Gross Anatomy

Why are so many people fascinated by disgusting body secretions?

When I was a teenager, puberty was not the most kind to me, forcing me to make zit-squeezing a hobby of mine.  While I didn’t enjoy having breakouts on my face, I got a strange pleasure out of popping pimples, especially if they shot out onto the bathroom mirror (something that irritated my mother to no end).  I’m not going to contest that it was a disgusting enterprise, and to this day I can’t explain the appeal it had for me.

From what I’m gathering, I’m not the only person around who has a strange fascination with sickening body secretions.  My boyfriend recently told me about YouTube videos that show people getting enormous cysts on their backs lanced and drained.  One of those videos prefaced with the phrase, “Awesomely Gross,” and it wasn’t kidding (you can find that video here, but be forewarned that it’s rather graphic).  On another disgusting note, not knowing what to get my cousin for Christmas last year, I hesitantly bought for him a copy of the Kama Pootra, which jokingly discusses different positions to take while doing business on the porcelain throne.  To my surprise, my cousin loved the book and got a kick out of showing it to his friends, who also got a good laugh while simultaneously being repulsed by it.

So, what’s up with all things disgusting?  For some reason we’re attracted to examining gross things that come out of our bodies.  Is it because we’re amazed that our bodies can produce such things?  Is it because we’re not familiar with some of the things that come out of our bodies and are scared by them?  Perhaps we can compare body secretions to car wrecks: they’re disturbing to look at but we all want to slow down and see the damage out of pure curiosity.

Others are also pondering the mystery of human fascination with disgusting body secretions.  Psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Rachel Herz wrote That’s Disgusting, a book that examines the emotion of disgust.  In her opinion, people are drawn to disgusting things because of a fear of death, benign masochism, and simply a perverse attraction.  I can see zit-squeezing as a masochistic and perversely attractive activity, but why is it appealing out of a fear of death?

Why, indeed.


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