The definition of fetish will depend on who you ask; for most people, however, a fetish is anything that causes sexual arousal. This could be any object, act, or situation that is not considered a normal sexual situation; whether it be a fantasy or a real scenario. Sometimes people may find that the fetish is required for sexual satisfaction.Originally Posted by Dictionary.com
The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) defines fetishism as a paraphilia which is characterized by the sexual arousal or stimulation from a physical object.
There are problems with the definitions; in reality not all fetishes are used as a tool when trying to reach sexual gratification. In fact, a lot of fetishes aren't even used in sexual acts as all the definitions appear to imply. These objects may just be used by the person over the course of a day. The DSM contains the most accurate definition of a fetish.
In the popular definition a fetish is considered to be an object or an act which also can't fit some definition or consideration of normality. This errs in that a paraphilia for an act is not a fetish. If, however, some kind of particular object is used to carry out the act, and the object itself brings on feelings of sexual arousal, then a fetish exists for that object.
All fetishes are paraphilia but not all paraphilia are fetishes.
Psychology Behind Fetishes
This remains an area with much undone research, and many controversial topics. The psychology behind how fetishes and paraphilia occur are often biased. It isn't that the psychologists doing these studies are at fault, but rather, the people who are commonly studied for research are people who have actually gone seeking help with their fetish, or are people who have been forced to seek help due to illegal activities.
Persons with paedophilia are pretty well studied since it is an illegal act if taken into the real world. People who may have caused harm on others or themselves may seek help with their fetish. A lot of fetishes, however, don't fit any of these qualities, and the people who have them are as vast and unique as everyone else. For this reason not many people with fetishes go seek professional help.
Many theories on fetishes began with Dr. Sigmund Freud, as he was the first to give a theory and use the term of fetish to link paraphilic behaviours. Freud believed that a fetish occurred in men by an unconscious fear of their mother's genitals. He never discussed fetishism in females.
In the early studies it was believed that a fetish was imprinted or conditioned by psychological or physical abuse during the childhood. Strong traumatic events that had occurred while someone was a child could cause them to be obsessed with odd ritualistic behaviours. These behaviours could be on both ends of the scale, such as a sexual obsession with intercourse, or the fear of intercourse. This abuse is still a possibility today; many psychologists agree that if someone is sexually abused as a child, this could cause them to sexually abuse or harm others.
Dr. Alfred Binet argued in the early 1900s that an object could be associated with sexual intercourse by being simultaneously used or around during sexual arousal. This could cause the brains permanent association with the object and sexual arousal. Under this theory, if one were to masturbate by using some tool when one is young, then this tool could be permanently linked as a fetish.
In 1920 another theory appeared from sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (also notable as the first to advocate homosexual and transgender rights). His theory of partial attractiveness argued that sexual attraction as a whole is always the product of several features. This would mean that nearly everyone has some special interests, which is a "healthy form" of fetishism. A pathological fetish only occurs if you only detach one interest, and obsess in it. Today his theory is generally mentioned as a gender specific behaviour. Females highlight parts of their body by make up, clothing, or other accessories to make males react to them.
Many other theories have surfaced over time, some showing promising results. Nothing is confirmed, or officially used as a diagnostic tool. The variables are far too many, and many believe that a fetish can occur in several different ways. Psychologists have given different ideas for fetishistic behaviours appearing.
Main Theories Today
It was in 1951 that Donald Winnicott presented his theory about transitional objects and the phenomena that go with them. This theory addresses childish actions (e.g. thumb sucking, plushy use), manifold adult behaviours, and many fetishes.
A transitional object, also known as a comfort object or a security blanket, is an object that provides psychological comfort. They are most commonly used in unique and stressful situations, such as bedtime for small children. A comfort object can take form to a toddler in several ways, such as their favourite toy, a stuffed animal, or as the term security blanket suggests, a blanket. The use of these transitional objects is healthy for young children, but Winnicott believes that these objects can cause a fetish to occur, one of many outcomes he considers to be "transitional phenomena".
Winnicott says that a fetish could be described as the persistent or specific object of one type coming from an object in the transitional field. This object can be linked with the delusion of a maternal phallus. This means that a specific object, or group of objects can provide satisfaction to a child as the mother pulls back as the provider. This object's characteristics can continue on to teen and adult sexual life.
Before the transitional phase occurs, the child believes that the object of desire actually performs what they need to be done. Specifically, these are the qualities that the mother is no longer providing to the child. As the transitional phases are occurring, the child realizes that the object cannot be controlled to serve his needs. After the child has adapted to the idea that the object can no longer serve his needs, the child can then create an illusion of the previous object. He may use this transitional object as a "magical" control, to a control by manipulation. This control by manipulation involves muscle eroticism and co-ordination pleasure.
This causes an impossibility of pleasure from the body of the mother. Although fetishism is less common in females, these ideas can be expanded towards fetishistic behaviour in females. The transitional object may not always develop into a fetish, but it can still eventually develop into a sexual experience and provide comfort to the adult in their sex life.
There are some who say that because the objects are being used as comfort objects they cannot be classified as a fetish. Since the object is being used before puberty, they would claim that infantilism isn't so much a fetish as it is some other "disorder".
Behaviourism beings fetishism back to classical conditioning, and has provided new specialized theories. The common idea among all such theories is that sexual arousal and the fetish object are presented simultaneously causing them to be connected. This is similar to Alfred Binet's earlier theory of associations but leaves out the judgment of pathogenicity.
The super stimulus theory suggested that a fetish could be the result of generalizations. For example, it may only be shiny skin that someone finds arousing, but in time this can cause more common items to be arousing as well, such as shiny cloths or materials. Given this theory, it is safe to assume that similar objects to one fascination can become part of the fetish as well.
Because the theory of classical conditioning is unable to explain how the behaviours remain alive over many years with no repetition, some behaviourists suggest that fetishism is actually the result of a special kind of conditioning. This is called imprinting, which happens during a specific time in the childhood in which sexual orientation is imprinted into the child's mind, and remains there for the rest of their life.
Neurologists have pointed out that fetishism can be a brain problem, where neuronal cross links improperly occur between neighbour regions in the human brain. Thus, there are "wires" in your brain from the sexual area crossing over the "wires" related to the object of desires.
However, the rules have changed; psychodynamics has given up on the idea of proposing a definition or explanation of fetishes all at the same time. They are instead focusing on one fetish at a time, and the patient's individual problems. There have been successful studies that have suggested certain fetishes can be linked to certain emotional problems.
The lovemap theory is a generalized theory that overlays many other theories given. A lovemap is the brain's way of determining what it loves and what it likes. There are many different kinds of lovemaps, and they are can used to determine sexual oreintation. The concept of a lovemap has been around since 1980, however the psychological term wasn't coined until 1986 by John Money.
The lovemap begins forming around the age of 2, and may finish at about the age of 8, though these aren't hard definitive numbers and there may be some differences from person to person. A paraphilic lovemap is a lovemap that has lust attached to fetishistic desires or behaviours.
The lovemap can develop paraphilically due to childhood abuse that is overtly sexual, such as incestuous acts against the child, sadomasochistic behavior, or pedophilia. A lovemap that develops this way is often called a "vandalized lovemap" which could result in serious or dangerous paraphilias, such as pedophilia, (extreme) masochism, and murder. This is similar to Alfred Binet's theory that lust may happen due to abusive childhood experiences.
This isn't always the case; the lovemap can also develop paraphilically if some non-sexual act occurs frequently and it causes stimulation to the genitals at an early age. These maps are generalized by the theory proposed by Donald Winnicott's "transitional objects".
What seems to be the consensus?
Most psychologists seem to keep the idea that a fetish or a paraphilia is a completely normal variation in a human's sexuality. While there are still studies going on within the world of fetishes, it's safe to think that paraphilia's are just like the sexuality of a human. There is no definitive way that a paraphilia may occur, but is likely the event of several different variables that vary amongst people.
You cannot be diagnosed with a fetish (or a paraphilia) unless you show two symptoms:
The overall criteria for DSM-IV-TR are pretty similar, but instead involves the use of non-living objects that are not designed for sexual stimulation for sexual arousal or satisfaction.* Unusual sexual fantasies, drives or behavior occur over a time span of at least six months. Sometimes unusual sexual fantasies occur and vanish by themselves; in this case any medical treatment is not necessary.
* The affected person, their object or another person experience impairment or distress in multiple functional areas. Functional area refers to different aspects of life such as private social contacts, job, etc. It is sufficient for the diagnosis if one of the participants is being hurt or mistreated in any other way.
[ICD-10-GM, Version 2005; ICD Code F65.0]
Public Perception of Fetishists In General
Many fetishes are seen by the general population as taboo, for several reasons:
(1) Judgemental People
Much of society is prone to judging that which it doesn't understand, or that doesn't fit with its preferences/worldview.
Consider the long struggle for gay rights in the present, and the rights of women and African Americans in the past.
Such judgemental attitudes can be slow to change.
There are many occasions where high-profile individuals have made statements against people with fetishes, claiming that what they have "chosen" to do is disgusting, wrong, or inappropriate. While people who have fetishes most likely did not choose to have them, they may be very insecure about having fetishes even without public backlash. Such statements can cause some serious psychological harm on a person who is trying to cope with a fetish.
(2) Inaccurate Media Portrayal
Some of these negative views are from mass media releasing stories on people with these fetishes. Such stories tend to be sensationalistic ones which may get good TV ratings. Often, the fetishes will come up in the news when a fetishist commits criminal acts related to unlawful sexual act, and then the news story continues on to release details of his private fetish life. What this does is creates a negative view of the fetish; if you only hear negative things about a community, your perception will be negative. The internet can also be to blame for spreading inaccurate data or information.
Another common type of misrepresentation comes from fiction, such as TV shows and videogames.
If you're watching a TV show, movie, or playing a videogame, the characters with sexual kinks are unlikely to be the good guys. A video game may use a torture dungeon to show how "evil" a character is, suggesting that they get pleasure from their evil and abusive actions.
In reality, few fetishists get pleasure from many anyone suffer. Even those that do have that fetish only practice it with other consenting adults, and with lots of safety preparations.
People like to see "evil" characters. They're fun and interesting to watch. Learning the truth, however enlightening, about fetishes actually stretches your mind, makes you consider other points of view, and can make a real different to a friend's quality of life - but since it isn't fun, the entertainment media generally portrays fetishes only in the negative light that suits their interest.
(3) Ignorance of Crucial Positive Information
In general, only people within the kink/fetish community are aware of the safety measures such individuals take. There are rare exceptions where such knowledge breaks into public awareness, such as the mention of a "safeword" on Family Guy, but these are the exceptions, not the rule.
In general, where kinky or fetish behavior is presented, coverage concentrates on the most "interesting" (odd, disturbing, etc) aspects, not the aspects that seem eminently sensible, safe, caring, etc. Media in general seeks ratings, and when they cover fetish related topics, they tend to earn much more money by portraying it in a sensationalist way, than they do from covering it more objectively.
Essentially all public discourse about fetishism tends to be negative, as fetishism is treated as a weird, taboo topic, and the mass media portrays fetishists as bad people in general, regardless of the facts, because it is in their interests to do so.
Public Perception of AB/DLs and Infantilists In Particular
AB/DLism in particular is commonly associated with pedophilia by people who do not understand it.
In fact, the two are almost complete opposites.
Wikipedia explains it well:
In essence, not only are AB/DLs not related to pedophiles, but AB/DLs are even more anti-pedophile than normal people.Originally Posted by Wikipedia
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