A sexual attraction to latex, underwear or even feet. This attraction also known as a fetish is still a taboo subject, despite the fact that the phenomenon has been around since ancient times. Many people do not know what it is, how it arises and how common it is.
Most people think of fetish as extreme sexual scenarios but this is often not the case. Among researchers, therefore, the definition of fetish is ''something enjoys a strong devotion'' and such devotion does not have to be sexual. Still, the word is often used to emphasise a sexual experience or interest that is ''non-standard''. Examples include feet, breasts, latex and other non-living objects that can sexually arouse someone.
Scholars distinguish within fetishism exclusive and non-exclusive fetishes. In an exclusive fetish, you only get aroused by that object or body part, while in non-exclusive fetishes you are also sensitive to other sexual stimuli. People with exclusive fetishes are less common in practice.
Both feet and leather are common fetishes
Fetishism is included in the US and internationally influential classification system DSM-5. The DSM-5 is also known as The Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders. That fetishism is listed in it is quite controversial because it is a sexual preference and not a mental disorder. Consequently, another controversial disorder that was still in the DSM-5 until 1973 was homosexuality. It therefore sometimes happens that a ''disorder'' is taken out.
King of rubber
Fascinated by the subject, researchers have conducted a plethora of studies. In order to find out which fetishes are most common and how they develop. Yet it is difficult to draw conclusions from these studies because they are often small studies. Moreover, the definition of what constitutes a fetish is not the same and they measure in different ways.
For example, In 2017, Belgian researchers looked at the number of people with a fetish. A sample of 1027 participants found that lingerie was the most common sexual interest with a whopping 71.7%. This was followed by nylon with 29.5%, leather with 14.7%, latex with 12.4%, feet with 9.7% and shoes last with 9.7%.
Another survey from 2017 looked the Dutch knowledge centre for sexuality they managed to capture a group of 1768 men and 1850 women. During this survey, they asked participants if they ever had ''special sexual desires'' and what these were. This showed that 4.4% of the men and 0.8% of the women ever got aroused by object or certain clothes. The fact that this percentage is so low may be due to the questioning that may intimidate participants.
How a fetish arises
To this day, scientists still do not know why we have fetishes. However, there are several theories:
For instance, it could be due to various socio-cultural factors in our society. Because some cultures place more value on certain body parts and sexual acts. For example, in China they value their feet more and in Europe they are much more focused on breasts.
Biological factors can also play a role because in the brain, sensory input is processed alongside the area that receives the genital stimulation. Why the areas in the brain are so close to each other could create a coincidental connection.
For instance, monkeys and gorillas also have fetishes and several zoos have observed this behavior. A gorilla named Koko, who was world-famous for using American Sign Language, had a nipple fetish. There was also a monkey named Gabriel from the Southwest National Primate Research Centre who had a shoe fetish.
Furthermore, cultural aspects may have an influence. For instance, researchers think that in sexually positive societies, where sex is mostly seen as something fun, people are more likely to have a fetish.
A picture taken during Folsom, one of the biggest fetish events in Europe
Despite not knowing why people have fetishes, they are becoming increasingly visible in our current society. This is partly due to the influence of the internet and artists like Erwin Olaf and Robert Mapplethorpe by showing the beautiful side of fetish. Now, if you are curious about how fetish is used as inspiration in art, be sure to read the other articles on the site.