The internet and its ingression into our lives has, for the most part, been positive. Knowledge is accessible to millions, enabling them to attain an education that would have been impossible before. The impact of natural disasters on human life can be limited due to early warnings. It has even been cited as being pivotal in recent revolutions.
But of course, there are the darker effects. The internet might bring forces of good together, but equally it provides a platform for people with warped and extremist views to gain support and followers, the QAnon and Incel ‘communities’ are two examples which gained real traction online and resulted in real world consequences.
If online platforms didn’t exist would Elliot Rodger just have remained an angry virgin? That we may never know.
What we do know is that the internet and the websites, forums and various chat groups which exist all provide a place where people with views which might have been considered unique, marginal, deviant, unusual, abnormal, weird, creepy or just strange a few decades ago can now find thousands of other people just like themselves online to validate and normalise their perspectives on life. This can be a double-edged sword, people with not-so-common, but still fairly popular interests can find likeminded individuals and form positive relationships. Conversely, people like Rodger might never have discovered those incel message boards or felt there would be any support for what he did.
While obviously not as malevolent, the internet has allowed people with very specific interests or fetishes to explore their inner kinks. The majority of these are completely harmless, if someone derives sexual pleasure from a certain body part, such as feet, then why not?
But what might become problematic is when a personal fetish is body type, nationality, race, or even disability.
When it comes to dating there is a fine line between being someone’s ‘type’ and being someone’s fetish. There is a difference between preferring tall guys or blonds, and exclusively only dating people because the colour of their skin, their ethnicity or their BMI.
Black people have been, and still are fetishisized as being hypersexualised, which has zero biological foundations. Black women are frequently portrayed as overly sexual in mainstream media that Stephens (2010) refers to as the ‘Commodification of Black Female Sexuality’. Black men are often considered to be far more well-endowed then their white and counterparts which numerous studies have show is just not true, yet popular culture and pornography perpetuates the stereotype and even coins the term ‘BBC’ (NSFW). The problem with racial fetishism (if it really needs to be mentioned) is that when a person with a racial fetish seeks a POC they are just trying to satisfy a stereotyped desire for certain features or characteristics while being oblivious to the fact that they are individuals with vastly different backgrounds, personalities, hopes, dreams, fears, aspirations, preferences and desires. Also, when a person seeks a partner based purely on a few superficial traits like skin colour and nothing deeper like personality, they become very easily replaceable.
People of Asian descent (predominantly women) are frequently subjected to racial fetishism. The history of fetishizing Asian women, “Yellow fever” and "me love you long time" is, of course, nothing new.
At least ever since Pierre Loti’s incredibly popular 1887 novel “Madame Chrysanthème” (later adapted into Puccini’s famous opera, “Madame Butterfly”) cemented the image of Asian women as doll-like, subservient objects of lust, Asian women have been fetishisized.
The popular pornographic video site Pornhub produce their ‘Year in Review’ where they publish the most common search terms. ‘Korean’, ‘Asian’ and ‘Japanese’ were all in the top ten in 2019. While some of the site’s visitors do come from Asian countries, the majority of their traffic is from the USA. Asian women in pornography are frequently portrayed as submissive and many scenes have a non-consensual angle.
I will not get into the ‘is porn bad for young people’ debate in this article, but considering 55% of young males in a UK survey said pornography had been their main source of sex education, it might be of some concern that this is their primary medium in forming perceptions of female Asian sexuality and how it is somehow different to non-Asian women.
In a Quote from a Huffington Post article Katerian, co-founder of the Asian American magazine Slantd said “It’s totally OK to have a ‘type’ when it comes to dating or sex, but I think you need to be wary of when that type veers off into exclusively entering relationships with people of a certain race.”
Most people have probably aware of the term BBW (Big Beautiful Women) and everyone should be content with their body size and shape.
But there is a difference between having a preference for partners who aren’t super skinny and a fetish for overweight or obese people. As in the above examples, seeking a partner based a single physical trait is not likely to lead to a healthy relationship. And as one person asked on Quora “How do you fatten up your girlfriend?” it may signal other dangerous controlling behaviour.
On the other end of the scale, and far more concerning and potentially life endangering is a fetish for severely underweight people and those suffering from anorexia. One Guardian article details the harrowing story of how young women are being targeted through pro-anorexia websites which try to persuade them to become involved in anorexia porn to satisfy people with anorexia fetishes. Men (it’s predominantly men) with an anorexia fetish who seek out relationships with women suffering from anorexia might try and dissuade them seeking help and reinforce their unhealthy view of their bodies to satisfy their own fetishes. This is where it becomes very dangerous.
Devoteeism is an attraction to someone with a disability, people who are attracted to disabled people are often referred to as ‘devotees’ as one BBC reporter, who is a wheelchair user, found out after posting a picture of herself on Facebook and receiving a ‘pretty cripple’ comment, amongst others. The reporter decided to investigate further and found that there was an established community of ‘devotees’, or ‘devs’ for short. Of course, as it’s the internet there are subgroups within subgroups and the ‘good’ devotees like to distance themselves from the "bad devs" - those who enjoy watching someone with a disability struggle.
Fetishes are complex and are a combination of psychology, upbringing, life events, genetics, environment, and a whole host of other factors. As mentioned in the opening of this article, most are harmless, sometimes even humours such as Pedal Pushing, where people gain sexual arousal from pumping the gas and brake pedals in vehicles. But some, like the ones mentioned above, where they involve another human being, can be psychologically damaging, or even physically dangerous.
If you are with someone and suspect you are their fetish, try asking them to list some of the reasons they are with you that don’t include physical traits, if they struggle to come with any and lots of their previous partners seem to share the same visual or genetic characteristics – you might be their fetish.