Having gotten feedback from therapists and non-therapists and from people in and out of the kink community about my episode on fetishes on Dr. Nazanin Moali's Sexology podcast, there are two themes that seem to resonate:
- Normalizing fetishes with examples can help people put aside the biases and pre-conceived notions that they have about fetishes and better understand how they operate.
- It is important to recognize that fetishes can be normalized and that many people can have them to varying degrees however it is equally important to realize that fetishes can become disordered.
These two themes are two of the most common themes in my work: normalizing and recognizing whether or not something is disordered.
The normalizing comes up in my work in alternative lifestyles communities because there can be a stigma about how people live their lives and how people practice their intimacy. This stigma can lead to shame and shame can lead to a number of things including not living a fulfilling life, to hiding wants and needs, and to acting on wants and needs without consent creating breaches of trust. I often use examples from outside of the alternative lifestyles communities that resonate with examples from within the communities to demonstrate that the various kinds of relationships are not all that different.
The normalizing also comes up with my work in general. It is reasonable to be anxious when you are going on a job interview or meeting someone new. It is reasonable to be depressed if your pet dies or you don't get that job you wanted. For whatever reason, mental health states and moods can be stigmatized. It may be socially acceptable for me to have high cholesterol or high blood pressure though please don't let anyone know that I can be anxious or depressed! It is this stigma that can lead to people not seeking the help they want or need. Sometimes citing an example outside of the client's experience can help demonstrate the things in common that their situation has with others.
The recognizing whether something is disordered is an important part of my work. Whether it is depression, anxiety, or stress; whether it is relationship choices; whether it is communication or lack thereof, I believe it is important to understand whether what is happening is a reasonable reaction to a situation or if it is a disordered reaction.
Though I use normalizing above, I use reasonable in my elaboration on reactions because I don't know that there is an objective standard of normal. I use disordered because I believe that something can be out of sorts without being a diagnosable disorder. Having disordered eating is different that having an eating disorder.
As I spoke about with fetishes in the podcast, one of the key things when examining an issue that a client presents is the impact that the issue is having on their lives. I have had a couple come in because they were concerned about some disagreements and arguing that they were having, and we determined that these things were reasonable and, in fact, were a part of adjusting to the new situation of living together. I have had individual clients bring up the shame they felt for having the sexual desires they had. When we looked into the desires and the shame, we determined that the desires were objectively fine. The initial impact can seem serious though when examined more closely, the reaction is reasonable. Disordered versions of these include some kinds of acting out with the couple that makes it difficult for them to function or the individual acting out their desire without consent.
I am happy with my Sexology episode because it spoke not only to a specific topic--sexual fetishes--but also spoke to some important concepts in therapy in general.