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Psychology of Hybristophilia

Lovearthistory writes about a variety of topics online, including the strange and macabre.

What is hybristophilia and can we understand its causes?

What is hybristophilia and can we understand its causes?

What Is Hybristophilia?

Hybristophiliacs are people who are sexually aroused and attracted to people who have committed cruel, gruesome crimes such as murder and rape. It occurs more often in women than in men.

There are two categories of hybristophiliacs:

1) Passive Hybristophilia

Every year, notorious criminals receive romantic and sexual “fan mail” from admirers. These letter-writing groupies (known as SKGs, serial killer groupies) have no desire in taking part of criminal activity, yet are attracted to men behind bars.

These women are usually delusional and will try to find excuses for what the criminal did. They will develop relationships with a criminal and feel that they are special -- that even though their lover may have killed numerous people, he would never harm her. They usually feel that they can “change” their lover and have rescue fantasies. Passive hybristophiliacs “tend to put themselves in positions to be seduced, manipulated, and lied to by the people they fall for “ (Suite 101).

2) Aggressive Hybristophilia

Aggressive hybristophiliacs are complete opposites. They are willing to help out their lovers with their criminal agenda by luring victims, hiding bodies, covering crimes, or even committing crimes. They are attracted to their lovers because of their violent actions and want to receive love, yet are unable to understand that their lovers are psychopaths who are manipulating them.

Both passive and aggressive hybristophiliacs tend to end up in abusive or unhealthy relationships.

Causes of Hybristophilia

There is little known about this paraphilia. Psychologists only have theories about why some people are like this.

Some believe hybristophiliacs are submissive victims, while others believe they are “narcissist enablers who are attracted to power” (Narcissism 101). Indeed, many hybristophiliacs seem to be attracted to men behind bars because of their fame and notoriety in the media. Some believe these women are living vicariously through the men and like the thrill and attention.

Psychologists also see this from a biological perspective. Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson, authors of Demonic Males, describe a study in which male and female orangutan behavior was observed. They noted that females favored the larger and more aggressive males—the ones who showed off their masculinity the most.

According to Narcissism 101, “Women equate forceful and aggressive men, who are also charming, to an ideal masculinity based on power and roughness”. In addition, “theorists have said that SKGs may be responding to the overt maleness of the man who has done the most brutal act imaginable. That is, they may be equating this sort of violence with masculine strength and then seeking it as a way to bring such a male into their lives, for protection and for producing offspring with a good chance for survival. Thus, they're responding to a biological drive that they may not even be aware of” (Serial Killer Groupies).

Sheila Isenberg wrote Women Who Love Men Who Kill, in which she interviews numerous hybristophiliacs. She says these women were seemingly normal—teachers, nurses, and wives. She found that many of these women, however, had a history of abusive and violent relationships. Some of these women knew the exact nature of their relationships—that it is morally wrong to be in love with a killer—while other women were extremely delusional and had idealized fantasies of their relationships.

It should be noted that most of these women do not truly know the men they are in love with. These women mostly communicate with these men via letters and only meet them for one or two hours at a time during jail visits. In fact, most of these women spend more time fantasizing about how their relationships would be if the killer was not in jail. Isenberg writes:

"…this phenomenon involved a complicated series of reasons. The first reason is that if you are in a relationship with a man behind bars for life or a man on death row, then you have a lot of control over the relationship. You can decide when to make the visit, when to accept the phone call, or if you will accept the call, and you are that man's primary link with the outside world. So as you can clearly see it's a very powerful position to be in."

Since most of these women were previously abused, psychologists believe that these women enter these relationships as a way to “re-do” or “re-write” their pasts. This time the man is behind bars and cannot harm the women, while the woman has all the power in the relationship.

However, the killers know what they are getting into. Serial killers tend to be very charismatic and intelligent people. These criminals have an unlimited amount of free time in prison and manipulate these women that admire them. They carefully study the women and learn about their personalities and weaknesses and prey on them.


Treatment is generally not sought out unless required to do so by legal action. However, there are methods in place that could be used:

  • Psychotherapy: cognitive behavioral therapy, orgasmic reconditioning, individual expressive-supportive psychotherapy
  • Group therapy: 12-step programs (like AA but for sex addicts)
  • Hypnosis
  • Medications: antidepressants, medical castration, ant androgens, phenothiazine, mood stabilizers

Famous Examples

Throughout history, there have been many high-profile examples of hybristophilia:

  • Doreen Lioy fell in love with serial killer Richard Ramirez (who killed 13 people). They got married at the San Quentin prison in California. Women still send Ramirez fan mail and marriage proposals even though he's dead.
  • Carole Ann Boone married Ted Bundy during his trial. He may have killed anywhere between 30-100 people. Bundy proposed to her in the courtroom when Boone was being questioned on the stand. They had a daughter together, but Boone got a divorce and changed her name and disappeared.
  • Charles Manson and the Columbine High shooters also have groupies.
  • Scott Peterson murdered his pregnant wife. Within hours of being convicted for his crime, Peterson received his first (of numerous) marriage proposals.
  • John Wayne Gacy (who killed and raped 33 young men) had women throw themselves at him. A book has been published with all the letters he received while in prison. He had an affair with a delusional woman in prison who did not believe he had committed his crimes.

Sources and Works Cited

"Dangerous Love." Welcome to Narcissism 101. Web. 01 Mar. 2010.


"Hybristophilia Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatments and Causes -" Wrong Diagnosis. Web. 04 Mar. 2010.


""Killer Groupies an Unexplained Mystery"" Steve Sailer's ISteve Blog. Web. 01 Mar. 2010. <>.

"No Shortage of Women Who Dream of Snaring a Husband on Death Row / Experts Ponder Why Deadliest Criminals Get so Many Proposals - SFGate - Page 3." Featured Articles from SFGate. Web. 01 Mar. 2010. <>.

"Serial Killer Groupies, Who Are They? - Crime Library on" Not Reality. Actuality. Web. 01 Mar. 2010. <>.

"Unrequited Love - Women Who Love Serial Killers and Men on Death Row." EzineArticles Submission - Submit Your Best Quality Original Articles For Massive Exposure, Ezine Publishers Get 25 Free Article Reprints. Web. 01 Mar. 2010. <>.

"What Is Hybristophilia?: The Invisible Phenomenon of Deadly Attraction, Also Known as Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome." Psychology. Web. 01 Mar. 2010. <>.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


cobra man on March 25, 2018:

it would seem to me that for every bad boy, there's a bad girl...not too awful hard to understand; these women are attracted to these men because they see them as their male equivalent.

Melissa Jacobson on March 23, 2018:

Your definition begins by characterizing it as a sexual attraction, yet your two types only address romantic desire. At the very least, there ought to be another category that explicitly addresses sexual desire. I think there is likely an evolutionary advantage to mating up with a sociopath. Their offspring would potentially inherit traits that could improve their own reproductive success. (Sociopaths are generally more attractive and intelligent on average, and capable of covertly eliminating competition.)

Mega Knowledge on September 02, 2017:

it's pretty obvious that these women are scared severely. the women who have bad pasts for example it may nor be a way of wanting to redo the relationships but rather have revenge. unless they feel that their previous relationship is their fault then they might want a do-over.

Lady Silverlance on March 18, 2017:

Not all of this is teue and some of it from which has been studied in the past and present is in actual fact completely unfounded. I find the use of the word 'delusional' to these ladies abhorrant and unjust as one can not be entirely aware of everyone's circumstances, lives or if purely sexual by nature as opposed to anything else.

Perhaps revise!

froyo on February 22, 2016:

We've probably got the best exapme of "Agressive Hybristophilia" in DC's Harley Quinn- she lived a normal life as a psychiatrist until she met the Joker, who conviced her that his actions were the result of a tragic past, which led to Harley falling madly in love with him, abandoning her comfortable life and joining him in terrorizing Gotham through various crime sprees.

Randi on November 18, 2014:

Don't forget the Boston bomber. He is a hottie.

nakedtruth on April 08, 2012:

Look at your first two paragraphs and decide whether you know the difference between posessive and plural case. I don't think you do...

Alice DeWonder from 3rd planet from Sun on May 03, 2011:

Consider the statement "seemingly normal -- teachers, nurses, and wives." What is that? What is "normal" for the species known as "human"? Are psychologists and psychiatrists "normal"? Perhaps writers and great research artists should begin with defining what it is to be humanly normal. All too often we humans give ourselves far too much credit where it is undeserved!