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Friday, May 29, 2009

“So, Um, Have You Ever Thought About Trying…?”: Introducing A Fetish to A Partner

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This week, I have a question from a reader who has asked for confidentiality, so I will use gender-neutral pronouns (ze/hir/hir instead of she/her/hers or he/him/his) and will not print the actual question that I received in order to protect this reader's privacy. The question concerns a topic that is simultaneously well known and misunderstood: sexual fetishes. While the reader was asking about a specific type of fetish, I am going to address the topic in a general way here, again, to protect hir privacy.

A fetish can be loosely defined as sexual arousal caused by a certain body part, object, material or scenario. A well-known example is the foot fetish, where an individual is turned on by seeing, touching or being touched by feet. Fetishes can be mild or extreme; with a mild fetish, the item that's fetishized can enhance a sexual encounter, and with an extreme fetish, a person may not be able to get off at all unless the item is present.

Our reader had two questions about fetishes: first, how to tell a potential partner about hir fetish, and second, how to get a partner to also experience pleasure from hir fetish. My advice for the first question would be: as soon as possible, in a non-sexual setting, without apologizing or implying that your fetish is somehow wrong. While it might be awkward to bring up the topic of what turns you on during the first, second or third time that you meet someone, it can also show that you are an honest person who is in touch with hir desires and not ashamed of them. Ask your partner first about what gets hir hot, so that it's a two-way conversation rather than you dropping a bomb. You may discover that your partner has a fetish of hir own!

Waiting until you have developed a more intimate relationship with someone before talking about a fetish may make it seem like you were being dishonest or hiding something. If a potential partner is freaked out by your particular fetish, then this person is probably not a good partner for you anyway. There's always the possibility that someone you tell about your love of wearing latex hoods will then go blabbing about it to friends/co-workers/relatives/the New York Post, but that can happen no matter how long you've been in a relationship with someone.

The answer to the second part of the question is a bit more complex and requires some additional background. This reader's message was quite lengthy and described hir fetish in detail, telling how ze liked to indulge in this fetish for long periods of time, even when hir partners wanted to move on to other activities. The second part of the question asked how to get a partner to enjoy hir fetish for as long as the reader did. Ze also asked me to send a private answer to hir personally, rather than answering the question in a column.

One of the most important elements of any successful relationship, sexual or otherwise, is reciprocity. All people in the relationship have needs, and all must get their needs met if the relationship is to continue. Very few people will stay in relationships where they are making an effort to meet their partner's needs and not getting anything out of it themselves. For example, if you write to me with a question about a sexual issue you're having, I then use that question in a column, and both our needs get met-you get a sex educator's perspective, and I have something to turn in to my editors at the Shepherd Express. Similarly, if you want a partner to act out a fetish with you, you, in turn, should ask about and satisfy hir sexual desires.

I have no advice about how to get a partner to gain pleasure from your fetish, because it appears to me that you are essentially asking how you can get partners to indulge your fetish without having to do anything in return for them. This question gets at one of the most common issues for partners of people with fetishes, which is that they may end up feeling like they're playing second fiddle to a pair of women's panties-the object of the fetish is actually more important than the sexual partner. Unless a person with a fetish wants to lead a very lonely life or have most of hir encounters with professional sex workers, it's important to avoid making your partner feel like a mannequin that you're dressing up in a police officer's uniform for your benefit only. If you find a partner who cares about your pleasure and acts out your fetish with you, then by all means take care of this person and indulge their desires in return.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them tolaura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns theTool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.