Fashion & Beauty / Pleasure Zone

Fetish, Explained

In her latest column, Betony Vernon considers the world of fetish

Illustration by Jo Ratcliffe

About fetish...

Thanks to the internet, subcultures are morphing into global movements. Over the past 10 years fetishism, long associated with sexual abnormalcy, has surfaced from the underground. It is influencing the worlds of design, art, literature, the media and most obviously fashion. The 2013 edition of M°BA, the Biennale of Fashion in Arnhem, was curated by world-renowned trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort with a focus on the theme of Fetishism in Fashion.

Todays fetish craze is prompting a sort of kinky “coming out” so I am not surprised to find The Pleasure Zone over flowing with fetish-oriented questions of all sorts. In an attempt to clarify several inquires all in one go, today I will toy with the following question: “Are we all fetishists?”

The term fetish is derived from the Portuguese word feitico, meaning relic. In the 15th century feitico referred to the mortal remains of saintly beings ­– remnants of  their clothing, rosary beads, the splinter of a martyr’s cross, or even a finger or other body part. Imbued with holy and mystical properties, feiticos were often kept in elaborately decorated containers known as reliquaries. In the 18th century the French adopted the term  “fetiche” and the word soon lost its strictly religious connotations.

The tendency people have to covet objects that belonged to, or were gifted by a lover – a lock of hair, a love letter, a jewel, a flower, or any other token of passion that is charged with memories or the promise of eternal love – may be considered a fetish.

Similarly, we may feel attracted to certain physical attributes. For example some people seek partners with very specific body types, hair or skin colours and other distinguishing characteristics. The preference for specific physical attributes is inherent to human nature. When individuals have a strong preference, say for women with curly hair, we might say that they have a fetish for curly hair. Breasts, feet and legs are other commonly fetishized body parts. Fetishizing has been considered the norm for males but women are equally prone to feel attracted to specific physical attributes.

"We are all fetishists to some degree, but for the die-hard fetishist highly specific and seemly non-sexual objects of desire are essential to sexual satisfaction"

I often hear women say that they have a fetish for high heels. I admittedly suffer this fashionable obsession myself and I believe that few can sincerely deny the appeal of heels. But a foot fetishist’s attraction to high heels, and inevitably to the feet they shod, has little to do with fashion, and everything to do with sexual satisfaction. The presence of high-heeled feet is essential to their sexual satisfaction, and more often than not, their obsession is unwavering.

Consider that a fetishist’s most highly charged sexual encounters might not include any form of direct genital stimulation, much less penetration. As such, a bona fide foot fetishist may be quite happy to spend an entire evening kissing, licking and sucking your feet and toes.

I believe that we are all fetishists to some degree, but for the die-hard fetishist highly specific and seemly non-sexual objects of desire are essential to sexual satisfaction.

It is important to note that the sexual charge of any fetishized object is generated when it comes into direct contact with another human being, ideally a lover, a Mistress or a Master. In the case of the foot fetishist for example, just any shoe won’t do!

For some fetishists, the object of veneration may become charged to the point that it fully represents the sexuality of the person who imbued it with sexual powers. This helps to explain why a full-fledged fetishist may not need much more than the presence of the object of veneration in question to experience sexual satisfaction.

Until the next time we meet in the pleasure Zone … Just LOVE!

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Copies of the new French edition of Betony's Le Bible de Boudoir are available at Bookmarc Paris now.