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Symphorophilia is a paraphilia in which sexual arousal involves staging and watching a tragedy, such as a fire or a traffic accident.

The term was coined by John Money in his 1984 paper Paraphilias: Phenomenology and classification, formed from the Greek root "συμφορά" ("symphora", event, misfortune):[1]

A special form of sacrificial paraphilia, for which a suitable name is symphorophilia (being erotically turned on by accidents or catastrophes), culminates in an arranged disaster, such as an automobile crash. Like a game of Russian roulette, it may end in death — alone or with the partner. However, flirting with disaster, rather than suicide and murder is the trigger responsible for autoerotic arousal and excitement. Being the daredevil who will live to risk a love-death again is an essential part of this paraphilia.

As a photographic print is the positive made from its negative, so also the positive of self-crashing is arranging for a disaster to occur on the highway, and then watching the carnage from a preselected observation post. Disasters other than on the highway may be arranged — catastrophic fires, for example. For those members of the general public who have a touch of sadomasochism in them, disaster as an unrehearsed event is often a large part of the appeal of entertainment stunts and sports, from the circus to stock-car racing.

Although it does not use the term, a 1960 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry describes a man aroused by being injured by "an automobile operated by a woman".[2]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The main characters in the 1973 novel Crash by J. G. Ballard and in the subsequent 1996 film adaptation are car-crash fetishists.
  • In the animated television series Drawn Together, a sub-plot of an episode revolved around Clara's sexual arousal at seeing car crashes.
  • In the Season 7 finale of "Criminal Minds", the UNSUB Lady X and her partner are profiled as "classic symphorophiliacs." Later in Season 9, one killer is a symphorophiliac who gets off on watching people die of rabies.
  • The character of 'Stuntman Mike' (portrayed by Kurt Russell) in the movie Death Proof is a symphorophilliac.
  • In The Fall Guy symphorophilia can be found in a couple of areas within The Fall Guy intro.

The first suggestion is when James Colburn is seen hanging onto the side of a helicopter landing skids as the song goes, "It's true I hire my body out for pay. Hey Hey!". The second is when a biplane goes across a field then crashes into a barn. At the same time the song goes, "But when I wind up hittin' the hay, it's only hay.". Immediately after the 'stuntman' (played by Lee Major) is shown thrown into the hay where he is seeming called to attention with "Hey Hey!" with the assistance of male back-up vocals; while in the 'longer version', he says "Hey Hey" alone but with the hidden suggestion of pleasure or gratification when hitting the hay.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Money, J (1984). "Paraphilias: Phenomenology and classification". American Journal of Psychotherapy. 38 (2): 164–78. PMID 6234812. 
  2. ^ Keeler, M. H. "An unusual perversion: the desire to be injured by an automobile operated by a woman." Am J Psychiatry. 1960 May;116:1032.