As sex ghosts become a celebrity trend, Roger Clarke looks at the mythology of spectral couplings
Over the past few years an actress and a film star have gone public about a strange new sexual kink, sex with spooks. ‘I had a couple of experiences with the supernatural. I don’t know his name! He was a ghost! I’m very open to it,’ music star Kesha told Ryan Seacrest on his American KIIS FM radio show.
Ukrainian actress Natasha Blasick said the same thing on British television when promoting the film Paranormal Activity 2. ‘I was lying in bed and then I felt something enter the room and I couldn’t see anybody,’ she revealed. ‘I could feel that somebody was touching me and the hands were pushing me against my will and I could feel the weight of the body on top of me. I couldn’t see anybody but I could feel the pressure, the energy, the warmth pushing in different directions. At first, I was very confused, then I decided to relax and it was really pleasurable, I really enjoyed it.'
There’s even a Hollywood medium who specialises in giving advice on ghost sex – Patti Negri. ‘It’s not just like you’re feeling orgasmic’, she explains. ‘You’re feeling specifically where they are touching: they’re touching my left breast, they’re touching down there, they’re touching something. You actually feel penetration, often.’
In reality there’s nothing new about it. In China there’s a long tradition of sexually attractive ghosts known as ‘Fox Spirits’. Typically a man would meet a beautiful woman on a lonely road and be invited back to her house, which was usually richly decorated and garnished with every luxury. The following morning he’d wake up to find himself lying in a long-abandoned, ruined house. In the folk-tales of Pu Songling, known as Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, there are dozens of such supernatural ensnarements – even a gay male one. Wives in particular feared their husbands would fall under the spell of a female temptress, and to be a fox spirit became shorthand for mistress material.
In Europe evidence of sexual dealings with supernatural entities dates back to the 16th century. The roles were reversed here – it was women sleeping with male spirits. Witches would often have sex with the devil, or so it was recorded in many witch trials of the period. The ‘Witch of Edmonton’, Elizabeth Sawyer, described how the devil would suck her ‘a little above the fundament’ and would put his ‘head under my coattes and I would willingly suffer him to do what hee would … he would be sucking of me the continuance of a quarter of an howre’. In a later trial, a famous witch named Isabel Gowdie confirmed her satanic pact had been sealed with sex with the devil: ‘He was a large black hairy man very cold, and I found his semen in me as cold as spring water’.
A tradition of the female sex ghost, the succubus, and the male sex ghost, an incubus, grew up around these reports. But these were not ghosts in the traditional sense, more like paranormal entities who’d never been human. They related to angels and devils or primordial forces.
The subject of ghost sex was revisited in Victorian times, when séance parties were notorious for their sexual component, not always sublimated. Pretty working class girls dressed up as ‘full body’ apparitions for their upper middle-class male clientele.
Personal stories of visitations by sex ghosts are still told today. I had a friend with a house in the Cotswolds, with a bedroom which was notorious for its sexual botheration. Couples would wake to feel the body of a man, warm, breathing and naked in the bed between them. However, apparitions that exhibit sexual intent are rare.
My own opinion is that these sexual liaisons are actually linked with the sleep paralysis phenomenon which is incredibly widespread and well-reported – it involves the feeling of another presence on or by the bed, and a sense of a weight on the chest, which sometimes makes it hard to breathe. It’s really just the brain waking up while the body is in a state of lock – part of a natural process to stop the body harming itself while asleep. These hallucinatory experiences are known as hypnagogic and hypnopompic. Those who report sleep paralysis incidents often leave out sexual components, for example that it accompanied a wet dream.
I can report that Kesha recently found some kind of closure by starring as a ghost under a sheet in the recent indy film A Ghost Story. The sheet was patterned, but not, I believe, stained.
Roger Clarke is the author of 'A Natural History of Ghosts' (Penguin)
Graze on my lips
And if those hills be dry
Where the pleasant fountains lie
Shakespeare, from Venus and Adonis