Non-normative sexualities – what we usually call just ‘kink’ – are pretty common but also insufficiently studied. Even something as almost-mainstream such as BDSM, for example, has been the subject of very little research. Even if things are slowly changing for the better of late, those wishing to learn more about the phenomenon are left looking for clues in the most improbable of places. Like, say, among self-funded, small but very interesting projects by independent researchers.
One of them is Dr. Galen Fous, who for a number of years now has been running a survey to distill a new kind of insight on the kinksters population in the USA. I personally find this project very interesting, so I recently offered to extend a translated version to my home country, Italy. Collecting enough results to allow analysis will take some time, but in the meantime I had the pleasure of getting better acquaintanced with the original thoughts of Dr. Fous about unusual sexualities, so I thought you’d enjoy learning about them as well. Here is the very stimulating interview we did a few weeks ago.
Hello, Galen. Can you please introduce yourself to the readers?
Hello, everyone. I have been an advocate for sexual rights for nearly 20 years as a therapist, author, educator, researcher and in my personal lifestyle as a kink-oriented man. Living the lifestyle and my immersion in both studying and researching the psychology of kink professionally has given me a unique perspective on this newly emerging sexuality.
My professional mission is to support clients to ecstatically embrace and explore their innate sexuality to its fullest potential and untangle the internalized shame, fear, and trauma that may fight against it.
I believe everyone has a sexual birthright. No government, religion, culture, spouse nor family has any right to deny any individuals inherent right to be who they are sexually. Sexual rights are human rights. Our sexuality, particularly the potent depths available through kink should be celebrated and explored often. Shame, fear and past trauma around sex should be expelled from the body, mind and soul like a disease.
I appreciate the opportunity to meet and share these ideas with the Italian and European communities. I am especially excited to discuss how kink explorers can benefit from and also support the Discover Your Personal Erotic Myth Survey, the largest kink-focused sex-research project of its kind.
Let’s start from one of the key concepts in your work: that of sexual integrity, which I also believe to be an extremely important but often overlooked part of our relationship with our own sexuality. Can you elaborate?
Integrity is critical to exploring the depths of kink. It is my experience that any power-exchange dynamic, be it a scene or relationship, needs to operate at the highest levels of personal integrity to reach the most potent depths of desire.
Aspiring to that is critical to deepening trust with a partner. This means to have the personal intention and commitment to being responsible, accountable, risk-aware, actively listening and being present. It means telling the truth, starting with what you want… and what you don’t. Impeccable respect of boundaries is critical. Clear, transparent and fair negotiation with your partners should be standard procedure. Knowing proper techniques and risk/safety factors for your style of engagement and the toys or tools involved, goes without saying. Encouragement, discussion and compassionate support of your partner, as well as yourself, before and after scenes, is a golden practice.
Adhering to these types of practices and principles builds the foundations of trust, safety and mutual care for an ongoing and deepening exploration. This offers the possibility of engaging and sharing our most protected and vulnerable erotic depths with our partners.
While this can seem a complex effort overall, the fundamentals of consciously engaging and exploring your Eros, and being in integrity are easy to develop and learn as a practice. The most important aspect to have the clear intention to aspire to the highest integrity.
Honesty, or at least a clear mind, frequently uncovers erotic deviations small and large – or even a whole inclination toward what you call Fetishsexuality. This is not, however, a term nor a concept officially recognized by the institutions. I understand you are working to make a change on various fronts, such as the legal and clinical one. But why is this important? And, come to think of it, why there is a resistance against formalizing a rather self-evident phenomenon?
A Fetishsexual, by my definition, is a person driven to orgasm or other deep erotic states through their desire for a particular range of dominance, submission, sadism, masochism – aka Kink or Fetish and other symbol-driven erotic expressions. Though the research is preliminary, I believe that, for some, fetishsexuality is a life-long, inherent, innate sexual identity on the same level that being straight, bi, gay or lesbian is an authentic sexual identity, as defined by the American Psychological Association.
Based on my direct experiences with clients and the research findings from the Discover Your Personal Erotic Myth Survey, I hope to illuminate how and why Fetishsexuality is an innate aspect of certain people’s psyche.
I have worked with hundreds of clients over the last 18 years, whose clear desire and intent was to come to terms with, explore, and understand their fetish-driven desires, free of shame, fear and past trauma. It has not been unusual for clients in their 40s or 50s to divulge that I was the first person they had ever revealed their desire to. For decades, they had hidden their desires from their partners, spiritual guides, and traditional therapists. It did not feel safe to even talk about their desires, let alone enact them.
Kink can and should be engaged in a conscious, aware, mature, healthy manner by those so inclined. For them, I will attempt to define and describe the various and considerable depths of personal empowerment and healing that conscious engagement of one’s fetishsexuality may offer.
Our research project will also examine the ways that unconscious personal and collective myths, archetypes, and symbols are or may be woven into the fabric of authentic fetishsexuality as well as the ways that threads of unconscious shame, trauma, fear, and judgment get tangled up and inhibit or thwart authentic sexual expression. Such entanglements, I believe, can lead to the problematic shadow manifestations of our sexual expression – sexual secrecy, dishonesty, and other diminishments of one’s personal integrity when entrapped in a sex-negative environment.
Until a few decades ago, any but the most fundamental sexual activities had been classified either by law, religion, or mental health providers as deviant, immoral, or in psychological terms, a paraphilia. In other words, most people engaging in Fetishsexual practices were considered to be engaging in either an illegal or an immoral act, or had a psychological disorder, or all three. Even though the DSM-V has de-pathologized and de-listed most consensual adult kink interactions as paraphilias, there are many sectors of the psychological, legal, political and social institutions that display rampant kinkphobia nonetheless!
In these current times, the landscape of sexual identity and the pantheon of sexual practices an adult may choose or naturally participate in have been coming into a better and broader focus. It is my opinion that the narrow and shallow views of the previous theories of human sexuality are not effective at holding the burgeoning reality of human sexuality that has erupted over the last 30 years, since the dawn of the Internet era. Recognizing fetishsexuality as a sexual identity would open the way for more nuanced and effective psychological models of the sexual psyche to take shape and, hopefully, lead to new therapeutic models that better support one in embracing his or her sexual authenticity.
The potential to be slandered as a pathological deviant for being into kink is greatly reduced if an institutionally recognized, protected and legitimate class of human called Fetishsexuals is established. Not having this designation can and does lead to profound impacts in real-world battles in divorces, parenting rights, employment and housing discrimination and many other areas of life. Witness the ongoing history of the gay and lesbian movements fight for their legal rights in all regards. The kink communities are about where the gay, lesbian and trans communities were 50 years ago.
To the greatest extent, my work seeks to help people untangle their authentic life-long Kink desires from the embedded shame, fear, and harsh judgments that may strongly resist their desire. Everyone should be encouraged ti proudly claim their sexual birthright. Too many don’t.
The other founding idea in your view of unusual sexualities is the Personal Erotic Myth – the unique narrative that drives one’s quest for pleasure and that explains countless behaviors when finally unraveled. Would you tell us more about it and especially about what your PEM can do for you?
A PEM as I model it is an inherent psychological/sexual structure in the unconscious that contains the fantasy imagery, storylines, archetypal mythic personas, props, attire, dialogue, actions and/or raw primal instincts that drive a person to orgasm or other deep erotic states. These mythic representations are most notably expressed in contemporary fetish, kink, and D/s-BDSM where symbolic and archetypal personifications abound.
A PEM can take many forms, but to a great extent will include paired personas in some form of power exchange such as Master/slave, Mommy/son, Femdom/cuckold, Daddy/daughter, Teacher/student, and a pantheon of other variations. These pairings of two or more may be further differentiated through an array of emerging gender and alternative sexual identities. One’s Personal Erotic Myth generally includes elements that yearn to be expressed. They may be out of conscious view for many people, still held behind sex-negative fear shame or trauma the person may have experienced around their sexuality. Until nearing orgasm anyway!
For someone who is a fetishsexual, expressing their desire is not scripting and acting out a part. It is not just role-playing. It is literally embodying this alter erotic persona that they authentically possess, and allowing it the unencumbered space to express fully in word, deed and action. These archetypal personas operating within one’s PEM are already intact and whole within the individual’s personal unconscious. These parts of the erotic psyche already know generally what they desire to do and say to the erotic counterpart they are engaging, what implements, attire, setting and other elements, common to their mythic story.
The key archetypal polarity of Dom/sub also references major archetypal personas that have been part of the collective unconscious for thousands of years. The King/Queen or loyal subject/devotee archetypes for example. In other words, many of the erotic themes and archetypal personas that occur in the individual PEM are found globally throughout the gene pool. This is why someone with even the most obscure kink interest can and does find and join others in a similar sexual tribe.
On a site like Fetlife there are hundreds if not thousands of groups representing individuals with a certain twist on kink. There can be 50 to 10,000 in a group, but the point is they are actively populated with people of the same desire. Before the internet this was impossible. This is how the sexual cat has been let out of the bag. I would say!
I believe it conceivable these roots of our wildest sexual desires extend far into our evolutionary heritage of mammalian alpha/beta pecking order instincts, and deeper into predator/prey reptilian level instincts. Our sexual mythos often mirrors the unconscious instinctual psychologies and the attendant physical, symbolic body language and gestures of dominance and submission, predator/prey still programmed into the modern human psyche and body. Why these heritages and primal dimensions of our psyche have become eroticized is still a great mystery. But to me it is clear that we encompass aspects of our sexuality related to power exchange from both “hot-blooded” mammalian territorial dominance and submission expressions to cold-blooded reptilian sadistic/masochistic expressions.
These mythic, often unconscious structures of our erotic desire find their way to the surface through our fantasies when we engage sexually, where they can drive one to orgasm or other deep erotic states. When engaged consciously and allowed to express and embody authentically with a consenting partner, these fierce explorations of our dark, wild instinctual edges can offer a profound sense of empowerment and acceptance, as well as an embodied, soulful, exquisitely spent bliss from either side of the power exchange.
You can learn more about how I work with clients, my research, blog or my book Decoding Your Kink – Guide to Explore, Share and Enjoy Your Wildest Sexual Desires on my site.
This idea has inspired the Discover Your Personal Erotic Myth Survey – an initiative that has already collected over 3,000 contributions. Can you tell us about it? What have you learned so far from it, and how can the information be used?
I developed the 40 question survey in response to working with hundreds of men, women and couples, struggling to understand and be honest about their desires for Kink. It has been found to be a useful tool in helping participants gain insights into the specific nature of their sexual desires, particularly those in the more Kink-driven end of the scale. They could begin to identify what was compelling and what was not. Participants reported they were able to identify more clearly what resists or stands in the way of honest expression of their desires, and explore other relevant considerations to express their desires consensually with a partner.
People can take the survey for their own personal insights – and anyone can support kink-positive research by sharing the survey with their own networks. Such support will help to shed more light on this little-understood dimension of human sexuality.
My research colleagues Dr Jeremy Thomas, Dr. D J Williams, social scientists from Idaho State University, and Dr. Emily Prior, Director of the Center for Sexpositivity, have joined together to expand our kink-focused research survey from the current 3,000 to 10,000 participants by this summer. Our intent is to begin to map and understand the psychological dynamics of kink-oriented sexuality and how embedded shames, fears and trauma may interfere with its healthy consensual expression.
Also in summer, we will start doing quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data to publish various articles in peer-reviewed sexology and psychology journals.
Until now the respondents have been primarily from populations that were already more sex or kink-positive in their views, not by random selection. Some of the provocative insights gained so far:
43% became aware of their fantasies before age 10; 28% were masturbating to them by then.
41% masturbate to porn daily to several times per week.
31% claimed their porn/masturbation activity led to more desire for their partners, 53% said it made no difference in their desire for their partner. 16% thought it harmed their relationship.
61% struggle with honesty and openness about their desires, to their partners, families and community.
74% claimed dominance and submission was a prevalent aspect of their fantasies.
63% believed their desires were innate and independent from their developmental experience or environment.
Over 1500 people voluntarily revealed very explicit and provocative snippets of dialogue and other details common to their sexual fantasies.
In these days, of course, you are also launching the Italian-language version of the survey. What differences do you expect to see in its results, and why?
I think first there will be many similarities in regards to the kink aspects, but I hope and suspect the Italian culture is much less encumbered by shame, fear and secrecy about sexuality. I will be excited to see what the results will look like.
Reading your biography, I discovered that besides having invented the Tetruss portable multipurpose kink rig you also have a surprising second identity as a musician and composer of something you call mythic acoustic jazz fusion. Is that ‘mythic’ part of the name in any way connected to your other interests, and how?
I can see no other way that is meaningful than to live a mythic life. I am more interested in the imaginal life than the intellectual. It is through myth, symbol, ritual, art and ceremony that humans express their soul and connect to spirit. For me, this soulful path is the deepest experience life offers.