After a long day at work, a 20-year-old we'll call Will drives home alone. He walks into his room and turns on his computer, how he usually unwinds. Then he takes off his pants and gets eaten alive.
This is vore. Or in psychiatric terms, vorarephilia, a kink that, at its core, derives sexual gratification from the thought of one person being eaten by another. Some people want to be eaten. Some want to do the eating. All of them want to visualize, either through stories or artwork, what it's like to be inside — all the way inside — another person.
"I've had the fetish since before I knew what to do with it," Will told Mic. He's been interested in vore for more than 10 years, he said. "I had 'strange feelings' seeing certain scenes in movies and such even before puberty."
The diverse and virtually endless ecosystem of vore includes themes of furry fetishism, BDSM and "unbirthing" — the fantasy of being consumed through the vagina to return to a womb. Sometimes it's cute, sometimes it's funny and often it's incredibly graphic (link NSFW). Judging by the 970,000 monthly visits to a popular vore site, more than 20,000 photos tagged #vore on Instagram and thousands more on Tumblr, Will's not alone. A lot of people are eager to share this experience.
Vore's categories run the gamut. Giant women eat regular-sized men. Anthropomorphic foxes eat anthropomorphic rabbits. There's willing prey and unwilling prey. There's force-feeding and sex that concludes with being eaten. Some of it is playful and includes cartoon ponies about to digest a human girl — an action that indicates the vore version of "going all the way."
Will says he prefers being "prey," and therefore being the target of aggressive, orally fixated predators. He mostly browses for artwork of living things being devoured, and he's a moderator of the Reddit forum r/vore, a subreddit that has around 2,500 subscribers. Since last November, he has participated in vore roleplay at least 20 times. More often than not, he says, roleplaying vore is not sexual. Rather, it's a way to goof around. But once in while, he comes in contact with other vore-curious people. That's when things go a little further.
In a conversation on Omegle, a social site that facilitates stranger-to-stranger conversations based on a keyword chosen by the user, Will found a temporary partner, 23-year-old Dean. After discussing college, which Will quit, and how long they'd both been interested in vore, they set a few parameters for roleplaying.
There it was: two dudes in a dorm room. And one gets eaten.
Dean would be the predator, a regular college guy who was curiously gigantic compared to the much smaller Will. It would be unwilling: Will's character would be eaten, and he would be fighting like mad to prevent it. He wouldn't go through the grim process of stomach-acid digestion (in vore, digestion happens extremely fast), nor would he be he chewed up or gored in any way.
There it was: two dudes in a dorm room. And one gets eaten.
The scenario would begin as an argument between roommates gone awry. Dean, a hard-studying collegiate twice Will's size, got fed up with Will's attitude. So after a few minutes of arguing, Dean would pick him up, open his mouth wide, and slowly begin to devour Will headfirst.
He loved it. Here's a sample from their conversation:
*For the first time in hours I'm able to actually relax, and I melt in that moment of relief. If Dean hadn't done it by now surely that meant he wasn't going to, in fact he would have had to keep me alive on purpose. I settle deeper into the folds of your still actively massaging stomach in confidence I was in no danger. If anything ... I was in a considerable state of ... pleasure. My face reddens deeply with the realization and I'm thankful I'm trapped deep away from where Dean could see my expressions.*
The scenario, for Will and Dean, had sexual undertones. But neither Will nor Dean identify as gay. Dean called himself a straight dude when the two first started talking. Will, on the other hand, is still trying to figure it out.
"I might call myself bisexual, but that implies attraction to both sexes," Will told Mic. "However, I personally don't experience sexual attraction to partners. And I'm not asexual, because I still very much enjoy and crave the feeling and idea of sex. If there's a word for that, I'm not interested in learning it; the thing is muddled enough as is."
Maybe that's where the sexual appeal comes in for Will: If vore leaves out gender, it also leaves out a demand for Will to pick a preference.
Ben*, an 18-year-old in the U.S., calls himself painfully shy. He spends most of his time physically alone, plugged into the online world. As an escape from his shyness, he said, he often roleplays as a dragon. He's stimulated by the power element of it. When he roleplays, he does the eating.
He's been into vore for about five years, he said. He became interested in the concept of someone being eaten by a snake and getting lost in "the weird part of YouTube."
Ben likes predatory things. "I love the feel of prey ... futilely pressing against me," he told Mic, taking on the persona of his dragon. "And I dislike prey things because I'm a fucking dragon."
He gave us a sample roleplay scenario:
Pred: me, a large blue dragon out hunting
It's a side of him he keeps online, away from the physical world. Vore is something "even most people on Reddit react to in shock, disgust and/or horror," he said.
According to Amy Lykins, senior lecturer at the University of New England's School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences in Australia, vorarephilia shows tendencies toward submission and dominance, which are the arousal triggers for Will and Ben. Lykins found cases of a man fantasizing about being cooked and eaten by the witch in the Hansel and Gretel story. Another subject, described as the "Turkey Man," would hire dominatrixes to give him a detailed description of him being cooked alive in an oven. Allegedly, he was able to orgasm without ever being touched.
The kink can go far beyond Will and Ben's harmless roleplaying. In 2003, a 42-year-old computer technician named Armin Meiwes placed a wanted ad for someone willing to be killed and eaten in the man's home in Germany. He found a partner: 43-year-old Bernd Brandes, who consented to the whole thing. Meiwes killed Brandes, cut him up and ate him. He was given life in prison. The case gained notoriety when Meiwes' council argued that the worst their client had done was kill on demand, a crime punishable only by five years' jail time.
Meiwes told pre-trial interviewers that after he ate Brandes, he felt more stable.
Dr. Richard Krueger, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, told Mic that vorarephilia, with its broad range of subcategories, could be explained a number of ways. He connected the desire to be swallowed to the need to be loved. "Being chewed up is more masochistic," he said, but cautioned that any analysis is "highly speculative." Being swallowed is a kind of Oedipal comfort. Sitting warm and cozy in the belly of a giantess gives you a very literal sense of belonging.
For fans of vore, these online communities of artists, writers and roleplayers can provide a feeling of belonging. Through chatrooms, Will (the prey) "got more comfortable with the idea of being ... strange." It's helped him find catharsis in in a space where he feels safe.
"This side of me only exists online," he said. "Two people could connect my name to this thing; one is a close friend and the other is the reason I'll not tell anyone else. If I play my cards right, no one else will ever know."
* Names have been changed.