Socialization is the process which teaches us subconsciously to act, speak and even think according to what is considered “normal” in our culture. Socialization is the reason why French men (of any sexual orientation) usually greet each other by kissing each other on the cheek. In contrast, German (especially heterosexually identified) men shake hands to do the same. Socialization causes us to internalize these patterns of behaviour and thinking until they become our “second nature.” Even if there are no biological reasons for these patterns, they still will feel “natural” to us.
Socialization is like an invisible force that guides us without us recognizing it. It enables us to function within our culture and to communicate and interact with other people in our society. However, without us being aware of it, it also forces us to behave according to the norms, rules and values of our culture. We not only act according to our socialization; even our thinking is guided by it. Most of the time, it seems impossible for us to imagine different things than those we know. We can only think in very given ways. And socialization starts right at birth: Parents, friends, family, school, media, etc.: We get shown and taught everywhere how to act as “normal human beings.” We then also learn to internalize those norms, rules, and values. The outer force is turned into an inner compulsion. First, we used to feel the pressure from other people around us. Now we unconsciously feel it inside ourselves. I want to show that this might be the origin of cultural, sexual fetishes, as they often play with taboos, the forbidden, or things we are not supposed to do, feel or think. In other words, cultural fetishes are the opposite of what we are socialized as. Or at least, they play with it in one way or the other. Thus, they might be, what I call, an unintentional byproduct of socialization.
The concept of the habitus, as it is mainly used in sociology today, goes back to French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. The term “habitus” describes a specific world view as well as the particular way people act in certain situations.3+4 The habitus is socialized. For example, Bourdieu describes the willingness of a working-class man to accept his limited standard of living as something normal for his position in society as part of his habitus. The same goes for his consumption habits, his food choices, his manners and customs, the TV programs he watches and his interest in sports. The habitus is an acquired, relatively coherent set of potential world views and activities. It’s the “natural” and the “obvious,” the “doxa” how Bourdieu calls it, that will guide the person’s thinking, seeing and acting. The habitus of a working-class man, as well as the collectively shared habitus of the whole working class (or any class), is steadier and more permanent than their situative wishes and interests. The habitus is the embodiment of the permanent social structure and social organization within their personalities.5
Bourdieu also describes the habitus as a matrix that guides and controls our actions, thoughts and perceptions. Human beings of a specific group (for example of a particular gender, race, age, or professional group) therefore share a collective habitus compared to another group. The same can be said of one society as a whole compared to another society. Within this might lie a key to understanding which kinks will exist in which culture and why they do so.
Central to Bourdieu’s theory is the term “doxa.” It describes the via socialization internalized fundamental beliefs and values that form part of the habitus. These values are so deeply ingrained in our subconscious that we won’t even think about questioning them. They are so profoundly subconscious that we won’t even explicitly recognize them. They will instead act unrecognized: Nothing is more unspeakable, non-communicable, more indispensable, and more inimitable than the incorporated, embodied values.6
Precisely because the doxa works so much unrecognized, it might be one of the origins of sexual fetishes. One of those fundamental values of the doxa is, for example, one which tells us to act “human” and not “like an animal.” And a so-called “civilized” (contrary to “wild”) behaviour includes, for example, to walk upright on two feet, not to belch, to cover our mouth when we yawn, and to use a toilet behind closed doors and make everything disappear as quickly as possible. Nothing must remind us of that “natural”, “animal-like” process anymore. We virtually learn to deny our own “naturalness”, which is part of ourselves. And it is precisely these denials that often lie at the core of so many of our sexual fetishes: from pissing on one another to pet play. It’s like these fetishes are the exact opposite of that internalized habitus, which is why I like to call them “anti-habitus.”
The anti-habitus, i.e. the fetish, is the exact opposite of the habitus. Because the doxa is encoded into our subconsciousness, we will also always feel a constant subconscious pressure to act in precisely the way we have learned to do. It’s fascinating how the opposite (anti-habitus) of what we have learned to do (habitus) might turn us on. Habitus and anti-habitus are two sides of the same coin. One might even not be able to exist without the other. Each attempt to suppress the anti-habitus might, therefore, be predestined to fail. Each effort to contain a fetish might not only remain unsuccessful but could even possibly increase the desire for it.