What a weirdo!” thought Sunitha, about Sundar, her husband. “Does he even know that the rest of me exists?” The reason: Sundar got turned on by her toes only.
Sundar was so obsessed with Sunitha’s feet that he was oblivious to the rest of her. To begin with, Sunitha was amused and even found it erotic, but it soon turned to repugnance when he concentrated on nothing else but her foot! She felt rejected. She soon cringed at the mere mention of intimacy and refused to ‘toe’ his line.
Sundar justified his need. He flaunted a newspaper which carried a report about a study done at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. The study found “that 80 per cent of couples reached orgasm while wearing socks. Less than 50 per cent managed to climax without them”.
Sundar’s condition is known as fetishism. It is a condition in which a person depends on the compulsive use of some object, or a part of the body, as stimulus. This term comes from Greek mythology and refers to any inanimate object or part of the body. The reasons are yet to be identified. It is supposed to be due to transference of guilt from considering a woman’s body to be a sexual object. Another theory is that fetishism stems from early childhood sexual abuse. Fetishism has the dubious distinction of being an exclusive male pattern. A guesstimate is that two to five per cent of men have this problem. It has been classified along with ‘abnormal’ sexual behaviours called paraphilia.
A fetish object could range from a body part like feet, hair or hand to the look or feel of certain materials like silk, latex rubber, leather or fur. In some cases it could also be olfactory, like a certain smell or fragrance. These have the tendency to even displace the very person on whom fetishism has been inflicted.
Fetishism is seemingly harmless unless it becomes the sole source of sexual release. It can lead to a sexual dead-end. It is like virtual or robotic sex where the intimate bonding between two human beings is missing. The woman often feels hurt, frustrated, unwanted and loses confidence in her femininity.
As long as a man’s preferred sexual stimulus is a fetish object it may not pose a great problem. However, if this becomes the sole source of sexual stimulation, then the man is considered to have fetishistic disorder. A diagnosis of the disorder requires clinically significant distress or impairment in functioning resulting from the fetish.
Normal sexuality involves spontaneity, flexibility and variety. When fetishism interferes with this normalcy in a manner that it elicits negativity in the person who is at the receiving end, then it becomes a problem.
Therapy has known to help fetishists. In the US, self-help groups and group therapy have been applied with successful results. We all have our quirks. Just don’t let it take over.