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originally on Nerve.com

A lifelong sex researcher on his most unusual discoveries. by Kris Saknussemm


Having studied sexual fetishes for twenty years (which is itself a kind of fetish), I'm long past the investigation of shoes, pain, vomit and rubbing up against people on the subway. My first real job out of college was working as the circulation manager for the Spectator, a Bay Area adult-entertainment publication, which was fueled by classified advertising — often for very distinctive "services" and interests. While there, I became acquainted with a number of memorable characters: Peg Leg, a one-legged call girl with a very full dance ticket (and some remarkable prosthetic attachments); The Coach (gym shorts, silver whistle, clipboard); and a sexually ambiguous individual who just called him/herself "The Sneezer." (I'll let you use your imagination there.)

I'd been given a peek into a secret world, which eventually inspired a full-fledged research effort into fetishes. Having collected so many delightful anomalies over the years, I'd feel almost cruel not to share them. Here are my ten favorites.

Catoptrophilia — Unusual titillation in the presence of mirrors

At first glance, this may seem to be one of the most widespread: take mirrors on bedroom ceilings, or the ever-increasing number of sex tapes made by both celebs and amateurs. But catroptrophilia is quite a bit stranger. I've spoken at length with four catroptophiles, and despite divergent backgrounds, their remarks have some eerie similarities. What they're excited by is the perception of a kind of Other — a psychic double or doppelganger. "I'm haunted," one man told me, "by this idea that I had a twin brother who died at birth — or worse, was adopted out. In the mirror I catch a glimpse of him again." Although exclusively heterosexual in his physical relations, his greatest fantasy — and the essence of his fetish — was imagined sex with his phantom twin. (Think of Woody Allen's famous quip about masturbation: "Don't laugh, it's sex with someone I love." A female interviewee put it very succinctly: "She knows what I like."

Macrophilia — The attraction to giants, especially domination by giant women

Remember those 1950s horror films about colossal women? For those who love to be afraid of very big women, the Museum of Sex in New York has a fabulous exhibit on this fetish. More mundanely, we see hints of it in all those odd couples: little, reedy men and large, "ample" women. I met one couple where the size difference was so profound, the husband was referred to intimately as "The Dildo" — his whole body was seen as a sexual organ relative to his massive partner's bulk and stature.

Pogonophilia — The fixation on bearded men

Once, interviewing a woman with this fetish, I showed her four pictures of naked men: a well-endowed eighteen-year-old model, an extremely thin bearded man in his early thirties, a heavily muscled former professional athlete in his late forties, and Peter North, the porn star. Asked to choose the most "virile and masculine" of the group, she selected the bearded man instantly. What I didn't tell her was that the bearded man had terminal cancer and was quite seriously ill. Her selection directly defies the view that our choices of "attractiveness" are driven by an instinctual appraisal of health and reproductive capacity. When I presented a Photoshop-modified picture of the man without his beard, she no longer recognized him. In fact, she was repelled.

Chremastistophilia — Excitement at being robbed or held up

I've met several chremastistophiles, all of whom had been arrested on petty charges at some point in their lives — drug possession, minor theft, etc. All expressed a strong libido, but also a climax dysfunction. They got aroused, they just didn't get off easily.

What magical thing finally provided that long-awaited release? The experience of being taken advantage of — which is different from out-and-out assault. It's a variation on biastophilia, the perverse attraction to being raped, but the key distinction seems to lie in the impending threat itself. "Give me your wallet and nobody gets hurt" — that kind of thing.

One British gentleman proudly displayed the scar he received from a knife wound in the course of a mugging — an event which he said led to a spontaneous ejaculation, the most powerful and substantial he'd ever experienced. (While the sight of the knife wound continues to unhinge me.)

Agalmatophilia — The arousal by statues, mannequins, dolls and effigies

With so many animatronic characters in our midst, we're really not that far from artificial sex partners. Japanese robotics innovators are already on the case. Wouldn't sex robots solve many problems associated with prostitution: moral, social, hygienic? In any case, this fetish casts a rather ominous light on seemingly harmless activities like doll collecting, and even ventriloquism — after all, a ventriloquist's job is to merge with the immobilized puppet in question. One Oakland woman I met derived acute arousal from being treated like a doll or mannequin by her female partner, whether she was being stripped, posed, redressed into clothes again, or restrained. The process of manipulation, the loss of all will and direction, brought her a kind of release that she said (tellingly), "left orgasms for dead."

Acrotomophilia/Apotemnophilia — Attraction to amputees and the fascination with being an amputee

Perhaps because of the emotions stirred up, there's now quite a bit of literature about these intertwined subjects. Much of the focus has been on the self-mutilation aspect — masochism, gross misperceptions of body image. In my view there should be more emphasis on teratophilia (which literally means the love of monsters, but should be understood to mean attraction to physically unusual people) or abasiophilia, the attraction to the disabled. In both of these latter cases, the prevailing attitude isn't one of condescension or humiliation as some might expect — it's more like worship.

I myself once had a sexual affair with a female dwarf, or "little person," and while there was an ultimate sadness to the social side of the relationship (a phenomenon the woman was keenly familiar with and very forgiving about), the sex itself did have a hypernatural intensity. She was ten years older as well, and I often think of her, wondering if her grace and dignity was a mask for inner anguish or the mark of someone who understood many things I didn't.

The one-legged call girl I met long ago in the Bay Area got her popularity directly from this fetish, and she was very quick to correct my first impression that she had turned to prostitution because of her disability. She was quite proud of her vocation and was treated with great respect by her devotees.

The same thing can't be said of those who fantasize about being an amputee themselves. This does seem to enter a frightening realm of mental instability. On the other hand, I did meet one man who had taken up knitting as a hobby, and had made himself a series of knitted body suits designed to create the illusion of being an amputee. Who doesn't admire a man who knits?

Formicophilia — Any guesses?

I once wrote this word on a blackboard and someone honestly believed it had something to do with Formica. (How that would work I'm not sure.) Actually, it's the obsession with very small creatures — like insects, for example. In this case, ants. I'm not going to say anymore; this one is too squirmy even for me.

Arachibutyrophilia — You won't believe me when I tell you

I have to include this one for two reasons. One, people always think I'm pulling their leg. (Which is another fetish entirely.) And two, this was the askew fixation that first got me thinking about the whole subject in a really personal way. It actually isn't anywhere near as out there as the others — it's simply a highly specialized niche in the world of mess and food fixations. The object of excessive interest — the medium if you will — is peanut butter. Good old PB. But lots of it.

I discovered this when the couple that lived beneath me got into a bit of trouble. They'd invited another couple to join them, and the other female had a severe — and undiagnosed — allergy to peanut butter. Moments after they'd smeared her with the chunky goo, her breathing stepped up toward hyperventilation, and even when scrubbed down with wet towels, her skin took on the bloated, bubbled texture of a salted cane toad. (And I feel professionally obliged to report that while concerned, her partner nonetheless showed unmistakable signs of arousal.) Within fifteen minutes, she resembled a giant tongue, and would never be able to tolerate even the whiff of peanut butter again.

Melophilia — The erotic worship of music

I spoke with a man in Chicago who was open enough to demonstrate to me his melophilia. When listening to Yo-Yo Ma's haunting cello on the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon soundtrack, he became stimulated to the point of an explosive orgasm. He had an exceptionally long penis, which he admitted never became fully erect without the aid of music. A woman in Portland demonstrated a similar reaction (like a petit mal seizure) to James Brown. (I don't blame her.) Elements of this fetish are be deeply ingrained in our culture and perhaps even our biology. Think of the dance frenzies, the religious convulsions and holy rolling. Perhaps as the effects of music become better understood, we will open whole new channels of sexual gratification.

Eremophilia — The exceptional arousal within deserted places

I don't think it would be honest or professional to write about fetishes and not admit to one myself. Whether it's the husk of a lost highway gas station or a vine-choked shell of old motel down in the Everglades, derelicts are intensely erotic to me. Some of the hottest sex I've ever had was in the ruins of a mining village in Australia, pounding my girlfriend in the sunlit stillness. I think she knew the urge was irresistible. Being in a remote, abandoned place produces an almost painfully hard erection in me — a deeper hunger, almost like a drug craving. Freud said we owe ourselves some discretion, so I'll leave it at that.

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