In this post, I will discuss:
- The Allure
- The Quest for Freedom and Independence
- Cognitive Dissonance
- The Hidden Dangers of Sexual Fetishes
- Single People
- Married People
- Sexual Abuse
- Sexual Disconnect
- A Path to Freedom
For most males, fetishes begin with images that we see in porn, or perhaps things that our family or peers tell us are turn-ons. When most males begin to watch porn, they want to see a naked woman or man, depending on their sexual preference. As time passes, though, just an image of a naked person doesn’t really do the trick for the person, so they begin to explore other things that might give them more of a buzz. As I have said in another post, porn is progressive. It flows like a river, sometimes slowly, sometimes much faster, in our lives. At no time, though, does its impact stop. Once it starts, though, it creates an appetite within most people who are hooked on porn that is never satiated. It can seem so innocent, so benign, almost imperceptible. The only way to measure it is to remember the first time you wanted to see something that you might not consider to be entirely normal. What I have written below may or may not relate to your own experience or someone you may know, but I believe it represents the experience of many people.
I believe that the allure or the appeal of most fetishes is that they are almost always taboo, or things that we want to keep hidden from most people. If pubic shaving is considered to be a taboo, for instance, it might not be something that someone might want others to know unless other people he knows also shave their pubic hair. At that point, they guy will feel comfortable sharing information about his pubic shaving fetish. Suppose someone finds women who wear a certain type of clothing, like a maid’s uniform to be a turn-on. He might have seen a movie, not porn, in which a woman is dressed in a maid’s uniform and the male star of the movie finds here sexually appealing. There is nothing overtly sexual about the movie. The guy, though, relates the sexual appeal of the woman in the maid’s uniform to the masculinity of the male star. The next time he watches porn, he finds videos of women wearing maid’s uniforms. This now becomes a fetish for him. It might be temporary or it might be something that continues throughout his life. We find anything that is taboo appealing. If your mom says, “Don’t eat that”, the first thing we want to do is eat it. If a sign says, “Wet Paint”, the first thing we want to do is touch the paint to see if it is actually wet. The taboo that we find so appealing may be kinky, may be inherently erotic, but there is something about it that we desire. That is the allure.
The Quest for Freedom and Independence
Even those of us who live in Western democratic countries that are defined as free nations want more freedom. As we mature through our teenage years, it is natural to want to establish ourselves as being independent from our parents or guardians. For the most part, what we do is entirely normal and natural, and benign. We may seek different employment than our parents and grandparents. We may study something that is entirely beyond the scope of our parents and other family members. We may or may not get married. We may or may not continue to go to church, or perhaps we might go to another kind of church.
In the same way, most of us carve out a unique sexual identity. I believe that most of the time, it is something that merely evolves as opposed to something that is intentional. Our sexual fantasies and the porn we watch is often as unique to us as our DNA. We may find other people who like the same kind of porn, the same kind of fantasies, and the same kind of fetishes, but the whole package is rarely exactly the same from one person to another. That is what makes our sexual identity unique. In itself, it is not right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral. It is reality.
Sexual fetishes can be a huge source of cognitive dissonance, particularly with Christians. At this point, I could go off on a tangent about the myth of a universal moral code, but that is for another blog post. Every Jesus-follower belongs to a community of faith of some kind. Most of us belong to a church, but it doesn’t have to be a church. We are aware of what that community of faith considers to be normal or acceptable behavior. If the sexual fetishes that turn us on are in conflict with what we believe would be acceptable within our community of faith, cognitive dissonance occurs. Most of us live most of our lives with that cognitive dissonance. It is a tension and discomfort that we grow to accept, and possibly ignore.
When someone holds to two or more different beliefs, or when someone’s beliefs are in contrast to their public statement or lifestyle, cognitive dissonance occurs. It creates discomfort, but it is something we all experience.
The Hidden Danger of Sexual Fetishes
For those of us who are single, the dangers might not seem to be as obvious as for our married friends, but there is danger in developing sexual fetishes.
In the spirit of inclusivity, I am going to default to male homosexual relationships. Of course, this also applies to heterosexual readers too.
Sexual fetishes are often a normal progression for people who are use porn regularly. No one eats the same food every day. Even if we eat the same thing for breakfast most mornings, we generally have different things for lunch and supper. In the same way, our sexual appetites change and develop over the years. I believe it is this understanding of what triggers us that leads us down the path of sexual fetishes, or things that turn us on. As single people, we tend to think,The stuff I watch is my business. I am not hurting anyone if I want to watch kinky porn. On the surface, that may very well be true. It probably is true if you never want to find a boyfriend or get married.
A partner, you say? Yup, a partner. Now, the scenario becomes more complicated. Let’s say you remain single until after you finish university, but you, like so many other guys, began using porn when you hit puberty. So for all those years you have been feasting your eyes and mind on all kinds of porn. You had this sense of unfettered freedom that allowed you to explore all kinds of sexual fetishes and kink. Even if you wouldn’t want to do all of it with another person, the fact that you now find it to be erotic and a turn on may very well have a devastating impact on any relationship you may have with someone else later in life.
Let’s talk about my fictional gay friend Josh. He is now 27 and has never had a boyfriend, or even a serious relationship. Josh grew up in a Christian home. He has never left a faith community. He faithfully attended church with his family until he went to university. He joined a campus Christian group in his first year and was active in that group all through university. After graduation, he got a job, and now lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment. His apartment is the epitome of a Christian home. A few Jesusy pictures on the walls. There is nothing about Josh’s apartment that would betray the hidden darkness of his life. Josh attends a conservative Baptist church in his town. He attends, but is not active beyond being there on Sunday mornings, giving, and occasionally helping out with stacking chairs or serving coffee if someone asks.
The other side of Josh, though is anything but normal. When he started watching porn about the time he hit puberty, it was gay porn right from the start. Josh knew he was gay, but because he is tall, somewhat stocky, with a deep voice, and just enough body hair, no one would suspect him of being anything other than a normal heterosexual man. Online, though, he has an anonymous ID, and a profile that includes his picture, both clothed and naked. The porn he watches includes everything from shaved bodies, and he regularly shaves his pubic hair, to BDSM, pain, and anal penetration. Hidden in his closet, buried deep in a discreet box, he has sex toys that he uses, mostly on Friday and Saturday nights when he spends hours on an interactive porn site, performing for his loyal followers. By the time Josh is finished early in the morning, he collapses into bed, naked most of the time, the sex toys scattered on the floor, which he picks up the next morning and securely hides until later that day when he will unpack them again and go through the same routine. Saturday nights, though, he quits early as he wants to get enough sleep so he can go to church in the morning. He puts all the toys away before bed.
Just before he turned 28, he met this guy in a coffee shop. The coffee shop was packed and the only seat available was at Josh’s table. Aaron approached the table and asked if he could sit with him, please. Not wanting to appear unfriendly, Josh agrees. They talk for two hours until the coffee shop closes, at which time they exchange phone numbers. Josh believes that Aaron might call him, but he figures he will never hear from Aaron again. Wrong! The next day Aaron texts him and asks if he wants to have coffee again. Long story short, they start hanging out, then they come out to each other. As it turns out Aaron also grew up in a Christian home, and much like Josh, has never left church. They begin dating, and one night Aaron invites Josh to stay the night. Unlike Josh, Aaron has had sexual experiences. Naked in bed, they begin to discuss what they find appealing sexually, after trying a few things and Josh discovers that he is not as turned on by Aaron as he thought. In fact, Josh realizes he has never had a sexual fantasy about Aaron. While he really likes Aaron, Josh realizes that he is not really turned on by him. Aaron is confused and somewhat hurt that Josh doesn’t seem to be able to perform. Josh decides to ask Aaron what kind of porn he likes to watch. Aaron responds that he tries not to watch it at all, but sometimes he does watch porn. When Josh suggests they watch a video, Aaron agrees but Josh realizes that it is just ordinary porn. There is nothing about it that would turn him on. When Josh shows Aaron the porn he watches, Aaron is stunned. Nothing that Josh has shown him has ever crossed his mind. Defeated, Josh gets dressed and, very late that night, returns home.
Pure fiction, you say? Possibly, but this is the danger of single people developing sexual fetishes. It can happen. How often? Who knows? Love does not always follow the path of our sexual desires and fetishes.
Celebrate Recovery is a Jesus-centered 12 Step program. I attended Celebrate Recovery for a couple of issues in my life. Each week I would sit in an Open Share room and listen to stories from other men about how porn shattered relationships and destroys families. Like all good fiction, there is a foundation in reality and fact. While the characters in the story below are fictional, there is no doubt in my mind that this story is sadly played out many, many times each day.
Ben and Marcie are a lovely couple. They grew up in Christian homes and met at a Christian group in university. They got married about three months after they graduated. Some twenty years after they got married, Ben is a tall, very thin accountant who wears dark blue suits, white shirts, and a bow tie to work every day. His office walls have pictures of him and Marcie, their kids, and their parents. Discreetly blended into the decor of the office is a rough wooden cross that is almost imperceptible unless you looked for it. Marcie has always been at home. Conservative in their politics and theology, they believed the best place for Marcie would be at home, raising a family, and making home life pleasant for everyone. Marcie’s is a take-charge woman, though. While Ben appears to head the family, he rarely crosses her or contradicts one of her decisions. He may be an accountant, but Marcie handles the money in the family, seeking his advice on investments and large purchases. Even now that their kids are in university and essentially away from home, Ben still calls Marcie “Mom” or “Momma”. Their friends view it as a sweet recognition of Marcie as a mother.
While Ben may appear to be the quintessential conservative Christian, he has a dark side that he has worked very hard to keep hidden for many years. Not even Marcie knows about this dark side.
When Ben was just 12 years old, his cousin Tyler, four years his senior, introduced Ben to the wild world of porn, masturbation, nudity, and fetishes one summer when his parents were dealing with sickness. Ben’s father had always been a rock in the family, until he suffered a breakdown that landed him in the hospital for several weeks. Ben’s mom, also a solid rock, struggled to deal with her husband’s mental collapse and the family. As hard as she tried, it was too much. Her sister and her husband offered to take Ben for the summer. They lived on three acres in a large house. It seemed like a perfect solution. One less kid to handle would take a lot of stress off his mom. So, Ben packed up and moved to his aunt and uncle’s place for the summer. Tyler, Ben’s favorite cousin, was really excited to see him. Unlike his parents, Ben’s aunt and uncle did not go to church, nor did they profess to have any religious views. They were, though, considered to be model citizens and great parents to Tyler and his younger brother.
Sharing a room with Tyler sounded so cool, but the sexual advances Tyler made toward Ben were not cool. By the time Ben went home he was hooked on porn, masturbation, traumatized by gay sex which he never wanted or enjoyed, and the use of Tyler’s sex toys. He never saw Tyler after that summer as his cousin went to a university in Europe. If he did make trips back to see his parents, Ben was not informed. When Ben reached puberty, he began watching his own porn. It was not gay porn, but right from the start, Ben wanted to see kinkier porn, and developed a long list of fetishes that soon became entrenched in his sexuality. If he had any gay sexual desires or urges, they were deeply buried. He was, though, hooked on porn with a wide range of fetishes, and masturbation.
The first few years that Ben and Marcie were married, their sex life was spectacular. Ben forgot all about porn and masturbation. Marcie met every need in his life. As they got older though, Marcie became somewhat less enthusiastic about sex. As their sex life diminished, Ben began masturbating without porn, but that soon changed. When Marcie told him that she was going out, Ben would plan, sometimes for days, his masturbation sessions. At one point, he even bought a couple of sex toys, but never enjoyed them because of fear of being caught or Marcie finding them. Then, one day, he was masturbating and watching porn when Marcie returned unexpectedly. She had forgotten something. Ben was in their bedroom, naked on the bed, and totally focused on the porn he was watching on his phone. He never saw Marcie until she was standing next to the bed. The outcome was, like for so many men (and for that matter women at times) not good. Marcie demanded that Ben leave the house. In shame, he packed a suitcase and left as discreetly as possible. He had nowhere to go, so he went to a motel. Hoping he could smooth things over, he paid by the night, but Marcie was not returning his texts, phone calls, or email messages. Days became weeks, and weeks became months. After the first month Ben found an apartment. He was separated, then Marcie sent him the papers for their divorce. In her eyes, he had chosen another woman — the woman in the video.
Fact or fiction? Who knows? Again the point is that when we develop fetishes that may or may not harmonize with the people we fall in love with, bad things often happen.
A Path to Freedom
I am not sure if there is a singular path to freedom, but I will share a path that has helped millions of people with addictions and battles such as this one.
It is necessary to determine, honestly, the severity of the problem. Is this an addiction that threatens your marriage, or relationships? Is it a secret? How hard to you work at keeping it a secret from people in your life? Is there a level of fear involved?
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:19-21 NIV)
Generally, sexual fetishes operate in darkness, often literal darkness. People who develop fetishes through pornography and associations with people on porn sites, fear their deeds becoming known, or to put it another way, seeing the light of day.
One of the wisdoms of the 12 Step movement is confession of your darkest deeds to another human being. While I have never worked through the 12 Steps myself, I have witnessed the freedom that men and women have experienced who have had the courage and faith to share the darkest parts of their lives with another human being. John also wrote: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5 NIV.
I believe the power fetishes have over us is that we keep them secret and hidden away from the light. The light is when we share our fetishes with another person. Once we do that, they are no longer hidden from the light. I don’t know how much light is needed to shatter the power of destructive fetishes, but even a little light is better than living in darkness for a Jesus-follower.
Perhaps the other thing that might lead to freedom from fetishes is understanding the incredible destructive power of secrecy. People who strive to live clean, moral lives are often bound by the fear that their fetishes, the things that turn them on sexually, the hidden things in their lives, whether they have sex toys hidden in the basement, bedroom closet, or pornographic sites that they carefully wipe from their browser’s history, will one day come to the light of day and be known by the people who believe they are moral people. Secret fetishes that are tied to addictions to porn and masturbation, or illicit sexual activity, destroy marriages, families, and relationships. There is nothing redeeming about them. There is nothing that makes them valuable enough to continue a life of secrecy and darkness, particularly for a Jesus-follower.
I believe that it is only the healing power of the Holy Spirit, in the context of a faith community, that can lead to real freedom and peace from sexual fetishes and addictions.