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Time was when the sexual fetish was shrouded in shame and secrecy. The fetishist, went the thinking, was a lonely guy who favored raincoats, frequented adult bookstores and took in flicks at the Pussycat Theater. That has changed in the last two decades, say sexologists and psychologists. Fetishists have come out, as it were, propelled by popular culture, fetishistic couture, fetish conferences, shops devoted to erotica and innumerable sex self-help books.
Then there is the proliferation of Web sites dedicated to everything from foot fetishes to plushophilia a sexual attraction to plush toys. Fetishes are simply talked about more, and the more you talk about something, there will be more social tolerance. Tickling and foot fetishists have always been around, said Samuels, but people are just more open about them today than they used to be.
According to experts, a fetish is an object or body part that a person must focus on to become aroused and, in extreme cases, to achieve sexual satisfaction.
But the term has evolved from its original meaning to include some sexual behaviors, such as spanking, said psychologists. There is much debate about how a fetish develops.
A fetish usually takes root in childhood, between the ages of 8 and 12, mostly in boys. One theory is that a fetish develops when an object and sexual arousal take place simultaneously or when contact with an object causes sexual arousal, said Sugrue. Arousal and the object are paired in the mind of the child and reinforced through repeated encounters, leading to a fetish. But most fetishists are not looking for a cure or for insights. While psychologists agree that far more men than women have fetishes, some note that more women are engaging in fetishistic behavior.
Many psychologists agree that extreme fetishism is symptomatic of a deep fear of intimacy. John Ross, a clinical professor of psychology at Columbia University, said he finds the theory apt. While some fetishes are pathological and even dangerous--arousal over snuff films and car accidents, for example--there are some fetishes that are perfectly harmless. Kathleen Kelleher can be reached at kellehr gte.
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