“Crazy, Sexy & Great In Bed”: Why Some Men Target Mentally Ill Women

Illustration by Anja Slibar
“They are uninhibited. They are not nervous about their body or having an orgasm or what their religious upbringing taught them or appearing to be a slut or anything that takes them out of ‘We're naked, we're attracted to each other, let's fuck'. They simply go in the moment and have fun in bed.” ABKC – an anonymous internet guy whose posts I find on Reddit – is preaching on a pressing issue brought forward by a fellow forum user: “What’s with this ‘crazy girls are amazing in bed’ thing? What are they doing that well-adjusted girls don’t know about?” ABKC seems to have the answer. He waxes enthusiastic on the allure of self-harm, the benefits of depression, the thrills of anxiety. Underneath his comment, there is a slew of similar replies. “The one thing I would add is that crazy girls are also more interested in doing much more kinkier things” says No Chance For It. “They will do all the freaky shit you're into” adds Poop_Grenade. The conversation goes on, in pretty much the same tone. The bottom line: ‘Crazy’ women are damn sexy, and excellent in bed. All men should find themselves one. This particular thread isn’t an isolated case. A cursory online search reveals a load of similar attitudes, with the word ‘crazy’ employed to cover everything from "tantrum-inclined neurotic" to “hot bipolar”. As Biju Belinky explored extensively for VICE earlier this year, there seems to be a clique of men for whom mental illness is a big turn-on, and the guarantee of a great sexual experience. It’s sad, enraging and incredibly shallow. Pretty apt, then, that President-elect Donald J. Trump is also part of this circle. Just before the election, CNN’s KFILE uncovered a recorded conversation from 2004 between Trump and American radio personality Howard Stern, host of The Howard Stern Show, in which the then-58-year-old businessman stated that Lindsay Lohan (who was 18 at the time) was “probably deeply troubled, and therefore great in bed.” Trump concluded his delightful remarks with the same question that gripped our Reddit user: “How come the deeply troubled women, you know, deeply, deeply troubled, they’re always the best in bed?” “The answer is, generalising is for fools,” says Dr. Leila CG Frodsham, a consultant gynaecologist who specialises in psychosexual medicine and is chair of the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine, a UK-registered charity that provides training and research in the field. “There’s no scientific foundation to any of these convictions. You might say some desperately insecure people – people who suffer from mental illness, perhaps, but not just them – might see sex as a way to 'prove’ or validate themselves to the other person. But it really varies case by case. And it’s important to never, ever make oversimplified assumptions on matters like this, nor take advantage of the situation. That is not how you help someone with a mental condition or lack of self-esteem.” Ann*, a young woman suffering from schizophrenia, tells me she wishes someone had told her ex-boyfriend just that. “We were fine at the beginning, and he was very nice to me,” she says. “But gradually, things changed.” After about one year of dating, he began asking her to be more subservient in the bedroom. “He thought that because I have schizophrenia I would be ‘quirky’ in bed, and started pushing for a dominant-submissive relationship,” she says. “But I’m not quirky or eccentric. I am pretty conventional – boring even. And I like normal, romantic, ‘boring’ sex.” As the relationship went on, and despite her asking him to stop, his demands only increased. “I thought he was joking at first. He kept saying I needed ‘restraining’, and insinuated I might be violent. I couldn’t believe he was serious. I have never hurt anyone. Never been restrained by mental services. I take my medicines, I look after my illness.” And yet. “At some point he started insisting I act like his slave. That’s when I knew I had to get out of it.”
Illustration by Anja Slibar
The escalation into abuse left Ann feeling hurt. “I had told him about my mental disorder from the start because I wanted to be completely transparent. And he seemed to be OK with it. It felt liberating, like I was being accepted for who I am, flaws and all.” “But things went south so fast… I think he had nymphomania confused with schizophrenia. It was really uncomfortable. And it’s made me super wary with guys I have dated since. I now take a long, long time before speaking out about my illness.” Fetishising mental illness in women has long been a form of typecasting. For that, we have Hollywood and the media to blame – think the downplaying of Marilyn Monroe’s personal issues, Glenn Close’s bunny-boiler role in Fatal Attraction (although the actress has since apologised for the film's insensitive portrayal of mental illness) and most recently, the character of Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, so insane and oh-so-hot. Ann says her boyfriend “kept mentioning straitjackets and padded rooms, which haven’t been used for decades in the UK, saying we should get some for me. He spoke as if we were in a film.” But the characterisation goes beyond the nutty femme fatale we see on screen. It extends into everyday life, and long-term relationships. And it doesn’t just involve ignorant dudes (looking at you, Donald), but men who might have issues of their own. “There are men who are drawn to emotionally unstable women because they feel the need to play a saviour-like role,” says Krystal Woodbridge, a psychosexual therapist and relationship counsellor. “Some aren’t even aware they’re doing it. They genuinely want to help, but can be misguided in their behaviour – trying really hard to comfort or control their partner at the expense of both their own and the other’s wellbeing. What they yearn for is a status of dependency, rather than love. It’s called White Knight Syndrome.” Belinky observes that "a person who actively seeks out someone who is mentally ill as 'easy prey' to their manipulation is clearly someone trying to feel powerful" and both Woodbridge and Dr. Frodsham point to upbringing as the main cause of such conduct. “Most likely, their attitude is a remainder from their childhood,” says Dr. Frodsham. “Their mother might have shown similar character traits – fragility, weakness, extreme emotiveness – and they are drawn to women that, subconsciously, remind them of her, and they can try to rescue. But again, each case is different.” “For some, there is this belief that emotionally and mentally sensitive women might have an ability to express deeper feelings,” says Woodbridge. “And that adds to the fascination. But it could also speak of a need to have a purpose – finding a vulnerable woman and being relied upon might make a man who’s suffered in previous relationships feel important and less scared of being rejected. Others might just want to dominate mentally ill partners to assert themselves. ‘If you feel worse I feel better.’” “Someone who’s a serial seeker of mentally ill women has an underlining desire to feel powerful,” Dr. Frodsham concludes. “More often than not, relationships born out of that – be them short sexual encounters or more long-term endeavours – risk being manipulative, and an exercise in narcissism. It’s dangerous territory, particularly if you don’t know how to defend yourself.” For every woman like Ann, able to escape an abusive situation, there are a number of women who might not know how to handle being part of someone else’s slanted narrative or unrealistic fantasy. “My advice to them would be to just be aware of the dynamics of the relationship from the start and, if you find yourself in a situation like that, just think: he is the problem, not me. My ex’s main mistake was to think I was different because of my illness. But I am not. I am just a normal woman who happens to have schizophrenia. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.” *Not her real name
Ed. note: An earlier version of this story neglected to cite Biju Belinky's article on VICE. We regret the error.

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