Tuesday, September 15, 2009

There's A Word For People Like Us

Being a librarian & a bookseller, I spend hours on my feet; being a shoe lover, I still must wear my high heels.

The result is sore feet -- feet that need to be pampered. (When someone else pampers my feet, it's even better!) Having pampered feet makes me feel prettier, fancier, more feminine -- and that means more sexy (and less comfortable) shoes. It's a vicious cycle.

And I adore it.

If this sounds like you, there's a word for people like us; we're fetishists.

A person with a fetish is said to experience sexual arousal in response to any nonsexual object, to any nonsexual practice, or to any non-genital body part; certainly many would conclude that as feet are non-genital body parts, the sexualization of all things feet -- from shoes & stockings to massages -- is fetishistic.

Being an inquisitive & intelligent "bookish girl," I've explored the connections between feet, shoes, and sexuality (my own personal connections, as well as research and studies) and I've discovered my pathos is not so strange after all.

Being a foot (or shoe) fetishist isn't "crazy" or necessarily due to some childhood abuse or trauma; there's a natural connection between feet and sex in our brains, which means our foot fetishes may literally be "all in our heads" but not in that delusional or "bad" way.

In Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind (1998), neurobiologist V. S. Ramachandran cites several cases of men and women who experience pleasurable sensation, including orgasm, in their phantom foot during sex; which prompts the author to state (p. 36-37) that, "The genitals are right next to the foot in the body's brain maps," and further speculate that this fact may account for foot fetishes.

While what Ramachadran wrote about is true, it's a scientific rediscovery -- or, if you prefer, supportive evidence of earlier research. In the 1930's, Dr. Wilder Penfield mapped out the areas of cerebral cortex involved in both sensation and motor activity by stimulating, in patients under local anesthsia, these areas of the brain electrically. His early sketches, drawn by Mrs. H. P. Cantlie, are called Penfield's Homunculus, or, more specifically, the sensory homunculus (A) and the motor homunculus (B).



It is on the sensory homunculus that we find "genitals" on the brain map -- right by the feet. (The absence of the sex organs on the motor homunculus is a clue that one does not control one's genitalia in the same sense that they can opt to get up and walk; one does not simply control a sexual response or "motor through" sex. This, however, does not preclude a person from exercising mental control over their actions. Rape is a choice -- a series of choices -- on behalf of the violent, who use far more than penis in their attack.)

Penfield's sensory homunculus is more than diagram of sensory locations, but the illustrations along the outside also give visual representation to the sensory intensity. The more sensory neurons parts of the body have, the larger those parts of the body are depicted; hence the "distortions," including (no surprise here!) that of the sex organs.

Connections between foot & brain have long been supported by practitioners of alternative (Eastern) medicines such as reflexology (and, sadly, manipulated by the practice of footbinding: "According to Chinese connoisseurs of the golden lotus, the mincing walk necessitated by the bound foot contributed to creating a more voluptuous and sensitive sexual anatomy"); but such modern scientific (i.e Western) proof of the actual relationships between brain, foot, and eroticism are more reassuring, if not actually understood. Perhaps we might even need to remove "foot" from the list of fetishes...

In any case, if you love the way shoes make you tootsies feel, you are not alone, you are not a deviant, you are not damaged. You are relatively normal; "normal" being defined by relativity, after all.

I hope this doesn't remove the thrill for you -- I know many people like to feel their fetishes are taboo!

Penfield's Homunculus image via Don Ranney's Where in the Brain is the Mind?

PS For those of you haven't yet fallen asleep and are aroused by the science of sex, you might want to also see The Neurocritic's A New Clitoral Homunculus?

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This blog was inspired in part by the incredible lingerie blog, A Slip of a Girl.

Shoe Lust Makes Me Do It

This literate librarian exercises her creativity & eroticism over the phone at NiteFlirt -- hoping to get a little help with the book, shoe, & lingerie bills along the way.

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