For people with dacryphilia, "cry me a river" is a pick-up line.
Screengrab via YouTube
Do tears make you wet—and not on your face? If watery eyes or heaving sobs get you hot and bothered, you're not alone: On Crying Lovers, an online forum, people with a crying fetish, or dacryphilia, are able to meet and share their passion for lacrymal events. The site boasts hundreds of users, who link non-pornographic video clips and photographs of trembling faces as well as real-life voyeuristic observations, or "obs," with the group.
"Truffle," a 24-year-old American graduate student, wrote on Crying Lovers, "A nurse at my place of work was sitting in a call room, reading something on her computer. I only caught a glimpse as I was walking by. She is Chinese, late thirties with short hair and glasses. Her mouth was contorted but not curled. I heard a quiet sob the moment I had passed her door."
"Reptongeek" from North Yorkshire, England, replied, "I need a real life observation like [this] so bad! I've resorted to asking certain female co-workers if they want to have a staring contest to see if they cry, but it never works."
Truffle admits to making people cry on purpose. "Only if they're already close to crying, though. I just don't try too hard to stop them from crying. Have you ever hugged someone who's about to cry? That's the surest way to tip them over the edge," she said over email. "When I do this, though, I always make sure to make them laugh, or comfort them in some way. Otherwise I'd be exploiting them, right?"
For the most part, the users' crying observations are a mixture of sweet and creepy. "I guess there are some people who don't get to see that much crying in real life, and they get some vicarious pleasure in hearing others talk about it," said Truffle. "I happen to see a lot of it, as I cry easily, as do many of my friends and family members. Some people, especially the guys on the forum, seem to get sexually aroused just by reading about other people crying. One person has told me that they would rather read crying observations than actually watch erotic videos."
Attraction to crying, or dacryphilia, is one of the lesser-researched areas of non-normative sexual interest. The first empirical study of dacryphilia, by psychologists Richard Greenhill and Mark D. Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University, was published in March 2015. They concluded that there are three thematic areas of the fetish: compassion, curled lips, and dominance/submission.
Half of the study's participants identified compassion as the source of their dacryphilia. Those participants, all women, were "aroused by the compassion of comforting the crier." They expressed a common fantasy about meeting someone who's had a "hard life" and being able to comfort them.
Have you ever hugged someone who's about to cry? That's the surest way to tip them over the edge.
Many of the women in Greenhill and Griffiths' study are turned on by the "subversion" of gender norms that occurs when men cry. In films and TV shows, crying is often used to show the protagonist male's vulnerable side. From Tim Riggins tearing up when his best friend moves away to Marlon Brando screaming, "Hey, Stella," this romantic trope shows that crying men will melt into the arms of empathetic women.
It's worth evaluating whether dacryphilia reinforces gender roles rather than subverts them: When women cry, they're being hysterical; when men cry, they're heroes. In fact, a 2010 study about chemosignals of human tears revealed that men are, biologically, turned off by female tears. After sniffing odorless female tears, men reported reduced sexual attraction to photographs of women's faces. They also had lower sexual arousal and levels of testosterone.
Psychologist Ad Vingerhoets of Tilburg University—who wasn't involved in the study but who also studies human tears—told NPR that he believes that the primary effect female crying has on men is not reduced testosterone. Instead, he points to the increase in oxytocin, "the hormone that promotes social bonding and caregiving."
When women cry, men are biologically programmed to act as caretakers rather than sexual aggressors, he argued. The power of empathy is essential for intimate relationships and high-functioning social systems. Jesse Bering, director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Belfast University, says in NPR's "Teary-Eyed Evolution: Crying Serves a Purpose" that crying keeps communities and couples strong. In social evolution, good criers are powerful people.
On Crying Lovers, men tend to post about the attraction to crying's physicality rather than the emotional context in which the tears occur. Truffle provided examples of this behavior. She wrote, "One [male] member has a fixation on crying women's lips. Another likes the movement that women's necks make when they sob. Several others like the running tears."
Our teacher was reading Where the Red Fern Grows to the class and all the girls were crying. I was mesmerized.
A male participant in the Greenhill and Griffiths' study, who also serves as an admin on the Crying Lovers forum under the username "TorNorth," told the researchers that he's primarily attracted to "curled lips." In an interview for the study, he says that he likes the "protruding, curling, contorting or bulging of the bottom lip when women cry."
For TorNorth, the attraction isn't specifically related to tears. Although it's a rare example in the study (the majority of participants are women turned on because of their compassion), his fixation makes sense when you consider the reported biological effect of female tears on men: If a man doesn't experience reduced sex drive, and instead fetishizes crying women, he could possibly be going against nature's intent.
In general, men should get a release of oxytocin when they see a crying woman, according to Vingerhoet's research. They should want to help her, not take sexual pleasure from her. Does this mean that sadistic dacryphilia in men runs against biological nature?
Then again, there's an alternative scenario, wherein a crying woman attracts the male partner because she has the intention of being comforted by sex, and now we're in Greenhill and Griffiths' "dominance/submission" thematic category.
In this category, participants were aroused by "either causing tears in a consenting submissive individual or by being made to cry by a consenting dominant individual." As opposed to compassionate dacryphilia, this type makes less of a distinction between emotional and physical causes for tears. "Ulrlshtar" a 24-year-old Belgian participant in the study from collarchat.com, said that she enjoys being dominated either mentally/emotionally or physically/masochistically until she can't hold back tears. Tears became a secondary component, more indicative of successful BDSM to her.
Truffle first realized that she was turned on by crying in the fourth grade. "Our teacher was reading Where the Red Fern Grows to the class and all the girls were crying. I was mesmerized. The girl sitting next to me had huge glistening tears sliding down her cheeks the entire time and I couldn't tear my eyes away," she recalled. "First crush."
Whether it's compassion, curled lips or classic BDSM, dacryphilia is a fetish that reveals the complex relationship between crying, sex, men, and women. It's biologically indicative of how crying keeps society safe and functional. We need tears. Crying promotes empathy in the world. And if it's a really good cry, you could be featured as an observation on Crying Lovers, the sexiest message board about sadness.