Focus and Fetish

Posted: September 7, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

First off, my bonsai is getting smaller. I wrote a paper about the establishment of gender identity in a transgendered online forum. Pretty specific, and incredibly interesting. I got to pull on my philosophy background for identity, my composition background for the idea of community building, and a whole bunch more research on how people identify themselves online. I’ll be posting research on that starting immediately.

In fact, I’m going to start with an article called “Fetishes and Their Associate Behavior” by L.F. Lowenstein, MD. I admit I was nervous when I started reading this article. I was afraid that Lowenstein was going to tell me that fetishism is an overall bad thing, a disease, a disorder, and that it leads to horrible behavior. The article was, after all, published in Sexuality and Disability (Vol 20, No 2, Summer 2002).

But I was pleasantly surprised.

First off, he didn’t say that fetishes were bad. What is bad is when fetishists take it too far, or do it without consenting partners. I can agree with that. But I digress. Let’s look at what the good doctor actually said.

He starts the article out with a nice definition, saying that “fetishism is a condition wherein non living objects are used as the exclusive or consistently preferred method of stimulating sexual arousal” (135). This is significant, because he is saying that fetishists do not require the object of their fetish, just that it is preferred. As Lowenstein says, “Usually the fetishist obtains sexual excitation by kissing, tasting, fondling, or smelling the object” and that “It is often used as a form of foreplay which progresses towards coitus” (135).

It’s important to note that Lowenstein equates transvestism as a fetish, just one difficult to distinguish from other fetishes (137).

Of course, there are lots of types of fetishes. Lowenstein points out a disabled fetish, including amputee fetishism (apotemnophilia). He also talks about the fetish for uniforms and clothing due to the role of power connected to those uniforms, and foot fetishism, which he says is very common (138).

One very interesting thing he points out is that most fetishists are male (135), though “In the past decade, fetishism has been increasingly applied to a wide variety of behavior and mentation and is not limited to males” (139). Due to when he wrote this, that suggests that for the last 20 years, there have been more fetishes, more fetishists, and more of a spread across genders. I blame/credit the internet.

Lowenstein goes through a number of potential ’causes’ for fetishes, included Freud’s idea that “fetishes are unconscious elements and are concrete forms of unconscious fantasies” (140), or how Kaplan (1997) felt fetishes were “a perversion for enhancing sexual excitement” (140), and Schkolink’s (2000) idea that “Fetishes appear to act as a fantasy instrument for enhancing not only sexuality or desire but also an escape from reality” (140) and how recent works have claime that fetishes arise in “a defence of some kind against pure expression of sexuality” (140).

What does this all mean? It seems like what Freud is saying is that fetishes are representations of things we don’t want to admit we fantasize about, even to ourselves. It seems like Kaplan is saying that they add to sexual excitement, maybe as an addition to the sexual experience (much like what Lowenstein said earlier about foreplay). As for the idea of fetishes being an escape from reality, I can certainly understand the sentiment: engaging in a fetish tends to involve pretty in depth fantasies; in a way, an entire fantasy world needs to be created. So it is an escape from reality.

I am most interested in the claim of fetish as a defense. It makes me wonder what a “pure expression of sexuality” is. Maybe this is pointing to people who fall somewhere other than the poles on the Kinsey scale, or people who don’t want to fully explore/admit their own sexual desires. Were I a psychologist, I’d design some kind of study to see if there is a correlation between fetishists and the ‘bi curious.’ The idea that people may turn to fetish because they are unwilling to accept their own bisexuality (or their own homosexuality) is fascinating. If anyone has studied this or written about it, let me know; I’d love to read it.

Lowenstein writes that there have been many attempts to ‘cure’ fetishes, but ends up saying that “Fetishes … were almost totally permanent once established” (141). and that “the treatment of fetishes can be extremely difficult due to its origin in early childhood and a constant practising of fetishistic behavior often related to the gratification of sexual activities such as mastuerbation” (141) It’s tough, if not impossible, to get rid of a fetish. So there is no cure. But that’s okay! Because, according to Lowenstein, it’s not a disease.

The article then moves into a study of individuals with fetishes who had gotten in trouble with the law as a result of said fetish.  Most helpful, it seems, was rational emotive therapy. As Lowenstein writes, “The individual was encouraged to engage in his fetish with a partner who agreed to participate with him, or enjoyed the excitement it produced in the subject. This excitement then translated into more acceptable procedures including dactile or oral of coital sexual behavior” (144). I’m going to assume that by ‘acceptable procedures’ Lowenstein just means procedures that aren’t illegal. It would be odd if he was referring to what people call ‘normal’ sex.

The study had a number of important conclusions, including that individuals who get in trouble with the law because of fetishes should be treated, not imprisoned. And “The most important ancilliary to treatment success was finding and being accepted by a partner despite the fetish. This gave the person with the fetish the opportunity of being able to follow the fetish while at the same time enjoying a full relationship both sexual and otherwise” (145). I can attest to the value of that.

I can also agree with Lowenstein’s final words: “More often there was a combination of anxiety, worry, feelings of guilt as well as paranoid ideation and self-destructive behaviour associated with fetishism” (145). In other words, people with fetishes tend to be nervous about them, paranoid others will discover them, paranoid that knowledge will be used against them, and feel that they are somehow “bad” and deserve punishment for their desires. But, as the good doctor suggests throughout the article, that’s not the right way to deal with it. The right way is to find someone who loves you and your fetish (or at least despite you fetish) and be a happier person because of it.

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