ColumnWe all have sexual fetishes, fantasies, and unspoken desires. Who decides whether they’re normal or not?
“Normal” is a strange, problematic term. It’s one thing when asking a doctor about a mole, but when contemplating your sexual desires and fetishes, “normal” is a non-starter. If something you desire doesn’t fall into a range of accepted cultural norms, are you abnormal? Even if it’s something as simple as being attracted to another partner when you’re in a relationship — is there something wrong with you? Obviously not. But you probably still feel some real, palpable shame — just for having some thoughts.
In the groundbreaking book PERV: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, Jesse Bering tells us why what we want isn’t the problem. The problem is that our culture is rife with religious dogma, even if it’s not coming directly from the church. It’s embedded in our institutions, our laws, and our very consciousness.
It’s a good thing that so many have already read 50 Shades of Grey as an appetizer, because Bering delves into a lot of fetishes that even I, a sex writer, had never heard of. From an incestuous love affair between Czech twin brothers (who perform in porn together), to your basic foot fetishes, this book covers a lot of ground, some of it shocking. But it’s not meant to titillate, or trouble your moral soul. It’s meant to show the reader that sexual “deviancy” is a construct, just like everything else we’ve been culturally conditioned to believe without question.
As long there as there is consent – as long as there is no harm – Bering believes that we have no right to condemn people’s sexual fetishes and desires. After all, we all agree that gay people are normal, but there are still those out there claiming they can “pray away the gay,” Yes, conversion therapy, very depressingly, is still a thing.
The numerous animal studies cited in the book include one in which goats and sheep are switched at birth and raised by members of the other’s species. And wouldn’t you know it, the animals’ resultant sexual preferences were not for their own kind, but for their adoptive parents’ species.
The point is that most of what society considers sexually deviant, perverted, or just plain wrong likely grew out of an imprinting experience from early childhood. Even a random arousal (say, from tickling) can lead to orgasm, and a life-long fetish can be born. Bering considers many of the fetishes he writes about in the book to be actual sexual orientations that we cannot and should not judge. As long as no one is getting hurt, as long as everyone is a willing participant, where is the harm in a man being sexually aroused by an amputee?
Most of us are on a continuum that starts with vanilla sex and ends with being a PERV. There should be absolutely no shame when it comes to your sexual desires and fetishes– both the ones you’re vocal about and the ones you’ve only dared to fantasize about. Communication, as in everything, is key.
We have been trained to condemn others for their desires, but that’s just a projection. The truth is that calling out others for their “abnormal” desires gives you an excuse not to think about your own. Even if your very real desires wouldn’t shock a soul, you may want to hide them from the world — even from your partner. There’s so much shame about sexuality in our society that some of us will use any excuse to compartmentalize it. Even if you only wear rubber boots when it’s raining out — why not let your freak flag fly?
Got a question for Stefanie? Email email@example.com and she’ll answer it in the next Sexual Healing column.
Keep in touch with Stefanie on Twitter: @ecosexuality
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