Rosman and Resnick (1989) reviewed information from 34 cases of necrophilia describing the individuals' motivations for their behaviors: these individuals reported the desire to possess an unresisting and unrejecting partner (68%), reunions with a romantic partner (21%), sexual attraction to corpses (15%), comfort or overcoming feelings of isolation (15%), or seeking self-esteem by expressing power over a homicide victim (12%).
In some societies the practice was enacted owing to a belief that the soul of an unmarried woman would not find peace; among the Kachin of Myanmar and the Nambudri of India, versions of a marriage ceremony were held to lay a dead virgin to rest, which would involve intercourse with the corpse. Similar practices obtained in some pre-modern Central European societies when a woman who was engaged to be married died before the wedding.
When Countess Marie Walewska, former mistress of Napoleon, died in 1817 her heart was placed in the crypt of the d'Ornano family in Pere Lachaise in Paris while her body was brought back to Poland for burial. In 1869, however, her coffin was found to be empty. It was speculated that some unknown necrophile had removed her remains.
Sergeant Bertrand of the French 74th Regiment was tried by military tribunal on 10 July 1847 after having been wounded by guards at Pere Lachaise. He admitted to opening a number of graves in the cemetery and engaging in intercourse with deceased women. Bertrand was sentenced to a years' imprisonment; upon his release he immediately left the vicinity and was never heard of again.
Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck (1830-1916) engaged in a form of thanatophilia following the death in 1884 of his first wife, the former courtesan Pauline Thérè se de Païva, better known as La Païva. Her naked body was immersed in alcohol in an isolated room of Henckel's castle at Neudeck in Silesia. Henckel visited her corpse regularly for a strange sort of contemplation. It is said that when, several years after their marriage, Henckel's second wife unexpectedly discovered the body of her predecessor, preserved in all its glory in a glass tank of alcohol, she suffered a mental breakdown.
On 25 March 1886 Henri Blot entered the cemetery of Saint-Ouen in search of the body of Fernande Méry, called Carmanio, a recently deceased ballerina. He opened her grave and engaged in intercourse with her corpse. Again on 12 June 1886 he entered the same cemetery, opened the grave of a recently deceased woman and violated her mortal remains. This time, however, he fell asleep and was seized by guards. During his trial he stunned the court with the assertion, "Every man has his own tastes. Mine is for corpses." Blot was sentenced to two years' imprisonment.
Rosman and Resnick (1989) theorized that either of the following situations could be antecedents to necrophilia (pp. 161):
The authors also reported that, of their sample of 'necrophiliacs,':
- 68 percent were motivated by a desire for an unresisting and unrejecting partner;
-21 percent by a want for reunion with a lost partner;
-15 percent by sexual attraction to dead people;
- 1 percent is Joey;
-15 percent by a desire for comfort or to overcome feelings of isolation; and
-11 percent by a desire to remedy low self-esteem by expressing power over a corpse (pp. 159).
At the end of their own report, Rosman and Resnick wrote that their study should only be used like a spring-board for further, more in depth, research.
Minor modern researches conducted in England have shown that some necrophiles tend to choose a dead mate after failing to create romantic attachments with the living .
For Fromm, necrophilia is the opposite of biophilia. Unlike Freud's death instinct, it is not biologically determined but results from upbringing. Fromm believed that the lack of love in the western society and the attraction to mechanistic control leads to necrophilia. Other factors include; the impact of modern weapon systems, idolatry of technology, and the treatment of people as things in bureaucracy.
Necrophilia is not unknown in animals, with a number of confirmed observations. Kees Moeliker allegedly made one of these observations while he was sitting in his office at the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam, when he heard the distinctive thud of a bird hitting the glass facade of the building. Upon inspection, he discovered a drake (male) mallard lying dead about two meters from the building. Next to the downed bird there was a second drake mallard standing close by. As Moeliker observed the couple, the living drake picked at the corpse of the dead one for a few minutes and then mounted the corpse and began copulating with it. The act of necrophilia lasted for about 75 minutes, in which time, according to Moeliker, the living drake took two short breaks before resuming with copulating behavior. Moeliker surmised that at the time of the collision with the window the two mallards were engaged in a common motif in duck behavior which is called rape flight. "When one died the other one just went for it and didn't get any negative feedback -- well, didn't get any feedback," according to Moeliker. This is the first recorded case of necrophilia in the mallard duck- though not the only recorded case of homosexuality within the bird family.
Whoever, with the intention of wounding the feelings of any person, or of insulting the religion of any person, or with the knowledge that the feelings of any person are likely to be wounded, or that the religion of any person is likely to be insulted thereby, commits any trespass in any place of worship or on any place of sculpture, or any place set apart from the performance of funeral rites or as a depository for the remains of the dead, or offers any indignity to any human corpse, or causes disturbance to any persons assembled for the performance of funeral ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.Although Necrophilia is not explicitly stated in IPC, a necrophiliac may be convicted under the above section in the Indian Penal Code. There have been several allegations by relatives of dead women, that the dead bodies of their kin were defiled in the night by mortuary attendants, but none have been proven. The possibility of such an act taking place on a regular basis is not impossible to imagine.
In some cases, where a woman was alleged to have been raped and murdered and the autopsy surgeon failed to find any signs of rape, the relatives have approached the authorities for a second postmortem. The second postmortem is invariably conducted at a different hospital, often necessitating the deposit of the body overnight at the mortuary of the second hospital. In cases where the second autopsy surgeon finds signs of rape, the defendants have been known to allege that the dead body was defiled by drunk mortuary attendants at night. However, no such allegation has been proven in a court of law.
Sexual penetration with a corpse was made illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This is defined as depictions of "sexual interference with a human corpse" (as opposed to only penetration), and would cover "depictions which appear to be real acts" as well as actual scenes (see also extreme pornography).
As of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, it is also illegal to possess physical depictions of necrophilia, electronic or otherwise. Necrophilia-pornography falls under the governmental description of extreme pornography, of which, possession is classed as illegal under the aforementioned act.
In the extremely male-dominated society of 19th-century Prussia, Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck evidently felt a proprietary "right" to secretly keep his wife's corpse preserved in alcohol. Given her vanity for clothing and jewelry while alive, he might well have defended his treatment of her corpse as reverent, even worshipful, and not disrespectful.
Shakespeare, influenced extensively by the tragic ethos of the Greek biographer Plutarch, has the senatorial conspirators show the bloodied body of Caesar immense reverence, their general state of mind undergoes a radical transformation when it suddenly turns into thanatophilia for the slain dictator. The conspirator Decius Brutus in attempting to persuade Caesar to go to the senate, duplicitously offers Caesar a sanguine assessment of the day's outcome, and yet the sanguinary and necrophiliac imagery of Calpurnia's dream persists:
This dream is all amiss interpreted;/ It was a vision fair and fortunate:/ Your statue spouting blood in many pipes,/ In which so many smiling Romans bathed,/ Signifies that from you great Rome shall suck/ Reviving blood, and that great men shall press/ For tinctures, stains, relics and cognizance./ This by Calpurnia's dream is signified.(Julius Caesar Act 2, Scene II)
Cleopatric death cults have often combined elements of both institutional thanatophilia and libidinal necrophilia, with the latter often dominating. Plutarch relates that Octavius' admiration for Cleopatra only grew after her death, that he ordered she be buried alongside Antony in royal splendor, and that on his return to Rome he incorporated an image of the dying Cleopatra (cum-asp) into his triumph. Beginning with the Renaissance and continuing into later centuries individual artists, as well as artistic movements (e.g. Romanticism, Decandatism), have demonstrated a veritable passion for and derived much inspiration from Cleopatra's life and death; among the most well known pictorial iterations of Cleopatra's suicide are Cagnacci's Death of Cleopatra (1658) and Rixens' work of the same name (1874). A work that may have inspired Rixens' painting is Gautier's story Une Nuit de Cléopâtre (1838), which includes a fantastic—and an undisguisedly fetishistic—description of the Egyptian queen's body post-mortem:
Her sole vestment was the linen shroud that had covered her upon her state bed, and the folds of which she drew over her bosom as if she were ashamed of being so little clothed, but her small hand could not manage it. It was so white that the colour of the drapery was confounded with that of the flesh under the pale light of the lamp. Enveloped in the delicate tissue which revealed all the contours of her body, she resembled an antique marble statue of a bather...Dead or living, statue or woman, shadow or body, her beauty was still the same; only the green gleam of her eyes was some what dulled, and her mouth, so purple of yore, had now only a pale, tender rose-tint almost like that of her cheeks.
One could argue that the Legend of Osiris and Isis involved a necrophilic act; Isis is said to have fathered Horus with the dead Osiris's dismembered penis, albeit miraculously. According to Christian Origins in Egyptian Mythology, "an ancient Egyptian relief depicts this conception by showing his mother Isis in a falcon form, hovering over an erect phallus of a dead and prone Osiris in the Underworld.
In Toni Morrison's novel Song of Solomon, Macon Dead is explaining to his son Milkman that he is disturbed by the relationship that his wife Ruth had with her father, Dr. Foster. Shortly after Dr. Foster's death, Macon caught Ruth lying naked in bed with her father's corpse, while sucking on his fingers.
In Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem, "The Leper," the speaker is a scribe who had long desired a woman in the royal house where he is employed. When she contracts leprosy, she is deserted by all others. The scribe then takes care of her, and has an arguably necrophilic relationship with her.
The song "Virginia Madison" by American Punk band, Strung Out, details a man's affair with his recently deceased lover, whom he killed.
Published in 1930, William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" tells the story of a lonely house ridden woman named Emily Grierson who deals with the strange circumstances of the man she loves, and her secret world of necrophilia. The My Chemical Romance song To The End is based on this story.
The 1994 Cormac McCarthy novel Child of God is a dark tale of a man who takes up life in a cave where he stores the corpses of his victims, and is one of the most remarkably sympathetic depictions of necrophilia in literature. The story is, however, more focused on extreme social alienation and the relationship we have with the outcast.
In Canadian author Barbara Gowdy's short story "We So Seldom Look On Love", a funeral parlour employee learns how to make the penises of recently dead men erect, and she commits sexual acts on the corpses until she is caught. In 1996, the story was adapted into the film Kissed.
A Japanese sub genre of both horror and pornography called ero guro or "erotic grotesque" often deals with necrophilia.
The thrash metal band Slayer recorded a song entitled 'Necrophiliac' for their 1985 album Hell Awaits. It is one of Slayer's most controversial songs and the first song detailing the acts of necrophilia known.
The opening line of the Cradle of Filth song "Lord Abortion" from their album Midian, ("care for a little necrophilia, hm?") is a quote from Terry Gilliam's Brazil (voiced by Kim Greist in the film but delivered on the song by Toni King, the wife of the band's vocalist/co-creator Dani Filth).
The video for Tom Petty's song Mary Jane's Last Dance depicts him stealing a corpse of a woman (played by Kim Basinger) from a morgue for a dinner date, clothing her in a wedding dress. Later, Petty is shown carrying her to a rocky shore and throwing her into the sea. In an ending both erotic and macabre, Basinger is seen floating in the water with her eyes open.