Paraphilia and Pimples: We Look at Why Some People Are Getting off On Dr Pimple Popper Videos!

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If you have access to Youtube, Instagram - or even just old-fashioned TV; the chances are you’re at least vaguely familiar with Dr Pimple Popper - the lady who pops zits, films it, and posts the videos online for your enjoyment.

But while you’ve probably heard of Dr Pimple Popper, you might not know that there is a particular fetish (if you can actually call it a fetish - but more on that later) that could go some way toward explaining the insane popularity of her videos.

Perhaps we just love looking at things that are disgusting, maybe it has a soothing effect, or maybe it’s just something completely primal? After all, what is pimple-popping if not communal grooming, like when you see monkeys huddled together picking ticks and other debris from each other's skin?

You could say it's a totally natural human behavior. But that still doesn’t change the fact that the natural response to such things is one of revulsion. Although, it’s the kind of revulsion that keeps you coming back for more - like picking at a scab even though it hurts.

Anything can be a fetish. And popping pimples is no exception.

Why are pimple popping videos so popular?

Zits are gross, puss is gross, pimples are gross. There’s no other way to describe them - they are simply gross!

So why, then, is there a growing idea that watching Dr Pimple Popper videos (that is, YouTube videos showing Dr Sandra Lee extracting blackheads, ingrown hairs and popping zits) constitutes a fetish?

Dr Pimple Popper is such an internet sensation that she has even coined her own term for her fans, going by the name of 'pop-aholics'. The language surrounding Dr pimple Popper is often somewhat cheeky and kind-of sultry in and of itself. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, when asked "what are your favorite type of bumps to pop?", Lee replied:

"I like the giant blackheads that slipped out entirely intact like the pore of winer. I don't think I get the same deep satisfaction that the viewers do though. I get more thrilled because I know this is going to make so many people happy"

See that? She’s making people happy!

Also, the language that she uses here is interesting, to say the least. It's almost like she's not describing something totally gross at all. Using words like 'deep satisfaction' 'thrilled' and the way she describes blackheads 'slipping' out makes it seem kind of sexualized. 

You could almost forget that she's talking about pimples, pores, and pus! 

However, she is indeed talking about just that. And it looks like the rest of us are totally here for it - because her pimple-popping videos are some of the most popular viral content on the internet. So popular, in fact, that we thought we would delve into the world of zit popping fetishes and try to decipher whether acnephilia is the real deal or just a symptom of internet hype. 

But, in order to even attempt to do so, it’s important to first get a few technical terms out of the way.

Terminology is important

We talk about the wonderfully diverse world of sexual fetishes quite a lot here at Sofia Gray. But it is important to point out that there is a bunch of different terminologies that applies to the different types of fetishes we love to talk about.

For the purpose of keeping things both simple and interesting, we generally use the term fetish in most instances, but when it comes to the toe-curlingly gross and intriguing concept of people getting off on watching zits being popped, it’s important to drop some terminology on you!


When used in general conversation, we tend to use the term ‘fetish’ to mean an obsession with something. People who love to collect shoes or sneakers might say they have a ‘shoe fetish’ when really they mean they have an obsession with, or at least a strong interest in, shoes and footwear.

A fetish goes well beyond simply being ‘into’ something.  A fetish is the use of non-sexual or nonliving objects or part of a person's body to gain sexual excitement. So, a very basic test to see whether something could be classed as a fetish is to consider a) whether or not it is a non-sexual object or behavior and b) whether or not the response to said object is sexual arousal.

If it’s non-conventional and it gets you off, it’s probably a fetish.

But within this umbrella term of sexual behavior and preference  - there are other terms that are important when we start to prod and pick at the idea of popping pimples for some sort of sexual gratification.


Not one of the more well-known fetishes, acnephilia is difficult to pin down with a clinical definition. In fact, the only online definition we could find actually came from (most trustworthy of sources) the Urban Dictionary, and

“Deriving pleasure from popping pimples or zits on either one’s own face or someone close to them. Acnephilia is usually common among girlfriends as they find enjoyment in popping their boyfriend’s pimples, despite the pleas and groans from their mates. Symptoms of acnephilia could arise anywhere, from one’s own personal home to the public streets. Once acnephilia takes over a young woman’s body she is not content until every single one of her boyfriend’s pimples are popped and done with.”

It isn’t clear why this particular fetish has been attributed to females (girlfriends) rather than males, but presumably, it’s tongue-in-cheek. Regardless of the gender element - Urban Dictionary actually does a pretty good job here of explaining what acnephilia really is. 

But - it does not mention sexual pleasure. At all. And that’s what fetishes are all about, right? 

So, we need to look at a couple more terms if we’re to get to the bottom of this zit-popping phenomenon. 


One thing you might not know about paraphilia is that it actually used to be known by the terms ‘sexual perversion’ and ‘sexual deviation’. Since we have now come to learn that sexual fetishism is not necessarily unhealthy, nor is it deviant, the term paraphilia is now thought of as the experience of intense sexual arousal to atypical objects, situations, fantasies behaviors are individuals. 

Basically, paraphilia is sexual fetishism, but it is more of a textbook term and has not found its way into the everyday lexicon just yet.


While paraphilia relates to fetishism (sexual attraction to, or resulting from, non-sexual things, essentially) partialism refers to fetishes specifically involving nonsexual parts of the body. So, podophilia (a foot fetish), is a form of partialism - while, for example, chasmophilia (being aroused by caverns, valleys, and crevices) is not.

Just remember, when it relates to a human body it's partialism.


Understandably, people might confuse acnephilia with dermatillomania. However, they are not the same (although some sources seem to suggest that they are related - though this is not proven).

Dermatillomania refers to a condition where a person feels compelled to pick at their skin. The compulsion could be so strong that they pick their skin to the point where it can cause visible wounds. It's a form of impulse control disorder, meaning that it's a psychological condition where the person is unable to stop carrying out a particular action.

It is referred to as a genuine mental illness and is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is usually chronic, although it can be treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

While you may have heard this term being bandied around quite a lot, it is important to note that obsessive-compulsive disorder is a serious anxiety disorder in which people have recurring and unwanted ideas, behaviors or 'obsessions' that make them feel like they have to do something repeatedly (i.e. a compulsion). 

Acnephilia doesn't fall into the category of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but dermatillomania might. Compulsive skin picking is often categorized under the spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorder and is sometimes linked to body dysmorphic disorder. While most of us will squeeze an obvious spot, someone with dermatillomania might take this as a cue to squeeze, and then pick, and then took the skin around the spot. It is a compulsion, not a fetish. 

Who is Dr Pimple Popper?

Now that we've got all of that terminology out of the way, it's time to get down to the crux of this article. Now we need to explain, who the hell is Dr Pimple Popper?

Dr Pimple Popper is the nickname given to American dermatologist Sandra Lee. Lee became an internet sensation when she began uploading videos to YouTube and social media showing herself popping zits, cysts, extracting ingrown hairs and other gross and yet somehow strangely compelling dermatological procedures out of her practice in Upland, California.

Around 2015 Lee noticed the popularity of the Instagram videos of her skin extractions, so - she began offering her patients either free treatments or discounts on treatments in exchange for permission to record a video of the procedure and post it to her social media channels.

The videos became something of a grizzly sensation, and Lee’s popularity and success rose along with that of her videos. In fact, from 2017 Lee actually launched her own line of skincare products and sold skin extraction tools branded with her name. 

And as if that wasn't enough to illustrate to you the insane popularity of pimple popping videos, in 2018 Lee actually signed a deal with TLC to have her own Dr Pimple Popper TV series which then premiered on July 11 of that year. 

"But who the hell would watch that?" You might be asking yourself. Well, it turns out a lot of people. In fact, the series even went on to show a special Christmas episode and then went on for a second and third season airing in 2019. It seems that Americans (or just people in general) cannot get enough of watching those pimples being popped!

What does Dr Pimple Popper have to do with acnephilia?

Now, you might be wondering what Sandra Lee has to do with the phenomena of acnephilia. After all, watching videos on the internet doesn't really constitute a paraphilia now does it?

But the fact that Lee has around 9 million combined followers across her social media platforms, all tuning in to watch her puncturing of cysts and popping pimples, does serve to illustrate how there is clearly a growing trend. 

There is obviously something so compelling about watching pimples being popped that it brings people back for more. Acnephilia is just one explanation of this. A recent article on Vice went some way toward explaining a link between Sandra Lee's videos and sexual gratification.

In the article, one interviewee confesses that "there's a tension when she's pushing a cyst and you know that it's about to burst. The only thing I can compare it to is like the tension of knowing you're about to cum".

This explanation is at once kind of gross and starkly real. You can't deny that it rings strangely true. There is something clearly satisfying about watching an eruption - and witnessing the act of removing something unpleasant (i.e. a zit) and then the satisfaction of the release when that unpleasantness has passed. Like the relaxing glow after a negative-inverse orgasm - if such a thing even existed!

Do people find zit-popping arousing?

This is where all of our fascinating little terms come into play. We can confidently say that people do find it satisfying to squeeze puss from spots and zits - or to watch video footage of this happening - but the sexual element is a little more tricky.

The Vice article we mentioned above suggests the, yes, some people do. One subject that the people at Vice spoke to confessed to finding zit-popping sexually arousing. “I don’t know what it is, but they make me kinda horny," he explained. "The pus reminds me of cum and I like that.”

But as far as paraphilias go - this one is certainly more tricky. Pus seems to be a bit of an unsung hero in the world of bodily fluid fetishes; with the limelight usually being given to your run-of-the-mill fluids such as urine (as part of urophilia). Chartered psychologist and professor of behavioural addiction Dr Mark Griffiths raises this question about acnephilia on his blog:

"...almost every (seemingly non-sexual) fluid that can come from a human body has a corresponding sexual paraphilia and/or fetish. This includes urine (urophilia), faeces (coprophilia), vomit (emetophilia), blood (menophilia, clinical vampirism), saliva (spit fetish), and breast milk (lactophilia). So what about pus and the acnephilia market?"

It's an important question - but it does not seem like there is a clear-cut answer as to whether zit-popping fetish is actually a true paraphilia. But it's certainly compelling.

Why do we love to watch zits being popped?

So, if acnephilia is kind-of-like-a-fetish-but-not-totally, then why on earth are zit popping videos so popular? What form of gratification do we get from watching such videos, if not sexual (at least, not for the majority of us) - and what is causing this obsession?

Aside from the obvious ‘it's gross and cool' reasoning, there have been some other suggestions:

Penis envy

Aside from the catchall idea that 'it's just a fetish - kind of' there is also the theory that the obsession revolves around 'penis envy'. Yep, that famous Freudian term is still rearing it's ugly head - even though certain schools of experts have come to think of it as a very outdated idea, based on a lot of prejudices and old misconceptions.

Very basically, penis envy is the Freudian concept that women envy men for having a penis, and therefore envy the sexual pleasure that a man can feel. So perhaps there is a slim chance that zit popping has a symbolic relation to penises and ejaculations. There is a buildup of tension in the final release as the zit finally erupts.

So, if we were to give credence to the idea of penis envy we might go so far as to suggest that by watching zits being popped - as women, we are somehow enacting our urge to experience one of those magically orgasmic male ejaculations.

Not sold on the idea? Me neither.

Soothing and satisfying

This explanation is somewhat obvious, but the general idea is that we enjoy watching pimples being popped because it is both satisfying and strangely relaxing. In fact, some Reddit users have actually commented on how watching Dr Pimple Popper videos before bed somehow helps them to wind down and drift off to sleep!

Not entirely sure that makes for pleasant dreams, but to each their own. 

What is definitely true, though, is that acne picking actually gives people a sense of accomplishment and makes our brain produce that delightful neurochemical dopamine, at least according to Sanam Hafeez, a clinical psychologist who spoke with Vice on the subject. 

So, if when we do it to ourselves, it elicits a relaxation response - it stands to reason that witnessing such things might be classed as experiencing it vicariously. 

Disgust and danger

There is also the theory that we enjoy watching videos that make us feel uncomfortable, even disgusted, because it gives us a mini thrill. You could probably compare it to watching a horror movie or riding a vertical drop rollercoaster for example. In fact, this is exactly what Professor Dean MckKay, Ph.D. says. 

Mckay, who is a psychology professor at Fordham University in New York and actually studies discussed, says that "Seeking out videos of this sort stimulates an emotional state that isn't frequently provoked," and explains in a feature by Glamour Magazine that:

 "A lot of disgusting imagery is also associated with fear. In the real world, we generally avoid disgusting things—as well as things that are dangerous."

So it stands to reason that there is a feeling of being thrilled, and then also satisfied, by watching videos of pimples being popped. Immediate gratification is a given, but sexual gratification is a whole different ball game. 

So - is acnephilia a real fetish?

One of the unofficial rules about fetishes is that if it's a real fetish, there's porn of it. 

So, being the intrepid fetish explorer I am, I decided to do a bit of digging. I tentatively typed in the term 'acnephilia porn' into my Google search, and was both surprised and kind of not surprised to see that first result on page one read 'Acnephilia Videos - Free Porn Videos'

I dared to click on the link and... was greeted with an 'error 500' page.

Not to be so easily dissuaded from my cause, I did a bit more digging to see if there is, indeed, a subgenre of pornograhy involving the popping of zits and cysts for sexual gratification.

It turns out I was being a little too formal in my language. Using the term zit porn (rather than the somewhat clinical-sounding term 'acnephilia’) yielded far more results; with links popping up from heavy-hitters like PornHub and RedTube.

So, I clicked on the top result and... not a single zit in sight! Plenty of 'hot lesbian couples kissing and eating' as well as a healthy dose of psuedo-incest porn, but no pimples.

The closest result I came across was 'squeezing an infected tit' - but it was pretty much just lactation erotica, and nowhere near as gross as the title of the video would suggest.

Granted, I really didn't have the stomach to spend more than about twenty minutes searching; so I can't really say whether or not there are indeed some zit-popping porn videos out there. I would imagine that there are. But they aren't as easy to access as, for example, some good old-fashioned lesbian porn. 

The fact that porn sites are ranking for these terms would suggest, however, that people are indeed searching for these videos. So, just like buying and selling used underwear -  maybe pimple popping porn is actually an untapped market in the adult industry. Who knows?