Inside the world of willies and whizzes
by Andrew Braverman; illustrations by Rachel Fischman
With the recent release of E.L. James’ BDSM mega-hit “50 Shades of Grey” on the big screen, the fetish community worldwide has reacted with an uproar of mixed opinions. For perhaps the first time in Hollywood history, fetishism has been brought within the Average Joe’s periphery. Those outside of the fetish community and unfamiliar with James’ best-selling series were taken aback. How could desires so far from any societal norm be projected on the big screen like that? Why is she wearing that blindfold, she can’t even see anything! Do they actually like that? What is a fetish? Etymologically speaking, the word “fetish” dates back to 15th century Portugal, where it was most accurately translated as “charm.” When the Portuguese, in the process of colonizing West Africa, chanced upon religious talismans, they’d refer to the tokens as “fetishes.” To the Portuguese in the 1400s, the word encompassed all forms of worship of the unusual. Six hundred years later, it has come to hold a slightly different meaning: “a form of sexual desire in which gratification is linked to an abnormal degree to a particular object, item of clothing, part of the body, etc.”
When I began looking into the world of fetishes, my biggest question was how fetishes manifest in a person’s life. Does it vary from fetish to fetish? How does one deviate from traditional means of arousal and begin craving to be coated in a sexual partner’s urine? A Colorado College freshman shared the opinion that “people have one weird experience that impacts their memory and their idea of pleasure [...] that they forever associate with some single object.”
Barnaby Barratt, Ph.D at the American Association of Sex Educators, offers clarification: “Experts theorize that an experience with masturbation as a young child [… ] could develop into a fetish for an object or scene.” The fact that we could plant the seed for our soon-to-be burning sexual desires took me by surprise. I had hypothesized that one would have no choice in the matter of chaining one’s self to obscure media for sexual satisfaction, but as it turns out, you actually might have unintentionally sparked that desire yourself.
An article covering fetishes and what they are would be incomplete without a presentation of some of the most significant fetishes out there. First up, one of the most infamous: urolagnia, or getting aroused by urine. Subjects of this school of fetish may enjoy bathing in urine (their own or a friend’s), consuming urine or just watching someone else urinate in their clothes. Ricky Martin once admitted in an interview that even he enjoyed the occasional “golden shower.” Havelock Ellis, a British sexologist, was impotent until the age of sixty, when he realized that he was aroused by the sight of a woman urinating. Mainstream media coverage outside of the adult film industry has shied away from coverage of this kind of fetish. That being said, one must acknowledge urolagnia’s place on the more extreme side on the spectrum of sexual fetishism. Denial of it as a legitimate means of arousal, however, is simply close-minded, not to mention that denial fosters extreme repression and emotional instability for those who enjoy urine-based sexual interaction.
The same goes for those with any fetish, including an attraction to feet. Freud cited the phallic appearance of the foot when explaining this individual obsession. He also considered the ancient practice of foot binding to be a form of foot fetishism. This specific fetish, neurologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran wrote about exenstively. He noted that the feet and the genitals occupy adjacent areas of a certain cortex in your brain, which could potentially entail some “neural crosstalk” between the two. Goethe notoriously entertained a foot fetish, as did Elvis Presley and Andy Warhol.
Lastly, I would like to address an entirely different type of fetishism, one that, more often than not, is devoid of sexuality or arousal. Paraphilic infantilism is found in adults who simply enjoy being a baby again. Wearing diapers, being fed by an adult and conversing in baby-talk are some behaviors characterizing this peculiar obsession. People attracted to infantilism are most likely seeking attention or an escape from an overwhelming slew of responsibilities in their real life. In the cases that an adult baby fetish manifests sexually, the fixation represents fulfillment of a power compensation complex. You hold absolute control over babies, and some people are attracted to that.
As goes with anything represented by a minority, deviation from the status quo is scary. Humans have always shown a strident opposition to change, and to that which is different. They don’t understand another person’s religion, culture or political affiliation so they, by default, treat it with hate and attempt to suppress it. In our progressive and divisive world, it’s more important than ever to not only open a dialogue about fetishism and comparably persecuted issues but to confront them with an open mind. The social commentary generated by the film “50 Shades of Grey” brought the issue to the table.