01 March 2012

Dear Dr. James,

Is there a professional term for one who derives sexual pleasure from watching himself masturbate in the mirror?  I assume I’m not the only one who sees cases like this (albeit only 2 over the last 5 years—both with totally different personality disorders and sex crimes). Does anyone have a reference for literature on the phenomenon?

Thanks, David
Dear David,

I know many cases of people who have engaged in such behavior, but they all had an additional quality to them.  Although these folks were looking into a mirror overtly, they were also doing something else covertly: They were envisioning themselves in some other form.  Most commonly, these were men picturing themselves as women or as having female anatomy (vulvas or breasts or both), but there are also other people who picture themselves as infants, and the literature mentions still others, such as being an amputee or an animal.  Often times, such people include in their masturbation habits “props” to enhance their experience, such as panties, diapers, or other articles that help them to evoke the imagery they enjoy.

There is, of course, little if any harm to any of these activities in themselves, but men who were motivated by a paraphilia to commit a sexual offense will sometimes also have other paraphilias that are harmless (albeit stigmatized).  It would be an error to generalize from paraphilic sexual offenders to all people with atypical sexual interests.  Indeed, the Internet contains many community forums of, by, and for people who enjoy their interests and prosocially integrate them into their lives. One such forum, understanding.infantilism.org, attributed to B. Terrance Grey, provides an insightful insider’s look into people who are sexually aroused from envisioning themselves as infants.

Other than “autoeroticism” or “erotic target location error,” the scientific names for these situations follow—not from the overt behavior—but from the content of the covert fantasies:autogynephilia for men fantasizing that they are women, apotemnophilia for people fantasizing that they are amputees, etc.

For more on this, I’d recommend Anne Lawrence’s recent article:

Lawrence, A. A. (2009). Erotic target location errors: An underappreciated paraphilic dimension. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 194–215.

Ray Blanchard, Howard Barbaree, and I also include some relevant discussion in:

Cantor, J. M., Blanchard, R., & Barbaree, H. E. (2009). Sexual disorders. In P. H. Blaney & T. Millon (Eds.), Oxford textbook of psychopathology (2nd ed.) (pp. 527–548). New York: Oxford University Press.

Finally, you might be interested in the classic description by:

Freund, K., & Blanhard, R. (1993). Erotic target location errors in male gender dysphorics, paedophiles, and fetishists. British Journal of Psychiatry, 162, 558–563.