What is fetishism? Can it be treated?
Fetishism is a type of paraphilia that occurs when a person is sexually aroused by an object or body part that is not usually considered sexually exciting. (The object itself is called a fetish.) Some of the most common fetishes include:
- Clothing, such as shoes, gloves, underwear
- Materials, such as leather and rubber
- Body parts, like feet and hair
- Bodily features, like tattoos and piercings
Fetishes are more common in men than in women. Experts aren’t certain what causes them.
Having a fetish doesn’t necessarily mean a person has a disorder. In fact, fetishes may not be a problem at all. Many people incorporate fetishes into their sexual routines. For example, a person with a fetish might ask a partner to wear leather clothing. Or, they might hold a silk stocking while masturbating. Incorporating the fetish adds some spice to the encounter.
However, fetishism becomes a problem when a person needs the object in order to be sexually aroused and feels distress over the situation. In some cases, fetishes interfere with a person’s daily life.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM5), a person with a fetishistic disorder may have the following behaviors:
- They cannot become sexually aroused or reach orgasm without the object or body part.
- They are not sexually aroused by other types of sexual stimulation.
- They feel distressed and embarrassed about the fetish.
- They are unable to maintain their arousal or participate in relationships.
- They feel unable to control their need for the fetish.
Fetishistic disorder may be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of talk therapy and drugs. Some healthcare providers prescribe antidepressants to patients with fetishistic disorder.
- International Society for Sexual Medicine - “What are paraphilias?”
- Merck Manual (Consumer Version) - “Fetishism”
Brown, George R., MD
(Last modified: August 2019)
- Psychology Today - “Fetishistic Disorder”
(Last reviewed: February 23, 2019)
- WebMD - “What Is a Sexual Fetish?”
(January 27, 2015)