13 Mar, 17
Empathy and Fetish
Respecting Other People’s Kinks.
Robert L. Ripley once famously said that ‘I have travelled in 201 countries and the strangest thing I saw was man’ and, to be honest, it’s pretty hard to argue with his appraisal.
Humans, as a whole, are pretty bizarre. Just last year we all lost our collective minds over the capability to catch virtual monsters through our phone and the US experienced an uprising of spooky looking clowns. These are the times we live in.
But, if there’s something we can say for sure it’s that we’re all weird, in one way or another. And this is no different when it comes to sex either.
What Is A Fetish/Kink?
A fetish occurs when an individual gets aroused or feels desire for a specific object, item of clothing, body part, or situation. This can literally include anything and everything and some fetishes are more accepted than others.
For example people are typically forgiving of a leg fetish. Many people even relate to the arousal felt when seeing a pair of slender legs, but mention a foot fetish and things are considered to be a bit ‘weirder’. Transition to a foot tickling fetish and suddenly you’ve lost most people’s empathy for your particular kink.
Although there is some debate on terms ‘kink’ and ‘fetish’ can often be used interchangeably, with the main difference being that ‘kinks’ are often considered to be tamer versions of a fetish. Someone who is kinky may like the idea of foot play but someone who has a fetish may literally require the presence of feet in their sexual interactions in order to achieve arousal (or may become immediately aroused at the mere sight of feet). Because of this a person may consider themselves or their actions ‘a little kinky’ without really considering themselves to have a fetish.
Either way the focus is essentially the same—a particular point of sexual fixation which isn’t considered to be inherently arousing (i.e. not an erogenous zone).
Why Respect Someone’s Fetish?
Although considered as atypical compared to ‘the norm’ fetishes are actually incredibly common. In fact some studies have estimated that 1 in every 6 people may have a fetish of some description, and many more would no doubt consider themselves ‘kinky’.But, despite this, many people still treat fetishes as if they’re something to be shamed and chastised. If there was any doubt of this just consider the recent watersports scandal with US President, Donald Trump, in which the mere mention of urination brought about a flood of scandal, outrage and mockery. And, although we understand that Trump is a divisive figure, should the act of watersports really have been a point of mockery here?
What sort of message do we convey when we mock the supposed sexual scandals of celebrities with a fetish (rumoured or otherwise)?
Are fetishes really worthy of denigration?
If fetishes are so common then all we do by publically shaming them is reinforce the idea that sex and sexual preferences are somehow amoral and wrong—that if we chose to explore our personal desires then we are somehow deviant or worthy of ridicule. Or, even worst, that our lives may be opened to scrutiny and ruined should we ever share our inherent desires.
Who does this help? Certainly not the person with the fetish. If one believe their sexual preferences to be inherently wrong then there is going to be an inevitable (most likely negative) effect on that person’s mental health. What about people without fetishes? Do they gain protection from such public criticism? Most likely not—as those who feel their fetishes are shameful are most likely to start keeping secrets and feel unfulfilled in their relationships, which affects everyone involved.
So what’s the alternative? This may sound a bit radical but bare with us…
Respecting people’s kinks
Strange, right!? But if people feel they can talk about their sexual preferences without the potential for judgement or shame then it’s generally better for everyone involved.That being said, we get it: sex is an awkward topic for some people at the best of times, and some fetishes are very different to what some people might be familiar with. So how does one go about respecting someone’s kink? Here’s a brief primer:
#1 Don’t ‘Yuck’ People’s ‘Yum’
This one is pretty straightforward but it can sometimes be the hardest to control.When we’re confronted with something new to us, or something that we potentially find extremely weird, then there may be a knee-jerk reaction to dismiss it, invalidate it, or perhaps even show revulsion or extreme disapproval.
While this is an understandable initial reaction it’s also incredibly harmful, can isolate the person who decided to share their preferences with you and may even cause a lasting rift in the relationship or long term damage.
The good news is it’s incredibly easy to modify this behaviour if you’re aware that it can happen.In future when someone discloses a sexual preference or desire to you that you personally find peculiar take a moment to recognize that and take a moment to process it before reacting. If you really need to pry then we suggest that you…
#2 Ask Questions (Respectfully)
If someone’s kink really catches your interest (for one reason or another) then it’s okay to acknowledge this and try to find out more. Just make sure you’re doing so in a respectful and non-judgemental manner. For example rather than saying “You like to see people’s bodies transform!? What the hell! That’s so weird!” perhaps say “I have to admit, I find the idea of a transformation fetish rather perplexing. Could you perhaps tell me more about it?”
Don’t be afraid to highlight your emotions or lack of knowledge in your questions but always make it clear that you’re being honest with how you feel in order to try and find out more, and that you want to understand even if you currently have a very limited scope of knowledge. Which brings us on to our next point…
#3 Practice Active Listening
If you’ve asked someone about their fetish and they start disclosing more information then listen. If your partner is confiding in to you about what they like, listen. If you find a news article wrote from the perspective of a fetishist, listen (or read in this instance, but you get the point).
When it comes to someone sharing something as intimate and personal as a sexual fetish you don’t get to lead the conversation. It may be hard at times—you may want to counter or chime in, or even express a knee-jerk emotion but this isn’t constructive, nor will it allow you to really take in and consider their point of view.
Think about it—if you’re spending the entire conversation thinking of counters and questions in your head then at what point are you actually truly taking in what the other person has to say in a considered and respectful manner?This person has trusted you with something incredibly intimate, the least you can do is take in what they have to say.
#4 Acknowledge That We’re All Different
As Mr Ripley so astutely discerned, no two individuals on this earth are entirely the same and we’re all a little bit freaky in the sheets, even if we consider ourselves rather vanilla.Reality is subjective after all—one person’s vanilla might be another’s rocky road, so before judging others acknowledge that we all do strange things and that those things should be approached with a degree of compassion and empathy rather than immediate dismissal.
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