Fetish Isn’t a Dirty Word

It took me a long time to admit to myself that I’m a fetishist. I always knew I was kinky and also that I was into BDSM, but fetishist just seemed…dirty. People who are fetishists are weird, odd, the ones who are too wrapped up in a single thing and don’t explore the cornucopia of sexuality to it’s fullest because they’re too focused on one thing, their fetish. Or that’s how I felt.

A fetish is a specific paraphilia and here’s what Psychology Today has to say about paraphilia:

“The term paraphilia refers to intense sexual attraction to any objects or people outside of genital stimulation with consenting adult partners.”

and

“A paraphilia is a condition in which a person’s sexual arousal and gratification depend on fantasizing about and engaging in sexual behavior that is atypical and extreme.”

I think the first quote is close, but the second is entirely incorrect and is much too narrow a definition on top of being judgmental, kink shame-y, and pathologizing. Let’s break down the ways I disagree.

“A paraphilia is a condition” It’s not a condition, it’s an enjoyment. Some people are obsessed with one thing or another that has nothing to do with sex but from which they derive great pleasure and satisfaction like scuba diving, photography, needlepoint, woodworking, whatever. Would we say that someone who is obsessed with scuba diving every chance they get has ‘a condition?’ Of course not. But because a paraphilia has sexual overtones it is ‘a condition?’ That’s ridiculous. Using this terminology pathologizes something that is integral to the human condition.

“a person’s sexual arousal and gratification” Herein lies the bulk of my disgruntlement. A fetish is not always about sexual arousal and gratification. In fact, in the ‘kink community,’ a fetish is often considered something that excludes or downplays sexual gratification which is why it’s called a fetish and not a kink. Like ponyplay, or diaper lovers. It’s true that some people culminate a scene of ponyplay with sexual climax but most do not. Same thing for diaper lovers. Go to a forum that caters to this community and you will see that it has very little to do with what vanillas would consider sexual gratification. Which is precisely what makes it a fetish. The fact that it’s something that’s tangentially sexual but is…different than sex.

“depend on fantasizing about and engaging in” This is what makes the definition too narrow. This means that you can only have one fetish because your entire sexual being is consumed by or ‘depend on’ a single paraphilia to the exclusion of all else. This is certainly true for some people and indeed, the reason that the definition is so narrow is that for hundreds of years the only people whose paraphilias were studied were those who were insane or mentally disturbed to begin with. But as the understanding and acceptance of ‘alternative sex’ has grown this narrow idea should be thrown out.

“atypical and extreme.” This just makes my blood boil. They don’t even say atypical OR extreme which I would still disagree with but maybe not be so mad at, but they say a fetish is both. Honestly, I think fetishes are the rule and not the exception it’s just that some are not considered socially unacceptable, or ‘atypical and extreme.’ Ever hear someone say they’re a ‘boob guy’ or an ‘ass man?’ Meaning, they prefer breasts or plump assess. That’s TOTALLY a fetish! Or to use the clinical term, TOTALLY a paraphilia.

So if I’m so against this definition what would I consider the definition of a fetish? And who gets to decide what the definition is anyway? I think the ‘kink community’ get’s to decide, and they have.

You won’t find any “Oxford Kink Dictionary” but consider how dictionaries are created. First, people use words that have meaning and these meanings are more or less agreed upon or generally understood. Then, people who study these things compile all these words and generally understood meanings into a big book called a dictionary. As time goes on and people use words differently they can gradually take on different meanings or entirely change in meaning. Then the dictionary people all get together and decide how to update their dictionaries.

The word ‘fetish’ and how paraphilias are understood has developed in two different universes. The one that gets put into dictionaries is the one created by researchers and scientists. And what were they studying? Crazy people and those with the most extreme paraphilias and most rigid sexual fixations. But these people are not the entirety of fetishists, they are only a subset and a very, very small one. This is “the official people’s” exposure to fetishists and it’s ridiculous to think these people get to define ‘paraphilia’ based on such an infinitesimally small data set.

The other universe is one where people are just going about their business, having sexy time in whatever way strikes their fancy. Maybe that’s the archetypal vanilla ‘heterosexual missionary position with the lights off’ kind of sex, maybe that’s getting tied up and having their cock and balls punched, maybe that’s coming home from work and putting on a diaper before plopping on the couch to watch TV, maybe that’s having their hair pulled, called a dirty whore and having their ass slapped while getting fucked doggy style.

The ‘kink community’ is comprised of people who engage in non-vanilla sexual practices and who have as a commonality a belief in consent, tolerance, and acceptance. Of that community, there are three general subsets of BDSM, kink, and fetish. These are the people who have fetishes and who have exposure to those with fetishes and it is from this community I have drawn my definition of fetish.

Going back to how dictionaries are created, the first step is that people use words with meaning and that meaning is generally understood. In the kink community, the word fetish is very loosely defined and sometimes interchangeable with kink. I have found minor differences though, and I do not think the two words are synonymous.

My working definition of fetish is “a thing, activity, or behavior which is not directly associated with sexual climax through which sexual fulfillment is sought.” This definition is derived from the way it is used by people who are themselves fetishists and people with exposure to those fetishists.

For a long time, I was trapped by the clinical definition of a fetish and the uneasy feeling it gave me. I have come to understand that I am a fetishist and the problem is with the definition, not me. The turning point was when I accepted my diaper fetish and the major epiphany was that it’s sexual but not directly associated with sexual climax.

When I want to wear a diaper it has nothing to do with wanting to orgasm. If we understand that sex in the broadest sense is anything that brings sexual fulfillment, we can see that sex can be “an act wherein one achieves orgasm” which is usually what people mean when they say ‘sex.’ But what about all the things that people consider sexual but have nothing to do with orgasm? I say that’s all sex too.

The thing that I’m still trying to figure out is what is it that I get out of my fetishes? How am I achieving some kind of sexual fulfillment when my genitals or orgasm are not involved? I can feel that I am, and I know that I am, but how and why? Why does this feeling of sexual fulfillment feel different than sexual gratification or sexual climax?

I don’t know. What I do know is that somehow, someway, wearing a diaper is pleasant and feels sexually fulfilling but is very different than “sex.” So, I’m a fetishist, and I’m not ashamed of that anymore even if I can’t explain it.

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