There is so much stigma around sexuality — and even just discussing sex — that it’s easy to become confused about what is and isn't "normal." A lack of comprehensive sex education and sex positivity during our formative years can lead many of us to think that our urges or thoughts are somehow unnatural or not OK. We know that there’s a taboo, so we feel like we must be doing something wrong. And if you find yourself into something less than vanilla, something with a little twist of kink or fetish, you’re made to think that that’s even more out there. Well, it’s bullshit. Sex is normal. Kinks are normal. And yes, even fetishes are normal.

In fact, fetishes are so normal that, in some ways, it’s amazing that we don’t talk about them more. 


They’re more common than not 

One survey from erotic retailer Ann Summers surveyed over 2,300 people and found that 75 percent of them had some kind of fetish. Which means we really, really need to start getting on board with them. Not only did the Ann Summers survey find that three-quarters of people have a fetish, they also found that 28 percent of people had more than one. And they can be anything — seriously, anything. “I’ve heard of everything from feet to dirt to cars,” Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., a sex educator and research psychologist at Harvard University, told Shape magazine. “Pretty much anything you can think of, someone out there probably has sexual associations attached to it.” So no matter how weird you think your fetish is, someone else out there probably has it too.


There’s a totally normal reason why they develop 

There are a few different theories out there as to why we develop fetishes and, the truth is, they all seem downright reasonable. One theory is brain-overlap. It’s the idea that the part of our brain that handles arousal is close to part of our brain that deals with other things — like, say, our feet. So sometimes, the two parts of the brain get a little scrambled. Foot fetishes, again and again, come up as some of the most popular fetishes out there, so this makes a lot of sense.

There’s also the disgust theory. A lot of the things people have fetishes for — feet, smells, fecal matter, urine — are things that are, quite frankly, considered disgusting under other circumstances. But when you’re experiencing disgust your other natural defenses are down, so you may be more vulnerable to feelings like sexual attraction and arousal. If that happens enough, then a Pavlovian response can mean that you start to associate these things with sex and arousal. Again, it's pretty easy to see how this could happen.

Finally, we can’t ignore the fact that a lot of fetishes revolve around pain — BDSM, for example, is always one of the most popular fetishes, if not the most popular. And some people like the feeling of pain or, at the very least, like the feeling of someone causing them pain. There’s an inherent sub-dom dynamic is almost every sexual encounter, so the fact that some people like a more pronounced version of that is totally normal.


Yet the stigma still exists 

So not only are sexual fetishes normal in that many of us have them, they’re also normal in that they’re a natural byproduct of how our brain functions. And yet, we still don’t treat them as normal. The Ann Summers survey had an interesting  — and worrying — finding. Even though the people who had fetishes, for the most part, thought they were OK to have, 61 percent of people said they still felt there was a stigma attached. Like so much other sexual shaming, as a society we make people feel wrong or dirty about an instinct or feeling that many people have. It’s ridiculous and it’s not OK.

One of the only ways to combat this sort of stigma is to be more sex-positive and kink-positive whenever we have the opportunity. Whether you’re talking with your friends or with a partner, you should feel free to open up and about any fetishes and kinks that you might be into — or even just be curious about. The more that we can open a dialogue about the different sexual proclivities we all have, the more we can understand how normal they really are. And, on a really practical level, statistically, your partner has a fetish or two, too — so you might just find that you have the same one.

If you’re someone who has a fetish you’ve been ashamed of — or maybe even more than one — it’s time to start embracing it. As long as sex is safe, healthy, and consensual...then pretty much anything goes. Don’t give into the stigma and the sex-shaming and try to own your fetish. After all, so many of us have them.

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