What is a fetish?

04.08.2020

The word fetish can refer, from an anthropological perspective, to amulets and elements typical of a certain type of tribal cult or, from a psychological perspective, to the relative obsession with a certain object, especially in a sexual way.

This last definition is the one that we will develop further throughout this article, in addition to understanding whether fetishism is or is not a psychological disorder. Let's find out more deeply what a fetish is .

What is a fetish in Psychology?

In its most general sense, a fetish is understood to be a material object of worship that is granted magical and supernatural properties, which can become revered as an idol. These types of objects are those used in many tribes and ancient civilizations and their idolatry has been the founding pillar of many modern religions. Fetish idolatry is universal, appearing in many different places around the world.

However, the definition that we will treat does not have to do with this anthropological conception of what a fetish is, but its more psychological definition . Specifically in the field of sexual psychology, we understand as fetish an object or part of the body that inspires some kind of sexual attraction to someone, although this element does not normally have any sexual meaning in our species.

The word "fetish" comes from the Latin "facticius", which means artificial and invented, referring to the fact that the meaning attributed to it is totally subjective, whether cultural or sexual. The word would have evolved into "feitiço", a word used by Portuguese navigators to refer to objects of worship that were found on their travels, of obsessive fascination. That same word evolved into "fetish" in French, where "fetish" comes from, acquiring the definition we have just seen.

The sexual fetish

The origins of the word "fetish" used with a sexual connotation in psychology are found in Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory . It was he himself who gave him the definition of abnormal sexual attraction to an object or body part that has little to do with reproductive function. Among these objects and situations without clearly reproductive function but that activate a sexual response we would have high-heeled shoes, BDSM harnesses, leather clothing, lingerie, whips, chains, feet, armpits ...

A specific situation or action may also be a fetish. There are people who have a real fetish with people who smoke, wear executive clothing or walk in a certain way. The sexual interest of being tickled, tied up, flogged, gagged or humiliated (BDSM practices) or urinated on (pissing) would also be within the fetish. These fetishes are more intense than those directly related to a type of object, and there are not a few communities of people looking for sexual partners with whom to practice them .

Among the objects that would not be considered sexual fetishes we would have objects intended for sexual stimulation, such as vibrators. These devices, although not "natural", are specifically designed to awaken sexual activation. They do it not because the person feels that they produce some kind of attraction, but because, when placed on the genitals, they produce physical stimulation in that same place as if it were the genital of another person.

Theories on fetishism

Sex arouses a lot of interest and, if we talk about sex that goes beyond the social norm, even more. It is therefore not surprising that countless theories have been put forward to explain fetishism, in addition to debating whether or not it is a disorder. Next we will discover the two most relevant theories about this type of sexual behavior .

Psychoanalytic theory

Freud was one of the first psychologists to psychologically approach sexual fetishism. In his case, he spoke of sexual behavior that was activated in the presence of an object or element that, in principle, should not have objectively speaking sexual meaning, but that the fetishist attributed to him.

For psychoanalysis, the fetish is a perverse manifestation, considering it the nucleus and common place of all the other paraphilias.

According to this current, fetishism is the way in which the subject's problems with social norms are manifested, especially when these norms are very strict. This can be related to the time Freud lived, since at the end of the 19th century (Victorian period) there was a lot of sexual repression.

This repression caused people to have almost no sexual freedom , causing them to develop in their most intimate murky and unmentionable fantasies. The more sexual repression, the more intense fetishism would be. It is at this time that behaviors such as voyeurism, sadomasochism or transvestism begin to be discussed.

For other psychoanalysts, as would be the case with Piera Aulagnier, fetishism would be a border state between neurosis and psychosis. Once this barrier is overcome, the individual would enter directly into the world of psychosis and, therefore, of hallucinatory psychopathology, such as schizophrenia.

Conditioning theory

Psychoanalysis is very interesting but it has already lost enough weight in the scientific field. For this reason, it has been necessary to propose other theories that would explain the reason for the existence of fetishism, and among them we have behavioral proposals, in addition to being supported by classical figures such as that of the psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing or the psychologist Alfred Binet.

Conditioning theory explains that fetishism is the result of childhood conditioning of the fetish subject. The origin of their sexual fixation towards an object or part of the body is due to a casual circumstance that occurred during the process of sexual learning and self-knowledge. By matching the fetish object and sexual exploration, the person would associate pleasure with that object .

This relationship would settle down until reaching adulthood, transformed into a very strong sexual interest in the object and turned into an important element during intercourse or any sexual relationship. In case the fetish is not present during intercourse, it is quite likely that the sexual response will not occur.

Fetishism good or bad?

A widespread debate is whether sexual fetishism is a good or bad thing, that is, whether or not it involves a psychopathological disorder. As with any other paraphilia, fetishism is not considered a psychological disorder or problem as long as it does not harm other people or imply a cognitive, social, work and emotional deterioration in the person.

Traditionally fetishism has been seen as a disorder, understood as abnormal sexual attraction to a certain object or element. The logic behind this idea is that, as it goes outside the norm, it must, of necessity, be pathological . However, this idea has been overcome and, in fact, it is considered that it is normal for people to have some kind of fetishism. Anyone can have a certain degree of fetish excitement, stepping out of what would be considered "normal" sex, without having a fetish disorder.

There is nothing strange or extravagant about having a fetish, and it is something that should not embarrass anyone according to experts, nor should it be kept hidden from the couple. In fact, fetishes, well worn, allow you to get out of the monotony of sex. Performing the same sexual practices over and over again with the partner can end up wearing her out, something that, in the long run, could even end with her. Complying with this type of small perversions is something necessary for the couple to feel satisfied.

Fetishism will be considered a disorder if the person is completely dependent on their fetish for a sexual response . For example, a person who has a fetish with high-heeled shoes, if he is only excited by the presence of this type of shoe without looking at the person wearing it, has a problem. Only being able to have sex while having the object in question limits the sexual experience a lot, making the person need very specific conditions to be aroused.

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