Say your boyfriend lingers too long on your feet during lovemaking—or even takes your big toe into his mouth. Or you looked at his browser and some odd websites popped up. Or he asks you to wear leather instead of lace to bed. What's a girl to do? Many turn to Jackie A. Castro.
A licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for more than 30 years, she brings a unique brand of wisdom and empathy to her diverse client base. Specializing in alternative lifestyle and fetish, Castro helps her clients embrace their proclivities and healthily incorporate them into their lives. Based in Los Angeles, Castro reaches an even larger audience with her articles and books: Sex, Fetish and Him (2011) and Fetish and You (2014).
The fetish doctor is in! And we asked her our burning questions . . .
How did you get interested in becoming a therapist?
Believe it or not, I started out as a schoolteacher. While I enjoyed teaching and working with kids, I was always more interested in the emotional makeup of people: what was going on inside them, what they were thinking and feeling. I discovered that the way students acted in my classroom was directly related to what was going on at home. I found myself doing extracurricular counseling in my spare time. That's when I decided I'd be more effective in a therapy office than in a classroom.
How did you go about doing this?
I went back to college and got my master's degree in clinical psychology. I know I made the right choice because decades later, I still love going to work each day. I'm always honored that people are willing to share their genuine "selves" with me. I'm respectful and nonjudgmental of everyone. As a result, clients tell me they feel very comfortable with me. I have a keen interest in people, accept them for who they are, and enjoy helping them make life choices which are right for them.
What kind of people come to you for help?
My practice consists of individuals and couples over the age of 21. I particularly like working with people other therapists tend to shy away from: those suffering from severe depression, debilitating anxiety, and bipolar disorder. I find it gratifying to partner with people who really need help and are motivated to do the necessary work. It's important for them to be as dedicated to the process as I am.
Is it difficult treating these types of patients?
I enjoy the challenge. Seeing positive changes in people who think of themselves as "hopeless" is extremely rewarding. Besides, I don't believe anyone is truly hopeless! I work a great deal with those who suffered trauma—women and men who were sexually or physically abused as kids, and people with PTSD from traumas like rape, tragic loss, and accidents. I also work with those who feel shame because they're sexually different. This includes sexual fetish, dominant/submissive lifestyles, and gender differences found in the LGBT community.
How did you begin specializing in fetish?
It just kind of found me! When I was doing a grad school internship, I volunteered to work with a person the other students felt uncomfortable with—a very big man who wore a matronly dress, high heels, and a wig. I think the other grad students were afraid they might laugh. I didn't. Instead, I listened to his story about how he felt more comfortable dressing female. He had no desire to get a sex change. He just liked cross-dressing and wanted to be able to dress up—and take his wife shopping. He was such a nice, sincere man and I enjoyed working with him.
After several months, I met his wife, who was extremely sweet but bewildered about his fetish. In time, I was successful in helping them both come to a place of acceptance. The wife loved her husband dearly and was more than willing to join with him and help get his needs met. Not only did they have fun together, but she ended up with a great new wardrobe out of the deal!
How did this lead to other fetish clients?
Coincidentally, other fetishists just happened to walk through my door. It's more common than you might think. I found working with people who had fetishes to be so rewarding that I decided to specialize in it. You might say it's become my life's mission to help a population that's often ignored. Now I'm considered an expert.
What is fetish, exactly?
Everybody is a little bit different in terms of what floats their boat. People who have fetishes are merely aroused differently. They're stimulated by something out of the norm. Like most things psychological, therapists look at the environment and what happened early on in their clients' lives. We also look at genetic makeup. There are strong indications now that both genetic and environmental factors are triggers directly related to the points of arousal that cause fetish.
What's the most common fetish?
I'd have to say the foot fetish. Everybody has heard of it and people seem to be comfortable admitting to it. Other common fetishes are cross-dressing and various forms of BDSM.
What advice do you have for someone whose partner has a foot fetish?
Like all fetishes, you need to explore and discover all of the particulars. It's not enough for him to say, "I have a foot fetish" and be done with it. You need the details! Bare feet or shoes? High heels, flats, or sandals? Open-toed or closed? Natural or pedicured? What color nail polish? What shape are the toenails? Clean feet or smelly? It can be overwhelming—and confusing. That's why I talk a great deal about identification in both of my books. Women need to ask lots of questions.
Is this why Sex, Fetish and Him—geared toward women—was your first book?
Yes. Throughout the years, I found that my fetish clients not only had problems dealing with their own shame and guilt, but also had trouble dealing with their wives. Some were terrified to tell them about their fetish. Those who mustered up the courage often came away feeling even more ashamed. Why? Because their wives rejected them. Their women didn't want to have anything to do with their fetish. They thought it was sick and perverse. They often gave ultimatums. Nothing like Fifty Shades of Grey at all!
Can you give an example?
Say a man loves silk bikini panties. He likes to wear them himself and also likes to see his wife wearing them. He's afraid to tell her of his interest so he hides his impressive panty collection at the bottom of his closet. One day, while his wife is doing spring cleaning, she finds them. Now he has no choice but to tell her. He's extremely embarrassed, barely able to stutter out a few sentences when his wife cuts him off. She throws away his entire panty collection and tells him she'll leave if she ever finds him collecting panties again. She also makes sure never to wear the kind of panties he loves. (Yes, he often gave her gorgeous silk panties as gifts.) To make matters worse, she cancels her Victoria's Secret catalog subscription.
Unfortunately, this reaction seems to be the norm rather than the exception. Only, I knew these women weren't bad or evil; they were just uneducated about fetish. So, I ultimately wrote Sex, Fetish and Him to help my male patients. My goal was to change their women's way of thinking. But first they needed to learn more about fetish. I also wanted to teach women that by joining in their husband's fetish, they are being given a great gift: They now have the secret to uncovering his innermost passion. With this knowledge, comes power. With this discovery, they could be their husband's best lover ever. And vice-versa.
Why was Fetish and You a natural to follow-up?
I thought it was also important for fetishists to have a book of their own. Although they know they have a fetish, they often don't understand how and why they have it. Deep down, they have inner shame. I wanted to normalize their attitude toward fetish. I also felt it was important for them to identify the little nuances and components unique to them. Learning fetish management—incorporating fetish into an existing relationship and communicating to your present or future life mate about your fetish—is also important.
If you could give one piece of advice to people about fetish, what would it be?
To practice self-acceptance. Fetish is deep-seated and strong. It's part of your sexual roadmap that was programmed very early in your life. Don't try to fight it. The more you fight, the more you'll feel anxious. Instead, come to a place of acceptance. Allow yourself to enjoy it in a holistic way. Fetish is only one small part of who you are. Figure out if there's a way you can share it with your life partner, even if you share just a little bit. If you choose to keep it a fantasy, that's okay, too. But once you accept your fetish as something cool—something that reliably turns you on and consistently gets you over the edge—you'll find a kind of inner peace. Then you'll be able to communicate about it effectively. But before you can even think of sharing your fetish with another person, you need to feel comfortable about it yourself. Fetish doesn't have to be a dirty little secret. I believe it can—and should—be celebrated.