Teratophilia, the sexual attraction to "deformed or monstrous" people, is having a bit of a moment. As we reported last autumn, Pennywise, the evil clown from IT, summoned a collective lustful moan from the monster-fucking corners of the internet (culminating in the still-great, still-active Pennywise Confessions Tumblr). And this March, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to bestow the film industry's highest honor to a movie predominantly about the sexual connection between a scaly, web-toed sea creature and Sally Hawkins. But it appears that Hollywood was saving the horniest monster for last, because this week, the world got our first up-close look at Tom Hardy's Venom—the comic-book icon and Spiderman antihero, known for his rows of imposing fangs and massive schlong-like tongue.
"[It's] been like Christmas for us Teratophiliacs!" says Tatum Howlett, who runs a prominent monster-fucking Tumblr, when I ask how the film industry's recent fixation on slimy, no-good beasties has treated her. "I wanna believe that Hollywood has no idea about the monster-fucker community and these past few months have just been coincidence, but now that these 'monster' movies are getting more popular, I'm starting to think that there must be some research going on. And I'm certainly not complaining!"
Most Teratophiliacs aren't joking when they say they want to knock boots with a particular movie monster. Yes, there are plenty of wisecracks to be made about the size and thiccness of Venom's tongue, but on Tumblr and FanFiction.net, you'll find plenty of people genuinely invested in the fetish. Polygon's Julia Alexander pointed out that there are legitimate erotic authors on the beat like Virginia Wade, who was reportedly making $30,000 a month from her Bigfoot sex odyssey Cum for Bigfoot. People love this stuff, and Venom, who has been part of the public consciousness for decades, had already scratched out his own carnal cult following long before Hardy signed on. "The Pennywise stuff was always jokes, but the attraction to Venom as a concept is much more real," says a Twitter user named Alex, who herself has an avowed crush on Venom. "I've seen smut of it for years now. Even stuff I'm too afraid to look at."
Alex tells me that her attraction doesn't really have much to do with Hardy. Instead, she's more focused on the insidious nature of Venom itself. The character is the fusion of a guy named Eddie Brock and an alien Symbiote that seeps into his skin and grants him superpowers—that power dynamic is what turns her on. "I like the fact that Venom gets inside its host's mind, can control them, and is just irredeemably horrible," she explains. "The fact that it can take on an anthropomorphic shape is a bonus." Another monster-fucking fan who runs the m0nsterpiss Tumblr says he's attracted to Venom's tentacles, teeth, and cocky disposition, and adds that he'd "enthusiastically go down on him in a heartbeat."
Again, none of this is new. You can make the argument that the original movie monsters—King Kong, Dracula, Nosferatu—were all coded with a certain sexual deviance. Venom is no different. In an enlightening post on her Tumblr, user Cobwebbing explained how the character has occasionally been portrayed as an endearing, empathetic sweetheart in the comics. "Venom is trying to subvert the expectation that they're a horrible monster by helping people and being a hero but kind of bungling it," she tells me in an email. "There's a quote in the narration that sums it up that goes something like, 'But even when Venom tries to do the right thing, people die!'"
Cobwebbing mentions that Eddie Brock and the Symbiote are written as if they're engaged in a sadomasochistic marriage. "They have dinner together and talk about their dreams and their feelings. Eddie and the Symbiote always miss each other when they are apart and relish when they can be Venom together again," she explains. "Eddie refers to the symbiote with romantic terms like 'love' and 'dear' and says that their relationship is better than having a girlfriend."
Cobwebbing hopes this part of the Venom story, beyond the dick-tongue gags and Twitter quips, is remembered by both the public and the monster-fucking masses. After all, it's hard to think of anything kinkier than being eternally betrothed to a murderous alien parasite. She also tells me she herself doesn't have a crush on Venom, because Eddie and the Symbiote "are happily committed to each other, and I'm not going to come between them."
As long as monsters have been around, people have been thinking about doing it with them. Technology has allowed people to voice their horniness for abominable man-beasts, and given this fetish visibility, and given spaces for teratophiliacs like Howlett a place to express themselves openly.
"I know for sure some people have found monsters attractive, but no one really ever came out and said it for obvious reasons," says Alex. "I think for the most part the internet is just a dark place with weird people like myself lurking around, and it feels great knowing I'm not the only weird one thirsting for alien parasite sludge."
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.