As with vampires, there's a sexual element to werewolves. While vampires tend to be smooth and sexually charged, the typical werewolf is hyper-masculine. He's exceptionally muscular, exceptionally hairy and exceptionally violent.
These traits come not just from a werewolf's appearance, but from the folkloric history behind werewolves. In many stories, a man becomes a werewolf because of some sort of excess. His behavior may be too rough, or he may, by the standards of the community, be sexually deviant, usually in terms of wanton relationships with women. These traits may have even caused the word "werewolf" to apply to human behavior. In the 16th century in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of France, teenagers who roamed around at night, broke curfews and socialized outside the bounds of polite society were known as werewolves. In some cases, young people disguised themselves as animals to travel from one community to another. A common belief at the time was that outlaws would eventually become werewolves.
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The Channel Islands. In the 16th century,
criminals in this part of the world were
referred to as werewolves.
This connection to rough or coarse behavior also ties in to modern psychology. In psychological terms, you might think of a person's struggle with lycanthropy as a struggle to come to terms with -- or get rid of -- his more primitive nature. When a man becomes a werewolf, his primal instincts, which aren't necessarily considered to be appropriate, take over.
There are natural parallels between lycanthropy and puberty. During puberty, the human body changes dramatically. These changes can seem foreign, and they're definitely beyond a young person's control. Similarly, in some depictions, lycanthropy is a metaphor for menstruation. A woman's body changes according to a regular monthly cycle. In a lot of ways, these changes define who she is -- menstruation is a hallmark of being a woman, and physical transformation is the hallmark of being a werewolf. Because of its typical transmission through biting and frequently fatal outcome, lycanthropy can also be a metaphor for any contagious disease, particularly those that are transmitted sexually.
This is one of the reasons why people can identify with werewolves, in spite of their status as monsters. Teenagers and young adults can identify with the idea of sudden, seemingly inexplicable changes in their skin, hair and body. And just about everyone has experienced the struggle to keep control of emotions like anger and frustration.
At the same time, there are some medical conditions that can make lycanthropy seem very real. Read on to learn about some of these.