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Loving Objects: Can Autism Explain Objectophilia?

Abstract

Objectophilia (also known as objectum-sexuality) involves romantic and sexual attraction to specific objects. Objectophiles often develop deep and enduring emotional, romantic, and sexual relations with specific inanimate (concrete or abstract) objects such as trains, bridges, cars, or words. The determinants of objectophilia are poorly understood. The aim of this paper is to examine the determining factors of objectophilia. We examine four hypotheses about the determinants of objectophilia (pertaining to fetishism, synesthesia, cross-modal mental imagery, and autism) and argue that the most likely determining factors of objectophilia are the social and non-social features of autism. Future studies on the determinants of objectophilia could enhance our understanding and potentially lessen the marginalization experienced by objectophiles.

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Notes

  1. http://objectum-sexuality.org/expressions-eiffel.pdf, last accessed 2019-06-09.

  2. http://objectum-sexuality.org/expressions-eiffel.pdf, last accessed 2019-06-09.

  3. Sean Day lists as many as 80 different types of synesthesia (see http://www.daysyn.com/types-of-syn.html). Many of these different types of synesthesia are subsumed in the five categories discussed by Cytowic and Eagleman (2009).

  4. The same distinction can be made about synesthesia and autism. For example, Baron-Cohen and his colleagues present evidence that synesthesia is linked to autism, which they take to suggest that the two conditions may share some common underlying mechanisms, not that one is the determining factor of the other.

  5. A distinction between “strong” and “weak” synesthesia has also been made (see Day, 2016; Martino & Marks, 2001). However, this classification is seen as problematic because weak, cognitive, or pseudo-synesthesia includes cross-modal phenomena lacking conscious concurrents, a core feature of synesthesia (see Deroy & Spence, 2013a, 2013b; Spence, 2011).

  6. It should be noted that three types of theoretical frameworks have been proposed to characterize the relation between synesthesia and other borderline perceptual and conceptual phenomena: monism, dualism, and pluralism (Marks, 2011; Marks & Mulvenna, 2013). For synesthetic monists, phenomenal experience plays a central role in characterizing the relation between synesthesia and other borderline perceptual and conceptual phenomena. They claim that synesthesia is best construed as a spectrum or continuum, with strong, proper, or genuine synesthesias residing at the high end of the continuum, and weak (cognitive or pseudo) synesthesias residing at the low end. Both synesthetic dualists and pluralists rely on mechanism-based distinctions to classify the various types of synesthesias and posit that synesthesia involves distinct underlying mechanisms and different genetic components (Novich et al., 2011; although see Marks & Mulvenna, 2013). Synesthetic dualists posit a simple dichotomy between synesthesias, including projector and associator, and non-synesthesias, including cross-modal correspondence or imagery, or hallucinations (Deroy & Spence, 2013a, 2013b). Synesthetic pluralists also distinguish between synesthetic experiences and non-synesthetic experiences but posit that synesthesia is a broad category that contains an assortment of distinct sub-categories, which lack shared traits but are linked in terms of resemblance to one another (Marks & Mulvenna, 2013).

  7. Deroy and Spence (2013a) use the term “multisensory” to refer to cases in which one imagines having, say, a conversation with one’s best friend. This example involves stimuli in two different modalities, i.e., auditory and visual, which are combined in the representation of a single event.

  8. Brogaard (2014) identifies three different kinds of conscious states of seeing denoted by the English verb “to see”: visual experiences, introspective seeming states, and visual seeming states. Visual experiences are veridical and stand in a non-deviant causal relation to the state of affairs represented by them while visual and seeming states are neither strictly veridical nor experiential but are more common. Introspective seemings introduce a hyperintensional context. For example, substituting “Superman” with “Clark Kent” fails to preserve its truth-value of Lois Lane’s utterance: “This drug is really strong! I see Superman all over the place” made under the influence of a strong hallucinatory drug. Synesthetic experience, according to Brogaard, is a kind of visual seeming since it involves the cognitive processing of a stimulus, e.g., a number, prior to experiencing it as having a synesthetic color. For example, some synesthetes experience different synesthetic colors in ambiguous contexts such as when a grapheme could be interpreted either as a number or a letter (Cytowic & Eagleman 2009). The term “see” here refers to this last conscious state, a visual seeming state.

  9. http://objectum-sexuality.org, Expressions, Thoughts from Me…an OS Person—by D. from Berlin, last accessed 2019–06-09.

  10. It remains possible that all of the objectophiles in the study (Simner et al., 2019) and the survey (Marsh, 2010) are actually autistic but not diagnosed or not self-diagnosed, depending on the method used to assess the correlation.

  11. We are grateful to an anonymous reviewer who pointed this question to us. We believe that it is a crucial issue that could be the object of an entire paper.

  12. For more details, see the recent volume on autism and neurodiversity edited by Rosqvist et al. (2020).

  13. De Silva and Pernet (1992) treat this as a case of paraphilia akin to fetishism but report that George showed limited interest in women. They also report that George said that the front of the car resembled a smiling face and that he sought sexual gratification by masturbating either in the car or, preferably, behind the car while the engine was running. These descriptions coupled with the rest of the characteristics of George’s personality indicate that this case is more akin to objectophilia than fetishism.

  14. http://objectum-sexuality.org/expressions-evak-1.pdf.

  15. http://objectum-sexuality.org/expressions-eiffel.pdf.

  16. http://objectum-sexuality.org/expressions-am.pdf.

  17. A similar pluralistic approach might also be needed to explain the mechanisms underlying objectophilia.

  18. That does not mean that autistic individuals like objects and dislike people or that they care about the former but not the latter. What seems to happen in autism is an enhanced interest to interact with objects compared to neurotypical people. In some cases, it is triggered by a preference for relationships with objects rather than humans, but that is not always the case. Some autistic people will not develop any attraction for objects.

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Correspondence to Sarah Arnaud.

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Gatzia, D.E., Arnaud, S. Loving Objects: Can Autism Explain Objectophilia?. Arch Sex Behav 51, 2117–2133 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-021-02281-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-021-02281-5

Keywords

  • Objectophilia
  • Sexual paraphilia
  • Synesthesia
  • Autism
  • ASD
  • Cross-modal mental imagery
  • DSM-5