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The word fetish comes from the Portuguese word "Feitiço", which means magic. Portuguese seafarers used to refer to carved animal and human figures that they brought back from their travels. They were said to have a magical effect. The term became known in Europe in 1757 through the French scholar Charles de Brosses. It was only when Siegmund Freud used the term fetishism in his psychoanalytical observations that the word fetish became more and more important in an erotic context.

According to this, a fetish is a certain object, a body part, a situation, a smell or a material and contributes to sexual arousal. As an object, anything can be considered that can be imagined, unless the object is associated with the sexual act from the outset, such as dildos or vibrators. However, objects that are close to erotic themes, such as underwear, shoes, silk stockings or shackles, are more often declared fetishes than others. Also, a fetish does not always have to be a dead object. Fetishism is widespread for body parts such as feet, breasts or hair. The philosopher René Descartes is said to have regarded squinting women as a fetish.

The reason why a fetish can increase pleasure is still unknown. No theory could prove so far the connection between individual and fetish clearly. This is on the one hand due to the variety of objects that can serve as fetishes, on the other hand due to the time of the emergence of fetishistic behavior. It can occur very early in a person's life. However, it can also develop very late in a person's life, possibly due to a particular event.

In addition, a fetish must often have other characteristics in order to be effective as such. This can be, for example, the colour, the material or the fact whether a garment has already been worn. Some fetishists only need a sensory perception such as smell or sight, for others all senses are necessary for arousal. A projection of the fetish onto certain scenarios is also conceivable. Thereby the properties of the exciting object are transferred to those of the environment. For example, a police uniform or the outfit of a nurse in the domestic bedroom can stimulate the fetishist's imagination to such an extent that it corresponds to the stereotype of punishment or intimate care and thus serves as a stimulus for sexual arousal.

If, in a person's life, a particular object is sexually arousing for them in the way described above, that fetish will usually accompany them for life. However, slight modifications or the addition of further fetishes are conceivable.