Fetishsexuality – an Authentic Sexual Identity: The Empowering and Healing Potential Within Our Most Taboo Desires
Testimonials about my work and lectures in the field of emerging sexuality:
“Galen Fous is a precious resource for faculty and students investigating human sexuality. In recent years, my graduate students and I have benefitted significantly from his scholarly understandings of sexual identity and expression in the contexts of myth, history and the mediating power of social and psychological constructions. His contributions are made more powerful with his compelling sense of the contemporary and rapid shifts in what is and isn’t sexually taboo.
In the classroom, Mr. Fous maintains authority augmented with the uncommon pedagogical richness that results when an instructor has the confidence to engage fully in the learning process himself. He shares his considerable stores of knowledge while continuing to be surprised by new insights from his students. I have observed his interaction with six of my graduate classes over recent years. Each time all of us have left with greater understandings of sexual health and healing. I offer this based on my professional experience – 27 years on the graduate faculty of Lewis & Clark College (tenured, 1992; full rank, 1997). “ Mary M. Clare, Ph.D. Lewis and Clark Graduate School of Psychology
“I teach Human Sexuality for Portland State University and have invited Galen as a guest lecturer to my classes. His lectures are some of the highest rated lectures I’ve had. He has a vast knowledge of sexuality, and also some cutting edge theory around sexual integrity, authenticity and honesty and the symbolic archetypal aspects erotic desire that drive one to orgasm. Galen gives a fascinating presentation, and also fields challenging questions. In the large university settings, there are many different levels of sexual understanding. I’ve seen Galen field the most difficult of questions with grace and wisdom.” Chris Allen PhD, Portland State University
This paper will consider that there is an emerging sexual identity I call Fetishexuality. A Fetishsexual is a person driven to orgasm or other deep erotic state through their innate, inherent, life-long desire for a particular range of Kink, Fetish, Dominance, submission, sadism, masochism or other alternative erotic expressions. In the broader sense, this paper will point to sexual authenticity in any of its many forms, and the empowering and healing depths that may be available when anyone embraces their sexual truth in a conscious, aware manner. What constitutes approaching and exploring one’s authentic fetish sexual desire in a conscious manner will be considered as well. Sexual authenticity, in my experience, requires a conscious effort to differentiate one’s true erotic desire, and its deepest nuances within the erotic unconscious, from the embedded shame, fear, trauma, and harsh internalized judgments that may resist if not totally dominate the desire. It is through this effort to untangle erotic desire from the shame, fear, and judgment that may hold it back, that the empowering and healing potential inherent in this exploration may be found.
Table of Contents
Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 1
Authentic Sexuality Overview……………………………………………………………………………………… 1
Evolution of Sexual Viewpoints…………………………………………………………………………………… 3
Core Aspects of Fetishsexual Identity………………………………………………………………………….. 6
Unpacking the Personal Erotic Myth………………………………………………………………………….. 10
Anatomy of a Personal Erotic Myth…………………………………………………………………………… 14
Differentiating Desire From Resistance……………………………………………………………………….. 17
Future Applications of Fetishsexuality Research…………………………………………………………. 25
Fetishsexuality As an Authentic Sexual Identity:
The Empowering and Healing Potential Within Our Most Taboo Desires
This paper will begin to lay a preliminarily researched foundation for expanding the current designations of sexual identity (straight, bi, gay or lesbian) to include an orientation I call Fetishsexuality. A Fetishsexual, by my definition, is a person driven to orgasm or other deep erotic state through their innate, inherent, life-long desire for a particular range of Kink, Fetish, dominance, submission, sadism, masochism or other alternative erotic expressions. Overall, Fetish or Kink has a much grander sweep of potential alternative sexual practices, desires, and inclinations than listed above (Fetlife, 2013).
In the broader sense, this paper will point to the value of sexual authenticity in any of its many forms, and the empowering and healing depths that may be available when anyone embraces their sexual truth in a conscious, aware manner. What constitutes approaching and exploring one’s authentic sexual desire in a conscious manner will be considered as well. Sexual authenticity, in my experience, requires a conscious effort to differentiate one’s true erotic desire, and its deepest nuances within the erotic unconscious, from the embedded shame, fear, trauma, and harsh internalized judgments that may resist if not totally dominate the desire. It is through this effort to untangle erotic desire from the shame, fear, and judgment that may hold it back, that the empowering and healing potential inherent in this exploration may be found.
Authentic Sexuality Overview
Up until very recently, as far as the clinical psychological model was concerned, fetish-oriented sexuality was viewed as a pathology, or as the negatively described term for a psychological sexual disorder, a paraphilia (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). My experience and my work with hundreds of clients and workshop participants over the last 15 years, whose clear desire and intent was to come to terms with, explore, and understand their fetish-driven sexuality, leads me to conclude that the pathological model is far from the only view to describe the nature of Fetishsexuality. To the greatest extent, clients sought my help to untangle their authentic life-long fetish desires from the embedded shame, fear, and harsh judgments that resisted their desire. It was not unusual for clients in their 40s or 50s to divulge that I am the first person they had ever revealed their desire to. For decades, they had hidden their desires from their partners, spiritual guides, and traditional therapists. It did not feel safe to even talk about their desires, let alone enact them. It is the intent of my work to contribute to creating a safer therapeutic, academic, political and social environment for people to share their erotic truths without fear of being harshly judged, condemned, or ostracized.
Based on these direct experiences with clients and other reportings, I hope to illuminate how and why one’s Fetishsexuality is a distinct dimension of one’s psyche that can and should be engaged in a conscious, aware, mature, healthy manner. I will attempt to define and describe the various and considerable depths and dimensions of personal empowerment and healing that conscious engagement of one’s Fetishsexuality may offer, at least for the portion of the human gene pool that I believe are innately and authentically so inclined. This paper will examine the ways that unconscious personal and collective myths, archetypes, and symbols are or may be woven into the fabric of authentic Fetishsexuality as well as the ways that threads of unconscious shame, trauma, fear, and judgment get tangled up and inhibit or thwart authentic sexual expression. Such entanglements, I believe, can lead to the problematic shadow manifestations of sexual secrecy, dishonesty, and other diminishments of one’s personal integrity.
Evolution of Sexual Viewpoints
Until a few decades ago, any but the most fundamental sexual activities had been classified either by law, religion, or mental health providers as deviant, immoral, or in psychological terms, a paraphilia (DSM-V, 2013). In other words, most people engaging in fetish sexual practices were considered to be engaging in either an illegal or an immoral act, or had a psychological disorder, or all three. In more recent times, the landscape of sexual identity and the pantheon of sexual practices an adult may choose to participate in have been coming into a better and broader focus. It is my opinion that the narrow and shallow containers of the previous theories of human sexuality (Berry, 2013) are not effective at holding the burgeoning reality of human sexuality that has erupted over the last 30 years, since the dawn of the Internet era. I further believe that recognizing Fetishsexuality as a sexual identity would open the way for more nuanced and effective psychological models of the sexual psyche to take shape and, hopefully, lead to new therapeutic models that better support one in embracing his or her sexual authenticity, and healing all the ways it may have been traumatized, condemned, judged, feared, hated or hidden.
Currently, only heterosexual, gay/lesbian, and bi-sexual are considered sexual orientations or identities according to the American Psychological Association (APA). It occurs to me, from my research so far, that there is no scientifically confirmed methodology for determination of sexual identity; rather, it seems defined in subjective terms by the APA (2010).
Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions. . . . Therefore, sexual orientation is not merely a personal characteristic within an individual. Rather, one’s sexual orientation defines the group of people in which one is likely to find the satisfying and fulfilling romantic relationships that are an essential component of personal identity for many people. (para. 1)
Another section of the above article cites “innate and inherent, or life-long” as integral characteristics of sexual orientation. I believe it is quite evident, from my experience of working with hundreds of people and observing that millions of people are engaging with others in various fetish communities proliferating around the world, that there exists a sizable portion of the human gene-pool that has an innate and inherent Fetishsexual Identity (Fetlife, 2013).
Nonetheless, the persistent constraint of human sexuality within the very narrow parameters of mainstream definitions of “normal,” which constraint has gone on for centuries in Western culture (Bernstein, 2009), has cut off a considerable portion of the population from considering and accepting their sexual desires in a more profound and meaningful way. This has resulted in what I consider to be a deep sexual shadow pervasive in the culture (Moore, 1990), not only for those with a Fetishsexual Identity but from any sex-positive or sexually honest view in any regard.
I believe that this shadow has generated unconscious, repressed, vilified, shamed, demonized, secret, and conflicted views about one’s personal sexuality, views that are prevalent throughout the minds of the majority of my clients as well as the culture collectively. These negatively judgmental internal messages we carry about our authentic sexual feelings, and the fear of others judgment, has led to our cultural inability to be honest about our sexual desires. The issue of our sexual dishonesty is systemic. The widespread reportage of partners having affairs behind each other’s backs, secret porn usage, visiting sex providers on the sly, and other such manifestations is pandemic (Parker-Pope, 2008). This sexual dishonesty has created a culture where sex is debased and pushed down below the surface. It becomes the forbidden fruit. We do not know how to talk with our partners about our sexual desires, to be honest about them, share, explore, or revel in them. We are supposed to aspire to be sexy on one hand of the cultural messaging and yet not look at others in a sexual way or express our sexuality overtly on the other. There is an implied normalcy that we are judged by in all these regards.
What normal is is never defined. Normal is . . . you know . . . normal! However, there is a never-ending stream of opinion and even law about what is not normal. If there is not a law, there is a harsh social, religious, or familial pressure, if not outright violence, to conform to normal, also known as moral or civilized (Klein, 2008). Witness the history of the gay and lesbian movements’ struggle to normalize the truth of their identities (Williams, 2003).
As I view it, our authentic sexuality is tangled up in outdated, archaic, and irrelevant moral and religious doctrines designed for a cultural mindset equivalent to the medieval Dark Ages. It is my opinion that humanity has reached a point in evolution where sexuality is busting loose from the ultimately flimsy bonds of fear-driven moralities about the flesh and the more instinctive and primal dimensions of human behavior.
This fear about sex and the fear about our partner or anyone else knowing the truth of our sexual desire on the one hand, and the astronomical, internet-driven rise in sexual interest and desire clearly emerging in the culture on the other, are on a collision course. We cannot be honest about our sexual desire, and we cannot stop our sexual desire from acting out. This may be a recipe for psycho-dramatic mayhem at all levels of American culture. The continuous stream of politicians, church leaders, and celebrities falling from grace when exposed in pursuit of their secret pleasures is just the tip of the iceberg of the enormous sexual shadow of the culture at large, in my judgment.
Core Aspects of Fetish Sexual Identity
I will now focus on what I surmise are the core aspects of a Fetishsexuality and reveal how it may operate through both conscious and unconscious aspects of the personal and collective psyche. In this regard, it is my experience that someone with a Fetishsexual identity also has what I define as a Personal Erotic Myth (PEM) that is engaged, from within the unconscious, when they become sexually aroused.
A PEM contains the fantasy imagery, storylines, mythic personas, props, attire, dialogue and actions that drive a person who has a PEM to orgasm or other deep erotic states. This mythos is often expressed in Fetish, Kink, and D/s-BDSM oriented sex, where symbol, myth and archetypal personifications abound (Fetlife, 2013). Some people are quite aware of their PEM. For others it is still buried in the unconscious but shows up in private reveries or brief moments within sexual engagement with a partner. Many may have caught glimpses of it, or more, engaged it secretly, even well before puberty. In a recent survey, I conducted with over 1200 anonymous respondents drawn from a sex-positive and alternative population, nearly 60% stated that they had begun having sexual fantasies before 10 years of age. Furthermore, 40% stated they were already masturbating to their fantasies by 10 years of age. Over 70% self-identified as believing that their sexuality was driven by their PEM (Fous, 2012). I speculate and, anecdotally, have experienced similar reporting from client’s, that one hallmark of a Fetishsexual identity may be someone whose erotic being was already alive and active well before puberty. This speculation is drawn only from my preliminary research and is speculation in its broadest sense. Yet, it is quite intriguing to find a high percentage of the survey sample reporting distinct erotic desires and enactments prior to puberty.
From the millions of people participating in fetish-driven dating sites and social media (No1 Reviews, 2013), it is clear that many have already crossed the threshold from secrecy holding them back to engaging the desire itself. Some may also have multiple PEMs that ebb and flow in their sex life. For many others, it is still an unconscious but compelling force, just below acknowledged awareness, that drives their sexual desire. This is the aspect of their Eros that they may not have looked at nor engaged in consciously; however, during sex, in the moments right before orgasm, their authentic erotic persona, or “sex creature” as I sometimes think of it, can flood into the body in wild, fierce gestures, accompanied by profane, blasphemous invectives—sound-bytes from their PEM (Fous, 2012).
Frommer (2007) alludes to these unconscious mythic dimensions of Eros and to how research on the psychology of Eros is sorely lacking in more mainstream therapeutic models:
This otherness reflects aspects of self experience that come forward during lustful states of mind—hidden, transgressive, disavowed parts of ourselves that gain expression in erotic contexts. Think, for example, of sexual fantasies and enactments that hinge on a desire for dominance, submission or surrender in which a more familiar sense of self is altered. . . . It is this highly subjective dimension of self experience in erotic contexts—the conscious and unconscious experiences of self and self-other relations—that has been both neglected and under-theorized in psychoanalytic explorations of sexuality, except when the expression of one’s desire is deemed problematic or perverse. (p. 34)
There are currently few to no institutions, academic or otherwise, that I am aware of, that teach, study, or look at Fetish or Kink driven sexuality as anything but an odd perversion, something to spice up one’s sex life, or a deviant disorder, if not an outright pathology rather than as one’s normal sexuality that is distinct from others. In my opinion, this is as large an oversight and as inane as the discounting and pathologizing of gay or lesbian sexuality had been before the recent era.
Therapists who go into couples or relationship counseling, as far as I can tell, are not required to explore their own sexual desires, to be aware of the inner judgments or projections they may place on clients, or even to have examined or resolved the ways their own sexuality may have been traumatized, denied, or repressed due to their immersion in a sex-negative culture (Salazar, 2006). Yet, they are sanctioned as the “qualified” licensed providers of sex-therapy by government, professional, academic institutions and insurance providers.
Sexologist Dennis Dailey (1988) describes his view of how the patient experience can be negatively affected by the therapist. He asserts that too many therapists have no skill or training in the nature of sexuality nor in the treatment of patients who come to them with these concerns:
Too often those who experience the need or desire for help in sex-related concerns encounter helpers who reflect the harsh, judgmental, inaccurate and narrow perspectives on sexuality which still exist in our society. . . . Too often the sexually unusual do not experience helpful encounters, but in fact are frequently harmed by the helping process. (p. 166)
I believe that it is critically important to support all constructive efforts to introduce what might be generally called sex-positive therapy models into mainstream academic curricula and the helping professions, ones that expand on the inroads already underway in gay and lesbian sexual theory. I am aware of one independent professional psychological organization that takes this sex-positive approach, the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT).
Recent research in evolutionary theory around sexuality also seems to support viewing alternative sexual desires in a new light, beyond typical psychological, religious, or moral perspectives (Gardner, 1993):
The many different types of human sexual behavior, including the paraphilias, can be seen as having species survival value. These atypical sexual behaviors all, in some way enhance the general level of sexual excitation in society and therefore increase the likelihood that people will engage in sexual activities that lead to procreation. (p. 47)
Human Sexuality, it seems, is still a great and vast wilderness area of human psychology. We hardly allow ourselves to look at it, except in sneaky or shy glances. This keeps the territory of Eros dark, obscure, and out of view, which is certainly proper in its way, but it is also concealing, giving cover to the destructive shadows of our sexual expression (Moore, 1990). Because of people’s fear or not knowing how to be honest about their desires with their partners, they often choose instead to sneak, hide, repress, deny, project, or engage in other harmful behaviors that damage their well-being, and ultimately, their relationships. This has been the state of humans’ relationship to sexuality for millennia. It seems absolutely dysfunctional to me that something obviously as huge a part of who we are as our sexuality does not see the light of day, does not get put under the microscope, does not get studied with the same serious scrutiny, wonder, and fervor to understand it as every other aspect of life on earth is studied. I am personally excited to feel engaged at the frontier of a new era of sexual awareness, honesty, study, and expansion into the deeper uncharted realms of Eros. As Berry (2013) frames it,
in essence, many sex therapists may equate the psychosexual dimension of psychoanalysis with Oedipal theory, or classical theories of neurosis. To learn that contemporary psychoanalysis can offer sophisticated clinical insights on a range of sexual phenomena—including the nature of unconscious fantasy and intimacy, sexuality and gender, sexual aggression, unconscious hostility, and the meaning of penetration—might significantly change many sex therapists’ perspective on the usefulness of psychoanalysis. (p. 13)
Unpacking the Myth
What is a Personal Erotic Mythos? For many, this concept may be foreign. In a repressed culture that greatly denies or frowns on the pleasures of the body and sexual fantasy, most have not ventured very far in understanding the unconscious sexual story lines that may be playing out during sexual engagement, or even more so, in solitary masturbatory revelry (Fous, 2012). I know from my own experience when I was younger and from working with clients the last 15 years that the truth of these inner erotic stories or myths were often only glimpsed briefly, right before the frenzied liberation of orgasm. In that last minute or so before orgasm, the truth of one’s Eros, or as I define it, one’s PEM, can no longer be hidden and bursts wildly forth into the body and through the suddenly unconstrained voice in a truncated blasphemy, such as “Oh, God, fuck me. YES! harder, take it, deeper, shit, slut, whore, fucker, bitch,” and less decipherable, primitive grunts and screams. These are just sound-bytes as I consider it, from one’s full PEM, for those with a Fetishsexual identity.
In the typical lights-out sex most of us have experienced, these last moments before orgasm can reveal, in furious sounds and frenzied physical abandonment, snippets from what is like a highly-compacted zip file of one’s Erotic myth. In this context, it is being played out in the subconscious mind and experienced in the crescendo of orgasm, similar to the super speedy talk of the guy reading the disclaimers at the end of those pharmaceutical commercials or car sale ads. Only way faster!
If people with a PEM that was still held primarily in the unconscious were able to slow that moment of orgasm way down and observe what is really going on, they could begin to uncover, I believe, the myth that drives them to orgasm. Within that packed and condensed zip file, there is a rich, compelling story. It is a story generated and played out deep within the unconscious Erotic psyche when someone engages in sex, at least someone with a Fetishsexual identity, driven by a Personal Erotic Myth. Like any story, there is a prologue, setting, props, attire, counterparts, dialogue, body language, and action (Fous, 2013). Additionally, there are mythic archetypal personas taking part in the story, each representing a dyad drawn from a pantheon of pairs in the collective Erotic archives of the human psyche. Some classic archetypal pairs commonly found in personal ads on fetish dating sites are Daddy/Daughter, Mistress or Master/Slave, Bad Boy/Good Girl, Supreme Bitch/Cuckold, and many more (Fetlife, 2013). There are hundreds of variations. Someone may have a single major theme or may shift into a variety of these pairings, and some even reverse which side they take. There also can be an over-riding sense of Dominance and Submission at play and all manner of what may be, for the explorer, intoxicatingly perverse immersions into myths that carry a very potent and ecstatic erotic charge.
In my research so far and from my work with clients, I feel there could be aspects of these mythic erotic stories rooted in or connected to embedded psychological constructs from more primitive levels of evolution, consciousness, and behaviors (Gardner, 1993). Although I hope to do more research about the instinctual, primitive aspects of our sexuality in the future, I will make a few unverified notations here. These instinctual manifestations may be rooted, I believe, in the unconscious psychological structures that are part of our heritage biologically and psychologically, from our reptilian (predator/prey archetypes) and mammalian (Alpha/beta pecking orders) heritage. These aspects of our humanity have been shoved below the surface through the “civilizing” we have undergone as a species over the last several thousand years. Being civilized, cultivated, rational, refined, and sophisticated is the mask humans strive to maintain over our more primitive, instinctual, wild natures. However, humans are far from civilized, in my view, and the beast within runs rampant across the world, savaging individuals, families, communities, cultures, countries, and the environment, as has been the state of the civilized world since civilization began (Moore, 1990). The cold-blooded, predatory reptile and the blood-thirsty, domineering, territorial mammal are aspects of human nature that show up nightly in the evening news’ broadcasts of the rampant abuse of power, barbarism, and brutality that individuals or groups might deploy on their family, friends, strangers, and foes. Interestingly, these behaviors are also similar and, in many regards, common to the archetypal themes and personifications in many of the hundreds of PEMs I have reviewed of people venturing into the realms of Kink and Fetishsexuality. These themes can occur consensually on both sides of the power equation in these potent ritual erotic exchanges Fetishsexuals participate in.
From my experience and by the self-evident opt-in of millions of people on fetish porn dating and other sites, some significant portion of the population has an inherent fetish-driven sexual nature, held within a PEM(s), just as around 5% to 10% of the gene pool is estimated to be gay or lesbian in their sexual orientation (Crary, 2011). I speculate that Fetishsexuality may be a much higher percentage. I would assert that Fetishsexuality is a valid sexual orientation, similar to gay or lesbian orientation. It is innate, inherent, and does not go away. It is one’s sexual orientation for life. It cannot be disowned. It does not need to be fixed or extracted, though many push it down into shadow where it may leak out in disturbing, risky, dangerous, or compulsive behaviors.
One of the more enlightened approaches I have found to help people embrace their sexual truths and capacities, and deal with ways they may be unhealthy or withheld, comes from the work of Jack Morin (1995). Morin developed a model of sexual expression based on what he called a Core Erotic Theme (CET), which comes very close to the concept of a PEM. However, whereas a PEM is, in my view, inherent and not shaped from the environment; a CET, in Morin’s view, represents sexuality shaped by some earlier experience that is now getting fulfillment or is a compensation or subversive method of getting what one needs in some regards other than the pursuit of inherent Eros. According to Morin,
at the most fundamental level, your CET is an amazingly efficient shorthand encapsulating crucial situations about which people, situations and images tend to evoke your most forceful genital and psychic responses. The CET however, is far more than a mere checklist of what and who turns you on. Its extraordinary power arises from the fact that it links today’s compelling turn-ons with crucial challenges and turmoils from the past. Hidden within your CET is a formula for transforming unfinished emotional business from childhood and adolescence into excitation and pleasure. (p. 141)
While this CET phenomenon could certainly be the case for anyone who is engaged in an unconscious way in their sexual expression, the aspects that may be tangled up from the past with one’s authentic sexual truth would be differentiated and treated independently for someone wishing to embrace their Fetishsexual identity on its own terms. It is still a challenge at all levels of society, I believe, to hold those with a Fetishsexual identity in a healthy, respectful regard, without the constant judgment that these “poor souls” must have been damaged or traumatized in some way. What seems damaging and traumatic, to me, are the outdated cultural, moral, social, political, legal, therapeutic and religious codes that tend or are intended to make people feel afraid, ashamed, immoral, criminal, pathological, sick, disgusting, or dangerous regarding their authentic sexuality (Stein, 2008). Fetishsexuals are, in my opinion, about a generation behind the gay and lesbian communities in being recognized as valid representations of human sexual diversity.
In the meantime, the traumas, shamings, and harsh internalized moral judgments inflicted on many people with a Fetishsexual identity as they grew up have gotten tangled up with their natural sexual desires. This situation has left many people frozen and unable to express their innate desires joyfully without simultaneously feeling guilty, ashamed, or afraid of their own desires and can leave them feeling stuck psychologically, emotionally, and sexually, or shut down or disconnected.
Anatomy of a Personal Erotic Myth
I will present here some aspects of how I work with clients in support of their intention to embrace their sexual authenticity, discover, express and illuminate their PEM, and then discover and untangle the unconscious parts of their psyche that resist or object to their erotic desires. Following are notes from a recent case study with a female client (Fous, 2013) , over the course of 3 sessions. Her process highlights the challenges and efforts people may face to integrate their authentic sexual nature into their everyday life, and in this case, within an already established long-term partnership.
My client fits, with some precision, into my concept of someone whose sexual path to orgasm or other deep erotic state, is driven by a PEM. Her PEM formed decades ago, and, as is the case for many with a Fetishsexual identity, she was sexually aware and engaged before she had reached puberty (Gardner, 1993). In my experience working with hundreds of people over the past 15 years, fetish desires are rarely connected to pathologies generated from early age traumas or other environmental factors, as many are led to believe (Morin, 1995). In my view, a fetish-driven sexuality is as innate and inherent as is being gay or lesbian.
My client was a woman in her mid 40s, with a particular lifelong desire for rough sex, Daddy/Daughter play, dressing slutty, and other taboo yearnings that she had been unable to share with past partners. She was currently in an eight-year relationship with a man who was very sweet and loving but was not the aggressive masculine persona who inhabited her desires. She had reached a place where she knew her desire was demanding to be expressed, even to the point of leaving her relationship if necessary, when she sought me out for support. Her work with me offers a comprehensive overview of many of the complexities of expressing one’s authentic desire and encountering the shadows/wounds/fears/shames/judgments that are inevitably part of the process.
I believe that the overview offered here maps out well the inner terrain and operation of this client’s Personal Erotic Myth. Her case also models the opportunities as well as the complex resistances that can be encountered in bringing these desires into one’s personal awareness and experience, and then into one’s relationships, in a conscious manner. With her partner’s permission and support, my client chose to explore the fetish aspects of her sexuality, on her own, with hopes of then bridging this desire to include her partner at some future time.
One aspect of this client’s challenge to integrate her Fetishsexuality into her life in a conscious way was rooted in her relationship to her partner. She described how her partner had been struggling with feeling that he is not the kind of man that could be what she seemed to be seeking. He felt threatened by her attraction to the strong, forceful masculine, and she feared he would get triggered into own his pain/wounding of not being good enough if she expressed her desire for a more forceful masculinity during sex. She described her partner’s conflict “between being raised by his mother to believe fighting is for animals, that a good man is a gentle man,” and her desire for him to take her forcefully. Here we have an illustration of how paradox comes into play. My client was seeking an aggressive masculinity, even a transgressive masculinity in her mythic fantasies. She did not seek to be violated in their day-to-day relationship. Her partner, at this point, was unable to embrace the paradox that he could be the gentle, good man he aspired to be in everyday life and in a negotiated engagement with his partner, also be aggressive, rough, and selfish in the realms of Eros. Although it did not turn out to be the case here, this level of examination of one’s sexual authenticity is also the place where an erotic mismatch might be uncovered in a relationship. In my experience, this is not an uncommon occurrence when couples have not included a clear, negotiated, detailed discussion around the sexual mythos of each partner before beginning the relationship.
My client described how she was an early sexual explorer, masturbating by age 5, engaging other little girls to play with her, and continuing her exploration well into puberty. She had gotten caught a couple of times, once at home by her parents, once with a girlfriend. When the friend’s parents discovered her play with their daughter, around age 10, the parents scolded her for her shameful behavior and forbade her from seeing their daughter again. Through this and other episodes and an overall sense of shame around her active sexuality, the client had generally been unable to verbalize or share her fantasies with her adult lovers. For a long time, she felt sure that something was wrong with her, “that [she] would have to envision being raped or punished against [her] will in order to have an orgasm.” In the first session, I worked with this client to support her in differentiating the part of her that held the fetish desires from the part of her that held those desires in shame and judgment . This included some forms of conscious movement, discussion, and imaginal processes to help bring her desire to a more conscious and visible view, and begin to untangle it from what kept it repressed.
The first session was so powerful. I finally met this young girl who has been with me, in my fantasies or mythic desire, as you call it, in nearly every orgasm throughout my life. . . . I felt so enlivened, so awakened by the experience. I met this wanton young girl who could not own her own wild desire and so incurred the wrath/or desire of those in authority (father, teacher, priest, doctor) to control her, punish her, deliver to her exactly what she wanted. (Fous, 2013)
In our subsequent sessions, through further conscious movement and embodiment processes, we worked further on releasing shame and the fear of judgment her desire had been encased in physically. Additionally, we created and employed ritual physical enactments that allowed dimensions of her erotic persona to be embodied and expressed, and then discussed strategies of how to bring her discoveries and deeper sense of who she was back into her relationship. By the third session, she was ready to move forward and engage with her partner.
This exploration into my shadow, my secret fantasies, my submerged sexual identities, began as a solo journey. I wanted to taste the experience of what was in my head when I orgasm without having to process or consider my current partner’s feelings and fears. When I brought him into my explorations, I was surprised and relieved to hear that he would like to know this young girl in my inner myth, that he wants to love all of me. I knew from the many times he’s told me, that he could see her often when we make love. I was encouraged to reveal my fantasies with him as I’d never done with any man before. . . . I see new excitement in my lover, and I’m relieved and excited myself to begin to more intentionally and consciously explore this realm with my man. (Fous, 2013)
Differentiating Desire From Resistance
The “work” I do with a client in this dimension of the erotic wilderness is edgy by most standards and branches into uncharted territory as far as client/therapist interactions go. What it looks like will vary according to the individual circumstances of the client. The main components are an initial discussion to determine the scope of the client’s desire, what conflicts with the desire, the client’s relevant history, and what the client wants as an outcome of our work together.
From here, the work can be simply to discuss, question, and develop an ongoing, practical, clear strategy for negotiating what one wants in the real world. Deeper inquiries may begin to uncover and separate out or differentiate specific aspects of the desire and the conflicted or resistant parts that are tangled up unconsciously with the desire. These entanglements often negatively affect or thwart the client’s intention to be who they are sexually. This inquiry would be used to first illuminate one’s current relation to past sexual trauma, if that is part of the client’s history, and to understand how that is impacting one’s intention to come to terms with the desire. These deeper inquiries would also support the client to self-assess inner judgments, shames, and fears expressed in unconscious messages about their authentic sexuality and sexuality in general, that the client took on from family, religion, and culture. These internalized messages can often have power over one’s desire and the intention to express it. There might be processes and practices co-developed to help illuminate and empower the desire and resolve, heal, and diminish the power held by the inner judgments, fears, or shames. There might be other imaginal processes involved to help clients access unconscious material to “flesh out” and bring to precise conscious awareness the who/what/where of their desires. The path is intended to lead clients to the place of empowerment where they have fully differentiated, honored, welcomed, and embraced their authentic sexual mythos. At the same time, they can begin to heal and disengage any mythos of shame, fear, or judgment about their sexuality from their emotional and physical landscape and, finally, develop a healthy, mature strategy to begin to integrate their newly normative Eros into their everyday life. I often encourage clients to develop a regular personal ritual practice to stay connected to and deepen their intention and further resolve shame, fear, judgments or other that may need ongoing support.
Some psychological theories of what shapes normative and non-normative sexuality follow a model that one’s inherent sexual identity is warped and shaped by the repressive, sex-negative culture it is immersed in or the way it has been terrorized. In speaking of the formation of sexuality in gay men, Frommer (2007) writes:
To the extent that generic statements can be made about desire, the meaningful distinction to be drawn between non-normative and normative desire is between desire that is marked by stigma, i.e., spoiled identity (Goffman, 1963) and desire that is not. When erotic desire violates social imperatives, the emergence of that desire within the psyche is shaped by and through that stigmatization. In a homophobic and heterosexist culture, experiences involving shame and narcissistic vulnerability are ubiquitous in the lives of men who offend gender through their expression of same-sex desire. Shame, as I am conceiving it, does not merely compromise or inhibit desire; it becomes part of the weave of desire itself, actually shaping it. (p. 37)
It is my view that what Frommer describes represents desire entangled with shame, which will certainly impact how desire will or can be expressed. However, his identification of this situation seemingly stops there. That is the way it is! My belief and experience is that it is possible and imperative to untangle the embedded mythos of shame in the unconscious from the differentiated erotic mythos of the individual. They are two separate and distinct personas. The shame mythos taints, interferes with, or fully prohibits the physical, emotional, and psychological expression of the authentic erotic desire. There is also the potential that someone’s PEM involves their being ritually shamed or degraded in a way that has a compelling and desirable erotic charge, but in no way reflects any actual traumatic experience they had growing up. In this case, an erotic encounter done within a safe, conscious, negotiated ritual with a trusted partner is exactly what should be condoned in support of authentic sexual expression.
In the case where a client’s authentic sexuality is tangled in shame, in my experience, there is often a strong body correlation. Their authentic sexual expression, emotionally and physically, and their liveliness in general is encumbered by the weights and chains of shame. Work at the body level will often be indicated to support the client in getting present, embodied, grounded, and prepared for whatever other work may follow. Body-centered work can also locate and begin to release the many fears, shames, and other tensions that have accumulated in the body after decades of hiding, judging, or holding back the desire (Bowen, 2011; Lowen, 1975). At an even deeper layer of the work that might open up with a client, and as was the case with the client described previously, a negotiated ritual process might be agreed on, where the therapist embodies a mythic counterpart to the persona in the myth that drives the client’s desire.
As mentioned earlier, a PEM most always includes paired personas, such as Master/slave, Mommy/son, FemDom/cuckold, Daddy/daughter, Teacher/student, and a pantheon of other variations (Fous, 2012). The PEM generally includes action, dialogue, tone of voice, body language, props, attire and context. However, a PEM is not acting out a part; it is not just role-playing. It is literally embodying this alter erotic persona that one authentically possesses and allowing it the unencumbered space to enter the body and express fully, without shame, guilt, or judgment. These archetypal personas operating within people’s PEM are already intact and whole within the individual’s personal unconscious and also reference the collective unconscious. These personas do not need to be scripted out, they just need to be allowed to embody and be present. They already know what they desire to do, say, with whom, what implements, attire, setting, and other elements common to their mythic story. The methodology has a similarity I would say to method acting, where the actor immerses in and becomes the part, while remaining who they are overall. The emphasis again is on developing conscious, consensual, negotiated risk-aware practices to allow these erotic embodiments to occur. Like Homosexuality, Fetishsexuality does not develop as a result of a trauma induced pathology. BDSM, Kink and Fetish sexual engagements are simply what is normal for Fetishsexuals.
Based on my review of current research, it appears that my theory of the foundations of Fetish desires, the existence of a Fetishsexual Identity, and the nature of a Personal Erotic Myth are outside the realm of current psychological theory. In a therapeutic sense, my theories are well beyond conventional views of what is acceptable; yet I believe that this work may need to go this deep, to be hands-on and interactive, in order to help clients uncover, untangle, heal, and embrace their authentic desire from the decades of denial, fear, shame, and hiding that their desire may have been pushed under.
I was pleased to find, in my research, other examples of pushing the edge of what has been a more traditional and conservative view of client-therapist relations. One example was Phelan’s (2009) description of a therapy referred to as body-centered psychotherapy being used to help a client get in deeper touch with her “feelings” of being attracted or not to someone. The therapy involves a direct engagement of the client’s body by the therapist in order to liberate the client’s intention from the unconscious blockage that was also mirrored in the client’s body.
As we began to work, Elizabeth said, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do with my body. I can’t tell if I’m attracted to someone. I just don’t know how people know these things. It’s like everybody knows something that I don’t know, like I was looking the wrong way one day when they taught it in school.” “I don’t know what to do with my body” became the central refrain in our work. Recognizing that we had entered the domain in which her previous therapy had become frozen, we decided to explore more directly her experience of her body’s not knowing what to do with itself.
With this decision, Elizabeth and I moved into the domain of therapeutic activity that is unique to body-centered psychotherapy. The movement of the client’s body, of the therapist’s body, and movement between client and therapist become a central feature of the therapeutic endeavor. Body psychotherapy brings to conventional psychotherapy an informed and skilled attention to the activity, motility, sensorimotoric coherence, and bodily competence of the client. (p. 97)
Working at the body level is often the first order of business in helping clients come in contact with their sexual authenticity. Many of my clients simply have never learned or even understood how to be aware of their body, how it holds fear, shame, and other feelings that have gotten stuck or accumulated. I will refer here to my paper, “The Body as Analog of the Unconscious” (Fous, 2011), for more information on how I work with a client at the body level.
Based on my experience, it is incredibly complex for an individual to maneuver some of the terrains of paradox that are often part of the journey into sexual authenticity. For example, one might wonder, How can I yearn to be so perverse, taboo, and primitive in my sexual desires and also still be a good parent, partner, or social, political, or religious community member? Can I be both sacred and profane without compromising my personal integrity, agreements, and physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well being? It is the essence of my work to model how an individual can consciously, safely express all of who they are in an honorable way, and to demonstrate how paradox is the natural state, the truth of who we are as humans: both sacred and profane, primitive and civilized, soulful and spiritual, and all other such polarities.
It is my experience that we live in a culture that views life in an either-or context. This view separates behavior and identity into good or evil, virtuous or sinful, primitive or civilized, and black or white. Over time in our Western monotheistic culture the so-called rational, civilized aspiration was deemed superior to the primitive, instinctual desire, and the spirit deemed superior to the flesh (Paglia, 1990). This definition placed the pleasures of the flesh, carnal yearnings, and sexual expression, outside of procreation, in the same despicable depths with things only dirty, stupid, uncivilized, inferior animals would want to do and/or as a damnable sin punishable by hell or inquisitional torture. In many instances, moral, religious law shaped civil law and imprisonment or even death were a potential outcome for those who slipped into their more instinctual natures (Perez, 2005). In my opinion, this either-or context ultimately caused a severe split in the psyche and extensive confusion about what to do with the obvious abundance of carnal desire humans are prone to. Western moral and religious culture has sought to banish our wild animal heritage, our sensual bodies, our fierce passions, with impossible to uphold expectations. Ultimately, for many, Freud’s (1923/2007) theories about the id banished a considerable chunk of human sexuality into the shadowy, unconscious underworld, while trying to hold up the social mask of propriety (Berry, 2013).
Additionally, for proper genital sexual integration, the sensual and affectionate currents in the unconscious had to be functionally integrated (Freud, 1912/1961d). Dissonance between these two elements, apparent in some men’s psychosexuality, was the basis of Freud’s widely-quoted assertion on psychogenically impotent men: “where they love they do not desire and where they desire they cannot love” (Freud, 1912/1961d, p. 183). This theory captures the essence of Freud’s Virgin-Whore dichotomy: a man had to reconcile the archetypal, virginal figure of the mother with the sexually enticing archetype of the “whore” in order to be sexually integrated and genitally functional with his wife. (p. 62)
Freud perfectly describes the either-or context in the Virgin/Whore paradox. In my opinion, the Western psyche has been generally shaped to demand of itself an aspiration to the Virgin (civilized, superior, godly) and obliteration of the Whore (primitive, inferior, satanic) (Paglia, 1990). I believe this has led to the disastrous state of sexual shadow and dishonesty that abounds in modern culture. My theoretical model allows for both sides of the paradox to be honored, welcomed, negotiated, and expressed in ways that are conscious, reasonable, and in accord and integrity with the individual’s personal values and partner agreements. This model supports clients to embrace and integrate their full authentic sexual truth. It offers full respect, admiration, and encouragement for others, while honoring all of oneself as a person who aspires to integrity, honesty, and nobility, to be a good citizen, social participant, parent, and partner.
Sexual fantasies for those with a PEM are often quite profane and taboo (Fous, 2012). They cross every barrier of impropriety and inappropriateness. They are the unconscious dark erotic realm of the shadow. They mirror and evoke the brutality, transgression, and violence running amuck in the outer world on the global, local, and personal levels, and greatly repressed within the individual. There are savage, predatory, tyrannical yearnings and their counterparts embedded deep in the erotic psyche in many PEM’s. In my experience, these are not pathologies and, in fact, can be gateways to very deep yearnings and authentic expressions of the personal soul. It is hard for many to grasp that there can be anything healthy, powerful, meaningful, safe, or sane involved in integrating and embracing these desires, so innate and compelling in someone with a Fetishsexual identity—and regard them as if they were NORMAL! (Neu, 2002):
Desires are criticizable, and the presence of fantasies may be a signal of a need for a therapy of desire. Though here one should be careful to distinguish between desires, say homosexual desires, that would do no harm even if expressed, so long as they were expressed in a consensual context, and desires which would indeed do harm, and could perhaps be expressed only in a nonconsensual context. A person who can be sexually stimulated only by images of rape, or images of sex with four-year-olds, may need help to understand the source and nature of their wishes and to control any associated desires. What may be truly difficult is distinguishing between fantasies which serve as harmless safety valves and fantasies which should be taken as symptoms, as warning signs. (p. 162)
What is missing in Neu’s analysis is the possibility that there may be people who are compelled by images, from both points of view (dominance and submission), of rape, underage sex, Mommy/Son and many other variations, and can engage those desires in a safe and consensual way. Any such expression of sexual fantasy seems to get instantly and solely classified as a pathological potential, in many contemporary therapeutic views (DSM, 2013). It is quite important in this era, that consensual engagement of erotic desire by adults is seen as distinct from any nonconsensual violation of another person. I wish to make clear the absolute distinction between the two cases. It is interesting that Neu uses a homosexual fantasy as one that could be enacted safely. It has been only 60 years since the DSM delisted homosexuality as a pathology. Perhaps now that sadism/masochism and non-disruptive paraphilia have been delisted from the DSM (DSM-V, 2013), we are just a few decades from Fetishsexuality being included as safe in such statements and cautions as Neu puts forth. People with a consciously embraced Fetishsexual identity, by definition, have absolutely no desire to engage in their mythic sexuality in any way that is harmful to or violates another person in real world interactions. Their yearning is for the ritual embodiment of their desire in a consensual, clearly negotiated way with another mature adult.
To explore the depths of our darkest desires is a challenging but empowering and healing process. It is my premise that if these very compelling parts of us are kept in hidden and secretive shadow, they will leak out in destructive ways in other parts of our lives. I believe that we are in an unprecedented era where the soul of human Eros, after millennia of repression, is forcing humanity’s hand in a way. It is time to fess up, stop pretending we have no wild or dark side, or else the havoc of the sexual shadow (repression, cheating, hiding, compulsive porning, sexual violence, or other unhealthy diversions) running amuck in the world right now will get worse.
I hope that the inclusion of a female client for my case study has been instructive in that women are as a much a part of Fetishsexuality as are men. According to my theory, Fetishsexuality is already embedded in the gene-pool in a pantheon of paired personas. This is why so many millions of Fetishsexuals, men and women both, in the current era, are actually finding a match for their desires as obscure or taboo as those desires may be (Fetlife, 2013). Even the most taboo fantasies, such as rape, are not uncommon for women and do not unequivocally imply or indicate a pathology. As one study on the correlations of rape and fantasy (Zurbriggen, 2004) points out,
[one] problem with the literature on force in fantasies is that it has tended to focus only on men and only on fantasies of dominance. Yet fantasies of submission are common among women. Pelletier and Herold (1984) found that 51% of their female sample reported fantasies of being forced to submit sexually, and Knafo and Jaffe (1984) noted that the fantasy reported most frequently during intercourse for women was “I imagine that I am being overpowered or forced to surrender.” This fusion of submission and sex does not, however, appear to carry the same risks as does a fusion of dominance and sex. Women who report fantasies of submission have more positive attitudes about sex (Strassberg & Lockerd, 1998) and are less sexually guilty and more open to a variety of sexual experiences (Pelletier & Herold, 1988; Strassberg & Lockerd, 1998). Moreover, although sexual fantasies of submission may be more common among survivors of childhood sexual abuse (Gold, 1991), sexual victimization as an adult is apparently not predictive of fantasies of submission (Gold, Balzano, & Stamcy, 1991). Submissive fantasies in women may therefore be one aspect of a relatively open, positive, guilt-free sexuality. (p. 41)
Future Applications of Fetishsexuality Research
The research that I am beginning into the nature of Fetishsexuality has bearing on a number of integral aspects of modern life. One area of relevance is in regard to updating the outdated dating protocols still operating in the culture at large through the expansion of tools and protocols that invite sexual honesty. People are currently partnering and marrying, in my experience, without ever having discussed, let alone known, what each other’s sexual desires look like or how frequently or what kinds of sexual expression is central to their erotic nature. This omission can lead to relationships and marriages that contain devastating erotic mismatches, which, in turn, may lead to all sorts of shadowy, hidden, dangerous, or deceptive behaviors occurring behind partners’ backs or showing up in other ways that can disrupt if not destroy the relationship. I believe that people need to understand that their sexuality is innate and inherent and is it their right to include that in what they seek and offer in partnership. In my view, people knowing their PEM and the tools of how to communicate that honorably with a potential partner may be more apt to have a strong bond in their overall relationship as well as a fulfilled and well-expressed sexuality. The encouragement of sexual honesty, in my experience, and the trust in each partner it implies, offers one of the most profound potentials for intimacy couples might experience.
I believe there also could be applications from this research track that could reduce the incidence of rape, child-molestation, and other nonconsensual sexual violations. I believe the offender lives in an isolated secret reality of hidden desire that festers and grows in the dark hidden world they hold privately. At some point in their development their taboo desires first comes alive in them. I speculate there may be a substantial “intervention” window of time between this initial activation point and when they may actually cross the threshold of violating another and the devastating repercussions of doing so.
Currently there is nothing I am aware of available in the therapeutic or preventative landscape to take advantage of this period when an intervention might still occur. I envision an inverse rape crisis line that someone yet to cross the threshold of real time violation would know they could safely and anonymously call and talk to a counselor trained to help them understand a broader perspective of their desire and avoid the horrible devastation that violating another may lead to. The intention would be to help callers understand how prevalent these desires are in the population, not be judged, threatened, or condemned, and to inform them of the potential to engage in their desire with a willing partner in a consensual, ritual way that fulfilled the desire and did no harm to themselves or others. From here they could receive a referral to a therapist specializing in Fetishsexuality. I do not assert that all violators would be responsive to this approach, but feel confident that it could apply to some significant portion of offenders, enough of a percentage to make at least further consideration of this theory worthwhile.
Whatever one’s erotic desire is shaped liked, the key to coming to terms with our authentic sexuality I believe, is to learn how to express and experience our desires honestly, safely, honorably, and consciously. It is important that our sexual expressions are in integrity with the agreements we make with ourselves and others and that is consistent with our core values. We must also compassionately examine and resolve the unconscious but powerful negative cultural messages we may have internalized about our sexuality and ourselves that resists, impedes or blocks our authentic expressions in any regard. It is my intention that my research can ultimately help others find a path of understanding, empowerment, and healing as they open to the deepest aspects of their sexual desires and to those of their partners.
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