Fetishism involves assigning increased value or power to an inanimate object or nonsexual body part.
The DSM-5 * differentiates between fetishistic disorder, a mental health condition categorized as a paraphilic disorder, and fetishism, a pattern of sexual behavior that doesn't necessarily qualify as a mental disorder. Most people with atypical sexual interests do not have a mental disorder. To be diagnosed with a paraphilic disorder, DSM-5 requires that people with these interests: feel personal distress about their interest, not merely distress resulting from society's disapproval; or have a sexual desire or behavior that involves another person's psychological distress, injury, or death, or a desire for sexual behaviors involving unwilling persons or persons unable to give legal consent.
There are two categories for fetishes.
Fetishists use the items that they desire during masturbation or during sexual activity with their partners to achieve sexual satisfaction. Often, they need these items to become aroused. In some cases, fetishists simply need to see the object to become aroused, but more often, they prefer to touch, rub, and smell the object. Many fetishists prefer objects that have been worn or used, although they have no interest in the person who has used the object, only the object itself.
Various items may be desired by fetishists. Common fetishes include the following:
Some people find certain objects or body parts sexually stimulating and even use them as a part of their sexual fantasies or sexual activity. However, as long as these people do not become fixated on the objects or body parts, they probably do not have a fetish. A fixation is an unhealthy preoccupation with or attachment to an object, and the fixated person invests the object with sexual meaning or value.
When people become fixated to the point that they can only become minimally aroused without a certain object or they can no longer become sexually aroused without it, they are considered fetishists. When an object is not available, the fetishist may fantasize about it as the only way to satisfy the desire.
Fetishists exhibit certain characteristics and behaviors. First, these individuals have fantasies involving the item of choice for at least six months. These are fairly common. More serious fetishes may cause disturbances in a person's ability to relate to others. Some people may find a line of work that helps satisfy their fantasies. For instance, a person with a panty fetish may find work in a lingerie store.
Fetishism is a complicated psychological * condition that is not fully understood. Many experts believe that fetishism results from difficult physical or emotional experiences during childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood.
Fetishism is not a condition that requires treatment or cure, unless the person finds it prevents or blocks some aspect of human experience or relationship. If the person with the fetish wishes to seek out treatment, however, there are resources available. These include psychoanalysis * , cognitive and behavioral therapies, hypnosis, and sometimes medication. The primary focus tends to be counseling and understanding what caused the fetish to develop.
The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health. “What Is a Fetish?” https://crsh.com/fetish (accessed December 7, 2015).
Hypersexual Disorders. “DSM5: Understanding Fetishistic Disorder.” http://www.hypersexualdisorders.com/hypersexual-disorders/dsm5understanding-fetishistic-disorder (accessed December 7, 2015).
* DSM-5 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th revision, published by the American Psychiatric Association. This is the system of classification and diagnosis of mental conditions used in the United States.
* psychological (SI-ko-LOJ-i-kal) refers to mental processes, including thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
* psychoanalysis (sy-ko-a-NALi- sis) is a method of treating a person with psychological problems, based on the theories of Sigmund Freud. It involves sessions in which a therapist encourages a person to talk freely about personal experiences, and the psychoanalyst interprets the patient's ideas and dreams.