Trigger Warning: Mentions of cannibalism, sexual abuse, and graphic violence.
In one form or the other, cannibalism has been a socio-cultural ritual, a last resort for survival, a tool used by colonists to justify colonisation (ironically, the oldest fossil evidence of cannibalism is from Europe). Over the last two centuries or so, cannibalism has also turned into a kink for some.
Actor Armie Hammer is the latest alleged high-profile cannibal due to leaked text conversations with several women. While Hammer has neither accepted nor denied his involvement with the screenshots (shared by an Instagram account called @houseofeffie), a disturbing chain of messages reveal him talking to several women that might point towards cannibalistic and sexually abusive directions. The sender of these messages (allegedly Hammer) claims that he would like to “bite pieces off of” the recipient(s), suggests the possibility of “cutting off” her toe and keeping it with him as “a possession”, and admits that he’s “100% a cannibal”.
Ex-romantic partners like writer Jessica Ciencin Henriquez claimed that the screenshots are real, while app-developer Courtney Vucekovich addressed the emotional abuse he inflicted on her with his sexual fantasies, even calling him a “wannabe Hannibal Lecter”.
Hammer and his cannibal scandal can make one wonder about the extent of sexual cannibalism. The term is quite common in the animal kingdom, especially among creatures like the black widow spider. But in the case of humans, cannibalism has been a means of arousal and can be split into different branches.
The most common form of sexual cannibalism can arguably be erotophonophilia. In layperson terms, this is known as ‘lust murder’. The murderer derives sexual satisfaction from killing a person (often during a sexual act). Such cases might also include mutilation of genitalia or consumption of the victim’s corpse.
The most popularly-known cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer engaged in murdering men, followed by necrophilia and cannibalism. Albert Fish, an American serial killer, paedophile, and a cannibal is another case study. Because Fish’s target always seemed to be young girls, his mannerisms might also fall under gynophagia. According to forensic expert Dr Anil Aggarwal, gynophagia is ‘a sexual fetish that involves fantasies of cooking and consumption of human females’.
Then, there’s vorarephilia that can go both ways. This implies that vorarephiles might enjoy eating other humans or might just want to be eaten themselves. For instance, German cannibal Armin Meiwes ate a victim whom he found via an internet advertisement! He claims that after posting 60 such ads, around 200 men had requested to be eaten by him. On other occasions, the cannibal might groom the victim, mentally convincing them to be eaten. In 2014, a 57-year-old nurse Dale Bolinger was convicted for grooming a 14-year-old girl with the intention of murdering and eating her.
Vorarephilia can also be limited to fantasies rather than actual cannibalism, and it does exist as a theme in often-grotesque sexual artworks, video games, and comics. The cannibalistic creature in such media can range from a human to an animal to a supernatural beast. Even though research on this type of cannibalism is minimal, a 2013 study by psychologists Amy D. Lykins and James M. Cantor shed light on the ‘fantasy’ aspect of it.
The study’s abstract reads:
“Because this sexual interest cannot be enacted in real life due to physical and/or legal restraints, vorarephilic fantasies are often composed in text or illustrations and shared with other members of this subculture via the Internet. Similarities with aspects of bondage/dominance sadomasochism interests, more specifically dominance and submission, are noted.”
Lykins and Cantor’s research was mainly focused on a 45-year-old Canadian man just referred to as Stephen. Now, Stephen’s case shows us that vorarephilia isn’t just limited to the conventional sense of being eaten up. Basically, Stephen didn’t wish for a Hannibal-like cannibal to cut him up in slices and eat his entrails like a gourmet dish.
To quote the researchers’ observations, “He reported the desire to be ‘taken in’ by someone and then expelled… He often fantasised about being faeces or semen and being expelled by a person.”
What drives people to have such fetishes?
Such fantasies of sexual cannibalism ultimately points to the question: what drives people to have such fetishes? For one, there’s an undertone of sadomasochism observed in such cases. Even some of Hammer’s alleged leaked texts delve into his BDSM fantasies.
Extreme cases of sexual dominance or sadomasochism (be it with regards to inflicting pain on others or oneself for pleasure) fall under the category of paraphilias aka arousal from fantasies that are largely considered atypical (vorarephilia being one of them). The causes remain to be pretty vague but as discussed in a Psychology Today article on sexual masochism disorder, “…paraphilias originate because when inappropriate sexual fantasies are forbidden, they become stronger as they are suppressed. When they are finally acted upon, a person is in a state of considerable distress and/or arousal.”
Darkly enough, sexual cannibalism can almost be an act of passion especially if the victim offers their consent, as can be seen in Armin Meiwes’ case. For others like Jeffrey Dahmer, the victims were forcibly trapped, abused, killed, and consumed. He then preserved the ‘meat’ in refrigerators often consuming the corpses or engaging in intercourse with them. Did the otherwise-socially awkward Dahmer engage in such behaviour to show dominance or sadomasochism?
In the words of forensic psychology professor Dr Eric Hickey, “Eating their victims gives them a sense of power, because their victims can never leave.” He also counters the sadism argument by adding that, “They’re not looking for sadism. They simply want access to the body.”
Coming back to Armie Hammer, the internet is having a field day making memes and suggesting wild conspiracy theories around his supposed culinary habits. The actor has himself backed out from his upcoming action-comedy Shotgun Wedding, in which he was to co-star with Jennifer Lopez, and is likely to be replaced by Josh Duhamel. Conspiracies aside, is the Call Me By Your Name star an actual sexual cannibal, or a man caught up in vorarephilic fantasies? Only time will tell.
Shaurya Thapa is a freelance journalist, who mostly writes on pop-culture, history, and cinema.
Featured image credit: Reuters