The Fetish in Love-Choice
( Originally Published 1957 )
Alfred Binet's main interest in fetishism lay in its connection with normal sexual choice. He noticed something else, how-ever, of great importance for our purposes. Although treated but briefly, it is clearly related to the views outlined earlier concerning a nongenital factor in sexual behavior. He finds that, "For fetishists, the sense perception of the loved object is a source of pleasure superior even to sexual sensation." (4) Fetish-interest is not to be confused, he states, with mere jaded sensual appetite in need of unusual stimulation. The true fetishist seeks and prizes a particular kind of stimulus because it gives him pleasure "in itself, and for itself." The fetish is not only a means to genital-sex arousal; it is also an end in itself. It is a form of adoration. Binet's belief in "two orders" of sexual sentiment was mentioned at an earlier place. One of these orders is directly related to genital excitement, but the other is of quite different quality. It is the pursuit of beauty ("la recherche de la beauty") in a highly individual way, and is a desire beyond direct physical satisfaction.
The power of the fetish in sensual arousal is well known. It may suffice, in some cases without contact, to bring orgasm. Yet Fere states: "It is often noticed that the mere possession of the object which they have stolen is enough to make them happy," (28) and Fenichel observes, significantly, that "in fetishists, the possessive urge to be the sole owner of the object is particularly stressed." " He refers to "overvaluation" of the fetish, and says that some fetishists are "collectors" of the fetish-object (a fact suggestive of the "polygamous" feature of normal amorousness). Stekel reports of a case: "He invariably took the stolen goods home with him, but the very achievement or possession of the things was sufficient gratification for him although he usually felt the desire to use them during masturbation." Hirschfeld cites another who states: "After I have cut the lock, I go home and kiss the charming hair again and again, I press it to my nose and cheeks and breathe in the precious fragrance of it."
Some statements are merely suggestive of Moll's "attraction" impulse: "I have an unbounded passion for beautiful, slim, well-formed . . . hands. . . . I have an unconquerable desire to caress such hands. The touch of a hand which is fascinating to me brings a great relief, compared to intercourse after which I feel very fatigued." " (48) A skirt fetishist ". . . takes the skirt and presses it close to his bosom, which is itself a kind of sexual gratification for him." (63) Concerning a fifteen-year-old fetishist of feminine hair Moll reports: "When he was alone and unobserved, he took the hair in his hand and combed it. He thereby experienced a feeling of pleasure, without being able in any way to tell in what the pleasure consisted. The closest questioning failed to establish this. In particular there is no mention of an erection, and nothing is ascertainable concerning a reflex in the sex parts." (58) That the behavior was nonetheless sexual in character Moll believes to be shown by the fact that the boy took only feminine hair and said that he was indifferent to the hair of males. He had likewise no interest in the hair of young (girl) children.
The following case from a direct source is of particular value in that the subject's capacity for fully normal amorous emotion enabled him to compare this experience with that of fetishism. Shoes are here the main fetish, although ankles and legs have likewise high value. Items of importance in the present setting have been placed in italics.
The emotion I experience on encountering a woman of refined and distinguished appearance, wearing shoes of delicate or dainty construction, is particularly arresting and exciting. This emotion is not exclusively one of sexual excitement. The charm of the shoes, shapely ankles and legs imparts an alluring effect to her whole person. The feeling I then have about her is very similar to that of being "in love," or at least to the beginning of this state. This feeling centers, however, on her shoes, legs and ankles, and I have experienced a stronger urge to kiss or caress such a woman's lower extremities than to kiss her lips, unless she is exceptionally beautiful. If she should remove her shoes, she immediately loses much of her magnetic quality. I have vividly experienced this kind of loss of interest on several occasions. The type of person who wears the shoes is very important. Handsome shoes on an immature and frivolous sort of girl have a much less pronounced effect upon me.
During the whole process of attraction, however, I become increasingly excited sexually, as well. This excitement increases as I concentrate my attention on the lower extremities. Typically this culminates in an orgasm. Well formed legs are a fetish only second in importance to shoes. I was once intensely attracted to a girl with very shapely legs. The charm of her legs seemed to spread to her entire personality until I felt that I was quite normally in love with her. Yet I am quite certain that had her legs not been shapely, I should have felt quite indifferent toward her. When I am completely satisfied sexually I am much more fully aware of a woman's aesthetic charms, more alive to her personality and beauty of feature, grace, etc.
While in this instance a complete fetish episode, including search, choice, and final gratification, was prompted mainly by the genital urge, it is evident that it also had, in reduced form, some of the features of the traditional love experience. Contact with the attractive shoes is described, among other examples, as having a "sweetness," a quality of "loving caress — like a kiss," distinguishable from the undercurrent of sensual excitement.
Among the cases described by Stekel is an example of what appears to be amorous fetishism. The stimulus consists of aprons, of certain well-defined colors and patterns. The interest dates from a very early age. The subject has an extensive collection of aprons meeting the requirements of his taste. He is never sensually excited by the aprons, nor does he use them in masturbation. He is strongly attracted at sight of an apron of the proper design, and feels an urge to possess it. At night he takes the apron which is "dearest" to him to bed; at other times he may stroke and kiss the aprons. He has not had sexual intercourse during several years of marriage. His feelings for the aprons, he states, have served as an erotic outlet.
Case records in this field of behavior do not often give enough description of fetishism as an experience to reveal its feeling-quality. Some of the failure of an amorous element to appear more clearly and frequently in these reports may be owing to the general looseness of meaning of such expressions as sexual "interest," sexual "desire," and "attraction." We may be told, for example, that the fetishist, suddenly captivated or "transfixed" at sight of the special charm, breaks off from important business or leaves a public conveyance to follow some-one about on the streets, as though hypnotized. But we have no way of knowing whether the quality of the experience is similar, but for its intensity, to the normal aesthetic effect of an alluring face, or more like an unusually sharp genital-sex stimulant, or whether, perhaps, it is a mixture of both.
It is important to separate, in the experience of the fetishist, not only sensual and sex-aesthetic responses, but the latter from those that are aesthetically pleasing in an artistic sense. This is the difference, in other words, between what is sexually beautiful and what is nonsexually beautiful. An illustration is provided by Krafft-Ebing in the account of a fur fetishist.
In early childhood the subject experienced ". . . a lively desire to see and stroke furs . . . ," such contact being the source of "an obscure sexual pleasure." At maturity, while responsive to normal sexual stimulants, he is much more excitable by a woman wearing furs or velvet. The fetishism lies in a powerful increase of the customary stimulus by way of what for others is an incidental or neutral item. The impulse toward contact is pronounced: "I have an intense longing to touch these materials while on a woman's person, to stroke and kiss them and bury my face in them." The effect of the fetish is heterosexual as well as erotic; the sight of a man wearing furs is "repugnant and disgusting"; the two impressions are incompatible. The subject continues: "This erotic delight in furs and velvet is something entirely different from simple aesthetic pleasure. I have a very lively appreciation of beautiful female attire, and at the same time, a particular partiality for point-lace, but this is purely of an aesthetic nature. A woman dressed in a point-lace toilette . . . is more beautiful than another; but one dressed in my fetish-material is more charming.
A few examples of the difference between sexual and non-sexual aesthetic responses may be taken from biographical sources. Thus, "His physical feeling for women is one of absolute indifference. He admires beautiful women in the same way as one admires beautiful scenery." (19) Again: "He admires male beauty passionately. Feminine beauty he perceives objectively, as he would any design of flowing curves and delicate coloring, but it has no sexual charm for him whatever."
Another likeness between fetishistic and amorous behavior may be noted. References to the "irresistible," "overmastering," "blindly impelling," character of assumedly normal amorous desire at high intensity offer a close parallel to many similar observations among the records of sex deviation. Descriptions of the fetishist, driven by an overwhelming impulse in the face of danger of arrest and threats of public humiliation and disgrace to win possession of his charm, are not at all unlike those of the traditional victim of the amorous obsession, impelled through all manner of barriers and sacrifices toward a more orthodox kind of possession. One repeatedly finds in the literature of fetishism such statements as that of Hirschfeld concerning one of his cases: "This lack of power to resist his passion, which he declares is unconquerable, has destroyed his name, his career, and his position, and caused twenty failures up to the time of his imprisonment, which came after he had cut twenty-one locks of hair." One is reminded of William James's remark on amorous desire as "a monomania to which all of us are subject, however otherwise sane,"and which he illustrated with Alfieri's account of his ordeal to free him-self of his violent infatuation for "a certain lady," in the course of which he imprisoned himself in his house, cut off his hair and had himself bound with cords in his struggle against the "imperious passion" that would otherwise have driven him to re-new his liaison. That genital desire may become a motive of comparable vigor is not, of course, to be denied; the remarkable fact is the fixation of choice.