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A fetish (from the French fétiche; which comes from the Portuguese feitiço; and this in turn from Latin facticius, "artificial" and facere, "to make") is an object believed to have supernatural powers, or in particular, a man-made object that has power over others. Essentially, fetishism is the attribution of inherent value or powers to an object.
Sexual fetishism, first described as such by Alfred Binet in his Le fétichisme dans l’amour, though the concept and certainly the activity is quite ancient, is a form of paraphilia where the object of affection is a specific inanimate object or part of a person's body. The term arose from fetishism, the general concept of an object having supernatural powers, or an object created by humans that has power over other humans.
Freud's early theories
As Sigmund Freud described it later, sexual fetishes in men are the result of childhood trauma regarding castration anxiety. According to this theory, a boy curious to see his mother's penis averts his eyes in horror when he discovers his mother has no penis. The inanimate object on which the boy focuses when he averts his eyes becomes the fetishized object. Later in life, the fetishized object must be present in order for the man to complete orgasm. Within this framework, men are capable of having sexual fetishes, while women are incapable—something which makes this a falsifiable theory. This is a point of contention for feminists analyzing Freud's work, who point out that the observed fetishistic behavior in many women makes Freud's theory untenable. Despite such flaws that may make it unpalatable at the present, the theory was taken seriously when conceived.
Modern theories of fetishism
Although Freud's theory on fetishes may seem peculiar and was based on anecdotal rather than empirical evidence, he had discovered a critical aspect of human sexuality: the relationship between human orgasms and conditioning. Ongoing studies make this relationship more clear. For example, in a study published by Dr. Lique M. Coolen on April 14, 2003 at an Experimental Biology conference in San Diego, California, male rats accustomed to having sex in a particular cage will have elevations of "pleasure-inducing chemicals in the brain" simply from being in the particular cage, even if a female or a female scent are not present. Sexual conditioning occurred. It has been hypothesized that human sexuality may similarly be tied to conditioning, and this may explain the phenomenon of sexual fetishism.
This is consistent with the theory that fetishism derives from behavioural imprinting in early childhood, a phenomenon which is not only supported by anecdotal evidence in humans, but can be demonstrated experimentally in other species of Kingdom Animalia. Another theory is also based on the principles of behavioural imprinting which states that young males masturbate frequently and as one develops a frequent pattern, the objects that are frequently nearby at the time of masturbation become likely objects of arousal in the future. The individual is thus associating the object(s) with sexual orgasm.
It is also hypothesized that the modern world provides many opportunities for superstimulus based on objects that both mimic and exaggerate natural stimuli.
Common fetishes include fetishes focused on shoes, boots, hair and haircuts, gloves, wigs, body piercing, underclothing, diapers, or other garments made out of specific materials such as rubber, fur, spandex, leather, or nylon. Transvestic fetishism, the fetish of dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex, is also common. Some clothing materials are fetishized by a small number of people, perhaps on the basis that the material forms a "second skin" that acts as a fetishistic surrogate for the wearer's own skin. The most common forms of this are spandex fetishism and rubber fetishism, in which the fabric is both stretchy and shiny, exaggerating some of the aspects of human skin.
Other fetishistic attachments can be to specific parts of the body, such as head or body hair, legs, feet or breasts, or specific shapes of the body, rather than to the person as an individual. This might explain foot binding in China in pre-modern times, extensive corset use in the West in the 19th century and breast implants in the contemporary United States.
Sometimes, whole cultures can develop the fetish to such an extent that it is no longer perceived as a fetish, but merely as a normal sexual desire; for example late-Victorian England's ankle fetish, or the modern commonplace fetish for lingerie.
In this regard, there can be said to be a degree of fetishistic arousal in the average person who responds to particular bodily features as sign of attractiveness. However fetishistic arousal is generally considered to be a problem only when it interferes with normal sexual or social functioning. Sometimes the term 'fetishism' is used only for those cases where non-fetishist sexual arousal is impossible.
Although these forms of fetishism are the most common, fetishism, like other forms of human sexuality, can be extremely varied and can encompass almost any aspect of human behavior.
A number of sub-genres of pornography exist to serve fetishistic interests. Introduction to Fetishism
List of fetishisms Each on of which has its own page
See paraphilia for other rarer or pathological forms of paraphilia.
References and further reading
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