In previous blogs I have examined both medical fetishism (individuals who are sexually aroused by medical procedures and/or people wearing medical accessories) and different forms of amputee fetishism (including individuals who are sexually aroused by amputees [acrotomophilia] or those who are sexually aroused by the thought of being an amputee [apotemnophilia]). One sexual paraphilia that intersects both of these is abasiophilia. There is relatively little specific research on abasiophilia (as most of the academic literature has studied sexual amputee fetishes and paraphilias). In non-academic writing, the only reference I am aware in The Scarecrow, a novel by American author Michael Connelly where Wesley Carver the serial killer was motivated by abasiophilia. (As the Wikipedia entry on the novel notes: “the murdered women were both exotic dancers with similar body types (‘giraffes’), and that both were put in leg braces (‘iron maidens’) while being sexually abused before death…[the police’s research] revealed that Carver’s mother was an exotic dancer similar in appearance to the victims who needed to wear leg braces when not performing”).
According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, abasiophilia is defined as a “love of (or sexual attraction to) people who use leg braces or other orthopedic appliances”. However, there are a number of slightly different definitions depending upon which source is consulted. Nancy Butcher, in her 2003 book The Strange Case of the Walking Corpse: A Chronicle of Medical Mysteries, Curious Remedies, and Bizarre but True Healing Folklore. Abasiophilia is “a psychosexual attraction to people with impaired mobility, especially those who use orthopaedic appliances such as leg braces, orthopedic leg bracees, orthopedic casts, and/or wheelchairs”. Francesca Twinn in her 2007 book The Miscellany of Sex defines it as a “sexual attraction to people with mobility facilitator especially equipment such as braces or wheelchairs”. Finally, Dr. George Pranzarone in his 2000 Dictionary of Sexology notes that abasiophilia is:
“A paraphilia of the eligibilic/stigmatic type in which sexuoerotic arousal and facilitation or attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent on the partner being lame, with a limp, or crippled [from Greek, abasios lameness + -philia]”
The term abasiophilia was coined (as are many other sexual paraphilias that I have covered in my blogs) by US sexologist Professor John Money in a paper published in a 1990 issue of Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. Professor Money’s definition was that abasiophilia referred to an erotic focus on a partner who is “lame, crippled, or unable to walk”. Professor Money’s paper described two case reports both of who were women. The first case was a 42-year old woman with an amputee paraphilia (i.e., acrotomophilia) while the second case was a woman in her thirties with a lameness paraphilia (i.e., abasiophilia).
Although the name for the condition was new, the condition itself was not as case studies dating back more than 50 years have been reported – most notably a paper in a 1960 issue of the American Journal of Psychotherapy by Dr. M. Fleischl. He described “a man’s fantasy of a crippled girl” and said it was a case of ‘orthopedic fetishism’. However, as Dr Joel Milner, Dr Cynthia Dopke, and Dr Julie Crouch note in a 2008 review of paraphilias not otherwise specified [NOS] noted:
“[Abasiophilia] does not appear to qualify as fetishism, because fetishism requires a sexual focus on a nonhuman object. The degree to which a distinction should be made between abasiophilia and other similar paraphilia NOS categories, such as morphophilia and partialism, is less clear. For example, abasiophilia may be a subtype of morphophilia rather than a separate paraphilia. Although predominantly reported in males, abasiophilia also has been reported in females [by Professor Money in his 1990 paper]. Although the etiology of abasiophilia is unknown, psychodynamic interpretations suggest that for a male, the deformed limb of a woman partner represents a female penis [as noted by Dr. Fleischl, in his 1960 paper). According to analytic theory, a man may be attracted to a crippled woman because his anxiety and hostility related to ‘the shock of threatened castration at the sight of the female genital’ are reduced when the deformed limb (representing a penis) is present”.
[Just for the record, morphophilia – as defined by Dr. Milner and his colleagues refers to “an erotic focus on one or more of the body characteristics of one’s sexual partner”].
Dr. George Pranzarone’s Dictionary of Sexology also notes the reciprocal paraphilic condition is autoabasiophilia in which individuals are sexually aroused when they focus on their own condition of being lame, crippled, or unable to walk (and may involve fantasies of being disabled and/or wearing/using orthopedic assistive devices). The book chapter by Dr. Joel Milner and colleagues notes that “the vast majority of cases appear to involve males” but has also been reported in females (again quoting the case studies of Professor Money).
Abasiophilia is part of a wider attraction to disability more generally (which even has its own dedicated Wikipedia entry). There is clearly a lot of psychological crossover between abasiophilia and acrotomophilia (and between autoabasiphilia and apotemnophilia). Both abasiophiles and acrotomophiles are described in the academic literature as “devotees” who are aroused by disability. In relation to autoabasiophiles and apotemnophiles, Dr. Robert Bruno has described these individuals as having a Factitious Disability Disorder as outlined in a 1997 issue of the Journal of Sexuality and Disability (see my previous blog on amputee fetishes for a detailed explanation). However, there is a large overlap between these four paraphilias and Bruno describes such people as DPWs (“devotees, pretenders, and wannabes”). The Wikipedia entry (without much academic supporting evidence) notes:
“[Disability fetishism] starts in early childhood, usually long before puberty is reached. There is normally a trigger event in early childhood involving disabled children or adults. It is most common in those who were children in the 1940s, 50s and 60s when polio was common and there were more people using leg braces than today. Studies made in the last 10 years of people contributing to internet leg-brace devotee groups confirms the most common age of leg-brace devotees and wannabes as between 50 and 70; there are few leg-brace devotees aged less than 40…The important thing to remember is that there is no choice in the [behaviour]. The person feels ‘programmed’ to behave in this way and he has little or no ability to alter his behaviour: much though he may feel ashamed of his feelings, desires and obsessions he can do little about them…The disability may be minor like missing fingers, profound like blindness and (stereotypically) amputation, or quadroplegia. Some devotees desire people with cognitive disabilities”
The first thing person I thought of as I read this last claim (as I don’t think there is any academic research supporting such an assertion) was the late television personality Jimmy Saville who allegedly preyed on the learning disabled for sexual gratification (although this obviously isn’t an example of abasiophilia). If you want to know more about this paraphilia, you could do worse than start at the Abasophilia Information webpages that are a treasure trove of information for the would-be abasiophile.
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.
Bruno, R.L. (1997). Devotees, pretenders and wannabes: Two cases of factitious Disability Disorder. Journal of Sexuality and Disability, 15, 243-260.
Butcher, Nancy (2003). The Strange Case of the Walking Corpse: A Chronicle of Medical Mysteries, Curious Remedies, and Bizarre but True Healing Folklore. New York: Avery
Connelly, Michael (2009). The Scarecrow. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Fleischl, M. F. (1960). A man’s fantasy of a crippled girl. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 14, 741-748.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Milner, J.S. Dopke, C.A. & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and Theory In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp. 384-418). New York: Guildford Press.
Money, J. (1990). Paraphilia in females: Fixation on amputation and lameness: Two personal accounts. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 3, 165–172.
Pranzarone, G.F. (2000). The Dictionary of Sexology. Located at: http://ebookee.org/Dictionary-of-Sexology-EN_997360.html
Twinn, F. (2007). The Miscellany of Sex: Tantalizing Travels Through Love, Lust and Libido. London: Arcturus.
Wikipedia (2012). Attraction to disability. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attraction_to_disability