Necrophilia, also called thanatophilia and necrolagnia, is a paraphilia characterized by a sexual attraction to corpses. The word is artificially derived from Ancient Greek: '' (nekros; "corpse," or "dead") and (philia''; "love"). The term appears to have originated from Krafft-Ebing's 1886 work Psychopathia Sexualis.


Necrophilia was practiced in some ancient cultures as a spiritual means of communicating with the dead, while others employed it as an attempt to revive the recently departed. The evidence of necrophilia practices can be found in the artifacts of the Moche civilization of South America, where pottery depicting skeletal figures engaged in coitus with living humans are among the ruins. Even in ancient Egypt, there is record of the treatment of the bodies of young women that were set out to rot for a few days before being delivered to embalmers. This practice was born from the need to discourage the men performing the funerary customs from having sexual interest in their charges. 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 and the Nambudri of India, versions of a marriage ceremony were held to lay a dead virgin to rest, which would involve intercourse with the corpse. Similar practices obtained in some pre-modern Central European societies when a woman who was engaged to be married died before the wedding.

Antiquity offers numerous examples of what may readily be described as cults of thanatophilia; perhaps the most famous of them being that of Alexander the Great's, which was physically centered around his breastplate, kept in a mausolean reliquary in the eponymous Egyptian city for over five hundred years. More remarkable still are accounts stating that Alexander's body was placed in a sarcophagus of solid gold and perfectly preserved in a (sterilizing) bath of honey through the remaining centuries of antiquity.


In 1958, Klaf and Brown commented that, although rarely described, necrophilic fantasies may occur more often than is generally supposed.

Rosman and Resnick (1989) theorized that either of the following situations could be antecedents to necrophilia (pp. 161):

  1. The necrophile develops poor self-esteem, perhaps due in part to a significant loss;
  2. :(a) He (usually male) is very fearful of rejection by women and he desires a sexual partner who is incapable of rejecting him; and/or
  3. :(b) He is fearful of the dead, and transforms his fear — by means of reaction formation — into a desire.
  4. He 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 percent were motivated by a desire for an unresisting and unrejecting partner; 21 percent by a want for reunion with a lost partner; 15 percent by sexual attraction to dead people; 15 percent by a desire for comfort or to overcome feelings of isolation; and 12 percent by a desire to remedy low self-esteem by expressing power over a corpse (pp. 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.

Minor modern researches conducted in England have shown that some necrophiles tend to choose a dead mate after failing to create romantic attachments with the living .

Character orientation in western society

For psychologist/philosopher Erich Fromm, necrophilia is a character orientation which is not necessarily sexual. It is expressed in an attraction to that which is dead or totally controlled. At the extreme, it results in destructiveness and a hatred of life.

For Fromm, necrophilia is the opposite of biophilia. Unlike Freud's death instinct, it is not biologically determined but results from upbringing. Fromm believed that the lack of love in the western society and the attraction to mechanistic control leads to necrophilia. Other factors include; the impact of modern weapon systems, idolotry of technology, and the treatment of people as things in bureaucracy.


Necrophilia is not unknown 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 Natuurmuseum Rotterdam, when he heard the distinctive thud of a bird hitting the glass facade of the building. Upon inspection, he discovered a drake mallard lying dead about two meters from the building. Next to the downed bird there was a second drake mallard standing close by. As Moeliker observed the couple, the living drake picked at the corpse of the dead one for a few minutes and 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 motif in duck behavior which is called 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- though not the only recorded case of homosexuality within the bird family.

In the case of a praying mantis, necrophilia could be said to be part of their methods of reproduction. The larger female will often decapitate or even eat her mate during copulation.


Consensuality issue

Although obtaining consent is not usually considered a prerequisite for activity with non-living material, sexual activity with a human corpse is considered to be taboo and frequently labelled as abuse to the deceased persons, based on the presumption that the person would not have consented to the act while alive, and that it would thus constitute a profound disrespect for their remains to be treated in a way other than their assumed wishes.

Although virtually all human societies condemn sexual activity with the dead as a form of symbolic disrespect, several groups, individuals, and publications have pushed for the legalization of necrophilic acts. "The NecroErotic," for example, argues that "necrophiliacs have as much right to engage in their orgasmic release of choice as do 'normal' [living] couples," and that "all 'rights' cease the moment a person draws his or her last breath."



Section 297 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 Necrophilia is not explicitly stated in IPC, a necrophiliac may be convicted under the above section in the Indian Penal Code. There have been several allegations by relatives of dead women, that the dead bodies of their kin were defiled in the night by mortuary attendants, but none have been proved. The possibility of such an act taking place on a regular basis is not impossible to imagine.

In some cases, where a woman was alleged to have been raped and murdered and the autopsy surgeon failed to find any signs of rape, the relatives have approached the authorities for a second postmortem. The second postmortem is invariably conducted at a different hospital, often necessitating the deposit of the body overnight at the mortuary of the second hospital. In cases where the second autopsy surgeon finds signs of rape, the defendants have been known to allege that the dead body was defiled by drunk mortuary attendants at night. None of such allegations have been proved in a court of law, however.

United Kingdom

Sexual penetration with a corpse was made illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The Government is also considering criminalising possession of depictions of necrophilia. This is defined as depictions of "sexual interference with a human corpse" (as opposed to only penetration), and would cover "depictions which appear to be real acts" as well as actual scenes (see also extreme pornography).

United States

As of May 2006, there is no federal legislation specifically barring sex with a corpse.Section 3a Multiple states have their own laws:

Notable cases

Necrophilia as represented in the arts

Shakespeare, influenced extensively by the tragic ethos of the Greek biographer Plutarch, has the senatorial conspirators show the bloodied body of Caesar immense reverence, their general state of mind undergoes a radical transformation when it suddenly turns into thanatophilia for the slain dictator. The conspirator Decius Brutus in attempting to persuade Caesar to go to the senate, duplicitously offers Caesar a sanguine assessment of the day's outcome, and yet the sanguinary and necrophiliac imagery of Calpurnia's dream persists:

This dream is all amiss interpreted;/ It was a vision fair and fortunate:/ Your statue spouting blood in many pipes,/ In which so many smiling Romans bathed,/ Signifies that from you great Rome shall suck/ Reviving blood, and that great men shall press/ For tinctures, stains, relics and cognizance./ This by Calpurnia's dream is signified.

(Julius Caesar Act 2, Scene II)

Cleopatric death cults have often combined elements of both institutional thanatophilia and libidinal necrophilia, with the latter often dominating. Plutarch relates that Octavius' admiration for Cleopatra only grew after her death, that he ordered she be buried alongside Antony in royal splendor, and that on his return to Rome he incorporated an image of the dying Cleopatra (cum-asp) into his triumph. Beginning with the Renaissance and continuing into later centuries individual artists, as well as artistic movements (e.g. Romanticism, Decandatism), have demonstrated a veritable passion for and derived much inspiration from Cleopatra's life and death; among the most well known pictorial iterations of Cleopatra's suicide are Cagnacci's Death of Cleopatra (1658) and Rixen's work of the same name (1874). A work that may have inspired Rixen's painting is Gautier's story Une Nuit de Cléopâtre (1838), which includes a fantastic-and an undisguisedly fetishistic-description of the Egyptian queen's body post-mortem:

Her sole vestment was the linen shroud that had covered her upon her state bed, and the folds of which she drew over her bosom as if she were ashamed of being so little clothed, but her small hand could not manage it. It was so white that the colour of the drapery was confounded with that of the flesh under the pale light of the lamp. Enveloped in the delicate tissue which revealed all the contours of her body, she resembled an antique marble statue of a bather...Dead or living, statue or woman, shadow or body, her beauty was still the same; only the

green gleam of her eyes was some what dulled, and her mouth, so purple of yore, had now only a pale, tender rose-tint almost like that of her cheeks.

One could argue that the Legend of Osiris and Isis involved a necrophilic act; Isis is said to have fathered Horus with the dead Osiris's dismembered penis, albeit miraculously. According to Christian Origins in Egyptian Mythology, "an ancient Egyptian relief depicts this conception by showing his mother Isis in a falcon form, hovering over an erect phallus of a dead and prone Osiris in the Underworld."Christian Origins in Egyptian Mythology

In Toni Morrison's novel Song of Solomon, Macon Dead is explaining to his son Milkman that he is disturbed by the relationship that his wife Ruth had with her father, Dr. Foster. Shortly after Dr. Foster's death, Macon caught Ruth lying naked in bed with her father's corpse, while sucking on his fingers.

In Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem, "The Leper," the speaker is a scribe who had long desired a woman in the royal house where he is employed. When she contracts leprosy, she is deserted by all others. The scribe then takes care of her, and has an arguably necrophilic relationship with her.

Published in 1930, William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" tells the story of a lonely house ridden woman named Emily Grierson who deals with the strange circumstances of the man she loves, and her secret world of necrophilia. The My Chemical Romance song To The End is based on this story.

The 1994 Cormac McCarthy novel Child of God is a dark tale of a man who takes up life in a cave where he stores the corpses of his victims, and is one of the most remarkably sympathetic depictions of necrophilia in literature. The story is, however, more focused on extreme social alienation and the relationship we have with the outcast.

In Canadian author Barbara Gowdy's short story "We So Seldom Look On Love", a funeral parlour employee learns how to make the penises of recently dead men erect, and she commits sexual acts on the corpses until she is caught. In 1996, the story was adapted into the film Kissed.

A Japanese sub genre of both horror and pornography called ero guro or "erotic grotesque" often deals with necrophilia. Avenged Sevenfold referred to Necrophilia in the song A Little Piece of Heaven.

Further reading

See also

External links

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