Let’s Explore Fetishes
January 20th is Fetish Day, and I want to use this opportunity to talk about them! Uncustomary is all about loving yourself and embracing (and celebrating!) your inner weird, whatever that may be. That includes celebrating your sexuality, whatever that means for you.
My entire life, I’ve always been the “Samantha” of my friend group. I talk about sex all the time, without filter. I’ll talk about it in front of strangers, with strangers, about strangers. I don’t hold back because I find it interesting and integral to life. In the past two and a half years, however, I’ve made a new group of friends who are in the Kink Community, and I’ve relatively become the “Charlotte” of the group! In comparison to everyone else, I’m the basic, vanilla, hetero girl. It’s quite amusing to me, actually. What’s not amusing to me is when I talk to people online or in person who aren’t in the Kink Community about kink/fetishes, they tend to be judgmental to say the very least.
There’s a really beautiful saying in the kink world which is, “My kink isn’t your kink and that’s okay“. What turns one person on sexually is up to them and any consenting partners they have and that’s it! I’m honestly tired of the judgment I hear about fetishes and polyamourous lifestyles, so I want to start by addressing what fetishes are and diving into important topics you might have questions about. I never want you to feel like you’re being judged in this space of the internet. You don’t have to feel like you’re required to talk about your fetishes or anything else personal to you, but please know that you’re welcome to. The Uncustomary Babes group is also a great place to do that as well.
As a pseudo-kink girl, I didn’t feel comfortable writing this article myself. Especially when I have so many experts accessible to me! I interviewed two of my friends, Laura and Honey and I wanted to transcribe their conversation below. (I want to disclaim that the term “Vanilla” is not a derogatory term. It’s just used to distinguish between someone who engages in fetishes/BDSM and someone who does not. Don’t want to offend anyone!)
Let’s Explore Fetishes!
What is a fetish?
‘A fetish is something that is out of the norm that turns you on or that somehow stimulates you.’ ‘Some people who have fetishes can’t be aroused or satisfied without the presence of that fetish.’
What’s the difference between sexual preference and fetishes?
‘It’s a matter of perspective. It depends on a lot of things including the culture and the baseline.’ For example, your baseline and “norm” in one country might think that anal sex is totally regular and in another country it might be totally “deviant”. ‘But some things we can totally agree are totally outside the realm of “normal”, such as being peed on.’
Where do you believe most fetishes come from? More past experiences of more innate/genetics?
There’s lots of theories, but no one answer. The Dom/Sub persona can easily be related to personality, but on the other hand lots of times we see that the “during the day” personality of someone might be more ‘dominant, dynamic, and Type-A but find a huge release in submission sexually’. Arousal by Michael Baker is a great book that goes into the answer to this question and you can trace many of your fetishes back to past experiences, many of which are childhood.
Why do you think fetishes are still so taboo?
‘Our society is afraid of sex.’ ‘If you look historically, it started in religion. Greeks and Romans were a lot more open to sex. Christianity came in and kind of changed the pace and sex all of a sudden became wrong. As a culture we’re just beginning to shake off the reigns of that. Think about the changes in just the past ten years; we’re just beginning to have dialogue that used to be scandalous. We’re on a trajectory of becoming more open.’
Does it bother you when the word “fetish” is used inaccurately, like “I have such a fetish for office supplies” when they don’t mean it in a sexual way?
‘Nope. But it does bother me when people say that pedophilia is a fetish.’ ‘Or when there’s a lot of particular shaming around a fetish.’
Where do you draw the line between healthy and non-healthy/dangerous fetishes?
‘Pedophilia is a sexual deviancy, but age play is a fetish. Consensual non-consent is a fetish, rape is not a fetish.’ ‘Sometimes you’ll hear pedophiles will try to justify their ‘right’ to have sex with children or men will try to justify their right to rape women as long as their in their home. It’s this whole idea of what separates BDSM from abuse. You can literally do anything as long as it’s two consenting adults, I don’t care. But the minute it causes harm is when it’s a problem.’
‘Also risk awareness. You can’t really consent to something when you don’t know the risk of it. There should be a conversation about what would happen if harm was potentially is done. How would you move on as partners, etc. You really have to consider the longer term impacts.’ ‘There’s an acronym that’s used, RACK – Risk Aware Consensual Kink. You can’t have consent without risk awareness.’
Can you talk about the difference of consent between the Kink Community and the “Vanilla” Community?
So lots of times if a guy and a girl are sitting on a couch and a guy asks the girl if he can kiss her, the girl might say “that’s not hot, just grab me and kiss me”. In the Vanilla Community, we tend to assume that as long as there’s not a reported “problem” that everything is consensual and things are done on a reactive basis instead of a proactive basis.
‘There are a lot of assumptions made in the world based on things that we’ve been brought up with and taught from our friends, parents, movies, etc. Don’t pretend you know what someone wants due to nonverbal cues and actually ask them.’ ‘Before I got into the Kink Community, I was really comfortable with a lot of little things, but now I’m really off-put by men at bars doing things like touching my back or running their hands through my hair because they feel entitled to touch me just because it’s not specifically sexual.’ And it comes down to smaller things we consider harmless that start in childhood like giving hugs. It’s about respect and unlearning things we’ve been taught. Your body is your body.
It’s also totally possible to have a sexy, romantic, fulfilling romantic relationship with a fully consensual relationship. You don’t have to worry about questions to ensure consent making things cumbersome or unromantic. It’s about having a respectful, meaningful relationship with your partner.
What do you think the most important things are when beginning to explore a fetish?
‘Go slowly. If you’ve been having lots of fantasies, it’s very easy to dive in and have a negative experience. Communicate about everything.’ ‘Do your own research, educate yourself on the risks. (Reading 50 Shades Of Grey does not count.) Talk to people who have been in the scene a long time.’ Check out the book Playing Well With Others for a great start into navigating BDSM. ‘And remember that there’s no one right way to explore a fetish.’
Try FetLife! It’s a great resource for finding contacts, events, and information.
And if you’re in Baltimore, you might also want to consider coming to “The Next Generation, Baltimore” is a group primarily for individuals between the ages of 18 to 35 (and their partners) of any sexual orientation that hold an interest in a sexually alternative community. The purpose of the group is to create a safe and secure environment to aid in socialization within the BDSM community and to further educate members regarding alternative lifestyles. Check out their page on Fetlife and/or come to their happy hour. TNG Baltimore Happy Hour is the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month. They meet on the 2nd and 3rd floor of Flavor Restaurant and Bar, located in the Mt Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, MD. They arrive at 8pm and stay until around midnight. While the group is geared toward people from the ages of 18-35, all ages are welcome at happy hours.
What role do you think plays into someone who might be repressing their fetishes?
‘Shame! I remember I was terrified at the first event I went to. Our entire society teaches us to be terrified at the stuff that turns us on.’ ‘And for lots of people they have a real fear about being outed in their place of work or by family members, etc. and have those people find them repulsive.’
‘There are also lots of smaller events you can go to like munches or happy hours where you can just go to meet people before you take any kind of sexual plunge. And remember once you get past that shame piece in your own mind, the Kink Community is the least judgmental community I’ve ever been a part of.’
If your partner is experiencing shame with exploring a fetish, there’s nothing wrong with trying out relationship counseling to have a third party act as an impartial sounding board! Please see this article for further information: Relationship Counseling.
Do you think it’s more difficult for girls to begin exploring their fetishes/entering the scene?
‘I think it’s actually harder for men because I think men struggle with the toxic masculinity role and what a man ‘should’ be. I think women have a lot more latitude in the community of what they can be; we easily allow women to be switches. Once a man submits or becomes a switch he’s not a ‘real’ man anymore. There’s a lot more homophobia around the male type. Women are encouraged to be bi!’ ‘It even comes out in clothing, like women are encouraged to wear skirts and dresses and men are not. And that gets reflected in many different examples across the board.’ ‘Many men coming in from the Vanilla Community have their masculinity tied into a lot of other things and breaking away from that can be very difficult.’
Do you think everyone deep down has a fetish?
‘No. I think a lot more people than you’d expect, maybe even a majority, but definitely not everyone.’
Do you guys personally find that your fetishes are labeled as a need or a want?
‘I need kink in my life to be sexually fulfilled, but not in every interaction.’ ‘I need varying degrees depending upon my relationship and interactions.’
What advice do you have for Vanilla people who are exposed to people with fetishes for the first time?
‘Be kind and supportive. Don’t judge. Have an open mind.’ ‘Try to resist the impulsive recoil/’ick factor’ and maybe inquire about how it fulfills them or how they got involved in that (and know it’s okay if they don’t want to talk about it). You don’t NEED to understand why they think that thing is hot to support them and love them, that’s okay!’ ‘You might want to examine why it makes you uncomfortable if it does.’ Soul searching can be a beautiful thing!
There’s actually almost an hour’s worth of interview material you can listen to with way more detail and gems to learn from. Check that out here.
Laura is a polyamorous bisexual sadomasochistic switch. She has been in the kink scene for about four years and has been a member of the TNG Baltimore steering committee for about two years. She has a passion for all things kink and for helping new kinksters find their way to safe, consensual BDSM. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions regarding BDSM and the kink scene in Baltimore.
Honey_bare is a queer femme sadomasochistic rope-switch with a propensity towards edgy and heavier play, including stressful and dynamic rope suspension. honey learns from and is inspired by many teachers in rope, and hopes to tie always with intent and functionality as well as aesthetic. honey also enjoys erotic bondage (and non-bondage) photography, and is always looking for the perfect shot. honey has presented and performed for Krakens AKademy, Black Rose, Dark Odyssey, MBE, Thunder in the Mountains, and at other events in her local scene. honey loves spreading her joy and experience in kink to others any chance she gets!
And again, if you’re in the Baltimore area make sure you check out TNG if you’re interested in getting involved in the Kink Community! I can even coordinate to go to Happy Hour on the same day as you if you don’t want to go alone! 🙂
Photo: Maura Housley