Sex goes deeper than penetration, with definitions varying from person to person. And while we are gradually overcoming the taboo around exploring our sexuality, there’s often shame or guilt associated with feeling anything other than what’s considered ‘socially acceptable.’ This is where kinks and fetishes enter the chat. “If the sensation of a feather tickling your skin is pleasurable, you’re normal; but if you like the sensation of a leather paddle striking your butt skin, you’re not. If you’re a man who has a thing for women’s breasts, it’s totally okay but if you have a thing for women’s feet, you’re considered abnormal because our society deems breasts to be sexual parts of the body as portrayed in films and item songs, but not feet. Simply put, what’s considered sexually normal or sexually abnormal is a social construct,” says Pallavi Barnwal, a certified Intimacy Coach and founder of GetIntimacy.com.
Humans are incredibly complex psychological creatures with varied sexual preferences and while this in no way is an argument in favour of the damaging sexual actions that can cause harm to unwilling people, there is a need for a conversation acknowledging and understanding these ‘deviant’ impulses. We got in touch with two experts to spill the beans on all things fetish:
All Your Questions About Having A Fetish, Answered
What Is A Fetish And How Is It Different From A Kink And Fantasy?
Dr Sakshi Tickoo, Occupational Therapist, Sexuality Counselor, Author of SexCare and Founder of Sex, Love, And OT says, “Kink was originally considered as a sexual deviation from the general social norm. However, as medicine advanced, we understood human psychology and sexual behaviours better to make sense of what kinks are and what does it include. To keep it simple, kink is an umbrella term that is used to define a person’s sexual taste or preferences. This could include role-playing, choking, sensory deprivation, anal sex, dirty talk, BDSM, and more. Fetish falls under the big umbrella of kinks. Fetishes can be better understood as what’s required for a person in order to get aroused. They usually are specific to an object or body part such as feet, toes, hands, lingerie, boots, leather or nylon, etc. Others may develop a liking for a particular lifestyle or acts that allow them to live out their fetish or interest in erotic sexual play such as bondage and ropework, rape fetishism, spanking, etc.”
“Fantasies on the other hand are sexual thoughts or imaginations that lead to mental arousal which further leads to physical or sexual arousal,” Pallavi points out. “For example, a lot of men have fantasies of seeing their partner making love to another person. The difference with fantasy is there is no desire to turn it into actual reality, considering the logistics and risk involved. So a person most often is content with imagination and has no desire to turn it into an actual act.”
Kinds Of Fetishes
“Some of the most common fetishes include body parts and objects related to the body including feet (podophilia), body fluids (urine, blood, faeces, etc.), body size, clothing related to legs and buttocks, and footwear. Some other common fetishes include ropework, erotic asphyxiation (choking, mouth gag, etc.) and other sensory play, pictophilia (sexual arousal by watching porn or looking at pornographic images), swinging (consenting partners indulge in sex with another group of partners or individual), katoptronophilia (having sex in front of a mirror), Agalmatophilia (fetish of getting sexual arousal from mannequins, statues and/or dolls), sadism (arousal to physical pain),” Sakshi reveals.
“Some unusual ones include urethral sounding (arousal by inserting a toy into the urethra), objectum sexualis (a sexual fetish for inanimate objects), electrostimulation (a subset of sensation play), consensual voyeurism (watching someone undress, have sex or pleasure themselves with their consent), macrophilia (a fetish for giants and giantesses), zoophilia (sexual arousal from animals), formicophilia (sexual arousal from insects) among many others.”
How Are Fetishes Formed?
“There are many plausible theories,” Sakshi explains,
” 1. Signals Crossing Theory: Our senses are mapped at specific locations in the brain that correlate to specific locations on the body. The part of the brain that is triggered when the genitals are stimulated is adjacent to the part of the brain that is mapped to the feet. It is theorized that some people may have an overlap in neurons in these areas, meaning that feet can cause sexual arousal in a person. This may also be the reason why foot fetishes are so popular.
2. Early Childhood Imprinting: According to this theory, early childhood experiences are reflected in the fetishes that are present in adulthood. Within this, there are two proposed theories: the conditioning and the trauma theory. The conditioning model (think Pavlov’s experiment) theorises that fetishes develop when a stimulus is paired with sexual thoughts or behaviour. One of the studies showed that cishet men could be conditioned to have erections from traditionally non-sexual stimuli (eg: types of clothing) if they were first paired with sexually explicit photographs. However, this evidence should be taken with a grain of salt due to smaller sample sizes and a lack of control conditions. The trauma model is based on the idea that fetishes are rooted in either emotionally or physically traumatic experiences in childhood or adolescence. This also includes unresolved emotions from childhood or growing up in sexually restrictive households.
3. The Aesthetic Or Gross-Out Theory: From an evolutionary perspective, disgust is conceptualised as a disease avoidance mechanism. One of its three functional domains includes sexual disgust which may prevent one from approaching a certain kind of partner(s) or from doing something sexually. However, when one is in a heightened state of sexual arousal, the neurotransmitters released (serotonin and endorphins) in our body create a natural high weakening this disgust impulse. And so, if you found something disgusting or repulsive normally may not seem gross when you are sexually aroused. Sometimes this thrill or change of perception might also want people to include more of these fetishes or incorporate newer or different things.
4. The Pain Theory: Both pain and sexual pleasure release similar neurotransmitters in the body that can increase a person’s pain sensitivity threshold and heighten other sensations in the body. This is why pain and kink have been inextricably linked which can include power and control dynamics and other forms of pseudo-violence.
5. Personality and Preferences: Just like with food, people can have different sexual tastes with no concrete reason behind them. Some may happen to like a sensation, object, or act and find it pleasurable and want to continue using it in a sexual way. Some personality traits like dominance, submission, control, altruism, and openness to experience can also dictate how people form and pursue their fetishes.”
How To Identify If You Have A Fetish?
The spectrum of fetish is vast and diverse. One’s deviant behaviour could be another’s normal. “The general idea is if you feel attracted to something that is typically considered non-sexual and you need it to be present to be aroused it can be classified as a fetish. Culturally, this does not include sexual organs like breasts or genitals. When we talk about sexual fluidity, who is to say what should be sexually normal or abnormal? You do not have to live up to social sexual norms. Feel free to pursue your pleasure as long as it doesn’t hurt you, the people around you, and your partner(s),” Sakshi shares, “The easiest way to determine if you have a fetish is by considering the needs of your sensory system and the things that lure you sexually which may turn others off. This could include body hair, sweat, wearing heels, trying new outfits, loud moaning, dolls or other inanimate objects, outfit or role play, certain sexual toys, using latex or leather outfits, and more. There is no conclusive way to identify it because there is a fetish out there for just about everything.”
When Can It Become A Reason To Worry?
Having a fetish is no reason to worry, but how one fulfils these desires decides whether it is healthy or not. If a fetish is causing distress, affecting your life negatively, has a possibility to harm you or others, involves non-consenting of partners, and interrupts your daily occupations—it is a sign to reach out to a healthcare professional.
Expanding further on communicating your fetishes to your partner, Sakshi says “It is always better to explore and understand your fetish in a solo encounter without the pressure of explaining things to your partner(s). What do you like, how do you like it to be done safely, are there any possible dangers to be aware of, where can you do it, etc. Once you know the answer to these questions and have a better understanding of your fetishes, take the step of communicating with your partner(s). Remember, your partner(s) do not have to share the same fetish for you to have a pleasurable sex life. It is a possibility that may not share the same interests as you hence explicit communication should be your top priority for exploring fetishes safely. Another activity to safely explore fetishes is by creating a Yes-Maybe-No list. You and your partner(s) can individually list down acts that you will do, won’t do, or might consider doing it. Exchange the results and try to figure out a middle ground to create a creative, sexual space for all of you.”
“Often when people first allow themselves to enjoy their fetish, they can feel like a little kid in a candy shop and become quite excited but it certainly doesn’t get worse and leads to depravity as some people might fear. This argument is no different than the assumption that if you take one drink and you will become an alcoholic: most people manage their pleasures without compulsion or addiction,” Pallavi concludes.
We also wrote about the difference between PCOS and PCOD, check it out.