Friends of Dr Havelock Ellis were probably quite amused back in the day by the fact that he was considered to be one of the world's leading experts in the novel field of sexology. A virgin when he got married at the age of 32, Ellis suffered from impotence until the ripe old age of 60. That was all until he discovered he could get an erection by watching a woman in the process of relieving herself. It’s never too late, as they say. What he himself called undinism is known today as urolagnia — a paraphilia in which sexual arousal is experienced from the sight or thought of urination or being urinated upon.
Sexual fetishism or paraphilia as concepts, which are not the same thing but are very closely linked, have changed throughout history. Good old Freud, for example, lumped homosexuality, zoophilia and fetishism into one basket. This list of vices or pathologies also didn't fail to include oral sex. “The use of the mouth as a sexual organ is regarded as a perversion if the lips (or tongue) of one person are brought into contact with the genitals of another, but not if the mucous membranes of the lips of both of them come together”, wrote the father of psychoanalysis in his ‘Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality'. In short, the 'normal' thing to do is to put the penis in the vagina to make a baby — the rest is for deviants.
So, before we start, what is a sexual fetish?
A Fetish is not the same as a paraphilia, nor is a paraphilia the same as a paraphilic disorder. Fetishism refers to an erotic fixation on a non-genital object or body part. To be clear, if you're turned on by long nails — then long nails are your fetish. If, on the other hand, you’re turned on by a vagina or a penis — that's fine. According to esteemed publications such as the Oxford English Dictionary, both fetishism and paraphilia (previously known as sexual perversion and sexual deviation) are in actual fact "abnormal". But keep calm and don't call a psychiatrist just yet!
The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) defines paraphilia as “any intense and persistent sexual interest other than sexual interest in genital stimulation or preparatory fondling with phenotypically normal, physiologically mature, consenting human partners". There you go! To sum up again, anything outside of foreplay followed by penetration with a "phenotypically normal" person (whatever that means) is weird. So, you get turned on by people with scars — paraphilia; you get turned on by being spanked or by stilettos — paraphilia again.
As you can see, this “abnormal” talk is (pardon our French) a load of claptrap. So, what if your sexual tastes differ from what a bunch of frumpy philologists considered to be ‘normal’ back in the 1950’s. As long as you’re not harming anyone else, then what’s the problem? In fact, the DSM uses a different term for a problematic paraphilia, namely — a paraphilic disorder. This is described as “a paraphilia that causes significant distress and impairment of functioning to the individual or involves personal harm or risk of harm to others”. For example, do you like rubbing your genitals against strangers on the underground? Well, you have a problem, sorry — a disorder. Do you get off on cutting up a penis into little pieces, roasting it in the oven and munching on it? Call a psychiatrist now.
In the words of Laura Morán: “whatever you like, as long as it doesn’t harm you, hurt you or is the result of coercion, enjoy it. If you want to do it and if they want to do it (only if they want to) — then share it!”
What are the most common sexual fetishes?
According to a Harvard University study, about 25% of the population have some kind of sexual fetish. Role-playing, voyeurism or a fixation with female feet are some of the most common ones. But there are also others such as hierophilia (getting turned on by sacred or religious objects), acrotomophilia (sexual desire for people with amputated limbs) or a taste for sucking on doorknobs (this one, for whatever reason, still doesn't have its own name).
Forget the talk about ‘childhood traumas’ and ‘mental problems’, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the vast majority of people who get off on spanking or being spanked, binding or being bound, flogging or being flogged. In fact, scientific studies show that S&M enthusiasts are more emotionally balanced, less neurotic and less sensitive to criticism. That being said, of course, such activities should always be based on mutual consent and pre-established rules.
Some fantasies can only come true if you pretend to be someone else. Shedding one's own identity helps you to explore different sexual tastes and interests. And yes, role-play is an important feature of BDSM practises. The roles of 'dom' and 'sub' are agreed upon beforehand, and participants commonly adopt different personalities (teacher-student, boss-secretary, doctor-patient).
Samuel L. Jackson already said that rubbing a woman’s feet and performing cunnilingus on her “ain’t even the same f***in’ thing". Nevertheless, it is clearly something very intimate. One does not massage the feet of Marcellus Wallace's new wife! For Sigmund Freud the foot is a symbol of the penis, because for him everything was a symbol of the penis; more specifically, "of the female penis". But beyond this man's phallic obsession, podophilia (a word with an unfortunate sound to it) is one of the most common fetishes. So, go ahead, admire them, caress them, lick them... just make sure they don't belong to a gang boss from a Tarantino movie.
Getting off on watching other people having sex — that's voyeurism. For Hitchcock (not that he was ever much of a role model), we are all voyeurs, having made this patently obvious in films such as 'Rear Window'. What is indeed crystal clear is that we like to watch and contemplate the intimacy of others. Obviously, if this becomes an obsession and you end up starring in a true crime series about psychopaths on Netflix, then that's something entirely different.
Looners: balloon fetishism
We must confess that this one even caught us by surprise. Looners are people who become aroused or derive pleasure from having sex on balloons, surrounded by balloons, touching balloons or blowing up balloons. Each looner has their own personal preferences. As one such enthusiast explains in a recent newspaper article: “blow-to-pop lovers like to put the balloon on their lips, see how it expands with each breath and grows and grows until it bursts. Sit-to-poppers, like me, love to immerse their bodies in the balloon, to feel the pressure, to hear the squeaks as it rubs against skin, and to squeeze it until it pops. Non-poppers enjoy playing with balloons as long as it doesn’t involve popping them, because this can be frustrating and unsettling for them”. If you're enthused by the idea of some balloon-filled frollicks, we recommend the website ThirtyThreeRooms.
Urophilia or 'golden showers'
In one of the of Sex and the City's most memorable episodes, Carrie Bradshaw, has an affair with a politician who requests that she take a little tinkle on him. Although it’s better known as a ‘golden shower’ or ‘watersports’ to us laywomen or laymen, psychologists refer to this paraphilia as urolagnia — a carnal kink centred around urine and urination (touching, seeing or smelling it). However, pay attention because urolagnia or urophilia is not the same as urophagia. People with the former are sexually aroused by urine, but only the latter quaff it down with gusto.
Bondage (or 'slavery') is intimately bound up in the BDSM world. The idea is to let yourself be dominated, to surrender yourself completely to another person and to derive pleasure from it. The feeling of being at the mercy of another can be intensely stimulating — but always, of course, in a consensual way.
We have to admit that this is perhaps the strangest one for us. It brings together the human and the supernatural for erotic purposes — something even we had not contemplated until now! Apparently, the origin of this philia dates back to the Middle Ages and may be defined as having a sexual attraction to ghosts or spirits. We don’t judge here.
A common theme amongst high school bad boys and in classic Hollywood films, this is the attraction to the sight of someone smoking.
Have we missed one out? Of course we have! The wonderful world of philias and fetishes is practically limitless! Are you turned on by dolls or statues? Agalmatophilia. Bicycles, motorbikes or cars? Mechanophilia. Watching your partner sleep? Somnophilia. And so on into infinity. Our advice? Enjoy yourself. As long as you’re not bothering others, there’s a whole universe of kink to experience!
Image: still from 'Rear Window'.