This week’s celebrity-relationship headlines ran a little outside of the standard “he’s not wearing a wedding ring” fare when stories around Armie Hammer’s alleged cannibal fetish surfaced — first via the anonymous Instagram account @houseofeffie and later corroborated by the actor’s recent ex, Flashd app creator Courtney Vucekovich, who says Hammer told her he wanted to “barbecue and eat” her.
Details are still unfolding (the actor has denied what he says are “bullshit allegations”). And in fact, the whole “I’m 100% cannibal thing” thing (as Hammer allegedly messaged an ex) may be deflecting from more serious controlling behavior. Still, it’s not every day that cannibal kink makes headlines and, well, we have questions.
With that in mind, the Cut spoke to Katharine Gates, a social anthropologist and author of Deviant Desires, to find out more about this particular proclivity, and how to tell the difference between erotic play and abuse.
My five minutes of Google research says that a person who gets off on sex fantasies around cannibalism is what’s known as a vorarephile. Is that accurate?
First of all, there is a big difference between the people in the kink community who call themselves cannibals and others who call themselves vore fans.
Vore as in vorarephilia?
Well yes, but vorarephilia actually comes from vore. It’s one of those made-up, fake-medical-sounding terms that isn’t a real word. Vore, like voracious, comes from the word carnivore. It is most often associated with fantasies that are less realistic in nature. Often, you see this in the world of furry fandom, where you have people who are interested in being swallowed whole by a character from an anime show. It can be more or less violent or sensual, but it’s usually somewhat cartoonish and less realistic. There are vore fans who want to be mashed by a giant set of teeth or have their whole body massaged by a tongue.
What about if you wanted to barbeque and eat your partner?
That sounds more like cannibal play, which tends to involve more realistic scenarios. I have a friend who has her basement all set up with a playroom that has a spit. Her partner will turn her around on it. It’s still fantasy—they’re not actually eating pieces of people, but you will have one person be the meat and another is the preparer.
So cannibal play is more realistic in the sense that it mirrors things that are actually possible? Like, you wouldn’t have people actually drinking each other’s blood or anything?
Well, that is blood play and it’s a completely different realm. In a lot of cannibal-play fantasies, it’s about consuming breasts or buttocks, even though we know that these would not taste very good in real life because they’re almost entirely fat. The point is that the fantasy is flesh-oriented. And a fantasy. There are people who assume that if I fantasize about rape, I really want to be raped — no! In the same way that I may have a fantasy about having sex with my UPS man. It’s a fantasy, it’s not going to happen.
Okay, but just for argument. If you did have sex with your UPS man, nobody is going to lose a vital organ.
Just because something is a fantasy about something that we all consider to be ultimately taboo doesn’t mean it is more likely to happen in an unsafe or illegal fashion. I think that anybody who is conversant with the idea of kink will understand that people have fantasies and will keep them in the realm of fantasy. Some may do that by looking at artwork or creating artwork, but have absolutely no interest in doing this with a real person, so it’s a subset of pornography and not about behavior at all. And then there are people who are interested in trying to play this way with a partner and in that case, the keys are consent and communication both during and in advance. The BDSM community is very, very much about safe, sane, and consensual behavior and they are hyperaware of the differences between kink and abuse. There is a lot of teaching that goes on in the community about how to spot red flags.
Can you give some examples?
If what your dominant or master is doing makes you feel bad. If your partner or master tries to stop you from seeing your friends, if they try to take control of your finances, if they ignore you when you say to stop. These things are all true of sexual relationships in the vanilla community as well. If there is a pattern of abuse with a person who also has cannibal tendencies, the problem isn’t the cannibal fantasies, the problem is the abuse.
Do most people want to be the “meat” or the “eater”?
This is basically the difference between a bottom or a top, and bottoms are a lot more common. The idea is that they get off on being an object and having things done to them. In this case that might mean being stripped and painted with lines to show the different cuts of meat, oiled up, salt and peppered.
Fantasy salt and pepper or actual salt and pepper?
Real salt and pepper. There are people who want an apple in their mouth and a carrot in their butt. I’m laughing because it’s funny. It’s play. I know another couple where they will go to Trader Joe’s for dinner as a form of foreplay, or they’ll go to Williams Sonoma and walk around looking at all the cookware — maybe he will poke her with a set of tongs.
This all sounds very light-hearted, but can it also be about control and power?
Oh absolutely. Almost every erotic fantasy has its element of power play. It’s just part of what gets people excited. The chase. One thing I should say is that outside the BDSM community, there may be a false assumption that the dominant person — the preparer — must be a bad person, a wannabe rapist in real life, but that is not the case. Being a dominant is also about caregiving. Making sure the other person gets what they need.
Do people who are into vore or cannibal play know from an early age?
That depends. There are people who come to these things because they are interested in trying something new. They are maybe into sexual activity that feels unusual or dangerous, and they come to cannibal play — maybe once or maybe as part of their repertoire. And then there are people who are quite specific, who can only experience sexual arousal in this way, and they usually know from the very first time they see a Porky Pig episode.
Do you just mean childhood cartoons or Porky Pig specifically?
There is a famous episode of Porky Pig where he has a nightmare where he gets cut up and eaten. For my book I spoke to an older generation of vore fans and a lot of them mentioned that specifically.