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Monday, August 4, 2014

SMART Youth Answers: Fetishes — Who Knew Popping Balloons Could Be Foreplay?

We all have that one thing that really gets us in the mood. It could be a certain song because the lyrics remind you of something, or that special scent that you love because your partner wears it; but have you ever felt like that one thing that turns you on isn't shared by others? Does it seem a little different or uncommon. You might have a fetish!

Remember that arousal is different for every person, and that’s okay. Exploring your sexuality in this way can be an exciting process!

The technical definition of a fetish “specifically refers to a strong sexual preoccupation with an object, material, or body part.”This object, material, or body part – the specific thing that is fetishized – often needs to be present, incorporated, or at least thought of in order for the person to reach sexual satisfaction. A fetish is a type of paraphilia, which generally “means compulsively responding in a sexual way to an unusual or socially acceptable stimulus."

These two definitions are very similar, so we’ll break it down with some examples: If the sight of feet really gets you going, it’s probably a foot paraphilia. If you require feet to be incorporated in your sex act (like touching, smelling, licking, etc) in order to experience sexual satisfaction, then it is probably a foot fetish. Most of the time when we talk about fetishes, we’re actually referring to paraphilia, which is why the meanings of these words get confused.

There are hundreds of fetishes and paraphilia. Some are well-known like the BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism) scene, which involves role-playing with the behaviors of dominance/submission and by receiving or inflicting pain. Some fetishes/paraphilia are viewed as uncommon or may seem strange to us, like popping balloons or wearing animal costumes while having sex.
For some, balloons are a source of sexual pleasure!
So— is it bad to have a fetish or paraphilia? If it does not interfere with your or someone’s life in a negative way, it isn't bad at all...even if they seem out of the ordinary for most people. For some, the biggest challenge of having a fetish or paraphilia is simply communicating to a partner about their sexual desires. This can make anyone feel awkward or vulnerable when disclosing personal information to our intimate partners. Like anything else when it comes to sex, it is very important to communicate with our sexual partners. Not only will this allow you and your partner to be on the same page, but they may be very willing to accommodate your desires. They may even share your same fetish or paraphilia!

Other people may also share your fetish/paraphilia. There are multiple communities of people with similar interests that not only provide a sense of belonging and acceptance, but are also great resources for information and finding friends or potential partners. These groups can be the first step in discovering your likes and dislikes. When exploring your specific fetish/paraphilia, it is still important to be safe. Safety can mean several things, like:
  • Doing research on your specific fetish/paraphilia. What are the community’s philosophies? Do they provide support or resources on how to begin and how to be safe?
  • Being mindful of which communities (physical or virtual) you’re connecting with. If you feel like you’re in danger, that you cannot trust the people you’re with, or that they’re involved in illegal activities, you do not have to be a part of that group.
  • Establishing rules of consent and safety with your sexual partners.  An example of this is using safewords. Safewords are specific words or phrases that are mutually agreed upon and used to let others know that we want to stop sexual activity. This is most commonly used in BDSM, where words like ‘stop’ or ‘no’ are not taken at face-value and are considered part of role-playing.
  • Being safe if you’re meeting someone from the internet. You can find great tips here.
However, certain fetishes or paraphilia can cause harm to yourself and others, or even be against the law. An extreme example of a harmful paraphilia is pedophilia, which is the strong sexual attraction to children. Anytime our sexual desires and actions become distressing in our lives or the lives of others, it is very important to seek professional counseling/intervention to address them. This way, we can lead both healthy and fulfilling sexual lives.

As mentioned before, there are hundreds of fetishes and paraphilia out there, and this post is just the tip of the iceberg!  If you want to learn more, here are some online resources available to help you explore this topic on a deeper level:

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