For every person, a fetish. …For every fetish, a Web site.
The word "fetish" has four different definitions in the American heritage dictionary; I am referring to the third: "Something, such as material object or a nonsexual part of the body, that arouses sexual desire and may become necessary for sexual gratification."
Leather. Librarians. Latex. Casts. Cannibalism.
Just Google for the word "fetish" returns almost 67 million pages; and right now, I am talking to several people online and becoming increasingly concerned about them.
What are they into? What deep-seated longing has taken them to the soft underbelly of the Internet in search of fulfillment?
Before I launch into my observations, I would like to state that if you want to cover your consenting partner in liquid latex and hump around in a vat of tapioca, go for it.
(And I saw a picture of that.)
I, however, reserve the right to freak out at things like leper fetishes (which exist, as I've found) and the like.
(Please, someone, tell me what is sexy about rotting flesh. I'm pretty sure the site tried to inform me, but I was only able to keep one eye open at the time and my dinner was about to repeat on me.)
Also, this is not necessarily the forum to discuss whether or not fetishization and the like demeans or glorifies women, this is merely an Internet-based observation.
Now, I've had a few acquaintances go into the skin industry; one designs, manages and hosts Web sites and a couple others are, for all intents and purposes, porn stars.
All three remark that after awhile, nothing is really surprising anymore.
But is that necessarily good? I'm not talking about the times when even discussing sex was taboo, or gender inequality in sexual rights and liberties. I'm thinking more like the minute I am not surprised by a woman in nothing but a gasmask holding a Death-esque scythe and setting upon a group of women wearing legwarmers tied to a bed in creative ways, I will become very worried about myself.
On the other hand, if you browse enough material, you come to discover that some of these people fetishized in these sites look like you. And have fans and people who will pay to watch them on webcam-that idea alone, for the less socially inclined of us, can be an ego boost. But in the news this week was the testimony of 19-year-old Justin Berry, who spoke in front of the U.S. Congress about his trysts on and off webcam with several paying customers since the age of 13-a sobering thought for anyone around kids.
For more than 1,000 customers over 5 years, Berry was a fetish-he was a child. Child pornography is a horrifyingly lucrative business. Congress' sources cite yearly black market revenue at nearly $20 billion. And just for context, last year's revenue for online music sales was about $3 billion. Berry was first asked to remove his shirt for $50. He agreed.
So, do the so-called "cam whores" of the Internet do it for the attention? Sure they do.
Are there people coerced into stripping online for profit or at the threat of bodily injury? Unfortunately yes.
Is this an issue that needs more attention? Yes, and sadly it took a sexually exploited minor confronting Congress to even bring it to national discussion.
Do some people just enjoy being beaten with a side of beef while dressed in a panda costume-that's for them to decide.
Until then, just remember-you are somebody's fetish.
Jay Poole is our resident techie. If you have comments about this column, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org