Necrophilia Scene Lynne Stopkewich

Sexuality in Conversation

Holding on Like Grim Death: The Mind of a Necrophiliac

Editors' Note: On March 1, Gizmodo published an article accusing a primary source in this story, Damien Sendler, of publishing false research. Playboy reached out to Sendler for a response: "This is not the first time that I was attacked for the content of my research and I survived each such attempt. The original attacks targeted my research on zoophilia, which has been widely criticized and mocked, yet it continues to be read and cited by scientific community. I will continue to publish research and do my work as it is. I have been in touch with journals to express my concerns and to assure them about the high quality of my work."

This article will be updated as necessary.

It was a cold, windy evening in 2013 when a 32-year-old man going by the name of Wyatt found himself in a funeral home in Berlin, Germany, seated next to two bleak, open coffins containing the dead bodies of his aunt and cousin, who had tragically died in a traffic accident. Wyatt was the only living human being in the small room where the corpses laid, as the attendant had departed to offer the dejected relative privacy to grieve for his loss. But sorrow wasn’t the only thing the man was feeling.

He was also sexually aroused, fixating all the more on what would soon be buried in the soil six feet under. His eyes first traveled to the black, shiny surface of the hexagonal boxes. Then, they ran along the intersecting lines of the cross that was impressed on the apex of the coffins. Last, they concentrated on the bodies that were wedged within the coffins. At that point, he reports being swept away by a desire to “touch what death feels like.”

“My cousin’s breasts kept sticking up through the sheets like hard rocks,” he says. “I rolled down the sheet and touched one of them gently with one of my fingers just to get a feeling of what it feels like to be dead and sexy. Next I started exploring her vagina, just touching it gently to get a feel of the hair and how it feels like after you are dead. That night at home I masturbated just thinking about that body.”

Necrophilia, or necrolagnia, or thanatophilia (among the several names it has earned), defines an erotic interest in the dead that often results in actual physical contact with them. It is a paraphilia, which means an intense sexual arousal to atypical objects, people, situations, behaviors or fantasies beyond the sphere of genital stimulation with consenting adult partners. Experts consider it one of the most abhorrent manifestations of perverse sensuality, practiced by people who are either psychopaths, or sociopaths, or have a paralyzing fear of interacting with living partners, or are bleached of remorse and sexual inhibition.

Still, it is not something new: From the mythological Greek hero and lead warrior of Homer’s Iliad, Achilles, who allegedly got entangled in necrophiliac acts with the Amazonian Queen Penthesilea after taking her life, to the Sleeping Beauty, whose earlier versions in which a prince rapes and impregnates the comatose girl have been repressed in favor of the less disconcerting fairytale, the historical landscape is permeated with examples of “love” for the departed. 

“I’m attracted both to living people and dead,” says Wyatt, today a bulky 37-year-old single man with thinning hair, a career in banking and a sexually promiscuous personal life. “If they are good-looking, you don't feel the difference except for that they won’t move and talk.” Despite his rationalizing of his paraphilia, Wyatt, alongside a small group of other necrophiliacs, were sent to psychiatric treatment after having been charged with misdemeanors. Damian Sendler, a Harvard-trained clinical sexologist and mental health provider at the Felnett Health Research Foundation (the clinic where the men were sent), immediately saw his chance.
She looked as if she was going to have an orgasm. Her mouth and eyes were wide open, and that got me really excited.
“I had once read a book titled Desiring the Dead: Necrophilia and Nineteenth-Century French Literature by Lisa Downing, a British scholar of literature, where she talked about the connection between the literary representation of necrophilia and the psychiatric study,” says Sendler. “After reading the book, I thought about tribal communities where exchanging meals and gifts with the dead is an everyday practice. What were the chances that sexual copulation was just an extension to these relationships?”

Sendler wanted to provide one of the most detailed descriptions of the motivations for sexual copulation with corpses. In-depth interviews with forensically-committed psychiatric patients would do the trick. Wyatt was one of them; Matt and Percy, both from Warsaw, Poland, were two others. 

In 1982, Matt, then an 18-year-old man, was on his night shift at the morgue where he had been working for about a month. As always, the man would do a walk-through to see if everything was fine inside the morgue. It was his job to make sure that all the doors were closed and that no one could gain access to the premises during the night.

The intact body of a woman who was in her early 30s and had died as a result of some accident or a heart attack had just been delivered and was scheduled for autopsy the following morning. Matt got curious. He wanted to see how the new “guest” was looking. Approaching the body bag, he unzipped it, scanning the corpse up and down with his eyes. “She looked as if she was going to have an orgasm. Her mouth and eyes were wide open, and that got me really excited,” he says. “I started touching her legs, my hands moving into her vagina. She was pretty wet inside. I'm guessing she was decomposing,” he unfailingly continues.

Launching into a blizzard of gruesome details, the today 54-year-old, who dies his hair pitch black, puts his huge frame in smart suits, and steps out of his house always well-groomed and civil and perfectly amiable, describes how he pushed down her cadaver a little so that her head would be titled, unzipped his pants and had her perform oral sex on him. He ends his account no less spine-chillingly saying how he forced the corpse’s mouth into his bum. Finally, he pushed the body back into the body bag, and the following day, he “calmly” witnessed it get cut up.

“There is something empowering about a dead body that just looks at you and kind of begs for it. And the fun part is that they will never say no,” he says. He does not even care for microbes. “I always do it when they are still fresh, after they get delivered to the morgue. It's no more disgusting than being on the subway where there are millions of germs all over.”

Interestingly enough, though the incidence of necrophiliacs remains very low, between zero to five percent of the total population, a disproportionately large percentage of necrophiles appear to be morgue and funeral home workers. These individuals, mostly men, will often get a toehold in the funeral industry, not so much because they want to act on their urges to have sex with the corpses, but because they need to be close to their object of sexual fantasy: “It’s like putting a pedophile in a school, but here the law does not prohibit necrophiles from working with the dead,” says Sendler.

Like Matt, 49-year-old Percy also got into the death industry to be near remains, a morbid affection that came by early in life. Percy was around 11 when he first realized how he loved any kind of scenery that had to do with the dead. He would “devour” anything related to the process of decomposition and the funeral industry, and would visit cemeteries with the frequency his peers visited the movies. Such was the dynamics of his obsession with death that he decided to study the art of preserving corpses at a mortuary school.

It was 1992 and a day before the anatomy class final exams at Percy’s school, during which students were allowed to come in and review materials in the lab. Inside the lab, there were a few bodies and no supervision. In preparation for his practical exam, the 23-year-old wannabe embalmer began examining the body of a young male client, who had died as a result of a car accident and whose body had been donated to the mortuary school in exchange for a free funeral.
I pick out bodies looking well-preserved, good, without any scars or bleeding, check their HIV status and medical history, and enjoy a stress-free manifestation of love in comparison to having sex with real people.
“He was well-built and didn't have any body odor. Actually, he looked peaceful as if he was asleep,” says Percy, a short, brown-and-white-haired man with a potbelly, who has spent the last 12 years of his life on disability paychecks after a car accident of his own. “I felt compelled to touch him,” he continues. “I ran my fingers through his abs to get a feeling of what it is like to be muscular after you're dead. I ran my fingers across his stomach, through his pubis and all the way to his crotch,” he continues, adding in vivid detail how he groped the corpse, and how he was unable to hold out against performing oral sex on the corpse’s penis, which he still recalls was circumcised.

“I felt excited and weird after the act,” he says. “I did think I was violating a man that might have been poor and had to be in this lab to get free burial and that was unethical, but ultimately decided that love is love and it doesn't matter who you love, as long as it is genuine and as long as no one hurts physically.”

Since, the 49-year-old has had penetrative sex with dead people three times while working in morgues and fondled dozens of other bodies throughout his career as an undertaker, always “taking precautions.” “I pick out bodies looking well-preserved, good, without any scars or bleeding, check their HIV status and medical history, and enjoy a stress-free manifestation of love in comparison to having sex with real people, who are always whining,” he says. (It is worthy to note that soon after his first full-blown act of thanatophilia Percy got married, but his wife left the marriage six years later, when she understood there was something “seriously wrong” with the sexual fetishes of her husband.)

The embalmer, the morgue worker and the banking employee have already “inspired” Sendler, who seems hell-bent on digging into the most extreme manifestations of human sexuality, to produce a paper titled “Necrophilia in a Sample of Forensically-Committed Psychiatric Patients,” which is currently under review at the journal OMEGA —Journal of Death and Dying. “My clients are not insane,” he says. “They all suffer from social personality disorder, which is characterized by a general disobedience and disrespect for the law, but they are not schizophrenic or severely depressed, so there is no organic basis of a disease that commands medication-based treatment.” So, he has opted for giving all three of them longitudinal psychotherapy, hoping he will be able to understand more about one of the least studied paraphilias ever in the process.

On their end, the three necrophiliacs are still scratching their heads as to why the rest of us are repelled to the far end of our core by their acts. “And how about the hubris you commit toward the dead?” I ask them.

“I don’t know...” says Percy. “There’s definitely life after death, that's why some of the dead might not like what I’m doing to them. But, in the end, they will forgive me as it has been a learning experience for me.”

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