Reflections on Hybristophilia: Investigating Dangerous Affinities

When I first heard of  “people attracted to serial killers,” I thought the idea to be preposterous. “Sexual attraction to murderers,” I thought to myself, “that can’t be a real thing, can it?” Well, dear reader, I’ve done the research. I can say without a doubt that it is, indeed, a real thing. It’s called Hybristophilia, which is defined on Wikipedia as “a paraphilia in which sexual arousal, facilitation, and attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent upon being with a partner known to have committed an outrage, cheating, lying, known infidelities or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery.”

In the opening paragraph of its page on the subject, Wikipedia coyly states that “Hybristophilia is accepted as potentially lethal.” It was a fun touch, I thought, that the only remotely negative line to be found on this page about sexual attraction to serial killers was that it “could kill you.” My reaction to this sentence (after the initial “no kidding”), was who “accepted” hybristophilia as “potentially lethal”? After a brief time spent musing over the potential existence of the “fetish police,” I dug a little deeper and discovered that it wasn’t accepted by an almighty being who decides what does/doesn’t go in the Big Book of Things People Find Hot. Instead, Gordon, Wilbert Anthony and James E. Elias present some clues in their 2005 paper “Potentially Lethal Modes of Sexual Expression.” Unfortunately, there is no 2017 version. If only all people were as accepting of paraphilias as these men are. My mother once spent ten minutes on the phone with me expressing the distress she felt about the fact that my older brother was dating a girl with “tattoos.” While her reaction was a little extreme, I can only imagine what the three authors of this paper would be like as parents.

“Hey, Dad. I’m going on a date with this person I met at Trader Joe’s earlier. They’re super cute. By the way, they’ve killed like thirty people. Is it cool if I borrow the car?”

“Sure thing son, just as long as you know that it’s potentially lethal. Make sure you’re back by midnight!”

After reading the article, I viewed hybristophilia in a slightly more positive light. My initial dismissal transformed into extreme interest. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still think sexual attraction to criminals because they are criminals is entirely absurd. But what began as a simple quest for evidence to use in the lambasting of those who romanticize mass-murderers quickly transformed into a far deeper, more serious search. “Okay, hybristophilia is a thing after all. But why?”

The Wikipedia article was good, but I wasn’t willing to end my research there. I needed something more. I needed primary sources. So I went to the only place on the earth where erotic fanfiction starring the Lorax coexist with serious discourse on the social issues of our time. I went to Tumblr.

I wish I could say “What I found on this website was truly shocking,” but to be entirely candid with you, going to Tumblr expecting anything less than shocking material is like stepping foot into a public pool not expecting it to be full of urine. So, to quote my father, I wasn’t shocked by what I found on Tumblr; I was “only disappointed.”

The #hybristophilia tag page on Tumblr is a true sight to behold: Courtroom photos of Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez appear next to gifs of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, perpetrators of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. The majority of the posts are accompanied by text, usually consisting of the original poster declaring their love for the killer in question. The page is littered with usernames such as “columbine420” and “whatsonelessperson.” Every killer and lethal incident has its own tag, and every page is full of posts. If you’re so inclined, go to Tumblr, type “hybristophilia” into the search bar, and see where it takes you. I would summarize more of the pages here, but this article is already running fairly long. Keep in mind, though, that the content of these pages is very unsettling.

Once I had evidence that hybristophilia was not only a real thing, but a popular thing, my desire to find the root cause became stronger than ever. I headed to the website Owlcation, which provided me with a more in-depth analysis than I previously thought possible. I don’t want to summarize an article written by somebody much smarter than I am, so instead I’ll list a few points I found to be especially edifying.

Hybristophilia takes two forms: Passive and Aggressive.

Passive Hybristophiliacs feel as though they can save their lovers from themselves. They believe that, through the overwhelming forces of love and romance, serial killers such as Charles Manson will abandon their murdering ways, and live happily ever after. The passive hybristophiliac is attracted to criminals, yes, but not to crime. Aggressive hybristophiliacs, on the other hand, are totally down with committing crimes. They are willing to do whatever it takes to get the murderer to love them. As for the causes, well, “Many hybristophiliacs seem to be attracted to men behind bars because of their fame and notoriety in the media. Some believe [they] are living vicariously through the men and like the thrill and attention.” Additionally, “Women equate forceful and aggressive men, who are also charming, to an ideal masculinity based on power and roughness.” In other words, these people are attracted to men who are more or less the opposite of me in every way.

When looked at through these lenses, Hybristophilia seems, to me at least, a little less ridiculous. Serial killers are the apex predator, people who act on sheer impulse with no regard for the outside world. As much as I hate to say it, there is something slightly sexy about that. Like a “rebel without a cause,” except the rebel has a cause, and the cause is murdering people. I mean, Christian Bale was in American Psycho, and he’s one of the best looking people on Earth. The motive of “saving” the killers is also an honorable one, though thinking that somebody who believes killing and eating people is a normal thing to do can be changed through the power of love is a bit naive, in my opinion. I am not trying to shame anybody based on what they find arousing, nor am I trying to make light of the tragic events that these psychopaths perpetrated. This article is a simple narration of my journey from ignorance to enlightenment. I thought my brief sojourn down the hybristophilia rabbit hole, while unsettling and slightly disgusting, was very interesting. Hopefully you feel the same.