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Fetishes: Are They Harmful?

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Dave is employed in the human services field and was considered an essential worker during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You may have heard about fetishes before. They involve a sexual attraction for inanimate objects, such as rubber, hosiery, undergarments, feet, balloons, and BDSM which stands for bondage and discipline (B&D), dominance and submission (D&S), and sadism and masochism (S&M). The list goes on, however, a person can have a fetish for just about anything. But is having a fetish a good thing or not? Yes and no.

Fetishistic disorder is one of the diagnoses listed in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition). Just because a person has a fetish or multiple fetishes does not mean that they are an awful person or that they need to get professional help. In fact, most of the time no one else knows. Those who have fetishes often keep it to themselves or among a partner or spouse.

It is only when a person feels a great amount of distress without the inanimate object from which they derive pleasure from or behave inappropriately, especially in public, that a fetish becomes unhealthy. Relationships and marriages have been known to fall apart in such instances. You may also have heard of cases on the news where people were fined for stealing underwear and pantyhose on clothes lines or rubbing someone’s feet without their consent. These are the types of situations that can really get one into trouble with a fetish.

The good news is that there is help available for those whose fetishes are interfering with their daily lives, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and drug therapy. With the right amount of help and the person’s willingness to participate in treatment, one can lead a normal life. Fetishes can be dealt with in a healthy and consensual manner. However, in extreme cases, treatment methods such as aversive conditioning may need to be used so that the person now associates the inanimate object with something unpleasant.

Remember that a fetish is not something that defines you, nor do you have to feel embarrassed about it. Being able to recognize when a fetish is causing problems and reaching out for help is the first step to getting a better handle on your life. There are plenty of resources available to help, so you never have to deal with trying to solve it all by yourself.

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