It's far from bizarre for a man to be turned on by his lady love in lingerie. But when the garment becomes more sexually stimulating to the man than the lady, his behavior - at least by common standards - is viewed as bizarre, and he's considered a fetishist.

Fetishes and other preferences of a kinky kind (sometimes called paraphilias) can run from harmless hobbies, which involve a single person or other adults who consent, to dangerous and taboo perversions like rape and child abuse.

First, About Fetishes

Sexual fetishism is when an "article of desire" is necessary for sexual arousal or satisfaction. The article could be lingerie, shoes, leather garments or underwear. The fixation also could be with a body part - breasts or feet are popular. Some less famous categories of fetishes include fat, blood, diapers, pee and poo.

Those with fetishes, known at fetishists, are usually men, and they often masturbate while looking at or touching the object of their desire. If a man can also become aroused by a person, then he may not have a fetish, even if an article - say a piece of women's lingerie - acts as a sexy prop during sex or self-pleasure. People who get pleasure from putting on the clothes of the opposite sex are called transvestites and are felt to have an extreme form of fetish.

Where do fetishes come from? "It's a complicated answer, to be addressed on an individual basis," says Barnaby Barratt, Ph.D., a sex therapist and president-elect of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists. Though the cause is unknown, experts theorize that an experience with masturbation as a young child - often one that has been long forgotten - could develop into a fetish for an object that serves as a subconscious reminder. For more on fetishes, see Fetishism.

Sexual Preferences

Besides fetishes, other common kinky preferences include:

  • Sadomasochism. People who find cruelty and humiliation sexually stimulating are known as sadists (pain-givers) and masochists (pain-receivers), and their punishing sex play is referred to as sadomasochism, or S&M. Whipping and spanking are two common ways to inflict punishment during sex. They can be light and liven up "normal" lovers' sex lives or out of control and fraught with danger.
  • Exhibitionism. Psychiatrically speaking, exhibitionists are people who display their private parts in public to an unwilling audience, for sexual gratification. The psychological damage can be serious, particularly to children who are subjected to seeing genital "exhibition."
  • Voyeurism. From the French word "voir," meaning "to see," a voyeur describes a person who is sexually excited by spying on someone getting dressed, undressed or engaging in a sexual activity. Voyeurism is viewed as a serious crime, writes Dr. Ruth in her Encyclopedia of Sex, not only because the people being watched have no knowledge, but because the Peeping Toms sometimes assault the people they are spying on.
  • Swinging and Group Sex. Some couples consciously choose to involve other people in their sex play by participating in: A mènage à trois (a couple adds a third person to the mix); wife swapping (two couples trade partners); swinging (a group of couples meets and exchanges partners among themselves); or group sex, or an orgy (a group of strangers all join the sexual adventure).

Not That There's Usually Anything Wrong With That

It's only necessary to seek help if harm is coming from your sexual habit, says sex therapist Barnaby Barratt - if, for example, you're clashing with the law or injuring yourself or others. Your off-the-track practices aren't hurting anyone? In that case, Barratt encourages, "Enjoy!"