Today’s blog is based on an updated version of an article that I originally published in a 1999 issue of Headpress (The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion).
I have been a fan of Adam Ant and his music for over thirty years. Furthermore, as someone who takes more than a passing interest in human sexual paraphilic behaviour (as evidenced by many of the blogs I write), I would argue that Adam’s music has covered more atypical sexual behaviours than any other recording artist that I can think of (e.g. sadomasochism, bondage, transvestism, voyeurism, fetishism, etc). Anyone who has followed Adam’s career will recall that his music was billed in the late 1970s and early 1980s as “Antmusic for Sexpeople”. Adam’s followers (according to the free booklet given away with early copies of the 1980 LP ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier‘) were the “sexpeople” who “get off on sexual phenomena; people who like sexual imagery and enjoy being sexual”. For me, Soft Cell are probably the only other recording artists who come close (no pun intended) to talking about the seedier side of sex.
There are very few songs in the Ant repertoire that are about what I would call straight sex (i.e., ‘vanilla sex’). Adam’s most obvious songs here are ‘S.E.X.’ (1981; from ‘Prince Charming‘ LP) where he proclaims in the chorus that “Sex is sex, forget the rest/The only one that’s free/The only great adventure left/To humankind, that’s you and me”, ‘Beautiful Dream’ (1995; from ‘Wonderful‘ LP) where “Sex is emotion in motion”, ‘Good Sex Rumples The Clothing’ and ‘Doggy Style’ (both from the 2005 Deluxe Edition of the ‘Vive Le Rock’ LP), and ‘Sexatise You’ (1993; from the unreleased ‘Persuasion’ LP). For me this is very bland stuff that is also echoed in many songs from the 1983 ‘Strip‘ album including the title track, ‘Baby Let Me Scream At You’, ‘Libertine’ and ‘Navel To Neck’. ‘Straight sex’ in the form of sexual promiscuity rears it’s head in both a third person male account in one of Adam’s own favourite songs, ‘Juanito the Bandito’ (1982; B-Side of ‘Friend or Foe’), in which Adam (singing in a Latino-type accent) says “Young ladies he likes to ravish/He knows how to make them wet/And if he can’t, he’ll dig himself a hole/Or go looking for your favourite pet”. I’m not quite sure whether that’s some reference to a potential bestial act or just a bad rhyming couplet but still pretty tame as far as I’m concerned. The more humorous side of promiscuity is also outlined in 1983’s ‘Playboy’ from the album ‘Strip‘ when Adam asks “What do you wear in bed?/Some headphones on my head/What do you like to hold?/’My breath’ she said”. Adam also makes indirect scientific reference to human orgasm (“Resolution – the fourth and final part”) on ‘Can’t Set The Rules About Love’ (1990; from the ‘Manners and Physique’ LP.
Other types of ‘vanilla sex’ include dressing up in sexy clothes (‘Spanish Games’; from the ‘Strip‘ LP, 1983), high-class prostitution (‘High Heels in High Places’ from the 2000 ‘Antbox’ CD-set), and sex in aeroplanes (from the 1981 ‘Prince Charming‘ LP) in the shape of the non-subtle ‘Mile High Club’ (“747 or a VC 10/Winter, summer, who knows when?/Take off passion, fly away love/Mile High Club”). There is also a whole song about sex in the bathroom (‘Bathroom Function’; 1978 from ‘Antmusic for Sexpeople‘ bootleg LP) which makes lots of references to lathering and rubbing unhygienic places and soap-on-rope. However, the lyrics make it hard to decide whether the sex in question is masturbatory or copulation-based.
Very few of Adam’s songs refer to homosexuality and lesbianism except when he is singing in the third person. The most striking examples of this appear on his 1989 ‘Manners and Physique’ album. One song ‘Bright Lights, Black Leather’ is an observation of the gay scene in West Berlin (There they go, the buccaneers/Hand in hand in leather glove/So fast, so crazy/With a creepy kind of love). The other song is about the rent-boy scene in Piccadilly (appropriately entitled ‘Piccadilly’). There’s also the more obvious ‘All Girl Action’ (1993; from the unreleased ‘Persuasion’ LP). Another song where Ant takes a third person view of a sexual behaviour is in ‘Cleopatra’ (1979; from the ‘Dirk Wears White Sox‘ LP) where he makes reference to the Egyptian queen’s alleged penchant for fellatio. As Adam observes “Cleopatra did 10,000 in her lifetime/Now that’s a wide mouth/Cleo gave service with a smile/She was a wide-mouthed girl/She did a hundred Roman Centurians/For after-dinner mints”.
Many of Adam’s songs make passing references to activities associated with the more extreme fringes of sex such as sexual body piercing (“She’s got a little chain through her tit/And she doesn’t seem to mind it”, from ‘Punk in the Supermarket’, 1978; ‘Antmusic for Sexpeople‘ bootleg LP), tattoos (“I’ve got a hear on my arm/It says ‘PURE SEX’/It hurt/I mean it/I got it till I die/Or until I reach orgasmo (sic)”, from ‘Red Scab’, 1982; B-side of ‘Goody Two Shoes‘), and fat fetishes (‘Fat Fun’ from the 2000 ‘Antbox’ CD-set). He also hints at bestial pleasures and clitoral stimulation in the 1982 song ‘Why Do Girls Love Horses?’ (“Is it ‘cos they’re round?/Or ‘cos they’re six feet off the ground?/Is because they’re on top?/Or the clippety-clop?”) (B-side of ‘Desperate But Not Serious’).
It is when we start to examine Adam’s earlier output that things get far more interesting. Transvestism may have been covered implicitly in The Kinks‘ ‘Lola‘ or Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side‘ but I don’t know another song like “Greta-X” (1985; B-side of ‘Vive Le Rock’) which includes the chorus “I’m a joyous glad TV/Why don’t you come TV with me/I know a girl who likes to dress me/Up like this and then caress me”. Some may claim that the “TV” here may not necessarily be about transvestites but the last verse clears up any ambiguity! (Underwear all tidied away/Thirty eight bust just for a day/Heels so high, my furs so fine/All a woman’s things, they are mine”).
One of the most salient themes through much of Adam’s early work is sadomasochism and bondage. Live favourites such as ‘Physical (You’re So)’, ‘Ligotage’ and ‘B-Side Baby’, being typical of the genre. An early stage favourite was ‘Beat My Guest’ (1981; B-side of ‘Stand and Deliver‘) which would often disturb club owners:
“Well tie me up and hit me with a stick/Yeah, use a truncheon or a household brick/There’s so much happiness behind these tears/I’ll pray you’ll beat me for a thousand years/Well use a truncheon or a cricket bat/A good beating’s where it’s really at”
Their other early SM classic ‘Whip In My Valise’ with the immortal chorus line “Who taught you to torture? Who taught ya?” was the first song that my Dad questioned my musical taste. When you look at some of the lyrics, you can perhaps appreciate why my father was concerned about what his thirteen-year old son was listening to.
“When I met you, you were just sixteen/Pulling the wings off flies/When the old lady got hit by the truck/I saw the wicked in your eyes/You put my head into the stocks/And then went to choose a cane/But hey, your cat has got nine tails/You like to leave me lame”
Very few of Adam’s later songs return to these themes although there are a few exceptions including the self-explanatory ‘Human Bondage Den’ (1985; from the ‘Vive Le Rock‘ LP) and ‘Rough Stuff’ (1989; from the ‘Manners and Physique‘ LP), the latter of which was a big hit in the US. The world of rubberites is explored in another self-explanatory song ‘Rubber People’. Adam proclaims that: “Rubber people are lovely people/They long for latex on their skin/A hole in the ceiling/A nice strong gag/Nicely wrapped and strapped”. This again has strong sadomasochistic overtones especially when references are made to being “bound to discipline” and spanking. Spanking only appears in one other Ant song – the aforementioned ‘Whip in My Valise’ (1979; B-side of ‘Zerox‘). Voyeurism with naïve sadomasochistic overtones also appear in the early live favourite “Lady” (1979; B-side of ‘Young Parisians’) when Adam sings “I saw a lady and she was naked/I saw a lady she had no clothes on/I had a good look through the crack/She had footmarks up her back/How did they get there?”
Although Adam sings about many sexual fetishes, the only direct references to fetishism appear in the classic ‘Christian D’Or’ (1981; B-side of ‘Prince Charming‘) and ‘Survival of the Fetish’ (1993; from the unreleased ‘Persuasion’ LP). In ‘Christian D’Or’, Adam reels off a whole list of fetishes and concludes there is something wrong with him (“I’ve got a fetish for black/A fetish for green/A fetish for those arty magazines/I’ve got a fetish for Brando/A fetish for cats/A fetish for ladies in Christian Dior hats/I’ve got a fetish and that means I’m sick/So very sick”).
I have also come across some early (1977) songs that feature other types of sexual behaviour (including cunnilingus, swinging, rape, necrophilia, knicker fetishes, and – possibly – amputee fixations). These tapes feature sex-based songs, many of which have never found their way onto record. Song titles include ‘Weekend Swinger’, ‘Underwear’, ‘Hooray, I’m a Hetero’, ‘Punishment Park’, ‘The Throb (True Love)’, ‘Swedish Husbands’, ‘Sit On My Face’, ‘Get On Your Knees’, ‘Female Rape’, ‘Deanecrophilia’ and ‘Saturday A.M. Pix’ (AMPIX was a company that specialised in products for those with a sexual amputee fixation but this may not be about amputee fetishes at all as I have never heard the song).
The one song I have not been able to decide whether it is about a sexual paraphilia is ‘1969 Again’ (1995; from ‘Wonderful‘ LP). In this song Adam sings that “Oh how you make me wish I was a baby/Yeah, when you’re playing Miss Swish/Knickers on – you’re my big agony nanny/With your big towel protection”. To me, this looks like a song about paraphilic infantilism (i.e., people who get sexual kicks from being adult babies) but I could be wrong. There is also the reference to Miss Swish that suggests some spanking reference (Swish is a spanking magazine) but maybe that’s wishful thinking.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Ant, A. (2007). Stand and Deliver: The Autobiography. London: Pan.
Griffiths, M.D (1999). Adam Ant: Sex and perversion for teenyboppers. Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion, 19, 116-119.
Wikipedia (2013). Adam and the Ants. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_and_the_Ants
Wikipedia (2013). Adam Ant. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Ant
I’m sure most of us can remember playing ‘doctors and nurses’ when we were kids but there are some people who never seem to grow out of it and engage in what has been termed ‘medical fetishism’. The fetish appears to be quite inclusive and wide ranging because the activity can comprise those (i) individuals who are sexually attracted to people in the medical profession, (ii) people (usually heterosexual males) who derive sexual pleasure from their female sexual partners to dress up in a nurse’s uniform, and/or (iii) individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from actually being the recipients of a medical or clinical procedure (usually some kind of bodily examination). Some of these behaviours may be paraphilias or specialized fetishes such as klismaphilia (i.e., sexual pleasure from the receiving of enemas) that I examined in a previous blog. There are also those whose fetish only concerns a very particular branch of medicine (such as dentistry).
The types of activity that have been reported as medical fetishes include genital and urological examinations (e.g., a gynecological examination), genital procedures (e.g., fitting a catheter or menstrual cup), rectal procedures (e.g., inserting suppositories, taking a rectal temperature, prostate massage), the application of medical dressings and accessories (e.g., putting on a bandage or nappy, fitting a dental retainer, putting someone’s arm in plaster), and the application and fitting of medical devices (e.g., fitting a splint, orthopedic cast or brace).
Some of these activities such as having a nappy, catheter, or orthopedic brace fitted may overlap with other sexual paraphilias listed in Dr. AnilAggrawal’ Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, such as infantilism (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from being an adult baby), catheterophilia (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from catheters), and apotemnophila (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from the thought of being an amputee). In the most extreme cases of medical fetishism, more invasive medical acts may be performed for sexual pleasure including giving injection, anaesthesia, and actual surgery. The sexual pleasure and arousal may occur in the giver and/or receiver, and much of the activity may be in the form of sexual role-play. As one online essay on medical fetishism noted:
“People with an extreme medical fetish use torturous medical devices, speculums, mouth and anal spreaders, enema kits, probes etc. They may even consent to false operations where they are surgically opened, and with nothing fixed or removed, sutured closed. An extreme medical fetish can be a dangerous thing…A medical fetish can include a sexual attraction to medical people. Doctor and nurse porn movies, people receiving medical examinations and so on. Most are simply role play”.
There are also sub-branches of medical fetishism that may have overlaps with sadomasochism and BDSM where (for instance) a female dominatrix may inflict a medical procedure on their willing submissive individual. Such activity often centres on sexual and/or sensitive body parts including the penis, testicles, nipples and anus. The instruments used may also be heated or cooled to heighten the pain/pleasure sensations. Given the potential danger involved in some of the activities performed and the fact the person administering the procedure (e.g., anaesthesia, surgery) may not have any formal medical training, the risk of permanent body damage – or in extreme cases, death – is a possibility. Here, the risk of something going wrong may also be sexually stimulating to the person, and there appears to be both physical and psychological overlaps with paraphilias such as hypoxyphilia (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from restricting oxygen supply to heighten sexual arousal).
Medical fetishism within sadomasochistic activity would therefore constitute ‘edgeplay’. This is a term used within the BDSM community that refers to sexual activities that push the boundaries of safety and are sometimes referred to as RACKs (Risk-Aware Consensual Kinks). Those involved in edgeplay are fully cognizant of the fact that their sexual behaviour may result in serious bodily harm and permanent damage.
In the Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, Dr. Brenda Love notes that some people are sexually aroused by exposing themselves to medical practitioners, and that this is called ‘iatronudia’. She claims that such people will pretend to be ill just so that they can undress in front of a doctor. This echoes with some online sources claim that those with medical fetishes may also feign injury and illness, or give themselves self-inflicted wounds just so that they can receive genuine medical help. Such activity would appear to have psychological overlaps with Factitious Disability Disorders such as Munchausen Syndrome (i.e., feigning illness to draw attention or sympathy from others). This type of behaviour may be considered somewhat safer for the medical fetishist (as the procedures would be carried out by someone who is medically trained) but is an abuse of others’ time and expertise.
Although there is almost no empirical research on medical fetishism, it would appear that most fetishes – particularly when they are very specific and specialized – are rooted in early childhood experiences and most likely caused by behavioural conditioning processes. For instance, those individuals who are only sexually turned on by being anaesthetized not only enjoy the act itself but will usually be sexually aroused by the sight of all the aneasthetic equipment and accessories (e.g., black rubber anaesthetic masks).
As with many other fetishes, the internet has fostered whole online communities of medical fetishists (such as the Gynecology and Medical Examination Fetish Forum or the My Male Medical Fetish; please be warned that these are sexually explicit sites). There is little scientific research on the etiology and psychology of medical fetishism although Dr. Brenda Love speculates that sexual games involving medicine are popular because of the anxiety connected with visiting a GP that “leads to a natural increase in energy in a sexual experience”. I can’t say I’m overly convinced by this explanation, but in the absence of anything more empirical, it’s one of the few views that a clinician has put forward.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Bizarre Magazine (2010). Medical fetishism. December 1. Located at: http://www.bizarremag.com/fetish/fetish/10393/medical_fetish.html?xc=1
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Midori (2005). Wild Side Sex: The Book of Kink Educational, Sensual, And Entertaining Essays. Daedalus Publishing.
Streetsie (2011). Disability fetish and medical fetish. August 19. Located at: http://www.streetsie.com/disability-fetish-medical-fetish/
Wikipedia (2012). Medical fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_fetishism
Some of the most bizarre paraphilias that occasionally make their way into reputable scientific journals are those that involve sexual gratification from amputation of some description. Since the late 1800s, the medical literature has described men and women who are sexually attracted to amputees, those who limp, or use crutches, braces and wheelchairs, as well as individuals who pretend to be or who actually want to become disabled. These have included references in the books of Wilhelm Stekel (Sexual Aberrations, 1930), Richard von Krafft-Ebing (Psychopathia Sexualis, 1932), Magnus Hirschfield (Sexual Anomalies and Perversions, 1944), as well as published case studies such as M.F. Fleischl’s study of “A man’s fantasy of a crippled girl” (American Journal of Psychotherapy, 1960) and Louis London’s study of “Transvestism-Desire for crippled women” (Dynamic Psychiatry, 1952).
The relationship between amputated limbs and sexual desire was little known about outside of particular academic circles, but was first brought to public attention in the letters pages of Penthouse in 1972 (see below). Although some thought these letters were a joke, it became clear that for a small minority of people, this was a rare but bona fide paraphilia.
Letter in Penthouse (May 1973): “I am 27, and have been an amputee since I lost my left leg at mid thigh when I was about eight. Probably because I have been an amputee for so long, I’ve never been shy about my lack of leg. For the last four years I have been married to a man who is fascinated by the stump of a female amputee. As a result I usually short skirts when I go out, allowing the end to show. When my husband is home, I wear short skirts so that my stump is fully exposed. I have never liked to use an artificial leg, and mostly I use a single crutch, and believe it ot not, a good ol’ peg leg…..probably many people think a peg leg is not very feminine, but it is practical for me. Sexually I feel I can compete with any two-legged girl. Because my husband is so turned on by the sight of my stump, I usually begin our lovemaking by undressing slowly at the foot of the bed. Once I have my clothes off, I lift my stump so that it points towards my husband and I begin to massage it. This excites my husband greatly, so he takes over and we go from there”
A more recent development in the world of amputee paraphilias has been the advent of the internet. This has brought global attention to people with disabilities and their admirers. Most of these sites are chat rooms and home pages for male devotees of female amputees. However, there are lots of other sites including female devotees of male amputees, particular sexual orientations (heterosexual, homosexual) and particular attractions (e.g. crutches, plaster casts, crutch, and neck braces). One specific bulletin board posting entitled “Bunion Love” requested “photos, videos, or correspondence of girls with deformed/crippled feet, or toe/toes amputated or who have severe bunions on their feet. The more severe, the better.”
Apotemnophilia: In 1977, the renowned US sexologist John Money of the John Hopkins University coined the term “apotemnophilia” in the Journal of Sex Research. Apotemnophilia (Greek for “amputation love”) refers to being sexually excited by the fantasy or reality of being an amputee. This behaviour is often accompanied by obsessive scheming to convince a surgeon to perform a medically unnecessary amputation. This might seem to most people to be a type of masochism but reported case studies suggest that there is no erotization of pain itself – only of the healed amputated stump. To give you an inside look at the world of the apotomnophiliac, here are two real life case accounts from Professor Money’s files. Both involve people who had an erotic and obsessive desire to be an amputee.
Case Study 1: A man phoned up Professor Money’s sex research unit asking if he could have his leg amputated. He was told that this would not be possible but he continued to phone and write to the unit for the next four years. It was later discovered that he had made many attempts to self-inflict serious injury to his left leg. His obsession had been present since he was 13 years old in the form of self-amputee fantasies. On one notable occasion he hammered a stainless steel rod into his left leg and then tried to infect the open wound by smearing it on facial acne mixed with anal and nasal mucous. When his leg showed serious signs of infection he reported it to the hospital. Unfortunately his attempt failed as antibiotic treatment cleared the infection up. Looking into the childhood background, the most prominent early recollection was his left leg being severely burned by an overturned pot of boiling oatmeal at the age of two years old. This left him unable to walk for a year. However, there was little else in his family history to suggest the origins of such bizarre behaviour.
Case Study 2: A second man wrote to Professor Money for literature on the phenomenon of self-amputation. The patient reported that when he was engaged in homosexual or heterosexual intercourse he would fantasize about an amputee or being one himself. Pictures of both naked and dressed amputees were also used for masturbation purposes. Strangely, his fantasies were not always erotic and it was discovered that he could be aroused by visualizing an amputee engaging in an activity that required considerable effort on their part to overcome their physical handicap (e.g. an amputee water ski-ing). Although he considered many non-surgical ways to become an amputee, when it came down to it, he was too scared of inflicting pain to do it himself. Eventually he got a job working with handicapped people but was still attempting to find a surgeon who would amputate his leg. He continued to maintain that he would only be at peace with himself once he had been through the amputation. Looking into the patient’s background, it was discovered that he had been born with a clubbed right foot for which his father constantly criticized him. The condition was corrected during adolescence. His first amputation thoughts occurred at the age of eleven years old but these were not sexually explicit until the age of about fifteen when there was an amputee who worked with him. However, these childhood events are insufficient in explaining why it occurred.
Given the unconventional desires of the apotemnophiliac, it is perhaps unsurprising that self-mutilation occurs. To some extent, the condition resembles Munchausen’s Syndrome in that MS patients are obsessed with self-inducing symptoms repetitively for the sake of being a patient whereas the apotemnophiliac is obsessed with the symptom themselves for the sake of being an amputee.
Acrotomophilia: Acrotomophilia is a slightly different paraphilia to apotemnophilia and refers to being sexually aroused by a partner who is an amputee. They are excited by the stump or the stumps of the amputee partner and is dependent upon them for sexual arousal and attainment of orgasm. An example of this is given in the case study below (again from the files of Professor Money).
Case Study 3: This case involves a 47-year old man with an amputee fascination. His interest started at school when as an obese child he would try to do anything to avoid PE classes. It was at this stage he first started thinking that if he was an amputee he wouldn’t have to take part in these sessions. As he reached adolescence, he started to pretend to be an amputee by tying one of his legs up and making a peg to walk around on. It was during one of these “pretend” sessions that he experienced his first orgasm. As he reached late adolescence, he switched from fantasizing about being an amputee himself to wanting an amputee partner. He even made his own scrapbook turning Hollywood filmstars like Marilyn Monroe into amputees. He eventually got married and four years into his marriage he told his wife about his fantasies. She didn’t take the news well and it was never mentioned again for a further six years. However, later in the marriage, his wife would occasionally pretend to be an amputee while making love. Through an acquaintance, he developed friendships with a number of amputees and had sexual relationships with some of them. Interestingly, he claimed that his paraphilia was unlike other paraphilias because it was not always sexual and the fantasy was 24 hours a day.
One of the interesting insights offered by the acrotomophiliac above was that he was part of an amputee network and was in regular correspondence with 55 other amputee devotees. Some of these were married to amputees while others had never even met one. Those who had ended up with amputee partners sometimes changed their focus and became “wannabe” amputees. With regards to the amputee fixation itself, around a quarter of the network were sharply focused on the stump itself and are very exact about what it should feel and look like (some being attracted to the scars – the more the better). Around a quarter of the network were really turned on by the asymmetry that amputation brings. For these people, bilateral amputees (for example, people with both legs amputated) were a turn-off.
In 1983, the first survey of male acrotomophiles was published in the journal Sexuality and Disability. The 195 acrotomophiles in the study were all customers of AMPIX (a company providing stories about and pictures of amputees) and were described as white, college educated, professional males. The results revealed that 75% had been aware of their interest in amputees by the age of fifteen. It was also reported that 55% of respondents had dated amputees, 40% had had sex with an amputee, and only 5% had married an amputee. 53% of the respondents had pretended to be an amputee (11% having done so publicly) and 71% had fantasized about being an amputee.
Another study completed in 1996 surveyed 50 acrotomophiles. The participants were again white college educated, professional males. Of these, 96% had been aware of their interest in amputees by their teens. In this sample, 41% had been married to or lived with an amputee, more than 43% had pretended to be amputees and 22% desired to become amputees. Using psychometric tests, the acrotomophiles were found on average to have high scores on self-esteem, but low scores on social interest, emotional stability and personal relations. Such tendencies have become a concern of people with disabilities since acrotomophiles demonstrate problematic behaviors. These include collecting names, addresses and phone numbers of disabled persons, obsessive and intrusive phone calls, letters and e-mail to persons with disabilities, attending and sometimes organizing disability-related events, lurking in public places to watch, take covert pictures of, talking to and touching disabled persons, and even engaging in predatory stalking.
Devotees, Pretenders and Wannabes: Dr. Robert Bruno, Director of the Post-Polio Institute (New Jersey) described two cases in an effort to understand the psychology of “devotees, pretenders and wannabes” (DPWs). So what exactly are DPWs? Put very simply:
- Devotees are non-disabled people who are sexually attracted to people with disabilities, typically those with mobility impairments and especially amputees.
- Pretenders are non-disabled people who act as if they have a disability by using assistive devices (for example braces, wheelchairs, and crutches). This may be done in private or in public so that they can ‘feel’ disabled or are perceived by others as having a disability.
- Wannabes actually want to become disabled, sometimes going to extraordinary lengths to have a limb amputated.
Dr. Bruno has also reported some of his case studies in the scientific literature:
Case Study 4: A 48-year old white female had been interested in men who had mobility impairments since she was a teenager. The first evidence of her interest was in high school when she dated a boy who had a severe limp. Although they kissed, she reports not being very sexually aroused by him and was interested, not in having intercourse, but in being with him and potentially seeing his affected leg. She then had a one-off date with an “obese and mildly retarded” wheelchair-bound man who she met through a personal ad. After their first passionate kiss she went to the bathroom and masturbated to orgasm by imagining herself having sex with the man. She did not want to have sex with him, as just the thought of him in his wheelchair was enough to give her an orgasm. She continued to search, obsessively at times, for disabled men. However, things changed when on a work trip she noticed a wheelchair behind the front desk of the hotel and first had the idea that she could pretend to be disabled. She started to do this regularly and after each trip out in a wheelchair she would return to her room and masturbate to orgasm while sitting in the wheelchair. The fantasies that aroused her were not even sexual. She would imagine her legs being paralyzed or picture herself being in a wheelchair. Alternatively she would imagine a paralyzed man walking on crutches, or his braces. This was enough to bring her to orgasm. Her ultimate fantasy was to meet a disabled man while she was pretending to be disabled and have sex. However, she denied strongly that she herself wanted to have a disability.
Looking into her childhood, she described herself as a lonely child whose parents ignored her. However, she recounted an incident when a local child, who had had polio and walked with crutches and leg braces, walked past their home on the way to school. Her parents appeared to show more concern for the boy than for her. She also remembered how her teacher would give more attention to the disabled children. After these experiences she would play in the family garage using croquet mallets as crutches and tieing sticks to her legs for braces. She also remembered finding her old baby carriage and pretending it was her wheelchair. Basically, she wanted to be a disabled child so she would be loved.
A variety of explanations have been offered for DPW’s attractions, desires and behaviours. The most appealing explanation involves the pairing in childhood of a disability-related stimulus with sexual arousal. For example, one plaster-cast devotee reported by Dr. Bruno had his first sexual experience with a girl who was wearing a leg cast. However, only 19% of respondents to the AMPIX survey related their interest in amputees to any kind of direct contact with a disabled person, and the overwhelming majority of devotees have reported their interest in disabled persons began long before puberty.
Attraction to disabled persons has also been related to homosexuality, sadism and bondage. However, recent surveys find no increased prevalence of homosexuality, sadism or interest in bondage among acrotomophiles. Several case studies have indicated that there may be a higher incidence of transvestites and transsexuals among DPW’s. However, the notion that an apotemnophile is a “disabled person trapped in a nondisabled body” is difficult to justify, as there is no ‘naturally-occurring’ state of disability that would correspond to the the two naturally-occurring genders. Others have suggested that DPW’s desires develop from a combination of a strict anti-sexual attitude in the child’s household, deprivation of maternal love and parental rejection in early childhood that creates a fear for survival and a self-generated fantasy for security.
Some case reports (like the one above) appear to suggest that deprivation of parental love, coupled with seeing parents’ positive emotional response to a disabled child, set the stage for attraction to the disabled. However, there may be other psychological factors at work as we shall see in the final case outlined below from the case notes of Dr. Bruno.
Case Study 5: A 45 year old white female with a history of childhood polio continually complained of arm and leg weakness, daily fatigue, disturbed sleep, imbalance and falling. Through her twenties and thirties she had many operations (on her hips and legs) and often became depressed. She had twice attempted suicide. In her early forties, she was given knee and ankle braces to treat her “instability.” Because of discomfort, she rarely wore these and began using crutches. The patient’s husband stated that she was again able to walk at home and in the hospital when she was in a psychotic state but not at any other time. He recalled that his wife had always wanted to have a “little disability” that would not limit her, like wearing braces on both legs, but only up to her calves. She thought that her mother and people in general would have treated her more kindly if she had been a disabled child.
Her childhood desire to have a ‘little disability’ was something she thought would have allowed her to be “treated more kindly,” and her subsequent development of a Factitious Disorder, suggest that those with factitious physical disabilities can be combined with DPWs to create a diagnostic grouping that Dr. Bruno calls Factitious Disability Disorders. These are conditions in which disability – real or pretended – provide an opportunity to be loved and attended to where no such opportunity has otherwise existed. As noted earlier, Professor Money observed that apotemnophilia may share something in common with Munchausen’s Syndrome. However, Professor Money distinguishes between the Munchausen’s patient, who is obsessed with self-inducing symptoms repetitively for the sake of being a patient, and the apotemnophile who is supposedly satisfied with a single amputation.
The commonality between both conditions is they engage in the behaviour “for the sake of being a patient” (to receive the care and attention that would otherwise not be obtainable). Apotemnophiles need only one – albeit very extreme – medical intervention that leaves them with a lasting and obvious stigma of disability that they believe will permanently satisfy their need for love and attention. If the common psychological foundation of these conditions is that disability will satisfy unmet needs for love and attention, then there are only two factors that differentiate between DPWs and those with a factitious physical disability – the awareness of a desire to appear or actually become disabled and physically appearing to be disabled.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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