One typical prejudice about fetishism is to assume that a person with a strong fetish has trouble managing their everyday life. They fiddle other people’s belongings. They stalk and gaze at other people in public places and peep at their private moments. They harass other people and violate their immunity. They’ve lost control of their personal economy and spend all their money to acquire more fetish objects. When broke, they resort to stealing. Basically they are ready to abandon their morality and humanity trying to satisfy this never ending need.
It’s typical to see a fetishist represented like this in pop culture. In some movies fetishists are even prepared to kill to get what they desire (Blue Velvet, Silence of the Lambs, Pulp Fiction, Perfume). Of course the drama of movies is exaggerated compared to real life, but that’s just the thing needed to enforce blameworthy mental images. Mainly the image of fetishism provided by the entertainment industry is narrow and biased, and encourages judgmental attitudes by associating fetishism with people who are unpleasant and dangerous in other ways.
As someone with both strong fetishes and a sense of control over my own life I wonder why having a fetish would go hand in hand with low morality and a corrupted sense of justice? Surprise news: a person can have strong and versatile sexual desires simultaneously with a good sense of empathy, respect towards other people and their rights and other principles that don’t necessarily favor their personal desires.
Of course all people have a tendency to think in ways that justify their customs and hopes and dreams, but this applies to everyone equally and fetishists don’t differ from the mainstream in this sense. If we didn’t actively practice paying attention to other people and common rules while growing up, there would be no civilization as we know it.
A motive does not make anyone a bad person. Instead it places one in front of a moral choice. Whether to ruthlessly follow one’s individual desires or to respect the basic rights of other people. For a mentally stable fetishist who has socialized oneself with society these kind of choices are obvious and do not require any active thought. I guess you wouldn’t steal a bag of sweets from a passer by even if you suddenly felt like candy. Equally one could think people in general would want to fulfill all their sexual fantasies regardless of what it feels like to the subject of choice. Anyone who violates someone else’s immunity for personal gain is more likely to suffer from a blurred sense of justice and a lack of empathy.
A fetish can serve as a motive as well, but it doesn’t explain the harassing behavior. A real sign of being somehow deranged is the ability and will to enjoy something that is unequivocally revolting to others involved. The concept of right and wrong is a matter of culture, of course, so let it be stated that I write this from the viewpoint of someone who has grown in a western democracy (or more precisely in a Nordic welfare state).
I also want to stress that a fetish is not an obsessive thought (see definitions[2,3]). Basically it’s just about having one’s sexual desires linked to an object or some other thing. A strong fetish can develop into an obsession, but so can sex in general like many other things as well. There is no direct link between obsessions and fetishes.
I can not estimate how many people would really think that fetishists are like what I portrayed in the beginning of this text. Probably not too many. I must say it feels rather silly to argue so seriously against such foolish assumptions. Still there’s something to fetishism that makes us wary about the subject and in the silent atmosphere the most ludicrous of misunderstandings can grow without being corrected.
I’m not stating that fetishism is a problem-free phenomenon in today’s society. I simply try to critically review it as it is with its good and problematic sides. In the future I will write several more texts about problems related to fetishism, but here I want to focus on one that gives birth to many prejudices.
Having looked into the subject myself and through numerous discussions with other fetishists I know, that some morally questionable actions with a low risk of being caught do happen by fetish motives. By this, I mostly mean taking advantage of someone else’s property without permission. A person I know masturbated through their teenage years rubbing themselves with their sister’s leather jacket. Another got their first orgasm when they secretly pulled on the high heeled boots of their friend’s mother. A third one kept borrowing the knickers of other family members and a fourth one wrapped themselves in their mother’s rain coat to breathe in the rubbery scent. In my early teens when the opportunity came, I also touched, smelled and even licked boots that weren’t mine, and I’ve talked to many other people with similar experiences.
These kind of deeds seem to happen at least among young object and material fetishists, and I’m not trying to cover it up. This may be one reason why a community’s ignorance about its members’ fetishes can be considered bliss. When deeds like this surface, they can be very uncomfortable for the owners of the fetish objects but if they are kept a secret, life goes on happily and nobody is offended.
What now happened to moral of the fetishist? I just emphasized it above. I did say that a mentally healthy person wouldn’t do anything more severe motivated by a fetish than by other motives. And I stand by what I said. Whenever we weigh our actions, we assess the gains against the potential risks and harms. You probably wouldn’t steal a bag of sweets from a passer by, but you might make a secret visit to your friend’s or family member’s bag when they look the other way. Perhaps you ate all the best candy from a shared box before anyone else got the chance. Perhaps you downloaded something illegally from the Internet. Perhaps you secretly browsed through your older brother’s porn magazine. Perhaps you smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol as a teen. Or perhaps you did none of the above. We are all individuals when it comes to obedience but many of us tend to justify ourselves these kind of tricks and crimes with insignificant consequences. Therefore I suspect that a fetishist who refrains from doing these kind of things also refrains from borrowing other people’s property for their own pleasure. I had no moral issues filching a candy from a friend and I didn’t experience a strong enough inner conflict to keep myself from experimenting how someone else’s boots felt, smelled and tasted like.
I remember pondering something like “Well it’s a victimless crime to borrow another person’s stuff for a short moment of fun, right? If no one finds out, nobody is offended.” It’s not that simple really. Sorry for ruining the party, past-me. It’s quite obvious that from the viewpoint of the owner, it’s rather unpleasant if someone uses their property for intimate moments.
But I don’t want to get lost in the ethics of this. It is also obvious that a horny teenager’s decision is no way objective or thoroughly thought from all points of view. I just want to describe this phenomenon from the viewpoint of the individual.
Someone may be thinking that I’m doing a disservice for everyone by bringing up this topic. Why am I even writing about it? Do I enjoy causing uncomfortable thoughts and situations? Perhaps I do, but that’s not why I’m doing this. Seriously I believe that the reputation of fetishism can only be cleansed through understanding that is achieved through open observations and honest discussions. I’m done hiding and being ashamed.
Just why is a young material fetishist inclined to fiddle other people’s property then? Perhaps it’s about whether young fetishists have any means to get to know their selves and study their sexuality within the existing social norms. For comparison, imagine a society where expressing one’s sexuality and engaging in sexual activities is forbidden all the way. How many lawful citizens do you expect to find there? Most likely people would fulfill their needs just as much as possible with any means available in those circumstances. In their cognitive dissonance they would probably deny it all and condemn each other.
All youngsters have the need to become familiar with their own sexualities. They observe and wonder their own bodies, thoughts and desires. For someone who deviates from the sexual mainstream, there is simply more to wonder about and less available answers. Sex education in school and other information sources for teenagers give straight answers to many questions and help ease the confusion. However, for sexual minorities sex ed can become a double edged sword. While it seeks to convince the teens that the changes and feelings they go through are normal, it can convey a very narrow perception of what is normal, and an idea that being normal is something one should pursue in sexuality.
Luckily the World is changing very fast. The established attitudes become more and more tolerant as the amount of available information grows. Judging simply based on the sex education materials one could think, that today’s teenagers are much more aware than my generation was back in the day. Of course the attitudes of the educators themselves and the established attitudes in the teen’s own social circles have a huge effect on the teen’s wellbeing, and these attitudes may vary a lot. The cultural change is still evident and today a teenager can find credible information and support from the Internet rather easily (depending on their tendencies).
Internet access and the ability to delete the browser history first came to my life at the age of 12. Before that I had already spent 2 years actively feeling bad about my desires and wondering whether I’m normal and if I should be like this. I had read the sex ed columns of Suosikki-magazine (a big thing among teens in Finland in my time), where one of the most popular educators of my generation, Eki, answered the questions of troubled teenagers. During those years Eki told his audience about 10 000 times that masturbation is OK, even encouraged, and that the arousal of sexual desires happens individually. Originally I found this information reassuring, but it did not answer my most troubling questions.
Every now and then someone actually opened up about their deviant experiences, and at those times Eki usually reassuringly said, that all types of fantasies and ways of masturbation are OK as long as they are safe. Still, I couldn’t find peace of mind because I never saw a message where someone would have said that they arouse from objects or materials. I also never dared to write a question myself because I was so ashamed and afraid of being caught.
When I eventually got to explore the Internet, I couldn’t find any proper information about fetishes and fetishism (at least in Finnish). The first truly relieving experiences were a discussion I had about deviant desires in some ancient sex chat, and the fetish video libraries of porn sites that were thousands of videos wide. “Well someone must watch these since there are so many of them” I figured.
The depth to which one has to dig to find something out is easy to interpret as a social signal about how taboo the subject is. My experience did not encourage me to talk about my thoughts and feelings to anyone. However, I am quite an extrovert and that lead me to opening up to selected friends just a few years later. Ever since, each time I’ve opened up has increased my wellbeing by making me feel more accepted. I think it’s that feeling that gives me the motivation to write right now as well.
Let’s try and conclude this train of thought. So do I think that better knowledge and understanding might prevent young fetishists from fiddling the property of others? Not really, but better knowledge and understanding create a more open atmosphere. Most problems related to fetishism are a consequence hiding and secrecy. If one doesn’t dare to be oneself in daylight, fulfilling one’s needs becomes inevitably shady and others are bound to perceive the fetishist’s behavior as something suspicious. In a more open atmosphere a teenager could find the courage to talk about their feelings e.g. to their caretakers. As a result of discussion, a caretaker who supports the sexual development of the teen could end up buying the object the teen desires or use other means necessary to show acceptance and support for the teen.
Written out, the thought of this looks Utopian to me, but I can not come up with any plausible reasons why it couldn’t be like this. All the counter arguments I can come up with reflect old fashioned and harmful attitudes, and as we all know, those attitudes truly suck.
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