Can Crying Be Sexually Arousing?

A brief look at dacryphilia

Posted Jan 14, 2016

In a previous article I examined the sexual paraphilia dacryphilia. Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unususal Sexual Practices defines as “arousal from seeing tears in the eyes of a partner”. In my previous article I widened the definition of dacryphilia to include (i) sexual arousal from someone displaying strong emotion and/or (ii) sexual arousal from the emotional release that accompanies crying (i.e., an ‘emotional catharsis’). Dr. Aggrawal’s definition implies that sadism may form an inherent part of dacryphilia and implicitly indicates the potential presence of dacryphilic masochism in the recipient of sadistic dacryphilic activity. My widened definition suggests that dacryphilia could represent an extension of normative human behavior towards crying (i.e., an extension of the desire to give attention to and comfort a crier).

Based on anecdotal data collected from online dacryphilia forums, my previous article speculated that two distinct types may exist within the dacryphilic community: those with sadistic dacryphilic interests and those with voyeuristic dacryphilic interests. As such, dacryphilia creates a number of potential dichotomies: (i) sadomasochistic dacryphilic interests versus emotional dacryphilic interests; (ii) sadistic dacryphilic interests versus masochistic dacryphilic interests; and (iii) individuals who actively engage in dacryphilia versus individuals who passively engage in dacryphilia.

The potential contrast between sadomasochistic and emotional dacryphilic interests is of particular interest, as both of these interests occupy differing and almost opposing aspects of human sexual experience. Likewise, the potential existence of sadistic vs. masochistic, and active vs. passive interests within dacryphilia suggest that it is a non-normative sexual interest with enough variety for an interesting dataset and analysis. Furthermore, the possibility that dacryphilia represents an extension of normative human behavior towards crying and tears raises the question of why some individuals might find sexual arousal in crying and tears. Thus, on the whole, there are a number of prospective research avenues that are implied within the limited literature on dacryphilia, but as I mentioned in my previous article there had been no empirical research into the area.

However, my research colleague Richard Greenhill and I recently published a qualitative paper on the topic in the International Journal of Sexual Health. Our study comprised online interviews with eight dacryphiles (six females and two males; aged 20 to 50 years; five from the US with the others from the UK, Romania, and Belgium) and proposed a new typology of dacryphilia based on the interviews (and as far as we are aware is the first ever published study of the topic). Our participants were recruited via recruitment posts on one specific dacryphilia forum (i.e., CryingLovers), one general fetish forum (i.e., FetLife) and one BDSM forum (i.e., collarchat.com). The data were analysed using thematic analysis.

The three main thematic areas of dacryphilia we identified were: (i) compassion; (ii) dominance/submission; and (iii) curled-lips. Half of the participants (n = 4, all female) expressed their dacryphilia primarily through compassion, meaning that they enjoyed or were aroused by the compassion of comforting a crier. Four sub-themes were identified as characteristic of compassionate interests within dacryphilia: (i) dacryphilia as comforting; (ii) negative feelings towards sadomasochistic dacryphilia; (iii) dacryphilia as a natural role and/or duty; and (iv) subversion of societal and/or gender norms. For three of these participants, the idea of dacryphilia as a comforting action from themselves to the crier forms an important part of their dacryphilic identity.

Three of the other participants (two submissive females and one dominant male) expressed their dacryphilia primarily through dominance/submission, meaning that they were aroused by either causing tears in a consenting submissive individual or being made to cry by a consenting dominant individual. Although this type of dacryphilia is often characterized as sadomasochistic by those with compassionate interests, dominant/submissive was deemed a more appropriate description, as participants in this group identified more with dominance/submission than sadomasochism. Two sub-themes were identified as characteristic of dominant/submissive interests within dacryphilia: (i) emotional and physical pain; and (ii) tears and crying as a secondary component of dominance/submission. All of those with dominant/submissive interests (n = 3) enjoyed both emotional and physical pain.

The remaining participant (male) did not express an interest consistent with either compassion or dominance/submission. Instead, he expressed his dacryphilia primarily through an interest in curled-lips, meaning that he was aroused specifically by the curling of the lip during crying. Two sub-themes were identified as characteristic of this individual’s interest in curled-lips: (i) attraction to lips during crying; and (ii) rarity of this dacryphilic interest.

Our study not only suggested three initial areas of interest within dacryphilia, but the data we collected implied that dacryphilia may comprise a continuum of interests that can differ from each other, but which are all connected by an overarching enjoyment or arousal from tears and crying. Our study aimed to discover the different interests within dacryphilia and explore the range of dacryphilic experience. This was successfully achieved through the implementation of a set of online interviews that focussed attention on three initial possible interests within dacryphilia and assisted in reaching a sensitive and predominantly American population. Without the use of online recruitment and data collection, it is unlikely that we would have been able to carry out our study.

However, our sample size was small and may not reflect the experiences of other individuals with dacryphilic preferences and may display gender and cultural bias. A larger sample size may have led to the construction of further interests, as the interests outlined in the present study only relate to the eight participants who were interviewed. However, the fact we identified three different types of dacryphile in a sample of only eight people suggests that there are definite sub-types of dacryphilia. In particular, there appears to be a distinct difference between those who experience sexual arousal from compassionate interests and those who experience sexual arousal from dominant/submissive interests. Based on the sample in the present study, there appears to be a gender bias towards women and a cultural bias towards Americans. However, this may be a result of the limited nature of the small sample size and, as such, any extrapolation should be treated with caution.

Additional input from Richard Greenhill

References and further reading

Aggrawal, Anil (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unususal Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The use of online asynchronous interviews in the study of paraphilias. SAGE Research Methods Cases. Located at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/978144627305013508526

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Compassion, dominance/submission, and curled lips: A thematic analysis of dacryphilic experience. International Journal of Sexual Health, 27, 337-350.

Griffiths, M. D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilias – A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.

Holmes, S.T. & Holmes, R.M. (2002). Sex Crimes: Patterns and Behavior. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Milner, J. S. Dopke, C. A. & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and Theory. In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp. 384-418). New York: Guildford Press.  

Monroe, W. (2012). Fetish of the week: Dacryphilia. February 23. Located at: http://www.zzinsider.com/blogs/view/fetish_of_the_week_dacryphilia

Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E. A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.

Wikipedia (2012). Dacryphilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dacryphilia

Williams, D. J. (2006). Different (painful!) strokes for different folks: A general overview of sexual sadomasochism (SM) and its diversity. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 13, 333-346.