Cris Saknussemm has spent twenty years studying fetishes and lists his top ten. My favorite:
Pogonophilia — The fixation on bearded men
Once, interviewing a woman with this fetish, I showed her four pictures of naked men: a well-endowed eighteen-year-old model, an extremely thin bearded man in his early thirties, a heavily muscled former professional athlete in his late forties, and Peter North, the porn star. Asked to choose the most “virile and masculine” of the group, she selected the bearded man instantly. What I didn’t tell her was that the bearded man had terminal cancer and was quite seriously ill. Her selection directly defies the view that our choices of “attractiveness” are driven by an instinctual appraisal of health and reproductive capacity. When I presented a Photoshop-modified picture of the man without his beard, she no longer recognized him. In fact, she was repelled.
And the sexual phenomenon that triggered his research:
Arachibutyrophilia — You won’t believe me when I tell you
I have to include this one for two reasons. One, people always think I’m pulling their leg. (Which is another fetish entirely.) And two, this was the askew fixation that first got me thinking about the whole subject in a really personal way. It actually isn’t anywhere near as out there as the others — it’s simply a highly specialized niche in the world of mess and food fixations. The object of excessive interest — the medium if you will — is peanut butter. Good old PB. But lots of it.
I discovered this when the couple that lived beneath me got into a bit of trouble. They’d invited another couple to join them, and the other female had a severe — and undiagnosed — allergy to peanut butter. Moments after they’d smeared her with the chunky goo, her breathing stepped up toward hyperventilation, and even when scrubbed down with wet towels, her skin took on the bloated, bubbled texture of a salted cane toad. (And I feel professionally obliged to report that while concerned, her partner nonetheless showed unmistakable signs of arousal.) Within fifteen minutes, she resembled a giant tongue, and would never be able to tolerate even the whiff of peanut butter again.