September 11, 2011

The word fetish denotes both a magical charm and a fabrication or artifact. Most recently, the term has acquired a large repertoire of meanings and is often associated with fashion, sexuality, and/or power. In the context of eroticism, fetishism has been conceptualized along a spectrum ranging from Level 1, at which point there is only a slight preference for certain types of sexual partners, sexual stimuli, or sexual activity so that fetishism is not actually present, to Level 4, at which point specific stimuli may actually take the place of a sexual partner. Some fetishists are attracted to both the involved body part and its covering, while others focus on the covering only. Inanimate objects that are frequently the object of desire include, for instance, boots, stockings, body piercings, masks, and leather wear.

Some researchers have found that a degree of fetishism is extremely common among many men. For instance, some men may be fascinated with erotic lingerie or women in very high heels or wearing certain types of clothing. Although fetishism has often been associated in the media with sadomasochistic behaviors, fetishism does not require a dynamic of dominance and submission or sadistic-masochistic behavior or ritual.

In general, health care providers do not speak to their patients about the need to have “safer sex” when engaging in fetishistic sex. Sex toys, including whips and other devices, should be cleaned properly in order to avoid transmitting infections between individuals. This is especially true if any blood, semen, or vaginal fluid is involved.

SEE ALSO: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, Hepatitis, Libido and desire, Piercing, Safer sex, Tattoos

Suggested Reading

  • Gosselin, C., & Wilson, G. (1980). Sexual variations: Fetishism, sadomasochism, transvestism. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • North, M. (1970). The outer fringe of sex: A study in sexual fetishism. London: Odyssey Press.
  • Steele, V. (1996). Fetish: Fashion, sex & power. New York: Oxford University Press.


Category: F