What's a fetish? Simple enough question but enough to keep my brain reasonably occupied this morning. Actually, it's a concept that fascinates me - the sexual within the (conventionally) non-sexual. What fascinates me more is the social contextualising that goes on to make a fetish a fetish. Every fetish is different. Some can be very general, others extremely precise. This colour of PVC, that angle of the leg, but to me the addition of the social context leads to a problem of definition.
For a fetish to be a fetish it must be a required ingredient in sexuality, and something that is generally (and this is where the social context comes in) not considered to be sexual. An interesting point is large breasts. It's generally accepted in our society that large breasts are sexy. However, over a certain size and inflated to beyond "natural" capacity they start to become strange. Faked, plastic and curiously smooth - the plastic padded bosom of a sex doll is surely a fetish, yet it's hard to see where, precisely, the line is drawn. If fetish applies to those things which are "generally" not considered sexual then do we need to do a straw poll to decide whether enough people are turned on for it to be a social sexual norm and hence not a fetish? If PVC and leather are already enshrined as sexual clothing materials in our society can they technically be a fetish?
Let's try another way of thinking about it. A fetish is normally an object, but there are also fetishised ways of behaviour and one can adopt a fetished manner. Whether talking about magical idols or BDSM sexuality a fetish is something that invest an object with an attribute it is not normally accepted as having. In the case of religion, particularly voodoo, it's about investing a man-made object with power which is then used in ritual. You make a fetish, often with blood or other symbolically important components, and you need to have it in a certain place or used in a certain way in order to make the magic happen.
I believe that there are parallels to be drawn with the sexual counterpart. Fetishised items - shoes, certain types of fabric, outfits and pieces of equipment - have a sexual power invested in them by the fetishist. Although we can (and do, especially if you are female) talk about shoes being sexy what we tend to mean is that we would look and feel sexy in them, or that they are nice shoes that give off an aura of sexiness. Not that we actually want to fuck the shoe, or that the shoe is a necessary part of our sexual desire. This is different for someone who actually fetishises the shoe - the shoe is sexy in and of itself, it is sexually desirable. It has sexual power bestowed upon it by the beholder. In all cases, however, the shoe is just a shoe is just a shoe. Power and desire live in the mind - the shoe has no inherent power, it is only sexy when someone who looks on it thinks it is. There's a sort of power exchange going on here, where the fetishist gives up some of their own desire and invests it into the object. In this way, when the shoe is with the fetishist, it is desire. Fetish is, in part, about requiring the object to be in place before the desire can occur.
For me, the most interesting fetishes are those that involve de-humanised humans (objectification), or those that do not involve actual people at all (objects by themselves). I certainly have the former and am incredibly curious about the latter. My sexual desire still revolves around people, in some form or other, and if not necessarily sexual contact then certainly sexual context (being mummified is extremely sexy as a process and as a state of being for example). If there are objects that turn me on it's usually because I can link them to sexual practice - dildos being the obvious example, but rope, clothespegs and the smell of leather all makes me thrill a little. However, for me those items don't expressly need to be there, so I don't consider myself a fetishist. They make the world a little rosier, but I don't have to have them in order to orgasm.
I've recently been contacted by a self-defining fetishist and am hoping to meet for a coffee to explore all of this in more detail, in theory and in practice.
5 weeks ago