In general culture, we toss around the word “fetish” quite haphazardly. You may have referred to shopping as a fetish because you enjoy it so much. Or you may have a friend who uses the word when she simply means she finds something arousing. The term is sometimes used to refer to any activity or item that people enjoy during sex and masturbation, but it’s often used incorrectly.
WHAT IS A FETISH, ANYWAY?
What a fetish is defined as in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, is a sexual interest in an object, excluding objects specifically designed for genital stimulation (read more about sex toys here). In several editions of the DSM, fetishes were listed separately from sexual obsession with specific body parts, such as feet. However, the DSM now includes both body parts and objects as possible fetishes.
This more strict definition differs from laymen’s usage, which typically refers to fetishistic behavior that isn’t necessarily a fetish or paraphilias, which are sexual compulsions toward specific activities. For example, a foot fetish is technically an incorrect definition of what a fetish is according to some medical manuals, and it would more correctly be called “partialism” or simply fetishistic. However, feet can play into a shoe fetish.
Fetishism can even vary between men and women, with men using an object fetish as a way of maintaining control and feeling reassured about their masculinity. By projecting sexual desire upon an object, males who have a fear of intimacy with actual partners can protect themselves from possible rejection or humiliation. More men have legitimate fetishes than women, who are more likely to simply display fetishistic behaviors.
WHAT IS A FETISH CAUSED BY?
There are several theories as to what can cause a fetish. Some people think fetishes stem from childhood. If there was an object or activity that became associated with masturbation or arousal, it could become a fetish for an adult. For example, if you watched BDSM porn with leather-clad dommes when you were younger, you might find yourself simply become aroused by leather in the future.
Another theory revolves around children who transfer feelings of unrequited love from their parents onto an object, resulting in a fetish. This is closely related to displacement in psychology.
The cause of some fetishes may be brain chemistry, which is invisible to the human eye and even difficult for scientists and doctors to understand. Some researchers believe that the reason why the foot fetish is so common is because of the areas in the brain that coincide with the genitals and feet are adjacent, and the wires get crossed. Read more about the fetish for feet here.
Sexual obsession with feet could lead to an actual fetish of footwear or stockings. Interacting or even seeing shoes may arouse or may even be necessary for a person to become aroused and orgasm. In fact, some fetishes are so specific that it’s the type of material (think leather or silk) that matters, while others only focus on the object itself.
There doesn’t even need to be sexual contact for their to be a fetish involved. Fetishists may rub, sniff or otherwise handle their fetish object while masturbating. Some fetishists will also use the object to aid in masturbation or sex.
WHAT ARE SOME COMMON FETISHES?
Now what you know the how and why of fetishes, let’s down to some of the most common fetishes, fetishistic behaviors and paraphilias!
- Shoes and boots
- Feet and/or hands
- Hosiery including thigh highs and nylons
- Lingerie excluding hosiery
- Leather and latex, which is great for your BDSM scenes
- Disabilities (either physical or mental), medical conditions and transgender people
- Bodily fluids
- Furniture such as desks
- Dominance and submission – learn how to be submissive
- Sadism and masochism
- Piercings and tattoos
- Braids and ponytails
- Masks and blindfolds, which are great for bondage
- Voyeurism and exhibitionism
- Acting and dressing like a baby
- Smells (the type of cologne your ex wore)
- Making people cry
- Dressing and acting as animals (IE “furry” culture)
- Biting – read all about sensual biting
- Cars and related accessories
This list could go on indefinitely. If an object exists, there’s probably someone who has a fetish for it, no matter how weird it may seem to you. However, having a fetish or similar tendencies is more normal than you might think, and specific paraphilias, such as the foot fetish, are quite common.
WHEN DOES A FETISH BECOME A PROBLEM?
For the most part, you can engage in fetishistic behavior without negative effects. Just think of how many people are aroused by a pair of sky-high heels or lingerie (read our guide to choosing lingerie). What is a fetish that’s a bad thing? The DSM categorizes a fetish as a disorder only when it becomes the primary source of sexual satisfaction, disrupts regular sexual intercourse and causes distress. However, this is the case for less than 1% of the population.
If your fetish has become problematic, you may want to see psychiatric help with a qualified doctor. Several types of therapy have proven effective at treating fetishism when is becomes a disorder, and medication can help, too.
For 99% of people who display some sort of fetishistic tendencies, their best bet is to find a partner who is willing to experiment with them! Because talking about your fetishes can be difficult, we recommend you read this post about sexual communication. If you’re here because your partner has revealed his fetish to you, cut him some slack. He’s likely been feeling guilty and wants to be honest with you.
For some people, the fact that they have a sexual association with an object leads to guilt as well as arousal. This repeated cycle can turn what was once more casual arousal at the sight of an object into a legitimate fetish, so you cut yourself some slack. Don’t think about what’s wrong with a fetish. Instead, focus on what a fetish is good for – amazing sex and steamy fantasies!
Open communication about fetishes and other sexual desires can lead to a more fulfilling sex life and a deeper bond with your man. If you refuse to talk or either of you makes the other feel bad for having a fetish or paraphilia, it can breed resentment and break down your relationship. As long as the request is legal and consensual, consider giving it a try. The resulting sex may be the stuff of dreams that opens doors, but you’ll never know if you don’t try!