The Oxford English Dictionary defines a fetish as: a form of sexual desire in which gratification is linked to an abnormal degree to a particular object, item of clothing, part of the body, etc. It also defines a fetish as an inanimate object worshiped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit. And a third definition is: a course of action to which one has an excessive and irrational commitment.
All three of these definitions are interlinked. Ancient pagans used to have little statues of their gods/goddesses that they would use in ritual ceremonies or as the physical embodiment of their deities. In fact the definition of “deity” from the same source includes: a representation of a god or goddess, such as a statue or carving. In fertility rituals they might use the fetish along with sexual acts to summon, communicate with or become possessed by their deities.
So you can see how these words might have become linked with the current commonly accepted definition of a sexual fetish over the centuries.
Now, what exactly is meant by “an abnormal degree”? Simply put it means that a person needs the object or action to become aroused or to achieve orgasm. This isn’t entirely true though. The American Psychological Association has been attempting to understand exactly what a fetish is, how it affects the people who have them and even how to define a fetish in a way that’s generally useful to the profession. They aren’t having a great deal of luck. Most learned psychologists who study this phenomenon don’t agree with each other very much even over the definition.
Some fetishists don’t actually need the object or action of their desire to achieve orgasm or arousal, some do. One thing the experts do agree on, however, is that as long as a fetish isn’t harming anyone, involves consenting adults and doesn’t impact their lives negatively it doesn’t need treatment. This confusion as well as the general media’s habit of treating fetishism as something of a joke can lead people to be embarrassed by their desires. To avoid communicating about them with their sexual partners, friends or local support group.
My friend, H., has a fetish; she likes to be spanked. This is actually quite common and there is some indication that there is a physiological component to the desire as the nerves that pass through the gluteal muscles can interact with those that service the pudenda. H. describes being spanked in a certain area of her butt as feeling as though her clitoris was being manipulated. Many people with fetishes that involve the legs or feet describe tickling, caressing or striking much the same way and we know that the sciatic nerve, which is the main trunk nerve for the legs, can interact with the pudendal nerve in the tail bone or at the level of the spine.
H. was so embarrassed by her fetish that she spent five years having sex with her partner before confiding in him that she liked to be spanked. Spanking is one of the more common fetishes, commonly being listed in the top ten, though a fetish for shoes or feet is generally considered the most common. H. has no desire for abuse or punishment, she simply enjoys the act of being spanked. Much of her embarrassment came about because, as she researched her desires, the only material available all had a decidedly sadomasochistic twist. This made her nervous about sharing her desire even with her partner.
This embarrassment that many people with fetishes feel is a common theme when speaking with them about their needs. They often feel uncomfortable or judged by the people they’re speaking with because they’ve been taught over and over again that their desires are “strange” or “abnormal”. According to a study done by Fetish Psychology, an estimated 1.1 percent of the world’s population has a foot fetish. That might seem like a small number but think about it this way; one in one hundred people has some kind of fetish for feet. That means you likely know someone who has that specific fetish, possibly several people and that is only what is considered the most common fetish. When you start adding the other fetishes in you start to see that they are actually quite common relatively speaking.
Yet people are being made to feel embarrassed or “strange” by having a fetish when nothing could be further from the truth. The encyclopedia Britannica defines a fetish thusly:
Fetishism, in psychology, a form of sexual deviance involving erotic attachment to an inanimate object or an ordinarily asexual part of the human body. The term fetishism was actually borrowed from anthropological writings in which “fetish” (also spelled fetich) referred to a charm thought to contain magical or spiritual powers.
“Sexual deviance”. You can see how a person with a fetish, even a common one, might easily be made to feel different, isolated, and strange. Fetishes are not deviance, they are not even all that unusual given the numbers researchers are discovering. If you have a fetish and you are hiding it from the people in your life, at least the people you choose to have sex with, you are limiting yourself sexually for no reason. If you know someone who has a fetish and they shared that desire with you, feel complimented. That person just opened up to you about their deepest, darkest desires, the thing they’ve been made to feel embarrassed about their whole lives.
Our society treats sex as something to be hidden, embarrassed about, or a joke. We are all made to feel inadequate, sexually or physically, by our media and advertisements. Add having a fetish to that mix of pointless shame and you can imagine just how awful these people have things. Sex is a wonderful thing, it brings us together and makes us feel great. Fetishes can help sex to become even more amazing. Fetishists have an automatic upgrade to their sex lives that the rest of us can only envy. Just imagine having one thing that turns you on above everything else, something simple that is likely very easy to obtain or perform and that is linked inextricably to sex in your mind.
How lucky fetishists are! How much better their sex lives can be if only they weren’t made to feel ashamed of this incredible gift. Really, what’s to be embarrassed about? The ability to have mind blowing orgasms more often than the rest of us? Or perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that they can get turned on more easily than those poor people who are fetishistically challenged and they can control their sex lives with more ease than the rest of the population.
It seems to me that having a fetish is something to be proud of, or at least happy about. A fetish is a way for a person to have incredible sex, what could possibly be embarrassing about that?