Why do people with fetish preferences feel stigmatised despite the success of Fifty Shades of Grey?
We now live in a society which is more open and positive about sex than ever before, but one expert says we’re not as sexually free and liberated as our post-1960s society would have us believe.
In his new book, Modern Sexuality: The Truth about Sex and Relationships, Dr Michael Aaron suggests that there is still widespread stigma surrounding sexuality in the modern age. People who have unconventional sexual fantasies are forced into the shadows, and often do not reveal them even to their partners.
He adds that the dialogue around sex in society is often one layered with shame, regulation and restriction.
“I think that laws and attitudes towards sexuality are one of the clearest reflections of the level of freedom afforded in a society. That’s because sexuality is so core to our identities, that censoring it also inevitably has the effect of censoring individual expression,” Dr Aaron told The Independent.
The doctor, who lives in New York City, actually singles out UK laws as one of the most prominent examples of ways in which our sexuality is supposedly restricted. He hones in on the Digital Economy Bill which is currently going through the House of Lords.
The bill proposes to ban a large number of “non-conventional sexual acts” in pornography which is believed to include female ejaculation, sexual acts involving menstruation and urination, and spanking, whipping or canning which leave marks.
He says the inclusion of female ejaculation, menstruation and fisting on the ban-list is “nonsense” and says “it is no coincidence that these laws are introduced at a time when British politics is veering more hard right”.
Dr Aaron also points to laws which regulate, and in some cases criminalise, sex work as examples of infringes upon sexual freedoms.
“Perhaps nowhere else is the government regulation of sex more apparent than in the area of sex work,” he writes arguing that government crackdowns on any kind of sexual behaviour “prevent for the possibility for an honest and open discussion on what sex work means for its participants and how society can provide appropriate resources for those who do choose sex work”.
Laws surrounding pornography and sex work are extreme examples of where sexuality is marginalised in society. However, Dr Aaron says in his therapy sessions he encounters lots of patients who feel shamed over their sexual preferences even when it is no longer considered taboo in society.
“I still have a number of clients who have difficulty coming out and are conflicted about their orientation even though same-sex marriage was approved by the US Supreme Court almost two years ago and issues around homosexuality have been brought into public awareness. Similarly, I see a number of individuals ashamed of their fetishistic interests even though Fifty Shades of Greyjust came out with a sequel and the trilogy has sold over 100 million copies.
“There is a big difference between externally accepting something and truly believing it and feeling internally congruent. As a result, even though society has made tremendous progress, I believe most individuals, even the most liberated by all appearances, still carry internal remnants of sexual shame and stigma.”
So how do we liberate ourselves and challenge both internal and external restrictions on our sexuality? Dr Aaron says education is key.
“Right now, a number of young adults and teenagers get all of their sex education from porn, which is like trying to learn about geopolitics by watching the latest Bond movie. In many ways, trying to protect individuals from sex only hurts them further.”
He argues education will also ensure those with less mainstream sexual desires experience less shame and stigma and feel part of the conversation.
“Transparency around sex leads to a more humanistic, supportive, and nurturing society, that is accepting of individuality and unique consensual behaviours, rather one that is authoritarian, patriarchal, and punitive. I think our challenge as a society is to evolve past basic group needs that may be anachronistic and no longer necessary.”