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Is Your Fetish Normal?

Common fetishes mostly involve body parts: feet, hands, and elbows.
PHOTO: Nick Onken

Anyone who (secretly) watched Sex and the City growing up probably remembers that one episode when Charlotte innocently wanders into a shoe store only to realize that she can’t afford anything they have in there. The salesperson takes notice and offers to give her a free pair. The catch? She has to try on six new pairs for the guy. Whether or not Charlotte knew of his foot fetish, we’re not entirely sure. But he obviously got ~hot and bothered~. They never directly label or address the fetish throughout the episode’s dialogue so we couldn’t help but wonder, are fetishes normal?

What is fetishism?

Coined in the 1800s, fetishism comes from the Portuguese word “feitico,” which means “obsessive fascination.” There are varying degrees of sexual desire and arousal in individuals with a fetish. The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines fetishism as “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving the use of non-living objects.” Unfortunately, people with fetishes are still socially stigmatized today.

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Is fetishism normal?

According to psychologist and sex therapist Rica Cruz, “people who have a fetish are people who are just kinky. It’s normal. [When you have a fetish, it just means that] part of your sexual development is being aroused by inanimate objects. It only becomes a problem when you use that fetish to hurt other people or even yourself.” Accordingly, sex becomes an issue when it impairs with the way you function and when you’re no longer able to fulfill your obligations; then it becomes a Paraphilic disorder.

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Paraphilic disorders are “recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, urges, or behaviors that are distressing or disabling and that involve inanimate objects, children, or nonconsenting adults, or suffering or humiliation of oneself of the partner with the potential to cause harm.” Furthermore, fetishism has been linked to other psychiatric disorders, like depression, anxiety, and personality disorders.

What are the most common fetishes among Filipinos?

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Because we’re so desperately trying to cling to our notions of what’s “right and proper,” we don’t have enough data to make conclusive statements about fetishism in the Philippines. However, having spoken to local people about their fetishes, Cruz revealed that common ones here mostly involve body parts: feet, hands, and elbows.

How does a fetish form?

Believe it or not, it starts even before you hit puberty. Cruz shared, “When you’re young, you develop sexually. You may not think about sex, but what excites you when you’re younger can translate to what excites you sexually as an adult. [Let’s use the fetish for leather as an example. As an eight-year-old child,] you might have a memory of entering a new car. We usually associate new cars with the travel or racing. In that moment, you’re excited. You have that stimulus for fresh leather. And you become conditioned to it that way.” When we asked her about feet fetish, she said, “Some people like having their feet tickled as a child—that can be a stimulus.”

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Are there treatments?

Though completely normal, people with fetishes should seek treatment if it hurts the individual and unwilling participants in the fetishistic activity. Again, yes, self-inflicted harm counts: “Self-harm in a fetishist classically appears as mental anguish or distress that comes from an internal conflict rather than a conflict with social morals or judgments. Harm to others can involve the infliction of mental anguish or distress, the infliction of physical injury, or any other activity that violates a person’s right or body boundaries.”

In terms of treatments, here are two approaches: the psychoanalytic and the early behavioral. The psychoanalytic approach focuses on identifying developmental milestones and understanding unresolved issues. One technique used is interpretation, which is the process of understanding the stimuli of the fetish. On the other hand, the early behavioral approach is all about altering the person’s behavior, usually through aversion therapy where the “undesired” behavior is paired with an unwanted stimulus. This practice isn’t something a lot of medical professionals stand by, especially in modern health care facilities.

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Most people with fetishes don’t really seek treatment because they’re usually able to control or satisfy their urges privately or in culturally appropriate situations.

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