Is it Possible to Get Rid of a Fetish?

Restraints on a velvet red covering.
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A reader wrote to me to ask if I thought it was possible to get rid of a fetish. They described their particular fetish and shared that they felt that it was ruining their life. They had lost romantic partners over the fetish, they found it difficult to have the sex they wanted, they were coming to feel as if their life would be better without this thing they called a fetish. 

I didn't have an easy answer for them, but we began the email exchange with me pointing out that there are two things we needed to clarify before we could get to something resembling an answer. First, we'd need to agree on what we think a fetish is. Not the specific focus of the fetish (e.g. leather, feet, nurses, bending your elbow a particular way), but what exactly this thing is (a thought, a desire, something felt, etc...) Next, we'd have to figure out what it meant to get rid of a fetish. Does it mean you want to:

  • stop thinking about your fetish?
  • stop having a desire to act it out?
  • stop finding this fetish physically, emotionally, intellectually, maybe spiritually stimulating?

These differences matter. Here's the rest of what I shared with the reader.

What Is a Fetish?

A fetish isn't exactly like a hobby, and it isn't exactly like a belief. Actually, there's no agreement on what a fetish is, and how or why some of us come to have them. If you ask a sex therapist they might tell you a fetish is an intense cognitive association between an object and a sexual response.

If you ask a psychiatrist they might tell you a fetish is a result of some unbalanced brain chemistry. One person might tell you it's in your genes, another might say it's a religious experience handed down from generation to generation, something tied to the spirit as much as the flesh. But none of this helps you immediately.

Since I have no idea what a fetish is, I'd be inclined to say that "getting rid of it" isn't going to be that easy. If it were only a thought, or action, or feeling, then there are plenty of self-help books and mental health professionals who are available to help you shift your behaviors, thoughts, and emotions (with varying degrees of success of course). But my experience with fetishes suggests that they are much more complicated.

Changing Anything Is Complicated

We aren't robots that can be programmed and reprogrammed, so if you want to change something about yourself you're going to need to start by asking (and answering) some questions. Do you think of this fetish as being part of you? Do you think of it as an unwanted feeling? Are you embarrassed by it? Are you ashamed of it? Can you imagine what it would be like to not have this thing that you find sexually arousing?

If you're feeling stuck, one exercise I recommend is to think about a similar situation that has no sexual connotation. What if there was something else about yourself you wanted to change? Something that wasn't just physical, but emotional and intellectual as well. How would you go about making that sort of change?

Sometimes when it comes to sex, our own values plus social norms about sexuality can get in the way of us thinking creatively about ourselves and our capacity for change.

Finding Support

If you're not sure where to start even thinking about this, then working with a counselor or therapist maybe a good place to start. Just be aware that all professionals have their own beliefs and values about sex, and about fetishes, and they may or may not push you to see things their way. This pushing could be subtle or obvious.

Starting with a certified sex therapist may reduce the chances that you'll get someone with an agenda, but not necessarily. To the extent that fetishes have a cognitive component, meaning that the way we think and what we think is involved, there are probably cognitive-behavioral therapists who will tell you they can help you get rid of a fetish. And they could be right. It's impossible for me to say. Although I can say with some certainty that anyone who offers you a guarantee is someone to be avoided.

Making Sure You're Doing What You Want

Because you are clear that you want to get rid of this fetish I wanted to start by answering your question as directly as I can. But I wouldn't feel right if I didn't say something about the pressure all of us feel to be sexual in a socially appropriate way. One of the great lies we're told about sex is that there's one healthy way to be sexual or one "right" way to be. There isn't. But this idea is so pervasive and the arguments against being our own unique sexual selves are so compelling, that many of us get to a point where we can't even imagine something different.

If you have taken time for yourself and thought about what you want and arrived at a decision that you don't want to experience a fetish, that's absolutely okay and your choice.

But if you want to get rid of some part of you because you think you "should" or because you believe you will always feel sexual shame or guilt about it, then I want to point out that it may be possible for you to have your fetish and have the life you want.

It might not be easy, and it will probably involve compromise, but everyday people create sexual lives and communities that resist the dominant idea of what sex should be. It is possible (and often beautiful) to create something that works just for you. It's scary and comes with risks, but it's possible and wonderful. If you're looking for more information along those lines just let me know and I'll be happy to help brainstorm with you.