We’ve all heard the term fetish, we all wonder if we have one and what it means to have one, but do you really know what a fetish is? Last week I was a guest on a national radio station and got to discuss this topic on air with a colleague and realised just how little people know about this form of sexual behaviour.

So what is a fetish?

A sexual paraphilia is any form or expression of unusual sexual behaviour, and interestingly, the term paraphilia means “beyond usual or typical love”. No wonder behaviours such as being turned on by shoes or watching other people have sex is considered a paraphilia – it’s considered unusual and definitely not ‘normal’ behaviour.

So do you think that you have a fetish? Well unless you are sexually aroused by an object that is one of the sole sources of your sexual desire, then it’s unlikely. More often someone just enjoys including something when it’s thrown into the sexual mix, like their girlfriend in high heels. Finding an object sexually desirable is considered a fetish, and when that desire becomes distressing or interferes with your daily functioning then there’s a problem. If you get turned on by what lace feels or looks like and you enjoy including it from time to time during sex, you don’t necessarily have a fetish. If you find that you’re only sexually aroused by something (like the feel of leather) or by a body part (such as feet) and it’s starting to affect your sexual experience with your partner, then it’s something to look at as problematic.  If the fetish is for something completely unusual, like balloons or trees, then it’s likely to produce adverse social reactions from people around you and probably make the person feel rather shameful about their sexual arousal.

Where does a fetish come from?

It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact source, but a fetish can usually be traced back to something that happened to a person during their childhood or teenage years. Often an object becomes associated with a pleasurable sensation and is therefore turned into a sexual object.  Other times it’s that the feeling or texture of something, like leather or rubber, stimulates your senses and arouses you enough that you want more of it.

The two most common fetishes are for feet (known as podophilia), and shoes (known as retifism) or high heels in particular (altocalciphilia). Having a fetish for an object is different to having a fetish for a body part, known as partialism.

When is a fetish a problem?

A fetish is problematic when it causes the person with fetish or those around them like a loved one distress. Furthermore, if someone’s fetish is for something illegal or dangerous then it can be a real problem in identifying and treating. If you find that you are consumed sexually by the thought of an object or body part, and that it interferes with your daily functioning, normal sexual activity and day to day relationships (including intimate relationships), then seeking help is the first step in moving forward to overcome it.

Talking to your partner

If you have a fetish and haven’t yet had the courage to raise it with your partner, choose an appropriate time to do so. Talking to your partner about your sexual preferences can be liberating for the both of you. I wouldn’t suggest telling your new partner in the first week of dating. Initially in a relationship we take it slow before revealing all about our sexual side. We ease into it, test the waters, and once trust has been established then we slowly start to reveal more. So choose a suitable time, perhaps when you get into bed, and remember that you want to approach it sensitively. If your fetish is something like feet or material, you may have already introduced it into your sexual routine; but if it’s something more obscure, remember that it might seem rather odd to your partner – so take it slow! Never force anything on to your partner or let them force something on to you. Respect each other, talk openly and honestly, and if you’re not comfortable, talk about how you could work around it together.

Some of the most bizarre and unusual paraphilic fetishes include…

Loonerism – being sexually aroused by balloons; either by rubbing them against you or blowing it up until it pops.

Narratophilia – being sexually aroused by obscene language with a partner (not talking dirty)!

Somnophilia – being sexually aroused by your sleeping partner

Chrematisphilia – being sexually aroused by being charged or forced to pay

Nasophilia – being sexually aroused by other people’s noses

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