You may have heard of the woman who “married the Eiffel Tower”, or the man who makes love to his Volkswagen Beetle. But this is not a simple fetish, as many people think. It is Objectum Sexuality (OS).
Objectum sexuality is a rare sexual orientation involving romantic, affectionate and/or sexual relationships between people and objects. Many people find this hard to understand. Media coverage has often categorized stories about OS people and relationships as “bizarre” and “extreme.” The sensationalism has never stopped, though it has been modified in recent years.
Shows like the British Strange Love (whose episode, “Married to the Eiffel Tower,” has been repudiated by Os Internationale) and National Geographic’s Taboo have covered objectum sexuality. Tyra Banks (2009), Good Morning America (2009), and Australia’s Channel Seven Sunday Night (2019) show have also featured this topic. The 2013 documentary, Animism: People Who Love Objects, probably does the best job of portraying OS relationships, though the 2019 Australian coverage, with reporter Denham Hitchcock, was also quite respectful and sensitive.
Since 1979, when Eija-Ritter Berliner-Mauer married the Berlin Wall and coined the term “objectum sexuality,” experts, reporters, and the general public have speculated wildly about the causes of OS, all with little or no data. The speculations range from fetishism (Baruah), “never knowing [human sexual] love” (Amy Wolfe’s mother in Married to the Eiffel Tower), “anthropomorphism” resulting from “loneliness and a coping mechanism for unpredictability” (no author, Independent), “depravity of sexual and romantic connections with other humans” (no author, Independent), as well as childhood trauma and mental illness, or not having met the right human sex partner. In some articles, OS people are presented as “suffering from an unusual condition” (Baker). Often articles mention that OS people are “mostly women” though there seems to be a healthy percentage of trans and non-binary people as well. Some OS women have encountered people who want to fix them or prove them wrong by initiating them into human sex (an example given by Erika Eiffel in Married to the Eiffel Tower). Articles featuring cis-gender males often focus on mechaphilila and penises that have wound up in unusual places (Pugh).These days there seems to be less focus on OS as a pathology. Blogs written by therapists often acknowledge that objectum sexuals aren’t hurting anyone (Griffiths, 2013).
I am a sexologist. OS came to my attention in 2009. I was most intrigued by the apparent links to autism, as a student project of mine had dealt with the sexual concerns of people with Asperger’s Syndrome. I got in touch with OS Internationale and soon volunteered to conduct a quick online survey of English-speaking members. The survey was meant to gather some preliminary data to counter some of the sensationalism and speculation about OS. That survey was not designed as a scientific study and at first, I didn’t know it would become public. However, Erika Eiffel mentioned my survey to Good Morning America when they wanted her on the show, and so they filmed me as well. Suddenly, because I’d done the first work of this kind, I was “the expert”, and it all went a little viral after that. Appearances on Tyra Banks and National Geographic Taboo followed. I was unprepared for this media attention (and the internet vitriol that would follow), but after close-up views of how this topic was handled, I knew that insights from the survey—especially the qualitative data which was based on open-ended responses—needed to be published.
In 2010 “Love Among the Objectum Sexuals” was accepted as a general article in The Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality. This was the first article that presented research insights into objectum sexuality. This article has been widely read internationally and is frequently cited by academics, journalists, and even bloggers. I’ve gotten used to seeing my name in surprising places.
In that article I stated my opinion that OS was a legitimate sexual orientation, not a fetish. I also proposed a hypothesis: "The apparent link of OS to autism spectrum conditions and object personification synesthesia should be investigated and researched. Such research would be an important addition to the study of human sexual behavior and would benefit the autism/Asperger's community as well as the OS community.” Why did I propose this? Well, it just made sense. If some people can perceive personalities in objects through a form of synesthesia, it just stands to reason that love and desire could be among the emotional responses to object personalities. A case study by Smilek et al. (2007) triggered that reasoning. I had also read that more incidents of synesthesia are found among people on the autism spectrum. It seemed an obvious place to begin.
Ten years later, I am delighted to report that this hypothesis has been substantiated in a Dec. 2019 study published by Julie Simner et. al., in Nature/Scientific Reports. The researchers, who have published previously on autism and synesthesia, conclude that “OS individuals possess significantly higher rates of diagnosed autism and significantly stronger autistic traits compared to controls, as well as a significantly higher prevalence of synaesthesia, and significant synaesthetic traits inherent in the nature of their attractions. our results suggest that OS may encapsulate autism and synaesthesia within its phenomenology. Our data speaks to debates concerning the biological underpinnings of sexuality, to models of autism and synaesthesia, and to psychological and philosophical models of romantic love.”
So there you have it!
I once wrote: “This world is rough and often dangerous for people of sexual and gender minority communities. It doesn’t help when the clinician or therapist is distracted because they don’t know enough about the broad range of human sexual behavior and genders and may be focused on that, rather than the actual presenting problem (which might be a toothache or bereavement and have little to nothing to do with their partnership with a beloved object (or two or three).”
I am delighted that the 2019 Simner study has verified the connections between OS, synesthesia, and autism. This data should help clinicians understand this sexual orientation and better serve their OS clients. I hope for more research on this topic from this same team of researchers.
For more information, see these articles and studies. Most reference my “Love Among the Objectum Sexuals” (2010)