Fetishes: An Explanation

What are fetishes?

A working definition of fetish is ‘an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion’. Even if we remove the negative adjectives, we can see how fetishes impact our lives.

Though our culture is skittish about them, fetishes just are. They are part of our erotic signatures, much like temperament or humour make up our personalities. Some fetishes are socially condoned, like ‘Blondes have more fun’ or ‘tall dark and handsome’. And of course there is our obsession with large breasts, unquestioned because it is common and culturally sanctioned, but nonetheless qualifies as fetishistic. Less commonplace fetishes, such as ostentatious costuming or the inclusion of titillating objects are much more harshly judged. We are all too quick to confuse ‘different’ with ‘wrong’.

What do we know about them?

We know that males overwhelmingly report fetishistic preferences compared to females. Some statistics range into the 90 to 95 percentile. This is partially due to the interaction of the Y chromosome and the androgen ‘bath’ that male fetuses undergo to differentiate them from the default female model, and partially due to males’ higher testosterone (sex-driving) hormone levels. We also know that fetishes are developed between the ages of about two and ten, with the span between five and eight being most common. It is at this point that the (usually) boy experiences some connection between an object (red satin panties, for instance) and an erotic response (an erection). For some reason, this connection burns deep into the erotic framework for the boy, and remains there throughout the lifespan. It may well be that this initial awareness of erotic response binds with anything available at the moment….much as ducks will imprint on a basketball if that’s what stands in for ‘mother’ during the imprinting period….but research suggests that the moment of recognition is specific, the connection is permanent, and the object is fetishized as erotic regardless of context. In other words, once a strong erotic response is recognized, it is welded to the erotic signature of that individual.

Can a fetish be changed?

It seems that fetishes cannot be changed, though some are more pressing than others. We all have preferences regarding sex….we have individual favourite activities, settings, and patterns. Some of us go weak at the sight of silk stay-up stockings or shiny wing-tip shoes, but do not require these props to become aroused. For others, the fetish object is required to kick start and maintain interest and desire. We do not know why some fetishes imprint deeply and others do not….only that once imprinted, the object remains as a trigger for arousal.

How do fetishes affect us?

Though we hear horrible tales of sadistic sex murderers who require mutilation and torture to guarantee sexual gratification, these examples are sensationalistic and very, very rare. Most fetishes serve only to keep us paying attention to sexual clues we need to explore and if you want to do it with the best online sex cam models, then see Chat Opinion as it has a great reviews system.

Fetishes can be problematic, however, if they become rigid, which is true about many, many areas of our lives. If we find that we can’t attain orgasm unless, for instance, our girlfriend is lying in a pile of cold spaghetti, we may have difficulty finding sex partners, and of course must become extremely charming and skilful at negotiation just to ask for what we want.

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In sum, fetishes can be good for us if we use them to augment our sexual responses and bad for us if they restrict our opportunities to enjoy a wide range of desire-enhancing signals. They can be quirky and fun and exciting, or they can confine us to narrow channels of experience. We cannot choose our fetishes, or even whether or not we have them. We do, however, have some choice in how we use them. Happily, most of us do so with light-hearted appreciation of a particular object or expression that establishes us as capable of heightened response and involvement.

A Kink Primer

I am frequently asked questions about kink, or BDSM. Folks wonder what makes it appealing–the extremes in sensation, the feeling of dominating or being submissive, the power and trust one gives to another? They are confused about whether BDSM and fetishes differ and, if so, what those differences are. They ask if orgasm is always a part of a ‘scene’. They say they now read more about kink than was true even five years ago—is it growing in popularity? Who does this stuff anyway?

It does appear that kink is gaining in popularity. Research suggests that 10% of the adult population are S/M practitioners. It may be that the actual numbers haven’t much changed, but our public recognition of BDSM has. Then again, as we speak more openly about alternative sexualities, more people may feel free to experiment and find they like them. Could be a combination. Whatever accounts for it, kink does now seem to occupy an accepted place at the sexual banquet table.

Why do people like it? Not all do, but fans list a variety of reasons. Some find the theatrical aspect arousing while others find security in the clarity of adopting a sexual role. Some find riding the wave between pleasure and pain transforms both into a highly erotic sensation attainable in no other fashion. Some relish the certainty of trust required in power exchange situations while others are simply sensation junkies. Some delight in the taboo of breaking rules of sexual decorum while others find heightened arousal in watching and listening to others test their physical and emotional limits in (semi) public settings.

Role playing is sometimes on the evening’s roster; other times not. Ditto sensation play, bondage, costuming, genital sex. What is always present is prior communication and negotiation, and this is elementally different from many sexual encounters that do not involve kink.

This discussion makes evident the players’ intention to engage in sex (whether genital or not). Everyone takes responsibility for what is about to happen, in effect saying, “I want to share this experience with you. What can we do to make it as wonderful as possible?”

This communication sets kink apart from the sort of dizzy, romantic sex modelled in the media where star-struck people fall into bed after little or no discussion about what they want or what their expectations are. In kinky play, each participant must acknowledge their own desire, so uncommon with our social attitude of sexual silence and our wish to be swept away rather to enter into sexual activity willingly and responsibly.

Put another way, I say I like to do this particular activity, and you respond that you like that very activity done to you. Perfect! We have a fine little interlude guaranteed, without the burden of hoping/pretending that we will walk into the sunset together. Our evening is intimate and powerful, whole unto itself. Sexuality is valid for its own sake, joyously and unapologetically. The preferred term for such sexual activity is “play,” indicative of the attitude of the “players.”

For those already in intimate, committed relationships, the intensity of BDSM can deepen those ties even further. It is no small gift to trust your Top with your pain, knowing they will transform it into pleasure. Likewise, the magicians who perform such alchemy do so with confidence and care for their bottoms.

What about orgasm? While kinky sex is definitely erotic, it is not always genitally focused. Sometimes ‘traditional’ sex will follow a scene, or a scene may morph into sexual comingling, but not always. They are apples and pears. Both delicious fruit, but different.

Let’s take care of some definitions. BDSM stands for: BD=Bondage and Discipline, DS=Domination and submission and SM=Sadism and Masochism. The whole lot comprises kink. We each get to choose whatever we like from any category, mixing and matching to suit our erotic composition and the opportunity at hand.

Fetish is a bit different. Fetish involves being turned on erotically by an inanimate object. Some common fetishes are high heels, leather, PVC, shiny metal. Then again, fetishes may be unique and completely individual. We use them to heighten our arousal in sexual situations or to signal our erotic intent. Unless our fascination with our fetish object(s) overshadows our interest in our sex partner(s), they are useful additions to our fantasy repertoire.

The more information we have about BDSM, the less stigma it carries. We conjugate the verb thus: I am erotic, you are kinky, they are perverted. And of course when we experience things for ourselves, we can evaluate them with less judgment.

Kink includes everything from holding down your lover’s hands during a spirited screw to suspending them ball-gagged from the rafters. It’s all okay as long as all the players are having a good time. It’s a long Canadian tradition that what we do in our bedrooms is our own business.

BDSM is about where we fit on a continuum of intensity, which depends on a number of factors. You can learn more by attending a munch, a workshop, or a public party. Talk to others. If you’re keen, add this new item to your sexual menu.

– adapted from a column originally published in XtraWest