Friday, September 11, 2009

Psychosexual: Fetishes

In my never ending attempts to keep this blog, relevant, interesting, and fun to write, I'm introducing a new category into my Thurs/Fri wild card spot, psychosexual. It's going to be a discussion on psychology and sexuality, how they affect each other, and how they are used or misused.

I don't talk about myself too much on this blog (you know, outside of my sexual proclivities), but I'm currently looking at grad school for a masters in psychology. I want to become a sex therapist, so sex and psych is a subject close to my heart. I'm going to try to shed some light on different issues in the psych world that overlaps with sexuality and hopefully stimulate some discussion. So here we go kiddies.... psychosexual.

First, to give you a basic background psych knowledge, the American Psychological Association (APA) publishes a big ol' book of diagnoses every so often called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the DSM. Every once in a while, they realize that times have changed and things need to be reevaluated, and they either issue a new addition or a revision. Currently the APA uses the DSM IV-R (Fourth edition, text revision), and the DSM V is currently being reviewed and debated by more committees then you can possibly imagine. This book is basically the psych bible. It contains the criteria for every diagnosable mental disorder currently recognized by the APA. Every psychologist in the country owns a copy, it's a cheat sheet with all the behaviors, thought patterns, and time tables that make up current psychological diagnosis practices. The DSM-IV R's definitions and criteria are going to be a critical part of these entries.

Now that the basics are out of the way.... on to this entry's focus, fetishes. The word fetish is probably one of the most misused words in the english language. It is thrown around often and without real thought as to the actual definition of the word fetish. Anytime someone has a preference in bed, they like to say they have a "fetish." It's used on tv, thrown around in polite society, it's basically become an accepted part of our pop culture lexicon.

Now lets take a quick look at what the DSM IVR has to say about fetishism. First, fetishism is a subset of a larger grouping of disorders called "paraphilias," which are characterized by "sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors involving non-human objects, suffering or humiliation, children, or other non-consenting person." This is a large category of disorders that includes thing like pedophilia and voyeurism.

Fetishism is defined by three criteria:
1. Over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving the use of nonliving objects.

2. The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

3.The fetish objects are not limited to articles of female clothing used in cross-dressing (as in Transvestic Fetishism) or devices designed for the purpose of tactile genital stimulation.

So... what does all that mean? It means that for someone to actually have a fetish it has to be a sustained desire for at least 6 months, it can't be on a sexual object (so no, you can't actually have a sex toy fetish), it has to be a inanimate object (so no, you can't have a rugby player fetish either.... mmm... rugby players.. oh.. sorry, moving on) and, most importantly, it has to interfere with your life. Let me repeat that. IT HAS TO INTERFERE WITH YOUR LIFE, meaning, it has to be a problem to be a fetish. This "interference" can be a range of things. It is most commonly an inability to sexually perform or get aroused without the fetish object. It can also be an inability to separate the object from it's sexual appeal (i.e. being turned on every time you see a pair of high heels, not really useful in a corporate environment.)So all of you little "fetishists" out there, you don't really have a fetish do you? No, you don't because you can control yourself and you can have vanilla sex and still have a good time can't you? That's what I thought.

This overuse and misuse of the word fetish is just another way that society has been sending us subtle messages that kinky sex is dirty, wrong, or something to be fixed. Fetishes are something that should be fixed. They are, by definition, a problem. Anyone who finds themselves unable to have regular relationships or finds their particular sexual proclivities inhibiting their ability to interact with people or do their job, should seek the help of a reputable therapist. Kinks, however, are a part of life. They make sex fun and exciting. It's more then fine if you like to lick someone's high heels or you want someone to wear stockings during sex, it's all part of the fun. It's not dirty, it's not wrong, and it's not something to fixed.

So just think about the connotation the word has next time you want to say the word fetish. Is it really a fetish? If it is, then by all means, thrown the word fetish into the conversation liberally. But if not, don't use it, don't label someone, or yourself as sexually dysfunctional if they, or you, are not.

So this is cleofaye, saying embrace your kinks, and signing off with when in doubt, just ask, and when you're unsatisfied, give direction!

1 comment:

  1. Nice job with this!

    I like your point that we are all unconsciously misusing using the word fetish. The anarchist in me want to say that if we intentionally and loudly proclaim everything a fetish that the word will lose it's derogatory meaning. We'll simply water it down to nothing, as has happened with other mis-/overused words. Or reclaim it as a positive label, as has happened with "queer". And that strikes me as a good thing.

    Most importantly, I do think we need to be more conscious of our use of language when we discuss sexuality. It's the ignorance and dismissive attitudes about the serious science of sex that has held us all in the dark ages.