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The Fetish as a Key to Sexual Choice

( Originally Published 1957 )

The meaning of fetishism for the problem of normal choice is that it leads, first of all, to a view of attraction in terms of discoverable traits. It directly suggests a search for the specific details that make, in the particular instance, the focus points of erotic "charm." " The statement that "The power of attraction which one person exercises upon another never proceeds from the whole person," may be somewhat exaggerated, and is especially doubtful for the later stages of amorous experience, but it is one way of saying that what attracts us may be reduced to units smaller than the total personality.

G. V. Hamilton asked of his 200 subjects the question: "Is there a particular type of (person of the opposite sex) who appeals to you in a sexual way?" The replies listed some 109 characteristics among the men; only 13 expressed no preferences. A majority of the traits refer to the face, hair, and coloring, and to features of the body; others refer to behavior. Among the women, about half expressed no preferences.

In an early study of "traits mediating sexual likes and dislikes" by G. S. Hall, the order of specified points of greatest attraction was ". . . eyes, hair, stature and size, feet, brows, complexion, cheeks, form of head, throat, ears, chin, hands, neck, nose, nails and even fingers and shape of face." (38) Among the more individual preferences are those for "sloping or drooping shoulders," arched brows, long lashes. Special value is often placed on hair color, the shape of the hand and of the nose, the length of the neck. With regard to behavior ". . . the voice has [by] far most preferences and is highly specialized. Some are affected by a high, some a low, voice. The rising inflection, clearness, flexibility, a lisp, special intonations, accents or even dialects, are often prepotent. The mode of laughing comes next, while carriage, gait, gesture, the movement or roll of the eyes, the post of the head and shoulders . . . may each have a special preeminence."

The unusual feature of an attraction may be strong interest in a physical characteristic which for most people is of little or no concern. One subject of a study reports: "The back of a man's neck excites me. I don't have a mania about it but I like a well-formed . . . neck. The back of a man's neck is the first thing I look at." (42) The fetish-item may also be one commonly regarded as an aesthetic defect. Another confesses that "Cross-eyes are very exciting to me. I have a recurrent dream of observing a man who had cross-eyes and who interested me sexually." (43) This recalls the similar peculiarity of the philosopher Descartes, often mentioned in the literature of the subject.

Hall sees, in these points of attraction, "... the alphabet ... of which romantic love is so largely composed, where trivial often eclipse great qualities and one trait may be magnified beyond all bounds." He finds here, likewise, "the origin of morbid fetishisms." Special preferences of this kind are, he thinks, "consciously, and still more often unconsciously," related to the attractiveness of certain people. When we meet a person with several different kinds of fetishlike appeal, the amorous fixation may develop with marked suddenness. Wilhelm Stekel believes that ". . . most people are unaware of their fetishisms. This is what endows the sudden falling in love with a sense of mystery in the minds of lovers. They do not know that what attracted and bound them to their love objective was a particular odor or bodily part, some characteristic gesture or motion, and they rationalize this attraction by referring to psychic qualities such as similar tastes, mutual understanding, harmonious convictions, etc."

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