Tickle Torture

Tickle torture is the use of tickling to abuse, dominate, humiliate or otherwise assault someone. The victim laughs even if he or she finds the experience unpleasant because the laughter is an innate reflex rather than social conditioning.  The term is often used to describe the act of tickling when prolonged for a long period of time in a sensitive area of the body. The phrase is also sometimes used to describe mock ‘tickle torture,’ where the activity is consensual.

Chinese tickle torture is a term used in Western society to describe an ancient form of torture practiced by the Chinese, in particular the courts of the Han Dynasty. Chinese tickle torture was a punishment for nobility since it left no marks and a victim could recover relatively easily and quickly. Another example of tickle torture was used in ancient Rome, where a person’s feet were dipped in a salt solution, and a goat was brought in to lick the solution off. This type of tickle torture would only start as tickling, eventually becoming extremely painful.

‘Tickle torture’ can be a term used to describe an extended act of tickling where the recipient of the tickling would view it as a long time or tickling of an intense nature. This can be due to the length of time they are tickled, the intensity of the tickling or the areas that are being tickled. While the palm of the hand is far more sensitive to touch, other commonly ticklish areas include the armpits, sides of the torso, neck, knee, midriff, navel, and the ribs. Many people consider the soles of their feet the most ticklish, due to the many nerve endings located there.

In the world of sexual fetishism, tickle torture is an activity between consenting partners. A torture session usually begins with one partner allowing the other to tie them up in a position that lays bare parts of the body particularly that are sensitive to tickling.

Heinz Heger, a man persecuted in a the Flossenburg concentration camp during World War II, witnessed Nazi prison guards perform tickle torture on a fellow inmate, followed by various other tortures which resulted in his death. ‘The first game that the SS sergeant and his men played was to tickle their victim with 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, while the tears ran down his face, and his body twisted against his chains. After this tickling torture, they let the lad hang there for a little, while a flood of tears ran down his cheeks and he cried and sobbed uncontrollably.’

In his book ‘Sibling Abuse,’ Vernon Wiehe published his research findings regarding 150 adults who were abused by their siblings during childhood. Several reported tickling as a type of physical abuse they experienced, and based on these reports it was revealed that abusive tickling is capable of provoking extreme physiological reactions in the victim, such as vomiting and losing consciousness.

Despite the evidence that non-consensual tickling can be both physically and emotionally painful, it is perhaps the most unrecognized form of physical abuse. Likely this is due to the confusing fact that for many, tickling is a pleasant and fun experience. Physically abusive tickling can often be perceived by witnesses as playful tickling, and complaints by the victim might be wrongly viewed as oversensitivity and overreaction.

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