For many of us, straight-up vanilla-flavoured sex is delicious enough. But for some people, finding a willing naked body simply doesn’t cut it. To be really turned on, sexual desire must be focused on an object (a Jimmy Choo slingback, say), a part of the body (a foot, for example) or a particular situation (being beaten with a riding crop, perhaps). These people have a fetish – and it can be so mixed up with formative sexual experiences in childhood or adolescence that they can’t get turned on without it.
With 99 out of 100 fetishists being male, there’s a strong chance that at some point in your life you could find yourself in a bedroom with a boyfriend who, instead of staring adoringly into your eyes, wants to lick your eyeballs or wear your dirty knickers. As the website www.deviantdesires.com notes, ‘Fetishists believe nothing is sacred and anything can be sexualised, from Disney characters and B-movie monsters to baked beans, latex birthday balloons and Thanksgiving dinner.’
Cartoon characters and turkey breasts aside, just what kinds of kinky behaviour are SA men into? A chat to the girls from a ‘luxury executive hideaway’, the Cape Ranch, gives an excellent introduction. Isabella* says feet and arse fetishists are common. ‘You can be drop-dead gorgeous but if you have ugly feet, you don’t stand a chance,’ she says. Lola*, a foot-job expert, explains how some clients like to rub their penises against the heel of a spiky stiletto or masturbate over her feet. She’s interrupted by Toni*, eager to tell all about a chap who made her smoke, then drop ash on his chest and rub the ash into his skin. Talk turns to the ‘string man’, who winds a shoelace or mop string in a figure of eight around his testicles so tightly they turn blue….
Then there is the panty-sniffer, the man who brings his own surgical gloves to the party and the one who likes his nipples twisted and bitten. Lola had to hold a pawpaw while her client shagged it; Isabella met a man who brought in a fur coat for her to wear while being ‘dirty to daddy’. But Kim’s* experience was one of the strangest. ‘There was a man who spread a black rubber sheet over the bed,’ she says. He produced a latex suit for himself, modelled exactly on a suit worn by actors in a porn film (which he’d also brought along). Then he brought out a little latex outfit for Kim, with tight pants, puffy sleeves, a high collar and a handy slit up the back. ‘He seemed to get off on the idea of seeing my perspiring body through the latex,’ she says.
RULES OF THE GAME
Dr Lorraine Becker, author of At Last: The Truth About Lovemaking (At Last Pharmaceuticals), says there is no real difference between fetishes and paraphilias (defined as recurring, often deviant or unusual sexual behaviours; paedophilia is an extreme, illegal example). Many are completely safe and, says Becker, need do no harm to relationships.
‘As with any sexual activity, joining in depends on how you feel and is about good communication,’ she says. ‘Fetishes can be as harmless as him wanting to wear fishnet stockings. Ask him why – but if it’s not going to harm anyone and you’re comfortable with it, it’s fine.’
Amber*, 32, an estate agent in Durban, agrees. She met her first boyfriend at university when she was 18 and he was 24; both were virgins. When they eventually decided they were ready to make love, he confessed he wanted to suck her toes. ‘I thought it was the weirdest and most disgusting thing,’ says Amber. ‘He’d put my whole big toe in his mouth!’ Amber persevered. She got used to his foot fetish and the relationship grew – in fact, the two are now married. ‘If you’re not excited by his fetish, it’s not the end of the world,’ she says. ‘But keep an open mind. Remember: if your boyfriend can tell you about something like this without you freaking out, it’s a sign there’s a good understanding between you.’
Understanding is crucial, says Becker – particularly with fetishes that involve giving or receiving pain (such as bondage, S & M, sensory deprivation and domination games). ‘It’s essential to talk about this kind of sex upfront,’ she says. ‘You must know what you’re getting into and have code words that allow you to escape.’
Carla*, 30, a book designer in Cape Town, had a lover who liked rough sex. ‘He would pin me down or hold my hands so I couldn’t move,’ she says. He would also tie her up and choke her. Despite this, she always felt in control. ‘He was extremely domineering but I enjoyed it – probably because I’m a daddy’s girl and deep down I like it when men take charge!’ The worst part for Carla was a nasty carpet burn. ‘I trusted him implicitly,’ she says. ‘I think you get off more on the extreme trust you put in your partner than the actual sex.’
Remember that any sex act is either desirable or obscene depending on your point of view, says Becker. One person may be as horrified by the idea of oral sex as someone else may be if asked to share her underwear. He may not get it up without wearing a Mexican wrestler’s mask – but she may refuse sex with the light on…
This is not to say that anything goes. The girls at the Cape Ranch stop laughing at one point. ‘Don’t indulge your man if what he’s suggesting makes you uncomfortable,’ says Lola. Kim agrees. ‘You know, our world is actually the nice, neat, tidy world,’ she says. ‘There’s a darker world out there.’
On the Internet, fetishists debate the ethics around everything from cannibalism to zoophilia (sex with animals). Should a crush fetishist, for example, be allowed to make his or her partner crush small living creatures underfoot for his or her own pleasure? Even guns are on the agenda. The US artist and author Katharine Gates, who runs www.deviantdesires.com, is a self-proclaimed gun fetishist: she gets turned on by cleaning her weapons and occasionally masturbates with an unloaded firearm. But she draws the line at playing with loaded guns and, in an online discussion, asks whether others agree. ‘I have often thought it would be thrilling to combine my balloon fetish with guns,’ Jon* replies wistfully. ‘I would love to have my wife shooting at balloons while we make love. The idea of her pointing a barrel at a doomed balloon and slowly squeezing the trigger…the blast as the shot goes off and takes out the balloon as though it wasn’t even there… It is one of those things where the desire is great but it’s too dangerous and risky to try. Perhaps if we go camping in a really remote place….’
Despite the many grey areas, there are some hard-and¬-fast rules for fetishists of all persuasions. Children are always out of bounds. And, as Gates says in an online discussion, ‘Any real-life activity that results in permanent injury and/or death – even if the person consents to it – must remain illegal and unacceptable.’
Sources: Katharine Gates, creator of www.deviantdesires.com, and Suzi Godson and Mel Agace, authors of The Sex Book (Cassel/Illustrated).
WHEN HE HAS A FETISH
Dr Eugene Viljoen, a clinical psychologist in Pretoria, offers advice on how to deal with your boyfriend’s fetish.
First ask him what he’d like you to do. You can be very graphic – in fact, this could be seen as foreplay. He may become very aroused telling you about his fantasies. The eroticism of talking can be an intense form of intimacy.
Ask what’s in it for you. Will it satisfy you as well – or is it just about him?
If your gut feeling is negative, don’t do it.
If you are curious, go for it – then decide whether you like it or not.
See the first encounter as an experiment. If you don’t like it, say so immediately. It’s very unlikely that you will grow to like a particular act. If you don’t say that you are uncomfortable upfront, you may start to fear intimate situations in future.
Don’t fool yourself that your boyfriend or lover is just going through a phase. Most of these sexual behaviours are deep-seated and cannot be wished away.
If you compromise against your will just to please your boyfriend (or because you fear his rejection), this will harm the relationship in the future. As you become more self-confident, sex will become a war.
If, for example, the sex involves S & M and you don’t like to inflict pain, abstain. You might feel revolted or have feelings of guilt that could harm you on a subconscious level. It may also influence your future perception/liking of sex.
Don’t be blackmailed into kinky sex by your boyfriend’s threats of leaving if you do not participate. Ask yourself what you are gaining from the relationship and why you are afraid to look for a more suitable partner.
Lastly, if you enjoy the sex, don’t feel guilty!
STRANGER THAN FICTION
Here’s a quick guide to some of life’s fetishes:
Acomoclitic: A person for whom shaved and completely hairless genitals are a turn-on.
Chubby-chasers: People who are aroused by obesity.
Formicophilia: Getting your kicks by attracting small insects to your sexy bits – using jam, for example, to attract ants.
Infantilism: Nappies, bottles and baby clothes have all been fetishised. Some people just love being able to act like big babies.
Mudlarking: A subsection of wet-and-messy fetishism where participants derive sexual pleasure from playing in (or being completely engulfed by) mud or wet clay.
Rubber and Latex: Fetishists love the feel of the material. Some people like to mix wearing rubber with playing in mud (extra cloying and clammy); others like to add gas masks; while still others like to have their suits inflated with air.
Zoophilia: Having sex with animals is illegal in many countries, including South Africa. Some people masturbate their pets, while others go all the way.