Friday, April 03, 2015

Foot fetishism :A very brief overview

Many authorities acknowledge the most frequent form of erotic symbolism of all sexual fetishes relates to the foot and shoe (Ellis & Arabanel, 1961; von Krafft-Ebing, 1932; and Rossi,1990a). This usually appears to involve the female foot (or shoe) which becomes the exclusive object of sexual feeling and desire. Accessories designed to protect the fragile extremity which robustly supports the human body have inspired more obsession than any other apparel, save underclothes.

Fetishism according to Greenace (1953) describes the obligatory use of some non genital object as part of the sexual act without which gratification cannot be obtained. The object may be some other body part or some article of clothing and less frequently some more impersonal object.

Foot fetishism is therefore a pronounced sexual interest in the lower limb or anything that covers portions of them (Brame, Brame & Jocobs, 1996). The allure normally attributed to erogenous zones is literally translocated downward and the fetishists’ response to the foot is the same as a conventional person's arousal at seeing genitals. This displacement phenomenon is commonly seen in reverence stemming i.e. the sight of a flag registers the feeling of patriotism.

Fetishism may be viewed as a continuum from a mild to moderate sexual arousal from an inanimate object to enhance sexual gratification; to the opposite end of the spectrum where the inanimate object becomes a preoccupation and the full focus of sexual attention. Fetishism has been reported in both adults and children (Bemporad, Dunton & Spady, 1976). Degrees of fetishism are thought to escalate where there is evidence of some other sexual mal-adjustment present. Youths may, for example, exhibit an upsurge in fetishism before they have established satisfactory socio-sexual lives. This declines with the development of homo or hetro liaisons. Older men may develop an escalation of fetishism as problems of impotence appear. Fetishism diminishes before sex drive and hence is associated with age and health. Maintaining the fetishist fantasy requires a strong sex drive (Gebhard, 1969). Only moderate to high level fetishism would be classified as a type of paraphilia. In the majority of cases the person with a fetish poses no danger to others and pursues the use of the fetish object in private through masturbation. In other cases the object needs to be incorporated into sexual activity with a partner in order to produce sexual excitation.

Fetishistic objects can be divided in to media and form, with the majority of a combination of the two. A media fetish is one wherein the substance rather the form is the important aspect. Leather is a good example of a media fetish with less emphasis on forms e.g. shoe, glove or coat.

A form fetish is where the shape of the object is more important than the material from which it is made. Foot fetishism is such an example.

Media fetish may be sub classified into hard and soft (Gebhard, 1969). Objects of hard fetish are usually tight constricting garments or shoes. These are often associated with sado-masochism.

Objects of soft media fetish are fluffy, frilly or soft in texture, for example, fur. Effective combinations of hard and soft media fetish are commonly exploited in soft porn magazines and floor shows.

Form fetish involving footgear usually includes high heels with the erotic attraction of being stood on by a dominatrix a classic masochistic theme. Viewing women wearing impossible heels offers erotic appeal to the bondage enthusiast or sadist. Prior to the popularity of boots in the 1960s these were worn by prostitutes affiliated with sadomasochism.

Karpman (1934) thought sadism was the root of fetishism and a result of the deprived lifestyles of the rich. However not all experts agree with his thesis. No one is sure why there appears to be a gender difference with males being far more likely to exhibit fetishistic behaviour.

The original hypothesis postulated by Freud (1905) fetishistic behaviour was a substitute for the male genitals and consequentially a protest against castration fear. His theories of sexualisation were ostensibly phallo-centric which would seem to be collaborated by the rarity of fetishism among females. Stekel (reported in Kunjukrishnan, Pawlak & Varan, 1988) also considered foot fetishism as a "male disease" which was very rarely reported in women (Kinsey et al, 1953; Fenichel, 1945 cited in Kunjukrishnan, Pawlak & Varan, 1988). Although Havlock Ellis (1936) did concede slight degrees of female fetishism did exist, Curren (1954) discovered only a small number of cases relating to female fetishists. Gosselin and Wilson (1980) associated the predominance of fetishism in males with two physiological attributes: an increased awareness of visual stimuli within males compared to females; and the male's amplified biofeedback, i.e. the erection.

People can also have a sock or hose fetishism and many are males but there are some noted case studies of females with hose or shoe fixation. The latter is often associated with an auto-erotic asphyxia fixation, which is sexually driven. Apoxia or loss of oxygen to the brain causes by autoerotic asphyxiation is an extreme form of masochism (Friedrich & Gerber, 1994; Uva 1995).

What is known is fetishists may collect the object of their favour and often go to extreme lengths, including theft (kleptomania), to acquire just the right addition to their collection. In the very rare cases of lust murder many have a particular fetish or ritual they perform. In one reported case the murderer picked up young prostitutes and killed them. He then proceeded to chop off their feet and kept them as a trophy (Love, 1995).

Epstein (1969, 1975) believed an association between the object and the desired person was encountered at a crucial state of development. Most fetishists recall a strong interest in childhood with the interest becoming sexually arousing at puberty (Mc Conaghy (1993). Freud (1905/1962a) considered the selection of the fetish was determined by those traumatic experiences, which occurred during childhood. Binet (1897) described a conditioning model as an explanation for fetishism and postulated a vulnerable person if paired with fortuitous circumstances a fetishistic pattern could develop. Rachman (1966) published a study where subjects were conditioned to give sexual response to a photograph of a pair of boots but the responses were easily extinguished. The Conditioning Theory has it critics. Gebhard (1969) argued pubertal or adolescent males were more vulnerable to associate sex with symbols, which were encountered before experiencing the actuality of socio-sexual gratification. This may infer the importance of social learning to fetishistic behaviour. Greenacre (1979) concurred and thought fetishism arose as a disturbance of body image in early life. She expressed this as the child feeling overwhelmed, resorted to fantasy or denial to deal with their panic i.e. Freud's castration complex. Munroe and Gauvain (2001) thought fetishism was an unusual bi-product of the normal adaptive process and at least in part, related to a personalised experience of early sexual arousal (Money, 1985). This refers to not only to the arousal but also to the circumstance in which the sexual excitement existed. Simply put there was present at the critical time a non-sexual or mildly sexual element, such as an item of clothing, which then become linked to arousal. In the case of the paraphilic they appear to abnormally pursue the associated element.

Fetishism has also been associated with temporal lobe abnormalities (Langevin, 1983). Huws, Shubsachs and Taylor (1991) presented a case of a man who developed hyper sexuality and a foot fetish after the onset of multiple sclerosis. They reported that although the patient had diffuse brain damage, the main features were those of frontal lobe syndrome with damage to the temporal regions. There remains little research into the presence or absence of brain abnormality in fetishism with the majority of existing work focusing on those known to have brain abnormalities with secondary sexual abnormalities (Mason, 1994). According to Langevin (1983) it would be premature to accept brain dysfunction alone causes fetishism and temporal lobe damage is not always associated with fetishism. Unfortunately any further discourse on causation and aetiology is beyond the remit of this paper. However it would appear, according to Gebhard (1969), fetishism has certain common traits. The behaviour is confined to civilisations and almost non-existent in pre-literature cultures.

More males than females appear to be fetishists and the behaviour is associated with body, clothing or body bi-products. The phenomenon appears wholly sexual and generally manifests itself in puberty or adolescence but can be induced in adult life by some trauma or powerful experience. Money (1980/1984) based his theoretical model called love maps. He believed these brain schemata were not complete at birth and required input from social environment. Perper (1985) thought there was an existence of pre figured gestalts of the ideal partner. He suggested these were not encoded in the genes, but were created by a slow development process involving genetic regulation detailed and recognisable image. Bancroft (1989) argued although these concepts may provide a useful framework for thought they are impossible to test scientifically. Many of the early theoretical models describing fetishism developed from the work of the psychoanalysis. Attention has also focussed on possible biological mechanisms, ethological explanations, and sociocultural and sociobiological factors. Much remains unknown and understanding still is at a limited stage. (Wise, 1985; Huws, Shubsachs & Taylor, 1991; Stoller, 1986).

Advocates for biological aetiologies have considered the importance of cerebral development and the consequence of brain damage and other neurological abnormalities such as epilepsy (Langevin,1990). The association between the temporal abnormalities and fetishism had been noted by a number of authors, (Mitchwell, Falconer and Hill, 1954). Ball (1968) later reported a case where a temporal lobotomy appeared to remove the symptoms of fetishism. Shukla, Strivastava and Katiyar (1979) found no cases of sexual deviation in their study of 70 cases of temporal lobe epilepsy. The author admitted the absence of reported sexual deviation might have been as a result of cultural reasons. Epstien (1960) argued fetishism demonstrated two characteristic types of behavioural phenomena: those representing a state of increased orgasmic excitability (resulting in cerebral pathophysiology) and those representing attempts to maintain orgasmic control. Later (1961 & 1969) he extended his theories relating the behavioural characterists, Flor-Henry (1987) examined the role of prenatal factors in determining the differential cerebral organisation of men and women, suggesting that testosterone-dependent neuro-chemical interactions determine the organisation of lateralised cognitive systems in males and females. Male specialisation hinges on interactions between the left hemisphere and testosterone, which slows the rate of development of this dominant hemisphere. The author postulated this process rendered males more susceptible to aberrant sexual programming and the gender differences in sexual deviations can be accounted for by the combination of this increased vulnerability and men's more lateralised patterns of verbal and visuospatial cognitive functioning. Pitcher (1990) also alluded to the possible sensitizing effects of prenatal hormones on brain development as a possible explanation for gender differences in fetishism. Most reports agree early onset in the fetish and persistence throughout adult life. The fetish becoming sexually arousing at puberty. The links between fetishism and transvestism and homosexuality have been noted for many years within the literature. However scientific literature confirming possible association is more recent. Langevin (1983, 1985) reviewed evidence indicating the presence of one sexual deviation in an individual increased the likelihood of other sexual deviations. Wilson (1987) linked the choice of fetish to imprinting theories and noted fetish objects had strong gender associations when worn close to sexually arousing parts of the body and have striking visual attributes that mimic genital signals.

For fetishists in the 19th century popular textures were velvets and silks. In the 20th century these were replaced with leather, rubber and plastics. Gosselin and Wilson (1980) discovered interest in rubber within tics of fetishism to the manifestations of temporal lobe dysfunction. He also suggested that the limbic system played a major role in sexual disorders such as fetishism and transvestism. arguing it subverted mechanisms concerned with sexual arousal. He postulated dysfunction could prevent proper subordination and integration of sexually arousing stimuli during sexual development, so the 'sign and symbol' aspects of sex became more dominant. Despite these and other works respected reports there still remains inconclusive proof of direct association (McConaghy, 1993). The belief that a vulnerable individual when presented with the right circumstance then a fetishistic arousal pattern could develop. (Binet, 1897).

Classical condition would describe a situation where the sexual response system responds becomes conditioned to respond to various kinds of stimuli which usually are physical characteristics of the potential partner. In the fetish the sexual response is conditioned to a particular stimulus such as feet or leather etc. The fetishist becomes preoccupied with the object and less interested in the associated partner. Rachman (1966) reported a study where subjects were conditioned to give a sexual response to a photograph of a pair of boots. Bancorft (1989) questioned the learning theory model and argued a simple conditioning model was not sufficient and did not account for the maintenance of such responses throughout life. O'Donohue and Plaid (1994) were skeptical of the internal validity of many of the studies of male sexual arousal. Gebherd (1969) argued pubertal or adolescent males were more vulnerable to associate sex with 'symbols' which they encounter before experiencing the actuality of social gratification. Other aspects are self esteem, previous experiences, perceived inadequacy, and failure in the generation of fetishistic fantasy and possibly behaviour. Errors arising in imprinting mechanism may lead to excessively narrow and incorrect specification of the sex object. The sex drive is developed to promote gene survival the behavioural strategies according to Wilson (1987) that serve sexual instincts became driven by powerful,inflexible emotions that sit deep within our sub conscious. The individual will respond to sexually to the sexual signals of the opposite sex even when reared in isolation. An accepted theory of learning known as imprinting arises at times when animals are young whereby the range of stimuli that are to become sexually exciting later in life are delineated. Phylogenetic factors include fetishistic behaviour is evidenced in other primates.

Fetishism may represent a high primate automatic behavioural response (sexual arousal) evoked by an exciting object. This response may have a reflex component based within the tempero-limbic region of the brain. The mechanism may have a generic component and is usually inhibited in the maturing human but may be released in several contexts including brain damage. Forces other than sexual drive, for example the strong human interest in external objects, may also play a role (Wilson, 1987: Epstein, 1987). Other researchers have considered socio-cultural factors such the absence of a child sex life or adult indulgences such as foot binding. Authors believe the intolerance of childhood sexual activity in industrial societies may have encouraged sexual interest and play in other areas, thereby contributing to fetishism (Gebherd, 1969; Wise, 1983; Money, 1984; & Epstien, 1969).

The aetiology of fetishism and retifism is complex and not clearly understood. The problem is further complicated by limitations of inferring aetiology from published single case reports. In truth, no-one yet has been able to describe an appropriate theory to explain the causation of fetishism. The descriptions of psycopathology and proposed aetiologies are further limited by the relative rarity of clinical fetishism.

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