Fetish shame due to "Victorian" culture

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Looking at herself wearing lingerie in a mirror

We all have our turn-ons. While some prefer blondes, tattoos or rippling muscles in the bedroom, others find cross-dressing, sado-masochism or even stuffed animals rev up their sexual appetites.

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

“Fetishistic interests fall on a continuum,” psychology professor Guy Grenier explains. For example, cross-dressing fetish can be as simple as a man wearing colourful clothes, or so extensive as to fool sexual partners.

Grenier says BDSM " standing for 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 DA and Grenier say there are many different flavours 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 essential characteristics.

DA, a practising dominant, said there are ground rules within BDSM circles. “What it really boils down to is everybody is consenting.” To ensure mutual satisfaction, DA recommends using a safeword.

“You really have to trust each other,” he adds.

A less experienced Toronto fetishist, known in the community as K.W. Geek, addresses the stigma attached to bondage fetishes. “I think there are misunderstandings about what is involved.

“In Hollywood, [sado-masochists] are portrayed as viscious and brutal. With the people I’ve met, there’s a healthy mix of affection and brutality.”

Although many fetishists choose role-play in the bedroom only, DA and his partner Tareena bring dominant and submissive protocols into their everyday lives. “For example, Tareena waits for me to take her first bite of breakfast every morning.”

Another genre of atypical sexual behaviour has a softer, cuddlier side. Plushophilia " a sexual attraction to stuffed animals or people dressed in animal costumes " is yet another flavour of sexual obsession.

“This is not so much about power and domination, but about combining innocence with non-innocence,” Grenier says.

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,” Grenier says.

Some plushophiles, more commonly known as furries, dress up as animals during sex. Grenier notes fox, rabbit and kitten costumes with “trap doors” for organs and orifuses are sold and traded at fetish conventions.

Grenier says voyeurism and exhibitionism are more common and less prop-intensive fetishes. Voyeurs derive sexual pleasure from being watched during intercourse, or watching others have sex. Exhibitionists, meanwhile, enjoy nudity or sex in public places.

“In different parts of the world, fetishistic behaviour is culturally determined,” Grenier says. “For example, tattoos and scars are almost required in some African cultures, whereas in North America that’s not the case.”

Worldwide, the number of developing sexual fetishes is expanding. Grenier cites acropomophilia (sexual interest in amputees), somnophilia (fantasies about sex with people who are sleeping) and formaphilia (sexual obsession with ants and snails) as rare sexual discoveries.

Grenier says whichever alternative lifestyle one chooses, there are often social repercussions.

“I think it’s a shadow of our Victorian past " anything sexual was dirty, dangerous and something that needed 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 wears silk boxer shorts, but if he wears silk panties he may worry about being ostracized,” Grenier says.

As for the cause of fetishes, experts remain unsure.

Some academics say fetishistic interests are conditioned. “If a child associates sexual arousal with feet or footwear, a fetish could develop,” Grenier says.

Other theories are based on societal conditions. “Men might be more inclined to cross-dress because they have more rigid gender roles in North American culture,” Grenier says. “Cross dressing allows men to explore and escape that rigidity.”

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