In the fourth story in our America Unzipped series we wrote about fetishes, and asked readers if they thought people with a fetish were mentally ill, as some psychiatric experts would say, or just having some fun.
Don't miss these Health stories
More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?
Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a 100 percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.
- Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
- Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
- CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
- What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says
- More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?
Most readers wrote in to say that no, fetishists aren't crazy, thank you.
"Mentally ill? Lighten up, America!" wrote one reader.
"Everyone has a fetish," said another. "Whether it is an oral fixation with biting your pen caps or enjoying having a woman in high heels. It is normal, we all do it. You can either embrace your fetish tendencies or you can hide behind them and call us mentally ill. I prefer to fly my freak flag proudly."
But one reader said she needed a shower after reading our article: "Yuck! A hundred times yuck!"
Read on for more responses:
I don't think they are mentally ill at all, simply honest with themselves and each other. There are natural tendencies to be "in charge" or to be a "follower," and someone who is into a fetish of one sort or another is simply living true to that. What is wrong with saying, "Hey, I like this or that and it makes me feel really good," when it is not hurting someone else?
Fetishists are really not all that weird. We might do things a bit different but we don't force others to do anything.
Vicious Vamp, Knoxville, Tenn.
The U.S. as a culture is basically sex-negative and fearful; the attitudes of the kinky people expressed in this article sound honest and healthy to me. Sexual behavior between healthy consenting adults, no matter how unusual, is just part of our fabulously complex natural sexual expression. I don't know how anyone could consider these mentally ill; they seem happy and perfectly functional. Whatever turns you on!
Ruthann, Tucson, Ariz.
I am a fetishist and cannot imagine any other way to live. I have not always been so. I introduced myself to it via the Internet five years ago and am now 49. And I do not consider myself mentally ill either. It is by personal choice and when I found it, I felt like I had come home to something that had been lacking in my life. And for the most part I feel that those of us who enjoy these proclivities are more open and honest of our true feelings and we have no need to go behind our partner's back to experience something some might consider taboo.
June, Tampa, Fla.
Mentally ill? Lighten up America!!! Fetishes are nothing new. It never ceases to amaze me just how tight a strangle hold our puritanical beginnings still have around the necks of self expression in this country. Why does any strange or different form of sexual self expression have to be demonized to the point of suggesting that one might be mentally ill if one participates? If you are not harming someone or forcing someone to do something against their will then I see nothing wrong with a little kinky self expression amongst friends.
Jesse, Denver, Colo.
It's a fun and healthy expression of sexuality.
Christine, Glendale, Calif.
Mental illness interferes with functioning in life and makes it less effective. Fetishism increases the quality of life and enhances the things we fetishists already think are fun!
I am a submissive, masochistic woman, and I certainly don't believe myself to be mentally ill, nor do I really think of myself as "just having some fun." What we do is fun, of course, and I wouldn't do it if it didn't make me happy, but it fills a need in my soul, just like sex and intimacy do. Without submission and pain, I get cranky and irritable, just like I do if I'm not getting sex regularly. Same principle there. I think some people are just wired to crave more sensation, and more intense sensation, a.k.a. pain, than others. And some people just prefer to give up control, to obey, to let someone else decide sometimes. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, and I don't understand why it's anathema to so many people.
Leah, Houston, Texas
They are all sad oddballs.
Rick, Sterling, Va.
Everyone has a fetish. Whether it is an oral fixation with biting your pen caps or enjoying having a woman in high heels. It is normal, we all do it. You can either embrace your fetish tendencies or you can hide behind them and call us mentally ill. I prefer to fly my freak flag proudly.
I am a practicing psychotherapist and marital/sex therapist who wrote her masters dissertation on S/M, and personally I think it's a great way to spice up your sex life and improve intimacy. I think it's highly misunderstood and that most people don't realize is that for most people it's not about pain at all, it's about the fantasy, escape and challenge that it offers. For many people it smacks (excuse the pun) of the darker side of sex, something to shun and be fearful of, almost as frightening as being truly intimate with your partner and looking into his/her eyes while you are having an orgasm... go on open your mind to the possibilities... you know you want to.
Nikki, Hong Kong
Yuck! A hundred times yuck! ... I have to go take a shower now.
What many do not understand is that this is NOT about sex, but about taking you to a place that many need drugs and alcohol to get to. That place where you are floating, and the fact that a flogger or paddle took you there, well ... that just adds to the pleasure of it all. We are one of the strongest and most connected communities out there. We are everywhere ... you just don't know it.
My wife and I have fun tying each other up once in a while. You definitely need to trust each other and it can be a great escape. I spend all day at the office driving teams to reach our business objectives and sometimes it's just nice to let my wife take complete control and do with me what she wants. Dressing up and going out in public is something we wouldn't do, but a little latex, handcuffs and collars now and again in the bedroom sure is a lot of fun!
Rick, Austin, Texas
I got involved in fetishism via a boyfriend who had had experience with it. At first it seemed adventurous and exciting, but as I met more of the people doing it, I began to see that many of them were practicing fetishes (some involving extreme pain) as a way of avoiding dealing with their psychological problems. Many admitted they turned to fetish groups as a way of feeling they were a part of a "family," as their own family backgrounds were so dysfunctional ... I became disillusioned and detached myself from them, at the same time acknowledging my own personal problems that led to my being attracted to those practices in the first place.
Jennifer, Cambridge, Mass.
I think it rocks! Sometimes people have a tendency to pick apart and try to analyze what works. I say, rock on man.
Thank you for a very well written, open-minded view of what it is that we do. All too often, mainstream America [recoils] in shock when they hear about (ohhh my goodness) fetishes such as what you talk about. I am an active BDSM community member here in Portland, Ore., and I agree with some of the comments regarding fetishes being more "out there" than people realize, meaning, you would be surprised at how many and what kind of people are involved in fetishes/BDSM and such that live right next door to you. I know doctors, lawyers, business owners, even government workers. It is NOT a free-for-all wild sex orgy at all. There are rules of conduct, rules of etiquette.
Carol Ann, Portland, Ore.
As someone who has enjoyed wearing plastic baby pants for as long as I can remember, I can certainly relate to the people in your article. I am not an Adult Baby — wearing baby clothes and drinking from a bottle, etc. — but just your average all-American, competitive male who developed a fetish for plastic pants in infancy and has enjoyed it ever since ... Most people seem to automatically assume that people into this fetish are child molesters and pedophiles, which couldn't be farthest from the truth.
FUN FUN FUN ... I mean, really, like you haven't thought about it ... stop thinking about it ... I said stop, slave.
© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints