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Pimple Popping - Fetish, Social Grooming, or Sadomasochism?

 

DISCLAIMER

If you're very squeamish, but still curious to read, do not play the videos...

 

 

“Disgusting … but I can’t stop watching.”

 

These are a solid 90% of the reactions to most pimple popping, blackhead removing, cyst cutting, and ingrown hair removing videos out there. Another indisputable fact is that there’s no middle ground or “meh” reaction. It’s either gross captivation or utter repulsion, gagging, trypophobia episode,  and refusal to watch any further.

 

And, I have somehow found myself in the first category and wondering what the hell is happening as either a dermatologist or YouTuber takes their thumbs to a bulbous mound and squeezes until they draw out something can only be described as a yellow or black worm escaping an oily den ... Or a Tootsie Roll.

 

 

It wasn’t until I saw one particular reaction that was damn near orgasmic (I believe it was something like, “Oh fuck, that’s soooo good” - which is something you would either hear while watching food porn or having sex) did I step away from my monitor and have a good, long think about the appeal.  

 

I wondered why, in god’s name, are these things so satisfying? Does it come from a hard wired, survivalist need to stay clean and, therefore, relief at the outcome? Or is there a sexual aspect to it – and, let’s be honest, it takes no stretch of the imagination. Perhaps it was something else entirely?

 

What is it NOT…

 

I’ve been guilty about throwing the term OCD around, but I try my best to keep it within a very clear realm of hyperbole, but it still pisses me off when people throw the term around medical forums without actually being diagnosed as such.

 

There is a big different between really REALLY wanting to pick at those zits to make your skin look “good” (lets not forget that doing it wrong can make the skin look worse) and really getting off on watching people dig out black nuggets of gold versus the mental disorder of excoriation (to uncontrollably pick at the skin until wounds form) and other such conditions like the coined term of “skinorexia”, where you see imperfections in the epidermis that aren’t really there.

 

Although several doctors have suggested that watching such videos can be a coping mechanism rather than resorting to self-harm, I’m going to leave things like that up to the experts and just focus on the rest of us who just can’t look away.

 

Here are the various theories:

 

 

THEORY ONE – Fetishism

 

“Rule 34” – if it exists, there’s porn of it. It also ties into universally accepted fact that the Fetish Sea is as deep as it is painted with endless levels of pervsion, with copious videos of saliva, blood, breast milk, urine, feces, and vomit that already grace porn sites. None of these, however, compare with squirting and other cum shots.

 

So, it shouldn’t be that big of a stretch to imagine those that get some degree of sexual gratification from zit popping. The current term now is called “acnephilia.” And while there are no academic or clinical studies of this as a real fetish, there are plenty people arguing for or against the classification – with those in favor citing one simple definition:

 

 

 

THEORY TWO – Penis Envy

 

This one was an amusing one to stumble across. I can totally see a connection to gushing bodily fluids, however, penis envy is a fairly outdated idea based on a lot of old misconceptions. Specifically the idea that women envy the sexual pleasure men can feel and the convenience of having a wiener.

 

All of this came from a period where women’s sexual needs were classified as medical problems and something to be ashamed about, and society was even more male-dominated that it is today.

 

I will concede that some people do have penis envy, but there are men who have womb envy and wish they had the ability to feed their offspring with their own mammary glands. It’s just not at the core of enough people to be explained. The writer certainly gets props for trying though.

 

 

THEORY THREE – Disgust and Danger

 

 

This is the only thing that comes close to a “majority consensus”, and you’ll almost always see a quote from Daniel Kelly, author of Yuck!: The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust.

 

"It's the same kind of thrill people get from, say, riding a roller coaster or bungee jumping — it activates the experience the typically comes with a real kind of danger while actually being protected from the harmful effects typically associated with those situations.”

 

Personally, I like Dean McKay, Ph.D’s approach better. Unlike Kelly, who majors in philosophy, McKay’s education focuses on OCD, anxiety, and disgust in anxiety disorders. He actually studies this stuff for a living.

 

McKay says, “Seeking out videos of this sort stimulates an emotional state that isn't frequently provoked.” Also, "There's relief associated with popping pimples, even though the product secreted is deemed disgusting.”

 

And, it’s most people who have had acne that love watching these. Why? We are told over and over again NOT TO POP anything. Even my grandma was pretty stern on me not even touching my face. Watching others do it (or doing it on others) give us the relief we want without the repercussions. We are biologically hardwired to avoid anything disgusting for the sake of our health and some subconscious need to maintain the species. In short – watching a video take away something gross makes us feel better, relieved, or sated.  

 

 

THEORY FOUR – Relief from anxiety

 

The most famous YouTuber, Dr. Sandra Lee, is a dermatologist best known for her zit vids (Dr. Vikram is insanely popular as well), and she voices much of what an enthusiastic subReddit does – the process is hypnotic and calming. 

 

“I have seen people mention ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), or that it is something primitive,” says Lee.

 

Some watchers apparently use the videos to help fall asleep. Maybe it ties into things we looked at in the Disgust and Danger theory. I can say that as a hardcore nail biter (past the nail bed until things started bleeding – but thankfully I’ve conquered that now) there was an intense feeling of calm after ripping off a large chunk of nail.

 

 

Watching Vs. Doing

 

There is a peppering of other ideas why some take pleasure from the act rather than staying up until 2 am on their computers and watching their acne riddled subscriptions…

 

  • Primal communication through grooming
  • Ritualistic behavior to overcome anxiety
  • Actions to prevent boredom
  • A sadomasochist element - because it certainly feels like that when my boyfriend goes at them!

 

Other videos that produce similar reactions ...

 

Blackhead removal strips:

 

 

"Baby Feet" Chemical Peels

 

 

 

In the end, I don’t think I found a solid answer as to “why”, but each point of view made me feel far less embarrassed … if for no other reason than their videos getting over 38 million views, which means there are at least 38 million other people out there in the same pimply boat.

 

Have a zit-tastic day!

Robyn

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