Dawn is something special, but there are more of her kind than one might think. On the Internet, a popular web page celebrating Dawn's particular fetish brands its celebrants devotees, and their devotion takes the form of a sexual obsession with amputees. The scientific term for this fetish is acrotomophilia, but most devotees avoid the medical-establishment tag, objecting to any word ending in "-phile" that might lump them together with the wide array of perverts that populate the alternative-sex newsgroups on the web.

Don, a frequent contributor to Internet discussions of devoteeism, denies that a devotee's odd preoccupation is a sick or perverse fetish. Brushing off a question about his innermost motivation for desiring an amputee partner, he says, "[Devoteeism] is qualitatively the same thing as an attraction toward any other feature of the opposite sex. Ask someone who likes redheads or large breasts why he's particularly turned on by those attributes and you'll get the same answer, 'I don't know.'"

Dr. Robert Pollack, certified by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists and a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia, is able to shed only slightly more light on the roots of a devotee's desire. "Acrotomophiles develop their philia at a very young age, usually pre-pubescent. The thing that turns them on has nothing to do with the whole person; it has to do with the characteristics of amputation. It is the stumps that turn them on. How it occurs we really don't know, but it is probably learned unconsciously and under conditions of great excitement."

More and more, devotees and amputees alike are shelving the question of why allowing the fascination to flourish with mutual benefit. Carol Davis is an amputee who lost her leg to cancer in 1978. Ten years later, she began producing videos of herself and other female amputees after discovering the existence of a large devotee population. The videos are notable for reflecting the comparatively tame tastes of amputee fetishists. She describes her mail-order tapes as containing "absolutely no nudity or pornography of any kind. Although there are some exceptions, I have found that most men who are attracted to amputees just want to see her coping with everyday situations, and nudity is not necessary. Some of our models perform lingerie modeling in their videos, but that is about the extent of what we have done regarding more conventional erotica."

Davis's company, CD productions, has released eight titles in all, featuring six amputee models who swim, dance, climb stairs, ski, vacuum, shop for shoes and, in some scenes, paint their toenails. A double amputee demonstrates how she can walk on her stumps without her prosthesis. Other women pose with peg legs or in one high-heeled shoe, satisfying the particular fantasies of devotee sub-groups. To the non-devotee, Carol Davis's videos seem perfectly lacking in prurient content, but to the fetishist, slice-of-life scenarios capturing a woman on crutches wearing a short mini-skirt with her stump peeking from underneath are compelling erotic entertainment.

A significant hurdle facing the male devotee is the scarcity of female amputees in the general population. There are approximately 2.5 million amputees in the United States, approximately 1 million of whom are female. Whereas most men may see a dozen good-looking women on a walk through the mall, a devotee is lucky to see a female amputee once a month.

Mike, a devotee from California, has overcome this scarcity by getting involved in activities central to the lives of those who have lost their limbs. In addition to working as a ski instructor for amputee skiers, he also volunteered at a local amputee-support group and at the Paralympics. In doing so he has come in contact with at least 1,000 female amputees.

Many amputee-devotee relationships are successful enough to result in marriage.

Donna, 32, became an amputee at age fifteen. After one unsuccessful marriage, Donna met Shawn.

"I already knew Shawn as a friend, and when I found out that he was a devotee, I initiated the relationship because I was very attracted to him. I have always been timid about approaching men because of the amputation, but I knew I wouldn't have much of a problem with Shawn. I consider myself attractive; so I do not think that the missing leg is the only thing that Shawn appreciated about me physically. Most of all, we clicked because our personalities are great for one another. I would not be happy if I felt that the only thing keeping us together was physical attraction. I am the first amputee that Shawn has ever been involved with. He has told me that while he has always been attracted to amputees, it wasn't his only objective in finding a mate."

Echoing the disproportionately small number of female amputees is the lack of female devotees interested in male-amputee partners. As in other fetishes, experts have estimated the ratio of devotees as close to 300 males to every one female. However, according to research on disability and sex, it may be that negative public perception of the male amputee has less effect on him as a potential sex partner for most women. Many women who would not consider themselves devotees are curious to see what sex with an amputee is like. It is common for a male amputee to use his stump as an extension of his penis, often at the encouragement of the female partner.

A person being attracted to amputees may seem odd but mostly harmless. The apotemnophile (or wannabe) leaves a more bizarre impression. A wannabe's obsession goes beyond attraction to the point of wanting to become an amputee himself.

Don is both a devotee and a wannabe. Don's personal history indicates the development of a fascination with amputation at a very early age.

"Around the age of four, I became attracted to people with bandaged limbs. I would bandage my own limbs when I was home alone. At the age of nine my attraction developed toward people with casts. I became a cast wannabe. At the age of 15, I became an amputee wannabe and became attracted to amputees. The attraction toward bandaged limbs has faded away, but today, at 35, I'm still attracted to people with casts and amputations.

"The need to role play as an amputee was much stronger when I was younger. I used to pretend that I was an amputee by tying one leg back so that my foot was secured against my hamstring. I did this sort of thing until my early twenties. I don't have any intentions or any impulses toward taking any kind of action in the direction of becoming an amputee, although I'd probably welcome it if it happened for reasons independent of my will."

Unlike Don, who merely fantasizes about being an amputee, there are some who take that fantasy and make it reality. A woman in Europe wanted to become an above-knee amputee. Already a below-knee amputee, she was able to find a doctor willing to perform the operation to give her the desired length of stump. The surgery went well initially; however, after a week, infection set in and the doctor was forced to amputate her leg at the hip in order to save her life. She now has no stump whatsoever.

In a recent case, a man in Florida who had had enough of his life as a biped picked up a 12-gauge rifle, put the barrel to his left knee and pulled the trigger. The man is now a self-proclaimed happy-go-lucky above-knee amputee.

No responsible surgeon would amputate a limb unless it was medically necessary, but many wannabes compare the mental suffering involved in the conflicted desire for amputation to the pain of a cancer patient or an accident victim cursed with a mangled arm or leg.

Many amputees are angered and disturbed by the existence of apotemnophiles. It is difficult for the victim of cruel tragedy to accept a person who would give up a limb of their own volition. Most amputees would give about anything to have their amputated limbs back. Unfortunately, medical science has yet to find an adequate method of grafting limbs from those who don't want them onto those who do.

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