Leather whip and latex thong: why is fetish so exciting? “I can turn my partner into an object,” replies the sex researcher Manuel. The sex talk!
The Latex Queen: Fetishism is often quoted in pop culture and fashion: From the bondage comic figure Sweet Gwendoline to the latex suit from Catwoman to Madonna, who plays intensely with the imagery of fetishism. But how many fetishists are there anyway?
Manuel: There are hardly any figures on the prevalence because fetishists generally do not seek help. You have to distinguish whether someone is so committed to a certain object or material that he or she can only experience pleasure through it. That’s very rare. But what is increasing are the cases in which someone incorporates their fetish into everyday sexuality. Fetishism has become a kind of lifestyle that expands and extends far into normality. There are parties at which normal people with high heels, bondage clothes and dog leashes stylize and sexualize themselves.
The Latex Queen: What exactly is a fetish then?
Manuel: Fetishism describes the sexual occupation of an inanimate object. This can be materials such as leather and latex or certain items of clothing or parts of the body. These are then eroticized and abstracted from the context. The attraction of the parties just mentioned, on the other hand, is to create a feeling of strangeness. It is a masquerade, behind which a Christian becomes a leather man and a Steffi becomes a latex lady. In fetishism, a person is no longer seen as a complete person, but a partial area is removed – such as the buttocks or the genitals – and this is then erotically exaggerated, and with jewellery or piercings are particularly emphasized. Playing with strangeness consists in not always looking the other person in the eye as a trusted partner, but also being able to turn them into an object to a certain extent.
The Latex Queen: But isn’t it a decisive difference whether someone emphasizes certain parts of his partner, whom he loves and desires, for example with jewellery or clothing, or whether this jewelry or clothing is completely independent of the partner, regardless of the particular person behind it, excited?
Manuel: Take the example of a lingerie fetishist. He goes through the lingerie department and buys a negligee – or he even steals one because it’s supposed to be used – and masturbates in it. The sexual activity here is independent of a person.
The Latex Queen: It is not that easy to understand what causes the excitement here. After all, it’s just an object.
Manuel: That’s exactly the joke. A thing like that doesn’t look back. It is a protection, it creates distance. Another person would not be controllable, he reacts, he may approach the other. The fetish object, on the other hand, can be manipulated. I can do what I want with it without it resisting. If someone has intimacy or potency issues, this can be very appropriate.
The Latex Queen: Does such a fetish then replace the partner?
Manuel: With these unusual preferences, you have to differentiate between people who integrate them into their sexuality and others who are solely dependent on their object and can only get an erection if they smell leather, for example. The latter is a strong constriction, which one can or must act on therapeutically if necessary, because then a living relationship is not possible. The other is simply an enrichment of my sexual options.
The Latex Queen: Is it actually true that feet have a disproportionate share of all body parts that are raised to fetish?
Manuel: No, breasts, buttocks, genitals are favorites, but feet just stand out. By the way, shoes are also quite popular, mostly worn.
The Latex Queen: Why do some people find this of all things so attractive?
Manuel: Foot odor indirectly establishes human contact, but without the hassle of actually having to come into contact with this person.
The Latex Queen: Does the famous shoe trick of many women have something to do with it?
Manuel: Of course!
The Latex Queen: Of course?
Manuel: Usually this so-called tick relates to shoes with heels. The woman who wears such shoes stylizes herself in a certain role and plays with it. That is why it is usually elegant shoes that emphasize a certain form of the feminine. Sneakers are much more difficult to erotize.
The Latex Queen: Why?
Manuel: Because they are gender neutral and therefore do not offer any erotic invitation.
The Latex Queen: Is it also because of the shaky gait that you almost inevitably get as a woman in high heels that make shoes so popular?
Manuel: That’s a different story. This special gait, say behavioral biologists, activates the prey scheme in men: They are inviting and cannot run away. Plus, high heels lead to a slight curvature of the spine, which causes the bum to stick out a little more – a primary stimulus that many men respond to. And women can play with it.
The Latex Queen: How does a fetish actually come about?
Manuel: One possible explanation is that there was a formative situation in childhood, for example a humiliation or an erotic situation. We therapists are always happy when we can find such a stamp. But you often don’t find any. Ultimately, you can never know whether these stories were actually formative, or whether they will be used as plausibility checks in retrospect.
The Latex Queen: In this context, the question is interesting: How do my sexual preferences actually come about?
Prof. Dr. Ulrich Manuel is a systemic couples therapist and sex researcher. His book Think Love. The indiscreet questionnaire was published by Rogner & Bernhard in 2015, after which he published Dynamics of Desire at Carl-Auer Verlag. Manuel runs a private practice for coaching, couple and sex therapy in Heidelberg.
Manuel: The short answer is: Our sexual preferences are set early, you can’t get rid of them afterwards, but you can develop something about them. For example, if someone has developed a leather fetish, this imprint can later take a back seat, but it can still be activated in stand-by mode. However, he can develop another option, for example learning to like bare skin or a whole person in therapy.
The Latex Queen: So what we learn to value sexually during puberty will we like for a lifetime?
Manuel: Yes, but that doesn’t mean that development is finished. Otherwise we would be sex therapists in a jobless situation. But if there is a willingness to occupy something erotically, this willingness remains. How urgent it is and how often it is activated can change.
The Latex Queen: Does fetishism affect more men than women?
Manuel: Not at the paint-and-leather parties I mentioned. There are just as many women there. But those who are really committed to a fetish are almost exclusively men. Men who are unsure about getting in contact with a woman, telling a woman what they want, exchanging ideas and also – figuratively speaking – appearing potent. They are looking for a detour in order to be able to live their sexuality.
The Latex Queen: Actually, the fetish fits perfectly into our time. We are surrounded by things that we desire, find sexy, or love. And don’t we sacrifice a lot of time and money to get it?
Manuel: It’s not that new. People have always surrounded themselves with objects that are charged with meaning. In the case of a sexual fetish, this charge of meaning is sexual. Other things like a car are about status – and sometimes also about phallic symbolism, so even again about a sexual charge. Although this is not to be understood immediately, after all, as a man you don’t get an erection all the time while driving a car. But the meaning field is very well occupied accordingly.
The Latex Queen: Can you explain this charge of meaning in more detail?
Manuel: The car serves as an expanded self. When I sit in an eight-cylinder that is roaring, I feel the vibrations. It’s very physical. And you can feel bigger, stronger, more masculine, and therefore more potent.