Celebrate the Facts!
5/22/2022 1 Comment
Hidden in those lovely suburban homes is a seething cauldron of sexual strangeness, the unspoken and sometimes the unspeakable. Human sexuality ranges from innocent consensual activities to the foulest of crimes; human sexuality is as complex as the human species. And nothing is creepier and more fascinating than bizarre sexual behavior psychiatrists call paraphilia and its subset of oddness, sexual fetishes.
What constitutes normal sexual behavior? There is no forthright riposte. What is normal in one culture at one time can be outrageous or illegal in another. Various governments have made some everyday sexual activities criminal until very recently. Some coercive sexual behaviors, like pedophilia, are so unspeakably deviant all reasonable societies ban them and imprison perpetrators.
Paraphilias are persistent and recurrent sexual interests, urges, fantasies, or behaviors of marked intensity involving objects, activities, or atypical situations. Although not innately pathological, a paraphilic disorder can evolve if paraphilia invokes harm, distress, or functional impairment in the lives of the affected individual or others.
The (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) delineates eight paraphilias:
The percentage of the population that experience paraphilic behaviors is tough to discern because much of the scientific literature consists of case studies rather than broad surveys. Paraphilias, including fetishism, are correlated with general psychosocial impairment, including physical abuse, lower educational attainment, inpatient admissions for mental health and substance abuse treatment, disability, unemployment, criminal justice system involvement, and increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases infections, and comorbid mental health problems.
The onset of paraphilic behaviors occurs during early adolescence through various physical, psychological, and social factors. The behaviors usually reach full bloom by the age of 20 years. Paraphilias are male-dominated as at least 90% of all those people affected are men. Why this is the case is unknown, but one might suspect as society accepts women and their sexual agency, fetishism among women might rise. Research also indicates that some paraphilias appear to be more common than others. Coercion is often central to paraphilias. Some paraphiliacs enjoy their forbidden pleasures alone, and others include consensual adults who participate in, watch, or abide by the activity.
Then there are those to whom an object or body part has the power to captivate all attention. Fetishistic disorder is a clinical diagnosis assigned to people who experience sexual arousal from objects or a specific part of the body that people typically do not regard as erotic. Almost any body part or object can be a fetish. The DSM-5 notes that fetishistic disorder typically emerges at the onset of puberty and rarely before adolescence. In addition, the severity of the disorder can wax and wane over the lifespan.
Sexual fetishism includes hundreds of micro-fetish categories. Fetishes refer to obtaining sexual excitement primarily or exclusively from an object or a part of the body not typically regarded as sexual. There’s also situational fetishism, where certain things must occur for the fetishist to become excited such as roles or situations like a fetishist fixating on a partner smoking during sex.
Some of the stranger sexual fetishes:
There’s a bit of a gray zone in society’s definitions of fetishes. For example, society regards a sexual attraction to feet as a fetish, while attraction to breasts is a ‘normal’ component of sex. Types of fetishes are often a function of sexual orientation. Heterosexual men tend toward high-heeled shoes, lingerie, and hosiery. Among gay men, fetishistic objects tend to be highly masculine.
Fetishists, almost always male, have difficulty orgasming without the fetish item. Fetishes are not disorders unless the fetishistic behaviors cause adverse outcomes or psychological problems for fetishists. Scientific research confirms the most common body fetishes are for feet, hands, and hair and that the most prevalent fetish objects are shoes, gloves, and used underwear. Fetishes rarely develop into an offense that harms anyone, although crimes may include theft (of underwear) or cutting hair from an unwilling victim.
Suppose the etiology of a fetish is a learned behavior. In that case, cognitive behavioral therapy using gradual exposure to the fetishistic object combined with a neutral response, rather than a sexual response, may help lower or eliminate sexual arousal associated with an object.
While the world of sexual oddness can be fascinating from the observation standpoint, people with unusual sexualities such as paraphilias and fetishes likely lead very lonely and unfulfilling lives. Isolation and fears of societal backlash seem needless in consensual and legal sexual activities. Regardless, more research into the prevalence and causes will help those afflicted with such needs and their partners.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.