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The fetish rainbow

July 2, 2017
By Gonzalo Renato Quintana Zunino

Women and men may not develop fetishes in the same manner. Scientific research has shown that there are many similarities between the two sexes with respect to how fetishes develop. Interestingly, it has also revealed a few interesting sex-dependent differences. I invite you to sit back and relax, while I illustrate for you how scientists use rats to gain important insights into how men and women develop sexual fetishes.

It is just after midday in a sexual behaviour research laboratory at Concordia University. A scientist plucks Tiffany, a female rat, from her home cage, and takes her into the laboratory, putting her in a special chamber. The chamber has been setup perfectly for Tiffany’s comfort; the bedding is fluffy and the lightning is just right. Suddenly, Tiffany spots a male rat, Francisco, on the opposite side of the chamber. Not only is he a stud, but he is also wearing a fetching little jacket that hugs him in all the right places. Tiffany feels an instant attraction to Francisco. Luckily for her, the feeling is more than mutual. Shortly after meeting, both rats will be ready to take a metaphorical “roll in the hay”.

Fetishes and sexual arousal
a female rat with a jacket

However, what Tiffany and Francisco do not realize is that engaging in sex together will cause their brain wiring to change. This fosters new associations between the physical pleasure they experience while having sex and certain stimuli present in their immediate environment while they are doing the deed. Later, long after her hot encounter with Francisco, whenever Tiffany sees the jacket, it will trigger memories of that special night, causing her to become ripe with sexual desire. Unbeknownst to her, Tiffany has developed a sexual fetish for males in jackets.

Fetishes and sexual arousal

Research has shown that we learn from our experiences to associate events and stimuli from the environment. Sexual experiences are no different. Every time we engage in sex, our brain actively creates memories of the event while connecting our feelings and sensations with certain cues from the environment. Studies have shown that humans and other animals can develop fetishes, and that these fetishes can also control sexual arousal. In one study, male rats that had previously engaged in sex while wearing a jacket did not engage in sex when they did not have the jacket on. This suggests that fetishes may be capable of controlling sexual arousal, and ultimately sexual performance.

Fetishes and partner preference

Fetishes may also control partner preference. In another study, both male and female rats copulated with a sexually-receptive jacketed partner on multiple occasions. Later, when given the chance to mate again, males displayed a preference to copulate with jacketed females over non-jacketed females. Females, on the other hand, displayed no observable preference towards either jacketed or un-jacketed males. However, when female were first exposed to sexually-receptive males in jackets and not-sexually-receptive unjacketed males, they later displayed a preference to copulate with jacketed males. Altogether, these studies demonstrate that both male and female rodents are capable of developing visual/tactile fetishes. Interestingly, females appear to require more than just sex to develop them, while males appear to develop them more readily.

Studies such as these provide fascinating insights into the sex-based differences of sexual fetishes development. These differences in fetish development add yet another color to the glorious rainbow that is human sexuality. This should be a source of celebration of our sexual diversity, starting by acknowledging and respecting them. Embracing one’s sexuality to its full potential, within the boundaries of respect and consent, can greatly enhance one’s quality of life. Why not give something new a try tonight. Do you like chocolate? Do you like sex? Why not try combining both? Maybe you will enjoy it, or maybe you won’t. All that I know for sure is that if you never try, you will never know.

About the author

Gonzalo Renato Quintana Zunino is a Psychologist and PhD candidate in Behavioural Neuroscience of Sexual Behaviour at Concordia University. His research endeavours are centered on the exploration of the mechanisms behind sexual behaviours. Particularly, he is works to elucidate the behavioral and neural mechanisms of partner preference, fetishes, and female orgasm.

As a young expert, Mr. Quintana Zunino actively promotes the dissemination of scientific knowledge on sex and sexuality to the general public in both English and Spanish, particularly through a Spanish-speaking website called "Ciencia del sexo" and his Twitter account.

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