Don’t Yuk Anybody’s Yum: Fetishes and Kinks

Fetishes and kink have become a lot more normalized in popular culture in recent years.  I always think of the scene in It’s always Sunny in Philadelphia when Denis is being asked why he has a wide array of tools in his car and he casually says it’s “Fetish shit. I like to bind, I like to be bound.” I have seen a recent shift where many people, not just on sites specifically designed for fetishes, like fetlife, but also on Tinder, Hinge and (gasp) in real life are openly expressing their alternative sexual preferences.

The word fetish is defined by as any object or nongenital part of the body that causes a habitual erotic response or fixation.  This definition can incorporate arousal from animals, feet, whips etc. I have seen a strong cultural shift towards BDSM in recent years, so much so that I feel really boring when a partner asks what I’m into and I respond that I love getting eaten out, having lots of sex and then watching Star Trek.  However, as a society we are far less accepting of sexual preferences that are less understood.

To give an example, I recently spoke to a woman who was aroused by the idea of a snake crawling around her while she has sex, otherwise known as zoophilia. She said that she knows multiple women who have had men pull out a (real) snake during an encounter and it was “the BEST most insane sex they’ve ever had. You have a foreign animal that technically has full control over you and it’s slithering all over your body, which leads to a huge adrenaline rush because you do not know what the snake is going to do.” Specifically, there was something about the danger that was really exciting to her and she mentioned that she intends to incorporate snakes into her sexual preferences stat!

I also recently had a fascinating conversation with a fellow that I met in Kava bar in New Orleans about his extreme arousal when women fart on him, also known as Olfactophilia.  I asked him about when he first realized he had a fetish and he responded that in 8th grade, “An attractive and very femme classmate was in front of him going up the stairs. He remembers there wasn’t really a noise but she suddenly stopped walking. Her butt was really close to his face.  He looked up, not wanting to appear like he was staring. He noticed that she was blushing. He didn’t understand why. She walked quickly away and he continued walking up the stairs. Suddenly he hit a wall of stink and understood why she was blushing. He fought an erection the entire rest of the day.”  He went on to share that he has been able to incorporate his fetish into a number of his relationships, however he has had to deal with a lot of fetish shame by others in his life due to Olfactophilia.

Where do fetishes come from?  There is no conclusive answer, however there are a number of theories that associate fetishes with early childhood experiences.  One of the most common theories is classical conditioning, which argues that when a child has an early sexual experiences, the peripheral components of the event can become associated with the encounter and lead to arousal from the related object.  In a study men were presented with a penny jar and pictures of sexy ladies simultaneously. Eventually, the presentation of the penny jar without the ladies elicited arousal in the participants, showing that the association between the jar and the ladies was strong enough that eventually the pennies became a turn on.  As many of our first sexual memories are memorable as fuck, it is possible that there can be such a strong association formed in an early enounter that it impacts the formation of one’s sexual response.

I have a friend whose first sexual memory was listening to her sister have sex, she now loves listening to and watching people fuck. The arousal was from listening to sex and thinking about sex for the first time became associated with the voyeuristic component of the interaction, thus shaping her arousal patterns.

There are also biological reasons that people may develop certain fetishes. Foot fetishes, which are arguably the most common fetish relating to a body part, may have a biological root.  Research shows that the genitals are adjacent to the feet in the brains body image map and to put it extremely simply, sometimes the wires get crossed. This makes arousal commonly associated with the genitals to be more likely from the feet than other body parts.

What’s the difference between a fun fetish and something that is potentially problematic?  Regardless of what you are into, it’s cool as long as 1) you experience arousal without it 2) it doesn’t (non-consensually) hurt or harm any living thing 3) You don’t feel like it dominates your thoughts in an unpleasant way or lead you to feel distress or shame.  

As a society we accept some fetishes more than others, and it is really hard for folks that may have non-traditional sources of arousal.  As I always tell my students, don’t yuk anybody’s yum, regardless of how foreign it may seem to you. As well, you may not realize you are into something until you are with a partner or situation that brings it out.  For this reason I say know your boundaries, but also consider being open to new experiences and you may surprise yourself. As my friend from New Orleans said during our interview, “I don’t think that fart fetishes will ever really be normalized, but honestly, that’s part of the fun / excitement of having one for me.”

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Niki D

Niki is a full time sexuality educator, writer and private sex coach. The focus of her Masters in psychology was sexuality and she has lectured at NYU, The United Nations and many other venues on the subjects of sexual communication, sexual assault intervention and support, and human sexuality. Follow her @nikidavisf