The short answer to this very erudite scientific query is that statue fucking (a type of paraphilia called “agalmatophilia,” and yes, this article is actually a surprise homework assignment on Greek prefixes) never really vanished from humankind’s long litany of sexual dalliances — people have just gotten better at making more realistic, less frigid sex dolls. Still, there used to be enough agalmatophiles defiling the public works projects of the ancient world to merit some pretty explicit (and hilarious) mentions from ancient authors, and it is that sort of tawdry scholarly adventure that we’ll embark on this Sunday afternoon.
Earlier this week, Jesse Bering, a University of Arkansas psychology professor and the author of such luminous sexy sex books as Why is the Penis Shaped Like That? and Perv, wrote about the ancient world’s deviant culture of statue sex for Scientific American. Rubbing one’s penis (more on that in a moment) all over the cool, polished stone of a particularly obscene statue used to be a relatively common type of paraphilia (the experience of intense arousal from highly atypical objects, situations, or individuals), but scholars Alex Scobie and Tony Taylor argued in 1975 that agalmatophilia had become so obscure that the term was all but obsolete in the modern world. Sure, ancient dudes used to fuck statues like all the time, but now? Please — statue fucking is an obsolete art form. We as modern humans can only experience the cool, unyielding stone flesh of statue lust through vivid accounts like this one by Athenacus, a Greek writer scribbling in the 2nd century AD during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.
Bering includes Athenacus’ account of noted agalmatophile Cleisophus of Selymbria, for our general edification and mortification. Apparently, Cleisophus,
who fell in love with the statue in Parian marble at Samos, locked himself up in the temple, thinking he should be able to have intercourse with it; and since he found that impossible on account of the frigidity and resistance of the stone, he then and there desisted from that desire, and placing before him a small piece of flesh he satisfied his desire with that.
“Piece of flesh,” Bering notes, is a particularly ominous and icky turn of phrase, though he also reminds us that it could just mean that Cleisophus, finding no statue aperture in which to satisfy his lust, jerked off alone in a temple at night, because ancient people were just as creepy and horny as modern people who jerk off in adult bookstores. In all the ancient accounts, moreover, there isn’t a single mention of female agalmatophiles, which seems a little conspicuous to Bering.
More conspicuous, though, is the almost total disappearance of agalmatophilia shout-outs in formal sexology literature dating back to the 19th century. Bering tends to agree with a tentative explanation for this disappearance put forward by Scobie and Tony, namely, that statue-fucking evolved with technology. He writes:
The agalmatophiles’ descendents are those today whose desires are reserved for artificial females (or males) in the form of realistic life-size dolls (pediophilia, from the Greek pedio, doll; not to be confused with pedophilia). There should also be little doubt that a virtual explosion in the ranks of the robotophiles is right around the corner. In other words, we may have lost agalmatophilia from the colorful roster of paraphilias, but advances in technology mean that we’ve since gained everything from latex fetishism to mechanophilic arousal by automobiles to the electrophile’s sexual dependence on electric currents.
Bering doesn’t look much deeper into the fairly enormous gender gap in either the ancient or modern agalmatophile communities, but, if filmmaker Allison de Fran’s documentary The Mechanical Bride is any indication, such communities are overwhelmingly male. Sure, the Jude Law sexbot in A.I. would probably go down on you for, like, four hours, but his lady sexbot friend is probably making a lot more robot money.
This might, of course, have something to do with our ongoing cultural sexualization of the female body or the fact that even men in the ancient world loved to write penis adventure stories, but, back in the ancient golden age of agalmatophilia, sexualized representations of the human body were way more androgynous, a fact academia’s enfant terrible Camille Paglia attributes to the ceaseless tension in Western art between Apollo and Dionysius. The twins Apollo and Artemis? Basically the same person. So, what gives? Is there something peculiar to male sexuality that endears some penises to statues? Surely the looming sex robot revolution in the middle of this century will answer some of these questions.
Hearts of Stone: Sexual Deviants in Antiquity [Scientific American]
Image via AP, Thanassis Stavrakis