Fetish vs. Phobia: recipe for disaster?
August 16, 2008 10:33 PM   Subscribe

A potential romantic partner has a very specific phobia. As luck would have it, it happens to be pretty much the exact thing that is my very private fetish. I have never shared it with anyone and don't plan to share it with anyone. Are we doomed, or could we somehow make this work to our advantage?

For the purpose of explanation, let's refer to my fetish as a mild thing for gingers/redheads. I have never sought out romantic partners based on this, I have never dyed my own hair red or encouraged others, I try not to be noticeable when I spot them out in public, and the closest I get to porn is, for example, a fully clothed shot of Prince Harry. Still, it's the kind of thing that I think other people would find incredibly weird, and I would be mortified if it ever got out. I keep it very much inside my head, and while I do have a lovely and comfortable sex life, it usually involves fantasies around this subject. I've had it for as long as I can remember.

So I'm doing the usual deep get-to-know-you thing with this guy, and things are going really, really well. Then he mentions that when he was younger, he got beat up by a redhead, and ever since then he has had a complete phobia of redheads. "I just look away," he says. His ex used to make fun of him for it, too, which is totally not cool. I get the feeling that his phobia is about as pervasive and rational as my fetish, but I am certainly not someone to make fun, especially in a situation like this.

Now, while I obviously would not display this fetish in front of him (or anyone else, for that matter), I don't want to run the risk that he accidentally sees that I've looked at YouTubes of Geena Davis or whatever. But I also have another thought: could we somehow work together on it? Like, for example, I am accustomed to spying redheads out of the corner of my eye; could I then warn him not to look?

Any ideas?

No throwaway e-mail here. Anonymous because obviously I don't even want it to get out that I HAVE a fetish.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

I'm confused. Are we speaking in metaphors?

If not, then in this specific situation, what does it matter if you get off to redheads and he doesn't like them? Are you planning on having a threesome or something?
posted by Defenestrator at 10:47 PM on August 16, 2008

How is being hot for red-heads a fetish? Seems pretty normal to me. You could be turned on by aardvarks, or guys wearing white shoes, and them stepping on you in said shoes during some kink-o-thon. Or guys dressed up in aardvark suits wearing white shoes stepping on you as you writhe and moan. Those would be fetishes. Preference for red-heads is just that -- a preference. Or so it seems to me.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:50 PM on August 16, 2008

Oh, yeah -- if anyone has a problem, it's the guy, and it isn't a fetish, it's an obsession, and he can work it out in therapy, if he's interested, and/or motivated to do so. If the guy does blow your skirt up, and does welcome your help in overcoming it -- hey, rock and roll, give him a hand, we all need help of whatever kind, and maybe it'll help him build trust in you, being vulnerable in that way.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:53 PM on August 16, 2008

dancestoblue, the redhead thing was an example, not the actual thing. At least, that's my take.

I think a better example for the OP to use (unless it hit too close to home?) may have been a foot fetish/phobia. I know/have known several people who really hate feet and think they are disgusting and gross. But of course there are also people who have a foot fetish and worship feet.

I don't see how this type of pairing could ever work to your advantage, but I have neither fetishes nor phobias to compare to.
posted by cabingirl at 11:00 PM on August 16, 2008

What's it worth to you? You may have to make sacrifices. It isn't written that we must all be permitted to fully indulge every fetish and fantasy we harbor.
posted by Class Goat at 11:48 PM on August 16, 2008

the redhead thing was an example, not the actual thing. At least, that's my take. I think a better example for the OP to use (unless it hit too close to home?) may have been a foot fetish/phobia.

So does that mean that the partner with the phobia got beat up by a foot? Or a foot fetishist?

This is so confusing. It's anonymous! Why skate around the real issue?

Unless the redhead thing really is the issue, in which case: yeah, it's not a fetish, it's just... a thing. I have a thing for dark-haired Brits of a certain type, and it makes my boyfriend roll his eyes, but he lets me listen to Paul Weller's music and watch Clive Owen films to my heart's content, and in return I accept a certain measure of good-natured ribbing about my dumb-ass British boyfriends.
posted by scody at 12:07 AM on August 17, 2008

Tell him. Explain to him that you understand that he's freaked out by "redheads", but that you like them. You don't wish to ever bring him and "redheads" together, but that you do find them attractive, and occasionally view videos of "redheads" on Youtube.

As long as you make it clear to him that he and the redheads never have to meet, I don't see what the problem is. If he does get freaked out by the fact that you view redhead videos, privately, then I'd reconsider a relationship with him.

It's better that you tell him, before he walks in on you watching a redhead video. If you don't plan on ever sharing this with him, I don't really see how he can have a problem, though.

A metaphor: I have a phobia of the dentists. My sexual partner visits them. As long as they don't want to dress as a dentist during sex, I'm fine with that.
posted by Solomon at 12:12 AM on August 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

This is an anonymous posting. Please get real and tell us about the nasty thing you want to do.

True dat, answering this question completely depends on what this fetish is. We've all got our fetishes, some are reasonable and should be obliged, some not so reasonable. Oral is a completely reasonable request. The butt is a decently reasonable request. Pretty much any position that still includes vaginal penetration is a reasonable request. Taking someone to the ATM (ass to mouth) is a completely unreasonable request but you're a woman so guessing that's not your fetish. Handcuffs and restraints are borderline, if the person has some serious trust issues that are related to past events than you might have to respect that. It all depends on what this fetish is, if he had a bad experience with the reverse cowgirl one time than tell him to suck it up and get the fuck over it, if it's something worse than maybe you gotta back off.
posted by BrnP84 at 12:13 AM on August 17, 2008

I'm having a feeling that the fetish/phobia is racial in nature.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:01 AM on August 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Think what would happen if you ever met a 'redhead' man, and then slept with this 'redhead' man, and destroyed your boyfriend.

Your society is the one that culturally constrains you from liking 'redhead' men. But you can't stop the fever baby. You're not ready to break cultural norms and be with a 'redhead' man, but then don't go be with some cross burning anti 'redhead'. Your secret would turn into guilt, and your guilt will turn into a fetish, and your fetish will turn into an obsession, and with time, you will tear yourself apart.

If, however, you were with someone who has nothing in particular against 'redheads', with time, you will just forget about 'readheads' as you grow more in love with this person.

BTW, I think it's sad that you restrain your true inclinations, just because of cultural influences. Everybody deserves to watch at least porn of their fantasies. The thing is, you're too ashamed to even post it here.

Break up with the fella, drive to another city, indulge your fantasy and see if it was worth it. You'll discover that it wasn't that special or you'll discover it's what you want. But in the end, you'll end up being who you really are.
posted by ChabonJabon at 1:24 AM on August 17, 2008

I regularly have fantasies about [11 Arab men boarding me and flying me at the North Tower of the WTC] that I don't tell my sexual partner about, and I find a little mystery keeps the romance alive. Maybe this could work for you too.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 1:42 AM on August 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

To All: The red head example is a metaphor. The original poster does not reveal what the fetish is, the red head example is just metaphor.

could we somehow work together on it?

What you described isn't you two working together, it's you finding a way to use a partner to secretly get off on your fetish. That is what sounds creepy, not the part about you having a fetish. If you really want to work together, perhaps you could reveal it to him and help him get over the phobia.

Otherwise, everyone has a fetish, in fact they probably have several of them. It's not big deal. Rather than hiding it, let your freak flag fly so your parter (though perhaps not the current potential) can help you enjoy it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:24 AM on August 17, 2008

To follow up, the creepy factor comes from you causing someone metal anguish by pointing out examples of their phobia, in the hopes that you can get off on your fetish at the same time.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:50 AM on August 17, 2008

To All: The red head example is a metaphor.

As well, at least one commenter assumes the poster is a woman. We don't know that.

I agree with Brandon that any effort to indulge yourself in your fantasy while at the same time involving this particular love interest in any way (even, like, "oh, no, honey! There's a redhead to your left, don't look, don't look!") would be le creepy.
posted by taz at 4:12 AM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can imagine that the person wouldn't want to reveal the Real Fetish if the phobia/fetish were specific enough that the boyfriend could immediately go "Oh man, I'm irrationally afeard of pork chops! Does that mean my SO has a fetish for pork chops? omgomgomg"

How important is this to you? Is it a really deep fetish, or is it just a turn-on? If you can get worked up fine without it, it may be okay to leave it alone and fantasize about it on your own time. If you keep thinking about it, and keep wanting it, you may end up feeling let down and grumpy about being in a situation where you can't get what you want. Phobias are often pretty irrational, but even if someone realizes it, it can be hard to overcome. If it is of something somewhat common, maybe they should get help or therapy. If it's sufficiently uncommon or easily avoidable, maybe they won't want to.

Can you be happy without it? If yes, go for this guy. If no, find another one.
posted by that girl at 6:04 AM on August 17, 2008

I think you should email one of the mods with details on your actual fetish and your potential romantic partner's phobia. Set up a throwaway email account if you're too embarassed to come out of the closet on this matter. The whole "redhead" analogy is a complete red herring, because it's a non-issue. We need to know the actual situation if we're to give any helpful advice.
posted by orange swan at 7:29 AM on August 17, 2008

No offense, anonymous, but this is a pretty mild fetish. You might want to warn your partner though, just so he doesn't think you're being passive aggressive. And, as others have said above, your dude's got to get life and grow up. Being unnecessarily traumatized by 1 out of ever 100 people on the street has got to be unpleasant.

By any chance, are you in Britain? I think red hair is less accepted there Personally, I love it, and I would hope that you could enjoy admiring it without feeling like it's a dirty secret. There's nothing wrong with trying to find yourself a red head, if perhaps you were thinking that it's shallow to choose a partner on his hair color. It's not if that's not the only thing that attracts you to him.

Are you thinking of going red yourself? It's your right to do so. Don't let bf's irrational fear keep you from enjoying your life.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:51 AM on August 17, 2008

Could you be talking about race here? I'm just curious why a preference seems taboo to you?
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:54 AM on August 17, 2008

Trying to stop the derail: the fetish isn't for redheads. That's just the convoluted example the OP used, as he or she didn't want to say what the real fetish is.

(My money's on spiders.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:54 AM on August 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you're in "potential romantic partner" stage, I wouldn't be thinking about going into the issue with the guy for some time. If you can't even tell us, anonymously, what your fetish is, I'd recommend leaving this stuff for well into a serious relationship with him, if that happens. You're dealing with a fetish that embarrasses you, and his phobia, and phobias are serious things.

After you get to know this person really well, and equipped with the knowledge of the exact fetish/phobia, only you will be able to tell whether the two of you could use the scenario to your mutual advantage.
posted by iguanapolitico at 7:59 AM on August 17, 2008

My wife likes Drama's and I dont, I like Sci-Fi and she hates it.
Love gets around these trivial things. Don't make too much of this...its just that, very trivial.
In what I am reading above, I would call it an affection, not a fetish really, unless you going out, buying red wigs and pasting them to your body...and then putting on your normal clothes and going about your daily work.
posted by TeachTheDead at 8:08 AM on August 17, 2008

It doesn't appear as though you have any inclination of telling this man, or anyone, what your real fetish is. However, you are looking for ways to involve him in your fetish. I could see two ways that this ends badly:

1) Your potential romantic partner catches on to not-so-subtle attempts to use him as a prop in your fetish fantasy and totally calls you out on it, humiliating you beyond reason, or

2) He thinks that you are getting off on the fact that he is scared of X, which to him seems cruel beyond belief.

But again, without any further info it is pure speculation.

My money would be on the fetish being with some kind of animal (dogs, perhaps? Common phobia...)
posted by amicamentis at 8:12 AM on August 17, 2008

Square peg. Round hole.

Keep looking.
posted by wfrgms at 9:03 AM on August 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

So I have a (real, not metaphorical) phobia of latex balloons. If I started seeing someone with a latex balloon fetish, it wouldn't work. When I see a balloon, I panic. I'm REALLY REALLY frightened and have all the physical and psychological reactions that any other person has when they're terrified. There's nothing funny about it and there's no way for me to avoid or suppress this reaction on my own. When I see a balloon, I want to know that the person I'm with understands and has my best interests in mind- not their own thing going on. As other posters have stated, that would be cruel and I'm reasonably sure that even if the other person didn't come out and say it, judging by their own insuppressible reactions to the balloon, I would sense that something was amiss and I wouldn't feel safe.

I don't see a lot of hope for this situation unless you come clean about your fetish and the other person is willing to go to therapy for their phobia. This would at least allow you to practice/fantasize about your fetish on your own time, but I wouldn't hold out for any kind of participation.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 9:20 AM on August 17, 2008

Let me get this straight.

Anon: Gets crazy horny over XX
Anon's SO: Gets crazy freaked out (not freaky) over same.

Can this power be used for good?

Probably not. Most likley can only be used for harm. Unless one of the two things:

If the SO also has a masochistic streak a mile wide and you can abuse them with thier phobia.
If Anon could get some role play as a therapist to "cure" the SO. This is not medical advice. In fact I think it's bad advice, but you're both concenting adults, and that's what this is really about, right?

But both of these things sound way outside Anon's comfort zone in sex. I mean come on! First of all it's AskMe. Have you seen the stuff we post about here? If you can't talk frankly about sex here as anon, and you can't ever ever ever admit it to any potential SO, then you're just doomed to have a less happy sex life than you could.

The best sex happens when everyone is open and sharing (so to speak). Unless you're willing to tell your SO about your fetish, no joy for you.
posted by Ookseer at 10:21 AM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is a reply from the anonymous asker.

--The fetish and phobia are related to disability. I know the fetish is reasonably common, but I still don't care; I don't want to engage in it because it relates to things that people don't have any control over, and that's unfair to them. Also because the devotees I've seen online are gross.

--I am a woman, which shouldn't matter. We are not dating yet, but we're going very deep into personal discussions nearly every night.

--I honestly don't want to manipulate him, use him, or involve him in the fetish in any way. I've been teased and put on the spot for my own phobias, and I know how awful it feels. I think I'm approaching it from the point of view that yes, I would like to reveal it to him because I would much rather just finally be honest with someone. And I would CERTAINLY not like it to come up out of the blue, which would just freak him the hell out.

So when I say "work on/with it together," I mean finding some way to just be more comfortable about it and let both of our situations be out in the open while being respected by the other person. He doesn't have to respect my fetish, but I want him to respect the fact that I care about him. It's just hard to think about doing that when an opportunity to help him avoid it could be seen by him as, "oh, she's totally getting off in her head." Maybe that's unavoidable, I guess.

Does that make any more sense?
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:32 AM on August 17, 2008

Have you considered talking about your fetish with a therapist? You seem to have some anxiety and conflicted feelings about it. It might be healthy and perspective-enhancing to be able to work through some of those issues in a therapeutic environment.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:36 AM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding ludwig_van about talking to a therapist. I appreciate the desire you have to simply tell someone -- I imagine it would be a real relief! I don't think that it's likely to work out well, however, if the very first person you speak to about it is a potential partner, especially one who has issues with the very subject involved. You will be trying to manage your own conflicted feelings about it, as well as his own phobia (and, in a way, asking him to do the same for you), and that's a hell of a burden to put on a burgeoning relationship.

This isn't to say you can't talk to him about it, of course -- but rather that I think you're more likely to be able to have a healthy, productive talk with him after you've sorted out some of your own issues around the topic with a neutral third party.
posted by scody at 11:36 AM on August 17, 2008

This seems like a weird thing to be concerned about before you even start dating someone. Maybe you'll find you can talk to him about anything. Maybe dating him will give you all new things to get off on. Maybe you'll go on one date and won't hit it off. There are just so many possibilities at this point, it seems like you're really jumping the gun with this question. Plus, the way this anonymous question has gone off on derails due to the lack of appropriate specifics is really not helpful. I don't think you can get meaningful responses on this question from internet strangers when the question is essentially: "fetish vs. phobia- a deal breaker?" Maybe. It depends on you, it depends on him, it depends on the fetish- and it depends on whether or not you even have a romance with this person. Which you don't, yet.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:05 PM on August 17, 2008

Let me be totally frank with you: a fetish is not just a trivial thing like what genre of movies you like. If you get into a relationship where you will have to completely repress your fetish, it will own you. You will probably get obsessed with in a way that you have never been before. You will think about it all the time, WAY more than you did before you got into this relationship, just because it's forbidden. You may obsess over it to the point of making bad decisions.

Since we're using analogies, here's one: I like ice cream. I eat ice cream once a week. Then I decide to go on a diet where I can NEVER have ice cream EVER again. Ever. So, I find myself thinking about ice cream all the time. I notice when others around me are eating ice cream. I eat gelato or sorbet because it's not tecnically ice cream. Then I can't take it anymore, and eat a whole two litre pail. Get it?

I recently discovered a kink of my own, and discovered that my partner does not share this kink. I tried to repress it for as long as possible, until we finally decided to bring a third party in, in order to let me explore this kink. We hadn't expected that this kink was strong enough that the exhilaration and amazing freedom of fulfilling it led me to become infatuated with this other person and almost leave my wife of nearly a decade. We eventually decided that even though my thing didn't turn her on, she would learn to play the part for me once and a while. This way I can get my freak on within our relationship. I need this, or else I will not be sexually satisfied, and when you aren't sexually satisfied, you are not in a healthy relationship. If my partner had been terrified of the thing that turned me on so much (and before we acted on it, I was like you - I thought it was a mild thing, I didn't even seek out porn - I just fantasized), if this thing terrified her the way it does your potential partner I would have been heartbroken. To know that an important expression of yourt sexuality has to be completely repressed forever... well, would you recommend that a gay person stay closeted forever? That they marry their beard because it's convenient? I hope not. Then why would you closet yourself?

The short of it: No. It won't work, and you shouldn't try to make it. As Dan Savage says, there are so few women with fetishes/kinks and so many men competing for those women that honey, you have it made. Find someone who better fits you, don't worry about all the creepos you meet - there are good apotemnophiliacs (or whatever) out there. :)
posted by arcticwoman at 6:17 PM on August 17, 2008

OK, I'm in a somewhat similar situation, except that I'm getting married in six weeks, and my fetish is for an activity rather than a characteristic of a person. I have a fetish for something that my partner would be happy never ever to witness in his lifetime. It's not exactly a phobia in the sense of arachnophobia, it's just something he finds personally disgusting. Anyway, he knows I enjoy the fantasy, and he knows I seek out videos of it, and he doesn't judge me or try to stop me. On the other hand, I respect him by not discussing it with him. If he asks me what I did while he was on a business trip, I'll say "Oh, I watched some videos online," which is truthful, but he knows not to inquire further. It's a don't ask, don't tell situation that works very, very well for us. It doesn't need to be any more "out in the open" than "Hey, I'm into this" and "Wow, I really don't like X." As long as you have other sexual common ground, and aren't exclusively hung up on this particular fetish, you can definitely make it work. Just make it clear that if he chooses to pursue a relationship with you, you promise not to take the fetish beyond whatever acceptable boundaries you set (in my case, we're monogamous, so my indulgence is limited to videos and my own imagination).
posted by desjardins at 12:15 PM on August 18, 2008

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