Necrophilia, also called thanatophilia or necrolagnia, is the sexual attraction to corpses. It is classified as a paraphilia by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. The word is derived from the Greek words: νεκρός (nekros; "dead") and φιλία (philia; "love"). The term was coined by the Belgian alienist Joseph Guislain, who first used it in a lecture in 1850.
Rosman and Resnick (1989) reviewed information from 34 cases (supplied by psychiatric colleagues) 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%).
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.
In some societies the practice was enacted owing to a belief that the soul of an unmarried woman would not find peace; among the Kachin of Myanmar, versions of a marriage ceremony were held to lay a dead virgin to rest, which would involve intercourse with the corpse.
In a modern example, Jeffrey Dahmer was a serial killer who suffered from necrophilia. In order to be aroused, he had to kill his victims before having sex 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. He fit the criteria of the desire "to possess an unresisting and unrejecting partner" according to Rosman and Resnick's study listed below. British serial killer Dennis Nilsen is considered to have been a necrophiliac.
A ten-tier classification of necrophilia exists:
- Role players
- Romantic necrophiliacs
- People having a necrophiliac fantasy – necrophiliac miracle.
- Tactile necrophiliacs
- People having a sexual fetish for the dead – fetishistic necrophiliacs
- People having a necromutilomania – necromutilomaniacs
- Opportunistic necrophiliacs
- Regular necrophiliacs
- Homicidal necrophiliacs
- Exclusive necrophiliacs
Rosman and Resnick (1989) theorized that either of the following situations could be antecedents to necrophilia (p. 161):
- The necrophile develops poor self-esteem, perhaps due in part to a significant loss;
- (a) He/she is very fearful of rejection by women/men and he/she desires a sexual partner who is incapable of rejecting him/her; and/or
- (b) He/she is fearful of the dead, and transforms his/her fear — by means of reaction formation — into a desire.
- He/she develops an exciting fantasy of sex with a corpse, sometimes after exposure to a corpse.
The authors also reported that, of their sample of 'necrophiliacs':
- 68% were motivated by a desire for an unresisting and unrejecting 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; and
- 11% by a desire to remedy low self-esteem by expressing power over a corpse (p. 159).
At the end of their own report, Rosman and Resnick wrote that their study should only be used like a spring-board for further, more in-depth research.
Necrophilia is known to occur in animals, with a number of confirmed observations. Kees Moeliker allegedly made one of these observations 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. This is the first recorded case of necrophilia in the mallard duck.
In the case of a praying mantis, necrophilia could be said to be part of their methods of reproduction. The larger female will sometimes decapitate or even eat her mate during copulation. However, this only happens in 5-31% of cases.
In a short paper known as "Sexual Habits of the Adélie Penguin", George Murray Levick described 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.
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 it should be noted that there is no case law as yet that would apply the aforementioned statute.
Section 267 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) 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 corpses is not explicitly stated in IPC, a person who has sex with a corpse may be convicted under the above section in the Indian Penal Code. Also one can refer to Section 377 IPC, i.e., unnatural offences.
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.
Sexual penetration with a corpse was made illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This is defined as depictions of "sexual interference with a human corpse" as well as actual scenes (see also extreme pornography). As of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, it is also illegal to possess explicit and realistic depictions of sexual interference with a human corpse, electronic or otherwise.
As of May 2006, there is no federal legislation specifically barring sex with a corpse. Multiple states have their own laws:
- Nevada - Class A felony with a maximum penalty of life in prison with the possibility of parole under NRS 201.450
- Pennsylvania - Second degree misdemeanor under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5510, "a person who treats a corpse in a way that he knows would outrage ordinary family sensibilities commits a misdemeanor of the second degree".
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- Abuse#Abuse of corpse
- Incidents of necrophilia
- Necrophilia in popular culture
- Vulnerability and care theory of love
- Death during consensual sex
- Robin Goodwin; Duncan Cramer (2002). Inappropriate Relationships: The Unconventional, the Disapproved, and the Forbidden. Psychology Press. p. 176.
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- Herodotus (c. 440 BC). "The Histories (Book 2)".
The wives of men of rank when they die are not given at once to be embalmed, nor such women as are very beautiful or of greater regard than others, but on the third or fourth day after their death (and not before) they are delivered to the embalmers. They do so about this matter in order that the embalmers may not abuse their women, for they say that one of them was taken once doing so to the corpse of a woman lately dead, and his fellow-craftsman gave information.
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- as described in the footnote on page 43 of Mary Roach's bestselling book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
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