Necrophilia, sexual gratification by having sex with the dead, is one of the weirdest, bizarre and revolting practices of abnormal and perverse sensuality. Also known as necrophilism, necrolagnia, necrocoitus, necrochlesis and thanatophilia, it may be seen alone or in association with a number of other paraphilias, namely sadism, cannibalism, vampirism (the practice of drinking blood from a person or animal), necrophagia (eating the flesh of the dead), necropedophilia (sexual attraction to the corpses of children) and necrozoophilia (sexual attraction to the corpses of or killings of animals — also known as necrobestiality).
Gravediggers and mortuary attendants, who are most often found practising necrophilia, engage in this activity perhaps because of their loneliness, coupled with easy access to corpses. It is also possible, that they chose this profession in the first place because they were necrophiles. It is known that necrophiles often choose a profession which allows them free and unhindered access to dead bodies.
In ancient times, when dead bodies were transported across nations by sea for last funeral rites (as in cases of deaths of people occurring in foreign countries), sailors were often accused of necrophilia. Long transportation periods along with loneliness and lack of witnesses allowed and even encouraged sailors to commit acts of necrophilia with dead bodies.
In his seminal work, ‘Psychopathia Sexualis,’ Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (born August 14th, 1840 – died December 22nd, 1902) called it “a horrible manifestation of sadism.” Australian psychiatrist Abraham Arden Brill (born October 12th, 1874 – died March 2nd, 1948), who published one of the earliest detailed studies of necrophilia in 1941, characterized necrophiles as mentally deficient, psychotic, and incapable of obtaining a consenting partner. Necrophilia has frequently been associated with cannibalism (Necrophagia) and vampirism (drinking the blood of humans) as all are considered perversions.
Some variations on the theme of necrophilia are autonecrophilia (imagining oneself as a corpse or becoming sexually aroused by simulated corpses) and pseudonecrophilia. The term pseudonecrophilia has been used differently by different authors. Some authors take it to mean arousal from having sex with someone pretending to be dead, while others use the term to describe erotic fantasies of a person to have sexual relations with a dead body, and masturbation (but not actual contact). Still others use it to refer to a person who has a transient attraction to a corpse, but corpses are not the main object of his sexual fantasies. According to the latter definition, the preferable sexual contact in pseudonecrophiles remains a living person. Because of the multitude of meanings the term pseudonecrophilia has come to acquire, it is preferable to do away with this term entirely.
Some classifications of necrophilia already exist. Rosman and Phillip Resnick classify all necrophiles in three groups with an additional category of pseudonecrophilia. However, with more literature pouring in since their suggestion, a newer classification is more appropriate. A new classification is also desirable because it tends to put an end of an enormous confusion currently centring around the term pseudonecrophilia. According to some authors it refers to an arousal from having sex with someone pretending to be dead, and according to others it refers to people who find sexual stimulation in the presence of the dead, and according to yet others, it refers to those persons who are normally content with having sex with the living, but given an opportunity, would have sex with the dead too. Quite obviously such a situation may generate considerable confusion among scientists trying to communicate among one another.
Necrophilia is a little-studied subject, mainly because clinical material concerning this paraphilia is very sparse (a pubmed search with the term “necrophilia” reveals only thirty-seven publications). Whatever little research is available, has been done by few researchers, who have tended to remain fairly insulated from one another’s works. This has resulted in different classifications and different usages of related terminologies. The best example of this confusion is the use of the term pseudonecrophilia, which has been used in at least three different senses by different authors. The current classification system attempts to do away with subjective terms like these and introduces a more scientific mathematically graded system, whereby necrophiliac tendencies are rated from the most innocuous to the most heinous.
Martin Schurig in his ‘Spermatologia,’ describes the case of a Belgian lady, who secretly cut off the penis of her husband when he died and treasured it as a sacred relic in a silver casket. She eventually powdered it and found it an efficacious medicine for herself and others. Havelock Havelock Ellis, cites an earlier example, of another lady at the French court who embalmed and perfumed the genital organs of her dead husband, always preserving them in a gold casket.
At a certain point, Rosman and Phillip Resnick describe the case of a forty-year-old single white male, who fantasized killing a woman, cutting her up, removing her organs and then masturbating while immersing his hands in the blood of the corpse. His erotic pleasure came mainly from the mutilation of warm bodies. In his late twenties, he obtained a job in a morgue for the sole purpose of being near dead bodies, and being able to cut them up. Many mortuary attendants and technicians belong to this category as well as funeral workers and sailors who resort to sexual intercourse with the dead, because they have an easy access to them.
Sometimes, a person may murder his consort for other reasons (say jealousy) and then have sexual intercourse with the dead body. Setia and Tabin describe a rare case where the accused killed his wife and then had sexual intercourse with her. The reason he gave in his testimony was that she had not consented to intercourse with him for the last few years, as she was having an extra-marital affair with someone else. Sometimes, she would have physical relations with her lover even in the presence of her husband, which frustrated him very much. There was no previous history of any psychiatric illness in the accused. The authors see the behaviour of the accused as being a result of both fits of jealousy resulting from his wife having an extramarital affair, as well as frustration for not getting sexual gratification.
Necrophiliacs in all categories are mostly males, but Rosman and Phillip Resnick describe the case of a female under this category. A twenty-one-year-old, separated white woman was employed as an apprentice embalmer for four months. She had been sexually molested at the age of eight and raped by a teacher at the age of fourteen. At the age of twenty — perhaps as a result of repeated childhood trauma — she came to regard herself as having “died in spirit,” started drinking heavily, avoided living beings and enjoyed the company of the dead only. She had a very low self-esteem. During the short period, she was employed as apprentice embalmer, she had sexual intercourse with as many as twenty to forty male corpses.
However, the highest rungs belong to those people who are almost exclusive necrophiliacs, such as people in need to kill people in order to acquire a corpse for sexual intercourse, and people that are exclusive necrophiles, in the sense, that they are so dependent upon a dead body for expression of their sexuality, that even if a willing living partner was available to them, they would be unable to form a romantic relationship with him or her.