On the Power of Things: Sexual Fetishism

Sexual fetishes are among the strangest things for those who don’t possess them. It’s often simply a non sequitur for most people. Why feet? Why leather? Why balloons?

The word “fetish” was originally coined in the early 17th century to describe the amulets and charms of religious significance worn by West African tribespeople, objects to which they assigned great significance and power. This was observed earliest by the Portuguese, who called such an object a feitiço, from the Latin facticius (artificial) and facere (to make).

In its original sense a fetish was, like sexual fetishes today, a curiousity to those who viewed them from the outside. Why, those who studied them must have wondered, should so much significance and psychological value be bound up in these tiny stone carvings?

Over time it was put forward that many distinct objects of mystical or religious significance, and indeed the so-called “fetishization” of these objects, were to be found in religions throughout the world. The Christian cross for example, while often merely symbolic and representative, could be seen as a fetish object when it is shown by an exorcist to the supposedly possessed, or when in fiction it is used to combat a vampire; in order to affect or ward away anything it must be imagined that the object has a power unto itself.

Naturally, of course, this led to some disagreement within the church and among religious scholars as to whether religious fetishism indicated some form of heresy, i.e., that worship of or focus on the object was detracting from one’s connection to the godhead. This is a question to which we will return. Indeed, it is something I’m sure nearly every sexual fetishist has heard at one point or another over the course of their relationships; I feel like you’re more interested in my _____ than you are in me…

The modern interpretation of fetish theory, which takes note of its sexual manifestations, began with Sigmund Freud in 1927. To Freud the essential qualities of any sexually fetishized object were ultimately irrelevant because they were universally, quelle suprise, mere phallic substitutes, an idea which can only be explained through the mental acrobatics required to appreciate his castration theory, which is and are of no use to us here.

These days, the conception of a sexual fetish is reliant on our appreciation and understanding of parasexuality, which is to say that body of behaviors, interactions, and preferences of a semi-sexual nature which are distinct from formal genital copulation. In short, these are turn-ons that are not specifically acts of sex but which are at some level either sexually arousing or which engage specific emotions related to sex. Each of us has a unique relationship to our own parasexuality, and for some this relationship is more robust than others.

While the realm of sensual is not entirely lost on all but a few of us (many are those who may enjoy and have specific preferences regarding things like temperature, amount of light, presence or absence of music, and so on), there are some for whom parasexuality is as important or more important than formal copulation to their overall sexual experience, which can involve not only elements of sensuality, such as those referred to above, but also relational elements between themselves and their partner(s), which include relationships of power and circumstance as well as the way in which those things manifest through acts and experiences. These are the so-called “kinky people”.

What this means is that, for people who are highly parasexual, what others often do to “get in the mood” is an end unto itself. From instance to instance these things may or may not lead to sex, during which these themes and experiences may or may not be carried on, and when all is said and done the parasexual experience may or may not conclude. Sex itself may be a destination or a stopover in the sexual experience of someone like this, or in some cases passing it by altogether can be part of what’s involved.

In any case, among those so persuaded, the aspects of parasexuality can comfortably be divided into two categories: kinks, which describe acts and sensory experiences which one enjoys as an element of that sexual context, of which one may have many and any of which one could usually take or leave as the situation allows, and fetishes, which are either essential or semi-essential in the pursuit of the overall sexual experience. Put simply, kinks are the seasonings and fetishes are the meat.

Naturally, of course, man does not live by meat alone, and everything else on our metaphorical “plate” certainly matters a great deal, as does what’s on our metaphorical “table” and all that’s involved in our metaphorical “meal”, but a fetishist is one for whom a certain degree of participation in their particular fixation is what makes it all make sense.

To put it another way, for someone with a fetish, while many other things may or may not take place during a sexual experience, the fetish is that thing without which the experience would be incomplete. In many ways it’s the soliloquy in Hamlet; whatever the stage setup, props, lighting, and so on (the kinks), the play is simply not the play without “To be or not to be…”

But to continue with that metaphor for a moment, it must be said that, for those who remember, the soliloquy in Hamlet is not the climax of the play, and for many fetishists engagement with their fetish need not be the main event of the experience. In similar fashion to how the text is performed, though, if one is to condense the exhibition at all, the “To be or not to be” speech is quite unlikely to be cut, it exists satisfactorily on its own, and if it is done without it certainly remains, at the very least peripherally, in the minds of those involved.

So what are we to make then of fetishism, now that we understand what it is and how it relates to a person’s sexuality? What is its form? What is its nature? What is its relationship to those through whom it is experienced?

To begin answering these questions, we have to become more specific in our analysis, and to first make clear a number of salient points. In order to do this I must concede, as your author, that I myself am possessed of a fetish of my own which involves the feet and footwear of the object of my affections.

To start with, for myself (and I believe for most fetishists), the fetish object does not exist in isolation. Whether neutral or even aversive in its alternatives, it is only powerful as it relates to the person with whom I am enamoured. Specifically, while the feet, underclothes, and to some extent shoes of my partner are powerful indeed, a shoe or a sock or a stocking is as much an inanimate object to me as it is to anyone else until it is associated with her.

A pile of shoes is just that to me. A pair that belongs to her is significant. A pair that belongs to a man is repugnant. A pair that belongs to a child or an infant is inert, as are most shoes from earlier times or from different cultures. The only way that I respond to these things in the absence of someone to associate them with is when I can associate categorically; shoes that are made for women, socks I would like to see her wear, and so on.

From these examples it should be clear that, even for someone who possesses the ability to be moved powerfully by an object, it matters a great deal to whom and in what capacity that object relates. I don’t just “like shoes” or socks or even feet. I like the ones that go with those to whom I am attracted.

And yet, even within this the objects are not entirely equal. I may prefer her sneakers to her flats, I may prefer her new sneakers to her old ones (or vice versa), I may be especially excited when she wears one pair or another from her collection and almost nonplussed when she wears another. It all relies on the appreciation of a number of different factors that relate both to my own experience of these things and to the objective variations within them.

But even within these preferences there is more going on. There’s also the extent to which she relates to them temporally. The ones she’s just been wearing are much more attractive than ones she’s had sitting for months in her closet, regardless of whether I may prefer the others abstractly. There’s a freshness to her connection with the object that dies away within a fairly short span. This much indicates that, again, it isn’t so much the object as it is that object’s connection to her.

Which leads us back to the question of worship through an object and worship of an object. I believe I have made clear that worship of an object is only marginally at play, but we are still left with the question of why, then, if the object itself is not particularly important, should it be important to engage with the object?

For this we must suppose that while my appreciation for my partner is vast it is also broad and multifaceted; when I like someone I like everything about them in lots of different ways, and when we focus our attention entirely upon each other as takes place within sexual congress my awareness of these things, even at a subconscious level, becomes more and more heightened. I like and am attuned to so many things about her at the same time that a fetish provides a welcome relief in that I can, not isolate one thing to like, but collapse all that attention into a single thing. A fetishistic persuasion, then, provides a focal point to which all that energy can be devoted.

In short, I don’t have to be internally conflicted by trying to like her hair and her face and her eyes and her neck and her collarbone, etc., etc., etc., all the way down, a little bit each, all at the same time. Instead, I can turn my attention to her feet and like that one part of her body a ton as a way of liking everything I like about her, all in one place.

But not only is this true of her physicality, what goes along with that is the ability to like the intangible things about her at the same time. How do you make love to a person’s generosity, or their sense of humor, or any of the other things that make them who they are without being able to fit it in within that same collapsing of attention? That’s why it’s so intense and overwhelming, why it’s so powerful, because everything that attracts you to that person gets bundled and focused into that one singular experience.

And how, once it’s all in one place, does one explore that kind of love and attraction, in a way that leads one to orgasm?

It should be noted here that the fetish experience, as I have alluded to above is not a static and isolated thing. Once I have the feet of a beautiful woman for whom I have this love in front of me, and my genitals are being stimulated, it’s not as though I want her to keep still and leave me alone with them. In fact that’s the last thing I’d want. It’s the way she moves, it’s what she says and how she says it, it’s whether I can tell that she’s reciting a script or speaking from the heart, all this incredible minutiae to which I remain alert while being flooded by that emotion, and the tug of war between those two things is what pushes me closer and closer to the edge.

And that, in a nutshell, is kink. That is what the parasexual experience is about. It’s toying with attention and involving both oneself and one’s partner in both mitigating and exacerbating one’s tendency to become overwhelmed, exploiting the patterns and preferences by which one navigates that territory, and indulging the emotions that go along with it all.

I hope this explains a thing or two to those who were formerly confused by those with sexual fetishes. Obviously I cannot speak for fetishes with which I am not as intimately familiar, or for fetishists whose experience differs from mine, but I am willing to believe that I am a reasonably representative example, and that there are parallels and common ground in spite of the differences.

As strange and as odd as we may seem to many, even most of those who are not like us, there is nothing unusual about what we go through and experience in the course of our indulgence, except to whatever extent it is stronger, more powerful, and more profound. If you are one so constructed, consider yourself lucky. I do.


© 2018

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