We often will see talk of fetishes in the news, often in shocking or scary ways. You know, “Man with weird fetish caught doing such-and-such,” or, “Shocking fetish gets woman fired from job,” or something of that sort. This post hopes to discuss just what a fetish is and how often it is in fact a normal part of human sexuality so as to remove some of the, “Shock,” of what is actually quite common.
What Can Be a Fetish?
People can fetishize anything, literally anything. A fetish is anything that isn’t normally thought of as sexual that becomes sexualized–be it feet, a piece of furniture, the act of brushing one’s teeth, etc.
Where Do Fetishes Come From?
Medical professionals don’t actually completely agree about where fetishes come from. Everything from genetic arguments, to behavioral elements, biochemical factors, a mixture of all those, and even more theories exist. The main thing to know is simply that fetishes exist and they somehow occur in folk.
Are Fetishes Okay or Unhealthy?
Most medical literature finds that fetishes can be perfectly fine and healthy as long as they aren’t causing someone undue stress or mental health issues–and as long as the fetish does not harm a non-consenting individual. Therefore, if a person finds it highly pleasurable to wear leather and is happy about it, that is a perfectly fine fetish to have. If someone is obsessed with shoes in a sexual manner and has great anxiety and shame about their fetish, it is an issue, as they are suffering distress related to feelings about their fetish.
So, When Exactly is a Fetish Beyond Acceptable and a Mental Health Concern?
The DSM-V (a diagnosis manual for doctors) discusses how a fetish or kink is really only a concern when it causes the person who has it significant distress or harms others. Essentially, the problem is ,”In the eye of the beholder,” where if you and a partner are happy to engage in bondage and domination that is perfectly fine, but if you’re suffering depression, anxiety, etc. over your fetish you may want to seek counseling. One interesting wrinkle in this is that the previous DSM-IV listed fetishes such as sexual masochism–e.g. wanting to be physically hurt or physically hurting someone who consents–as a disorder but the latest manual does not, instead holding that if everyone is of age and consents, whatever happens in the bedroom is okay. There has apparently been some debate in the medical community about this as some hold anyone who associates pain with sexual pleasure has a mental illness and others believe if it makes the participants happy and they have no other mental health concerns it is perfectly alright. This will doubtlessly be the basis of much debate in the future.
Just How Many People Have a Fetish? It is related to gender or sexuality?
Some recent data points to how about 1-in-6 people have what could be considered a sexual fetish, and they seem to be more common in men with sexuality (e.g. straight, gay, bisexual) not playing much of any role.
Are Fetishes, “Safe?”
Just as with any kind of sexual act, people taking part in a fetish need to be sure that everyone is consenting and steps are taken to prevent the spread of any sexually transmitted infections. As long as everyone who takes part in the fetish is enjoying themselves, taking precautions, and being sure to practice safer-sex then a fetish is no more dangerous than, “Regular/Vanilla,” kinds of sex.
A general overview of what a fetish is:
Discussion of how fetishes can be healthy and when they are an issue:
Discussion of the DSM and how it handles fetishes:
Statistics on the commonality of fetishes: