulsion to ‘stage manage the possibility’ rather than the actuality of his end at the hands of another person. The erotophonophiliac, on the other hand, is driven by the actualization of the other’s death and—crucially—this other must be unaware of the killer’s intentions. These definitions, then, effectively preclude reciprocity”.
Some of you reading this might think that autoassassinophile is more of a theoretical (rather than an actual) paraphilia, but there are a number of documented cases of two lovers in a consensual ‘murder pact.’ The most high profile heterosexual case is that of Sharon Lopatka and Robert Glass. Lopatka (from Maryland, US) was strangled and killed consensually by Glass who she met online at an “extreme fantasy” website. Over a number of months in 1996, they exchanged thousands of emails (found by the police after she was found dead) fantasizing about—and planning—her own murder. Glass eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter claiming he had never actually intended to kill her.
The most high profile homosexual case was that of the German men Armin Meiwes and Jürgen Brandes—a case that I examined in relation to a previous blogs on vorarephilia (i.e., a sexual paraphilia in which people are sexually aroused by the idea of being eaten, eating another person, or observing this process for sexual gratification) and autosarcophagy (i.e., self-cannibalism). Meiwes, a computer technician, gained worldwide media attention as the "Rotenburg Cannibal" for killing and eating a fellow German male victim (also a computer technician). The one aspect that shocked most people was not the fact that Meiwes ate a lot of Brande’s body but that Brande appeared to consent to being eaten. Email exchanges between Meiwes and Brandes were later shared in the court case:
Brandes: “Thanks for your mail. You really turn me on…Winter with the temperature at around 5 to 15 degrees below freezing is good weather for slaughter. Great to be naked and tied in weather like that and to be driven to the slaughter. Where you then stun me and I collapse. You then hang me up, jerking, and cut my carotid artery. Warm blood flows. Everything goes routinely. I don’t have any chance to escape my slaughter at the last moment. It’s a real turn-on, the feeling of being at your mercy being in your possession. Having to give up my flesh.”
Meiwes: “It’ll be awesome, anyway. Your tasty body on show like that. Spicing it…Tying you up will be no problem, I’ve got rope and some cuffs for your hands and feet. I’ll really enjoy the bit with the needles. I’ll see if I can get hold of some really long ones. I can’t wait for you to be here”.
In court, Brandes' consent to being killed was accepted by the jury and Meiwes was given an eight and a half year prison sentence for manslaughter. These (and other) cases raise some interesting and controversial ethical questions. These were discussed at length in Dr. Downing’s excellent and thought provoking phenomenological paper on autassassinophilia. She clearly makes the point that being killed for sexual pleasure “problematizes commonplace assumptions about the legitimacy to consent.” When it comes to sexual behaviour, I would describe my views as liberal and in line with the liberal sex tenets outlined by Robert Solomon that (i) the essential aim of sex is enjoyment, (ii) sex is an essentially private activity, and (ii) any sexual activity is as valid as any other. However, like Downing, I think the idea of consensual lust murder appears to exceed “acceptable” limits of sexual behaviour. However, that doesn’t mean I believe totally in the commandment “thou shalt not kill.” I am pro-euthanasia and have much sympathy with those who have carried out so-called ‘mercy killings’ when a person is in intolerable pain and is unable to end their own life (and a loved one is asked by the suffering person to kill them as humanely as possible).
Downing makes reference to the work of Alan Soble who has written widely of the philosophy of sex. Soble’s 1996 book Sexual Investigations makes the following observation:
“If persons of sound mind and adequate foreknowledge consent to engage in sex together, and do only the acts that both agree to, and do not wrongfully affect third parties, how could their acts be morally wrong? [However], one person’s harming another—and perhaps a person’s allowing himself to be harmed—is wrong even when both parties enter into the act voluntarily.”
Downing considers the last sentence here as “moral absolutism” overriding the liberal standpoint. In fact she says that: “this interventionist and infantilizing approach assumes a class of person (professionals, and theorists) who just know better than the people who consent to certain types of activity.” Given that some sections (like myself) are socially tolerant of euthanasia, it’s more a case of having “a problem with the idea of validating the right to consent to a sexually pleasurable death.” I have to be honest and say that although I am a sexual liberal, I find it hard to accept consensual sex killing and think it is morally wrong.
References and further reading
Beier, K. (2008). Comment on Pfafflin’s (2008) “Good enough to eat”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 164-165.
Downing, L. (2004). On the limits of sexual ethics: The phenomenology of autassassinophilia. Sexuality and Culture, 8, 3–17.
Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books
Pfafflin, F. (2008). Good enough to eat. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 286-293.
Pfafflin, F. (2009). Reply to Beier (2009). Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 166-167.
Soble, A. (1996). Sexual Investigations. New York: New York University Press.
Solomon, R. (1997). Sexual paradigms. In A. Soble (Ed.), The Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings (Third Edition, pp.21-29). Oxford: Rowman and Little.