Sunday, April 02, 2006
Shoes and sex: What is the connection?
The foot and shoe are inexorably linked to sex. In ancient Greece for example sex workers would write 'Follow me' backwards on their sandals so clients could recognise and discreetly engage their services out of public view. A common practice in Spain in the past was to finish a letter with “Que besa su peis" or may she (he) kiss your feet.
In more recent times the advent of seamless stockings without a heel reinforcement brought the sling back to fashion and coupled with the stiletto heel gave the world its sexiest fetishist icon since the Victorian corset.
Fetishism may be defined as a form of behaviour wherein sexual activity or sexual fantasy focuses to an unusual extent upon a body part or an inanimate object rather than a person as a whole. The fetish object as in this case the foot or shoe does not have to give gratification in any genital sense but may merely provide the means to appreciate an attractive object with all the senses. Fetishist behaviours lie on a continuum and most would pass for normal, if not, for slightly unusual behaviour. To that extent we are all fetishist.
High level fetishism is where specific stimuli take the place of a sex partner and pathological fetishism arises where the person suffers excessive guilt feelings from their behaviour. More common in males than females many experts believe foot fetishism is not the result of conditioning alone but may be found in individuals with a predilection in their left brain. Society preconditions us into accepting normal (usually heterosexual) sexual behaviour, alienating all other others. Hence much of what passes as deviant behaviours such as fetishism and cross dressing (although commonly practiced) is seldom spoken off.
Performance anxiety is a male fear that is hard to conceal, one theory about fetishism is that it allows the male to concentrate on an inanimate object rather than their feared partner. The Roman poet Ovid was devoted to the charms of the foot and in Norse mythology Kormak when he saw Steinberg’s ankles became infatuated with that part of the female anatomy. The choice of fetish objects are far from random however and although they may like feet, legs or buttocks. Many favour toes, arches, heels, ankles, calves, knees or thighs. Large or small feet, shapely well formed feet or rough peculiar ones as well as ones in shoes or bare feet, all have their attractions.
To understand fetishism requires the analysis of the object into three elements i.e. the sensory attributes; association elements; and symbolism. High heeled boots may for example present visually a strong female image imprinted from early childhood. The infant crawling across the carpet will see and judge people by their feet and shoes. In some with the appropriate predilection this may have sexual connotations in later life. High heeled footwear may have strong associations with adult women or sophisticated and sexually aware individuals. To men with certain communication difficulties, especially relating to sexual relations, the sight of high heels may allow them to relax and ease tensions. The shoes may also have strong symbolic meaning such as representing an authority ready to meet out discipline. Any one or all three may prove stimulating to the foot/shoe fetishist.
Many authorities consider fetishism and transvestism as having similar characteristics but distinctly are two separate sets of behaviour. Dressing for pleasure does make some people feel different and although most foot fetishists participate in normal relations their arousal is often contingent upon fantasies of feet or the actual wearing of the shoes. Informed commentators consider men with foot fetishism are sometimes unable to deal with the complete women. Understanding partners once aware of the harmless fetish will oblige by displaying or wearing the object of desire. Some well known men of letters have privately been foot fetishists: Restif de La Bretonne (1734-1806) in his diaries revels himself as a shoe voyeur, stealer and collector. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was a German poet, dramatist, novelist, and scientist. Affectionately known as "Mr Bigfoot" by his lover, Christine Vulpius, it was documented he wrote her begging for her dancing shoes, so that he could have them to press against his heart. Victor Hugo (1802-1885) French poet, dramatist, novelist enjoyed foot fetishism as did Feodor Mikkhailovich Dostoyevski (1821-1881) Russian novelist. Author of Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov his works were often preoccupied with guilt and religious faith.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) the Anglo-Irish poet and critic was reputed to be a celebrated foot fetishist and lived for sometime in a London Square overlooking the London Foot Hospital. He coined the immortal words 'If you rebel against high heeled shoes, take care to do so in a very smart hat'. US novelist F Scott Fitzgerald (1896- 1940) was also a fellow foot fetishist and very attracted to female feet. He did however hate the sight of his own feet and tried never to let anyone see them naked. Some men have fantasies about being crushed and view women as huge giants crushing insignificant men underfoot. Shoes provide tactile stimuli for women but although many women are retifists (collect shoes) seldom does their obsession parallel male fetishists.