Thrilling Killing and the Disgust of Lust
Erotophonophilia and the psychology of sexual homicide
Posted August 29, 2013
Erotophonophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from murdering (or imagining they are murdering) someone. Many academics in the forensic field refer to such killings as ‘lust murder’. However, there are countless slightly different definitions of sexual murder depending on which academic text you read. For instance, Dr. Louis Schlesinger in his 2004 book Sexual Murder noted all these slightly different terms and definitions for sexual killing:
• Lust murder: “The connection between lust and desire to kill” and “The sadistic crime alone becomes the equivalent of coitus” (Krafft-Ebing, 1886)
• Sadistic lust murder: “After killing the victim, the murderer tortures, cuts, maims, or slashes the victim ... on parts [of the body] that contain strong sexual significance to him and serves as sexual stimulation” (De River, 1958)
• Sadistic murder: “Distinguished from the sadistic homicide by the involvement of a mutilating attack or displacement of the breasts, rectum, or genitals” (Hazelwood & Douglas, 1980)
• Lust murder: “A sexual factor is clearly apparent ... or deeper study will sometimes reveal that sexual conflict underlies the act of aggression” (MacDonald, 1986)
• Sex murder: “Murder with evidence or observations that indicate[s] that the murder was sexual in nature” (Ressler, Burgess & Douglas, 1986)
• Erotophonophilia: “Murder associated with sexual sadism as defined in [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders]” (Money, 1990)
• Sexual homicide: “Involves a sexual element (activity) as the basis for the sequence of acts leading to death” (Douglas, Burgess, Burgess & Ressler, 1992)
• Sadistic murder: “The offender derives the greatest satisfaction from the victim’s response to torture” (Douglas, Burgess, Burgess & Ressler, 1992)
• Sexual murder: “The killing may also be closely bound to the sexual element of an attack ... the offender’s control of his victim, and her pain and humiliation, become linked to his sexual arousal” (Grubin, 1994)
• Lust killing: “The primary goal is to kill the victim as part of a ritualized attack ... the motivation ... is the enactment of some type of fantasy that has preoccupied him or her for some time” (Malmquist, 1996)
For many, erotophonophilia (or whichever definition you care to choose from the list above) is the most heinous of all paraphilias. Erotophonophiles 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). Most erotophonophiles are male although females with the paraphilia are known to exist. Lust murderers are known to be psychologically and behaviourally different from those who kill out of revenge or anger displacement.
Complete fantasy fulfillment is rarely achieved and the fantasy continually evolves based on experiences with prior victims. This is one of the reasons that the behaviour may be repeated continually until they die or caught by law enforcement agencies. Erotophonophilia may overlap with other sexual paraphilias including necrophilia, sexual sadism, and/or sexual cannibalism. Such behaviour may coincide with use of extreme pornography and/or psychoactive drug use (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, etc.). Unsurprisingly, the group of people most likely to be erotophonophiles are serial killers. Such people utilize sexual torture as a mechanism to degrade, humiliate, subjugate, and ultimately control their victims. However, Professor Don Grubin has written papers in journals such as Criminal Behavior and Mental Health and the British Journal of Psychiatry arguing that not all sex murderers are sadists.
Erotophonophiles typically choose their victims on the basis of sexual attractiveness although there might be one particular physical attribute that is sexualized by the killer (such as a particular body shape, hair style, skin colour, etc.). This is referred to as an erotophonophile’s “ideal victim type” (IVT). After a victim has been selected, and prior to the killing, the erotophonophile may engage in a range of predatory behavours (such as stalking).
Influential research carried out by Dr. R.P. Brittain in the 1970s and followed up by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the 1990s described a number of characteristics of typical lust murderers. They were characterized as over-controlled, timid, introverted, sexually inexperienced, highly deviant, and having violent sadistic fantasies. However, more recent research has not necessarily supported the early claims made by Brittain. Professor Grubin’s work suggests much of this early work is a composite picture of a lust murderer based more on clinical impressions as opposed to systematic research.
One of the most cited studies in the area of lust murder is a 1990 paper by Dr. P.E. Dietz and colleagues published in the Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. They examined 30 sexual sadists (most of which were sexual murderers). They found that the majority were employed white males (75%), and many were married (50%), had a history of homosexual experience (43%), and cross-dressed (20%). They also reported that they had parents who had divorced or had marital infidelities (50%), suffered physical abuse (23%), suffered sexual abuse (20%), and abused drugs other than alcohol (50%). Almost all the sample had planned their offences (93%), the majority of which the victim was unknown to them (83%). The victims were typically abducted, held against their will for over 24 hours, blindfolded, bound and gagged. All victims were tortured, and typical activities included forced oral sex, rape, and forced insertion of foreign objects vaginally. Many subsequent studies have reported similar findings. However, the main problem with many of these studies is that there was no (non-sadistic) control group against which the results could be compared.
A study by Dr. T. Gratzer and Dr. J.M. Bradford published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences compared their results with that of the Dietz study by examining both sexual offending sadists (n=28) and non-sadists (n=29) many of whom were sexual murderers. Results were similar to those of the Dietz study, including high rates of offence planning (82%), torture (78%), and physical abuse during childhood (43%). However, they also noted some differences including greater use of bondage, and anal rape.
Studies carried out by the FBI studies have reported that that sexually sadistic murderers exhibit psychopathy and narcissism. However, other more recent studies have not found relationships with psychopathy so it has been suggested that FBI samples may represent a particularly extreme group of sadistic sex murderers compared to other published studies. Research by Professor Grubin (comparing 21 men who had murdered a woman during a sexual attack with 121 rapists who did not kill their victims) found that sexual murderers had significantly higher rates of social isolation and difficulties within sexual relationships. However, sexual murderers and rapists didn’t differ in their utilization of pornography and deviant sexual fantasy.
Finally, a couple of book chapters on sexually sadistic murderers (published in 2005 and 2006) by Drs. J. Proulx, E. Blais, and E. Beauregard have found that sadistic sexual offenders were more likely than non-sadistic sexual offenders to have (i) planned to kidnap their victims, (ii) used bondage and weapons, (iii) engaged in expressive violence, humiliation, and torture of victims, (iv) inserted objects into the victims’ vaginas, (v) strangled their victims, and (vi) engaged in intercourse and mutilation of their victims after death.