Necrophilia (thanatophilia or necrolagnia) is a psychiatric term mostly used to describe the pathological sexual attraction to corpses. It has been associated with cannibalism and vampirism as all are considered perversions.
In his seminal 1894 work, Psychopathia Sexualis, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, one of the first psychiatric writers, called it a horrible manifestation of sadism. Abraham A. Brill, who published the first comprehensive examination of the subject in 1941, characterized necrophiles as many other authors had—mentally deficient, psychotic, and incapable of obtaining a consenting partner.
This report demonstrates how difficult it is to draw any generalizations from a single case history. In 1989 Jonathan Rosman and Phillip Resnick reviewed 122 cases manifesting necrophilic acts or fantasies.
They distinguish genuine necrophilia from pseudonecrophilia and classify true necrophilia into three types: necrophilic homicide (murder to obtain a corpse for sexual purposes); "regular" necrophilia (the use of already dead bodies for sexual pleasure); and necrophilic fantasy (fantasizing about sexual activity with a corpse, without carrying out any necrophilic acts).
The pseudonecrophile has a transient attraction to a corpse, but a corpse is not the object of his sexual fantasies. According to Rosman and Resnick, neither psychosis, mental retardation, nor sadism appears to be inherent in necrophilia.
The most common motive for necrophilia is possession of an unresisting and unrejecting partner. Necrophiles often choose occupations that put them in contact with corpses.
Based on single case histories, many researchers offer psychoanalytic explanations for necrophilia. Rosman and Resnick developed an empirical model to get a deeper understanding of how psychodynamic events could lead to necrophilia:
"(1) The necrophile develops poor self-esteem, perhaps due in part to a significant loss;
(a) He (usually male) is very fearful of rejection by women and he desires a sexual object who is incapable of rejecting him; and/or
(b) He is fearful of the dead, and transforms his fear of the dead—by means of reaction formation—into a desire for the dead;
(2) He develops an exciting fantasy of sex with a corpse, sometimes after exposure to a corpse" (Rosman and Resnick 1989, p. 161).
Because no therapist has treated a sufficient number of necrophiles, research literature on effective treatments does not exist.
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. Similar practices existed in some pre-modern Central European societies when a woman who was engaged to be married died before the wedding.
Source: Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying
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Origins of vampires