Necrophilia, also called thanatophilia or 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 derived from the Greek words: νεκρός (nekros; "dead") and φιλία (philia; "love"). The term was coined by the Belgian alienist Joseph Guislain, who first used it in a lecture in 1850.

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%).[1]


Singular accounts of necrophilia in history are sporadic, though written records suggest the practice was present within Ancient Egypt. 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.[2][3][4]

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.

In a modern example, Jeffrey Dahmer was a serial killer who suffered from necrophilia. In order to be aroused, he had to kill his victims before having sex with them. Dahmer stated that he only killed his victims because they wanted to leave after having sex, and would be angry with him for drugging them.[5] He fit the criteria of the desire "to possess an unresisting and unrejecting partner" according to Rosman and Resnick's study listed below. Mass murderer Dennis Nilsen is considered to have been a necrophile. [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 exists:[9]

  1. Role players
  2. Romantic necrophiles
  3. People having a necrophilic fantasy – necrophilic miracle.
  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[4] commented that, although rarely described, necrophilic fantasies may occur more often than is generally supposed.

Rosman and Resnick[1] (1989) theorized that either of the following situations could be antecedents to necrophilia (p. 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 (p. 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 .

In animals

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 outside the building. Next to the downed bird there was a second drake mallard standing close by. As Moeliker observed the couple, the living drake pecked at the corpse of the dead one for a few minutes then mounted the corpse and began copulating 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 called "attempted 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.

The film The Cane Toads: an Unnatural History shows a male toad copulating with a female toad that has been run over by a car. It goes on to do this for eight hours.[13]

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.[14]

In a short paper known as "Sexual Habits of the Adélie Penguin", George Murray Levick described mating with dead females in the Cape Adare rookery, the largest group of Adélie penguins, in 1911 and 1912.[15] This is nowadays ascribed to lack of experience of young penguins.[16]


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." Subsection (b) elaborates that this applies if someone "improperly or indecently interferes with or offers indignity to any dead human body or human remains, whether buried or not." This statute is therefore applicable to sex with corpses and carries a potential two year prison sentence, although it should be noted that there is no case law as yet that would apply the aforementioned statute.[17]


Section 267 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) entitled "Trespassing on burial places, etc", states as follows:[18]

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 sex with corpses is not explicitly stated in IPC, a person who has sex with a corpse may be convicted under the above section in the Indian Penal Code. Also one can refer to Section 377 IPC i.e. unnatural offences

South Africa

Section 14 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, 2007 prohibits the commission of a sexual act with a corpse.[19] Until codified by the act it was a common law offence.

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 well as actual scenes (see also extreme pornography). As of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, it is also illegal to possess explicit and realistic depictions of sexual interference with a human corpse, electronic or otherwise.

United States

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

  • 13A-11-13
  • 11-61-130
  • 32-1364
  • 5-60-101
  • Health and Safety Code 7052, up to eight years in prison
  • 18-13-101
  • 53a-73a
  • 11-5-1332
  • 872.06
  • Georgia also has a law prohibiting sex with corpses [20]
  • 7
  • 709.18
  • Minnesota also has laws prohibiting sex with corpses[21]
  • NRS 201.450
  • 130.20
  • 2927.01
  • ORS 166.085
  • 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5510, "a person who treats a corpse in a way that he knows would outrage ordinary family sensibilities commits a misdemeanor of the second degree".
  • Texas - Class A misdemeanor [22]
  • Washington - Class C felony for "Sexually violating human remains" RCW 9A.44.105
  • 940.225 (7)

See also



  • Site: Forensic Article: necrophilia Website: Author: Steven J Hucker MB, BS, FRCP(C), FRCPsych Publication Date: 2003 Copyright: 2005

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.

In literature

  • Gabrielle Wittkop, The Necrophiliac, 1972
  • Barbara Gowdy, We So Seldom Look on Love, 1992
  • Frank O'Hara, Ode on Necrophilia, 1960

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.