by Randall S. Frederick
Fetishism – Every fetish is an attempt to glorify a “totem” or object of focus. Shoe fetishes are a sexual fixation on shoes or a type/shape of shoe, for example. Fetishism can be anything, really. Or at least anything that can be sexualized. Your fetish may, generally, be someone who is overweight just as easily as specifically a stick-thin Russian model over the age of 30 but below 40 with hair dyed green and cut into a bob. Typically though, fetishism is a fixation on a thing, not a human or body type. And it is not just an “unhealthy” or “obsessive” fixation – the sexual component is what sets it apart and gives it significance as a sexual object. Clinically speaking, a festishist is someone who cannot be aroused without the fetish item, or totem. A fetish is the translocation of desire, fixating on the object so intensely that it becomes the catalyst for desire simply by seeing, smelling, or hearing it in a Pavlovian response.
This is a marketer’s (pardon the pun) wet dream. Once you are able to locate or create a fetish, you have a built-in consumer base who can’t get enough of your product. Companies like Carl’s Jr., for instance, blur the lines in marketing by creating an arousal response (through large breasted models) for burgers in their commercials. Whether they are successful in this is an amusing question to entertain, but their burgers are not very good and their business continues to grow. You figure it out.
I mention the efforts of Carl’s Jr. because so much of understanding fetishism is the complementary nature of it – the translocation or “otherness” of desire from another human (which is considered typical) to an object. Depending on the degree of fixation, a fetish may not require a complementary component (or human). We are speaking here of the human element. A shoe, even to someone who has a shoe fetish, is still a shoe. It has utilitarian functions. It may even be well designed and an appealing statement in fashion. Most fetishists who fixate on shoes still require someone to wear the shoe. But there are instances where that is not true – in rare instances, some festishists are only able to able to become aroused by the presence of the totem.
Let me personalize this. I have something of a “sweater fetish.” A woman in a sweater will catch my eye, especially if it is a sweater that extends to the knees as a sweater dress. I’ve always thought this was because I was aware of sexuality at an early age, during the 1980’s when sweater dresses were very popular and worn by singers like Madonna, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, and actress Molly Ringwald.
Many sex therapists continue to believe, as Freud and Jung did, that sexual fixation is derived from prior experience or exposure. None of our desires truly exist apart from the context of our lives, or appear without reason. Studies of fetishism were done by Alfred Binet in 1891 where he theorized that fetishes were acquired through association. A boy who experiences an erection at the moment he sees a an adult step out of the shower will, from then on, associate the two as being related – the erection and the shower or drenched nakedness. It is rare that water alone, or the sound of a shower alone, will be able to elicit the intensity of sexual response necessary to achieve orgasm, but rare does not mean impossible.
Later studies following those of Freud and Binet have shown that women are less likely to be fetishists because there is “not a conspicuous signal of arousal,” though women have been more willing to admit fetishism than men. If this seems a curious discrepancy or a failure of self-reporting, we might look to the fluency with which women talk about sex and the reluctance of men to explain and contextualize their sexual behavior. Men typically “just want it” and, fearing some deficit in how their masculinity is perceived, are less likely to admit dependence on the totem of a fetish. But I would suggest that those who are able to recognize their desires are at a greater advantage overall because they are more able and presumably more conscious of how to communicate those desires to any relational partners they might have. Which is to say, although clown makeup and balloons are nowhere close to my own interests, I would be willing to entertain them in a sexual activity if my partner communicated them to me. I’m sure the same holds true for most people on many fetishes, so I encourage you to recognize and communicate these things with your partners as they come to mind.
Erotic Extremities – Anyone who has freeze-framed a Ryan Gosling movie just to take a long, hard look at his abs has already begun to dabble with erotic extremities. When fetishes are localized to the human body – say, a foot fetish, or acrotomophilia (sexual interest in amputees), you have an example of an erotic extremity. A physical extremity – a foot, the color of hair or, freckles, fantasies about someone based on race – that is infused with fetishistic attributes falls under this category. Most of these fall under partner preferences, but the degree of fixation may move the preference into the realm of erotic extremity and that’s more common than we might admit. For straight men, the most commonly talked about are butts and breasts. Dan Scotti, summarizing a rather old study on physical preferences, provides good insights.
If you live and die by a pair of big boobs, you also probably read a lot of sports magazines. Which, more or less, shocks nobody. In the study at hand, a large breast preference was correlated highly with a need for exhibitionism. In other words, dudes who call themselves “breast men,” and favor women who are well endowed upstairs, are also usually the ones roaming around the room figuring out ways to become the center of attention.
Independence is key for the “breast-man,” which is ironic considering the object of their desire (almost always) comes in pairs of two. Nevertheless, in social situations, these types of guys usually have no problem exchanging witty banter and holding their own, by themselves… Men from upper-class families generally share a taste in smaller physiques… Small breasts, and small bodies in general, have always been flaunted by models in the high-fashion industry – so this could play a factor in their vision of beauty.
As stated in the study conducted by Wiggins et. al, “preference for the very large buttocks was characterized by a need for order (neatness, organization, orderliness).” As you can tell, these types of men don’t seem to appreciate “half-assing” things. “Ass-men” also tended to work at business-related jobs, which coincides with their high value of structure in their lives. The need for large buttocks was also highly related to an overall need for achievement, as well.
In a separate study published in Men’s Health, the reason some men are anal about assplay lies within its dirty nature. According to Eric M. Garrison, a sex expert and author of Mastering Multiple Position Sex, “we’re not allowed to go there. And when it comes to sex, there’s something animalistic and dirty about mounting from the rear.” It’s also important to keep in mind your own environmental factors. For instance, where you grow up, personally, also has an effect on what your preference in [sexual partners] will be. In line with Eaves, 59 percent of men from Argentina favor the ass while, in Britain, nobody really gives a sh*t about them – no pun intended.
I think Scotti is a bit too “cheeky” with his presentation of the data, but his summary is very good at condensing the information. Apart from what we are focusing on, there is always a psychological or personal component that explains why we “like what we like” and “want what we want.” I have yet to meet someone or read a study where a kink existed fully-formed with no context. In other words, no one is born kinky. Our kinks, like rivers and streams, will find a way and develop a course which links up the entire psychosexual response of the body for arousal.
Dressing/Costuming for Pleasure – The cheap thing to talk about is costumes in the traditional sense. Cosplay can be very arousing because we are adopting new identities and powers. But, as I said in a previous post for this series, many of these kinks appear in our daily lives.
Think of the last week. How did you feel about yourself when you threw on your tennis shoes and jogging shorts? Fix that memory in your mind. Where you were. How you felt. Why you picked those articles out, and not the shirt next to it in the closet.
Now, having that idea fixed in your mind, think about the ritual of getting dressed for work. The way your buttons felt in your fingers. The tightening of the laces on your dress shoes. The color of those shoes. The way your necklace hung, gently touching your neckline and chest. Which one made you feel powerful?
I’m a big advocate for fashion. Love it. Little secret: I love flipping through fashion magazines. I imagine many people do – the brief and fleeting fantasy of wearing a well cut and well designed piece of clothing is stimulates the imagination. Dressing rooms all across the world today were filled with people who enjoyed the slip of fibers against their skin. Some admitted it was an erotic experience. And of those individuals, some bought those articles of clothing because of the way it made them feel – powerful, courageous, sexy.
Erotic experiences with garments goes back a long way, but in the Nineteenth Century, researchers began to catalogue a high number of individuals who eroticized satin, silk, fur, hair (like pigtails or beards), rubber, linen, etc. The materials differed, but so did how they were cut. Panties, skirts, a “man in a uniform”, aprons, gloves – all of these are popular and have been for decades, even centuries. Whenever movies depict someone in a BDSM dungeon dressed up in leather pants, or a vinyl suit, whenever you see a camera focus on someone’s undergarments, you’re getting glimpses into the wide variety of this kind of kink.
Gender Play – There are times when traditional gender roles can be turned around for pretty profound effect. I’ve been writing generally, and suppose I need to insert a personal anecdote.
In 2010, the woman I was dating had started to communicate that she wanted to settle down and get married. My family, at the time, owned a resale store in Louisiana and we visited. Coincidentally, she wanted to try on a wedding dress that was in the store and that was the last road trip we ever took before we broke up. Before all of that, though, I had found two superhero capes at a thrift store and wanted us to roleplay with them in the bedroom. She declined, saying it was “too weird.” She was very vanilla, at least for me, and in a moment of what I can only call desperation, I asked what it was she wanted in our sex life. Missionary and kids and that’s it? It was very evident we were not on the same page. Especially when I said I wanted to explore things. Because we were young and had been raised in a pretty religious town, her first thought was that I was gay. “Explore” always meant someone was gay. Only gays “explored” their sexuality. I was kind of taken aback, especially given how well I thought she knew me. To my surprise, I blurted out, “Well no, but it would be nice if I could be the girl sometimes!”
I’m not sure what I meant by that at that moment. I’ve had several years to think about it, and it seems both true to who I am and also very strange given. Later, I told a therapist I think I just meant I wanted to be desired. Taken. Loved. I wanted things that I was not getting and knew, somewhere in there, that I would never get in that relationship. I’ve shared that story dozens of times over the years, not because I think it’s particularly important to me, but because it makes for a good anecdote when discussing gender play in the bedroom. Very often, it is about the sex. But sometimes playing with gender in the bedroom is about emotional and mental reassurance or something deeply personal. As Mathew Isaac of the Albers School of Business at Seattle University notes,
I think the bottom line is, one’s gender, for many people, tends to be a very important part of their identity. And we know that when something is an important part of their identity, they go to great lengths to preserve that because it’s so meaningful as to who they are and how they define themselves… [Men] might be more attuned to this and try to make sure that they are projecting their masculine identity.
Once they find themselves in a safe and committed relationship though, men are more likely to drop the projections and show who they really are. We all are – it’s one of the greatest benefits of a relationship. And, yes. Sometimes, guys want to be dressed up like a woman, degraded and emasculated. I think that’s great too. It can even be a beautiful thing, with the right partner. Sometimes we’re just horny and are down for anything. But sometimes, like I did, men just want to be desired – to defy the cultural norms they were presented growing up where they had to “be a man” and get in touch with other parts of who they are.
I have a pink pair of pants that I absolutely love. I have another pair that are canary yellow. I like wearing colorful scarves – because they look nice and accurate an otherwise colorless ensemble. But I’ll be damned if everytime I wear them, someone doesn’t smirk at me and say, “Those aren’t very manly colors, are they?” My mother has said she “feels uncomfortable” when I wear them. My dad has laughed at me and said I “look like a damn queer.” But I still love those pants and what they signify to me when I wear them. They are about accepting who I am as much as rejecting those cultural norms about how men are supposed to dress and act. How much more profound and intense are those feelings in the bedroom? Or, in many scenarios, what if the bedroom is the only place they are “allowed” to get in touch with their opposite-gendered side?
The same is true for women. I am always fielding questions from women who want to know how to introduce the idea of pegging, topping, or other forms of gender-based kink to their sexual partners. What stands out to me each time is how intensely these women want to “be the man” or, what I would say is, tap into their masculine energy. To desire fiercely. To consume. To pursue. To be forceful in ways “good girls” aren’t allowed to.
Body Fluids – Naturally, this is something that needs to be addressed because it is a very scary kink for people unfamiliar with the world of kink. After all, your sexual play involves… pee and poop? Whaaat?! Well, for many individuals these activities are extreme, I’ll admit. They are not statistically prevalent in practical sexual repertoire.
But… what about kissing your partner’s buttocks? The thought of cupping or kissing a butt is very enjoyable to me – as it is for many people. So, if we begin there, we can start to ratchet it up. How far does that “appreciation” go exactly? We might want to touch a butt, but are we willing to place our hand in a lover’s crack? Touch their anus? Kiss it? Lick it? Insert a finger? Smell our fingers after that? Taste them?
One of my favorite things to talk about in the world of kink is this idea of stages or steps. No one jumps in, feet first, to vinyl suits and collars and husky Russian voices with whips. Instead, every sexual act is part of a scale, a spectrum, a degree and if you find that you are okay with touching a butt but not kissing it? That’s fucking awesome! Good for you that you know your limits! Never go any further with a sexual act than you are capable. Never. Yes, learn and grow, but once you know where you want to stop, it is perfectly and 100% okay to stop right there and go no further.
Okay, getting back to this.
When I was very, very young I remember my parents laughing about something on the news. Apparently, Prince Charles had written a love letter to then-mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles where he said he wished he was a tampon so he could be inside of her and absorb her most intimate fluids. It seemed strange but, once I got older and understood what it was he was saying, I could appreciate his intentions. He wanted to express the depth of his devotion for her, the lengths to which he would go and serve her if only she would allow him. That same thought process makes water sports and fecal play more sensible to me – not some gross, weird, kinky thing that only “freaks” and “sickos” participate in. It shows me, in turns, the masochistic devotion of lovers or the mental terrain of an individual who enjoys being degraded and “forced” to consume another’s bodily fluids.
Or maybe there’s nothing forceful about it at all. Many individuals have a lactating fetish. Many enjoy peeing on a partner as a means of “marking their territory.” Some of my best lesbian friends have told me “war paint” (using menses to draw on a partner) can be a very intimate experience for them.
Though, there are (as should be obvious) some pretty strong precautions to be had here. Ingesting the waste of another human can present an immediate danger to your health and there are no circumstances where I can support doing so – not to prove your submission, devotion, or even “because you like the taste.” Though having said that, I can understand how the compulsion to prostrate yourself or be degraded while aroused can overwhelm your decision-making processes.
There are many exciting opportunities in the world of kink and BDSM, so if it wasn’t covered here, feel free to let me know by commenting, emailing, or sending a message through social media!
- Continued from Part 1: Lessons of BDSM
- Continued from Part 2: Genres of BDSM
- Continued from Part 3: “Will it Hurt?”