Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles When it comes to sex, we are - in theory - living in wildly liberated times. So you’d think it would easy to feel at ease owning up to certain sorts of sexual desires. But for most of us, the world doesn’t actually feel that generous about fetishes. It’s very tricky to talk about many of the things that turn us on - especially with our partners. Our fetishes can seem deeply weird, perverse or politically incorrect. So we stay quiet. And it is not only the reactions of others which cause us anxiety. We might at times ourselves worry there’s something a bit wrong with us. To get more confident, we should get philosophical about sex and ask: what do our fetishes really mean? Why do we even have them? The good news is that the things that turn us on are in fact really very logical and hardly ever simply odd or twisted. Here is how it works: Every fetish or sexual obsession is really an imagined erotic solution to a real world anxiety. Let’s look at some very common turn ons through this theory: People in uniforms are for many of us a major turn on, especially doctors, nurses, firemen and pilots. Tellingly, erotic websites are full of uniforms What’s going on? As so often with turn-ons, uniforms are exciting because there is an underlying anxiety around them. How many times we’re belittled by people in uniform: ignored by a busy doctor, made to feel like lowly fools by the heroic fireman, intimidated by the pilot… Authority is frequently hostile to us and frustrates our desires. But in sex, we can reverse this situation. Here uniforms can be invited into our games. The uniform still stands for authority. But now authority has moved to our side, paying us exactly the right kind of attention. The pilot, far from being impassively at the controls, is thrilled to be here with us, she is no longer a stern-faced controller of the Airbus A380, but our collaborator and friend. The busy sensible doctor is no longer just stern and responsible, only interested in blood sugar levels and kidney functions: he wants us to have fun. A real world ideal is being sketched in sex: we’re being invited to imagine what authority might like if it helped rather than hindered us, reassured rather than intimidated us. Sex is hinting at a utopia where strength, organisation, neatness and order would be there to make us feel more at ease, more relaxed and truer to ourselves. We are taught from a young age that we must become independent. We live in an individualistic culture that constantly vilifies dependence and pushes us towards an ideal of solitary maturity. But some of us are excited by something very different: the idea of submission, of being totally passive, perhaps becoming someone’s slave, surrendering all autonomy and just letting another person do everything and anything to us. Being a ‘slave’ means that someone else will know exactly what we should do, will take full responsibility, will take choice away from us. This is curiously nice, because we’re not surrendering to any old person, we’re surrendering to someone who is good and kind and interested in our pleasure. The delight we take in surrender reveals how hard it is always to have to be in control - how much we long for someone else to take charge fully sometimes, as a relief from the pressures of daily life. In the real world so many crucial tasks actually depend on one’s capacity not to be daunted by suffering. Taking on the masochistic role rehearses - in erotic play - a fundamental idea, that of being good at suffering, of being willing and able (and even at time eager) to “take it”: to be strong because one has invited someone to call one a stupid bastard or a bitch. It’s a common feature of all sexual fantasies that they do not – of course – genuinely solve the problems from which they draw their excitement. But we shouldn’t worry if the fantasy fails to solve the problem in reality. What we’re looking for here is simply a way of explaining and sympathising with the desire and the erotic relief. We’re not generally allowed to be very bossy with anyone. In our hearts, we might like to be very demanding and insistent. We might like to enforce absolute obedience on all those who defy us. But we know how bad it is to be too strict and tyrannical. We have to go gently - all the time. But in a sexual game, our will to dominate can be let loose. Someone puts themselves in our hands and asks that we do with them as we please. What a deep honour! They allow us to shout, bully and order us around - as we otherwise never dare to. And now the commands are met only with delight. You can be as strong, harsh and insistent as you like, safe in the knowledge that the other person is going to be just fine. Why can it be such a turn on to do it outside? In a park, an elevator, or the toilets behind the party... Again, it’s to do with healing a wound from daily life. Normally, we sense that we have to be guarded, on our best behaviour: out there in the elevators, public plazas, shopping centres, garage forecourts of the world. Even nature is seen as quite hostile – a cold, dangerous place where enemies may set upon us. But in the sex games we play outside, we can prove that the public realm is not as threatening as we had supposed. We can behave as we’d like. Show our desires, and survive. And if other people disapprove, that can’t stop us, we’re strong enough to disregard them. Public sex civilises the wilderness and the lonely formal places of the city. It lets us feel more at home in the world. One can analyse almost any so-called fetish and find similar structures: an anxiety and a corresponding solution, to which an erotic charge has become connected. Looked at like this, sexual scenarios can be explained to ourselves – and, crucially to other people in our lives – in fairly rational, sensible terms. Ee can explain how our fear of being responsible became oppressive, and therefore why we enjoy being put in a dog collar. Or why we were afraid of authority, and therefore what fun it is to be examined by a doctor in bed. By talking like this, we can hope that sexual tastes will become less a little shameful and a little less threatening – and our erotic games in their own way, a lot more logical and sane.