This sex researcher has interviewed hundreds of people with peculiar erotic tastes. Here’s what she’s learned
BY DEBRA W. SOH
You might think that fantasizing about being swallowed by a large animal sounds weird.
But a new study in the Journal of Sex Research finds that paraphilias—unusual sexual interests—are actually common: One in three people have experimented with one at some point in their lives.
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Paraphilias range from kinks you’ve heard of before, like stiletto fetishes, to more rare interests, like the fantasy about being swallowed.
Why would someone be into that? Why are some people turned on by golden showers, or wearing diapers? The subject is so riveting that I’ve made a career out of studying it.
As a neuroscientist, I’m interested in what it is about the brain that makes people like the kinds of sex that they like. When guys come in to do my fMRI study, we spend a few minutes scanning their brain. Afterwards, I ask them lots of questions about their sex lives.
Needless to say, my work never gets boring. At last count, sex researchers estimated that about 549 different paraphilias exist.
So, for starters, here are six fascinating fetishes worth learning about.
Golden Showers: Why Are Some People Into That?
People interested in urophilia—also known as golden showers or water sports—enjoy urinating on their partners, being urinated on, or both. About 9 percent of men have this interest, research suggests.
Men who are into water sports tell me the act of sharing human waste, as disgusting as it might seem, creates a bond between partners. Clearly, two people need to share a certain level of comfort in order to pee on each other.
“It’s like I’m sharing my love,” says Kevin, a 20-something university student who likes to urinate on his sex partners.
For some guys, the more disgusting or taboo the act, the more sexually exciting it becomes. Others tell me that they’re turned on by the fact it’s humiliating to be peed on.
Women’s Clothing: Why Are Some Guys Into That?
Many—if not all—straight men (who identify as men) who take part in my studies find women’s clothing, such as shoes and underwear, to be sexually arousing.
It’s one of the most common kinks. A study out of the University of L’Aquila in Italy analyzed the content of online discussion groups and estimated that 32 percent of men have a sexual interest in shoes and 12 percent are into underwear. ...
Sex, we're often told, is supposed to be mysteriously fun. Doing anything to ruin the mood, such as actively seeking your a partner's consent, is not always considered "cool."
Emily Best, founder and CEO of the indie film crowdfunding company Seed&Spark, wants to help change that myth with a NSFW web series called F*CK YES.
The first episode debuted Thursday, and it's a candid three-minute clip of a couple realizing they didn't bring a condom. The negotiation about what happens next manages to make the situation very sexy indeed.
Best, who worked with an all-women team to produce, write and direct the series, says she's been thinking about the particulars of consent for many years.
About a decade ago, she received some books about BDSM from a good friend. Best wasn't interested in practicing herself, but found the academic and historical perspective on consent fascinating and liberating, particularly because the idea of talking about and agreeing to certain sex acts seemed foreign.
"These people were asking for safe words and discussing limits beforehand, and as a cisgender hetero woman, I felt like I was robbed!" Best tells Mashable.
When discussing her realization with a male friend, he replied, "If you talk about it, it ruins the mood."
Best had a compelling rejoinder. "I told him, 'If a girl leans in and whispers all the things she wants you to do to her, that's not sexy?' and he immediately got it," she says.
The goal of the web series, which will release several episodes, is to promote permission as sexy, and never uncool. F*CK YES intertwines affirmative consent between super steamy scenes with the actors.
Other episodes in the series include a lesbian couple discussing penetration, a teenage couple figuring out how to get to the first step, and a couple who has been with one another for a while navigating porn.
Best is using the hashtag "#ConsentIsSexy" to promote the series. The phrase gained popularity in recent years as students on college campuses began protesting sexual assault and advocating for increased education. The slogan has become an educational program taught in high schools, colleges and universities.
Many, however, criticize the wording, arguing that consent shouldn't be sexualized because it makes what should be an essential part of the sexual experience seem more like an option.
To that criticism, Best has an interesting point: "We all agree consent is necessary, but even the people who know this still have this idea that getting consent ruins the sex mood."
She recalls a friend who taught sexual education courses packed with college-aged men asking, "How do I do it?", in other words, "How do I ask for consent without ruining the moment?"
"Rather than making consent stressful — like, 'consent, or else!' — our goal of the series is to make getting affirmative consent a part of the sexual experience," says Best. ...
The field of sexology is still in its infancy, and so its application is uneven and rife with regional and individual biases, largely due to general sex phobia and a subsequent lack of empirical research within the field. A few years ago, an online debate I was privy to illustrates the intense discrepancies within the field. The discussion in question concerned whether or not it is possible to eradicate a fetish. Most respondents were in agreement that, like a sexual orientation, eradicating a sexual fetish is not only not possible, but particularly in fetishes that cause no harm, even unethical.
One clinician, however, stated not only that eradicating a fetish is possible, but then went on to describe exactly how (he/she believes) it is done. The methodology described was so disturbing, however, that I felt it necessary to challenge the ideas presented and to present both his/her perspective as well as my response here on my blog as a cautionary tale to individuals who may have questions regarding their own sexuality so that they know what to avoid in therapy. I have eliminated any details that could reveal any identifying characteristics.
Below is what the clinician wrote in support of fetish eradication. I am italicizing the most objectionable aspects:
I don't see a fetish as similar to sexual orientation—it is something that does reflect "something wrong", and in my own experience, DOES respond to therapy! One issue is that sexual fetishes—paraphilias—typically involve sexual activity with something that does not provide the rewards that sex with another human does. That is, talking, kissing, caressing, oral sex, intercourse, etc. Compared to these things, really, what does masturbating while doing something like holding on to a shoe, cross dressing, etc. have to offer? In the cases I have had good results with, I have used some combination of procedures to reduce the arousal value of the fetishistic practice; and, at least as importantly, procedures to make good, open, rewarding sexual activity with a consenting adult available to the patient. This procedure has seen been termed "cognitive negative conditioning". Sometimes this has been done with the patient sniffing disgusting aromas or unpleasant chemical agents, but I long ago stopped doing this, and went to the strictly cognitive negative conditioning procedures. The reason for this was that I had a patient confess that he had indeed used all 7 of his ammonia vials this week - but he had broken them out in the parking lot just prior to coming in to see me!
The "cognitive negative conditioning procedures" involve having the patient spend...
time thinking about—and saying into the small tape recorder I give the patient—all the things that are now going wrong in his life because of his fetish, and what is likely to happen in the future for him, because of his fetish; really does reduce the arousal value of the fetish—and this is something that can't be done in a couple of minutes, on just one day. One thing I have also found often really strongly effective as a negative involves children, if the patient has any. For example, I had one man who had a shoe fetish think about his children coming home from school in tears, saying how they were being teased about "What a freak your old man is—him and his shoe ------ (expletive deleted). In another case, we arrived at the man's daughter saying her boyfriend was now forbidden to date her anymore: "His parents said, 'Come on, his Dad is some kind of a weirdo pervert!' Oh Dad, how could you do this to me?"
While I always do the cognitive conditioning procedure with fetish patients, I sometimes also do the "stimulus satiation procedure", which involves changing the patient's masturbation. This is not something I usually use—it is reserved for patients who have what might be called an "extreme" fetish, and are also very well motivated. This procedure involves having the patient (at home, of course) masturbate using normal—non-fetish—stimuli/fantasy. Immediately after reaching orgasm, the man switches to his fetish, and continues to masturbate, without stopping, for a time that is unpleasant- I usually start the man with something like 10 or 15 minutes. During this time, the man will lose his erection; will not be aroused; and will likely find it painful. Should any pleasure/arousal occur, he must immediately switch back to NORMAL stimuli. The major problem here is that it some of the wives of the man with a fetish (I don't think I am being sexist here; I just don't recall ever seeing a female with what could be considered a genuine "fetish") are so distressed by learning about his fetish that their interest/ability in sexual functioning with him are severely reduced. I have found some success with this problem by putting off this part of the problem until we can say that his interest in the fetish is genuinely gone.
So basically if someone shows up to this therapist with questions or concerns about a fetish, the patient will be subjected to shameful thoughts and experiences regarding his own children and will be pushed into unpleasant and painful physical sensations. Wonderful. Where can we all sign up? Look, whatever this therapist is up to is not only cruel and unusual, but according to the new changes in the DSM 5, in which paraphilias (fetishes) were de-pathologized, also highly unethical. New studies keep being published showing that fetishes are not correlated to pathology. And this person considers himself a sexologist and sex therapist. This sex phobia and negativity must be stopped, especially in clinical settings, before more unwitting people put their trust in ignorant practitioners and get hurt. There is a word for illness cause by doctors—iatrogenic. My call to the mental health field: No more iatrogenic harm to patients around issues of sexuality. ...
Monogamy has been the standard for relationships, especially ones that are "true" and built upon "love." I grew up internalizing this, seeing this in all the relationships around me, and trying to believe this. As an adult though, I've struggled with the idea that I wouldn't ever be able to love other people because I'd only be allowed to love one person. On the inside, I felt I could love my primary partner while simultaneously having other relationships with people, regardless of whether they were intimate, long-term relationships, or just dating. Even though it wasn't the norm, practicing polyamory has worked for me. But when people judge my sexual identity and my relationships and tell me that love doesn't work that, all of those feelings about what was "right" and "wrong" come rushing back.
These days, after trial and error — and even more trial and error since every person is different — I've learned a lot about what non-monogamy looks like. Monogamy is definitely not for me, and I can also say non-monogamy isn't as glamorous and exciting as its made to look. Believe it or not, non-monogamy, at least in my experience, has been incredibly similar to monogamous relationships, just with multiple people involved. It's something that often confuses my friends. They like to make jokes with me about my "monogamous non-monogamy," and sometimes it's funny, but other times its just annoying. They assume that if I'm looking for relationships outside of my current relationship, it's because there must be a problem. What they don't understand is that, for me, the fact that I could be interested in pursuing relationships other than my primary one because my primary relationship is secure. I feel like they're so quick to label non-monogamy as "cheating" and they forget that cheating is something that stems from what's been broken, damaged, or neglected. Pursuing other people, while practicing ethical polyamory, under those circumstances, are not encouraged. If anything they are discouraged.
I once had a conversation with my mom about polyamory, without letting her know I participated in it. It happened right after my divorce, and while I was actively practicing non-monogamy with my partner, I wasn't ready to deal with what I assumed would be my mom's judgment on the topic, because, knowing her, she'd likely have plenty of it. As we were talking, she said:
Is this what people do when they can't love someone, and they just want something new because they're bored?
I remember laughing because I had that mindset once, and I explained to her that some people feel that their love for their primary partner(s) actually grows the more people they bring into their relationship. I reminded her that we can love people in so many different ways, and that loving looks different for everyone involved. She said she understood, and made a joke about how she wouldn't have enough time. Without realizing it, she said one of the most real things about non-monogamy I've ever heard. Building relationships, and then building other relationships does take time — and sometimes it's time you don't actually have, or want to give to other people. And it's always amusing when people assume that you have a bunch of boyfriends and girlfriends just like, hanging around. I can barely keep up with my one partner, how would I be able to keep up with five?! ...
From time to time, The Bed Post features other voices opening up about what gets in the way of good sex. This week, I speak with relationship coach Effy Blue.
Effy Blue does not believe that one relationship size fits all. It's a belief that is hard-won from her repeat attempts — and failures — to adhere to the dictates of monogamy. After her marriage crumbled in the wake of infidelity on her part, Turkish-born and U.K.-raised Effy gave up on relationships altogether. "I poured myself into my career, and I had this great job [at a marketing agency] that took me around the world, which also helped me not build relationships because I was moving from country to country about every six to eight months or a year," she tells me.
When Effy eventually settled in New York City and discovered the city's sex-positive community, she recognized her own sexual and romantic identity in the polyamorists she met. Now a relationship coach, she helps couples design consensually non-monogamous arrangements in pursuit of the fulfillment Effy finally enjoys in her own relationships — emphasis on the plural. As she writes on her website, "A romantic relationship is collaboration, a joint creative project to build something as unique and individual as the people creating it." And Effy practices what she preaches. I spoke with Effy about her journey from married monogamy to polyamory, her coaching practice, and why polyamorists' most difficult challenge isn't jealousy (it's scheduling).
What do you do as a relationship coach?
"I focus on very hands-on, practical, problem-solving guiding and facilitation. I predominantly focus on couples who are either transitioning or curious about ethical non-monogamy. I also have some single clients who are looking to develop a relationship that is ethically non-monogamous, and I work with them also on figuring out what that is."
How did you find your way to this work?
"I’d been married and divorced, and one of the recurring questions that I was having in my relationships is that I would go in a relationship, I would settle in the relationship, I would be very, very happy and content in that relationship, and then I would cheat.
"And then I would go back to my partner and confess and say, 'Look, I’m sorry this happened, I still love you, but this is just something that I’ve done and I’m not proud of it.' And it would end in tears and it would end in heartbreak and this kept happening and happening and happening, and then I sort of gave up on relationships and I figured that they just weren’t for me. In one of the discussions with my ex-partner, I remember in the middle of an argument, he was like, ‘How do you think I feel?' I was like, 'I don’t know, maybe you feel okay about it?' and he was like ‘Are you out of your mind?' I remember that moment very clearly — Are you out of your mind? My gut was like, I don’t think I am, but I see what you’re saying — maybe I am.
"Then I came to New York, and I decided that New York was going to be home, that I wasn’t going to travel anymore, and one of the things that I was really interested in exploring was my kinky side. I was so off relationships, but I really wanted to explore my sexual expression, and through the world of kink, I was introduced to polyamory. And I met polyamorous people and I listened into their conversations and learned about their relationships and just a lightbulb went off. It was like Oh, I’m not the only person that thinks she can do this.
"It was a huge shift in my life. I realized that there were a bunch of people who felt the same way as I did, that they could have multiple relationships and still sustain one special one and that relationships came in all the shapes and sizes, and that monogamy as we know it is just one way of doing it — it’s just very heavily prescribed, so that’s the only way we know how to do it. ...
Polyamory may sound sexy on Saturday night. But on Tuesday morning, you still have multiple relationships to maintain with multiple humans with multiple real-life feelings. Polyamorous relationships can be astonishingly fulfilling, exciting, and fun. But they're also incredibly challenging. There's no one-size-fits-all for figuring out whom -- and how -- to love.
After 10 years in various poly relationships, I've learned a lot of things; many of which would have made a big difference in how I approached this lifestyle if I'd known them when I was still a poly newbie.
There's no "right" way to be polyamorous
There are as many different configurations for polyamorous relationships as there are people on the planet. People who are new to polyamory often want to know what the rules are. They want to feel secure that they are doing it "right."
The truth? The only steadfast rules of poly are the same rules that apply to any relationship... no matter if you have two or five partners. Ethical polyamory includes transparent communication, authenticity of self, and an openness to others' wants and needs. Beyond that, polyamory is completely customizable according to your comfort and experience. The key is to share your needs and fears with your partners, and be honest about your intentions and behavior.
As long as you're being ethical, there's no wrong -- or right -- way to have a polyamorous relationship.
Google Calendars will save you
There's an inside joke that the only people who actually use Google Calendars are polyamorists. Splitting time between multiple partners can be a bit like keeping several plates spinning at once. Google Calendars can be shared with multiple people and help everyone communicate and stay on the same page.
If you're a poly couple, planning your dates away from your primary partner on the same night can help ward off lonely feelings or worrying about the partner left home. Just offering to share a calendar with a partner can help assure them you're genuine in your desire to maintain open communication and honesty -- which can go a long way in establishing trust in your polyamorous relationships.
Polyamory will not fix relationship issues
If you're having difficulty being ethical in your monogamous relationships, polyamory is not the solution to your romantic woes. Yes, it’s possible to cheat in a polyamorous relationship. This may sound obvious, but all of your partners have to be aware that they are dating someone polyamorous for the relationship to be polyamorous. Otherwise, you're cheating.
Likewise, adding a partner to the mix is not likely to "spice up" your relationship if someone isn't getting their needs met. People are not need-filling machines. It takes a lot of communication, self-reflection, and emotional maturity to maintain romantic and sexual relationships with multiple partners. ...
Charles Gatewood, the prolific San Francisco based visionary and photographer who was called “the family photographer of America’s erotic underground” died early this Thursday morning, April 28th. He had been in the ICU at SF General Hospital after suffering complications from a three-story fall that tragically ended his life at age 74.
News of his death falls on the eve of the date he took his first published picture of rock musician Bob Dylan, on April 29th, 1966. Gatewood would later say, “Taking the Bob Dylan photo gave me faith I could actually be a professional photographer.” He built his career documenting the antics of the beat generation with Dylan, Ginsberg, and Burroughs, and legends alike, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Joan Baez, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald. His documentation of body modification, fetish, and radical sex communities also paved the way for those subcultures and sex-positive players like Annie Sprinkle to enter into the mainstream.
Family, friends, and fellow artists from around the world are taking to social media to offer their respects and memories of the great photographer:
“Charles was in with the beat generation, not many can say that.” – Bill Macdonald, “Forbidden Photographs”, producer
“He was legendary for his photos of both ‘famous’ counterculture- Burroughs, Dylan, etc… but he was also a true believer in the REAL counterculture- which never makes the headlines- and he devoted his entire life to chronicling all of the gay rights struggles, feminist marches, and subcultural tendencies in in NY and SF, and he was lauded for it.” – Anthony Buchanan, filmmaker
“You will live on forever through your stories, artwork & vision of life. You were a game changer, my friend.” – Jean Jett, model and friend ...
Kinky sex has been around for eons, since long before Richard von Krafft-Ebing popularized the terms “sadism” and “masochism” in 1886 with his seminal work, Psychopathia Sexualis. But for a long time, it hasn’t really been spoken about in polite company. Only recently, with the wildly popular Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, has kink — generally defined as BDSM, which includes bondage, dominance and submission, and the consensual use of pain and humiliation for pleasure — earned a sort of mainstream acceptance. People are now willing to test the waters more than ever before.
Naturally, this is an area rife with misinformation and stigma. That’s part of why the Alt Sex NYC Conference, held last week in New York, was so important. The conference allowed researchers, clinicians, sex educators, and community members to discuss the most up-to-date research on what is known in the field as alternative sexuality (a term which encompasses kink, consensual non-monogamy, polyamory, and non-traditional relationship structures). For a population that has long been misunderstood and marginalized, the sharing of this information was much needed. Presentations ranged from myths about non-monogamy to best clinical practices when working with individuals from the community.
In honor of the conference — I streamed it remotely from Toronto — here are three key insights from the scientific study of kinky sex and non-monogamy.
(1) Swingers don’t get more STIs than everyone else
“Consensual non-monogamy” is an umbrella term referring to relationships in which partners agree that romantic and/or sexual relationships with other people are allowed. This includes swinging (which is primarily sexual in nature), polyamory (which is primarily romantic in nature), and open relationships (which are a mix of both sex and romance).
A frequent theme throughout the conference was the preconceived notion that monogamy is associated with better sexual health. It is widely believed that monogamy prevents the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and many people will say fear of getting HIV is their main reason for not “opening it up.” In theory, this makes sense, considering how nonmonogamous couples are exposed to a greater number of sexual partners (and if those partners are also nonmonogamous, then their partners, too, by proxy). In actuality, though, this isn’t the case, as research has shown that rates of STIs do not differ between monogamous and consensually nonmonogamous people.
The similarity in STI rates between the two groups exists for a few reasons. First of all, nonmonogamous people are more likely to engage in safe-sex practices, such as discussing their sexual history and being tested for STIs (roughly 78 percent compared to 69 percent of monogamous folk). When engaging with other partners sexually, nonmonogamous people are also less likely to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol — substances that can impair one’s judgment and lead to high-risk (or condomless) sex.
By contrast, monogamous couples don’t tend to follow these sexual health practices. They typically stop using condoms as soon as they decide to be exclusive with each other, and don’t often get tested for STIs or discuss their sexual-partner history before doing so. Needless to say, going exclusive doesn’t get rid of any STIs that are already there. This would also suggest that rates of STIs in monogamous relationships are, in fact, underreported.
And although consensual non-monogamy may appear to be driven by reckless passion and spontaneous sexual encounters, a great deal of thoughtful planning and preventive measures are involved. These relationships revolve around consent, transparency, and communication, and — at least in the best cases — any “extracurricular” sexual activities are discussed between partners well in advance to ensure that personal boundaries are respected. ...