Pleasure at Caltech and Fetish at CGI
It’s College Week again for me this week. A couple weeks ago, it was Yale and UCLA. This week, it’s Caltech and CGI.
This Thursday, I’m giving a talk on The 10 Commandments of Pleasure at Caltech. If you thought Sex Week at Yale was incongruous, how about pleasure at Caltech? The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena is the official academic home of NASA’s world-renowned Jet Propulsion Laboratory. So, just call me the lady who brought Pocket Rockets to the Future Rocket Scientists of Caltech.
On Wednesday, I’m doing a lecture on fetishes for the California Graduate Institute in West LA. Since you have to be a registered student at CGI to attend (and chances are you are not), I’ll give you the gist of my Basic Fetish Talk right here:
So… Does anyone in this class have a teacher fetish?
Seriously, a few weeks ago, I gave a lecture at Yale, and a couple students told me, privately, of course, that they had a teacher fetish. It used to be called a crush, or a teacher-student romance. But now it’s so forbidden; it’s practically illegal, even when the student is over 18. The teacher can be fired, the student expelled. So it’s very taboo. But that doesn’t make it any less exciting. In fact, the combination of something being attractive and forbidden is the perfect climate for creating a fetish. But before I create a scandal, let’s define our terms…
What is a fetish? A fetish is a thing – a boot, a breast, a burqa – or an action – watching, being watching, spanking, being spanked — or a concept — teachers, movie stars, money, love – that the fetishist invests with great power, sometimes with great sexual power, sometimes with great religious power, sometimes both.
In the classic sense, the fetishist requires the *fetish object* in order to have sex. The male needs it to get an erection. For the female, sexual arousal and fetishism are always a little more mysterious and difficult to pinpoint.. Let’s just say the female fetishist needs the fetish object to enjoy sex.
Male or female, the fetishist objectifies, glorifies and downright deifies the object, body part, behavior or concept, above and beyond any mere human being. Take the foot fetishist. For him–or her, but usually him–a beautiful foot is the Foot of the Goddess. In fact, the foot itself is the Goddess. For the leather fetishist, the smell, look and feel of leather is just heavenly, intoxicating, powerful. Then there are the pain fetishists, the martyrs, the bad boys and naughty girls who crave being punished, restrained, tied up, spanked, sometimes even tortured. Often, they fetishize childhood. Many of our fetishes stem from childhood or adolescence. They come from intense, often traumatic personal experiences that left an impression when we were very impressionable.
But fashion can also be a source of fetishes, and fetishes can be very fashionable. Not all fetishes are in fashion all the time, of course, and the people who struggle most with *fetish guilt,* who worry that they’re weird, are the ones with the unfashionable fetishes. “Am I normal, Dr. Block?” is the most common question I get on and off the air. Many an otherwise healthy fetishist’s entire sense of angst stems from little more than being acutely out of fashion. A typical example would be men who like to wear silk stockings, but happen to live in the 21st century, as opposed to the 18th century when many manly gentlemen, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, wore silk stockings.
What else can be a fetish? Just about anything. What do you think of when you hear the word “fetish” ? What images come to your mind? Do you have a fetish? Do you know someone who does? Do they enjoy their fetish, or do they have problems with it, or maybe a little bit of both?
Essentially, there are four types of fetish:
Feeling or Concept
“Body Part Fetishists” worship parts of the human body, like feet or buns or legs or hair or lips or fingernails. Probably the most common body part fetish, at least in America, is the breast fetish. Many an otherwise reasonable man’s life virtually revolves around his pursuit of the perfect boob – big or small, but usually big. Most *breast men* snort with denial if someone suggests that their keen interest in women’s racks might have something to do with their desire to be tiny infants suckling up to Mommy. But what do they know? The exaltation of the female bosom as a sex symbol, as opposed to a maternal image, is pervasive in our society, making it one of the most acceptable contemporary fetishes, so ubiquitous it’s barely considered a fetish. Yet it is a fetish, since breasts are far more essential to nurturing than to sex. And therein lies the infantile origin of the breast fetish. That deep need we all have for deep nurturance. Sustenance. Comfort. Food. The breast is food, after all. It is that unique part of a woman’s body that actually creates food, the milk of life and love – and fetishes.
Another popular body part fetish is the penis fetish, which is related to penis envy. Women generally don’t have penis envy; men do. And not all of these male penis fetishists are gay. Freud was definitely onto something when he came up with the powerful notion of “penis envy;” he just attributed it to the wrong gender. For the most part, guys are the ones worrying about how their own penis measures up size-wise with other guys. It’s one of the oldest male sex hang-ups in the book, buttressed by principles of evolution (human penises are much bigger proportionately than our cousin primates). These days, it is intensified by porn which tends to show men with monster-size cocks, holding many male viewers in a fetishistic phallic thrall. Most male penis fetishists are bisexual, but that doesn’t mean they want romantic relationships with men. They tend to be disinterested in all other aspects of the male body (which is why they are sometimes drawn to transsexuals or she-males), but they are obsessed with the phalluses of other men. Sometimes they want to play with or receive the penis themselves; sometimes they just like to look at well-endowed men having sex with women. Many men feel extremely ambivalent about their penis fetish; it arouses them, but deeply shames them because they fear that it means they are *gay.* So many men are so ashamed of their penis fetish that the penis, especially the erect penis, is the most taboo human body part in society. Essentially, the only place we can look at erect cocks is in hardcore porn. This fact is one of the secret reasons for porn’s success.
Object Fetishists prefer to be intimate with inanimate objects. Unlike body parts, they are not attached to actual human beings with feelings and personalities that could get in the way of the fetishist’s intense erotic adoration and enjoyment. The objects of their desire often function as *surrogates* for corresponding body parts, i.e., the bra instead of the breast, the shoe instead of the foot, the panties instead of the vulva and vagina, the dildo instead of the penis. Object fetishists often become collectors of their favorite fetish objects.
Then there are what I call “Action Fetishists,” the voyeurs who fetishize watching. The exhibitionists who fetishize being watched. The oral and anal sex fetishists. The obsessive masturbators of every stroke and style.
Finally, there are the “Feeling Fetishists” or “Conceptual Fetishists.” Their feelings tend to be more socially acceptable. At least, they don’t get caught hoarding shoes. But they are potentially just as compulsive. Adrenaline Junkies fetishize danger. Hopeless Romantics fetishize love. Drama Queens fetishize suffering. Terrorists fetishize violence. Fascists fetishize power.
Many people have a fetish for money. This is a cross between a Conceptual Fetish and an Object Fetish, and it might be the most popular female fetish, next to love. How is money a fetish? Because many people, especially some women, can’t enjoy sex unless they’re being paid in some way, or unless they envision a pay-off in the future. If that’s not a fetish, I’ll eat my boot.
Marriage is the most socially sanctioned fetish of all. Many people won’t have sex until they’re married. So what happens when and if the thrill is gone? Different people in different cultures have different ways of working it out. Some marriage fetishist get divorced and then get married again, and again and again. Or if they’re in Utah, sometimes they don’t even get the divorce; they just get married again. Or they stay married and have affairs. But marriage can certainly be a fetish. It can also be The Anti-Fetish. That is, many fetishists feel they absolutely cannot enjoy their fetish with the person to whom they are married.
But back to the classics: bondage, sadism, masochism, transvestitism, psychrocism (that’s being aroused by the cold). The origin of fetish terms like these is in the work of the 19th century psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing. In his Psychopathia Sexualis of 1885, Krafft-Ebing was also the first doctor to recognize the difficulty of drawing the line between fetish and “normal” sex when he said most lovers engage in “horseplay…just for fun” and that doesn’t make them sado-masochists.
These days, the word “fetish” is so trendy, it’s almost meaningless. It usually is used to mean “sexual interest,” not the classical fetishist who absolutely cannot perform or enjoy sex without incorporating the fetish. Nowadays, all kinds of people go to Fetish Balls, dress up in corsets, leather, latex, 8-inch heels, pointy toed boots and other trappings of fetish fashion.
I was on Discovery Health Channel’s “Berman & Berman Show” – which is very hot if you’ve got a fetish for sexy female doctors who are also sisters (throwing in a hint of the incest fetish there) – and the subject was fetishes. Their most urgent question was: Is this normal? Can true diehard fetishists have “normal” sex lives? I was tempted to say, “No, Doctors Berman & Berman, your exhibitionist-voyeur fetish that you expose through your own teasterama TV show is NOT normal; it’s perverse, and you need intensive treatment now. So get down on your knees, buns in the air, and suck my high-heeled sandals.” I was wearing these very fetishistic leopard print 5-inch-heeled sandals. But I didn’t say that; I’m just not sadistic enough. Besides, I kind of like the Bermans. They’ve got a sexy little Sister Act going on. So I told them the truth, “Yes, fetishists can have what we call normal lives… Just incorporate the fetish into your life in a positive way.”
Can your marriage benefit by exploring your fetish? Well, it usually beats the alternative, i.e., repressing it so that one of you runs into the arms of a lover or over the knee of a dominatrix. Exploring fetishes is risky business, like any great adventure. But I’ve seen many couples do very well with it, especially if they are intelligent and communicative. I’ve even seen some who resolve their issues with rage, peacefully and relatively safely by channeling their violent impulses through playing responsible S&M games together. It can even help to reduce domestic violence… It’s the Bonobo Way.
Well, the way I explore fetishes, it’s the Bonobo Way. But that’s not always the way. Our current administration also seems to have a fetish for torture — nonconsensual torture. Of course, this is very dangerous, to you, to your victim, to the country, to the world – and not good clean fetish fun. Dubya-ism is a fetish for dark, deadly stuff, accompanied by a sick, frat-boy sense of humor. Not that these types of fetishistic torture – dominance & submission, sensory deprivation, being forced to wear or not wear certain things – aren’t erotic when performed consensually. The key is consensuality. Or, to use less clinical terms: The key is love and respect for the other person as a human being.
Yet part of the whole idea — and the fun — of fetish is to dehumanize your partner, making him or her into a sex object, a role in your fantasies, a god or goddess, a slave or captive, a student or teacher. That why a healthy fetish-filled life balances this intensive fantasy play with a strong recognition of the humanity of your partner.
Can you become addicted to a fetish? Of course! Anything pleasurable in life can be addictive. The best things in life are addictive. Including, hopefully, my Bloggamy. Develop a fetish for it, baby. You know, I’ve got a fetish for you.