Theoretical explanation for kinkyness.
March 5, 2005 12:25 AM   Subscribe

So has anyone tried to explain sexual kinks and fetishes? I don't mean in a cataloguing sense, but in the same sense that an evolutionary biologist explains a fish's tail shape. Where it came from, what purposes it serves, that sort of thing.
posted by kavasa to Science & Nature (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

From Wikipedia:

Although Freud's theory on fetishes may seem peculiar and was based on anecdotal evidence rather than empirical, he had discovered a critical aspect of human sexuality: the relationship between human orgasms and conditioning. Ongoing studies make this relationship more clear. For example, in a study published by Dr. Lique M. Coolen on April 14, 2003 at an Experimental Biology conference in San Diego, California, male rats accustomed to having sex in a particular cage will have elevations of "pleasure-inducing chemicals in the brain" simply from being in the particular cage, even if a female or a female scent are not present. Sexual conditioning occurred. It has been hypothesized that human sexuality may similarly be tied to conditioning, and this may explain the phenomenon of sexual fetishism.

This is consistent with the theory that fetishism derives from behavioural imprinting in early childhood, a phenomenon which is not only supported by anecdotal evidence in humans, but can be demonstrated experimentally in animals.

It is also hypothesized that the modern world provides many opportunities for superstimulus based on objects that both mimic and exaggerate natural stimuli.

posted by Jairus at 12:49 AM on March 5, 2005

I think complex brains are more than capable of producing behaviors that *can't* be explained the way an evolutionary biologist explains a fish's tail shape. Humans have evolved capacities for extended learning, curiousity, experimentation and creativity, an obviously useful mix which can easily result in a wide range of behaviors - like sexual fetishes - with no direct evolutionary justification themselves.

I tend to gag whenever I read Freud on sex, but behavioral conditioning on top of the normally curious primate brain does seem the most likely avenue.
posted by mediareport at 2:37 AM on March 5, 2005

Yeah, I would third Freud on fetishes. (Personally, I think Freud is great.) But I'll note that there are really two kinds of 'fetish' behavior that Freud thinks about:

1. Substitutive fetishes, like a shoe fetish, where a person's desire for sex is displaced onto desire for an object. Freud has different explanations for this: it can come about because of association (i.e., your sexy babysitter when you were six, to whom you had a secrect sexual attraction, wore high heels every day [!]); and it can come about because of neurosis (i.e., fear of sex, because of some kind of unfortunate early event or association, makes you seek pleasure elsewhere).

And 2. Sadism and masochism, which have no object but do have a partner. Freud first notes how rare true sadism and true masochism are: for him, BDSM that also involves regular sex at some point wouldn't count, and would be explained by similar associative factors to (1) above. In terms of 'real' sadism and masochism, he explains them early in his career in terms of your super-ego (the part of your psyche that is like an irrational, internalized version of your parents). You are a masochist when you crave punishment, often because you have felt a lack of parental love as a child (some children, Freud notes, do bad things to be punished on purpose); you are a sadist (a much rarer condition) when you have for some reason externalized this super-ego, becoming more like a parental figure as a means of getting closer to one. Later in his career Freud argues beyond this that we have a 'death drive,' an in-born instinct sometimes manifested as aggression, sometimes as a desire to 'die in our own way,' and this might explain sadism/masochism. Freud's position, by and large, is that in BDSM relationships there is no real sadism or masochism going on, because it's a consensual, safe situation.

So that's, to the best of my recall, Freud on sexual fetishes, the quick version. Freud approaches them therapeutically, wondering if they can be cured; and you can take that or leave it as you'd like. I do tend go with mediareport on the idea that evolutionary psychology (my least favorite discipline, it's true) is under-equipped to explain weird, psyche-based phenomena like sexual fetish. Also, while humans have evolved to have some common characteristics as a species (i.e., we all can function on 8 hours sleep; we can all eat chocolate without dying, etc.), it would plainly be quite different to offer an evolutionary origin for a behavior like sexual fetish.

Now, Freud is useful for a bunch of reasons: you can perform all the experiments with mice you want, sniffing all the while at Freud's anecdotal evidence with human patients, but no mouse is going to have a shoe fetish or want to dress up like a giant plush toy. The mouse experiment has really proven that a human behavior we all know about (finding a place you've had sex before sexy) also takes place in mice. So these kinds of speculative psychological/psychoanalytical explanations, many of which were written from 1900 to about 1970, are probably some of the better explanations you'll find of fetishism.
posted by josh at 5:29 AM on March 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's only one possible explanation of one particular fetish, but V.S. Ramachandran speculates that foot fetishes have to do with the feet being next to the genitals on sensory cortex (see Homonculus representations). He arrived at this theory after studying several people with phantom limbs post amputation: some people with phantom feet felt orgasms in their phantom. Somehow the part of the brain that is no longer receiving signals from the lost limb gets taken over by adjacent areas. Ramachandran thinks that the overlap must exist in everyone, and the lack of sensory input from the amputated limb unveils the connection (else there's no way to explain how phantom limbs appear immediately after amputation). So maybe those underlying connections are a little more overt in foot fetishists.
posted by kmel at 5:43 AM on March 5, 2005

It has been hypothesized that human sexuality may similarly be tied to conditioning

No pun intended.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 5:59 AM on March 5, 2005

I don't necessarily disagree with anything written above.

But I'm not altogether certain a conditioning explanation works on the evolutionary biology level. Certainly it might in a fundamental reality/circumstances way, but that doesn't really explain why it came about in a historical DNA mutation way - in comparison with the lower primates, for instance.

Fetishism is but one manifestation of this complex behaviour called sexuality. All of this behaviour (IMHO) lies on a continuum from the really perverse abusive fetish to conservative missionary position twice a year types, with all other flavours in between.

To me, this great range of possible sexual behaviours arose in tandem with our rise in intellectual abilities. A wide range of behaviour logically means that the greatest number of persons will find partners doesn't it? Thus increasing the chance of procreation. Evolution bestows upon a species some advantage to keep the species going - that's how I've always understood it.

And perhaps whether we head towards the S&M or toe nibbling or horsey-does-nursey behaviour is a product of the complexity of our backgrounds. And if the above is true, I guess we've all got the propensity to engage in or enjoy all possible behavioural types, but our personal peccadilloes are honed during our development.

[And btw kmel, when I studied biochem/molecular biology at university, one of the most interesting things I studied (taught by Nicole Kidman's daddy of all people) was a phenomenon experienced by a minority of female spinal cord injury patients - the phantom orgasm. Incredibly interesting on so many levels. I might try and do a bit of research (but I'm pretty sure there's not much around) and post an FPP in the coming days, if there's anything worthwhile]

Mind you, none of this properly accounts for the existence of homosexuality. But that is a very contentious area to approach with DNA in hand.

(all of this is just my opinion - but I doubt fetishism/kinks can be definitively explained --- too damn complex and relies upon subjective opinions)
posted by peacay at 8:23 AM on March 5, 2005

So, how does one get "conditioned" to enjoy being shat or pissed upon? I can understand the source of most kinks, but that one really has me baffled. Where does a kink like that come (no pun intended) from?

I knew a guy (online - don't ask) that got off on being shit on, but he either couldn't or wouldn't tell me what was behind it.
posted by deborah at 9:43 AM on March 5, 2005

Freud can also explain, or be seen as explaining, things that are on the surface completely non-sexual as being similar to sexual fetishes. For example someone who throws himself into cataloguing every last detail of someone's recording sessions, or something like that—that's his sex life.
posted by kenko at 10:51 AM on March 5, 2005

Sexual fetishes may have no purpose in terms of survival, but might be just consequences of the development of a strong sexual drive along with the other particulars of human psychology. Our biology didn't turn out the way it is because nature asked for a perfectly efficient surviving machine. What led to our being here and the way we are was because we (and our ancestors) are the ones who happened to have the biology that allowed us to survive better than our evolutionary competitors. Instead of looking at it as "survival of the fittest," you could look at it as "survival of the least crappy."

You could also ask what the purpose of headaches is.
posted by shoos at 12:25 PM on March 5, 2005

I don't think an evolutionary biologist would be that much interested in human sexual kinks and fetishes, simply because they been around for only a relatively short period of time (certainly only in the last 1000 years, for all practical purposes, and primarily in the last few hundred years). Anything that affects only a tiny part of one percent of a population for most of human existence (100 thousand years at a minimum, it appears) isn't likely to be very important.

Humans evolved in a world without fancy shoes, kinky toys, and leisure time (and space) to enjoy these. (In other words, what shoos said, roughly - sexual kinks and fetishes are likely to a byproduct of other aspects of human biology, and not a survival factor per se. )
posted by WestCoaster at 1:09 PM on March 5, 2005

shoos: that might be true, but it's not certain. I can imagine the power play inherent in a lot of fetishes (Dan Savage likes to say that all fetishes are about power disparities) as being directly selected for. Maybe animal cultures that are heavily stratified in terms of power and that recognize an alpha male tend to do better in the wilderness, and so evolution tends to encourage sexual attraction that's based along power lines. This is clearly touchy ground, and this just-so story might be seen as a bit offensive... so to head off complaints, I'm not saying that this is the case or that it's good, but it's a conceivable natural history.

Headaches have a very good evolutionary story behind them. When you have a fever or are otherwise ill, you need to conserve your energy. Pain located in the head is your body's way of telling you that you need to take it easy.

Very interesting story about Ramachandran's foot fetish, kmel. Peacay, I'd love to see a FPP on the phantom orgasm.
posted by painquale at 3:11 PM on March 5, 2005

Psychopathia Sexualis by Richard Von Krafft-Ebing is an essential text
posted by matteo at 4:10 PM on March 5, 2005

Instead of looking at it as "survival of the fittest," you could look at it as "survival of the least crappy."

IIRC, that's how Dawkins would prefer everyone to think about evolution: elimination of the weakest.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:36 PM on March 5, 2005

painquale, the headaches I had in mind were the common kind, not the kind associated with any apparent illness or other condition such as a fever. Just a plain-old splitting headache. If you could describe some survival advantage for that sort of thing I'd like to hear it.
posted by shoos at 7:33 PM on March 5, 2005

I doubt that anyone has a good argument as to why male pattern baldness provides any evolutionary advantage, for example. No scientist argues that every single human trait has a positive survival value. One mutation in DNA can have multiple effects; as long as the positive outweigh the negative, the negative will persist. And totally neutral traits associated with positive traits will persist even longer.
posted by WestCoaster at 8:50 PM on March 5, 2005

I don't think that's, ah, normal, shoos. What makes you think pain-splitting headaches are the norm? And what's that got to do with fetishes?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:56 PM on March 5, 2005

"I don't think an evolutionary biologist would be that much interested in human sexual kinks and fetishes, simply because they been around for only a relatively short period of time (certainly only in the last 1000 years, for all practical purposes, and primarily in the last few hundred years). Anything that affects only a tiny part of one percent of a population for most of human existence (100 thousand years at a minimum, it appears) isn't likely to be very important." --WestCoaster

What? Are you serious? Fetishism isn't a social fad, it's a mental, biological thing. Just because you live in a cave doesnt mean there isn't a certain thing that 'she' does that especially turns you on.

I am a bisexual, and I would say homosexuality is an advanced fetish. This is in no way demeaning it, but this would explain why it is a smaller percentage of the population who feel this way. Personally, I believe everyone is bisexual in some capacity but most force it out to the point that there is not even a "question" about one's sexuality. Just as there are points where a man can only be pleased without a condom, or when he is dominated, there are points where a man, or woman, is only pleased with their own sex. This we label as 'gay,' or 'homosexual.' People wonder if it's "programmed" in our "genes" (I hear that often). It's not necessarily like having blonde hair. While it is natural, again, I believe it is a preference like any other which is why it should not be deemed a negative thing (and the God issue is totally irrelevant and reserved for the fanatics).

Anyway I believe it's part conditioning and circumstance, and part the human propensity to have interests. Everybody is different, even "conformist sheep." Because of experiences. If everybody were forced through the exact same path in life with the exact same people and conversations, there might be more similarity, but our biological differences would still allow for variation. Anyway, why do you like M*A*S*H*, but he likes Desperate Housewives? Even on a "basic" level like that, everybody is subjective with everything. Sexual tastes are one of those things. Sex isn't this ethereal realm, although it is very difficult to understand at times. Thus, perhaps through conditioning and association (90% of things are based on association. What makes you crave foods? The sight or smell of it is associated with a time, any time, that you had it and enjoyed it. Or, what about earworms? Something has to make that intentionally or unintentionally enter your head) and human nature to be different is the cause.

Not be different in the sense as in to be "independent," rather, to do things. And by doing things, you are going through inherently different thought processes than everyone else in the world, and thus your experience are different, and thus you can experiment (intentionally or unintentionally) with what you enjoy.

What about the things you do not enjoy? Do you call them, anti-fetishes? Technically, they would be fetishes as well, no? Of a different sort, for sure. But just as you "discover" for whatever reason that you like facials, you also "discover" that you dislike scat.

This loops back to my general overall theory that fits into basically every discussion, which is, humans are subjective creatures, and anything objective that society attempts to place on them (which is also inherently flawed since humans are not perfect creatures, they inherently create "objective" things which in fact, are not objective but subjective in some way, thus, there is no such thing as true objectivity), like religion, laws, or social mandates, are innately un-compliable, realistically speaking. So, this also links to the basic fact that humans exist (in the sense that they are sentient) because of experience--events. Time (which is simply events happening in succession) passes, and memories are created. Nothing ethereal or metaphysical about memories and their properties, but they are powerfully connected with happiness, sadness, and whatever other emotions. Basic every day associations exist because of these memories (which were just subjective human events), which is why you "eat" at Joe's, Joe's is good, Joe's makes good food, this you know, thus Joe's becomes a viable and appealing option for feasting; And even complex human interactions like sexual fetishes are based on past experience in some way, even if that means lack of experience. Lack of experience inherently creates a whole nother realm (not unconnected, though) related to more "common" fetishes.

And this is another misuse of the word fetish--is not doggy style, or regular, condom, 20 minute sex a fetish? A widely accepted one, but because of interaction, and experience. Why does any meme exist? Interaction, association, and subconscious linking. This is why there exist social "paths" in life. A certain method that "works" or is deemed by a group of people or a person, for whatever reason (greed, obsession, joy, ulterior motives, subconscious motives, depression, jealous empathy, what have you), and is attempted to be imposed on society. This is why law reforming even exists. Laws can not be objective, and this is why laws are broken and exceptions are and should be made; everyone is different and everyone simply can not comply to a massive guideline. Cheating? Divorce? Lies? Secrets? (Unwanted) Drug Abuse? All subjective things but they only exist because of faux objectivity--societal expectations or laws that cause people to push things out or hide them.

This is also why I have been frequenting so often lately. It shows the human need to interact and "let it out." Again, this is why diaries are such a handy tool--no one likes to keep secrets, even ones they are not ashamed about at all--it would be a lot better and easier to have everyone know then have to deal with it. 90% of secrets are found out eventually. "I've kept this hidden for years," but now it's out. Human subjectivity again creates imperfections. If we were perfect we would be able to always lie correctly...nay; if we were perfect there would be no lying and truly everyone would be the same, we would achieve ultimate objectivity and perfection, we would be not be human, we would be an alien creature, one i dub for simplicity in conversation, Lentitudo Humanus (this is a very loose term as I have no knowledge of Latin and its declension, but I choose it for its meaning of "apathy" and "human cultur/society"). However even this vision is innately flawed becuase of my human subjectivity, for I am imagining, creating a situation which is literally impossible and is thus flawed and irrelevant--this applies to anything objective, as I said--crystal powers, astrology, God, what have you.

So, this was quite convoluted but this loops back to fetishes. Humans are imperfect. Humans are subjective. Through association and the biological and subconscious impulse to (quite greedily, but completely normal, even though society, through the very same impulse, desires to create the Lentitudo, this "Lentitude Human," created this very greed to be [falsely] objective and the desire to break that very objectivity...kind of like doublethink) please oneself in whatever way (projection of oneself in friends, which we dub as "altruism," or "friendship"), sexual fetishes happen to fall into one of the biological desires which enters through our subconscious, passes through our ("visible," "palpable," "tangible") consciousness, and ends with our genitalia.

Of course, the entire concept of sex is also directly tied to biological desire and need to reproduce, however, becuase of our (human) imperfections, the function of (recreational) sex in our lives is never (intentionally) to create a spawn. And even in ways to suppress the way in which spawning happens due to our subjective emotions and ultimately not uncommon, not horrible and completely understandable subconscious greed to pleasure oneself (since a baby might be detrimental to your life, and in order to maintain your happiness and state of mind, you must not have that baby, effectively "pleasing" yourself in a very roundabout, but logical way), one can find fetishes--creampie, or tantric sex, or the depression of the tube in the man's penis (pardon my ignorance of the proper term) to prevent orgasm, or rather, ejaculation.

As you can see by my preposterously long rant and analysis, fetishes are a complex thing. I have a feeling I left many things out, but that's my general idea on it. The main problem with society today is because of the (unachievable) desire for objectivity, despite the fact that since humans are all basically hypocritical (they hide what they enjoy, because of social norms or memes) on a basic level, society unrealistically and, of coursed, based on flawed (naturally human imperfect subjective) reasoning, suppresses these (naturally human imperfect subjective) acts and desires.

We can root this all, all, back to, as I said reproduction, survival, and as far as I can think right now, our basic desire to persist our existence, our biological survival "parasite" (as Asimov suggests in I, Robot) gene. Think about it: I always wonder why heroes try to stop bad guys who are trying to eliminate the entire universe--causing destruction adn unhappiness is one thing--there are still humans left to receive these actions and interpret them as fear and disaster, thus creating unrest, which is naturally a pejorative thing, because of humans (extra) desires (which are only there as a byproduct, a luxury of our complex existence; our basic function is obviously very shrouded becuase of our natural complexity, thus we do many basically pragmatically needless [although emotionally essential] things like create communities and go to the movies and smoke weed) to be happy, so things in life will succeed and one can persist in whatever fashion. However, if the universe is being eliminated (another impossible concept due to our natural human imperfection, imagining an imperfect situation which could not happen and would be un-feelable, but good for this example), there is no such thing as feeling, and even if you are terribly sad now, there is not point because if everything is destroyed there is no such thing as a bad feeling or regret, there is abys--or rather, lack of abyss, or nothing, because the concept of "absolute" nothing is again impossible, an imperfect vision, for things always occupy space or sentience always exists even if in just a basic form; there is no such thing and there never was such a thing as non-existence on a universal scale. On a personal level, yes, because of death--death exists. There is nothing after death. Heaven and Hell are once again imperfect visions which have no place in logical human life, however people cling to them because of, again, these subjective desires to have hope and happiness.

But as I was saying, survival--of the fittest or the weakest as it may be. I believe this is another reason why people create these utopias and religions to ultimately (greedily) please themselves, placate themselves, although they know it won't because of the persistent feeling of not being able to know everything, all the answers, which is natural, because once again an "objective," ubiquitous situation such as knowing the answers to "Life, the Universe and Everything (besides 42)," is unrealistic and impossible and naturally flawed. They don't try to create "answers" to the "unanswerable" or "knowledge" to the "unknowable," they create possibilities to the "unpossible (me fail english? that's unpossible!)." There is consolation in God and the afterlife which are selfish projections of mankind's imperfect desires. Atheism is one thing I do believe can be discovered on a logical, global scale (not in this day in age, simply as an isolated concept)--it is to get rid of the God meme and focus our imperfections and subjectivity on other things...interaction, creativity, anything.

And once again, to connect this with sexual fetishes, I loop this all back, saying that as an offshoot of our desire to reproduce (we like the feeling because it "feels good," giving us incentive to reproduce, or recreate the feeling without the detrimental effects to your life becuase of your [greedy but normal] desire to maintain your life as is yet still feel the sexual feeling; however accidents on a whole are good for humanity. I'm not saying there's this sentient human consciousness that swings in one ethereal direction or another like some people seem to think about the Earth [spiritualists...*shakes head condescendingly*], but as a general way for humanity to keep existing), we create these recreational (natural selection-wise-ly-irrelevant and superfluous) niches, fetishes, desires, SUBJECTIVITIES, to persist the good feeling, because of the greed.

And all because of subjectivity and absolutely 100% varied experiences in life (even "normal," unfulfilled, "conformist" lives), humans are masochistic becuase they create this objectivity which so harms them subconsciously, largely due to lack of logical thinking. Lack of consultation and analysis. Because of literal brain incapabilities, most people do not come to these conclusions. I hate to say and won't say my word is law, but, for example, with Atheism, I believe it is the logical path (logical, not common or necessarily human path, but rather the one I believe that would lead to ultimately less suffering and is part of my ultimate greedy desire for happiness and projection of myself in others)--rather, that, naturally through the process of questioning, if one truly does question, and doesn't let inhibitions or traditions or mandates get in the way, one will poke enough holes in the God meme to realise it is a falsitude (those who question and do not lose faith I believe have not completely rethought it all, and are "rationalising" in the very literal definition of the word--"to attribute (one's actions) to rational and creditable motives without analysis of true and especially unconscious motives." Thus, because they did not fully analyse and truly see what the meme is, they did not come to the logical conclusion). And since emotions and (selfish...there really is no such thing as true selflessness--some people try to take this as a pessimistic, "oh he's way too down on society," bleak, almost apocalyptic-image-thought-inducing isquite the opposite. Altruism in a bastardized way exists, but the way we explain it now as "being nice" is rooted in a lot more of the human subconscious desire to make a situation better and perhaps in a way make themselves be better--not that people should ever stop this...but as I said, selfish) desires in roundabout, convoluted, stupid illogical (but imperfect and in a way natural) ways actually end up harming the total happiness. Think about it--have you ever done something with good "intentions" but it came out badly? This is what any objectivity is based on. And this in a basic way we dub as societal masochism.

It all can be explained in a way. It's all based on the subconscious. You like heels and I like sadism, we are different, we are varied. If only the subconsciousness of individuals could be experimented with and probed (perhaps with dire results) as in Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (by Haruki Murakami, my favorite author [see? subjective!]), where it was opened up and toyed with and smashed around and led to a sort of mental immortality (not in the traditional way at all--I suggest you read the book, it's fantastic), then we could perhasp understand even better our irrational desires, and maybe then, create a sort of Lentitudo that would still be imperfect because of our natural human inability to grasp the concept of the unrealsitic impossible situation of objectivity, which is flawed in itself.

Anyway. That was really fucking long, and again, I think I forgot stuff. But truly, the sexual fetish is a fascinating, captivating topic...
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 9:14 PM on March 5, 2005

I am surprised that no one has yet mentioned Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, the 1886 landmark publication that essentially established this as a field for scientific inquiry.

It's quite readable, and worth reading, because even the parts that were completely wack-doodle wrong framed the debate for many decades.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:35 PM on March 5, 2005

I had always understood a fetish, in the formal sense, to be something without which a person could not get sexual satisfaction. Certainly you can redefine them in such a way so that everyone has them, but that's not how they're commonly defined.

Regardless, if something is entirely environmental in origin, it would seem to be of no interest to an evolutionary biologist. Fetishes seemed to be based in experiences in early life rather than on genetics. If a trait isn't heritable, it isn't susceptible to the pressures of evolution. You don't see evolutionary biologists searching for the reasons behind amputations, for instance.
posted by anapestic at 10:20 PM on March 5, 2005

Science cannot comprehend sex. It has tried and failed, and will continue to try and fail; sex is something you have to do to understand, and involvement precludes dispassionate observation. That is: science is good at observing human beings, but it's no good for telling us what it's like to be a human being. That's why scientists like Freud or Kinsey who try to approach this thing with the typical "scientific observer" approach (normally very successful with things besides humans) inevitably get their private lives tangled up in their work.

Sorry; I know you probably wanted to know if anybody's tried to scientifically understand fetishes. But that's just it; in my opinion, they inevitably fail. You might want to look into James Joyce; he spent a lot of time trying to understand sexual fetishes in a more head-on manner. But I suspect that people like Homer or Plato will tell you more about sex than he can, if you can get them to.
posted by koeselitz at 10:22 PM on March 5, 2005

And what's that got to do with fetishes?

"Plain-old" splitting headaches have nothing to do with fetishes AFAIK. They are just what I think may be an example of a common aspect of human biology that has no evolutionary function. And they're not unusual, not any more than fetishism is unusual.
posted by shoos at 10:24 PM on March 5, 2005

Headaches?!! That's a physical symptom called pain. It is a comingled development/evolution of the nervous system. Pain serves to tell us there is something wrong and/or to restrict our activities so that we reduce the amount of harm done. That is it's explanation in an evolutionary biological sense. The first animals that developed a nervous system developed painful sensations to help them SURVIVE.
Baldness is merely an inherited trait from your grandparents - it is just an example of genetic diversity same as blue eyes or big feet. They are examples of the scope of possibilities for the types of manifestation that exist in the human species. They don't particularly confer advantages (although in a sexual sense, sometimes they might - for instance when a bald person can't get laid in the community that he frequents.......but this is another argument ;-)

Some things/phenomena can't be observed individually in a discussion about evolutionary biology. Firstly, one must discern just what the overall subject is before ascribing theories of their origins onto them.

Anapastic: I had always understood a fetish, in the formal sense, to be something without which a person could not get sexual satisfaction. Certainly you can redefine them in such a way so that everyone has them, but that's not how they're commonly defined.

Very well put. I agree.

But I also think that one must go beyond a label such as fetishism and regard such flavours/kinks as merely being part of an overall behavioural system: human sexuality. If not, then it's not possible to discuss their evolutionary origins.

Perhaps kervasa didn't intend to look at the whole breadth of sexuality with their original question. But I suggest that it is impossible to cogently discuss the evolutionary origin of a single subset of human behaviour (albeit one that is regarded by the majority as perverse or bizarre) without seeing it as just that: a subset, and not an individual, discrete phenomenon.

In that context I would still argue that the sheer myriad of sexual possibilities/behaviours/fetishes/pecadilloes/motivators that exist on earth or in our minds is commensurate with the huge intellectual abilities that we have developed, over time.

There may be snippets of fetish behaviour among chimps or other animals but I doubt that it is lasting or much copied or consistently present in individuals.

We had to get a big brain to have the ability to think, remember and choose sexual activities encompassing such a wide range of behavoiurs. Of course, our individual development has been the most important determiner for the type of sexual activity to which we gravitated.

Because we all have big brains, wide ranging thoughts and huge disparities in our individual backgrounds, it seems pretty obvious to me that as a species we developed a complex sexual system of behaviour so that we could find and keep a partner, because that potential partner might have a very complex sexual behaviour system to which we would need to be able to adapt/relate/enjoy.

In fact I think all of this just shows that human sexuality, while having a mere physical basis (or origin , similar to other creatures) is in fact much moreso dependent for its style/flavour/kink/manifestation on our thinking and development as an individual.
To discuss the evolutionary biological basis for any of that behaviour is really to discuss the evolutionay biology of the brain, which contains perhaps 98% of the reasons for just why we choose one type of sexual behaviour over another.

This is such a turn-on!
'Hey honey! Where's the cattle prod and blow-up Elvis? It's spanky spanky time!"
posted by peacay at 12:13 AM on March 6, 2005

peacay: so tell us the evolutionary advantage of headaches. And no hand-waving about "pain" in general!
posted by shoos at 12:18 AM on March 6, 2005

Well........bad luck whole point is that evolutionary genetics is not a simple topic.

Pain IS the subject whether it be cut hand, headache or stubbed toe. It is part of the nervous system. And the advantage of pain, I've already stated.

A headache may be the result of tiredness, tumo(u)r, overdose on red wine or stress, to name but a few. Headaches are not determined by genetics, per se. (well, everything is to an extent, but not when you are looking at origins - which occur over thousands and millions of years within a species - which is what evolution is).

The thing is, when looking at evolutionary biology, it is important to realize that one small thing such as headache is not necessarily a discrete self-existing unit of genetics. The hard part is often working out the question - and a great part of the answer of course is to observe the changes that have occurred over time since the first amoeba upchucked from the primordial swamp.

Again, this stuff is not easy. You need to understand the human body systems and where they arose in the tree of evolution before getting into the even more complex arena of formulating reasons for changes in and between species.

/ceases hand waving
posted by peacay at 12:50 AM on March 6, 2005

Oh.....Lockeownzj00 !!??
Can I get the cliffnotes version?
posted by peacay at 1:06 AM on March 6, 2005

thanks for closing the tag
posted by shoos at 1:33 AM on March 6, 2005

No scientist argues that every single human trait has a positive survival value. One mutation in DNA can have multiple effects; as long as the positive outweigh the negative, the negative will persist. And totally neutral traits associated with positive traits will persist even longer.

Westcoaster nailed it perfectly. It's naive to expect every human behavior to have a specific evolutionary justification.

Can I get the cliffnotes version?

I think it'd be just as confused in the edited form.
posted by mediareport at 7:31 AM on March 6, 2005

So, how does one get "conditioned" to enjoy being shat or pissed upon?

if you're genuinely interested, check out foucault's history of sexuality and go from there. foucault, and many other gender theorists after him, would suggest that when power structures attempt to control some facet of sexuality or make a particular act unacceptable in society, it inadvertently eroticizes what it is that is forbidden. doesn't say much about the origin of fetishes, but definitely says something about their development. i'd be willing to bet that far more people now have fetishes about being shit on than they did before sade.
posted by venus in furs at 10:05 AM on March 6, 2005

Haha, sorry that my post was so long, guys. But if you ever have time to sit down and read it, I hope you do. I remember from my forum days whenever somebody would make a long ass thread I'd set it aside and read it all someday.

It's cool if you don't, I just feel I put a lot into it.

Great thread.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 10:13 AM on March 6, 2005

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