What Is Tickle Abuse?
We've all experienced tickling in our lives, and for most of us, it's nothing but good fun. You giggle and laugh and have a smile on your face when it's done. But did you know that there is an ugly side of tickling where it can go from fun and games and enter into abuse territory? Tickle abuse, which is also known as tickle torture, is not a playable experience and has even been used as an interrogation method. This can cause severe mental and physical distress. There face even been accounts of tickle torture leading to death.
The Physiology Behind Tickling
Tickling is touching the body in a way that causes laughter, smiling, uncontrollable twitching, and withdrawal. It is usually achieved by light or more pressurized movement across sensitive areas of the skin. One type of tickling, called knismesis, causes more of an itchy feeling, such as the light movement of an insect across the skin. All mammals are familiar with this. The second type of tickling, which seems limited to humans and primates, is called gargalesis, and this is the type associated with laughter. Tickling stimulates nerve fibers and releases endorphins. Most people find the soles of their feet, their armpits, stomachs, knees, and sides of their torsos quite ticklish. According to Charles Darwin, for tickling to be effective, you should not know the point of stimulation in advance. This is why people have trouble tickling themselves.
Tickle Torture in History
While people often laugh while being tickled, one survey found that only 32% of people actually enjoy being tickled. Some people experience anxiety and embarrassment from being tickled. While tickling may cause a physiological response that seems to suggest enjoyment, this survey suggests that actual feelings of pleasure from tickling is not automatic. Prolonged tickling can result in vomiting, loss of control over one’s bladder and bowels, fainting, and inability to breathe.
Tickle torture has been documented throughout history. In World War II, it has been noted that Nazi prison guards utilized tickle torture against inmates. In the book The Men With The Pink Triangle, author Heinz Heger described an incident of tickle torture that was witnessed at the Flossenburg concentration camp. He described how the Nazi guards tickled an inmate “with s goose feathers, on the soles of his feet, between his legs, in the armpits, and on other parts of his naked body. At first, the prisoner forced himself to keep silent, while his eyes twitched in fear and torment from one SS man to the other. Then he could not restrain himself and finally, he broke out in a high-pitched laughter that very soon turned into a cry of pain.” Other forms of torture followed, which resulted in the death of the victim.
In medieval China, particularly during the Han dynasty, tickle torture was a common form of punishment. Unlike other forms of torture, tickle torture does not result in any physical scars, so it was a favorite technique for punishing members of the nobility or important people who would be seen in public. Tickle torture was also used in ancient Japan as punishment for those who committed crimes beyond the criminal code. It was called kusuguri-zeme, which translates to “merciless tickling.”
In ancient Rome, tickle abuse was likewise used as a form of torture and punishment. The victim would be tied with the soles of their feet exposed. Their feet would then be dipped in salt water, and goats would be released to lick their feet. This would cause a tickling sensation that would eventually become unbearably painful to the victims. Once the goats had finished licking the salt water off their feet, the victim’s feet would be dipped in the salt water mixture again so that the torture could continue.
Other documented cases of tickle abuse include the practice of tickling people who have been put in stocks as punishment. This was commonly a public punishment found in Europe and America from 1500 to 1748. While the criminal was restrained in the stocks, the public could spit on them, hit them, and, of course, tickle them. The people in the stocks had no defenses and could not withdraw from the tickling due to how they were restrained.
Today, tickle torture does not appear to be condoned by any government for the use of criminal punishment. Tickle abuse may occur in private, however, such as a “prank” used by bullies or as an aspect of an abusive relationship. Often, the person being tickled has been restrained against his or her will. While tickling can be fun, tickle torture is simply no laughing matter.