Fetish vs. Kink: The Quick and Dirty Difference (Plus A Note On Mental Health) [NSFW / BDSM]

Warning: This post contains sexually oriented topics. If you are uncomfortable with or do not with to see this sort of content, please do not click the “Read More”.

One thing I see a lot of in the BDSM community is the penchant to use the terms Kink and Fetish interchangeably. The reality, however, is that there is a bit of a difference between the two.

Firstly, however, I want to get something out of the way. That is that BDSM itself does not have to be and is not always sexual in nature. Kinks and Fetishes, however, are and require sexual gratification or pleasure to be derived from the items and actions in order to be classified as such. This is not a snipe at Asexual and similar individuals, but a fact; a lack of sexual gratification and pleasure means that the item, person, or activity in question is not a Kink or Fetish as they are absolutely sexual in nature and definition.

Now, lets start with the bare bones definitions. This is always my favorite place to start because definitions provide a very important foundation- and as per definition, a Kink and Fetish may be defined as:

Kink: [iN] A person’s unusual sexual preference; bizarre or unconventional sexual preferences or behaviors.

Fetish: [N] A form of sexual desire in which gratification is linked to an abnormal degree to a particular object, item of clothing, part of the body, etc; any object or nongenital part of the body that causes a habitual erotic response or fixation

These base definitions, however, don’t quite capture the slight nuances between them when it comes to use within the BDSM community. That simple nuance is that “Kink” refers to an action, and “Fetish” refers to an item.

1950’s Housewife / Household, Domestic servitude, Sensory Deprivation, Sensual Play, Maid Service, Energy Play, and Obedience Training, are only a few of my own personal Kinks. Likewise, things like Dollification, Bloodplay, Human Furniture, Contortion, Exhibition and Voyeurism are other general examples of various Kinks- or an activity or action that someone participates in in a sexual manner in order to obtain sexual pleasure or gratification.

Fetishes, on the other hand, are things which are not inherently sexual, but from which a person still gains sexual satisfaction. Lace, Heels, and Real Fur are a few of my own, but other examples include feet, rope, and many more items.

One thing closely related to this, but which is rarely discussed, is the subject of Paraphilias; Paraphilia is ultimately a catch all term used to describe sexual interests in objects, situations, actions, or individuals that are atypical of what the person’s resident social and cultural views of “normal” sexuality are defined as… Which brings me to my next point that is rarely- if ever- considered.

In all cases- whether speaking of general Paraphilias, or of the more niche Kinks and Fetishes- there is a requirement for further consideration: That is that, in order to qualify as a Paraphilia, Kink, or Fetish, the object of the person’s sexual gratification must be considered “sexually unconventional” as per the standards of the society and culture in which the participate is immersed. If it is not considered sexually unconventional or otherwise atypical of the social or cultural standards, then it is not a Paraphilia, Kink, or Fetish.

In other words, you may really enjoy giving Blowjobs, but doing so is not a Kink as it is considered (at least in the US) a normal sexual behavior or activity; it is not atypical, therefore it does not actually constitute any of these. However, if you lived in a culture where Blowjobs were uncommon and considered “atypical sexual acts”, then it would qualify.

In terms of how Paraphilia intersects with Kink and Fetish, however? Both of these are technically a Paraphilia and may be linked to or have an associated Paraphilic term- such as Asphyxiophilia for those who sexually enjoy being strangled or having their breath intake withheld such as what occurs during certain forms of Breath Play.

There are, however, plenty Paraphilias that are not linked to Kinks and Fetishes- such as Pedophilia and Necrophilia, both of which are classified as Paraphilic Disorders… Which, again, brings me to another point: Unbeknownst to the greater BDSM community (in my experience, at least) is the fact that these things can sometimes pose a legitimate Mental Health concern for practitioners and may be classified as a Mental Health Disorder, Sexual Disorder, or Paraphilic Disorder.

Overall, S/M was classified as a mental illness at one point- having been originally introduced by Richard von Krafft-Ebing and then modified and expanded upon by Freud. Reasonably, Freudian Psychological theory has been largely discredited and his theories are no longer widely used within psychology due to being inaccurate, relying heavily on outdated ideas of sexuality and human nature, and also heavily reliant on religious ideology in order to function in the first place. However, S/M as a Mental Illness (along with several other items) has not been wholly removed from the DSM- and for good reason: There are still levels at which Kinks, Fetishes, and certain other sexual behaviors can present as a legitimate Sexual Disorder.

What has changed, though, is the limitations on the diagnosis of such activities as a Sexual and Mental Health Disorder; the classification of S/M as a mental illness now has relatively severe limitations for its classification and diagnosis. Speaking of general BDSM linked Mental and Sexual Disorders, those limitations for diagnosis of S/M tendencies as a legitimate illness are:

The fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning, involve a violation of consent, and be present as the sole means of sexual gratification for a period greater than 6 months.

– DSM-IV-TR; Paraphrased

In terms of Paraphilic Disorders specifically?

Most people with atypical sexual interests do not have a mental disorder. To be diagnosed with a Paraphilic Disorder, DSM-V requires that people with these interests feel personal distress about their interest- not merely distress resulting from society’s disapproval; or have a sexual desire or behavior that involves another person’s psychological distress, injury, or death; or a desire for sexual behaviors involving unwilling persons or persons unable to give legal consent.

– DSM-V-TR

Likewise, the methods of classification have also changed drastically over the years- up to and including a change in the language used and names of the disorders themselves.

To further define the line between an atypical sexual interest and [a] disorder, the Work Group revised the names of these disorders to differentiate between the behavior itself and the disorder stemming from that behavior (i.e., Sexual Masochism in DSM-IV will be titled Sexual Masochism Disorder in DSM-V). 

It is a subtle but crucial difference that makes it possible for an individual to engage in consensual atypical sexual behavior without inappropriately being labeled with a mental disorder; with this revision, DSM-V clearly distinguishes between atypical sexual interests and mental disorders involving these desires or behaviors.

– DSM-V-TR

These limitations are not ones under which most BDSM practitioners who participate in S/M activities qualify. As a result, most participants in BDSM who are involved in or whom participate in S/M and similarly derived activities do not qualify as suffering from a mental illness that can be diagnosed by a professional Psychologist. Ergo, it is not a problem that affects too many members of the BDSM community.

Still, it is important that we know about it and continue to discuss it when speaking on Kinks, Fetishes, and related sexual behaviors.

tumblr_od9z4kycsq1urp3f5o1_540

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Fetish vs. Kink: The Quick and Dirty Difference (Plus A Note On Mental Health) [NSFW / BDSM]

  1. I’ve read that the medical/psychological definition of a “fetish” is something without which sexual climax cannot be reached, have you ever seen that? (I’m not sure if that was a bad definition, an old one, or one still in use)

    Like

    1. It depends, actually. There is a lot of debate about whether or not the clinical and psychological definition of Fetishes (which are a subgroup of Paraphilia) in this manner is entirely accurate. It is also the definition used predominantly by the ICD- which is different in a lot of ways from the definition the DSM holds and the way the DSM classifies things. So really, a lot of that debate is heavily determined by and reliant on which branch of Psychological Theory you subscribe to (or which manual you used based on that theory).

      Ultimately, though, it boils down to the fact that not all Fetishists require the presence of their Fetish in order to achieve sexual gratification, ergo not all people are diagnoseable as Fetishists by clinical standards- and yet they are still Fetishists and meet the definition of such…. Just not on a clinical level (which, again, varies depending on the psychological theory you subscribe to, and the particular diagnostic manual you are using).

      Regardless, all sides can generally agree on the fact that- while they may ultimately be abnormal sexual interests (compared to the scope of greater social acceptability concerning sexuality, sexual interest, etc)- where it actually becomes a problem is when it presents as Clinical Fetishism, a Paraphilic Disorder (or other Sexual Disorder), or as a lesser symptom of a greater Mental Illness; in other words, both the ICD-X and DSM-V only consider it a legitimate problem and illness if (A) it persists for a period greater than six months [DSM and ICD] (B) they are the only or primary source of sexual gratification [ICD only] (C) interfere with normal sexual intercourse [IDC only] (D) cause significant emotional, psychological, and mental distress [DSM and ICD], and (E) cause impairment of social (and other) function [DSM and ICD].

      So to answer your question: Yes… But also no…. It’s stupid and complicated but it shouldn’t be.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s