Jeffrey Lockwood Ph.D.

The Infested Mind

Paraphilia: Insects as Sources of Sexual Arousal

The peculiar pleasure of ants in your pants

Posted Jun 29, 2015

Wikimedia Commons; Steve Jurvetson
Source: Wikimedia Commons; Steve Jurvetson

Paraphilia entails being sexually aroused by objects or situations that are not deemed normal by society. Paraphilics often depend on stimuli which elicit fear or disgust. The psychophysiology is rather straightforward: when something alters our heart rate and respiration, the mind interprets this contextually. If there is a lion or cockroach before us, we infer fear or disgust, but if there is a gorgeous human, we infer attraction. The physiology of a person who is bungee jumping resembles that of individual engaged in foreplay (hint: take your next date to a horror movie and then out for a double espresso). 

So to evoke sexual excitement, some people use scary and disgusting things or settings, including: enclosed spaces (claustrophilia), burial alive (taphephilia), feces (scatophilia), and mucus (mucophilia). And when we’re talking about fear, disgust, or both, insects can be just the ticket.

Formicophilia is an uncommon but fascinating variety of zoophilia (sexual arousal via animals). The term is derived from the scientific name for the ants: family Formicidae.  Ants might evoke a sense of fear given their bites and stings, or perhaps putting insects on one’s body entails a sense of disgust, or maybe having little creatures clambering over one’s erogenous zones just feels good. Although formicophilia is etymologically linked to the use of ants, the definition has been expanded to include any insects (or even other invertebrates, as we’ll see).

The classic case involved a Sri Lankan man who, as a child, enjoyed the ticklish feeling of ants crawling on his thighs. In his early teens, he began masturbating while allowing to ants crawl on his legs. Over the next decade, he expanded his repertoire to include snails (placed on his nipples and penis) and cockroaches (crawling around his perineum and anus). At age 28, he was overcome with shame regarding his habit, and so the sought psychological help. 

Fortunately, the psychiatric clinic at University of Colombo provided compassionate treatment (historically, paraphilics have been castrated and subjected to aversive conditioning via strong electric shocks). The young man was taught social skills for interacting with women and encouraged to use heterosexual pictures for sexual arousal.  After 12 weeks, his interest in women had increased and his reliance on insects had diminished. 

Not all paraphilias are autoerotic. Some individuals use insects to arouse their partners.  In arachnephilia, a person may put a spider near or on their partner. While a candle on the nightstand might create the right mood for some, others find a tarantula more arousing. Perhaps this was the subtext of the gripping scene in Dr. No, where the spider crawls across James Bond’s naked chest in bed—and which climaxes with his violently crushing the arachnid. A climax, indeed.