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Fetishes, kinks, and paraphilias, oh my!

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By Hamarita Jones (Contributor) – Email

Print Edition: March 5, 2014

Fetishes and kinks go way, way back. Just ask these ladies. (Image: Creative Commons Attributed)

Fetishes and kinks go way, way back. Just ask these ladies. (Image: Creative Commons Attributed)

My boyfriend likes my feet. A lot.

I’m not saying he wants to fuck them. He doesn’t even need to lick them or rub ice cubes on them or what have you. (I’m so ticklish that he’d probably get kicked in the face if he tried). He just likes them. It’s not that my wide feet are so irresistibly sexy that no man could keep his hands off them — trust me, they’re not — but there’s just something about feet that really rustles his jimmies.

That’s an example of a mild paraphilia —  that is, the sexual objectification of things not usually considered sexual. Paraphilias are mostly divided into kinks and fetishes, and there’s a subtle but important distinction between the two. According to New York’s Museum of Sex, a kink is a paraphilia that heightens the sexual intimacy between partners; a fetish is one that replaces it. My boyfriend’s foot thing? Definitely a kink. A guy who buys a pair of sexy high heels and spends some quality alone-time with them behind locked doors? That’s a fetish.

Foot fetishes are actually considered pretty tame these days. As you probably know if you’ve ever spent any time at all on the internet, the number of paraphilias out there are practically boundless; pretty much anything you can imagine has turned someone on at some point. Cliffs, sneezing, leg-shaving, birthday cakes, amputees, mirrors, balloons, wasps, rubber boots, armpits, and feathers are all well-documented fetishes. And those aren’t even the tip of the big, sexy iceberg. (Hell, there’s probably a fetish for icebergs out there somewhere, too.)

Thanks to the internet, subcultures and communities have formed around many fetishes and kinks. The most prominent one is probably BDSM, of course — bondage and discipline, Dominance/submission, sadism and masochism — which has become such a huge movement that some people wrap their entire sexual identities around it. The leather fetish community has also become a popular subculture associated with the BDSM movement, and even has its own flag. There’s even mechanophilia, the fetishization of automobiles, which has become popular enough that some enterprising soul has even created a soft, fuckable, Fleshlight-like device that plugs into your car’s fill spout. Filling your tank just took on a whole new meaning.

Food fetishes are also common — and I’m not talking about your typical aphrodisiacs like oysters or chocolates or candied rose petals. One gentleman in my acquaintance can’t get a hard-on unless he eats blue jellybeans, like his own corn-syrupy version of the “little blue pill.” Another guy I know gets fired up by wasabi. That’s right — the spicy green paste that comes with your bento box gives him a happy.

Then there are diaper fetishes. Scat. Golden showers. But I can’t write about those without much, much more wine than I have at my disposal. Another time, gentle reader.

Another important thing to note is that most of the research in this area is focused on men’s desires and fetishes. Ladies’ sexuality, as usual, is sadly underrepresented.

So where does this all come from? Why do we find certain objects, body parts, places, and individuals so erotic? Perhaps it has to do with the taboo nature of the fetishized object — for example, feet are usually seen as dirty, untouchable, and nasty, yet according to the International Journal of Impotence Research, they’re also the most fetishized part of the body. Coincidence?

Alternatively, some psychologists surmise that traumatic events such as spankings in early childhood can lead the individual to eroticize the event as a method of coping. But other researchers, like the Kinsey Institute — the same group that brought you the famous Kinsey scale of hetero- to homosexuality — note that paraphilias can also begin later in life for no apparent reason. No one agrees on one single reason to explain why we find certain things sexy. Fetishes are unpredictable and inexplicable, which is why they’re so fascinating.

Sadly, they’re also taboo. Plenty of people never speak up about their kinks to their partners out of fear of being seen as a freak or dumped, and lead half-hearted, unfulfilled sex lives as a result. If this is you, I hope you have the courage to speak up. I hope you look in your partner’s eyes and confess all, and I hope she smiles and says, “Sure, sweetie, you can try putting it in my armpit,” and then you’ll know that it’s true love. If we were all that relaxed and open-minded about sex, we’d be a much happier society.

But sometimes having a kink or a fetish is something to be concerned about. Is it ruining your ability to have a functional sexual relationship? Is it interrupting your daily life? The DSM-V, the holy bible of psychologists, makes a distinction between paraphilias and paraphilic disorders. According to the DSM-V, a paraphilia only becomes a disorder if it causes the individual distress or impairment, or if it causes harm to others.

I like that definition. As long as it’s not hurting anyone, go to town. Enjoy what you fucking enjoy, fuck what you enjoy fucking, and apologize to no one.

Or, you know, maybe it does involve hurting someone. As long as that’s their kink.

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