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Fetishism: Psychological Sexual Disorder Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 10th, 2021


This term was derived from the Portuguese word feitico towards the end of the nineteenth century. It meant being extremely obsessed. There is a level at which human beings go through fetishism. In fetishism, people develop some interest in certain body parts and objects. However, fetishistic arousal becomes psychological sexual disorder when it goes beyond a certain degree of interference with the normal sexual patterns and behavior. It becomes an issue of concern especially when the normal sexual arousal is not possible without using or applying fetishism.

Victims of sexual fetishism experience overwhelming sexual attraction, desire and fantasy towards certain non-living objects of their choice. In most cases, personal effects are used as fetishistic objects. These may include clothing materials like pants and high-heeled shoes. In some instances, body parts that are not genitals are also used to satisfy sexual fantasies. This paper is an analysis of fetishism. An overview, types, modern theory, diagnosis and treatment of fetishism is discussed.


Fetishism can cause dramatic psychological trauma to the victims especially if it is not diagnosed and treated early. It can negatively influence or affect their key area in life and in particular matters to do with their sexual behavior characteristics. Most fetishes use clothing. There are those who prefer rubber or rubber materials. Shoes and other footwear then follow in this order while leather and materials that are soft and tender to touch are least preferred for use by fetishes (Michael, Mayou & Cowen 2001). It is a form of disorder whereby there are sexual urges that recur from time to time. In the process, a victim may be humiliated as well as the partner. Although any object may be used in fetishism, the main difference is that the object used has a strong connection with sexual arousal or satisfaction. Diagnosis cannot be carried out if the victim has not been subdued by these urges or is seriously traumatized by them.

There are people who cannot do without fetishism for erotic arousal. They have to use these defined objects to gain sexual pleasure and enjoyment. To some, however, the use of a fetish object comes once in a while and they are not compelled to do so. They tend to use these objects during particular times when they are stressed or going through some form of difficulty. However, the person is able to have normal sex quite well during other times without the use or application of a fetish object.

As noted earlier, a fetish is an object which is associated with sexual arousal and a person creates a very desire for it in order to satisfy himself or herself. A fetish is not a good memory but a complicated aspect of sexual urge. Fetishes involve body parts like genitals, buttocks and even breasts. A fetish individual takes a lot of time meditating about the object used in sexual gratification.


There should be a real explanation why an object is used to arouse sexual feelings in fetishism. Mixing at random cannot be accepted as the main cause of this psychological sexual disorder. For instance, it is possible for a man to have sexual pleasure with undergarments of a woman. Initially, the sensation takes place in a mild manner but later the act is perfected to the satisfaction of the addict. The random way of doing it later generates into a skillful fine art. It is not easy for a person with a fetish attitude to be identified when the behavior began although the manner in which it started can be described well. In real sense, this type of sexual disorder is sometimes a product of an earlier exposure to sexual abuse.


Fetishes can be grouped into two main categories. The first type is that referred to as plastic lovers. This group has a powerful devotion towards animate and inanimate beings like hard and soft materials, different types of footwear as well as some parts of the body. On the other hand, spiritual lovers have a strong tendency towards mental attractions which include all things that cannot be touched. They are more to do with feelings and psychological devotions. Some of the aspects they devote themselves to are social class, professional responsibilities, and attitude (Josephine 2002).

This sexual disorder has received a lot of debate in the past. Some have argued that fetishes have their own individual appreciation and understanding beyond the public feeling that fetishism is a psychological disorder.

Psychological Genesis

There is an assumption that current psychology has; It portrays fetishism as a consequence of strong emotional distress or pain which has been forced in place or permanently attached to the victim Josephine (2002). Besides, there are other intrinsic factors that are thought to play a significant role as well. For instance, the mechanism of the brain alongside genetic make up can also contribute significantly. Some mental sexual disorders can be hereditary due to genetic make-up. There are psychologists who believed that fetishism was an effect obtained from unhealthy mixing of people. Sexual arousal and the use of objects became so closely linked to each other. By the beginning of twentieth century, Havelock Elis who was a sexologist came up with a reformatory idea that sexual arousal begins way back from childhood. This early feeling shaped the child’s sexual behavior and patterns until adulthood. Other psychologists also concurred with this new-born theory and concluded that fetishists indeed suffered from poisonous sexual withdrawal and extreme feelings.

Contemporary Ideology

Whether fetishism is a usual temporary sexual change in humanity or not remain to be debatable. However, medical practitioners and mental experts believe that it is quite normal (Reed 1998). According to psychologists, fetishism should not be seen and judged as extraordinary so long as those involved are fine and comfortable with it. It should only be branded as unacceptable if it results in public nuisance or some kind of discontent towards victims. In this submission, a fetishist is considered to be in poor mental health owing to extreme addiction to the act. Therefore, addiction only is not sufficient to categorize a fetishist as ill.


Most diagnosis of this psychological sexual disorder can be done through mere observation of the victim or tracking down the victim’s sexual history. This diagnosis is only possible if the person has confessed of sexual contentment with the object. Also, the diagnosis can be made if the said fetish victim has been traumatized using the object to the extent that he cannot have successful sex without it.

A wrong diagnosis may entail a discussion on how pleasurable it is to use an object for sexual pleasure.

Fetishism can be diagnosed just like any other medical condition. There are several criteria used to identify a fetish. One of the main tale-tell signs is extraordinary sexual imagination and desires or interest which runs for a period of not less than six months. This unusual behavior may recur and vanish automatically. In the event these fantasies disappear, no treatment is required (Chalkley & Powell 1983). Another diagnosis that can be possibly made is the vivid impairment of the victim and its object over a variety of areas in life. For instance, private life is duly affected and there is that obvious change that can be easily recognized. Moreover, social attachment becomes questionable as there is general withdrawal (Nersessian 1998). If the welfare of any of the participants is in jeopardy, it is recommended that diagnosis and treatment be carried out.

The right diagnosis should be carried out. The stepwise procedure on correct diagnosis can be found in the ICD manual. An early sign of a fetish involve interacting with the object which he or she likes the most. The victim can consume a lot of time having the imagination of the desired object. As time moves on, more importance and significance will be attached to this object. A lot of thought, desire, and passion for this object expand tremendously and the fetish eventually finds himself addicted to it. Finally, the object is converted into a tool for achieving sexual satisfaction.


Although many people may be having a fetish object for sexual gratification, there are no demographics in place to demonstrate the actual figure of those already affected. Paraphilias is not widespread among women. However, there are some incidents which have been put on record in the past. Females may also have some sexual attachments and imaginations towards certain fetish objects. These items may include but not limited to cloths and pets (John & Sweet 2000). Meanwhile, there is no recorded data linking fetishism and family historical patterns.


Although treatment is not mandatory for fetishism, it is still necessary that victims go through some kind of therapy to help them recover from devastating effects of addiction. Psychoanalysis is one way treatment can be advanced to the devastated victims. Behavior therapy enabled psychologists to categorize fetishes as people who were attracted to objects for sexual arousal. To counteract this, some kind of stimulation was advanced to them as they went through medication. This was done for long but it was later found to be not successful (FitzGerald 2000). Therefore, there was a need to invent other forms of therapy to take care of extreme fetishism addiction.

Another therapy developed with due time was referred to as orgasmic reorientation. This was a completely new method that was aimed at making the victims develop new form of stimulation and response related to sexual pleasure and feelings. Moreover, this new type of stimuli was supposed to serve its function and at the same time remain culturally acceptable. Also, it was not supposed to affect the victim in a different way other than the intended one. After using this therapy for some time and evaluating its effectiveness, it proved little success.

Surprisingly, even as psychologists and other medical experts continue to strive for necessary cure and treatment of fetishism, the actual victims affected by this sexual disorder continue to thrive and enjoy their sexual lifestyle. They do not seek any medical help at all, a manifestation of contentment. Moreover, most of them still have the ability of attaining sexual gratification through the normal way which is acceptable by many except that they have clung to this new invention of sexual fulfillment.

As fetishism becomes more pronounced as a sexual practice in the world today, there is general acceptance by the public. However, some opposing views are still eminent especially from the clergy and other non-governmental organizations. Due to this growing norm and societal acceptability, the demanding need for treatment has also gone down and there are less cases of professional search for fetishism treatment.

The process of dealing with a fetish by trying to do away with the habit is not an easy one. It has been found out that most people with this extraordinary sexual behavior rarely show any sign or attempt to eliminate the behavior in them. Owing to this, it has proved quite difficult to control or even treat fetishism. There are some cases when treatment has been compelled to a fetish as a condition to advance a serious relationship like marriage. In this case, a fetish just agrees to the proposed conditions for some time but later draws back to the former lifestyle. Hence, this coercion to eliminate fetishism has not recorded a positive outcome either.

Most fetishes are said to be relatively polite, kind and friendly as well. They do not jeopardize others and they hardly involve partners who are not ready to agree with their fetish wishes. A fetish is therefore deemed good or harmless if his activities do not pose danger or any kind of harm to others. Besides, the fetish act should not put the victim in any physical tribulation. As can be seen from the above description of a fetish lifestyle, it is a very cumbersome procedure to eliminate the disorder once it has infiltrated the person. Experts argue that if prevention can be offered early in life, it is better than seeking professional treatment which has proved to be unworkable. Gender guidance which is culturally acceptable on matters related to sex is the best solution to fetishism. The manner in which fetishism originate can be very random and it is hard to predict when such disorders really begin.


Fetishism is a psychological sexual disorder whereby the victim develops strong affection and passion for certain objects in order to fulfill sexual desires and gratification. In some cases, non-genital body parts are also used. For instance, breasts, feet, fingers have been used in fetishism.

Two types of fetishism are evident among victims who practice it. The plastic lovers are drawn closet to objects while spiritual lovers are attitude or behavior oriented. Fetishism can be diagnosed after the fetish has deeply sunk into the habit. Some of the signs include social withdrawal and tendency to desire certain objects. Fetishes are relatively harmless people. In cases where this sexual disorder has to be eliminated, for instance in a marriage set up, fetishes still find it difficult to abandon their lifestyle altogether because of its addictive nature.

The type of objects that a fetishist can use cannot all be elaborated. Some of the items used for sexual pleasure and gratification are panties, gloves, soft materials like rubber and silk, certain shoe size and shapes among others. In some instances, images in form of photographs can be used by a fetishist to arouse sexual desire. However, a fetishist may as well need an item that has ever been put on sometimes back. This object does not necessarily remind the user of the previous owner but it is the object that he loves and has passion to.

Under certain circumstances, images may be used by a fetish to satisfy sexual feeling or sexual arousal. However, in most cases, a fetish will require an object that has ever been put on by a partner. This object does not serve any other purpose apart from the fact that the fetish relates with it well and finds some gratification in it.


Chalkley, A. J., and G. E. Powell. (1983). The clinical description of forty-eight cases of sexual fetishism. British Journal of Psychiatry 142: 292-295.

FitzGerald, W. A. (2000). Explaining the variety of human sexuality. Medical Hypotheses 55, 5:435-439.

John J.K. and Sweet R. (2000). Real Sex: Titillating but True Tales of Bizarre Fetishes, Strange Compulsions, and Just Plain Weird Stuff. New York: Plume.

Josephine, W.F. (2002). Biological Foundations of Human Behavior. New York: Harcourt.

Michael, G; Mayou R; and Cowen P. (2001). Shorter Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Nersessian, E. (1998). A cat as fetish: a contribution to the theory of fetishism. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 79 (Pt 4): 713-725.

Reed, G. S. (1998).The analyst’s interpretation as fetish. Journal of the American Psychoanalytical Association 45, 4: 1153-1181.

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