Necrophilia, also known as necrophilism, necrolagnia, necrocoitus, necrochlesis, and thanatophilia, is a sexual attraction or sexual act which involves corpses. It is classified as a paraphilia by ICD10 published by the WHO and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association.
|The Hatred, painted by Pietro Pajetta, 1896.|
Rosman and Resnick (1989) reviewed information from 34 cases of necrophilia describing the individuals' motivations for their behaviors: these individuals reported the desire to possess a non-resisting and non-rejecting partner (68%), reunions with a romantic partner (21%), sexual attraction to corpses (15%), comfort or overcoming feelings of isolation (15%), or seeking self-esteem by expressing power over a homicide victim (12%).
Origins of termEdit
The term 'necrophilia' is thought to have been coined by Belgian physician Joseph Guislain in his Leçons Orales sur les Phrénopathies, in a lecture given around 1850, in reference to contemporary necrophile François Bertrand:[incomplete short citation]
It is within the category of the destructive madmen [aliénés destructeurs] that one needs to situate certain patients to whom I would like to give the name of necrophiliacs [nécrophiles]. The alienists have adopted, as a new form, the case of Sergeant Bertrand, the disinterrer of cadavers on whom all the newspapers have recently reported. However, don't think that we are dealing here with a form of phrenopathy which appears for the first time. The ancients, in speaking about lycanthropy, have cited examples to which one can more or less relate the case which has just attracted the public attention so strongly.
In the ancient world, sailors returning corpses to their home country were often accused of necrophilia. Singular accounts of necrophilia in history are sporadic, though written records suggest the practice was present within Ancient Egypt. Herodotus writes in The Histories that, to discourage intercourse with a corpse, ancient Egyptians left deceased beautiful women to decay for "three or four days" before giving them to the embalmers. Herodotus also alluded to suggestions that Greek tyrant Periander had defiled the corpse of his wife, employing a metaphor: "Periander baked his bread in a cold oven." Acts of necrophilia are depicted on ceramics from the Moche culture, which reigned in northern Peru from the first to eighth century CE. A common theme in these artifacts is the masturbation of a male skeleton by a living woman. Hittite law from the 16th century BC through to the 13th century BC explicitly permitted sex with the dead. In what is now Northeast China, the ethnic Xianbei emperor Murong Xi (385–407) of the Later Yan state had intercourse with the corpse of his beloved empress Fu Xunying, after the latter was already cold and put into the coffin.
In Renaissance Italy, following the reputed moral collapse brought about by the Black Death and before the Roman Inquisition of the Counter-Reformation, the literature was replete with sexual references; these include necrophilia, in the case of the epic poem Orlando Innamorato by Matteo Maria Boiardo, first published in 1483. In a notorious modern example, American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was a necrophiliac. Dahmer wanted to create a sex slave that would mindlessly consent to whatever he wanted. When his attempts failed, and his male victim died, he would keep the corpse until it decomposed beyond recognition, continuously masturbating and performing sexual intercourse on the body. In order to be aroused, he had to murder his male victims before performing sexual intercourse with them. Dahmer stated that he only killed his victims because they wanted to leave after having sex, and would be angry with him for drugging them. British serial killer Dennis Nilsen is also considered to have been a necrophiliac.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), recurrent, intense sexual interest in corpses can be diagnosed under Other Specified Paraphilic Disorder (necrophilia) when it causes marked distress or impairment in important areas of functioning. A ten-tier classification of necrophilia exists:
- Role players: People who get aroused from pretending their live partner is dead during sexual activity.
- Romantic necrophiliacs: Bereaved people who remain attached to their dead lover's body.
- Necrophiliac fantasizers: People who fantasize about necrophilia, but never actually have sex with a corpse.
- Tactile necrophiliacs: People who are aroused by touching or stroking a corpse, without engaging in intercourse.
- Fetishistic necrophiliacs: People who remove objects (e.g., panties or a tampon) or body parts (e.g., a finger or genitalia) from a corpse for sexual purposes, without engaging in intercourse.
- Necromutilomaniacs: People who derive pleasure from mutilating a corpse while masturbating, without engaging in intercourse.
- Opportunistic necrophiliacs: People who normally have no interest in necrophilia, but take the opportunity when it arises.
- Regular necrophiliacs: People who preferentially have intercourse with the dead.
- Homicidal necrophiliacs: Necrosadists, people who commit murder in order to have sex with the victim.
- Exclusive necrophiliacs: People who have an exclusive interest in sex with the dead, and cannot perform at all for a living partner.
Additionally, criminologist Lee Mellor's typology of homicidal necrophiles consists of eight categories (A–H), and is based on the combination of two behavioral axes: destructive (offender mutilates the corpse for sexual reasons) – preservative (offender does not), and cold (offender used the corpse sexually two hours after death) – warm (offender used the corpse sexually earlier than two hours after death). This renders four categories (A-D) to which Mellor adds an additional four (E-H):
- Category A (cold/destructive), e.g. Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer
- Category B (cold/preservative), e.g. Gary Ridgway, Dennis Nilsen
- Category C (warm/destructive) e.g. Andrei Chikatilo, Joseph Vacher
- Category D (warm/preservative) e.g. Robert Yates, Earle Nelson
- Category E (dabblers) e.g. Richard Ramirez, Mark Dixie
- Category F (catathymic — impulsively and explosively lashing out)
- Category G (exclusive necromutilophiles) e.g. Robert Napper, Peter Sutcliffe
- Category H (sexual cannibals & vampires) e.g. Albert Fish, Peter Kürten
Dabblers have transitory opportunistic sexual relations with corpses, but this is not their preference. Category F homicidal necrophiles commit postmortem sex acts only while in a catathymic state. Exclusive mutilophiles derive pleasure purely from mutilating the corpse, while sexual cannibals and vampires are sexually aroused by eating human body parts. Category A, C, and F offenders may also cannibalize or drink the blood of their victims.
Necrophilia is often assumed to be rare, but no data for its prevalence in the general population exists. Some necrophiles only fantasize about the act, without carrying it out. In 1958, Klaf and Brown commented that, although rarely described, necrophiliac fantasies may occur more often than is generally supposed.
Rosman and Resnick (1989) reviewed 122 cases of necrophilia. The sample was divided into genuine necrophiles, who had a persistent attraction to corpses, and pseudo-necrophiles, who acted out of opportunity, sadism, or transient interest. Of the total, 92% were male and 8% were female. 57% of the genuine necrophiles had occupational access to corpses, with morgue attendant, hospital orderly, and cemetery employee being the most common jobs. The researchers theorized that either of the following situations could be antecedents to necrophilia:
- The necrophile develops poor self-esteem, perhaps due in part to a significant loss;
- (a) They are very fearful of rejection by others and they desire a sexual partner who is incapable of rejecting them; and/or
- (b) They are fearful of the dead, and transform their fear—by means of reaction formation—into a desire.
- They develop an exciting fantasy of sex with a corpse, sometimes after exposure to a corpse.
The authors reported that, of their sample of genuine necrophiliacs:
- 68% were motivated by a desire for a non-resisting and non-rejecting partner;
- 21% by a want for reunion with a lost partner;
- 15% by sexual attraction to dead people;
- 15% by a desire for comfort or to overcome feelings of isolation
- 12% by a desire to remedy low self-esteem by expressing power over a corpse.
IQ data was limited, but not abnormally low. About half of the sample had a personality disorder, and 11% of true necrophiliacs were psychotic. Rosman and Resnick concluded that their data challenged the conventional view of necrophiliacs as generally psychotic, mentally deficient, or unable to obtain a consenting partner.
Necrophilia has been observed in mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs. In 1960, Robert Dickerman described necrophilia in ground squirrels, which he termed "Davian behavior" in reference to a limerick about a necrophiliac miner named Dave. The label is still used for necrophilia in animals. Certain species of arachnids and insects practice sexual cannibalism, in which the female cannibalizes her male mate prior to, during, or after copulation.
Kees Moeliker made one observation while he was sitting in his office at the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, when he heard the distinctive thud of a bird hitting the glass facade of the building. Upon inspection, he discovered a drake (male) mallard lying dead outside the building. Next to the downed bird there was a second drake mallard standing close by. As Moeliker observed the couple, the living drake pecked at the corpse of the dead one for a few minutes then mounted the corpse and began copulating with it. The act of necrophilia lasted for about 75 minutes, in which time, according to Moeliker, the living drake took two short breaks before resuming with copulating behavior. Moeliker surmised that at the time of the collision with the window the two mallards were engaged in a common pattern in duck behavior called "attempted rape flight". "When one died the other one just went for it and didn't get any negative feedback — well, didn't get any feedback," according to Moeliker. Necrophilia had previously only been reported in heterosexual mallard pairs.
In a short paper known as "Sexual Habits of the Adélie Penguin", deemed too shocking for contemporary publication, George Murray Levick described "little hooligan bands" of penguins mating with dead females in the Cape Adare rookery, the largest group of Adélie penguins, in 1911 and 1912. This is nowadays ascribed to lack of experience of young penguins; a dead female, with eyes half-closed, closely resembles a compliant female. A gentoo penguin was observed attempting to have intercourse with a dead penguin in 1921.
A male New Zealand sea lion was once observed attempting to copulate with a dead female New Zealand fur seal in the wild. The sea lion nudged the seal repeatedly, then mounted her and made several pelvic thrusts. Approximately ten minutes later, the sea lion became disturbed by the researcher's presence, dragged the corpse of the seal into the water and swam away while holding it. A male sea otter was observed holding a female sea otter underwater until she drowned, and then repeatedly copulating with her carcass. Several months later, the same sea otter was again observed copulating with the carcass of a different female. Copulation with a dead female pilot whale by a captive male pilot whale has been observed, and possible sexual behavior between two male humpback whales, one dead, has also been reported.
In 1983, a male rock dove was observed copulating with the corpse of a dove that had shortly before had its head crushed by a car. In 2001, a researcher laid out sand martin corpses to attract flocks of other sand martins. In each of six trials, 1-5 individuals from flocks of 50-500 were observed attempting to copulate with the dead sand martins. This occurred one to two months after the breeding season; since copulation outside the breeding season is uncommon among birds, the researcher speculated that the lack of resistance by the corpses stimulated the behavior. Charles Brown observed at least ten cliff swallows attempt to copulate with a road-killed cliff swallow in the space of 15 minutes. He commented, "This isn't the first time I've seen cliff swallows do this; the bright orange rump sticking up seems to be all the stimulus these birds need." Necrophilia has also been reported in the European swallow, grey-backed sparrow-lark, Stark's lark, and the snow goose. A Norwegian television report showed a male hybrid between a black grouse and western capercaillie kill a male black grouse before attempting to copulate with it. In 2015, due to work done by the University of Washington, it was found that crows would commit necrophilia on dead crow corpses in about 4% of encounters with corpses.
Necrophilia has been documented in various lizard species, including Ameiva ameiva, the leopard lizard, and Holbrookia maculata. There are two reports of necrophilic behavior in the sleepy lizard (Tiliqua rugosa). In one, the partner of a male lizard got caught in fencing wire and died. The male continued to display courtship behavior towards his partner two days after her death. This lizard's necrophilia was believed to stem from its strong monogamous bond. In one study of black and white tegu lizards, two different males were observed attempting to court and copulate with a single female corpse on two consecutive days. On the first day, the corpse was freshly dead, but by the second day it was bloating and emitting a strong putrefying odor. The researcher attributed the behavior to sex pheromones still acting on the carcass.
Male garter snakes often copulate with dead females. One case has been reported in the Bothrops jararaca snake with a dead South American rattlesnake. The prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) and Helicops carinicaudus snake have both been seen attempting to mate with decapitated females, presumably attracted by still-active sex pheromones. Male crayfish sometimes copulate with dead crayfish of either sex, and in one observation even with a dead crayfish of a different species.
In frogs, it has been observed in the foothill yellow-legged frog, the yellow fire-bellied toad, the common frog, the Oregon spotted frog, Dendropsophus columbianus, and Rhinella jimi. The film Cane Toads: An Unnatural History shows a male toad copulating with a female toad that had been run over by a car. It goes on to do this for eight hours. Necrophilic amplexus in frogs may occur because males will mount any pliable object the size of an adult female. If the mounted object is a live frog not appropriate for mating, it will vibrate its body or vocalize a call to be released. Dead frogs cannot do this, so they may be held for hours. The Amazonian frog Rhinella proboscidea sometimes practices what has been termed "functional necrophilia": a male grasps the corpse of a dead female and squeezes it until oocytes are ejected, and then fertilizes them.
Necrophilia is not explicitly mentioned in Australian law, however, under the Crimes Act 1900 - Sect 81C it states misconduct with regard to corpses is any person who:
(a) indecently interferes with any dead human body, or
(b) improperly interferes with, or offers any indignity to, any dead human body or human remains (whether buried or not),
shall be liable to imprisonment for two years.
Art. 212 - To abuse a cadaver or its ashes:
Penalty: detention, from 1 to 3 years, plus fine.
Although sex with a corpse is not explicitly mentioned, a person who has sex with a corpse may be convicted of a crime under the above Article. The legal asset protected by such Article is not the corpse's objective honor, but the feeling of good memories, respect and veneration that living people keep about the deceased person: these persons are considered passive subjects of the corpse's violation.
Section 297 of the Indian Penal Code entitled "Trespassing on burial places, etc.", states as follows:
Whoever, with the intention of wounding the feelings of any person, or of insulting the religion of any person, or with the knowledge that the feelings of any person are likely to be wounded, or that the religion of any person is likely to be insulted thereby, commits any trespass in any place of worship or on any place of sculpture, or any place set apart from the performance of funeral rites or as a depository for the remains of the dead, or offers any indignity to any human corpse, or causes disturbance to any persons assembled for the performance of funeral ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
Although sex with a corpse is not explicitly mentioned, a person who has sex with a corpse may be convicted under the above section. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code could also be invoked.
Under Section 150 of the New Zealand Crimes Act 1961, it is an offence for there to be "misconduct in respect to human remains". Subsection (b) elaborates that this applies if someone "improperly or indecently interferes with or offers indignity to any dead human body or human remains, whether buried or not". This statute is therefore applicable to sex with corpses and carries a potential two-year prison sentence, although there is no relevant case law.
Section 14 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2007 prohibits the commission of a sexual act with a corpse. Until codified by the act it was a common law offence.
Section 16, § 10 of the Swedish Penal Code criminalizes necrophilia, but it is not explicitly mentioned. Necrophilia falls under the regulations against abusing a corpse or grave (brott mot griftefrid), which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. One person has been convicted of necrophilia. He was sentenced to psychiatric care for that and other crimes, including arson.
Sexual penetration of a corpse was made illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, carrying a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment. Prior to 2003, necrophilia was not illegal; however, exposing a naked corpse in public was classed as a public nuisance (R v. Clark  15 Cox 171).[incomplete short citation]
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- Posner, Richard A.; Silbaugh, Katharine B. (1996). A Guide to America's Sex Laws. University of Chicago Press. pp. 213–216.
- "Texas Penal Code Chapter 42. Disorderly Conduct And Related Offenses". Archived from the original on 28 April 2014.
- Although the wording is somewhat ambiguous, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin determined this statute applied to "sexual contact or sexual intercourse with a victim already dead at the time of the sexual activity when the accused did not cause the death of the victim" in State v. Grunke.
- Aggrawal, Anil (2010). Necrophilia: Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press. ISBN 978-1420089127.
- Aggrawal, Anil (19 April 2016). Necrophilia: Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects. CRC Press. ISBN 978-1-4200-8913-4.
- Lee Mellor (2016) Homicide: A Forensic Psychology Casebook. CRC Press. ISBN 9781498731522.
- Purcell, Catherine; Arrigo, Bruce A. (7 June 2006). The Psychology of Lust Murder: Paraphilia, Sexual Killing, and Serial Homicide. Elsevier. ISBN 978-0-08-046257-8.
- Lisa Downing, Desiring the Dead: Necrophilia and Nineteenth-Century French Literature. Oxford: Legenda, 2003
- Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis. New York: Stein & Day, 1965. Originally published in 1886.