On this page, I’ll explain how sexual desire produces pleasure. From that, you’ll be able to apply that to your fetish, and understand exactly why you have your fetish. However weird, there’s always an explanation.
Why Is Sex Pleasurable?
Pleasure is a phenomenon which drives us to engage in behaviors that benefit our survival or reproduction. We are evolved for those two purposes – to survive and to reproduce – and pleasure is the thing that makes us do that. We feel pleasure from eating a high calorie meal for example, because it benefits our survival. We feel pleasure from social contact, because having a tribe of our own benefits survival. We feel pleasure from sex because we need to reproduce! But why do we feel pleasure from things like fetishes, which don’t help reproduction, and even hinder it? Why is oral sex pleasurable, for example? It’s not to do with reproduction. It’s to do with survival.
These sexual experiences help our survival by providing us with validation and affirmation of our self-worth, and that’s the core of all fetishes.
Humans Have Sex For Pleasure, Not Reproduction
Oral sex shouldn’t be pleasurable. It makes no sense from a reproductive standpoint – it’s the wrong hole! Oral sex is pleasurable because when someone is focusing on giving you pleasure, it’s validating. We feel pleasure from anything that makes us feel accepted, loved, or validated, because it benefits our survival.
Similarly, one of the most commonly arousing parts of sex is when your partner is clearly enjoying it. To hear them struggle to contain their moans of pleasure or to see them writhe in pure ecstasy brings you pleasure too – it makes you feel pretty good about yourself! Being desired is one of the most universally erotic experiences. That’s the explanation behind all non-fetishistic sexual pleasures. As Dr Jack Morin writes in his book ‘The Erotic Mind’:
‘The erotic urge springs from a deep-seated urge to affirm yourself’.
Fetishes increase validation; either by:
1) making us feel even more desired, validated, and good enough, to a much larger extent
2) Overcoming our deepest fears and negative feelings, to affirm that we’re good enough just as we are. This gives us the sense that our our deep-seated fears and feelings aren’t a problem, and aren’t going to stop us from surviving, because we overcome them in this sexual context.
Domination And Submission
Sexual domination can be very validating. If your partner likes you so much that you get to do whatever you want with them, that’s a validating experience. To be given free reign over someone else’s body is hugely gratifying. It makes you feel powerful and successful; and definitely ‘good enough’. That’s why domination – in all its forms, extents, and variants – is a very common kink; it’s inherently pleasurable due to validation.
Similarly, sexual submission feels good due to the same mechanism. If your partner likes you so much that they want to use your body for their pleasure, that’s a validating experience. To be desired, and to be good enough to sexually gratify someone else, is validating. To know that your body is capable of bringing someone else great pleasure is validating. To have someone that WANTS you enough to use you is validating. That makes you feel like you’re pretty good, which is why it’s pleasurable. Domination and submission are validating, which is why they’re more common elements of sex.
One way in which validation is produced in even larger amounts is through confronting our deepest fears and most hurtful feelings. By facing those fears – either by acting them out on someone else (sadism) or by surrendering to them in a scenario where we’re in control (masochism) – we can temporarily overcome our deepest concerns and feel pleasurable validation from doing so.
Masochism can be broadly defined as finding pleasure from feeling pain, either physical pain or mental pain (such as hurtful emotions). Many authors describe masochistic behavior as a way to feel good about oneself, because the sense of being unjustly treated, humiliated, or abused, provides gratification. By taking on the role of the victim, you gain gratification from bearing an unjust amount of emotional (or physical) pain.
Otto Kernberg, in ‘Clinical Dimensions Of Masochism’ (1988), writes:
‘The self-punitive price paid for sexual gratification… also provides approval… and, by the same token, an increase in self-esteem. Insofar as [we] regulate self-esteem by self-directed approval or criticism, masochistic behavior patterns have important functions in neurotically maintaining self-esteem and, in metapsychological terms, in assuring the ego’s narcissistic supplies.’ (Edited for clarity)
Essentially, it provides validation and approval, and affirms your self-worth.
This is because it’s essentially your greatest fear, the thing that you’re subconsciously most worried about. When you can confront that, and make it through, it’s incredibly validating. You gain pure pleasure from overcoming your most hurtful fears and feelings – and the satisfaction that they’re not real.
Through this ‘masochistic’ angle, powerlessness is eroticized through fantasies of being tied up and without any power. Shame becomes eroticized through fantasies of being shameful, and helplessness becomes eroticized through fantasies of being helpless. All because they create validation from the unjust treatment.
Robert Stoller writes:
‘Masochism is a technique of control, first discovered in childhood following trauma, the onslaught of the unexpected. The child believes it can prevent further trauma by re-enacting the original trauma. Then, as master of the script, he is no longer a victim; he can decide for himself when to suffer pain rather than having it strike without warning.’
By surrendering to those emotions consensually, you become the one in charge. You have the power, and even though you’re the victim, you’re choosing to be the victim, and it’s happening for your pleasure.
This is just one categorization of fetishes, where you become the victim of those emotions. In the other side of fetishes, the sadistic category, the pleasure is gained not from being the victim but the victor; it involves inflicting those emotions on someone else, and being the one in charge. Then, you no longer feel a victim to those painful emotions but have a way to gain power over them, by creating a situation where you are the aggressor and have power over those emotions. Again, it’s gratifying; this time you find validation from being powerful, and being in control. It makes you feel like you’ve made it. To conquer those emotions feels validating.
Robert Stoller defines ‘perversion’ as:
‘A habitual, preferred aberration necessary for one’s full satisfaction, primarily motivated by hostility. The hostility in perversion takes form in a fantasy of revenge hidden in the actions that make up the perversion and serves to convert childhood trauma to adult triumph.’
A ‘fantasy of revenge’ is a way for us to act those painful emotions onto others, to feel power over our greatest fears. Sadism and its derivatives eroticize deep-seated emotions by creating sexual fantasies involving overcoming those emotions by being the one who inflicts them onto someone else. Through the sadistic angle, inadequacy would be eroticized through fantasies of superiority. Powerlessness would be eroticized though fantasies of power (tying someone else up). Shame would be eroticized through fantasies of shaming others, and helplessness would be eroticized by making someone else feel helpless. All of these scenarios conquer the painful emotions as a triumphant ‘fantasy of revenge’.
An exhibitionist gains excitement from exposing his genitals to unsuspecting women. He does not seek to impress or amuse; his aim is to shock them. He wants to see them scream, run away, recoil, or even call the police. Why? Because he likes the shock. He likes feeling able to shock people. It makes him feel important, noticeable, and powerful. He gains validation from inflicting pain on his victim, as a way to overcome bad feelings about himself. This is one example of how painful emotions can be eroticized through a sadistic-type fetish.
Jack Morin writes:
‘The sadist takes command of his or her psychic wounds by skilfully administering pain to an enthusiastic recipient. The sadist is spared the discomfort of the hurt and is also gratified and subconsciously relieved to observe that the masochist clearly likes it. Old wounds are simultaneously avenged and transformed into an erotic high. The sadist is beyond merely being safe and has the illusion of omnipotence.’
And, once again, this becomes pleasurable because validation is conducive to survival. We are wired to feel pleasure at anything that makes us feel validated.
Thus, there are four main mechanisms in which we can find validation and therefore pleasure from sex through fetishes – domination, submission, sadism, and masochism.
Lastly, when growing up, we are all told which behaviors are ‘wrong’ or ‘naughty’. When we do naughty things, we are often punished, restricted, or told that we are ‘bad’. This creates an emotional pain and negative association with naughtiness.
Thus, in adulthood (where emotional pain is eroticized), we are aroused by naughtiness, and attracted to things which are ‘taboo’. By either masochistically surrendering to naughtiness, or sadistically seeking a fantasy of revenge through naughtiness, we find pleasurable validation through engaging in taboo sexual acts, either as the victim or the victor – or perhaps just a participant. We become aroused by things that are taboo – as an eroticization of the emotional pain around being naughty.
Getting rid of unwanted fetishes
Removing your fetish means eradicating whatever is causing it. That will be:
- Doubts about your self worth; fears of inadequacy, and a greater potential for affirmation/validation to be pleasurable.
- The individual fears and feelings; the pain that causes the fetish. For example, the fear of powerlessness, or the pain of being naughty.
- The associations and beliefs that contribute to the specific direction of the fetish.
This is an individual process. It’s different for every person. We’ve all been through different past experiences which have shaped the way that we are. It is those past experiences which create our fears, feelings, associations, self-image, and thus our fetishes.