What are disability paraphilias and who are devotees?

by Margaret Child (written in the mid 1990s for OverGround Magazine)

Paraphilia is a term used in medical textbooks to describe a love that is beyond or apart from the normal. A person with a paraphilia requires a special condition before he or she can function sexually. The special condition may be that the partner has to dress in a particular material (the familiar rubber, plastic, and leather fetishes), have a particular body shape, or some other specific characteristic. Disability paraphilia is the psychiatric term for the desire for a partner with a particular disability.

Two things need to be mentioned at this point:

  1. A paraphilia exists when the special condition is necessary: a person who is also able to relate to someone who does not possess the particular characteristic is not a paraphile. He merely has a sexual preference. In medical and psychological textbooks and journals the term normal means usual and pertains to the state of the majority. It does not necessarily mean right or good, but is used simply to denote what most people are or do.
  2. People may have a disability paraphilia or a disability preference, the difference is merely one of degree, not of kind. In OverGround (the paper journal, now no longer available  - ed) we will use the word paraphilia and paraphile in more technical articles and those which are specifically concerned with the demanding forms of the interest. In most situations we shall use the term borrowed from American usage devotee. This name was coined by a group of amputee women to describe their admirers, and originally it was used to refer only to men who were interested in women who were amputees, however we shall use it to inclued everybody: men and women, straight and gay, and all kinds of disability.

A preference for amputees is the most widely known of the disability paraphilias, and this has received some (small) attention from psychologists. Dr John money, the internationally known sexologist of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, has written on this phenomenon, and defines two varieties of interest:

  • acrotomophilia, the desire for a partner who is an amputee, and
  • apotemnophilia, the wish to become an amputee. We know that there are thousands of acrotomophiles worldwide, and one survey of a small sample showed them to be somewhat above the average in education and occupational group, predominantly male, and with the most popular preference being for he single-leg, above-the-knee female amputee.

It has been theorised, and many acrotomophiles agree, that the stump functions as an extra, non-gender-related sex organ. Certainly, the asymmetric or incomplete body is found æsthetically attractive and there seems to be no sexual interest of any kind in the inevitable discomfort an amputation must entail. On the contrary, concern and care are evident. The desire would not, therefore, appear to be related to sadism in any way.

Besides amputees, people with other forms of limb dysfunction have their devotees: paraplegics, and people who use wheelchairs, callipers, or other walking aids. Money has termed this interest abasiophilia. There are likely to be devotees for virtually all forms of extremes of body shape or function, whether congenital or acquired, though many have not been named yet.

A major concern, and problem to, many devotees is their fear of rejection both by families, and by society in general, and especially by those they are attracted to. Some of this fear is linked to social attitudes towards those with physical disabilities, because if disabled people are devalued and desexed (as they are in Western society) then those who see them as desirable will know that they are breaking a taboo, with the inevitable result that they, also, will be stigmatized.

Will this type of thinking have to hold for much longer? Disabled people are beginning to demand their rights. When able-bodied people lose their patronising attitudes and accept disabled people as full members of society devotees will also be accepted by society.

When fears of rejection reced, a devotee will be able to be more open about his or her interest. However, of far more interest than the opinion of society in general is the opinion of people with disabilities themselves. We, devotees, want their comments and opinions on the issues discussed in OverGround, be they positive or negative, and we hope that lively discussion will ensue.

Our guess is that there are many kinds of devotees out there. We hope that OverGround will encourage them to come forward and use this magazine as a forum for discussion.

One last word: Even those devotees who tend to the extremes of paraphilia do not present any danger or harm to disabled people, or to anyone else. It is not the pain, suffering or hardships of disability that attract us. We have no wish to cause pain or injury to others.