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A Special Attraction To Amputees: Amputee Devotees

by G. Edward Jeffries, M.D., FACS with Georgie Maxfield

Reprinted by kind permission of the Amputee Coalition of America
From inMotion Magazine Volume 8 - Number 6 - November/December 1998

In keeping with its mission to educate people who experience limb loss, the Amputee Coalition of America believes it is important to present information regarding the sexual attraction felt by some people toward amputees. At the recent ACA meeting in Chicago there was some interaction between ACA members and amputee "devotees" who coincidentally were meeting at the same time at a nearby hotel. This interaction left ACA members reporting reactions that ran the gamut of emotions from revulsion to delight. As with all other aspects of living, the ACA believes it is the right and duty of the amputee to make informed decisions regarding all matters, including emotional and sexual behavior. Knowledge is power. Only with good information can good choices be made.
Mary P. Novotny, ACA President

No one has ever conclusively show why one person is romantically or sexually attracted to another. Certainly many factors are involved in an attraction including physical appearance, grooming, ability to speak well, wit, financial resources, intelligence, thoughtfulness and many others. Some of these factors seem to be much more important in the initial attraction process than others. Physical appearance seems to be the primary attractor for most men and probably many women. Only after the personal contact is made, following initial attraction, is it possible to find out enough about the other person to identify the wit, intelligence, thoughtfulness, fidelity and other more important and lasting qualities.

It is commonly accepted that many men are attracted to women with large breasts or long, slender legs, or lustrous blonde hair; however, other men are equally drawn to very petite women, women with dark hair, or wide hips. Some men are drawn sexually to other men. These and many other variations of sexual attraction are well known and usually accepted. The fact that some men (and women) are attracted to individuals who are missing one or more limbs is less well known but no less definite. The individuals who are attracted to amputees are often known as "amputee devotees."

To many amputees the concept that someone would find the remnant of their amputated limb sexually appealing is surprising and perhaps even incredible. It flies in the face of reason that an amputation makes them more rather than less attractive to another person. Especially while the amputee is struggling with crucial issues of self-acceptance, body image, and self-worth, the concept that someone finds their amputation especially appealing may be highly disconcerting. Their tolerance of the concept of amputee devotees may be nonexistent. If the amputee is questioning his or her desirability, how can anyone else find him or her desirable?

Hundreds of men, however, and at least a few women have stated very strongly that they are fascinated by limb differences. These amputee devotees have been around for many years, have formed some loose associations, and even have meetings for support and socialization purposes. To the psychological community they represent only another expression of the wide variety of sexual attraction. To amputees they may seem highly threatening, seriously deranged, mildly irritating or even interesting and desirable.

There are a few articles in the scientific literature that mention this attraction for amputees and there are a few articles in the popular press that also mention it. There is no adequate scientific explanation of why some people feel this attraction to people with amputations but there is also no verified explanation for the other aspects of human sexual interest. The purpose of this article is not to try to explain the inexplicable, it is simply to inform amputees that amputee devotees exist so that amputees may make more intelligent and valid choices.

The ACA is much more concerned about the impact of devotees on amputees than in the devotees themselves. The ACA is not trying to teach social skills to amputee devotees but plans to make them aware that unacceptable behavior will not be tolerated at ACA meetings and events.

When a physical trait serves to sexually attract one person to another, to start the heart racing and leave one breathless, it is simply our instincts at work to procreate and preserve our species. Had it not been for sexual attraction, the human species would have died out long ago. The problem does not seem to be so much that a physical trait such as breasts, buttocks, blue eyes, or an amputation attracts someone. The problem seems to occur when the person being attracted begins to go outside social norms and permitted behavior to fulfill his or her attraction. Movies such as Play Misty for Me depict the obsessive behavior which moves from legitimate attraction to potentially serious antisocial behavior. President Reagan was shot by a young man obsessed with actress Jodie Foster. Recently, President Clinton has been shown to have an obsessive need for sexual fulfillment, which may have seriously interfered with his ability to govern our country.

A very clear line needs to be defined between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. When a man is attracted to a woman, he must allow her to either accept the attraction on her terms or to reject it for her reasons regardless of its origin or its importance to him. It is immaterial that he is attracted by her eyes, her perfume, her cleavage, or her residual limb. It is immaterial that he or she may never see someone so perfect again. Everyone must understand the meaning of "NO," which may be implied by turning away from eye contact, refusing an offer of a cup of coffee, declining a date, or breaking off an ongoing relationship. No one should feel compelled to participate in ANY activity in which he or she is uncomfortable.

Clearly, different reactions reflect major differences in the people who are interacting. Some of the amputee devotees have much better social skills and are much more interesting and less threatening to talk with. Also, some amputees are in a much more accepting place at a given time and maybe more ready for experiences outside their traditional comfort level. Some of the amputee devotees may have been meeting their first amputee in a social context. Some of the amputees may be in a very vulnerable emotional situation. One ACA member reported being subjected to unwanted attention, voice mails on her phone, and notes slipped under her door at the Chicago meeting. These things left her feeling very vulnerable, hurt, and angry. Certainly, it was not the way to begin a relationship even if she were accepting of the concept.

Of course these differences are not confined to amputees and amputee devotees. All women and men experience attraction, disinterest, readiness, hesitancy, rejection, and acceptance woven throughout their lives. Certainly other people, having nothing to do with amputees and devotees, were experiencing similar interest, rejection, pursuit, and discomfort at hotels and other public places in Chicago that weekend.

Some amputee devotees report a sense of isolation and being "different" in much the same terms that some amputees report. They may feel inept at social relationships because they have not had opportunities to meet amputees in social settings. Some report feeling "struck speechless" at the sight of an amputee in whom they might be interested. Since these chance meetings are often brief, they may never lead to any positive opportunities for real interaction, learning or growth. Some of the amputee devotees characterize themselves as compulsive and may exhibit social ineptness, which is hard for a woman to view as interesting or inviting.

Some of the amputee devotees report that they have tried to identify women who might be potential dates by cruising malls, attending Disability Expos, working with amputee support groups, and as volunteers in rehab settings. Some have found roles in professions such as nursing, medicine, prosthetics, therapy, social work, etc. Others have found support and acceptance in groups such as the one called Fascination, which met simultaneously with the ACA in Chicago. There are numerous successful and happy mariages between amputees and amputee devotees. Unfortunately, in some cases, the amputee was unaware of the special attraction until after the wedding and some have never been informed of it.

Currently, in addition to the organizations that provide social interaction and opportunities, there are at least five vendors of photographs and videotapes of amputees. Of these, four are entrepreneurs, at least three are women who have been to amputee devotees what Hugh Hefner was to men when he started Playboy magazine. They are filling a desire by hiring models who are willing to be photographed and videotaped and selling the images to men who are willing to pay for the material. Though the photos are far less revealing than even the earliest Playboy snapshots, the material has proven very popular with men who have longed for fulfillment of their secret interest in women who are amputees. This seems to be a vast improvement over the past in which women were surreptitiously photographed and the photos sold or exchanged in a clandestine black market.

Since the Garden of Eden sex has been exploited and continues to be used to sell almost every aspect of life. There seems little difference in a male or female amputee exploiting her or his sex appeal than a woman appearing in Penthouse magazine or an ad for beer or an automobile. Some female amputees report that finding a man who considers her stump attractive is reassuring. Some women certainly feel that being objectified in any way is demeaning. Everyone must choose for him or herself how to approach this very personal part of life.

The Internet has allowed a tremendous increase in information exchange for amputee devotees just as it has for all people. There are several web sites specifically designed to fulfill the need for information and materials exchange for amputee devotees. Anyone can search the Internet and find these sites easily.

It seems clear that men and women will always be attracted to each other in physical ways. One of these attractions is for women and men who are missing one or more limbs either through amputation or congenital limb deficiency. Men and women are definitely attracted to this difference just as they might be by other distinguishing physical traits. It is absolutely crucial that any attraction should be expressed in socially acceptable, responsible ways.

Most of us want to be admired and loved. No one wants to be the object of unwanted phone calls, letters, interruptions of their communications on the Internet, or stalking behavior. When an amputee devotee takes surreptitious photographs, follows an amputee around a mall, or otherwise invades the amputee's privacy, it is wrong and often illegal. It seems less important why the amputee devotee feels as he or she does and more important how he or she behaves in daily life.

The mission of the ACA can be summarized as Amputees are empowered by education. The ACA is trying to responsibly inform its members about the issue of amputee devotees and other issues of importance.

The ACA will do its best to make all ACA meetings free of any type of harassment, unwanted photography, and other activities which might lead to any amputee feeling uncomfortable. People learn best and grow most readily in an environment in which they feel safe and secure. The ACA will do its utmost to provide that secure, nurturing environment.

On the subject of amputee devotees, Ellen Winchell, Ph.D., author of "Coping with Limb Loss: A Practical Guide to Living with Amputation for You and Your Family," made the following comment:

"It is vitally important that those with amputations, their families, and the professionals who serve them, become informed as to the existence of "devotees." It can be confusing and traumatic, especially for those adjusting to recent limb loss, to discover individuals who are primarily attracted to them because of their physical disfigurement and resultant disability. Additionally, being actively pursued by a "devotee," when it's clear you don't choose to be the object of that focus, can prove an extraordinarily stressful and threatening experience.

Our sexuality and relationship choices are complex and private matters. My concern is that we all make relationship decisions based upon feeling "whole" as individuals, rather than choosing to enter into a relationship because we feel we are somehow "less than" anyone else and that no one else would desire us as we are. Forearmed with the reality of the devotee phenomenon, you can better decide your own response."

Copyrighted by the Amputee Coalition of America. Local reproduction for use by ACA constituents is permitted as long as this copyright information is included. Organizations or individuals wishing to reprint this article in other publications, including other World Wide Web sites must contact the Amputee Coalition of America for permission to do so.

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