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The ugly truth: A brief look at teratophilia

I’m sure I will receive a little criticism for today’s blog as it focuses on sex and ugliness, so I apologize in advance if you feel I shouldn’t be talking about such things and feel it is politically incorrect. However, there is a long history of psychological research on attractiveness (which by implication usually means that any findings reported as relating to attractive people would mean the opposite applies for ugly people). I’m the first to admit that sexual attractiveness is highly subjective and can depend on many factors including the physiological state of the viewer (hence the apt pun that ‘beauty is the eye of the beer holder”).

A couple of years ago, the papers here in the UK (such as the one that appeared in the Daily Mail) reported on a story that being ugly might actually help in attracting the opposite sex. The story was based on the work of Australian Dr. Robert Brooks (a Professor of Evolution at the University of New South Wales) who claimed that having an “unusual appearance” can prove a useful asset in attracting a mate. Brooks was quoted as saying that “ugly individuals can sometimes do better than good-looking ones” (although I ought to point out that his research was carried out on animals and not humans). Dr Paul Rainey, a biologist at Oxford University supported Brooks’ view and said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If everyone is going after the most common characteristics, then someone who targets the rare ones, would have an advantage”.

This short introduction brings me on to what I really wanted to focus on – the sexual paraphilia teratophilia. According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, teratophilia is defined as those people who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from “deformed or monstrous people”. The online Urban Dictionary defines it as “the ability to see beauty in the unusual [and] clinically described as a sexual preference for deformed people”. There are various sub-divisions of teratophilia of which the most researched is arguably acrotomophilia (which I looked at in a previous blog) and refers to those people who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from amputees. I would also argue that sexual paraphilias such as stigmatophilia (i.e., individuals that derive sexual pleasure and arousal from a person who is marked [i.e., scarred] in some way) would also qualify as a sub-type of teratophilia.

Although there is empirical research on both acrotomophilia and stigmatophilia, there is nothing (as far as I can tell) published on teratophilia. There are certainly online forums where individuals have discussed their attraction to ugly people and a quick search on the internet shows there is a fair amount of pornographic material that feature physically unusual people (suggesting that there are people put there that find such things sexually arousing). Here are a few online self-confessions by people who would appear to be genuine teraphiliacs:

  • Extract 1 (female): “I’ve felt this way for years, it’s not a new thing. I’ve tried to bring it up before on other forums but no one took me seriously. I think that’s my biggest problem is that people always think I’m joking. I’m not sure if it’s a ‘fetish‘ or what but I don’t necessarily think ‘Oh I wanna have sex with that guy look how deformed he is’ as much as I see them as any other person that I find attractive and would want to date. Just like a guy may find skinny girls attractive or a girl likes guys with tattoos, I think deformities are sexy…But I’m not attracted to everyone and anyone who has some kind of deformity. If they have a bad personality it’s unattractive. So does this really make me a ‘teratophiliac’? Why can’t it be that I can just find beauty within the unusual or something like that? It’s always been a fantasy for me to be with someone like this, I’ve had plenty of normal boyfriends over the years but it still hasn’t made my yearning to be with a deformed man go away. I don’t think I’d be doing harm to act upon my urges would I?”
  • Extract 2 (male): “For some reason, women with some deformity, specifically gait deformities and hand deformities are interesting…Women with Multiple Sclerosis can be attractive also. I myself have pectus escavatum, which is an inversion deformity of the chest. The chest is strong, but looks strange. Its muscular, but inverted. This may be why I am interested in women with deformities as well”.
  • Extract 3 (female): I’m attracted to people who I know are ‘ugly’. And it’s not personality because it could just be a random boy around school who I’ve never spoken to before and I just see his face and think I’ve fell in love, even though I know he’s not stereotypically ‘hot’ and my friends would laugh if they knew. It means that I can’t attempt to get anywhere with these ‘ugly’ boys because I know my friends would never let me live it down….I can look at them and pick out faults and know why they’re not hot, but I still am strangely attracted to them”.
  • Extract 4 (female): [I’m] a self-confessed teratophiliac. What do others think? I’m harking back to why I just adore that ice bath scene with Stretch and Bubba. Am I the only one who goes all dippy when I see Bub’s eyes there? Bill did an exceptional job instilling all that personality into Leatherface. Shows he’s human and capable of love but torn apart under pressure from his family. When he bangs his head on the cage it really saddens me…I believe this Leatherface is capable of turning good if he wasn’t ill-bred and pressured by his family. Back to the subject of teratophilia. I would gladly reciprocate bubba’s affections!”

Looking at these accounts (of which three out of four are female – not sure if that’s significant but the majority of anecdotal accounts I came across were female), and assuming they are genuine (and I have no way of knowing if they are), there is little insight as to the motivations and reasoning as to why these individuals are attracted to ugly and/or handicapped people. The one male account does admit that he himself has an “inversion deformity” and that this may provide a reason as to why he finds females with deformities of sexual interest. The Sex Obsessed website also speculated (without any empirical evidence) that those attracted to deformed people:

“…may have a strong sense of compassion or fear for a deformed person and may be conditioned to overexcite their feelings and confuse this excitement for sexual arousal.  It may also include people who feel emotionally secure or in control of their deformed mates as they do not have the ability to leave them for someone else”.

If the number of female accounts is to be believed, it may be an indicator that females are less concerned with sexual attractiveness in a man (i.e., men value attractiveness in women more than women value attractiveness in men). Given the general lack of research in the area, this is a topic that is certainly worthy of scientific investigation.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Kendall, P. (2010). Why ugly men always attract the prettiest women. Daily Mail. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-70897/Why-ugly-men-attract-prettiest-women.html

Locksley (2010). I’m so ugly I make kids cry. Marry me! October 30. Located at: http://www.locksleynet.com/2010/10/30/im-so-ugly-i-make-kids-cry-marry-me/

Sex Obsessed (2009). Dysmorphophilia. December 4. Located at: http://sexobsessed.wordpress.com/2009/12/04/dysmorphophilia/

Wikipedia (2012). Talk: Teratophilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3ATeratophilia

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