Pimple Popping - Fetish, Social Grooming, or Sadomasochism?

Illustration of a man popping a pimple on the chin

 

 

“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.

 

I have somehow found myself in the first category and wondering what the hell is happening as 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.

 

Let's look at possible reasons why it's fascinating...

 

 

WHAT'S UP WITH POPPING LUV?


 

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.  

 

DISCLAIMER: If you're very squeamish, do not play the videos...

 

 

 

 

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.

 

A hand pinching skin on the wrist

"Skin Picking Disorder" from psychcentral.com 

 

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) or 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.

 

 

FOUR POPPING 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 perversion; 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.Hand holding a nail about to pop a red balloon

 

Therefore, 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.

 

 

THEORY TWO – PENIS ENVY

 

I can totally see a connection to gushing bodily fluids. 

 

However...

 

Penis envy is a fairly outdated idea - one 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.

 

Do you wish you had a penis while watching this?

 

 

THEORY THREE – DISGUST AND DANGER

 

This is one of the few things 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.”

 

Illustration of a man popping a pimple and liquid squirting outAlso, it seems that people who have had (or still have) acne are the ones who love to watch these the most.

 

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 – that 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 former hardcore nail-biter (past the nail bed until things started bleeding) 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 takes pleasure from the act…

 

  • Primal communication through grooming
  • Ritualistic behavior to overcome anxiety
  • Actions to prevent boredom
  • A sadomasochist element

 

 

OTHER VIDEOS WITH SIMILAR REACTIONS


 

 

Blackhead removal strips

 

"Baby Feet" Chemical Peels

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

In the end, I don’t think we have 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 a few million other people out there in the same pimply boat.

 

So, where do you land? The "love" or "hate" camp? Share in the comments!

 

Also, if you like "out there" articles, you might enjoy these:

 

 

Have a zit-tastic day!

Robyn

TagsPimple Popping

Comments (1)

  1. How To Get Rid Of Pimples says:

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely well written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly comeback.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *

Post Comment