Hi everyone! Welcome to the A to Z of Sex. I’m Dr Lori Beth and I am your host. We are working our way through the sexual alphabet one letter at a time.
When we reach the end of the alphabet, we will start again. Each time looking at different words and phrases, each time allowing us to expand our knowledge even further. I also write a weekly blog and a monthly newsletter called the A to Z of Sex. Each medium allows me to look at more terms and explore more strategies to increase sexual pleasure and to create that ideal intimate relationship. There is a workshop with the same title too, to help you create your own sexual alphabet.
I invite you to write in with your questions for me or my guests to email@example.com Each week I will make time to answer a question or two.
Today the letter is F and F is for Fetish. Fetish is formally defined as ‘a form of sexual desire in which gratification is linked to an abnormal degree to a particular object, item of clothing or part of the body’. This definition is most appropriate when speaking in terms of psychiatric diagnosis, when a fetish takes over the life of the person who has it or interferes with the ability to have varied sexual relationships.
Currently we use the term fetish a bit more loosely so that it no longer refers to someone only being obsessed with whatever they fetishize but rather when the article, object, activity or body part is high on the person’s list of turn ons.
We often use the term as interchangeable with kinks and these may be preferences rather than obsessions.
A true fetishist must always have their obsession or item present in order to achieve sexual arousal. Most people do not fall into these categories and when they say they have a fetish, they are really talking about a strong preference or desire. So now we tend to define fetish as being aroused by something that is not what arouses the majority of people.
What types of things do people have fetishes about? Almost everything you can think of someone out there has sexual associations attached to it. Fetishes can be time linked or culturally linked. For example, historical anthropologists discovered that Victorian men had an attachment to bare ankles and knees. Not surprising as during this time women were meant to keep their ankles and knees covered. The most popular fetishes centre on body parts like feet, toes, breasts, or bums. Next most popular is centred on items associated with body parts like gloves, boots, and knickers.
How do we develop fetishes? There are a number of theories around how we develop fetishes:
One of the strongest is that of Pavlovian conditioning. Many of you will have learned about Pavlov and his dogs at school. But in case you haven’t, here is a brief recap:
Pavlov was a Russian physiologist and during the 1890’s he was researching salivation in dogs and look at why dogs salivated when presented with food. While doing this research he realised that is dogs began to salivate as soon as he entered the room even when he was not bringing them food. In 1902, he started looking at this further. He began with the idea that there are things that are hard wired that a dog (or a human) does not need to learn, like salivating when presented with food. This is an unconditioned response – a response to a stimulus that does not need to be learned. So food (an unconditioned stimulus) produced salivation (an unconditioned response). He then discovered that any object or event that a dog associated with food would elicit the unconditioned response (salivation). Having noticed this he devoted the rest of his career studying this phenomenon. His most popular experiments were the ones in which he conditioned dogs to respond to the sound of a bell with salivation. He did this by ringing the bell each time food was presented. This is called classical conditioning. That is when you learn to associate an unconditioned stimulus that already brings about a response with a new (conditioned) stimulus so that the new stimulus will bring about the same response.
Back to fetishes: It is thought that some fetishes come about through classical conditioning. A person is already sexually aroused when coming into contact with the new stimulus (a boot, for example) and then responds sexually to the now conditioned stimulus in the future. Many people who have fetishes can tell you about the time they first felt sexually about whatever the stimulus is.
One client I worked with told me his fetish for women’s knickers began when he was 13 and had been fantasising about a girl friend’s breasts which made him very aroused. He went to the laundry hamper to put his clothing in and his sister’s silk knickers were on the top of the pile. He told me they looked so arousing and he touched them. He believes that this was the point at which his fetish for knickers began. Associating his arousal with the feel and sight of women’s knickers.
A second theory is the brain overlap theory. Studies demonstrate that the areas of the brain controlling sexual parts and responses are located next to those controlling other body parts and emotions. The idea is that the overlap causes apparently inappropriate associations because the stimulation moves from one brain area to the one next to it. Cross talk between the foot and genital regions may be why there are so many foot fetishists.
A third theory has to do with states of arousal. When you are in a high state of arousal your disgust response weakens and so things you might normally find repulsive like spit or urine are no longer repulsive. If you enjoy sex in the presence of things that would have otherwise disgusted you, then you are more likely to try it again and this is how the fetish might develop.
The fourth theory has to do with pleasure and pain. Research highlights that sexual pleasure and pain involve the release of many of the same neurotransmitters in the brain. The chemical ties can lead to a person forming an association between pain and pleasure during sex. This also explains things like runner’s high.
In my opinion, theories 1 and 4 are the most likely to apply but I will continue to read the research and that might change my opinion in future.
Most common fetishes at present (not in order)
Foot fetishists often like to touch and lick feet. Some focus on toes, others find themselves focusing on the arch and others the whole foot. There are more male foot fetishists than female ones. Some of them are also turned on by being submissive but many are focused on pretty feet only.
Boot worship is often tied into foot fetishism or BDSM and/or leather sex. Those who fetishize boots as part of a foot fetish will often fetishize high heels. Boot fetishism was described as early as 1868. Boot worship as part of leather sex came out gay male culture in the 1940’s growing out of WWII biker culture. In this case, there are two parts to the fetishizing of the boot – the worship of the leather itself and the sexual response to the Dominant submissive aspect of the worship.
Taking care of leathers is an integral part of this culture and many people who fetishize boots will be drawn to boot blacking which involves the cleaning and caring for the boots and other leathers. If they become very skilful they may have the opportunity to boot black during leather events, thus giving them the opportunity to spend long periods of time worshipping boots.
Some leather fetishists simply adore the feel, smell and texture of leather. Others are part of the leather subculture and so also worship the meaning behind the leather and dominance and submission become an integral part of the worship of leather.
Voyeurism is the gaining of sexual pleasure from the act of watching. The amount of pornography that is viewed on the internet tells us how many people are at least partly turned on by being voyeurs. Dedicated voyeurs will try to find occasions to observe sexual activities in person – looking through peepholes, sometimes peeping into apartments and homes. Mild voyeurism is healthy and enjoyed by a large number of sexually active people. Voyeurism at the other end of the scale can lead to criminal behaviour including breaking into homes in order to hide and watch and stalking.
Some latex fetishists enjoy wearing latex for the feeling – the heat that is built up, the sensation of the latex or rubber, the smell and the way it holds the body in place. Latex is tight to the body and will compress the body in places. It can be amazing fun to wear. Getting it on is often a challenge requiring lots of baby powder and sometimes a non-oil based lubricant. I have no idea how people wear full latex suits – they are far too hot! You have to be comfortable sweating to do that! Other latex fetishists only enjoy other people wearing the latex, looking at them, touching them, but not wearing latex themselves.
Body piercing and Tattooing: I put these in the same category because sometimes they go together. They are both methods of body modification and many engage in them for spiritual purposes rather than sexual ones. However there are quite a few people who get sexually aroused when being pierced or tattooed and lots of temporary piercing is done for sexual arousal. There are also many people who are turned on by people who have lots of piercings and tattoos.
BDSM: Like many things on this list, this is not strictly a fetish. It is a sexual preference or a kink It stands for Bondage Discipline Sadism Masochism. It also includes Dominance and Submission. I will do more than one show on the various aspects of BDSM in the future. Briefly people who are aroused by bondage enjoy being restrained or restraining others. Frequently rope is used but people use chains, bondage tape, clothing (stockings are most popular). People who are aroused by discipline are aroused by being disciplined (stood in a corner, spanked, being told off) or by disciplining others. People who are aroused by sadism enjoy hurting others (not always physically. There are many who enjoy psychologically hurting others). People who are aroused by masochism enjoy being hurt. An integral part of these types of sexual activities for many people is a consensual exchange of power. This means that an agreement is made that one person is dominant (in charge) and the others is submissive. This power exchange can be short term, for the duration of the sexual activity or it can be longer term. It can be a partial power exchange – for example only relating to the actual sexual play – or a total power exchange where one person agrees that the other person will be in charge of the whole of his life. And there are so many grey areas in between – far more than 50.
Breast fetishists are some of the most common. Many men and women focus on the breasts – spending lots of time looking at breasts, touching breasts and sucking on breasts. There are those who are turned on by breast feeding women and will seek to find lactating women to become sexually involved with. Some women who are breast fetishists have multiple surgeries to make their breasts look exactly like what they fantasise.
Again there are many who fetishize asses. Some like to look at them, touch them and sexually worship them. Others spend lots of money trying to create the perfect bum.
Many people see hair, particularly head hair, as extremely erotic and sexually arousing. Red hair is the most common colour to be fetishized. Some are turned on by long hair, others short. Some by curly and others by straight. Some suggest that the reason that a woman’s hair is required to be covered in Old Testament religions is because the erotic power of hair is recognised and so the hair is kept for the husband’s eyes only and also kept covered so that the sight of the hair does not enflame men and encourage them to stray or sin. Some people fetishize facial hair, under arm hair, chest hair, and leg hair as well. Though by far the most common is head hair.
In cross dressing, a person dresses as a gender different from his/her biological gender. Cross dressing is not linked to identifying as transgender. The cross dressing I am referring to is done for the purposes of sexual excitation. Some cross dressers simply wear the other gender’s underwear under gender appropriate clothing and will enjoy arousal as a result throughout the day.
The internet has made it much easier for people with specific fetishes to find others who share their desires and to be able to create healthy sexual relationships. There is still the fear of telling a prospective partner about your desires when partners are met off line or outside of an online fetish community.
George wrote in and asked ‘Are fetishes dangerous or addictive?’ Fetishes are only dangerous in two instances:
When you cannot achieve sexual satisfaction without the fetish object
When the fetish itself has a high risk (like asphyxia where a person is aroused by choking or having his air and breathing restricted).
If you are unable to reach orgasm without the fetish activity or object, it is worth pursuing some help to be able to help you to expand your range and make it easier to come even without the fetish object or fantasy of the fetish object.
If your fetish is something that is potentially dangerous, please make sure that you become educated so that you lower the risk as far as you can.
If your desires are interfering with the rest of your life, that is also the time to talk to a professional who can help you to bring things into balance.
We only covered a small number of fetishes and kinks this week. We will cover individual ones in detail throughout this series. Here are two of my favourite quotes relating to fetishes:
“S&M is as psychological as it is physical and sexual, Zach. Imagine being as deep inside a woman’s mind as you are inside her body.”
“I have a fetish for damsels in distress.”
“Don’t be sexist.”
“Not at all. My services are also available to gentlemen in distress. It’s an equal opportunity fetish.”
Thanks for joining me this week for the A to Z of Sex Write in with your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and visit both websites www.atozofsex.com and www.the-intimacy-coach.com to learn about alternative sexual choices, types of sexual relationships and to learn to sizzle and create that ideal lasting intimate relationship. For a free 30 minute session with me, head over to www.atozofsex.com and click on the button that says ‘book now’.