Hybristophilia is a sexual deviation mostly particular to women who fantasise about men that have done unspeakable, terrible things
Samantha* likes Kesha and palm trees and suffers from anxiety. She’s vocal about sexual assault and how badly she wants to move to LA. She watches Trailer Park Boys and has more than one hidden piercing. She also wants to choke on Alexander Pichushkin’s cock.
All of this information, including Samantha’s interest in The Chessboard Killer’s penis, is readily available on her Tumblr blog under a URL that references her affection for infamous serial killer and rapist Richard Ramirez. She’s part of Tumblr’s thriving True Crime Community (TCC), and one of many users who participate in online community forums about hybristophilia, the sexuoerotic fixation on a person who has committed outrageous crimes.
“Thriving” is perhaps an understatement; a quick “TCC” search on Reddit or Tumblr reveals tons of pages devoted to fan art, erotica and forum conversation surrounding some of North America and Europe’s most gruesome criminals. There’s some demographic diversity within the community – users are from all over the map, of different ages, and from varying backgrounds. Some are men, but most identify (online at least) as female, with blogs that focus on male criminals.
With Charles Manson’s much-discussed engagement to a young fan and increasing instances and coverage of mass shootings, depictions of hybristophilia have specifically entered the mediasphere. Television hit The Good Wife tackled it near the end of its first season, and characters like Harley Quinn of newly-renewed Suicide Squad fame have given the paraphilia mainstream screen time and sex appeal.
It’s no surprise then that many self-proclaimed hybristophiliacs learn about the sexual practice and the criminals they adore through various media channels. “The first time I really noticed was when I was on Facebook and I was looking at CNN’s articles on Dylann Roof and photos of him were everywhere,” remembers Taryn*, a 17-year-old girl who loves Ted Bundy in addition to Roof. “I was in a constant battle of ‘this is so wrong, I find a murderer cute, I shouldn’t be thinking like this, it’s so fucking dirty.’ But I couldn’t help it. He really is cute.”
“Media and the news portray these killers as monsters, as people that take other people’s lives. I’m attracted to that - I like knowing that at any given time someone can absolutely snap and just take a life like that” – *Ella
Taryn’s not alone. Media imagery tends to glorify criminals, making them into larger-than-life figures fit for sexual adulation. Tabloid-style stories and tell-alls about their lives and transgressions parallel those of more traditional celebrities. Loaded terms like “monster,” “psycho,” and “sociopath” are employed with abandon. It seems that for hybristophiliacs the more sex, abuse, or trauma a killer has in their past the better.
The people who love them aren’t treated much differently. In fact, so many academic and mass media narratives surrounding paraphilia highlight them as deviant psychosexual disorders, ultimately assigning moral characteristics to those who may or may not identify with various sexual practices. People who claim to love incarcerated criminals are constantly questioned, and fictional depictions of admirers are hardly flattering. It’s clear that the public perception of hybristophilia, often based on these media narratives, is not a positive one. But Taryn doesn’t seem to mind. “The media tend to exaggerate and dehumanize the criminals,” she says. “But it just makes me love them even more.”
Ella*, a 16-year-old with a particular soft spot for Jeffrey Dahmer’s cheekbones, agrees. “Media and the news portray these killers as monsters, as people that take other people’s lives. I’m attracted to that – I like knowing that at any given time someone can absolutely snap and just take a life like that.” Ella’s attraction to physical violence and killers’ acts themselves is common among hybristophiliacs.
Another user writes: “I’m a slut for people who kill with their bare hands like a superior breed of killers and not those weak ass pew pewers with their metal machines of disappointment.” Those “metal machines” have their own following among TCC members, as a number of users talk about their merits as potential sex toys.
Many bloggers, on the other hand, share disclaimers that they do not condone violent behaviour, and base their sexual desire on pure physical attraction. “I honestly hate what Dylan [sic] Roof did - I am very anti-racist and want to burn the confederate flag…he killed innocent believers because of their skin colour, and he was sick. That doesn’t mean I can’t have this irrepressible urge to fuck him senseless.”
For Taryn and many others, the attraction is slightly more romantic, rooted in a sense of shared experience. “I’ve read hundreds of news articles on Columbine that all make Eric [Harris] and Dylan [Klebold] look like absolute monsters,” she says. “But from the research I’ve done, you get to really see what they were like, which were heavily bullied, severely depressed, misunderstood teenagers.”
“I’m a slut for people who kill with their bare hands like a superior breed of killers and not those weak ass pew pewers with their metal machines of disappointment” – Anonymous
Taryn’s page reveals that she too feels misunderstood and occasionally depressed. Samantha is also very open about her struggles with mental health and Ella has “only shared this kind of info online with my online friends.” Finding it difficult to identify with shinier celebrity crushes, the TCC provides Taryn, Samantha and other members with more relatable sex objects - as well as a distinct sense of community.
There exists potential for these online spaces to act as therapeutic; for social media forums to provide a healthy outlet for hybristophiliacs and members of other sexual subcultures to discuss, come to terms with, and live out their sexual fantasies and desires without the implications of doing so IRL. The TCC seems to act as a refuge for many who fear offline experiences of loneliness and ostracism.
Members are fiercely protective, policing hashtags and blogs for outsider interference. Despite their best efforts though, nasty comments featuring violent language are routinely posted. Tia, 19, says that she’s received “loads of hate” from anonymous users, or “anons.” “The bad anons tell me to die or kill myself,” she says. “But it’s mostly good, supportive ones who end up staying with my blog.”
There’s a fair amount of attempted shaming but, as M.C.*, a 21-year-old Reddit user points out, shame isn’t exclusive to the hybristophilia community. For her, sexuality is not a black and white issue, and kink comes in all forms. Her preference, she says, is just one small part of her complex life. She even resists calling herself a hybristophiliac, adding “I never really was someone who uses labels. If someone asks me what I like [sexually], I just tell them, plain and simple.”
M.C.’s level of self-awareness is emblematic of one type of discourse commonly found in TCC forums. As long as opinions are informed and respectful, members are generally open to hearing them. They’re not easily fazed. They know what they like, plain and simple. Taryn sums it up clearly:
“I guess the whole ‘bad boy’ character is very attractive to me,” she says. “And it doesn’t get much more bad boy than seeing murderers on the news.”
*Names have been changed.