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Sex & Relationships: Sexual fetishes

Published:Sunday | May 27, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor

A sexual fetish may be described as an intense focus on an object, practice or a body part that creates arousal while a person is involved in sexual intimacy with a partner. The scientific name for sexual fetishes is paraphilia and is safe when confined to the bedroom to enhance sexual expressions. There is cause for concern when the fetish becomes obsessive and consumes the life of the fetishist. In general, men rely on fetishes more than women.

Fetishes are objects that give feelings of nurturance. For example, a child who gets pleasure from sucking their mother's breast, may develop a fetish for breasts for sexual comfort in their adult life. Some fetishes start from childhood and may progressively increase in intensity as the child develops even without parents identifying certain attachments to particular objects in their upbringing.

'Barbie doll' looks

As society becomes more sexually expressive and open to sexual practices, fetishes are more talked about and almost everyone claims to have one. A fetish may be partial attraction to buttocks, breasts, muscular men or obesity. The latter explains some men's attraction to overweight women, especially those with large breasts and buttocks. On the contrary, some men are obsessed with Barbie doll-size women and others may be attracted to feet in the form - hairy or deformed.

A fetish could be inanimate which includes shoes, leather, hats, panties, jockstraps or latex. These inanimate objects are available from merchants who target fetishists by advertising hair, shoes, fur, and leather among other items and may sell photos of these products. Persons may order worn or used underwear and other personal effects.

The senses

The senses are considered fetishes as persons are aroused when they see the object, or if they feel it, hear it or smell it or a combination of any of the senses. The person who has a leather fetish will have a stronger sexual experience if they feel and smell the leather.

One may ask how one develops a fetish for a particular item. It starts with conditioning or learned behaviour and the stimulus must be strong enough for it to register. Conditioning can occur as early as infancy and preschool and later in puberty as the sex drive of children develops in an environment that is free from sexual repression - threats of punishment, loss of affection and indoctrination that sex and sexual expression is a sin.

Extreme behaviour

The fetish can increase the intensity of an orgasm. The person who has a fetish for panties will take a silk one from the collection, caresses it and become stimulated by the touch and smell if the panty has a particular human smell having being worn or from fragrance applied to it. A person can be so obsessed with underwear that he or she may desire all types and will go to obsessive extremes to collect them like shoplifting or stealing from a clothes line.

Hair fetish

Hair fetishes are common in the form of fantasies about hair, watching women comb their hair, going to a hair shop and spending hours touching all the samples under the guise of shopping for a spouse. A man may make several purchases and take them home to add to his collection. He may masturbate into any of his hair collection at home or he may do it in the hair of his spouse. Child abusers may also have a fetish for hair and will target children with long hair so they may caress it and masturbate into it. Hair on the feet, under the armpit and in the pubic area may create intense arousal which explains why some women cannot shave their armpits or pubic areas.

The range of fetishes is wide and varied and some can create disharmony in the union. The traditional fetishes are:

Boots or shoes: including high heels and may be conditioned during childhood. The shoe is one of the first objects a crawling child sees and the fetishist may be attracted to a shoe worn by a particular person, male or female. High heels have their appeal from the 16th century after Catherine, the petite wife of Henry II of France had custom-made high-heeled shoes to give her height, giving rise to a fashion trend over the years. The high-heeled shoe is sexually arousing in sadomasochistic (S/M) practices where the spiked heel is portrayed in advertising in S/M magazines resting on the genitals of a submissive male. It is also used as a convenient tool to inflict pain in S/M. The person with the shoe fetish must have a perpetual 'harem' of new shoes to stay on top their fetish.

Furs: a tactile fetish associated with the tickling sensations produced by family pets, stuffed animal, rugs, fur coats and feathers.

Latex and rubber: the association may start in childhood as infants were raised in rubber pants or bed protectors. The touch associated with latex or rubber is stimulating and fetishists will buy underwear or garments made from latex or rubber. These include sheets, underwear, vests, skirts and hoods. Pants are made with an anal plug and a reservoir for the penis. In extreme cases, used condoms are a fetish.

Leather: attraction to animal skin which has been used as clothing throughout time. The feel and smell of leather makes people feel powerful and they may have a preference for those animals which are characteristically powerful, for example, the ferocious lion.

Underwear: This fetish appeals to touch, sight and smell. Some men collect their partner's underwear as keepsakes, taking them when they travel and may help with masturbation. Some are stimulated by the odour and texture and when selected for a partner to wear, it creates more arousal.

Sexual fantasies: Men and women engage in sexual fantasies which is a kind of fetish. Women will fantasise about:

• Being a stripper

• Participating in group sex

• Exhibitionism

• Being a submissive mate

Male fantasies: The more common fantasies among men are:

Engaging in threesomes

Sex with women who are 'off limits' like a boss or an ex

Sex with a prostitute for the 'touted' experience

Sex in exotic locations like the beach.

Problems in the marriage

Fetishes may add value to relationships as they excite and stimulate. However, at times, partial fetishes create problems in a marriage. If a man was attracted to his spouse because she was pleasingly plump and she lost weight later in the marriage due to health issues, his sexual attraction may die. The worst scenario is to be married to a fetishist whose spouse will reject the fetish resulting in alienation and the fetishist becoming more dependent on the fetish than the individual for sexual stimulation.

Contrary to popular belief, fetishes are not strange as they serve the purpose of exciting sexual intimacy in a union and they may take the form of simple affinities which bring partners sexual satisfaction.