The word “fetish” shows up often on the internet, doesn’t it? We see ads for fetish videos, fetish discussion groups, fetish clothing. We see “fetish” used so much that it seems that everyone has a fetish. But there really is a difference between a fetish and a kink, or even a fetish fascination. So what is a true fetish and how do you know if you have one?
It helps to understand the origin of the word fetish. Traditionally, a fetish was an inanimate object believed to possess magical powers. It could be natural, like a feather or shell, or man-made, like a wood carving. To the Southwestern American Indian tribes, fetishes are objects which represent the spirits of animals or the forces of nature. Even today, you can go into any shop in the Southwest and find fetish jewelry. No, these aren’t metal-studded leather collars – these are often beaded necklaces decorated with tiny semi-precious stones carved into animal shapes. That’s a fetish.
In many instances, the power within the fetish was thought to be too dangerous to be handled by anyone but a medicine man or shaman. In that sense, we could say that people with true fetishes are shamans in their own worlds because they are engaged in a sort of magical devotion, too. A sexual fetish, then, is an inanimate object like a shoe or an article of clothing that becomes a source of sexual power, conferring arousal and satisfaction. Fetish objects start out as asexual, and they are somehow transformed into objects of sexual power. We often don’t know how that happens – so it seems that a bit of magic is at work there, too. A vibrator would not be a fetish object because it’s designed for sexual purposes.
Over the years, the clinical definition of fetish has been broadened to include not only objects but body parts that aren’t usually associated with sexual arousal. If you’re attracted to butts or breasts you probably don’t have a fetish, because those are usually objects of sexual arousal. But if you have a thing for toes or feet, and can’t get aroused unless you can snuggle up to a foot, then you might have a fetish.
What’s the difference between a fetish and an inclination?
In the world of psychiatry, a fetish is an object required for arousal and orgasm. Without the fetish object, you just can’t get turned on – or get off – unless, maybe, you fantasize about the fetish. In other words – the power that is usually part of a relationship or personal connection is held in the object. It’s like saying that Mary doesn’t turn you on as much as Mary’s FOOT turns you on, or Mary’s SHOE or Mary’s stuffed panda turns you on. If Mary doesn’t wear the shoes or the pantyhose or whatever, or if you can’t get intimate with Mary’s shoe, you’re going to be lukewarm at best.
Lots of people have fetishy turn-ons and interests without having a full-blown fetish. And sometimes those become a framework for their sex lives. In the online world, they would then feel like they are part of a fetish community, even if they don’t have that kind of all-out fetish. Tickling, spanking, bondage, latex, plushies – anything that we think of as kinky is lumped into the online fetish world. That can be confusing to a lot of people, so it helps to know the difference between having a kink or a creative inclination – which most people do have – and having an actual, all-out, 100 percent fetish.
Is having a fetish sick or bad? No – absolutely not. On the contrary, it can be a creative enhancement to one’s sexuality when it’s satisfied with an equally eager participant. Of course, if your fetish doesn’t require a participant, it can be rather isolating, and problems can arise in that sense. If rubbing against a vinyl sheet or fondling those patent leather pumps is enough for you, well, that begs the question of whether it’s healthy to be so detached from human contact.
In general, though, you don’t need to cure a fetish because it’s not an illness. But sometimes people are disturbed by the limitations of their fetish. They would like to be more sexually diverse; they don’t LIKE the power that a fetish object has over them. Maybe it interferes with their relationship or their job, or with having more sexual opportunities. So a fetish is a problem when it’s a problem for you, or when trying to satisfy it hurts other people, or when you can’t adjust to having a fetish and hiding from other people it is eating you up inside. If you fall into that group, then it’s wise to address the problem with a professional.
Sometimes you just need to get more comfortable with your fetish. While fetishes usually can’t be completely eradicated, once you understanding how the fetish evolved – and there are many different paths – you may learn to drain some of the power away from the fetish itself in order to GIVE power to other avenues of sexual pleasure.