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The word vampire came into use in English in 1732, although vampire myths date back to the baby-killing blood-drinking female demons (Akhkharu) of ancient Sumerian mythology. Many cultures around the world think of blood in connection with the concept of a life force and thus include tales of creatures (human and sometimes animal) that feed on that force. Furthermore, vampires feed on the human fascination with death, and their myths, like death itself, are surrounded by superstition and ritual. The most famous vampire tale in Western literature, Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, generally is cited as the vampire's first transition from myth to popular reality and perhaps even into the realm of the sexual.

Several medical conditions may cause a person to resemble or behave like a vampire. Hematodipsia (or hematomania) is a psychological fixation on blood drinking for erotic satisfaction. Porphyria is an extremely rare group of metabolic disorders whose symptoms include intense photosensitivity, pale skin, and red teeth and eyes. Xeroderma pigmentosum is a very rare condition that may cause severe sensitivity to sunlight.

As in many subcultures, participants in vampire culture and their activities vary widely; although most participate only occasionally, some identify with a fulltime lifestyle. Vampyre is an alternative term used to connote a "real" vampire. Vampirism (the practice of draining and/or consuming someone's life energy or blood) is practiced by some members of vampire culture, often (though not always) in a sexual context, but this is only one in an extremely wide range of practices associated with vampire culture. According to Katherine Ramsland, the author of Piercing the Darkness (1998), vampire culture includes "vampires, donors, victims, experts, chroniclers, hunters, readers, writers, musicians, magicians, strippers, squatters, dominatrixes, role-players, criminals, divas, entrepreneurs, fetishists, [and] conventioneers," and estimates suggest that "vampire culture is now in the tens of thousands for hard-core participants, and ten times that number for people with a mild or part-time interest" (Ramsland 1998, pp. 28, 24).

In this culture the vampire is employed as a form of sexual and/or social identity that is characterized mainly by freedom from social constraints, including gender and sexual norms. Anne Rice's best-selling novels, particularly The Vampire Chronicles, which began with Interview with the Vampire in 1976, have had an important influence on the vampire community as well as mainstream culture. Rice transformed the vampire into a seductive and sexy being, and her books opened the door for vampires to span both gender and sexuality continua. Rice's four-volume Beauty series, which began in 1983, published under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure, brought themes of dominance and submission further into the mainstream.

Vampire culture may overlap with various subcultures and sexual fetish practices, including the Gothic subculture (Goth) and bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism (BDSM), but those communities are not synonymous. Numerous vampire clubs and balls can be found in Australia, the United States, Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands, usually in major cities. Vampire club culture is connected to any number of fashion styles, from Victorian romantic to fetish wear. Black clothing predominates, and common vampire accessories include decorative contacts and/or temporary or permanent fangs.


Alexander, Bernie. "Vampires: Eternal Bloodlust." Available from

Ramsland, Katherine. 1998. Piercing the Darkness. New York: HarperPrism.

Sacrosanctum. 2006. "Lexicon of Questionable Terminology." Available from

Xeroderma Pigmentosum Society. 2006. "Xeroderma Pigmentosum." Available from

                                          Whitney Jones Olson

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