Skip to main content
Select Source:

Fetishism

FETISHISM

Fetishism first interested psychoanalysts as a sexual perversion, in the strict sense. The term referred to a man's compulsive use of an inherently nonsexual object as an essential condition for maintaining potency and achieving pleasure when having sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex. This view emphasizes that perversion, as originally understood, was viewed as a strictly masculine phenomenon. Freud presented his thinking on the subject in three texts, which represented his changing ideas on the subject: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d), "Fetishism" (1927e), and "The Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defense" (1940e [1938]). The views expressed in those essays are as relevant in the early twenty-first century as when they were first written.

In all observed cases, the fetish, in the fetishist's unconscious fantasy, is a substitute for a woman's "penis." It "completes" the woman by making her phallic. Consequently, the woman's genital organs lose any erogenous quality, in the eyes of the fetishist, erogeneity being completely transferred to the fetish. The fetish becomes the source of excitement, an idealized object capable of providing sexual pleasure to the fetishist.

The psychopathological behavior of the fetishist can be considered exacerbation of a universal anxiety. Freud saw in this perversion one of the clearest demonstrations of the difficulty that some men (perhaps all men) experience in accepting the differences of the sexes.

It has become clear that the most important factor behind this perversion is castration anxiety experienced to an extreme degree. Fetishism arises entirely from defensive measures unconsciously adopted to reject castration and eliminate it from the field of possibility. Only a part of the man believes that a woman does not have a penis. So as far as the fetishist is concerned, castration is still possible under these circumstances. But if both sexes are equipped with a penis, castration cannot occur in this world. It thus becomes essential to remedy this unacceptable reality by attributing a penis to the woman at any cost. Creating such a reality is the primary function of the fetish in the unconscious imagination of the fetishist. The fetishist must then shelter his fragile mental apparatus from the return of disturbing sexual perceptions. He does so by choosing as a fetish an object that is always available, like a high-heel shoe. One fetishist is quoted as saying, "Every time I am in the presence of a naked woman, I imagine a high-heel shoe; I couldn't tell what a vagina looks like." As Freud demonstrated, the fetish makes the woman "acceptable" as an object of sexual love.

Freud considered fetishism important because this pathological structure can be used to observe the workings of two important defense mechanisms that had been partially ignored until then: splitting and denial. Fetishism enabled Freud clearly to identify the mechanism of splitting for the first time, that is, splitting of the thinking ego (to be distinguished from the splitting of the object representation). The fetishist demonstrates that he can accommodate two clearly contradictory conceptions of a woman within himself: a conscious affirmation ("The woman does not have a penis") and an unconscious fetishistic affirmation ("The woman has a penis"). The first is unimportant in the mental representations of the fetishist. These two modes of thought operate in parallel and have no effect on one another. The second mode of thought, a defense mechanism, denies castration, the lack of a penis, the crucial difference between the sexes. Most authors see splitting as arising to ensure the continuity of the denial, though it may be that splitting and continuity of denial occur simultaneously.

Since splitting and denial are observed in psychosis, some see fetishism as a protection against an otherwise threatening psychosis. Fetishism is also thought to protect against homosexuality. We should not conclude, however, that the fetishist is homosexual. In terms of his own feelings of identity and his own self-representations at all levels of thought, he sees himself as a man, a man in relation to a woman, except that the woman in this case also has a penis, according to the man's unconscious imagination. This is a major difference with the transvestite, who sees himself as a woman, in this case, a woman with a penis. Overall, in spite of the exceptions encountered, the transvestite is much closer to homosexuality than the fetishist. Rare cases of fetishism alternating with homosexuality have been observed, however.

It follows from the above that fetishism is a sign of narcissistic pathology, with mental operations functioning at a very archaic level, primarily through the extensive use of primitive identification (which some authors refer to as "narcissistic identification" or "projective identification"). This assertion is based on the fact that by endowing the woman (the mother, in the unconscious) with a penis, the fetishist preserves his own sexual organ by identifying with the mother. In doing so, the fetishist exhibits considerable narcissistic vulnerability regarding the integrity of his physical image.

Although opinions are divided, it seems justified to view the mechanism and structure of fetishism as resulting from a massive regression following the oedipal stage. The oedipal conflict was traumatic and results in significant regression to all levels of pregenitality, accompanied by strong anal and oral components. These components are manifest in an anxiety of disintegration, which is very noticeable during psychoanalysis. Another school of thought suggests viewing fetishism as essentially determined by pregenital conflicts.

Psychoanalytic work in the 1990s has shown that the fetish can also take on, in most cases, several other functions in varying proportions. These secondary functions include protection against trauma and depression, release from the outward expression of hostility and contempt while expressing them secretly, relief from psychosomatic symptoms, control over separation anxiety. As a partial delusion, fetishism protects the subject from the delusion. And finally, fetishism provides access to the maternal breast and full possession of the idealized mother.

AndrÉ Lussier

See also: Castration complex; Coprophilia; Disavowal; Phallic mother; Phallic woman; Psychotic defenses; "Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence, The."

Bibliography

Freud, Sigmund. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.

. (1927e). Fetishism. SE, 21: 147-157.

. (1940e [1938]). Splitting of the ego in the process of defence. SE, 23: 271-278.

Gillespie, William H. (1964). The psychoanalytic theory of sexual deviation with special reference to fetishism. In Ismond Rosen (Ed.), The pathology and treatment of sexual deviation (pp. 123-145). London: Oxford University Press.

Lussier, André. (1983). Les déviations du désir:Étude sur le fétichisme. Revue Française de Psychanalyse, 47 (1), 19-142.

Rosolato, Guy.(1967).Étude des perversions sexuelles à partir du fétichisme. In Guy Rosolato, Piera Aulagnier-Spairani, Jean Clavreul, François Perrier, and Jean-Paul Valabrega (Eds.), Le désir et la perversion (pp. 9-52). Paris: Seuil.

Further Reading

Bak, Robert. (1953). Fetishism. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 1, 285-298.

Greenacre, Phyllis. (1960). Further notes on fetishism. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 15, 191-207.

. (1969). The fetish and the transitional object. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 24,144-164.

Nersessian, Edward. (1998). A cat as fetish: A contribution to the theory of fetishism. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 79, 713-726.

Renik, Owen. (1992). Use of the analyst as a fetish. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 61, 542-563.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fetishism." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fetishism." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetishism

"Fetishism." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetishism

Fetishism

Fetishism

Definition

Fetishism is a form of paraphilia, a disorder that is characterized by recurrent intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies generally involving non-human objects, the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one's partner (not merely simulated), or children or other non-consenting persons. The essential feature of fetishism is recurrent intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies involving specific objects. While any object may become a fetish, the distinguishing feature is its connection with sex or sexual gratification. A diagnosis of fetishism is made only if an individual has acted on these urges, is markedly distressed by them, or if the fetish object is required for gratification.

For some people with a paraphilia such as fetishism, paraphilic fantasies or stimuli may be necessary for erotic arousal and are always included in sexual activity, or the presence of the fetish object may occur only episodically. For example, the fetish object may only be necessary for arousal during periods of stress , and at other times, the person is able to function sexually without the fetish or stimuli related to the fetish.

Description

As stated, a fetish is a form of paraphilia, and in fetishism, the affected person has created a strong association between an object and sexual pleasure or gratification. A fetish is not simply a pleasant memoryit is a dominant component of most sexual situations. Most fetishes are objects or body parts. Common fetishes involve items of clothing, stuffed animals, or other non-sexual objects. Body fetishes may involve breasts, legs, buttocks, or genitals.

A person with a fetish often spends significant amounts of time thinking about the object of the fetish. Further, the object is intimately related to sexual pleasure or gratification. In the extreme, the presence of the fetish object is required for sexual release and gratification.

Causes and symptoms

Causes

The cause of the association between an object and sexual arousal may be adolescent curiosity or a random association between the object and feelings of sexual pleasure. A random association may be innocent or unappreciated for its sexual content when it initially occurs. For example, a male may enjoy the texture or tactile sensation of female undergarments or stockings. At first, the pleasurable sensation occurs randomly, and then, in time and with experience, the behavior of using female undergarments or stockings as part of sexual activity is reinforced, and the association between the garments and the sexual arousal is made. A person with a fetish may not be able to pinpoint exactly when his or her fetish began. A fetish may be related to activities associated with sexual abuse .

Symptoms

Early symptoms for a fetish involve touching the object of desire. The amount of time spent thinking about the fetish object may increase. Over time, the importance of the fetish object expands. In the extreme, it becomes a requirement for achieving sexual pleasure and gratification.

Demographics

How many people have a fetish and the extent to which the fetish influences their lives and sexual activities are not accurately known. In some rare instances, people with fetishes may enter the legal system as a result of their fetishes, and those cases may be counted or tracked.

Paraphilias such as fetishism are uncommon among females, but some cases have been reported. Females may attach erotic thoughts to specific objects such as items of clothing or pets, but these are uncommon elements in sexual activity. Virtually no information is available on family patterns.

Diagnosis

A diagnosis of a paraphilia involving a fetish is most commonly made by taking a detailed history or by direct observation. The diagnosis is made only if a person has actually obtained sexual gratification by using the fetish object, or has been markedly distressed by the inability to use such an object if contact with the fetish object is needed for sexual success. Occasionally discussing admiration for a particular object or finding an object to be arousing does not indicate a diagnosis of fetishism.

Treatments

In the earliest stages of behavior therapy, fetishes were narrowly viewed as attractions to inappropriate objects. Aversive stimuli such as shocks were administered to persons undergoing therapy. This approach was not successful. People with fetishes have also been behaviorally treated by orgasmic reorientation, which attempts to help them develop sexual responses to culturally appropriate stimuli that have been otherwise neutral. This therapy has had only limited success.

Most persons who have a fetish never seek treatment from professionals. Most are capable of achieving sexual gratification in culturally appropriate situations. As of 2002, American society seems to have developed more tolerance for persons with fetishes than in the past, thus further reducing the already minimal demand for professional treatment.

Prognosis

The prognosis for eliminating a fetish is poor because most people with a fetish have no desire to change or eliminate it. Most cases in which treatment has been demanded as a condition of continuing a marriage have not been successful. Most fetishes are relatively harmless in that most do not involve other persons or endanger the person with the fetish. Persons with a fetish rarely involve non-consenting partners.

The personal prognosis for a person with a fetish is good if the fetish and related activities do not impact others or place the person with the fetish in physical danger.

Prevention

Most experts agree that providing gender-appropriate guidance in culturally appropriate situations will prevent the formation of a fetish. The origin of some fetishes may be random associations between a particular object or situation and sexual gratification. There is no way to predict such as association.

Resources

BOOKS

Gelder, Michael, Richard Mayou, and Philip Cowen. Shorter Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Kohut, John J., and Roland Sweet. Real Sex: Titillating but True Tales of Bizarre Fetishes, Strange Compulsions, and Just Plain Weird Stuff. New York: Plume, 2000.

Wilson, Josephine F. Biological Foundations of Human Behavior. New York: Harcourt, 2002.

PERIODICALS

Chalkley, A. J., and G. E. Powell. "The clinical description of forty-eight cases of sexual fetishism." British Journal of Psychiatry 142 (1983): 292-295.

FitzGerald, W. A. "Explaining the variety of human sexuality." Medical Hypotheses 55, no. 5 (2000): 435-439.

Nersessian E. "A cat as fetish: a contribution to the theory of fetishism." International Journal of Psychoanalysis 79 (Pt 4) (1998): 713-725.

Reed, G. S. "The analyst's interpretation as fetish." Journal of the American Psychoanalytical Association 45, no. 4 (1998): 1153-1181.

Weiss, J. "Bondage fantasies and beating fantasies." Psychoanalytic Quarterly 67, no. 4 (1998): 626-644.

Wise, T. N. and R. C. Kalyanam. "Amputee fetishism and genital mutilation: case report and literature review." Journal of Sexual and Marital Therapy 26, no. 4 (2000): 339-344.

L. Fleming Fallon, Jr., M.D., Dr.P.H.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fetishism." Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fetishism." Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fetishism

"Fetishism." Gale Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fetishism

fetish

fet·ish / ˈfetish/ • n. an inanimate object worshiped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit. ∎  a course of action to which one has an excessive and irrational commitment: he had a fetish for writing more opinions each year than any other justice. ∎  a form of sexual desire in which gratification is linked to a particular object, item of clothing, part of the body, etc. DERIVATIVES: fet·ish·ism n. fet·ish·ist n. fet·ish·is·tic adj. ORIGIN: early 17th cent. (originally denoting an object used by the peoples of West Africa as an amulet or charm): from French fétiche, from Portuguese feitiço ‘charm, sorcery’ (originally an adjective meaning ‘made by art’), from Latin factitius.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"fetish." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"fetish." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetish-0

"fetish." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetish-0

Fetish

Fetish (Port., feitiço, ‘made thing’). An object held in awe or reverence. The term has had a wide range of uses and meanings. In origin, it derives from the observations made by early traders and travellers in W. Africa of objects (often worn) held in high regard. From this it was concluded that a fetish was an idol. It was then recognized that these objects were not so much worshipped as used to exercise power, and the word began to be used of objects containing force. Beyond that, the word ‘fetish’ was taken up in psychoanalysis to refer to a sexual tendency to obtain erotic satisfaction from objects rather than people, even if only of objects associated with people. Colloquially, a fetish is an object of obsessive preoccupation, ‘making a fetish of something’.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fetish." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fetish." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetish

"Fetish." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetish

fetish

fetish (fĕt´Ĭsh), inanimate object believed to possess some magical power. The fetish may be a natural thing, such as a stone, a feather, a shell, or the claw of an animal, or it may be artificial, such as carvings in wood. The power of the fetish is thought to derive its efficacy from one of two sources. In some cases the object is said to have a will of its own; in others the source of power comes from the belief that a god dwells within the object and has transformed it into an instrument of his desires. Closely related to the idea of the power of a fetish is the notion of taboo. Here the power within the fetish is thought to be so strong that it is extremely dangerous and may be handled only by special individuals, if at all. Any object of irrational or superstitious devotion may be called a fetish.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"fetish." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"fetish." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fetish

"fetish." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fetish

fetishism

fetishism, in psychiatry, a paraphilia (see perversion, sexual) in which erotic interest and satisfaction are centered on an inanimate object or a specific, nongenital part of the anatomy. Generally occurring in males, fetishism frequently centers on a garment (e.g., underclothing or high-heeled shoes) or such parts of the body as the foot. In some cases, fetishism becomes severe enough to inspire the fetishist to acquire objects of his desire through theft or assault. In psychoanalysis, a fetish is believed to represent a substitute for male genitalia, which women are imagined to have lost through castration. Although the causes of fetishism are not clearly known, it is generally not considered a serious disorder, unless it is coupled with other psychological disturbances.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"fetishism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"fetishism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fetishism

"fetishism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fetishism

Fetishism

Fetishism

A term formerly used to discuss various aspects of African religions, especially the use of objects believed to be inhabited by spirit beings. It was a term that grew out of an inadequate understanding of traditional African religious faith and was abandoned in the late twentieth century.

Sources:

Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. New York: Collier, 1961.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fetishism." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fetishism." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fetishism

"Fetishism." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fetishism

fetishism

fetishism (fet-i-shizm) n. sexual attraction to an inappropriate object (known as a fetish). This may be a part of the body, clothing, or other objects (e.g. leather handbags or rubber sheets). Treatment can involve psychotherapy or behaviour therapy. See also sexual deviation.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"fetishism." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"fetishism." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/caregiving/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetishism

"fetishism." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/caregiving/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetishism

fetish

fetish inanimate object worshipped by savages. XVII (fateish; earlier in form direct — Pg., fetisso). — F. fétiche — Pg. feitiço charm, sorcery, sb. use of the adj. meaning ‘made by art’ :- L. factīcius FACTITIOUS.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"fetish." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"fetish." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetish-1

"fetish." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetish-1

Fetishism

FETISHISM.

This entry includes two subentries:

Overview
Fetishism in Literature and Cultural Studies

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Fetishism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fetishism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetishism

"Fetishism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetishism

fetish

fetishcattish, fattish, flattish •smartish •coquettish, fetish, pettish, wettish •leftish • Kentish •latish, straightish •sweetish •British, skittish, twittish •Pictish •brightish, lightish, rightish, slightish, whitish •hottish, Scottish, sottish •softish • shortish • saltish •loutish, stoutish •goatish •coltish, doltish •brutish, Jutish •sluttish • smoothish •lavish, ravish •elvish •knavish, slavish •peevish, thievish •spivvish • dervish •anguish, languish •vanquish •distinguish, extinguish •relinquish

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"fetish." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"fetish." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetish

"fetish." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/fetish