It takes all sorts. That’s what they say, isn’t it?
And it’s true. Not just in everyday life but in terms of our sexual life and sexual behaviors.
We like different clothes, foods, sports, people…so why would it be any different for our sexual preferences? There’s a spectrum between ‘vanilla’ sex and extreme fetishes, and it’s completely natural that we find our individual sexual pleasure somewhere along this continuum.
As sex therapists, we believe in the diversity of human sexuality and the importance of sexual expression in its many forms. But often it is down to personal experience whether others share our beliefs. There are many cultures and societal contexts that treat sexual behaviors as taboo, leading those who seek sexual pleasure to feel they are somehow a bad person.
As a result, it can be hard, if you have grown up with these beliefs, to feel comfortable with the concept of a healthy sexual relationship. Let alone to form a positive view of diverse sexual expression – one that might include an unusual fetish or alternate sexual orientation to their own.
Spicing up our sex lives with the odd sexual fetish - a foot fetish or interest in gay porn, for instance - is certainly not uncommon. In fact, research in sexual diversity generally supports the idea that there are a wide variety of sexual fantasies, activities, and behaviors enjoyed by a significant proportion of the population.
We often hear people confess to feelings of shame around what they deem to be an embarrassing fetish. They say they’ve tried to hide it away from their partners for fear of turning them off or scaring them away. They may even go so far as to believing that only filthy people have unusual fetishes.
Let us stop you right there.
Whether you're turned on by serial killers, sexual violence, sex in animal costumes or even an attraction to trees, just because you like a certain activity or technique does not mean anything about you as a person. You can still be kind, gentle and all the qualities you pride yourself on in your day job.
We are all contradictions in life. We might be patient at work and impatient when we’re out on the roads; strong and forthright in a board meeting and yet we give in the second the kids bat their eyelids and ask for more screen time. We should never feel ashamed of who we are. And, by extension, the things we get pleasure from.
The key is consent.
It’s important you stick to your own boundaries and belief systems. And it’s vital you understand how far your partner is happy to go, as well as checking in to ensure they’re still onboard.
There have been several studies that show that people with fetishes, who enjoy and practise kinky sex, are actually better communicators and benefit from better mental health and lower likelihood of experiencing mental health disorders.
One of particular interest, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine (1), surveyed more than 1,300 people, a large proportion of whom practiced BDSM. Conducted via questionnaire, the study looked at personalities, general well-being, sensitivity to rejection and style of attachment in relationships.
It concluded that “BDSM practitioners were less neurotic, more extraverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive and had higher subjective well-being”.
So this suggests that if we can get past the shame, there are some real positives to be had.
You can move towards overcoming and managing any sexual shame you might feel in a number of ways.
Open up to your partner and discuss the subject with them. This may feel like a difficult thing to do but, if you can find a time when you’re both relaxed and ease gently into the conversation, you might find they’re excited by your kinks. Failing that, they might at least decide to share some of their own experiences of sexual attraction.
You can find plenty of discussion about sharing sexual fantasies and the benefits of talking to your partner about your fantasies in our article Sharing sex fantasies and other wants or needs. The most important thing is that, if you’re not confident in how your partner will respond, offer plenty of reassurance that you won't suddenly expect them to do anything they don’t want to do. Perhaps suggest watching some soft porn as a route in to talking about kinky people and to open your partner’s mind to the idea.
If you’re not at the stage where you’re ready to share your unusual fetish with your partner, make sure you’re not bottling things up. Practice self-care, surround yourself with sex-positive people and, if there are people in your life who are contributing to these feelings of shame, establish some boundaries around them. Look in the mirror and try some affirmations. Tell yourself, “I am not weird. It’s OK to ask for whatever I want. I deserve acceptance and respect.”
Remember, if you trust someone enough to share your innermost secrets and desires with them, that’s a wonderful thing. And no matter whether they respond positively, in that they’re happy to share in those fetishes, or they need a bit more time before taking part, both of you deserve respect in the way you communicate with one another on the subject.
And, if you’re particularly worried about your sexual preferences or can’t get past the sexual shame, perhaps consider sex therapy, either with or without your partner. If nothing else, you'll be able to talk things through and put your mind at rest that you are completely normal.
Or at least, as normal as anyone else out there.