Elements of sexual fetishes are common in most people’s sexual fantasies – the strong and attractive look of a high heeled shoe, or the invulnerable appeal of the “bad boy” character – but these mild fetishes are not necessarily preferred routes to sexual pleasure and release for everyone. In contrast, some people require the presence of a particular fetish in order to become aroused, however is cases where the fetishization is mild and perhaps not even noticed, we can learn something about the milder appeal to most, by understanding the role the fetish plays in more extreme examples.
In his book, Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies, Dr. Michael J. Bader explains that with fetishes, “the part is treated as if it were the whole, or, conversely, a whole being is reduced to a part.” In sexual terms, a person is said to be fetishizing when they objectify a person, or personify an object, or as Bader puts it, “when we reduce something human to the status of a thing, or imbue things with human qualities.” Specifically, fetishes work to remove the human dimension of a sexual interaction, thereby freeing the fetishist of any guilt or worry they might have for their partner which would ultimately interfere with their ability to abandon control and climax.
How does leather, rubber, or latex function as a fetish? These materials are imbued with a human quality, being that they are suggestive of a second skin, one that is taut, smooth, shiny, and perfect. To the wearer or onlooker, the qualities of this second skin are suggestive of strength and invulnerability, youth even. The unconscious impact is to counteract feelings of worry or guilt on the part of the onlooker, and shame or insecurity on the part of the wearer. This is particularly evident when we imagine the opposite appearance of skin that is looser, vulnerable, older, and wrinkled.
Some examples of this fetish in action are given by Dr. Bader. He mentions a women who reported that she felt strong and invulnerable wearing an outfit made of leather, rubber, or latex. Her usual feelings of insecurity and weakness were smoothed over, so to speak, and she was able to become the strong, confident woman she longed to be. For someone who simply enjoys wearing these materials in a sexual scenario, but for whom their arousal does not rely on them, the element of strength and confidence will likely still be related to the appeal.
Another example is of a gay man who found leather on other men very attractive because it immediately suggested to him that this man would be a “hard-edged top,” thus allowing him to overcome his feelings of guilt for being strong or hard-edged himself. Only a partner who appeared stronger than himself would do, so he could assure himself that he couldn’t possibly hurt his partner by losing control sexually. My post on slave Master fantasies explores this dynamic further.
A third example is given, of a man who also felt guilty about hurting others were he to lose sexual control, and this man enjoyed being tied up to assuage his guilty feelings about this, a concept explored in my post on bondage and beating fantasies. He also enjoyed wearing a rubber suit, and specifically enjoyed being tied up by young boys. Unfortunately, not much explanation is offered for these aspects of the example, but perhaps the rubber suit served as a protective, and youthing layer, to decrease feelings of bodily shame around younger and presumably more smooth and taut sex partners?
Bader doesn’t mention the protective aspect of the second skin, the fact that one’s own skin is literally covered up, that one’s own senses are paved over, but I would suggest that this is another way to look at how this fetish serves the wearer. The covering of one’s own skin would likely have a numbing effect, therefore lending to the feeling of strength and invulnerability, because like with the use of drugs or alcohol, one’s senses are blunted. Yet another way to understand setting free feelings of shame or vulnerability.
~ “I urge you all today, especially today during these times of chaos and war, to love yourself without reservations and to love each other without restraint. Unless you’re into leather.” – Margaret Cho