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Fetish Disorder: Are Fetishes Normal? Misunderstood? Dangerous?

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Jen Mallari · Updated Mar 07, 2023

    Fetish Disorder: Are Fetishes Normal? Misunderstood? Dangerous?

    Fetishes are often demonized, at times indulged, but rarely talked about openly. As a result, fetish disorder is often misunderstood. Fetishes include but are not restricted to sexual activities. They also apply to non-sexual things such as social relations. 

    Are Fetishes a Type of Disorder?

    Yes, fetishes are a type of disorder called fetishism. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5), fetishism is now known as fetishistic disorder, which is classified as a paraphilic disorder. 

    Paraphilia is present in fetishistic disorder, and this causes intense sexual interest in various things such as non-humans, children, or harming others during sexual activities. 

    Fetish disorder basically refers to a person getting sexual satisfaction/gratification from unusual sexual activities. A fetish also refers to the admiration of people directed towards unusual things such as objects or body parts that are not normally associated with sex. 

    Symptoms of Fetish Disorder

    • If a person is experiencing intense sexual arousal from non-human things (animals, materials), non-living objects, and non-genital body parts, then that is a sign of fetish disorder. Such people also experience recurring arousal from these objects as well. 
    • People who have fetishistic disorder use strange fetish objects other than genital stimulating objects (such as vibrators) and clothing used in cross-dressing. 
    • Another symptom of fetish disorder includes fantasies that negatively affect a person’s well-being. Specifically, these fantasies cause distress in important areas of functioning (socializing, daily living, concentration, management of stress, and judgement). 

    When Are Fetishes Considered Normal, Abnormal, or Dangerous? 

    Fetishes were never normal to begin with, so fetish disorder can never be considered normal. Fetishes are always considered abnormal by definition. Getting sexually aroused from unusual objects is already abnormal in itself. 

    A fetish is considered dangerous if a person harms other people or inflicts self-harm. Unfortunately, it is a fact that some people get sexually aroused by doing self-harm and hurting others. 

    Moreover, animal fetishes are also considered dangerous since people can get sick when they perform sexual acts on animals. Parasitic worms can make their way inside the human body and cause cysts in the lungs, brain, heart, kidney, and spleen. If this is not treated, it can adversely affect the health. 

    How Does Fetish Disorder Develop? 

    Fetishes usually develop from the beginning of traumatic experiences, but there are also other causes as well. Many fetishes start to develop during childhood. 

    Examples of Fetishes 

    There are many fetishes that exist. Some of the most common ones are:

    • Foot fetishes: This type of fetish is most common in men. When people have a foot fetish they get sexually aroused by the sight of feet and enjoy performing sexual acts on the feet such as licking, touching, or sucking. 
    • Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism (BDSM): This type of fetish includes power exchanges between sexual partners. What this means is there is one person who is dominant and the other one is submissive. In addition, objects used in bondage are common in BDSM fetishes. 
    • Animal fetishes: There are some people who get sexually aroused from animals, and sadly, some even perform bestiality.  
    • Other body parts: This includes hair, hands, toes, etc. 
    • Non-living objects: This includes shoes, underwear, other undergarments, and objects made out of leather or rubber. 

    Can Fetish Disorder be Cured or Outgrown? 

    Fetishes can be treated by seeking help from medical professionals. Some common treatments for fetish disorder are psychotherapy, aversion therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. 

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps a person discover the cause of their fetish then teach them skills on how to control or manage their sexual urges in a healthier way. On the other hand, aversion therapy involves making a person imagine themselves indulging their fetish and then experiencing a negative effect afterwards. This would help them lose interest in entertaining their fetish.

    Doctors may also prescribe medications for use during therapy and some of these include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines. 

    Key Takeaway

    Fetishes are unusual acts, and oftentimes these cross the line and become dangerous to other people. Those with fetish disorder must have the initiative to seek treatment, especially if they end up hurting someone, or harming the relationships they are in. 

    Learn more about Sexual Wellness here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Jen Mallari · Updated Mar 07, 2023

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