Sexual Fetish 101: What it is, What it Means, and What it Isn’t

Fetish. The word itself has become a part of our popular lexicon–we use it to refer to everything from the foods we love to the television shows and movies we’re currently obsessed with. But for those with an actual sexual fetish, the reality is much different than simply being hyper excited about a new Robert Downey Jr. movie hitting theaters this summer. Understanding a little more about paraphilias in general, and fetishes in particular, can not only broaden your own sexual horizons, but can actually give you a better grasp of the sex lives of those with various fetishes–especially those whose fantasies and kinks vary from your own.


Paraphilia, Kink, and Fetish–What Do They Mean?

According to the sexual health experts of the Kinsey Institute, paraphilia refers to compulsively responding in a sexual way to an otherwise unusual outside stimulus. There are literally hundreds of examples of paraphilia, and fetishes are simply a type of subset of paraphila where a person feels a strong preoccupation with a certain object, material, action, material, or body part. Often, the person requires the object of their fetish to achieve complete sexual satisfaction, whether that target is feet, cross-dressing, leather, or spanking. Other common examples of paraphila and fetish can include BDSM and exhibitionism.


The term kink is a broader, more informal one, and generally refers to anything in the sexual and fantasy world that’s atypical and outside of the norm (whatever “atypical” means, anyway–everyone’s preferences are unique and individual, which means that one person’s kinky may be another’s perfectly tame.) In other words, kinky can refer to anything from bondage and candle wax play to anal sex to simply wearing fishnet stockings and sexy heels to bed.


Learning to Communicate About Your Fetish or Paraphilia

Like any sexual need or want; open, honest, understanding communication is the key to a healthy and fulfilling relationship. It’s important not to keep your needs and desires hidden away out of a misguided feeling of shame or embarrassment–or even worse, to do something behind your partner’s back, which can lead to the potential for hurt feelings and unwelcome surprises.


Instead, express that this is something that turns you on, inform your significant other, and explain that it’s something you’d like to try with them. An open, non-judgemental attitude is integral as you and your partner learn to satisfy each other’s kinks and fetishes in ways that make you both happier and more sexually complete.


Learning Not to Make Assumptions

As you explore your (and your partner’s) kinks, fantasies, and fetishes, it’s equally important not to jump the gun and make wild-eyed assumptions about sexual preferences. Don’t look to movies like 50 Shades of Grey, Crash, or Secretary as a sole source of factual information, and don’t automatically assume that having a fetish makes someone a wild and crazy sex machine without delicate and sensitive emotions.


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