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Necrophilia, also called thanatophilia, and necrolagnia, is the sexual attraction to corpses. It is classified as a paraphilia by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. The word is artificially derived from the ancient Greek words: νεκρός (nekros; "dead") and φιλία (philia; "love"). The term appears to have originated from Krafft-Ebing's 1886 work Psychopathia Sexualis.[1]

Rosman and Resnick (1989) reviewed information from 34 cases of necrophilia describing the individuals' motivations for their behaviors: these individuals reported the desire to possess an unresisting and unrejecting partner (68%), reunions with a romantic partner (21%), sexual attraction to corpses (15%), comfort or overcoming feelings of isolation (15%), or seeking self-esteem by expressing power over a homicide victim (12%).[2]


Herodotus writes in The Histories that, to discourage intercourse with a corpse, ancient Egyptians left deceased beautiful women to decay for "three or four days" before giving them to the embalmers.[3][4][5]

In some societies the practice was enacted owing to a belief that the soul of an unmarried woman would not find peace; among the Kachin of Myanmar, versions of a marriage ceremony were held to lay a dead virgin to rest, which would involve intercourse with the corpse. Similar practices existed in some pre-modern Central European societies when a woman who was engaged to be married died before the wedding. In Asia, the first known case of necrophilia was perpetrated in the Teo Dynasty of Vietnam. The chief of Chyi province was rumoured to have engaged in necrophilia.[6]

Religious aspect

Acts of necrophilia are reportedly displayed on Moche artifacts of Peru. It was reportedly used as a method to communicate with the dead.[7][8] See also: Necromancy.


A ten-tier classification of necrophilia:[9]

  1. Role players
  2. Romantic necrophiles
  3. People having a necrophilic fantasy – necrophilic fantasizers
  4. Tactile necrophiles
  5. People having a sexual fetish for the dead – fetishistic necrophiles
  6. People having a necromutilomania – necromutilomaniacs
  7. Opportunistic necrophiles
  8. Regular necrophiles
  9. Homicidal necrophiles
  10. Exclusive necrophiles.


In 1958, Klaf and Brown[5] commented that, although rarely described, necrophilic fantasies may occur more often than is generally supposed.

Rosman and Resnick[2] (1989) theorized that either of the following situations could be antecedents to necrophilia (pp. 161):

  1. The necrophile develops poor self-esteem, perhaps due in part to a significant loss;
    (a) He/she is very fearful of rejection by women/men and he/she desires a sexual partner who is incapable of rejecting him/her; and/or
    (b) He/she is fearful of the dead, and transforms his/her fear — by means of reaction formation — into a desire.
  2. He/she develops an exciting fantasy of sex with a corpse, sometimes after exposure to a corpse.

The authors also reported that, of their sample of 'necrophiliacs,':

  • 68% were motivated by a desire for an unresisting and unrejecting partner;
  • 21% by a want for reunion with a lost partner;
  • 15% by sexual attraction to dead people;
  • 15% by a desire for comfort or to overcome feelings of isolation; and
  • 11% by a desire to remedy low self-esteem by expressing power over a corpse (pp. 159).

At the end of their own report, Rosman and Resnick wrote that their study should only be used like a spring-board for further, more in depth, research.

Minor modern researches conducted in England have shown that some necrophiles tend to choose a dead mate after failing to create romantic attachments with the living[citation needed].


Necrophilia is known to occur in animals, with a number of confirmed observations.[10] Kees Moeliker allegedly made one of these observations while he was sitting in his office at the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam, when he heard the distinctive thud of a bird hitting the glass facade of the building. Upon inspection, he discovered a drake (male) mallard lying dead about two meters from the building. Next to the downed bird there was a second drake mallard standing close by. As Moeliker observed the couple, the living drake picked at the corpse of the dead one for a few minutes and then mounted the corpse and began having sex with it. The act of necrophilia lasted for about 75 minutes, in which time, according to Moeliker, the living drake took two short breaks before resuming with copulating behavior. Moeliker surmised that at the time of the collision with the window the two mallards were engaged in a common pattern in duck behavior which is called "rape flight". "When one died the other one just went for it and didn't get any negative feedback — well, didn't get any feedback," according to Moeliker.[11][12] This is the first recorded case of necrophilia in the mallard duck- though not the only recorded case of homosexuality within the bird family.[13]

The film The Cane Toads: an Unnatural History shows a male toad copulating with a female toad who has been run over by a car. He goes on to do this for eight hours.[14]

In the case of a praying mantis, necrophilia could be said to be part of their methods of reproduction. The larger female will sometimes decapitate or even eat her mate during copulation. However, this only happens in 5-31% of cases.[15]


New Zealand

Under Section 150 of the New Zealand Crimes Act 1961, it is an offence for there to be "misconduct in respect to human remains." This statute may be applicable to necrophilia, although it should be noted that there is no case law as yet that would test this observation [16]


Section 297 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) entitled "Trespassing on burial places, etc", states as follows:[17]

Whoever, with the intention of wounding the feelings of any person, or of insulting the religion of any person, or with the knowledge that the feelings of any person are likely to be wounded, or that the religion of any person is likely to be insulted thereby,

commits any trespass in any place of worship or on any place of sculpture, or any place set apart from the performance of funeral rites or as a depository for the remains of the dead, or offers any indignity to any human corpse, or causes disturbance to any persons assembled for the performance of funeral ceremonies,

shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

Although Necrophilia is not explicitly stated in IPC, a necrophiliac may be convicted under the above section in the Indian Penal Code. There have been several allegations by relatives of dead women, that the dead bodies of their kin were defiled in the night by mortuary attendants, but none have been proven.[18]

In some cases, where a woman was alleged to have been raped and murdered and the autopsy surgeon failed to find any signs of rape, the relatives have approached the authorities for a second postmortem. The second postmortem is invariably conducted at a different hospital, often necessitating the deposit of the body overnight at the mortuary of the second hospital. In cases where the second autopsy surgeon finds signs of rape, the defendants have been known to allege that the dead body was defiled by drunk mortuary attendants at night. However, no such allegation has been proven in a court of law.[18]

United Kingdom

Sexual penetration with a corpse was made illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This is defined as depictions of "sexual interference with a human corpse" (as opposed to only penetration), and would cover "depictions which appear to be real acts" as well as actual scenes (see also extreme pornography).

As of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, it is also illegal to possess physical depictions of necrophilia, electronic or otherwise. Necrophilia-pornography falls under the governmental description of extreme pornography, of which, possession is classed as illegal under the aforementioned act.

United States

As of May 2006, there is no federal legislation specifically barring sex with a corpse.[citation needed] Multiple states have their own laws:

See also


  1. Krafft-Ebing, Richard von (1886). Psychopathia Sexualis. English translation: ISBN 1-55970-425-X.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rosman, J. P.; Resnick, P. J. (1989). "Sexual attraction to corpses: A psychiatric review of necrophilia". Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 17 (2): 153–163. PMID 2667656.
  3. Herodotus (c. 440 BC). The Histories, Book II, 89:
    "The wives of men of rank when they die are not given at once to be embalmed, nor such women as are very beautiful or of greater regard than others, but on the third or fourth day after their death (and not before) they are delivered to the embalmers. They do so about this matter in order that the embalmers may not abuse their women, for they say that one of them was taken once doing so to the corpse of a woman lately dead, and his fellow-craftsman gave information."
  4. Brill, Abraham A. (1941). "Necrophilia". Journal of Criminal Psychopathology 2 (4): 433–443.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Klaf, Franklin S., and Brown, William (1958). "Necrophilia: Brief Review and Case Report," the Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 29(143), 645-652. "Inhibited forms of necrophilia and necrophilic fantasies may occur more commonly then is generally realized."
  6. Walker, Benjamin. Encyclopaedia of Metaphysical Medicine, Routledge 1978, pp. 191-2. Walker cites Rollo Ahmed, The Black Art, John Long, London, 1936, in support.
  7. Swarag. "The Dead Corpse Can Fantasize Physical Pleasure". OneIndia. Bangalore: Greynium Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd.. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  8. Geoghegan, Ted. "The Sordid History of Dead Love". Girls & Corpses. Robert Steven Rhine. Retrieved 16 May 2009.
  9. Aggrawal, Anil. (August 2009). "A new classification of necrophilia". J Forensic Leg Med 16 (6): 316–20. doi:10.1016/j.jflm.2008.12.023. PMID 19573840.
  10. "Randy rock doves join party with the dead". The Guardian (London). 2005-03-14.,,1437560,00.html. Retrieved 2007-06-17.
  11. C.W. Moeliker (2001). "The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the Anas platyrhynchos (Aves:Anatidae)". Deinsea - Annual of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam 8: 243–247.
  12. Donald MacLeod (2005-03-08). "Necrophilia among ducks ruffles research feathers". London: Guardian Unlimited.,9865,1432991,00.html. Retrieved 2007-06-17.
  13. Smith, Dinitia (2004-02-07). "Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name". New York Times. p. 7.
  14. Lewis, 1989 S. Lewis, Cane Toads: an Unnatural History, Doubleday, New York (1989).
  15. Dan Feldman. "The Praying Mantis". Retrieved 2007-06-17.
  16. Butterworths Crimes Act 1961: Wellington: Butterworths: 2003
  17. THE INDIAN PENAL CODE (IPC)- Dowry Law Misuse(IPC 498A) By Indian Women
  18. 18.0 18.1 Aggrawal, Anil (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press. ISBN 1420043080. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "aggrawal" defined multiple times with different content
  19. as described in the footnote on page 43 of Mary Roach's bestselling book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers


Further reading

  • Lisa Downing, Desiring the Dead: Necrophilia and Nineteenth-Century French Literature. Oxford: Legenda, 2003
  • Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis. New York: Stein & Day, 1965. Originally published in 1886.
  • Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2003.

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