Idyll asked me to shed some light on the subject of tentacles and my ongoing love-affair with them. I'm not the only one. A deeply unscientific series of twitter conversations provoked much the same reaction from other perverts.
Tentacles ooze, slick and pervasive. They invade. They insert. They are extremely flexible probe, poke, suck, hold and cling. They move in a strange, beautiful way when underwater, and an alien, unsettling fashion when on land. There are eight of them, a vast improvement on our four limbs. Some of them are used as substitutes for penises.
BDSM and kinky sex is a lot about the look and feel of curious things, especially those things set in opposition to skin, flesh and bone. Materials like latex, leather and metal form a huge part of our kit and clothing. We like things that are strange, that feel not-like-human and that send people out of their comfort zone, away from what is normal, usual and expected. Tentacles, with their slippery, suction-cup covered mass also provoke reactions of shock and horror, with their air of otherworldliness, thanks in no small part to the writings of Lovecraft and other writers who followed similar suit.
However, it is within Edo period japan that the connection between tentacles and the erotic has its root. The classic piece cited is The Dream Of the Fisherman's wife, a ukiyo-e print from the 1800s, portraying a woman receiving a lot of sexual attention from a very large (and very giving) octopus. This is theorised as a porn version of the famous legend of Princess Tamatori who stole jewels from a sea dragon and his tentacled servants. What is important to note about these early pictures is that images of women entwined with sexual tentacles was not uncommon and that certainly within Dream the act is consensual - rather than the expected forced penetration via tentacles, the octopus is giving her head and concentrating on giving her pleasure.
It's later, particularly within anime that the non-consensual and forced erotic elements we are more familiar with come into play in works like Urotsukidoji. This brings the Japanese tentacle back into the realms of the unheimlich and the sinister, which matches more with the western viewpoint - something not-of-this-world which invades. The tentacle carries the motif of the alien, and certainly it is within a lot of sci-fi in both eastern and western culture that we find representations of all kinds of tentacles moving from the violent and terrifying such as the tentacles in the martians in War Of The Worlds, the face-huggers in the Alien franchise who penetrate and grip using tentacle-like protrusions through to the cheeky and humorous in the reproductive tentacles of the Centauri race in Babylon 5. This isn't limited to animals - there's the infamous angry, molesting tree in The Evil Dead and to my mind, the whip-like protrusions of the Triffids in the John Wyndam novel have much of the tentacle about them. And let's face it, perverts love whips.
Fetish is the process of finding sexual those things which traditionally not sexual - with the interesting knock on effect that over time that which is fetishised can become representative of sexuality, such as the high-heeled shoe. Tentacles are certainly part of BDSM fetish not least because of their shape, but also because of their association with monsters. It's common to see them used when representing evil characters, especially as it gives undertones - or overtones - of monstrous and unnatural sexuality. In fact, tentacles have become something of a shorthand for making things unusually horrible or weird. There's a nice article on that here.
On a personal note, it's relatively common knowledge that, alongside a tail, a set of internal tentacles would be top of my list of body modifications should medical science get around to providing us with these much-needed physical improvements. Until such a day, my desires are confined to this rather lovely glass tentacle dildo, longing after this dress, and working on a tentacle tattoo.