As the world becomes more and more comfortable with the idea of being sensually open, the world of fetishes becomes more and more on display for the world to see. Kinks are becoming more accessible these days, in more ways than you probably know. Popular television series like My Strange Addiction have covered the topic in recent years, from those that like to spend the night with their Real Doll, to men who get aroused by dressing up like babies. One of the most talked about movies of 2015, Fifty Shades of Grey, was based almost entirely on the practice of going towards new frontiers in bed.
But what is a fetish? According to Merriam-Webster, a fetish is “an object or bodily part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression.” Fetishism has been confused with kink for years, though recently the terms have become blurred. Simply put, a fetish is something someone needs to become aroused. If this item or action isn’t present in their sexual experience, the person can have a hard time becoming aroused – if at all.
The light that’s been cast on fetish hobbies in the past few years isn’t exactly positive, though. In most contexts, viewers and browsers of fetish sites and subreddits are more akin to an audience gawking at an oddity rather than being enticed by something they find sensually pleasing. This comes with the territory. While some fetish acts are more typical and socially accepted, such as swinging or light bondage, others are much more quizzical and lend to the notion that fetish practices are more mystifying than worthy of becoming mainstream. Even if you’re a fan of fetish, it’s quite possible that there’s some stuff that’s too out there for even your own tastes. If you aren’t familiar with this subversive sex community, these 10 fetishes were probably entirely off your radar…until now.
People with a balloon fetish find the colorful orbs to be a source of sexual pleasure and are often referred to as “looners” within the fetish community. This can manifest in many ways, including watching someone blow up a balloon until the point at which it bursts, or listening to someone pop balloons they step or sit on.
As strange as this might sound, the psychology makes more sense than you’d think. It’s suggested that the rush looners receive from the popping noise of a balloon is a release of adrenaline; something commonly found in many sexual fetishes. The anticipation and fear related to waiting for the balloon to pop causes a sexual response, made greater by the relief of anxiety when the pop actually occurs.
9. Human Furniture
You might have seen this one in a movie or two before and just thought it was part of a strange set design, but a human furniture fetish (referred to as “forniphilia;” a term coined by Jeff Gord) is an entirely real and existing thing. An extreme form of bondage, forniphilia requires either manipulation with an outside rope or gear or an extreme sense of discipline.
Some positions are easier to do than others, such as becoming an ottoman or a coffee table, while other forms of the fetish require being bound to a wrack or other device with furniture-like appendages tied to the participant. Common pieces of furniture that are emulated include tables, chairs, decorations and footstools.
8. Teddy Bears
This mouthful of a fetish, ursusagalmatophilia, is quite simple despite the long and complex name: it’s simply a sexual attraction to teddy bears. An offshoot of both the furry movement and akin to the fetish of plush animals in general (aka plushophilia), ursusagalmatophilia focuses on the same stuffed animals your mom used to tuck into bed with you every night.
This fetish was actually something of a sensation in the early twenty-tens. In 2010, a man named Charles Marshall was discovered to be having sex in public with a stuffed bear, and has since been caught three other times, with Huffington Post having reported the story in June 2012. Public lewdness doesn’t always play into the fetish, however, and it is often practiced in private.
7. Creepy Crawlies
This fetish, known as formicophilia, is an offshoot of zoophilia, or a sexual attraction to animals. This fetish is much more specific, though. Instead of just any animal, this fetish involves a sexual arousal from being crawled on or nibbled on by insects or small creatures. A formicophile would find pleasure in ants running across his foot or a slug crawling on her arm. A formicophile may have a preference for certain animals or insects, or even a part of the body they want these animals or insects to crawl on.
This is a fetish that has also been academically studied, with two papers published in the 1980s by Ratnin Dewarja and Professor John Money. The pair theorize that the reason this fetish appears more in developing countries could be the conditions within them where insect infestations are more likely to occur.
6. Religious Paraphernalia
Hierophilia is a sexual attraction to religious or sacred objects. Those with knowledge of etymology can recognize this almost immediately as the word is derived from the Greek “hieros,” meaning holy or sacred. Those with hierophilia can find arousal from either any religious object or only a specific kind of object. This can also be exclusive to one religion; the most popular of which appears to be Christianity.
As an example of the close relationship between Christianity and fetishes, Dr. Anil Aggrawal wrote in his 2009 book Forensic and Meico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices that “…early Christians frequently attributed magical and metaphysical powers to such objects as skulls, bones of saints, severed and mummified fingers and arms, etc. These objects were referred to as ‘fetiches’ (sic).”
The fetish of agalmatophilia has a wide range of subject matter. An agalmatophile can be attracted to human-like statues, mannequins, dolls or even robots. The draw of this fetish is that the object in question is immobile, unmoving and still for eternity. The way this fetish manifests is often different for each individual. A practitioner might want to become a statue and fantasize as such to find release, or they might be attracted to the actual inanimate object of their desires.
As reported in the Daily Mail in March 2012, a 40-year-old woman from London told her interviewer she had fallen head over heels for a statue of Adonis that was only three feet in height, proving the fetish doesn’t even have to involve something life size or truly realistic.
4. Crushing Objects
This fetish hasn’t yet been named, though it’s been documented for years. Participants in this fetish will either watch videos of the act of someone crushing small objects, insects, or other items with their body, or they get someone to perform this act for them in real life. More extreme examples of this fetish involve crushing actual animals, and has caused this fetish to get a reasonably negative rep with the press and public.
Because of the manufacturing of so-called “crush videos” showcasing animal cruelty, many countries ban the production and sale of the content. A well-known instance of a crush video was in the early 2000s where a video circulated the web of a woman crushing and killing kittens while wearing high heels. The woman has since been found and apologized for her actions.
3. Being Robbed
As terrifying as the thought of being mugged is, people out there exist that fantasize about the experience as a sexual fetish. Chremastistophilia is a fetish where someone becomes sexually aroused by being robbed or held up, but can also apply to being charged for sexual services. This fetish is much like a more extreme version of the balloon popping kink. The fear and adrenaline rush present during the situation arouses the practitioner, as does the sense of helplessness and submission.
For those on the opposite end of the spectrum, kleptolagnia is a fetish surrounding the act of breaking and entering or robbing someone. Another related fetish is hybristophilia, a paraphilia where someone is aroused when having sex with someone they know to have committed crimes.
Perhaps not the weirdest fetish on this list, maschalagnia is a fetish linked to a sexual attraction to someone’s underarm. This can focus on the feel, smell, or presentation of the area, and participants often have an ideal type of armpit they fantasize about over others. A sizable number of people might enjoy kissing or touching armpits during foreplay, but the fetish focuses on an overwhelming desire for them – someone who has an armpit fetish might focus on the desired area more than a partner’s genitals. This isn’t a new fetish, either, with associations to the act showing up in ancient folktales and poetry.
1. Accidents and Disasters
Rounding out the list is one of the more ethically questionable fetishes, symphorophilia. This fetish involves sexual arousal derived from either watching a travesty or staging one. This tragedy in question can vary, from car crashes to tsunamis, fires to bridges collapsing. The fetish received some mainstream notice when the 1973 novel Crash was adapted into a film in 1996; the characters in both adaptations are symphorophiles with an obsession with car crashes. Professor John Money first coined the term in the paper “Paraphilias: Phenomenology and classification,” writing about the fetish that it is “like a game of Russian roulette, it may end in death — alone or with the partner. However, flirting with disaster, rather than suicide and murder is the trigger responsible for autoerotic arousal and excitement.”
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