Do you remember the first time you associated food with sex?
Was it while eyeballing the froth-slathered woman on the cover of the 1965 album Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass? While flipping through Dad's well-worn hardcover book about ancient Roman banquets? Or, like me, while watching the movie-theater scene in the 1982 film Diner and realizing that there is, indeed, a dick in that popcorn box?
However you slice it, food and sex have always had a tight relationship, one that spans ancient mythology (where fertility is often correlated with a bountiful harvest), biblical lore (that damn apple!), contemporary literature (food critic Mark Stuertz's short story "Lunch" will make you love spinach in ways you never imagined) and popular culture (Carl's Jr. 'Nuff said).
There is, of course, a marked difference between worldly inferences to the food-sex relationship and straight-up food-related sexual fetishism, the latter of which, if you ask the few remaining modest parts of me, has reached new heights of (mostly) acceptable human bizarreness.
Commonly referred to as "food play" but known clinically as sitophilia, it is described by psychologist, author and blogger Mark Griffiths as a condition "…in which the individual has an erotic attraction to (and derives sexual arousal from) food. Sitophilia can also include sexual arousal caused by erotic situations involving food." Under the banner of sitophilia, one may choose to suck on a lime before oral sex to stimulate and swell the taste buds for enhanced pleasure; screw a dessert à la American Pie; create foodstuffs using bodily fluids and even, as Griffiths explains, "use food as a method of control and/or flagellation in sadomasochistic activity (e.g., the throwing of oranges at the buttocks as a form of sexual humiliation or punishment)."
None of this activity is new, yet the study of sitophilia in professional circles is rather paltry compared to, say, the exhaustive and controversial research attention given to such things as a "gay gene." But why? Modesty? Disinterest? It certainly isn't for a lack of material. You don't have to plumb the Deep Web to get a taste of some of the more popular forms of sitophilia. Porn websites abound, but most tend to fetishize the fetishes themselves (if you or someone you know needs help, read this).
Outside the porn bubble, one can investigate everything from the Japanese practices of Nyotaimori (involving women) and Nantaimori (involving men)—the eating of sushi or sashimi off naked models, a contentious pastime in Japan that is falling out of favor because of its overt objectification of women—to that old standby, the food object as sexual enhancer. Here you find your cucumbers, squashes, sausages, frozen grapes, liver steak and pretty much anything else you'd willingly put in your mouth being put…elsewhere.
There are, of course, some darker forms of sitophilia out there. On the opening page of one website that features nude women being prepared as delectable edibles, a host explains, "THIS SITE IS DEDICATED TO THE PLEASURES OF THE NUDE AS FOOD...Yes, we celebrate cannibalism as an erotic fantasy: good old-fashioned woman-eating, femme-feasting, girl-gobbling fun!" The text goes on to explain, "We love women…this is not, under any circumstances, meant to be seen as a woman-hating, torture & snuff-oriented, misogynistic site." Uh, really, now?
Most food-sex fetishes are just benign fun, simply an extra layer of consensual sauce on the old sizzle. Much of it is masturbatory in nature, where the only "victim" (barring an obsession that interferes with everyday life for the practitioner) is perhaps the food. Yet, as the times change, so, too, do the ways in which sitophilia manifests itself in our everyday lives.
There's the young man who, last year, posted his sexual exploits with a Pop-Tart package (Dick-in-a-Box 2.0) and a Hot Pocket to Twitter and Vine, becoming something of an Internet folk hero for about 15 minutes. And then there is the odd story of South Korean sensation Park Seo-yeon, aka "The Diva," who, for six hours a day, lets people watch her eat huge meals via a live-stream channel. Last year, she was pulling down up to $9,300 a month doing so. While her broadcasts are about as platonic as an episode of Reading Rainbow, the potential sitophillic implications are pretty clear.
When we examine our own patterns of how we relate to food outside the fetish community, I wonder if the reason there is so little established academic research on sitophilia is because we've all embraced some form of it, however small. From the advent of the "foodgasm" and the punishing regularity of "food porn" on social media (guilty, as charged), to the common appearance of food-related products in our lubricants, lotions, contraceptives, soaps and air fresheners, it's difficult, if not impossible, to escape the food-sex-daily life connection.
Griffith asserts, "Sitophilia appears to be one of many paraphilias [sexual deviations] that have passed the academic and clinical world by. This may be because food play is quite common among 'normal' and 'experimental' sex, and/or may be seen as academically and/or clinically trivial." This may be so in most cases. But I wonder if it's healthy to pass off much of this behavior as trivial when some of it is certainly objectifying women, if not being downright misogynistic, for profit.
We'll never escape the collision of food and sex. It's a part of us and always has been. But why avoid the obvious? We could, as a species, do a better job of making it safe, uplifting and healthy for all who wish to participate. Calling it "clinically trivial" is not a good place to start. Bon appétit!