How Fetishes Develop

⚠️ Reader Discretion: Mature dialogue.

What is a Fetish?


A fetish can be a sexual reaction to an object, activity or body part not typically regarded as erotic. A person might feel arousal from viewing certain foods, animals, feet, high heels, latex, or clothing. Such proclivities are a form of paraphilia, which involves abnormal sexual desires that may be dangerous.

According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition), Fetishistic Disorder is only regarded as a disorder when accompanied by distress or impairment. Fetishists may use the desired article for sexual gratification in the absence of a partner, by touching, smelling, licking, or masturbating with it (Meston & Frohlich, 2013). A vibrator for this purpose is not considered a valid trigger.

Conditioned Behavior

So, how do fetishes develop? Abnormal desires typically occur through actively associating a trigger with intimacy. Removing an article of clothing, like a boot, or caressing hair as a sequence leading to foreplay can stimulate future responses to that article. Repetitive associations trigger fetishes.

Most Popular Fetishes
  • Virtual Sex
  • Dom/Sub
  • Orgasm Control
  • Bondage
  • Anal Play
  • Age Play
  • Foot Fetish
  • Role Play
  • Voyeurism
  • Sadism/Masochism

Otherwise specified paraphilic disorder is applied when the paraphilia is not prevalent enough to include its own diagnosis; examples include telephone scatologia (obscene phone calls), necrophilia (sexual activity with corpses), zoophilia (bestiality), coprophilia (being aroused by being defecated upon or defecating on others), and urophilia (being aroused by being urinated upon or urinating on others).

Almost exclusively found among males, Fetishistic Disorder typically emerges at the onset of puberty, or less commonly, prior to adolescence. Reading erotica, viewing inappropriate entertainment, or participating in extreme sexual activity can exacerbate the condition.

The degree of distress may vary throughout one’s lifetime. Fetishism sometimes occurs with hypersexuality and other paraphilias.

Types of Paraphilia
  • Exhibitionistic Disorder
  • Frotteuristic Disorder
  • Pedophilic Disorder
  • Sexual Masochism Disorder
  • Sexual Sadism Disorder
  • Transvestic Disorder
  • Voyeuristic Disorder

Fetishistic Disorder Treatment

Mental health professionals aim to decouple the trigger from the patient. Successful remission involves absence of distress or impairment of functioning for a five year period, exclusive of a controlled environment (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Sexual obsessions are not the same thing as sexual fantasies. Whereas sexual fantasies are typically related to pleasure or desire, attainable or not, sexual obsessions are unwanted and distressing thoughts that are typically associated with anxiety, shame, or self-loathing.Vella-Zarb RA, et al.

Because sexual arousal triggers pleasure hormones, most fetishists keep feeding their desires. However, fetishes can lead to or be considered illegal behaviors. They may also hinder normal social interaction. If you have experienced recurring distress or impairment over the past six-month period, seek the confidential services of a physchotherapist for relief in an open, non-judgmental manner.

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