fetishism, in psychiatry, a paraphilia (see perversion, sexual) in which erotic interest and satisfaction are centered on an inanimate object or a specific, nongenital part of the anatomy. Generally occurring in males, fetishism frequently centers on a garment (e.g., underclothing or high-heeled shoes) or such parts of the body as the foot. In some cases, fetishism becomes severe enough to inspire the fetishist to acquire objects of his desire through theft or assault. In psychoanalysis, a fetish is believed to represent a substitute for male genitalia, which women are imagined to have lost through castration. Although the causes of fetishism are not clearly known, it is generally not considered a serious disorder, unless it is coupled with other psychological disturbances.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.