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Fetishism (or a specific fetish) is one of the behaviors in a group of sexual problems called paraphilias where paraphilias are strong reoccurring sexual urges and fantasies typically involving nonhuman objects or involving the suffering or humiliation of yourself or another person.

Understanding Fetishism

Fetishes are associated with sexual arousal in response to objects or stimuli not associated with normal sexual behavior patterns and that may interfere with the establishment of normal sexual relationships. This sexual behavior is widespread and takes many forms, from the harmless to the dangerous and malicious. 

Fetish behavior is so common that in its milder forms it is frequently viewed as not a problem.  However, a fetish can be vicious in nature and can physically and psychologically harm the person with the fetish as well as other persons (for example in masochism, sadism, and frotteurism).

If you have a fetish you are sexually aroused by non-human objects.  If it is a true fetish, you need to have the fetish item present in order to become sexually excited. 

While there are many theories about what causes fetishism, there is little factual evidence.  What we do know is that fetishism is typically found in males much more frequently than in females, and, typically, fetishism starts in late childhood or adolescence and tends to be life-long unless the exhibitionist enters treatment.

Common fetish objects include underwear, specific materials such as satin, leather, fur, rubber, or plastic, specific articles of clothing such as shoes or boots, and bodily items such as hair, odors, urine, or feces.

Groups of Fetishes

The following groups of fetishes has been adapted from the Wikipedia website.

Fetishism is extremely varied and encompasses many types of objects.

Shoes and boots: Shoes and or boots, often in combination with a desire for feet, are on the top of the list of commonly fetishized items. Most often, a preference for high-heeled female shoes is reported, but admirers for nearly all kind of footwear can be found. 

Hosiery and bodywear: Women's hosiery is another commonly fetishized item. Some prefer stockings while others prefer pantyhose (tights). Fetishists often have favorite colors or deniers, or specific features such as seams, reinforced toes/heels, or "fishnet" material. And not to forget knee high socks (cableknits, tubes, soccer, baseball etc.). Those are combined with different types of uniforms (schoolgirl, soccer, etc.).  Spandex leggings and leotards are similarly fetishized, as are tight, shiny garments made of leather, rubber, or PVC. The Japanese term "zentai" refers to a spandex suit covering the entire body. For other fetishists, tight jeans are the object of interest.  One basis of this fetish is that the material forms a "second skin" that acts as a fetishistic surrogate for the wearer's own skin. Another basis is that the woman wearing them receives autoerotic pleasure from the tightness or silkiness. Other fetishists associate the tightness with corsetry or bondage.

Lingerie and evening wear: Satin and lace items such as slips, nightdresses, and undergarments are often fetishized, as well as other silk items such as evening gowns, skirts, and scarves. Sometimes, as with hosiery fetishism, there is a transvestite component. Many men find the tactile sensations caused by the wearing of silk or satin lingerie arousing; some wear panties under their male clothes, whereas others may wear a full set of lingerie. Due to the taboo nature of this fetish, the possibility of getting caught often heightens the fetishists enjoyment.  In other cases, "fuzzy" materials such as fur or Angora sweaters are fetishized.

Leather and latex: Leather is another commonly fetishized item by both heterosexual and gay and lesbian fetishists. It is commonly associated with motorcycle gangs, kinky sex, and the leather subculture. Another "hard" material for fetish clothing is rubber. This can range from items such as cloaks to thin, tight and shiny clothing. While rubber, at least natural rubber, is made from latex, in this context "latex" usually refers to the thinner materials. PVC is also used to make similar garments. The rubber fetish can focus on conventionally sexy items such as gowns and skintight garments as well as seemingly unlikely items such as gas masks.

Partialism: Other fetishistic attachments can be to specific parts of the body, such as head or body hair, legs, feet, neck, fingernails, moles or breasts, or specific shapes of the body, rather than to the person as an individual. This might explain foot binding in China in pre-modern times, extensive corset use in the West in the 19th century, and breast implants in the contemporary United States and elsewhere.

Accessories: Sometimes the attraction, rather than being toward clothes that are in close contact with the body, is toward jewelry or similar accessories, such as braces, eyeglasses, gloves, cigarettes, etc.

Medical and disability: There also exist fetishes related to medical procedures and devices, as well as to disabled persons and orthopedic equipment such as crutches and plaster casts.

Fluid and excretory: Another cluster of fetishes is centered around dirt and other bodily fluids and secretions including, but not limited to, feces, spit, vomit, breast secretions, semen, and urine.

Furniture: Desks are another strangely common fetish. This has been recognized as a psychological disorder, usually triggered by boredom or stress in a working environment, involving desks. Cases have been found within schools, offices and especially within courts of law, due to the tediously slow pace at which many legal systems around the globe operate.

Paraphilias and Fetishism

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the prevailing resource for diagnostic criteria of paraphilias, describes the essential feature of paraphilias as recurrent, intense, sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies generally involving nonhuman objects, the suffering or humiliation of oneself or partner, or children or other non consenting persons.

The DSM-IV-TR lists the following diagnostic criteria for fetishism: The patient experiences recurrent and intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies involving the use of nonliving objects by themselves. Symptoms must be present for at least 6 months. The patient experiences significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning because of the fantasies, urges, or behaviors. The DSM-IV-TR list of other paraphilias includes:

Exhibitionism: the recurrent urge or behavior to expose one's genitals to an unsuspecting person.

Frotteurism: the recurrent urges or behavior of touching or rubbing against a non consenting person.

Masochism: the recurrent urge or behavior of wanting to be humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer.

Sadism: the recurrent urge or behavior involving acts in which the pain or humiliation of the victim is sexually exciting.

Voyeurism: the recurrent urge or behavior to observe an unsuspecting person who is naked, disrobing or engaging in sexual activities, or may not be sexual in nature at all.

Transvestite fetishism: a sexual attraction towards the clothing of the opposite gender.

Chronophilias such as Infantophilia: the sexual attraction to infants, Pedophilia: the sexual attraction to prepubescent children, Gerontophilia: the sexual attraction to the elderly.

Other paraphilias: includes rarer behaviors such as telephone scatalogia (obscene phone calls), necrophilia (corpses), partualism (exclusive focus on one part of the body), zoophilia (animals), coprophilia (feces), klismaphilia (enemas), urophilia (urine).

For additional "paraphilias", visit the page List of Paraphilias.

Causes of Fetishism

There are many theories about what causes fetishism but there is little factual causal evidence.  What we do know is that fetishism generally begins in childhood or adolescence and is usually found in males. Once established, fetishism tends to be life-long unless treated. 

There are many theories about the psychological how, when and why of fetishism, but few facts. Many fetishists state that they have had fetishistic desires as long as they can remember. Some fetishists can trace back their desire to a specific event. Modern psychology assumes that fetishism either is being conditioned or imprinted or the result of a traumatic experience. But also physical factors like brain construction and heredity are considered possible explanations.

Treatment of Fetishism

In cases of fetishism and other paraphilia where significant potential for negative consequences poses a concern, the need for long-term therapy and monitoring is important.

In non-harmful mild cases of fetishism, when the fetish does not cause a major problem for the person or their partner, treatment may not be necessary. 

I have found the most effective treatment methods for fetishism, as well as other paraphilias, include reality therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, behavioral therapy including aversive conditioning, psychoanalysis, and medication.

Cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to change the patient's behavior without analyzing how and why it shows up. It is based on the idea that fetishism is the result of conditioning or imprinting. The therapy is not able to change the patient's sexual preference itself but can only suppress the resulting unwanted behavior.

In aversive conditioning ( a type of behavior therapy), the patient is confronted with his fetish and as soon as sexual arousal starts, exposed to a displeasing stimulus. It is reported that in earlier times painful stimuli such as electric shocks have been used as aversive stimulus. Today a common aversive stimulus are photographs that show unpleasing scenes such as penned in genitals. In a variant called assisted aversive conditioning, an assistant releases abominable odors as aversive stimulus.

Psychoanalysis tries to spot the traumatic unconscious experience that caused the fetishism in first instance. Bringing this unconscious knowledge to conscience and thus enabling the patient to work up his trauma rationally and emotionally shall relieve the him from his problems.

Medication treatment involves various forms of drugs that inhibit the production of sex steroids, above all male testosterone and female estrogen. By cutting the level of sex steroids, sexual desire is diminished. Thus, the patient gains the ability to concentrate on his fetish and reasonably process his own thoughts without being distracted by sexual arousal. Also, the application may give the patient relief in everyday's life, enabling him to ignore his fetish and get back to daily routine. Although ongoing research has shown positive results in single case studies with some drugs, there is not yet any medicament that tackles fetishism itself.

Additional Information

For more information about a fetish, fetishism, or other sexual problem, please click on the linked websites listed below and the visit the glossary that is listed after these websites.

 Wrongdiagnosis: fetishism
 Newadvent regarding fetishism

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