By Aubrey Sanders
Let me tell you a story about a woman whose love affairs empowered her to become the youngest world champion in the Japanese art form of Iai-Battojutsu, to receive a coveted congressional nomination to the US Air Force Academy, and to earn her place as a two-time international champion in Olympic archery.
Her name is Erika La Tour Eiffel, and the lovers who inspired her extraordinary feats were a samurai sword, an F-15 fighter jet, and a compound archery bow named Lance.
Yeah, you read that right.
Eiffel belongs to an extremely rare minority of the population who self-identify as “objectum-sexual” (OS). In a strange reworking of the fairy tale ending, such individuals fall in love with inanimate objects rather than with people.
The world first learned of the condition in 1979, when a Swedish woman named Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer “married” the Berlin Wall and took its name as her own. On a windy April morning in 2007, Erika followed suit. With her closest friends looking on, she drew near to an iron buttress beneath the Eiffel Tower and held a commitment ceremony that emotionally consecrated their union.
Since then, roughly 40 objectophiles have made their presence known through the online community that Erika Eiffel developed in 2008, called Objectum-Sexuality Internationale. Many among these individuals love sleek steel landmarks and glassy towers, but others express love for objects as mundane as a picket fence, a car, a pipe organ, or fisheye buttons.
Considering the societal derision that those who contradict hetero-normative lifestyles face, it’s no wonder why this highly marginalized group elects to keep its unorthodox preferences under wraps. As a result, very little data exists on the OS community, and health professionals still struggle to hash out a pathology that might underpin what they widely accept as a paraphilia, or fetish. Most point to sexual abuse, early childhood trauma, and autism-spectrum disorders as likely instigators.
Clinical sexologist Dr. Amy Marsh pioneered the first research-based study of objectum sexuality by conducting surveys of the 21 English-speaking members of OS Internationale. She found that OS could be distinguished from a simple fetishism by “the array of emotions and depth of connection that OS people feel to their objects,” concluding that objectum sexuality “appears to be a genuine–though rare–sexual orientation.”
Eiffel’s affinity for objects extends as far back as she can remember. As a little girl, she became captivated by two little planks of wood, which she carried with her everywhere and even slept beside in lieu of a teddy bear.
Adults don’t question the comfort that children derive from the items they hold dear. Neither do children. At three years old, I remember becoming so attached to a white woven blanket fringed in pastel tassels that I wouldn’t eat, sleep, or leave the house without it. I even named it “Hahi,” in what has to be the world’s worst attempt made by anyone, anywhere, to pronounce the word “blanket.”
Like most children, I outgrew Hahi. But in Eiffel’s case, as she matured, the profundity of her connection to objects only deepened. It was not until her adolescence, when her girlfriends started dating boys and she started dating a steel bridge, that it occurred to her that her preferences differed fundamentally from those of her peers.
“The most startling finding,” Marsh wrote in 2011, “is how natural object relationships feel to those who have this orientation. Most of the people I surveyed rejected the idea of human-to-human romance, and many have never had a desire to experience it.”
The unavoidable hang-up is the question of reciprocity. After all, this is not the same kind of one-sided infatuation I experienced in kindergarten, when an impossibly cool first-grader rejected my love offering of a palmful of dandelion buds. This is one-sided in that literally only half of the OS partnership is sentient.
But for Eiffel, it is not so. As a vehement animist, she believes in an energetic essence intrinsic to all objects and non-human entities. By engaging with this energy, she and other objectum sexuals derive a telepathic sense of gender from their objects, develop intimate spiritual bonds with them, and in many cases, maintain what they wholeheartedly believe to be consensual erotic relationships.
Those of us outside of the OS community likely have a difficult time grappling with the issue of consummation and the improbable mechanics it entails. For the most part, journalists and filmmakers portray objectum sexuals as social maladjusts and perverts, or at the very best, as a psychologically unsound subset of deviant fetish culture.
Eiffel was mortified by a British documentary’s salacious portrayal of her intimacy with the Eiffel Tower. She holds the film, Strange Love: Married to the Eiffel Tower, accountable for the eventual dissolution of her relationship with her lover. She has also claimed that she never suffered such fierce judgment when she lived in Japan, a country culturally imbibed with animist elements by its indigenous religion, Shinto.
“The only places where I have problems are the USA, England, and Australia,” she told VICE. “It’s the puritanical basis of the way people think in these countries that’s made me suffer a great deal. I’ve lost jobs, I’ve lost family, and I lost my greatest love.”
Eiffel now lives in Berlin, where she enjoys a steady, polyamorous relationship with what’s left of the Berlin Wall.
“This ragged old wall has taught me a few things,” she stated in the documentary, “and the one most important thing is to stand up. Who cares what people think about you? Stand up and be yourself. And I am standing up and being me. I am the Berlin Wall.”
Can we reasonably quantify the boundaries of an individual’s perception of bliss–or pain, for that matter? Who’s to say that the love experienced by one person is more or less profound than the love experienced by another?
If the worst thing someone desires is to express feelings of tenderness and perceived spiritual intimacy for a wall–or an amusement park ride, or a button, or a balustrade–then I can’t see much reason to deny them the right of that expression.
As the German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch expressed, “The objectophiles aren’t hurting anyone. They’re not abusing or traumatizing other people. Who else can you say that about?”