What is Necrophilia?
Necrophilia can best be described as sexual arousal stimulated by a dead body. The stimulation can be either in the form of fantasies or actual physical sexual contact with the corpse.
Legends with necrophilic themes are common throughout history and the concept of sexual interference with the dead has been known and abhorred since the ancient Egyptians, as noted by Herodotus (484 BCE -425 BC approx):
"When the wife of a distinguished man dies, or any woman who happens to be beautiful or well known, her body is not given to the embalmers immediately, but only after the lapse of three or four days. This is a precautionary measure to prevent the embalmers from violating her corpse, a thing which is actually said to have happened in the case of a woman who had just died." (de Selincourt, translation, 1972, p.161)
The DSM-IV-TR criteria for necrophilia are the presence, over a period of at least six months, of recurrent and intense urges and sexually arousing fantasies involving corpses which are either acted upon or have been markedly distressing.
There is a broad spectrum of necrophilic behaviours, ranging from fantasies alone to murder for the sake of procuring a dead body. Experts have subcategorized the paraphilia according to where it falls on that spectrum.
"Necrophilic fantasies" of corpses, never acted upon, still fall within the scope of necrophilia and some authors have categorized this as a "neurotic equivalent" to necrophilia.
"Pseudonecrophilia" describes isolated incidents where the sexual contact with the corpse may happen without pre-existing fantasies or desire to have sexual contact with the body.
Even in its truest form, necrophilia can be quite varied, ranging from simply being in the presence of a corpse to kissing, fondling or performing sexual intercourse or cunnilingus on the body.
The presence of other paraphilias or personality disorders, however, can manifest in more grotesque or sadistic elements such as mutilation of the corpse, drinking the blood or urine, or homicide ("necrophilic homicide" or "necrosadism"). The latter is the most disturbing end of the spectrum.
Although the act of murder itself may generate the subsequent sexual frenzy, research has determined an alarming rate of homicide in order to obtain a body for subsequent sexual violation. Rosman and Resnick (1988) found that 42% of their study sample of necrophiles had murdered in order to obtain a body. Researchers have determined, however, that sadism itself is not usually an intrinsic characteristic of true necrophilia. (Rosman & Resnick, 1988)
In all cases, there is undoubtedly sexual preference for a corpse rather than a living woman. When no other act of cruelty - cutting into pieces etc., - is practiced on the corpse, it is probable that the lifeless condition itself, forms the stimulus for the perverse individual. It is possible that the corpse - a human form absolutely without will - satisfies an abnormal desire, in that the object of desire is seen to be capable of absolute subjugation, without possibility of resistance. (Kraft-Ebing, 1886)
Although assumed rare, many have argued that necrophilia may be more prevalent than statistics imply, given that the act would be carried out in secret with a victim unable to complain and given the length of time which the paraphilia has been recognized.
An important study in the area in 1988 by Rosman and Resnick compiled 122 cases of necrophilia, both from the literature and previously unreported cases referred to the investigators by colleagues. The large number of cases in that study is noteworthy.
As with most sexual anomalies, the cases reported in the literature have actually involved males between the ages of 20 and 50 with occupations that provide ready access to corpses: gravediggers, mortuary attendants, orderlies, etc. Most individuals have been reported to be heterosexual.
As with the other paraphilias, necrophilia often occurs in conjunction with other paraphilias.
The individual should be assessed for associated psychopathology and treated accordingly. Treatment for necrophilia would be similar to that prescribed for most paraphilias: cognitive therapy, use of sex-drive reducing medications, assistance with improving social and sexual relations, etc.
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© Stephen Hucker, MB,BS, FRCP(C), FRCPsych 2003,2004,2005
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