On the Science of Changing Sex

Why not take part of me?

Posted in Transsexual Theory by Kay Brown on January 27, 2011

narcissus♫…Take my arms… I’ll never use them…♫

As I had discussed earlier, autogynephilia is a phenomena, not a theory… but has been theorized to be caused by Erotic Target Location Error.  If this theory is true, it predicts that men who are both gynephilically attracted to female amputees and have a deep desire to have a limb, such an arm or leg, removed to be like their erotic target, would also be likely to want to be female and have other autogynephilic arousal patterns.  In one of the few studies to test this prediction, we see exactly that, as described by Lawrence:

Recently, First (2005) used semistructured telephone interviews to survey 52 persons who had expressed a wish to become an amputee or who had succeeded in doing so. About two thirds of participants were recruited from Internet discussion groups and about one third from referrals by other participants. Forty-seven (90%) participants were male, 4 (8%) were female, and 1 was intersexed and raised as a male; 32 (62%) participants reported that they were heterosexual and the remainder reported that they were homosexual or bisexual. First (2005) noted that the high proportion of nonheterosexual participants was “partly explained by the fact that nine of the subjects were referred to the study by one subject who was himself homosexual, eight of whom were also homosexual” (p. 921). Nine (17%) participants had undergone a major limb amputation. Forty-eight (92%) participants had pretended to be an amputee and 45 (87%) acknowledged sexual attraction to amputees. Fifteen (29%) participants reported other paraphilic interests, including 8 (15%) with transvestic fetishism. Ten (19%) participants reported they had sometimes wished to be the opposite sex or felt that they were in the body of the wrong sex; of these, 7 (13%) participants had crossed-dressed, not including the 8 participants who had cross-dressed in connection with transvestic fetishism. Six (12%) participants had considered sex reassignment and 1 (2%) had undergone sex reassignment.

How likely are we to find in any random group of only 52 people, a post-op transsexual and six more that have thought about it?  How about finding 15% who report erotic arousal to cross-dressing?  And add to 13% more that cross-dress and experience some gender dysphoria?  Looking at the above description, at least 15 of the 52 showed some level of gender dysphoria.  Though we can’t tell from the paragraph, I’d predict that all 15 (possibly 18) were heterosexual, which if true, would mean that 15 out of 32  people (47%) reported gender dysphoria or autogynephilic arousal.  But, at the very least, 15 out of 52 “wannabe” people (29%) reported such.

So, Erotic Target Location Error theory’s prediction that “wannabes” will also be more likely to be autogynephilic and gender dysphoric than would be expected by random chance, is very strongly supported.  Thus, the theory of Erotic Target Location Errors explaining autogynephilia is also supported by the data.

Addendum 3/3/2014:

Some researchers have suggested that “wannabes” are suffering from a disorder akin to somatoparaphrenia, where people deny ownership of a paralysed limb.  Somatoparaphrenia can be treated using a technique in which caloric vestibular stimulation (CVS), involving pouring cold water into the ear canal induces sensations in the brain. The flow of water induces an illusion of motion, and is thought to stimulate regions of the brain that create a mental map of the body.  The hypothesis is that the parts of the brain that form the somatosensory map of the limb that the individual wishes to have removed is somehow disordered in a similar manner as somatoparaphrenia.  If CVS works to relieve the desire for limb amputation, this would contradict the very strong evidence that “wannabeism” is an erotic target location error.  A recent paper showed that CVS does NOT reduce the desire, supporting the paraphilic hypothesis and not supporting the somatoparaphrenic hypothesis.


Lawrence, A., “Clinical and Theoretical Parallels Between Desire for Limb
Amputation and Gender Identity Disorder”

Leggenhager, B. et al., “Vestibular stimulation does not diminish the desire for amputation”


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