Mention the word fetish and you’ll notice some people will start squirming a bit in their seats. It’s a concept that used to make a whole lot of people uncomfortable. But take a look around, and you’ll notice a decided shift in the public’s general attitude when it comes to the taboo and kinky side of sex. Call it the curious case of Christian Grey, a new wave of feminism, or simply a more open and relaxed atmosphere towards sex and sexuality. Whatever the reason, fetishism isn’t hiding any more, and that’s a good thing.
In a 1995 study of Stanford MBA students, 88% of them admitted to “reading” the Victoria’s Secret Lingerie catalog. (It’s worth noting that magazines like Playboy–tailored towards the nude feminine form, also publish lingerie editions.) In the 20 plus years since, what was once a taboo enough fetish to require a psychological study–that is, women scantily dressed in lingerie–has become an obvious, everyday part of our collective psyche. The same goes for things like enjoying large breasts and thick behinds. And with the popularity of erotic romance novels, mild mannered middle aged women and men are cheerfully reading about BDSM on their morning train commutes alongside those catching up on sports news and stock prices.
Since these fetishes have gained mainstream acceptance, they are no longer stigmatized. Today, kinks like these are considered normal, even healthy by many people. How?
Simply enough, because enough of us admitted that we like it, too.
A quick look backwards towards, say, the Victorian Era and its penchant for extreme sexual repression will show a couple of interestingly similar trends. Back in the days of men getting turned on by the sight of bare ankles, another fetish began to peek its head: spanking.
Engravings, photos, picture books, and novellas, all depicting flagellation and spanking, began secretly circulating among conservative Victorians, who ate them up with a voracity almost unheard of before. Victorians, it would appear, really liked their spankings.
You know who else does?
Lots of people, apparently.
Spanking magazines were hugely popular again in the 1980s, featuring fiction, art, and photography that catered towards both the men-spanking-women and the women-spanking-men flavored audiences. And recent Google searches would indicate that there are close to 3 million websites dedicated to “spanking fetishes” and growing. Today, spanking is portrayed as a normal, healthy, and fun part of many people’s sex lives; even those that wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves particularly deep into the world of kink and extreme fetish. Again, it’s a case of something that was once considered so taboo that it needed to be enjoyed in secret, but was in reality a rather popular kink.
So it leaves the obvious question. With the mainstreaming and normalization of so many once-off limits things, are fetishes in and of themselves inherently bad?
The answer may come as a surprise to those still working to keep their own kinks carefully hidden away. Provided that nobody is getting hurt, there isn’t anything wrong with having a fetish, a kink or even enjoying the occasional out of the box proclivity. In fact, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the only time a person needs to seek out help when it comes to these matters is when they are experiencing “fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors [which] cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social or occupational functioning.”
In other words–if nobody is getting hurt and you’re having fun? It’s normal, it’s ok, and chances are good that a few years down the road even that won’t be all that far out there anymore.