Necrophilia, also known as necrophilism, necrolagnia, necrocoitus, necrochlesis, and thanatophilia,[1] is a sexual attraction or sexual act which involves corpses. It is classified as a paraphilia by ICD10 published by the WHO and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association.[2]

The Hatred, painted by Pietro Pajetta, 1896.

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 a non-resisting and non-rejecting partner (68%), reunions with a deceased 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%).[3]

Origins of term

The term 'necrophilia' is thought to have been coined by Belgian physician Joseph Guislain in his Leçons Orales sur les Phrénopathies, in a lecture given around 1850, in reference to contemporary necrophile François Bertrand:[4]

It is within the category of the destructive madmen [aliénés destructeurs] that one needs to situate certain patients to whom I would like to give the name of necrophiliacs [nécrophiles]. The alienists have adopted, as a new form, the case of Sergeant Bertrand, the disinterrer of cadavers on whom all the newspapers have recently reported. However, don't think that we are dealing here with a form of phrenopathy which appears for the first time. The ancients, in speaking about lycanthropy, have cited examples to which one can more or less relate the case which has just now attracted the public attention so strongly.

The term was popularized about a decade later by psychiatrist Bénédict Morel, who also discussed Bertrand.[2]


In the ancient world, sailors returning corpses to their home country were often accused of necrophilia.[5] 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.[6][7][8] Herodotus also alluded to suggestions that Greek tyrant Periander had defiled the corpse of his wife, employing a metaphor: "Periander baked his bread in a cold oven."[9] Acts of necrophilia are depicted on ceramics from the Moche culture, which reigned in northern Peru from the first to eighth century CE.[10] A common theme in these artifacts is the masturbation of a male skeleton by a living woman.[11] Hittite law from the 16th century BC through to the 13th century BC explicitly permitted sex with the dead.[12] In what is now Northeast China, the ethnic Xianbei emperor Murong Xi (385–407) of the Later Yan state had intercourse with the corpse of his beloved empress Fu Xunying, after the latter was already cold and put into the coffin.[13]

In Renaissance Italy, following the reputed moral collapse brought about by the Black Death and before the Roman Inquisition of the Counter-Reformation, the literature was replete with sexual references; these include necrophilia, in the case of the epic poem Orlando Innamorato by Matteo Maria Boiardo, first published in 1483.[14] In a notorious modern example, American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was a necrophiliac. Dahmer wanted to create a sex slave that would mindlessly consent to whatever he wanted. When his attempts failed, and his male victim died, he would keep the corpse until it decomposed beyond recognition, continuously masturbating and performing sexual intercourse on the body.[15] In order to be aroused, he had to murder his male victims before performing sexual intercourse 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.[16] British serial killer Dennis Nilsen is also considered to have been a necrophiliac.[17]


In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), recurrent, intense sexual interest in corpses can be diagnosed under Other Specified Paraphilic Disorder (necrophilia) when it causes marked distress or impairment in important areas of functioning.[18] A ten-tier classification of necrophilia exists:[19]

  1. Role players: People who get aroused from pretending their live partner is dead during sexual activity.
  2. Romantic necrophiliacs: Bereaved people who remain attached to their dead lover's body.
  3. Necrophiliac fantasizers: People who fantasize about necrophilia, but never actually have sex with a corpse.
  4. Tactile necrophiliacs: People who are aroused by touching or stroking a corpse, without engaging in intercourse.
  5. Fetishistic necrophiliacs: People who remove objects (e.g., panties or a tampon) or body parts (e.g., a finger or genitalia) from a corpse for sexual purposes, without engaging in intercourse.
  6. Necromutilomaniacs: People who derive pleasure from mutilating a corpse while masturbating, without engaging in intercourse.
  7. Opportunistic necrophiliacs: People who normally have no interest in necrophilia, but take the opportunity when it arises.
  8. Regular necrophiliacs: People who preferentially have intercourse with the dead.
  9. Homicidal necrophiliacs: Necrosadists,[20] people who commit murder in order to have sex with the victim.
  10. Exclusive necrophiliacs: People who have an exclusive interest in sex with the dead, and cannot perform at all for a living partner.

Additionally, criminologist Lee Mellor's typology of homicidal necrophiles consists of eight categories (A–H), and is based on the combination of two behavioral axes: destructive (offender mutilates the corpse for sexual reasons) – preservative (offender does not), and cold (offender used the corpse sexually two hours after death) – warm (offender used the corpse sexually earlier than two hours after death).[21] This renders four categories (A-D) to which Mellor adds an additional four (E-H):

Dabblers have transitory opportunistic sexual relations with corpses, but this is not their preference. Category F homicidal necrophiles commit postmortem sex acts only while in a catathymic state. Exclusive mutilophiles derive pleasure purely from mutilating the corpse, while sexual cannibals and vampires are sexually aroused by eating human body parts. Category A, C, and F offenders may also cannibalize or drink the blood of their victims.[21]



Necrophilia is often assumed to be rare, but no data for its prevalence in the general population exists.[22] Some necrophiles only fantasize about the act, without carrying it out.[3] In 1958, Klaf and Brown commented that, although rarely described, necrophiliac fantasies may occur more often than is generally supposed.[8]

Rosman and Resnick (1989) reviewed 122 cases of necrophilia. The sample was divided into genuine necrophiles, who had a persistent attraction to corpses, and pseudo-necrophiles, who acted out of opportunity, sadism, or transient interest. Of the total, 92% were male and 8% were female. 57% of the genuine necrophiles had occupational access to corpses, with morgue attendant, hospital orderly, and cemetery employee being the most common jobs. The researchers theorized that either of the following situations could be antecedents to necrophilia:[3]

  1. The necrophile develops poor self-esteem, perhaps due in part to a significant loss;
    (a) They are very fearful of rejection by others and they desire a sexual partner who is incapable of rejecting them; and/or
    (b) They are fearful of the dead, and transform their fear—by means of reaction formation—into a desire.
  2. They develop an exciting fantasy of sex with a corpse, sometimes after exposure to a corpse.


The most common motive for necrophiles is the possession of a partner who is unresisting or unrejecting. However, in the past, necrophiles have expressed to having more than one motive.[23]

The authors reported that, of their sample of genuine necrophiliacs:[3]

  • 68% were motivated by a desire for a non-resisting and non-rejecting 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
  • 12% by a desire to remedy low self-esteem by expressing power over a corpse.

Lesser common motives include:

  • "unavailability of a living partner
  • compensation for a fear of women
  • belief that sex with a living woman was a mortal sin
  • need to achieve a feeling of total control over a sexual partner
  • compliance with a command hallucination
  • performance of a series of destructive acts
  • expression of polymorphous perverse sexual desires
  • need to perform limitless sexual activity"[23]

IQ data was limited, but not abnormally low. About half of the sample had a personality disorder, and 11% of true necrophiliacs were psychotic. Rosman and Resnick concluded that their data challenged the conventional view of necrophiliacs as generally psychotic, mentally deficient, or unable to obtain a consenting partner.[3]

Other animals

Necrophilia has been observed in mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs.[25] In 1960, Robert Dickerman described necrophilia in ground squirrels, which he termed "Davian behavior" in reference to a limerick about a necrophiliac miner named Dave. The label is still used for necrophilia in animals.[26] Certain species of arachnids and insects practice sexual cannibalism, in which the female cannibalizes her male mate prior to, during, or after copulation.

Kees Moeliker made one observation while he was sitting in his office at the Natural History Museum 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.[27][28] Necrophilia had previously only been reported in heterosexual mallard pairs.[27]

In a short paper known as "Sexual Habits of the Adélie Penguin", deemed too shocking for contemporary publication, George Murray Levick described "little hooligan bands" of penguins mating with dead females in the Cape Adare rookery, the largest group of Adélie penguins, in 1911 and 1912.[29][30] This is nowadays ascribed to lack of experience of young penguins; a dead female, with eyes half-closed, closely resembles a compliant female.[31] A gentoo penguin was observed attempting to have intercourse with a dead penguin in 1921.[32]

A male New Zealand sea lion was once observed attempting to copulate with a dead female New Zealand fur seal in the wild. The sea lion nudged the seal repeatedly, then mounted her and made several pelvic thrusts. Approximately ten minutes later, the sea lion became disturbed by the researcher's presence, dragged the corpse of the seal into the water and swam away while holding it.[33] A male sea otter was observed holding a female sea otter underwater until she drowned, and then repeatedly copulating with her carcass. Several months later, the same sea otter was again observed copulating with the carcass of a different female.[34] Copulation with a dead female pilot whale by a captive male pilot whale has been observed,[35] and possible sexual behavior between two male humpback whales, one dead, has also been reported.[36]

In 1983, a male rock dove was observed copulating with the corpse of a dove that had shortly before had its head crushed by a car.[37][38] In 2001, a researcher laid out sand martin corpses to attract flocks of other sand martins. In each of six trials, 1-5 individuals from flocks of 50-500 were observed attempting to copulate with the dead sand martins. This occurred one to two months after the breeding season; since copulation outside the breeding season is uncommon among birds, the researcher speculated that the lack of resistance by the corpses stimulated the behavior.[39] Charles Brown observed at least ten cliff swallows attempt to copulate with a road-killed cliff swallow in the space of 15 minutes. He commented, "This isn't the first time I've seen cliff swallows do this; the bright orange rump sticking up seems to be all the stimulus these birds need."[40] Necrophilia has also been reported in the European swallow, grey-backed sparrow-lark, Stark's lark,[30] and the snow goose.[41] A Norwegian television report showed a male hybrid between a black grouse and western capercaillie kill a male black grouse before attempting to copulate with it.[39] In 2015, due to work done by the University of Washington, it was found that crows would commit necrophilia on dead crow corpses in about 4% of encounters with corpses.[42]

Necrophilia has been documented in various lizard species, including Ameiva ameiva,[26][43] the leopard lizard,[44] and Holbrookia maculata.[45] There are two reports of necrophilic behavior in the sleepy lizard (Tiliqua rugosa). In one, the partner of a male lizard got caught in fencing wire and died. The male continued to display courtship behavior towards his partner two days after her death. This lizard's necrophilia was believed to stem from its strong monogamous bond.[46] In one study of black and white tegu lizards, two different males were observed attempting to court and copulate with a single female corpse on two consecutive days. On the first day, the corpse was freshly dead, but by the second day it was bloating and emitting a strong putrefying odor. The researcher attributed the behavior to sex pheromones still acting on the carcass.[24]

Male garter snakes often copulate with dead females.[47][48] One case has been reported in the Bothrops jararaca snake with a dead South American rattlesnake.[49][50] The prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) and Helicops carinicaudus snake have both been seen attempting to mate with decapitated females, presumably attracted by still-active sex pheromones.[50][51] Male crayfish sometimes copulate with dead crayfish of either sex, and in one observation even with a dead crayfish of a different species.[52][53]

In frogs, it has been observed in the foothill yellow-legged frog,[54] the yellow fire-bellied toad,[55] the common frog,[56] the Oregon spotted frog,[57] Dendropsophus columbianus,[58] and Rhinella jimi.[25] The film Cane Toads: An Unnatural History shows a male toad copulating with a female toad that had been run over by a car. It goes on to do this for eight hours.[59] Necrophilic amplexus in frogs may occur because males will mount any pliable object the size of an adult female. If the mounted object is a live frog not appropriate for mating, it will vibrate its body or vocalize a call to be released. Dead frogs cannot do this, so they may be held for hours.[56] The Amazonian frog Rhinella proboscidea sometimes practices what has been termed "functional necrophilia": a male grasps the corpse of a dead female and squeezes it until oocytes are ejected, and then fertilizes them.[60]


Treatment for Necrophilia is similar to that prescribed for most paraphilias. Besides advocating treatment of the associated psychopathology, there is little known on the treatment of Necrophilia There has not been a good amount of necrophiles to establish an effective treatment. However, based on the data that is available, clinicians are suggested to:

  • determine whether or not a person actually has Necrophilia
  • treat any psychopathology that is associated with Necrophilia
  • establish psychotherapeutic rapport
  • if the person is male and has a heightened sex drive, provide him with anti androgens
  • if the person is sexually isolated, help him find a normal sexual relationship
  • desensitization to help divert the necrophilic fantasies to a living object[61]

Case Studies

Karen Greenlee

Karen Greenlee (born 1956) is a female necrophilic criminal who was convicted of stealing a 1975 Cadillac hearse at a funeral and having sex with the corpse inside of it. She worked as an apprentice embalmer in Sacramento, California. On December 17, 1979, she stole the hearse along with the body of a 33-year-old man that was inside. She was sentenced to pay a $255 fine and 11 days in prison.

In 1987, Greenlee gave a detailed interview called “The Unrepentant Necrophile” for Jim Morton’s (edited by Adam Parafrey) book Apocalypse Culture. In this interview, she stated that she had a preference for younger men and was attracted to the smell of blood and death. She considered necrophilia an addiction. The interview was held in her apartment, which was apparently a small studio filled with books, necrophilic drawings and satanic adornments. She also had written a confession letter in which she claimed to have abused 20-40 male corpses.[62]

Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the most notorious American serial killers and sex offenders. He was also a necrophile. He was born in Wisconsin on May 21, 1960 and since an early age, he was so fascinated with death that he was in possession of different kinds of bones.

Dahmer had a depressing childhood. He was sexually abused by his neighbor and his parents divorced after years of fighting. They often favored his brother over him.

In 1978, Dahmer killed his first victim of many. He admitted to having oral sex with a few of his victims after they died. Dahmer even had a decomposing head and genitals in his fridge that he ate.

In August 1991, Dahmer was charged with 15 counts of murder and was sentenced to life in prison. He was eventually killed by a fellow inmate, Christopher Scarver.[63]

Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy (born in November 1946) was an American serial killer who raped and murdered many young women during the 1970s. He also confessed to participating in necrophilic acts.

Bundy showed signs that he was emotionally disturbed as a child. He never knew who his father was and as a child, he was told that his mother was actually his sister. Once, when Bundy was three years old, he placed knives in his aunt’s bed while she was sleeping.

Bundy began killing in January 1974 and carried on for the next four years. He committed murders in multiple states, from Washington to Florida. Sometimes, he would dump bodies in secluded spots in order to lay with the corpses and have sexual intercourse with them.

He confessed to killing about 30 people, but sources believe that there might have been around 100. He was eventually sentenced to death.[63]

Dennis Nilsen

Dennis Nilsen (born in November 1945) was a Scottish serial killer and necrophile who murdered twelve young men between the years 1978-1983.

When Nilsen was very young, he had a really close relationship with his grandfather. When he passed away, Nilsen’s mother told him that he had moved on to a better place. From then on, he felt abandoned, and believed that death lead to a better place. He became depressed and withdrawn.

Later, Nilsen would dress up like a corpse and stare at himself in the mirror, as this was sexually arousing to him.  

In 1978, Nilsen committed his first murder, killing a man he met at a gay bar. He forced the victim’s head underwater to drown him and eventually had sex with his corpse. He became very sexually aroused, and kept the body underneath the floorboards of his apartment. He would occasionally bring it out and do leisure activities with it such as watching tv, bathing it, and having sex with it. After a couple of months, he disposed of the remains in a fire.

Nilsen committed 15 further murders, and would continue to have sex with his victims or masturbate over their corpses. He was sentenced to life in jail in 1993.[63]



Necrophilia is not explicitly mentioned in Australian law, however, under the Crimes Act 1900 - Sect 81C it states misconduct with regard to corpses is any person who:

(a) indecently interferes with any dead human body, or

(b) improperly interferes with, or offers any indignity to, any dead human body or human remains (whether buried or not),

shall be liable to imprisonment for two years.[64]


Article 212 of the Brazilian Penal Code (federal Decree-Law No 2.848) states as follows:[65][66]

Art. 212 - To abuse a cadaver or its ashes:
Penalty: detention, from 1 to 3 years, plus fine.

Although sex with a corpse is not explicitly mentioned, a person who has sex with a corpse may be convicted of a crime under the above Article. The legal asset protected by such Article is not the corpse's objective honor, but the feeling of good memories, respect and veneration that living people keep about the deceased person: these persons are considered passive subjects of the corpse's violation.


Section 297 of the Indian Penal Code entitled "Trespassing on burial places, etc.", states as follows:[67]

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 a corpse is not explicitly mentioned, a person who has sex with a corpse may be convicted under the above section. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code could also be invoked.

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 there is no relevant case law.[68]

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.[69] Until codified by the act it was a common law offence.


Section 16, § 10 of the Swedish Penal Code criminalizes necrophilia, but it is not explicitly mentioned. Necrophilia falls under the regulations against abusing a corpse or grave (brott mot griftefrid), which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. One person has been convicted of necrophilia. He was sentenced to psychiatric care for that and other crimes, including arson.[70]

United Kingdom

Sexual penetration of a corpse was made illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, carrying a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment. Prior to 2003, necrophilia was not illegal; however, exposing a naked corpse in public was classed as a public nuisance (R v. Clark [1883] 15 Cox 171).[71]

United States

There is no federal legislation specifically barring sex with a corpse. Multiple states have their own laws:[72][73]

State Severity Statute
Alabama Felony (Class C) § 13A-11-13
Alaska Misdemeanor (Class A) § 11-61-130
Arizona Felony (Class 4) § 32-1364
Arkansas Felony (Class D) § 5-60-101
California Felony Health and Safety Code § 7052
Colorado Misdemeanor (Class 2) § 18-13-101
Connecticut Misdemeanor (Class A) or Felony (Class D) if victim under 16 § 53a-73a
Delaware Misdemeanor (Class A) § 11-5-1332
Florida Felony (second degree) § 872.06
Georgia Felony § 16-6-7
Hawaii Misdemeanor § 711-1108
Idaho Misdemeanor § 18-7027
Illinois Felony (Class 2) § 720 ILCS 5/12-20.6
Indiana Felony (Level 6) § 35-45-11-2
Iowa Felony (Class D) § 709.18
Kansas Misdemeanor § 21-6205
Kentucky Felony (Class D) § 525.120
Louisiana Misdemeanor § LA Rev Stat 14:101
Maine Felony (Class D) § 17.508
Maryland Misdemeanor § 10-401
Massachusetts N/A N/A
Michigan Misdemeanor § 750.160
Minnesota Misdemeanor § 609.294
Mississippi Felony § 97-29-25
Missouri Felony (Class D) § 194.425
Montana Felony § 45-5-627
Nebraska Felony (Class 4) § 28-1301
Nevada Felony (Class A) NRS § 201.450
New Hampshire Misdemeanor § 644:7
New Jersey Felony (Class 3) § 2C:22-1
New Mexico N/A N/A
New York Misdemeanor (Class A) § 130.20
North Carolina N/A N/A
North Dakota Misdemeanor (Class A) § 12.1-20-12 and § 12.1-20-02
Ohio Felony (fifth degree) § 2927.01
Oklahoma Felony § 21-1161
Oregon Felony ORS § 166.085
Pennsylvania Misdemeanor (second degree) 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5510
Rhode Island Felony § 11-20-1.2
South Carolina N/A N/A
South Dakota N/A N/A
Tennessee Felony (Class E) § 39-17-312
Texas Misdemeanor (Class A) § 9.42.08[74]
Utah Felony (third degree) § 76-9-704
Vermont N/A N/A
Virginia N/A N/A
Washington Felony (Class C) RCW § 9A.44.105
West Virginia Misdemeanor § 61-8-9
Wisconsin Felony (Class G) § 940.225 (7)[75]
Wyoming Felony § 6-4-502

See also


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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.

In literature


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