Erotic Cinema

Torture me, torment me… SEXUAL DEVIATIONS on screen

Unusual, going beyond the norm, and sometimes even shocking. They are of interest not only to psychologists and psychiatrists, but also to filmmakers.

Lukasz Budnik

21 June 2023

What excites us? Most will say the attraction of a person of the opposite sex, preferably dressed appropriately (or naked, of course), in a particularly sensual setting. This is the norm, the very center of the erotic zone functioning in our lives. However, there are also those who circulate far from this center. People with paraphilia, in other words – deviance. A state in which excitement is brought about by situations and objects that are unacceptable in society. Unusual, going beyond the norm, and sometimes even shocking. They are of interest not only to psychologists and psychiatrists, but also to filmmakers, who often take all sexual disorders and place them in various contexts, sometimes as an addition, sometimes as an axis of the plot. Below is a list of selected paraphilias with examples of their occurrence in the cinema.


boxing helena sherilyn fenn julian sands

Sexual attraction to a person who was either born without one (or more) limbs or had an amputation. Anthropologist Stephen Juan explains this disorder as an effect of low self-esteem and a good excuse for being a lousy lover, while the attraction to an unusual sexual object – which is true of paraphilias in general – may have its source in suppressing one’s sexuality. The theme was taken up in the 1993 film Boxing Helena, directed by Jennifer Lynch, David’s daughter. The title role of Helena was played by Sherilyn Fenn, who collaborated with her father on Twin Peaks. The film itself is about a surgeon obsessed with Helena who kidnaps her and keeps her at home, amputating her limbs in the process. There are several references to Venus de Milo, as if a deviant surgeon was creating Helen in her likeness; own work of art. Struggling with production problems, the film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and failed when it was widely released, garnering negative reviews, grossing little and earning Lynch a Razzie Award for Worst Director for her debut.


in the realm of the senses asphyxiation

This tongue twister means sexual excitement caused by self-suffocation (from the Greek asphyxia – pulse stop). In practice, this is the belief that cutting off the oxygen supply to the brain will give a more intense orgasm. The disorder is dangerous – the world knows of cases where asphyxiophilia has led to death; for example, David Carradine (more widely known as the titular Bill from Kill Bill) was found dead in a hotel room with a rope around his neck attached to a locker. Even the movie example of this paraphilia has a direct source in a real story. I am talking about In the Realm of the Senses from 1976, a Japanese-French production. This film, arousing great controversy at the time of its premiere, tells the story of a sexual relationship between a maid and the owner of the hotel where she works. Smothering becomes a turning point because it is an escalation of mutual obsession and what excites the heroine the most. The result is as tragic as the stories cited above, but even that the maid’s disorder and obsession doesn’t stop there…


secretary maggie gylllenhaal james spader

Known shortcut; words such as attachment, discipline, submission, domination, and finally sadism and masochism are hidden under it. A sexual act in which the partners divide into a submissive and a dominant side (with mutual consent). Very often it takes the form of role-playing, and all its physiological and psychological aspects – depending on your preferences – are supposed to lead to strong sensations, sometimes comparable to the effects of introducing endorphins into the body. The cinema does not spare the BDSM theme, so the list of mainstream films in which it can be found is substantial (e.g. Nine And a Half Weeks or Nymphomaniac). However, if I had to pick one example, it would be Secretary with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader. The film focuses on the story of the titular secretary, a girl from a dysfunctional family, and her boss, Edward Gray (this name is a magnet for S&M practices), as they establish a BDSM relationship with him as the dominant party and her as the submissive. He disguises her as animals, gives her tasks, hits her buttocks. She doesn’t mind it, she even feels energized by discovering the meanders of these practices. Amid all this, you can find a bond between them that goes beyond the limits of their games. Enough to cheer them up.

Sadomasochistic tendencies, as well as other paraphilias, were also manifested by the heroine of Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher – she wanted to fulfill her fantasies to such an extent that she resorted to self-mutilation when there was no one to fulfill them.



A very extreme paraphilia, existing almost forever, because the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about necrophilia. Excitement caused by anything related to corpses. According to the necrophile, it results from the “pure personality” of the dead person and the inability to hurt or ridicule another human being. Due to the nature of this paraphilia, people who have it often choose occupations where there is easy access to corpses. It is a shocking paraphilia, but cinema does not shy away from showing it on the screen; the list of productions dealing with this topic is considerable, including the animated series Family Guy. A fresh example is Refn’s Neon Demon, in which the heroine has sex with the corpse of another woman, and in 1996, the Canadian film Kissed was made about a young girl whose obsession with death eventually turns into necrophilia. The heroine vents her paraphilia in the morgue where she works. The film received praise from the jury at the Toronto Film Festival, and critics praised the delicacy and poetics of portraying such a difficult and repulsive subject. Proof that even a topic that is socially unacceptable can be told in an accessible way.


deathproof feet

One of the most popular fetishes related to body parts, usually characteristic of men. The name is derived from the Greek word pous meaning foot, so podophilia is nothing less than getting sexually aroused by seeing, touching, kissing or sucking your partner’s feet. Although so far there has been no film that would base the plot on this topic, it is noteworthy that there are countless frames or scenes with feet in  cinema (for example Scarlett Johansson barefoot on the windowsill of a hotel room in Lost in Translation, and there are many more). A special case is the work of Quentin Tarantino. This is actually one of the director’s hallmarks – in his films he often devotes entire scenes to feet, which is undeniably related to his fetish. In Pulp Fiction, he went even further, making feet the subject of dialogue between Vincent and Jules, and at the same time the story of Marsellus Wallace’s impulsive nature. In Jackie Brown the camera registers Bridget Fonda’s fingers in full close-up, in Death Proof Kurt Russell admires Rosario Dawson’s feet sticking out of the car, and in Kill Bill Uma Thurman tries to move his big toes for several minutes. Let’s add Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn, where his character drinks alcohol from Salma Hayek’s foot. Fetish becomes an idea for scenes. Pleasant with useful, you might say.


crash james spader

Excitement caused by death and catastrophe. To achieve fulfillment, a symphorophile can start fires, set off explosives or even cause accidents, and it’s best that random people take part in them. A film dealing with the subject of this deviation is Crash by David Cronenberg, based on the novel of the same name. It tells the story of a film producer (James Spader once again) who is involved in a car accident. The passenger of the second car dies, and the woman driving it accidentally shows Spader’s character her breast while unfastening her seat belt. The event leads to a mutual fascination with both each other and the car accidents themselves, which become a source of excitement and a fetish for the characters.


blue velvet kyle maclachlan

Another branch of the paraphilia. People with this sexual disorder enjoy watching close-ups of other people, but secretly (there is also a fetish that is somewhat the opposite of voyeurism, i.e. getting aroused while being watched). An additional stimulus for voyeurs is the fact that the people being watched are unaware of it, and they themselves can be caught. The theme of voyeurism appeared in the cinema several times; in Polish cinema, for example in A Short Film About Love, there is also Lynch’s Blue Velvet and a scene in which the main character watches Dennis Hopper practicing his sexual preferences through the openings in the wardrobe. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window can also be treated as an example of this disorder, although here it is not sexually motivated, but rather in the form of pure obsession and even addiction of Jimmy Stewart’s hero to looking through binoculars at what is happening on the other side the title yard. Following this lead, one may wonder whether all viewers of The Truman Show in Peter Weir’s film were not deviants.

The paraphilias described above are, of course, only a small percentage of all the deviations found, just as there are more films based on those selected above, as well as those not mentioned in the text. These few points already show that sexual disorders are a subject that is willingly discussed and explored in cinema, both mainstream and independent. This fact is not surprising, because paraphilias and fetishes are always a controversial subject, allowing the viewer to evoke extreme emotions, a deeper interest in the subject, and as a result: to be remembered. We’ll see which deviations filmmakers want to use in their scripts in the future. They have plenty to choose from. Maybe we’ll see, for example, a film about a person who is excited about trees.

Łukasz Budnik

Lukasz Budnik

He loves both silent cinema and contemporary blockbusters based on comic books. He looks forward to watching movie with his growing son.

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