By Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen
March 9, 2016

From lingerie to stilettos, uniforms to underwear, people have been getting off on garments for as long as they’ve been, well, getting off. Latex, leather and lace all shout sex, but fashion fetishism doesn’t stop with specialty items—for some, it’s the everyday pieces that turn them on most.
“I have really strong feelings about boys with their dicks hard in grey track-pants,” explains 24-year-old Molly. “It’s something I fantasise about, but I have never had a partner wear their grey track-pants in front of me. They’ve gotten oddly self-conscious at the request. I have Googled ‘dick print‘ more times than I can count.”

Although a dude in leisurewear might not spark a sexual reaction for everyone, Molly likens it to seeing nipples through a thin shirt. The allure lies in the “indication of opportunity, without spelling it out,”

Molly’s sexual fascination with track-pants speaks to the ways we project our sexual history  onto the most ordinary clothes. For Molly, it all started when she fell in love with hip-hop fashion as a teen. Her tastes might be unique, but her experience is pretty standard—most fetishes are born from strong early memories.

“When I’ve talked to people about their fetishes, there’s usually a really strong early memory of an erection experience—it’s usually men,” sex therapist Georgina Whelan told i-D. “They say, ‘I remember looking at sandals and getting an erection at six.’ There is an association where something happens with the non-living object or clothing piece, they get aroused and then pair it.”

Sometimes the connection between clothes and sex isn’t as obvious as a suggestive outline through thin trackpants. Adam Szmerling of Bayside Psychotherapy explains some people struggle to understand why certain clothing arouses them, “Sometimes it’s not apparently sexual, so the person will say, ‘I don’t understand why I’ve got it, I don’t really care about clothes, why do I fixate on it?’ They can’t remember anything sexual, but that doesn’t mean it’s not sexual.”

That was the case for 27-year-old Hannah, who dated a guy who fetishised polka dots and rain boots. He told her the combination reminded him of being young and starting to discover girls. “I would spend an entire day out in public with him in an outfit that to the rest of the world is practical and to him was fetish wear,” she explains. “Little things like going out in the rain had a newly sexual element, and thrift store shopping for silly polka dot clothes was foreplay.” Hannah didn’t get off on the clothing itself, but rather from her partner’s arousal. She described the result as an “exciting and fun” sex life.

For some, fixations on the most mundane items can cause huge life complications.

For Hannah, her partner’s fetish was a non intrusive and welcome addition to their relationship. But for some, fixations on the most mundane items can cause huge life complications. Georgina describes situations where individuals are effectively “having sex with the piece of clothing, not the person in it”, which can invoke feelings of shame and abnormality. These emotions are compounded by the impact the fetish can have on relationships, whether it’s a disinterested partner, difficulty finding a partner at all or patterns of sexual and social avoidance.

Jackson, 32, has always loved denim and leather jackets, and over the last year has explored this fascination sexually, marrying both into an intricate masturbation routine.

“I used to love wearing my denim jackets without a shirt underneath so I could feel the denim on my skin,” he explains. “Then one day I had a leather jacket laying on my bed so I decided to rub my penis on it. It felt amazing so I kept doing it and I ejaculated onto it.

“My routine involves me being naked and wrapping chains around my torso and groin and securing them tightly, then I get a very tight-fitting denim jacket and put it on and button it up. This pushes the chains deeper into my flesh. Then I put my leather jacket on the bed or chair and rub down onto it. It’s generally very painful but also pleasurable.”

Jackson admits it “makes having a normal sexual relationship hard” as he only gets off with the jackets, and hasn’t yet found someone with whom he can fully explore the fetish.

Many individuals choose to explore their attractions through subcultures.

Professionals like Georgina and Adam treat patients who admit the fetish becomes debilitating. But many individuals choose to explore their attractions through subcultures like power play or BDSM and never pursue therapy. For those who do seek professional support, Georgina uses cognitive behavioural therapy to integrate the fetish into other sexual activities. She also works on eradicating negative self-cognitions and teaching patients “the language of disclosure”, to ensure healthy communication with partners.

“It’s about moving solely away from the shoes [for example], so you might have the shoe and something else—you might try to get them to focus more on the leg, or the breast or the bum,” she explains. It’s about pairing the arousal causing object with something else. She works to move “from a very narrow, rigid sexual repertoire into a much broader sexual repertoire.”

Alternatively, Adam’s approach involves in-depth exploration of the history of the fetish, focusing especially on early experiences. “We explore through dreams, daydreams, fantasies and talking a lot about the past, the origins of the fetish”. He’s interested in why it was established in the first place and whether it was in response to an external anxiety or issue.

He notes that it’s rare a fixation like this will completely vanish, but it may be managed to allow the individual to have satisfying relationships, or at least distance themselves from the fetish.

Both therapists stress there is no shame in fetishism, as long as it isn’t illegal and doesn’t negatively impact the fetishist’s life. “Being a sex therapist for nine years, you talk to everybody and people like the most unusual things,” says Georgina. Ultimately, being turned on by lingerie or a plain t-shirt, the same rules apply: If it feels good, is safe and your partner is onboard—go for it.