The Trouble With Fetishes

feetFetishes can be fun.

Shoes. Feet. Cabbage. (Or so I hear.)

Women’s breasts and butts…

Women’s breasts and butts are fetishized? Yep. The arousal they spark is not universal.

But here’s the problem: a fetish can actually harm our sex lives.

A fetish can harm our sex lives?

When a body part is fetishized we think it is really, REALLY important.

But then women can end up worrying over whether they look good enough in bed. That’s a big distraction. The opposite of erotic.

I surveyed my women students and two-thirds said that body worries could be a big problem. The issue wasn’t always breasts or butts. Some felt too skinny or too fat in other ways, too.

But these negative feelings are likely one reason why nearly half of American women experience some form of sexual dysfunction, like one or more these: a lack of interest in sex, painful sex, difficulty with orgasm. Who can be excited about sex when you’re worried?

And since men want their partners to enjoy sex, that’s not good news for them, either.

Worse, men who place a great deal of importance on women’s bodies, excessively focusing on their appearance, are more likely to feel shamed by the size and shape of their partner’s bodies. (Yet seem to have no problem with their own bods. These guys must all be “10’s”!)

But that shame too often leads to sexual coercion, whether manipulation or violence.

That’s not good for men, women or relationships.

Variety is the spice of life

Women worry that they aren’t hot enough. And men worry that their partners aren’t hot enough.

But it’s all unnecessary.

What’s considered attractive varies from place to place and time to time.

Not so long ago Americans preferred a smaller tush. Nowadays bigger is often thought better.

America today favors large breasts. But in the 1920s women bound their breasts to make them appear as small as possible.

The Apache once favored very large breasts. But the African Masai prefer them small.

The best outcome from “getting this”

All this can be a real struggle for many women… men… couples… who would be greatly helped if our society didn’t act like one sort of body shape were a must.

Really, variety is the spice of life!

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on August 29, 2016, in body image, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. interesting post but again I’m really trying to get my head around some of the content but what is considered attractive varies from person to person but when you can’t see you only work on personality alone. I’d be asking the question about breasts in general but I don’t want to be shamed about talking about breasts but I was having a discussion with somebody in a car and it was just myself and another gentalman and I brought up that whether this is true or not but to me the thing that makes breasts larger is the brah which means I would need consent to find this out for sure as if I was going to find out what breasts looked like I’d only be allowed to do this with a person who I had intentions to date or to be in a relationship with and nobody else and when you can’t see somebody and what they look like there’s no reason to body shame them but my question would be if a sighted person told me what my prospective partner looked like would I be in a mind to judge them from what I was told or would I just go with their personality and that should be the end of the matter I do acknowledge that when I do get consent to feel somebody’s face to see what they look like I do venture to the chin and the neck areas but I have since heard that the area of the neck isn’t always somewhere where a woman is comfortable with being touched and someone has also said to me that to know the body shape of a woman the elbows arms and shoulders should really be enough for me to determine such a thing. I’m probably rambling now but it’s worth a try to see whether this comment is appropriate or I need to ask further questions or read this post again.

    • We are all a mix of three things:
      Biology/natural born personality + culture + personal experience

      So each culture has different ideas about what’s considered attractive but there is also some individual variation on what’s considered attractive. Still, in a cultural life ours most men are likely to prefer larger breasts, and most women are going to know that and either feel insecure in bed (And even in their overall self-esteem) or get implants, which are dangerous, and often cut sensation to the breast, making sexuality less pleasurable physically for them.

      Looks are just superficial so maybe it’s a blessing to not be so aware of them.

  2. There are other fetishes that have nothing to do with body parts… lingerie for example. Since these have nothing to do with body parts, maybe they are less harmful?

    • I think body fetishes are the problem. And even though they wouldn’t be such a big problem if we didn’t think they were so important combined with narrow notions of what’s attractive, instead of appreciating variety.

      • How is a foot fetish a problem?
        I think there is a difference between a cultural fetish and a (individual) fetish.

      • Yeah, there is a difference between cultural and individual fetishes. Cultural fetishes are the problem when they leave people distracted, feeling bad about their bodies. And often losing self-esteem besides. If our society insisted that feet were really sexy and that everyone must have a certain type of foot, then that would be a problem.

  3. True society needs to place more value on women other than their bodies and to obsessed less on womens body part as well as appreciate women’s various body types. But with that said, isn’t it unrealistic to think that people or society should or will find all women’s bodies equally attractive and that there won’t be cultures or more people who will just find different body types more attractive than others? There’s going to be preferences still, that’s fine as long as despite some preferences, people start to value and appreciate more women of different bodies compared to now and that shows through magazines and media as well.

    • You tend to find “Order and rank” in domination cultures. You don’t find them everywhere. Among the Kung — at least when they were still a forager society, which are more partnership than dominator-minded, all women’s body types were thought beautiful. And the women all thought that they were beautiful. It’s surely one of the reasons why they had virtually no sexual dysfunction. Women weren’t in bed with their partners worried about how they looked instead of enjoying sex. And they were also sex-positive – Not shaming women’s sexuality.

      Also, even in our dominator- minded type of culture we don’t rain children and say all children must look a particular way to be attractive. We appreciate variety of looks. And our patriarchal culture we aren’t so picky with men either. So we have a double standard when it comes to judging looks and making people feel bad if they don’t fit a narrow ideal.

  4. I feel technology plays a big role in converting cultural preference to cultural fetish. In the past 50 years or so we have developed the technology to change our bodies to fit cultural preferences. Before wide spread cosmetic surgery, we had very little choices to change our bodies. It forced us to accept variety. After wide spread cosmetic surgery, we have the choice to change our bodies to fit cultural preferences. You see it all around us, breast and butt implants in the west and rounding of the eyes in Asian countries. http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/05/19/korea.beauty/

    I think every society, past or present, has an ideal body shape. Before cosmetic surgery those that fit the cultural preference were more desirable\special. Now we have a choice to change your body to fit the cultural preference with technology. The knowledge that one can change oneself to fit the cultural preference but choose not to or cannot afford to has to have a big effect on self-esteem and body image. I think there would be less body image issues if cosmetic surgery didn’t exist or had a very negative stigma attached to it.

    This is not to say that we can’t sovle the problem without getting rid of cosmetic surgery. it’s just much harder when there is an easy button.

    • You are right that technology changes things. Before breast implants having big breasts wasn’t such a big deal.

      But as I mentioned to Bob, not every culture orders and rings women’s bodies. The Kung appreciated the variety of body types for women.

      And you are going to get more ranking in cultures that are dominator- minded (has most of the world is today, ordered around patriarchy: valuing men and masculinity, and male rule). The Kung or more of a partnership culture.

      • Technology all right changes everything but it doesn’t have to be something so drastic as plastic surgery. All photos of models are being photoshoped and digitally altered, so the result is far from reality. Plus there is too much make up. Just google photos of actresses and models without photoshop and make-up.
        The covers of magazines are full of fake photos that are far from reality. They want to make ordinary people fell less than ideal because they want to make them to buy their products.

      • Yeah, women grow up bombarded by images that supermodels don’t even look like, due to Photoshop!

  5. being blind can sometimes be a blessing or a curse whichever way you look at it. it’s a blessing because there are things you are glad not to have seen visually but it’s also a curse when there are things you wish you could see but can’t but yes to me looks are superficial a way to know what somebody is like is to listen to their voice and observe how they are by their nature and as far as the question of breasts go I doubt I’m going to ever know the difference between proper breasts and implants. probably a question for another post

  6. Points of attraction in a woman’s body- that varies from person to person, isn’t it? And, speaking from an emotional viewpoint, if we love someone, do we really bother about how perfect her/his body is? Or is it always there in our sub-conscious level?

    • Those are interesting questions to explore. I don’t know but my sense is that fetishes can keep us from meeting each other, Getting to know each other, Appreciating each other, and create distraction in bed.

      At the same time, while the most common fetish in America is big boobs, the lure isn’t equally felt among everyone. And truelove seems to be able to overcome.

      I was just reading something from Gabriel Olds that will show up in the future post. Here’s a special sneak peek:

      Actor Gabriel Olds tells a story in Glamour about Kara, a New York novelist he fell in love with. As he tells it,

      During our second make-out session, she stopped me as my hands slipped under her shirt. “Don’t get too excited,” she joked. “They’re awful.” Were they? Well, one (breast) was noticeably larger than the other, and they didn’t look like breasts I was used to seeing on lingerie billboards, but I loved that they were…hers. Kara turned out to be one of the great loves of my life. We dated long distance until the lack of regular contact drove us apart. Sometimes I think I’m still not over her.
      This is the part I think women don’t understand. When a guy falls in love, his lover’s body parts become bewitching. I’m not going to tell you that our heads don’t turn when we see a stacked blond walking down the street. But when we fall for you—really, really fall for you—you hijack our sense of beautiful. What’s sexy to us? You—in the ‘before’ picture.

  7. Variety is great! Fetishes are not inherently harmful and are not primarily intended for harm. As always, by being smart with your fetishes and your sexual practices you can have a great time. I have not been around long enough to experience major shifts in conventional attractiveness, but I do see changes in tastes and preferences from time to time. Some of these trends are harmless while others are harmful, but in the end every person is responsible for it. My decisions to follow or ignore a trend, as well as my reasoning behind my decisions are as influential as someone else promoting or demoting it, regardless of their intentions. Recently, hydroflasks have become a big trend in my life, and it seems that everyone has one except for me. I could think of it as something that I have to have to fit in, or something that I want because it’s genuinely useful, or I could decide not to get one or get a different brand because I don’t care about this trend. All in all, society’s standards can be harmful or beneficial, and our own perspective and reasoning is as much a culprit as the people around us.

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