The road to normalizing kinks and fetishes, no matter how bizarre
Oliver* is a 34-year-old man with an infantilism fetish — he gets sexually aroused by having his partner be his “nanny” while he wears diapers, drinks from a bottle, and behaves in other infant ways. Throughout our time speaking with him, he keeps saying, “I just don’t want anyone to know.”
“I don’t even want to imagine my life if anyone knew,” he laughs nervously before adding, “I’d probably kill myself.”
Twenty-seven year old Mike is a "recovering fetishist." He has a stable job as a deli manager, has had several long-term relationships, and leads what is a normal life by conventional standards. He says that his foot fetish had a “huge impact” on his life and self esteem.
Both are relatively tame when taken into overall fetish / kink context. But where one still has a hard time keeping his personal life from affecting him externally, the other found help from a professional to feel better about what he likes.
Dr. Neil Cannon, a certified sex therapist, says that's a huge part of him helping people, to be able to accept their own kinks and fetishes as normal.
“We’re actually treating shame,” he says. “With rarity [of a fetish or kink] comes shame. You can’t share it with friends. Where a man who is aroused by big boobs can discuss that in the locker room with his friends, a man who is aroused by seeing, say, a woman covered in pudding, can’t really talk about that.”
Cannon is a prominent member of the sex therapist community. He has his master’s degree in Public Health and a Doctorate in Human Sexuality. He’s a supervisor for the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), and has been for a little over ten years.
“A fetish is just an attraction or something that turns you on,” Cannon explains, “It’s an attraction to a body part, an object or a situation.”
Everyone has kinks and fetishes, be they tame or relatively bizarre (in social context).
Cannon explains that it's really society that makes sexual attractions “typical” or “more rare.” Going by the definition, big boobs are a fetish, and so are tattoos; but both are widespread and typical.
But to have a true fetish, it usually means you’re unable to orgasm without that factor being present, says Cannon. Kinks are less of a fixation than a true fetish.
And while both genders have fetishes, “way more men than women” have them, says Cannon.
He also shares that kinks and fetishes are like an “eroti temlate.”
“No two people are alike,” he says. “No one attraction is better than another. However, some are more rare than others. Some wig people out.”
According to one study, feet — or a situation associated with feet — are one of the most common fetishes. The same study found that 33 percent of fetishes have to do with body parts or features, 30 percent for objects associated with body parts and 18 percent was for a facet of someone else’s behavior.
So a big boob fetish is more common than bra fetishes. Bra fetishes are more popular than submission, and so on.
However, there is theoretically a fetish or kink for everything, Cannon says. Some of the most common ones, at least according to widely available Internet and PornHub searches, seem to be feet, urination, humiliation, voyeurism, BDSM, Furries, and tight fitting leather (or rubber or latex suits).
Some of the fairly uncommon include women being covered in food, blood (the taste, smell and idea), women being attracted to hardcore criminals like murderers, and even cannibalism.
They’re extremely varied from person to person.
“We don’t understand causation,” Cannon explains. “Usually fetishes have so many variation and variables that we can’t say specifically, ‘it’s because of this.’”
While some theories say it’s environmental, Dr. Cannon explains that it’s more complex than that, although environment or experiences can play a role.
“If we had a twin study with two identical twins who have the same genetic makeup, raised in the same environment,” he says, “one might be aroused by large breasts and the other might be aroused by small breasts. It’s a very personal thing,”
Whatever the case may be, society is often the reason people feel uncomfortable or even disturbed by what they're feeling.
“All roads lead to Rome, people say, but in sex therapy, all roads lead from shame,” he says.
Cannon uses the comparison that when people are overweight, they head to a gym before the problem is so severe they’re unable to move at all. Likewise, when people begin to feel at all uncomfortable about a fetish or kink, they should go to a sex therapist and not wait until they are on the verge of a breakdown.
“Just come in and talk to any sex therapist,” he says. “This is something that most people have often kept inside their whole life, or if they have it’s just to partner’s. Talking about it can normalize it for them and help them get more comfortable with it.”
Oliver says he’s considered sex therapy, but has never done it because he doesn’t want to be “analyzed’ or “converted” to normal sex.
Cannon says that sex therapy is a positive and common practice these days, and is meant to help people feel better about what makes them feel good.
Mike shares that it did just that.
“Feet still really turn me on,” he says, “but it’s getting to be something that I accept as part of who I am and not something I hate myself for. I’m learning we should just accept ourselves. Everyone has different kinks or fetishes.”