Investigations into sexual fetishism: examining conceptualisations, practice, personal experience, and pathology
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 13:03 authored by Giselle Rees
This thesis examines the under researched phenomena of sexual fetishism (a sexual focus on an inanimate non-living object and/or a specific focus on a non-genital body part). Across six chapters, this thesis addressed four aims: (1) to examine lay people's judgements and perceptions of individuals with fetishes; (2) to enhance our understanding of how fetishism is practised; (3) to examine how fetishism impacts upon the lives and relationships of those with fetishes, and (4) to examine and evaluate the pathologisation of fetishism. Chapter 1 provides a brief history of sexual fetishism. Here it is highlighted that despite the prevalence of fetishism in the media, popular culture, and within diagnostic manuals, there is an absence of recent academic research into fetishism, which has resulted in a poor understanding of this sexual phenomenon. Chapter 2 addresses the first aim of this thesis and examines lay people's judgements and perceptions of individuals with fetishes. Study One recruited a sample of individuals without fetishes and found that those who endorsed the moral foundation of sanctity/degradation were less tolerant of foot fetishism, whilst more agreeable individuals, and those who endorsed the sexual value of permissiveness, were more tolerant of foot fetishism. Study 2 examined lay people's schemas of individuals with fetishes. Participants reported that those with glove and foot fetishes are relatively atypical, unhealthy, unattractive, and lack the capacity for emotional intimacy. Further, some participant responses demonstrated a belief that individuals with foot fetishes are disgusting. In Chapter 3, a two-part mixed method study is reported that addresses the second aim of the thesis, to enhance our understanding of how fetishism is practised. Using a sample of individuals who self-identified as having a fetish, it was found that the majority of participants the fetish object was not required for sexual functioning. On average, fetish and non-fetish sexual acts were rated as sexually satisfying. However, fetish sexual acts were reported to be significantly more sexually satisfying than non-fetish sexual acts. Further, it was found that the majority of participants had engaged in both solitary and partnered fetish sexual activities. On average, both solitary and partnered fetish sexual activities were rated by participants as sexually satisfying. However, partnered fetish sexual activities were rated as significantly more sexually satisfying than solitary fetish sexual activity In Chapter 4, a qualitative approach was used to address the third aim of this thesis, which was to examine how fetishism impacts upon the lives and relationships of those with fetishes. The responses of the participants who self-identified as having a fetish demonstrated the different ways in which they had navigated having a fetish in past and present relationships, with participants revealing (either directly or indirectly) or concealing their fetish from their partners for different reasons. Further, participants indicated that they had experienced a mix of both positive and negative impacts of the fetish on their sexual and general relationships. The fourth aim of this thesis, to examine and evaluate the pathologisation of fetishism, is addressed in Chapter 5. Here I argue that fetishism in any form should not be considered pathological. This argument is based partly on the lack of scientific evidence supporting the pathologisation of fetishism, but I also argue that pathologising fetishism hinders its recognition as a legitimate sexual behaviour, whilst contributing to the discrimination and self-stigma experienced by individuals with fetishes.