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    Having studied sexual fetishes for twenty years (which is itself a kind of fetish), I'm long past the investigation of shoes, pain, vomit and rubbing up against people on the subway. My first real job out of college was working as the circulation manager for the Spectator, a Bay Area adult-entertainment publication, which was fueled by classified advertising — often for very distinctive "services" and interests. While there, I became acquainted with a number of memorable characters: Peg Leg, a one-legged call girl with a very full dance ticket (and some remarkable prosthetic attachments); The Coach (gym shorts, silver whistle, clipboard); and a sexually ambiguous individual who just called him/herself "The Sneezer." (I'll let you use your imagination there.)

    I'd been given a peek into a secret world, which eventually inspired a full-fledged research effort into fetishes. Having collected so many delightful anomalies over the years, I'd feel almost cruel not to share them. Here are my ten favorites.

    CatoptrophiliaUnusual titillation in the presence of mirrors


    At first glance, this may seem to be one of the most widespread: take mirrors on bedroom ceilings, or the ever-increasing number of sex tapes made by both celebs and amateurs. But catroptrophilia is quite a bit stranger. I've spoken at length with four catroptophiles, and despite divergent backgrounds, their remarks have some eerie similarities. What they're excited by is the perception of a kind of Other — a psychic double or doppelganger. "I'm haunted," one man told me, "by this idea that I had a twin brother who died at birth — or worse, was adopted out. In the mirror I catch a glimpse of him again." Although exclusively heterosexual in his physical relations, his greatest fantasy — and the essence of his fetish — was imagined sex with his phantom twin. (Think of Woody Allen's famous quip about masturbation: "Don't laugh, it's sex with someone I love.") A female interviewee put it very succinctly: "She knows what I like."

    MacrophiliaThe attraction to giants, especially domination by giant women

    Remember those 1950s horror films about colossal women? For those who love to be afraid of very big women, the Museum of Sex in New York has a fabulous exhibit on this fetish. More mundanely, we see hints of it in all those odd couples: little, reedy men and large, "ample" women. I met one couple where the size difference was so profound, the husband was referred to intimately as "The Dildo" — his whole body was seen as a sexual organ relative to his massive partner's bulk and stature.

    PogonophiliaThe fixation on bearded men

    Once, interviewing a woman with this fetish, I showed her four pictures of naked men: a well-endowed eighteen-year-old model, an extremely thin bearded man in his early thirties, a heavily muscled former professional athlete in his late forties, and Peter North, the porn star. Asked to choose the most "virile and masculine" of the group, she selected the bearded man instantly. What I didn't tell her was that the bearded man had terminal cancer and was quite seriously ill. Her selection directly defies the view that our choices of "attractiveness" are driven by an instinctual appraisal of health and reproductive capacity. When I presented a Photoshop-modified picture of the man without his beard, she no longer recognized him. In fact, she was repelled.

    Asked to choose the most "virile and masculine" of the group, she selected the bearded man instantly.

    ChremastistophiliaExcitement at being robbed or held up

    I've met several chremastistophiles, all of whom had been arrested on petty charges at some point in their lives — drug possession, minor theft, etc. All expressed a strong libido, but also a climax dysfunction. They got aroused, they just didn't get off easily.

    What magical thing finally provided that long-awaited release? The experience of being taken advantage of — which is different from out-and-out assault. It's a variation on biastophilia, the perverse attraction to being raped, but the key distinction seems to lie in the impending threat itself. "Give me your wallet and nobody gets hurt" — that kind of thing.

    One British gentleman proudly displayed the scar he received from a knife wound in the course of a mugging — an event which he said led to a spontaneous ejaculation, the most powerful and substantial he'd ever experienced. (While the sight of the knife wound continues to unhinge me.)

    AgalmatophiliaThe arousal by statues, mannequins, dolls and effigies

    With so many animatronic characters in our midst, we're really not that far from artificial sex partners. Japanese robotics innovators are already on the case. Wouldn't sex robots solve many problems associated with prostitution: moral, social, hygienic? In any case, this fetish casts a rather ominous light on seemingly harmless activities like doll collecting, and even ventriloquism — after all, a ventriloquist's job is to merge with the immobilized puppet in question. One Oakland woman I met derived acute arousal from being treated like a doll or mannequin by her female partner, whether she was being stripped, posed, redressed into clothes again, or restrained. The process of manipulation, the loss of all will and direction, brought her a kind of release that she said (tellingly), "left orgasms for dead."



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    Comments ( 7 )

    May 26 09 at 7:49 pm

    Apotemnophilia doesn't actually seem to be a fetish. there was a really cool New yorker piece on it a few weeks ago.

    May 30 09 at 3:23 pm

    Re formicophilia - it's a bit smug to say that someone "actually" thought it might be about Formica - especially because the guesser was (in a way) right. Formica is named for formic acid, which is secreted by ants.

    Also, if this fetish is about insects more generally, the meaning must have generalized from an original focus on ants - rather than ants being just an example of it.

    May 31 09 at 6:02 pm

    Is it still called a "-philia" if it isn't a sexual fetish? I love being in small, enclosed spaces. I find it comforting and secure but don't get aroused by it. Do I have claustrophilia?

    May 18 11 at 1:40 pm


    Jul 12 09 at 8:28 pm

    As to your comments on bearded men fetish, as far as I am aware, no one ever said that women's choices were based primarily on the ability to reproduce. In fact that would be evolutionarily absurd. All me have to do is produce sperm. If they can't do that, she can't get pregnant from them so who cares? Being attracted based on the ability to reproduce is men's area, and reasonably so. Women do all the work.

    Second, no one, so far as I am aware, used evolutionary grounds to explain individual fetishes. Sorry, your argument is absurd.

    Jul 27 09 at 4:21 am

    your comments on peanut butter, reminded me of a young couple who lived below me in the 1960's. They decided to cover his penis and her vergina with orange marmalade. So far so good. The problem arrived when the reached penetative sex and her natural juices, the friction and the marmalade created a glue.They were taken to the hospital on one stretcher

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