Why are fetishes even a thing?

To my knowledge, humans are the only known animals that fetishize things that are not inherently sexual. So I ask a simple question: what the fuck? Why do fetishes even exist?

Magpies and shiny things?

Weaver birds…octopuses’ gardens…

Anyway, a behavior doesn’t always have to have an obvious Darwinian explanation or advantage. Some things are just developmental, like our love for music.

Let’s say everyone (in a state of nature) likes strawberries. But by the chance of diversity, you get one guy who just absolutely adores 'em, can never have enough, will trade you a banana for a strawberry even up, etc. If it is genetic (and it might not be) it’s not so great a disadvantage as to kill him, so it perpetuates. If it isn’t genetic, then it will just happen now and then.

Human brains are pretty complex. Even really stupid people have quite complex brains. In all that complexity, it’s not that uncommon that synapses get crossed occasionally, or that connections can be made that defy logic. People are weird.

Fetishes are a very ‘high order’ type of thinking. They are like other human activities such as religion, sports, politics etc. Plus because fetishes throughout history, and even still today, are kept as deep secrets from society and other humans in general they are not going to influence evolutionary aspects, big or small. They are not going to have the chance to be either embraced or persecuted thru the ages, therefore their existence isn’t going to be subject to natural or even artificial selection.

Pretty much this - we are highly creative and clever.
It shows up in many, many ways.

How about building ships inside bottles? How is THAT even a “thing”?

Ever play croquet?

And what’s up with those idiots climbing buildings?

This really makes me wonder if fetishes form actual, empirical connections that can be seen in the brain, or are just developmental quirks like you say. For sure something to look into.

Speaking of music:

Try explaining this one:

Use any stringed instrument with more than 3 strings.
You can now play several notes simultaneously.

Play a nice sounding combination.
Play it anywhere in the world. All will find the sound pleasing.

Now play a discordant combination - it will sound equally off to anyone (at least over age 8) anywhere.
How is THAT possible?

My book-learnin’ from college is years out of date, but it was taught in psychology class as, so, you know Pavlov’s dogs: salivating, gastric juices flowing, for the bell that’s paired with food? So figure powerful urges are kicking in while some element looms large when pleasurable sensations are flooding over an impressionable mind with an addictive personality, and sometimes associations get built up.

(“Next, we’ll talk about how getting lectured by a reassuring ‘doctor’ type can often produce the placebo effect – doubly so against psychosomatic symptoms in general, and hysterical conversion in particular. No, really; you just wear a white lab coat, act like an avuncular-but-knowledgable professional, amiably but authoritatively declare they can be cured by doing what you say – and sometimes the authentic-looking pills you hand 'em work, because some people are suggestible like that.”)

I have the same question and never got much of an answer. How is it that so many people are aroused by latex suits and gas masks just as instinctively as they find three-part harmony pleasing?

My own pet theory (to be taken with a big grain of salt) is that it’s something of a sexual Nash equilibrium. If everyone liked exactly the same things, then we’d all be fighting over those instead of choosing a workable alternate. So it’s good that some people insist on dressing up like animals and others prefer only those sorts of people, because it leads to less conflict over potential mates.

Wait, is this true? Because my understanding is that what notes sound good together is based on exposure and it changes over time. I recall reading that a lot of the chords we commonly use today would have been considered discordant 600 years ago.

Humans are the only animals that do and think many, many things other animals do not. Why would you isolate fetishes? Why not just ask why human thinking is on such a higher order than the rest of earths animals.

It’s my general understanding that there is comparatively little information about sexuality because there is very little funding for it.

The Right side of the political spectrum doesn’t want to fund the research, because if sexual variety can be established to be a “condition” - such as, for example, hair color… Well, they wouldn’t be free to arbitrarily hate / discriminate / kill those people any longer. Because, if it’s a condition, it’s not voluntary. If it’s not voluntary, it’s not a sin.

The Left side of the political spectrum doesn’t want to fund the research because they worry that if sexual variety can be established to be a “condition”, there will be a move to “correct” the problem. If you are blonde and it is socially bad to be blonde, do you choose to remain blonde or do you color your hair? If there is a “fix”, you now have a choice. And, then you’re right back to sinning.

There is something of an analog with blindness. Some who are blind would very much like to see. Others have no desire to be anything but blind. They would tell you that they are complete people; they lead complete, fulfilling lives. Any suggestion to the contrary is seen as diminishing & insulting.

Variety is what happens in biology. All living systems have variety. The more complex the system, the greater the possibilities for variety. Sexual variety is only one very small part of the kinds of weirdness and wonderments that fill our world. In fact, variety is such an integral part of our experience that we find it unusual when it’s absent - in identical twins, for example.

Nobody knows. Some people think it has to do with some random experience in the developmental years, but scientific research on the subject has not come up with any conclusive explanations.

Many objects of fetishes are secondary sexual characteristics, i.e. traits that differentiate male vs. female and give some indication of sexual maturity, but are not inherently sexual. This is ubiquitous in the animal kingdom.

I had a similar idea: that it’s another way that we avoid inbreeding.

It’s been shown that there is a part of humankind that wants to mate with people genetically similar to ourselves, which makes sense because that way you’d be perpetuating the same gene twice instead of once. But to avoid inbreeding there is also the Westermarck effect in which we avoid breeding with people we grew up in close proximity to.

It could be that fetishism came out of a generalized tendency for some, but not all people growing up to be into the exotic, which would drive us to see mates outside our own ethnicity (which is different from simply happening to be attracted to someone outside your ethnicity.) So that way, even if the rest of your tribe get hit by a meteor or reaches an inbreeding bottleneck, your genes might survive with another tribe.

Musical chords sound pleasing because they are built on mathematical ratios, such as:

Octave - 2:1
Perfect Fifth - 3:2
Perfect Fourth - 4:3

In reality, it’s a little more complicated than this. If one were to tune a piano to such a system it would sound pleasant if playing a single chord, but would sound dissonant if the chord were changed.

Hence the tuning system we most use in the modern world - equal temperament - uses a very close but slightly different system, by dividing the octave into 12 parts, all of which are equal on a logarithmic scale. This enables music played on an an instrument using this tuning system to sound pleasing to the ear if played in any musical key.

“Musical neurons” discovered in the brain’s auditory cortex

They haven’t done tests on dolphins or cats, and are not certain how developmental the thing is yet.

Huh. I guess that’s why many people want to have sex with their cousins, but not their siblings.

I think most of the difference between cousins & siblings is down to having grown up with siblings every day but ones growing-up relationship with one’s cousins is just enough farther apart to move them into the do-able category.

As to fetishes …

Something similar but not the same …

Most people like to think about sex. They like to watch sexually related stuff like porn or strip shows or pretty people walking past in fashionable clothes, etc. If they’re not so visually oriented they at least like to read about it.

For most people, sex is something they actually do in mostly private. Some exhibitionists get off on doing it in near public, where the risk of detection is high. And some folks like doing it in group settings. But both of those are minority interest.

Contrast that with animals.

Many animals seem to actively enjoy sex. But they don’t much care for privacy. They do it in full view of other members of their species without an apparent care in the world. And all those other animals aren’t paying the slightest attention to the pair doing it.

Two cattle will be going at it in a crowd of 100, and the other 98 are eating or standing there totally uninterested.

Very clearly there’s a lot more to human thinking, both conscious and unconscious, about sex than goes on even in fairly smart & social critters like dogs.

Comparing animals and humans it’s obvious humans think sex is a Big Deal. Animals certainly do it enough to maintain their numbers despite predation, disease, and the vagaries of life in Nature. So they must be experiencing sufficient urges to drive them to do it, unconscious though the urges may be.

Understand this difference between animal & human motivations and you’ll have opened the door towards understanding fetishes.