One of the hardest things I found coming to terms with my sexuality was the fact that I have fetishes. There are certain things that, no matter what, just make me hot. They are magical and I had no idea why these things had an effect on me when I was growing up and entering young adulthood. I was ashamed and embarrassed about this for years and wished they would just go away. I think fetishes are particularly problematic because no one ever discusses porn viewing and people would be even more ashamed if someone stumbled upon their browsing history that included spanking videos, feet, panties, urine play, leg braces, needles, diapers, or any other number of things. There’s a kind of sentiment we hold inside that believes, “Everyone is interested in sex, that’s normal. I’m interested in >insert fetish< and that’s not normal.” Here are ten things I had to do in order to integrate my fetishes into my sexual identity.
1. Acknowledge that the fetish does not control you.
I had to realize that I was carrying around YEARS of shame regarding sexuality. Since I didn’t have any outlets to talk about sex, my “secrets” became even more deeply embedded. To use a personal example of one of my fetishes, I got to the point that someone just making a joke about spanking made me wet. I felt bad that even just hearing the word turned me on. It felt like the fetish was controlling me. I had to acknowledge all my negative attitudes about sex had to be overcome before I could make peace with my fetishes. It was overwhelming at first. This is not something that will be dealt with in a short amount of time. But even just acknowledging that it was a process and my fetishes were part of my sexuality made me feel more in control. I had just been scared of my sexuality for a long time and didn’t have much practice experiencing, thus controlling, my sexuality. Since I’ve investigated the matter, I can actively discuss my fetishes and be exposed to them without “going crazy” or getting turned on, unless I want to be turned on.
2. Identify the positives.
There are many positives to be found in fetishes. I found using fetishes improved my sex life. My orgasms were stronger and my fantasies more alive. Since joining the BDSM community my fetishes have brought me closer to people in the group. I will also at times participate in kink scenes involving fetishes I don’t have because the exploration is fun and interesting.
3. Identify the negatives.
Some fetishes include dangers such as injuring yourself or making your partner(s) uncomfortable. No one likes to think of the negatives, but you must evaluate them so you do not hurt yourself or others. For me, I have nerve damage so I can’t play with needles on certain parts of my body and I have to be really diligent with aftercare after spanking scenes.
4. Do some (non-pornographic) research.
I personally found it easier to research my fetishes from a scholarly standpoint before I watched a lot of porn or increased my use of fetishes during sex. This includes reading about sexuality as a whole, and not just fetishes. Look up book publishers that specialize in sexuality and find some titles that interest you. Don’t isolate your fetishes, invite them in to your sexuality. When you are ready, try reading erotica that focuses on your fetish. Cleis Press has my favorites!
5. Evaluate information.
Most articles that come up on a google search for fetishes are lists of “Weird,” “bizarre,” “hilarious,” or “laughable” fetishes. Don’t feel guilty if your fetish pops up on one of these lists. Most of these sites are pop-culture entertainment and not academic. There are also religious based sites that condemn many aspects of sexuality. While I’m not encouraging you to just find sites that agree with your own point of view, do not be made to feel guilty because someone on a blog thinks a spanking fetish (for example) is childish. I read many theories about spanking, panty fetishes, and needle play that I certainly did not agree with. But some I did. We are all different, so don’t let one voice dictate your research.
6. Identify physical factors to understand why you have the fetish.
One of the reasons spanking is such a strong fetish for me is that there are a lot of sexual aspects to spanking. Pain is a sensation that has been used in varying degrees during pleasurable sex for centuries. Many people would like to pass off fetishes on some bad childhood experience and leave it at that. I, however, have found there are both physical and psychological aspects and they are not deep, dirty childhood secrets. They were pretty obvious to me after I took the time to reflect on them in a calm and centered way. Not everyone has a spanking or needle fetish for the same reasons I do. You’ll have to look to yourself for some answers.
7. Fantasize and watch porn.
Since I had thought porn was bad for such a long time, I never watched any fetish porn. Watching said porn gave me new scenarios to fantasize with and gave me a safe place to explore my fetishes on my own. At first, all the porn on my fetish topics turned me on, but after awhile I developed specific tastes and was able to control being turned on by the material I was watching, which thus helped my sexual understanding overall. Then during my own fantasies I could think up things my husband or partners could do to me that would be pleasurable and fun.
8. Research empathy.
Unfortunately there are still stigmas surrounding fetishes and not everyone will understand or appreciate your fetish. When I was 18 I was exposed to disability fetishists, devotees, because I have a visible disability. I was confused and hurt because people would message me asking “creepy” questions and invading my privacy by stealing my pictures. At first I blamed the fetish and sunk into a deeper hatred of my own fetishes. It took me awhile to realize the fetish is not bad, but treating people badly is. If you are lying to or manipulating someone to participate in your fetish, it is just as bad as manipulating or lying to someone to get them to have sex. I never advocate demonizing fetishes, but stalking or harassing other people is not acceptable. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with devotees. The relationship I have with disability is just different than the relationship that they have with it. Neither of us is better than the other, and devotees have definitely gone through a lot of pain of their own grappling with their fetish. But you will have to acknowledge that your fetish might bring others pain or sadness. Try to understand rather than resent. Also, it is likely that you will be sexual with a person who does not share your fetish. While I would love to just have spanking sessions all the time, my husband and play partners want other things. Don’t be like a kid who goes on and on and on about their favorite video game ALL THE TIME. Don’t let your fetish monopolize your sexual encounters.
9. Reach out.
I thought I was all alone until I joined the BDSM community and fetlife (I’m “UnlacedLibrarian” there if you want to friend me!). I thought I was in the minority with my fetishes but it turns out my fetishes are “boring” by comparison. I’m sure many people will find there are more people who share their fetishes than they imagined. Sometimes just knowing other people have struggled with fetishes, even if they are not ones you have, can be helpful. You can also share your experiences and help others. Writing this post has actually even made me more comfortable with my fetishes.
10. Reveal (when you feel you are ready).
Not everyone has to know you have fetishes. I was always afraid EVERYONE would know, and that was scary. But everyone doesn’t have to know. (Unless you start a sex blog and write a post like this. *cough*) Only sexual partners need to know, though you may join a community and make friends who are not sexual partners who know. Either way, your reveal doesn't have to be dramatic with epic reality TV show music playing. Try to frame it as a sexual adventure, exploration, or growth, not a dirty secret. I will be honest, some fetishes will be easier to integrate into sex than others. Spanking was very easy to add to my sexual repertoire, and I was surprised how unashamed I felt about it after I told my husband. But I waited until I was ready to tell him.
In conclusion, fetishes are instruments in your toolbox of sexuality. They are valuable instruments, but they need not be the only tools. Fetishes are perfectly healthy when used safely, are balanced with other aspects of sex, and don’t hurt other people. If you ever feel you are out of control or need help, you can seek help. However, I’ve found most people grow into a healthy understanding of their sexual fetishes. With the help of in-person and online BDSM groups, you can meet like minded people and share in the appreciation for a good OTK session or some intricate needle play.