Also referred to as paraphilia or compulsive sexual behavior (hypersexuality), fetishism is a disorder involving an obsession with sexual feelings, thoughts and desires that often times involves non-living objects. The person becomes aroused by wearing or touching the object, for example, touching a woman’s lingerie or shoes. Other sub-categories of fetishism include pedophilia, voyeurism and exhibitionism. The fetish may be integrated into sexual activity with a willing partner and in extreme cases, can replace the sexual partner all together. Relationships with human beings can be avoided by the individual when the fetish becomes the sole object of the person’s desire. Regardless of what the fetish revolves around, any kind of sexual obsession can result in lowered self esteem and can damage relationships, both personally and professionally.


There are a number of symptoms that fall under fetishism. Because there are so many different types of fetishism, the symptoms definitely vary from person to person

  • Intense sexual impulses, often making the individual feel as if they are out of control
  • Use of compulsive sexual behaviors as a way to escape from reality (personal relationships, friendships, careers etc)
  • Use of compulsive sexual behaviors as a way to escape other issues (depression, anxiety disorders, stress, loneliness etc.)
  • Issues maintaining emotional closeness
  • Achieving no satisfaction in sexual activities
  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • Engaging in extramarital affairs/being unfaithful
  • Excessive masturbation
  • A fixation on a particular object or person
  • Having sex with anonymous partners
  • Having sex with prostitutes
  • Exhibitionism
  • Excessive use of pornography
  • Engaging in sadistic or masochistic sex


As fetishism varies from person to person, the causes vary as well. Many health experts believe that fetishism is caused by childhood trauma such as sexual abuse or the repeated exposure to certain objects or situations that can be sexually arousing. An imbalance of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) can be related to compulsive sexual behavior as well as increased levels of sex hormones. Certain diseases that affect parts of the brain such as epilepsy and dementia also have been linked to fetishism.


The first step in diagnosing fetishism is a routine physical examination by a medical doctor. A physical examination can eliminate physical illness that can be contributing to the sexual compulsion such as brain damage of some kind. After physical illness has been ruled out, a psychiatrist or psychologist will perform a mental health examination to determine the overall emotional well being, sexual thoughts, sexual behaviors, family relationships, relationships with friends and the use of drugs and alcohol. If a compulsive sexual disorder is diagnosed, there are a number of treatments that can be administered to control those sexual desires.


In the majority of cases, fetishism is treated and controlled by counseling and therapy. Self-help groups and groups with other members of the community suffering from the same issues are other therapeutic methods for treating this disorder. The goals of these different kinds of therapies are to teach the patient how to manage their urges and reduce excessive urges. Because sexual compulsions often tie in with other mental health disorders, you may need other treatments beyond the treatments for fetishism. Certain medications are used for sexual compulsions along with therapy. These medications balance certain chemicals in the brain as well as aiding managing certain behaviors. Mood stabilizers, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and hormone balancing medications have all been used in treating fetishism.


Often referred to as “flashing,” exhibitionism is a fetish that involves exposing ones private parts to another person in a situation in which they would not normally be exposed. One can expose their breasts, genitalia or bare buttocks in an attempt to gain attention in an extravagant manner. Though physical contact with other people is rare, the exhibitionist feels the need to startle, shock or impress his victims. Although “indecent exposure” is illegal, the individual rarely makes any harmful advances against their victims.


Also known as “peeping toms,” voyeurism is a disorder which involves one achieving sexual arousal by observing and staring at one who is undressing or is engaged in a sexual activity without their knowledge that someone is watching. The arousal the individual receives while watching their victim is often accompanied by masturbation. The voyeur rarely announces his or her presence and rarely physically involves the individual in their sexual act.


Pedophiles are individuals who have sexual urges, behaviors and fantasies that involve illegal sexual activities with a child under the age of thirteen. Pedophilic behaviors include:

  • Forced sexual acts upon the child
  • Forcing the child to watch him/her masturbate
  • Rubbing genitals against the child
  • Undressing the child

Some pedophiles are exclusively attracted to children and are not attracted to adults at all. Some pedophiles victimize children they are unrelated to while others victimize children that are closely related to them (incest). Predatory pedophiles threaten to harm their victims if they disclose the abuse to anyone. Pedophilia constitutes rape and is a felony offense that is punishable by imprisonment.