The word “fetish” conjures very different feelings in different people. Some have historically categorized it as a clinical disorder; for others, engaging in your fetish is the perfect way to spend Tuesday night. Fetish has no doubt faced more than its fair share of stigma. Fetish is considered an outlier on the “normal” spectrum of sex due to our culture’s excessive capacity to define what’s normal (especially in the world of sex!) as something that is very restrictive, exacting, and reductive.
In reality, a fetish is just a sexual association with something that’s not always associated with sex, whether that’s a body part, act, or outfit. Fetishes only cross the line into disorder territory when they conflict with your ability to live your life. Most people with fetishes enjoy the specific, fetish-focused sexual activity but don’t need it for every single sexual encounter they have.
Navigating Your Fetishes in a Conservative Culture
Since fetish carries such stigma, it can be scary to have a fetish if you live in a conservative area. People that you date may make comments they deem to be innocuous that stir up guilt or shame within you. It can help to know how to explain your fetish to them in language that diffuses the stigma.
First, let them know that your fetish merely means that you find extraordinary pleasure in something that perhaps others don’t see the magic in. Explain that they do not have to share your fetish for you both to have a satisfying sex life. And the sooner you do this, the easier it will be to sort out if your partner will be game for your sexual interests. Some people will not share your interests, and that is simply a sign they are not cut out to be your partner. But the more open you are about sharing your fetish with potential mates, the less power their stigma will hold over you.
How to Know if You Have a Fetish
Common body part fetishes include feet, hair, or hands. But if you feel attracted to something that is typically considered a sexual organ, perhaps breasts or genitals, then you are not culturally deemed to have a fetish. What’s interesting is the line between body parts that we identify as sexual: why are breasts sexual, but feet are abnormal? It’s a line our culture has drawn in the sand, without much rhyme or reason, to enforce sexual norms. Feel free to ignore this line and pursue your pleasure.
The spectrum of fetish is vast and varied—and it can include components of BDSM, but it does not necessarily have to. So, to determine if you have a burgeoning fetish, consider your senses and the things that entice you sexually that may turn others off. Do you love the smell of your partner after a workout? That’s not so different than someone who loves to smell their partner’s worn panties. Do you find it arousing to see your partner wearing stilettos? That’s similar but distinct from someone who gets revved up at the sight of someone in latex. Perhaps you can’t get enough of the sounds your partner makes when they masturbate, which is comparable to someone who gets turned on at the sound of a whip. Fetish is not nearly as strange as our culture sets it out to be.
What to Do If Your Partner Tells You They Have a Fetish
If your partner confides in you about their fetish, it’s vital to react mindfully and lessen the shame they may already feel about the topic. If you’re interested in exploring the fetish with them, great! Let them know what you think your initial boundaries around the fetish might be, or if you don’t know yet because you’ve never tried it. If it doesn’t sound good to you, thank them for their honesty, and tell them that you are not interested in pursuing that particular sexual act. If you aren’t interested, you could consider opening the relationship for this specific act, if you both feel comfortable.
If you’re in a long-term relationship and you need to discuss a fetish you’d like to try, this conversation can seem intimidating. Having the talk in the presence of a therapist can help you say what you need to say while steering clear of guilt or shame. Schedule a visit with an open-minded, specialized therapist to have a peaceful and beneficial discussion.
Bio: Dr. Nazanin Moali is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in the Los Angeles area. She works with various individuals to understand and improve their sexuality. Dr. Moali conducts personal consultation sessions in her Torrance and Hermosa Beach offices, or via a secure, online video-counseling platform. Click here to download the 101 Ways to Keep Your Relationship Hot checklist. Download her new ebook, How to Increase Your Libido – For Women, here.