Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

The Appeal of Necrophilia

Unpacking the living.

Max Pixel
Source: Max Pixel

It is time to revisit necrophilia.

As with many attempts to classify behavior, necrophilia itself has remained confusing, with scholars and researchers attempting to use both rifle and scattergun approaches to pinpoint the different types. The literature on necrophilia has a wealth of case studies, which cover the range of necrophilic activities of certain individuals, and this in turn gives us specific circumstances that can aid in our attempt to classify. However, even knowing necrophilic activities that people have performed, the motivations themselves often remain elusive.

OK, they did this; but why did they do that?

For the purposes of law enforcement, the ‘why’ isn’t too important. There are clearly penalties for interfering with a corpse, not reporting a body to the authorities, and even more so if homicide was committed to obtain a dead body. With these necessary penalties in place, it puts us in a position to deal with acts of necrophilia as and when they arise, but they do not help us understand the pathology of a necrophile, which could be crucial for identification, therapy, and prevention.

Traditionally, the first attempts to scientifically classify necrophilia viewed it as primarily a sadist behavior, such as in Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis.[1] This approach wasn’t unwarranted, as law enforcement and the courts from the nineteenth century were trying to understand how various criminals could rape, mutilate, and engage in sexual activities with a person after death; it would be a horrifying site to encounter, and drove earlier generations to see it as demonic and orchestrated by the Devil. Unfortunately, these events continue to happen today, and sexual homicide does seem to be a precursor for some necrophilic activity.

However, not all necrophilic behavior involves committing homicide.

One of the most specific categorizations of necrophilia has come from Aggrawal, who in 2009 proposed 10 classifications of necrophilia.[2] These classifications seem to escalate, somewhat, from 1 through 10, in the direction of greater interaction with corpses, and in the direction of increasing sexual pleasure until the interaction with the body is the sole and only trigger for sexual excitement. Surprisingly, Aggrawal only includes homicide in category nine, which seems to ignore the fact that a person could have committed homicide to exercise the behaviors listed in many of the other categories. It is possible that Aggrawal did not rigorously consider the criteria for how he was presenting the escalation of certain behaviors.

Necrophilia is commonly taken to mean sexual relations or attractions to corpses, and is listed in the DSM-V as ‘an other specified paraphilic disorder, involving recurrent and intense sexual interest in corpses’.[3] However, it is worth noting that for a person to end up with these ideas and even desires, the evolution of their pathology could have started from a harmless place.

Thoughts of death are not uncommon.

Dealing with our own mortality can at times result in great sadness and prolonged somber moments as we plan to make the most of our lives. The most common religions in the world all deal with death and attempt to provide solace and reassurance to the believers. Suicidal ideation is also not as uncommon as you think, even from those who have no intention of taking their own lives. And of course grieving deceased loved ones is widespread, and even though funerals, burials, or cremation tend to happen quite quickly after death, grieving can be a long lasting (and in some cases unending) process.

There is also great comfort to be found in death.

We are often reassured when we believe that a deceased person is now at peace and no longer suffering. When we revisit memories of deceased loved ones, it can fill us with deep joy as we reflect on those private experiences, sometimes experiences that were specific only to us and the deceased one (intimacy). Sometimes these experiences can even create an ongoing dialogue that we might have with the deceased as we smile about what they might say about current events.

The point I’d like to make here is thinking deeply about death, and loving the dead, do not come out of a vacuum. However, there could be a pivotal moment when the comfort somebody obtains from thinking about death or the dead, progresses to thinking death and the dead can be recreated for future happiness. If this breach is made, it might only be exploratory at first, through fantasy, but steadily progress to unhealthy and even illegal behaviors.

Exploring death in culture and our lives is not the only way to approach necrophilic stirrings. Humans are evolutionarily equipped to seek out intimacy with other humans (it might be worth noting, pending a rigorous philosophical discussion, that human corpses are still human). Therefore, exploring the plethora of dating sites and articles on the topic of meeting people and satisfying personal criteria for a good match, is a great way to see what humans want in a partner.

It is sometimes mentioned in the literature that necrophilia stems from the need for an unresisting partner.[4] This can be unpacked in various ways, but it is possible that this stems from the need for a non-judgmental partner, which is something many people desire from their own healthy relationships. This also goes for the need not to be hurt or let down, or perhaps the fear of being unable to produce a reciprocal orgasm during intercourse. And as morbid as it is to think about, it is easy to be intimate with a corpse because there is no emotional or social work involved; perhaps similar reasons as to why some people, for at least temporary moments in their lives, turn to sex dolls.

This is far from admitting that love spurned individuals will turn to corpses out of sheer convenience, but we have to remember that some people do turn to corpses, and some of the motivations that take them there are rooted in genuine human needs.

The ubiquity of death, and our continued fascination with it, coupled with the complexities behind our need for intimacy, means that classifying necrophilia will remain a forever-incomplete and difficult process. However, understanding what we want out of the living could help us understand what others want out of the dead.

The picture I have presented here is one of progression, however, I do not think it does apply to all those who violate corpses. Those who commit rape and homicide, and then further mutilate and assault their victim, I think have different motivations. Stein et al. include these as discussion points in their paper Necrophilia and Sexual Homicide,[5] and they include the need to further destroy and degrade their lifeless victim. However, I would argue for most of these cases, as the violation happens very soon after death, that the offender, due to their extreme objectification of the victim, doesn’t register the death on a deep level, and just continues to destroy the person through lustful violence. But of course, due to the infinite nature of human experience and thought, there would be exceptions. Bundy, for example, continued to visit his grave sites long after the act of homicide, and others have killed specifically to mutilate and to enjoy the experience.

Those who place value in prolonged and specific necrophilic acts, needless to say, have learned to think about death in a complex and unique way, and is our job to unpack human behavior to determine where these people have found death and the dead to be preferable.

© Jack Pemment, 2018


[1] Krafft-Ebing, R. Von (1886) Psychopathia Sexualis. CG Chaddock, trans. Philadelphia, PA: Davis.

[2] Aggrawal, A. (2009). A new classification of necrophilia. Journal of forensic and legal medicine, 16(6), 316-320.

[3] American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. Mar 25, 2017

[4] Stein, M. L., Schlesinger, L. B., & Pinizzotto, A. J. (2010). Necrophilia and sexual homicide. Journal of forensic sciences, 55(2), 443-446

[5] Ibid.