Fetish, fe•tish noun: an object or bodily part whose real or fantasized presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may or may not be required for complete sexual expression
—Merriam Webster, 2012
Sexual fetishes* are defined as recurrent and intensely arousing sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors that incorporate specific roles and/or physical objects. Theses objects and roles are brought into one’s sexual life because they feel compelling to the individual and because they are a primary source of sexual arousal.
Involvement in and fascination with fetishistic sexual behavior lies on a continuum. Some individuals or couples may occasionally incorporate a fetish object or act to add a little spice into their sexual lives, while others are solely aroused by fetishistic behavior, finding sex to be neither interesting nor arousing without that element.
In other words, for some people fetishes are nonexclusive, meaning the fetish is only one element of a wider arousal pattern, whereas for others the fetish is exclusive, meaning the individual can’t become aroused without it.
While the majority of sexual fetishes are playful and harmless means of sexual arousal, some are also illegal, pathological and dangerous. This blog will focus on the less pathologic, better-known fetish behaviors. In future blogs we will discuss more profound fetish related sexual pathology.
As mentioned in last week’s blog, sexual sobriety does NOT entail long-term sexual abstinence. Often, a 30 to 90 day “cooling off” period of complete abstinence from all sexual behavior, including masturbation, is recommended when an addict enters treatment—mainly to help the addict gain perspective on his or her problematic behaviors—but in no way, shape, or form is ongoing abstinence the goal.
In fact, the heavy lifting of sex addiction recovery is not this short period away from sexual behavior; it is instead the gradual (re)introduction of healthy sexuality into the addict’s life.
But if sexual sobriety doesn’t require total sexual abstinence in the way that chemical sobriety requires total abstinence from alcohol and addictive drugs, what does it require?
Generally speaking, to achieve sexual sobriety sex addicts must define—working in conjunction with a knowledgeable sex addiction therapist, a 12-step recovery sponsor, or some other sexual recovery accountability partner—the sexual behaviors that do not compromise or destroy the addict’s values (fidelity, not hurting others, etc.), life circumstances (keeping a job, not getting arrested, etc.), and relationships.
The addict then commits in a written sexual sobriety contract to only engage in sexual behavior that is permitted within the bounds of that predetermined pact. As long as the addict’s sexual behavior remains within his or her concretely defined boundaries, the individual is sexually sober. It is important that these plans be put in writing, and that they clearly define the addict’s bottom line behaviors to be eliminated.
Having spent two decades working with relationship and sexual addicts—male and female, straight and gay, younger and older—I have come to accept that people entering sex addiction recovery typically have little to no idea of what achieving “sexual sobriety” really means or entails. This confusion is in sharp contrast to nearly any alcoholic or drug addict entering treatment, who more or less already knows that he or she will have to abstain completely from alcohol and/or illicit drugs to be sober.
Unsurprisingly, the most frequently asked question by newcomers to sexual addiction treatment is: “Am I ever going to be able to have a healthy, regular sex life, or will I have to give up sex forever?” And this question is usually followed by a statement along the lines of, “If I have to give up sex permanently, then you can forget my staying in treatment.”
Fortunately, unlike sobriety for alcoholism and drug addiction, sexual sobriety is not defined by ongoing abstinence—though a short period away from sex is often recommended as a brief, early part of the healing process. Ultimately, sexual addiction treatment addresses sobriety in much the same way it is handled in the treatment of eating disorders, another area where sobriety does not mean permanently abstaining. (You can’t very well abstain from eating!)
The idea of “virtual sex” has long been a science fiction staple. One very funny cinematic example (well-known to most baby boomers) is the 1973 film, “Sleeper”, starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, a comedy about life in the distant future. One of the movie’s great fantasy inventions is the Orgasmatron, a telephone booth-like contraption that helps users become sexually aroused by stimulating their brains in an intensely sexual way. (Click on HERE for some entertaining clips).
Allen actually confirmed the scientific feasibility of this idea with both Isaac Asimov and sci-fi writer Ben Bova prior to making the film, so it’s not surprising to learn there actually is a real orgasmatron (discovered serendipitously in trials for a potential spinal cord stimulator). The device apparently works rather well, but it costs quite a bit of money and requires the surgical insertion of electrodes near the spine. Needless to say, it is not widely used for pleasurable purposes.
There are, however, numerous less intrusive and more affordable “sexnologies” that can be utilized to erotically simulate and stimulate.
When I was a teenager, finding and looking at porn took work. In order to find some naked pictures, either I or one of my friends would have to locate and surreptitiously raid one of our dads’ stashes of Playboy magazines, rely on someone who’d inherited a magazine from his older brother, or raid a magazine from the local gas station.
Once in a while, if we were very lucky, one of us would find some old porn in a neighbor’s trash can or in a dumpster. Basically, our options were extremely limited, and we mostly played sneak-a-peek with whatever sexy pictures we could find.
A mere twenty-five years ago, the chances of a suburban teenager getting hooked on porn were roughly equivalent to that same kid getting hooked on heroin—close to zero. For the most part, our lack of access to pornography (and heroin, for that matter) prevented addiction.
Those days are long gone. In the Internet age, hardcore pornography is widely and instantly accessible to anyone who goes looking for it, and even to people who aren’t looking for it. (The number of seemingly benign words you can type into Internet search engines that bring up porn is actually kind of shocking).
If a teenaged boy or girl is curious about sex today —and most are—all they need to do is find a porn site, click a button that says “Yes I’m 18,” and they’re in. He or she doesn’t have to flash a driver’s license as proof of age or even borrow a parent’s credit card to pay for anything. Pornography of every ilk imaginable is now ubiquitous, accessible 24/7 from any smartphone or laptop, and more often than not it’s free.