A fetish refers to an intense sexual fixation on a generally nonsensual object, body part, practice, or situation. Some individuals with strong fetishes, or paraphilias, may not feel aroused or climax without their chosen fetish. According to the American Psychiatry Association, most fetishists are men. However, any person of any gender, sexual orientation, and age can have a fetish.
The term fetish comes from the Portuguese word feitico, meaning charm or sorcery. This link reflects the mysterious power that objects or situations can have over people with fetishes. Portuguese sailors and traders in the early 17th century likely used the word as a name for the talismans and charms they traded. By around 1837, the term became used figuratively for any object people revered or felt devoted to. It evolved to be a term used in a sexual sense by 1897.
There are all different types of fetishes, ranging from very common to more unusual. Some of the most common fetishes involve feet, hair, spanking, and leather. Fetishes on the less common end of the spectrum, involve robots, urine, insects, amputees, and cannibalism. If you can think of it, there’s likely to be a fetish based around it.
Fetishes usually manifest during puberty, but they can present even earlier. Experts are unsure why people develop fetishes, but some people believe early childhood experiences can trigger them. For example, if someone has a crush on a babysitter who wears high heels, they may develop a fetish for this footwear. Fetishes may also have a cultural component.
Experts believe the majority of people have some kind of fetish or hyperspecific turn-on. Some people have multiple fetishes. Some people do not realize they have a fetish, because their sexual attraction is simply a part of their ordinary sexual experience. Fetishes were once taboo, but now people discuss them openly and accept most fetishes as part of a healthy sexual identity. If they are not, for instance if non-consent is an issue, clinical intervention is necessary.