Having been involved in the sex industry for most of my adult life, I tend to forget that some of the people I meet aren’t as relaxed or understanding about parts of it as I am. For instance, every now and then I’ll meet someone who sniggers when I describe what I do, and who will make some snide comment about how I’m catering for perverts and “filthy fetishes”
This actually happened recently and got me thinking about fetishes in general. After all, if a fetish is a big part of your sex life, then instead of a person, your irresistible attraction involves an object or behavior.
People out in the ‘normal’ world are, in fact, often incredibly amused by their unconventional nature. So well-known is the foot fetish that it’s gone from laughable to a wholesome kink of sorts.
The word “fetish” originally had nothing to do with sex. Derived from the Portuguese word fetich, Old World Portuguese explorers like Vasco De Gama used the term to describe any religious artifact regarded by tribal cultures as having magical powers. It was only in the 19th Century that “fetish” started being used to describe something that sexually excites an individual.
Fetishes, in general, are one of the most misunderstood sexual attractions. The case of the foot fetish is a classic example of this. It’s actually not a fetish -- it's a case of partialism. Partialism is a situation where a person has exclusive attraction to a body part. A fetish, on the other hand, is a situation where an individual has learned to attach sexual significance to an object or behavior that is in large part not considered erotic in nature. The most common fetish objects are shoes, underwear, and items made of rubber, plastic, or leather.
In many cases, it’s the touch and/or odour of an object that’s more of a turn-on than the object itself. So a foot fetish is sometimes more about the smell of feet than just the feet themselves. Yet, amongst the general public, fetishes involving body odours tend to be met with revulsion. So it’s safer and more socially acceptable for the fetish to focus on the foot in its entirety.
Not a lot is known about a how a person develops a fetish or why. Scientists who’ve researched it are at a loss to explain how a person can develop emotional, and even spiritual, responses to an inanimate object of desire. Some academics simply say that fetishes are just one more natural aspect of being human, and having a fetish has been likened to the obsessive fascination and enthusiasm some people have in collecting footy cards.
Others have suggested early childhood events are the cause, particularly those involving sexual shaming. A foot fetish may, for example, develop when a child, made incredibly embarrassed for seeing a woman’s naked breast, diverts his eyes to her foot, which later becomes the foot fetish.
Another theory is that early life events shape one’s sexual identity, for example a baby may sniff someone’s feet while crawling and thus become permanently fixated on feet as an adult. The experience, locked in the brain, becomes one of attempting to seek out the same sensations from that experience.
I always stress to people I meet that most fetishes are harmless. While we hear about the occasional fetish gone wrong (for example a fetishist who steals their sexual object such as underwear from a clothes line), most cases are not so extreme. Furthermore, plenty of people with fetishes can have gratifying sex lives without using their sexual charm of choice.
In cases where a fetish is incorporated into sex, it can be argued that the adventure, entertainment, and easier arousal factor can heighten the experience. Lovers may even bond in sharing the fetish experience and any sensations unique to such. Given the vulnerability many people feel in sharing their fetish, a partner’s reaction that it’s “no big deal” can make lovers feel closer as well.
Of course, fetishes can become a problem when a person relies upon the object for sexual excitement, release, or satisfaction. Fearing rejection, the person prefers the fetish for being safe and non-threatening. Some fetishists can also have trouble attaining orgasm without the fetish, and let’s not even get into those who die after attempting to orgasm through auto-asphyxiation, such as Michael Hutchence.
Whenever I get confronted by people about fetishes, they will invariably bring up the ones that seem most outlandish to them, and then go on about how unhealthy the fetish is. I always make the point that most fetishes are not so extreme. To some degree, many people have mild fetishes, as in they have favoured sex acts or enhancements. Believe it or not, your grandparents probably thought that oral sex was a fetish. How times have changed