Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sexual Fetishes

We all have our unique proclivities with regards to what turns us on sexually. For men it might be a preference for blondes or girls with body piercings. For women it might be having a guy with tattoos or rippling muscles in the bedroom. Others find cross-dressing, sadomasochism play or even anal stimulation rev up their sexual arousal and desire.

From the smallest sexual preference to the most outlandish obsession, sexual fetishes are more prevalent and enjoyable than you may think.

“Fetishistic interests fall on a continuum,” psychologist, marital therapist, sex therapist, professor and author Guy Grenier explains. “For example, engaging in cross-dressing fetish can be as simple as a man wearing colorful clothing, or so extensive as to fool sexual partners.”

Grenier says BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) is among the most common sexual fetishes. “BDSM brings together themes of power and domination and combining them with sexual interest.”

“BDSM is the forbidden fruit,” a London BDSM community organizer, Dark Angel, known to friends as DA, says, “It’s like the Garden of Eden. The problem with it is, once you have a taste, it’s hard to go back to living without the thrill.”

Both Dark Angel and Dr. Grenier say there are many different flavors of BDSM, beyond the borders of “vanilla” sex. Although leather, latex, handcuffs, whips and ropes are among the most common paraphernalia, control and power are the most essential characteristics.

Dark Angel, a practicing dominant, says there are ground rules within the BDSM community. “What it really boils down to is everybody is consenting.” To ensure mutual satisfaction, he recommends using a safeword. “You really have to trust each other,” he adds.

For some there is a stigma attached to BDSM fetishes due to misunderstandings about what is really involved. In Hollywood, sadomasochists are portrayed as vicious and brutal, even mentally disturbed. 88 Minutes, a recent film starring Al Pacino, is a good example. In the movie a psychotic serial killer uses suspension bondage to restrain his victims before murdering them. With the people I’ve met in the lifestyle, there’s a healthy mix of affection and various degrees of SM, depending on the personalities and the individuals engaged. From my own experiences with BDSM I have come to learn that I very much enjoy anal play and sensual spanking which is something I did not know about myself before. Although many BDSM practitioners choose to role-play in the bedroom only others incorporate dominant and submissive protocols into their everyday lives.

Another genre of atypical sexual behavior has a softer, cuddlier side. Plushophilia, a sexual attraction to stuffed animals or people dressed in animal costumes is yet another flavor of sexual fetishism. This is not so much about power and domination, but about combining innocence with non-innocence. Participants in “plushie play” have a fuzzy fixation on toys with anthropomorphically human characteristics. A plushie doll might have big doe eyes, a cutesy smile, and human-like breasts and vagina. Plushie play juxtaposes the cute and cuddly with the down and dirty. Some plushophiles, more commonly known as “furries”, dress up as animals during sex. Rabbit and kitten costumes with “trap doors” for organs and orifices are sold and traded at fetish conventions.

Voyeurism and exhibitionism are more common and less prop-intensive fetishes. Voyeurs derive sexual pleasure from being watched while having sex or from watching others have sex. Exhibitionists, meanwhile, enjoy nudity or engaging in sex in public places, either with the specific intent of being seen or perhaps just incorporating various degrees of risk in being seen.

Worldwide, the number of developing sexual fetishes is expanding. Acropomophilia (sexual interest in amputees), somnophilia (fantasies about sex with people who are sleeping) and formaphilia (sexual obsession with ants and snails) as some of the rarer emerging fetishes. Having a fetish for women's panties is more common, more common in fact than you might think. Men wearing female panties, smelling panties, trading panties with others who enjoy this fetish and even having sex and climaxing on a pair of woman’s panties bring immense sexual pleasure to those that explore and enjoy this fetish.

When someone chooses to engage in fetishes or other alternative lifestyles there are often social repercussions. Perhaps as a shadow of our Victorian past things sexual are sometimes considered perverted, dirty or something that needs to be controlled. It seems the farther you move from normative sex, the more concern people have about being judged. A man might not be afraid to acknowledge he enjoys wearing silk boxer shorts but if he wears silk panties he may worry about being ostracized if he admits that.

As for the cause of fetishes, experts remain unsure. Some researchers believe that fetishistic interests are conditioned. For example, if for some reason as a child, a person learned to associate sexual arousal with feet or footwear, a fetish could develop as a result. Other theories are based on societal conditioning. Men might be more inclined to cross-dress because they are subjected to rigid gender roles in North American culture and cross-dressing allows men to explore and escape that rigidity.

Most fetishes are benign in that they don’t harm anyone or impinge on the rights of others. They seem simply another means of exploring and enjoying a person’s unique and individual sexuality. Fetishism is regarded as normal variations of human sexuality by psychologists and medical doctors as long as all involved persons feel comfortable.

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