Whole Lesbian Sex
What's Your Fetish?

Felice Newman,

Are you turned on by 6-inch stilettos? What about engineer's boots polished to gleaming obsidian? Does an exquisite Victorian corset make your blood pound? Perhaps you work up a sweat over leather, lace, latex, rubber, or fur? A fetish is an erotic attachment to an ordinarily nonsexual activity, inanimate object, or body part. What qualifies as a fetish is a matter of opinion.

According to Sigmund Freud, a fetish "bears some relation to the normal sexual object but is entirely unsuited to serve the normal sexual aim," by which he meant heterosexual procreative sex. Using that definition, you could argue that all lesbian, bisexual, and queer women are fetishists, since we share an interest in erotic practices outside Freud's "normal sexual aim."

What may have seemed fetishistic to Freud may be a staple of your erotic fare, and what seems exotic to you may be someone else's sexual routine. Many people think of unusual sexual activities as "kinky" or fetishistic simply because they're unfamiliar. (Conversely, Patrick Califia quips that much truly fetishistic behavior passes as normal because it has become so widespread that no one notices it anymore. The heterosexual American male attachment to big breasts comes to mind.)

Originally, a fetish was an object believed to have magical powers – for example, a small, carved figure of an animal thought to heal or protect its owner. Thus, a strap-on dildo can be viewed as a fetish, in the classic sense of an object invested with erotic desire and power. Butches and FTMs would disagree with that label, however. It's not the dildo sitting on the shelf that exudes masculine erotic power; it's who's driving it that counts.

Fetishes can develop ritualistically around necessities like safer-sex practices. Snap on a latex glove in certain lesbian circles and watch the heads turn. Clothing reserved for erotic use is seen as fetishistic. Often fetish gear is too revealing to wear on the street – for instance, a body suit with a cut-out crotch. But not always – sometimes context creates the eroticism. A man who walks into a sex club attired in a business suit will seem out of place, and he may be asked to leave. A dyke in a suit and tie can breeze past the "Fetish Gear Required" sign, knowing she'll be viewed as delightfully kinky. That same cross-dressing dyke may pass so well on the street that no one blinks an eye. Likewise, patent leather Mary Janes worn with little lacy anklets and a Catholic schoolgirl plaid skirt won't raise an eyebrow – until donned by an adult woman whose tight blouse reveals abundant cleavage.

Fetishes involving costume are perhaps the most widely known and practiced. Leather chaps, revealing lingerie, severe corsets, latex dresses, rubber hoods, and chain-mail chest harnesses are popular items of fetish gear. Many women have uniform fetishes and go to considerable effort to acquire authentic dress of soldiers, sailors, and cops – right down to the billy club.

Body modifications – such as tattoos, piercings, cuttings, branding, and scarification – hold deep significance for many. Some eroticize the experience of getting (or giving) a body modification; others are more interested in the result. You can think of genital shaving as a temporary body modification. The ritual of shaving one's own genital area can heighten the anticipation of a hot date. Shaving a partner's genitals can make for an exciting encounter.

Some sexual practices, such as spanking, bondage, and piss play are considered fetishistic. Whether you call your erotic interest a fetish or simply a turn-on is up to you.

Felice Newman is a founding publisher of Cleis Press and the author of The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide for All of Us. She can be reached at Visit her at

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